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Thursday, November 20, 2003

Thinking About Translation 

In my day-to-day work, I often am reading/editing/rewriting material that's been translated into English. Often it is written by someone whose first language is not English and, in many cases, the writer is writing directly into English, but their native language peeks through the text in phrases, constructions, and word choice. It's part of my job to edit such materials into English that flows more naturally and that has greater clarity without sacrificing the specifics of the technology being discussed.

German translator Marcus Ingendaay has an interesting essay about the difficulty of translating literature -- specifically William Gladdis's The Recognitions (in German, Die Fälschung der Welt) -- in which he describes how translation requires a destruction of the original text:
... I have to delete any memory of the English phrase, I have to create an abstract of the phrase, which should take into account all aspects concerning form and content without taking over the specifically English form and rhythm or the feeling of the whole. In the process of digitalising a sentence in this way I turn it into a non-sentence, into pure information. What is important is the following: there is no metamorphosis without destruction.
It is an interesting way to describe the process of not just translation but also editing. I use a similar process (albeit not as drastic) when I'm stuck trying to recast/rework a particularly baffling sentence. (Thanks to La Muselivre for the link.)

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