Monday, February 05, 2007


Monkey see, monkey do

I always like to see translators getting their moment in the limelight (rather then perpetually hunching down in the prompter's box). So here's a conversation with Tran Thien Dao, who's translated Voltaire, George Sand, Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, Thomas Mann, Miguel Angel Asturias, Richard Wright, Marcel Proust, and approximately one million other writers into Vietnamese. I was particularly struck by this comparison:
I’ve always believed translators are like monkeys. When an author raises his or her hand, the monkey must mirror the action, also raising its hand. Translators must interpret the exact meaning of what the author wrote and respect the author’s literary style. If a translator makes a boring work interesting in his or her translation, then he or she has betrayed the author. If the author writes incoherently, the translator must stay true to the text. One must keep in mind that you should never translate a piece word by word, or you’ll lose the writing’s context.
Monkeys are better paid, of course. But having spent the last four months raising my hand, I'll admit that Dao has a point.

Something frustrating I've witnessed while watching Japanese anime: The subtitles are for the Japanese dialog "You're a piece of work" while the dub is what fits with the mouth movements "You asshole" and the existence of both makes me doubt that either is close to the original.
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