20 More Rules for Translation: Arunava Sinha & Alison Anderson

Arunava Sinha translates from the Bengali into English, and, for instance, his My Kind of Girl, by Buddhadeva Bose, is beautiful. His translation of Sankar’s Chowringhee won the Vodafone-Crossword translation prize for 2007, and was shortlisted for the Independent Best Foreign Fiction prize in the UK for 2009.

1. Don’t just read the text, listen to the voice in your head.

2. Work on the first sentence over and over again till you think you’ve got the voice.

3. Do your first draft very quickly once you’ve got the writer’s voice. You won’t be able to hold it for long.

4. Don’t interrupt the flow to puzzle over difficulties in the text. Leave them in the original to go back to later.

5. Be faithful in the first draft. Reproduce the surface. Don’t be an editor.

6. If necessary translate expressions literally the first time around, but don’t leave anything out.

7. Don’t look at the original text when doing the same second draft. This time, write it as though you were writing in the target language.

8. Don’t interpret. Maintain all ambiguities and uncertainties.

9. Let the second draft cool for a few months. Go back to it after a gap.

10. Be a jealous lover with the final draft. Question everything, stop to admire, get angry, be upset, and fall in love with the original again through the translation.

Alison Anderson translates from the French; I particularly enjoyed her translation of Laila Marouane’s Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris. Anderson’s translations have been cited by the Best Translated Book Award and IMPAC, and she also did lovely work on Nobel Prize winning J.M.G. LeClezio’s Onitsha.

1. Make sure before you start that you are confident you can do the text justice.

2. Check, double check, then check again—place names, proper names, peculiar words or idioms, and obviously anything that seems unclear. Dictionaries, Wikipedia, Google, native speakers, the author—whatever it takes.

3. Don’t assume the author knows everything, check facts there too, sometimes you catch (minor) mistakes.

4. Don’t always translate every last word: leaving some untranslatable words or expressions that can add to the “local colour” of the piece but are comprehensible in context can actually enhance the text.

5. Challenge the reader. Never dumb down. Explain the culture just slightly if need be but only enough to keep the story moving.

6. Print out one of the drafts and correct with a red pen. Mistakes and awkward passages jump off the page, they don’t jump off the screen to the same degree.

7. Never more than five pages at a time, if possible, even when revising; take frequent breaks and do other things not related to words.

8. Respect the register of language as well as the era, which means, for stories set in the past, checking to see if words were used then, and had the same meaning.

9. Avoid looking at the source text for the second draft; correct it as if it were written in (bad) English.

10. Always respect the author’s intention, even if you don’t always respect the vocabulary, syntax, rhythm, etc.

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