If This Be Treason

Translation and Its Dyscontents, A Memoir
by Gregory Rabassa

Review by Anne Milano Appel

Gregory Rabassa’s long-awaited memoir takes the form of an inquiry into the varieties of perfidy and treason implied in traduttore/traditore, with Rabassa himself as the (self-)accused as well as judge-and-jury. The hearing is replete with personal confessions, such as how Rabassa “backed into translation,” the fact that he himself has tried to “teach what is unteachable,” and his ultimate dissatisfaction with any translation he has done. Along the way he reprises unanswerables, such as the facelessness imposed on the translator (an invisibility that we have come to cherish as “ideal”), the treachery of words (can a stone ever be a ‘pierre’ or a ‘pierre’ a stone?), and the fact that translation is about value judgment and personal choice with the translator as just one of the many readers of the work. If there is one thing Rabassa declares with utter certainty it is that translation is an art, not a craft, “because you can teach a craft but you cannot teach an art.”

To those in translation circles, Gregory Rabassa needs no introduction. Now in his eighties, he is a giant who translated the masters of Latin American magic realism. Having translated over 50 works by such luminaries as Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar, and Mario Vargas Llosa, his accomplishments are uncontested.

The case studies that Rabassa includes are, by his own admission, a kind of “rap sheet” of his experiences with his authors, and will resonate with any translator. His testimony that his relationship with these writers was personal in some cases, while “regretfully only through their work” in others, implies a strong preference for author-translator interaction. I identified with this, as I did with his approach of following the text to see where it leads: an exercise of “controlled schizophrenia” requiring skills at “mutability.”

The verdict (also the title of the book’s final section) in the end is that there are no certain answers and “translation is but another version of the truth.” It is the “Not Proven” verdict of Scots law, consistent with the ambivalencies implicit in translation. And so Rabassa’s translator is left in limbo, where many of us live and work, neither guilty of treason nor free of doubts. Can Rabassa’s experiences be said to reflect a certain universality? Yes, judging by my own encounters with translation. I, too, relish interaction with my authors, and like Rabassa I never read a book in its entirety before translating it, preferring to follow the text to see where it leads. I admit to a certain degree of “controlled schizophrenia” and am not adverse to “mutability.” Am I ever guilty of treason? Am I ever truly satisfied with a translation? The verdict remains “Not Proven.”


If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents, A Memoir; by Gregory Rabassa, 189 pages, New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2005, ISBN: 0811216195.   



At the Movies: Reviewing “The Interpreter”

By Tetu Hirai

On April 19th, NCTA members got a rare treat in the form of a special, by-invitation-only screening of Universal Pictures’ release of “The Interpreter,” starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn. In conjunction with the development of an article on the making of the movie—written by NCTA member Carolina Arrigoni-Shea and appearing in the May issue of Translorial—the studio generously offered tickets to NCTA members for showings in four cities: San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, and Fresno.

In the film, Silvia Broome (played by Nicole Kidman), is an interpreter who works at the United Nations, and who overhears a plot to assassinate an African head of state. This plan is spoken in a rare dialect that very few people, including Silvia, understand. Silvia then becomes the target of the killers, and her world is changed as her own political background is slowly revealed to her FBI protectors.

For those of us in NCTA who are interpreters, we had the unique opportunity of assessing the movie from the point of view of our own profession. But both interpreter and translator colleagues had much to say, especially pertaining to the credibility of the interpretation done by Nicole Kidman’s character, and to the opportunity the movie offered in making the public more aware of the profession of interpretation.

Some attendees generally felt that Nicole Kidman did a credible job in depicting an interpreter. Sacramento attendee Michel Rousselin, a former United Nations interpreter, said, ‘’I felt that Kidman’s depiction of an interpreter was quite natural and very well done. She was speaking a bit slower at the beginning (as would be expected for a real interpreter) and then she spoke a bit faster as she heard more phrases.”

Others in attendance, including San Jose attendee Andrea Wells and San Francisco attendees Marianne Pripps and Anne Milano Appel, felt that the movie fell short in depicting the interpreter’s life—its demanding skills, fascinating subjects, and extreme stresses—in a way that truly represented the breadth and depth of the profession. Echoing the notion that the film was more of a suspense-thriller than a true examination of an interpreter’s life, San Francisco attendee Anthony Alioto noted that the movie “had little to do with the real activities of a U.N. interpreter.”

Overall, however, most attendees thought it was beneficial for the industry that interpretation was depicted on the big screen at all, and that the public became more aware of the profession. As attendee and Sacramento correspondent Tatyana Neronova said: “I believe that this movie allowed people to see how important our job is, and how careful and professional we should be so that we do a good job.”

We now hope that more opportunities lie ahead.

The Translorial Tool Kit

By Jost Zetzsche © 2005 International Writers’ Group, compiled by Yves Avérous

The Tool Kit is an online newsletter that comes to its subscribers’ mailboxes bimonthly. In Translorial, we are offering you a quarterly digest of Jost’s most helpful tips of the past season. If you would like to subscribe to The Tool Kit, visit www.internationalwriters.com/toolkit/ and mention Translorial during subscription; Jost will put your name in a drawing for one free Tool Box book per edition.

Word Views

If you’re editing in MS Word, one way to alleviate the boredom of this task is to change the way that Word displays the document.

A much-touted newbie in Microsoft 2003 was the Reading Layout, and though I’m not a complete devotee of this feature, it does help me every once in a while when I need a “new view on things.” To activate it, you can either click on the book icon in the lower left-hand corner of the Word screen, or you can select Reading Layout from the View menu. The standard toolbars will disappear and your text will appear on quasi-book pages with larger text, shorter lines, and pages that fit on the screen. Also, Microsoft’s ClearType technology produces letter shapes that are less strenuous to read.

Outlook’s Spam Filter

Microsoft has once again released new spam filters for its email program Outlook 2003 (see http://office.microsoft.com/officeupdate), the hands-down most-improved program within the Office 2003 suite. This release is far stricter than its predecessors, and many of your responses to the last newsletter and many new subscriptions actually landed in my spam folder. However, I found that this new filter does an acceptable job after I changed my setting to Low under Actions> Junk E-Mail> Junk E-Mail Options. Unfortunately, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and other languages’ spam mail still makes it through.

Staying in Touch the Cool Way

I wrote about Instant Messenger programs as powerful ways to communicate with members in a workgroup, especially if it’s a virtual workgroup as is the case for most translators. I still use my Miranda Instant Messenger program (see http://www.miranda-im.org/) most days because it allows me to connect to users on several of the large instant messaging protocols (ICQ, AOL, MSN, Yahoo, etc.) at the same time.

The one protocol that’s not covered by Miranda is Skype (http://www.skype.com/), and this isn’t too surprising because Skype is something completely different. While Skype also offers text messaging comparable to any of the other providers, it is primarily a VoIP (Voice-over-Internet-Protocol) service that allows you to make completely free calls from computer to computer if the person you are calling also has Skype installed. Even if the other person doesn’t have Skype, you can still make ridiculously cheap calls when the recipient uses a normal telephone (yesterday I talked to my Skype-less brother in Hamburg, Germany, for half an hour for less than fifty cents).

TRADOS Power Tips

Finnish translator and TRADOS guru Tuomas Kostiainen has put together a few helpful tips for TRADOS users at www.trados.com/news/7tips.htm. I especially like the first one where he advises using one rather than many different translation memories—my “Big Mama” database and could not agree more.

Here is another TRADOS tip that I rather painfully stumbled on the other day.

When translating HTML files in TagEditor, the user is not able to control the resulting code page of the final translation. If the original files are in a Western code page, for instance, the translation will be output in the code page of the target. This sounds like a good idea, but in reality most multilingual websites are in Unicode. To receive Unicode files, you need to feed in Unicode files to start with. To be able to work with the resulting files, you need to then convert them. You can do this individually with a text editor such as EmEditor (see http://www.emeditor.com/) or you can do what I did. I simply imported the complete website in each of the translated languages into Déjà Vu X, which allows the user to control the resulting output; then I exported it into the same language but with different code in one (or in that case, 12 large batch operations).

Browser, Browser, Browsers

I’ll try not to go into great detail here, but thanks to Firefox there’s some real life in the competition for the hearts and minds of browser users (and at this point that should pretty much be synonymous with computer users). In the last couple of weeks alone:

– Firefox released a security update (see http://www.mozilla.org/).

– A new beta version of the presumably dead Netscape was released (see http://tinyurl.com/5t6w3); this version combines most of the abilities of Firefox with those of Internet Explorer where Firefox fails, such as with the Windows Update site at http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/.

– Opera released a new beta version of its browser that I know many readers love (see http://www.opera.com/).

– Microsoft announced a whole new version of Internet Explorer for later this year.

So what, you ask? You’re right, all this doesn’t have to be a big deal. However, considering how much time we spend looking at content delivered through browsers, it’s nice to know that there are at least attempts to deliver a better and more secure environment for Web content.

Entering Text Made Easy

I have used a couple of freeware programs to change a number of keys on my keyboard (KeyTweak, see http://webpages.charter.net/krumsick, and the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Developer, see www.microsoft.com/globaldev/tools/msklc.mspx) and one little application that allows me to enter all kinds of special characters and create macros to enter often-used expressions (AllChars, see http://allchars.zwolnet.com/). The truth is, though, that I try to limit the changes to my personal keyboard to avoid becoming ineffective on a standard keyboard once my fingers have “learned” the new combinations.

Though many of the tasks that this application does can be done with MS Word or other applications as well, this tool seems to work in almost any Windows application.

Another way of speeding up typing is to use tools that apply the system of AutoComplete (as in MS Excel or in Web addresses in a browser). I mentioned Intellicomplete (www.flashpeak.com/icomp) a while back, a tool that comes pre-loaded with a number of Western languag¬es, and I recently stumbled over a freeware cousin: Let Me Type (see www.clasohm.com/lmt) collects information as you type and completes words that you have typed before (when you’re on their website, check out the awesome cow collection at www.clasohm.com/cows…).

Of course, users of the wonderful open source office suite OpenOffice.org are already familiar with this function, which is integrated into the program itself (under Tools> AutoCorrect/AutoFormat> Word Completion).

More can be found on the subject on Google: Search for www.google.com/search?q=keyboard+macro or www.google.com/search?q=customize+keyboard

Screenshot Utilities

I have always resisted the temptation to look into programs that specialize in taking screenshots (pictures of the computer screen). I’ve always taken screenshots the “traditional way” (Alt+PrintScreen for the active dialog or PrintScreen for the complete screen) and then pasted them into a regular graphic application.

When you help someone to solve a computer problem, the easiest way to describe the problem is often to take a screenshot of the error message or whatever dialog you have problems with, paste it into an email, and send it off. But what most people don’t realize is that the images that are pasted into the email are gigantic files in bitmap format. One way around this is to paste the screenshot into Paint Shop, Photoshop, or whatever graphic application you use, save it as a .gif or .jpg file, and send that. But that requires a lot of additional steps…

With a screenshot application like SnagIt (see http://www.snagit.com/) you can automatically save the image in a file format of your choice (under Output> Properties> Image File) and paste it into your email or elsewhere in that format. And talk about support: SnagIt also offers the capability to record a video of whatever process isn’t going right on your computer. You can then send this off in a commonly used video format if a mere explanation with words and screenshots doesn’t help.

Keeping It Simple

Most of you know that the Windows Explorer and the Internet Explorer are actually the same application. This means that you can access the Web right from the place where you browse through your files, and vice versa. This also means that the “Explorers” share the same Favorites links.

There are several ways of doing this. The easiest way is to simply drag the folders to the Links toolbar (if you can’t see that toolbar, make sure it is selected under View> Toolbars> Links) and a shortcut is automatically created. You can rename the shortcut to your heart’s content by right-clicking on it and selecting Rename. Once you are done with the project, you can delete the shortcut through the right-click menu.

Similarly, many applications offer you the option to change toolbars for common tasks. To create a button for any of the available menu commands, select Tools> Customize and drag the desired command to the toolbar. Of course, this isn’t limited to Word. It can be performed in any application that offers you the option to customize your toolbars.

Keeping Up With Your Clients

Joseph Bayerl recommended ZoneTick: “I recently paid $15 for ZoneTick (see http://products.wrconsulting.com/zonetick/en) and am pleased with it. It is a tool that puts up to 10 time zone clocks in the system tray in place of the system clock. It saves me the moments I would rather not waste on figuring out (sometimes incorrectly) what time it is in Moscow, Frankfurt, or wherever my current clients may be. It has a clean interface, and uses background colors to indicate the time zones in which it is after business hours.”

Sounds like a fun tool.

Open Sourcer Newsletter

McKay’s newsletter for translators who are interested in open source computing options may be a valuable source of information for some of you.

“Open Source Update is an e-newsletter for language professionals who are interested in free and open source software. The newsletter is geared toward translators who are not (yet!) heavy-duty users of free and open source software, but of course anyone is welcome to subscribe.”

At http://www.translatewrite.com/osupdate.html you can both subscribe and read previous issues.

Medical Interpreting and Cross-cultural Communication

by Claudia V. Angelelli

Review by Miriam Hebé López-Argüello

Interested in exploring the role of the interpreter in a medical setting, researcher Claudia Angelelli conducted an ethnographic research study in a bilingual Northern California hospital between 1999-2001, shadowing and working with a team of medical interpreters. Her research was recently published in her new book Medical Interpreting and Cross-cultural Communication, Cambridge University Press.

Bringing together theories of sociology, social psychology, and linguistic anthropology, the author joins other researchers in challenging the established notion that the interpreter should be invisible, and in asserting that such invisibility, as portrayed in the literature at large and prescribed by professional associations, is a myth. (The citations provided in the referenced fields are particularly extensive, and a great help for researchers).

The concept of visibility that Ms. Angelelli proposes as an alternative to the current model considers interpreters as “ … powerful parties who are capable of altering the outcome of the interaction, for example, by channeling opportunities or facilitating access to information. They are visible co-participants who possess agency.”

To arrive at her conclusions, Ms. Angelelli analyzed typical scenarios of cross-cultural communication mediated by an interpreter. Although the cases she cites offer a good starting point to describe the visible role of the interpreter, she does not address any truly complex scenarios where such visibility might be questionable on ethical grounds (i.e., dilemmas posed by taboos, cultural idiosyncrasies, or other peculiarities within a context exacerbated by extreme pressure). As a medical interpreter myself, I am interested in the question of where one draws this linea question to which Ms. Angelelli offers no insights.

Medical Interpreting and Cross-cultural Communication makes a valuable contribution to the task of defining the appropriate role for a medical interpreter, a task that behooves all professional interpreters, professional associations, medical institutions, and the government to undertake. In Ms. Angelelli’s own words: “Addressing the visibility of the interpreter is an ideological imperative for the field. Breaking through the ideology of invisibility becomes a political imperative for all.”