TRANSLATION: THE STATE OF BEING OTHER

Appreciation of translation and its importance were common themes of some recent events. BY NORMA KAMINSKY, SARAH LLEWELLYN AND SHARLEE MERNER BRADLEY

There was a surfeit of events to choose from these last few months, whatever one’s interests or focus—from teaching to literature to how-to workshops.

A COMMON LANGUAGE

“The Tasks of Translation in the Global Context” was the theme of the 2009 Modern Language Association (MLA) convention, celebrated in Philadelphia in December. About half of the 750 sessions (an unprecedented proportion) had to do with translation, comparative literature, and non-English literature. Special attention was given to the teaching of translation, translation theory, and translation practice, mostly in the academic setting, and of literary works. The intent was to recognize the importance of translation and to answer questions such as: who translates? Why? What do translators need to know? What are the tasks of the translator? What is the future of translation in our increasingly globalized world?

Translation was defined at various times as: interpretation, communication, conversation, imitation, subversion, social and political activism, the common language of languages, a duty, a gift, a thankless task, a passage into philosophy, hospitality laws in practice, and the exploration and respect of alterity.

As Marilyn Gaddis-Rose put it, the convention was “a veritable bacchanalia of the translators’ tasks in this inevitably globalized world.” NK

A LOW-KEY OVERACHIEVER

More than 50 people came to the Minna Gallery in downtown San Francisco to hear guest presenter Alison Anderson at the March “Lit & Lunch,” a monthly event organized by the Center for the Art of Translation. Anderson, a French to English literary translator now living in Switzerland, talked about her translation career and read excerpts from three of her translations.

The event was entitled: “The Translator as Overachiever: A Nobel Winner and a Runaway Bestseller,” but the low-key Anderson regards herself as anything but an overachiever. Rather, she says, she owes much of her translation success to serendipity and the fact that she has only ever taken on projects she cared about deeply. Nevertheless, her career has been impressive by anyone’s standards. Since graduating from the University of Geneva with an MA in translation, Anderson has translated well over 30 works of literature, including those of some of France’s most successful and interesting contemporary writers.

The three authors Anderson chose to feature at the Lit&Lunch were JMG Le Clézio, who was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in literature, Muriel Barbery, author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, translated by Anderson and still on the New York Times bestseller list, and Christian Bobin, an author best known in France for his lyric essays.

The first passage Anderson read was from her 1997 translation of Le Clézio’s Onishta, a highly descriptive piece whose difficulty to translate one can only imagine. Next was a poetic composition by Bobin called Promised Land, which Anderson said presented numerous translation challenges. Finally, we heard a light-hearted passage from Muriel Barbery’s “prequel” to The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Gourmet Rhapsody, the translation challenges of which included very long sentences and a substantial amount of food terminology that even necessitated phone calls to Japan!

This was a memorable event, and judging by the enthusiastic applause at the end, one that was enjoyed by all who were fortunate enough to attend. SL

DEMYSTIFYING PDF FILES

If you’re a translator and didn’t attend the PDF (Portable Document Format) seminar on March 13th, either you are already an expert user of PDF files or you missed out on an excellent opportunity to learn their intricacies. Tuomas Kostiainen’s well organized and thorough presentation was given at the Downtown Campus of SF State University.

The overview of the many available products compared the main characteristics of Adobe Reader and the various versions of Adobe Acrobat as well as ABBYY FineReader and ABBYY PDF Converter.

Those of us who translate into English receive mostly PDF files in image format and have to use a tool to convert the image file to an editable document. This sad situation is brightened by the fact that sometimes we are called upon to edit a PDF file that is “enabled,” meaning that the file can be edited and commented with the free Adobe Reader.

Translators from English into a foreign language usually receive enabled PDF files that they can change. Tuomas explained the tools in Adobe Acrobat Pro using step-by-step on-screen demonstrations. The key to finding the tools you need is to bring up the right tool bar; then you can make comments, highlight text, use the typewriter tool to write in text, crop, and much more.

We also learned about OCR (Optical Character Recognition) tools to convert image files to Word and Excel documents and editable text. Popular software for this task includes OmniPage Pro, ABBYY FineReader, ABBYY PDF Transformer, and PDF Converter (by Nuance).

Especially important for translators who create their own TMs (translation memories) was the introduction to LogiTerm AlignFactory which allows fast (and relatively accurate) alignment of various files types, including PDF files, to create TMs.

For the pièce de résistance at this sumptuous meal, Tuomas obtained a 20% discount from ABBYY for NCTA members. Hurry and get yours now! SMB

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