EN964Translation Studies in Theory and Practice Issues of Untranslatability John T. Gilmore Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick
What might be “untranslatable”? • words • concepts • language-specific items • culture-specific items • puns • metaphors • idioms • aspects of form How far do these overlap?
To what extent are the following “equivalent”? • bread • pain • brot How far are we dealing with something different when we talk about “taking the bread out of someone’s mouth” or “Give us this day our daily bread”?
How would you render these in English? la gloire Schadenfreude 关系
What is a 旗袍 ? qipao cheongsam MDBG online Chinese-English Dictionary defines 旗袍 as “Chinese-style dress / cheongsam”
马马虎虎 so-so commeçi, commeça
说曹操，曹操到。 Talk of the Devil …
Puns and jokes 1 A Victorian joke: Question: Why are there no eggs in Saint-Domingue? Answer: Because they all cast off their yokes and threw out the whites. • Points to consider: • Is this funny? • What degree of historical or other culturally specific knowledge might be needed in order for it to be funny? • How far is the humour dependent on the pun? • In what ways might reactions to the joke have changed over time? • Is this translatable?
Puns and jokes 2 The citizen of Geneva and his country cousin The country cousin’s question: “Why do all the cars have these stickers saying GE and CH?” He works it out for himself: “Ah! GE stands for GonfederationElvetique, and CH stands for Chenève.” CH Confederatio Helvetica GE Genève
Examples of Brazilian concrete poetry from the 1950s. Taken from Concretismo (Lima: Centro de EstudiosBrasileños, 1978)
by Pedro Xisto cheio = full vazio = empty
by Augusto de Campos lixo = rubbish, garbage luxo = luxury
Es razón de alavar, al Díogrande y poderoso, Con temoridad de corazón, y alegría y gozo, En el díaeste, santo y temeroso. Ah ! En estedíaabajo el Dío del mund’ a Sinai, y milarias de malakhim con él, Pordar la Ley a su pueblo, casa de Israel, Pormano de Moshe Rabenu, pastor fiel. Ah! No quisoabajar, sobreningunmonte alto, Salvo el Monte de Sinai, que se arrabajotanto, Porquedeprenda el hombre, y tome la anavahpormanto. There is cause to praise God, great and powerful, With trembling of heart, and joy, and delight, In this day, holy and awesome. Ah! In this day, the God of the world came down to Sinai, and thousands of angels with him, To give the Law to His people, the House of Israel, By the hand of Moses our teacher, faithful leader. Ah! He did not wish to come down on any other mountain, Except Mount Sinai, who lowered himself so much, That Man might learn, and take humility for his covering. Ketubbah for Shavuot, first printed 1753. Written by Yehudah bar Leon Qalai’i of Salonica. Sung by IzakAlgazi Effendi (1889-1950); recorded 1920s; included on CD issued by KalanMüzikYapım, Istanbul, 2004.
But what does such a translation leave out? Es razón de alavar, al Díogrande y poderoso, Con temoridad de corazón, y alegría y gozo, En el díaeste, santo y temeroso. Ah ! En estedíaabajo el Dío del mund’ a Sinai, y milarias de malakhim con él, Pordar la Ley a su pueblo, casa de Israel, Pormano de Moshe Rabenu, pastor fiel. Ah! No quisoabajar, sobreningunmonte alto, Salvo el Monte de Sinai, que se arrabajotanto, Porquedeprenda el hombre, y tome la anavahpormanto. Hebraicism: En el díaeste [Sp. en estedía] Hebrew loan words: malakhim [angels]; Rabenu [our teacher]; anavah [modesty, humility] Other features: el Dío [Sp. Díos] manto [from Fr. manteau; compare Sp. capa] What other approaches might be possible?
Other approaches • Foreignising translation • Keep the loan-words as they are • Use of annotation and commentary • Seek some sort of “equivalent effect” by other means This still does not deal with the issue of form (e.g., including – but not limited to – verse forms).
Can we think of other examples of texts which would pose similar difficulties for the translator?
Suggestions for further reading • GuoJianzhong, “Translatability in CE/EC Translation”, in Chan Sin-wai and David E. Pollard, An Encyclopaedia of Translation: Chinese-English – English Chinese (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1995, 2001), pp. 1057-1067 • Anthony Pym and Horst Turk, “Translatability”, in Mona Baker, ed., RoutledgeEncyclopedia of Translation Studies (London and New York: Routledge, 1998, 2001), pp. 273-277 • Michael Herzfeld, “The Unspeakable in Pursuit of the Ineffable: Representations of Untranslatability in Ethnographic Discourse”, in Paula G. Rubel and Abraham Rosman, Translating Cultures: Perspectives on Translation and Anthropology (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2003), pp. 109-134