20 December 2010

Mouse or Rat? Translation as negotiation

Originally published in January 2005, in 3 parts. Book 46 in my first 52 books challenge. Edited to include publication information.

I don't know what the xxxx is going on here, but whenever I try to use the Beta posting engine (this refers to tBlog, and not to Blogger) to edit an existing post, the text disappears, just as the introduction to Mouse or Rat? did here. Fortunately, the review was posted separately.

Author: Umberto Eco
Year published: 2003
Pages: 193
Genre: Translation theory, writing
Where got: Amazon.co.uk

In this book, Eco discusses translation as a kind of negotiation: between translator and author, between languages, and so on. He mostly discusses what is known as translation proper, i.e. the translation from one language (source) into another (target). He also mentions other kinds of translations, like intersemiotic translation or transmutation, which is the translation from one form of art into another, e.g. a novel into a film or a poem into a painting, and intralinguistic translation or rewording, but the main focus is on translation proper. Many of his examples are taken from his own books, and from books he has translated, so he has a unique insight into the problems he discusses.

Eco discusses his own work in some detail, and gives some insights into why he loads his novels so much with allusions and quotations from other literary works, and discusses the problems translators have run into when attempting to make translations that have the same effect on readers in other languages as they do in the original Italian.

In the first chapter, in an attempt to explain a particular translation problem, he takes some rather funny examples of machine translation that anyone can repeat with similar results by running a text through any of the translation machines available on the Web.

He goes on from there to discuss translation of poetry (meter and rhyme vs. accuracy), modernization of old texts, effect vs. exact meaning, and several other things that need to be taken into consideration in literary translations, and ends with the problem of accurately translating colour terms.

I must say that Eco’s non-fiction is rather easier to read than his fiction. The ideas he expresses are put forward in a readable style and while a linguist or translation theorist will undoubtedly have a deeper understanding of the text - if only because they’re likelier to be familiar with certain theories he mentions without further explanation - it is clear enough for an interested non-linguist to understand. He uses numerous examples in several languages, and while it isn’t absolutely necessary, it helps to know some Italian, French and German in order to better appreciate the examples, but it is quite possible to get along without knowing any of those languages, because he explains the pertinent parts in English as well. I for example, have learned both French and German (4 years of each), and can not say I understood much in the examples he used in those languages, because much of it is in highly literary, poetic or archaic versions of those languages.

Rating: An interesting insight into some of the problems translators meet with in translating literature and poetry. 4 stars.

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