Showing posts with label literary translation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label literary translation. Show all posts

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Translating literature – not such a lonely business after all

 Nicky Harman writes: Literary translation, like writing, is traditionally a one-woman or one-man job. At most, two people might work together to translate a book. Large-scale collaborative translation projects are a thing of the past, the far distant past when the Bible and the Buddhist scriptures were translated. But literary translators are resourceful folk and have begun to get together in mutual support groups. Here, I interview Natascha Bruce and Jack Hargreaves, both of whom are active in such groups and agreed to tell me more about them.

 


Natascha Bruce translates fiction from Chinese. Her work includes Lonely Face by Yeng Pway Ngon, Bloodline by Patigül, Lake Like a Mirror by Ho Sok Fong and, co-translated with Nicky Harman, A Classic Tragedy by Xu Xiaobin. Forthcoming translations include Mystery Train by Can Xue and Owlish by Dorothy Tse, for which she was awarded a 2021 PEN/Heim grant. She recently moved to Amsterdam.

 




Jack Hargreaves is a translator from East Yorkshire, now based in Leeds. His literary work has appeared on Asymptote Journal, Words Without Borders, LitHub, adda and LA Review of Books China Channel. Published and forthcoming full-length works include Winter Pasture by Li Juan and Seeing by Chai Jing, both of them co-translations with Yan Yan, published by Astra House. Jack translated Shen Dacheng’s short story ‘Novelist in the Attic’ for Comma Press’ The Book of Shanghai and was ALTA’s 2021 Emerging Translator Mentee for Literature from Singapore. He volunteers as a member of the Paper Republic management team and releases a monthly newsletter about Chinese-language literature in translation.

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Can a machine translate a novel? Nicky Harman wonders.

 Rather to my surprise, I found myself at a discussion of this very question at the Literary Translation Centre, in last week's London Book Fair 2022.


This is not my first brush with computer-aided-translation (CAT) tools. Back in the day (2000-2010, so quite a few days back!) I used to teach a CAT tools module on the Translation and Technology (Scientific, Technical and Medical) MSc, at Imperial College London.

First, let’s define some terms: CAT tools do many different things. Translation Memory (TM) apps create a database of segments (sentences or phrases) from the work of previous human translators and offer them up when the human translator comes across identical or similar phrases in a subsequent translation. TM apps are regularly used by companies producing instructions manuals and their translators. Imagine, for example, someone translating an instruction manual for a washing machine where most of the text for different models is repeated, but the spec differs. Note the human agency.

There’s Machine Translation (MT), something we scarcely touched on back then because the results were laughable even between European languages. But things have changed. Roy Youdale, of Bristol University, UK, who was one of the speakers at this talk, writes in a recent article ‘Can Artificial Intelligence Help Literary Translators?’ that ‘A game-changer …. has been the incorporation of machine translation (MT) into CAT tools.’ He goes on: ‘MT basically uses a computer to search and compare the words in a source text with very large databases (billions of words) of texts already translated into the target language. In addition to the translation of individual words, the computer searches for corresponding sequences of words or ‘strings’, a process known as ‘string matching’.’ Anyone who has used DeepL or Google Translate to get the gist of an online article written in a language they can’t read, will know that the results are often quite clear and well-worded.

Monday, 28 February 2022

Everything you always wanted to know about Chinese literature in translation, by Nicky Harman

Full disclosure: I’m devoting my blog this month to a personal project, The Paper Republic Guide To Contemporary Chinese Literature.


Translations from Chinese – from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and beyond – have proliferated in recent years. With so much choice now available, we at Paper Republic decided to put our heads together and produce a guide for enthusiastic and adventurous readers, to be published on 1st March, 2022.
 

Paper Republic, as many of you will know, was founded in Beijing in 2007, and is now a UK-registered charity (aka non-profit), with a mission of increasing the quantity, quality, and visibility of Chinese literature in English translation. Formed around a core team of volunteers, of whom I am one, it draws on the expertise of many of the leading literary translators working in the field. Its website provides free-to-read translations of the best of new Chinese stories and poetry, as well as a database of Chinese literature and its translation. 

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

More than one cook improves the broth. Nicky Harman gives a shout-out for literary team translation.

There are famous historical precedents for translators working as a team. This is especially true in religious texts. One of the greatest projects of all time, the translations of the Buddhist sutras from Sanskrit into Chinese, was carried by teams of translators working in a government department. The British Library not only has a collection of sutras in Chinese, their website also has an interesting article about the translators and the translations.

In more recent times, the Bible (notably the St James’ version) and bible commentaries have been translated by committees. So what are the challenges? I found this useful comment from one of the translators of Hermeneutics in Romans: Paul's Approach to Reading the Bible by Timo Laato. ‘Translating as a team is a difficult process. I find it to be a deeply personal endeavor and every translator I know attacks projects and translation problems differently. [On] taking over [my predecessors’] work…[t]he first thing I had to do was read the original and their translation in tandem, to see what their word and style choices had been for translation. A translation is going to suffer more than continuity if a second translator decides to use a slightly different word than the one originally used. Often a translator can choose from up to five or six words all with different shades of meaning to use for almost every word on a page.’

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Down the rabbit hole – Nicky Harman takes a look at Bristol Translates Online Summer School


I have taught many summer schools in translation, and I have run translation workshops online. But I have never, until last week, taught an entire summer school online. It was of course, Covid which dictated it. Last year’s school was cancelled but this year, it happened, all credit to some brilliant and determined organizers.

The students certainly had faith that it was going to work. There were groups for eleven languages, and several had so many applicants that they divided into two, or even three, groups. There were twenty-four people translating from Chinese into English, so we had two groups.

I am a firm believer that literary translation is a skill you learn by working on it. And did we work! There was a buzz of collective creativity from beginning to end. We discussed the minutiae of language in painstaking detail, from the meaning of the individual words we were translating, to the overall style and how to recreate it, to the ethics of translation and the translator’s responsibility both to the author and to the reader.

We missed the socializing, the face-to-face meetings, during and after workshop sessions. But there was an upside to running the course online: our participants translating from Chinese came from all over the world and several different time zones, from the Americas, to the UK and various European countries, and China and Hong Kong. It is likely that not all of them would have been able to attend had the summer school been run in the traditional way, in Bristol.

One of the joys of translation workshops is that the tutor learns too. We worked, amongst other pieces, on an excerpt from Happy Dreams, where a migrant worker hangs onto his green builder’s safety helmet despite the ribald jokes about his wife cuckolding him (戴绿帽子, putting the green hat on him) in his absence, and one student pointed to the man’s grinding poverty – he had no other possessions to hang onto, something I had not thought of. And there were many other illuminating insights. As one would expect from a diverse and highly-motivated group, some of whom, with great determination, not to say heroism, were getting up at the crack of dawn or staying up until the small hours, to attend it.

Anyway, after three days of intensive hard work, the last session of the last day is traditionally a time to do something a little light-hearted. So I picked a short piece in Chinese translated from a classic English novel, made a very feeble attempt to disguise what the original book was, and asked them to translate it back into English. It was Alice in Wonderland,


and in case you have not read it recently (and there’s an exhibition on at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London which should encourage anyone to go back to the book), it is full of the most wonderfully liberating and mind-bending language. Not an easy task to translate into any language, especially the nonsense rhymes.

The Chinese version I asked them to back-translate from is itself a classic. It is the work of Zhao Yuanren (also known as Yuen Ren Chao, 1892-1982) a Chinese-American linguist, scholar, poet and composer.

As Minjie Chen writes in her Earliest Chinese Editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at Princeton, “In the preface he wrote for the first Chinese edition of Alice, Chao acknowledged the challenge of translating the book. As he rightly observed, Alice was neither new nor obscure by the time he decided to give it a try–the book had been out for more than fifty years and entertained multiple generations of children in English-speaking countries. The reason why no Chinese version existed, he figured, was the formidable challenge posed by word play and nonsense in Carroll’s writing (Chao 10). In fact, the only “Chinese version” that Chao was aware of was done, albeit verbally, by Sir Reginald Fleming Johnston (1874-1938), tutor to Puyi (溥仪), the last Emperor of China. The Scot had told the story of Alice in Chinese to the lonely teenage boy in the Forbidden City. Chao decided that his translation project with Alice, carried out in the midst of Chinese language reform movement, would be an opportune experimentation with written vernacular Chinese ….. In Chao’s trailblazing Chinese translation, we witness how Alice encompasses both general challenges and unique Carrollian tests for a foreign language and how the translator meets them head-on through a creative and imaginative employment of the Chinese language.”

So… not a task for the faint-hearted then. But back to my students. They worked on a  nonsense rhyme from the jury scene in chapter 12 of Alice in Wonderland. We played around with updating the White Rabbit, giving him a mobile phone instead of a pocket watch, but I present here, with their permission, a snippet from the end of this beguiling poem. The White Rabbit is reading….

她还没有发疯前,

你们总是讨人嫌,

碍着他同她同它,

弄得我们没奈何。
  
 
她同他们顶要好,

别给她们知道了。

你我本是知己人,

守这秘密不让跑。

In pinyin, that reads,

Tā hái méiyǒu fāfēng qián,/nǐmen zǒng shì tǎo rén xián,/àizhe tā tóng tā tóng tā,/nòng dé wǒmen mònàihé./Tā tóng tāmen dǐng yàohǎo,/bié gěi tāmen zhīdàoliao./Nǐ wǒ běn shì zhījǐ rén,/shǒu zhè mìmì bù ràng pǎo.

I did not indicate any kind of rhyming scheme to the students. I gave them no guidance at all. They just had to do their best with the Chinese verses in front of them. This is how they translated it back into English,

Back before she went insane
You were always such a pain
To him, to her, to everyone
Pray tell, what could we have done?

She and the guys get on so well,
As for the ladies, hush, don't tell!
Good friends we'll be for all our days,
If this secret between us stays.


After they had finished, I showed them the English. Carroll wrote,

My notion was that you had been
(Before she had this fit)
An obstacle that came between
Him, ourselves, and it.
 
Don't let him know she liked them best,
For this must ever be
A secret, kept from all the rest,
Between yourself and me.'

 Lewis Carroll and Zhao Yuanren would have been proud of the Bristol Translates students. I was.