The commercial demands of modern translation, the birth of translation technology, and the corresponding revolutions in corporate workflows: a threat to the sacred skill of the bilingual soul or a familiar drone? With an office full of linguists who lavish in the satisfaction of successful translated word strings and odd expressions, it is hard to contemplate that what is involved is anything less than genius. More fathomable is that this process is intrinsically creative and rightfully categorized as an art…
Working in the center of Buenos Aires, with tango dancers on the corners of our streets and flute melodies floating about, bandoneónes and soulful lyrics charming even the smallest darkest cafes in the area, I was delighted to stumble across an article entitled “Translation Tango” by Tony Beckwith in the January 2012 version of The ATA Chronicle.
The author insightfully notes: “Tango, then, is a physical experience as well as a virtual or a literary one. So how should we go about translating a tango? We should read it like a poem. For tango is certainly poetry. We should sing it like a song, of course. And we should view it like a movie, with a soundtrack that fills in the gaps of the story and conveys the mood. That – the soundtrack – is what we must translate, but we should not separate the words too much from the music. For the music and the lyrics are like two tango dancers, both involved in the same event but approaching it from a different angle.”
Now doesn’t that just conjure up a fitting visual of just how creative the translation process can be?
I was reminded of a nice article that I came across in the New York Times about the translation of the work of a Swedish poet, entitled “Tomas Transtromer’s Poems and the Art of Translation.” The writer points out that if you win the Nobel Prize, like Transtromer, economic pressures are likely to expose your translators to a healthy dose of criticism. The risk is the reduction of what was once an art form protected by the sacred license of creativity to a raw product in an unforgiving economic system. The translators are now on display in the amphitheatre, to defend themselves under the sharp gaze and rational evaluations of the public.
How does one best translate complex metaphors from one language to another?
The translator has to place himself within the image created and then create a new one that fits in, not only with the target language, but also the literary intention of the original text.
There are a plethora of factors to bear in mind, and it is hard to formulate a secret to success. Alexis Levitin, literary translator, speaking on this issue simply advises, “You’ve gotta do what works.”
I wonder if we could ever program a machine to this simple recipe: to do what works? Will it ever possible to mirror the creative processes of a human brain or two human brains engaged in translation?
I hope not, for the sake of the linguists and the Argentines among us, for the image that comes to mind is that of robots dancing tango…