12/7/2012

Distinctive Features in Translation

Suppose the original work or author has distinctive qualities, features that are particular, unique, or recognizable.I can more often than not tell a particular piece is Beethoven if I have never heard it before. It is "Beethoveny." A question I ask in the Master's oral exam, often, is how you would recognize a poem by a given poet without the author's name attached.

Some writers are ornate. Some use extensive word-play. Some are given to metonymy. Some have long sentences and others short.

So one measure of translation would be success in carrying over or representing such distinctive features. If all translations sound the same in the target language then the style of the target language has essentially erased any distinctive differences. If an ornate poet is translated into a spare, anti-rhetorical style, then something has gone wrong.

Now, this means that the idea of a "default" style of "good writing" will distort the choice of texts to be translated. I can't translate poetry without visual images into a strongly visual style, for example.

It occurred to me this morning that I could write a "how not to translate poetry" book. Obviously I couldn't describe it like that except to myself.

3 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

While agreeing with all this, I would distinguish further between

1. being sensitive to the features of a poem

2. being able to attribute a poem to its author ("connoisseurship")

3. being able to talk about the features of a poem

Of these, #1 is most important to me, and #3 is essential for teaching and scholarship. #2 is least important, I think, unless you work for an auction house. If you hear a late Mozart symphony, for instance, or some Mendelssohn, and it sounds like Beethoven, as they both can, is it more important to guess the composer right or appreciate the way the piece works?

Jonathan dijo...

Right. Aside from a point of pride, it is not all that important to be able to distinguish with extraordinary accuracy. In practice, however, this ability will develop more or less naturally out of of (1) and (3). In fact, I might be able to tell it's Vivaldi without being able to say why. The same way you can tell the taste of tarragon without being able to talk about the taste of tarragon.

Vance Maverick dijo...

A couple times recently I've had the experience of listening to something on the radio and thinking, "hey, this sounds like Philip Glass, but with some actual musicality to it." The first time it was a piece of Michael Nyman's. The second time it was Glass's own Symphony No. 9. Maybe in honor of the emblematic genre and number, he has imitated the classics (Bruckner in particular, though not particularly Bruckner's 9th), to good effect.