Sunday, 7 February 2021

Is it a bad translation or a difficult author?


What is a good translation?

In Greece, it's common to refer to a translated book as a good translation when the text reads well. 

However, is this a good translation? In my opinion, this might not be a translation at all. When the translator glosses over certain idiosyncrasies of the author, namely his or her elliptic sentences, coarse style or difficult diction, the final product should be considered an adaptation rather than a translation of the original work. 

Besides, when we read a translated book that does not flow well, we blame the translator; as if it were possible that all translated books should be easy to read. 

I believe that readers of translated books think in the above way precisely because they expect that translators should take good care of them: they have read the book, after all, they are experts on the source language as well as on the book's subject matter, and they have taken great pains to translate this book into a new language. 

And that's why readers expect from translators the following:

  • That, where appropriate, they have made the source text easier to understand, and 
  • When the author's style and/or purposes mean that the text is difficult on purpose, the translator has abstained from facilitating the text for the target audience.

The second case is equally important, but when it is violated, you may miss it.

Therefore, as many translation theorists advocate, in such cases it may be wise to insert a translator's note, even just to comment on the author's momentary obscure style.

This way, the readers will know that the translator has nothing to do with it.

Do you enjoy reading a translated book with many translator's notes?

I do; I like them because translator's notes add to the experience of the book, especially when they explain a translation issue or a cultural conflict. 

However, some readers get distracted by too many notes and, although these notes, in my opinion, are an asset to the book and add value to it, some publishers avoid them.

Have you ever come across a difficult book? Did you blame the translator? Do you enjoy translator's notes? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!