Jump to content

Why won't English speakers read books in translation?


Recommended Posts

Some call it the two per cent problem, others the three per cent problem. It depends on which set of statistics you use and, as with most statistics, there’s ample room to quibble. But what they all point to is this: English-language publishers have a lamentable track record when it comes to translating great stories from elsewhere in the world. ...

Read on: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140909-why-so-few-books-in-translation

 

What is your personal statistics in reading translated books?

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I suppose we're not referring to the French and Russian 'classics' or the post-war French writers like Camus, Alain Fournier, Simenon and some other French crime writers.  

 

As for my personal statistics it would be rather tedious to proceed country by country so, at random, and in Europe (besides those above) - Gunter Grass, Thomas Mann, Stefan Zweig, Italo Calvino, Antonio Perucchi, Hans Fallada ('Alone in Berlin') and the Nordic crime writers.

 

I  don't seem to get on with South American authors. I've tried some Japanese writers too.

 

But if you do  a 'statistical analysis' I should think 97%(at least) of my current reading consists of UK, US and the occasional Australian and Canadian author- where nothing is 'Lost in Translation' (ha-ha).  So many books out there.  So little time.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Unfortunately the article won't load for me - I get a message saying it is because it is an international article and I'm in the UK. Not sure if that is some sort of irony or what.

 

I studied German at uni and so I have read a lot of European literature in my time. And I prefer not to read translations. I can often feel if something is translated - it just reads badly. Translating literature is an incredibly difficult thing, and I'm sure they only pay for the best translators for important works, such as the aforementioned War and Peace or Anna Karenina or whatever (I have read the latter in a good translation.)

I particularly dislike reading translation from German: I can hear the German behind it and I find it incredibly distracting.

 

I don't know why it doesn't bother speakers of other languages. Maybe they have better translators, or their speakers are more used to reading translations because less is published in their languages.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Recently I've been reading Scandinavian crime fiction - which is fashionable. 

 

And I've read the usual suspects; Nabokov, Marquez, Murakami...

 

I've also just ordered "The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman" by Denis Theriault, a Canadian francophone.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I particularly dislike reading translation from German: I can hear the German behind it and I find it incredibly distracting.

 

I don't know why it doesn't bother speakers of other languages.

 

It does. I have read plenty of awful translations from the English, particularly in SF & Fantasy (even Tolkien), that's why I have turned to reading the books in English. And my daughter does likewise. Keeping the average payment for literature translations in mind, it is of course no wonder that the products often aren't any better. Still, since most readers are unable to do likewise, the translation business is thriving on the book sector. In Slovenia they are doing a better job on average, but that is because the market is so small that translators have to do it out of devotion. Which is a good quality filter.

Edited by Romanike
Link to post
Share on other sites

Unfortunately the article won't load for me - I get a message saying it is because it is an international article and I'm in the UK. Not sure if that is some sort of irony or what.

 

I studied German at uni and so I have read a lot of European literature in my time. And I prefer not to read translations. I can often feel if something is translated - it just reads badly. Translating literature is an incredibly difficult thing, and I'm sure they only pay for the best translators for important works, such as the aforementioned War and Peace or Anna Karenina or whatever (I have read the latter in a good translation.)

I particularly dislike reading translation from German: I can hear the German behind it and I find it incredibly distracting.

 

I don't know why it doesn't bother speakers of other languages. Maybe they have better translators, or their speakers are more used to reading translations because less is published in their languages.

Well put, Mm. I do read books in translation, but it is an entirely different experience from reading a novel written in English. I do it to expand my horizons and see life through the eyes of others whose lives are quite different from mine; but most of  the nuance and magic of language is lost however skilled the translator. In the past two or so years I've read six or seven foreign authors -eg  Birgit Vanderbege, Knausgaard, Bolano, Hannah Kroll, David Vogel, Veronique Olmi, Jenny Erpenbeck-  and have enjoyed them all, but I have to space them out.

Link to post
Share on other sites
but most of  the nuance and magic of language is lost however skilled the translator.

 

Not always. IMHO, the Slovene translation of LeGuin's "Earthsea" series is in some places superior even to the original. It has also been said that the Slovene edition of the fourth "Harry Potter" volume climbed to levels of sophistication that Rowling has never achieved, and my wife confirms that the Slovene "Lord of the Rings" (by the same translator, incidentally) does not feel like a translation at all. The East German translator of Stanislaw Lem has worked some miracles, even with a book that Lem himself had considered untranslatable: Lem, who was fluent in German, has officially approved of his effort. And since the intricacies of Polish escape me, I am glad that it has turned out that way. 

 

I think it would narrow my horizon too much if I restricted myself to German authors only. Skipping Homer, to begin with.

Edited by Romanike
Link to post
Share on other sites

this year one third of the novels i have read have been translated though this is only 12 - 2 garcia marquez books, bolano, allende, eloy martinez, neuman, vazquez, ragnadoittir, knausgaard, n'diaye, lampedusa and jonas jonasson

the next book on my list is "allis silence" by juan manuel rivas, which unlike the south americans, this is a translation from galician and not spanish.

 

although 4 of the 8 books on my christmas list has are translations

 

on translation, the irish times literary editor had a list of her top 25 fictional novels of the year, 21 of which were works that were translated http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/eileen-battersby-s-books-of-2014-1.2018927

a person wrote to the letters page complaining about their was only 4 anglophonic works in it

Link to post
Share on other sites

I seem to have a pretty consistent rate of 10% of the novels I read being in translation. Probably about half of these are translated from Japanese. I find that many of the books from Europe are much of a muchness; why read something in translation when there is something similar available in original English - but some Japanese writers are sufficiently different that there is no direct equivalent written originally in English.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have been puzzling over how to answer this, and can't answer you properly, Romanike. All the European classics I read long ago were probably very carefully translated and there were copious acknowledgments and explanations in the prefaces, so I just took them at face value and had no criticism of the language used. Then they would have been about 50% of my reading.

As far as modern books are concerned I honestly never think about it. I hear about a book, notice that the author's name is "non British" so it may be set in their country and have never even considered whether they have either written it in English to start with, or translated themselves, or had it done for them. I just read the book as it is presented to me and judge it from that. If I have enjoyed it I will usually look up the author and may discover from their life what the original language was, but it doesn't really matter to me.

So far I have never actually noticed what would seem to be a bad translation, but can appreciate that those who are fluent in other languages and can read them in the original may well find some translations irritating.

Edited by grasshopper
Link to post
Share on other sites

Today's Observer has a set of obituaries by celebs about celebs. Edith Grossman's about Gabriel Garcia Marquez has some interesting comments about translation.

 

Grossman's was asked if she would like to translate "Love in the time of Cholera".

"I sen it in a 20-page sample. I thought about it long and hard, as you would imagine, because ere are as many ways to translate a text as there are translators.

I thought about what style of English I was going to use and apparently made the right choice. He did have one comment

... and that was in Spanish he didn't use adverbs - that is words that in Spanish end in "mete"; the equivalent in English would be "ly". his request was that I eliminate all of hose from the translation. It's very hard to figure out how to say "slowly" without the "ly"! So you find strange phrases like "without haste" in the books because I'm avoiding "ly". It was like being back in school..."

 

The full article is here http://gu.com/p/448aj/sbl

Link to post
Share on other sites

Authors should not try to meddle with the target language. A few days ago, a fellow translator received a comment from a customer who demanded that those "random capitalizations of words" had to be eliminated from the German translation at once, what did she think - the French and Portuguese translations didn't have such, either!

Edited by Romanike
Link to post
Share on other sites

Authors should not try to meddle with the target language. A few days ago, a fellow translator received a comment from a customer who demanded that those "random capitalizations of words" had to be eliminated from the German translation at once, what did she think - the French and Portuguese translations didn't have such, either!

 

When I did German I didn't find the capitalisation of nouns nearly as disconcerting as the random insertion of capital Bs in the middle and at the ends of words. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

What capital B? Isn't that a Greek Beta?

 

My long-since-abandoned schoolboy German (circa 1975) seems to remind me that these 'capital Bs' were a German equivalent of an English double S.  I cannot recall whether they had a specific name (nor do I have anything that could represent it on my keyboard) but they would appear in words such as 'strasse'.  

Link to post
Share on other sites

I thinks it's called something like "s-zed". German spelling reform has restricted its use, I think, though I haven't bothered to learn how and where. All the people with whom I correspond left school long ago and we are all happy to spell things however we like without worrying about the new rules.

But I think Mr HG's tongue was in his cheek somewhat.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I thinks it's called something like "s-zed". German spelling reform has restricted its use, I think, though I haven't bothered to learn how and where. All the people with whom I correspond left school long ago and we are all happy to spell things however we like without worrying about the new rules.

But I think Mr HG's tongue was in his cheek somewhat.

I've no doubt!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, ess-tset it is called. The spelling reform has limited its use to s-sounds following a long or a double vowel. It is in fact very simple: river used to be "Fluß" but now it's "Fluss" because the vowel is short. The Swiss don't use the character at all, which is better still.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Authors should not try to meddle with the target language. A few days ago, a fellow translator received a comment from a customer who demanded that those "random capitalizations of words" had to be eliminated from the German translation at once, what did she think - the French and Portuguese translations didn't have such, either!

i don't agree that the author should not try to meddle.

at the end of the day, most people will be looking at the author and judging them more so than the translator with the material so it is their reputation at stake moreso in the eyes of the public, although professionally it is important for the translator more so. it is in both of their interests that they are happy with the translation

 

there is one author that comes to mind that co-translates his novels into english, daniel kehlmann (my copy of fame is not in my collection at the time being)

Link to post
Share on other sites

How many readers will look at the adverbs or would even notice their absence? I wouldn't, because German does not apply an obvious identifier like -ly or -mete. Now I try to imagine Ernest Hemingway insisting that "The Old Man and the Sea" should be translated using monosyllabic words in 90% of the text, like he did. Impossible to do in any other European language! Or, should the translator ask the author for advice on when to use du or Sie in dialogs that have "you" throughout (or the other way round: "You may say you to me ..."?), or what to do about those dreaded -ing-words that languages like German cannot even represent by a close equivalent? I think the author should trust at the end of the day that the translator knows how to do his job.

 

there is one author that comes to mind that co-translates his novels into english

 

Yes, yes, and the two of us are even doing it ourselves. Still, in any case of doubt I prefer to ask a native speaker and listen to his or her advice about how best to render this in English.

Edited by Romanike
Link to post
Share on other sites

+I think the reason why we English don't read much in translation is that we're spoilt for choice with books written originally in English and don't feel the need to struggle with sometimes imperfect translations.  My daughters are completely bilingual - they grew up in France but English is their mother tongue so they switch from one language to the other and they will never read translations of French books, they just aren't as good.

 

Also there's the question of how close the translation is to the original.  Les Ames Grises by Phillipe Claudel has been translated twice as Grey Souls and By A Slow River, both editions according to Amazon by the same translator.  Grey Souls is lyrical and the language is beautiful, By A Slow River is apparently (I haven't read it) much jerkier, more "American", slangier, slightly disjointed and readers complained that it wasn't true to the original.  Except, according to the French members of my bookclub By A Slow River is much closer to the style and feeling of Les Ames Grises than Grey Souls, though everyone who had read both agreed that in English Grey Souls was the more enjoyable book.

 

So what do you do - go for authenticity or the good read?  It's a wonderful book by the way!

Link to post
Share on other sites

So that's another aspect that needs to be considered. Although it is rare to get more than one translation of a work. I described my War and Peace experience elsewhere but I'll bore you all again. Back in the1980's when I wanted to read the novel for the first time; I spend a couple of hours in Waterstones reading the first few chapters of each translation they had available before making my choice.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
×
×
  • Create New...