Sunday, February 15, 2015

Real translation isn't done by Google

Google Translate is a handy tool that I use quite often to help me quickly understand correspondence such as e-mails from our sons' school.  Its translations are direct, rough, never more than partially accurate, and often hilarious.  It cannot translate books, and certainly not poetry.

This book (tentatively titled Moonflower and the Solstice Dance)  is written entirely in verse, which is exceptionally difficult to translate.  Rhyme makes it difficult to translate word for word, and so it is meaning that must be translated and rhyming attempted.  Word order cannot be maintained, and vocabulary must often change.  But a great translator can maintain the imagery, feeling, and rhythm of a poem.

I am so lucky to have friend who is a talented English-German translator!  I was already lucky to call
Andrea Etterer my friend, but she has also kindly offered to translate The Solstice Dance, and has nearly completed her translation.  What I have read so far brought tears to my eyes.  My German is far from perfect, but I know enough to get the same feeling from reading her translation as I do when I read the original in English.  Being good translator requires both skill and training, and Andrea has both.

Writing prose is like painting with words.  Translating prose is like painting the same subject with slightly different materials.  Translators are artists, too - think about this the next time you read something or watch a film that has been translated from another language.  One well-known example I can think of is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint ExupĂ©ry, which was originally written in French. I originally read the book in French, and got a feeling for the story in its native language.  I own two different translations of the book, and the difference is massive - one translation tells the story but the music is faded.  The other translation is a beautiful rendition of the original.

I never considered the beauty of the art of translating until I wanted my own words translated, and now I know I will notice it everywhere.

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