Monday, February 12, 2007

A translator and a copyeditor

Chi mentioned in her last post that she feels uncomfortable about translating Korean poems into English because the original feeling or meaning is “lost in translation.” I often feel the same way when I translate something or read a translated work.

Although I study translation, I believe that no translated work can surpass the original, especially when the languages involved are not closely connected. I think there is a merit in reading Shakespeare in English or Lady Murasaki in Japanese. The best a translator can do is to imagine, “How would the author say this if he/she knew English/Japanese?”

A translator can spend hours coming up with a good translation for a very short phrase or even a word. Because of all the efforts, some translators can get personal when someone criticizes their work. I can just imagine the fury of a translator when a copyeditor who doesn’t know the source language criticizes and alters the translation. But such an emotional reaction indicates a lack of professionalism.

Does a copyeditor work with a different frame of mind when working with a translated piece? Does a copyeditor take into consideration the fact that the piece he/she is dealing with came from another language through a translator?

1 comment:

Pat said...

Criticizing the work of a translator is conduct unbecoming to a copyeditor, it seems to me.

Every now and then we work with a translator who has not published very much. In the process of copyediting, we sometimes help complete the translation by offering the translator more options than he or she has thought of. A good example is someone who obtained his doctorate in English from UH and, several years ago, submitted to us some of his translations of Yasunari Kawabata. In the course of copyediting these, we came up with phrasing that he had not thought of, and he was grateful to have more choices.

Yes, copyeditors are quite aware that they're working on translations, and yes, they take into consideration the fact that the work has been translated. You might remember that I read to the class the beginning of an interview called "To Dream and Transform"; I'll give you the complete piece on Friday, and you can see how the words of the poets, spoken in Chinese and translated into English, were treated.