Musing Lightly on the Issues of Translation | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 03, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 03, 2018

Musing Lightly on the Issues of Translation

Recently, I have come across a significant number of Bangladeshi online journals, diligently invested in literatures in translation/translation literature. Without mentioning any online magazines or pointing at any specific translator, I will say that I found both their efforts and outcome immensely impressive. While browsing through their works, I became curious about the mindset, background knowledge, preparation process, and the translation methods of the aspiring translators. As a translator myself, I am always intrigued by what I call the epistemology of translation. Since the epistemological pursuit of the translator is what bridges the gap between the original and its translation, I want to muse lightly on that issue and throw some old light from my end, which the young and aspiring translators of my country might find helpful.

Defining a Translator

Sharing a common language does not automatically turn us into efficient translators. We may understand a text written in a different language about a culture we are familiar with, but that does not necessarily qualify any of us to be competent translators. Because cultural knowledge and historical references are not intuitive knowledge, we must not either overlook or undermine any word, or even a punctuation mark used in the original text, no matter how slight or unimportant it may seem.

Let me use my own experience as an example. I prefer to call myself an accidental translator, for lack of a better phrase. After inadvertently discovering my interest in translation studies, I translated Nawab Faizunnesa's Rupjalal in 2009 and did not take up any other project until recently when I translated Nileema Ibrahim's Aami Birangana Bolchi. However, I do not consider the long interval between the two projects a proof of my translative incompetence. After all, my existence as a diasporic woman (read a Bangladeshi woman teaching English literature at a university in an outlandishly republican state in the USA)is nothing but a continuous translation of Self. I translate (my existence as an other in the language and culture that is not mine, so that they acknowledge me and see me on their level but on my terms), therefore I am.

There!  I have given you my very own Cartesian cogito of  'being' in translation.

Defining Translation

Roman Jakobson once defined translation as a rewording of verbal signs that uses other signs of the same language, as a proper interpretation of verbal signs done in another language, and lastly, as transmutation, especially when it interprets verbal signs by means of non-verbal sign systems. In these regards, autonomy (or the translator's action), equivalence (or the connection with the foreign text), and function (or the notion of how the translated text is connected to the receiving language) are the three key components to an effective translation.

In a broader sense, translation theory falls into two categories:  instrumental and hermeneutic. In the first category, meanings are based on reference to an empirical reality. It focuses on objective information production. In the hermeneutic category, language is constitutive of thought and meaning. This approach acknowledges the translator's autonomy, and focuses on the socio-cultural ideology of both the original and the translated text. Whatever approach the translation might follow, be it pragmatic or cognitive, psycholinguistic, or ethnographic, its purpose is to offer a linguistic vision of Utopian harmony. And the most harmonized translation is instrumental in its approach to understand the empirical meanings, and hermeneutic in its effort to bring the readers as close as possible to the original text by smudging the difference between the two languages.      

The Method

Translation is a triadic process of Instinct, Experience, and Habit. Instinct is the unfocused readiness; experience is grounded in real world activities, and habit is the act of synthesizing instinct and experience. The Instinctive skill of a translator improves through reading (texts, other translated works, one's own translation) and writing (endless drafts of one's own translation), and research (about the original text's author, history, culture, and language, among others).  A translator should work intuitively, test her intuitive responses against all she has learned about the original, and then internalize the knowledge, before synthesizing in her own words. For Charles Sanders Pierce, this triadic process is dependent on another triad of Abduction,Induction, and Deduction. The translator begins abductively by explicating the target language and the source text. The translator then tests the abductive solutions inductively in psycho-socio-cultural linguistic context of both the original and the target language. By sifting through the seemingly unrelated elements, the translator develops a pattern, which she uses in the deduction process, in order to generalize, synthesize, and harmonize the two texts.

Things not to Assume

The translators must never assume that:

1. their knowledge of the original text is perfect.

2. their knowledge is detailed enough to undertake the task.

3. their knowledge about the text's genre, structure, history, politics, or philosophy is sufficient.

4. they are the masters of the original's syntax, and that the meaning of a word is always stable.

5. they have the right to abuse their translative power.

6. they have the power to suppress the original author.

7. and finally, they must never assume that their readers are a bunch of fools.

Hear Me, One Last Time

Translation is transformation of meaning. As a translator, you are giving preference to some meanings over others. You are translating yourself into the thought of the other language. Translation is an intimate task, in which the Self of the translator acknowledges the Self of the original text. Because writing is nothing but a continuous play of words, translation acknowledges the impossibility of reaching flawless precision.

As a translator, you do not use language; instead, it is language that uses you. You are the medium through which language speaks itself. Therefore, do not overlook a word that you find too difficult, or a cultural idea too complicated to render. Linger on that one word/idea/aspect until it translates itself into your thought. You will attain your goal the moment your thought and language synchronize and transform two totally different worlds into one.

And how do you know you have captured the essence of the original words in yours?

Well, you just do.

Fayeza Hasanat teaches at the University of Central Florida.

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