Translation is never an easy task, and translating literature is especially difficult. However, to those outside of the translation industry, it’s a task that can seem deceptively simple. After all, the text is already written; how hard can it be to change the words to another language?
To help counter that perception, Daniel Hahn of FreeWordCentre.com is blogging each step of his translation of Brazilian author Carola Saavedra’s novel Flores Azuis from Portuguese to English. This translation diary gives the reader an inside look at all of the countless decisions and considerations that go into translating a novel from one language to another, a task that Hahn refers to as “both simple and impossible.”
As Hahn notes in a the 4th entry, entitled “infidelity,” a good translation is never a simple matter of swapping one word out for another, “because two languages never map onto each other word for word, and there’s something happening in the Portuguese that isn’t happening in the English, just because of the way the two languages work differently.” In this case, he is trying to decide how he wants to signal the gender of the narrator to the reader. Portuguese is a gendered language, so in the original text this information is signaled by the gender of adjectives the narrator uses to describe herself, with no need to explicitly state that she is a woman. When translating to English, he must find a way to indicate her gender without sounding awkward.
Read through the series to see how much thought goes in to providing an accurate translation that maintains all the subtleties of the original text. Then, ask yourself if you can really rely on anything less than a skilled translator to translate for your business!