Friday, August 27, 2010

Translation - random thoughts

A number of years ago I was approached by a firm to do a translation. A one page bureaucratic document that that to do with excise taxes. I was quite excited to be approached for this, although I borked the translation. I spent way too much time sweating the somewhat difficult stuff (like all the crazy acronyms found in the document) that I mistranslated big time units to small time units. Oh well. Live and learn!

Now I've been working on a longer literature translation on my spare time for a friend, and I've learned my lessons, however another thought has come to mind: How close to the original does a translator make his work? The intent of the translation is to not necessarily translate everything verbatim, but convey the meaning of the original into the target language. What I am wondering is how much leeway does a translator have with tenses, active versus passive voice and participial expressions.

For example, you are translating something from a language where the original is in a past tense, but it's a narrative that has a dialogue between two actors. If you translate this into English, you can try to lift as much of the grammar structure as possible, or you could opt to go with the historical present. How does one decide how much leeway they have in translating, especially if they are translating a dead language?

Thoughts?
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