Wednesday, 28 January 2009

On Translating Zaimoglu

Kristin Dickinson, Robin Ellis and Priscilla D. Layne have a fascinating long article in Transit, the UC Berkeley journal of travel, migration and multiculturalism in the German-speaking world. The three authors were the winners of last year's Susan Sontag Translation Prize for their rendering of Feridun Zaimoglu's Koppstoff (I wrote about it here). Their article talks about the process and problems of translating it, with two sample sections also available online.

They take a very academic approach to the subject and to the translation itself - not surprising given the context of the article. And while I do have certain issues with translation studies as an academic discipline - particularly that it doesn't take the material conditions of working translators into sufficient account - I do appreciate the fact that it exists, and that people like Dickinson, Ellis and Layne are putting the theories to the test in practical translation projects.

They look at things like the different readerships for the two versions and the authenticity of the text itself. Interestingly, they talk about the idea of substituting Ebonics for Zaimoglu's artificial Turkish-inflected German - very sensibly rejecting it out of hand, something any working translator would give them a hearty pat on the back for. The notion of uprooting the original sociolect, dialect, ideolect or whatever it may be and replanting it in, say, Bradford just because there is a substantial migrant population there too, is rather on the ridiculous side. Strangely, though, it has worked in the past for theatrical translations, where a translator can re-locate the entire plot of Kleist's Cracked Pot to Skipton in 1810. And my favourite exception to this otherwise hard and fast rule is the German version of My Fair Lady, in which Eliza drawls her way through the action in finest Berlinerisch.

I think the authors have done a good job of their translation, by the way, and tackled a lot of challenges along the way. One thing I find very interesting is that they seem to have had no contact with the author himself. Perhaps that's part of the approach they've taken, just working everything out their own way for their own very different audience. But I personally find a basic minimum of discussion with the author very productive for my translations, and a great source of feedback from someone intimately familiar with the original.

I wonder when we'll be able to read the entire book of "interviews" with Turkish-German women in English - and how it will go down?

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