The Bowers Writers House held an event Monday, Oct. 24 about the process of translation. Dr. Brian Newsome, Dr. Vanessa Borilot and Dr. Mark Harman spoke about their experiences with translation.
Newsome talked about his translation of the book “Invasion 14,” originally written by Maxence Van der Meersch. As an associate professor of history and the Dean for Curriculum and Assessment at Elizabethtown College, Newsome will integrate his translation into his work at Etown.
“I wanted to use it in my classes, an interesting lens into novels,” Newsome said.As a historian, he wanted to use “Invasion 14” in his classes to give his students a better understanding of World War I.
There was already a translation of this book, but Newsome believed it was too generalized. He wanted to put the right words together like a puzzle and to integrate some modern-day English slang into the novel.
Newsome found it challenging to translate certain parts into understandable English, while still keeping the voice of Van der Meersch. In order to accomplish this, he had to do a lot of research to first understand these parts himself before translating them for others.
“Researching for accuracy is very rewarding,” Newsome said.
Borilot, an assistant professor of French at Etown, is proficient in French and Creole. She talked about her role as a cultural consultant for a translation project.
She explained how she needed to understand the world around her, while also being influenced by it. Her main point was the idea of identity. According to Borilot, people should question who they are by looking deeper than the identity on the surface.
As Borilot reinvestigated history, she discovered shared experiences with other cultures. She worked to understand how local experiences can become global ones. According to Borilot, translators need to have keen eyes and ears to choose the right word, one that will make sense without closing off the culture being presented.
Harman, a professor of English and German, discussed what he has worked on in the past and the projects he is working on now.
He has translated “The Castle” by the German author Franz Kafka and is currently working on the translation of another work by Kafka: “The Metamorphosis.”
Harman realized the translator needs to keep the ambiguity of the original work. He decided to change the name of the book for his own translation to “The Transformation” because he felt this English word more closely matched the original word in German.
There is always a difference in translations as the translators try to create their own voice while still keeping the voice of the original.
“Translation is like refinishing an old piece of furniture.” Harman said.
There are a number of difficulties that translators face when they make final decisions about the translation. Sometimes translators fiddle with the wording and have second thoughts throughout the process until they have to hand in the final piece.
Another difficulty translators have is that some word’s word can have many meanings in English. Sometimes they must consider the context in order to understand what the original author meant and to translate it correctly. It can be hard to keep the original author’s meaning if it does not translate well into English.
“How do I catch the cadence?” Newsome asked himself while translating “Invasion 14.”
Translators are not supposed to improvise, especially if they want to keep the voice and flavor of the original author. They go back and forth on the exact wording to use, trying to decide what the author is saying and what they want to get across as translators.
“Sometimes you have to make your own compromise,” Harman said.