Translators on Translating


As more and more books become available in translation, the literature of the world becomes available to readers. Who are the translators, those lovers of language who toil away quietly to bring us the stories and ideas of France, Russia, Japan, and Serbia, written a thousand years ago and two years ago? How do they translate Chinese poetry into Scots, or the King James Bible into Swahili, without anything getting lost (or found) in translation? Is it more ethical to translate literally, or to tweak the text for smooth reading in the new language? How does anyone know whether a translator is doing a good job?

In this lively book about the art, science, and process of language-wrangling all over the world, Andrew Wilson – a writer, editor, and translator – takes the reader inside “the invisible art.” He offers a cornucopia of anecdotes, ideas, and opinions from his own experience and from more than fifty eminent translators, writers, and critics, including Paul Auster, Umberto Eco, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and William Weaver. Their accounts of the trials, travails, and joys of their work reveal as much about the difference between people and cultures as the difference between languages.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Jean Delisle

Introduction / Is my invisibility showing? A personal introduction

Chapter 1 / Open windows and reversed tapestries: The work

How translators describe their work, in metaphors ranging from the reverent to the scurrilous.

Chapter 2 / Art, profession, or vocation? The trade

How people become translators, and what they get from the job.

Chapter 3 / Betray, domesticate, or negotiate? The process

Different approaches to the job, with examples ranging from literary fiction to film dubbing – and, for fans of schadenfreude, somenotable failures.

Chapter 4 / “If Swahili was good enough for Jesus Christ…”: Translating religion

The minefield of sacred texts, from St. Jerome’s Vulgate to recent interpretations of the Koran.

Chapter 5 / Govspeak: Translating the official version

More minefields from the worlds of politics, public administration, empire, and espionage.

Chapter 6 / L10n to G10n and back again: Business and technical translation

How the majority of translators make their living, with particular attention to the influence of the Internet, and material gathered from translators’ blogs and online forums.

Chapter 7 / Lost and found: Translating poetry

Auden contradicts Frost, Voltaire makes Hamlet rhyme, Chinese becomes Scots, and many other wonders.

Chapter 8 / Collusion, collision, conversation: The author/translator relationship

It isn’t always easy, and sometimes it isn’t even a relationship. Kafka into Italian, Arab novelists into English, Australian into Finnish, and more.

Chapter 9 / When I hear the words “Translation Theory…”: Translation studies

Chapter 10 /Language wrangling: A grab bag


About the Author

Andrew Wilson is a writer, editor, and translator. He was born in Vancouver, studied at UBC, University of Ottawa, and King’s College London, and has worked in Canada, Central America and Europe. His translations include Amélie Nothomb’s novel Loving Sabotage (New Directions and Faber & Faber); Laëtitia Atlani-Duault’s Humanitarian Aid in Post-Soviet Countries (Routledge); and from Spanish, Zoe Berriatúa’s The Existentialist Dog and Other Tales (Panta Rhei). Most recently he has freelanced as a technical writer and editor for un organizations such as UNAIDS, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization. He currently lives in England, where in addition to his other activities, he is a magistrate.