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Loose Translation

Wim asked:

Do you have any view on what it means for a translation to be “correct”?

Yes, but I don’t see correctness as as important as good English (or whatever the target language is, I’m reading Higashimura’s “Le Tigre des Neiges” in French).

Correct is like when things are what they say they are. Someone’s cousin isn’t changed to their uncle or w/e. Literal is when things are translated very 1 to 1. (There’s a huge overlap between these two.)

I like it when translators are allowed to take huge leaps. Like, when they say “miss” instead of “san”, I like that.

Watchmen is what it is and I’m not endorsing Moore here but as an example, it was translated three times (because of rights issues). The second translation is one of the best translations of all time since it knows when to depart and when to stay. This comic has a bunch of weird easter eggs if you read the panels out of order, and at one point there’s a guy eating raw shark and in the same panel position on another page, another guy mishears “Rorschach” on the phone as “Raw Shark”. In the Swedish translation, they translated to to “raw meat” (“rå chark”), making it work on all three layers at once. Pretty nifty. (I dislike that he didn’t translate names like “Nite Owl” to “Nattugglan”, that would’ve been way better.)

Another example (also shark-related) is how Saruman is called “Sharkey” by some orcs since “Sharku” means “old man” in orcish. The Swedish translator changed “sharku” to a word that vaguely resembled the Swedish word for shark (“haj”, as all you blåhaj fanatics know), i.e. the translator was incorrectly and un-literally representing Orcish, for the benefit of the rest of the text. This is what I want. Scholars can go read the English original. Translators instead need a joy and love and mastery for the target language.

I genuinely feel that the best Swedish prose I’ve ever read are all by Molle Kamnert Sjölander, who ostensibly is a “translator” for Gibson, Coupland, Ozeki etc but whose own prose style is unmistakable and unforgettable and un-put-down-able. The books are feverish, tight, emotional. Just such a great author’s “voice”.

Basically, what I don’t want is when a “translation” is just a very thin calque with stiff and awkward target language full of code switching and author’s notes. Instead I feel that names like “Spider-Man” and “King’s Landing” need to be translated. I want the work to fully be in the target language, not just be a poor copy of the original for those who kinda-but-not-really understand the source language.

Wim calls the overly literal translation “close” and “close” is a great way to put it! How it bugs me when closeness is a higher priority than a wonderful and moving text.

Endnotes is fine, footnotes not so much. As a compromise, I prefer chapter endnotes over book endnotes.

As another example, Squid Game caught flak for translating the title “흉” as the first name “Sang-woo” (as opposed to the more formal title “사장님” the relationship had previously used). I disagree so strongly with that criticism. I mean, something like “pal” could’ve maybe worked, but awkwardly, and awkwardness is what we don’t want in a beautiful, well-flowing, and accessible translation. Worse still than pal would’ve been to leave in a romanized “hyung” and asterisk it.