News | 21.06.2010

Live Literary Translation Debating

The British Museum was the place to be this weekend for the live translation event. The format was simple, but nonetheless exciting: one text, two languages (French into English), two different translations, and two translators justifying the linguistic decisions behind their translation choices. And if this wasn’t enough, joining them on the stage was the author of the text himself! This is a luxury rarely afforded to translators and we are sure it provided for some passionate exchanges!

The event formed part of the World Literature Weekend organized by the London Review of Books. The live translation debate involved Sarah Ardizzone, Frank Wynne and was chaired by Daniel Hahn – all renowned translators. The author in question is Alain Mabanckou, a French-speaking Congolese author of international acclaim, who provided the short story. The London Review of Books website promised discussions on “How to balance spirit and accuracy?”; dealing with slang, puns and the dreaded “untranslatable words”; and cultural transposition was also on the agenda.

In her Guardian blog prior to the event, participating translator Sarah Ardizzone provided further background: out of the texts 56 sentences, the sole instance where both translations are identical is the following one-word phrase: “’Really?’”. The translators involved had not seen each others’ versions, as opposed to the Chair who had a copy of both texts – an element which surely added an extra spark to the proceedings! The audience were also provided with a copy of the source text and the two translated texts.

The Translation People eagerly await the post-event reports and will most definitely be signing up for next year’s event. But for translators, linguists, or book lovers, then Saturday afternoon at the British Museum was certainly the place to be this weekend!

Sources: “Walking the tightrope between translation and interpretation”; Sarah Ardizzone; www.guardian.co.uk

London Review Bookshop: www.lrbshop.co.uk


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