Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Translation: Like Hugging a Foreigner... with Words


Being a translator is not just about taking words in one language and turning them into another – oh no, that’s only the basic upper layer of the thing...

What being a translator is really about is “people”, and “connections”, and “the oneness of all living beings, sentences, and syllables in the universe”. Personally, I became a translator with the hopes of bringing together people who would never have been able to meld without the deconstruction of the metaphoric barrier that we call “language” between them. The slogan in the logo of a certain translators’ community I happen to be familiar with says “Love for languages”, but as for me, I like to say “Love for languages, and people and animals and nature and the Earth and stuff”.

To really be a great translator, one who translates the true meaning – nay, essence – of a phrase, one needs to feel that warm, fuzzy “je ne sais quoi” down in the cockles of one’s soul, that lightly-toasted feeling of wanting to act as the proverbial bridge between the river and the Kwai. Many folks just do it for the fortune and fame to be gotten from patent translations, or for the look of burning desire they get from a woman at a bar to whom they confide “I translate iPhone games for a living”. And that’s all fine as well. But when it comes down to it, when you really need a word to be in a different language from the one in which it is at present, you don’t need a dictionary, or an Internet, or even a guy who speaks that language and maybe lives in your neighborhood, and whose house is close enough that you could possibly walk on over and ask him directly how to say the word, except you haven’t been formally introduced and that would be a bit awkward. No, you don’t need those at all. All you really need is these. Actually, you can’t see me right now, but I’m holding my hands up.

Because I’m referring to my hands.

And by my hands, I mean “our” hands. And what do I mean by that? Why am I holding my hands up? Am I about to strike you? Of course not; I am a person of peace. Do I have a question? No, on the contrary, I am about to answer one: I am holding my hands up, because hands are for what? That’s right – holding. When you translate a word or phrase in the truest sense, you need to take that chunk of text by its tiny little hand – which for English, is probably the tip of a lowercase “f” – and guide it along through its transformation into its new, beautiful form. Love the word, care for it. And in doing so, you are vicariously loving and caring for the unknown foreigner on the other end of your translation, and super-vicariously for every other foreigner to whom he shows your labor of linguistic love.

Isn’t that a pretty thought?

Showing true, deep, nearly carnal love for words and language is not only a prerequisite for being a great translator; it’s also a requirement for being a citizen of the universe. The ability to caress a sentence, to fondle a phrase, to undress an adjective and impregnate an idiom... these are the skills that once acquired will allow you to do more than merely trans-late. They will enable to to trans-LOVE.

Thank you very much.
Yours Arwyn Draughdodge