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Found in Translation

Posted on 10/10/2014
By Commonwealth Foundation

Translation Day
Two weeks ago we at Commonwealth Writers attended International Translation Day here in London, organised by two of our partners – English PEN and the British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT).  We are none of us translators ourselves but about to begin working with translators – in a partnership with the Dhaka Translation Centre, English PEN and BCLT to support literary translation between Bangla and English.  We hoped we might pick up some helpful thoughts.
It was a busy time in the office so we took it in turn to go to sessions and did not stop to blog about them afterwards.  Apparently I wrote nothing in my notebook except the line ‘in German we don’t say I love you all the time and we don’t say baby all the time’.
On the day I’d noticed two recurring things – people often sigh before they begin to describe the complex political reality of a place they know well. And people often smile as they talk of a place where they grew up, if they don’t live there now.  Indeed I have a vivid memory of the day. For starters, it was good to be surrounded by people really doing the thing they were talking about. This was no place for doing things ‘fenke fenke’ – which the poet Valerie Bloom translated as Jamaican Patois for half-heartedness.
In a session titled ‘Crossing Borders’ the translator Sasha Dugdale spoke eloquently about translating plays from a Russian idiom into a British one.  She told us stories of translations that created unexpected reactions and reflected on her own choices in translation. I heard in her accounts the quiet confidence of someone deeply aware of the perils of her work but who knows she must turn that into a source of strength – continuing to make thoughtful choices. Alice Guthrie, currently translating dialectical Arabic texts from Syria and Palestine put before the audience her own dilemmas about occasionally translating ideas with which she did not agree. What you do when you’re working on a piece of writing that is profound but nonetheless a little misogynist? – she asked. The audience made suggestions.
Do you come, in any part, from a place where things are complicated? Do you know the feeling of being alienated by simplification and at home in complexity? Then I think you might understand the relief I felt at International Translation Day 2014. Or maybe you were there?
Sunila Galappatti, Commonwealth Writers

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