Showing posts with label Peter Newmark. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Peter Newmark. Show all posts

Notes on Literary Translation

1. The more serious the text, morally and aesthetically, the more accurately and economically it should be translated, reflecting the thought, style (idiolect rather than variety of language), emphasis (through functional sentence perspective), and as far as possible, particularly in poetry, the rhythm and sound of the original.

2. The more important the language of a text, which is on a scale from poetry (where every word and feature are important, but paradoxically, there are so many factors, that close translation is most difficult and denotatively least likely or possible) through the short story and the novel to tragedy, drama, comedy and farce, the last four being actively affected by their audiences, the more closely it should be translated.

3. A deviation from normal SL social usage, whether lexical, idiomatic, or grammatical, should usually be reflected in the translation.

4. A word, whether key-word or leit-motif repeated in the source language text, should be repeated, never replaced by a synonym, in the translation.

5. An original universal metaphor should be translated literally; an original cultural metaphor should retain as much of the original image as is possible consonant with the situational and linguistic context bringing and making the meaning clear to the second readership.

6. A standard metaphor should be translated by its standard equivalent or, failing that, comprehensibly adapted.

7. Humour and irony must be reflected in the translation, sometimes at the cost of literal or denotative meaning.

8. If the dramatist intends the audience to cry or to smile or to laugh at a certain place in a play, the translator must do likewise, sometimes, in the case of broad laughter, at the cost of a faithful linguistic translation.

9. Sound should be reflected in onomatopoeia and compensated in assonance, but may have to be sacrificed in alliteration.

10. Essentially, literature, belles-lettres, is about individuals and their actions, while non-literature, Sachbücher, is about objects and movements. The salient features of literary texts are the human qualities expressed in adjectives, adverbs and nouns of manner. These are the more sensitive components of language, readily changing in meaning in response to their situational and linguistic contexts: thus, 'cool' (branché, super) or 'streetwise' (dégourdi).

11. Sound, linguistic rhythm, speech-rhythms, colloquial language and linguistic innovations are fundamental factors in literary language from poetry through drama to fiction, and have to be recreated in the translation.

12. Literary language is basically the recording of spoken language, a dialogue between writer and reader ('Reader, I married him'), or between the first and the second person singular. Nonliterary language is basically third person singular, impersonal or passive.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 201-202.

The Museo National de Bellas Artes of Buenos Aires

This splendid museum has an extraordinary picture, one of five by Goya, called Escena de Guerra ('War Scene'), but also, in some books, Escena de Bandidaje ('Bandit Scene'), presumably because the subject may be either. This picture has some common features shared with the great Prado picture, The Shootings of the 3rd of May.

The titles of all pictures in the museum are in Spanish and English (but El Repos de Diana, presumably Le Repos de Diane, becomes Diana at Rest, which confuses the functional sentence perspective and any index of titles). A pity the third language titles in the museum were not added where appropriate.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 196-197.

Degrees of Translation

One can divide translation topics into five broad categories:

  1. Transcultural translation.
  2. Information translation, or translation of facts.
  3. Social translation, or translation of social science texts.
  4. Literary translation.
  5. Poetry translation.

In respect of method, as I shall attempt to show, one category begins where the previous one finishes, and there is a gradation from 'detached' to 'close'.

1. In transcultural texts (which include dramatic adaptations, much publicity and propaganda, public notices) where equivalent effect is envisaged, source language cultural expressions and discourses are replaced by target language cultural expressions and discourses.

2. For information texts, the facts are all-important, which suggests that the words can be juggled around at the translator's will. However, if the text is well written, the descriptive and qualitative words that modify the facts, and the syntactical structures and word-order that indicate priorities and emphasis have to be respected. A sentence such as Grâce à cet ordinateur et son logiciel personnalisé, les médecins disposent désormais du premier fichier médical confidentiel could be translated as 'Doctors now have their first confidential medical files due to computers and personalised software' or 'The first confidential medical files are at every doctor's disposal thanks to computers and personalised software' but it would be much better left alone as 'Thanks (also) to the computer and personalised software, doctors now have their first confidential medical files'. If on the other hand, an information text is poorly written, the translator has to rewrite and restructure it. Mon propos ici vise à récuperer la parole qu'ils ontperdue . . . 'I intend here to redress their inability to express their views'. (Illustrations adapted from Beverly Adab's Annotated Texts for Translation: French-English.)

3. For social texts, where I include texts ranging from texts close to the sciences to texts about the arts and the humanities, psychological and cultural nuances cannot be regarded as less important than the facts. These are the texts which require, as their aim, a full denotative translation. A scrap example would be: L'apparence physique joue un rôle essentiel pour guider l'opinion que nous avons des individus que nous ne connaissons pas. Tous les racismes se nourissent d'ailleurs de ces formes primaires d'identification. 'Physical appearance has an essential role in guiding the opinion we have of individuals we don't know. Besides, all forms of racism feed on these simplistic means of identification.'

4. Literary translation. The translation is based on denotations, but these are dominated by connotations where they appear. There are other new important factors: the allegorical and symbolic nature of the language; sound (in general terms); personal and emotional language, the shapes of sentences and paragraphs; concision. Scrap example: Je désirais fortement de toucher terre et n 'y parvenais point, faute de savoir où la terre se trouvait. 'I longed to touch the earth and could not do so, because I did not know where the earth was'. (Le Défi, P. Sollers, translated by Jean Stewart. Penguin Short Stories, pp. 216-7).

Note that in literary and dramatic criticism texts, the full literary vocabulary may appear, but the other 'new' factors in literary texts such as sound, may be missing.

5. Poetry translation. Poetry calls on all the resources of language, and, in parallel, these become the factors that the translator of a poem has to consider and hierarchize or prioritize differently for each poem, depending on its specific nature. Thus metre, rhyme, rhythm, assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia (all) relate to meaning, sound and form. The struggle to reconcile the semantic with the aesthetic (in a natural style as well as in sound and form) is at its most intense and can sometimes only be maintained for single lines.

Un brouillard sale etjaune inondait tout l'espace
Je suivais roidissant mes nerfs comme un héros
Et discutant avec mon âme déjà lasse
Le faubourg secoué par les lourds tombereaux.

Foul yellow mist had filled the whole of space:
Steeling my nerves to play a hero's part,
I coaxed my weary soul with me to pace
The backstreets shaken by each lumbering cart.

(Les sept vieillards. Charles Baudelaire; translated by Roy Campbell).

Note the brilliant correspondences here, also in sound: roidissant, 'steeling'; mon âme déjà lasse, 'my weary soul'; tombereaux, lumbering; cf.fourmillante cité, 'ant-seething city' in the first stanza. The poem is a wonderful translation, but close only by the standards of poetry translation.

Ironically, information texts, which least need close translation, can be translated most closely, particularly if they are not tied to the culture of the original text; poetry, which is so packed with meaning at the level of syntax, words and sound that it requires the closest translation, is in fact the loosest, usually owing to the conflicting demands of rhyme, metre and sense. (Relatively, it is easier to translate 'free' verse such as Celan's, but in comparison with prose literary translation, this too is more difficult.)

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 137-139. 


The exhibition of the tremendous and terrible still lives by Goya at the National Gallery (et praeterea nihil and nothing else counts but it also includes some other interesting Spanish still lives) has all its titles in English. Perhaps this is titfortatting the Prado, but many spectators would want to know the Spanish titles.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 137.

Notes on Psychiatric Translation and the Diogenes Syndrome

For any translator, the medical vocabulary is confusing enough; the psychiatric vocabulary is often chaotic, given the perennial divide between behaviourism and mentalism, as well as the various degrees of eclecticism between them, not to mention the renewed efforts, now exaggerated by PC, to sanitize terms that arouse prejudice. However, translating a 1985 article on Das Diogenes-Syndrom in the Fortschrittliche Neurologische Psychiatrie I found the language sober, sauber and restrained. A few lexical points:

Entmündigung; 'sectioning' is the tactful British cultural equivalent; I preferred 'certification', as the German context perhaps removed it from prejudice.

Sammeltrieb. The jargon terms are 'collectionism' and 'syllogomania', but I preferred 'the urge to hoard'.

Lebensraum. 'Personal environment' or (of course) 'personal space'. (The political sense is hopefully a fossil.) Der Tod des Lebensgefährten hat eine neurotische Störung im Selbstwerterleben zur Dekompensation gebracht. 'The death of her life-partner had been offset by a neurotic disturbance in (the experience of?) her selfesteem.' ('Decompensation' is usually a medical term, but not here.)

Bezugsperson. 'The person one relates to'. An English coinage is desirable.

Asozialität. (yuck). 'Unsociable behaviour.'

. . . Sie lässt sich aus der Wohnung des Bruders herausklagen, um aufdiese Weise leichter an einen eigenen Besitz zu kommen. 'She had herself evicted by court order from her brother's house, and in order to obtain a new property (more easily).

(Ausklagen for Einklagen, 'sue, prosecute'. Thanks to Sabine Nice.)

Thymoleptisch. Obsolete word. 'Psychotropic'.

Versteinerung. Petrifaction, 'state of rigidity'. (Diogenes the philosopher in the latter part of his life abandoned all normal social habits and lived happily (?) in a tub. As the average life span increases, so does the syndrome.) The subject of the syndrome lives in a state of rigidity.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 73.

The Musée d'Orsay

The Musée d'Orsay in Paris is mainly French-bound (that is, titling, notices and brochures are in French), and the mainly French paintings in the amazing Barnes Collection are entirely English bound; but for the Barnes's special exhibition at the d'Orsay, there are informative brochures in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian as closely translated and gracefully written as anyone could wish. That's progress.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 61-62.

The Barber Institute and La Patrie

The Barber Institute

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Edgbaston Park Road outside Birmingham, with its outstanding Gwen John (Mère Poussepin), Degas, Claude, Redon (Crucifixion), Hals, Van Dyck, Sickert and many others, is I think the finest small picture gallery I have ever visited. But in the main it is pathetically monolingual. The university's language department is quite close, and the detailed and helpful leaflets for each bay all need translating. I do not know why Magritte's amazing Saveur des Larmes ('The Savour of Tears'?) has been anaesthetized into the bland 'Taste of Sorrow' (Le Goût de la Tristesse - yuck), given that English is said (of course!) to be the more concrete language.

La Patrie

In the Birmingham City Museum (which needs no puff) C. W. R. Nevinson's picture of the wounded and dying soldiers in the barn, to which the description, 'they are crying for their mothers' is an organic complement, is not as profound as The Third of May, but it as as moving. In English, the title, La Patrie, a grim instance of dramatic irony, stands (compare Wilfred Owen's Pro Patria Mori); in some other languages (das Vaterland), it could be translated literally with the same 'equivalent effect'.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 58.

The Reims Museum of Fine Arts

It is strange that the cité des sacres and of the champagne barons cannot afford to label its pictures multilingually or to issue more than twosided summaries in English, German and French to barely mention its magnificent Boudins (swarming figures on the beach, and sailing ships at Rouen), as well as the superb Le Nain Les Tricheurs and about twenty Corots.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 3. 

Magritte on TV

The flowing mysterious visions fascinate, but what gives David Sylvester, the presenter, the right to change the titles La clé des songes ('The key to dreams') to 'The interpretation of dreams', La femme introuvable ('The woman who cannot be found') to 'The elusive Woman' or 'The unfindable Woman' (brevity?), Les jours gigantesques to 'Titanic days', L'esprit de géométrie to 'The mathematical mind', etc. Even if he is following a 'tradition', a 'translation norm' for nice free euphonic translations (cf. Remembrance of Things Past), isn't it time to break with it, to try and write simply what the painter wrote? On the other hand, if the titles are not Magritte's (cf. 'The Emperor Concerto', i.e. Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto), the translator can go ahead.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 1.

The Vatican Museums

In the Sistine Chapel, nothing is written, let alone translated. In the Raphael Rooms, the light is so dim that nothing can be read. In the Museum of Contemporary Art, all titles remain in their original languages. (There is an arresting Crucifissione by Ottone Rosai of a man in working clothes being crucified.) The mass is in the vernacular, but the Church still appears to mistrust translation.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 30.

Descriptive Terms, Collocations and Technical Terms

It is an unconvincing arugment to maintain that inflationäre Spannungen cannot be translated as 'inflationary tensions', simply because 'inflationary tensions' is not a common collocation nor a technical term (any more than inflationäre Spannungen is); nor can it be translated as 'inflationary pressures', since 'pressure' is outside the semantic range of Spannung; the translation is more likely to be 'inflationary tensions' which is a descriptive term (tensions associated with inflation'), but only a wider context can determine the matter. In contrast, 'inflationary trend' (tendance inflationniste) is a standard collocation; 'inflationary gap' (écart inflationniste) is a technical term.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 21.

Modern Art in Rome

The National Museum of Modern Art (Museo nazionale di art moderna) is a misnomer, since it mainly displays modern Italian art, to which it is a magnificent introduction. There is a superb variety of pictures by Sironi, Balla, Guttuso, Severini, de Chirico, Morandi (not even one jug!), and two lovely landscapes by Ottone Rosai. However, in the whole building, there only appears to be one translation, viz. the notice on the bar: E vietato recarsi in giardino con tazze e bicchieri Close translation: 'It is forbidden! (here again, das Betreten ist verboten, see Rupert Brooke's Grantchester) to make one's way into the garden with cups and glasses.' Displayed translation: 'Please do not carry glasses and cups in the garden.' My preferred translation: 'Please do not take cups or glasses into the garden.' Note again the warmth and friendliness of the 'untranslatable' English 'please', to which I wrote a hymn of praise in this journal many years ago. There are excellent descriptive leaflets to the main pictures in each room, but why only in Italian?

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 17.

The Met

The magnificent Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue in New York appears to be stubbornly monolingual. Not even non-English titles of paintings are given in their original languages, thus inviting confusion. A mysterious Monet entitled The Mists is given the alternative title La Débacle. The second language, Spanishthere are now more Spanish speakers than blacks in the Statesis ignored. Yet the descriptions of the paintingsall in Englishare exemplary.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 9-10.

Languages and Tourism

The chairman of the British Tourist Authority is aware that 'if Britain is to be successful as a leading tourist destination, we must learn to speak to people in their own language'. What is equally important is the provision of multilingual brochures, leaflets, manuals etc. in shops, museums (the V and A is a model), galleries and public buildings, which requires a separate skill.

Peter Newmark (1998) More Paragraphs On Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 8.


'However hard it may often be to render the meaning of a sentence in another language, and however much we may have to resort to glosses and roundabout explanations, the sense can be made accessible even though it may entail a loss in neatness and elegance'. (Topics of Our Time: Twentieth Century Issues in Learning and in Art by E. H. Gombrich p.41; Phaidon, London, 1991.) Thus Gombrich, expressing his conviction that translation can always, even with difficulty ('a difficulty is never an impossibility') penetrate the cultural complexities of another language, from its colour system onwards. In fact, in this marvellous, instructive and morally outstanding book, in which he devotes four chapters to attacking what he calls 'cultural relativism', Gombrich goes further: 'Art and literature are now menaced by . . . this trend, which constitutes a threat to all aspects of scholarship because it denies the existence of any objective standards of truth . . . Recognising differences must not lead us to deny the unity of mankind . . . Art is an embodiment of values' (p. 9.) 'The humanities would atrophy and die if they attempted to become value-free' (p.55) . . . 'I am sure that Michelangelo was indeed a greater artist than the English seventeenthcentury painter John Streeter.' (p. 72.)

Gombrich names some of his adversaries (Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Harold Bloom, Norbert Bolz [Barthes, Greimas, Kristeva, Foucault unaccountably missing]), but not the so often trumpeted 'value free' movements: structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, reception theory, pop art, trends in post-modernism, historicism as relativism.) With rejection of or indifference to values, standards cannot exist.

Peter Newmark (1993) Paragraphs on Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 164-165.

Notes on the Translation of Three Medical Texts on Epilepsy

(with assistance from Jane Soulal, Senior Information Officer, Ciba-Geigy Pharmaceuticals, Horsham, venue of a recent Medical Translation Workshop and ITI Medical Network meeting.)
  1.  Le terme, encombrant d'épilepsies liées à une localisation. 'The term, which is rather clumsy (alt. cumbersome), ''epilepsies related to a specific area''.' (Note that the plurals of disease should be reproduced; also that this is a metalingual translation: the term is 'cumbersome' in both languages.
  2.  La neuro-imagerie est muette. 'The neuro-imaging does not show up.'
  3.  Crises sensitivo-motrices. 'Sensory and motor seizures.'
  4.  Grandes pointes émoussées. 'Large flattened (alt. blurred) spikes.'
  5.  En bouffees sous une électrode rolandique basse. 'in bursts appearing under an electrode in the lower part of the motor (alt. rolandic) area of the cerebral cortex.'
  6.  Crises résistantes. 'Seizures which are resistant to treatment.'
  7.  Etats de mal non rares. 'Fairly frequent malaises' (alt. periods of mild sickness.)
  8.  Signes végétatifs. 'Involuntary movements.'
  9.  Genuine Epilepsien (G). 'Idiopathic epilepsies.'
  10.  Liquorzirkulationsstörung. 'Disturbance of CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) circulation.'
  11.  L'aggressività e la vischiosità anticamente riferite agli epilettici in generale. (It) 'The aggressiveness and sluggishness generally attributed to epileptic patients in times past.' (N.B. Not 'to epileptics' (derogatory).)
  12.  La casistica: les antecedents. 'Case history'.
  13.  Gêne épigastrique. 'Epigastric discomfort' (alt. 'discomfort in the epigastrium').
Peter Newmark (1993) Paragraphs on Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 164.

Economic Pretentiousness

La réforme du financement de l'État était consubstantielle à celle de la place toute entière. 'The reform of government financing entailed the reform of the whole money market.' The religious term consubstantiel, meaning 'of the same substance as' is as out of place in the English as in the French; 'was inseparable from' would be a closer translation than the above. There are normally more variations available in nonauthoritative than in authoritative texts, in particular where no one-to-one equivalents are available; positives are to be preferred to negatives (except for intentional understatements) as they make for stronger contrasts.

Peter Newmark (1993) Paragraphs on Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 156.

Literary Translation

An engrossing conference on literary translation, confronting authors with their translators (Claude Delarue and Vivienne Menkes; A. S. Byatt and Jean-Louis Chevalier) was held at the London French Institute in January. The following conclusions possibly emerged:
  1.  Ambiguities are more common in fiction than in other texts, since the language is connotative.
  2.  French is restricted to a smaller vocabulary and a stricter, narrower word-order and grammar than English.
  3.  French is more philosophical and metaphysical (i.e. more abstract and opaque) than English.
  4.  The gulf between written and spoken language is greater in French than in English. (It is partially bridged in English by phrasal verbs.)
  5.  The English translator tends to break up long French sentences (particularly relative clauses).
  6.  The more explicit the sentence, the fewer the options (possible variations) for the translator.
  7.  Incomplete sentences, being connotative, are the hardest to translate.
  8.  All language is provisional. When author meets translator, both parties change their minds, have second thoughts, are not sure or forget what they originally meant. But the word in print gives the translation a certain permanence. (Je crois à l'imprimé. J-L. Chevalier). In any event this apparent fluctuation, which appears to challenge the status of translation (Sarah Marsh), is greatly restricted in its scope, and should not go beyond the deficiencies of the source language text, the grammatical and lexical gaps of the target language, and the tastes of the translator.

Peter Newmark (1993) Paragraphs on Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 149-150.

The Monolingual National Gallery

The titles and details of the fascinating paintings in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery are all in English. I think these should additionally be given in the language of the painter, throughout the Gallery, out of respect, to facilitate identification of titles in some cases, and to avoid the invidious dilemma of selecting a second world language. The (few) English paintings should have translations in French. This would require a rolling financial plan. I do not know how long the Gallery can continue to be free to visitors, but if a charge is made, I hope all who are in full-time education will be exempt.

Peter Newmark (1993) Paragraphs on Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 121.

Two Museums

In the Mauritshuis at the Hague (den Haag or 's-Gravenhage (Du); la Haye (F); laHaya (S): l'Aia (I); der Haag (G)), the paintings are marked only with the names of their painters and the dates on their frames. The more important ones in each room can be identified by reference to cardboard-backed printed sheets in Dutch, English, German and French, which give their titles, small photographed reproductions and brief useful analyses, which are pleasingly closely translated from the Dutch. (An interesting 'howler' was the translation of deugdzamheid (Tugendhaftigkeit (G); Vertu (F)) as 'virtuosity' (from 'virtuoso') instead of 'virtue' or 'virtuousness'.)

I think this is a good translation service, superior to the usual monolingual and bilingual systems, which should be a thing of the past, but it is a pity that the remaining paintings cannot at least have their titles translated at the bottom of the sheets. (Some of the finest Dutch paintings are hung in this museum, such as the Vermeer 'Head of a young girl'.)

At the Stedelijk Museum of 19th and 20th Century art in Amsterdam, all paintings have brief details in Dutch and English only, which is regrettable, particularly in the case of the 'third country' paintings, but which is the way things are going in a country where shop-window signs are in English as often as in Dutch.

Peter Newmark (1993) Paragraphs on Translation, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, p. 111.