The Donald Trump approach to translation

Translation theory has chewed on the “word for word vs. sense for sense” bone for the last 2000 years. Academic translation theory hasn’t added much, except fancy words. I follow the “Donald Trump approach” – the best words are those that make your clients pay and your audience go “Hooray!”

The debate around foreignization vs. domestication in literary translation is not new, but has regained traction in the wake of postmodernism. In principle, it says translators should “become visible” and “take the reader abroad” instead of predigesting everything to suit American audiences. (The theory focuses on the US, even though it criticizes ethnocentrism.)

As a commercial translator, I don’t want to educate readers. There’s no purpose in the text. My texts have the purpose of getting readers to do, learn or believe something pronto. They’re already spending enough time staring at screens.

In commercial writing there’s no need to “make the translator visible,” since the author is invisible, too. I want to make my clients visible, or at least spare them the embarrassment of sounding like dead poets.

This doesn’t mean I don’t intervene aggressively. If you look at the following example, the human, foreignized translation is much closer to the machine translation, and I leave it to you to judge which of the three translations is more readable.

While good writing rules might be adapted for specific purposes, I think they are universal, and if a writer doesn’t observe them, I don’t pull myself out of the affair, put sloppiness on a pedestal and call it “style.” I think a lot of what we call “style” is just pre-modern verbosity, and people who don’t like it are free to use Google Translate for a word-for-word translation.

My translation techniques are all about simplicity:

  • Cutting verbosity, esp. redundancy & adjectives
  • Using rhetorical devices my readers actually understand
  • Rephrasing sentences to use simpler tenses and syntax
  • Putting events in their proper order

The foreignizing translation aims to educate the reader by:

  • Using calques like “sojourn,” “induce”
  • Putting the adjuncts before the arguments in the first sentence (“In 1855, having taken up residence …”)
  • Keeping obvious repetitions (“in that city”; “impassioned, heated”)

The foreignized translation does reads very much like English from the 19th century, a period when writers often used French calques to flaunt their education and also tended to translate more literally. Especially academics often write this way, but it’s not very “mobile-friendly.”

Original Italian (Source: Munday: “Introducing Translation Studies,” p. 226)

Nel 1855, domiciliatomi a Pavia, m’era allo studio del disegno in una scuola privata di quella città; e dopo alcuni mesi di soggiorno aveva stretto relazione con certo Federico M. che era professore di patologia e di clinica per l’insegnamento universitario, e che morì di apoplessia fulminante pochi mesi dopo che lo aveva conosciuto. Era un uomo amantissimo delle scienze, della sua in particolare – aveva virtù e doti di mente non comuni – senonche, come tutti gli anatomisti ed i clinici in genere, era scettico profondamente e inguaribilmente – lo era per convinzione, ne io potei mai indurlo alle mie credenze, per quanto mi vi adoprassi nelle discussioni appassionate e calorose che avevamo ogni giorno a questo riguardo.

“Foreignized” translation
In 1855, having taken up residence at Pavia, I devoted myself to the study of drawing at a private school in that city; and several months into my sojourn, I developed a close friendship with a certain Federico M., a professor of pathology and clinical medicine who taught at the university and died of severe apoplexy a few months after I became acquainted with him. He was very fond of the sciences and of his own in particular – he was gifted with extraordinary mental powers – except that, like all anatomists and doctors generally, he was profoundly and incurably skeptical. He was so by conviction, nor could I ever induce him to accept my beliefs, no matter how much I endeavored in the impassioned, heated discussions we had every day on this point.

DeepL machine translation
In 1855, I was living in Pavia, where I was studying drawing in a private school in that city; and after a few months of stay he had a close relationship with certain Federico M. who was a professor of pathology and clinic for university teaching, and who died of lightning apoplexy a few months after he met him. He was a man who loved the sciences, especially his own – he had uncommon virtues and talents of mind – but, like all anatomists and clinicians in general, he was profoundly and incurably skeptical – he was so out of conviction, I could never induce him to my beliefs, however much I used to use you in the passionate and warm discussions that we had every day in this regard.

My translation
In 1855, I settled in Pavia to study drawing at a private school in that city. After several months, I became good friends with Federico M., a professor of pathology and clinical medicine at the university, who died of a stroke a few months after we met I became acquainted with him. He loved all sciences in general and his own in particular, and although brilliant, he was also incurably skeptical, like all anatomists and doctors. I could never convince him of my views, no matter how much we argued – and we did so every day.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: