Cristina Vezzaro’s blog for authors and translators

Like many literary translators, Cristina Vezzaro from Italy was tired of the fact that she rarely got acknowledged in reviews of the books that she translated. So she decided to take the initiative and do something against the traditional invisibility of her profession. First she devised a questionnaire for writers to find out what the transfer of their works into other languages means to them and what value they see in the work of their translators. Then, in March 2013, Cristina launched her Blog for Authors & Translators. Since then, this exemplary project has served as a lively forum for mutual exchange, and has already found the support of some renowned authors.

Making the invisibles visible

Siri Hustvedt, for instance, answers the question „What’s the first thing that occurs to you when you think of the profession of literary translator?“ as follows: „I think of the profession with profound admiration. I think of all the books I have read, which would have been unavailable to me had they not been translated into English. Without translation, my literary life would have been greatly impoverished. I would have developed another mind altogether. (…)“ Davide Longo muses: „Literary translation implies curiosity for different worlds and countries, willingness to research, mental flexibility, capacity to get in touch with the style and thus the language and thus the person of the writer.“ Robert Menasse explains: „I have translated from Brazilian Portuguese – and in doing so, I have learned how incredibly difficult and demanding this work is.(…) I have deepest respect for the work of serious translators, and from what I see and from what I hear, translators get way too little money and recognition. That’s why I always suggest translators should receive not only the (usually little) money they get as per contract, but also half of my royalties for each and every book that is sold.“ Catherine Dunne reports: „In Dublin, the literary prize ‚The Impac Award‘ is a prize that focuses largely on literature in translation. It has established the principle of awarding its prize money to the winning author AND to the translator – a principle of which I highly approve. Perhaps this is something that other prizes might emulate?“

When asked „Is it difficult for you to entrust your literary work to a translator, or do you trust them blindly?“, Fouad Laroui admits: „Both. One the one hand, I totally trust him or her, on the other hand I ask myself if he or she is aware of all the linguistic and cultural connotations. As a writer, I move between several languages and between at least two cultures. It is not easy to see this behind words or expression that at first glance belong to the French language.“ Altaf Tyrewala explains: „Of course I trust them. It is often the publisher who chooses the translator.“ Sibylle Lewitscharoff says: „I feel honored when one of my books is translated into a foreign language. (…) I also think that a translator should be allowed to take liberties. After all, the text is supposed to work well (…) in his or her language.“

Vezzaros Blog for Authors & Translators bears witness to the respect that a lot of internationally published authors have for their translators and their work. Many of them are happy to hear from their translators and to answer their questions, and sometimes they even become friends. Benjamin Stein gives a reason for this: „Translations are very important for me. Authors are somehow locked in their own language. Only through translations can they break free, towards readers in other countries, with different stories, different priorities in life and literature. This is why I always try to meet my translators: I want them to know what I mean by literature, how I create my stories and structure my language before they begin to translate my texts. (…) Without them, the book would not exist in any other language. In a different way, but no less than the writer, they are artists. So far these encounters have always been very enriching, also an a personal level. I’m not really surprised by this. If somebody shows so much empathy and understanding of art, I think you inevitably find a mutual level, both artistically and personally.“

A blog that calls for participation

Vezzaro’s Blog for Authors & Translators presents articles in different languages. The success of this project is based on active participation: Writers of all countries, languages and literary genres are invited to join and thus contribute to a growing public awareness and appreciation of the work of translators, and of writers in general. In the Interview area, Vezarro offers two questionnaires – one for authors and one for translators – in several languages, as well as an e-mail adress for those who wish to to send their filled-out questionnaire for publishing.

Tips for Buying Translations

In a weekly market it is common practice for traders to offer their fruit at different prices. In Germany, for instance, passion fruit are usually more expensive than plums because they are more difficult to get. Even if they look similar on the outside, on the inside they are very different, not to mention their taste.

Roughly the same can be said of translations: Some are easy and others need more time, such as adaptations and localisations, because they include adjusting the text to the language and cultural needs of a particular target group.

Finding a translator can be a challenge. The market resembles a jungle where amateurs offer their services next to highly qualified graduate translators, medium-sized agencies and global language service provider groups. On your search for a suitable translator you should always ask several different providers for quotes. There can be huge differences in prices and in quality. Be careful of very cheap offers, they are often an omen for low quality. On the other hand, expensive pricing not necessarily equals high quality.

One reason for the often considerable differences in quality is that the professional title of „translator“ is not protected by law in Germany and other countries. Therefore you should always ask service providers about their qualifications and experience. Each translation project has different demands, for example regarding specialist terminology, scope and degree of difficulty. Not least because of this, translations should always be done by professional service providers with expertise and an acknowledged degree or diploma.

When requesting a quote for a translation, you should send your provider the complete text for viewing and add other important information, such as your requested delivery date and a briefing on the target audience. Clear and detailed information will allow your translator to make a fair and appropriate estimate that is tailored to your needs and will bear fruit for your benefit.

More useful tips can be found in the publication „Translation – Getting it right. A Guide to Buying Translations“, which is offered for free download by the Institute of Translating and Interpreting (ITI).

Vincenzo Campi - The Fruit Seller

One language, many cultures

English is my first foreign language. I started to learn it at school, at the age of 10. Actually even a bit earlier than that, if listening and humming along to songs on the radio also counts.

Approximately 375 million people speak English as their first language. It is said to be the third largest language by number of native speakers, after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Here is a list of all countries where English is an official language, it includes more than 80. Yet this huge anglophone universe is also ruled by multiculturalism, with many linguistic varieties and profound differences in lifestyles, mentalities and habits.

Did you know that among the things that British expats miss most about the UK are room temperature beer, the National Health Service, balanced news coverage, winding city streets and people saying sorry when it’s not their fault? It is estimated that the average Brit will say sorry a staggering 1.9 million times in his or her lifetime.

There are at least two sides to every story. An English journalist living in the United States identifies 10 British habits Americans will never understand, but for reasons of fairness she also mentions 10 American habits Brits will never understand. A Canadian columnist wants to unravel the Canadian stereotype, while an Australian blogger gives advice on how to tell an Aussie from a Kiwi just by listening. And what about all the varieties of English spoken in Africa and Asia? Whose English is it, anyway?

What is your native tongue? Mine is German. Which country do you come from? I was born in Germany, where I also grew up and got my cultural imprint. When I travel, people can often guess where I’m from just by looking at my face, before I even say a word. Did that ever happen to you?

Meet the Germans is a website run by the Goethe Institute. It provides some insight into what is typical for Germany nowadays, for instance currywurst, antlers, sauerkraut and strandkorb. If of all these things I was allowed to take only one to a deserted island, I would definitely take the strandkorb. By the way, the first one was built by German basketmaker Wilhelm Bartelmann in Rostock in 1882. Thank you for this wonderful invention!

With an estimated 100 million native speakers, German is one of the world’s major languages and most widely spoken in Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, with many varieties. Different countries, different cultures, different habits.

A Swiss TV show asked viewers to send pictures of objects that are typical for Heidi’s home country. This resulted in an impressive collection called Switzerland in 100 things. An Englishman who settled down in the oldest neutral country of the world and also wrote several books about it offers to meet Homo helveticus in his blog.

What comes first to your mind when you think of Austria? With its beautiful mountains and famous towns such as Salzburg or Vienna, the home country of Mozart, Sissi, Arnie and two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz is a very popular travel destination. The capital even has its own dialect, Viennese German. Viennese for Americans provides useful survival phrases, including pronounciation help for Americans and other English-speaking folks. Here is an example:

English: Hi.   Viennese: Griass God!   Pronounciation: Grease Scott!

By the way, German is also an official language of Belgium, Denmark, Italy (South Tyrol) and Luxembourg. On the African continent, it is one of the national languanges of Namibia, along with Herero, Oshiwambo, Rukwangali, Silozi, Setswana, Afrikaans and English. Have you ever asked yourself how often the spreading of languages is a result of colonial expansion?

French is an official language in 29 countries and estimated as having 110 million native speakers. Outside of France, the highest numbers of French speakers are found in Canada (notably Quebec), Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and also in many African countries, among them Algeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Mauritius, Morocco, Senegal, and Tunisia. It is another universal language with many varieties; Canada, for instance, has Quebec French, Acadian French and Newfoundland French. Some institutions try to regulate the French language, such as the French Academy in France, or the Quebec Board of the French Language in Canada.

The francophone world has its own rich kaleidoscope of cultures and stereotypes. In his animation movie Cliché, a French producer provides some tongue-in-cheek insight into how his fellow countrymen are usually seen abroad. An American blogger who moved to France about 10 years ago shares a lot of enthusiastic thoughts about her chosen home, but she also admits that there are some French habits that she will never understand.

The Centre for Intercultural Learning, a service of the Canadian Government, presents an extensive resource for global communication issues. It not only provides useful background information on many countries of the world, but also gives answers to questions like „What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communication?“, both from a Canadian and a foreign perspective. Check Germany for example. Or your own country.

What would the world be without experts for international communication? It’s good to have translators.

Johannes Vermeer - The Astronomer - WGA24685

Quotes on the Art of Translation

Translation is a very complex challenge. Many authors are famous for having shaped world literature. One key to their success is the translation of their original works into different languages. A less known fact is that some renowned authors also translated the works of other writers and mused about this fine art and the role of this profession:

„The translator must proceed until he reaches the untranslatable; and then only will he have an idea of the foreign nation and the foreign tongue.“
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, translated by Bailey Saunders, 1906)

„And thus every translator is to be regarded as a middle-man in this universal spiritual commerce, and as making it his business to promote this exchange : for say what we may of the insufficiency of translation, yet the work is and will always be one of the weightiest and worthiest affairs in the general concerns of the world.“
(Correspondence between Goethe and Carlyle, edited and translated by Charles Eliot Norton, New York, 1970)

„But how much easier it is to translate an anecdote, than a feeling! The witty and the unwitty can parrot the comical; but only the heart can capture the language of the heart. It has its own rules; and it is all over with it, at the moment when one fails to realize this, and wishes instead to subject it to the rules of grammar, and to give it all the cold completeness, all the tedious distinctness which we demand in a logical sentence.“
(Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Hamburgische Dramaturgie, 1767/69; translator unknown. Source: Michelle Stott, Behind the Mask: Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymic Treatment of Lessing in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 1993)

„Isn’t it strange, that a verbatim translation almost always is a bad one? yet everything can be translated well. This goes to show what it truly means to fully understand a language: it means to know the people using it. „
(Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher, 1800-1806, translator unknown)

„The translator’s faithfulness turns into betrayal when it makes him obscure his original.“
(Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Rettungen des Horaz, 1754, translator unknown)

„Translators can be considered as busy matchmakers who praise as extremely desirable a half-veiled beauty. They arouse an irresistible yearning for the original.“
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, translated by Bailey Saunders, 1906)

Alexander Roslin 001