dimanche 24 janvier 2010

Thoughts on Translation(s)

This post is not so much about my learning Dutch, but more about thoughts on translation and translations of books.

While doing some browsing online, I saw the word 'craiefiti' listed as the French translation of 'warchalking' -- the practice of drawing chalk marks on the sidewalk to indicate to people in search of an open wireless network that one is near and the settings required to use it and such. At the time, I thought it was a pretty neat word, but a short time later realized that 'craiefiti' actually loses one important property in translation: it's history and "feel".   'Warchalking' links back to 'wardriving' (the process of driving around looking for open wifi networks), which itself comes from 'wardialing' (the process of dialing all the phone numbers in a given prefix looking for a modem). The word 'wardialing' was coined in reference to the 1983 hacker movie "WarGames".  For me, these words spawn thoughts of open access to information, sharing, maybe something a little shady or "grey hat", illicit access, and maybe a little cyberpunk.

The French word 'craiefiti' has none of that. In fact, there's not even a reference to Wifi, or computers, or anything. 'Craiefiti', to me, is just a compound word of chalk ("craie") and graffiti, and could easily refer to any sort of chalk art, wanted or not.  "Chalk graffiti" could mean hobo symbols, tags,  random swear words, slogan, or even murals. But the French word has no links anything that the English word conjures up.

Walking home from the gorcery store, I came up with "wifiti", which at least is "wifi" + "graffiti", and in my mind at least, links the neologism with its meaning a little more. Now, I'm not a native French speaker, so perhaps 'craiefiti' sounds better than 'wifiti', and maybe there are other aspects of 'craiefiti' that I'm not aware of that make it a better translation. But then again maybe not.

Maybe it doesn't matter that the French have a different word for 'warchalking' with difference mental links.  The English word was coined by a guy in London, but it's not necessarily an English concept.  Does the word in all languages have to relate back to the thoughts of the person who first came up with it?  I'm obviously beyond the state in langauge learning where you think that all languages have a 1=1 translation for any given concept, but for something so precise and so new, something in me really does want the French word to "mean" the same thing as the English one.  (This of course all relates to translations of Jabberwocky, of which there are many, but I'm not going to get into that either..)  Maybe all of my ideas about what warchalking "feels" like are enbodied in the French word "craiefiti" simply because of what it "means" to them, and it doesn't need history.  It's meaning, and all the history, stand alone.

The reason I've been thinking about translation is because one of the books I packed to come with me to Amsterdam was Hofstadter's "Le Ton Beau de Marot". It's a book that talks about translation through the process of translating a short French poem into English 50-60 times, and what each one has as an advantage over the other translations. In Hofstadter's way, he also delves into meaning, symbols, artificial intelligence, and the processes of cognition. I skimmed part of this book while in Toronto and I can't wait for it to arrive.

However, this post isn't about Hofstadter,  and it's only marginally about warchalking.  It's actually about the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco. Eco also wrote a book talking about symbols and language and translation called "Experiences in Translation". Eco writes hard to translate books, much like Hofstadter, and this book (among other things) talks about issues he's met with during the translations of his works. Unlike Eco's novels, this work was originally written in English. There exists a French translation. So, which version do I read?

If the book were originally in Italian, I'd read the French translation in a heart beat. But somehow I'm torn knowing that the French one is not what he wrote, and that it would in fact be easier for me to read the original. I've read French translations of English books, but never without having read the original. Most of that reading I regarded as 'studying' anyways, instead of pleasure reading. In fact, my reading list also has on it Hofstadter's "Goedel, Escher, Bach", followed by it's French translation.

The problem for me is that I'm scared of missing something important when reading in French.  Reading is no longer just a study exercise for me  (in which case the content could be almost anything, I just chose something to hold my attention), but as the end in itself. I don't want to miss something important that Eco, of Hofstadter, or whoever, is saying, or some subtle joke or pun or snippet of information or idea or whatever because I can't understand the language. If I'm reading Eco, it's not because I'm studying French, but because I want to read his thoughts on translation.

AJATT just had a post on always making the choice to use your target language, if available. I'm still very hesitant to do that for my pleasure reading, though, and that's probably going to hold me back. My use of French has dropped of considerably since moving to Amsterdam.  Duh.  Hopefully a trip or two to Paris will help :) Actually, probably having a routine and not feeling in such a state of flux will probably help.

Maybe my thoughts on translation will change after reading "Le Ton Beau de Marot", or maybe they'll just become more more hard-line and I'll never want to read anything in translation again.

1 commentaire:

Allison a dit...

I think one of the key things about AJATT is that he's talking about when you're LEARNING the language. If your current goal is more to learn what Eco or Hofstader have to say, then reading in the original language, not to mention the language you are most fluent in, seems like a reasonable choice.

It's worth noting that works can also gain things in translation (e.g. Choixpeau instead of Sorting Hat), so it's not necessarily a loss to read the translation. However, when you have multiple goals (ie. more than just learning a language), then you can't always optimize for a single one of them, without it being to the detriment of the other goals.

So I guess what I'm saying is, if you have more than the single goal of improving your French, sometimes you are going to choose to do things NOT in French. That will be for the benefit of those other goals and that's not a bad thing.