Translation has become an essential skill, highly sought after in both academic and professional contexts today, given the widespread use of information technology and the rise in global migration. Such factors have all contributed to the evolution of linguistics alongside the fields of comparative literature, computer science, philology, philosophy, semiotics and terminology.
The genesis of this seminal volume in translation studies was the 2011 translation by one editor of the other’s landmark study, Jean-René Ladmiral’s Traduire: théorèmes pour la traduction (1979). Too often the words of a translator describing the experience of working with a text are relegated to a simple preface or postscript within the larger context of the work as a whole. Entire works on the experience of translation are fairly rare. It is for this reason that Jadir and Ladmiral seek to give a voice to translators, who are often overlooked, in order to champion the field of translation studies. This volume is inspired by Umberto Eco’s works and emulates the great tradition Eco began of respect for his translators as co-authors, conceiving of translation as a negotiation. Translation should be viewed as a sort of bilingual love affair: the translator possesses a love of two languages, two cultures, two identities, two civilizations, two worlds between which he struggles to find a delicate balance. This “margin of freedom” when translating is not without its own perils. What little creative freedom is left to the translator, as Marcel Proust noted, means the translator is at once co-author and rewrites a work, a task comparable to that of a writer.
In recent years, translation studies has undergone a significant transformation, especially in the context of cultural translation, a concept developed in the field of cultural studies, but also in regard to ethics and the study of localization. For Jacques Derrida, a text survives beyond the capacity of its author when translated. Thus, translators base their theoretical observations on the practice of translation. This became evident in the last two decades of the 20th century since greater emphasis has been placed on theory than practice and hence the voice of the source author. Goethe wrote that we should consider the translator’s role as breathing new life into a text in the sense that he is a co-author. Later, Walter Benjamin noted that the goal of translation is neither the reception nor the reproduction of a text in another language, but to make the reader desire the text in its original form.
The contributions in this formidable study are as rich as they are varied: invoking a wide variety of disciplines across the humanities from philosophy, psychology, sociology, linguistics, literature, translation studies, didactics, and rhetoric. The authors hail from diverse academic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. While the general tendency in this volume is to privilege the practical over the theoretical, this method goes against the grain of the preference for theory, built up over the last two decades of the 20th century, in which theoreticians began a veritable reign of terror upon the field of translation studies. Instead, here for the first time, the gap between the practical and the theoretical is bridged by authors who are not throwing around empty theory, but whose observations are well-founded by the depth of their experience; on the one hand those who have practised translation extensively, and on the other those who have verified the works of other authors and translators to comment upon their works. Translation is an inherently subjective process. It is therefore for this reason that one cannot talk about translation without having translated oneself.
In “Expérience du traducteur, expérience de la traduction” (pp. 29-46), Jean-Yves Masson (Université Paris IV, France) presents a typology of the notion of “experience” as applied to translation. If each “experience” of translating is a singular experience, and obviously a subjective one to the individual author, the accumulation of these experiences constitutes a sort of capital for Masson with which he can analyze the pedagogy of a translation.
For Silvana Borutti (University of Pavia, Italy), in “Aspects philosophiques de l’expérience de la traduction” (pp. 47-70), translation is not just a linguistic transfer which concerns the meaning but also the movement of concepts, knowledge and the ontology of the subject being translated. The problems encountered in the experience of translation (the question of knowledge transferred) means translation must be envisioned from a larger perspective, one in which the translator confronts the transfer between two systems of symbols.
The challenge of blending the practical and the theoretical aspects in translation is at the heart of the article by Jean-René Ladmiral (ISIT and Université Paris X Nanterre, France), “La traduction: de l’expérience à la réflexion” (pp. 71-82). It treats the question of how multilingual Europe, where a real communication problem exists, deeply affects individual psychology, and from which emerges the increasingly pressing demand for translation.
Jan Walravens (Haute Ecole Francisco Ferrer, Belgium) traces his professional journey as a philologue, having translated in all sorts of different domains/contexts in “From Amateur to Academic A Translator’s Journey” (pp. 83-94). A specialist of Germanic languages, Jan’s career is highlighted not because of his formal training but rather as someone who is fluent in multiple languages and for the depth of his knowledge in both theoretical and practical approaches to translation.
For practical aspects of translation, we begin by an examination of literary translation for Françoise Wuilmart (Centre Européen de Traduction Littéraire, Belgium) in “Ma passion selon Saint Jérôme…ou les Voix du Destin…” (pp. 95-112) where the translator is conceived as an entity entirely apart from the author, in the sense that her work is one of writing in its most pure and creative form.
Camille Fort (Université de Picardie Jules Verne, France), in “Jeu d’enfant ou devoir de lecture? Traduire la littérature de jeunesse” (pp. 113-122) aims to explains how translating children’s literature proves to be a groundbreaking experience even for the most experienced of translators. This specialist of translation in children’s literature demonstrates how her job requires the translator to return to childhood in order to best evoke the relation to language and its fluid meaning.
Salah Mejri (Université Paris 13, France) presents the difficulties specific to the translation of specialized texts, in particular dictionaries. His article “La traduction des textes spécialisés: le dictionnaire des sciences du langage” (pp. 123-150) uses examples from the Arabic translation of Franck Neveu’s dictionary by the same name.
Mohammed Jadir (Université Hassan II, Morocco) presents both a study of linguistic problems (morphological, pragmatic, semantic, and syntactical) in “Aspects linguistiques, inter-culturels et psychologiques de la traduction: le cas de Traduire…” (pp. 151-172), and offers an analysis of the culture of translation examining psychological problems of the treatment of the translator. Jadir also explores how the process of translation creates therapeutic benefit for the translator’s psychological blockages and if the translator is really a co-author of the source author.
The second part of the section dedicated to the practical aspects of translation is really in itself a third category: theoretical reflections about the experiences of other translators as analyses of literary translation from different approaches (linguistic, semiotic, literary, fractal etc.). Pierre Cadiot (Université d’Orléans, France) and Florence Lautel-Ribstein (Université d’Artois, France) “Traduire les ‘somptueuses ironies’ des formes sémantiques: à propos d’un fragment de Marcel Jouhandeau” (pp. 173-192) explores the formal dimensions of this piece to engage with the semiotic experience of the poet and the mimetic quality of the words, a synesthesia which reveals a holistic quality of the translation.
Marina Tsvetkova (National Research University Nizhny Novgorod, Russia) “Le poème Tentative de jalousie de Marina Tsvétaeva et sa traduction en anglais par Elaine Feinstein” (pp. 193-202) treats problems related to the translation of poetry and poetic language. By comparing the Russian poem and its English translation, Tsvetkova’s study reveals the profound differences between the manner of writing in Russian and English.
Valeria Ferretti (University of Florence, Italy) “Céline italien: traduire entre le désir d’omnipotence de l’évidence de Sisyphe” (pp. 203-218) treats the lexical and stylistic problems encountered by the Italian translator who does not have the equivalents in Italian of French working class language upon which the novel is based entirely.
In “Le chaos, le système et le fractal appliqués à l’analyse du processus de traduction” (pp. 219-234), Ludmila Zbanţ, Elena Gheorghiţă and Christina Zbanţ (Moldova State University, Moldova) explore chaos theory and the modeling which accompanies both the cognitive process and individual behavior. They examine how linguistic and cultural factors as well as the transversal notion of fractal are linked to the intercultural communication required in the process of translation.
Translation is all about negotiation as Sonia Berbinski (University of Bucharest, Romania) shows in “La fidélité infidèle: Le défigement dans l’écriture pamphlétaire” (pp. 235-250). On the one hand, the translator must not betray the intention of the original text, and on the other, she must obey the constraints (syntactic, semantic, discursive, and cultural) of the language into which the text is translated.
Stephanie Schwerter (École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France) details the challenges of teaching translation at EHESS in Paris. “Pousser les limites” (pp. 251-270) explores both theoretical and practical dimensions of translation and traductology. The linguistic richness of this experience is especially poignant for Schwerter when working with students from around the world, many of whom speak three or more languages. Their diverse perspectives and cultural reflection are attributes which greatly enhance the process of translation.
Miguel Tolosa Igualada and Pedro Mogorrón Huerta (Universidad de Alicante, Spain) consider how errors in translation represent one of the most common realities for translators in “L’erreur en traduction: un trialogue nécessaire entre formateurs, chercheurs et traducteurs en formation” (pp. 271-294). They seek to understand what is an error in translation, how many kinds of errors exist, and how are they defined through the contemporary prism of traductology?
Kathryn Radford (McGill University, Canada) highlights the unique situation of Canada’s official bilingualism through her personal profile in “Profession: traductrice, Un bilan de carrière en lettres” (pp. 295-308). Written as an informal interview between a student journalist and Radford, it traces her educational background, professional career, and the variety of aspects which characterize her experience as a translator.
The editor articulates how the experience of translating brings the translator moments of happiness, inspiration, and of reverence towards the text being translated. This joy is especially profound when passages of the original source text seem to defy all possible translations and the translator is thus inspired with a peaceful intimacy, almost a spiritual connection with the texts he translates given the work entailed. Few book anthologies have the capacity to appeal to field experts yet still serve as outstanding pedagogical tools. This volume should be de rigueur for any student with an interest in translation studies or a passion for languages. It recounts the multifaceted, often-challenging problems encountered in translation and offers detailed analyses of literary, poetic and philosophical translation. With dual methodological and epistemological approaches, L’experience de traduire offers specialized commentary of expert translators on their own work, and more generally a vivid narrative on the teaching and practices of translation today.
This review is intended to present in English the concepts set forth in the introduction (p. 13-26) of the reviewed volume.
Ladmiral, Jean-René (1979/2011): al-Tanẓīr fī al-tarjamah [Theorization on translation]. (Translated by Mohammed Jadir) Beirut: Center for Arab Unity Studies.
Ladmiral, Jean-René (1979): Traduire: théorèmes pour la traduction. Paris: Payot.