07 April 2009
Lesson from translation theory
"The translator is typically faced with the question of whether to modify the world of the text in order to make it accessible to the target culture or whether to attempt to bring the readers toward the culture that produced the text," writes Jeffrey Angles in his description of his course on translation theory at Western Michigan University. We can look at the same question from the point of view of the multilingual writer. The multilingual, multicultural writer is typically faced with the question of whether to dilute the meaning of a word in her/his mother tongue to make it accessible to the target readers (presumed to be monolingual and, sad to say, monocultural) or whether to attempt to bring the readers toward the mother-tongue culture that produced the word. Just as translators have an aesthetic, perhaps even ethical problem every time they face a word without an exact equivalent in the target language, other-language writers, too, have to decide, consciously or subconsciously, whether to distort the mirror to nature that they hold just to make the mother-tongue word comprehensible to the second-language audience. Case in point: Does Bobis' "smothered with coconut milk" capture the way Bicolanos regard coconut milk? In Australian English, even in other varieties of English, "smothered with coconut milk" is a description with no reference to taste or touch but only to sight. Is this a failure of descriptive skill on the part of Bobis or a failure of the English language to achieve unification of sensibility within a word (or words)?