01 May 2009


Here is the abstract of a paper entitled "Writing Germany in Exile - the Bilingual Author as Cultural Mediator: Klaus Mann, Stefan Heym, Rudolf Arnheim and Hannah Arendt" (2004) by Verena Jung:

"This paper examines the process of self-translation undertaken by German exile writers who translated their own works, written in English, the language of their host country, back into their mother tongue, German. It postulates that the necessary precondition for self-translation is not just bilinguality but also biculturality and that it is this bicultural status of the self-translators as cultural mediators and not their poetic licence that leads to the significant changes and restructurings that the self-translators make in their German version. The awareness of the heteroskopic nature of the translation, that is, differences in knowledge base between the readerships of the English original version and the German version with regard to the German intertext are the motivation for restructuring their original version. In this process, self-translators differ from other translators and cultural mediators only in their access to the pre-stage of composition, access to the intertext, the intention and the inner language that preceded the original English version. Thus the self-translators act as editors of their own text and take their decisions to expand or reduce an aspect of their text based on the familiarity of their readership with the German cultural environment or intertext that informs the text."

I'm too cheap to buy and read the full text of the article, but the abstract points to a good area of investigation for multilingual critics - self-translation. Jung mentions biculturality - now a familiar concept for readers of this blog - but one apparent conclusion of the paper (that self-translation can be reduced to privileged editing) seems dubious (at least, until I get to read the entire paper). I've tried to translate myself from Filipino to English and the other way around, and believe me, it's much harder than translating other people's works either way (which I get paid to do now and then). In fact, I was asked once to translate a full-length play that I had written in Filipino into English for a publication in Hawaii and I gave up. I did manage to translate another, shorter play, Kuwadro (in Filipino), into Portrait (in English), but the English text is not really the same as the Filipino text, as anyone that has read or seen the play in both languages will tell me for sure (no one has really seen both, since Philippine audiences watch only the Filipino version and foreign audiences watch only the English one).


  1. Self-translation works for me. Here's an example:

    4. Barbershop/San Fernando, La Union

    Kas’toy dagiti sarita a mangisubli
    Iti bileg ken turay daytoy babai;
    Sanikuana toy lubong, kunkunada pay,
    Abak nat’ lalaki a patay-patay.
    Kayatna a saw-en ngarud, gayyem,
    Daytoy ti leksiyon nga inka adalen:
    Saan nga gandat toy lalaki
    Nga maala ti bulan tapno ni babai
    In-na panawan ditoy daga a sileled-daang.
    Masapul ngamin ni babai ni lalaki
    Tapno daytoy Im-nas lumasbang*

    *Translated from the Ilocano dialect.

    (It is tales like this restore
    To female principle its primacy;
    Earth’s dominion not in store
    As man’s insignia of ascendancy.
    The homily, dear friend,
    Is in the homespun teasing;
    Surely it is neither man’s end
    To gain the moon while leaving
    Earth to his lass a-grieving
    For she’s perfect only with man
    Alive and living.)

    The Ilocano poem above, part of the Apollo Poems: Reactions (a group of poems on the Apollo landing on the Moon -- See my A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems (UST Publishing, Manila, 2009), which I self-translated, may serve to illustrate the postulate that one must be "bicultural and bilingual" in both first and second languages to self-translate.

    When I translated the poem (as an addition to the revised Apollo Poems), I found myself equipped with a "privileged" access to "the intertext, the intention and the inner language that preceded the Engish version."

    True, my ability to edit the nuance, made the English version seem a "better" rendition of the original Ilocano poem. Is it probably because I am more accultured to the translating language now than my mother tongue (Ilocano)? Psycholinguists will cite "deculturation" as a possible reason for this. But can one's language of birth be erased from one's ken? I still and write in Ilocano as if I never left La Union province.

    Self-translation, quite imperatively, is "influenced" by the cultural underpinings of the second language.

    The more acculturised the translator is in the second language, the better the nuance of the translation. It aspires to be as close to the intention of the original as translation permits.

    While the English translation tries to approximate the "sense of the humour" prevalent in barbershop-chatter (mainly the pontifications of the barber) found in the Ilocano poem, somehow the English version hews close to the "pontification" and hopefully succeeds in translating the opinionated barber's reaction to the man on the moon.

    It is, indeed, "the homsespun teasing" to say that man conquered the moon not to gain ascendancy. No, he can't leave the lass behind because she is perfect and adorable only when he is around to render her thus.

    Machismo understones of the barbershop chatter that says, it is talk like those about man landng on the moon that restores to female principle its ascendancy over the descendants of Adam. Besides, did not Adam succumb to the invitations of Eve to bite of the apple?

    The English version would even suggest the lyrics, "Ask me for the moon, and if you really want the moon, I'll get it for you." Dean Martin's "Inamorata" comes to mind. My auditory imagination creates the nuance in the English version.

    Bilinguality and biculturality in self-translation makes for better translations. This is decidedly an advantage for the multi-lingual author.-- ALBERT B. CASUGA


  2. Well Daddy, you are lucky to have retained your native tongue. I can't seem to get any of the languages in my head straight, and reading your poem in Ilocano gave me a migraine. We can consider ChloƩ and Louis our little experiments in multilingualism.

  3. They will be multilingual, Alf. Aside from their French and English, and Spanish, you are now working in earnest to get them to learn Filipino. Mommy has taught them "Opo, Lola!" "Mahal kita!" she has even taught an Ilocano word or two to Chloe! She asked me the other day, "Lolo, what is Ilocano?"

    "That's me, hija. Lolo is Ilocano! I speak Ilocano."

    "I speak French, Spanish, and Tagalog. and English, too! Lola reads the French dictionary and some of the French books on Caillou, and Dora, and Passe Partou!"

    So, there.

    I went through the Filipino children's books you borrowed from the Central library, and I am delighted to find out that you are exposing them at this point to the stories of Lola Basyang and even an Apollo Landing booklet entitled "Dagingding" -- don't be surprised if you find me writing about some of these in the blogs.

    But Chloe and Louis will be our borderless, cosmopolitan citizens of the world. The world is bright for them. My only prayer is that instead of some Babel in the world, they will encounter an Earth which is easy to understand.

  4. I am also very interested in self-translation, so I decided to write a blog about it: http://self-translation.blogspot.com/
    Looking forward to discuss with you!