ACLAIIR seminar & translation slam – the report

Many thanks to everyone who attended our translation seminar on 5th June. We received great comments and feedback from all of you, and we’re really pleased that everyone found the day interesting and informative. It was great to see so many students, translators and librarians meeting and making connections from across the country .

If you enjoyed the seminar and would like to support ACLAIIR so that we can continue to hold similar events, please consider becoming a member. Our aim is to highlight Latin American and Iberian information resources in libraries and to work with users of those materials to advance knowledge in the field. Annual membership is just £20 and includes a copy of our Newsletter. Students can join and attend most events free of charge. Click here for the membership form.

For those of you unable to attend our latest seminar, here’s a report of the day including our translators’ passages from the translation slam.

ACLAIIR Seminar 

Richard Mansell began the seminar with a really useful overview of translation studies in the UK. He described some of the areas covered by translation studies, and highlighted the fact that creative writing and technical writing were often omitted from the field. Different countries also had different types of courses and levels of professionalisation for translators, meaning that the career path for one translator could be very different from another.  You can view the slides from Richard’s presentation here, including a very useful page of links to translation associations and groups.

Next up was Jennifer Arnold who spoke about the reception of translated fiction in the UK, with a focus on Catalan literature. Literature Across Frontiers (LAF) published a report in May 2015 entitled Publishing translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland, 1990 – 2012, which aimed to remedy the absence of reliable statistics on the state of translated literature in the UK publishing field. The oft-quoted 3% figure of works in translation turned out to be roughly accurate, and it is interesting to compare this to other countries where the percentage is much higher, e.g. 12% in Germany, 16% in France and 20% in Italy.

Focusing on Catalan, Jenny emphasised that the Institut Ramón Llull, formed in 2002, had a clear cultural agenda to promote Catalan language, literature and culture though translation. The Catalan government financed this agenda, which helped to support translators and also enabled publishers to purchase translation rights. The IRL has also provided specific courses on how to translate from Catalan into English. This high-level and well-financed support has made a difference to the visibility and success of Catalan literature in translation, particularly since 2007 when Catalonia was the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

To complete our seminar session, Tom Boll spoke about his work on the archives of J.M. Cohen and Gregory Rabassa. Cohen was associated with Penguin Books and their national anthologies.

The Cohen Collection at Queen’s College, Cambridge holds original correspondence from Cohen as well as other background material, whilst the University of Bristol holds the Penguin Archive. For more information on J.M. Cohen, see ACLAIIR member Vladimir Alexander Smith-Mesa’s article on our blog.

Gregory Rabassa was most well-known for his translations of Julio Cortázar’s Rayuela (translated as Hopscotch) and Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (One hundred years of solitude). Part of Rabassa’s archives can be found at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Centre as the Gregory Rabassa collection, consisting of manuscripts, correspondence, printed materials, and subject files. There is also relevant material relating to Rabassa’s translation of José Lezama Lima’s Paradiso, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1974, in the company’s archives held at the New York Public Library.

Tom stated that the material in archives can be disparate and one-sided or fragmentary, challenging us when it comes to drawing a conclusion about a person or situation. This poses an interesting question about methodology when it comes to using archives in research. How reliable can they be? They certainly help to give an insight into personal relationships, in this case between authors, translators and publishers. Letters, memos and notes can be written with differing levels of formality and tone. This kind of material can provide an extra facet to our reading and analysis of a translated text.

Translation Slam

To close the evening, Rosalind Harvey and Sophie Hughes presented their translated versions of an extract from Mónica Ojeda’s Nefando. Peter Bush posed questions to both Sophie and Rosalind about their translations, noting the differences and similarities in their texts. In fact, this passage was an excellent choice for a slam as it turned out that only about 25% of each translation was the same as the other, so there was plenty of variation to be discussed! We started with a good-humoured conversation about the Spanish word mierda and whether this was best translated in this context as ‘crap’ or ‘shit’. This brought up a number of issues around translating an isolated extract rather than the whole book. The translators felt that this was something they would potentially change once the full text was translated and they had more of a feel for the character in question.

One stylistic point about the passage which had to be taken into account was the use of two different voices. From the extract we assumed that this was the same character, but that one of the voices was her ‘writer’s voice’. This again was challenging, as the register was quite different from the ‘normal’ narrative. There was also some very unusual word combinations, such as un refugio-reptil-muro, which had the potential to pose some difficulty for the translator. A refuge-reptile-wall? Or a wall of refuge for reptiles?

To see how Sophie and Rosalind translated the extract, please see the links below.

Nefando translated by Sophie Hughes

Nefando translated by Rosalind Harvey

Overall the slam was a really interesting way of discussing the translation process from different points of view, and hearing about how translators make choices about the text. There was also some discussion about interaction with the author of the original text – not always possible but very helpful in some cases – and the role of the publisher in facilitating the translation process.


Advisory Council on Latin American and Iberian Information Resources
This entry was posted in AGM. Bookmark the permalink.