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Copyright © 2004
M. S. Thirumalai
LITERARY TRANSLATION - ART OR SCIENCE?
A Renowned Literary Translator Discusses His View
V. V. B. Rama Rao, Ph.D.
APPLIED LINGUISTICS AND LITERARY TRANSLATION
While there has always been a schism between Art and Science, a further
dichotomy has been forced between Pure and Applied Sciences. Man's urge
to be scientific and bring in exactitude in all fields of study is insatiable.
This has become a part of man's thirst to be distinguished. Economics,
to begin with called a dismal science, has come to be called a Social
Science. The study of Human behaviour, as unaccountable and as unpredictable,
as ever has acquired the respectability when came to called a Behavioral
Science. The real reason for this science-explosion is the devising or
harnessing of 'scientific' methods. In Linguistics some scientific methods
are used in observation, analysis etc to make a hypothesis. This division
has become Applied Linguistics as distinct from (Theoretical) Linguistics.
Applied Linguistics (Applied Linguisticians, to be precise) have annexed Translation to their domain. With the advent of scientific methods of study etc, Translation as a subject is made almost an 'exact' science. Machine Translation came to play an important role in every day situations as when in an assembly automatic translation from one language to another is made possible. All this is fine. But Applied Linguisticians can never usurp the domain of literary translation, for it is an art and shall ever remain so with an individual, artistic human face to it. There could be no one to one correspondence between a rendering of a literary text from one language to another. It is not mere translation but it is a fresh, artistic rendering, which is more than a mere translation. If one insists on the use of the word, it can be called if not a rendering a Literary Translation, which defies a rigorous theory, an essential pre-requisite for a scientific procedure.
VARIETIES OF TRANSLATION
If putting an idea into language is one kind of 'translation' activity,
translating that into another language is another, more difficult, process.
In the first instance it is less complex but the second translator poses
several problems. In creative writing there is a special significance
intended in the use of vocabulary and expressive devices. Aesthetic considerations
play a crucial role. This leads to complex problems very frequently. There
are so many ways in which a literary text can be rendered into another
language. This is not the case in factual, informative writing where the
purpose is comparatively narrow and limited. Poetry, for example is imaginative
writing, which, usually, lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations.
The translator needs to be very clever trying to make his translation
as variously suggestive and as variedly communicative as the writer of
the original text.
TO BRING OUT THE GLORY OF THE TEXT BEFORE A READER
It is the humble attempt of the translator to bring at least a part of
the glory of the text before a reader who has no access to the original.
For this he tries to accomplish a figurative parakaya pravesa, metaphorically
getting into the original writer's body. In a recent interview (THE HINDU
6 March 2005), Dominique Vitalyos, the French Translator, expressed an
An author's expression deserves to be interiorised until you
hear the author speaking French in your head. For me translating involves
a double process of disappearance and creation. Ideally, there should
not be any trace of my own 'style' in my translations. If at all, I would
love to be recognized through my absence.
SPEAKING IN THE AUTHOR'S SURROGATE VOICE
But then this involves not merely parakaya pravesa
and self-effacing but speaking in the author's surrogate voice which it
is not easy to achieve. But ideals are ideals, not easily achieved. Sometimes
translation is an adventure, sometimes more hazardous than rewarding,
sometimes an expedition into uncharted waters, which may simply devour
him or drive him away into the perilous seas in fairy lands forlorn. It
is for this reason that we should go to translations with a measure of
forgiveness for lapses.
IMPORTANCE OF SAHRIDAYA
Sahridaya is essential for the appreciation of a literary text and it
is no less a prime requirement for the appreciation of a translation.
For a translator too it is as essential a prerequisite, for he or she
has to put across the seen/imagined/felt beauty into the target language.
The translator-'transcreators' who have 'rendered' the texts, for example,
into Telugu from Sanskrit centuries ago, were great imaginative artists
themselves. They have minds and hearts that could get into that creative
frenzy to come up with a version that had been their own in many ways.
Their capacity to envision and intuit has earned for them laurels, which
they never imagined to accrue to them at all. They must have felt their
work a way of redeeming what they believed was rishirina. For this reason,
I have always preferred 'rendering' to the literary translations I undertook.
RENDERING VERSUS LITERARY TRANSLATION - A STUDY OF THE TRANSLATION
OF A TAMIL CLASSIC
To make my stand clear, I have given here the texts in Tamil, a language
I do not know, and the three renderings of the same 'kural' (couplet).
Thiru is sacred. Tiruvalluvar, the name, means the holy or sacred writer
born in the caste of Valluva. These are different renderings by three
different 'artists', separated by fairly long stretches of time.
1. Thirukkural, Bilingual Edn, Eng Trans. Manickavasagam, Richa Prakashan,
New Delhi, 2004
2. Tiruvalluvar, S.Maharajan, SahityaAkademi 1979
3. The 'Sacred' Kurral of Tiruvalluava-Nayanar Rev. G.U. Pope.
VARYING COMMITMENT TO FIDELITY TO THE ORIGINAL
oonhudai echcham uyirkkellaam vaeralla
naanhudaimai maandhar sirappu (1012)
Food, clothes, etc. are common to all human beings; what distinguishes the virtuous is the sense of shame (which they feel for performing an immoral act). Manickavasagam, 2004**
Food, clothing and the rest mark all men in common;
It is only a delicate sense of shame
Which separates the few from the many (Maharajan ) - (1979))**
Food, clothes, and other things alike all beings own;
By sense of shame the excellence of men is known. (Rev.G.U.Pope) - (1886)***
'Distingishes the virtuous' is preferred in one, while in the second, 'separates
the few many' is chosen and in the third version, which is a rendering
in rhyme another telling expression, 'the excellence of men is known'
is used. In assessing literary translations, the time of the work is an
important parameter. The commitment to the original, the fidelity too
varies from one practitioner to another.
GETTING CLOSER TO THE ORIGINAL'S SPIRIT
nahalvallar allaarkku maayiru gnaalam
pahalumpaar pattandru irulh (999)
For those who lack courteous behaviour, the world will be dark even during daytime. (Manickavasagam)
To him, who knows not to laugh,
This infinite universe would, in broad daylight,
Seem steeped in darkness. ( Maharajan)**
To him who knows not how to smile in kindly mirth,
Darkness in daytime breeds o'er all the vast and mighty earth. (Rev.G.U.Pope)***
'Courteous behavior' in the first rendering becomes 'knowing to laugh' and
the third appears a little near the spirit of the original by bringing
in 'kindly mirth', which is more near to the original's spirit and expressive
than the rather bland 'laugh'.
THE INFLUENCE OF THE PRACTITIONER'S PERSONAL PREFERENCE
peridhinidhu paedhaiyaar kaenhmai pirivinkanh
peezhai tharuvadhondru il (839)
Friendship with fools is excellent because there will not be any pain at the time of parting. (Manickavasagam)*
Supremely sweet is the friendship of fools;*
When they depart
You shed not a tear (Maharajan)
Friendship of fools is very pleasant thing
Parting with them will leave behind no sting. (Rev.G.U.Pope)***
Three different adjectives are used for a single idea in the original: 'excellent',
'supremely sweet', and 'pleasant'. 'Pain', 'tear', 'sting' bring out the
importance of the practitioner's personal preference in communicating
the content in the original.
A MATTER OF UNDERSTANDING THE ORIGINAL EACH IN HIS OWN WAY!
kallaadhaan sorkaa murudhal mulaiyirandum
illaadhaal penhkaamutr tratru (402)
A person without learning aspiring to deliver lecture is similar to one having no breast aspiring to be a damsel. (Manickavasagam)*
The illiterate man's lust for words*
Is verily like the lust of a woman,
Who has neither of her breasts. (Maharajan)
Like those who doat on hoyden's undeveloped charms are they,
Of learning void, who eagerly their power of words display. (Rev.G.U.Pope)**
The choice of phrase to indicate uneducated is as varied as 'illiterate' to
'void of learning'. But then the illiterate person's description is amusingly
varied. Each seems to have understood the couplet in a slightly different
way. The third appears to be nearer to the original's message
DIFFICULTIES IN HITTING UPON THE RIGHT DESCRIPTION!.
kazhaakkaal pallhiyulh vaiththatraal sandroar
kuzhaathup paedhai puhal (840)
Fool entering a gathering of the learned is like putting a soiled leg in the bedroom. (Manickavasagam)**
The entry of an idiot into an assembly of sages*
Is like putting an unwashed foot
Upon a white-washed bed. ( Maharajan)
Like him who seeks his couch with unwashed feet,
Is fool whose foot intrudes where wise men meet. (Rev.G.U.Pope)***
Putting soiled leg in bedroom, putting unwashed foot upon a white-washed bed,
seeking couch with unwashed feet again are not just the same.
A MATTER OF GRAMMATICAL DEVIATIONS?
aedham perunchelvam thaandruvvaan thakkaarkkondru
eedhal iyalbilaa dhaan (1006)
Wealth is a disease, if it is acquired by one who does not enjoy it nor distributes to the deserving. (Manickavasagam)*
Disastrous is the ample wealth**
of the man,
who neither enjoys it
nor gives it to the worthy. ( Maharajan)
Their ample wealth is misery to men of churlish heart,
Who nought themselves enjoy, and nought to worthy men impart. (Rev.G.U.Pope)***
Wealth becomes a disease, disaster, misery in the circumstances described.
It is difficult to guess what the original really meant to communicate.
The construction of the sentence and the grammatical deviations are difficult
to approve. The third is very expansive and for good reason.
HOW DOES ONE DESCRIBE HUNGER? NOT ALL HUNGER IS THE SAME!
aatruvaar aatralpasi aatral appasiyai
maatruvaar aatralin pin (225)
Enduring hunger is no doubt good; removing the hunger of others is better still. (Manickavasagam)*
The most powerful of all powers
Is the power to bear hunger
But even that power is next only
To the power of those, who can appease hunger. (Maharajan)***
'Mid devotees they're great who hunger's pangs sustain**
Who hunger's pangs relieve a higher merit gain. (Rev.G.U.Pope)
'Enduring hunger', 'bear hunger' and hunger's pangs sustain' - three different
ways to suggest remain hungry. But then in the context 'bear hunger' appears
just appropriate. Of "removing hunger', ''appease hunger' and ' hunger's
pangs relieve', the second appears more appropriate.
VARYING INTENSITIES OF DESCRIPTION IN TRANSLATION
saadhalin innaadha dhillai inidhadhooum
eedhal iyaiyaak kadai (230)
Death is bad; but it is better than not giving charity when begged for.* (Manickavasagam)
There is nothing more calamitous than Death;**
But death itself becomes sweet
When once one is disabled from giving alms. ( Maharajan)
'Tis bitter pain to die! 'Tis worse to live***
For him who nothing finds to give. (Rev.G.U.Pope)
Death in comparison to inability to give is construed by the three in three
intensities: bad, calamitous, and miserable The one which appeals most
to the reader , perhaps is Pope's.
LONG-WINDED NATURE OF TRANSLATIONS
panhennaam paadarku iyaibindrael kanhennaam
kannhoattam illaadha kanh (573)
What is the use of song, which cannot be sung; what is the use of eyes, which are not endowed with compassion. **(Manickavasagam)
Of what avail is a tune
If it isn't en rapport with the song?
Of what avail is the eye
If it doesn't move to and fro with compassion. **( Maharajan)
Where not accordant with song, what use of sounding chords?***
What gain of eye that no benignant light affords? (Rev.G.U.Pope)
'Benignant light' is preferred to straight forward 'compassion' but 'doesn't
move to and fro appears a little long-winded.
SETTLE ON RIGHT EXPRESSIONS
inbaththulh inbam vizhaiyaadhaan thunbaththulh
thunbam urudhal ilan (629)
One, who does not rejoice when good things happen, shall not be depressed when adverse things happen. (Manickavasagam)*
He, who in pleasure,
Exults not in pleasure,
Does not, in sorrow,
Suffer from sorrow. **(Maharajan)
Mid joys he yields not heart to joys' control,
Mid sorrows, sorrow cannot touch his soul. **(Rev.G.U.Pope)
'Does not rejoice' and 'exult in pleasure' appear to read better.
HEAVINESS OF PHRASES? OR POETIC EXPRESSIONS? WHICH ONE TO PREFER?
navilthorum noolnayam poalum payilthorum
panhbudai yaalhar thodarbu (783)
As the pleasure increases with each reading of literature, so is the case with the friendship of the virtuous with more and more interaction.* (Manickavasagam)
The more you cultivate the classics***
The more delightful they become;
Like wise the more you move
With men of virtue,
The more sweet becomes their friendship. ( Maharajan)
Learned scroll the more you ponder,*
Sweeter grows the mental food;
So the heart by use grows fonder,
Found in friendship with the good. (Rev.G.U.Pope)
'Pondering scrolls' is heavy, where 'cultivating classics' sound poetic. 'Reading literature' does not have any colour in the context.
kaettinum undoar urudhi kilhaignarai
neetti alhappadhoar koal (796)
Adversity is the best yardstick for measuring the quality of friends.*** (Manickavasagam)
There is some good even about adversity,**
for it gives you a measuring rod
you may unstintingly measure your real friends. ( Maharajan)
Ruin itself one blessing lends:
'Tis staff that measures out one's friends.* (Rev.G.U.Pope)
'Yardstick', 'measuring rod' and 'staff that measures' are used. 'Yardstick'
LITERALNESS IN TRNSLATION
paedhai perunkezhee natpin arivudaiyaar
aedhinmai koadi urum (816)
Enmity of intelligent people is a crore (ten million) times better than the friendship of fools. **(Manickavasagam)
The hatred of the wise man is
Ten million times worthier
Than the friendship of the fool. *8 ( Maharajan)
Better ten million times incur the wise man's hate,
Than form with foolish men a friendship intimate. **(Rev.G.U.Pope)
'Ten million" is literal translation. 'Worthier' appears to be more appropriate.
The singular 'the fool' is less apposite than the plural the other two
karka kasadarak karpavai katrapin
nirka adharkuth thaha (391)
Learn faultlessly; after learning what needs to be learnt, observe it in practice. *(Manickavasagam)
Learn with utter clarity*
Whatever has to be learnt:
After learning, conduct yourself according to what you have learnt. **(Maharajan)
So learn that you may full and faultless learning gain,
Then in obedience meet to lessons learnt remain. ***(Rev.G.U.Pope)
Repetition of the lead word 'Learn' too many times is perhaps because of the
preoccupation with fidelity to the original. The economy of words in the
original has a special charm.
PREFER A SUCCINCT EXPRESSION
vilangodu makkalh anaiyar ilangunool
katraaroadu aenai yavar (410)
The difference between the learned and those not learnt is the same as that between the human beings and the animals.* (Manickavasagam)
As beasts are to men,
So are the unlearned to the learned.*** (Maharajan)
Learning's irradiating grace who gain
Others excel, as men the bestial train.** (Rev.G.U.Pope)
The second version has the succinctness and so the force. But this not faulting
the other two.
selvaththulh selvam sevichchelvam achchelvam
selvaththu lhellaam thalai (411)
The best wealth one can possess is acquired through the ears. ***(Manickavasagam)
The Wealth of wealth is wealth acquired through the ear;**
It is the noblest among all the wealths. (Maharajan)
Wealth of wealth is wealth acquired by ear attent; **
Wealth mid all wealth supremely excellent. (Rev.G.U.Pope)
The first is by the far most appealing since the repetition of 'wealth'
so many times in the other two is prolix ("marked by or using.an
excess of words" - Merriam-Webster's Dictionary).
katrila naayinum kaetka ahdhoruvarku
orkaththin ootraam thunai (414)
Even if one has not learnt, it is necessary to listen; it will stand in good stead at the time of trials. ***(Manickavasagam)
Let him, who has no learning,
At least listen to the learned;
it will prove a supporting staff in times of distress.** (Maharajan)
Though learning none hath he, yet let him hear always;
In weakness this shall prove a staff and stay. **(Rev.G.U.Pope)
'Stands in good stead', 'supporting stay' 'prove staff and stay' are acceptable
generally, but stand in good stead appears to be appropriate.
WHICH ONE IS PREFERABLE?
kanavinum innaadhu mannoa vinaivaeru
solvaeru pattaar thodarbu (819)
Association with those whose actions are different from words is harmful even in dreams.***(Manickavasagam)
It is horrid even in dreams**
To hobnob with men,
in whom there is a dichotomy
between their deeds and words. ( Maharajan)
Even in a dream the intercourse is bitterness**
With men whose deeds are other than their words profess. (Rev.G.U.Pope)
'Harmful', 'horrid' and 'bitter' are the terms used to describe association
with hypocrites. "Harmful" appears preferable.
CHOOSE THE BEST!
seppam udaiyavan aakkam sithaivindri
echchaththir kaemaappu udaiththu (112)
The wealth of the one who observes impartiality will stand his progeny in good stead. *(Manickavasagam)
The wealth of man of justice will without frittering away
Stand even his posterity in good stead.*** (Maharajan)
The just man's wealth unwasting shall endure,
And to his race a lasting joy ensure.** (Rev.G.U.Pope)
'Impartiality' appears to be inappropriate when the other two used 'frittering
away' and 'wasting'. 'Race' here is less apposite than either 'progeny'
or 'posterity'. Progeny may be the best choice.
CONVEY WHAT THE ORIGINAL INTENDED TO CONVEY!
Nilaththiyalbaal neerthrin dhataraahum maandhadharakkku
inaththiyalba dhaahum arivu (452)
Water takes the colour of the land wherein it flows; *
Human beings also acquire the nature of the company they keep. (Manickavasagam)
Even as water takes on the nature of the soil through which it flows*
Men take on the wisdom of the environment in which they live. (Maharajan)
The waters' virtues change with soil through which they flow:*
As man's companionship so will his wisdom show. (Rev.G.U.Pope)
From a reading of these three, it is difficult to guess what the original really intended to convey.
SOME NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS
The renderings given first are the latest, published in 2004. The renderings are by Manickavasagam, not a professional but an amateur, so to say. Later given are the renderings of Maharajan who rendered selected kurals to cite while writing a book for Sahitya Akademi. The book was published in 1979. The renderings last given above were those of a missionary and a clergyman who took great pains to leave behind a solid work with a degree of extra-ordinary precision, authenticity and authority. He rendered the kurals in rhyming couplets with a view to be faithful even in the matter of prosody
A good rendering would stand on its own and read like an original for the one, who does not know the source language. If oddities stick out to draw his attention there would no motivation to read further. The only test that could have absolute validity for assessment is the capacity of the rendering to take the reader along till the end. Then alone the intended objective of the 'transcreator' is achieved. The reader goes to a translated text to get what he can from a renowned writer whom he reveres and wishes to read at least in a rendering.
A reader-friendly, original sensitive, rendering is more in the nature of an artistic endeavour, basically a service. Usually considered a second-level author, the practising literary translator does not aspire for anything more than being recognized as one who has endeavoured to redeemed his rishiruna. Literary Translation is content to stay as an art - with infinite possibilities to reveal the totality of original artist's many-sided achievement. It does not really bother that his work would be superceded hopefully when a more artistic rendering replaces it. It is no harm if it stays an art and gets currency as a rendering. Now we come to Walter Pater's grand declaration: "All art aspires towards the condition of music." Music is and has always been a matter of art, a highly personal rendering, no matter however many theories come and go.
What the stars at the end of each kural may tell the reader what the rendering could be construed as to whether it is
** Appealing- artistic, or,
*** Very impressive - artistic.
These are not value judgements but individual assessments for each rendering must have served the basic function of literary translation with a degree of artistic excellence entirely individual. The usual branding of renderings, literal-translation, over-translation, under-translation and mis-translation are blanket assessments.
The reader who knows the Source Language of the original text (in this case Tamil), does not go the text in another Target Language unless he has some purpose other than the usual one of appreciation or enlightenment. The reader who does not know the Source Language has to be content with whatever he gets in the Target Language he knows. It is very rarely that a reader goes to different texts in the same Target Language as when he has the intention of comparison for writing a review or an assignment or attempting a further translation himself out love for text or as an assignment. Every translator has an idea of his target reader and he caters to tan imagined need or purpose.
As a reader of the three different 'transcreations' or renderings from the same Source Language into the same Target Language (English), I may be permitted to have my own 'standard' to assess each. This is simply a matter of opinion. In assessing rendered texts value judgements are best desisted. Each of the scholars cited above rendered the originals interestingly in expressive devices their own reflecting individual flair, understanding and capacity. They are all acceptable within the framework they had in their own minds and every one of them has his own individual understanding into the alchemy of the Art of Literary Translation.
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LITERARY TRANSLATION - ART OR SCIENCE? A Renowned Literary Translator Discusses His View | THE INFLUENCE OF ENGLISH ON MALAYALAM LANGUAGE | A REVIEW OF LEARNING ENGLISH TEXTBOOK II FOR CLASS II Discussing the Problems of Presentation | LANGUAGE POLICY IN THE MOTILAL NEHRU COMMITTEE REPORT, 1928 - THE SEEDS OF THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION | MISSING LINKS - FROM RESEARCH TO DEVELOPMENT | ADVERB FORMATION IN TAMIL | LINGUISTIC HUMAN RIGHTS IN TRIBAL EDUCATION IN ORISSA | THE ECONOMY OF ARTICULATION IN MEWATI PHONOLOGY | HOME PAGE | CONTACT
V. V. B. Rama Rao, Ph.D.
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