Friday, April 17, 2015

Perry Link
In teaching Chinese-language courses to American students, which I have done about thirty times, perhaps the most anguishing question I get is “Professor Link, what is the Chinese word for ______?” I am always tempted to say the question makes no sense. Anyone who knows two languages moderately well knows that it is rare for words to match up perfectly, and for languages as far apart as Chinese and English, in which even grammatical categories are conceived differently, strict equivalence is not possible. Book is not shu, because shu, like all Chinese nouns, is conceived as an abstraction, more like “bookness,” and to say “a book” you have to say, “one volume of bookness.” Moreover shu, but not book, can mean “writing,” “letter,” or “calligraphy.” On the other hand you can “book a room” in English; you can’t shu one in Chinese. 
I tell my students that there are only two kinds of words they can safely regard as equivalents: words for numbers (excepting integers under five, the words for which have too many other uses) and words that are invented expressly for the purpose of serving as equivalents, like xindiantu (heart-electric-chart) for “electrocardiogram.” I tell them their goal in Chinese class should be to set aside English and get started with thinking in Chinese.
You cannot "translate" Mallarmé or Pushkin.
You cannot "translate" Mallarmé or Pushkin.
You cannot "translate" Mallarmé or Pushkin.
You cannot "translate" Mallarmé or Pushkin.


How many times do you repeat the obvious?
Claire Messud
One of the most widely read French novels of the twentieth century, Albert Camus’s L’Étranger, carries, for American readers, enormous significance in our cultural understanding of midcentury French identity. It is considered—to what would have been Camus’s irritation—the exemplary existentialist novel.

Yet most readers on this continent (and indeed, most of Camus’s readers worldwide) approach him not directly, but in translation. For many years, Stuart Gilbert’s 1946 version was the standard English text. In the 1980s, it was supplanted by two new translations—by Joseph Laredo in the UK and Commonwealth, and by Matthew Ward in the US. Ward’s highly respected version rendered the idiom of the novel more contemporary and more American, and an examination of his choices reveals considerable thoughtfulness and intuition.

Each translation is, perforce, a reenvisioning of the novel: a translator will determine which Meursault we encounter, and in what light we understand him. Sandra Smith—an American scholar and translator at Cambridge University, whose previous work includes the acclaimed translation of Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française—published in the UK in 2012 an excellent and, in important ways, new version of L’Étranger.

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