|The Babel Fish|
Susan Bernofsky is one of the best translators from German into English, and writes about translation in her blog Translationista. I was curious to know what her 11 rules for translators might be, and if I agreed with them. The answer is mostly yes. How could I not! So here they are, with my comments, written from the point of view of a full-time literary translator from English into Italian:
1. Always be a writer while you are translating, and every time you forget, bring yourself back to it.
[I love this one. Translators do have a personality, and they don't have to be completely invisible. They just should have a good instinct for balance, and shouldn't have too big of an ego. (But then, no one should have too big of an ego.)]
2. The most important thing about the structure of a sentence is the order in which the bits of information arrive.
[Very important. But this applies more to the writer, I think. If I follow his/her structure, I should be safe.]
3. If the original text is not well-written, you are doomed; feel free to despair.
[This is strictly connected to rule n.1.When the translator is a better writer then the writer he/she is translating, it can be extremely frustrating. It's okay to keep your ego at bay, but this is too much!]
4. If the original is well-written, make sure you understand exactly what’s good about it, i.e. what constitutes this writer’s characteristic style. Getting the tone right is key.
5. Get up from your computer at least once every hour to stretch and walk around. Translating in a stupor isn’t going to work out to anyone’s satisfaction.
[Mmm... and what about vacations? Get away from your computer at least once a... month? A year?]
6. The most important reference work you can own is a Roget’s International Thesaurus. Indexed, not in dictionary form. Yes, it does make a difference. And no, there is no dictionary of synonyms available online that can hold a candle to a good Roget’s.
[Indispensable for translators into English. Translators from English will have to make do with a good thesaurus in their own language.]
7. No, it’s not good enough yet, keep revising.
[I know it's not good enough, I'll tell the publisher I need more time and more money.]
8. I can’t believe you’re asking again already. Revise some more.
[The publisher said no already.]
9. Read everything you translate aloud, preferably to a bookloving listener who can be trusted to furrow a brow when a phrase is off.
[I used to do this at the beginning. Now I'm more confident and I think I can do without it. Especially because I very soon ran out of bookloving people willing to listen to everything I translate.]
10. Read lots and lots of gorgeous books at all times so that your head will constantly be filled with the cadences of literary greatness.
[Oh, yes, this is fun!]
11. Remember that no matter what hard work it is, translating is supposed to be fun; if you consistently find yourself not having fun while translating, why don’t you try something else that you might actually make some money at?
[Like what? I still have to find it...]