Translation and the differences it makes

Translation and the differences it makes

Over the past week I have returned to an earlier piece of work, in order to edit it in the light of discussion with a translator/editor of the ‘Handbook on Letters’ it is due to appear in. The publisher is Springer and the handbook will be of monumental size with German translations of chapters from different disciplinary and interdisciplinary areas by contributors world-wide. There is a group of editors and I am working with one in particular. My contribution is concerned with how letters and epistolarity more generally have been considered, or not considered, within the frameworks of sociological thinking. In producing my draft, I thought I had done a fairly reasonable job in responding to the different national routes by which sociology came into being and developed, and how letters/epistolarity appear within these. However, faced with detailed responses from a German editor translating this English text into the target language of German, I now realise both some limitations in what I’ve done, and that translation shifts in all manner of ways (some subtle, some less so) the underpinning influences from one intellectual and linguistic context and transmutes these into the idioms and intellectual frameworks of another.

This has encompassed, for example, needing to centre the fact that the reading audience will know (and not know) rather different things and so different things need explanation, recognising there are Germanic developments in social science work on letters I was unaware of, through to the different rules regarding sentence and paragraph construction impacting on how things need to be framed in order to make the intended sense when appearing in the target language. And more.

The process involved has been interesting too, for in some respects it has focused on ‘the intended sense‘ rather than translation in a narrow meaning. So rather than me editing my contribution in the usual way, by changing my draft text and then handing it over, I have dealt with questions and queries from my editor/translator in an ongoing way, in which a German draft has been re-drafted to accommodate my extended explanations. This has taken longer than anticipated, but then the process is different from how I imagined it. I wish my German was good, rather than effectively non-existent, for I am fascinated to know whether and in what ways the resulting target German text might differ from ‘mine’ in ways I am unable to gauge. The ‘Handbook’ is due to appear in Germany in 2020, although it wouldn’t surprise me if between then and now there was another set of editorial exchanges. But for now the nitty-gritty of the process hasn’t quite finished either, for there seems to be an issue with referencing systems which Springer has sprung on the editors! All hands to the references…


Last updated:  13 June 2019