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May 2, 2018
More light, please!

Subroto Saha
Photo: Goethe-Institut Korea/OZAK

By Subroto Saha. ​Indian translator Subroto Saha had wished there were an exchange forum for translation for a long time. Yet exchange between translators also has its limitations.

The Merck Social Translating Project is an innovative concept and an experimental initiative. For that reason, the kick-off meeting in Seoul was very helpful. There I was able to learn more about the background of the project and personally share my thoughts with the project managers and the other translators involved in the project. The meeting allowed me to gain insight into the objective and flow of the project and into how to use the medium of a digital discourse forum. I still have vivid memories of the readings from the translations in different languages and of possible explanations of certain amusing plays on words.

Yet after delving into the translation, I thought that it would have been better if everyone would have read the entire book before the meeting and presented major things that stood out and unanswered questions from their own perspective for the discussion at the meeting. Then from the very beginning you would have been more aware of the specific particularities you would have to anticipate later on. A contribution from the author in his role as a translator also would have been very helpful.
I was excited about this format from the very start because I personally had often wished there were some kind of exchange forum. One thing was clear to me and is true in this case: Exchange between translators works up to a certain point since the target languages and target cultures are different. Plus you are usually interested in your own questions, which of course is understandable. Nevertheless, the notes and explanations still help indirectly. That cannot be underestimated, but at some point each translator has to come up with a suitable solution in his or her language, and fast ― even if it isn’t perfect. A translator can’t wait until a similar passage comes up again and is discussed more clearly later on. Otherwise you lose your momentum. And the exact opposite should happen ― that’s what the Lectory platform is for.

Reading the book “The World at Your Back” “The World at Your Back” is a special novel that presents the translators with various challenges | Photo: Goethe-Institut Korea/OZAK
But this is also a special novel. You can have an abundance of background information and explanations, but when it comes to the content, the translation ultimately needs to be a clear and understandable rendering without making linguistic or cultural sacrifices. As a translator (who sometimes is also looking for an answer to something that is unclear), I constantly have to think about my “simple” (and not just those familiar with the Western scene) Bengali readers, who for the most part know nothing about Berlin’s music, club, culture, and youth scenes with all their specific nuances as well as the Western and more specifically German culture environment in this novel. Names here are not just names, and the same is true for many different terms. It’s difficult to assume that all of this is known to the reader. Corresponding reformulations work in just a few places at most, while footnotes and explanations in parentheses really aren’t appropriate at all. In my opinion, the translation will be a failure without any workarounds.
And we aren’t even talking about untranslatable terms and concepts. It’s not about simplifying or adding anything, but about comprehension. The question is how much freedom I can have here as a translator. From a technical standpoint, I have had a positive experience exchanging on the Lectory platform. The platform also gives me guidance because all of the translators can ask questions. In that way we complement each other. To me, the fact that the author is also in this forum is even more significant for the translation work. And I know that whenever something is in the dark, I can virtually knock and call out: More light, please!