Monday, November 28, 2016

Translator's Affinity

Translator's affinity (TA) isn't a new term, but it hasn't been used much. It may mean the translator's empathy with the text or with its context, as in Ali Darwish's book (see Sources):
"... the translator's affinity to either the source text or translation… and situational affinity may act as a reinforcing positive or negative factor in defining the overall translation strategy."
In this post, however, I will use it to mean empathy with the original author.

I first became conscious of it when discovering Ezra Pound's Cathay. It's a Modernist American poet's very free translation of poems by the classical Chinese poet Li Bai (701-761, known as Rihahu in Japanese). It's been widely admired by such great English poets as T. S. Elliot, W. B. Yeats and Carlos Williams. Ford Maddox Hueffer declared,
"The poems in Cathay are things of supreme beauty. What poetry should be, that they are."
T. S. Elliot opined,
"[He is] the inventor of Chinese poetry... through his translation we really at last get the original... translucencies."
And what is especially relevant to Pound as a translator is that he has been widely admired by Chinese critics too:
"Hsieh Wen-tung, for instance, has ignored the obvious mistakes Pound has made and said that Pound's poetic acumen made up for the loss."
Here's a brief sample:
***The Jewel Stairs' Grievance***
The jewelled steps are already quite white with dew,
It is so late that the dew soaks my gauze stockings,
And I let down the crystal curtain
And watch the moon through the clear autumn.
Yet there's a mystery about Pound's translating. He didn't know Chinese. He worked from notes by Ernnest Fenellosa. Fenellosa was an outstanding authority on Japanese art, but he didn't know Chinese either. His notes were really lexical glosses, not translations. Wai-Lim Yip (see Sources) says,
"One can easily excommunicate Pound from the Forbidden City of Chinese studies, but it seems clear that in his dealings with Cathay, even when he is given only the barest details, he is able to get into the central consciousness of the original author by what we may perhaps call a kind of clairvoyance."
What Yip called clairvoyance, I attributed to TA. But how to explain it? I thought I found an explanation in Chinese graphic art. By the early 1900s Pound was living in London.
"Between June 1910 and April 1912 the British Museum held a comprehensive 'Exhibition of Chinese and Japanese Paintings' housed in the museum's newly-constructed White Wing. There were 108 Chinese paintings and 126 Japanese paintings reflecting the persistent interest in the aesthetic sources for the fashionable Japonisme and Chinoiserie of the time – plus an aesthetic attraction to the colour, precision, unity, imagery and techniques of oriental art."
Moreover the curator of the exhibition was Laurence Binyon, director of the department of Japanese and Chinese paintings and prints at the museum, with whom Pound formed a long-lasting relationship of friendship and admiration.

Therefore I concluded that the bridge from Pound to Li Bai was Chinese graphic art, and that in positing any TA one should not only look at the translator and the author but also seek out the bridge that links them.

A much more recent example of TA that I have encountered is translator Prabha Sridevan's empathy for Tamil author R. Chudamani. Part of a post on this blog in June was about Prabha. To find it, enter Prabha in the Search box on the right. Here there's certainly a cultural link, since both translator and author are Indian Tamils living in their homeland. But there is also another bridge. I was once asked in a radio interview whether a work by a woman author would be better translated by a woman translator. On the spur of the moment I couldn't think why, but now I see a reason in TA between women, in this case mature women.

For a final example, I turn to something from my own ongoing experience. For 20 years now I've been translating and retranslating an Arabic poem called Al-Talaasim / The Talismans and I'm still not satisfied. "Retranslating" because there's already a published translation in an anthology (see Sources); and a student once floored me by declaring in class that she preferred the published translation to mine. Yet there's something that draws me back to it, and I think it's a case of TA. The poet was Elia Abu Madi (1890-1957), a member of the Lebanese diaspora in the United States. To understand the bridge between me and him you need to know something about the structure and content of the poem. It has five stanzas and all of them end with the same short line lastu 'adrii / I do not know; and the final stanza ends with the couplet
lastu 'adrii. Wa limaadhaa lastu 'adrii?
lastu àdrii. /
I do not know. And why do I not know?
I do not know.
The first stanza, in one of my several attempts, goes like this:
I don't know where I came from but I arrived,
And I beheld a pathway in front of me, so I started walking.
And I shall go on journeying whether I like it or abhor it.
Where did I come from? How did I see my way?
I don't know.
The bridge IMHO is the poet's agnosticism, something rare in Arabic poetry and indeed in any poetry.

Can what has been said about Translator's Affinity be extrapolated to Interpreter's Affinity? I think it can, but that's another story.

Note that TA is a feeling. It can't be taught, though it can perhaps be cultivated once it's formed. It's something intuitive, natural.

Ali Darwish. Translation Applied! An Introduction to Applied Translation Studies: A Transactional Model. Melbourne: Writescope, 2010.

Ezra Pound. Cathay, Translations by Ezra Pound, for the Most Part from the Chinese of Rihahu, from the Notes of the Late Ernest Fenellosa, and the Decipherings of the Professors Mori and Ariga. London: Elkin Mathews, 1915. The text of this edition is available online by clicking [here] or going to

Ernest Fenellosa. Wikipedia, 2016.

Wai-lim Yip. Ezra Pound's `Cathay'. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969. Available from Amazon.

Ira Nadel (University of British Columbia). Cathay: Ezra Pound's Orient (Penguin Specials). 2016.

Mounah A. Khouri and Hamil Algar (translators and editors). An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974. Available from Amazon.

Elia Abu Madi. Click [here] or go to

Ezra Pound in 1913. Photo by Alvin Langdon Coburn. Source: Wikipedia.

This post is now available for downloading at Click [here] or go to

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Update: A Royal Chlld Translator

A few posts ago I bemoaned the "deluge" of translation studies writings these days that no translatologist, least of all an old one like me, can hope to keep up with. Yet I must confess that I am complicit in it. There are now nearly 400 posts on this blog, that's at least a quarter of a million words, and even I can't remember all that's there. While much of it was ephemeral, there were some enduring nuggets. The thought was triggered by a reader's comment received this week on a post published on December 31, 2011. You can read the comment at the end of the present post.

So I've decided to salvage some of my favourites from oblivion from time to time by republishing them, and this is the first. A Postscript has been added.

Today is December 31 [2011].

On this day in the year 1544 – in the words of Anne Lake Prescott, a distinguished American scholar of the English Renaissance –
"the eleven-year-old Lady Elizabeth presented Catherine with her own beautifully bound and embroidered translation of Marguerite's long poem Le miroir de l'âme pécheresse."
This was a red-letter day in the annals of child translators. Lady Elizabeth was the future Queen Elizabeth I of England. Catherine was Catherine (or Katherine) Parr,
"the sixth and last wife of King Henry VIII, destined to outlive the mercurial ruler... She was an admirable wife to Henry and a loving stepmother to his two youngest children, Elizabeth and Edward. She was also the most intellectual of Henry's wives, caught up in the turbulent religious climate of the times."
Marguerite was Marguerite de Valois (aka Marguerite d'Angoulême, 1492–1549),
"queen consort of Henry II of Navarre. Her brother became king of France as Francis I, and the two siblings were responsible for the celebrated intellectual and cultural court and salons of their day in France... As an author and a patron of humanists and reformers, she was an outstanding figure of the French Renaissance."
As for her poem Le Miroir de l'âme pécheresse (The Mirror of the Sinful Soul), it is
"an outpouring of surprising intensity: over 1,400 lines of self-accusation and self-abasement. The Reformist orientation is apparent in the poem's Pauline-Augustinian bent, as in the prominence of biblical allusions. The speaker of the poetic monologue presents herself as a wretched sinner, who has so violated and betrayed her relationship with God that she is totally unworthy of his grace. Parsing out that relationship into a series of familial paradigms - daughter, mother, sister, wife - she explores each area of defection through an exemplary episode from the Bible."
So the translator may have been a child, but the text was no children's poem.
"Scholars sometimes assume that Elizabeth chose to translate this poem. In fact... someone older, possibly Catherine herself, would very likely have known of the book and pressed it on her.... Elizabeth could hope that by obediently translating the Miroir she could please an influential and affectionate stepmother....
“Neither do we know who, if anyone, helped Elizabeth with her translation. It seems unlikely she was utterly on her own, yet her errors and omissions suggest inattention (or inadequate French) on someone's part. She opens with a letter to Catherine. She knows of the queen's 'affectuous wille, and fervent zeale... towardes all godly learning.' So, to avoid idleness, she has turned 'frenche ryme in to englishe prose, joyning the sentences together as well as the capacitie of my symple witte, and small lerning coulde extende themselves.' Her effort is merely a beginning, so she hopes Catherine will not show it to anyone ‘lesse my fauttes be knowen of many.’ Maybe Catherine can amend it. Happy New Year."
Who might have helped Elizabeth? Let’s not underestimate her. She'd been put through a thorough Renaissance Christian education that included learning, Italian, Spanish, Greek and Latin besides English rhetoric and French. So she no doubt had capable teachers. We know, for instance, that her tutor in Greek was Henry Savile, later one of the King James Bible team of translators. By the time she was eleven, we can suppose, on the basis of this education and the translation itself, that she was an Advanced Native Translator.

In spite of Elizabeth’s reticence about the quality of her translation, once she became queen it was obviously in some courtier’s or bookseller’s interest to publish it and that’s what happened. See References below.

There are some other noteworthy things about this translation:
* Author, translator and intended reader were all women, unusual for its time but indicative of a breakthrough by women into the literature of the Renaissance
* The important role of religious translation, about which I've often commented elsewhere
* The constant flow of ideas and literature between France and England, aided by translations
* It's a translation from rhymed poetry into target-language prose, a not uncommon technique used even by Expert Translators
* Elizabeth's self-criticism, her meta-translational awareness (pardon the term)
* The proof that sophisticated translations by children at the Advanced Native Translator level are by no means a modern phenomenon. This example pushes it back by nearly five centuries. Elizabeth was very intelligent but she was surely not unique. How many other literary and religious translations by children have been done over the centuries, and then lost because the child was not famous or royal?

L'âme pécheresse was only the beginning of Elizabeth's lifelong affection for translating. She must have enjoyed doing it, for itself or for the prestige it gave her in the culture in which she had been educated. Translating was a major element in Renaissance culture and its value was justly recognised. She was an impressive polyglot who knew Latin, French, Italian and Spanish. Over the next four decades, amid the tumultuous affairs of her realm, she produced a considerable body of translations.
"They include her renderings of epistles of Cicero and Seneca, religious writings of John Calvin and Horace's Ars Poetica, as well as Elizabeth's [own] Latin Sententiae, drawn from diverse sources, on the responsibilities of sovereign rule and her own perspectives on the monarchy."
This quotation comes from the most complete currently available book about her translations, Janet Mueller and Joshua Scodel's Elizabeth I: Translations, 1544-1589 (see below). It contains a far more profound analysis of L'âme pécheresse than was possible in a short blog post, and it speculates as to how and from whom she learnt her languages. Yet it only deals once and very briefly with the related question: How did Elizabeth learn to translate?
"The Huguenot Jean Bellemain may have already been tutoring Elizabeth in French… the translation could have been his or Elizabeth's idea; in either case he would have been likely to oversee her efforts."
So we are left without a satisfactory answer to the question. Nevertheless the detailed analysis in this book provides interesting material for the study of child Native Translation.

Anne Lake Prescott. The Pearl of Valois and Elizabeth I: Marguerite de Navarre's Miroir and Tudor England. In Margaret Patterson Hannay (ed.), Silent but for the Word, Kent OH, Kent State UP, 1985, pp. 61-76.

Kaherine Parr.

Marguerite de Navarre. Wikipedia.

Marguerite de Navarre. Le Miroir de l'âme pécheresse. 1521. The full text is available on Wikisource,

Susan Snyder. Guilty sisters: Marguerite de Navarre, Elizabeth of England, and the Miroir de l'ame pecheresse. Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 50, 1997, pp. 443-458.

The Miroir or Glasse of the Synneful Soul. Elizabeth's manuscript in her own handwriting. The dedication reads:
"From Assherige, the last daye of the yeare of our Lord God 1544 ... To our most noble and vertuous Quene Katherin, Elizabeth her humble daughter wisheth perpetuall felicitie and everlasting joye."
Elizabeth probably also embroidered the binding. The book is now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The binding is illustrated in Wikipedia,

A Godly Meditation of the inwarde loue of the Soule.Compiled in French by Margaret Queene of Nauerre translated by Princesse Elizabeth, Queene of Englande. London, circa 1570. There are three versions of this publication in the British Library in London.

Janet Mueller and Joshua Scodel (editors). Elizabeth I: Translations, 1544-1589. University of Chicago Press, 2009. Two volumes. You can read a long extract from it by clicking [here] The section on L'âme pécheresse begins on page 25.

Elizabeth at age 13. Painter unknown. Source: Wikipedia.

Anonymous Comment received November 2016
I've written a couple of papers on this subject and done extensive comparative work between the original French and Elizabeth's translation. Not only was she well versed enough in French to complete the translation, there is also the point to be made that at that time foreign language was largely taught through grammar translation techniques. This would be revised and have a resurgence under the Neo-Grammarians of the 19th century. So, Elizabeth would work on correct pronunciation of the language, but the main vehicle of instruction was translation, rather than the communicative methods or total physical response (TPR), which is common in French language instruction present-day. One also shouldn't forget that the nature of this text is religious and reflects Biblical exegesis and mysticism. Elizabeth would also have received instruction in the Biblical studies. The final point to be made is that, rather than present day, Elizabeth was trained by some of the top scholars.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Roma Update

There was a post on this blog back in July about Young Interpreters and Roma Children in the UK. To find it, enter roma in the Search box on the right.

Now an enlightening new article has appeared about interpreting and translating Romanes (aka Romani), the Roma language; and surprisingly it comes from Canada. It appears in the latest issue of Circuit, the prizewinning magazine of the Quebec professional translators and interpreters association OTTIAQ, and it's available online (see Reference).

Truly times have changed. I didn't even know there were Roma in Canada, far less that there were these services for them. Thank you, Deborah.

Deborah Folaron (of Concordia University, Montreal). Interpreting Romani – A Canadian Overview. Circuit, No. 132, Autumn 2016. Click [here] or go to