Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Making translations work

There are certain advantages to having English as a second language (aside from the ever present point that no one has English as their first language). One of them is that you have access to a whole realm of non-English thoughts and traditions, and can escape into it from the goings-on of the international realm. When the going gets rough, the locals go local.

And, of course, you have a brutally efficient means of encryption at the ready at all times. Just don't bother to translate, och ditt budskap blir obegripligt utan att du behöver anstränga dig alls. Very handy, very convenient.

One counter-intuitive advantage of belonging to a non-English language area is that books are translated into your language. To be sure, given sufficient fluency, it doesn't matter one way or the other whether a certain text is translated or not. It's still the same text, after all. Except for one subtle difference: the introductions.

It takes time and effort to translate a text, even if you are only mechanically flipping the words from one language to another. It takes even more time and effort to translate a text in such a way that context, intent, nuance, references and allusions find their way across. Most of that extra effort takes the form of someone who knows the subject matter being paid for their labor, meaning that the decision to translate something is both a matter of wanting the text to be translated, and being able to justify the expense of doing it.

Now, Swedish is not a huge language on the world stage, as you might imagine. Even more so since most swedes know English anyway, and can just as easily pick up the original version for the same reading experience. The market of monolingual swedes is not large enough to support just-because translations. Which actualizes the justification of expense mentioned above: why do the work if it's all the same?

The Swedish answer has been to establish a long tradition of writing introductions to translated works. Long and comprehensive introductions, which touch upon most of the things a reader might or ought to know before heading into the text proper. When reading a translated work, you do not only get the work in and of itself - you also get yourself a proper grounding as to what kind of work lies before you. You are, for all intents and purposes, introduced. More so than those who read the original, untranslated work.

This is what marketing people call a selling point.

It is also something that those of you who are monolingual will never find out unless someone tells you about it. So, thus. See a need, fill a need. -

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