The Observer selects Umberto Eco’s book on translation, Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation, as the paperback of the week, though without making it sound like a fun read.
bq. He starts with what may seem a rather obvious conclusion – that Babelfish and its like are doomed to failure because translation requires the ability to understand a language as a cultural system, with nuances and contextual associations beyond the dictionary definitions. From this starting point he moves into far more complex territory; how, for example, do you even begin to go about translating poetry, where meaning is so often conveyed by a rhythm and musicality unique to the poet’s original language? How do you translate regional dialect, or the language of past ages – a problem Eco set for the various translators of his last novel, Baudolino?
There is a review by Arle Lommel at the LISA site. He finds the book worth its cover price, and that was the hardback. Apparently the translation is into British English. ‘Negotiation’ means compromise:
bq. In each case, a decision of which word to use is made that requires some information to be lost (size of the rodent, distinction from other similar rodents, etc.), while other information is preserved in the translation. It is in this sense that Eco uses negotiation: something must be lost for something else to be gained, and the basis for the negotiation is generally not within the text itself, but rather in factors external to the language of the text. Although in the Globalization, Internationalization, Localization and Translation (GILT) industry we are generally dealing with texts that try to control language, such issues are never entirely eliminated, and we frequently deal with materials, such as marketing collateral, where these issues are at the forefront. What might seem like theoretical pondering on Ecos part can have real impact on how we conduct business.