Choosing between different translations

The other day I was contacted by an Israeli book publisher. "Dear Nina," the email read. "I was referred to you by Such and Such", and from there on it was obvious that the same letter had been sent to several translators. Mr. Publisher attached a chapter from 3 novels and asked for a price quote, a time estimate, and a translation sample for each.

It's nice when [potential] work falls into my lap without my having to chase it. I acknowledged receipt and went about my business. By the time I had gotten around to reading the samples and thinking seriously about them, it was too late -- Mr. Publisher told me not to bother, he'd already received a few translation samples that seemed good to him. However, he assured me that there was plenty more where that came from, so we could still work together.

In a sudden fit of generosity -- stemming mainly out of curiosity, plus the fact that this was a good excuse to procrastinate on various chores -- I offered to look at the translations he received and tell him, free of charge, what I thought of them. Comparing translations was part of my work when I was employed at a large translation agency, and I'm quite adept at it. No wonder he jumped at the opportunity and sent me 3 translations of a couple of pages from Novel #1.

Translation #1 was easy to judge: The language did not flow naturally; the Hebrew syntax was too rigidly maintained, making the English sentences long and cumbersome; and the translator made abundant use of "fancy" words, either to show off his/her command of the English language (or of using a thesaurus), or to... I don't know what.

Translations number 2 & 3 were both better. Each had its own style, each sounded right, even though each translator had a distinct voice and style of her own. One was slightly more formal-sounding than the other. Here is a brief extract from translations 2 and 3:

#2
"In the end, art gives itself over to capital. Money can always seduce the artist, greed subjugates the work of art, harnessing and domesticating it. When a piece of art is displayed in the tycoon's living room or in a bank's conference room, the passion and burning conviction is taken from it and it hangs there as if crucified, or like a domesticated hunting dog," X thought, distracting himself from the long, monotonous report given by Y, the director of the bank's credit department."

#3
“Art eventually succumbs to riches. Money will always tempt the artist; greed subordinates creativity, controls and domesticates it. When art is shown in the parlors of the rich, or in the conference room of a bank, its burning passion and conviction is removed and it hangs there almost crucified or like a tamed hunting dog,” thought X, diverting his attention from the Bank’s Director of Credit, Y, and his long monotonous report, while his eyes brushed over the paintings."

I sent my opinion of all three translation samples to the publisher.
Do you want to guess which translation he chose?
[Suspense....]
He chose the translator who quoted the lowest price.

End of story.


6 comments:

Jennifer said...

How sadly predictable...

Anonymous said...

Indeed.
But we knew that would happen, didn't we? The fool never bothered to wait for Nina's sample.
Happens to me all the time.
Yoni

moragsmum said...

How depressing and unsurprising :(

Mark L. Levinson said...

I'd recently heard a publisher's representative tell an audience that she always went for the more fluent translation rather than the more accurate one, so I submitted this:

In the end, art yields to capital, mused X. Money can always sway the artist. Greed overcomes creativity. Leashes it. Tames it. When a work of art hangs in a tycoon’s parlor or in a bank’s waiting room, it loses its fire of faith, its passion, and it hangs there like a person who’s crucified or a hunting dog that’s domesticated. X's mind had wandered away from the extended, monotonous report by Y, head of the bank’s credit department, and X's eyes roamed over the paintings.

Nina R. Davis said...

So, did you ever hear from the publisher?

Mark L. Levinson said...

No, I never heard a thing about that translation. Either somebody didn't like it, or my rate wasn't low enough.

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