Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Translation for Bigots: The Art of Translating Arabic Literature into English

By: Nehal El-Sayed and Eman Sarkes

(Photos by: Eman Sarkes)

CAIRO, Egypt – Adam Talib, assistant professor of Arabic Literature at The American University in Cairo (AUC) gave a lecture titled “Translation for Bigots” on Sunday.

As part of an interdisciplinary series organized by the AUC Center for Translation Studies, Talib discussed his anecdotal experience with translating modern Arabic literature for English readers.

“When you’re translating into English, you’re translating for a world,” said Talib as he emphasized on the English language being global. Talib stated that when he translates, he has a fair amount of discretion, in terms of what to emphasize or de-emphasize.

Talib talked about his experience with translating modern Arabic literature and trying to make his translations readable. “I often do things to the original text to make them approachable,” he said.

He related bigotry to the differences in cultures and discussed how it affects the literary translation. He showed examples of Google automatic search engines such as, “Do Arab women marry black men?” Talib believes that this is not evidence for bigotry, yet “an evidence for the cultural gap between the specialist translator who knows his environment well and his audience”.

A discussion question was raised on what translators should do in the use of language to correctly represent the situation. He stated his experience saying, “A lot of times, you translate what’s on the page, and the reviewers find it peculiar”.

Talib stated that translators only care about the translation not the political questions surrounding it. He gave an example of a translation by a French translator who ignored translating a scene about Jews for a specific legal reason that they have a law about Holocaust denial.

In response to the question about the role of translator, Yosra Ali, political science and history sophomore, said, “I believe that translators should not change anything of the authentic text, but at the same time they may provide comments as footnotes to clarify the meaning”.

In a personal interview with Professor Talib, he said, “the better a reader the translator is, the better translation he’s going to produce.”

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