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Perspectives on Translation and Interpretation in Cameroon

Tuesday 11 August 2009, author(s)-editor(s) Alexandre Ndeffo Tene, Emmanuel N. Chia, Joseph C. Suh

Perspectives on Translation and Interpretation in Cameroon is the first volume of a book series of the Advanced School of Translators and Interpreters (ASTI) of the University of Buea. It opens a window into the wide dynamic and interesting area of translation and interpretation in a multilingual Cameroon that had on the eve of independence and unification opted for official bilingualism in French and English. The book comprises contributions from scholars of translation in the broad area of translation, comprising: the concept of translation and its pedagogy, the history of translation and, the state of the art of translation as a discipline, profession and practice. The book also focuses on acquisition of translation competences through training, and chronicles the history of translation in Cameroon through the contributions of both Cameroonian and European actors from the German through the French and English colonial periods to the postcolonial present in their minutia. Rich, original and comprehensive, the book is a timely and invaluable contribution to the growing community of translators and interpreters in Africa and globally.

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ISBN 9789956558445 | 180 pages | 216 x 140 mm | 2009 | Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon | Paperback

2 Book Reviews

  • The Pragmatics of Poetic Translation: Interview With Poet-Translator, David T. Scheler - Part I 20 August 2009 03:15, author(s)-editor(s) The Entrepreneur Newsonline

    The Pragmatics of Poetic Translation: Interview With Poet-Translator, David T. Scheler - Part I

    Interpreting the meaning of texts and the subsequent production of equivalent texts that communicate the same message in another language for a target audience is gaining momentum and significance in a world increasingly interconnected for business and leisure. The challenge of taking into account constraints of context, rules of grammar of the two languages, writing conventions, and idioms, require not only professional acumen but intuition as well, that makes translation more of a science than an art. It is the inherent science that dispels the common misconception that translation is a straightforward mechanical process, or a word-for-word translation. The challenge is even enormous when we attempt to translate poems. In the following interview, Wisconsin-based poet-translator, David T. Scheler, sheds light on his motivations for engaging in the art of poetry translation and the attributes that make him tick as a creative writer. David’s poems, often written in English and translated into French and occasionally written in French and translated into English, have been published in the original English versions in numerous poetry journals in the United States. The interview below is conducted on behalf of The Entrepreneur Newsonline by Peter W. Vakunta, PhD, at Department of French and Italian, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

    Peter W. Vakunta: When did you start to translate poetry and why?
    David T. Scheler: I started translating my own poems into French about a year after I began writing poetry. It’s interesting to note that I got into writing poetry only because a poet friend of mine who always listened to me make analogies by means of metaphors and similes, said to me: my gosh! You should try and connect these figures of speech and turn them into beautiful poems. So after a year, I started to work with some poets in the community, trying to hone my skills. They helped me connect the dots in my one-liners. Having studied French about thirty years ago, I realized that the language was quite beautiful and decided to incorporate some French words and phrases into my poetry. However, after some time, the idea of translating my English language poems into French occurred to me. So in 2000, I began to translate the poems I had written into French.

    Peter W. Vakunta: So, what actually are your motivations for engaging in such a cross-lingual exercise?
    David T. Scheler: It is primarily my love for the French language. French is just lovely; it is musical and melodic. I love the structure of the language. It tends to suit the way I write in English. So, it is less daunting for me than it is for most poets who use mainly English as a medium of communication.

    Peter W. Vakunta: Some literary critics argue that any attempt to translate poetry is a non-starter. They maintain that poetic translation is not an accomplishable task. Do you subscribe to this school of thought? Is poetry untranslatable?
    David T. Scheler: Hmmm, no! As a general rule, I’d say that such a claim would be incorrect. Certainly, some poetry would be extremely difficult to translate in such a manner that the music, rhythm, and essence are kept intact. This notwithstanding, to say that poetry is untranslatable is tantamount to saying that human beings cannot communicate across languages. We do this on a daily basis. There is no question that it would be a challenge for poets to take their own poems written in their mother tongues and turn them into a similar compressed piece of music that sculpts its own heart and still retain its essence in another language. I certainly agree that capturing the essence of some types of poems across languages may be difficult. Performance poetry, notably comedy can be quite difficult to translate because jokes in one culture do not always translate well in other cultures. However, I have had a lot of fun translating comic poems. They serve as wonderful editorial tools where a change in one language occasions a change in another language. Lately, I’ve taken to writing my own poems simultaneously in English and French because they tend to influence each other. My poems find themselves as I challenge the Muse.

    Peter W. Vakunta: Have you had particular problems translating your poems from English into French?
    David T. Scheler: I don’t view occasional hiccups as challenges. Rather, they constitute what I’d like to call an exciting creative journey. Writing a poem in any one language harbors its own challenges. Trying to distill and clarify what you’re trying to say in two languages; committing to writing how you feel takes a lot of writing and editing; it takes re-working. I don’t perceive this process as a hurdle; it is an exciting endeavor because as I work on the reverse process, I’m able to feel my poems organically taking shape. It’s more like taking a block of raw marble that requires winnowing, carving, and polishing it until it begins to take its own shape.

    Peter W. Vakunta: Do you have any tricks of the trade that enable you to surmount translation hurdles?
    David T. Scheler: Well, I think that when one has the concept laid out, and then starts to sculpt it, there are always ways to find stronger words and more colorful ways of elucidating the sensation, image, and experience. One of the things that I find so pleasing is that as I search for le mot juste in the French language, I often stumble on a word that is much better than the English original. The biggest challenge that I face in my translation is how to render colloquial expressions and comic words, the more so because humor is difficult to translate given its cultural specificity. It’s very difficult to try and create an analogous expression that works in both languages. Often, I do a little bit of semantic juggling to make it work.

    Peter W. Vakunta: So, other than trying to create an analogy between source and target languages in terms of lexes and register, what other techniques do you employ to make sure that you don’t end up losing meaning as you transition from source to target text?
    David T. Scheler:I think that what is peculiar to poetry is that you are not making a description of a recipe or giving directions. The translator does not need the precision that mathematicians need. Translations do not function the way mathematics does in the formulation of rules. Poetry is more like combining variables to produce sets of options, (multi-variable equations) or what linguists call ‘semantic context’. The important thing to note in translating yours or others’ poems is that when you set out on the poetic notion, you hone and sculpt, and carve in both languages, then you begin to see where the poem is taking you and the concept develops a creative context. When I look at a well written poem, I often see something that serves as a hint on the experience that occurred to the poet who gave birth to the poem. I can see that the writer is creating a nexus between the symbols, the events and then illuminating the connectivity between potentially disparate entities.

    Peter W. Vakunta: How much premium do you put on the quest for le mot juste? Are you more interested in the search for the right word or the communicative function of the source text?
    David T. Scheler: In an ideal world where you are compressing ideas into language and compressing that language to be as lucid and lyrical as possible, the most important thing would be le mot juste. Il faut choisir le mot juste, as the French would have it! But I believe that the overall effect of a translation would be a function of both the proper choice of words and the semantic interpretation of the source text.

    Peter W. Vakunta:There is a school of thought which holds that poetic language is generally undergirded by the cultural specificities of the source language. How do you overcome the problem of cultural gaps in the translation process?
    David T. Scheler: In the poems that I write and translate into French, the issue of cultural incompatibility is a less thorny problem because I simply translate my own thoughts and impressions into sound tones. I just happen to be employing two different media with specific vocabularies. However, I can see why this may pose a problem when one is translating poems written by another person. The reason is because the translator needs to take into account the contextual usage of language, both culturally and semantically. Furthermore the translator has to reckon with the aesthetic period and the stylistic trends that were in vogue at the time in order to begin to have a sense of what the poet was doing in an attempt to express that poet’s thoughts. In this case, it would be incumbent on the translator to do some research into the cultural and historical matrices of the poems to get a better understanding of the value systems prevalent in the milieu where the work of art saw the light of day. Having done this, the translator would then proceed to look at what a direct translation of the poem would produce before figuring out appropriate ways of unraveling, under the same circumstances, the meanings embedded in the source text.

    Peter W. Vakunta: When you research the source-text culture, what modalities or paradigms do you employ?
    David T. Scheler:Well, as part of my university studies, I did a lot of work on art history. I was also a musician and studied a lot of music, and so in looking at the cultural images embedded in poetry, such as the poems written by Guillaume Apollinaire, one needs to understand the transition from the period of late Romanticism all the way into the era of Surrealism to get a sense of what he was responding to or reacting against in his writing. In translating a poem written by Charles Baudelaire, for example, you need to understand the prevailing circumstances that gave rise to the idea that developed into a poem. When I translated one of his poems I had to go back to the roots of that whole genre. You have to get a sense of the aesthetic and cultural values of the poem by engaging in an exegetic process of deciphering the meanings intended by the poet in a bid to render it faithfully. You have to get under the skin of the poet and feel and have empathy for his/her intent. You must read into what the artist intended and then reformulate the thoughts in the target language in ways that make sense to the reader of the target text. In the final analysis, poetic translation becomes an act of hermeneutics—a succinct interpretation of the source text.

    Peter W. Vakunta: Translating into a language that is not your mother tongue may harbor daunting challenges. How do you make up for linguistic deficiencies in your translations?
    David T. Scheler:Well, it depends on what I’m trying to do in my translation. It is important to capture all the aesthetic elements in a poem; not just the syntax, not only the grammar but seek out words in combinations that would provide the poem with rhythm, texture, color, sound, music, and harmony. To me, this is of utmost importance. I generally steer clear of the word- for- word or even the phrase-for–phrase modus operandi. It is more important to capture the essence of a poem, its sensation and musicality than to simply try to emulate or mimic the language of the source text.

    Peter W. Vakunta: Are there moments when you to resort to linguistic innovation in order to bridge perceptual gaps in the poems you translate?
    David T. Scheler: There are moments when after reading some of the poems I’ve written in English, I simply say to myself, these poems are fun in English but I just don’t think they would work in the French language. In that case I would make one or two alterations to see if I could sort of push them there. But my gut instinct is that if it doesn’t work, just move onto to something else that does. I think this takes us back to a previous question you asked me about the translatability of poetry. I believe that some poems are untranslatable, and I’ve given you some examples, namely poems encapsulated in colloquial and proverbial expressions. At the same time, I have the impression that such a hurdle could be surmounted by resorting to analogy. An expression in English may have an analogous expression in French; the word may be totally different but the meaning would be there. So that’s one of the methods I employ to fill in conceptual vacuums in my translations rather than fret about the absence of equivalent or near-equivalent words. The essence of an idiomatic expression is the idea conveyed. It is the referent and not the precise translation of the word that matters the most.

    Peter W. Vakunta: It would be interesting to know what you pay attention to the most in the translation process. Do you attach more importance to semantic equivalence or formal correspondence?
    David T. Scheler: Well, I think both the lexical and the semantic are important components of language. They work together. Philosophically, when one studies linguistics, one has both the formal and semantic distinctions. Language as I mentioned earlier, is not as precise as mathematics. The integers 2, 5, 7 are a lot different in words than they are in figures, but 2, 5, 7 are precisely what they are in mathematics. I tend to look at poetic language through the prism of manipulating multiple equations to come up with a range of options. Certainly, some of the poems I write would lend themselves more readily to the formal approach to translation whereas others would call for the semantic/communicative approach. So, both mechanisms are important in the art of translation. The essential thing is to know when to have recourse to the one or the other. The weighting depends on the challenges a particular poem poses. I remember that in translating the Apollinaire poem, it was quite easy to use the formal correspondence method because it just worked but that wasn’t the case when I translated the Baudelaire poem. I had to do an incredible amount of lexical gymnastics to make the rhyme scheme work and capture the meaning, and essence of the poem. This is just an example of what translators need to do when they translate the works of others. You have to take into account the linguistic and extra- linguistic components of the source text and work with language in much the same way as a sculptor would work with raw stone, exploiting its malleability to produce the finished product.

    Peter W. Vakunta: If I understand you well, a translator has to come up with a good balance between semantic equivalence and formal correspondence to ensure that readers of the target text react to the message in the same way as readers of the source text did. Is that right?
    David T. Scheler: That would be the ultimate objective of the vast majority of translations. I’ve read some translations of French poems in English and said, oh my God! They just used the literal translation method here! I hope they didn’t put it through a computerized translator which, interestingly enough is a fun exercise for those that are hung to the lexical approach. Take a poem in English and translate it into French on a computer and then translate it into German and then translate the German back into English and see what kind of pot-pourri you get! That’s why I say it’s so important to balance the intent against the cultural, historical and aesthetic contexts. And that’s where the semantic becomes so important and the lexical becomes considerably less important.

    © The Entrepreneur Newspaper 2009. All Rights Reserved

  • The Pragmatics of Poetic Translation: Interview With Poet-Translator, David T. Scheler - Part II 20 August 2009 03:15, author(s)-editor(s) The Entrepreneur Newsonline

    The Pragmatics of Poetic Translation: Interview With Poet-Translator, David T. Scheler - Part II

    Peter W. Vakunta: How do you grapple with extra-linguistic factors that may influence your word choices?
    David T. Scheler: Well, I think that in all communication among humans, be it within the same culture or across cultures, verbal communication is generally reinforced by the nonverbal. Body language such as facial expressions, gestures, gesticulations, etc. are vital components of verbalized discourse, though it takes words to create appropriate images intended to be expressed. I believe this holds true for poetic language. The task of the translator is to marry the linguistic and the extra-linguistic in translation. In fact, in translating one of the poems by Apollinaire where he did not use punctuation symbols at all, I had to read it aloud to myself to figure out where the natural commas, spacing, pauses, colons and semi-colons would be. Once I did that I was able to punctuate the poem in French as a reminder. Then I began to unroll and weave it in English. But, when you look at computer-assisted translations, you may find that this is a very premature cognitive neuroscience. There is a neuropsychologist named Steve Pinker who wrote a book titled How the Mind Works (1997). It is a wonderful read for linguists as well as behaviorists because it describes the complexity of our organic systems compared to the minuscule capabilities of computers.

    Peter W. Vakunta: Talking about the mechanics of language use as you transition from French to English, do you view punctuation as an element capable of occasioning semantic loss?
    David T. Scheler: I love punctuation! I look at it in much the way as I view musical notation. It gives me some hints on the tempo, speed, pauses, crescendos and decrescendos in the poem. I know that in much of contemporary American poetry it is recommended that capital letters should be omitted, articles minimized or eliminated and punctuation skipped. Personally, I think it’s a fad designed to create something that looks new and different. Punctuation marks are part of the writer’s toolbox and part of the language. Translators should use these tools! They are there! If you don’t need a punctuation mark, you wouldn’t use one, why would you omit one when it’s necessary? Again, as I said, I translated a French poem by Apollinaire without punctuation symbols. I did that because that’s what the artist did, not because that’s the way I would have done it. I had to respect the poet’s style. My job isn’t to alter or deface the source text.

    Peter W. Vakunta: I’ve been wondering who your target readers are. Are you spurred by the profit motive to translate your poems into a language that’s not your mother tongue?
    David T. Scheler: I’ll start with the question on my motivation. I don’t have any monetary or academic motivation for translating my poetry into French. I do it simply because I love the language. I recall that early on as a poet, a poet friend of mine once asked me why I had no publications. My response to her was: Well, I don’t have publications because I don’t submit my poems anywhere, so there’s a zero probability that I’d ever get published. And she said: well, you deserve to be published; you owe it to the world to publish your poems, they are beautiful! I said: well, there’s no money in it, so why go through the hassle of mailing, submitting, and receiving rejection or acceptance slips? I prefer to spend my time writing poetry for the sake of writing. And she asked me this question: do you have any idea how many beautiful paintings, poems, stories, pieces of music have been written and buried away and have never been made available to the public? These are just tossed away or lost with the person’s death? We owe it as artists to share what we have produced with the world for the sake of sharing. I said, well, I hadn’t really thought of it in that light. That’s how I started sending out my poems to publishers. I am proud to say that I have numerous poems published in journals in America today. I also have manuscripts circulating. That’s a lot of work but I’m certainly pleased that others have read the poems I’ve written. If I were in academia where you have to publish for the sake of credentials that would have been a different level of motivation. There’s nothing wrong with that. But in my case, I really don’t need those credentials; I just write for the love of it. I think my motivation is basically altruistic. I write in French because I love the sound of the language.

    Peter W. Vakunta: So your targeted readership would be both Anglophone and Francophone?
    David T. Scheler: I am yet to start submitting my work to publications of French expression. Now that I have over 130 of my poems translated into French, it is about time I started sending out manuscripts to French publishers, especially presses interested in bilingual publications. That would be my next quest once I get settled in on that. I have been working with published poets since 1999 and a lot of them are giving me incredibly useful advice on how to hone my skills in both languages. I have also been working with French professors and PhD candidates who have been helping me learn the language better, especially the grammar. Sometimes, you just can’t figure out the right word but through discourse and conversation with native speakers of the language, you gain a lot.

    Peter W. Vakunta: How does it feel translating another person’s poetic work? Is it different than translating your own poems?
    David T. Scheler: My primary objective has been to translate my own poems into French. It is only recently that I thought I could have some fun trying my hand at translating more French poems written by other poets into English. Interestingly, I was just reading a French poem and thought it would be lovely to have it in English. So, translating the works of other poets into English is certainly something I contemplate doing more frequently. I’m generally working on five or six of my own poems at once as I translate and reverse translate them. Occasionally, my Muse takes off with another man, and I have to wait until she returns! Translating other people’s poems could be a useful way of whiling away time as I await the return of my Muse.

    Peter W. Vakunta: I guess it is hard for someone to do an objective self-evaluation but I was wondering, how successful you think you’ve been as a literary translator?
    David T. Scheler: I do believe that success, like language, is an organic and growing process. The more I work on new things, the easier and more delicious the results become. I have been going back to some of my earlier poems and making alterations I deem necessary to improve on their quality. On the other hand, I have gone back and looked at some of my writings and just had a big smile at the results. My feeling is that ultimately, a poem or any other work of art is never really done because there are always things to add or delete. You don’t really finish a poem; it finishes itself or you surrender to it. I am very pleased with what I’ve accomplished so far. I learn every day. Continuous learning re-wires my brain. I view translation as a continuum. What the translator actually does is transpose hunches, sensibilities, sensations, and worldviews from one language to the other. Moving from the conception of an idea to its verbal delivery in one language or the other is a continuous process.

    Peter W. Vakunta: We are going to round off this interview on a didactic note. I know that budding translators and writers of poetry are listening to you. Do you have a final word for those who may be venturing into the domain of poetic translation?
    David T. Scheler:I guess my first thought would be to urge novice translators to look at two different things: if you are translating your own work, a good exercise would be to turn your edited and polished poems into a piece of prose to see if you understand what it means. If you are translating another person’s work, I would say context is of critical importance. With some poems, particularly those that may be difficult to decipher, it would be necessary to translate them directly and then try and intuit the meaning from the context. You then want to edit and turn your literal translation into a meaningful piece of verbal art. Again, some poems require much greater semantic interpretation; while others are indescribably easier to discern when they have a greater reliance on the lexical. Translation calls for a judicious balancing of different aspects of language. Use the dictionary to find the best expression. Use the thesaurus to find a better word. Use your imagination, your own vocabulary and language skills. Don’t just grab what is convenient. So, to beginning translators and poets, I’d recommend the adoption of a good tactical approach to arrive at a strategic objective. 

    Peter W. Vakunta: The excerpt below is a sample of David T. Scheler’s translation.

    Between evening and distance
    there is a remote place
    where Prussian blue
    slurs into a fine line of ochre.
    That space between
    dog and wolf
    where day
    folds itself back into night,
    swallows all shadow––
    thought becomes sensation
    and sleep devours dream
    in a vertiginous tumble
    dream swallows sensation,
    shadow devours sleep
    and night
    folds back into itself.
    Between day and evening,
    dog and wolf slur
    into a fine line of ochre
    where Prussian blue
    is a remote place
    between distance and evening.
    (This poem was first published in (Comstock Review, Summer 2006, p. 67)

    Entre la soirée et la distance

    il y a un endroit reculé
    où le bleu de Prusse
    lie une ligne fine d’ocre.
    Cet espace,
    entre chien et loup
    où la journée se replie
    sur la nuit,
    avale toutes les ombres ––
    où la pensée devient la sensation
    et le sommeil dévore les rêves

    dans une reculade vertigineuse
    les rêves avalent la sensation,
    l’ombre dévore le sommeil
    et la nuit
    se replie sur elle-même.
    Entre la journée et la soirée,
    le chien et le loup lient
    une ligne fine d’ocre
    où le bleu de Prusse
    est un endroit reculé
    entre la distance et la soirée.
    entre la distance et la soirée.

     The Entrepreneur Newspaper 2009. All Rights Reserved