Lost in translation
By Virginia Jasmin Pasalo
TRANSLATIONS are as good as the understanding of a translator of the poem and the context of the author. The nuances, subtlety and significance of words, and the complexity of context make some translations unable to capture the essence of a poem. Good translations require a degree of familiarity with the culture, the language and the poet.
My good friend and translator Nizar Sartawi had vehemently refused to accept to read a translation of a poem when we were in Morocco. He was totally scandalized that a poem should be translated in a literal way. I realized that when he was translating my poems into Arabic, he would call or message several times, he would ask me the specific context of the poems, and the story behind the “voice”. In the case of Luz María López who translated my poems in Spanish, we would chat for hours, despite the fact that she knew English quite well.
I wrote a poem in 2016 about foul excrement:
Ambalingit a tai
angan na layag
ambanget a tai
balet tinapay na tawen
ed arom ya say pananisiya da
In English, it translates to: Fragrant excrement / he ate an ear/ it came out/ it smelled like poop/ but it is manna from heaven/ to those who believe/ he is God.
In Ilocano: Nabanglo nga takki / nangan ti lapayag/ rimmuar/ nabangsit nga takki/ ngem tinapay ti langit/ kadagiti mamati/ nga isu ni Apo Dios.
In Pilipino: Mabangong tae / kumain ng tenga/ lumabas/ mabahong tae/ ngunit tinapay galing langit/ sa mga naniniwalang/ siya ang Diyos.
Here is the Google translation in English, if you copy paste the Pangasinan:
Ambalingit a tai / naught sail/ pimmaway/ ambanget a tai/ ballet loaf bread/ ed arom ya say pananisiya da/ sikatoý Dios.
If you copy paste the Pilipino translation, it becomes truly hilarious:
Dehydrated / eaten ears / go out / smelly shit / but bread from heaven / those who believe / he is God.
Before you go jumping with joy over the translations of your poems in various languages, notice the quantum leap of the translation, when and how did the “foul excrement” transition to “dehydrated”? It did not take long for the moisture to evaporate, did it? Most translations today are at best, translations of words, at par with the hilarity of translations in Google.
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