Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On Translation - David Bellos at Princeton

David Bellos, the author of Georges Perec: A Life in Words, a biography, and translator of several of Perec’s works (available from Godine: "53 Days"; Life A User's Manual; Things: A Story of the Sixties & A Man Asleep; Thoughts of Sorts; Three by Perec; and W, or the Memory of Childhood) has become the go-to man for thoughts, opinions and strategies when translating a work. A professor at Princeton University, Bellos teaches in the French, Italian, and comparative literature departments. After joining the staff in 1997, he created an undergraduate certificate Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication in 2007. His wide range of skills and contribution to the university are why on February 10th, he was the feature story on Princeton’s website in an article by Paul Karr.

From "News at Princeton":

"David has sparked a good deal of student and faculty interest in the field," said Sandra Bermann, the Cotsen Professor of the Humanities and a professor of comparative literature at Princeton. "Translation is not only for literature majors; it's gaining importance in the social sciences, the sciences and engineering, as well as in the humanities. Even students at Princeton who have no particular literary interests take courses in the certificate program, and David has done a superb job getting that program off the ground."

Bellos is known to integrate various different examples of translation in the classroom, most recently showing the British film “Slumdog Millionaire” in his senior seminar. In order to demonstrate the importance of translation and language in a film’s overall feel, Bellos instructed six students to watch different versions of “Slumdog”, including the U.S. release in English, the French version, and the Spanish version. The students all reported different impressions of the film, based upon the different languages it was presented in. These findings only reinforce the research Bellos has done over the years, and why he asserts, “a translation is different from the original. It can never be the same thing. But it's not worse.”
. . .

I have had similar experiences when taking a Hindi/Urdu class at Boston University. Growing up watching Bollywood films and speaking Hindi to my family, I took the class to learn the beautiful script. However, there was a speaking component for the non-native speakers in the class, and in order to aid their conversation skills, my professor often screened Bollywood films. Occasionally, a non-native speaker would ask my professor the direct translation of a colloquial phrase, and we would look at each other and shrug. Try as you might, some things just can’t be translated and retain the intended meaning. And yet, as Bellos says, “A text and its translation are two different objects, and they always will be. So we must grant the translator authority in a language we do not know.” With his new book Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything, Bellos will keep inspiring his students to try to understand the world in more than one tongue.

David Bellos, winner of the Man Booker International Prize for translation (2005) and the Prix Goncourt de la Biographie (1994), grew up in Southend-on-Sea, England. He is a professor of French, Italian and comparative literature at Princeton University.

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