Can you find something in translation?
I’m no stranger to the phrase “lost in translation”. One of my all-time favorite movies is “Lost in Translation”. I also really loved the recent “Hockey is Not Lost in Translation” article in the Washington Times. And I’ve done enough translations in my life to realize that translating is just as much an art as a science. The translator has to find a magical balance in providing a proper corresponding definition for the words and phrases while simultaneously communicating their meaning in the given context. Sometimes this can be about as easy as sewing farts to moonbeams. Lean too heavily on the side of a technically correct translation while sacrificing context and the end result can range from merely mind-numbingly boring to utterly incomprehensible. Stray too far from the facts for the sake of style and the work runs the risk of becoming a piece of fiction rather than a translation. Yet sometimes, every so often, the translation can be spot-on in both categories, yet a certain percentage of the readers will still misunderstand it. Have you guessed where I’m going with this?
I have to shake my head every time I read somewhere that Alexander Semin “dissed” Sidney Crosby in “the” interview, or that he had said something so “controversial” as to inflame the rivalry between the Capitals and the Penguins. Right after the interview was first published, I translated the original Russian article myself to see if there were any issues with the published English translation. I found no problems with it, other than on a purely stylistic note I would have substituted the word “lumbering” for “deadwood”. I didn’t see any controversy in any of Semin’s statements, rather him simply giving his opinion of his favorite player and style of play. As a matter of fact, the author and translator of the original article, Dmitry Chesnokov, explained in a follow-up article just a few days after the initial interview:
“Sasha was accused of tactlessness. But if you carefully read the words of the Washington forward in that quote, which is given to you here in its original form, – is there really any attack on Sidney? All that was discussed was the style of play of different hockey players, and Semin likes Kane better than Crosby. Is that a crime? Some people like bananas, some like pears. It’s all a matter of taste.”
Semin himself expressed this point of view in a recent interview (emphasis added):
“Do you wish, however, that this incident had just never happened?
“It happened because the correspondents created some type of intrigue. If I had truly said those things which were written, then I would confirm “yes, these were my words.” But if I never said it…”
So are you confirming it or not?
“I didn’t say it like that, I said it differently. As for how it was translated, I can’t be responsible.”
How did you say it?
“I would never have said that Crosby is a bad player. I simply meant that some people prefer the style of play of Crosby, but I prefer the style of Patrick Kane. That’s it, nothing more. And really, let’s just forget about this incident.”
As I already said, Dmitry’s translation was absolutely correct, yet a great many (but not all) readers interpreted it totally differently than the way it was intended. And I can certainly understand Semin’s predicament– he gave an interview and next thing you know people are accusing him of saying things that he didn’t say. But as he himself says, it was not so much what he said as how he said it, and that is what was misunderstood. It didn’t help matters that Semin’s defenders jumped on the “translation error” bandwagon. While certainly understandable and done with the best of intentions, the consequence of that tactic was that it bolstered the opinion that something injurious had actually been printed. So why, you might ask, did so many people interpret the statements differently? Well theoretical linguists have been debating just such topics for decades, so don’t expect an answer from me on that. But the fact remains that, like it or not, it is the prerogative of a reader to interpret what they read in any way they see fit. So could or should Dmitry have somehow changed Semin’s words to more accurately reflect what he meant? I don’t believe he could have or should have. He couldn’t have because he and Semin were of the same understanding, as seen by their quotes above. And he shouldn’t have because he would have then been putting words in Semin’s mouth.
My sole purpose in this little diatribe is to provide a translator’s point of view on the matter. All too often the translator is thought of as a nebulous “them” and is the easiest target to aim at. Of course criticism should be expected in any job, but in this particular matter I don’t believe the criticism was warranted. It truly was a non-issue. And Semin is right, it is now time to forget about it and move on.
oh and p.s.– I don’t even think you can consider the “lumbering” (aka “deadwood”) comment as disparaging, as in another interview he used those exact same words to describe how his father played, and he was talking about what a great player his father was.