Krzysztof Lipiński of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland puts forward a thought-provoking series of ideas in his 2004 book Mity Przekładoznawska (Myths of Translation/Translatology). He posits seven common myths which have clouded the minds (and work) of translators. These are:
1. the myth of literalness
2. the myth of untranslatability
3. the myth of the ‘ugly duckling’
4. the myth of one solution
5. the myth of machine translation
6. the myth of the descriptability of the world
7. the myth of only one truth
The first myth is often seen in the translation of religious texts wherein we are tempted to copy and shadow the source text vocabulary and structure. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Ciceronian motto non verbum e verbo, sed sensum experimere de sensu sums up perfectly what translators should focus on, that is the sense and not the words.
The second myth is often seen as the ‘final frontier’. Some texts are seen as untranslatable, far too linguistically- and culturally-entrenched to make it possible for their rendition into another language. However, translations of works such as Adam Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz or even Julian Tuwim’s Lokomotywa show that this is blatantly untrue.
The myth of the ‘ugly duckling’ is often found amongst writers and scholars. The idea is that a translation is not (and should not) be better than the original. The premise being that translations are not original, creative works but simply copies of the source text. Anyone reading Irena Tuwim’s Kubuś Puchatek, her translation of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, would realise that this is not the case. Kubuś Puchatek has become such an important work in Poland that certain neologisms, for example, Małe Conieco (not present in the original) are now firmly part of Polish culture and even the Polish literary tradition.
The fourth myth, or myth of one solution, suggests that when translating only one possible solution is ‘correct’ and that all other suggestions are ‘incorrect’. The problem here is that terms such as ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ cannot in any way be quantified. Adam Mickiewicz’s Rękawiczka, his translation-cum-reworking of Friedrich Schiller’s 1797 masterpiece Der Handschuh, has become canonical. In fact, it is regarded as a work of Polish literature. Other translations are seen to be poorer but, on inspection, we would find that much of Mickiewicz’s translation is extremely loose and more a re-interpretation than a translation. There is never only one possible solution in translation.
More to follow…