When Translation Gets Emotional

If the tone or content of a text can affect how you feel when reading, the work of translation goes further still as you must somehow absorb the author’s ideas as your own, feel the tone of the text and process them to recreate them faithfully. While the majority of assignments (in my case anyway) may be engaging at an intellectual level only, some documents can affect the translator emotionally too.

Predictably, I encounter this aspect of translation most when working on psychology (my second specialism) documents. For instance, I once translated an educational psychology report on a young child for the purpose of a court case. While the explanations of the theory and background for the tests that were carried out were very interesting, the results of the tests were at times challenging; the report, and its several references to a medical report, gave clear evidence that the child was the victim of life-threatening abuse. After a week of it, I was glad to deliver the work and move on to another project, and could only hope that my work would contribute towards helping the boy.

Art (my main specialism), with its self-introspection and socially engaged messages, is not immune to this. This took me by surprise recently, however, while translating a book on graphic design. One case study was a poster produced in 2004 by the New York artists collective Copper Greene following leaked photos of torture carried out in an American prison in Iraq. Borrowing the design of the well-known iPad visual campaign, the collective reproduced the silhouette of one of the victims in the photos and created a parody poster in protest. The study of this poster was hardly one-page long, but it was still a relief to find a more entertaining topic on the following page.

Translation is no doubt challenging but (thankfully) equally rewarding at many levels. It is about helping people to communicate their message and achieve their goal, whatever its nature.

iRaq1Photo: Poster by Copper Greene

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