This post was originally published on the Creative Multilingualism blog. Creative Multilingualism is a four-year AHRC-funded programme investigating the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity. Regular readers of Adventures on the Bookshelf will remember Prof. Matthew Reynolds’s earlier post about translations of Jane Eyre. In this post, Prof. Reynolds talks about the process of mapping different translations of the novel.
In April, Prismatic Translation’s Associated Researcher in Digital Humanities, Giovanni Pietro Vitali, stayed in Oxford to work with me on mapping the global diffusion of translations of Jane Eyre. Giovanni Pietro’s trajectory has taken him from Pisa to Perugia, Nancy and Leipzig (where he trained in Digital Humanities); he is now a Marie Curie Fellow attached to Cork, Reading, and NYU.
Mapping Jane Eyre’s translations is a challenge, on several fronts. First, where do you locate a translation on a map? It will have been done by a translator in a certain place, or places; but then it may have been published somewhere else; and it can be read wherever there is a reader who understands its language – which is, in many cases, pretty much anywhere.
Usually, we can find no information about where a translation has been written (often translations are anonymous). We don’t want to attach the translations to particular nation states, because languages don’t correspond to nation states: think of the many languages spoken in India (or indeed the UK), or the many states that have Spanish, French or Portuguese as official languages. So we have opted for the place of publication – not endeavouring to put boundaries around the territory inhabited by a translation, but showing the point from which it came out into the world.
Yet where exactly is a place of publication? For one set of maps, which allow readers to trace the development of the cover images in connection with the place and time of publication, we have used the publishers’ street addresses (this necessitated much careful work on the part of the project’s researchers – and caused some anguish!). Here we find a by-product of looking at the world of books through the lens of Jane Eyre: tracking the translations, we discover the bits of cities where publishers cluster, and find harmonies between the books’ designs and their locales. But for the general maps, which allow us to see and understand the spread of Janes across the world, street addresses seemed too specific. For these visualisations, the city seemed the right unit of location.
When I made this theoretical decision, I hadn’t quite understood the relationship between the computer-magic of Digital Humanities and the mind-numbing, slow, human labour that lies behind it. Once you know a translation’s place of publication, the computer can do quite a good job of assigning latitudes and longitudes to the given names. But not a perfect one: it can’t know if you mean Paris (France) or Paris (Texas), the Tripoli in Libya or one of the lesser-known Tripolis in Lebanon or Greece. And you can’t know when it is going to make a mistake – which means that every point needs checking by human eye and hand. In the case of Jane Eyre the number of points that have needed checking (so far) is 543.
But latitude and longitude still do not amount to a city. For that, you need to find the outline of each city and paste it onto your map. In our case, that meant 171 cities from Addis Ababa to Zutphen. You find the outline of a city in a long list called a ‘Shape File’; and there are separate Shape Files maintained by every State. So you go to the Shape File for India and find Ahmedabad; then you go to the Shape File for Syria and find Aleppo, and so on. And on. The process is not so very painful when you are dealing with Berlin or Rome; but when it is Dushanbe in Tajikistan, or Kaifeng in China (written in non-alphabetic characters) you feel your life draining away as you struggle to be sure you have pinpointed the right place.
Then, after days of labour, the moment of magic, when you are suddenly able to witness the spread of Jane Eyres across the world, like this:
Or zoom in for a more detailed view, like this:
And this is only the beginning. The maps that we are currently working on organise the translations according to region and language, allowing a more analytical understanding of the processes at work; and they also show the translations unfolding year by year. So now (or, soon) you will be able to see before your eyes the startling spread of Jane Eyre translations that had already happened by 1850: Berlin, Brussels, Paris, St Petersburg, Stuttgart, Grimma, Stockholm, Groningen and – Havana!
This post was originally published on the Creative Multilingualism blog. Creative Multilingualism is a four-year AHRC-funded programme investigating the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity. The programme is split into seven research strands, one of which is ‘Prismatic Translation’. In this post, Prof. Matthew Reynolds, Co-Investigator on the strand, explains how they have been looking at translations of Jane Eyre through a multilingual prism…
I spent March mainly in Pisa, working on fifteen Italian translations [of Jane Eyre] with a group of graduate students and early career researchers co-ordinated by our collaborator in the project there, Professor Alessandro Grilli.
It was an exhilarating experience, eight or ten of us grouped around a table in an airy room high up in an eighteenth-century palazzo overlooking the oldest botanical garden in Europe (even older than Oxford’s!) sharing our findings with the help of a projector pointed at the uneven wall.
Various discoveries emerged which will make their way into the webpages that are being created and book that is being written. The earliest Italian translation, done anonymously and published in Milan in 1904, mainly follows the 1854 French translation by Noémi Lesbazeilles (née Souvestre): for instance, Bertha Mason’s ‘red eyes’ become ‘yeux injectés’ and, in turn, ‘occhi iniettati’ (injected/blood-shot eyes’). Here we can see translation, not jumping from one language to another as though they were separate boxes, but moving through the continuum of language difference, following pathways in which Italian and French are joined.
Just occasionally, however, when the French was puzzling, the anonymous Italian translator turned to the English for help. When Jane hears Rochester’s voice telepathically calling across the moors, Charlotte Bronte wrote: ‘’O God! what is it?’ I gasped.’ Lesbazeilles-Souvestres takes this in a surprising direction: ‘J’aspirai l’air avec force’ (‘I breathed in forcefully / took a deep breath’). This must have struck the Italian translator as peculiar; the English must have been checked; and a simpler equivalent was found: ‘mormorai’ (‘I murmured’ – ‘gasped’, in its sense here, is a tricky word to match). Usually in translation – or at least in people’s ideas of translation – the translator works from the original and occasionally looks at other versions for help. But here we have the opposite: the French becomes the source text and the English serves as a guide to its interpretation.
One of the researchers, Caterina Cappelli, is someone I first met when she translated my novel The World Was All Before Them for her Masters thesis some years ago. Now, she has done an extraordinary piece of research, tracking the word ‘plain’ (also ‘plainly’ and ‘plainness’) through all its 49 appearances in the novel, in 13 different translations. That is, 637 occurrences of the word. As its frequency suggests, ‘plain’ is a crucial term for Brontë. Jane is plain (not beautiful), she speaks plainly (frankly), and she likes plain (simple) things; in the story, things are heard plainly (clearly) and become plain (are understood); and the novel itself is described as ‘a plain tale’ (a realist novel, that shows the world as it is).
One of Brontë’s ambitions in her writing was to re-assess this word, creating a woman character who can be admired for her mind and principles rather than her looks, and writing a story that can be valued for its truth-telling as much or more than for its excitements. For Brontë, ‘plain’ is what the literary critic William Empson called a ‘complex word’: a bundle of culturally-charged different meanings that need a whole play or novel to open up their synergies and contradictions.
In the Italian translations, the explosion of meanings hidden in the word becomes, well, plain. This one English word is translated in – wait for it – sixty-eight quite different ways, in terms that correspond to: simple, ugly, clear, insignificant, sincere, well, open, modest, frank, easy, distinct, dull, common, smooth, white, and so on, and on. Here is a table constructed by Caterina:
And here is a visualisation:
For more on Prismatic Translation, see their pages here.
Back in February we brought you news of an exciting translation competition being run by the Creative Multilingualism Programme, in connection with the exhibition at the Bodleian Library on ‘Babel: Adventures in Translation’. We are now pleased to share the winners of this competition.
Magical Translation The task was to create a modern version of Cinderella in any language with an English prose translation. We received some fantastic entries in this category which played cleverly with the Cinderella story, adding twenty-first-century twists like Cinderella losing her luggage tag instead of a slipper, or being tracked down by the prince using social media. The best of these stories engaged with the question of Cinderella’s identity, manipulating the traditional tale to reflect on issues like Cinderella’s sexuality, her race, the prince’s gender identity, or the role of feminism in fairytales.
The overall winner of this task was fifteen-year-old Alice, whose version of the story, written in Spanish, sees Cinderella transported to the streets of Buenos Aires and dreaming of a football career…
En las calles sucias de La Boca, Buenos Aires, Cinderella Muños trabajó incansablemente por su madrastra y sus dos hermanastras. “Trabaja duro y agradece” le dijeron a ella. A Cinderella siempre le encantó el fútbol y soñaba jugar para su equipo local: Boca Juniors, a pesar de siendo una niña. Sus padres tenían boletos de temporada, sin embargo, tristemente cuando murieron, los boletos fueron entregados a su madrastra. Cinderella tenía prohibida ver algún partidos. A pesar de eso, su amor por fútbol nunca se detuvo y en las calles de La Boca practicaría todas las noches. Cinderella fue devastada perderse la victoria de Boca Juniors en las finales de la Primera División contra Plate River. Mientras se sentaba tristemente en las escaleras, vio un sobre de oro que contenía tres entradas para una fiesta para celebrar la victoria. Su madrastra se las arrebató como quería que sus hijas conocer el famoso futbolista: Jorman Campuzano. se vistieron de azul y amarillo (los colores del equipo) y salieron, dejando a Cinderella completamente sola. Estaba muy triste mientras ella pateó su fútbol por las calles oscuras. En la fiesta, Jorman miró fuera la ventana y él estaba asombrado por la curiosa figura quien dominó la hábil patada del arco iris. Se impresionó aún más y pronto se unió. Cuando el reloj golpeó a las doce, ella escapó, dejando atrás su fútbol, con el nombre: Cinderella Muños. Poco después, Jorman la encontró y la invitó ella probar para el equipo, y desde ese día, ella nunca más tuvó que ver a su madrastra o hermanastras.
In the dirty streets of La Boca, Buenos Aires, Cinderella Muños worked tirelessely for her stepmother and two spoilt stepsisters. “Work hard and be grateful” she was told. Cinderella always loved football and dreamed of playing for the local team, Boca Juniors, despite being a girl. Her parents owned season tickets however, sadly when they died, these tickets passed to her step mother Cinderella was forbidden to watch any matches. Despite this, her love for football never ceased and in the streets of La Boca she would practice nightly. Cinderella was devastated to miss Boca Juniors’s victory in the Primera division finals against Plate River. While she sat sadly on the steps she noticed a golden envelope which contained three tickets to a party to celebrate the victory. Her step mother snatched them away as she wanted her daughters to meet the handsome footballer Jorman Campuzano. They dressed in blue and yellow (the team colours) and set off, leaving Cinderella all alone. She felt very lonely as she kicked her football along the dark streets. Up at the party, Jorman looked out the window and was amazed by the curious figure who mastered the skilful rainbow kick. He became ever more impressed and soon joined in. As the clock struck twelve she ran off leaving behind her football with the name: Cinderella Muños. Shortly after, he found her and invited her to trial for the team, and from then on never had to see her step mother or sisters again.
To see other winners and highly commended entries in this task, check out the page on the Creative Multilingualism website here.
The task was to create a fable – an animal story with a moral – in any language with an English prose translation. The fables we received were wide-ranging and hugely imaginative. Stories were written in French, German, Italian, Irish (Gaelic), Korean, Spanish, and Yoruba. We read tales about foolhardy frogs leaping on the heads of crocodiles, a jealous rat envying a peacock’s beauty, dogs looking for love, a dolphin betraying its mother’s trust, and a crow going head-to-head with an eagle. The strongest stories in this task were filled with vivid imagery, linguistic courage, and showed a willingness to engage thoughtfully with the structure and purpose of the fable genre, often illustrating complex morals with subtle simplicity.
The overall winner of this task was thirteen-year-old Clémence, who wrote a poignant and visually striking fable in French about the consequences of not preparing for winter.
‘Un hiver long et froid’
Un jeune Cacatoès a huppe rouge se positionna sur la branche la plus haute du grand chêne. Son plumage était d’un des plus majestueux et sa huppe d’un couleur cramoisi. Son regard lumineux faisait scintiller la foret pleine de végétation. Ou, c’est ce qu’il croyait. Ses parents cacatoès pépiait sans cesse de leurs fils précieux. En bas, dans l’un des trous les plus sombre vivait une petite famille d’écureuil roux. Leur fourrure était toute douce, comme les nuages et portait un point d’interrogation tout doux pour une queue. Ils étaient silencieux et rapides, travaillait dur et s’organiser. Leurs petites moustaches repairaient le vent tourner au nord, symbolisant l’arrivée de l’hiver, un hiver sombre et froid. Le plus jeune écureuil regarda le haut du grand chêne avec intérêt. Il n’avait jamais récupéré les noix là-haut, celles qui était les plus juteuse. L’idée lui monta à la tête. Quel mal ferait t’il d’essayer. En plus l’hiver s’approcha de plus en plus, il fallait faire des récoltes. ‘Mais que fais-tu là-haut petit écureuil.’ Lui chanta le cacatoès. ‘Et toi, tu n’as pas fait tes provisions’ réponds l’écureuil. ‘Moi, je suis trop beau et intelligent pour telles taches ! L’hiver viendra quand ça me chantera !’ ‘Toi tu te crois sorti de la cuisse de Jupiter mon pauvre. La neige et le vent te changera les idées.’ L’hiver arriva sans même dire un autre mot. La famille écureuil se tenait au chaud autour de la grande réserve lorsque la famille cacatoès, on ne les distinguer presque pas avec la neige nacrée.
A young red crested cockatoo positioned himself on the highest branch of the large oak. His plumage was one of the most majestic and a crimson colour. His glowing eyes made the forest full of vegetation glitter. Or, that’s what he believed. His cockatoo parents constantly chirped about their precious sons. At the bottom, in a dark hole, lived a small family of red squirrels. Their chestnut fur was soft, like clouds, and had a question mark for a tail. They were silent and fast, hard working and organised. Their little moustaches sensed the north wind coming, symbolising the arrival of winter, a dark and cold winter. The youngest squirrel looked up the large oak with interest. He never collected the nuts up there, the ones that were the juiciest. The idea rose to his head. What harm would it do to try. In addition the winter was coming and provisions where needed. “But what are you doing up there little squirrel?” Sang the cockatoo to him. “And you, you have not yet made your provisions” answered the squirrel. ‘I am too handsome and intelligent for such jobs! Winter will come when I want it too! ‘ ‘You believe yourself to have come out of the thigh of Jupiter my poor. Snow and wind change your ideas. ‘ Winter arrived without even saying another word. The squirrel family kept warm around the great reserve unlike the cockatoo’s family, we hardly distinguish them against the pearly snow.
You can read more of the highly commended fables here. Well done to all the winners and many thanks to everyone who took part! Some of the winning stories will be on display this Saturday, 15 June, at the Oxford Translation Day. This is a day full of translation events, which are free to attend. You can find the full programme here.
If you are near Oxford and your thirst for translation has not yet been quenched, do consider going along – and be sure to check out the winning Babel stories while you’re there.
This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we’re continuing our exploration of the exhibition ‘Babel: Adventures in Translation‘. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the Cinderella story and how it has been transferred and adapted across cultures. This week, we’re thinking about how to translate fables.
You probably know that a fable is a short story that aims to convey a moral, usually involving animals. Famous examples include ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf’, ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse’, and ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’, to name but a few. Such stories have been popular since ancient times, and can be identified in many different traditions, including Aesop’s ancient Greek fables, and the Sanskrit Panchatantra, which are among the world’s most translated texts. These stories have enjoyed an enduring popularity and are still widely told today.
Although we might think of these stories as being primarily for children, they were originally written for adults in order to promote a moral message. But, of course, when it comes to translation, that raises all sorts of questions: how far is it possible to transfer a moral framework between different cultures and communities?; why are animals afforded such a key role in fables, and do animals have the same associations across the world?
Below, we’ve included a worksheet that was designed for visitors to the exhibition. However, you do not need to have seen the exhibition to undertand it. Take a look at some of the discussion points raised, including, intriguingly, the surprising study that found that children who were told the story of ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf’ were actually more likely to lie after hearing it! You can right click and open the images separately to see a bigger version, or access a pdf here.
Remember, the exhibition runs until 2nd June – do pay a visit if you can!
In February, we brought you news of an exciting exhibition that is currently running at the Weston Library in Oxford, ‘Babel: Adventures in Translation’. The Babel exhibition is running until 2nd June. If you’re passionate about all things multilingual and interested in how translation has shaped cultures, we would recommend a visit – perhaps after coming to the Modern Languages open day this Saturday. You can also get involved in the creative translation competitions, which run until 15th May, organised by the Creative Multilingualism Programme.
For now, we thought we’d delve a little deeper into one of the exhibition cases: traversing realms of fantasy. This case includes a number of fascinating items, including translations of Through the Looking Glass, translations of the Harry Potter series, and various translations of Cinderella. As one of the curators tells us: “Fantasy allows us to travel without restriction to new places, and inhabit or invent new scenarios. Fairy tales, magical plots and even insignificant items such as a slipper can prompt inventive retellings and manifold adaptations. It’s not surprising therefore that fantasy and magic are uniquely well suited to being passed on from one cultural group to another. Translators play a vital role in that process –and it’s often futile to distinguish rigidly between translation, retelling and creation.” (Katin Kohl, Faculty Lecturer in German, Fellow of Jesus College, in the Babel Teacher’s Guide).
The story of Cinderella is an example of how a fairytale can overlap many diverse cultures. Versions of the story have been around for millenia and exist all over the world. While the premise of the story often remains the same – a young girl is mistreated by her family before escaping, with the aid of a magical creature, to a better life – details can vary from one tradition to another. The Cinderella story raises questions like: to what extent can translation be considered a process of transformation? Does the translator have an obligation to remain ‘faithful’ to the original text? What does ‘fidelity’ even mean in the context of linguistic transfer?
Here is a worksheet produced for visitors to the exhibition. It touches on versions of Cinderella from France, Germany, Ancient Greece, the Caribbean, Korea, Nigeria, and Cambodia. If you’re interested to find out more, have a read of it (if you’re struggling to read it within the blog, try right-clicking and opening the images separately, or access a pdf here). You don’t need to see the exhibition itself to understand the material included here but we would certainly encourage you to do so!
Those of you interested in translation might be interested to hear that there is an exhibition at the Weston Library in Oxford on ‘Babel: Adventures in Translation’, which is running from now until 2nd June. Part of the Creative Multilingualism Programme, this exhibition explores the history of translation from ancient to modern times, examining how translation has shaped our understanding of history and cultural transfer, and also asking what role translation might play in the future.
In connection with the exhibition (which is free to enter, no booking required), we will be running a ‘Library Late’, with lots of translation-based activities, and a new competition which is based on some of the items exhibited. Read on to find out more…
Babel: Adventures in Translation takes visitors beyond the ancient myth of the Tower of Babel and society’s quest for a universal language to explore the ubiquity and power of translation in the movement of ideas, stories and cultural practices around the world. Through a stunning selection of objects ranging from a 2nd century papyrus book and illuminated manuscripts to animal stories, religious books and a bilingual road sign, Babel explodes the notion that translation is merely about word-for-word rendering into another language, or that it is obsolete in the era of global English and Google Translate.
Treasures from the Bodleian Libraries’ collections, both ancient and modern, illustrate how stories have travelled across time, territory, language and medium. Highlights on show include a 4000-year-old bowl inscribed with a language that still resists deciphering, an unpublished Tolkien notebook revealing how he experimented with Esperanto before creating his fictional Elvish languages, and an experimental 1950s computer programme designed to generate love letters.
Exploring themes of multiculturalism and identity, the exhibition considers issues that are more relevant than ever as Britain approaches Brexit. It also tackles the tricky question of how to translate for the distant future.
The Library Late
To complement the exhibition, we’re holding an evening of multilingual merriment on 8 March with language tasters (from Esperanto to Sign Language), mini-talks, interactive translation activities, live music, and more! Sign up for your free ticket via Eventbrite.
To celebrate the launch of the exhibition, we’re holding a competition for school pupils from year 5 to year 13. There will be prizes of £50 — £100 for the winners of each age category and overall task winners. There are three tasks to choose from; you are welcome to enter more than one task but you are only permitted to send in a maximum of one entry per task. The tasks are as follows:
A) Magical Translation
Create a modern version of Cinderella in a language and medium (text, audio or video) of your choice with a typed English prose translation.
B) Fabulous Translation
Create a fable – an animal story with a moral – in a language and medium (text, audio or video) of your choice with a typed English prose translation.
C) Futuristic Translation
Create a warning about a nuclear waste site – in a language and/or medium that will communicate effectively with people in the year 10,000.
There are prizes of £100 and £50 to be won. The entries to each task will be judged in four age groups: Years 5-6 (age 9-11), Years 7-9 (age 11-14), Years 10-11 (age 14-16) and Years 12-13 (age 16-18). There will be prizes of £50 for the winners of each age group for each task, and an overall winner for each task will receive an extra £50, bringing their total prize to £100. Certificates will be awarded for Commended and Highly Commended entries.
How to enter
To take part in the competition, upload your entry using the registration forms on the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages website (there is a separate registration form for each task):
The deadline for entries is noon on 15 May 2019. Winners will be notified (via email) by 30 May 2019. For inspiration about the tasks, please see this page. If you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck!
We’ll be posting more about the Babel: Adventures in Translation Exhibition later in the spring. We hope you can visit it and immerse yourself in the history of translation, and that you can take part in one of the competitions. Nonetheless, if you’re not able to visit the exhibition in person, we’ll be exploring some of the content digitally in the coming weeks. Watch this space!
This post originally featured on the Creative Multilingualism blog. It was written by Julie Curtis, Professor of Russian Literature at Oxford and Fellow of Wolfson College. Prof. Curtis is also the Director of Outreach for Medieval and Modern Languages. Here, she reflects on the transformation of a Russian ‘New Drama’ play, Oxygen, by Ivan Vyrypaev, into a UK hip hop version, provoking questions about translation, transformation, and creative ownership.
2002-2018: Ivan Vyrypaev’s play Oxygen, and its 16-year journey between a basement theatre studio in Moscow and a basement rehearsal room at the Birmingham Rep Theatre.
When Ivan Vyrypaev’s play Oxygen was first performed in 2002 at Moscow’s edgiest theatre, Teatr.doc, it caused a sensation. On the one hand it depicted an act of extreme violence – a young man battering his wife to death with a shovel in order to start a new relationship with a woman he believes will offer him more ‘oxygen’ – and it also used aggressively obscene language, transgressing against one of the strongest taboos of Soviet-era theatre. On the other hand, the play had a haunting beauty, deriving from the poetic inventiveness of its use of Biblical motifs, specifically the Ten Commandments, and the musical structuring of the language around refrains, patterning and other compositional devices deriving from both classical and contemporary musical traditions, such as rap.
The play became known as the flagship play of the ‘New Drama’ movement which has arisen in the era of President Putin, and which remains one of the few spheres in which challenges are still offered to official state narratives about society, politics, gender and sexuality, national identity and international relations. It was seen at the theatre by a narrow range of Moscow intellectuals, but gained wider impact within Russia when it was turned by Vyrypaev into a film in 2009; and it also attracted attention internationally – it has been staged in many countries of the world, including a brilliant production (featuring world-champion break-dancers from Russia) staged by the RSC at Stratford in 2009.
Dr Noah Birksted-Breen is a theatre director and Russian scholar who has for many years been exploring contemporary Russian drama and staging it at his London-base Sputnik Theatre. When he joined the Creative Multilingualism team, he attended an event organised by Professor Rajinder Dudrah which brought the grime artists RTKAL, Ky’orion and Royalty from Birmingham to perform on the stage of the Taylor Institution. Their verbal ingenuity, the Rastafarian frame of reference they deployed in their performance, and above all the powerful and infectious rhythms of their art provided a lightbulb moment for me and Noah – we looked at each other, and wondered aloud what would happen if we introduced them to Vyrypaev’s work….
A couple of years later, and that thought has translated into reality, with a performance based on extracts from Vyrypaev’s work being rehearsed in the Birmingham Rep by the brilliant UK rap, hiphop and grime artists Lady Sanity and Stanza Divan, directed by Noah. On Thursday I went along to watch the final research and development session, before the performance later that day curated by Rajinder at Birmingham City University. It prompted all sorts of thoughts in my mind about how issues of ownership and collaboration came together to produce this spectacular meeting of minds across two very different cultures:
Vyrypaev owns his text, and is very protective about performances of it across the world;
But Noah is one of the most admired directors of contemporary Russian drama in Britain, so Vyrypaev willingly licensed the text for Noah’s project in Sasha Dugdale’s translation, trusting to both Noah’s knowledge of Russian culture and his artistic gifts to create something which would be both new and true to the original;
Rajinder knows the rap and hiphop scene in Birmingham via our project partners Punch Records also from the city, and together they recruited artists who would bring their talents to bear on very unfamiliar material, originating from an entirely alien society;
Once Lady Sanity and Stanza Divan got to know the text, they worked with Noah on how to make it their own, retaining the skeleton of the piece and certain elements of the refrains, playing with the ideas of the male and female characters with the same name – the two Sashas became the two Jordans…
Lady Sanity and Stanza Divan have focused less on the violence and the obscenity, but have translated the relationship between the two to fit into the witty ‘clashing’ routines typical of rap/hiphop/grime performances; this allows them to develop a gendered rivalry which is absent from the original, with Stanza Divan using sarcasm (‘Calm down!..’ – to use a phrase typical of some male politicians…) to scorn and disparage the sharp-tongued teasing of Lady Sanity;
But they retain the relative social positions of the two Russian protagonists; she more educated, and from a more comfortable, secure background, he instead from a disadvantaged, broken family and dropping out of secondary education;
And above all they retain the message of the final section of Vyrypaev’s original, concerning the difficulties faced by the young in today’s world, where so many threats loom;
Did their UK hiphop theatre work absorb Vyrypaev into their British world? Or did Vyrypaev lead Birmingham’s hiphop performers into new areas? Above all, they said, they recognised that elements in the text of the original were primarily about the freedom of self-expression, and that chimed in with the same preoccupation in British hip-hop and grime art.
The generosity of very many different people’s collaborations brought this work of art into being: but who ‘owns’ the creative result? Is cultural transposition different from translation?
Watch the below film to find out more about the hip hop theatre version of the Russian play Oxygen.
This post is an extract from a longer post on the Creative Multilingualism blog. Matthew Reynolds, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, is leading a research project on ‘Prismatic Translation’. Here he reflects on translation as a creative and diverse activity.
In a poetry workshop, a 9-year old child thinks of a word. She writes it: ‘oguek’. When she begins to explain what it means to her, the sentences form the beginning of a poem :
‘My dad always calls me that,
and it tastes like sweet, sweet
The colour that it brings
is green, and when my dad says it
it makes me laugh …’
You won’t find the word ‘oguek’ in a dictionary. The writer of these lines, who signs herself only ‘Maja’, observes that ‘in Polish / You say it Ogurk’; the standard spelling Polish spelling and standard English translation are ‘ogórek’ and ‘cucumber’. Nonetheless, what’s happening here cannot be defined as ‘a mistake’. Maja is not trying to write anything that might count as ‘correct standard Polish’; instead, she is putting across the particular form, sound and meanings of this word, ‘oguek’, from the idiom which she uses with her parents. In doing so, she reveals a general truth about language: everyone speaks differently, and writes differently again; and all the many words in their shifting forms take on different meanings in different situations.
The Prismatic Translation project responds to this diversity, and thinks it through. For us, translation is not a matter of trying to achieve correct alignments between standardised languages, but rather a creative re-making of one particular instance of language into another particular instance, using different linguistic resources.
The same principles of the variety of language use and the creativity of translation extend to classic literature. Take Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, which is the main research focus of our project. It has been massively translated worldwide: so far, we have identified 508 editions of translations, including three into Armenian and 30 into Farsi. In all these moments and locations it has been responded to and re-written in different ways. In Russia, Dostoyevsky read the book in prison. In Latin American Spanish it channelled feminist cultural awareness. In Japan, in the mid- to late-twentieth century, the moment when Jane encounters Rochester and he falls off his horse spawned a myriad imitations in manga and anime narratives.
This proliferation cannot be understood as a matter of translators trying and failing to achieve ‘the same meaning’ through translation. Rather, they remake the text in ways that put the categories of sameness and difference in question. This happens even at the level of individual words. Take ‘passion’: it is a key term in Jane Eyre’s mental drama (where it conflicts with ‘conscience’ or ‘judgement’); it is a matter of love and desire, of course, but also of sensitivity, suffering and rage; together with ‘passionate’ it recurs 49 times throughout the book. To adopt a phrase coined by the literary critic William Empson, it is a ‘complex word’.
In other languages, comparable words don’t cover the same range, so different ways of making meaning have to be found. Near the start of the book, Mrs Reed’s maid Bessie chides the young Jane not to be ‘passionate and rude’. In Greek, one translator puts αφηνιάζεις for ‘passionate’: it can be back-translated as something like ‘go crazy’. Another gives ‘θυμώνεις’ which is more like ‘get angry’. In Portuguese, we find ‘se tens mau génio’ (something like ‘bad-tempered’), or ‘exaltada’, (‘enraged’), or ‘impulsiva’ (‘impulsive’). (I am indebted to Dr Eleni Philippou, our postdoctoral researcher, and Dr Ana Teresa Dos Santos, one of our research consultants, for these examples). Ever more variations occur in other languages.
Just as with ‘oguek’, there is no point in calling these translations ‘failures’ or ‘mistakes’. Rather, they remake what Bessie says using different linguistic materials for another time and place. We could decide that none of them is quite the same as ‘passionate’; but what does ‘passionate’ mean? It is only by using other words that we can explain; and all the hundreds of other words used in the translations do exactly that, opening up the signifying potential of what is or might be going on in the scene. The text grows through multiple translation; Jane Eyre comes to exist in all the languages together, their words collaborating to co-create the world of the book and what happens within it. Our research traces these prismatic rays, and finds new ways of representing them, both in writing and via interactive visualisations online.
To find out more about Prismatic Translation see here.
In July we showcased one of the winning entries in the Years 7-11 category of our 2018 French Film Competition. This competition asked pupils to watch a French film and produce an alternative ending. The film selected for the Years 7-11 category was Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol’s Une vie de chat (2010). The point in the film at which the rewriting picked up was the 49:20 minute mark, at the moment when Nico says ‘Allez, accroche-toi bien Zoë’.
We are now pleased to publish the other winning entry in this category, a brilliantly conceived and produced film by Ethan Ross and co. Take a look at the film below – we hope it inspires you to produce your own films in French!
Teachers, if you are looking to introduce some ‘drama’ into your MFL classroom you might be interested in these exercises for multilingual drama teaching, created by the Creative Multilingualism Project with the Oxford Playhouse.
This post was originally published on the Creative Multilingualism blog. Here, professional translator Noah Birksted-Breen talks about translating the same play three times, taking into consideration different audiences and cultural reference points. You can also read an interview with Noah about Russian theatre here.
I have just finished translating Mikhail Durnenkov’s The War Hasn’t Yet Started for the third time in as many years. I’m in an unusual situation – one translator creating three different versions of the same play. As far as I know, that doesn’t normally happen. I have tried to take advantage of each opportunity to re-translate the play, adapting it significantly to the specific target audience.
In 2015, I translated The War for the first time, for my Ph.D. at Queen Mary University of London. Subsequently, this translation was presented as a rehearsed reading at the Frontline Club in London. I knew that the Frontline Club attracts a specialist audience, already familiar with Russian culture. I left the play in quite a ‘raw’ state. For example, I could indulge my audience with references to ‘dachas’ rather than ‘country houses’. I left the language sounding rather ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’. To English ears, it was somewhat stilted – although it worked for people who already know about Russian culture.
In 2016, Theatre Royal Plymouth produced The War in the Drum Theatre in Plymouth (their studio space with approx. 200 seats). I developed my translation further with the director Michael Fentiman, who directed the production in Plymouth. Fentiman had a good eye for clarifying cultural references which would not be clear to audiences in the UK. So, ‘dacha’ would become ‘country house’. But there were more difficult decisions to be taken as well about ‘hidden’ references.
For example, one scene in The War refers to ‘another country’, without specifying which one. Russian audiences would know from the scene that it refers to Ukraine. Russia has been waging a covert – and later more overt – war against Ukraine since 2014. It felt wrong to name Ukraine in the scene, since the drama works on a metaphorical level, as well as commenting obliquely on real-world geopolitics. Fentiman encouraged me to develop the references in a certain way. For example, the Russian TV journalist who willingly broadcasts a ‘fake news’ story about Ukraine refers to ‘them’ and ‘they’.
In my second translation, working with Fentiman, I ended up going for ‘those other people’ – which is tacitly xenophobic or at least judgemental. This less literal approach to the original text helped to create the sense of two hostile, warring neighbouring countries without needing to specify Russia and the Ukraine. It even added to the drama of the scene, I think, by highlighting the mentality of ‘us versus them’, which motivated the scene and the play as a whole. (The playwright is looking critically at the ‘us versus them’ mentality, rather than endorsing it!).
In January 2018, a new production of The War opened at London’s Southwark Playhouse. It is produced by the same company, Theatre Royal Plymouth, but there is a new director and therefore the translation will also be different. This has been my favourite experience of translation to date. Working with the director Gordon Anderson, I altered my translation even more than in 2016.
I moved yet further away from translation as a technical process which is ‘faithful’ to the original. Anderson’s TV experience gave him a keen eye for opportunities to edit and shape the dialogue – a step closer to adaptation. In the past, I might have objected. Scholars often feel that retaining the ‘foreignness’ of the play’s language is the highest priority of translation. Yet, my approach to translation has changed over many years – and Anderson pushed me to develop my approach still further. At times, I added to the dialogue and at times, I cut dialogue from the scenes, where I felt that the spirit of the original was getting ‘lost in translation’.
This way of working sees the translator as essentially creating a ‘new play’. Obviously, this ‘new play’ has to embody the spirit of the original, but it needn’t be overly faithful to the original. Translating The War for the third time, I wanted the London audience to experience the drama (the story and structure) of this play, without getting bogged down in the ‘strangeness’ of the language itself. This method captures a more nuanced view of Russian culture. It aims to create a natural-sounding text in English which retains difference, or even ‘strangeness’, in the plotting or characters.
That makes sense when you think about it. After all, Russian culture is not ‘isolated’ in its own bubble. I regularly speak to Russian playwrights who tell me that they are equally inspired by Russian culture as by British playwriting. Any translation must find a nuanced balance between being ‘strange’ (or ‘foreign) and ‘natural’. The language should not be an obstacle for the audience. Otherwise, Russian plays are being translated solely to be watched by audiences who are already familiar with Russian culture.
I have come to believe that translation is more about capturing ‘unfamiliar ways of thinking’. In The War, there are a series of competing realities. Different characters see the world in contradictory ways. The play suggests that ‘your truth’ and ‘my truth’ cannot both be true. In other words, The War offers an experience of living in a post-truth era – just as relevant to British audiences as Russian ones. I have come to feel that translation is like telling somebody about a dream you had the previous night. You have to explain what you saw as clearly as possible, in a language which they will understand. The meaning of the dream is elusive…. What matters is how it felt when you were asleep, and finding a natural-sounding way to explain the odd experiences in the dream to your listener. I hope that my least ‘faithful’ translation of The War captures the dream-like but arresting quality of the original play in a clear and lucid language.
A blog for students and teachers of Years 11 to 13, and anyone else with an interest in Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures, written by the staff and students of Oxford University. Updated every Wednesday!
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