Sunday, October 26, 2008


-Thanks to JP for suggesting I blog about this.

Overtranslation is an extension of the literal in a translator’s target language that influences or determines reading of and translation choices made in relation to the source language. Overtranslation isn’t a literal translation because it serves as a bridge might; readers understand that a translator is present, and that a sense of humor exists between two texts that is evidence of a process – not a mechanical transfer — and that this process is anything but automatic: There are human hands involved.

Overtranslation is so named because it seeks to fill a gap between meta-translation and trot versions of a text. The translation is sometimes literal because the literalness of the translation points to a living and breathing translator – a person who made a choice with each word rather than ignorant consultation of reference books – and this difference gives (or gives away) identity to the translator. Rather than just negating the existence of a person occupying the office of copying into another language, overtranslation reveals the translator’s native language to the reader by what type of literal choices are made. The reader is also left with a package of questions, the least of which has anything to do with the primacy, or authority, of the accuracy of the text. What’s more, in some cases overtranslation might opt for the opposite of the more accurate word in order to allude to something else (see below).

The only example that I'm going to write about now (see next paragraph) would be taking the phrase: “No te voy a dejar, nunca.” Translated this might read, “I won’t leave you, ever.” (more emphasis) Or “I won’t ever leave you.” (less emphasis). But it very well could read “I won’t ever quit you.” Or “I’m not going to quit you, ever.” The statement is the same even if the exact wording has been changed. Overtranslation denies the existence of one text/one idea/mot juste that we must adhere to when choosing which words to use. In the above case, an overtranslation might risk alluding to Brokeback Mountain. Or, if that’s the point, the translator might rather prefer to make this allusion. So, overtranslation is a choice that reveals certain personal (sometimes historical) and referential behaviors of the translator and refutes the idea that there is one text, one translation.

[A recent example of overtranslation: I'm currently reading Horacio Castellanos Moya's book, EL ARMA EN EL HOMBRE. Translated this would read something like "Arms and the man" or "Arms in/and Man." or aha! "The Weapon in Man." (This last is my preferred choice for a translation.) But since I can't help noticing el arma/alarma, I would overtranslate this title (were I given the chance) as "Man All Arms." Cheesy yes, indeed, but just another little something I love about connecting the translation with the source material. So sue me.]

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