Sunday, 7 November 2010

Words and Phrases that Make Me Grind My Teeth

'Translation' as in this from the Sydney Morning Herald of 6 October:

"At the Sydney Theatre Company, Andrew Upton's new translation of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya premieres next month."

Andrew Upton has not learnt Russian; he has commissioned a literal translation from someone who has learnt Russian and he has worked with that.

I wouldn't mind so much if I hadn't spent several years learning Russian myself. What I did recognise by the end of my course was that I hadn't learnt enough to produce a better translation of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya than those that already exist. You need to be steeped in the language you are translating from and a native speaker of the language you are translating to, if you are to create a good literary translation.


  1. This would be good for "Absent Proof"

  2. I thought about that, but it isn't an editor's mistake; it's more an annoying trend (although Upton seems to be the main perpretrator - when we were in London he had translations from French and Russian on at the National Theatre, neither of which he'd actually translated, so far as I could make out.)

  3. I used to work with the woman who did the translation of The Cherry Orchard for him. She was born in Australia and is a native Russian speaker (parents immigrated in the 60s). I'm not sure who did the translation for this one; no-one is credited on the website.

    We're seeing a preview tomorrow night!

  4. Wow. What did she say about the experience? I hope you will come back and say if it is good. I think John Bell is one of the greatest actors I've ever seen, but I'm not so sure about R Roxburgh and Hugo Weaving (especially Roxburgh, who seems a bit mannered to me). I will be really, really interested to know what you think, if you have time to say. I've been thinking of going up to Sydney to see it, as it turns out there are still some seats available to some performances. My daughter went to Upton's 'translation' of a play by Gorky in London and some of his interpretations of the original text were crazy.

  5. Hmmm ... the point still is that he didn't translate it himself isn't it.

    Good to see you carrying the flag zmkc. I waver between "oh well, language is a changing, living thing" to "what ARE they doing to our language?". "Enormity" for example - that one's a goner.