India Uncut

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

On translation

As a cricket writer on tour, one of the most interesting things I note is press conferences that are not in English. Most of the Pakistanis, for example, prefer to speak in Urdu and many of the Indians, such as Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan, speak in their own language. What is fascinating to me is the manner in which they are translated by the English-language press.

How one translates quotes from another langauge reveals a lot about how one thinks, and writes. For example, if some writers lazily fall back upon cliches and banalities in their own writing and thought, something I had written about here, it is likely that a glimpse of that will appear in their translation as well. Those who tend to use archaichisms in their own writing will put them in other people's mouths.

Also, the translated quotes pieces that appear the next day reveal which groups of writers work in cliques. These are the pieces which are verbatim the same, something that would not be possible if each individual did his own translation. It means that one guy did the translating and the rest of his group took the copy from him. That is not a bad thing; stressed-out journalists on tour often need to work together to retain their sanity.

How do I work, you ask? Well, press conferences in Urdu and Hindi are the ones I enjoy the most, as I know these languages pretty well. It's a breeze for me to take down the gist of what is being said, and translate it quickly into simple English. I try not to use a big word when a smaller one would serve the same purpose, and I make sure that it sounds natural when spoken aloud. In the hands of many other writers, simple natural spoken Urdu turns into stilted English.

Consider, for example, this interview of Irfan Pathan in Outlook, in which he supposedly says: "I’ve already experienced the vicissitudes of life at the top." As fellow blogger Bala points out, "vicissitudes" is hardly the kind of word that Pathan would use in everyday speech. It tells us more about the interviewer than the interviewee, and that is a pity.
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