Literary Translation: The Collaborative Approach

Co-translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin
Co-translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin

In the Aug 2014 edition of The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation, Chinese-to-literary translators Sylvia Li-chun Lin (native Chinese speaker) and Howard Goldblatt (native English speaker) reveal how they work together:

Sylvia does the first draft, placing emphasis more on conveying the meaning of the original text than on finding the exact words/phrases in the translation. The rough quality of the text, necessitated by speed, is easily compensated for by first-impression impulses that capture meaning beyond the words. Howard takes over then, reading the first draft against the original, marking spots with different interpretations, possible translations, or ambiguities, and checking reference material where necessary.

This is fascinating stuff, and I recommend you read the entire text (see below for the link).

But when both translators are highly fluent in the source language, that doesn’t mean that the first draft is necessarily carried out just by the native speaker of the source text.

For example, here is how Jane Weizhen Pan (native Chinese speaker) and Martin

Co-translated by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan
Co-translated by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan

Merz (native English speaker) translated Wang Gang’s English (see full translator Q & A):

Each of us would translate alternate parts of each chapter and swop our raw drafts. Our raw drafts of these parts would be reviewed, changed (sometimes ruthlessly) by the other party. Every day, before working on a new draft or reviewing Martin’s draft, I would read the revised translation done the day before and then the entire chapter again.

Since I was in Australia and he in Hong Kong, we went back and forth over these changes and

commented on each other’s translation over Skype. We then left it to “brew” while working on the other parts of the chapter. The “revised version” would be reviewed again once we finished translating that entire chapter. We reviewed our translation of the entire book twice before sending to the editor.

The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation is published by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C. For the full text of The Collaborative Approach, click here, and look for The Collaborative Approach in the Contents Page.