Panel Discusses Challenges of Translation

Scholars face an ethically fraught task in translating a text from one language into another, panelists agreed during a Monday afternoon discussion about translation held in Emerson Hall.

“[Translation] is an activity full of impact, and translators should have fundamentally ethical attitudes towards a text,” said panelist Elvira G. DiFabio, senior preceptor in Romance languages and literatures.

During a presentation that concentrated on what she termed “the ethics of translation,” DiFabio argued that translation is a dangerous activity often at risk of misinterpretation.

Edith Grossman, an acclaimed translator of literary texts who appeared as a panelist at the event, agreed that translators face a steep ethical obligation. Still, she added that the burden on translators should not surpass the onus placed upon authors to conduct their work with professionalism and integrity.

In a similar vein, Daniel Aguirre-Oteiza, a panelist and lecturer in Romance languages and literatures, argued that the translator’s personal background is necessarily significant in the act of translating.


“The personal background of the translator can not be divorced from the translation of the text itself,” Aguirre-Oteiza said. Aguirre-Oteiza used Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges as a case in point, recalling how his sentimental and intellectual education informed his specific choices in lexicon, especially in translations of Homer.

Offering another example of this theme, panelist Nicole D. Legnani, a PhD candidate in Romance languages and literatures, discussed her particular interest in the relationship between translation, conquest, and empire in 15th and 16th century Spanish law texts.

Legnani said that in her senior thesis, she paid special attention to the violence of the word “conquista” and its omission in translations as a means of airbrushing the wrongs committed by the agents of empire.

Also complicating the translator’s task, Aguirre-Oteiza said, is a shortage of fellow translators in the academy. Aguirre-Oteiza lamented the dearth of highly educated translators in higher education, calling this problem “the spectre of translation.”

“There is an obvious delay about setting up classes in translation exercises,’ Aguirre-Oteiza said.

Grossman also spoke to this issue, chiming in about her experience as a full-time translator who had rejected work as an academic.

“I think a burden is being put on translation that would not be put on literature in a single language,” Grossman said.


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