The Linguist


The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 25 of 35

Sympathy for the Traitor: A Translation manifesto is a recent addition to the burgeoning sub-genre of books about literary translation written by translators. Between the two extremes of personal memoir and potted history, Mark Polizzotti steers a middle course. The book contains entertainingly written summaries of the main events and characters in European translation history, and the principal theories about how translators should go about their business, as well as anecdotes and practical examples from the author's own extensive experience as an English-French literary translator. However, in his eagerness to produce a racy and amusing volume, he falls into some predictable traps. When Polizzotti strays beyond his own field of expertise he gets into trouble. His account of machine translation (MT), in particular, is naïve and ridden with clichés. He fails to distinguish between Google (search engine) and Google Translate (online MT service), and clearly has no idea how modern automated translation systems work. He even rolls out the daft mistranslations supposedly produced in the early days of MT. The author is on more solid ground when discussing 'human' literary translation. He puts forward, and lucidly defends, his own opinions on the eternal dispute between 'literal' and 'free' approaches, providing intelligent advice and sharp insights on ethical questions and crosscultural dilemmas, which any translator would do well to consider. Concerning the issue of responsibility, for instance, he says: "The answer boils down to two not-so-simple words: respect and empathy." Respect for the work being translated; empathy with the MIT Press 2018, 200 pp; ISBN 9780262037990 Hardback, £17.99 author's intent. He provides illuminating examples of translation conundrums involving authors such as Camus and Flaubert, and the solutions arrived at by himself and his fellow translators. The chapter on translating poetry, which centres on the efforts of Ezra Pound and Vladimir Nabokov, is particularly interesting. Setting aside a few imprecisions, Sympathy for the Traitor is well researched and informative, with a handy index, useful bibliography and plentiful footnotes. While George Steiner's monumental After Babel remains preeminent among critical works that attempt to address the phenomenon of translation in all its facets, Polizzotti's book is a good option for anyone seeking an amenable and engaging introduction to this discipline. Ross Smith MCIL Sympathy for the Traitor Mark Polizzotti 26 The Linguist Vol/57 No/5 2018 REVIEWS Monolingualism was no more an invention than was cohabitation, reproduction or other aspects of human behaviour. So what is the author's central idea? David Gramling, Assistant Professor in German at the University of Arizona, advances the view that the nation states which came into being in the 17th and 18th centuries brought about a coalescing of linguistic unity. National identity engendered monolingualism. Well, yes and no. Advances in inter alia commerce, literature, industry, music and trade cultivated a common, enlightened understanding of the world. The standardisation of language norms assisted in this and was also a by-product of it. Yet, at that time, populations were not mobile, literacy was far from universal and most people spoke non-standard dialects. Monolingualism was not a behemoth. Gramling enthusiastically explores monolingualism as a literary start-end point, as well as a start point for texts ending up in translation. En route, he notes the tendency of modern publishers to favour a dull but easily translatable work over a worthier but trickier one. Likewise, authors may choose to use fewer allusions and simpler metaphors to improve a book's chances of a life beyond the monolingual ("soft multilingualism"). He also remarks that the influence of Czech/ Bohemian and Yiddish/Hebrew coloured Franz Kafka's use of German. Such literary cross-pollination leaves lingering traces in the translated work. Some diversions on the development of the musical keyboard, the failings of Google Translate and immigrant citizen rights in Germany are of some interest, but overplayed and of limited relevance. So far, so reasonably clear. Too much of Gramling's narrative, however, defies a settled understanding, despite re-readings. For example, "Bakhtinian visions of the carnivalesque, the dialogic, and the heteroglossic seem further to furnish us with scenarios of complexity that make the notion of 'being monolingual' an ever-shrinking implausible category for social life and scholarly analysis". Quotations from Barthes, Derrida et al add little clarity, unsurprisingly. I was intrigued to find nothing on the Sapir- Whorf hypothesis (how one's native language may determine how one perceives the world). This would have some bearing on things such as the equivalence of terms in different languages and notions of translation – areas of relevance in a book on monolingualism and translation. Similarly, some coherent ideas on the thought-language relationship may have helped Gramling to advance his arguments. This is an odd book. Clearly not intending to engage the general reader on languages, linguistics or translation, Gramling seems to be courting a micro-community of like-minded academics. And if you are puzzled by the title, you are not alone. See it as a lure to draw in the curious reader. A lesson learned perhaps. Graham Elliott MCIL The Invention of Monolingualism David Gramling Bloomsbury Academic 2016, 272 pp; ISBN 9781501318047 Paperback, £23.99

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - TL57_5-Oct/Nov2018