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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Literature and Poetry  »  Doctor Pinheiro and Doctor Magagnin in Translation and Poetry

Doctor Pinheiro and Doctor Magagnin in Translation and Poetry

By Marcia Pinheiro | Published  09/11/2016 | Literature and Poetry | Recommendation:
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Marcia Pinheiro
անգլերենից պորտուգալերեն translator
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Dr. Paolo Magagnin

Ricercatore universitario a t. d.
Presidente Commissione TFA AA46 (cinese)
Membro Commissione Erasmus DSAAM

Università Ca' Foscari, Venezia
Dipartimento di Studi sull'Asia e sull'Africa Mediterranea
Palazzo Vendramin dei Carmini
Dorsoduro 3462 
30123 Venezia - Italia

Tel. 0039.041.2349562
Dr. Marcia Pinheiro

Lecturer at IICSE University
NAATI  40296         
Member: PROz, RGMIA, Ancient Philosophy

PhD in Philosophy and Mathematics
Master in Philosophy
Certified TESOL/TEFL professional
Licentiate in Mathematics
PO Box 12396 A’Beckett St
Melbourne, VIC, AU, 8006

Tel 0416915138

Dr. Magagnin,
as you have seen in Poetry and Translation, or as you will be seeing, I have started to worry about having the readers of the target language experiencing the same sensations that the readers from the origin language experience when reading an artistic piece. 
I think I am sure that is translating poems with accuracy. 
I wonder if you agree with my view. 

Dr. Pinheiro, 
although I am chiefly a translator of fiction, not of poetry, I have always kept in mind the problem of the equivalent effect from a variety of perspectives. For instance, I have laid special attention on the rendition of rhythmic features in my translation practice of Chinese contemporary fiction, but also in my research on Chinese political discourse, and advertising. In fact, rhythm, and other para-rhythmic are a constitutive feature of the Chinese language: For example, it is extremely common to observe forms of rhythmic balance in series of juxtaposed clauses made up of the same number of syllables, but also rhetorical features based partly on rhythm, such as parallelism, opposition etc. Such features contribute - possibly to an even larger extent than is the case in other languages - not only to make a particular sentence or passage more harmonious, balanced, or pleasant to the ear, but also to make the message more authoritative, and convincing. Whenever I translate, I always try to read the sentence aloud, and to recreate a rhythmic pattern that is fluent when the original is harmonious, or a bumpyunpleasant one when the author's intent is to create a disturbing effect on the reader. Talking about the latter form of musicality, I have another experience while translating the collection Dead Water (Sishui) by Chinese poet Wen Yiduo (1899-1946), known for his modernist feeling, and for his penchant for unusual phrasing, difficult rhythm patterns, and images that are far from idyllic. Such features echo, at the phonic, and stylistic level, the crudeness of his themes: national disgrace, death, war, debasement of the intellectual, etc. While translating his poems into Italian I constantly put a lot of effort in recreating a similar disturbing effect, e.g. by resorting to unusual, harsh-sounding or anachronistic words instead of more standard lexical items (always keeping in mind Venuti’s reflections on the remainder playing havoc within the target language), or choosing words containing repetitions of consonant clusters, assonance, etc. - the harder to read fluently the better! 

What you say about the Chinese poem sounds fantastic enough: That is exactly what I am talking about. When you talk about national disgrace, I feel that there could be a point for debate there: Should we look for an equivalent national situation in the target language if we are translating a poem? If we intend to provoke the same feelings in the target audience, it sounds plausible to wish for doing that, is it not? I have started to write about the topic in Translation Techniques. I called this technique Artistic Translation.
The technique used to translate lyrics would also be Artistic Translation.
The following extract came from Translation Techniques:
If we had Et si tu n’existais pas in French, for instance, a piece of the song Et situ n’existais pas (Lyrics, 2013), and we were willing to translate this sentence in an artistic way into English from Australia, we would go through the following steps:
1)Imagine the mood of the person saying this. Feel their voice in the ear, heart, and soul.
2)Now concentrate on the message. What is being communicated to the other?
3)What sort of feeling the other would see appearing in their heart, and soul as they listen to that?
4)Translate the sentence literally.
5)Now refine to find the same impact in the other language, and     culture.
6)Stop when you do, otherwise loop on step five, and close the loop here, at this step.

7)Now pay attention to the lyrics, and song at the same time. We   must try to copy the metrics, rhymes, and all else involved to best that we can when coding things in the target language.
I would like to learn your opinion about this extract.

I could not agree more with the points you made in your article. This is exactly the flow chart I follow closely when translating poetry or even fiction. 
However, what you suggest about evoking a similar national situation in the target language/culture - or, more generally, resorting to socio-political references that are specific to the metaculture - seems a bit too extreme to me - or at least, it feels so in the framework of a generally foreignizing translation strategy, like the one I usually adopt in my translation practice. 
This said, an experiment like the one you evoked could definitely bring about astounding results if carried out systematically, and with the right degree of awareness. This reminds me of what my fellow sinologist Anna Di Toro did in her translation of a novel from Taiwan, Meigui Meigui Wo Ai Ni (literally Rose, Rose, I Love You, translated as Rosa Rosa Amore Mio in Italian) by Wang Zhenhe (1940-1990). 
The original novel is set in 1960s Taiwan, a few years after the end of the civil war that led the Communist Party of China to rise to power in Mainland China, forcing the nationalists to flee to Taiwan in 1949, and establish a new government. The novel is imbued with references to the socio-political climate of the time: the influence of the US, marked by the heavy presence of American troops on the island; the rise of a strong nationalism, and anti-communism; the threat of an attack by the Chinese government; the tensions between the Taiwanese native population, and the newcomers from the mainland, reflected in the tension between the standard language - Mandarin Chinese - and the local language taiyu, etc. Therefore, a satisfactory knowledge of such a situation is crucial for a full understanding of the events that are recounted, but filling the translation with footnotes, and annotations would have definitely killed the pleasure of reading. What Di Toro did, then, was to erase all explicit references to the Taiwanese context (names of places, and characters, etc.), and transpose everything to 1960s Sicily, although the name of the island is never mentioned. Many factors were actually shared between the two realities, thus reducing the cognitive gap to a minimum: the post-war climate, the improving economic conditions, the apparent coexistence of standard language, and local dialect(s), even the presence of US troops from the local military bases. The operation was striking especially at the linguistic level: For instance, the passages in taiyu of the original were rewritten in the dialect of Catania, a town in Eastern Sicily, and juxtaposed to the ones in standard Italian. The result is a totally new novel, embedded in an apparently entirely different context, which nonetheless preserves the major traits of the original at the level of feeling, and impact on the readership. This includes the pleasure of reading, thanks to the transposition into a familiar framework, and to the recreation of the ubiquitous humour that characterizes Wang Zhenhe’s writing. I think this is an excellent example of what you suggested. However, I am convinced this can be applied only to specific texts, and only when the target language/culture offers the right linguistic, cultural, etc. framework, as is the case in the translation project I have described. 

Dr. Magagnin, I believe you are saying that your agency usually employs foreignization when translating, and I was referring to domesticating instead when I spoke about adapting contexts to create the same impact in the target language.
Another extract of the text I previously mentioned here is
...domesticating   translation   is   characterized   by   the   dominance   of   linguistic,   ethnic,   and ideological  features  of  the  target  culture,  as  well  as  by  the  fluency  of  the  text – naturalness  of syntax, unambiguity, modernity of the presentation, and linguistic consistency. A typical feature of a domesticating translation is transparency – a tendency to avoid non-idiomatic expressions, archaisms,  jargon  and  repetition.  In other words, the translator imitates text features  of  the target culture.
Foreignization refers to an opposite strategy of translation. Venuti  (1992:11) defines  this concept as a translation practice where elements foreign to the target culture are given a special stress. A foreignising translation is dominated by linguistic, ethnic and ideological features from the source culture, resistance to the norms of fluency and by the unmaskedness of the translator.
I think I like the fact that you know of at least one great experience in terms of domestication, which is the work you have mentioned, apparently a great piece, the piece belonging to Anna Di Toro.
What I have recently done is translating sabiấ (thrush) into robin because of superficial research: It seemed to me that the cultural value of the sabiấ in the origin-language context was found only in the robin here, in Australia. As another point, I have just noticed that if I had used thrush in this piece, which was originally a very famous poem, people could actually have remembered the disease instead of the bird, what would probably destroy any chance that they would experience good things whilst reading it. I wonder if you feel in the same way I do in what regards this sigmatoid.
See the original extract, and its translated version (Gonçalves Dias, Canção do Exίlio, as seen in Poetry and Translation):
Minha terra tem palmeiras,
Onde canta o sabiá;
As aves, que aqui gorgeiam,
Não gorjeiam como lá
My land has palms,
and that is the robin’s singing’s where;
The birds who here warble,
do not warble as in there.
I did my best, and you can also read this from Poetry and Translation, to copy rhymes, geometric distribution, and things like that. Can you see it?
I was a bit unhappy with the result in terms of the first two lines, and you can probably see why, but I reckon we must try: Some elements are essential, such as evident rhymes, and it is possible that we don’t succeed with secondary elements, such as geometric distribution, like you see that I succeed in terms of the last two lines, but I have an inversion plus horrible increase in terms of the first two.
In compensation, the rhythmic pairs were kept in what is evident. I wonder if you agree.

Dr. Pinheiro, I think the operation you carried out in Canção do Exίlio is perfectly justified both at the lexical level (e.g. translating sabiá by robin), and on the plane of rhythm, rhyme, and geometric distribution. As a matter of fact, although I have always been a strong supporter of Venuti’s foreignizing views in my translation practice, I am convinced that poetic translation must necessarily follow a different path. The dominant - to use Jakobson’s term - of poetry emerges not so much in terms of content as of general feeling, rhythm, and sound. Therefore, in order to achieve a satisfying result, poetry cannot be approached philologically, but can - and even must, I dare say - undergo a certain degree of rewriting. In my view, it is a process of abstraction from the language, and formal features of the original that leads the translator to recreate, to the best of their possibilities, the phonic structure, and echoic features of the poem. It is just like crafting a cage for a bird that provides it the best possible environment for life - although a captive one, but one could say that a certain degree of captivity is intrinsic to all translation! The next step would be to insert linguistic elements that fit the new structure, elements that may very well be far removed from the letter of the original - a new breed of bird, to continue using the same metaphor - but convey the spirit, and overall atmosphere of the original, or the impact it has on the source readership.

Dr. Magagnin, I feel that our experiences, and opinions do match in some basic points: translating a poem, and even the lyrics of a song, is something very different from translating a technical text or even a piece of news; in literary work, it is not only acceptable that we domesticate, but sometimes it is essential; we need to recreate impact on our perceptive systems when translating an artistic piece, so when performing artistic translation; footnotes are usually essential, even in the translation of literary work; we can adapt things to the extent of changing the breed of the bird because the source language bird is a common bird in the place where the piece was written, but, in the target language location, we have another breed that replaces that one in terms of cultural value (more common); rhythm, sound, and oppositions even in terms of mental images should be something we try to get to in the target language when performing even literary translation; and we need to divide Translation into subdomains, such as artistic, technical, and literary to be able to talk about important matters in a proper manner, and to be able to judge the complexity of the work involved.
One important thing that you mention is that we try to recreate those effects to the best of our capabilities, which is what I say as well: We must attempt to do that. It is obviously very hard, like when I was trying to match the geometry of the extract I have here mentioned with my target language extract, I noticed that I couldn’t do that in a way to preserve more important features, such as evident rhymes. I then opted for having that difference, on the top lines. We must now worry about the importance of the items in poetry then. I think I am actually very ready to build work in this arena: We must try to create a list of elements that we find in Poetry, and impose an order of importance to those, since otherwise we cannot have a method to offer our students. You will see that I have started something to that side: Book on T&I
It is through conversations like ours that we can get to really important theory, theory that can be applied in the classroom, and can therefore serve to set standards. We must remember that those standards are what will, ultimately, enable us to propose better prices, and conditions for work in our trades.


Pinheiro, M. R. (2015). Translation Techniques. Communication & Language at Work. 4(4).

Sabia. (2003). Dicionario da Lingua Portuguesa com Acordo Ortografico. Porto Editora.

Pinheiro, M. R. (2014). Translation and Interpretation. V. 1. Amazon.com

Pinheiro, M. R. (2016). Poetry and Translation. 3(3). International Journal of Language and Linguistics.

Wong, L. (2006). Musicality and Intrafamily Translation: With Reference to European Languages and Chinese. Erudit. 51(1).

Wang, Z. (2014). Rosa Rosa Amore Mio. Libreria Editrice Orientalia. Wang Book

Jacobson, R. (1981). Selected Writings: Poetry of Grammar, Grammar of Poetry. V. 3. Jacobson Book

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