On the importance of translation as a method for assuring the continual process of successful communication in today’s expanding Europe: Ivan Grozdanovski interviews Dr. Zvonko Taneski.
“Worth an estimated $33 billion, translation is the biggest industry that you never knew existed,” write authors Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche in their 2012 book Found in Translation. So why do many of us tend to forget the indispensable role translation plays in the forefront and background of our daily lives? Translation assures, among other things, accurate communication and understanding between people of different linguistic groups, as well as facilitating such fundamental forms of interaction as international relations, trade, business, finance, entertainment, education and any others which involve the exchange of information.
Translation is an especially crucial service in the European Union, a system of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism which recognises 24 official and working languages. With three of the five current candidate countries for accession to the EU being located in the Western Balkans, it is interesting to examine the capacity for the successful exchange of information across the significant languages of this region.
In this article, Europe & Me editor Ivan Grozdanovski interviews Dr. Zvonko Taneski, professor at the Department of Modern Languages at FON University in Skopje, Macedonia, distinguished author, poet, and translator of Czech and Slovak into Macedonian, and vice versa. The following are his thoughts on the occupation of translation, more recent initiatives in Macedonia toward improvements and expansion in this field, and the relevance of translation to international relations within the Balkans and Europe.
IG: Would you consider translation a kind of art? Why or why not?
ZT: I agree that translation constitutes a kind of art, especially in the case of literary translation. Namely, a literary translator in some ways recreates the work according to the modes of creation. The translator utilises his or her creative skills in delving into the poetics of the author, the unique and universal aspects of the cultural code of the work, and the historical context of its composition. The translator needs to take many factors into careful consideration throughout this process: figures of speech, idioms, slang, phrasemes, and word play which give a unique quality to a select work; the same can be said of rhyme, metre, unique forms of narration and so on. All of this implies that the translator must also be proficient in the use of these techniques in order to capture the true essence of the work in its new environment, and enable for an appropriate reception, thereby doing justice both to the author and readers. For these reasons, perhaps it would not be exaggerated to stress here that in our country the best literary translators are also authors themselves (writers, poets), who have developed a rather sharp instinct for capturing the phenomena I have mentioned.
IG: Do you think translation is more likely to support or threaten a given linguistic – national identity?
ZT: While a good translation should support a given “linguistic-national identity”, a bad one will inadvertently threaten it. It is often said that a good translation can inspire the impression that it reads “as if it were written in the native language”. Some claim that certain hermetic poetry is, in principle, untranslatable into another language; nevertheless, it is always possible to at least convey the commensurate form, content, point, image, intention and atmosphere through the inherent linguistic codes of the foreign language. Though such solutions take a considerable amount of time, as practice has shown, I believe that a well-educated, tenacious and creative translator will resolve to step forward and grapple with the challenge.
IG: What does the Republic of Macedonia aim to achieve with the recent initiative to translate a good deal of foreign texts – as, for example, with the project “The translation of 1,000 vocational and academic books and textbooks?”
ZT: I deem the idea must have been rather noble, and that the authorities responsible meant to satisfy some shortcoming they have identified in the country. Projects such as “Nobel Laureates”, “The Stars of World Literature” and the like were probably intended to sublimate in one place the best of what world literature has to offer and present it in the Macedonian language. With this they would also clearly show that even the Macedonian linguistic culture is continuing to grow and has earned comparison to many other larger linguistic groups, which in the past may have had far more opportunities to undertake such monumental projects. I would say the project to translate 1,000 vocational and academic books and textbooks was similarly well-intentioned, even though I am not certain as to the extent at which we will be successful with implementing it. In any case, it is clear that as both times and generations of students change, more reforms will be needed with regard to academic literature. We need to continue with our endeavours in identifying new and important academic practices and following them as they arise.
For example, the practice of ranking universities has already been implemented in every country, and that is why we must as far as possible adjust accordingly. It is no coincidence that I say, “as far as possible”, since some textbooks and academic views across various fields need to present information on our own local surrounding area, which is not always necessarily covered in textbooks by foreign authors. Additionally, one cannot afford to entirely and unreservedly focus on the works of foreign authors, without first having studied what the domestic ones have to offer. Every academic work and piece of research is based on certain measurements and parameters previously established and accepted in the environment in which it was created. Although comparison is always useful, the domestic context should never be neglected. Indeed, many Macedonian professors are respected experts in their fields, and the textbooks they have written are more than adequate in meeting the purposes of their students. I believe such foreign books should be translated with an expert in the language and an expert in the field working in tandem. In many cases it is still difficult to find equivalents of certain terminology in dictionaries, and it is therefore crucial to consult more widely. It goes without saying that the completed translation must pass through editing.
I have not as of yet had the occasion to look through one of these translated works from the project you mention to comment more specifically on them, but I believe over time the results of the efforts will become clearer, and we will be able to make more educated arguments either for or against the corpus of translation, which at the moment may still appear – for better or worse – rather gargantuan.
IG: What type of literature do we most translate in our country (into Macedonian), and from which languages/countries?
ZT: We translate all sorts of literature and from many different languages. I do not think a single type can be distinguished as dominant, for various publishers already specialise in different areas: children’s literature, bestsellers, contemporary prose, academic studies or poetry, to name a few. Although it can be said that in Macedonia there is still a deficiency of translators working with certain more renowned world languages, it is clear we are making steady progress. I am gladdened by the fact that more and more young and successful translators find themselves called upon to contribute to this process.
IG: Is such an ambitious initiative feasible, in regard to the quality of the translation (what sort of difficulties might arise that could complicate the process of translation)?
ZT: The initiative admittedly does appear ambitious, though I cannot judge with full certainty since I am not positive as to exactly how long translators were given to complete the job, or under what conditions they worked. Perhaps the idea may have been conceived at an earlier date, in which case the public was not made fully aware of it; for this reason it might be best to wait for the translators who were actively involved in the project to expound in more details themselves. Otherwise, I hope we are all aware that the translation of vocational works requires a lengthier period of attention if the resulting corpus is to be faithfully translated without unnecessary compromise. Sometimes temporal restraints can present a great challenge to a translator, as working under stress will not produce the intended results.
In any case, time is the best judge of such an initiative. I would like to believe that at the least we will be able to draw the proper lessons from this endeavour in the future, and afterward work entirely by the constructive conclusions. Until then, we can strive to treat the criticism which may have emerged from the works completed thus far more analytically.
IG: How would you say this affects the job market for translation? Can we expect a greater demand for translators in the upcoming years?
ZT: Macedonia presents a relatively small market, and I do not therefore expect a sudden influx in the demand for translators in the upcoming years. However, it is important to examine a few things here in order to avoid confusion. Certainly there has been an increase in the amount of certified young translators who have already established a reputation for themselves, and who should be in demand for work in the future, at least by publishers supported by European funds; but this is not to say that other novice translators should not be given the chance to prove themselves. The situation is quite to the contrary. In regard to the translation of vocational, scientific and academic works, however, I expect the competition to be much more selective, as the administrations of some foreign countries are already rejecting translations which do not meet the professional expectations in the given field. For this reason even citizens looking for this type of service will need to become more selective in their search for the proper translator, who should know how to carry out the work professionally, thereby leaving an impression that will be attractive to other potential clients.
IG: What are some other employment options for translators in our country?
ZT: There is a great deal of possibilities. Both in the public and in the private sector the demand for reforms is on the rise, as well as for revisions and amendments of laws, and of other acts and documents, in accordance with the laws of the European Union, to which we are endeavouring to adjust. For this reason the course of the development of the field of translation as an important means to integration cannot be neglected or rejected. Our country is also being increasingly visited by foreigners, potential investors and tourists, and collaborating with them also involves translational skills and an increase in the number and type of workers employed. Nonetheless, every translator should be aware individually of which type of translation suits him or her best, in which he or she feels most capable and experienced, and which most stimulates his or her personal curiosity and ambition.
IG: Does this mean that translation as a separate field is becoming more attractive to students interested in the study of language than (for instance) linguistics and literature?
ZT: I am not aware of the newest statistical trends on the career choices of languages students. Students opting to study philology often believe that in learning a foreign language they will also automatically become good translators; but such a conviction does not always come to fruition. Obviously the individual talent of every future translator plays a role; yet in certain cases vocational preparation of a different nature is also necessary. Therefore, for instance, if we look at the longterm implications, the accession of the Republic of Macedonia to the European Union would involve the employment of a larger group of translators and interpreters, who need to be entirely prepared to handle the tasks required by various EU organs. For this they would need to have passed through all the commensurate training courses, which may in and of themselves be rather specific, and whose basis they should come to master throughout the course of their studies according to appropriate methodology.
IG: Is there any danger that the increase in translation, and therefore, in the import of foreign works, might come to threaten the rate of production of domestic literary output (books, poetry, films, etc.)?
ZT: I do not think such a danger exists. Foreign works should in principle enrich the span of the domestic expressive capacity. We certainly have our own dedicated audience regularly following the publications of domestic authors (even if it might not be so large comparatively), which does not always place foreign works first. However, considering the fact that we live in a globalised world marked by digitisation and commercialism, it seems foreign works are not likely to lose their popularity, and will continue to maintain a steady reception. Even though this is more evident in our country, it is happening all over; yet this should not discourage us. Ours is a small community, and it may even be partially claimed that such is the fate of the smaller nations and linguistic groups. Either way, we should continue to work thoughtfully in both directions. Both contexts (domestic and foreign) need to be developed simultaneously so that they will build on one another, contributing to a more stable and effective national and international core.
IG: Are other countries in the Balkans investing in translation? Why or why not?
ZT: Certainly, and they do this mainly for the same reasons as us: to promote the expansion of intellectual perspectives; to increase understanding between different groups; to remain informed on current world trends; and to share experiences with foreign groups. Of course, the extent of the success of these intentions varies from country to country depending on the availability of opportunities: some will achieve their goals more quickly than others. This largely depends on differing demographic factors and on each country’s particular strategy.
IG: How do you suppose that translation affects our international relations?
ZT: Translation inadvertently affects the international relations of every country in the twenty-first century, at least to some extent, since no country exists as an island by itself, completely self-sufficient. Translation helps to bring nearer distant ideas: the domestic becomes international, and vice versa. It is normal for this flow to continue as before along its naturally established path.
IG: Is the increased use of translation helping or hindering the learning of foreign languages in Macedonia?
ZT: It certainly helps a lot, as it is impossible to imagine learning a foreign language without having access to translated texts on which to rely. Even bad translations can help, since they provide a picture to students of how a text should not be translated, and therefore serve as benchmarks to overcome in the search for the ideal standards and help to divert bad practices. On the other hand, students should draw satisfaction from good translations, and regard them as proof that the ideal product can be achieved; that is, that such a result is theoretically within reach (even if some translations might inadvertently end up a poor imitation of the original for the simple reason that they have not replicated the relevant spirit). However, the important thing is to learn how to feel the language and to have the perseverance to be willing to persist in cracking even the toughest nuts with the translating quill.
IG: Do you think the need for translation will persist at these levels in the future now that young people are learning foreign languages more than ever before?
ZT: The need for translation will always be present, whether at a greater or lesser extent. Every language in the world presents a cherished treasure, and countless misunderstandings continue to occur on a daily basis, which must first be elaborated upon linguistically, uncovered, explained and exposed. Conversely, if we all spoke one language, communication would be boring; indeed, we mature in the comparison of our differences; and we learn by willingly embracing them in the common unity of multilingualism.
Answers by Dr. Zvonko Taneski, translated from Macedonian into English by Ivan Grozdanovski.