Tue, Aug 13, 2019 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Professor uncovers translation injustices

Sharon Lai, writer and professor of translation at National Taiwan Normal University, discusses in an interview with Chinese-language ‘Liberty Times’ (the sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) staff reporter Lan Tsu-wei how transitional justice is also important in the field of translation, and how translations in Taiwan and China differ as their historical paths diverge

Sharon Lai, a writer and professor of translation at National Taiwan Normal University, is pictured in her office on July 25.

Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): How did you go from approaching translation as an academic to approaching it as a “detective,” as you say you do in your book The Office of Translation Detective Work (翻譯偵探事務所)?

Sharon Lai (賴慈芸): In 1994, while I was a master’s student, I had to pair up with a classmate to write about the history of translation in Taiwan. While I was going through research material I discovered that many classics, such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, were poorly translated. It was clearly the same translator, but the names on each translated book were different. It was like a black hole that concealed limitless secrets. I thought this was really interesting. Why had no one discovered it or discussed it before?

Part of the reason is related to politics. After 1949, there were some translators who never came to Taiwan, but stayed in China. A famous translator named Fu Donghua (傅東華), who translated Gone With the Wind, is an example of this. His translations that ended up in Taiwan came to be attributed to a different translator. Fu was later killed during China’s Cultural Revolution.

For a time his translated works were met with unfortunate treatment in Taiwan and China. I have one student whose research is focused on the translation of Gone With the Wind. There are more than 50 versions of the translated text that all copied Fu’s translation, but do not attribute the work to him. Behind these anonymous translations is a history filled with suffering and sadness.

However, those translators who came to Taiwan also became embroiled in politics. For example, Li Lieh-wen (黎烈文), who translated The Red and the Black and An Iceland Fisherman, was monitored and controlled due to his past associations with leftist writers.

Also, in the early years, there was no concept of copyright. For a time romance novels were popular, and publishers would split a novel into two or three parts, hiring a different translator for each part. That way they could get it to market faster.

Later on the profits were too low and there was a sharp decline in the publication of [translated] romance novels. This indirectly facilitated the rise of locally written romance novels.

LT: While researching translation, you have come across many rare or out-of-print books. How would you describe your encounters with these old books?

Lai: Everything was because of interest. When I encounter these books at second-hand bookstores, I often think: “How did this book end up here?” Some old books are signed with the owner’s purchase date, such as “1949, purchased in Shanghai,” making the book’s history apparent.

These books originally came overseas to Taiwan with educated young people. After they grew old and passed away, these books were sold to second-hand bookstores, waiting for new owners to take possession of them.

Later, some small publishers took these books, got rid of their beginnings and ends, and started zero-cost businesses by pirating and printing these translated works. This was the norm among publishers at the time.

In the early days, Vista Publishing founder Shen Teng-en (沈登恩) was the epitome of this type of publisher. However, he was not the initiator, but rather very carefully rearranged the layout of these translated works that were sloppily printed on poor-quality paper in the early days.

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