Rules for Translators: Elliott Colla (Arabic-English)
In Rules for Translators, Sampsonia Way presents selections from a series originally published by Arabic Literature (in English), a blog based in Cairo, Egypt. In the series, ArabLit queried 20 celebrated and award-winning literary translators about their “rules” for translation. See the full series here.
Elliott Colla is the translator of Ibrahim Aslan’s beautiful novel The Heron, Ibrahim al-Koni’s Gold Dust, and he occasionally translates work not written by non-Ibrahim authors. He has been a runner-up for the Banipal Prize for Arabic Literature.
Questions for translators, not rules. To be asked roughly in the following order:
1. Do you really have time to donate weeks or months of unremunerated labor, even if the cause is a good one?
2. Does this particular book really deserve a second life in another language? Why?
3. How would you compare the work to five other similar works in other languages?
4. Who is the English audience for the translation, and why would they be interested now? Do you have any evidence for believing this?
5. Are you doing this because of your love of Arabic literary culture, or your love of English?
6. Do you have a fool-proof system for knowing when you’ve gotten something wrong and when you’ve gotten it right? Would you share it with me?
7. Did you consider transposition, modulation, equivalence, adaptation or some combinations when working on the harder parts?
8. Did you ask the author about that thing you noticed in the original? How about all those other things?
9. How much of the third draft sounded good when you read it aloud to friends who know nothing of Arabic?
10. Did you ask the author again and again about every little thing thought might be significant?
11. How much of the fifth draft sounded good when you read it aloud?
12. Did you set your alarm for early tomorrow to make sure you translate a little before you go to your real job?