Going Long: Book Translation

on May 24, 2016 by admin in Blog
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When people are looking for translation services, they often have one or more smaller documents that need translating. But what about full-length manuscripts? What is the translation process like for a book-length project?

In some ways, of course, the process is no different from the one for shorter documents: the translator will still be looking out for all the usual suspects (in addition to content, there will be attention to voice, style, format, regionalisms, word-play, and so on) and making sure to preserve them as much as possible in the translation. But longer documents do pose additional challenges and make additional demands of the translator.

Time frame will clearly depend on the complexity and other aspects of the original text, but a translation of a book-length document can take several months to produce. It’s definitely not the sort of project you want to put a rush on! Giving your translator time to sit with the text will make for a much higher quality of translation.

The biggest challenge that longer projects pose is maintaining consistency of tone over the course of the lengthy translation process. It’s much harder to control the voice at every moment over the course of 250 pages than it is over the course of 25—not to mention 2.5! This is especially true for literary texts—novels, for example—which cultivate unique narrative voices that are particularly difficult to make consistent. And because of the intricate structures of many literary texts, translators must be alert to elements like the recurrence of identical phrasing 213 pages after the first use. In addition, translators will probably have to do research to make sure they are accurately rendering some of the cultural details or other moments of complexity they encounter in the text.

For this reason, book-length translations generally call for a substantial editing process. Indeed, the editing process can take as long as the initial translation. Most translators reread their translation manuscripts at least two times, if not more, to make sure they have smoothed out the rough edges (at least the ones that weren’t supposed to be there!) and created a cohesive text. Ideally, they’ll actually take a few weeks between the translation and editing processes, giving themselves and the text a breather so they can come back to it fresh.

All of this means that book translation rather resembles a linguistic marathon. The need to maintain a persuasive voice and a consistent translation pace without flagging for weeks at a time makes book translation a particularly demanding, but thoroughly rewarding, task.

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