Any professional translator will tell you that the act of translation is in fact a creative one. Rather than simply a mechanical or mathematical discipline, with set answers for each scenario, it depends largely on the intuition, experience and creativity of the translator.
Deborah Smith (pictured in header) won the Man booker Prize for her translation of “The Vegetarian” by Korean author Han Kang. Deborah also maintains that translation is in fact a form of creative translation. In an interview with The Korea Times she said.
“Translation is a process that needs varying degrees of interpretation and editorial decision,” adding that
“Translators know better than anyone that we don’t improve the original. I aim to be faithful to the spirit of the original work, to the letter, as much as I can without compromising the spirit.”
Smith gave a speech in Seoul in which she raised concerns about judging translators on their backgrounds.
“I think a love of literature, patience and dedication are more important for translators. The spirit of humility and cooperation is what makes the translation community what it is and makes me proud to be a part of it,” she said.
She also said that she is very concerned about how Korean culture is represented in her translations.
“I am sensitive to issues of representation because I realize that in the UK, Korean culture is still very little known. People might be reading the translations and it might be their first encounter with Korean culture,” she said.
Smith used to leave some Korean words untranslated, feeling that they should be left in their Korean forms, but she found that editors didn’t like this.
“When I first started translating, I would be using terms such as soju or manhwa and the editors would not know what this was although it was clear from the context. They would suggest ‘why don’t we call it Korean vodka, or Korean manga’ and I explained to them that it’s not a good thing to make one culture sound like it’s a derivative or a lesser version of another. But sometimes editors can be funny about foreign words putting readers off which I don’t think is right.”
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