Hope for transcreators

According to Italian novelist and literary critic Umberto Eco, “Translation is the art of failure.” A report in The Economist of 27th May 2017 would appear to lend this view credence from a financial perspective, arguing that “a pleasingly intellectual profession is under enormous pressure” in the face of translation software on the one hand and online translation agencies on the other.

Between the machine and the middleman, traditional translators are becoming squeezed.

Prices for translation work are coming under increasing pressure, and more and more ‘translations’ are being done by machines and then farmed out to qualified translators for editing into some sort of shape. The Economist remains optimistic, however, for the prospects of translators working on literary texts and sensitive materials such as speeches. It also sees growth in the market of ‘transcreation’ – “in which a translator – often in advertising – is expected to rethink a message, making sure that the version in the new language has the right cultural references, jokes and suchlike to recreate the impact, without the wording, of the original. In this case,” writes The Economist, “the ‘transcreator’ is even more of a writer than most translators.” Plus ça change. As the German essayist and cultural critic Walter Benjamin put it a century ago, “It is the task of the translator to release in his own language that pure language that is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work.” Something that translators have known about for a long time.

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