Thursday, 25 March 2010

Translating Czech

For the historical trip to South Bohemia, that I am organising, I need to produce a handbook for the attendees. What a nightmare! You might have thought it simple - just download stuff off the web, after all Cesky Krumlov's official website is packed full of pages in English about the town and its surroundings. You might have thought that, but you would be wrong. When you come to read what is on the web, it just doesn't always make sense in English or sort of makes sense but I wouldn't swear by it.

"Late gothic reconstruction and monasteries area enlargements in the last quarter of 15th century and development of settlement of Nové Město (New Town - including area of todays brewery compeled up improved protection of this part of growing Český Krumlov. Forwarded city walls, built along Vltava river as far as Lažebnický bridge, fortificated entire New Town with gardens and convents. The city walls were probably built in 90's of 15th century and was borne up reconstruction of monasterial area, nowadays extended with regular house of beguines. Consecrating of chapter house of minorite monastery in 1491 was an important milestone in history of fortification."

Now, don't get me wrong, I think the amount of information on the Cesky Krumlov website is wonderful. And some Czech has toiled long and hard to translate it into English, for which I am grateful. But there's the rub - a Czech has translated this, there are too few native English speakers who can translate from Czech. Even when you do have that rare person who is bi-lingual it is not easy. A bi-lingual friend of mine is sometimes asked to translate pieces for the website and when she does is to be found in front of her laptop chainsmoking and pulling her hair out in clumps.

It is not simply a matter of translating the words correctly, having done that there still can be a problem. The difference between the languages is, I now realise, cultural. It became clear to me when I was working with some local people about a planning issue. In a meeting I tried and failed to explain that letters to an English official should be clearly argued point by point and ideally short. But no. For my Czech listener the longer and fuller the letter the better and repetition is good. And he probably is right, if the letter's recipient is a Czech official.

Nowhere is this cultural difference more apparent than in the Czech love of the poetic. Where the English would be writing solid information, the Czechs are wont to disappear into metaphor. Hence the programme of the Five Petalled Rose started a piece on the history of Cesky Krumlov with a paragraph on primeval mud! What can the poor translator do in such a situation but translate what is there?

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...