5/10/2007

Retranslations: A Pet Peeve

In my continuing work as a freelance translator, I get to do some interesting things. Yesterday I got to translate a newscast about a suspected police forgery. That was fun. The evidence looks pretty damning (Ben Chorin posed about it as well).
Then there was another translation. It was of a weekly dvar Torah, and it was horribly annoying because it violated two of my pet peeves.
The first was that it included a retranslation. A retranslation (as I use the word) is when there’s a quote that I’m supposed to translate back into its original language. It’s a real pain, because you actually have to find the original quote, which may be in some obscure place. That’s exactly what happened here. The author began the Dvar Torah with a quote from Milton Friedman on the paradoxical relationship that the Jews have with capitalism.
But it gets worse. He quoted the introduction to Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom as the source of the quote. As is obvious in hindsight, but took a while to figure out the regular way, that quote would have no place in the intro to Friedman’s book in English, but would have PLENTY of reason to be in the intro to the Hebrew version of the book. Thanks for writing ‘from the translator’s/publisher’s intro. He makes it sound like Friedman himself is writing.
It also turns out that it wasn’t a quote, it was a paraphrase. After Googling a number of combinations of words which it seemed clearly had to be in the quote, and after growing sufficiently annoyed, I called a friend who is a professor of economics at a couple of colleges and universities here in Israel. He knew right away that it wasn’t from the book. I had figured that out by then, and already strongly suspected that it was in an article called “Capitalism and the Jews: Confronting a Paradox”. My friend had the article – actually used it in a course he taught on economics and religion. The actual quote was in the first paragraph.
To demonstrate, I will produce the original English, the Hebrew translation/paraphrase that I was working from, and my initial English translation, when it looked like I wouldn’t find the article:
Two propositions can be readily demonstrated: The Jews owe an enormous debt to free enterprise and competitive capitalism. For at least the past century, the Jews have been consistently opposed to capitalism and have done much on an ideological level to undermine it.

"מעטים האנשים אשר הפיקו תועלת רבה כל כך מהיוזמה החופשית ומהקפיטליזם התחרותי כמו היהודים, ומעטים האנשים אשר התנגדו בצורה כה עקבית לקפיטליזם ופעלו כה רבות כדי לערער את יסודותיו האידיאולוגיים כמו היהודים"

“There are few who drew so much benefit from free enterprise and competitive capitalism as the Jews, and few who so consistently opposed capitalism and worked so hard to undermine its ideological foundations as the Jews”

And you thought translations were just about shalom=peace chatul=cat.
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