O.K. (caprinus) wrote in linguaphiles,

translation + gender = trouble


"[...] The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time tells the story of a 15-year-old autistic boy from Swindon. It won the Whitbread Book of the Year in 2003 and has been translated into more than 40 languages.

But a Spanish translator has been sacked for allegedly refusing to stick to the genders chosen by the author. Maria Reimondez is taking the publishers to court over claims that her contract to translate the novel into Galician was cancelled because she refused to reinforce sexist stereotypes. "The translation strategies I use include not using the masculine form systematically," said Miss Reimondez in a statement.

"I haven't invented this; it's nothing new, and, linguistically, one cannot find fault with it."


The row highlights the problems with translating works from English into those that use feminine and masculine words. For example. the word "teacher" in English could be either sex but in Galician there is a masculine and feminine form of the word.

Miss Reimondez said there were cases where "it is impossible to know the gender of a word, and one must be selected".


edit: My personal thoughts, at first blush: it is unclear from the article whether the translator brings up "refusing to reïnforce sexist stereotypes" and "refusing to stick to the genders chosen by the author" or whether that's the spin put on it by the media. The article seems to contradict itself. If the book refers to "a teacher" or "a rat named Toby" but there's no pronomial reference which specifies "he" for both, did the author indeed choose a gender, or did English leave it up in the air, and Galician forced the translator's hand to make a decision? In cases where the translator genuinely had to make a choice, what's wrong with consistently choosing female gender? Or translating "man" as "people", if the original sentence is "to boldly go where no man has gone before"? I definitely feel that literary translation is a creative process, and great translators improve and add to the works they are translating; this lawsuit [ed: of the translator protesting her wrongful dismissal -- I misread that as being against the translator at first] seems wrong-headed and stifling [ed: justified]. If a publisher wants to dictate details like how gender is rendered for gender-non-specific English nouns, they better spell it out in the contract. [ed: which, yes, is patent nonsense on a contract, as pointed out by a commenter -- I'm suggesting that this means they shouldn't tell their translators how to do their job period, provided the translations meet a certain professional standard. Their Galician editor can step in and correct minor discrepancies later, just as their English editor no doubt stepped in and corrected the author when the book was first published. These correction are not grounds for a firing, IMO.]

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