Great literary icons who dominated the 19th century Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo met in Paris in in 1846. But they said little to each other because of language. Hugo’s second language was Latin, while Dickens can speak only few French words. Therefore, they said little to each other. Many literary scholars continue to imagine what would have been the topic between the two writers whose works defined Britain and France – and indeed the 19th century.
Language was an obstruction to what would have turned out to be the subject of many scholarly works. Both writers shared one thing in common: great literary works that painted vivid picture of poverty and injustice. While discussions persist on the barrier erected by language between the two great writers, we can also imagine the magic of translation in opening the door of dialogue and exchange of ideas. If a translator surfaced, there would have been a discussion, or perhaps an exchange of ideas and more between Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo.
Translation is increasingly becoming a great communication tool. Cultural differences make translation very challenging but also a very fulfilling way of bridging the gap created by language. Translation is a great tool that has been elevated to an art. Like every other creative work, translation also involves making choices; of words, phrases, imagery and symbolism. Translators transform words and concepts that have no place in Hausa culture into Hausa. There are so many things and so many words that have no equivalent in the source or receiving language. All that translators do, in such a situation is to find a middle ground watered by phases and near alike words and expressions. The beauty of language is more glaring in translation by transmitting meaning of things that never exist or have no place in one culture. Technology and modern means of communication imply that translators are everyday challenged to come up with words that can convey the meaning of scientific and technological terms that can as much as possible convey the meaning of the original. Translation requires the translator to be more than well informed linguistically. It also requires a robust familiarity with cultural space of both source and the receiving languages.
It was through translation that the world discovered Leo Tolstoy whose works in Russian translated into many languages became reference points for the capacity of fiction to display universality of life, love, hatred, peace, conflicts and betrayal. His works can be described as a mirror giving the world a vivid reflection of realities of life in the Russia of his time. His masterpiece War and Peace has been severally described as one of the greatest works of fiction ever written, though with a cast of 580 characters. It was through translation that world discovered other Russian writers like Anton Chekov and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The translators of their works gave the world an opportunity to have a glimpse of the golden age of Russian literature.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez counts as one of the literary figures whose impact is universal. His works in Spanish got their way to world stage through Gregory Rabassa’s translation particularly of his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude. Rabassa who died in 2016 was described by Late Marquez as “……the only translator who has never asked for something to be clarified so he can put a footnote in. I think that my work has been completely re-created in English.” For this and other translations Rabassa is considered as the bridge whose translation brought major Latin American writers to the Anglophone world. After the world discovered realism of Marquez through Rabassa, translation began to get more attention.
Language is one of the areas in which the impact of colonialism is both complicated and lifelong – especially in Africa. An example of the complication is Nigeria and Niger republic; both have large Hausa speaking population but Nigeria is Anglophone while Niger is Francophone. While Nigerian writers write in English, Nigerien writers write in French. It is only translations, that can open to Nigerians works by Nigerien writers; and vice versa. Cheik Hamidou Kane, is a Senegalese writer famous for his seminal 1961 novel Ambiguous Adventure. Through Samba Diallo, the main character, the writer displayed tensed clash of western, Islamic and African culture. The crisis that consumed Samba Diallo is very familiar to almost all Africans. It is even more familiar to people from parts of Africa where; one finds himself as African, who is also a Muslim or Christian, whose life is also tasked with accepting ‘western ways.’ Though the novel was written in French but it was translated into English and other language. Many scholars, pointed out that, English translation was one of the reasons why the novel became a symbol of thorough interrogation faith, culture and reality in post-colonial Africa.
William Shakespeare was translated into over 80 languages. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was translated into over 50 languages. George Orwell’s 1984 was translated into over 65 languages. Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red was translated into over 60 languages. Tayyib Salih’s Season of Migration to the North was translated into over 30 languages. Bala A. Funtua translated Orwell’s Animal Farm into Hausa with the title Gandun Dabbobi.
Many languages owe their development to translation. In some countries funds are endowed for the translation of iconic works, as a means of both cultural communication and language development.
Translation is not always a perfect way of transmitting meaning from one language to another. There is always a question of faithfulness to both source and receiving languages. In some cases, the source language might be more resourceful and culturally broader than the receiving language. Here, the translator finds himself in a difficult situation. Another challenge for translators is a situation where the only way of transmitting meaning is by metaphrase; that is to translate literally or paraphrase. But can a translation possibly convey exact meaning? This is a question that scholars continue to debate. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace has so many translations, and every now and then new translations of the novel emerge; all of them trying to bring something as close as possible to the original text. A 17th century French literary critic summed up this trials of translation by suggesting that, “…translations, like women, can either be faithful or beautiful, but not both.”
But this quotation is also a translation.
Mr Sanusi is Abuja-based writer.