Question Bank for Translator Interviews

Questions and Issues to help you think about your translation. Don’t think you need to have a clearly defined theory of translation. Many great translators assert that such theories are useless for translation. What we’re asking you to do is reflect on your process and give us some insight on what you learned from translating the Tales. As you address any of these questions, specific examples—especially ones that demonstrate the challenge and benefits of translating Chaucer—would be good.

Thinking about the conditions of your translation

  1. What brought you to translating this text? Have you translated other texts? Do you write in genres other than translation?
  2. Is the language you translated into your native language? If not, how did you acquire it?
  3. Did you see yourself introducing an otherwise unknown or unrecognized work? Or were you making a more generally known work better known to a wider range of readers?
  4. How do The Canterbury Tales and/or Chaucer fit into your language’s literary culture? How did they enter the culture? When?
  5. What role did the publisher (or the lack of one) play in shaping the translation?
  6. Who was your imagined audience? How did that audience shape the translation?
  7. Was the translation commissioned? By whom? Why? If it was not commissioned, why did you take up the translation?
  8. Has The Canterbury Tales been translated before into your language? If so, how does your translation differ? If not, why do you think it had not been translated before.

Thinking about your prior experience with Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales

  1. Under what situations or conditions did you first encounter Chaucer? What about subsequent encounters?
  2. In what language did you first encounter Chaucer? Present Day English or Middle English? What about subsequent encounters with Chaucer?
  3. How would you describe your knowledge of Present Day English and/or Middle English?

Thinking back on the larger process of translation

  1. Which text did you use as your base text? Middle English? Present Day English? Other? Combination? Which editions?
  2. Which dictionaries or grammars did you consult?
  3. Did you consult any social, political, or cultural histories on fourteenth-century England? If so, which ones?
  4. Did you start with a defined translation strategy? If so, how would you describe it? How did you select it?
  5. Did you discover a new translation strategy in the process? If so, how would you describe it?
  6. How important to you was it to make your presence either visible or invisible in the translation?
  7. How did revision figure into your process?
  8. Is it possible to or did you imagine the process as a partnership or a collaboration with Chaucer that spans 600 years?
  9. One way to consider translation is to imagine yourself as performing the role of Chaucer writing in your language, doing for him what he didn’t have a chance to do himself. Does this approach apply to you?

 Thinking about the challenges of translating into your language

  1. If your country is not monolingual, how did you decide which language to translate into?
  2. What are the lexical and semantic incongruities between the two languages? How does your translation deal with those?
  3. When you encountered a (Middle) English word with multiple meanings, how did you choose which meaning to translate?
  4. How did you deal with untranslatable or nonparallel terms and concepts?
  5. Did you intentionally incorporate anachronisms? If so, why and how? How do they shape your translation?  Are there other ways you dealt with the archaic language of fourteenth-century English?
  6. Did you invent words (such as portmanteaus) or bring over words from the Middle or Present Day English?
  7. How did you deal with the specialized terms—religious, scientific, legal, or economic—of fourteenth-century English culture?
  8. How did you translate Middle English idioms, jargon, slang, and colloquialisms?
  9. How did you translate foreign words that appear as foreign words in Chaucer’s text?
  10. How did you deal with names of people and places? Does your language have a naming system that you had to consider or accommodate?
  11. Were there any particularly difficult metaphors or similes to translate? Could you give an example and show how you handled it?
  12. How did you handle aphorisms?
  13. How did you handle word play?
  14. How did you handle metaphors and other figurative language

What are the syntactical and grammatical incongruities between the two languages? How does your translation deal with those?

  1. What role does word order play in your language? How did that freedom or stricture shape your translation?
  2. Which did you tend to prefer, semantic precision or a word order more natural to your language?
  3. Does your translation experiment with non-standard linguistic and syntactic forms in your language?

What are the stylistic incongruities between the two literary traditions? How does your translation deal with those?

  1. In what ways were you either able or unable to carry over Chaucer’s style? Did your strategies vary from one tale to the next?
  2. How did you convey larger stylistic considerations, such as end-rhyme, prose vs. verse, and different stanza types?
  3. Were there issues of character implicit in the language? If so, how did you handle those linguistic traits?
  4. Did the Middle English or Present Day English convey a particular tone? If so, how did you handle that?
  5. What significant cultural incongruities between your contemporary society and Chaucer’s fourteenth-century England were conveyed in your translation and how?
  6. How does your translation accommodate medieval England’s gender, sexual, ethical, religious, political, and economic values to the values of your culture?
  7. How did you deal with the gender and sexual issues?
  8. How did you deal with the socio-economic hierarchies?
  9. How did you deal with ethical and religious values?
  10. How did you deal with different political systems?
  11. Were parts of Chaucer’s text untranslatable?
  12. What role did the auditory nature of either language play in your translation?

Thinking about your translation as an interpretation

  1. Which tales did you choose? Why do you select those?
  2. The Canterbury Tales is a fragmentary text. Did you attempt to convey this discontinuity? Or did you attempt to give the text the appearance of unity?
  3. Did your imagined audience shape or influence your translation?
  4. How did you deal with ambiguities in the text?
  5. How was your translation shaped by the received interpretation (either in your home university or English-speaking universities) of Chaucer’s texts? Can you speak to that, perhaps with an example where you made a deliberate choice to go with one choice rather than another?
  6. Did you omit elements, large or small, in your translation? Here, we are thinking of gender, sexual, ethical, religious, political, and economic values that might be seen as antithetical to your culture’s values.
  7. In which places did movement from English to your language require the translation to diverge from standard interpretations of the text?
  8. Did you use techniques (such as metatext or non-standard forms) to draw attention to the text as a translation?
  9. What surprises did you have?
  10. What do you now know (either about Chaucer’s text or the process of translation) that you didn’t know before you began the translation process?

Thinking about the finished translation

  1. Has your translation been published? If so, by whom? When? How many copies? How many editions?
  2. If it has been published, where does your name appear?
  3. Do an introduction, notes, glossaries, or illustrations supplement your translation? Were you responsible for these? If not, who was?
  4. What have the sales of your translation been like?

Thinking about the cultural consequences of your translations

  1. What sort of linguistic and aesthetic energies does your translation introduce from Chaucer’s English into your language?
  2. Does your translation disrupt or critique the cultural practices prevailing in your culture?
  3. Does Chaucer provide new a vocabulary that enlarges your language’s semantic range?
  4. How does the presence of your translation maintain or revise the literary canon in your culture?
  5. What relationship does your translation have to other texts written in your language?
  6. Have other adaptations or further translations been based on yours?
  7. What do Chaucer and his Tales have to offer your culture and literary tradition?
  8. Do you see your translation as part of a body of any other translations into your language?

Thinking about the personal consequences of your translation

  1. What sorts of rights do the copyright laws in your country provide you?
  2. Have you received any remuneration? What sort? How much? At what point in the process?
  3. Did the translation and its publication receive any institutional financial support? If so, what sort and how much?
  4. Did you receive credit in your academic portfolio for the translation?
  5. How did translating Chaucer affect your own writing style in other endeavors?

Thinking about your translation in the larger world of Chaucer’s reception

  1. What have you learned through the translation process about Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales? Do you have insights that you believe were a direct result of your intimacy with the text that translation requires?
  2. Do you see your translation as part of a lineage of Chaucerian translations (either into your language or other languages)?


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