All entries for May 2016

May 18, 2016

Translations and translating oral history

Angela Davis, University of Warwick

For my current project on the history of Jewish motherhood in Israel I am making use of several collections of interviews held at the Oral History Division of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Some of the interviews are only available to me as transcriptions and some I also have the audio recordings. Some of the interviews I am using were conducted in English. Some of the interviews were conducted in a range of other languages including Yiddish, German and French and then the transcripts from the original language were translated into English or Hebrew, and some of the interviews I am using were conducted in Hebrew and I am making my own translations of the transcripts into English. This is the first time I have conducted a multi-lingual research project and it raises many new questions for me. While I am familiar with thinking about the issues concerning the interviewer-interviewee relationship and the role of the interviewer, thinking about the role of the translator is something new for me. Indeed thinking about translation is encouraging me to think about the role of language more generally. As Basil Hatim and Ian Mason have argued: ‘Translation is a useful test case for examining the whole issue of the role of language in social life’ (1990, 1) Using translated interviews, or indeed translating interviews, raises many new interpretive challenges, with which I am currently struggling. On the one hand, if language determines experience (Bassnet 2013) where does this leave translation? Can we fully understand a person’s experiences if they have been translated out of their original language? Of course this raises further questions about interviews conducted in a language other than the interviewee’s mother tongue. There are other issues surrounding the role of the translator ‘who, by translating sources, not only creates new ones but can also alter the perception of the originals’ (259 ). Developing this point Bogusia Temple (1997) noted, when discussing translation and cross-cultural research, that ‘Translation/interpretation is inseparable from the application of a theoretical perspective. Both provide accounts which assume a position that has been constructed using a different language. If language constructs as well as describes a society, the figure of the interpreter/translator must come out from the behind the shadows’ (607) Addressing the impact of the translator on the transcripts I am considering is somewhat easier with the interviews I am conducting myself, I know a little of my own background and identity(!), but while the translator is usually named in the other transcripts I am analysing, I rarely am presented with any biographical details. Temple (2013) has reflected there are no definitive solutions to translation dilemmas, and there are multiple meanings in translations as there are in oral histories themselves, but she believes that neglecting the issues of translation has ethical implications.

References

Bassnett, S. (2013), Translation Studies (London and New York: Routledge), fourth edition.

Hatim, B. and I. Maon (1990), Discourse and the Translator (London and New York: Longman).

Institute of Contemporary Jewry. Division of Oral History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem http://www.hum.huji.ac.il/english/units.php?cat=4246

Müller, B. (2014), ‘Translating Trauma: David Boder's 1946 Interviews with Holocaust Survivors’, Translation & Literature 23:2, 257-271.

Temple, B. (1997), ‘Watch Your Tongue: Issues in Translation and Cross-Cultural Research’, Sociology 31:3, 607-618.

Temple, B. (2013), 'Casting a Wider Net: Reflecting on Translation in Oral History, Oral History, 41:2, 100-109.


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  • Thank you for this informative and useful blog. I agree that historians have much to gain from looki… by Alexander Freund on this entry
  • hi Angela, there are consent forms with the interviews that have been transcribed, but not with the … by Andrea Hajek on this entry
  • Hi Andrea. Just a quick follow up question – what paperwork actually exists for the interviews? Are … by Angela Davis on this entry
  • hi Angela, thanks for this. I too am working with some archived interviews, alongside conducting my … by Andrea Hajek on this entry
  • I was interested to read the angle of your initial blog as I am in the process of planning an oral h… by Nickianne Moody on this entry

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