Nil, Love and Zero – the Art of Translation

Have a sneak preview of Turkish-English translator, Feyza Howell’s article ‘A CORNUCOPIA OF TURKISH DELIGHTS’, written for the Insight Magazine for the London Book Fair

A cracking tale, a superbly crafted sentence, or an exquisitely expressed idea: the temptation to share these treats is too great to resist. Translating favourite books was the natural progression for me. I have learned a good deal along the way, and had a lot of fun too.

ImageA skilful literary translator must be thoroughly immersed in both cultures, be able to distinguish between nil and love and zero, develop a great working relationship with her author, and use her common sense on when to bend the rules. Some of the challenges in translating literature are common to all. How much to localise, for one: Elysian Fields (surely not!) or leave Champs-Elysées alone? Yet when Maureen Freely anglicises a street name into the Chickens Can’t Fly Alley in Istanbul: Memories of a City (Orhan Pamuk, p189), it fits like a silk glove.

Production tools often frustrate more than they assist: the most commonly used word processing programme refuses to accept that one document may contain words from a second, equally valid language. But other challenges are more specific.

Turkish, a member of the Altaic-Turkic family, lacks common roots with western European languages. As an agglutinative language, it yields up to 30% more words -of fewer syllables- when translated into English, which impacts upon the rhythm and melody.

Feyza Howell has translated a number of titles including Waste by Hakan Günday, and edited The Aziz Bey Incident by Ayfer Tunç. She is currently working on a number of Ahmet Ümit novels. Her translation of Madame Atatürk by İpek Çalışlar is due for publication by Saqi in the autumn.


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Filed under Balkan Literature, Contemporary European literature, contemporary literature, literature in translation, Turkey, Turkish Literature

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