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Wearing souls

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58abc13b68681_Idobelievethatwhenwetranslateweputontheidentityofthenarrator..thumb.jpg.79180f06f56b464e316a03b54a86c2fc.jpgThe creepiest translation I've ever done was that of Ted Bundy's final interview. In a way, it was ”nothing special.” There was no bloody gore in it, no step-by-step accounts of his murders — just his talking about what had led him to become the beast he’d become, and how he felt about it.

Yet, I had my fingers trembling for hours after I’d finished it, and nightmares for several weeks afterward (which still revisit me every now and then).

All the while, I kept thinking, “What the hell is going on?”


Fast-forward ten years or so, we had a webinar on transcreation with Tanya Quintieri (sorry for mentioning your name in this context, Tanya!). Among other things, she mentioned that in her translated copies there’s “not a single bit of Tanya” — it’s 100% her client’s voice. I replied that perhaps such “wearing masks and playing roles” is a natural part of a translator’s work — and noted jokingly that it could even be hazardous for one’s mental health.

But, jokes or not, I do believe that when we translate we “put on” the identity of the narrator.

It’s kind of funny when you are working on a contract and at some point start feeling for that imaginary lawyer who so genuinely cares about ”the Contractor’s being fully responsible and liable for any action, omission, negligence or misconduct of its Personnel.”

When you are translating the words of a serial killer, it’s anything but.

Digesting these words, and thinking these thoughts — thoughts of a person who had murdered more than a hundred people and was about to be electrocuted to death in less than 24 hours — made me, in a tiny but frighteningly perceivable way, become that person. My fingers are trembling as I’m writing this — so I guess a Bundy scarecrow is there to stay in the darkest convolutions of my brain.

But, on the upside, it’s a reminder for me to take seriously the mental effects — and aftereffects — of my work.

Ever since, I don’t take on jobs that I don’t feel like doing. 

And I don’t put on masks that I don’t feel like wearing.

Do you?

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  • Blog Comments

    • Don't make exuses. I just wanted to compare me and you so used some of your phrases. I would add some more observations. Some of us need to learn something new every day. I can't work for the only company for more than few years. It’s exciting to work for some manufacturer at the very beginning. Finally, I just can't stand the same set of words and facts every day. Are you talkative? Actually, I’m not. My social media posts in native language are usually brief. However, I may seem a chatterbox when speaking English. Why? I hate reproducing things that are clear or known to me, if in native, as my brain gets no stuff to process and most of talks get annoying. However, speaking foreign language is a process taking some mental efforts therefore it is interesting no matter what’s the topic. I believe those born to be translators/interpreters are in need of continuous mental work and development. So, may be we are not compensating but keep developing futher.
    • Sorry if I made it sound disrespectful to the technical translators out there — not intended! What makes us tick is definitely something individual for each one of us. An interesting observation: You have no tech background and love translating tech texts, I have none in humanities and that’s what I focus on. Are we compensating, maybe?  
    • Most of all it depends on a kind of translator you are. I'm doing air pump jobs and do like it learning something new in the area of exact sciences every day. As I havn't got any engineering background, tech texts are a kind of puzzle for me and I'm quite successful in solving them now. Various tests I passed to get jobs made me a translator. They trained me to identify challenges of tech texts and find solutions to succeed. However you're a transcreator, I suppose. So may be a curiosity and strong communication wills made you?
    • Thanks, Igor! This was (almost) as hilarious as the video Guys who are reading this: Igor’s post was published on our company blog and sent out to 30,000 readers on Wednesday. Want to boost your online presence? Write up now!
    • Thanks, @Hadie!
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