ELTeCTiT : ELTeC Titles in Translation

(I haven’t posted here since last October. I expect it’s lockdown keeping me quiet. But this morning I did manage to dream up quite an interesting research proposal, which I post here for now.)

The ELTeC corpora were designed explicitly and deliberately [ref design criteria] to exclude translated works. [quote] Despite this principled design decision, it seems self-evident that analysis of the mechanisms and results of the cross-cultural dispersal of the novel across Europe – which emphatically is within the scope of the ELTeC project – depended largely if not entirely on the availability of works in translation. It seems probable that the spread of the novel as a popular form was largely determined by the success of particular works, or classes of work, in translation; in particular, we may surmise, those works which responded to common social problems and common cultural trends. Novelists in the traditions from which those works sprang influenced novelists working in entirely different cultural milieux; just as writers raised in other traditions may be presumed to have influenced the development of what we now perceive as a unified European culture by providing easily assimilated versions of the exotic.

Although some multi-lingual expertise was undoubtedly prevalent during this period, the availability of translated versions of novels must have been essential to this diffusion, in both directions. But even basic data about the scale and scope of translations over the period covered by the ELTeC (1840 to 1920) is hard to find [refs needed] being largely diffused across national library catalogues which vary in the extent to which such works are associated with their originals, and rarely give any indication of the exact pedigree of any translation. It seems probable for example that translations into some target languages (say Romanian) would have started not from the version in the original language (say English) but from some other more accessible L2 (say French), but this is hard to determine without substantial research into individual titles and authors. Even harder to find or quantify is any information about the linguistic skills or preferences of a novel’s intended or actual readership. While it is highly probable that the languages of the great imperial powers (English, French, German) would be widely understood in those countries directly under the political or cultural influence of those powers, the extent to which they would be considered appropriate vehicles for reading for pleasure is less clear.

There are many theoretical and formal difficulties associated with any investigation of the relationship between a source and its translation, particularly (perhaps) for works of a literary nature. Translation, like speech itself, is one of the more inexplicable human behaviours. It ought not to be possible, and yet it is done, apparently more or less successfully, every day. [For an entertaining and accessible discussion, written from the perspective of a professional translator, see David Bellos “Is that a fish in your ear?” (2011)] We do not propose to address any such issues in this project, though we may provide some indicative data points to help us others do so. Our goals are more modest. Each completed ELTeC corpus already provides us with a sample of novel production in a given language within a given time frame, hopefully more or less well balanced with respect to date, size, authorship, and impact. We propose to enrich this list of titles with bibliographic data about all translated versions published within a short period (say 15 years) of their first appearance, recording for example the target language, the translated title, date and other details of publication, the translator’s name, and (where this can be determined) the source of the translation. This data will of course be provided in an open format compatible with existing ELTeC deliverables.

Amongst other research questions which availability of this data should address, we identify at least the following:

  • To assess “impact” or “persistence” of titles, the ELTeC corpora rely on a simple reprint count. Do translation counts complement or contradict this classification?

  • Are translation counts statistically correlated with any of the ELTeC classification criteria? That is, where a given collection shows an imbalance for a given criterion, is this also reflected in the translation count?

  • What patterns are discernible in the L1/L2 pairings manifested by our data: for example, which languages are most frequently translated into for each source language?

  • Is there any correlation between stylistic properties of a given group of sources and the languages into which they are translated? Crudely speaking, are romances more often translated into romance languages?

     

Where translated texts are available in digital form, it would be easy also to provide an ELTeC encoded version, using existing production pipelines. At this stage in the project, it is impossible to say whether this will be feasible on a sufficiently large scale to constitute true parallel ELTeC corpora: it would in any case require significant investment of time and effort from the existing ELTeC partners, whereas the collection of metadata can be done more simply.

Lou Burnard

February 2021