The Art of Translation, Part 2: The Myth of the “Literal Translation”

by Bill Grandy

“The Art of Translation” is an ongoing series of articles covering translation as it pertains to HEMA source material. It will feature tips, resources, original translations and more.

dictionary-1172442An American woman was visiting Italy enjoying her delicious gelato. Her conversational Italian was quite good, and she complimented the store employees on how much she liked her frozen treat, informing them that in America, ice cream is full of preservatives. Everyone in the store turned to look in revulsion. It took a short discussion to figure out why they had reacted so strongly. She had used the Italian word, “preservativo”, which she correctly understood to literally translate into English as “preservative”. The problem, though, is that Italians don’t use that word to mean additives in food… they use it to refer to prophylactics. She had told everyone in the store that Americans put condoms in their ice cream.

This embarrassing story highlights a myth that has become more and more common in the HEMA community: The myth that translations are supposed to be as literal as possible. Continue reading

Advertisements

The Art of Translation, Part 1: What Makes a Good Translation?

by David Rowe

“The Art of Translation” is an ongoing series of articles covering translation as it pertains to HEMA source material. It will feature tips, resources, original translations and more.

At least it’s better than Google translate.

Scholars and practitioners of Historical European Martial Arts, unlike other forms of martial arts, are reliant on the historical treatises which document the fighting styles that we study. For most of the arts that are practiced within HEMA, we lack the direct, extant living tradition handed down over generations, passed on from master to student as you can find in classical Asian sword arts. Because of this, HEMA practitioners are at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding the arts that we study, as most HEMA treatises appear to have been intended not as how-to guides for beginners, but as study aids, teachers’ notes, or advanced instruction for competent fencers.  Attempting to learn to fight solely from a book is already nearly if not entirely impossible, and most practitioners will find it necessary to borrow from living traditions to fill in or inform the gaps that exist within the treatises. While that topic is worthy of its own article, the goal here will instead be to discuss what qualifies a translation as being an accurate representation of the original text in the study of HEMA. Continue reading