It was not until I had reached the grand age of forty-five that I ended up in higher education and so my ‘academic career’ started rather late in life. As a lector first at the Paedagogical University of Erfurt, later to become the University of Erfurt, I found that there is no real pressure to obtain a doctorate or to write academic articles, but we are encouraged to develop forwards. I was invited to pursue a doctoral programme, which I did and completed in 2003. My subject was literary translation theory and in particular with special focus David Luke’s and Helen Lowe-Porter’s translations of the shorter works of Thomas Mann (‘Der Tod in Venedig’, ‘Tonio Kröger’ and ‘Tristan’). At first I was shocked at the frequency of howlers in the Lowe-Porter version and the low standard of the Luke versions, but my main interest was how to translate the ‘untranslatable’ in areas such as humour, dialect, philosophy and poetry.
There must be greater lexical freedom
Most translators are dictionary bound and most theoreticians are dazzled by the notion of equivalence. Any experienced translator knows that there often aren’t any equivalents in the foreign language (TL) and so a broader definition of translation is needed. Texts differ greatly in their intention and use – a legal contract, a poem, a comedy script, a religious ceremony, a joke – to name but a few. Here, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of language games is very useful. The translator should be playing the same game as the source text. Thus if you are translating a comedy script, the translation should aim at being equally amusing as the original. This means that there must be greater lexical freedom. As a pun is often by definition untranslatable as it will be based on a unique similarity in the source language, the translator must invent another pun on similar lines. At this point, the reader might object, ‘But is this translation?’ The answer is in the affirmative if the transcreation is successful as was the case with Gotter’s translations of British Restoration comedies. People often forget that these principles apply to the Bible. The highly poetic versions of the translations of the twenty-third psalm whether it be Martin Luther’s version or that of the King James’s Bible are both referred to as translations even though they are actually transcreations. I prefer to keep to the simple word ‘translation’ as long as the translation process is seen in a wider context.
Phonetics and translation theory
My dissertation and articles on translation theory all deal with the more detailed aspects of these theories. My other academic interest is in phonetics and in particular English rhythms. There is no taxonomy of English rhythms and empirical methods to define rhythms have so far failed (Cummings 2005) and yet this is a vital aspect of fluency in English. My practical solution to the problem both in teaching pronunciation and phonetics was to be found in nursery rhymes. English nursery rhymes have stood the test of time and they provide and informal compendium of English rhythms. Primary school children can absorb rhythmical aspects such as weakening, assimilation and pitch prominence unconsciously and pleasurably (from the release of opioid peptides onto the brain when rhythmical language is used).
These are the two main areas for my articles although I did stray into literary criticism with my article on Simon Lelic’s novel ‘Rupture’ which deals with the problem of bullying in school and at the workplace. However, it was Lelic’s ability to capture various registers in the spoken language which fascinated me with this novel.
I was invited to contribute an article to the 2011 centenary of the publication of ‘Death in Venice’ at the University of Dallas. However, the conference did not take place owing to a lack of contributions and the article remains unpublished except on this website. The theme of the conference was supposed to be the influence of Freud on Thomas Mann, but the main interest in my article is Wilhelm Jensen’s novella ‘Gradiva’ which obviously influenced Mann and has thus many parallels with ‘Death in Venice’.