The Translator as Author

Rafa Lombardino

During the 56th Annual Conference organized November 4-7, 2015 by the American Translators Association (ATA) in Miami, I attended a presentation by the Literary Division entitled “The Translator as Author.” The panel was composed of Mercedes Guhl (administrator of ATA’s Literary Division), Abe Haak (translator from Arabic, French, and German) and Faiza Sultan (Arabic and Kurdish interpreter and translator.)

Abe Haak introduced the material, which focused on the theory and practice discussed in “The Translator as Author: Perspectives on Literary Translation, Proceedings of the International Conference,” an event that took place in Italy in 2009 to discuss the issue of authorship in translation.

The first topic the panel addressed was when it is acceptable for translators to delete or replace content from the book they are translating. Some examples included complementary information that supports central ideas, but become meaningless once removed from the original context: references to local history, characters, and rituals, as well as figures and statistics. In order to support the argument, a fragment of Julia Alvarez’s “How the García Girls Lost Their Accent” was mentioned, in which part of a dialog was omitted in the Spanish translation because it referred to the character’s accent, so it was turned into an explanation:

“Stop!” Carla cried. “Please stop.”
“Eh-stop!” they mimicked her. “Plees eh-stop.”

“¡Paren!”, lloró Carla. “Por favor, ¡paren!”
Los muchachos la remendaron, burlándose de su acento hispano en inglés.

(The boys mimicked her, making fun of her Hispanic accent in English.)

Another subject addressed by the panel was when an explanation or addition is welcome or even required. The scenarios presented included when the main idea could become confusing, contradictory, or plainly nonsensical once it is out of context. That would also be the case when cultural differences or historical references make more sense once they are supported by a brief explanation. Likewise, substitutions can be introduced by a translator when a statement or example is lost in translation and there are equivalent references, situations, or circumstances that can work as replacements.

Other subjects included adaptation (when information that is central to the text cannot be translated directly or replaced by an equivalent) and suppression (whether it is okay to remove passages that are considered inappropriate, and when it becomes censorship).

Lastly, Abe talked about the degrees of intimacy, when translators go from literalness to creativity, and the degrees of departure, that is, the level of interference they can resort to when intervening in the texts they are translating:

  • Notional departure = inspired by

  • Schematics departure = based on

  • Textual departure = translated from

“The farther you go into creativity, the less money you make, it seems,” Abe joked. “General interest books; that’s where you have to exercise most of your creativity,” Mercedes suggested


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RAFA LOMBARDINO is a translator and journalist from Brazil who lives in California. She is the author of "Tools and Technology in Translation ― The Profile of Beginning Language Professionals in the Digital Age," which is based on her UCSD Extension class. Rafa has been working as a translator since 1997 and, in 2011, started to join forces with self-published authors to translate their work into Portuguese and English. In addition to acting as content curator at eWordNews, a collective blog about translation and literature, she also runs Word Awareness, a small network of professional translators, and coordinates Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories (CBSS), a project to promote Brazilian literature worldwide.