Foreign Words, by Vassilis Alexakis, is an invitation au voyage, a book that takes us on a journey through time and space with the story teller as he travels from Paris where he lives as the book opens, to Greece where he grew up, and where his father has just died, to the Central African Republic as he undertakes the study of Sango.
Why learn Sango is a question the book's narrator himself has trouble answering. His ruminations on the surprising decision to study it are both humorous and penetrating. He traces events from his past (his early infatuation with Tarzan, a picture of his grandfather taken in Bangi before WWI, the death of his mother) and confronts his own mortality, suspecting that, at the age of fifty-two, he might be incapable of learning anything new, or summoning the courage to venture outside what he knows, or having amorous adventures.... He hopes to disprove such suspicions, of course. He also ruminates on his inability to write the phrase "my father is dead" in either of the two languages he knows, his native Greek, his adopted French.
All these themes, along with questions about French colonialism in Africa and the political reasons for his exile in France, are woven into an intimate portrait of a man struggling to come to terms with the death of his father and the fact that, in one of the book's more poignant lines, he is now "all alone one." In the midst of his Sango study (which we observe and take part in, learning Sango as he does), Alexakis's narrator discovers that he is able to write "baba ti mbi a kui," "my father is dead," in that language quite easily: it has no associations for him and carries none of his memories. Inevitably perhaps, as he acquires experience through the language, meets its living speakers, travels in the places where it grew up and has struggled to survive, his use of Sango changes. He grows more sensitive to its nuances, its music. And in the end, he finds himself unable, now in yet a third language, to utter the telling phrase.
The work is a profound meditation on language and loss, on the language of loss, and also on the power and magic of words--their power to change the way we see ourselves, their magic to renew our lives after hardship, loss, and death. The story is simultaneously filled with delicate suspense and emotional honesty, while the narration is full of humor, tender self-deprecation, and subtle irony.
As one reviewer has put it, the novel is "a new and wondrous meditation on languages, their lives, their death--the terrible moment when they have no more voice--on words that know everything and are able to give you back your memories, your history." Or as Alexakis's narrator says, "Languages return the interest you show in them. They tell you stories only to encourage you to tell your own.... Foreign words are compassionate. They are moved by the least little sentence you write in their language, and it doesn't matter if it's filled with mistakes."
None of Alexakis's other works has been published English. La langue maternelle (Mother Tongue, 1996) has been translated into Italian and German; Talgo (1983) and Pourquoi tu pleures? (Why Are You Crying? 1991) have also appeared in German.
This translation was generously supported by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States.
Click here to view sample pages of Foreign Words
Foreign Words--Schedule of Bilingual Readings with Author and Translator
In anticipation of the April 1, 2006 release of Foreign Words, by Vassilis Alexakis, translated by Alyson Waters, Autumn Hill Books would like to announce the following events. If you're in the area, please consider attending one or more! All events are co-sponsored by the Cultural Service of the French Embassy in New York.
Monday, March 20, 2006, 12:30 to 2:30 pm - Mr. Alexakis and Ms. Waters will read from his works at an event organized by Columbia University's Maison Francaise, in New York City. For additional information, contact Samuel Skippon at firstname.lastname@example.org (212.854.4482).
Tuesday, March 21, 2006, 4:30 pm - Mr. Alexakis and Ms. Waters will read from his works at an event organized by Yale University's Department of French and the Program of Hellenic Studies. The event will be held at Luce Hall in New Haven. For more information contact, Marianne Lyden at 203.432.3423.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006, 5:30 pm -Mr. Alexakis and Ms. Waters will read from his works at an event organized by Brown University's Department of French Studies, in Providence. For more information, contact Professor Reda Bensmaia at email@example.com.
Thursday, March 23, 2006, 5 pm - Mr. Alexakis and Ms. Waters will read from his works at an event organized by the University of Connecticut's Department of French and Francophone Studies. The event will be held in room 221 of the Arjona Building on the U Conn campus in Storrs, CT. For additional information, contact Roger Celestin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, March 24, 2006, 6 pm - Mr. Alexakis and Ms. Waters will read from his works at an event co-sponsored by the Greek Embassy and Politics and Prose Bookstore. The event will be held at the Greek Embassy, 2221 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. A public reception will follow. For additional information, contact Connie Mourtoupalas at email@example.com (202.332.2727).
Tuesday, March 28, 2006, 6 pm - Mr. Alexakis and Ms. Waters will read from his works at an event sponsored by the Greek Press Office and the Cathedral School in New York, City. A public reception will follow. For more information, contact Sonia Celestin (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Theodossis Demetracopoulis (email@example.com).
Friday, March 31, 2006, 7 pm - Mr. Alexakis and Ms. Waters will read from his works at Prairie Lights Bookstore. The event will be broadcast on Iowa Public Radio's "Live from Prairie Lights," which you can hear at http://wsui.uiowa.edu/prairie_lights.htm. Please tune in.
Self-translation is a translation of a source text into a target text by the writer of the source text.
Self-translation occurs in various writing situations. Since research on self-translation largely focuses on literary self-translation, this article will tend to have a similar focus.
The practice of self-translation has attracted critical attention especially since the beginning of this century, in the wake of intensive investigation into the field of non-authorial translation in the twentieth century. Literary self-translation has been recognized as a special branch of translation studies at least since the publication of the first edition of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies in 1998.
Within the study of translation, literary self-translation has been one of the most neglected practices. Until recently, very little research has been done in this area. Many studies focus on single authors, most of them on Samuel Beckett. Research topics are the reasons for self-translation, the methods of self-translation and the textual relation between both texts.
Types of self-translation
—Self-translation may result either from a regular activity of the author or from a merely sporadic experience, which may be due to a variety of reasons. The latter case is represented, for example, by James Joyce's self-translation into Italian of two passages from his "Work in Progress" (later entitled "Finnegans Wake"). Other relevant cases are the self-translations of Stefan George and Rainer Maria Rilke.—Self-translation may result from a process in which either the mother tongue or an acquired tongue is the source language, so that the target language varies accordingly. The latter case is represented by a few Belgian poets of the period between the two World Wars (among them Roger Avermaete and Camille Melloy), who self-translated their texts into Flemish shortly after completing the originals in the acquired yet fully mastered French language.—Self-translation may occur either some time after the original has been completed or during the process of creation, so that the two versions develop almost simultaneously and inevitably influence each other. These two types are sometimes referred to as consecutive self-translation and simultaneous self-translation.—Self-translation may even involve more than one target language, whether native or acquired. This is the case with authors like Fausto Cercignani, Alejandro Saravia, and Luigi Donato Ventura.
Factors that encourage self-translation
—The elitarian character of a specific language may encourage self-translation from this to a local language, for example from Latin to vernacular in medieval and early modern times.—The cultural dominance of a specific language in a multilingual society may encourage self-translation from a minority language to the dominant one.—The cultural dominance of the national language may encourage self-translation from a local dialect.—The cultural dominance of a specific language in the international context may encourage self-translation from a national language to an internationally recognized language like English. But English as a target language is more common in cases where the author migrates to an English-speaking country.—Perfect or almost perfect bilingualism may encourage self-translation in either direction, irrespective of market-related considerations.
-- Dissatisfaction with existing translations or distrust of translators may encourage self-translation, irrespective of market-related considerations.
Self-translation versus non-authorial translation
Irrespective of the intrinsic qualities of the secondary text, self-translations are often regarded as superior to non-authorial translations. This is because "the writer-translator is no doubt felt to have been in a better position to recapture the intentions of the author of the original than any ordinary translator". If not based on the intrinsic qualities of the secondary text, arguments against self-translation may reflect specific socio-cultural considerations or a desire to criticize dubious editorial practices.
To date, the most comprehensive overview of the history of self-translation is given by Jan Hokenson and Marcella Munson in their study The Bilingual Text: History and Theory of Literary Self-Translation. Some of the prominent self-translators are Chaucer,Thomas More,Vladimir Nabokov,Samuel Beckett,Karen Blixen,Chinghiz Aitmatov and Julien Green. According to Julio-César Santoyo the history of self-translation can be traced back to the Middle Ages.
Countries where literary self-translation is predominantly seen are Africa, China, France, India, Spain, and the United States.
Some of the prominent self-translators in Africa are Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o in Kenya and André Brink and Antjie Krog in South Africa. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o writes in Gĩkũyũ and English. André Brink and Antjie Krog are both writing in Afrikaans and English. In Algeria, we find a number of self-translators, like Rachid BOUUDJEDRA, Assia DJEBBAR and Mohammed SARI who used to translate their works from French into Arabic or vice-versa.
Canada has two official languages, English and French, and the national literature includes work in both languages. Nancy Huston, Antonio D'Alfonso, and other authors self-translate in both languages.
Lin Yutang (1895–1976) is one of the earliest self-translators from China. Another prominent self-translator is Eileen Chang, who translates some of her books into English.
Self-translators in France are mainly immigrant writers like Nancy Huston (French-English),Vassilis Alexakis (French-Greek) and Anne Weber (French-German)
Some of the prominent self-translators from India are Rabindranath Tagore,Girish Karnad,Kamala Das,Qurratulain Hyder.
Self-translations by Italian writers have been offered, at various times, by Fausto Cercignani,Italo Calvino,Beppe Fenoglio,Carlo Goldoni,Luigi Pirandello,Giuseppe Ungaretti, and others.
Self-translation is prominent amongst Catalan, Galician and Basque writers. The most well known self-translators are Carme Riera (Catalan-Spanish),Manuel Rivas (Galician-Spanish) and Bernardo Atxaga (Basque-Spanish).
Some of the prominent self-translators in the USA are Raymond Federman (English-French),Rosario Ferré (Spanish-English),Rolando Hinojosa-Smith (Spanish-English) and Ariel Dorfman (Spanish-English).
The song cycles "there..." and "Sing, Poetry" on the 2011 contemporary classical album Troika consist of musical settings of Russian poems with their English self-translations by Joseph Brodsky and Vladimir Nabokov, respectively.
Jung, Verena (2002): English-German Self-Translation of Academic Texts and its Relevance for Translation Theory and Practice Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
- Berlina, Alexandra (2014): Brodsky Translating Brodsky: Poetry in Self-Translation. New York: Bloomsbury.
- Beaujour, Elizabeth Klosty (1989): Alien Tongues: Bilingual Russian Writers of the 'First' Emigration. Ithaca: Cornell UP.
- Bessy, Marianne (2011): Vassilis Alexakis: Exorciser L'exil. Rodopi.
- Fitch, Brian T. (1988): Beckett and Babel: An Investigation into the State of the Bilingual Work. Toronto: U of Toronto P.
- Friedman, Alan Warren & Charles Rossman & Dina Sherzer (Eds.) (1987): Beckett translating/translating Beckett. Pennsylvania State UP.
- Grayson, Jane (1977): Nabokov Translated: A Comparison of Nabokov's Russian and English Prose. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
- Hokenson, Jan Walsh & Marcella Munson (2007): The Bilingual Text: History and Theory of Literary Self-Translation. Manchester: St. Jerome.
- Klünder, Ute (2000): "Ich werde ein grosses Kunstwerk schaffen...": Eine Untersuchung zum literarischen Grenzgängertum der zweisprachigen Dichterin Isak Dinesen / Karen Blixen. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
- Oustinoff, Michaël (2001): Bilinguisme d'écriture et auto-traduction: Julien Green, Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov. Paris: L'Harmattan.
- Santoyo, Julio César (2006): "Traducciones de author. Materiales para una bibliografía básica. In: Interculturalidad y Traducción 2, pp. 201–236.
- Sardin-Damestoy, Pascale (2002): Samuel Beckett autotraducteur ou l'art de 'l'empêchement', Arras: Artois Presses Université.
- ^ abAlan Warren Friedman, Charles Rossman, Dina Sherzer(Eds.) (1987): Beckett Translating/Translating Beckett. Pennsylvania State University Press.
- ^Grutman, Rainier (2009): "Self-translation". In: Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. Ed. Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge. pp. 257-260.
- ^See Jacqueline Risset, "Joyce Translates Joyce", in Comparative Criticism, 6 (1984), pp. 3-21, where Joyce's self-translation is regarded as an authorial variation of the text in progress.
- ^See Dieter Lamping, "Die literarische Übersetzung als de-zentrale Struktur: Das Paradigma der Selbstübersetzung", in Harald Kittel (ed.), Geschichte, System, Literarische Übersetzung / Histories, Systems, Literary Translations, Berlin, 1992, p. 212-227.
- ^See Rainier Grutman, "Self-translation", in Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha (eds.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, London, 2008, p. 258.
- ^Rainier Grutman, "Self-translation", in Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha (eds.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, London, 2008, p. 259.
- ^For a self-translation from Italian into German, English and French see 
- ^Alejandro Saravia is a Bolivian-Canadian writer. His poetry book Lettres de Nootka is written in English, French and Spanish.
- ^See Alide Cagidemetrio, "Trilinguismo letterario: il caso americano di Luigi Donato Ventura", in Furio Brugnolo e Vincenzo Orioles (eds.), Eteroglossia e plurilinguismo letterario. II. Plurilinguismo e letteratura, Roma, 2002, pp. 377-388.
- ^See Leonard Forster, The Poet's Tongues. Multilingualism in Literature, Cambridge, 1970, p. 30 ff.
- ^For Scotland and Ireland see Christopher Whyte, "Against Self-Translation", in Translation and Literature, 11/1 (2002), pp. 64-71 and Richard Brown, "Bog Poems and Book Poems. Doubleness, Self-Translation and Pun in Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon", in Neil Corcoran (ed.), The Chosen Ground. Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland, Bridgend, 1992, pp. 171-188. For a case from the former Soviet Union see Munnavarkhon Dadazhanova, "Both Are Primary. An Author's Translation is a Creative Re-Creation", in Soviet Studies in Literature, 20/4 (1984), pp. 67-79. For Catalan, Galician and Basque as opposed to (Castilian) Spanish see Pilar Arnau i Segarra et al. (eds.), Escribir entre dos lenguas. Escritores catalanes y la elección de la lengua literaria, Kassel, 2002; Christian Lagarde (ed.), Écrire en situation bilingue. Perpignan, 2004; Milton Azevedo, "Sobre les dues versions de Els Argonautes/Los Argonautas de Baltasar Porcel", in Suzanne S. Hintz et al. (eds.), Essays in Honor of Josep M. Sola-Sole. Linguistic and Literary Relations of Catalan and Castilian, New York, 1996, 53-67; Ute Heinemann, Schriftsteller als sprachliche Grenzgänger. Literarische Verarbeitung von Mehrsprachigkeit, Sprachkontakt und Sprachkonflikt in Barcelona. Wien, 1998. For Belgium's bilingual writers between and shortly after the World Wars see Rainier Grutman, "L'écrivain flamand et ses langues. Note sur la diglossie des périphéries", in Revue de l'Institut de sociologie, 60 (1990-1991), pp. 115-28 and R. G., "Bilinguisme et diglossie: comment penser la différence linguistique dans les littératures francophones?", in L. D'hulst et J.-M. Moura (eds.), Les études littéraires francophones: état des lieux, Lille, 2003, p. 113-126.
- ^For Luigi Pirandello as self-translator from Sicilian to Italian see Luciana Salibra, "Liolà. Pirandello autotraduttore dal siciliano", in Bolletino del Centro di Studi Filologici e Linguistici Siciliani, 13 (1977), pp. 257-292
- ^See, for example, Zarema Kumakhova, Joseph Brodsky as self-translator. Analysis of lexical changes in his self-translations, Dissertation, Michigan State University, 2005 and Elizabeth K. Beaujour, "Translation and Self-Translation", in Vladimir E. Alexandrov (ed.), The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov, New York, 1995, pp. 714-725
- ^Brian Fitch, Beckett and Babel: An Investigation into the State of the Bilingual Work, Toronto, 1988, p. 125.
- ^See Christopher Whyte, "Against Self-Translation", in Translation and Literature, 11/1 (2002), pp. 64-71
- ^Hokenson, Jan & Marcella Munson (2007): The Bilingual Text: History and Theory of Literary Self-Translation. St. Jerome Pub.
- ^Jane Grayson (1977): Nabokov Translated: A Comparison of Nabokov's Russian and English Prose. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
- ^Klünder, Ute (2000): "Ich werde ein grosses Kunstwerk schaffen...": Eine Untersuchung zum literarischen Grenzgängertum der zweisprachigen Dichterin Isak Dinesen / Karen Blixen. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht
- ^Shields, Kathleen (2007): "Green traducteur de lui-même". In Michael O'Dwyer. (ed.): Julien Green, diariste et essayiste. Oxford: Lang, pp. 229-240.
- ^Santoyo, Julio-César (2005): "Autotraducciones. Una perspectiva histórica". In: Meta : journal des traducteurs / Meta: Translators' Journal 50:3, pp. 858-867
- ^Oustinoff, Michaël (2001): Bilinguisme d'écriture et auto-traduction: Julien Green, Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov. Paris: L'Harmattan.
- ^ abTrivedi, Harish (2000): "Modern Indian Languages." In: The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation. Ed. Peter France. Oxford: OUP.
- ^Jean Alsina (2002): "Lectura y autotraducción en la narrativa española actual". In: Quimera 210, pp. 39-45. (in Spanish)
- ^Kenya in Translation. An Interview with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
- ^Brink, André (2003): "English and the Afrikaans Writer". In: Steven G. Kellman Switching languages. Translingual writers reflect on their craft. University of Nebraska Press, p. 218.
- ^Marshall, Christine (2007): "A change of tongue. Antjie Krog's Poetry in English". In: Scrutiny 2. Issues in English studies in southern Africa 12/1, pp. 77-92.
- ^Jessica Tsui Yan Li (2010): "Self-translation/rewriting: the female body in Eileen Chang's 'Jinsuo ji', the Rouge of the North, Yuannu¨ and 'the Golden Cangue'". In: Neohelicon 37/2 (Dec. 2010), pp. 391-403.
- ^Nancy Huston: A view from both sides
- ^Bessy, Marianne (2011): Vassilis Alexakis: Exorciser L'exil. Rodopi.
- ^Patrice Martin, Christophe Drevet (2001): La langue française vue d'ailleurs: 100 entretiens. Tarik Éditions, pp. 286-288. (in French).
- ^Sen, Anindya (2010) "Tagore's Self-Translations" in Muse India 33
- ^Pillai, Meena T.(2005) "Translating Her Story. A Woman in Quest of a Language" in Translation Today
- ^Asaduddin , M.(2008). "Lost/Found in Translation: Qurratulain Hyder as Self-Translator." The Annual of Urdu Studies. 23. pp 234-249.
- ^Domenico D'Oria, "Calvino traduit par Calvino", in Lectures, 4-5 (1980), pp. 177-193.
- ^Maria Corti, "Traduzione e autotraduzione in Beppe Fenoglio", in Premio Città di Monselice per una traduzione letteraria. Atti del seconda Convegno sui problemi della traduzione letteraria, 3 (1974), pp. 50-54.
- ^Gianfranco Folena, "Goldoni traduttore di se stesso", Comunicazione al Circolo linguistico-filologico di Padova (1972), later entitled "Il francese di Goldoni", in Atti del Colloquio dell'Accademia dei Lincei, Il Goldoni in Francia, Roma, 1972, pp. 71-76; Laurence Boudart, "Goldoni, traducteur de lui-même", in Çedille: Revista de Estudios Franceses, 4 (2008), pp. 45-55.
- ^Luciana Salibra, "Liolà. Pirandello autotraduttore dal siciliano", in Bolletino del Centro di Studi Filologici e Linguistici Siciliani, 13 (1977), pp. 257-292
- ^Giuseppe Ungaretti, traduit par lui-même et Jean Lescure, Collection bilingue de poésie, Paris, 1970; Giuseppe E. Sansone, "Ungaretti autotraduttore", in Lavoro Critico, 28 (1989), pp. 13-21.
- ^ abDasilva, Xosé Manuel (2009): "Autotraducirse en Galicia". Quaderns 16, pp.143-156. (in Spanish)
- ^Luisa Cotoner Cerdó (2011): "Variación cultural, técnicas y procedimientos estilísticos a propósito de las autotraducciones al castellano de Carme Riera". In: Tejuelo 10, pp. 10-28. (in Spanish)
- ^Garzia Garmendia, J. (2002): "Conversación con Bernardo Atxaga sobre la autotraducción de Obabakoak", Quimera 210, pp. 53-57. (in Spanish)
- ^Waters, Alyson (2011): "Filling in the blanks. Raymond Federman, Self-translator". In: Jeffrey R. Di Leo: Federman's Fictions. Innovation, Theory, and the Holocaust. SUNY Press, pp. 63-75.
- ^Rosario Ferré (1995): "On Destiny, Language, and Translation or: Ophelia Adrift on the C&O Canal". In: A. Dingwaney, (ed.): Between languages and cultures. Translation and cross-cultural texts. University of Pittsburgh Press, pp. 39-49.
- ^Barbara Strickland (2007): Crossing Literary Borders. Rolando Hinojosa-Smith. In: The Austin Chronicle, 28.08.1997.
- ^Ariel Dorfman (2004): Footnotes to a double life. In: Wendy Lesser: The genius of language. Fifteen writers reflect on their mother tongues. Pantheon Books, pp. 206-216.
- ^"Troika: Russia’s westerly poetry in three orchestral song cycles", Rideau Rouge Records, ASIN: B005USB24A, 2011.