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Kh.Mergen: Capturing the intention of the author is more important than word-for-word translation in literature

Trans. by B.DULGUUN

Translators play an important role for introducing cultures and traditions, and sharing news of other countries whether it’s through translated literature, animation, film or news. In reverse, they translate domestic material to foreign languages and help talented local writers and authors gain international recognition.
State Honored Worker Kh.Mergen is a Mongolian translator who has translated more than 800 films since he joined the Mongolian National Broadcaster in early 1990s. His father was Honored Cultural Worker, book critic and translator Ts.Khasbaatar.
Kh.Mergen’s occupation requires him to translate 370-minute-long films (around three films) every month. He translates foreign and Mongolian books during his leisure time but hasn’t had the time to do them due to daily work. The following is an interview with Kh.Mergen about his work and other matters.

Last year, you said you were translating a book. Have you finished?

I translated a book on ancient Greek and Roman mythologies, but it hasn’t been published yet. I wanted to translate this book ever since I was a student.
I became interested in ancient Greek and Roman literature through classicist A.A. Takho-Godi, who taught me literature at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow, Russia. She used to read us “The Odysseus” and “The Iliad” journals in ancient Greek language.
On the half-term exam, we were supposed to draw our examination questions, but before I started answering Professor A.A. Takho-Godi asked me how ancient Greek people greeted Dionysos. I answered with just two words, “Khaira Adonis”, and she passed me with a top mark. I always thought I should contribute to my nation somehow after I studied at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute for five years with a scholarship from the Mongolian government.
European painters, craftsmen and authors created countless works inspired by mythologies of Hercules, Apollo and Daphne since the Renaissance. Mongolian artists were inspired by these works and made many wonderful paintings and sculptures, but if they visualized their art without understanding the deeper meanings, and these art works are imperfect. My new translated book will become the key to decoding and understanding everything. For instance, I didn’t know the meaning of artist Peter Paul Ruben’s “Perseus and Andromeda” painting when I was young. There is a very interesting, long book about Perseus, which tells about all sorts of unimaginable and exotic adventures. One time, Perseus meets the Stygian witches, three sister witches who share one eye, to have them tell him the route to a certain place. But Stygian witches told the route to no one so Perseus hid and snatched the eye and made them tell him the route.

How do you choose the books you translate?

My father once told me that literature influences people whether it’s good or bad, and that I should always consider if a book will influence people’s minds negatively before translating. I efficiently used my leisure time to translate the book on ancient Greek and Roman mythology, but other works were completed through work order.
While I was busy translating “Romeo and Juliet”, I was told to translate five more William Shakespeare works within the scope of Shakespeare’s Friends in Mongolia Program, which was started by Globe International in 1999. I studied Shakespeare’s works during class but classic literature seemed too complicated for me. I became interested in translating “Romeo and Juliet” after watching the film directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Shakespeare’s works are like diamonds with many crystals. I’d be content if my translation portrays at least one side of his work.

You never read Ch.Chimed’s translation of “Romeo and Juliet” when doing your own translation. Did you compare it afterwards?

Yes. She had used words I had never used before. For example, “khuyaglan khurge” (put on armor). It seems that the word “khuyag” (armor) was used often during the 1930s, the period in which Chimed grew up. I believe I translated it as “khargalzan khurge” (take into consideration). A good study can be made by comparing Ch.Chimed’s translation with the original. Unfortunately, films are released everyday so I don’t have much free time. Our job is the same as dumping fuel into a power station’s furnace.

Have you watched director N.Naranbaatar’s “Romeo and Juliet”?

The script was based on my translation and added some lines which seemed more accurate. This was a good decision as it’s possible that someone else expressed my imperfect translations more accurately.
I was deeply moved while watching the play. But now that I think about it, the modern dance and fast setting seemed to have overshadowed the tragic theme. Shakespeare’s plays should all be different so it was quite good.

Shakespeare’s works live in the hearts of many people even to this day. What do you think is the reason for this?

His plays show happiness and sadness of both nobles and peasants. For example, there’s a conversation between a couple of musicians in “Romeo and Juliet”. To them, Juliet’s death isn’t important or significant. They decide to go home after eating at a banquet. This is what matters to them.
Shakespeare’s works aren’t fantastical or far from reality. In other words, the relations between men and women, father and son, and the good and bad qualities of people haven’t changed even now.

Don’t you find Shakespeare to be a cunning person for expressing the greatness of love through the deaths of Romeo and Juliet?

Tragic and unsuccessful love is considered as romantic. If it had a happy ending, it would’ve been just another love story. Rasul Gamzatov said that if someone is able to make Romeo and Juliet live, marry and write about their future together, they would be considered as a true novelist.

Have you ever wanted to alter your translation from the original?

There are two types of translations: poet’s translation and translator’s translation. Translator Tatiana Shchepkina-Kupernik translated Shakespeare’s works word-to-word, whereas poet Boris Pasternak did a poet’s translation. Translator’s translation is more faithful to the original but a poet’s translation has more sharp language and is fancier.
It’s better to choose a poet’s translation for a stage performance. That’s why, most theaters have used Pasternak’s translation.
It’s very depressing and hard if I’m unable to portray something as well as the original writer when I’m translating. I agonize thinking about why I can’t express something the way the writer intended it and knowing that there is a perfect translation out there somewhere, though in different words.

You said in another interview that you become the characters in the book while translating. Is there a role that captivated you the most and made you want to become that character?

One principle at Russian translation schools is to become the story’s character and dive into their emotion. Russian schools for translators view literature translations as another form of literature. I realized that the things you learn during youth returns and becomes a habit afterwards.
I didn’t listen to my father and learned English language way too late. Now my English skills aren’t that good. Tugsjargalmaa, who worked in a Mongolian radio station for many years, once said that Russian translators actually improve the original writing. She found Russian translations of O.Henry’s short stories hilarious, but the original English version not so funny.
I find words to be the most challenging artistic tool. While painters render their thoughts and ideas through lines and colors, writers use words. Words are abstract but is able to dive into people’s emotions and “create” joy, happiness, sadness and realization. For a while, people talked about reducing the duration of literature lessons. I wondered what kind of strange-minded people came up with that idea.
Literature is a compulsory subject in American colleges. It’s considered an essential, particularly for professions that communicate with many people such as economists, managers, judges, lawyers and social workers. These people have to be able to state their opinions accurately and precisely.

As technology advances and information technology develops, Mongolians are using more foreign words. Should these words be translated or Mongolianized to sound more like Mongolian words?

Russian scholars frequently argued on this issue in the 19th century. There are countless words that have been changed to sound more Russian and don’t sound foreign. Words like “telega” (cart) and “kumach” (red cloth)  in Russian originated from Mongolian words.
I don’t think it’s necessary to insist on making everything Mongolian since languages take what’s necessary and throw away what’s not. I heard that Japanese people take in new words after changing the pronunciation to suit Japanese intonation. I have an idea to start writing foreign words with Mongolian intonation. For instance, Mongolians are used to writing “uran” (uranium) with one “a” due to Russian influences although it’s pronounced “uraan”. Radio and television commentators might misread it during live broadcasts. Music researcher Ch.Buyankhushig pointed out that some people read Tosca opera with an unemphasized “o” sound. Of course, people who don’t know foreign language would read it however they see fit.

Do you have any more books you want to translate?

I really want to translate “Lir Van”. There are tons of literature I want to translate, but I can’t seem to find time. Mongolian students were sent to Russian schools to actually do Russian-Mongolian translations. Recalling this, I combined Khalkh, Oirat, Inner Mongolian and Kalmyk Mongolian legends and translated them into Russian. My Buryat friends in Ulaan-Uud published the book. Legends will surely never become old. The book is getting good reviews.

Source: Unuudur

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=17120

Posted by on Nov 27 2015. Filed under Prime Interview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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