Academic journal article Scottish Literary Review

Changing Perspectives: Translations of Scottish Twentieth-Century Poetry into German

Academic journal article Scottish Literary Review

Changing Perspectives: Translations of Scottish Twentieth-Century Poetry into German

Article excerpt


This essay explores the implications of perspectivity for translating, and reading translations of, Scottish twentieth-century poetry. After outlining the general role of perspectivity and perspective change in translation, it focuses on issues of language and culture, using Iain Galbraith's 2011 anthology Beredter Norden as an example. In particular, it discusses ways of dealing with the heteroglossia of Scottish poetry (English, Scots and its dialects, and Gaelic) and with various types of reference to Scottish culture. The theoretical basis is a functional approach to translation, which can accommodate different translation strategies depending on the goal(s) pursued.


How do perspectives on Scotland change in translation, and how are they changed by translators? To answer this question, I shall begin by briefly examining the general role of perspectivity and perspective change in translation, and then proceed to explore the way in which they affect issues of language and culture in translations of Scottish twentieth-century poetry into German. My examples will be taken from Iain Galbraith's 2011 volume Beredter Norden ('Eloquent North'), a 543-page en-face anthology that includes poems by sixty-six poets from John Davidson to Jen Hadfield. (1) Among the few anthologies of Scottish poetry available in German, this is by far the most voluminous and, arguably, the most sophisticated. My aim will be to show how the concept of perspective change can open up new ways of thinking about translation in a Scottish context.

What does it mean to speak of perspective change in and through translation? The concept is not widely used in translation studies. In fact, to my knowledge, Hans J. Vermeer is the only translation theorist who discusses perspectivity in any detail. (2) For Vermeer, perspective means 'not only, narrowly speaking, the angle of vision proper, but any kind of emotional and rational perception with one or more senses, including hearing, taste, etc. [...] Perspectivity means that any sensory perceptions are possible from one situationally specific angle only and that there can consequently be no objectivity (or neutrality).' (3) In perceiving something, we focus on some aspects to the exclusion of others. Cognition is therefore dominated by perspectivity, and since all perspectives are individual, cognition is inevitably relative.

In the following, I shall concentrate on three changeable elements of perspectivity that are pertinent to translation. Firstly, perspectivity involves something that is being viewed and something else that is not being viewed. The fact that all perspectives are reductive enables a focus on what is considered relevant at a given moment. This can either be changed by translators, or it can change through translation. For instance, Heidi Pruger chooses to change perspectives by setting her translation of Tom Leonard's 'right inuff' in Austria rather than Scotland (pp. 247/249), but perspectives on the language of 'right inuff' will change in any translation, irrespective of the translator's choices, since the language itself will change. Secondly, the phenomena in question are being viewed by somebody, such as a translator, reader, or critic. It is important to note that the viewer is always an individual, and that one individual has no direct access to another's perspective. This implies, among other things, that a translation as received by a reader or critic may be quite different from the 'same' translation as produced by the translator, and that, while the perspectives of members of a group (e.g. German readers) may overlap, they will never be entirely homogeneous. (5) Thirdly, in viewing a phenomenon the viewer chooses a vantage point, which in translation can be--to name but a few examples--source-cultural, target-cultural, political, source-linguistic, target-linguistic, or situational. For instance, it makes a difference whether 'right inuff' is translated from a Scottish or a class perspective: a translation into, say, Kanak Sprak (the German sociolect associated with Turkish immigrants) would probably be considered less appropriate to the former than to the latter. …

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