translations

25Jun12

Working on the written translation of the research I had done on the social and labor challenges of domestic workers in India was more complicated than simply taking my English version and translating it into a comparable version of the local language. The primary audience, domestic workers, would mostly have no education or low-levels of education. Therefore, we wanted to create a DVD that would be accessible to those with low reading levels. However, we still thought it would be useful to create a written summary for women with higher levels of education, such as Standard 8-10. I know these women can be be very perceptive and sophisticated when it comes to understanding social concepts and dictates so it was difficult to figure out what aspects of the research to include and what to leave out. I wanted to keep the writing simple and accessible, and at the same time I didn’t want to omit relevant points that might help them to better understand the changing culture they found themselves in. For example, many of the domestic workers who participated in the research mentioned differences in the way they were treated by employers in extended, multi-generational families, versus the way they were treated by newly-emerging nuclear families in urban areas. I had quoted Qayum and Ray’s 2003 article, ‘Grappling with Modernity: India’s Respectable Classes and the Culture of Domestic Servitude’ but wondered whether the ideas were too complicated for this audience in a written form: Traditional concepts of servitude are conflicting with modern-day value systems and the idea that ‘servants’ are a necessary aspect of a household “sits uncomfortably with contemporary notions of privacy and ideologies of the nuclear family, especially in the more confined space of the apartment”.

To translate this properly, the translator would need to have an excellent grasp of English and then translate it, but also simplify  the entire meaning in such a way that women who are not familiar with academic-level writing in their own language can understand it clearly.

I was lucky to have found Suma Anil of Fourth Wave Foundation, as she takes her role as translator very seriously. After she worked on an initial draft, she decided to arrange a meeting with some domestic workers who had higher levels of education to ask their opinions of the translation. They sat and listened as she read the research in its entirety, which took about thirty minutes, and asked them for their feedback. They felt the level of the translation was too “high” for them in some places, and that this was basically due to their lack of education. Now Suma has gone back to work not so much on the translation, but to re-write it in such a way that it retains the original meaning in a layman’s language. Without an accessible level of the local language, the translation would essentially be incomprehensible for the domestic workers who want to read this research, and all the work we put into it would be useless. Going through this process of translating even such a short document of six pages, I realize just how critical it is to get the right translator.

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