A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Arabic Translation Using Urban Dictionary and Other Topics in Translating Shidyaq

Marcia Lynx Qualey at the Arabic Literature (in English) blog recently attended the Library of Arabic Literature workshop at Oxford and has two posts relating to accomplished translator Humphrey Davies and his translation of Ahmad Faris Shidyaq's novel (or something), Leg Over Leg.

Both posts deserve a read. Brief samples:

"What Does It Matter If ‘Leg Over Leg’ Is the ‘First Arabic Novel’? " 
There was a moment during Saturday’s Library of Arabic Literature (LAL) workshop in Oxford that could’ve been called the “Humphrey Davies & Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq fan club” moment:
Leg_over_leg34Al-Shidyaq was swooned over — in an academic sort of way — for writing the pre-modern-post-modern, genre-bending, gender-bending Leg Over Leg (1855), while Humphrey Davies got his accolades for bringing the book’s insight and exuberance into page-rocking English, with French-English translator Richard Sieburth comparing Davies’ wordwork to Byron’s with its “jolting, jovial quality.”
"Humphrey Davies on ‘Representational Translation’ and the Uses of Urban Dictionary and Google Translate"
This was, he said, the lists of words that are like a “magical invocation” in Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s text, through which “an almost surreal affect is achieved.”
“In the middle of a sentence,” Davies said, “you may get a list of words with no definition. Obscure, arcane words; words he did not expect you to know.”An attempt to achieve a one-to-one correspondence of these words, Arabic to English, would be doomed to some kind of failure, Davies said. Indeed, researching the meanings of words and trying to map them to English just didn’t work. “Even if the English language has 248 words for pudendum, you can be pretty much certain that those 248 words will not map accurately onto the words you found in Shidyaq.”
“So I started experimenting with other approaches.”
In the middle of one list, where the narrator is speaking of the charms of women, he also gives antonyms, some of which Davies read off on Saturday: “runts, trolls, long-necked pinheads…”
“And I took these from the Urban Dictionary online,” he said.

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