Does Collaborative Translation Mean More Accuracy?

In Discussion by Hannah Johnson

By Hannah Johnson

There are many points of view on how to “correctly” translate a work of literature. Beyond the literal meanings of the words, a translator must capture the implications, the tone, the feeling of the original work — not an easy task.

Some translators like to work in isolation, so that they are not influenced by the decisions previous translators have made. Others like to do as much research as they can and and take into account what others have done.

Benjamin Moser writes about a re-translation of Brazilian author Clarice Lispector. Moser, who serves as the series editor on behalf of New Directions, will work with four  translators who will each work on individual volumes to present the author’s body of work in a unified voice.

In the past, some publishers have gone a step further to get the voice right. When 50th anniversary editions The Tin Drum were being re-translated Gunter Grass took a group of translators back to Gdansk in Poland (formerly the German city of Danzig) to see the places in the book, ask questions, and collaborate.

For those nagging issues that are hard to solve on your own, a collective effort is certainly a help. But does it also sway a translator to make decisions counter to what he or she thinks is right? Does the collective voice have a positive influence on the translation?

Translators, international literature enthusiasts, tell us what you think!

About the Author

Hannah Johnson


Hannah Johnson is the publisher of international book industry magazine Publishing Perspectives, which provides daily information and news about book markets around the world. In addition to building partnerships with international cultural and trade organizations, she works with the Frankfurt Book Fair to organize and support a number of its overseas initiatives. Hannah has also worked as the managing editor for an online media company, The Hooch Life, focused on craft distillers and cocktail experts. Prior to that, she worked as a project manager for the Frankfurt Book Fair’s New York office, managing various business and marketing activities.