I wanna be translated
April 30, 2012 9:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in translating someone's dissertation/book from Spanish to English. Is there some way I can make this happen? If so, how do I go about it?

I'm a graduate student and recently read a dissertation in urban studies, a field allied to mine. The author is a young scholar, obviously pretty unknown as far as I can tell. It's a good book, and covers, quite in depth, a subject that there are few to no full-length works about.

I've always been very interested in translation. I've done small-scale translations from a different language (not Spanish) to English before. I'm obviously not a professional, but I feel confident that I could do a good job on this.

I want to translate this book! I think it would be really cool to make this work accessible to Anglophone scholars. I have no idea how academic translation works, on the business side, though. Does the fact that this book (published by UNAM press in Mexico) already exists in bound form in Spanish mean it'll inevitably be translated? Or will this only likely happen if this author becomes the next Foucault? The book is very interesting but markedly a social sciences academic text, not a beach read.

I'm not driven by money here-- I'd do it for free as a pet project to have under my belt (though I guess if I translated it and it was sold, I'd expect some small cut). Who should I contact? Should I translate a selection of it and then approach the press with "Hey, look at this! Like it?" Should I approach the author first independently?

Am I being super-naive and this is just not possible, full stop?

Any advice appreciated!

Throwaway email tranzizzle@yahoo.com. I'm happy to share many more salient details by email-- this is anon because I don't want this to be one of the few google hits for this obscure book/scholar, not because I want out-and-out secrecy.

Thanks in advance!

(I understand that some people may be dubious about my general ability to translate this book-- I recognize that thought but ask you to assume for this question that I am competent, though advice on how to present my lack of professional experience is welcome.)
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd contact the author first independently. Let them know how much of a fan of it you are, while asking if they have any plans for it and mentioning your translating ability. The author has a good probability of speaking perfectly adequate English for publication and it may have occurred to them to translate it themselves.

Any action by you might only serve as a small push to the author to do it themselves.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:43 PM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

i would imagine you'd need to talk to the publisher, they or the author most likely own the copyright. they would tell you if it's feasible/profitable to have it translated, if they haven't looked into it already. they might not have thought it was sufficiently marketable, or they would have looked into a translating service already, but it doesn't hurt to ask. maybe a zealous advocate would be enough to consider it worthwhile.
if they decided to let you translate it, they'd probably just pay a flat fee, not a cut of the profits. i
posted by camdan at 9:50 PM on April 30, 2012

It is doubtful that the majority or even a significant minority of academic books published in Mexico get translated into English. So, yeah, contact the publisher and the author and ask for permission. This is not an unusual way for new translators to build a portfolio.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:15 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

You sound to me like a potential editor of translated works in this field rather than a translator (just on the basis of what you wrote here).

Are you certain it hasn't been translated? An e-mail to UNAM asking for an English translation might be a first step.

then I would carefully, translate a section of the book, say a chapter, into English.

Give it to a colleague in the area to read cold.
Do not say it's a translation, do not claim it as your own work, tell him/her it comes from another researcher and you want his/her feedback because there's just something about it you can't quite put your finger on....leave this very open. Make it a game.

This will elicit anything that doesn't quite ring true and give you very honest feedback about how it reads in the target academic audience.

If it's good enough for the reader to engage with the argument, then e-mail the author in the first instance with this idea you have and attach the translated chapter.

Although it's been 15 years I earned good money translating Medical articles from Spanish into English. I'd be happy to look over the finished work for you if I'm familiar enough with the field to understand what you've translated.

I doubt very much there's money in this (as camdan says you'll probably get a flat rate) but it could serve to get your foot in the door if you want to do translation work.

Also consider the possibility of editing work in this field, there will be researchers in this field all over the world who may need their stuff translated into English and the publishers might be looking around for good editors. An editor does not have to be able to read the source language necessarily, in fact mostly it's a downright disadvantage. They do need to be completely fluent in the academic discipline involved.

best of luck!
posted by Wilder at 2:40 AM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you could read and understand the book in Spanish, then you are competent to translate it into English. Translation really isn't that hard, though it will reveal holes in your grammar. And if you are an expert in the subject, you are arguably more qualified than somebody with better Spanish. It will take you longer than a pro, though, so you might have some problems doing it for pay. Maybe you can contact the author and translate it now, then shop it around?
posted by yarly at 7:02 AM on May 1, 2012

Do you know anybody who is a graduate student or doctor in Comparative Literature? Translation, both in it's theories and in the technicalities of practice, is really their game. A comp lit person knows how to set about this, so maybe contact someone who is in Comp Lit and whose archive arises in part from Mexico.
posted by pickypicky at 7:33 AM on May 1, 2012

> If you could read and understand the book in Spanish, then you are competent to translate it into English. Translation really isn't that hard

This is not true. Translation is, in fact, hard; ask any professional translator. And it is often badly done; even published translations by professional (and sometimes famous) translators often have egregious errors. If the poster does proceed with this, I would urge them to read some stuff about translation and maybe contact the ATA to get some useful ideas/help. Translation is not easy.
posted by languagehat at 9:41 AM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

pickypicky, I hate to take issue with your answer, but if the Comparative Literature programs you're familiar with have a strong translation component, they're unusual in that. Translation per se is not generally part of a graduate program in Comparative Literature; universities that have programs or courses in translation generally offer them through their Linguistics department.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:12 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

universities that have programs or courses in translation generally offer them through their Linguistics department.

Those courses are also sometimes offered in individual language departments (eg Russian for Translation). I have met several comp lit grad students who had a primary interest in translation, but were in comp lit because they (perhaps mistakenly) thought that it was more likely to lead to a mainstream academic job.
posted by Forktine at 4:29 PM on May 1, 2012

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