Faculty to discuss challenges of interpreting translated texts

Rebecca Castellanos, assistant professor of Spanish
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Rebecca Castellanos, assistant professor of Spanish
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Three Grand Valley professors will discuss the challenges of translating literary texts from different perspectives during an upcoming panel discussion.

“Literature in Translation” will take place Thursday, August 5, at 6:30 p.m. at Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters (758 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids). The event is free and open to the public.

“This event will bring together translators, writers and community members to discuss what it means to communicate across languages in poetry and prose,” said Diane Rayor, professor of classics.

Aside from Rayor, the five-member panel also includes Rebecca Castellanos, assistant professor of Spanish, and Médar Serrata, associate professor of Spanish. 

The five panelists will speak from their own experiences translating from different languages, cultures and time periods, including Spanish, Korean and ancient Greek. Castellanos will specifically discuss her experience translating fragments of a thirteenth century text, while Rayor will reflect on her experience translating one of two new poems by Sappho written in 600 BC and discovered in 2013. Serrata will discuss the translation of the poem “Yelidá” by Tomás Hernández Franco.

Rayor explained that people who know more than one language have direct experience with what it means to translate words, cultural concepts, values and meaning, but literary translations have added elements, such as style, sound and historical context, that can foster a very different experience from one reader to the next.

“The reader of translated literature is reading a particular translator’s interpretation of that work. There are losses, gains and enormous differences between translations of the same material,” Rayor said. “This is one reason why so many translations in public domain, such as Samuel Butler’s 'Odyssey,' are so misleading to read now.”