Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 6 : 2 February 2006

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.




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Copyright © 2004
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Moderator: : V. V. B. Rama Rao, Ph.D.


I would start this round with a letter I received from our participant Mrs Santa Sundari Rao of Hyderabad.

I saw the web-site just now. Thank you for giving me a place in it. But I have made a mistake...I want you to publish the correction in the next month's issue.
PRAMAAD actually means' a mistake' and 'apavaad' means exception. I am sorry about the mistake, which was made in haste. Thank you once again. I am still reading the others' thoughts about (literary) translation. With best wishes, Santha Sundari.
Pramaado dheemataa mapi, goes the aryokti, the saying of the wise and that is all there is to it.


Here is another, a note from our earlier participant Nidadavolu Malathi who makes a very valid point. Teaching Telugu to well-educated Americans starting from scratch and then translating Telugu fiction (with a pedagogical thrust) trying to carry the subtle and finer nuances too has given her insights valuable for our enthusiastic new comers into the practice.

Envisioning the target reader is important as I said in the introductory note in the very first round.


Some of the issues in translating Telugu fiction into English:

In the past few issues of the symposium, a number of scholars have expressed erudite views on literary translation, and that has been quite an education for me. I would like to share my views based on my experience of translating Telugu stories for global audience. I think this is slightly different from (and for that reason more difficult), translating (for) Pan-Indian audience. Let me further elaborate on this aspect. (Emphasis and parentheses are the Moderator's)
Last time I briefly mentioned the structural differences between the source language and target language. Pronouns, especially the second person pronoun, which has two forms in Telugu, nuvvu and meeru do not lend themselves to translation for global audience. The two Telugu pronouns, nuvvu and meeru are broadly differentiated as formal and informal, but in reality they import a much wider range of shades of meaning indicative of cultural nuance and interpersonal relationships between the speaker and addressee than otherwise implied.
For instance, the first pronoun, nuvvu, is singular, and in practice, the addressee can be younger in age or lower in social status. On a different level, the form can refer to the interpersonal relationship between the speaker and the addressee. In certain parts of Andhra Pradesh and in some families, a lower class person may use nuvvu with reference to his/her boss. The second term, meeru, is considered formal, and may be singular or plural. Once again meeru as a formal singular may be used in a variety of ways within a family setup. In most of the cases, in Andhra homes, a husband addresses his wife as nuvvu, and wife addresses her husband as meeru. This is not however a hard and fast rule. In working class families, both husband and wife address each other as nuvvu. In royal families, spouses used to address each other as meeru or tamaru (which is a totally different issue). In middle class families, in recent times, both the spouses have been using nuvvu to each other.
This usage of the second person pronoun gets even more complex when it is used in combination with the imperative forms of verbs. With meeru, the imperative always ends in -[a]ndi, a respect tag that can be suffixed to almost any word - noun, pronoun, or verb. For instance, the phrase, "ceppandi, " is the imperative form of ceppu, with a built-in "meeru", means "you tell". With nuvvu however the verb has several forms - ceppu "tell" with "nuvvu" built in. The form also can take a gender tag, -ve for females and -ra for males, thus giving rise to two more imperative forms ceppave and cepparaa. Additionally, with meeru in its plural meaning may take the imperative form ceppandiraa or ceppandarraa. In the latter case, only the male tag -raa is used irrespective of who (males and females) comprise the group addressed to.
Thus in Telugu we have 5 to 6 forms which are translated into English as one sentence, "You tell (say) " In doing so, we are losing the particular nuance, which each of the Telugu sentences carries with them. As I mentioned at the beginning, an Indian reader may discern the meaning from the context but for a reader who's not familiar with our culture, the meaning is lost.
When I translate Telugu stories for global audience, I try to establish some of these nuances at the beginning of the story. At times, that means elucidating the interpersonal relationships and social or familial status, even if it were not in the original. A second technique is to use adjectives and adverbs. However, I have come to learn that the use of adverbs and adjectives or adjectival phrases is not viewed favorably by fiction editors and publishers.

Malathi Nidadavolu has been writing fiction in Telugu since the early 1950s. Recently an anthology of her short stories, entitled nijaanikee feminijaanikee madhya is published by BSR Foundation, Vizianagaram, India. Currently she lives in the US, runs a website,, where she publishes translations of Telugu fiction. Malathi also teaches Telugu at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin.


I concluded Round IV with Frost's oft-quoted statement, which bears repetition. "There should be a lingering unhappiness in reading translation," said Robert Frost, and spoke of poetry as "that which is lost in translation." Frost's intention could not have been to denigrate the art of translation. On the other hand, he must have implied the loss to be that of the spontaneity of the original, for literary translation, if anything is primarily deliberate, the exact opposite of being spontaneous. And then, Frost might have had in his mind a reader who knows the language of the original while going to the translated text, in which case the 'unhappiness; is not unusual.


There was a letter from our friend, Dr Suresh Kumar, which is very reassuring. All of us should bear the points he was making in it. Here it is in its entirety:

Dear Shri Rama Rao ji,

There is a basic similarity, as I see it, in our views that translation as a whole need not be seen in a negative manner. The negative stance seems to be originating from our desire, justified to some extent, to have the taste of the original almost in original measure. More often than not, it results in our pessimism.

If we keep reminding ourselves that what we are encountering is a 'translation,' we would be ready to make compromises and look for the gains made to compensate for the almost inevitable losses caused by the translation process.

When viewed as a whole, communication is accomplished in spite of losses, and there are gains too. Secondly, we should ask ourselves, I think, if we are at home with our second language (if that is the language of the translation product, for example, English) just as we are with our first/dominant language, for example, Telugu, or Hindi, or any other language, for that matter.

In my view, our judgments regarding the quality of the translation products in our second langauge should be couched in a more careful manner, reflecting the observation made above. To make it plain, should you apply the same standards of quality judgment to a Telugu poem in English translation as you would do to a Telugu poem? The literary cultures are different, and we have to 'learn' deliberately the second language literary culture that may be in sharp contrast with the literary culture of our dominant language; we need to be conscious always that the second is only 'second' and not 'first.' I would like you to react to this point.

As a moderator you hve the responsibility and privilege as to what should be focused upon. And this cannot be taken away from you. You will be able to do justice to the ideas, whereas I may tend to self-indulge and make a mess of it! Further, my statements are simple. Aren't they?!

With Heartiest Wishes for a Happy and Prosperous New Year!
Sincerely yours
Suresh Kumar


A translation is primarily an attempt at communication-- on behalf of a culture, a tradition and a literature. Thus the translator's first serious concern is identifying the best authors of her source language and more precisely their most significant works for dissemination to a larger readership. The choice of a target language is equally important for the wider its usage the larger the scope of transmission. The use of a certain language as filter also involves the questions of hierarchy of languages. For example when a work is translated from one of the regional languages of India into English it becomes the representation of a small provincial culture for a powerful (more widespread)international culture. It is from judicious exercising of choices that national, even regional themes and ideas become international ones. The operation, however, is fraught with problems. The more divergent the two cultures and languages, the greater the translator's dilemma. The attempt to internationalise regional/national treasures cannot but be lauded.

On the other hand, the transference of ideas and imagery from a regional language to English is fraught with so many uncertainties that the strain of the exercise is often palpable even in the translations of great masters We all know that there is no such thing as a perfect translation. But there are good translations--ones the reader can sail through with effortless ease. Yet purists will tell us, and quite rightly, that readability is not the only test of a good translation. A truly good translator should be able to make the reader aware of the original subtext down to the finest nuance. Which brings us to the core of the translator's dilemma. What is more important? Readability and Beauty? Or scrupulous adherence to the text in the interests of Fidelity? These are the twin spaces between which the translator swings--sometimes this way--sometimes that.

The golden mean--the exquisite harmony in which the strains are so lightly and easily woven that they raise no dust, is the committed translator's El Dorado. Forever sought, forever elusive.

Dr. Aruna Chakravarty (1939) is a veteran translator, and was introduced to me by our friend Nirmalkanti Bhattacharjee of Sahitya Akademi. Aruna lives in Delhi.


"O! Is it a translation? I thought it was an original!"

A translation must be like that. It is not enough that it should be literally correct but the effect of the original text must be in the translation. It should convey the author's theme and even the thought process. However, if a text is transferred from one language to another the original subtle nuances and the rhythm of the words - even in prose - may disappear to some extent.

In spite of the above difficulties translations are done and must be done. In a country like ours where 'unity in diversity' is the motto we must strive for unity by bringing thought-provoking literature from every state. Literature must be made available for every nook and corner of the whole nation. Not only that, the glory and the efficacy of our literature must be made popular.

The important question that always puzzles the translator is this: whether it should be a literal translation or an effective translation. Yes, this may be surprising. But it is true. One hundred percent literary word to word, and didactic translation may not necessarily be always effective. Sometimes it might not even convey the exact idea, which is prevalent in the original. At those times, when there is a real conflict my humble opinion is - we should give importance to the main theme rather than to stick to word by word translation. However, care must be taken to ensure that the work does not deviate far from the original.

Another important fact is sometimes the original may be written in a local dialect and has the flavour of the local custom and nuances that may or may not be popular in other places. In such cases, the beautiful style and language may die in the translation. For example, the classical Tamil novel 'Tillana Mohanambal'can be placed in the category of a classic literature. However, it is full of regional customs, culture and dialect. The style and diction is not even of the whole of Tamilnadu but specifically of Tanjavur District. Therefore the choice of the text also is important.

To sum up, translation is not a mundane task. It is a creative and challenging endeavour.

Mrs. Mangalam Ramamoorthi is a writer, a poet and a translator. She is a Tamil Scholar. She holds postgraduate degrees in English and Hindi and is at home with Sanskrit and Kannada. She has published two collections of poems in English.


Translation as Interiorization
In a perceptive comment on the theory of "interiorization," Krishna Rayan says: "Running one word into another, one image into another, or one text into another can be done in either of two ways. One can be fixed upon the other-this would be upari-sannivesha. Alternatively, one can be darkly concealed inside the other, consciously or unconsciously-this would be antassannivesha. Uparisannivesha (insertion upon) is related to the principle of rendering manifest; antassannivesha is related to the principle of rendering obscure."

In one sense, this process may be related to the way two words or images or texts are related to each other. The alternative for a word or image or a text may be seen as the other, which it tries to take within itself. This interrelationship is often the focus of attention in literary criticism. Most often this turns out to be useful in the study of comparative literature, where two or more literatures are studied in comparison. This can be an effective tool in understanding and explaining inter-textual studies.

One of the productive ways in which inter-textuality can be explored effectively in relation to two texts in two different languages is a critical approach to translation as a device of interiorization. Translation could then be viewed as the attempt made by one language to interiorize (within itself) a text in another language.

Translation of informative writing from one language into another involves upari-sannivesha or exteriorization. This is a kind of surface to surface transfer of factual details or plain opinions, and what is obvious in one language is expressed in another language without any obscurity. Since the original text has nothing interiorized, the translation can be word to word without having to interiorize anything. This is what is often called literal translation.

Literary translation on the other hand is primarily concerned with transferring from the source language what is interiorized in the text to the target language.

A literary text always has elements so interiorized that the original itself may not easily yield its full signification, let alone significance, to the reader. A sentence such as "The elephant is a huge animal," can be translated by using corresponding words in the target language for the lexical items in the original. "Aana oru valiya mrigam aanu" is a possible, acceptable translation in Malayalam, since the lexical terms have dictionary meanings, and one may find exact equivalents or corresponding expressions for them in Malayalam. But even here, if any meaning other than the literal one of "big" is interiorized in the word "huge," then another word may have to be used. (This is interiorization at the word level). The difficulty increases in proportion to the multiplicity of meanings for each word or lexical item; difficulties may increase if the syntax also is complicated. Tonal variations, which may be concealed from the written language, but which are important in the oral expression, may also add to the difficulty. This will necessitate interiorization at the phonological level.

If the original is dense, i.e., if it is a rich text, the degree of interiorization will be greater. When such a text is to be interiorized in a different language, then that text with all its density and richness has to be interiorized. The multiplicity of meanings available for an expression in one language may not be easily found for the corresponding expression in another language. To interiorize a whole text in the target language effectively, one requires all the resources of that language as well as the skill to interiorize the text in that language.

A good translation is an instance of successful interiorization. Medieval Indian translations of classical texts like Ramayana or Bhagavata are examples of interiorization, even when everything in the original is not preserved in the translated version. Tulsidas in Hindi, Ezhuthacchan in Malayalam, Krittivas in Bengali, Kambar in Tamil, Pampa in Kannada have rendered Ramayana in their own way, and their versions have been accepted by the reading public in the respective language areas, in spite of variations, omissions, additions, interpolations and what not. To achieve full interiorization one may have to sacrifice exterior authenticity. The inter-textual relationship is kept intact when a source text is interiorized in the target language. This is easier within the same culture and interiorization keeps the readers satisfied, though not the literal-minded scholars and nitpicking critics, who are often preoccupied with surface features. Most theories of translation, especially those spawned by linguists, who are averse to the practice of translating any work of quality, concentrate on the shell, ignoring the kernel.

Since the inter-textual relationship within a text can be one of opposition well, that opposition should also be reflected in the translated text. This is because a text may contain its opposite, like Ramayana containing Ravanayana too, o Paradise Lost interiorizes Paradise Regained also or, at the level of characterization, God interiorizes Satan. In such cases the translator may have to incorporate all the possible implications.

The redactions or retellings of classics of the past from time to time are examples of translation as transformed interiorization. James Joyce's Ulysses interiorizes Homer's Odyssey. Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel interiorizes Mahabharata, Aubrey Menen's Rama Retold interiorizes Ramayana.

Shakespeare's dramatization of the Hamlet story is an Elizabethan translation of A Gothic.legend. Multiple translations like those of Rubaiyat illustrate different ways of interiorization. Genre shift is also an instance of transformed interiorization. If the interiorization is total, a new original text may be the result.

Ayyappa Paniker is a renowned poet, a winner of several Awards including the Sahtya Akademi Award. Himself a widely translated poet, he is the Chief Editor of the work by diverse translators in the stupendous four-volume Medieval Indian Literature published by Sahitya Akademi.


I remember the words of the octogenarian translator who has rendered into Hindi several; classics, chief of which is Jai Shankar Prasad's epic in Hindi Kaamaayani into Telugu: "Translation is a sacred sin."

The literary translator is painfully aware of his limitations and shortcomings but then they are not always just his. There are built-in limitations in the genre itself.

Sureshkumar's views on the subject conveyed in his letter need to be borne in mind, especially when evaluating a rendered literary text.

Aruna Chakravarti's "Judicious exercising of choices" is just all about literary translation. Her observation that the El Dorado is forever sought and forever elusive is just fillip to enthuse to the aspiring artist, not a cry of despair.

Mangalam Ramamoorthi's distinguishes Literary Translation from mere Translation making the former a matter of 'effective' conveyance literary feeling. 'Literariness' is an expression inclusive of imaginative feeling and expressive uniqueness in the original text in the rendered text. Suresh Kumar brought up the question of 'Translation Loss'. There are losses in Power Transmission also. This trained Linguistican makes it apparent that the assayers (not the actual readers of the rendered text) expect the 'Translator' to convey the taste of the original in almost in the original measure, which accounts for the negative stance regarding the rendered text and its creator. He opines, rightly, that there could be 'gains' also. This is open to discussion and further elucidation in further rounds.

Paniker's concept of 'Interiorization' could be the beginning of a tentative theory of transcreation. We have made it into a refreshing New Year, which appears to be full of promise for many new launches and renewed quests for fresh fields and pastures new. Let us all, as practicing transcreators, try to widen the horizons of TRANSCREATION.

Au revoir!


Orwell's 1984 : Language of Totalitarianism | Syntax and Semantics of Verbs of Communication in English and Tamil | Practicing Literary Translation -- Fifth Round | The Effect of Text Cohesion on Reading Comprehension | The Discourse of Crossword Puzzles | English and Bengali Interrogative Sentences : A Comparative Study | Language Viewed Clinically | A Socio-Pragmatic Comparative Study of Ostensible Invitations in English and Farsi | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR

V. V. B. Rama Rao, Ph.D.
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