author's / languages / translation

Language and Voice in Writing and Editing

Inter-language work is always a stretch, it seems to me! In the past while, I’ve edited a manuscript by a Spanish first-language speaker who is developing English speaking and writing skills, and I’ve been editing a manuscript by another writer for whom English is a third language, with initial African and French languages. I’ve also edited works by German first-language and various other first-language speakers over the years.

I also have done some editing and proof-reading for a First Nations publisher, trying my best to maintain the “aboriginal voice” (with which I have experience to some degree in my 35+ years married to my husband who is of aboriginal descent) while making the authors’ writing a bit more accessible to mainstream readers. Even editing works by British writers is an interesting exercise, as there some surprising differences between British English and Canadian English–not just words and spelling, but “voice” too. I used to teach Core French at a Christian

Even editing works by British writers is an interesting exercise, as there are some surprising differences between British English and Canadian English–not just words and spelling, but “voice” too.

At one time, I taught Core French at a Christian school, and often created or translated Bible-based French-language materials (plays, songs, etc.) for the classes. My husband is Haida, and consequently I learned some of that, too–very different grammatical organisation and very different sounds than English (the sounds are a lot more like French than English).

I worked for CBC Radio Western Arctic out of Inuvik for a few years, and we broadcast in English, Loucheux, Slavey, and Inuvialuktun. Sometimes I did “native language transliteration,” — “translating” English language news feeds from Ottawa into basic English that could easily be translated live on the radio by the native-language speakers.

What I’ve learned through these varied experiences is that translation–and editing and writing–is so much more than just translating direct words or phrases. The whole voice and cadence are so important, and one does not want to lose that “other language feel” in the translation/editing process! When I edit, I want the readers to still clearly hear the voice of the author–it is my place as editor to make the work a bit more accessible to a broader/different audience while maintaining the voice and culture and heart–and yes, even some of the “other language”–of the author. I think this is one of my favourite–and most challenging — parts of editing.

And finding my own “voice” in my own writing is also a challenge! What about you? Why not share your experiences with “voice”?

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