June 4, 2012

How long does it take to translate a novel? The case of translating J K Rowling's latest novel into Finnish

It is being reported that the translator of J K Rowling's new novel will have three weeks to translate 480 pages. If the reports are true, this is in part due to the publisher's artificial restriction of not allowing the translator to see the text prior to its publication date.

Although this is obviously a high profile novel, I wonder why the real need to introduce this spurious obstacle. Translators are quite used to signing Non-Disclosure Agreements. And given the volume and timescale involved, even if the translator were to be allowed double the time, it still sounds like they'd be left with no time to sleep let alone go around organising illegitimate disclosure of the Secret Book.

In any case I'm wondering if there could be something we're missing here. At, say, around 200 words per page, this would equate to translating just under 4,500 words per day continuously for 7 days. To put this into perspective, non-literary translators generally translate in the order of 2,000 words per day. Sure, there are always projects where it is possible to "burst" at as high as 4,500 words per day. Indeed, I've experienced this myself with the translation of certain very formulaic material or, say, the translation of transcripts of business meetings containing only a few passages of content-rich text interspersed with many passages of more mundane banter. And I've seen other colleagues report a similar experience.

But the idea of sustaining 4,500+ words per day for several weeks on literary, content-rich text and at the end of it producing high quality, publishable material sounds absurd. So as I say, I wonder if we're missing something. If you know any more about this story or have any thoughts, I'd be interested to here your opinions.

Survey: How long does it take to translate a novel?

1 comment:

Lloyd Bingham said...

The publisher, like most people outside of the world of translation, must have no idea what the value of translation or what it entails.