Recently, in one of the distractions that consume negligible but not insignificant parts of my day, I was reading a Twitter thread about what’s the best way to “tell someone to f— off in a work email.” The responses were numerous and ranged in levels of passive aggression and snark—“I am sorry we have not reached an understanding”; “Please see my emails from these dates that reference the matter…” One user suggested simply signing the email “Best,” since everyone knows that such a clipped, short reply means the same as telling someone to go kick rocks. Nearly all the suggested replies were euphemistic, even somehow the one that was just a GIF of Gordon Ramsay cursing out an unseen reality show contestant; such is the nature of the work email.
The thread made me think of my own situation, not only because I myself sign my emails “Best,” but because of my project this summer with the Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio: I am attempting to create a website that will track or illustrate the decisions a translator faces when translating a text from its source language to its target language. In many ways, these decisions are what we face a myriad of times each day, even while operating within a supposedly single language. We live within multiple discourses, toggle and translate between different audiences and registers. Telling someone to “f— off” over email vs. a friend over text vs. a stranger on Twitter will engender different replies; even here, over a blog post, I am choosing to substitute hyphens for the letters u, c, and k and that too is a type of translation. While we may think we’re operating within a single language, each language is of course made of languages—it is a plural, shifting thing, both private and public. My aim for my summer project is to show how the translator(s)—often seen as an invisible, ancillary figure—has their own biases, histories, and predilections that affect a text and determine the transformation within its language. In doing so, I hope to encourage a more sustained investigation on the part of both readers and translators into how these subjectivities inform the delivery of a text. My hope as well is to encourage an understanding that while translations are necessarily pliable—i.e. that there is no one objectively accurate rendering of a text—that pliancy still depends on an accurate understanding of the nuances and subtleties of the source language. I can easily imagine a translation misreading “f— off” as “f— you,” yet the difference between adverb and direct object there is marked. The former is an assertion or defense of one’s own boundaries and limits; the latter is more liable to read as a personal attack. It’s important to me that a translation document not just its choices, but how those choices are informed through context and interpretation.
I’m excited to keep working on this project as the course continues—even though this summer has flown by!—and to consider the ways a digital setting can contribute to and sharpen an understanding of the choices referred to above.