Translating the Quirós Memorials for the State Library of NSW and for the Silentworld Foundation was one of my proudest professional moments as a translator. The Quirós Memorials are a very important part of Australian history and have become the go-to documents for those who want to find out how Australia was “almost” discovered by a Portuguese navigator, Pedro Fernández de Quirós. Born in Evora, he became subject to the King of Spain when the two countries were dynastically united in 1580. You can read more about Quirós, and how and why he penned his memorials in this online biography.
Translating a text written during the Golden Age, a period not only of artistic splendour but also of linguistic splendour. They feature sophisticated register and specialist language (think of nautical, geographic and other scientific terminology) and they’re addressed to a monarch, King Phillip III of Spain, which of course presupposes the use of very specific formal language.
One day I happened to be discussing these Memorials with a friend who bluntly questioned the fact that I, a non-native speaker of English, translated them into English. I was quite puzzled by her argument, to say the least. Being a bilingual person and a qualified translator, I had not only the linguistic but also the academic background to undertake such a task. Translating the Memorials involved not only reading the originals in full, but also underlining specific structures and vocabulary, compiling glossaries, as well as doing research on the historical period and on the language used at the time. I should’ve kept a diary on my musings while I did the translations, or probably should’ve started this blog and kept you posted on my progress, or something.
In my friend’s defence, she has no axe to grind. But her way of thinking is shared by many: translators should only translate into their mother language. I beg to differ completely: two-way translation is acceptable, and in the case of polyglot translators it’s more than acceptable to translate into three or more languages. What makes it possible is accreditation as much as their scholarship in the languages they speak.
- Pedro Fernández de Quirós’s bio: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/quiros-pedro-fernandez-de-2568, accessed on 08/10/2015.
- The Spanish Golden age: http://www.donquijote.org/spanishlanguage/literature/history/the-golden-age, accessed on 08/10/2015.