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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Contemporary Trends and Debate of Translation in Thailand

the following write up on 'Contemporary Trends and Debate of Translation in Thailand' is by Rungkan Leelasopawut

Translation, both commercially and literally, is an activity that is growing phenomenally in today’s globalized world. The study of translation, an interdisciplinary field known as Translation studies, has also developed enormously in the past twenty years. It interfaces with a wide range of other disciplines from linguistics to modern languages and Cultural studies and post-colonialism. With regard to the importance of translation in the globalization era, this paper aims to outline the trends and debate regarding the translation studies in the contemporary Thailand.
Translation of foreign texts into Thai had been manifested a long time ago. Such manifestations can be located in many Thai classical literary texts. The essential theme of these texts was often associated with aspects pertaining to religion and drama. However, characteristics of Thai classical literature resulted from the contact with southern China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, Laos, and Vietnam. Hence, what we know as Thai classical literature today is in fact the adaptation of her neighboring countries’ literatures rather than purely her own established literature. Such literatures tend to reveal the Thai cultures which have been influenced by other cultures. For instance, the varied Indian and Chinese cultures. Most of the Thai classical literatures are written in verse in different patterns.
The most prominent and well known Thai classical literatures consist of five different stories. These are The Romance of Khun Chang Khun Phaen, the Ramakian, the Romance of Inao, Sam Kok, and Phra Aphaimani. Among these texts, only The Romance of Khun Chang Khun Phaen, was composed based on pure Thai culture. The remaining were translated from Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, and western languages such as French and English.
Overview of the history of Thai classical literatures provides us the knowledge of most of Thai classical literatures which are borrowed from foreign literatures. Hence this duty significant information implies that the translation have long been practiced in Thailand for many centuries past. Although there were traces of translation in Thailand for many centuries, very few discussions regarding the history of translation, or its contemporary trends and debate on translation in Thailand have been published. However, for a certainly none have been discussed as an academic discipline until the present time, in part because so few people are active in this particular area. It would be hard to list out the number of Thai people who translate Thai literature into English or other languages. However, we could see a further number of Thai people translating foreign literatures into Thai language. If little is being discussed, as a result, even less is being published. This can be explained by the lack of awareness of Thailand and its literature in the world, at large.
In modern days, globalization seems to be the most prominent word which has a significant role of acting as catalyst to motivation or to drive us into the world of technology and computerized space. The impact of globalization also invades the space of translation as well, particularly in the translation space in Thailand. The impact of globalization is the functional determinant for the translator to choose “what to translate” and “to whom the translation is meant for”.
In Thailand, the paradigm shift of translation have been clearly presented through the corresponding selection of literary genre. In the past, many translated literatures in Thailand were generally dealing with religious and cultural themes, Buddhism and Hinduism in predominating over several others. Afterwards however, Western literature was introduced into the country, ever since, there have been constant translations mostly through the medium of English. More recently however, there has arisen a quest to write Thai novels and short stories in the Western style, some of Shakespeare's works such as Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and also a number of English and French plays. Many of them were adapted and staged, giving an impetus to a new kind of performance. Hence we will see many Thai literatures being translated from English and Sanskrit classical dramas, for instance, Sakuntala and Savitri. We could say that through the earlier kings’ geniuses and influences, a new era of Thai literature has evolved and developed up until now. However, this trends have been transcended/ been given a makeshift, As such, modern Thai readers tend to read the translated novels which have themes based on romance or thrillers, action packaged or etc.
In the present day, it is increasingly noted that many Thai individuals are taking marked interest in reading translated versions of the vampire romance of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Saga, thriller stories; these are similar to those of Dan Brown's history-related mysteries, such as, cooking books, children's picture books, and Thai cultural heritage books. These makeshift trends of the readers’ interest from religious classical literary texts such as Ramakien to romance such as the Twilight Saga, and from Sanskrit to English and other European languages could be a possible the impact of globalization.
Today, translation need not be the sole means for the translation of literary texts. Plenty will be seen also a lot more in terms of the translation for business purposes. The source and target language of translation can nonetheless be varies. For instance, in Thailand, the upcoming of Japanese and Korean as target languages in translation is popular. This is because of business expansion in today’s world. Hence, we also see the shift of the translation purposes from entertainment to business and economic development in the competitive world we all live in at the present.
In the light of the argument above, we finally arrive at the significant axiom, Is there Any Debate of Translation in Thailand? The answer for this is “Yes, there is.” The reason for this is the recent, mode of effective translation which has been the focal point of the debate, for many critics regarding the translation in Thailand. In western world, over several centuries there has been a debate about how the text should be translated. Some may suggest that the text should be translated word to word, some suggest for sense to sense translation, and some for literal translation. In Thailand, A literal or "word for word" translation cannot be applied for the translation of foreign language into Thai or the other way around. If a translator tries to translate a saying or motto from English to Thai, that translated sentence would certainly end up being completely out of context which could possibly border on the nonsensical when read in Thai from English.
A translation of Thai verse into English is also another hot debate in the present time. There would be not much problem for Thai translator to translate other foreign poems into Thai verse, but it will not be practical for a foreign translator to transform Thai verses into English or any other languages. Many people could translate Japanese or Chinese literature into English, and they would succeed in doing it. But in terms of Thai verses, certainly few foreign translators could succeed in transforming the aesthetics of Thai verses into foreign languages. If they happen to translate Thai verses into English or other languages’, the result is the loss of either “content” or “form”. This is because very rarely translator could keep the balance between these two extremes when they translate Thai verses into foreign languages.
Error in translation is another aspect in the debate of translation in Thailand at the present time. Based on Nitaya Suksaeresup’s research on the error on translation, this paper aims at finding the sources of errors in translating from English to Thai. It is postulated that there are two major sources: the translator's erroneous reading of the English text and misinterpretation of English lexical meaning. The first one involves misunderstanding of the English text, while the second involves wrong propositional and expressive meanings.
Machine translation is another interesting topic for the debate on translation in the present scenario. This debate is not being discussed only in the Western part of the world but also a hot debate of translation in Thailand as well. Therefore the general outline of the debate on machine translation in Thailand is similar to the West. In Thailand, Translation shifted its focus dramatically from the translation of literary texts to other kinds of text and electronic Media as well. Today, we see that not only literary texts have been translated but also the movies, films and other kind of Thai texts. The replacement of the machine in translation has created a lot of difference between human translator and machine translator. This gives rise to the question whether machine translators could replace human translators? In Thailand, the problem with machine translation is that it cannot give a proper translation of the texts or movies. The machine tends to translate from word to word which the readers or the audiences could not make sense out of the translated text. Sometimes, the translated text has the meaning which seems to be out of context. The problems in machine translation form English to Thai or Thai to English can be found such as complex sentences cannot be translated, less vocabularies in the translation system, and the ambiguity between sentences and noun phrases is still unsolvable.
Generally, it is easy to translate foreign language into Thai language but it is more difficult to do otherwise. Machine translation is helpful but somehow it cannot give a better translation than what a human translator can give through accurate sound effects and expressions. The problems of translation in Thailand are mostly the same everywhere else.
Therefore, the contemporary trends of translation in Thailand are clearly shown that its shift has occurred because of the influence of globalization. Globalization is considered to be a major factor which has influences the shift of translation genre from past to present, the shift of the source language from Pali and Chinese to English and French and other languages, the shift of reader’s interest from traditional literature which has religious and cultural themes to western romance like Vampire romance etc. In terms of the debate on translation in Thailand, we see that the topics which are being discussed are not different than the debates on translation theory in the west.

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