The Role of Translations/Translators in Modernizing Identity (Baltic Languages, Literatures and Self-Expression)
Prof. , Dr Habil. Philol. University of Latvia
The Role of Translations/Translators in Modernizing Identity
(Baltic Languages, Literatures and Self-Expression)
Baltic national identities, which are language-centered, their literary polysystems and even written languages as such are to a large extent the result of translations. Translations have constituted majority of literary and other texts. Translation played an exceptionally important role in the beginnings of written languages in the 16th-18th centuries. Translators (usually non-native speakers) formed, codified and modified the written languages. Religious translations applied rigorous fidelity approach. Secular translations on the other hand tended to be localizations of easy-reading, sentimental German stories. End of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century sees numerous parallels in translations in Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian, e.g. medical books, Genoveva story, Robinson Crusoe a.o. Parallel to the rise of native literature in the 19th century a gradual transition from adaptation /domestication to foreignization and fidelity as the main approach occurred. Quality translations by native speakers were important in energizing and elaborating, codifying and normalizing the “new” languages and identities. Distinguished Baltic authors were usually also prolific translators, usually first honing their skills and elaborating styles in the latter activity.
When national languages and writing stabilized, blending the written language and the spoken parlance, more ambitious translations of Western classics started, usually done by distinguished writers. After acquiring independence at the beginning of the 20th century the volume of translation grew and included also literature from more exotic sources as well as literature of the Baltic neighbours . Despite the huge rise of national literature, translations nevertheless remained in the centre of literary polysystems.
The soviet period brought a re-orientation – most of the translations, including part of fiction, were done from Russian or via Russian. Translation scene was Moscow-controlled, most of translations consisted of soviet literature and classics conforming to language norms and standards as well as the rigorous straightjacket of soviet ideology. Meanwhile the postmodern native literature scene often found inspiration in older translations, covert and arcane references to historical events and parallels. Regaining of independence brought an enormous growth in the volume of translated information and a major shift from expressive (fiction) texts to appellative and informative texts occurred. Within 5 years English became the dominant source language. Translation again became the main vehicle of language development. In a somewhat paradoxical way translators have formed, altered and inspired a strong language bound national identity. Their voice, though not always obvious and recognized, has been central in the Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian narrative polyphony.