However, I found, just by chance, a Japanese translation of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, 老人と海 (roujin to umi). Guess what that means? BACK TRANSLATION TIME!!
I'm lazy, and not all that much interested in the novella I read once for school in 8th grade, much less that novella in a foreign language, so I only tackled the first paragraph. My translation isn't the most cleaned up it could be, but I just wanted to share with y'all some of the things I noticed.
First, the Japanese:
Next, my translation:
"He was old. Floating in a small boat on the Gulf Stream, he spent his days alone catching fish but for 84 days he couldn't catch a single one. For the first 40 days a young boy accompanied him. However, when it came to be 40 days without a single fish, the boys' parents said that old man was thoroughly salao. Salao was the Spanish word for the worst kind of situation. In accordance with his parents orders, the boy boarded another boat to go fishing, which in it's first week caught three beautiful fish. Seeing the old man going back and forth in his empty little boat day after day was the most heart-breaking sight for the boy. Every day he would go and meet the old man, and helped him stow away the coiled rope, fishing hooks and harpoon, and curled up the sail around the mast. The sail was patched up here and there with a flour sack, but the shape of the curled up mast looked only like the banner of eternal defeat."
Finally, Hemingway's original:
"He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy's parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unluck, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks, and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat."
My summary of observations:
- The Japanese translator clearly decided not to keep Hemingway's very long sentences. The Japanese is cut up into nine sentences; Hemingway's is a sparse five. The most obvious example of this chopping is the Japanese's very first sentence. "He was old." although "年をとっている”, taking years, is decidedly more euphemistic.
Maybemy translation is wrong (I mean,all signs point to yes, I am [EDIT: see comments section] ) in the last sentence which I read as saying the exact opposite of what Hemingway said: "it looked like the flag of permanent defeat" vs. "the shape of the curled mast did NOT seem like a banner of an eternity of defeat." Those of you Japanese-reading types tell me where I went wrong in the comments. It would be an extremely odd choice by the Japanese translator to say the exact opposite thing that Hemingway said.
- Overall the translation is pretty faithful; my back-translation is mostly different in very superficial things, like banner vs flag or "beautiful" fish vs. "good" fish. However there is definitely a certain loss, and it comes from the sort of flavor that Hemingway has to his writing. Not being a native speaker it's hard for me to judge whether the Japanese has a similar quality of tone/style/that je ne sais quoi; it seems to me though, that in a lot of ways, that flavor does not come out in my English reflection of the Japanese. "worst form of unluck" ≠ "worst kind of situation".
- That said, there were some cool things about the J translation that seemed like an attempt to emulate the original. I personally like the phrase: "もう老人がすっかりサラオになってしまったのだといった", especially the use of て-しまう, not only to imply the negative result, but also it's secondary meaning of "thoroughly and completely" to match Hemingway's "thoroughly and finally." It also sounds very much like what the parents would actually say (in Japanese) in real-life.
- Words not in my Japanese dictionaries: 巻綱,
枌袋[EDIT: should be 粉袋], 家徴する. Did the best I could with these words, mostly through googling and kanji research; let me know if you know anything about these mysterious words.
[EDIT 3/1/10 2:00pm: Various transcribing errors are fixed, including one that fixes the translation question posed above which is now crossed out. Credit to g dawg and Chewy.