Quarterly Essay

“About six years ago, President George W. Bush was delivering a speech at a G8
summit, when, made impatient by the process of translation, he interrupted
his German interpreter: ‘Everybody speaks English, right?’ …” – Linda Jaivin,

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we spend much of our time in this globalised
world in the act of translation. Language is a big part of it, of course, as anyone
who has fumbled with a phrasebook in a foreign country will know, but behind
language is something far more challenging to translate: culture. As a traveller,
a mistranslation might land you a bowl of who-knows-what when you think
you asked for noodles, and mistranslations in international politics can be a
few steps from serious trouble. But translation is also a way of entering new
and exciting worlds, and forging links that never before existed.

Linda Jaivin has been translating from Chinese for more than thirty years.
While her specialty is subtitles, she has also translated song lyrics, poetry and
fiction, and interpreted for ABC film crews, Chinese artists and even the English
singer Billy Bragg as he gave his take on socialism to some Beijing rockers.

In Found in Translation she reveals the work of the translator and
considers whether different worldviews can be bridged. She pays special
attention to China and the English-speaking West, Australia in particular, but
also discusses French, Japanese and even the odd phrase of Maori. This is a
free-ranging essay, personal and informed, about translation in its narrowest
and broadest senses, and the prism – occasionally prison – of culture.


Linda Jaivin is the author of novels, stories, plays and
essays. Her books include Eat Me, The Monkey and the
Dragon and A Most Immoral Woman. In 1992, she co-edited
the acclaimed anthology of translations from the Chinese,
New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices. She has
translated chapters of Sang Ye’s China Candid and done the
subtitles for such landmark Chinese films as Chen Kaige’s
Farewell My Concubine, Tian Zhuang-zhuang’s Blue Kite and
Zhang Yimou’s Hero. Linda was born in Connecticut, but has lived in Australia
for more than twenty years now. She is a regular visitor to China.

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