BORDERLINES – WHEN MIGRATION SHAPES TRANSLATION

Borderlines is a collection of thought pieces, some creative, some direct accounts, some memoirs, all true. Borderlines collects stories from people who are not fleeing from one country to another, but rather chose to move, or were made to do so by a series of non-threatening circumstances. In these stories there is anger, hope, disappointment, joy, fear, optimism. They are all different, and yet all striking in their approach to the subject matter.

Borderlines aims to show the reality of migration, and how we are all, in our own way, migrants.

by Canan Marasligil

I have always been a translator, even before I learned to read and write. I was born into the Turkish language and only a year later, I was transported into a country where French and Dutch live next to one another. During my first year in nursery school, I had learned French by the time of Saint-Nicolas, a children’s celebration taking place on 6 December; in primary school, Dutch entered my tiny 6-year-old head. At home, my mother – who knew English – would watch Flemish and Dutch TV where films weren’t dubbed but subtitled, and my father, who grew up in Germany, would watch the news and sports in German. English first entered my life through popular culture, then thanks to my parents’ good old American friend Mr Jones who would travel a lot between the US and Belgium and regularly stayed in the hotel where my father was working as a receptionist.

I have always been going back to Turkish. This language I don’t want to call my mother tongue, but rather my emotional tongue

They became friends, he would come home often and would bring us Peter Pan peanut butter and Levi’s jeans from the US. And I would try to speak with him with my broken English. When we started to learn English in secondary school, I could already speak, read and even write. Years later, for the first time, I have started learning a new language: Spanish, this time by choice as I wanted to dive deeply into Spanish speaking literatures. But no matter what I studied, read, watched or heard, with a higher education focused on English, French and Spanish, a professional life including Dutch, I have always been going back to Turkish. This language I don’t want to call my mother tongue, but rather my emotional tongue. The one I never received formal training for.

You can see from this short snapshot of my linguistic life – which is far more ordinary than exceptional – that my immigrant background has been highly influential in shaping the translator I am today. Throughout this journey acquiring different languages and feeding myself with a wide range of stories from a variety of places, I had never realised how big of an emotional impact Turkish had on me. Every other language that followed, that I learned to master and love, are always in some way reaching back to Turkish.

( © m4learning.com )

( © m4learning.com )

My father has always been called Maras, even by his Belgian mother-in-law. It always seemed to me like a disregard towards his Turkish identity. I have always resisted against the tendency to domesticate my name, even though I’m sure it would make my life easier on many occasions. I got used to being the kid with the weird name in class, each time the teacher would do the counting and stumble upon my name, I would automatically stand up and say “yeah, it’s me”, and we would move on. I never felt bad about it. I only knew I had a different name and I learned to be happy about this diversity I was bringing to the classroom.

At one of my former jobs at a prestigious Belgian cultural institution, my then manager told me totally horrified as we were setting up a new e-mail address for me that: “WITH YOUR NAME IT IS IMPOSSIBLE!”. I was very young and this wasn’t a student job any more. I let her decide I would be “CONTACTPRESS” to the outside world, until she left the institution, and at her goodbye drink she proudly said she wasn’t worried about the future of the department she’s leaving because “despite her being Turkish, Canan is a hard worker”.

my then manager told me totally horrified as we were setting up a new e-mail address for me that: “WITH YOUR NAME IT IS IMPOSSIBLE!”

This story about my name and the rejection of my “Turkishness” has inadvertently shaped the translator I am today. Instead of ever having to change my name into one or another language – because let’s face it, in today’s globalised world, who should I change it for? even between the French and English I should think of two different spelling – I explain to the people I encounter, and who are curious enough to listen and want to know, that the C in the Turkish alphabet is pronounced J. So Jaanan, not Canine. It isn’t rare now to meet people who do know immediately that my name is Turkish, because they encounter more and more people or stories carrying those letters that are pronounced differently. And the more we share those stories, the more people will be open to welcome non domesticated words, expressions and names.

As translators, we often face a dilemma between remaining faithful to the source text or to the target audience. I believe this to be especially true when you grew up with several so-called native languages and among several cultures. Your understanding of the source text is very close to you emotionally and so is the target language. I very often face this when translating Turkish into French. While on the one hand I do not wish to alienate French speaking audiences, I do tend to remain closer to Turkish, putting into practice the experience of my name. This is known as foreignization in translation studies. Strategies called domestication and foreignization in translation are related to the degree to which translators make a text conform to the target culture.

( © Canan Marasligil )

( © Canan Marasligil )

I don’t particularly like the term “foreignization”, because to me, Turkish isn’t foreign at all. I am very closely linked – at an emotional as well as a knowledge level – to the Turkish language, and this has made some people question my ability to translate into the target language – especially when I work into French. For some, one can only translate to her so called native language. I would identify this stance as a very conservative one. According to this approach to translation, the French language is simply not mine to play with. Looking from this perspective, it might be difficult to accept the fact that I intentionally choose to “foreignize”. It is a deliberate choice on my part and not simply a deficiency in my French. It is a logical continuity of my perspective on the narratives we build across our societies.

My migration story brought me to this privileged position.

In my translation work I focus on authors I am passionate about, most of them struggle daily in Turkey, fighting against an oppressive regime, while I work in the very comfort and safety of my home, looking at a canal from my living room window in Amsterdam. My migration story brought me to this privileged position. Some hurtful moments happened, sure, but they remain so trivial I chose never to dwell in them. I chose to move forward with these experiences that have shaped me as an individual and as a translator. I keep moving.

 

If you have a migration story from your experience that you would like to share, please get in touch at thenorwichradical@gmail.com, with BORDERLINES in the subject line.

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