Found in Translation

Editors’ Note: Kyung Lee Gagum and Patrick Ploschnitzki convened the seminar Found in Translation at the 2022 German Studies Association annual conference. Because the seminar explored pedagogical issues related to translations, the Collaboratory editors asked the conveners to write a recap of the seminar for Zeitnah.

Lost or found in translation? We, the seminar conveners, identified that whether in German Studies research or pedagogy, scholars and instructors alike often encounter and interact with works that are only available, or accessible, in translation (partially or entirely e.g., movie or television subtitles). Other times, these texts are centerpieces of a highly relevant research or classroom context, but are unavailable in German, or only as a pivot translation (which lacks the source text at its foundation). In our seminar, we took translated works as a point of departure and sought to collect and explore examples of the effects, challenges, surprises, ambiguity, consequences etc. of working with translated materials in German Studies research and teaching. Our participants selected and presented their own texts for discussion. We discussed a variety of works, ranging from a novel to selected poems and a movie, and also questioned the credibility of authentic work in relation to the translated text. By addressing issues when working with translated materials, we collected and explored what it means to work with and do research using translated literary and non-literary historical texts. The following is a brief, and thus limited, summary of some of our discussions that includes proposals for possible solutions and answers to this valuable involvement with translated works.

Jocelyn Aksin (UNC Greensboro) faced the challenge of offering courses outside the traditional scope of German Studies. As a result, she had to decouple some German topics courses to appeal to a larger demographic of students. As she was drafting her syllabus on Turkish-German literature, she found a lack of English translation of Turkish works. This hurdle provided an unexpected benefit: she expanded the scope of her course to include texts originally written in Turkish that have been translated, not just into German but also into English. The example she addressed was the novel “Serenad” (2011) by Turkish singer / songwriter / author / politician / filmmaker Zülfü Livaneli, published in English under the title “Serenade for Nadia” (2020), and in German as “Serenade für Nadja” (2013). She suggested that translation might offer a more comparative framework for teaching in a racialized / ethnicized subdiscipline like Turkish-German Studies. This novel, a number one bestseller in Turkey in the year of its publication, opaquely engages with questions of how memory cultures are established or effaced–and furthermore, how disparate, yet proximate histories can be productively connected and brought into dialogue without minimizing their individual significance. Two key values emerged from working with this text: 1) undergraduate students learn about lesser-known histories of World War II and 2) they are introduced to Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis: Dargestellte Wirklichkeit in der abendländischer Literatur (1946). Due to the intertextuality of Auerbach’s text within and around Livaneli’s work, students gain a deeper awareness of the intersecting histories of Germans, Jews, and Turks, as presented in Livaneli’s novel. Especially since Auerbach’s work pre-dates the labor migrations of the 1960s, Livaneli’s choice of genre allows participation in a larger moment of remembrance that took place in Turkey in the mid-2000s, thus involving students in the examination of many varied points of contact, transfer, and time periods.

Duncan Lien (Penn State) explored the pedagogical possibilities that Yaşar Miraç’s 2015 bilingual poem “hasan amca’nın türküsü (“the ballad of uncle hasan”) | das lied von hasan onkel” has to offer. The text recounts the intertwined histories of coal mining and migration of Turkish workers in the erstwhile mining town Gelsenkirchen. When teaching this bilingual text, Lien decided to leave the key term türküye untranslated, based on the emblematic of the broader stakes of multilingual pedagogy, which provides an opportunity for students to engage directly, but in a limited way, with the Turkish language. To heighten the foreignizing impact (i.e., drawing attention to translatedness through non-translation), he decided against adding a footnote explaining the term. Even though the term türküye is inherently untranslatable, the issue of untranslatability can be parlayed into a classroom discussion. This bilingual text’s interpretation is based on an implied bilingual reader. However, it does not castigate monolingual readers because bilingual / multilingual writers such as Miraç draw on a poetics of multilingualims and turn to bi-multilingual writing techniques that offer a powerful literary tool for imagining new forms of collectivity, which the term türküye embraces. As multilingual learners writing in German, students enjoy reading Miraç, a non-native speaker writer working in German and Turkish. Lien asked students to write their own version of a documentary poem, similar to Miraç’s, as an opportunity for them to draw on personal experiences of human movement and linguistic contact zones. He also suggested possibilities to constrain the assignment with certain grammatical features or vocabulary to reflect a linguistic outcome befitting educational objectives. Miraç’s bilingual poem is well-suited for teaching multilingualism through the lens of literature, with a creative activity to complement analysis of the text, which helps prepare students for the multilingual realities of contemporary society. 

Using examples from the German-Korean short film Get up! (Chong, 2015), Kyung Lee Gagum (MSU Texas) addressed the visibility of multilingualism that appears when audiences encounter the spoken and written word in the filmic space. Gagum demonstrated the potential of this short film for student learning in an environment that values diversity, inclusion, and decolonizing the curriculum through several interwoven pedagogical strategies and considerations. The movie centers around the events and childhood flashbacks in relation to the German-Korean protagonist Tae-shik’s defining boxing match. A scene that centers on the protagonist as a child in a shy and timid position backstage in a theater was utilized: the character is shown holding on to a stuffed turtle as monolingual jeering in German rises in the background. Three girls gaze at the protagonist from behind him and the half-open cyclorama. All four children have Asian appearances, but Tae-shik stands out: he is wearing a hanbok, a Korean transitional outfit worn on special occasions, while the girls sport western-style clothing. The language choice in this scene is vital: the three girls whisper belittling remarks to Tae-shik in German. The girls’ German dialogue is not subtitled in English, thus posing a challenge for an Anglo-monolingual audience. Even without a translation, the visuals convey the scene: the tone of mocking laughter is evident between the ridiculing remarks in German, and the scrutiny directed at the protagonist’s back conveys that this mockery directly aims at him. Setting critical visual literacy analysis as a learning objective, an educator can play this scene muted and ask learners to make guesses about the movie’s origin and/or location. Then, by reading the visual cues and physical features of the characters, learners may speculate that the movie takes place in an Asian country—or, if recognizing the hanbok, in Korea. Notable visual clues include not only gender, but also different clothing that separates Tae-shik from the girls. The learners’ speculation of origin or location renders the locality of the languages as well, as the speakers’ physical appearances are ambiguous. This allows learners to distance themselves from an often dominant, confined perspective that the German language is geographically and/or ethnically bound. The activity expands such limited ideas of Germanness by introducing the idea that German speakers come in all types and shapes, as this scene, and others in which the children speak fluent German as their native or first language, demonstrates. When focusing on listening comprehension and writing skills, learners can be tasked with taking notes of the German dialogue they understand, solely based on the scene’s audio. They can also speculate about the movie’s location and most likely identify the German setting. In an additional step that focuses on translation as a pedagogical method, learners could rewrite the dialogues into English and then hypothesize potential reasons for the missing subtitles in this scene. For example, one girl calls Tae-shik “Angsthase,” which remains untranslated. Thus, it can be speculated why the English translation is missing: perhaps because of non-translatability; after all, the translation of “Angsthase” into English, “fear-rabbit” would make just as little sense as the English equivalent, “scaredy-cat,” would make in the German context.

The contribution from Meagan K. Tripp (Franklin & Marshall College) investigated female and/or queer authors who provide counternarratives or expand the image of the dance landscape in Germany and abroad. She translated the poem “Tanz,” written by lesser-known dancer-poet Ingeborg Lacour-Torrup, who appeared in modernist periodicals, but has never been translated into English, from German to English.

Future Goals

The examples collected during the seminar showcased highly relevant works in German Studies research and pedagogy. They focused on (un)translatedness and the resulting effects and consequences of these works in scholarly and educational settings. This seminar identified common denominators, challenges, and fallacies, but also successes experienced when working with materials in translation by compiling and exploring examples of working primarily with translated and/or multilingual German-related materials not available (exclusively) in the source language and/or German. Utilizing these insights, we not only identified strategies to deal with challenges, and proposed possible answers, solutions, and alternatives, but also teaching and learning moments that enrich our experiences with German literature. We found that the translated materials are authentic teaching resources, since the purpose of most translations is to disseminate to a broader, interdisciplinary audience. As German Studies increasingly focuses on diversity and inclusion, and as emerging fields within German studies such as Asian German Studies achieve recognition as academic specializations, researchers and instructors are bound to encounter multilingual, translated resources on a regular basis. The discourses and goals in our seminar serve as just a handful of examples of the challenges of identifying and tackling translations, as well as of the intriguing findings that can optimize research opportunities and pedagogical applications within the ever-growing field of multilingual German Studies. 

Kyung Lee Gagum, MSU Texas

Patrick Ploschnitzki, University of Florida