Monday, February 07, 2005

Translation Review: Covering Globalization

A Handbook for Reporters
Anya Schiffrin and Amer Bisat (eds)
Columbia University Press
New York 2004

There is no question that this book is a practical reference for those who are to write about global economy. It will also be more useful when this book is to be translated into Bahasa Indonesia. I agree with the Vietnam Economic Times, when reporting about its Vietnamese-language translation, that “the book is the first economics textbook aimed at reporters in developing and transition countries who cover finance and economics.” The Jakarta-based Kompas daily also reviewed this book, saying that it helps journalists to write globalization issues better. Other reviewers in the United States also praised this book.

This book will also help journalists, academics, students and anti-globalization activists to have a handbook when they are trying to understand the complexities of globalization. Indeed, the original English edition is already available in many media libraries. Still a Bahasa Indonesia version will reach greater audience as English is only spoken by less than one percent of Indonesia’s 210 million people.

The question is how to do it?

Modern economics is relatively a new field in the scientific development in Indonesia (only in the 1960s with the Ford Foundation-sponsored projects in three schools of economics in Jakarta, Jogjakarta and Medan). Bahasa Indonesia itself is rather in some degrees of limitation. It is also a new language with a lot of grammatical, social and political problems (politically established only the 1930s).

My suggestion is to assign an editor and a translator to work together in the translation process. They should be fluent in English and Bahasa Indonesia, preferably, to be able to write in the two languages so that they would have better grasp of the translation. They should also understand economic concepts, ranging from basic notions like balance sheet to the more new issues such as the some organizations in what the media generally call “The World Bank.”

The book is written by more than 30 people but the editing by Anya Schiffrin and Amer Bisat is quite tight to the extend that I barely notice the differences of styles in each chapter or sidebar. Indeed the Bahasa Indonesia translation should also be edited tightly. The editor and the translator should sit together since the beginning to understand the book and to make an agreement on terminologies, style, grammar et cetera. I prefer to use the simpler American-styled outside quote rule rather than the British, thus the Dutch and the Bahasa Indonesia, usage of quotation marks.

This book is written for an international audience but indeed there are some samples that sound more familiar to an American reader than an Indonesian one. Some issues have to be contextualized, of course, with the prior sentence-by-sentence agreement with the editors. I did that when translating Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s Elements of Journalism with the full cooperation of Kovach. He was involved in a number of email correspondences with me. There is also a reference on the Far Eastern Economic Reviewwebsite (page 307) as a source material. Unfortunately, the magazine was closed down late last year. The translator might ask either Schiffrin or Bisat whether they would like to suggest an alternative. I believe that there are plenty of alternatives to the Review website. In some cases, I suggest that the translator is to ask Schiffrin and Bisat whether we could offer the alternatives for the Indonesian audience.

The translator should also understand that some terms such as the World Bank or the Bank Dunia are widely used, both the English and the Bahasa Indonesia version. We could be flexible, using the two of them in accordance to the needs.

The book design is also an issue here. I suggest that we use the original design as well as the original cover. The book layout is pretty efficient. We have to remember that it is a handbook. It is not a book to be read from the beginning to the end. It is a reference in which a reader could seek for instance the concept of “money laundering” or the history of the International Monetary Funds. The design is different from a novel design indeed. It has many chapters, sidebars, pointers and the index.

John McGlynn of the Lontar Foundation, which translated many Indonesian literatures into English, once told me that a Bahasa Indonesia translation is usually 30 percent longer than the original English is. Even using the original design might take some adjustment –that is what graphic designer Joko Sudarsono faced when reusing the original draft of The Elements of Journalism.

Finally yet importantly, the selection of the translator and the editor could be made in an open bidding. If possible, we need someone like Oey Hay Djoen, who translated Karl Marx’s Das Capital, to translate this book. Oey understands economics and writes very well. Joesoef Isak of Hasta Mitra helped with the editing. We could set up the criteria and let the interested parties to apply. We could also ask a book publishing house to help sell and distribute the book. But again, the issue of the translation is the key to the success usage of this book.

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