Latvian, the native language of my poet friend Dagny in Riga, is a language called "of limited diffusion". Finding good translators from Latvian to English would be a daunting task, and Dagny had a deadline. She was giving a reading in Croatia, and only had her poems available in Latvian and French. Could I help her out, since I was a translator? Now, Dagny works as a translator and is aware that it is best to have someone speaking Latvian do the translation, but the clock was ticking.
I did not want to leave my friend in the lurch, and she had thoughtfully provided the French translation as well as her sketchy English literal rendition. Yikes! What to do? I did not know if I could even find a Latvian translator who would translate her poetry for the usual fee for poetry (ie., nothing), and she really wanted to have me do the job. So, I did the best I could. I wasn't translating, I don't know Latvian and although I read French fairly well, it is my fourth language and not one I translate from. I took the English word-by-word translation provided by the poet, read the French for the feeling and emotion that the poet was trying to convey, and made it into the most poetic English that I could muster.
Luckily, my friend was happy with my rendition and her reading in Croatia went over well. Whew! But now what to do if she has a complete collection coming?
One of the ALTA panel proposals which has crossed my desk this month will address the issue of translating languages that are of limited diffusion and the various ways that authors, translators and co-translators have worked together in order to provide a English language work of literature. I am looking forward to attending this panel already, just to see how others have come to a solution for languages having limited numbers of literary translators devoting themselves to it. How do they manage? How is literary quality assured? How do you know? I'm going to find out!