13 Aug 2019

Grace under pressure

Alun Gruffydd of Bla Translation discusses the significance of translating into Welsh in Wales.

Most translators or translation agencies will tell you that they have developed a magical ability to appear calm to the restless client whilst wrestling to complete that mountainous task by the agreed deadline. It’s what we do.

Our industry oozes pressure – pressure from the client who must please another distant client, as well as our own pressure, hidden from public view, stemming from our daily annoying inability as a business to refuse any work thrown at us. We learn to live with this pressure. Translation cannot be rushed, there are no short cuts. Invariably, the work is returned to the twitching client gracefully and the process starts over. The client is happy and you’re happy, but only just. It’s controlled pressure and personally, I like it, I always have. It makes me tick. It makes this office of ours of nine people, tick.

We translate into Welsh, from English in our own country, Wales. Now that’s real pressure and a very different pressure. Translation into Welsh in Wales is different. Its purpose is to produce a new version of the original document in a new language even though every single reader will be able to read and understand the original document, comfortably. Translation in Wales is therefore a choice, a politic, a necessity, a culture, a history, and thankfully a legal right to read something (but not everything) in your first language, not your second. Above all, it’s a continuation, a survival and indeed a growth of a language, a language under pressure.

But the greatest pressure of all comes from within - to be relevant to a nation of Welsh speakers as opposed (or as well as) a nation of Welsh readers. Our everyday spoken Welsh strays significantly from our written Welsh and much of our daily written Welsh strays further still from our stiffest formal Welsh used in anything published or displayed.

Spoken Welsh often “Welshifies” English words given the influence of English and uses those words instead of the formal and accepted Welsh equivalent when the Welsh word is relatively unfamiliar verbally. You would expect the Welsh word for “cauliflowers” = ‘blodfresych’, or the Welsh word for “overtake” = ‘goddiweddyd’ for example to be familiar everyday words, but this is not the case and they are certainly ones you would never hear on the street as part of a Welsh chat, but these are the words found in any formal document or a supermarket or a road sign, because they exist as Welsh words and are readily used by any translator!

So there lies the Welsh translator’s greatest challenge and indeed one of the great challenges facing the Welsh language and its development. Some 30 years ago, a Welsh Sunday newspaper was launched which printed in a style which mirrored the everyday spoken Welsh, full of these Welshified words from the English language and containing many English words too. The newspaper and its editor were slated in the Welsh media and by the tut-tutting establishment and production ceased within a few weeks. The same would probably happen today.

The purity of a language is vital to its survival. Its practical everyday usage is equally vital so that it can breathe. Hmmm, no pressure then!

Bla Translation is a Welsh translation company established by Alun Gruffydd in 2013, and is based in Anglesey.