Last time we talked about the plan of attack and the cost in terms of time that goes into a project like this. Today we’re going to look at sources. Namely, how to choose them. I am still gathering my sources which is why these posts are still abstract rather than ‘I am going to light this poem on fire. I will invent a time machine, go back and ruin all the nibs of the original poet’s pens so no one will ever hear of this monstrosity’. Not that I am at that point yet mind you. I’m still cursing translators more than the original piece. MOVING ON.
So you’ve picked your piece for translation, had enough tasty beverage to convince yourself this is a brilliant and fun idea, now what?
Chances are you’ve already read your piece, maybe a couple different versions, before you decided to do your own translation. Now comes time to pick out which versions and which original transcription you’re going to work with. You want reputable sources, not someone who, well, is doing exactly what you’re doing. At least not as your primary source. So how can you tell if you’re looking at a basement translation or a reputable one?
Check your source’s sources. Who do they cite? A reputable source will have citations. Good ones. A lot of them. And they won’t be shy about showing their sources. Check and see if you can get your hands on anything your original source cites. If your source only has one citation, and doesn’t give your further reading? I’d shy away from them.
Check your source’s credentials. Is the author Dr McTranslatyface, Professor of whatever-you’re-studying at Such-and-such University? Then they are probably reputable. Are they someone going by a made up name on the internet posting things on their blog with no peer review? Then you don’t want to trust them implicitly and really should check their work. Hi, I’m a random made up name blog person! CHECK MY WORK!
Check where your source was published. University Press labels tend toward reputable, peer reviewed academic journals, publishing companies known for publishing high quality old texts? All good places to start. That’s not to say you should discount your source if you find it online! There’s a lot of good free stuff online! But remember to evaluate your source’s sources and your source’s credentials when considering using them.
You’re going to hear this all the time: Wikipedia is not a reputable source. I disagree. Should you believe everything you find on wiki? No. Please don’t. However, good wiki articles will have what at the bottom? Sources. These sources are what you want. Wiki in and of itself is not a source, it’s more like a meta-source. A blurb, a gateway drug. Start there, but don’t end there.
Consider your source’s publication date. Is your source older than you and not a primary source? Do some more digging, make sure they’re still relevant. Make sure new research hasn’t discredited their theories and translations. Yes that is possible with language and translations, languages evolve, new texts surface that change how we look at other extant works, someone has a break through that changes context, ect. Old sources can still be great! Just have newer research to back them up when possible. This may not be possible if the piece you’re looking at is particularly obscure, in which case? Best of luck to you, go forth and add to the research on that piece.
Consider what type of source you’re looking at. Is it primary? Secondary? Tertiary? Primary sources are going to be the text itself, no one else’s translation or interpretation. You will probably not get your hands on this. If you have high quality pictures or scans of the original? Luck you! You have a primary source! Primary sources are the most accurate as they are the piece or thing you’re looking at. But if you don’t know how to read it or have a clue what you’re looking at? It won’t do you much good.
Secondary sources are what we’re going to tend toward working with. These are translations from the original, either literal or edited, ect.
Tertiary are things like textbooks. They condense what multiple secondary sources say about your piece and give a brief over view. Wiki is a tertiary source. Essays on social context are a grey area but I tend to lump them in tertiary. Think on you favorite topic from history and remember how your high school history book treated it. This is why you don’t want the majority of your sources to be tertiary. Go take a look at their sources and work backwards from there.
The exception to this for me? Language and technical texts. If it’s an instructional text then that’s a whole different monkey to wrestle with. And that my dears is outside the purview of this (wordier than anticipated) post.