The Other Salina: A. Samad Said’s Masterpiece in Translation examines some issues specifically related to the literary translation of Salina (1961), by focussing on the transfer of culture-specific expressions from the original Malay novel to its English translations. Salina is the author’s first novel, written at the age of 22. The novel won a prize in the national novel-writing competition organised by Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka, the national institution charged with the responsibility of fostering the development of Malay language and literature.
Apart from this award of recognition, the text went on to become part of the local canon, was published in two editions, and reprinted three times. Its readership was expanded through translation into five languages, namely, English, Japanese, Mandarin, Tamil, and French. Samad was later conferred the award of Sasterawan Negara (National Laureate). The original Salina text used for this study is the third reprint published in 1976.
The novel performs a mimetic function of providing an image of the Malay in the real and fictional worlds. The dialogue in this text reflects the special, largely dialectal, spoken Malay language, known locally as bahasa pasar, “market language.” The speciality of the language in this novel has drawn the attention and commendation of scholars of language and literature. A. Samad Said’s Salina was acclaimed as “world literature” by A. Teeuw, a Western scholar and expert on Malay literature. He is of the opinion that the “long conversations to be found in every chapter are a valuable source for the study of the spoken language which up to now is little known” (1975:v).
Beyond a linguistic interest, these conversations represent a source of cultural information, and their translation offers interesting points of comparison from a perspective of Comparative Literature. Two published English translations of the novel by the same name referred to in the title of this book as “The Other Salina”, show marked differences in representation. The first translation is by an Australian, Harry Aveling (1975), and the second, is a Malay translator, Hawa Abdullah (1991). These two English translations are observed from practical problems of translation encountered, and strategies employed to deal with them. The two English texts are comparatively evaluated to determine how far each reflects the culture-specific content of the original A. Samad Said’s Salina.
It is acknowledged that length is usually not a criterion for evaluating the quality of a work. However, the fact that the length of Harry Aveling translation is a vast reduction from the original Salina, whereas the length of Hawa Abdullah translation is an amplification of the original Salina, serves as an interesting starting point for investigation. Furthermore, there is a wide variation between the two English translations of the same text, for example, Harry Aveling translation is half the length of Hawa Abdullah translation. These general observations provide a basis to investigate the material cause of the difference or discrepancy between the texts, as well as to evaluate the translations in a comparative manner.
The extent of accuracy, precision, and consistency in conveying the explicit and implicit contents of the culture-specific expressions in the original text are the main considerations of evaluation. Some of the questions that the study attempts to address include the following. Does the reduction in Harry Aveling translation mean a loss, or the increase in Hawa Abdullah translation, a gain? If so, what effect has either on the meaning or on the quality of the translated texts as a whole? What do the strategies employed in each translation reveal about the translator?
The corpus of examples presented attempts to support the theory that literary translation is not a neutral activity, but a culturally charged one, and that the socio-cultural background of a translator influences his strategy of translation. In this connection, the study holds that the “hierarchy factor” is one part of the translator’s background which determines his viewpoint and shapes the nature of his text. The term “hierarchy factor” is coined to refer to the various levels of hierarchy such as race and gender prevailing upon a translator.
It is believed that a translator has to be constantly aware of the prevalence of this factor in the process of translation, especially in the case of translating non-Western texts into Western languages, because cultural divergence between the traditions is likely to be of a relatively high degree. Such awareness enhances a translator’s ability to formulate an appropriate strategy and select suitable expressions that do not deviate from the original meaning. Even though it may not be possible to eliminate deviation altogether, the awareness of this factor in the process of translation can serve to reduce it.
The discussion in The Other Salina: A. Samad Said’s Masterpiece in Translation begins with an amplification of the issues of literary translation that have been raised here in passing. This is necessary for an appropriate and sufficient appreciation of the cultural and political constructs within which “the other Salina,” or the individual English versions of the original Salina are assessed. Following that are three chapters of in-depth examination and comparison of culture-specific expressions, presented thematically. The first theme dealt with is of language and community, the second is of religion and spirituality, and the third is of politics and power relations. The book ends with some conclusions derived from the scrutiny of expressions, within the context of the issues of literary translation addressed by the study as a whole.