Two Traditions of Translating Early Irish Literature

Maria Tymoczko
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Abstract

In the translation of early Irish materials into English there are two translation traditions, a scholarly and a literary one, diverging markedly in their practices and norms. The effects of the Macpherson controversy, Irish nationalism, and the Irish language movement in defining and polarizing these translation traditions are explored. In historical poetics, analysis must allow for the ways in which historical circumstances may produce a translation system, internally differentiated itself, such that investigation of a part of the translation system will not necessarily be predictive or reflective of the whole.

Table of contents

Translations of early Irish literature into English can be divided into two major traditions: literary translations and scholarly translations. These two traditions of translation provide virtually a textbook example of the distinction between acceptable translations and adequate translations, to use the terminology of polysystem theorists—that is, the distinction between translations oriented to the target audience on the one hand and translations [ p. 208 ]oriented to the source text on the other hand. In the first group there are translations that are eminently readable, that even represent stylistic achievements in English, but that depart radically from the textual material and linguistic structures of the originals. The translations of Augusta Gregory are an example. In the second group are close textual translations that are virtually unreadable and utterly lacking in literary merit, translations such as those of Whitley Stokes and Cecile O'Rahilly.

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