A few more thoughts on the Kurodahan translation prize (2018)

By | December 25, 2018

In a previous article I talked a little about the 2018 Kurodahan translation prize.

Today I received an email from someone at Kurodahan saying I didn’t win. As this was my first contest of this type, honestly I was not too surprised about this. However, I was a bit disappointed in the number of “points” I received based the judge scoring system.

While there was some description of rough guidelines for judging on their website, it sounds like ultimately it us up to the judges to score how they want. While I don’t expect to get a line-by-line analysis pointing out what I did wrong (with them receiving 90+ entries I didn’t even try to ask for any detailed feedback), really the best I can do is look at the winner’s translation when it is publicized and compare it to the original text.

Before I get too discouraged, I want to remind myself that there are certainly subjective elements to what makes a ‘good’ translation––like the original works themselves. Besides the spectrum of literal to more interpretive translations, there are the various ways to render each sentence, and it may happen that certain turns of phrase sound better to the judges. While I think it is possible to lay out a set of guidelines for judging, just like original works of fiction I think ultimately the decision has to, at least partially, involve intuition and feeling.

Similarly, just like certain magazines tend to favor certain styles of works, I think each publisher that does a translation contest will have their own style (even if the judges are different each time, there is still the judge selection and guidelines set up by the publisher). By analyzing the winning translation I can at least understand what the judges, and (if I am lucky) maybe even Kurodahan as a whole, thinks is a good translation. This will provide me with information that should give me better chances at winning next year, or at least getting a higher “score”. Hopefully the things I learned from this analysis will also inform my own future non-contest translations, but I think to a certain degree I would translate to fit the contest.

If you’re one of those 90+ people that (like me) didn’t win, I hope you’ll be able to learn from this experience, and try with me again next year.

After all, there is an advantage to having so many people enter a translation contest like this. The winner is virtually guaranteed to have an enjoyable, accurate translation. I’m looking forward to reading it!

(Update: After I made a brief remark to Kurodahan I received the following words of encouragement: “Keep in mind that this is a highly subjective score by three people, based on a very short sample”. So definitely there is not too much reason to be too saddened by your score.)


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