Translation blunders
Please kill The General Staff

He is a general little known in history. However, he made frequent appearances in some historical works, like the recently translated book of Adam B. Ulam, "The Bolsheviks". Let us open the index: General Staff appears, with reference to pages 317, 352, 363, between Maria Spiridova (sic for Spiridonova), who was leader of the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party, and Joseph Stalin. On page 317 we learn that in Austrian Galicia the Polish Socialists were preparing the fight against Russia " in collusion with the General Staff ". There is no doubt that he is an Austrian general. Page 352 states that " since the beginning of the war, the German imperial government and General Staff were aware of the advantage they could derive from the Russian revolutionary movement". So he is a German general. Finally, on page 363, we are told that in 1917 it was difficult for the Provisional Government and General Staff to sign a separate peace. Our General is now Russian.

A strange general who has no first name and whose movements in space are remarkable. Nevertheless, it has the particularity of appearing only in works translated from English or American. But no doubt his true identity will have already been recognized: the General Staff. Perhaps it will be necessary to make it neighboring with the city of Burma, well known also in the translations (2) and which is none other than Burma.

There is something quite astounding about the way many books are translated. Here are a few more examples: in the translation of Robert Conquest's book The Great Terror, devoted to the Stalinist purges of the 1930s (3), the second part is entitled "The Age of Jejov ". Should it be recalled that Yeshov " (the classic transcription is Ejov) was the Minister of Police of Stalin? A way of record is provided by the translation of Merle Fainsod's capital book: Smolensk at Stalin's time (4). " War communism ", that is to say the period known as "war communism" (1917-1921) becomes: " the armed struggle of communism ". Finally, let me give an example that I believe to be unassailable: on page 343 of the same book, a sentence concerning a circular asking for an end to the attack on specialists reads as follows: " The circular asked for an end to the practice of the break for snacks by specialists. "

Let us be serious: translation is not an easy thing to do, and when it comes to books like those I have just mentioned, it requires both linguistic and scientific competence. It is also true that translators are very poorly paid, publishers being anxious, at best, not to burden the cost price of translated works, which are always higher than those written directly in French. Nevertheless, and this is intended for publishers and collectors who publish scientific works, proofread or have proofread by a competent person the translations should not be impossible. I know from experience that there is always a risk of one or more misunderstandings escaping. But General Staff would still have to be killed!

Le Monde . 18 -01-1974

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