← Back to portfolio

Richard Huddleson / Riocárd Ó hOddail: 'Translation as Excavation'

Published on 26th April 2019

As a translator, my daily work revolves around excavating truth and meaning from crowded clumps of unruly words. And there’s lots of ways to go about such an activity – no trowels or shaker screens needed! When I first began my doctoral research, after having spent some time working in industry, I was a bit overwhelmed at how quickly my discipline had moved on, leaving me behind, buried under years of new findings, theories, and developments. At the same time, venturing into the wild world of theatre translation, I was about to hit a very steep learning curve. Despite all that I had learnt during my training and work experience prior to coming to Queen Mary, I quickly came to see that meaning does not exist exclusively within a word. There are other sites that need to be excavated, and urgently. Our all too mortal bodies, the mundane spaces that we traverse, cast-off trinkets, and even deadly silences have the potential to shed much needed light on meaning and truth. We simply need to roll up our sleeves, select the right tools, and start digging.

Finding those tools often means that we need to wander out of our comfort zones, getting down and dirty – but not quite in the Christina Aguilera sense of the word, unless that’s your thing. By moving beyond my usual stomping ground of Translation Studies and through embracing dramatic techniques, such as Laban movement analysis, I’ve learnt that we can uncover and tap into the language of our bodies, transforming these fleshy vessels that we inhabit into rich mines that are teeming with words and truths, all of which enhance our translation work and the worlds we create onstage. Within the PhD, the act of excavating, it would seem, is about cutting through the tight and itchy strait-jackets that hold our disciplines together and looking for a new way of interacting with the world beyond. New and exciting research, arguably, comes about through a bit of bareback.

As well as chasing after the unfamiliar, we might want to re-examine the everyday and mundane to see what new insights can be found and how these can benefit our research outlook. The everyday language and definitions of our disciplines are interesting starting places. For example, within my own field, the English ‘translate’ means to ‘carry across’. Yet, if you take a look at the Irish verb ‘aistrigh’ (to translate), you may notice its resemblance (and etymological relation) to the Old Irish ‘aistrigid’ (to travel) – which, in turn, is related to the Latin ‘stella’ and the Sanskrit तारा (tārā), both of which mean ‘star’ . The somewhat mundane process of carrying things across boundaries is suddenly reimagined as a journey, like a star blazing a new path across the midnight sky. By reframing the act as a ‘journey’, I can now approach my research and the theories that bind my discipline with fresh eyes, free from debris.

Richard Huddleson / Riocárd Ó hOddail is an Irish second-year PhD candidate at the Centre for Catalan Studies, at Queen Mary, University of London. Their research is practice-led and looks at how queer plays from the Catalan Countries can be translated and relocated on the Irish stage.