I have been thinking about translations a lot recently--in part because of the Analects, and in part because of the VCDs from Taiwan of questionable legality I have been watching.
The interesting thing about translation is, the translator must make choices about which possible meaning he or she is going to go with. The translations of the Analects by Slingerland, Waley, Lau, etc., are instructive even to competent readers of Chinese because you can see the interpretation built in to the English.
In the VCDs, it is obvious that the translation process was careless. Much of the translation is based on mishearings of the English ("shark" for "shock," "make a bet" for "vampyre bat," etc.), and that obviously renders a good portion of the dialogue nearly nonsensical.
In the comments to Language Hat's very kind post about my blog, someone mentioned that making a translation true to the original is often a thankless task. Indeed, the best a translator can do is stay invisible and let his choices become a seemless part of the work. The translator of the VCD slipped up and showed himself.
It seems that translators get more grief than they do kudos. Some reviews of Philip Gabriel's translation Murakami Haruki's Kafka on the Shore complained of "jive" like "Jeez Louise" being used. I thought it was great--don't you think there's such a thing as Japanese jive, Janet Maslin of the NY Times?!
In an email exchange with fellow translator Jay Rubin, Gabriel also talks about Murakami's own decision for the Japanese chain restaurant Royal Host to be changed to Denny's in the English translation. This, on the other hand, I think is unfortunate. When I read something, especially in translation, I like to know that somewhere, on another continent, people are eating in a restaurant called "Royal Host." Readers should be allowed to find these things.
It's a fine line, and perhaps it is a thankless task to find it.