Interview with German writer/translator Cora Buhlert
Besides being a writer, you also offer translation services from German to English and English to German, and are a native German speaker. Do you feel this gives you a nearly unique perspective as a writer? Do you think it affects how you approach writing?
Well, I’m not completely unique, since there are a few writers who write in a language that is not their mother tongue, including a handful of Germans writing in English. And some of these writers are bound to be translators, since it’s a natural career choice for those who are fluent in two or more languages.
Regarding my translation work, I have done a bit of fiction, but the overwhelming majority of my translation work is non-fiction, business and tech translation, because that’s where the money and the work is. Even though it’s unfair that tech translation pays so much better than fiction translation, because fiction translation is very difficult to do well.
As for whether being bilingual and writing in a language that is not your mother tongue gives you a different perspective as a writer, it certainly does. First of all, being bilingual gives you a heightened sensitivity for language in general and improves grammar and vocabulary skills as well. There’s plenty of research to back this up. And since language transmits culture, being multilingual also heightens cultural awareness, which is extremely useful when writing about people (or if you’re an SF or fantasy writer, beings) that are different from yourself.
A curious side-effect of writing in a language that is not the language you grew up speaking at home and in school is that writing swearwords and the like won’t make you cringe. Because the sense of violating a taboo while swearing is something that we acquire in childhood and you only acquire it for whatever language the world around you is speaking during that time. But while I intellectually know which English words are considered very rude or even completely taboo, these words don’t evoke the visceral cringing that the equivalent German word would evoke.
Finally, writers are the sum of their influences. And due to having grown up in Germany (though I also spent part of my formative years in the U.S., the Netherlands and Singapore), I have a couple of influences e.g. British or American writers don’t have. I even wrote non-fiction articles on a few of those influences such as the Dr. Mabuse series, pulp heroes John Sinclair and Jerry Cotton and the German Edgar Wallace film adaptations of the 1960s. And of course these influences show up in my fiction, even though I have published only one story which is set in Germany (The Other Side of the Curtain, a spy novella set in 1960s East Germany) with another, a historical novelette set in the late Middle Ages in the Rhine-Moselle region, coming soon. – read the full interview.
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