AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 314

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Session 314: Roundtable: Translating Old Thai Literature: Learnings from Khun Chang Khun Phaen

Organizer: Chris Baker, Indiana University-Bloomington, USA

Discussants: Pasuk Phongpaichit, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand; Robert J. Bickner, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA; Susan F. Kepner, University of California, Berkeley, USA; John F. Hartmann, Northern Illinois University, USA; Bonnie Brereton, Khon Kaen University, Thailand

Translating old Thai literature: Learnings from Khun Chang Khun Phaen Some years ago, William F. Gedney argued that “traditional Thai poetry is among the finest artistic creations in the history of humankind,” and asked, “Why has so little of this material been translated, and why have the few translations that have been attempted been, in general, so disappointing?” Gedney also listed many of the problems of translation including the size of many works, the poor state of the texts, abstruse poetic vocabularies, and the difficulties of rendering Thai poetic conventions. Late 2010 sees the publication of the first-ever translation of The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen, the most distinctive, original, and historically fascinating of old Thai works. In this roundtable, the translators, Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit, will briefly introduce the poem, comment on its history and historical significance, and outline major issues arising in the course of translation. What to translate – given that the poem evolved over several centuries and exists in several versions? How to translate—given the differences in the structure of Thai and English? Why translate—given the difficulty of doing justice to the original, and the controversies surrounding the work? The panelists, who include some of the most experienced translators of Thai works, will then comment on the translation and its significance for further translation of old Thai literature. What other works deserve to be translated?