1. Trezzy_Sometimes
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    Trezzy_Sometimes Member

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    How do you feel about translations?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Trezzy_Sometimes, Nov 13, 2009.

    I hope this is in the right subforum.

    I just finished reading Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya a few weeks ago. I guess I rather enjoyed the book, but one thing bothered me, and that was the fact that the Spanish phrases were untranslated. I see nothing wrong with being authentic and having certain characters speak heavily (or only) in a foreign language, but why not translate it? I know it didn't really interfere with the plot, but I still would like to have known what the character was saying to help me visualize the situation, tone, etc. I don't know, there may be a different version of the book that includes a dictionary. The only reason I say this is because when I read A Clockwork Orange, my copy did not include a "Nadsat" dictionary, but I know some copies do. The slang used in Clockwork Orange didn't really throw me off (because the context made it obvious), and neither did the Spanish in Bless Me, Ultima. It's just that the Nadsat in ACO was consistent, Alex used it all the time (whereas in Ultima, some characters who we are told speak no English end up speaking half in English and half in Spanish). I just think they should have either kept everything in English, or provided translations to the Spanish. Forgive me if I sound uneducated, I just think it would have been helpful if there had been a glossary. (And besides, ACO uses little words that can be deceifered through context clues. BMU uses entire phrases.)
    Aaaaanywaaay *diverts away from long and annoying rant*. Now for my real question and reason for this thread: how do you feel about slang/foreign languages in literary works, and do you think it takes away from the authenticity if it is left untranslated?
    NOTE: I have absolutely nothing against Foreign cultures/languages in books. In fact, I love it. It's just that I would be able to love it more if I could understand it more.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Let me start with an example. A lot of characters in Russian novels speak French. I like it when the translator translate the Russian but leaves in the French with footnotes. That way, the reader knows when the character is speaking French and when he is not. In this case, there is a fine line between leaving the French and translating it. Only the Russian upper class speak French, so leaving the French in is helpful in identifying characters. On the other hand, a lot of the French phrases are nothing important, so translating them into English wouldn't have made much of a difference, IMO.

    For your case, it may be that the author thought the Spanish phrases were common and well known. Also, leaving the Spanish bits in lends some insight into characterization. But I do agree that a glossary would be helpful in such cases.
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I have to admit, I haven't really seen anything like that before...the only times I've encountered untranslated languages in English texts is when it has been obvious and deliberate...the French phrases in Lolita, the Spanish phrases in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange. In situations like those, even if the language isn't entirely understood (like in BWLOW, I didn't understand several of the phrases simply because here in NZ it isn't a language that you get to be familiar with as you might in the USA) the meaning of the phrases is usually pretty clear contextually, and even more than that, the reason the author left them untranslated is clear. I've never encountered an untranslated foreign language in an English text that wasn't either explained in the text or understandable through context.

    Somewhat unrelated edit: My copy of ACO was without dictionary, and to be honest, I think that is the only way to read it. So much of the joy of reading that book came from the play with language, and having the whole thing laid bare for you with a dictionary would, while making it easier to read, make it less enjoyable, in my opinion. And the fact that it can be read without a dictionary is, I think, testament to the immense skill of its author.
     
  4. Trezzy_Sometimes
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    Trezzy_Sometimes Member

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    Lolita is another one I've read. I agree with what you're saying about how there is almost always a reason the foreign languages are left untranslated. That's why I was so flabbergasted that there was so obvious reason as to why Anaya had chosen not to translate the Spanish in BMU. But then again, ACO and Lolita are on a completely different level than BMU, which I think is more of a young adult/coming of age novel. And I completely agree with the ACO part. I too think I would have enjoyed it less if I had not had the pleasure of reading things over and over again to deceifer their meanings. While trying to uncode its slang, I felt that it was almost easier to understand the novel that it would have been if I had a Nadsat glossary. Because of the slang, I was motivated to look deeper into it (I mean it's a Clockwork Orange, so you can't not look deeply into it, but you know what I mean). ;)
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Something will always be lost in translation. That has to be a given. But if you aren't fluent in the original language, you may as well read the translated version. You'll still get more out of it than not reading it at all. Just know that there will be lost nuances and beauty of language that the translation will fall short on.

    For example, I don't speak a single word of Chinese, but watching the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with subtitles, I can hear some of the beauty in the dialogue that doesn't translate at all into English.
     
  6. 67Kangaroos
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    67Kangaroos Contributing Member

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    some times things just can't be translated.

    cultural ways of speaking don't always cross over. in japanese, women speak very light and sweet and cute, and men speak hard and tough (not always, but 'as a rule') and a woman speaking like a man is very strange and a man speaking like a woman is a pushover. but when books are translated, the small little 'extras' that separate male and female dialogue don't cross over. there was a famous book (i forget the name) with written dialogue and no tags. and in english it was a rather difficult to follow without a few 'he said/she said' but in japanese, the tags are completely unnecessary because men and women talk differently.

    a light example from english: "Finding Nemo"
    when finding nemo is translated, that joke about the clown fish not being funny just confused foreign audiences -- that's because a "clown fish" has a completely different kind of name, so when they translated the joke, no one could understand why the other fish expected the clown fish to be funny.
     
  7. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I think the most successful translations I've ever seen are of the Tintin comics. If you read them without knowing they were originally in French, you would undoubtedly assume they were written by someone very, very English; the wordplay, the dialogue and the humour are all typically English, and yet the original French versions are just as funny, have just as much wordplay and seem absolutely French.

    So yeah, I think great translations are more about retaining the ideas of the original and the intentions of the author, rather than focussing on specific word-for-word translations (which are, of couse, important, but if done without sufficient thought are often not reflective of the original text).
     
  8. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have handled the foreign language issue in a number of ways ... four to be exact. In some cases, where I know I will be dealing with a foreign language, with long passages or extended dialog, on a regular basis throughout the ms, I use footnoted translations. If, on the other hand, it is just one line or phrase every now and then, I will attempt to add the translation in the body of the ms. On the other- other hand, and here I go running out of hands again, I have also used a translator, a third party in the story, to do the translating. In the last option, I will just let the context of the coversation suggest the meaning or intent of the word or phrase. Comprende?

    Es muy facil. At least I think it's very easy.
     

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