Essay: Translating El legado – linguistics

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Before beginning my translation, I established a strategy that would consider the type of text I was translating, who the reader would be, and the purpose of the translation. According to Reiss’ text typology, my Source Text (ST) is literary and therefore plays an expressive function (2000). Reiss believes that the translator should therefore ‘transmit the aesthetics and artistic form’ of the text (Munday, 2008, p. 73). Levý also considers that literary translators should aim for ‘equivalent aesthetic effect’ and Miko suggests that they should retain ‘the expressive character or style of the ST’ (Munday, 2008, p. 62). Accordingly, I aimed to create an equivalent aesthetic effect, whether this be in terms of the poetic language and alliteration in ‘El legado’, the snappy dialogue in ‘Bzzz’, or the use of slang and dialect in ‘El apuntamiento’.
 
1.1. Readership and skopos

Reiss also argues that the translator of expressive texts should adopt the ST author’s standpoint (Munday, 2008). However, I believe that the translator requires a different standpoint because they cater for a different audience, and this in turn affects the skopos: ‘the aim or purpose of a translation’ (Vermeer, 2000, p. 221). Vermeer highlights that the Source Text (ST) and Target Text (TT) ‘may diverge from each other quite considerably […] as regards the goals which are set for each’ (p. 223). This rang true with my translation because the ST was written for Spanish-speakers, and perhaps even more specifically, a Chilean audience. The ST audience immediately notices that the text is Chilean, owing to the dialect employed, the turns of phrase used, and indeed the cultural references that are made. Whilst it is difficult to ‘gauge’ the effect of the ST on the audience (Hatim & Mason, 1990, p. 7), I believe that these techniques are likely to conjure up a sense of the ‘familiar’ for a Chilean audience. Non-Chilean Spanish speakers will also be immediately aware that it is a Chilean text. In contrast, I established that my TT could be aimed at anyone interested in Chilean literature, whether they be academics or members of the public. The readership might know a lot about Chilean culture, or nothing at all. Therefore, the effect on the TT audience will inevitably be different.

My skopos therefore needed to reflect this difference in readership. I firstly considered the debate of foreignization versus domestication: ‘the question of how much a translation assimilates a foreign text to the translating language and culture, and how much it rather signals the differences of that text’ (Venuti, 1998, p. 102). I decided to adopt a ‘foreignizing’ strategy in the sense that I did not want to assimilate the ST’s culture. This is because I believed that my reader, having chosen to read an anthology aiming at the exposition of Chilean culture, would want the cultural references to be preserved.

In this sense, I wanted to provide an ‘overt’ translation (House, 1997). House considers an overt translation to be one ‘in which the addressees of the translation text are quite “overtly” not being directly addressed’ (House, 1997, p. 66). She believes that the TT audience should be able to recognise that they are reading a translation because the ST is tied to the source culture. However, she maintains that the ST and TT should be equivalent ‘at the level of language/text, register (with its various dimensions) as well as genre’ (p. 112). My overall strategy reflects this distinction. I aim for equivalence in terms of register, genre, style and aesthetics (as set out in both Reiss’ and House’s strategies), however I want the reader to detect the existence of and the difference between the two discourse worlds.

2. Cultural references

2.1. Non-equivalence of culture-specific concepts

One of the challenges I faced when translating ‘El legado’ was finding an equivalent for culture-specific concepts without incurring too much loss. The narrator at one point lists the items that he took to his mother in the hospital. These items all seem run-of-the-mill for the ST audience, however it is difficult to find culturally equivalent objects in the target culture. He takes his mother colonia inglesa [paragraph 26]: a cheap body spray or splash that has a distinctive scent Chileans instinctively recognise. Mona Baker suggests that in these circumstances translators need to deal with semantic gaps by manipulating the hierarchical nature of a semantic field. If the hyponym does not exist in the TT, the translator can resort to the superordinate word (Baker, 1992). I decided to opt for a superordinate word, translating colonia inglesa as body spray. It still evokes the cheapness and use of the product, even if I had to incur loss in terms of the Chilean cultural association with it.

Another similar dilemma was how to translate povidona yodada [26] which also appears in the list of products. I found several brand names for povidone-iodine such as Betadine, Savlon Dry and Videne, which are sold on the UK market. However, I thought that using a brand name would contrast with my foreignization approach; it would bring the ST to the reader, and not send the reader abroad. Instead, I opted to keep the literal translation (povidone iodine) but added the adjective antiseptic and defined it as a solution, for ease of reading. As per my ‘overt’ translation strategy, the reader is made aware of the existence of and difference between their discourse world and that of the ST.

2.1.1. Criminal jargon

Isidora Aguirre used a variety of police and criminal jargon in ‘El apuntamiento’ for which it was at times difficult to find a translation and a cultural equivalent in English. Ratis [80], tiras [129], and la pesca [86] are some examples of this. However, I would like to focus on the short story’s title. Collins Spanish dictionary provided several translations of apuntamiento, such as aiming, noting down something and support. However, none of these suited the explicitation of the word given in the story as what ‘le hacen los tiras a los ladrones: cobran al mes, como condición para dejarlos tranquilos, porque suponen que uno sigue robando’. I eventually found a definition in the Diccionario del habla chilena as a ‘cita en la cual el delincuente paga al policía para que le permita trabajar’ (1978, p. 53). Once I had a definition for the term, I considered and discounted various English equivalents. Whilst I thought that hush money or bribery might work, they both suggest that the person willingly pays money to ensure that the receiver will not disclose their illegal behaviour. However, in the story, the police demand this payment at regular intervals, blackmailing the protagonist. I also considered protection money but that is normally paid to a criminal, not vice versa, and so this could confuse the reader. I instead decided on a literal translation of apuntamiento as appointment. This decision was informed by my foreignizing strategy which favours calquing or literal translation as a means of allowing the style of the TT to retain an ‘exotic’ sense. Furthermore, appointment worked perfectly with the definition of the interaction being a cita, and the collocation to make + appointment is the same in Spanish. I realise that I incurred loss in the fact that appointment has no connotations with the world of crime in English. However, I wonder how many ST readers would have heard of an apuntamiento in this context. In fact, the translation might have an equivalent effect on the TT audience as the original had on the ST one; this particular use of the word apuntamiento in the Source Language (SL) also seems unusual and exotic.

2.2. Connotative meanings

Another issue when translating cultural references are connotative meanings: associations which ‘over and above the literal meaning of an expression, form part of its overall meaning’ (Haywood, et al., 2009, p. 171). One example is the word Patria [60] in the short story ‘Bzzz’. The Spanish word is ideologically charged since it played a key role in the rhetoric of the Pinochet regime. The word is etymologically linked to ‘padre’ and thus Pinochet often used the term ‘patria’ (as opposed to nation) to evoke the image of him as father of the nation (McClennen, 2004). I simply could not evoke the historical context associated with Patria, however I translated it as fatherland to evoke this sense of parentage and emotional tie. Furthermore, by using a literal translation of the word, I remained faithful to the ST culture.

2.3. Historical context

I departed from my foreignizing strategy when I considered it necessary to provide the reader with more contextual information. ‘Bzzz’ is set in the period of Pinochet’s military dictatorship and the protagonist refers to el General [58] on several occasions. I decided to opt for an exegetic approach by specifying General Pinochet the first time that he is mentioned so that the reader can associate the protagonist’s behaviour with a specific time and location. In this instance, I believe that ‘there has been no actual adding to the semantic content of the message’, because my addition consists ‘in making explicit what is implicit in the [ST]’ (Nida, 1964, p. 231).

2.4. Names and forms of address

Character nicknames presented a problem when trying to adopt my foreignization approach; I wanted to preserve the cultural associations linked to the nickname without alienating the reader. One of the greatest challenges was deciding how to translate La Negra [161] in the short story ‘El apuntamiento’. La Negra or simply Negra is used throughout Latin America as ‘a common term of endearment, frequently, if not necessarily, detached from any direct identification of race’ (Nunes, 2002, p. 52). While I was tempted to either leave La Negra in the Spanish (as an exoticism) or leave it in Spanish and explain the nickname’s roots in a footnote, I ultimately decided against these two options. Firstly, if I were to leave it in Spanish, I would have lost the fact that the name is a term of endearment. In fact, readers with an elementary knowledge of Spanish (or other Romance languages) might identify the nickname as meaning black which evokes different connotations. Secondly, if I were to provide a footnote, this would distract the reader from the text, as I discuss further on. Instead, I decided to use an equivalent term of affection when the protagonist was addressing or talking about his girlfriend: babe and my girl respectively.

Similarly, I found it difficult to translate the protagonist’s description of the old lady from the flat below as la vieja, la vieja flaca, and la vieja de mierda at various points in ‘Bzzz’. This is because it is common in Spanish to describe and address people based on their physical characteristics (Landers, 2001), whereas this is not the case in English. However, I decided to follow my foreignizing strategy and opt for a literal translation. The protagonist first refers to her as la vieja flaca esa [41]. In this instance, the demonstrative adjective esa is used and placed after the noun to be critical or derogatory (Steel, 1985). Therefore, I translated the phrase as: that skinny, old woman.

When considering other terms of address, I followed by ‘overt’ translation strategy where I thought the reader would recognise the Spanish word. For example, I culturally ‘borrowed’ the word Señora [34] in ‘Bzzz’ so that I could draw the reader’s attention to the source culture. Furthermore, in English Mrs denotes a married woman, whereas this is not necessarily the case with Señora. In Hispanic culture, women keep their own surnames and therefore Señora denotes age and status more than marital status. By leaving the word in the Spanish, I did not incur this loss of meaning and remained faithful to the ST culture.

2.5. Swear words

Translating swear words was particularly challenging because I had to consider the differences in swearing behaviour between the source and target culture: the prevalence of swearing and the levels of acceptability of taboo language. Landers suggests that the translator should seek ‘emotional, not literal, equivalents’ when translating swear words (2001, p. 151). In ‘El apuntamiento’, I translated swear words based upon the emotional force that I detected behind these expletives, as opposed to translating each swear word literally and pairing it with an equivalent in English. Early in the story he uses the phrase no me jodan [129] to indicate his exasperation. In this instance, I thought the emotional equivalent in English would be you must be joking, as opposed to the more literal fuck off. In other instances, I translated the verb joder as to screw [150, 176, 183, etc.].

3. Dialect

3.1. Dialect strategy

One of the greatest challenges when considering cultural equivalence on a linguistic level was the use of dialect in ‘El apuntamiento’. Dialect has been defined as ‘a language variety with features of accent, vocabulary, syntax and sentence formation […] characteristic, and therefore indicative, of the regional provenance of its users’ (Haywood, et al., 2009, p. 271). I contended with all of these features (accent, vocabulary, syntax and sentence formation) when translating Aguirre’s short story, as I will demonstrate.

However, I firstly had to decide on an overarching strategy for translating dialect. One option was to find an equivalent dialect in English that had a similar socio-cultural background to the dialect used in the story. However, by using a specific dialect, such as Cockney for example, I would have culturally transposed the story, situating the story in East London. As I stated in my introduction, this anthology’s aim is to provide a new perspective on Chilean society; by transposing this story, I would disregard this aim. Also, my reader is unlikely to expect a story set in London when they chose an anthology of Chilean short stories.

Newmark suggests that the translator needs to decide on the functions of the dialect that has been used because this will help inform their approach to dialect translation. He considers that these functions will usually be: ‘a) to show a slang use of language; b) to stress social class contrasts; and more rarely c) to indicate local cultural features’ (1988, p. 195). I decided that dialect in ‘El apuntamiento’ was used to emphasise both a slang use of language and social class contrasts. For example, the protagonist’s use of dialect contrasts with the standard Spanish used by characters such as the gil de plata.

I also decided to adopt Levý’s strategy of using unmarked features of language. He suggests using phonetic, lexical or syntactic features that are used in various regional dialects, since they do not evoke a specific region but instead more general notions about socio-economic background (2011). I thought this would be the best solution: it would highlight to the reader that the characters were not speaking in standard Spanish in the original, but it would not localise the translation either.

3.2. Morphological and syntactical features

In order to assimilate the nonstandard phonological and grammatical features of dialect, my next step was to research morphological and syntactical features that were shared by the majority of urban dialects. Contractions such as I’ve and ain’t, the nonstandard was (for example was used with a plural ‘notional’ subject), the double negative, the unaspirated ‘h’ and dropping the ‘g’ in words ending in ‘-ing’ are all features of non-standard English which are used in dialects throughout the English-speaking world (Haywood, et al., 2009). I employed these syntactical features at various points in the TT to compensate for the loss of the specific Chilean dialect used in the original. I translated the phrase no he hecho ná [82] by using the double negative, I ain’t done nothin’, and si uno no les causa problemas [96] as if you cause them no problems. To emphasise a nonstandard use of phonology, I also dropped ‘h’s at the beginning of words and ‘g’s at the end of words. For example, I translated andando, entonces [146] as get goin’ then and páselo p’adentro [87] as take ’im inside. As the latter example highlights, I could not indicate each non-standard use of a Spanish word in the equivalent English word. Here, I compensated for the contracted para in Spanish with the unaspirated ‘h’.

3.3. Use of dialect vocabulary

However, while I could convey dialect usage in terms of nonstandard grammar or phonology, I found it harder to highlight that Chilean, as opposed to standard Spanish, vocabulary was being used. The English vocabulary I used either seemed too culturally-specific or too standard. One such example is lacazos [110] which I translated as truncheon blows. It was very difficult to find the origin or meaning of this word, which in turn highlights how infrequently the word is used. Without finding the word in any standard Spanish dictionary, I assumed from context that it might be an action noun related to beating someone with a heavy instrument. I searched for the word truncheon in standard Spanish, and found cachiporra or porra. I then searched for a Chilean synonym which would start with ‘lac’, the root of the action noun lacazo. I found the word laque, which derives from a Mapuche word and is used in Chile to denote a ‘especie de porra de fierro o de madera recubierta’ (Real Academia Española, 2017). Once finding the definition, I had to assimilate this action and its context into English. I decided that I could not express this word in dialect, without localising my TT, and so I incurred translation loss. I instead focused on the ST meaning, adopting a foreignizing strategy by providing a literal translation, at the expense of a more fluid rendition in the TT.

Another example of dialect was the use of the word grupos [115, 171] which was given a footnote of ‘de engrupir: mentir’ in the ST. This footnote immediately indicated that the word would be unknown to a large part of the ST audience, because of it being used exclusively in dialect. In this instance, I followed Newmark’s approach to translating dialect and decided that grupos was used to convey a ‘slang use of language’. Thus, whilst I was unable to convey the fact that dialect was in use in the ST, I translated it as crap to imitate the type of language used.

4. Register

The register of the three stories contrasts dramatically. ‘El apuntamiento’ is replete with swear words, expletives and slang, whereas ‘El legado’ employs poetic, symbolic language. The register also differs quite dramatically within the three stories: just in the first paragraph in ‘El legado’, the register switches from formal, poetic to colloquial. Take the following two sentences as an example: ‘Un manotazo fiero le estrujó las vísceras y se mareó. Pero no como si fuera a descomponerse’ [1]. We are presented with the incongruous juxtaposition of a blow which can squeeze his gut, emphasising the poetic nature of Basualto’s narrative. The use of the latinate adjective fiero also raises the register of the sentence. However, swiftly following this image, we are presented with the verb descomponerse which is a Chilean dialect word, lowering the register of the phrase from the literary to the colloquial. Whenever I was faced with these swift changes in register, I tried to mirror the ST in terms of word choice as much as possible in order to achieve an equivalent aesthetic effect.

4.1. Contractions

The register often changes dependent upon whether we are reading the third-person narrator or the interior monologue. I found it useful to use contractions to highlight this change. In ‘El legado’, I used contractions for the interior monologue and for the free indirect discourse because these present the thoughts that cross the mind of the protagonist, and so the tone is more familiar, colloquial. In contrast, I did not use contractions when presenting the voice of the third-person narrator since it provides more formal, poetic descriptions. In ‘El apuntamiento’ and ‘Bzzz’, in contrast, I used contractions throughout the story because of the colloquial style adopted by the first-person narrator in both stories. SL speakers commonly use contractions in everyday speech and so I thought that the narrative would seem stilted without them.

4.2. Impersonal pronoun

Throughout ‘El apuntamiento’, the first-person narrator uses the indefinite personal pronoun uno. While Butt and Benjamin suggest that the impersonal pronoun is used in much the same way in Spanish and English (2013), I decided that translating uno as one would create a stilted TT. This is because of the discrepancy in register that the readers would note from one sentence to the next, or even within the same sentence. For example: ‘es el truquito para que no lo pasen a uno a la “pesca” donde están los tiras’ [151]. In this instance, uno is surrounded by words in the diminutive (truquito) as well as dialect (pesca and tiras) which both indicate a colloquial register. By translating uno as one, I thought that this would change the register of the sentence. Instead, I translated it using the impersonal pronoun you. Steel also highlights that uno may be used to refer to the speaker in popular speech (1985). This renders in my handkerchief the most appropriate translation for el mismo pañuelo de uno [87].

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