A CHAT WITH P&V.

I have on more than one occasion had harsh things to say about the translating team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (e.g., here), but I recommend the half-hour Lapham’s Quarterly podcast available at this page (it’s currently at the top of the left column: “December 1, 2010 Pevear and Volokhonsky Podcast: Episode #6″). They have good things to say about Dostoyevsky’s style and the reasons some people compare him unfavorably to Tolstoy or say his prose is bad, and it’s interesting to hear their voices (what an odd accent Pevear has!) and to learn more about the history of their collaboration (they started out with poetry but have sensibly backed off from it, apart from the Zhivago poems). I also realized, listening to it, one reason for the problems I and others have with them: they are too comfortable with each other. They are clearly each other’s first and most important critics, as is only natural for a married couple, and I’m sure they would merrily add “and sternest!”—but of course that’s not true. They share a sensibility, an attitude toward literature and translation, and by bouncing their work off each other instead of a more objective outsider they never get the kind of painful but salutary criticism that would help them avoid solipsism. Instead, they get such criticism only when it’s too late, after the work is published (and then far too little of it, since for whatever reason most reviewers take them at their own evaluation as the only people ever to do a proper job of translating Russian prose). Note the outrageous statement “It turns out that [people who accuse us of translating too literally] don’t know English!” and Pevear’s comfortable response to a question about his response to reviews: “When they say it’s good, I agree with them!” (Whereupon everyone laughs comfortably.) I couldn’t help but notice also that Pevear calls Dudintsev “DOO-dintsev” rather than stressing it correctly on the second syllable, which confirms his lack of familiarity with the language. [I am informed that either pronunciation would sound normal to a Russian.] (I also noticed that in the process of insulting David Magarshack, both of them pronounced his name “Ma-GAR-shack” rather than , as I have always said, “MAG-ar-shack”; does anybody know which is correct?)
In general, I was impressed with their take on Russian literature (and I liked the fact that with unwonted modesty they said they were reluctant to translate A Hero of Our Time because it would mean competing with Nabokov), but I was disgusted with the smug contempt with which they dismissed other translators. (They were relatively nice to Constance Garnett, but that’s presumably because she’s long dead and so frequently dismissed by others that she’s no threat to their dominance.) In short, nothing surprising, but a good listen. Thanks for the link, Floyd!

Comments

  1. (what an odd accent Pevear has!)
    True. It sounds like American English ever so slightly deformed by some furrin language or languages, Russian I guess – like a plastic bowl that has stood near a stove for too long. People have told me my English now sounds vaguely German.
    I wondered about the title of the Dostoyevski book Pevear says they have not translated: “Notes from a dead house”. One German rendering uses Totenhaus, which might mean “morgue” or else “house of the dead”, but not “dead house”. One English rendefing is “house of the dead”. The original Записки из мертвого дома looks to the ignernt eye as if it might mean it’s the house that is dead, but it could just be a way to say “morgue”, or “house of the (living ??) dead”. What gives ?

  2. dameragnel says:

    Didn’t know him personally so can’t know absolutely for sure, but I’ve always heard MAG-ar-shack pronounced by all academics I’ve known with accent on the first syllable–as you do.

  3. I have always imagined that in this matter of how to pronounce a written name one has never heard, one is unconsciously led on by similar expressions. In this case things like “lumberjack”, “crackerjack”, “Radio Shack”, “Pizza Hut”.

  4. What a mean-spirited, sour grapes-ish post. I’m not a fan of the labored translations of P&V myself, but everything LH faults them for here seems exceedingly petty. The “don’t know English” anecdote referred to a specific criticism by a Russian critic who, indeed, apparently didn’t realize English has a word that means свинство. And mis-stressing the surname of a third tier mid-century Russian writer hardly strikes me as the acid test to show Pevear “lacks familiarity with the language.” (“Native fluency” is not the same thing as “familiarity,” at last report.) And what translator did they have anything unkind to say about other than Margarshack? Smug contempt, indeed…but not so much from P&V, as about P&V.

  5. I’m not a fan of the labored translations of P&V myself, but everything LH faults them for here seems exceedingly petty.
    What an odd thing to say. Is it not petty to dismiss P&V’s translations in their entirety as “labored” ? It ain’t grand, that’s for sure – sweeping, more like.

  6. People have told me my English now sounds vaguely German.
    Something similar has happened to my American-born uncle who’s lived in Germany for nearly 40 years. It would be hard to pin down exactly what he sounds like, except that it’s distinctly foreign, nothing like his siblings.

  7. laowai, the English word “swinishness” most definitely does not mean свинство. P&V are simply revealing their astonishing ignorance once again in that sneer. Свинство almost always connotes dishonorable acts, sleaziness, baseness. “Swinishness” and “swinish”, on the other hand, mean “beastly”, “swine-like in behavior”. That’s not what свинство is (almost always) about.
    Свинский, the adjective, is in fact usually similar in meaning to “swinish”. But свинство, the noun, will nearly always be very different from “swinishness”.

  8. Свинство almost always connotes dishonorable acts, sleaziness, baseness. “Swinishness” and “swinish”, on the other hand, mean “beastly”, “swine-like in behavior”.
    Nonsense. I couldn’t disagree more. “Swinishness” is almost never used in the hyper-literal sense you suggest. One the contrary, 90% of the time it connotes precisely sleaziness, baseness and dishonorable behavior. Google the word and see how it is actually used by native speakers, for heaven’s sake.
    Is it not petty to dismiss P&V’s translations in their entirety as “labored” ?
    It’s nothing of the kind. Nice try, though.

  9. David Magarshack
    Peavor and Volokhonskaya are probably influenced by Polish-Russian way of pronouncing such names. I’d put the stress on the last a – MagarshAck, on the model of [Samuil] Marshack, a well-known Russian poet and translator. Both names have the same Ashkenazi roots and quite a number of variant spellings, Maharshak, for example. Wikipedia has lists of people with this name in Russian and in English.
    Of course, it’s how he himself prefered to be called that would be ‘correct’. And even then, he and his family may have just accepted the tendency in English of stressing the first syllable. Who of the anglophones would insist on saying BorIs PasternAk (‘correct’ in Russian), and not BOris PAsternak (‘correct’ in English)?

  10. Notes from a dead house
    One of the less commonly cited translations gives a clue: ‘Buried Alive, or Ten Years of Penal Servitude in Siberia’, Marie v. Thilo, 1881.
    I think there were several posts here on that book a while ago and a long discussion of ‘Anchutki’, the little devils.

  11. “Swinishness” and “swinish”, on the other hand, mean “beastly”, “swine-like in behavior”.
    Ain’t so and nohow, as Iaowai has already remarked. Perhaps pigheadedly pedantic, prudish veterinarians in the 19th century used it that way. But those of us who know what pigs actually get up to when they’re off work use “swinish” to mean “sleazy, base, dishonorable”.

  12. The flow of phrase may be criticised in Peavear-Volokhonsky’s work, but what they seem to achieve impressively is conveying the conciseness of Russian which is often lost in other, more narrative, versions where translators tend to interpret the meaning of the original rather than merely translate. An earlier post, ‘Tolstoy’s prose’ shows this.

  13. I know, I know: “unfair to pigs”. I’ve seen plenty of documentaries on German TV showing how human pigs really are. You can cuddle with them, and let them toddle around in your kitchen while you’re frying bacon. Apparently they are intelligent enough to know not to shit on the tiles ! Or perhaps the producers cut out those sequences.
    The communication problem that has been conjured up by liberal thinking and pig documentaries, is that to draw on typical behavior by type A to characterize behavior of type B is now regarded as unfair/racist to type A. Deprecatory analogy and metaphor based on types are now deprecated. Only individuals are still fair game.
    So I suppose we must try to use more words like “palinesque”, “cheneyous”, “sarkozic” to decry specific behavior. Unfortunately, that implies that we must watch the evening news more often, and ponder ephemeral blockheads.

  14. a third tier mid-century Russian writer
    not sure from which table of ranks this is taken, but Dudintsev with his novels twice contributed to setting agenda for public debate in Russia, and with a gap of thirty years in between them – for two different generations. (Not by Bread Alone, 1957, and The White Robes, 1987.) It’s quite an achievement by any measure. Not by Bread Alone was returned to the forefront of public attention by the 2005 film.

  15. Swinishness
    just re-read Animal Farm to get the drift.

  16. michael farris says:

    The problem I have with ‘swinishness’ has little to do with semantics and a lot to do with frequency.
    Is the Russian equivalent rare or common? I could easily imagine living my entire life and never referring the ‘swinishness’ of something.
    Also, свинство gets almost 50 times as many ghits as swinishness (and that’s just in the nominative case). This would suggest that свинство is an everyday sort of word while swinishness …. isn’t.
    That alone makes the two poor equivalents in my book and not something to brag about.
    And the big dog (mentioned though usually released on its own recognisance) is just how good is P’s written and spoken Russian? They mention they were reading the same novel (she in the original he in English translation). For myself I can’t imagine reading the English translation of a Polish novel (except for purposes of critique or in the broader contexts of translation studies).
    It still sounds to me like she does the load of the work and he just edits her non-native translations which sounds like a recipe for enforcing stylistic mistakes in the interest of ‘faithfulness’.
    It’s kind of a pity because the idea of two highly bilingual people working in tandem is attractive but ..
    That said they do bring up some interesting points and one of my own hobby horses is how original language in the cource will often be translated with some kind of unoriginal fixed phrase in the target language. But I’m not sure if I agree with their approach to that.

  17. “It turns out that [people who accuse us of translating too literally] don’t know English!”
    Language Log had a post about the phrase it turns out… here. This was a response to the piece by James Somers here which included a comment mentioning the book The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams where he says:
    “Incidentally, am I alone in finding the expression ‘it turns out’ to be incredibly useful? It allows you to make swift, succinct, and authoritative connections between otherwise randomly unconnected statements without the trouble of explaining what your source or authority actually is. It’s great. It’s hugely better than its predecessors ‘I read somewhere that…’ or the craven ‘they say that…’ because it suggests not only that whatever flimsy bit of urban mythology you are passing on is actually based on brand new, ground breaking research, but that it’s research in which you yourself were intimately involved. But again, with no actual authority anywhere in sight.”

  18. I’m curious about the use of quotes here – double quotes outside, and single inside. One of the house styles I work to demands it to be the other way round: open quote and close quote are single, but a quote inside the quote is in double quotation marks.

  19. Hell, I did a post on “it turns out” myself a few months ago. A useful phrase indeed.
    And mis-stressing the surname of a third tier mid-century Russian writer hardly strikes me as the acid test to show Pevear “lacks familiarity with the language.”
    In the first place, Dudintsev is far more prominent than you’re trying to make him sound for the sake of your argument, as Sashura points out. In the second place, my point had nothing to do with his prominence but simply with the form of his name, for which the natural pronunciation in both Russian and English would have the correct stress pattern; it’s not a name like Ivanov or Zernov, which has two different and equally valid pronunciations (let alone Gorenkov, which has three). You do not have to be a specialist with deep knowledge in order to say Du-DIN-tsev; it’s what comes naturally. To say DU-dintsev seems to be showing off a special knowledge that you don’t in fact have (a problem with their work in general, as I pointed out in one of my posts with regard to a footnote of theirs about the word kovernaya).
    And in general, you are exhibiting an oddly unmotivated hostility. You may have mistaken this for one of those political discussion sites where belligerence, sarcasm, and misrepresentation are the coin of the realm. This is not such a site, and it would be nice if you could dial it back.

  20. I’m curious about the use of quotes here – double quotes outside, and single inside. One of the house styles I work to demands it to be the other way round: open quote and close quote are single, but a quote inside the quote is in double quotation marks.
    Double quotes outside and single inside is standard US style; in the UK it’s the reverse.

  21. aqilluqqaaq says:

    The problem I have with ‘swinishness’ has little to do with semantics and a lot to do with frequency.
    That alone makes the two poor equivalents in my book and not something to brag about.

    This is one of the questions though, isn’t it? Not only is what’s equivalent purpose-dependent, I may not be remotely interested in what the ‘equivalent’ is (in terms of frequency), only in what the original says, for which I need a translation that gives me access to the original, not something that supposedly does the same job in the target language (making the original dispensable on some reading or other).
    Even if on the whole this were just some quirky preference of mine (say, in relation to literary texts in translation), the problem arises again and again in straightforward cases of there simply being no equivalent in the target language in the relevant sense anyway (less perhaps in terms of specifically lexical semantics, or the frequency of use of individual locutions as a separate issue, but certainly in terms of grammatically minimal differences).

  22. I may not be remotely interested in what the ‘equivalent’ is (in terms of frequency), only in what the original says, for which I need a translation that gives me access to the original
    But surely this is impossible. If you want to read what the original says, you have no choice but to learn Russian and read the original.
    Furthermore, I’m not sure why you would want such a translation. It is important for a scholar of Dostoevsky to know exactly what he said, but such a person would know Russian. I don’t know why you or anyone else would be interested in a translation that distorts English in an impossible effort to preserve exactly what the original says. P&V talk about this a little, they say that they are ‘extending’ English, but it seems they are less interested in providing exactly what the original says than in preserving the general style of the novel.
    I understand (I think) that you are worried that a translation will reflect a particular interpretation (of the novel, of a sentence, of a word). This seems inevitable no matter what style of translation. The only surefire way to avoid this problem is to not read translations. Otherwise you can choose to trust the translator, or to compare multiple translations, or to ask a Russian-speaking friend. Surely the question of which translation best gives you “access to the original” is just as contentious as any other issue in translation.

  23. Does anyone particularly recommend Nabokov’s translation of A Hero of Our Time? I couldn’t find a copy of his translation at the time I read the book, but it appears to have been reprinted since then. Worth rereading?

  24. aqilluqqaaq says:

    If you want to read what the original says, you have no choice but to learn Russian and read the original.
    Ultimately, yes, but the question is how do you get there without intermediate steps.
    I don’t know why you or anyone else would be interested in a translation that distorts English in an impossible effort to preserve exactly what the original says.
    Precisely in order to understand those features of the original which frequency-equivalence and the like obscures. Say, to take a particular sample I’ve recently been thinking about, I have seven sentences in a given language each of which uses only the four words for father, hay, wagon, and loaded, and which, by alternating direct object and oblique adjunct, incorporating hay into the verb loaded (to give the verb ‘hay-loaded’), introduce a series of transitivity alternations (by case variation and antipassive constructions), are there then seven ‘equivalents’ available to me in English to signal the differences in the original?
    1. ‘Father loaded the hay on the wagon.’ [trans.]
    2. ‘Father loaded on the wagon with hay.’ [intrans.]
    3. ‘Father loaded the wagon with hay.’ [trans.]
    4. ‘Father hay-loaded on the wagon.’ [intrans.]
    5. ‘Father hay-loaded the wagon.’ [trans.]
    6. ‘Father did the loading on the wagon with hay.’ [intrans.]
    7. ‘Father did the loading the wagon with hay.’ [trans.]
    Not, it seems to me, if the aim is well-formed English. But that’s precisely why in the technical literature you in fact get things like:
    1. {father N.RAD.-SG.ERG.} {hay N.RAD.-SG.ABS.} {wagon N.RAD.-SG.LOC.} {load VB.TRANS.RAD.-REAL.PERF.3rdSG.O.} : ‘Father loaded the hay on the wagon.’
    2. {father N.RAD.-SG.ABS.} {hay N.RAD.-SG.INSTR.} {wagon N.RAD.-SG.LOC.} {ANTIP.I-load VB.INTRANS.RAD.-REAL.PERF.3rdSG.S.} : ‘Father loaded on the wagon with hay.’
    3. &c.
    Despite (and in fact because of) the unnaturalness in English of sentences like ‘father did the loading the wagon with hay’ (and that only in a certain sense, they’re perfectly natural in the lit. to which they belong), this kind of translation tells me exactly what the originals say in a way the application of a usage-frequency criterion could never hope to offer. I don’t have a principled objection to well-formed, frequency-specific, or idiomatic target language renditions (I wrote that I may not be interested &c., and that equivalence is purpose-dependent), only to the idea that they have a privileged claim to equivalence, let alone an exclusive claim on being translations as such.

  25. Here’s the OED3 entry for swinish (probably straight from OED1):
    swinish, adj.
    Pronunciation: /ˈswaɪnɪʃ/
    Etymology: < swine n. + -ish suffix1.
    1.
    a. Having the character or disposition of a swine; hoggish, piggish; sensual, gluttonous; coarse, gross, or degraded in nature.
    c1200 Trin. Coll. Hom. 37 [They] ben icleped swinisse men & on hem wuneð þe deuel.
    1588 Marprel. Epist. (Arb.) 24 The Lorde B. and your Antichristian swinish rable.
    1592 T. Nashe Pierce Penilesse (Brit. Libr. copy) sig. D4, I loue the quicke witted Italians,‥because they mortally detest this surley swinish Generation.
    1606 S. Gardiner Bk. Angling 22 Drunkards, swinish Epicures, heretiques.
    1685 R. Baxter Paraphr. New Test. Luke viii. 32 Swinish sinners.
    1790 E. Burke Refl. Revol. in France 117 Learning will be cast into the mire, and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.
    1829 E. Bulwer-Lytton Disowned lxxxiii, The reeking, gaping, swinish crowd.
    1829 Scott Anne of Geierstein II. xi. 337 ‘The swinish mutineers!’ said Schreckenwald.
    1857 H. S. Brown Manliness 2 Far be it from me to say that the multitude is swinish, but certainly there is a swinish multitude.
    b. Of actions, etc.: Characteristic of or befitting a swine; coarse, degraded, beastly.
    1426 Lydgate tr. G. de Guileville Pilgr. Lyf Man 3718 He, in hys swynys lawe, Off hys rudnesse bestyal, Ne kan no ferther se at al Toward the hevene.
    ?1563 Veron (title) A Frvtefvl treatise of predestination,‥with an apology of the same, against the swynyshe gruntinge of the Epicures and Atheystes of oure time.
    1604 Shakespeare Hamlet i. iv. 18 + 3 They clip vs drunkards, and with Swinish phrase Soyle our addition.
    1613 S. Purchas Pilgrimage ix. viii. 717 In this swinish education he had not so much as learned to reade.
    a1616 Shakespeare Macbeth (1623) i. vii. 67 When in Swinish sleepe, Their drenched Natures lyes.
    1694 F. Bragge Pract. Disc. Parables xi. 381 Drunkenness, that swinish vice.
    1817 J. Bentham Plan Parl. Reform in Wks. (1843) III. 469 Swinish the character, of the vast majority of that vast multitude.
    1865 Dickens Our Mutual Friend II. iii. x. 87 In his worse than swinish state‥he was a pretty object for any eyes.
    2. Pertaining to or fit for swine.
    1592 N. Breton C’tess Penbrooke’s Love in Wks. (1879) I. 22/2 The sweetest wine, is but as swinish wash, Vnto the water, of the well of life.
    3.
    a. Having the nature of swine; that is a swine; consisting of swine.
    1612 S. Rowlands Knaue of Harts (Hunterian Club) 27 Directly like the swinish Hogge he liues, That feeds on fruit which from the tree doth fall.
    1799 S. Turner Hist. Anglo-Saxons ii. vii. 316 Ina‥was amazed to find‥a swinish litter on the couch of his repose.
    1830 Carlyle in For. Rev. & Cont. Misc. V. 10 All sorts of bovine, swinish, and feathered cattle.
    1891 F. W. Farrar Darkness & Dawn II. lxvi. 331 To have its site defiled with swinish offerings and Pagan shrines.
    b. Resembling a swine or that of a swine, in aspect or other physical quality.
    1805 S. Weston Werneria 13 The swinish smell Most fetid [of swine-stone].
    1815 Ann. Reg., Chron. 17/2 There is hardly a company in which this swinish female [having features like a pig] is not talked of.
    1889 W. C. Russell Marooned I. xiv. 262 The swinish outline of the porpoise.
    Derivatives
    ˈswinishly adv.
    ?1545 J. Bale Image Both Churches i. 39 b, For so muche as thou haste not‥bene thankfull vnto God for such an heauenly gift, but rather *swynishly troden it vnder thy feete.
    1655 W. Gurnall Christian in Armour (1669) i. iii. 26/2 The Drunkard has nothing to say for himself, when you ask him why he lives so swinishly.
    ˈswinishness n.
    1591 R. Percyvall Bibliotheca Hispanica Dict. s.v. Porqueria, *Swinishnes.
    1791 J. Boswell Life Johnson anno 1777 II. 155 Johnson laughed heartily‥at his mentioning, with such a serious regret, occasional instances of ‘swinishness in eating’.
    1868 F. W. Farrar Seekers after God Concl. 333 It‥‘stands out in noble contrast to the swinishness of the Campanian villas’.

  26. aqilluqqaaq, I’m guessing the reason you are interested in translating so precisely is to discuss the features of the source language with someone who does not speak that language (if I guessed wrong please correct me). I have no problem with this of course, but I would quibble that even your translations do not show “exactly what the originals say”. They assume a one-to-one correspondence in vocabulary (perhaps the English term wagon includes a broader class of wheeled vehicles than the near-equivalent). Furthermore, they emphasize some of the grammatical differences between English and the other languages, while hiding other differences (father-ergative and father-absolutive are translated identically).
    All this seems far from the original topic of literary translation though. I assume you would agree that in something designed to read like a novel, only English sentences 1 and 3 would work.

  27. Back to the podcast, LV says that extending English to accommodate Russian “is simply interesting”. This may be true, but it may also be true that what English is interesting to her (as someone who can see beyond the English to the original Russian) may be viewed differently by a monolingual speaker without that perspective.

  28. В чужом глазу соломину видеть, в своём—бревна не замечать.

  29. aqilluqqaaq says:

    I agree there are other issues that need addressing, including semantic range and the rest, and that ‘exactly’ ought to have been something like ‘more exactly’. I still think that scruples of this kind are not (or maybe should not) be as far from the question of literary translation as usually supposed though. Take Nabokov’s Евгеній Онѣгинъ. People slated it for mangling English in the interests of what they took to be a spurious fidelity, but Johnson, Elton, & al. were at least as interested in supplying ‘something designed to read like a novel’ as in bringing the Russian into focus for an English reader, and Nabokov’s reasons for rejecting that strike me as important considerations.

  30. swine
    the word itself gives 15 mln hits, so the obvious derivatives, swinish, swinishness, may not be that out of place as the low frequency of their usage suggests.

  31. Hat, thanks for the quotes explanation, I thought it might be something along US-UK lines.

  32. on Dudintsev, while I was doing something else, I thought that the body of his work was a also fine contribution to solving the problem spelt out by C.P. Snow in his famous ‘two cultures’ lecture which was made roughly at the same time as Not by Bread Alone went into circulation. Few fiction writers venture into the world of [exact, physical] sciences, he did and with great success.

  33. laowai & Grumbly Stu: I checked a few dictionaries before writing my comment on свинство vs. swinishness, but not Google (well, actually I did consult Google, but was discouraged by the paucity of non-dictionary results). M-W and AHD4 confirmed my own intuition on swinish/swinishness, as did Ожегов & Ушаков on the Russian side. So does the OED entry posted by John Cowan.
    Looking more closely at search results, I see about 50-50 split between the “beastly” and the “sleazy” meanings, pace the dictionaries. It’s difficult to be sure, as there are very few real uses of “swinishness”. For another tiny data point, http://www.americancorpus.org/ gives three instances, one of which is certainly “beastly”, one certainly “sleazy”, and one uncertain.
    To conclude, it was wrong of me to ignore the ‘sleazy’ meaning, and I have you to thank for setting me right; with that, I don’t agree that this meaning is prevalent, and I continue to hold that translating свинство in its usual sense with swinishness is a reprehensible thing for a translator to do, both because of the above and because of their incommensurable frequencies in their respective languages.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    aqilluqqaaq: As a linguist, what you are asking for is a morpheme-by-morpheme transcription and translation, which are needed for technical linguistic purposes, and typically use sentences or short texts in order to illustrate the structure of a language (as in your seven examples). You wouldn’t want to read War and Peace translated that way, or even one poem. And beyond the early stages there is rarely a need for such analytical translation, since once you understand the structure of words and sentences you no longer need the constant repetition of the analysis.
    Actually, as you well know, morpheme-by-morpheme transcriptions and translations of sample texts presented by linguists are usually accompanied by a “free” or idiomatic translation of the sentences or the whole text, since a literal translation based on the analysis itself can be misleading or ambiguous (and not just because of the vocabulary).

  35. Nabokov’s reasons for rejecting that strike me as important considerations.
    Be that as it may, the translation itself is horrible, often verging on unreadable, which makes one doubt the validity of his theory. I can’t imagine anyone actually enjoying reading his version, which is in my mind a considerably greater betrayal of Pushkin than the ones he complains of.

  36. В чужом глазу соломину видеть, в своём—бревна не замечать.
    If we’re trading proverbs, you can have your choice of these: Ласковый теленок двух маток сосет, Клин клином вышибают, or Куда конь с копытом, туда и рак с клешней.

  37. aqilluqqaaq says:

    m.-l.: you’re quite right, of course, that is what I have in mind, and I wouldn’t want to suggest that War and Peace should be translated morpheme-for-morpheme, but I mention Nabokov’s Onegin as displaying some of the virtues of translation out of a source, as opposed to into a target language. A free translation in the relevant sense, certainly, but one intended to bring out what’s happening in the original, however odd that may be in the target.
    To take an example from somewhere between свинство and transitivity alternations. There’s an Arabic proverb:
    الف كركي في الجو ما تعوض عصفور في الكف
    ʔal-kurkiː fiː ʔal-d͡ʒawː maː tuʕawːidˁ ʕusˁfuːr fiː ʔal-kafː
    In literal, but grammatical English, it says: ‘A thousand cranes in the air are not worth a sparrow in the palm’. My question is, is it really better to translate this as ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’? No-one (to my knowledge) says ‘A thousand cranes …’ in English, and the frequency-equivalence of ‘A bird in the hand …’ does tell me what is said in English, when Arabic-speakers say الف كركي في الجو. The issue is that in Arabic they do in fact talk about cranes in the air and sparrows in the palm. It’s not that I think the two options are exclusive, but if I’m reading in English, I already know what English-speakers say, I want to know what the Arabic-speaker is saying, and if that means translating into unusual English, that’s only because Arabic doesn’t do what English usually does.
    lh: I prefer Nabokov’s version, but obviously for reasons other than how well it reads in English. The question of whether or not it’s a greater betrayal of Pushkin than other translations depends on how successfully he achieved his stated purpose in translating according to criteria about which he was at least explicit and to which he evidently tried to remain faithful.

  38. Victor Sonkin says:

    I wouldn’t be sure where to stress Dudintsev’s last name. (I don’t doubt that Du-DIN-tsev is right, it’s just that DOO-dintsev is equally possible and plausible in Russian. But I guess Pevear’s modest graps of Russian is no secret, is it?)

  39. My impression is that “swinishness” is not a particularly current word in colloquial American English, nor is the word “swine” for that matter. People generally talk about hogs and pigs. In the classic Samuel L. Jackson speech in “Pulp Fiction”, for example, the line “I just don’t dig on swine” is supposed to sound like archaic biblical language mixed into urban speech patterns. For an American at least “swinishness” is a very different word than “свинство” is for a Russian, I wouldn’t call them equivalent.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    aqilluqqaaq: In literal, but grammatical English, it says: ‘A thousand cranes in the air are not worth a sparrow in the palm’. My question is, is it really better to translate this as ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’?
    Of course one should translate this sentence literally: the meaning is quite clear, and the sentence structure is not different from the English one. But earlier you seemed to push for translations which tried to approximate the grammatical structure of the source language, something which could lead to gibberish in the target language, as in your sentence #4: Father hay-loaded on the wagon, which is only interesting to the student of linguistic structure, as a bridge between the two languages rather than a true translation.
    Ideally, a good translation should preserve the culturally significant details while presenting equivalent sentences with appropriate grammar and vocabulary. These two goals are not always achievable at the same time, and the translator’s art is to strike the right balance when those principles come into conflict. In many cases there is more than one way to achieve the appropriate balance, or at least to come closest to it, which is why works considered important keep getting retranslated.

  41. Coincidentally, the recently published translation of some of Robert Walser’s Mikrogramme from the ’20s and ’30s, which is being praised (see, e.g. the Harper’s review), included “Swine.” (Schwein. 1928.) I’m not sure how other than ‘swinishness’ Schweinerei might have been done, in this context with a dozen derivatives to deal with.

  42. michael farris says:

    “In literal, but grammatical English, it says: ‘A thousand cranes in the air are not worth a sparrow in the palm’. My question is, is it really better to translate this as ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’?”
    As a theoretical question, devoid of context, I’d say it depends whether you’re a nativizer or an exoticizer. A nativizer will say that the two expressions are functionally equivalent (have the same meaning within their respective cultures) and so it’s okay to use the expression that native speakers of the target language know.
    The exoticizer will go for the literal translation trusting readers to assume the right meaning (based on the similar idea to the English expression) and learn something about the phraseology (and presumably culture) of the source language.
    Both approaches have their places and individual readers and cultures have their preferences. The current American preference seems to be exoticization. What’s the fun of reading about people from another culture if they talk just like the people you already know? Colorful odd turns of expression are part of the fun…
    Now if a character says something unique that isn’t a fixed phrase in the source language that would translate literally as, let’s say “A single llama in the corrall provides more meat than a herd on the other side of the mountain” then you’d definitely want to translate that literally I think.
    As for your examples, I deal with similar pervasive structural differences when translating from Polish all the time. There’s often no way to preserve the grammatical structure and have the result be intelligible.
    Ułatwiono mi, wysyłając za granicę.
    ease-ed to-me, sending behind border
    As literal as possible that would be:
    It was made easier for me, by sending abroad.
    Which doesn’t make much sense
    in context (where it makes a little more sense) this might be translated as..
    They made it easier for me, by sending me abroad.
    or
    The company made things easier for me, when they send me abroad.
    or
    It was made easier for me, when I was sent abroad.
    or
    The company facilitated this for me, by sending me abroad.
    etc etc
    All of these depart radically from the structure of the original (which did not strike native speakers as being the least bid odd) and AFAICT the argument structure of the original cannot really be replicated in English not least because ułatwiono is an impersonal (active) participle (though etymologically passive) that cannot take a surface subject in contradiction to any number of linguistic theories. Therefore any translation into English is going to start with two structural strikes against it.

  43. LH said: Hell, I did a post on “it turns out” myself a few months ago.
    Of course you did, Hat. It was lazy of me not to have checked that first. My apologies.

  44. Double quotes outside and single inside is standard US style; in the UK it’s the reverse.
    Language,are you sure about the UK part? We were taught double quotes outside and single inside at school in London in the 1960s. Our teacher was English, and she was quite insistent on it.
    Grumbly, pull yourself together. In my mind you have a Texas accent.

  45. Although I disagree with Anatoly about “swinishness”, tangentially I found this discussion of Edmond Burke’s phrase “the Swinish Multitude”, used about the working class during the French Revolution. FORTUITOUSLY it’s on the first page of something that JStor is trying to keep me from reading. Actually, what Burke wrote was “trodden under the hooves of a swinish multitude”, whereas surely he meant “trotters”? I like the way he stuck with the metaphor, though. So many people would have reverted to “feet”.

  46. Hoofs.

  47. michael farris says:

    IME, pigs do have feet in America and those feet do have hooves on them.

  48. Yes, but did French peasants have them in 1790 ?

  49. Thanks, Hat – I guess. It’s terribly annoying. Smug – in spades. And so full of themselves! No other Russian translators are so unkind to other translators. This is particularly annoying coming from Pevear, who doesn’t read Russian (at least not well, and possibly barely at all), admits he uses other translations as a guide (and sometimes seems to use them as more than just guides), doesn’t (naturally) translate anything that hasn’t been translated before (with an exception or two, which were awful) – and yet sneers at them all. Bleah. They are also disingenuous if not outright dissembling. (That’s a nice way of saying they’re not telling the truth.) It isn’t Russian critics who don’t know English who criticize their literalism, but English-speaking critics who do. And the criticism isn’t that they’re “not smooth,” but that they take unmarked, colloquial, common and totally comprehensible Russian phrases and expressions and Pevearize them into incomprehensible, weird, marked, non-English. For the sake of “expanding English,” I guess.
    I know people who know people who know them well, and those people (in the middle) say they are lovely. Maybe that’s true, but it’s like listening to first-year translation students who haven’t read a thing about the field but think they’ve invented the wheel.
    It would be nice to know the translation context of svinstvo/swinishness, because otherwise it’s not possible to have an opinion. But I’d in general agree with Anatoly. In Russia if someone zipped into a parking space you were waiting for, you could say: Svinstvo! Maybe I hang out with the wrong crowd, but no one I know would say in that situation: Swinishness!

  50. michael farris says:

    “Yes, but did French peasants have them in 1790 ?”
    I’d say I’m pretty sure that French peasants had feet in 1790 (unless the king or the revolutionaries had cut them off for some reason)

  51. michael farris says:

    “And the criticism isn’t that they’re “not smooth,” but that they take unmarked, colloquial, common and totally comprehensible Russian phrases and expressions and Pevearize them into incomprehensible, weird, marked, non-English. For the sake of “expanding English,” I guess.”
    Or for the sake of exoticism… IIRC Roy Andrew Miller used to complain about exactly the same kind of thing in English translations of Japanese literature where ordinary Japanese constructions were gussied up into bizarre English to quench the anglophone’s presumed thirst for oriental inscrutability. It’s not an approach I care for.
    Without knowing the exact context of the swinishness example I can’t judge exactly, but by my native intuitions (and from what Russophone commenters say here about swinstwo) then translating the latter by the former is not good practice in that you’ve taken an everyday kind of word and turned into something almost no one says or would say.
    That said, there are times when a translator might want to juggle with the details for the sake of the overall picture. In that case the use of an uncommon word for a common one might be used to stand for some other weirdness in the source language that couldn’t be rendered into the target. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. He genuinely seems to be arguing that since the word ‘swinishness’ exists (as it undoubtedly does) it’s good translation of swinstwo, frequency and style be damned.
    Again, that’s not an approach I care for.

  52. aqilluqqaaq says:

    m.-l. & m.f.: I mustn’t have made myself clear with the seven transitivity alternations. I’m not suggesting that all differences in argument structure of a source be preserved in the target, regardless of the problems that might pose for the reader. My point in mentioning those examples was specifically that in the language in question they exhibit grammatically marked minimal differences in meaning, varying in focus on the several arguments involved, such that different inferences can be made from each. For some of these I can think of ways to produce grammatical English renditions which preserve the relevant semantic contrasts (via the inclusion or exclusion of the definite article, dative shift, and possibly cleft sentences), for others, I can’t, and doubt the possibility of doing so (in English). This is different again from the proverb example, which was intended to highlight another way in which the choice of translating into or out of a language can have consequences for what constitutes ‘equivalence’.

  53. mab, I wouldn’t say “Swinishness”, but I typically say “You swine!” under my breath to myself if someone takes my parking place. I think there’s possibly been a change of usage caused by babyboomers who read comics where Nazis said things like Schweinhund!!! (sometimes they said pig-dog).

  54. michael farris: I’m pretty sure that French peasants had feet in 1790
    I meant: are you sure the pigs had fêtes ?
    mab: In Russia if someone zipped into a parking space you were waiting for, you could say: Svinstvo! Maybe I hang out with the wrong crowd, but no one I know would say in that situation: Swinishness!
    But maybe “filthy swine !”, or is that too strong for a parking-space steal ? “Svinstvo” is being used here like the German Schweinerei ! could be (and is) used.

  55. Schweinhund!!!
    SchweinEhund!!!

  56. According to Wiktionary, Schweinhund is an alternative form of Schweinehund, and I’m pretty sure it’s the one that was used by most British 1960s comics. In fact, they probably wrote swinehund the first time and pig-dog subsequently.

  57. O well, if you’re talking about comics … There is a Duden entry for “Schweinhund” that points without ado to the Schweinehund entry, where the other form is described as (seltener:) [less often]. I’ve never heard “Schweinhund” in the Rheinland, but who am I to speak ? Nevertheless, I advise against using it when you next visit the Gräfin in Hamburg, because she would mark you down as less often.

  58. I just read a few centimeters farther in the Schweinehund entry. The word originally meant “dog for hunting boar”. The technical term used by hunters for a boar-hunt is (die) Sauhatz. Schweinehund was taken up by German students (18th – 19th century, I suppose) as a particularly strong term of abuse.
    Remember our recent thread on butcher’s dogs, rocking-horses and violets, all of which have no Gemüt ? Well, a Schweinehund doesn’t have one either. Der innere Schweinehund is that little internal faculty of cowardice and foot-dragging about doing what we know we should do, that we all notice from time to time. This Schweinehund is never called Schweinhund.

  59. “Schweinhund in the Rheinland” sounds like a number from The Producers.

  60. mf said what I wanted to say.
    Mr Crown and Mr Stu: Again, it’s a bit silly to argue about this without the exact example. I can imagine in the parking space example saying: You swine! (Although it’s a bit fey, isn’t it?) Or: You filthy swine! You dog! You pig! But while it is fairly likely someone would say Svinstvo!, it’s quite unlikely that someone would say (exactly) Swinishness! But again (I’m being boring, I know), without the translation example, we can’t say for sure if swinishness would have fit. However, having studied P&V’s translations, my guess is they used it when it wouldn’t fit — when it’s stylistically inappropriate.
    And that’s my big peeve with Pevear: when he sticks something in to “expand English,” the reader — who is reading the work in English because s/he doesn’t know Russian — has no idea if the author is being fey, or high-toned, or is “making strange” or what the heck is going on. A classic Pevearism is something like this: “Yes, good looking…even very.” Now what does “even very” mean? It isn’t clear in English and definitely sounds weird, but the Russian is as clear as water and a commonplace expression.

  61. “Yes, good looking…even very.”
    “Even very” has the makings of a fad expression. I’ll start using it today, and see how far I get. The German (so)gar sehr is the equivalent stock expression.

  62. mab, P. excused it by saying that Dostoyevsky often wrote in the style of an awkwardly oral narrator much removed from his own style. Is that true?

  63. Returning briefly to accents melted by stove proximity: I just remembered the presenter of an FM “Classical Music” station in Austin in the ’60s. You know those strings of plum-sized plastic spheres for ladies that are sold in sex shops ? I’ve always imagined that each one creates a sort of plop! noise when it is pulled out briskly. That’s what certain overripe syllables sounded like which that guy pulled out when pronouncing the names of French and German composers. The way he said “Beeth(plop!) – oh – fffen(plop!)” was positively cringe-making.

  64. I think they had the same guy working in San Francisco, when I lived there.

  65. Mr Crown, yes, it’s true that Dostoevsky used “unreliable narrators” and that sometimes their prose style was not classic literary style. But that’s not an example of it. That was a snippet of direct speech.

  66. I wouldn’t be sure where to stress Dudintsev’s last name. (I don’t doubt that Du-DIN-tsev is right, it’s just that DOO-dintsev is equally possible and plausible in Russian.
    I stand corrected, and I withdraw that particular criticism (though not of course my general disdain for the Prestigious Perevodchiks, the Pevearovolkonskic Parrots). Thanks!
    It was lazy of me not to have checked that first. My apologies.
    Goodness, I wasn’t complaining, just adding a bit of info! It would be swinish of me to expect everyone to memorize everything I’ve written, or check everything they mention in the search box to find out. Hell, even I can’t remember everything I’ve written; more than once I’ve posted on something only to discover I’d posted it before back in 2003.

  67. I agree with Anatoly and mab on svinstvo/swinishness, and would add that while swine is a word of considerable force in English, the double suffix in swinishness attenuates that force considerably, which is not the case for svinstvo (or Schweinerei).
    Actually, swinery seems to have occasionally been used in English in a similar sense to swinishness. OED cites Carlyle: “Human swinery has here reached its acme, happily.” Too bad it never caught on. But if P & V are only concerned to find an existing equivalent, currency be damned, I offer this one free of charge.

  68. It occurs in many of their translations. But, at least in online reviews, the specific accusations of буквализм in their translation with “swinishness”, here and here, seem to be more about the “to drink up one’s trousers” in Anna Karenina:

    Как он смеет говорить, что я велел украсть у него брюки! Он их пропил, я думаю. Мне плевать на него с него княжеством. Он не смей говорить, это свинство!

    How dare he say I ordered his trousers stolen! He drank them up, I suppose. I spit on him and his princely rank. He daren’t say that, it’s swinishness!

  69. michael farris says:

    “He daren’t say that”
    He daren’t, daren’t he?
    “it’s swinishness!”
    oh pish tosh!
    just a question, what would be wrong with
    “How dare he say that? It’s disgusting!”
    or
    “He can’t say that, it’s despicable!”
    (or some combination thereof)?

  70. mmcm: thanks for the link to the doctoral dissertation. Looks very interesting.
    But as you see, Pevear is dissembling when he says that non-English speakers complain of his literal translations.

  71. Isn’t “Schweinhund” what actors impersonating Germans in bad war movies say? Topping it off by making poeople march to the count of “ein, swei”, because they haven’t been told that the numeral is “eins” and they can’t pronounce German z?

  72. See? That’s what I said, Bruessel.

  73. Double quotes outside and single inside is standard US style; in the UK it’s the reverse.
    Normal book style in the UK is single quotes outside, double inside: UK newspaper style is double outside, single inside. The Observer newspaper, perversely, used to follow UK book publishing style, rather than UK newspaper publishing style: CBA to check if it still does.

  74. Sigh. Things are always more complicated than they need to be.

  75. I would like to know the names of some authors who have translated their own works into other languages?
    Thanks.

  76. some authors who have translated their own works
    Nabokov, ‘Lolita’

  77. Anne Marie says:

    For my part, I pronounce the names Magarshak and Dudintsev as you do.

  78. authors who have translated their own works
    João Ubaldo Ribeiro’s An Invincible Memory.

  79. Becket?

  80. marie-lucie says:

    some authors who have translated their own works
    Yann Martel, The Life of Pi (first written in French, translated into English by him and his parents).

  81. Brodsky translated a lot of his own poetry, included along with poems written directly in English in his Collected Poems in English. Many have trashed his English poems and translations, with some justice, but he did get better as he went on. There’s a fair assessment here

  82. Beckett’s self-translations are particularly fascinating. He allowed himself freedoms that a translator who was not the author would probably not, but always (or at least this seems to have been his intention) to achieve the same total effect

  83. There’s a fair assessment here
    That’s about as good a case as can be made for the defense, but however much he may have improved, I am quite sure that if he were not a great and famous poet in Russian, no one would give a damn about his verse in English. He simply wasn’t a poet in English in the way Nabokov was a novelist in English.

  84. …if he were not a great and famous poet in Russian, no one would give a damn about his verse in English.
    No, they wouldn’t, and that gave people who resented Brodsky’s status in the American poetry world during his lifetime an excuse to cast doubt on his importance even in Russian. It was nice to see such a generous appreciation by a critic who probably reads little if any Russian (not sure about that) yet seems to get what is good about Brodsky.
    If he had lived a little longer (and listened to friendly critics), who knows…

  85. marie-lucie says:

    I am not very fond of Beckett, but I have read some of his works in French, which are written in a very simple colloquial style. I have not read him in English.
    Julien Green wrote in either language, depending on where he was living at the time of writing. In his autobiographical work he tried to translate from one to the other, but ended up rewriting rather than translating. He was more at home in French, and his French is quite literary, his English versions much simpler.

  86. If he had lived a little longer (and listened to friendly critics), who knows…
    I’m pretty sure that would never have changed. I’ve heard and read enough accounts of his stubbornness, and specifically on the subject of his self-translations (and the revisions he insisted on in translations by others), to be confident that his attitude was hard-wired.

  87. [Beckett's] works in French, which are written in a very simple colloquial style…
    Naturally I read him in English, but my impression, from looking at the original French versions of Godot and Endgame, is that the language gained some richness in the English versions. One feels (I do anyway) that Beckett was really a poet in English; I don’t know if that’s true in French.

  88. marie-lucie says:

    I am not a very good judge of poetry, but Beckett’s French does not strike me as poetic at all. It is very spare, and I am not surprised that the English versions have “some richness” added. I get the impression that he spoke French very fluently and colloquially, but had not read much French literature.
    Julien Green’s translated work comes across as the opposite, at least in the texts I was referring to (I have not read his non-translated English work, and I don’t mean to compare him to Beckett in other respects).

  89. I get the impression that [Beckett] spoke French very fluently and colloquially, but had not read much French literature.
    Oh, no, he’d read tons of it. He specialized in it, in fact, when he was younger and wrote a book on Proust. He loved Racine, Baudelaire, and many others.
    When I first read Endgame (in English) I remember coming across a part where the character is trying to remember some lines from a poem. They sounded vaguely familiar to me, and then I realized that they were a translation of Baudelaire’s “Recueillement,” one of the first poems I learned in French.
    It would be interesting to go back and compare this passage in the English and French versions of the play. In the English it gave me the distinct impression not just of a person trying to recall lines, but of someone fumbling for a better version of an imperfect translation.

  90. It would be interesting to go back and compare this passage in the English and French versions of the play. In the English it gave me the distinct impression not just of a person trying to recall lines, but of someone fumbling for a better version of an imperfect translation.
    It certainly would! Thanks for this bit of Beckettiana, which I was not aware of.

  91. marie-lucie says:

    I did not know all that about Beckett, and it is a long time since I have read him. But my personal recollection is that his own French style in the novels does not seem to reflect his acquaintance with French written tradition.
    What is the (double) passage in question?

  92. Here’s the passage in English
    [Hamm speaks]
    A little poetry.
    (Pause.)
    You prayed—
    (Pause. He corrects himself.)
    You CRIED for night; it comes—
    (Pause. He corrects himself.)
    It FALLS: now cry in darkness.
    (He repeats, chanting.)
    You cried for night; it falls: now cry in darkness.
    (Pause.)
    Nicely put, that.
    The Baudelaire line is
    Tu réclamais le Soir ; il descend ; le voici :
    “now cry in darkness” doesn’t correspond to anything in the poem. The quote in English is both clumsier (intentionally, I’m sure) and briefer than I remembered. I’m surprised I even recognized the poem from just that much. I don’t have easy access to the French text of Fin de partie,, but if someone who does wants to find the passage, it occurs almost at the end (unless there is NO corresponding passage in the French, which would surprise me).

  93. As an almost random example of the “poetry” you can find in Endgame
    HAMM:
    Nature has forgotten us.
    CLOV:
    There’s no more nature.
    HAMM:
    No more nature! You exaggerate.
    CLOV:
    In the vicinity.
    HAMM:
    But we breathe, we change! We lose our hair, our teeth! Our bloom! Our ideals!
    CLOV:
    Then she hasn’t forgotten us.
    Not “rich” language in the usual sense, of course. After all, he had apprenticed himself to James Joyce in his youth, serving as his unpaid or badly paid secretary, and understandably came to feel that there wasn’t much left to do in that direction. Hence his deliberate spareness in both French and English. But there’s a lot behind the spareness (humor, for one thing).

  94. Un peu de poésie. (Un temps.) Tu appelais — (Un temps. Il se corrige.) Tu RÉCLAMAIS le soir; il vient — (Un temps. Il se corrige.) Il DESCEND: le voici. (Il reprend, tres chantant.) Tu réclamais le soir; il descend; le voici. (Un temps.) Joli ça.

  95. Thanks!

  96. Thanks for the reading suggestions!

  97. marie-lucie says:

    Baudelaire: Tu réclamais le Soir ; il descend ; le voici
    literal translation:
    You were calling for evening: it is falling; it is here.
    (réclamer is to ask for something as one’s due, more or less loudly or politely).
    Beckett: You cried for night; it falls: now cry in darkness.
    The Baudelaire line is an alexandrine. The English line has to be similarly classical, but the first two parts of the translation are too short, the third one too flat (as well as short), so Beckett fills out the line with something compatible rather than a literal translation, in order to achieve a pentameter.

  98. m-l: exactly. The fact that Beckett bothers to try to put the translation in pentameter shows his literary bent. It’s not a very “good” pentameter, but the “filling out” produces a characteristic (Beckettian rather than Baudelarian) irony: You wanted it, well here it is.

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