CULTURAL ADAPTATION.

An article by Ros Schwartz (in Dalkey Archive’s Context, reprinted from the Feb-March 2003 issue of The Linguist) discusses the importance of the translator (at one point making a comparison to the performer of a work of music); the whole piece is interesting, but I’d like to single out this example from her own work:

In Orlanda, by Belgian author Jacqueline Harpman, one of the characters suddenly switches from the formal “vous” to the informal “tu.” This is a crucial moment in the narrative. The speaker is a prissy, bourgeois woman of thirty-five. She is addressing a young man with whom she entertains a somewhat ambiguous relationship. For the Francophone reader, this unwitting switch from “vous” to “tu” signals an important shift in the woman’s feelings. The problem for the translator is how to convey this to the English-speaking reader with equal subtlety, when we only have the word “you” for both “tu” and “vous.” The characters are already on first-name terms, so that is not an option. I decided to have the woman put her hand on the man’s arm.
As-tu remarqué que depuis tout à l’heure tu me tutoies? Elle ne s’était pas rendu compte et rougit violemment.
“Haven’t you noticed how you’ve suddenly become quite familiar with me?” She had put her hand on his arm without realising and blushed deep red.

I think this works in terms of cultural equivalence. And that is what translators need to do—find cultural as well as linguistic parallels.

I disagree, at least in terms of this example. To me, inventing a touch on the arm goes too far. What’s next, changing a troika to a snowmobile because Americans aren’t familiar with troikas? Sure, it’s a little awkward to say “Did you notice you used tu with me?” (or “a familiar pronoun”), but I think it’s the translator’s responsibility to translate what the author wrote, not create some sort of “cultural equivalent.” Of course, authors translating their own work frequently rewrite it in the process, but that’s their right. But I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me, and as always, I welcome debate. (Via wood s lot.)

Comments

  1. michael farris says:

    I disagree and like this example, alot.
    It translates not only language but the idea behind tu and vous into a medium that most target readers can naturally identify with.
    I think in most European languges with T-V forms, the V (or formal) form signals distance (I’ve heard people explain reluctance to use familiar forms in spatial terms, forcing a presence on the addressee that they might not want).
    English speakers don’t have tu and vous as such, but physical space and touch are very important to us and most are keenly aware of their personal space and incursions into it.
    Translating a linguistic feature that the target language doesn’t have into a breach of personal space seems completely appropriate.
    “Did you notice you used ‘tu’ with me?” is yucky and just reminds the reader they’re not reading the original.

  2. Ah, well, that’s where we differ. I don’t think the reader should think they’re reading the original. A little Verfremdung is a good thing.

  3. “I don’t think the reader should think they’re reading the original. A little Verfremdung is a good thing.”
    Yes!

  4. I guess I don’t mind translators rewriting when the original is a language I can read myself – such as French. It’s more interesting in someways to have two different versions – sort of like two different interpretations of the Straight, No Chaser. I would probably only read a translation from French if I thought the translator had taken some interesting chances. When the original is a lanaguage I can’t read, like Korean, I would prefer the translator not muck about and give me as direct a translation as possible.

  5. michael farris says:

    A little Verfremdung might be okay, but:
    “Did you notice you used ‘tu’ with me?” completely destroys suspension of disbelief (for me).
    I still think the spontanous touching best creates the same feeling in the reader that the reader of the original experienced. But maybe she could spontaneously use some sort of diminutive or pet name, adding ‘dear’ to the end of the sentence.
    “Do you realize you just called me ‘dear’,” She ne s’était pas rendu compte* and blushed deep red.
    *beyond my meagre passive reading knowledge of French.

  6. I’m not sure that was a good choice, but I’m not sure it was a bad choice, either. I think to some extent it might depend on the piece; some works target the kind of audience that might like that sort of cultural detail, while other works target the kind of audience that might prefer a straightforwardly told story.
    Personally, I wish more translations would include explanatory footnotes, in which case this would be easily solved by inventing the arm-touch but including a footnote explaining the original French. That might not be suitable for all works, though; certainly children’s books don’t lend themselves to footnotes.

  7. @michael farris: “ne s’était pas rendu compte” means “hadn’t realized”. (“se rendre compte” is “to realize”, and as a reflexive verb, it forms its perfect aspect -slash- compound tenses with “être” instead of “avoir”.)

  8. What’s wrong with “Do you realize that you’ve been using the “tu” form with me”? Most American readers, and especially those likely to read a novel by Harpman, will know what that means.

  9. The biggest problem with the “cultural equivalent” here is that a touch on the arm doesn’t seem all that subtle, and the way the translator phrases it is very obvious, eliminating the thrill that the reader might get from noticing the pronoun change on his own. Plus, a touch on the arm isn’t something that’s occurring in the dialogue — we only find out that it’s taken place at the end. So the balance is completely different than if there were a change of pronoun.
    Phrasing in prose and poetry are quite different, and it’s not all that uncommon for action to be confined to a dialogue tag in prose. However, when a translator is trying to replicate a particularly subtle turn in the text, I think it’s important to give the reader the same opportunity for inference that they would have in the original.

  10. On the whole, I’m with michael.
    But there is another question here: switching from V to T may be a single act – just like a touch – but there is also a certain permanency to it. A touch, while an indicator of a change in the relationship, is something fleeting. Whereas switching from V to T is an act that cannot be (or rarely is) undone. And so while I think that the translation with the touch is a good attempt, I don’t believe it goes far enough in conveying the actual meaning.
    I think it’s the translator’s responsibility to translate what the author wrote, not create some sort of “cultural equivalent.”
    Ummmm…
    I don’t know. I guess it depends. I remember a long discussion back in my junior year concerning a translation of a pre-islamic qasida. There was a line that refered to composing poetry, something like “the poet keeps refining his verse until he deems it perfect”. The translator decided to translate it as “the poet keeps refining his verse until he writes down the final version”. Our professor strongly objected arguing that in pre-islamic Arabia, poetry was an oral art.
    Well, yes, but to us who will read the translation, it isn’t, we are used to reading poetry, not to listening to it. By chosing to use our understanding of the phenomenon and our terminology for a shared phenomenon, the translator forges a connection between the reader and the Other, which is what I think the translator’s role is.
    Cultural equivalence may be a good term for it, but one should differentiate between things that can be made equivalent (relationships and art certainly fall into that category) and things that can’t. Items from material culture certainly fall under the latter which is why replacing troika with a snowmobile or a camel with a horse is a bad idea. But a change in a relationship remains the same thing everywhere whether you choose to describe it by a V-to-T shift or by a touch.
    As far as the translation is concerned, I would have stayed within the realm of language and have the woman call him either by his first name for the first time* (depending, of course, on the context) or perhaps use a term of endearment. The leap from the spoken to the physical might be a bit too much.
    I’m not making much sense, am I? A translator please! :o)
    * Someone please enlighten me: how common is it to use Vous with a person’s first name in French?

  11. michael farris says:

    “A touch, while an indicator of a change in the relationship, is something fleeting. Whereas switching from V to T is an act that cannot be (or rarely is) undone”
    Very rarely undone when both parties agree to the switch. But sometimes people slip up and use T unilaterally and are embarassed, immediately switching back to formal address (I’ve been on the receiving end of that one a time or two).
    As a non-native I have absolutely no feeling for the distinction and more than once have forgotten whether or not I’m on a T basis with someone, which can also be awkward….

  12. Funny, I am completely torn on this.
    @bulbul, to a reader in English, mentioning the “tu” form is just as fleeting. We cannot recognize whether it continues unless the translator tells us. Just as if the translator adds notes of other physical touching between them.
    And I’ve realized that I quite enjoy the small cultural explanations that are needed at times in translations. One doesn’t read foreign literature to pretend that the story is taking place in English with Anglo cultural values.
    French is an easy example, as well. What of the more complex forms in Korean and Japanese? Most translations don’t approach it, but something like the embarrasingly enjoyable Shogun used a small phrase occasionally to describe the context of the conversation, and thus gave better light into the discussion than did most translations.
    And I can imagine being frustrated at not quite understanding how a troika is different from a sled, where a short sentence for the ignorant would work wonders rather than changing the story.

  13. Maybe I read too much Pratchett, and his penchant for amusing footnotes, but… a little footnote might work. *
    *She uses the familiar form of address here, and will continue to use it addressing him. Make of that what you will.

  14. SnowLeopard says:

    I too would generally prefer an accurate but bumpy translation to a silken but potentially reckless one. The author may have had any of a number of reasons for the character not making such a gesture at that moment, and the translator, lacking insight, should respect that.
    Besides, an unexamined notion of “cultural parallels” invites arbitrary and casual stereotyping; as we can see from this discussion, people can debate endlessly whether such a translation is faithful. I’d like my translators to avoid injecting their own anthropological views into another’s work without owning up to it, so I can try to understand the authors on their own terms.

  15. @bulbul, to a reader in English, mentioning the “tu” form is just as fleeting.
    Exactly. That’s just another reason not to mention “tu”.
    What of the more complex forms in Korean and Japanese?
    I’d say this is a slightly different issue. The various politeness forms are mostly used to convey a difference in social status. Some European languages are pretty good at reproducing the effect by using different forms of address or various polite words.
    Maybe I read too much Pratchett, and his penchant for amusing footnotes
    And it seems to be contagious: in the Czech translations, the translator inserts his own footnotes. I remember one which was a recipe for a mixed drink and one where the translator expressed his amazement at the fact that a cattle disease mentioned by Pratchett really existed.

  16. The problem with bringing Shogun into the discussion, of course, is that most of its Japanese is straight-up bullshit… “word-by-word with an E-to-J dictionary”-level. (Embarrassingly enjoyable, though, yes…)
    I’m with Ran (and others) in that I have enjoyed reading both ultra-strict, footnoted translations as well as loose, arm-touching ones. I just want to know if I’m reading the latter type.
    The case in question could have been handled more naturally by having her switch from “you” to “ya” or perhaps “yo’ sweet ass”. This is the technique I am using in my new translation of the Genji Monogatari (tentative title: “Rappin’ ’bout Frank”.)

  17. michael farris says:

    I can’t help but wonder how much questions of how to handle tricky issues in translations are determined by how many translations the target audience actually reads.
    If you walk into a Polish bookstore, probably well over 50 % of all fiction has been translated from English. Literal (accurate but bumpy) translations will mean that Polish readers spend a lot of their time reading what amounts to bad Polish that’s compensating for the sin of not being English. Good Polish translations are going to have to make fairly drastic departures from the original.
    If translated literature makes up a very small percentage of an audience’s reading, then maybe more literal translations are a luxury that can be afforded.

  18. Personally, I wish more translations would include explanatory footnotes
    Me too. But I fear ours is a minority taste.

  19. michael farris says:

    I’ll also add that when I read a translation from English into Polish (which I do a fair amount of the time) I _hate_ it when I can tell from the Polish just what the English was (often signalled by unnatural word choices, strange word order or calques that don’t make much sense in Polish).

  20. I have to vote for the (admittedly more awkward) “Do you realize you’ve been using the familiar tu with me?” That lets the non-Francophone reader have the realization: “Hey, in French, there are different pronouns for different relationships!” I remember reading (British writer) Alex Garland’s The Beach and wondering why the characters were talking about “soccer.” I was disappointed to discover that the book was “translated” from UK English to American English. There was also a Murakami Haruki novel in which the translator changed the location of a scene from a (Japanese chain restaurant) Royal Host to a Denny’s. I would like to think that foreign fiction would be a window to worlds I am less familiar with, where people eat at restaurants I might not have heard of, occasionally use non-American vocabulary, and reflect their feelings for others in the pronouns they use.

  21. Suppose we draw a graph of the space of possible translations of a work, with the horizontal axis representing the sequence of translatable units of text,and the vertical line representing the departure from literalness. Then there will be two curves across the graph, one representing the upper limit of under-translation, the other representing the lower limit of over-translation.
    Anything above the latter curve has lost too much of the spirit of the foreign original, as in the first paragraph of Ivan Denisovich where “from the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail” becomes in one translation “from reveille to taps” — that is, from “I hate to get up” to “Day is done”! Anything below the former curve, on the other hand, is unintelligible without “footnotes piled mountain-high”, as Nabokov said of his own crib of Onegin.
    Of couse, sometimes the two curves touch, and then we get (what else?) a crux — what the devil did Dante mean by Per che non reggi tu, o sacra fame / de l’oro, l’appetito de’ mortali in context? This tutoyer business may be one of those points. But I don’t think in any case there is any principled objective way of determining exactly where the curves lie, as the above disagreement clearly shows.

  22. Zhoen: “*She uses the familiar form of address here, and will continue to use it addressing him. Make of that what you will.”
    Interestingly enough, I can imagine someone doing that in a fantasy or sf novel to create the illusion that the conversation has been translated from another (fictional) language.
    I think, somewhat in line with Matt’s post, that a talented translator could have changed the character’s speech style from cold and formal to more familiar even though English doesn’t have the tu-vous pronoun distinction.
    (Too bad it’s not a medieval story and we can’t just have her use thee and thou.)

  23. The translation is completely indefensible and also rather bizarre. “Did you notice you used tu with me?” would have been utterly unremarkable if it was an English novel set in France. There’s no dilemma here, no hard choices.

  24. David Marjanović says:

    A V-to-T switch is not subtle at all. It’s probably no more subtle than a touch.

    Someone please enlighten me: how common is it to use Vous with a person’s first name in French?

    It’s strangely common. (The equivalent is just about inexistent in Austria, so I find it quite baffling. It sounds grammatically wrong to me.) Notably, my thesis supervisor is on a first-name basis with the rest of the department, but nevertheless uses vous (always lowercase, BTW) with the former boss, an emeritus. It looks like an attempt to combine closeness and respect. The emeritus responds in kind (or rather, he must have started this). More strangely, however, my supervisor uses tu with his M.Sc. and Ph.D. students, but his latest two M.Sc. students always used first name + vous with him!
    An explanation might be that the French get on a first-name basis about as easily as Americans, but switch to T as rarely as their fellow Europeans. But maybe that’s just me trying to wrap my mind around a mystery.

  25. It makes me nervous when a translator tries to flesh out a linguistic point in this way, because it can so easily go wrong. DeLillo’s White Noise has a scene where Babette is going to read pornography to Jack; she says she doesn’t care what they read, as long as it doesn’t have men entering women. “I don’t want you to choose anything that has men inside women, quote-quote, or men entering women. ‘I entered her.’ ‘He entered me.’ We’re not lobbies or elevators.” This was a linguistic turn: she didn’t like the metaphor. Both the Italian and German translators missed the point, using verbs for “penetrate” — and the German translator went further, substituting a completely different sentence: ‘Ich drang in sie ein.’ ‘Er drang in mich ein.’ Wir sind doch kein Dschungel oder feines Territorium.
    [We're not a jungle or enemy territory.] It may be that this isn’t a figure of speech used in Italian or German pornography, but for my money this linguistic turn is the thing that makes the passage so characteristic of DeLillo. A translator whose first instinct is to produce a text that makes sense in terms of his own language risks losing something that was idiosyncratic in the original.

  26. In my experience (many years living and working in France) the French absolutely do not get on first name terms “about as easily as Americans.” I have found it a far more formal culture in that respect. And using tu could come a long way, perhaps never, after using a first name.
    Back to the original question, I find the idea of “Did you realize you called me ‘dear’?” very good middle ground, better for the average reader than either just using tu and letting the reader get on with it, or footnote-ing it.
    We languagehat readers would be very likely to know of the tu-vous distinction even without knowing French. But I suggest the translator can’t assume that of many of the potential readers, who won’t necessarily pick up the book because of the author, more likely because of the blurb.

  27. Switching from actual translations to notional ones, we find Hemingway and Steinbeck using thou in modern contexts when notionally translating from Spanish, and evidently expecting their readers to understand it (do they? or does it create the wrong effect altogether? — I don’t know).
    I blogged about Tolkien’s uses of the second person singular in The Lord of the Rings, all of which is notionally a translation. It turns out that he uses it for at least five different purposes, only some of which he explains in his appendix on translation issues (quoted there).
    I’d guess that English has actually turned the T-V distinction upside down when talking to God. Do anglophones now address God in their private individual prayers as “you” while retaining “thou” for formal, standardized, or public use? I don’t talk to God myself, beyond a word or two now and then, so I don’t really know.

  28. We languagehat readers would be very likely to know of the tu-vous distinction even without knowing French. But I suggest the translator can’t assume that of many of the potential readers, who won’t necessarily pick up the book because of the author, more likely because of the blurb.
    Of course the translator can’t assume knowledge of the distinction. But so what? Do readers have to be spoonfed everything, carefully preserved from exposure to anything outside their pre-existing sphere of knowledge and experience? Surely one of the reasons people read foreign literature is precisely to be exposed to things foreign, things they aren’t already familiar with. (Of course, this can go too far; I had to overcome a stupid resistance to the movies Dariush Mehrjui made in the ’90s because they seemed too “Western,” not “Iranian” enough—not enough local color!) If you just want people touching each other’s arms and otherwise acting in ways you’re familiar with, why not stick to American and British writers? (“You” in the generalized sense, obviously.)
    Do anglophones now address God in their private individual prayers as “you” while retaining “thou” for formal, standardized, or public use?
    Anglophones don’t use “thou” at all unless quoting the Bible or Shakespeare.

  29. Peter Dirix says:

    Actually, I think the Bible uses ‘thou’ because it used to be the informal form. In French, God is also addressed as ‘tu’.
    I do agree with LH that translations shouldn’t be adapted culturally. A footnote can help and the ‘dear’ might also be a solution, but a touch is not equivalent to me. People that don’t know about these issues or don’t see the difference, probably also don’t care about them.

  30. mollymooly says:

    Representing the T-V distinction is a problem that must have been faced by thousands of translators-into-English. Does each one have to reinvent this wheel? Are there no published lists of possible strategies, best-practices, worst-practices, enumerated real-world examples, when they work and when they don’t?
    In a hundred years’ time, when machine-based translation finally works, readers will be able to twiddle the “cultural-parallel” and “literal-tranlation” knobs to their own individual taste.

  31. Roberto Lenzi says:

    There can be no correct translation. But if the goal of the translation is to produce a work of equivalent emotional effect, I don’t think it would be in any way effective to refer to a linguistic feature that isn’t even present in the target language. Not, that is, in dialogue. To mention it in a descriptive paragraph would be different.
    The comparison of this linguistic lacuna to a troika-snowmobile change is, to my mind, very naive. One can quite easily use the word “troika” in English, but a foreign pronoun has an effect in its own language that it cannot have in another.
    I just don’t see how the scene would possibly work in any way.
    “How are you?” said Francine.
    “Gee,” thought Denis, “She just called me tu.”
    No she didn’t, she called you “you”, the reader would say, and throw the book into the fireplace.
    Does one go on to explain what “tu” means, or does one assume the reader will know or find out? Why not simply leave the entire exchange in French? Make the reader do the work.
    The fact of the French version is that the character switches from V to T. It is also a fact of the French version that the change goes without comment. The English version cannot duplicate both of those facts. All it can duplicate, or approximate, is the effect the facts produce. It can do so by using linguistic devices native to English or by creating new facts, as translators have done shamelessly since the art began. In cases such as these, I think it is reasonable to concern oneself with the effect, and not to become overly scrupulous. It’s naive, and tends to produce clumsy translationese, loaded with “accuracy” but devoid of whatever made the original worth reading.
    That said, I don’t think the translator did a very good job of it. He/she tried to pack the entire change into an instant event, forgetting that the original derives its power from a long-running series of formal pronouns. I would have kept in mind the fact that the T-V changeover is a sudden change in a long-running series of communications between one character and the other. I would have translated all the woman’s pre-tu communications to include a consistent signifier of formality, if not a pronoun, then some other mode of address. Perhaps she could consistently address the speaker as William or Thomas, then suddenly switch to Will or Tom. Or perhaps (I know nothing of the characters’ relationship) she could call him Mr. Whatever, and then suddenly use his given name. There are other, more specialized examples. If she were his mother-in-law, she could begin calling him son. If she were his secretary, she could begin calling him by his first name instead of “boss” or whatever. In any case, it would first be necessary to seed the change with a whole series of prior formalities, equivalent to the series in the French original.
    There are countless solutions to any lacuna like this. Each one is flawed, but each one has its advantages. There is no correct or perfect translation, only different versions informed by different sets of priorities. For me, honesty would be a fairly low priority, compared to effectiveness. One risks producing a gloss, and turning an affecting emotional moment into a pedantic footnote.

  32. Actually, in this case it doesn’t “go without comment” – that’s what we’re talking about, how to translate the comment (As-tu remarqué que depuis tout à l’heure tu me tutoies?)
    For me, the real problem is that up until then we’ve had “vous”. The French reader will know that. The English reader won’t, especially if it only crops up in one sentence and is then ignored. Even readers who are well aware of the pronoun situation will not be thinking about it while reading in English.
    In my opinion, any good translation will need to prepare the reader for the switch by making the preceding dialog somewhat formal (however they choose to do it) and/or the rest somewhat intimate.
    The aim is “communicative translation”, not either “exoticism” or “cultural transplantation”.

  33. I wanted to join in this conversation because I am a translator working from Russian to English, where the problem under discussion in this French example is magnified a thousand times. In addressing people, you can use formal/informal, first full name, full first name and patronymic, Mr/Mrs and last name, patronymic alone, a nickname, several nicknames depending on what you want to convey (intimacy, anger, annoyance, affection, etc.). Although you usually use the formal “you” with full name and patronymic, you might also use it with just the first name, or you might mix and match any of the elements, or switch temporarily (ie during a drinking binge).
    Hat, I don’t think it’s fair to jump from this example to “What’s next, changing a troika to a snowmobile because Americans aren’t familiar with troikas?” You can take any strategy in translation to a ridiculous degree. What should be discussed is this particular choice.
    To answer the questions: what do translators and translation theorists say about this – well, they say pretty much the range of comments here. Different schools and different eras and different translators have different approaches, from very literal to very loose. Some advocate leaving in or exaggerating “foreignisms” to force the reader to remember that the book was originally written in another language. Some advocate the opposite – smoothing all the foreignisms out entirely.
    I personally try to translate the text so it reads in English as if it were written in that language without losing any of the Russian cultural and linguistic texture and context. I want the reader to have as close to the same experience in English as the Russian reader had in Russian. But I don’t want to recast the work in America; I want the reader to be firmly in Russia. In other words, I try to do two mutually exclusive tasks. In deciding which way to lean, I look at the text and audience. It seems that a lot of Language Hat readers are familiar with other languages and cultures and would like a text closer to the original and footnoted. But what if you are translating a detective story? Then readers don’t want to flip to footnotes to discover that Shura is a nickname for Alexander Ivanovich (or that “tu” is an informal form of address).
    The formal/informal “you” and name business in Russian is an enormous headache. A lot of people pick up the Russian classics without knowing anything about Russia or Russian names. And despite the translator notes, they really can’t remember that Count Smirnov is Alexei Fyodorovich is Alyosha is Lyosha is… They can’t understand that when a woman is called Tanyusha in one passage, it’s more affectionate than when she is called Tanya in another, and most of the time they don’t realize that Tanyusha and Tanya are one and the same person. One school of thought says “make the reader come to the novel,” but in my experience with names, it’s almost impossible – particularly if there are dozens of characters.
    I also don’t think it’s fair to contrast “an accurate and bumpy translation to a silken but potentially reckless one.” Those extremes are straw men. And the problem with the “bumpy” translation is that the reader doesn’t know: is it rough-sounding because of the translation, or because the original was rough-sounding? You can’t tell the reader: “Actually, this reads really smoothly and beautifully. Take my word for it.”
    In an ideal world, a reader would have a choice of translations and the blurb on the cover would give an indication of what kind of translation it is – or reviewers would actually know the original language and let readers know.
    I don’t know the author or the novel under discussion and my French is terribly rusty. But it doesn’t seem a bad translation choice to me. I would think a French reader would note the vous-tu change, and here the English-speaking reader would note the change in level of intimacy. And then both read on. Remember that we are spending a long time discussing something that a reader will go past in 4 seconds.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    In my experience (many years living and working in France) the French absolutely do not get on first name terms “about as easily as Americans.” I have found it a far more formal culture in that respect. And using tu could come a long way, perhaps never, after using a first name.

    Sorry, I was too generous with “about”. (I tried to make a contrast between using “about” in the first but not the second half of the sentence.) Indeed it won’t happen that two full-grown professors approach you at a congress, stretch out their hands, and say “Kevin”, as happened to me with two Americans who previously knew me at most from a mailing list. My point is that where I come from the T-V distinction is redundant with the title+surname-firstname distinction, while in French there’s a wide separation between them.
    (To this day, BTW, the French seem more comfortable with V than German speakers. “In” Paris I live in a student home, and it happened once that I didn’t understand a fellow inhabitant was talking to me because she used V. Struck me as very awkward when I found out what was going on. Germanophones my age in general, and students in particular, use T with each other.)

    In French, God is also addressed as ‘tu’.

    Is that new? I’ve never seen it (unlike in the rest of Standard Average European). I haven’t been to church in France, however.

  35. Hat, I don’t think it’s fair to jump from this example to “What’s next, changing a troika to a snowmobile because Americans aren’t familiar with troikas?”
    Of course not, but it’s fun! And it jump-started a good discussion, which is what I was trying to do.
    By forcefully stating my own preference, I do not at all mean to imply that others’ preferences are not equally valid; ideally, as you say, readers could choose from a variety of translations to suit their tastes.
    But what if you are translating a detective story?
    Yeah, or sf — genre readers definitely don’t want footnotes (well, except a few weirdos like me). I don’t know what to do there, except call the guy Shura all the time and accept that some social subtleties will be lost. Fortunately, genre readers tend to be less interested in social subtleties.
    Great comment, by the way — I was hoping you’d show up!

  36. Re: Biblico-liturgical “thou” in English: I believe this was due to Early Modern English translators’ efforts to reflect the Hebrew distinction. Hebrew pronouns don’t have any sort of formality contrast, but they do distinguish between singular and plural; so, translators used “thou” and “thee” for the singular, and “ye” and “you” for the plural, not intending to imply anything about formality.
    So I’ve read, anyway; I’m not sure about it.

  37. (To clarify my last comment: I am sure of how Hebrew pronouns work. I’ve read that this is the reason that “thou” and “thee” continued to be used in Biblical and liturgical translation after they’d died out in ordinary speech.)

  38. Is there a Protestant/Catholic distinction in the use of tu/vous?

  39. Aha! Hat, you were being an agent provocateur, eh?
    Another genre that doesn’t work with a more literal approach is humor. I think English-speakers don’t get how funny Ilf and Petrov or Zoshchenko are because the translations were too literal and sometimes footnoted. They essentially tried to explain the jokes, and once you start explaining, it’s just not funny any more.
    I think one has a different perspective, or set of expectations, when reading a translation from a language you don’t know. I read Pamuk’s My Name is Red in the English translation. It was not footnoted, had lots of Turkish words that after awhile you figure out and remember. By the end of it, I had emotionally entered that world entirely, and it was as if I knew Turkish. The Russian translation is what I would call an academic translation: all the names, places, concepts, events, etc. were in footnotes. I had praised the novel to the heavens to my Russian translator friends, but when they read the Russian, they didn’t get it. All those footnotes and the careful close reproduction of the text killed the spirit of the novel.
    However, Robert Chandler has just finished a new translation of Pushkin’s The Captain’s Daughter. It is both very close to the text and very well footnoted, but also very inventive (ie, not filled with calques). I think it’s quite brilliant. Seems like a lot of LH folks would like it.

  40. michael farris says:

    How would an English speaking author indicate that the feelings of a prissy, bourgeois woman of thirty-five towards a young man with whom she entertains a somewhat ambiguous relationship have shifted in an important way within the confines of an unconscious communicative act?
    I can think of a few ways (given that they’re already on a first name basis).
    - by an unconscious touch (as in the example)
    - by unwittingly addressing the man as ‘dear’ or an equivalent
    - some kind of Freudian slip of the tongue???
    - in a movie, it could be conveyed by eye contact that lasts a little longer than originally intended
    “do I have something stuck in my teeth?”
    “excuse me?”
    “you’re staring.” She hadn’t realized and blushed deep red.

  41. Another genre that doesn’t work with a more literal approach is humor. I think English-speakers don’t get how funny Ilf and Petrov or Zoshchenko are because the translations were too literal and sometimes footnoted. They essentially tried to explain the jokes, and once you start explaining, it’s just not funny any more.
    Exactly. This is a problem with Aristophanes as well, who’s hilarious in Greek but cobwebby in English.
    in a movie, it could be conveyed by eye contact that lasts a little longer than originally intended
    I have no problem with drastic changes in movies, a different medium altogether (I guess you could have a movie that simply scrolled the text of the book…), but to me a translation should convey to a foreign reader what the author wrote rather than what he might have written had he been writing in the target language. But as this discussion clearly shows, preferences differ.

  42. Two things:

    1. Nobody has commented on the fact that the young man also uses tu. He doesn’t say Avez-vous remarqué… He could have chosen to go on using V even after she has switched to T (which would also underline his continuing sense of social distance, against her establishment of familiarity), but he doesn’t. That complexity would be even harder to bring out in English.
    2. Calvino has a great meditation on faith vs. cultural equivalence in translation in If on a winter’s night a traveler (William Weaver’s English translation):

      Here everything is very concrete, substantial, depicted with sure expertise; or at least the impression given to you, Reader, is one of expertise, though there are some foods you don’t know, mentioned by name, which the translator has decided to leave in the original; for example, schoëblintsjia. But on reading schoëblintsjia you are ready to swear to the existence of schoëblintsjia, you can taste its flavor distinctly even tough the text doesn’t say what that flavor is, an acidulous flavor, partly because the word, with its sound or only with its visual impression, suggests an acidulous flavor to you, and partly because in the symphony of flavors and words you feel the necessity of an acidulous note.

      I think that’s what all translators would hope for: something that remains faithful to the original text, while also being sensually evocative for foreign readers. What Calvino is pointing out, though, is that a lot of that work falls to the reader (“you can taste its flavor distinctly even though the text doesn’t say what that flavor is”).

    For myself, I would say that I prefer translations that give me the experience of reading the book as close as possible to what it would have been if I were a speaker of that language / member of that culture. I trust the translator to locate that place as closely as possible on the faith/equivalence continuum, and hope that they will include a note if they’re leaning strongly to one side or the other (e.g. Nabokov’s Onegin). I read French fluently, but I like Schwartz’s solution to the V-T puzzle for English readers.

  43. mollymooly says:

    Another genre that doesn’t work with a more literal approach is humor…This is a problem with Aristophanes
    This is also a problem with Shakespeare.*
    [*this quip was funnier in Cornish]

  44. David Marjanović says:

    Is there a Protestant/Catholic distinction in the use of tu/vous?

    Interesting question. I don’t think so, though: e.g. V plus first name occurs in northern Germany (“Hamburger Sie”) and France. What distinction are you thinking of?

  45. Well, will take your word on Aristophenes!
    BTW, when I tried to write another version of Tanya, I was refused permision because of “questionable content.” What’s up with that? And how is a-en-ee-see-aitch-a “questionable?” What does it sound like to the computer censor?

  46. Well, will take your word on Aristophenes!
    BTW, when I tried to write another version of Tanya, I was refused permision because part of the word is of “questionable content.” What’s up with that? And how is
    a-en-ee-see-aitch-kay-a
    “questionable content?” What does it sound like to the computer censor?

  47. I probably once got some spam from “anechka” and banned the string in a fit of pique. Anyway, I’ve removed it from the blacklist now, so post away!

  48. Ah, got it. She probably wanted to fill your nights with pleasure…

  49. Is there a Protestant/Catholic distinction in the use of tu/vous?
    With God? Or with everyone? For the former, This and this seems to suggest a sectarian split in French.
    Wasn’t vos used in Spanish, maybe until Vatican II?
    But Russian uses ты for God, doesn’t it?
    A bunch of translations of Isaiah 25:1 shows mostly familiar pronouns, but not them exclusively. And Isaïe 25:1 “vous êtes mon Dieu”, for example, does get a few hits.
    I’ve heard (1) that Tyndale, etc. wanted to preserve the Hebrew singular / plural distinctions (2) that since the formal is also the plural there was potential for ambiguity and so blasphemy and (3) that Protestants wanted to show a personal connection without intermediary by the familiar.

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