THE TRANSLATOR IN THE TEXT II.

A month ago I posted on Rachel May’s The Translator in the Text: On Reading Russian Literature in English, which I had just started; now that I’ve finished it, I’m basking in the pleasure of having found a book that explains in such detail a strong but inchoate feeling I’ve had for as long as I’ve been reading Russian literature: that Russian is strikingly, perhaps uniquely, ill served by its translators. When I’ve tried to talk about this, I’ve babbled to people about the “feel” of Russian dialogue, which seems to be so hard to reproduce in English, but it’s not just the dialogue—everything but the most formal writing has something of that feel, something of the sound and affect of spoken Russian. The basic concept is that of the “personal narrator,” the voice that tells the story and partakes of the rhetorical devices of the spoken language, a voice which is almost always muted or done away with in translation, replaced by the impersonal narrative voice that translators seem more comfortable with. May starts off Chapter Two with this very apposite quote from Gogol’s “The Overcoat” (I presume in her own translation): “You must know that for the most part Akaky Akakievich expresses himself in prepositions, adverbs, and, finally, the kinds of particles of speech that have positively no meaning whatsoever.” She continues:

Little words that have “positively no meaning whatsoever” abound in human speech and, often, in literary narration. These are the fillers and signals of register; terms of endearment, respect, condescension, or disrespect; markers of phatic and conative functions; or simple idiosyncracies that distinguish living speech from expository prose. Generally defined as lacking semantic content but fulfilling some communicative function, these elements of language rarely advance a plot but immeasurably increase the richness of the telling. Unlike the pristine diction of expository prose, prose with an abundance of “meaningless” sounds and phrases suggests palpable human voices and allows them to interact and interpenetrate one another’s spheres. As a literary device, they have had great proponents in many languages (William Faulkner, Laurence Sterne, Mark Twain, to name some anglophone examples). But nowhere have they had so rich a flowering as in Russian literature, where they are used to set up layer upon layer of meaning within the narration and between narrator, character, and reader. Why “must we know” that Akaky Akakievich used meaningless particles in his speech? First, because they establish the insecurity and insignificance of his character, but also because they identify the narrator with this pathetic creature. After all, the narrator, too, uses an abundance of fillers (you must know; for the most part; and, finally; positively; whatsoever). Thus Akaky Akakievich becomes Everyman, his voice merely a somewhat less articulate echo of the generalized voice that tells of his miserable condition.

Unfortunately, translators tend to consider semantics first, and “meaningless” phrases suffer as a result…

The bulk of the book consists of examples from Russian literature given in the original and one or more translations, with discussions of exactly what the translators have failed to preserve; I’ll quote here some of the general passages that describe the kind of things at issue. On deixis:

When used in third-person narration, such expressions as “now,” “here,” “many years ago” pinpoint the narrator as present at the scene. They also suggest that the audience is physically accessible to the narrator and that it has a definite viewpoint. The effect is to imitate the oral speech situation, in which a gesture is enough to establish a place and time. Although English has most of the same deictics as Russian, this is a feature of narrative language that is often omitted or changed in translation. [...]

The last three examples in 2.3 have in common one Russian deictic term that does not have an English equivalent. The Russian word vot is defined as indicating proximity or immediacy or adding expressiveness to a phrase. It can mean “right here,” or “there,” or even “look” or “see,” or it can simply be emphatic. Twice I have used “now” in its place, to reflect the sense of immediacy vot imparts. This term is so common in Russian and so difficult to approximate in English that translators tend to ignore it. The evidence seems to show, however, that along with it they discard other deictic expressions and the entire sense of a narrator’s presence. In isolated instances translators are probably right to omit it, because the English alternatives often sound stilted. But when vot is used as part of a larger tendency to personalize the narrative voice, translators need to plumb the expressive resources of English.

On “interjections and parentheticals”:

Trifonov’s narrator’s use of vprochem (“however,” or, here, “of course”) is an example of another set of intrusive elements available to authors wishing to personalize narrative voice. These include such signals of subjectivity as modal particles, parentheticals, interjections, and some qualifiers (the last three are known, collectively, in Russian as vvodnye slova, or “parenthetic words”). [...] Thus, they are all essential to narrative voice. However, because many of the modal particles appear frequently in prose without any apparent semantic content, it is common practice in translation simply to omit them. In isolated instances their omission makes little difference, but if they disappear throughout a text this can have profound effects on “the definition of communicative relationships.”

And perhaps the most basic of all, “colloquial register”:

The most colorful signal of a personal narrator is the use of colloquial language. In contrast to standard “literary” Russian, the colloquial register carries the suggestion of an oral, speaking storyteller. Soviet literature of the post-Stalin era essentially reintroduced this register into Russian literature after a long hiatus, and as an innovation it had both artistic and political impact. However, it has been one of the hardest features of this literature to capture in translation. Kornei Chukovsky lamented the loss of prostorechie (common or substandard speech) in translations of Solzhenitsyn’s One Day: “As you see, it’s a pattern. It turns out that not only Ralph Parker but all, positively all, of the translators flatly refused to translate prostorechie. And their Italian colleagues joined them in this” [...]

The English language contributes to this trend because it lends itself less well to approximating oral speech in writing. The absence in English of an equivalent for vot, for example, removes an essential tool for expressing immediacy. Russian shifts tenses and even person more easily than English does, making for a more natural range of interjections and syntactic breaks. And there is evidence that the colloquial register is more accessible to Russian writers, since Russian has a more live sense of the distinction between oral and written styles. [...] A typical page from a Russian dictionary has frequent notations of register, with nearly a third of the definitions or examples marked “colloquial” or “common.” In sum, the colloquial register is well recognized and readily available to Russian writers who wish to create a casual atmosphere for their narration without using idiosyncratic or regionally distinct terms; it is possible to evoke a generalized storyteller who imparts a sense of oral narration but does not interfere personally in the story.

By contrast, English has a rich dialectal system but generally lacks a standard, or at least standardly acknowledged, colloquial vocabulary. (We even lack a satisfactory term for prostorechie, since “vulgar” has come to mean “obscene.”) The Oxford English Dictionary does not distinguish colloquial from literary terms, combining them all under the rubric of “common words” (“which belong to the language common to literature and everyday speech”). Slang, dialectal, and specialized terms may be singled out, but the register of unconstrained speech is not recognized. This may explain, in part, why translators often do not seek to use it[...].

That’s just the second chapter; the third and fourth are equally rich, and of course I’m omitting all the examples that give weight to the generalities, but I hope I’ve given some idea of how valuable the book is. One can quibble with some of the details of her discussion of individual sentences, but I don’t think one can successfully argue with her main point: translators need to do more to use the resources available in English to convey the feel of the Russian text.

Comments

  1. Interesting. Is it even possible to have a universal colloquial vocabulary, free of a regional and social class substrate? Perhaps the impressions arises from a presumption that the city talk isn’t truly regional, and that the literate class isn’t a true social group? As if Pygmalion didn’t accustom the English speakers to exactly the opposite view.
    There is also a so-called Simple English, but I guess its simplicity is of a different kind.
    Lastly I wonder if all the conative and phatic and parenthetical word materiel is there partly to modulate the rhythmic flow of the speech, and to make it resemble a well-spoken word simply by virtue of the added rhythmicity which combines physiological breath together with feeling and intent.

  2. Is it even possible to have a universal colloquial vocabulary, free of a regional and social class substrate?
    Sure. This is a notable feature of French, for example, where words like bagnole ‘car,’ boulot ‘work, job,’ and so on are ubiquitous and often have no equivalent in English.

  3. Thanks, Language! Is it correct to suggest, then, that the wide-spanning colloquial usage is typical for the languages with the strongest prescriptivist central authority, which results in clear differences between the prescribed literary vocabulary and the actual mainstream usage (but in English, the latter would have almost always turned into the former in a nick of time?)

  4. marie-lucie says:

    French … words like bagnole ‘car,’ boulot ‘work, job,’ and so on are ubiquitous
    Personally, I would use boulot but rarely bagnole unless I meant something like “jalopy” or “clonker”. Many words currently used in speech by most French people were considered slang a few decades ago.
    It is true though that speech and writing still have different standards. Even in primary school, we were taught to carefully distinguish Je dirais … ‘I would say …’ from J’écrirais… ‘I would write …’. One of the things many French people disliked about ex-president Sarkozy was his use of slangy colloquialisms, which was considered inappropriate to his position.

  5. Is it correct to suggest, then, that the wide-spanning colloquial usage is typical for the languages with the strongest prescriptivist central authority, which results in clear differences between the prescribed literary vocabulary and the actual mainstream usage
    An interesting question! I have no answers, I’m afraid.

  6. Babbler says:

    Sounds like an interesting book. How much knowledge of Russian grammar and literature do you need to understand it? Because I don’t know much about either, but the stuff about the difficulties of translation seem interesting to me.
    About how English’s (proposed) lack of an “universal colloquial vocabulary” – it could a result of wide geographic dispersion and political separation of the language (i.e. English is spoken across many countries seperated by oceans, while Russian is spoken mostly in Russia and the countries around it)? That focuses people to the geography of variation, and de-emphasizes the other dimensions (in the mind of the common person, not the specialists). So instead of thinking of ‘literary’ words and ‘colloquialisms’, English speakers think of ‘Americanisms’, ‘Britishisms’, ‘Australianisms’, etc.

  7. Bathrobe says:

    I sympathise with what Rachel May is saying. It’s something that is faced in translating from any foreign language, but perhaps some more than others. I’ve always noticed that translation from Japanese into English means leaving out most of the ‘junk’ that clutters up Japanese sentences, so that what sounded quite nuanced in the original ends up sounding extremely bald in English translation.
    As for the problem that English “generally lacks a standard, or at least standardly acknowledged, colloquial vocabulary” (like French boulot), not being a Russian speaker I’m not sure how much we are missing here. English does have words that are considered completely colloquial, like ‘kids’ instead of ‘children’, and there are expressions that might be considered more conversational than written (e.g. ‘knock back’ instead of ‘drink (alcohol)’), so I’m just wondering how ‘structural’ this problem is and how much a function of translator inattention.

  8. what sounded quite nuanced in the original
    Is Henry James especially difficult to translate into some languages, I wonder?

  9. J.W. Brewer says:

    This seems somewhat related to the discussion in the Loeb thread about whether translating rustic-Sicilian-shepherd Greek into Thomas-Hardy-yokel English was a sensible strategy. Greek in at least some varieties has a certain amount of extraneous-seeming words that can be ignored in translation without losing the basic sense, but presumably at the cost of some stylistic nuance, yet when you try to expressly translate all of them you can get an odd effect that doesn’t sound much like any extant register of English. So this really is a pretty ubiquitous sort of problem.

  10. Bathrobe says:

    Actually, the problem of regionalisms would certainly get in the way. I once read a collection of translated stories (interviews) concerning the experiences of Chinese during the Cultural Revolution. One of the stories was translated into very colloquial English. But the problem was that, because the translator was Australian (I think it was Geremie Barme, but I could be wrong), it was translated into very colloquial Australian English! It went down fine with me, but I suspect an American or Canadian reader would have found it most incongruous!

  11. Wimbrel says:

    Having just finished Пикник на обочине, I am terrified to imagine what it might look like in English translation (and it’s been translated into English at least twice).
    To start with the simplest issue, it’s set, in part no doubt due to its dour tone, in a kind of burlesque West that ABS cobbled together out of names and terms borrowed from their own translations (I think there’s a law firm somewhere in there called Korsh Korsh & Simak). It probably read as plausibly foreign to their contemporary Russian readers, but in English it no doubt reads like the burlesque it is.
    A much, much bigger problem is that pretty much the whole novel is told from the point of view of a character who is a lout and, basically, a petty criminal, and his Russian reflects that. Here, for instance, is the first handful of sentences:

    Накануне стоим это мы с ним в хранилище уже вечером, остается только спецовки сбросить, и можно закатиться в “Боржч”, принять в организм капельку-другую крепкого. Я стою просто так, стену подпираю, свое отработал и уже держу наготове сигаретку, курить хочется дико, два часа не курил, а он все возится со своим добром: один сейф загрузил, запер и опечатал, теперь другой загружает, берет с транспортера “пустышки”, каждую со всех сторон осматривает (а она тяжелая, сволочь, шесть с половиной кило, между прочим) и с кряхтеньем аккуратненько водворяет на полку.

    What’s the translator supposed to do with “стоим это мы,” “закатиться,” “принять,” “стену подпираю,” and especially that “аккуратненько”? Certainly, the tone of these words and phrases can be conveyed in English, but translating all of them into English slang equivalents would be ridiculous overload. And so the narrator just ends up sounding like Generic Male Character in translation. For reference, here’s the corresponding passage in the Bouis version:

    The night before, he and I were in the repository–it was already evening, all I had to do was throw off my lab suit and I could head for the Borscht to put a drop or two of the stiff stuff into my system. I was just standing there, holding up the wall, my work all done and a cigarette in my hand. I was dying for a smoke–it was two hours since I’d had one, and he was still puttering around with his stuff. He had loaded, locked, and sealed one safe and was loading up the other one–taking the empties from the transporter, examining each one from every angle (and they’re heavy little bastards, by the way, fifteen pounds each), and carefully replacing them on the shelf.

    To begin with, who talks like that? “Holding up the wall”? Second of all, “”аккуратненько” is definitely ill-served by “carefully.”
    A third issue is that the narration, for all its colloquialisms, is actually very, very sparing with actual obscenities. Very sparing. A sharp border between colloquialism and profanity is another feature of Russian. I’d hope a good English translation would dial up the level of casual profanity quite a bit, where in the original it’s essentially implicit throughout. A contemporary Russian reader would be adept at matching diction with emotional intensity. A reader of an English translation would have none of the necessary clues.
    Essentially, in translation the novel becomes a generic sci-fi novel about some generic guy.

  12. SFReader says:

    Google Translate gave this:
    “On the eve of what we stand with him in the store in the evening, we can only lose his overalls, and we can roll in the “Borscht”, take a drop or two of the body strong. I’m just so, holding up the wall, and has worked his keep at the ready a cigarette, smoking like crazy for two hours did not smoke, but he is busy with his kindness: a safe deposit box loaded, locked and sealed, and now the other loads, takes a transporter “Dummy “each examines all sides (and it is heavy, you bastard, six and a half pounds, by the way) and with groaning cometh neatly on the shelf.”
    Needs some cleaning, of course, but definitely looks like better translation, especially, for those colloquialisms and staff…

  13. Bathrobe says:

    Пикник на обочине has been translated into English at least twice.
    Does the other translator do a better job?

  14. I think part of the problem is that around 1915 the Anglosphere began to abandon the world-wide tradition of the involved narrator, pejoratively called the “omniscient” narrator, in favor of various kinds of restricted narrators: unreliable first person narrators, viewpoint narrators single or multiple, and so on. Although still prevalent in children’s stories, the use of the involved narrator has come to be labeled “head-hopping” (which properly is jerking too rapidly from one viewpoint narrator to another) and considered a fault in all other kinds of fiction. This apparently didn’t happen in Russian, so stories continued to be told by storytellers.
    In Le Guin’s book on writing technique, Steering the Craft, she gives us a fragment of the same story, “Princess Sefrid” told in different narrative voices:

    [First person narrator.] I felt so strange and lonesome entering the room crowded with strangers that I wanted to turn around and run, but Rassa was right behind me, and I had to go ahead. People spoke to me, asked Rassa my name. In my confusion I couldn’t tell one face from another or understand what people were saying to me, and answered them almost at random. Only for a moment I caught the glance of a person in the crowd, a woman looking directly at me, and there was a kindness in her eyes that made me long to go to her. She looked like somebody I could talk to.

    [Limited third person.] Sefrid felt isolated, conspicuous, as she entered the room crowded with strangers. She would have turned around and run back to her room, but Rassa was right behind her, and she had to go ahead. People spoke to her. They asked Rassa her name. In her confusion she could not tell one face from another or understand what people said to her. She answered them at random. Only once, for a moment, a woman looked directly at her through the crowd, a keen, kind gaze that made Sefrid long to cross the room and talk to her.

    [Involved author.] The Tufarian girl entered the room hesitantly, her arms close to her sides, her shoulders hunched: she looked both frightened and indifferent, like a captive wild animal. The big Hemmian ushered her in with a proprietary air and introduced her complacently as “Princess Sefrid” or “the Princess of Tufar”. People pressed close to meet her or simply stare at her. She endured them, seldom raising her head, replying to their inanities briefly, in a barely audible voice. Even in the pressing, chattering crowd she created a space around herself, a place to be lonely in. No one touched her. They were not aware that they avoided her, but she was. Out of that solitude she looked up to meet a gaze that was not curious, but open, intense, compassionate — a face that said to her, through a sea of strangeness, “I am your friend”.

    [Detached author.] The princess from Tufar entered the room followed closely by the big man from Hemm. She walked with long steps, her arms close to her sides and her shoulders hunched. Her hair was thick and frizzy. She stood still while the Hemmian introduced her, calling her Princess Sefrid of Tufar. Her eyes did not meet the eyes of any of the people who crowded around her, staring at her and asking her questions. None of them tried to touch her. She replied briefly to everything said to her. She and an older woman near the tables of food exchanged a brief glance.

    [First person observer.] She wore Tufarian clothing, the heavy red robes I had not seen for so long; her hair stood out like a storm cloud around the dark, narrow face. Crowded forward by her owner, the Hemmian slavemaster called Rassa, she looked small, hunched, defensive, but she preserved around herself a space that was all her own. She was a captive, an exile, yet I saw in her young face the pride and kindness I had loved in her people, and I longed to speak with her.

    (Le Guin also gives a third person observer version, but it’s not available online.)
    Now each of these reveals and conceals certain things, but consider just the one sentence “They were not aware that they avoided her, but she was.” Only the involved author can possibly make that contrast; none of the other voices are capable of pointing it out.
    And here’s Le Guin on the involved narrator voice:

    The story is not told from within any single character. There may be numerous viewpoint characters, and the narrative voice may change from one to another character within the story, or to a view, analysis, perception, or prediction that only the author could make. (For example: the description of what a person who is quite alone looks like; or the description of a landscape or a room at a moment when there’s nobody there to see it.) The writer may tell us what anyone is thinking and feeling, interpret behavior for us, and even make judgments on characters.

    This is the familiar voice of the storyteller, who knows what’s going on in all the different places the characters are at the same time, and what’s going on inside the characters, and what has happened, and what has to happen.

    All myths and legends and folktales, all young children’s stories, almost all fiction until about 1915, and a vast amount of fiction since then, use this voice.

    I don’t like the common term “omniscient narrator”, because I hear a judgmental sneer in it. I think “authorial narration” is the most neutral term, and “involved author” the most exact.

    Limited third person is the predominant modern fictional voice — partly in reaction to the Victorian fondness for involved-author narration, and the many possible abuses of it.

    Involved author is the most openly, obviously manipulative of the points of view. But the voice of the narrator who knows the whole story, tells it because it is important, and is profoundly involved with all the characters, cannot be dismissed as old-fashioned or uncool. It’s not only the oldest and most widely used storytelling voice, it’s also the most versatile, flexible, and complex of the points of view — and probably, at this point, the most difficult for the writer.

  15. I think part of the problem is that around 1915 the Anglosphere began to abandon the world-wide tradition of the involved narrator, pejoratively called the “omniscient” narrator … This apparently didn’t happen in Russian, so stories continued to be told by storytellers.
    I can make no sense out of this sweepingly vague claim. What 1915 event is supposed to have initiated the process of abandonment ? You’re saying that English novels are no longer told by storytellers ??

  16. Thanks, JC, that’s an excellent quote; I should really get hold of that book.
    I can make no sense out of this sweepingly vague claim. What 1915 event is supposed to have initiated the process of abandonment ? You’re saying that English novels are no longer told by storytellers ??
    Try a little harder, Stu. Nobody said there was a “1915 event”; one is not obliged to give a causal explanation for something in order to be allowed to observe that it happened. And yes, the claim is that English novels are no longer told by storytellers for the most part; maybe if you’d read the whole quote instead of going off half-cocked after one sentence that puzzles you, you’d understand better what’s being said. Sometimes you seem to think of these threads as shooting galleries and are trying to knock a duck off the moving platform before anyone else can take aim.

  17. I’ve just begun tentatively thinking about this stuff, but it seems to me that the modernist worship of Flaubert has something to do with the change; suddenly it seemed fusty to have a narrative voice engaged with the action, and everybody wanted their novels to be told ironically, in a hands-off way, with perfectly weighted sentences. Nothing wrong with that, but it shouldn’t be the only item on the menu. (And it occurs to me that serious English poetry started giving up on rhyme around the same time. Is there a connection, beyond the vague idea of “modernism”? Who knows? But I think a lot was lost in both cases.)

  18. Hat, I quoted the beginning and end of John’s comment, having read what was in between. It was this comment that motivated and explains mine.
    The categorization by Le Guin excerpted by John is interesting, though not new, but what does it have to do with his initial and final claims ? What is the significance of 1915 or round-about ? I have read hundreds of 20th century novels in English, both American and British, and can think of no evidence for the claim that “the Anglosphere began to abandon the world-wide tradition of the involved narrator”.
    There’s nothing “half-cocked” about attempting to nail a moving target – although that is probably the best condition in which to keep your gun when snipe-shooting. Maybe you should let John reply to my comment on his if he wishes – I don’t think he needs unsolicited covering fire.

  19. Always ready to lament the rhyme. A skill not practiced is a skill lost. Of course in Russian 1915 / WWI also stands for the obsolescence of the beautifully polished, but few observers need to look for any reason beyond the Revolution. It would seem to me, though, that the West also underwent a major disillusionment in Reason and Beauty after WWI. It was like, the antebellum leaders of thought really knew nothing; the grandeur of ideas and images is death.
    BTW a truly / overreachingly omniscient narrator is properly ridiculed in Russia too, as in the myriad Stierlitz jokes (in the Stierlitz novels as in the movies, the thoughts and the intentions of the characters are narrated in a way which so peculiarly out of place in a movie format).
    Штирлиц шел по улице, и на него упал кирпич. “Вот те раз”, подумал Штирлиц. “Вот те два”, подумал Борман на крыше, бросая второй кирпич.

  20. Off the top of my head, here are examples of writers I have recently read who use the “involved narrator” technique to the hilt: Fay Weldon, Alexander McCall Smith, Alan Bennett.

  21. Le Guin, as quoted by John, wrote:
    All myths and legends and folktales, all young children’s stories, almost all fiction until about 1915, a vast amount of fiction since then, use this voice.
    This is where the date came from, and I wonder why she picked that date.
    Stu, note that although she wrote that a change occurred, or began, at around that time, she acknowledges that the old way of narrating did not disappear.
    Off the top of my head, it does not strike me as particularly true that “storytellers” always or usually work that way, but I would not dismiss the considered opinion of a lifelong writer of fiction in favor of either the first thought that pops into my head or the first thought that pops into Stu’s head.
    (Yes, I know you did not dismiss anything, Stu; you just came out fighting.)
    When I’m reading a novel, I don’t always stop to notice whether the action is being presented through one character’s viewpoint, or “omnisciently”, or in some more complicated way; but I can usually guess the right answer to that question if I think about it later.
    I’ve heard the term “omniscience” in this connection, but never imagined it to be the least bit pejorative until now. I can see that if is is tainted in that way then a new term might be useful, but “involved author” doesn’t seem like a great alternative: I don’t think I could have guessed, unaided, what category of narrative technique it referred to.

  22. Wasn’t it on or about December, 1910?

  23. Tom Recht says:

    “A major disillusionment in Reason and Beauty” – and also, I think, a disillusionment with claims to authoritative moral interpretation of reality; which (as Le Guin suggests) is one thing that involved narrators as especially good for, or one of the ways in which they tend to be ‘involved’.
    Maybe this points to a distinction between ‘omniscient’ and ‘involved’. A lot of modern English-language novels use omniscient narrators, as Stu points out, but I think most of these narrators meet only part Le Guin’s description: though they can make comments that don’t correspond to any character’s viewpoint, they tend not to “make judgments on characters” and sometimes don’t even “interpret behavior for us”. They’re omniscient but uninvolved.
    (And I second Hat’s thanks to JC for the thought-provoking quote. I actually have the book, but haven’t gotten very far into it because I feel guilty reading it without doing the exercises.)

  24. empty: on the supposition that John agrees with what Le Guin is quoted as claiming about a decline of “involved narrator” techniques – he quotes her for apparently just that reason – I expect he will be able to adduce evidence that: “Although still prevalent in children’s stories, the use of the involved narrator has come to be labeled “head-hopping” (which properly is jerking too rapidly from one viewpoint narrator to another) and considered a fault in all other kinds of fiction.”
    I would not dismiss the considered opinion of a lifelong writer of fiction in favor of either the first thought that pops into my head or the first thought that pops into Stu’s head.
    I ask where is the evidence for Le Guin’s claim ? She is a lifelong writer of fiction (primarily science fiction, as far as I know), but I am a lifelong reader of fiction (of all kinds, as I know for certain). What I gave are off-the-cuff examples of widely-read writers whose techniques many people will be familiar with, and can judge for themselves.
    It is up to John to support the claim, not mine to prove it false. My examples are not “first thoughts that popped into my head” as to Le Guin’s claim being unsupportable. I say merely, but forcefully, that it is incompatible with my entire experience in reading novels in English.
    Does anyone think Le Guin’s claim has a shard of plausibility ? Maybe she is talking about “high literature” of some kind, some 3% of what is published and read.

  25. I must correct myself. What Le Guin is quoted as saying is: “All myths and legends and folktales, all young children’s stories, almost all fiction until about 1915, and a vast amount of fiction since then, use this voice.” So, according to Le Guin, the fictional techniques are abundantly available and familiar in English. John, in contrast, seems to be saying that they are no longer available and familiar, and that this might account for the poor quality of translations from Russian into English.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    I too much enjoyed JC’s quote from Ursula K. LeGuin. My studies of literature occurred too long ago to have involved “deconstruction” and “authorial voices”. “Stream of consciousness” was about the only modern term I was exposed to. I heard about “nouveau roman” from magazine articles, not from reading true literary criticism, and by that time I had discovered that my true vocation was in linguistics, so I did not read too many modern novels in the new genres. I see that I have a lot to learn!
    Grumbly: Maybe she is talking about “high literature” of some kind, some 3% of what is published and read.
    I think so too, although my experience is very limited.

  27. Sorry, Stu. I started a wrong hare, or introduced a red herring, by mentioning the top of your head. In my haste I lost track of the fact that you, at 10:53, had mentioned the top of your head. In fact, contrary to appearances, I was responding more to your 10:40, and to your 8:55 (to which I had come close to responding in much the same vein as Hat).
    I don’t care how many examples you can give, because even a vast number of examples would not contradict le Guin’s thesis. I am interested in knowing what Le Guin, a thoughtful and longtime writer of serious fiction who write a book about the writing of fiction, has in mind. I would be interested in evidence for her claim (and John’s). I’m open to the evidence. While waiting for it, I would prefer not to brandish sharp and menacing words like “shard” and “shred”. But that’s me.
    And I would guess that she is thinking of “‘high literature’ of some kind”.

  28. As I just pointed out, apparently everyone who has commented here so far – including myself – had overlooked the circumstance that Le Guin does not claim that the “involved narrator” is no longer a familiar technique. On the contrary, she says it still is in “a vast amount of fiction”, even after the obscurely significant date of 1915 (or 1910, as MMcM suggests).

  29. Rodger C says:

    In 1915 Einstein published the General Theory of Relativity, Eliot published “Prufrock,” Saussure’s students published the Cours de linguistique générale, and Britain went off the gold standard. Just sayin.

  30. I don’t know if anyone else shares this impression, but I’ve always thought of English as a noun-based language and Russian as verb-based. That is, a non-slangy English sentence good enough to stand out on the page is usually made conspicuous by a particularly suitable noun, whereas the opposite is usually true in Russian. This is probably a false observation.

  31. Rodger: according to the official Nobel prize website, the general relativity paper was published in 1916. Jes sayin. That is, now I know what I didn’t.

  32. The Cours de linguistique générale was published in 1916, according to the French WiPe.

  33. John Emerson says:

    “Positively no meaning whatsoever”.
    A lot of the weight of Chinese rests on the sentence-ending particles, which are quite various and which are very hard to teach and learn. As I understand, Yuen-ren Chao was the first teacher to try to do justice to them (beyond “a”, “ma”, “le” and “ne”, which can be somewhat matched to English equivalents).
    In poetry there’s even a whole class of particles which express a certain kind of feeling in terms of an objective correlate, i.e. dew on the grass at dawn. As I understand, the most interesting uses of these particles are when the correlate is not actually present
    I haven’t been able to get deeply into it, alas, but I think that the four-word cheng-yu (sort of like proverbs summing up some truth, often from classical sources) are so important in everyday communication that they’re almost like a part of speech.
    Maybe this is really about English, along with the virtual disappearance of intimate forms and politenesses.

  34. Le Guin says that “[...] almost all fiction until about 1915, and a vast amount of fiction since then” uses what she calls the “involved author”, and goes on to say that “Limited third person is the predominant modern fictional voice —”.
    (How vast? How predominant?) It doesn’t sound at all implausible to me, but to understand what she is saying in any depth you would probably want to read the whole book, and you would also want to know more about what she means by “modern”.
    John’s claim about the relevance to difficulties with translation seems less plausible to me, given that even Le Guin says that the old way has far from disappeared.

  35. Christopher Burd says:

    1915? The first full year of the World War One? Perhaps she believes the cultural impact of the war wasn’t evident by the end of 1914. Or perhaps “around 1915″ is her way of saying, “sometime between 1910 and 1920.”

  36. To start with, though Einstein’s general relativity paper was published in 1916, he presented the Einstein equations in a lecture at the Prussian Academy of Science in late 1915, so that is usually thought of as the date. The paper gave only approximate solutions to the equations anyway, and it was Schwarzschild who came up with the first non-trivial exact solution, about a month after Einstein’s paper was published. His own paper was published the following year, just before he died of pemphigus (g’wan, look it up).
    Now on to the main course.
    Of course I don’t claim (and indeed Le Guin explicitly denies) that the involved-author voice has been completely abandoned. But certainly other voices that were rarely used before the 20th century have now come to the fore. I don’t keep my books in any particular order, so I pulled six novels and a memoir, all written in the 20th century, off the end of one shelf. I skipped over translations, which I thought would bias the results. I found three first-person narrators, one detached narrator, one limited third person narrator, one use of multiple limited third person narrators, and one involved narrator (by chance in Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, one of Le Guin’s favorite books, though not particularly one of mine). Of the seven, that was the only one that could be called (though not by me) “high literature”.
    I then looked at the first seven 19th-century novels whose titles began with “M” at Project Gutenberg, again ignoring translations. Seven involved narrators out of seven (one occasionally refers to himself in the first person, but does not appear to play any role in the action). Quant suff! I think the claim is established, insofar as anecdote can reasonably establish it: there has been a relative decline in involved narration.
    But of course that might be just the development of neglected voices rather than an active avoidance of involved narrators. So I went to the first Google hit for “head-hopping”. What I got was an explanation of how people writing romances (the most “genre” of all “genre” fiction) should always avoid it:

    No, headhopping is not something alien characters do in futuristic romances. Headhopping refers to writing where the point of view whips back and forth between multiple characters within a scene.

    Headhopping is not to be confused with multiple viewpoints. Multiple viewpoints are expected in today’s romance novels. Most romance novels today show scenes from the viewpoints of both the hero and heroine. However, you should avoid switching that viewpoint in the middle of a scene.

    Headhopping is most noticeable when it occurs frequently. Some writers see nothing wrong with changing the point of view within the same paragraph. This can be confusing to the reader. Many editors also hate headhopping because it’s close to impossible to edit out of a novel.

    How do you detect headhopping in a scene? First, decide who the viewpoint character is for that scene. Then, ask yourself if the viewpoint character should be able to experience everything that you have described in that scene.

    Here’s a short sample scene:

    Glancing over the top of her menu, Blythe looked Anthony in the eye. She knew he was worried that she was going to order the lobster. “The specials look nice,” she said, wondering if he would notice that the featured special was lobster. He needn’t have worried. What she really wanted was the buffalo wings.

    I know she’s going to order the lobster. He smiled, hoping she didn’t realize he was nervous. Anthony realized that his menu hadn’t come with the list of specials. Well, he should be safe; this place never listed lobster as one of the specials. Blythe was really beginning to annoy him. She’d told him she liked buffalo wings, but the first time they went out, she’d ordered lobster!

    The waitress came by. From the moment she saw this couple, she knew she’d get a lousy tip because this man was already scowling at his date, as if afraid she would order something expensive. She tried to keep her voice cheerful as she asked, “Are you ready to order?”

    Either that scene had headhopping or Blythe is psychic. How else would she know what both Anthony and the waitress are thinking and experiencing? And if we’re going to be strict about this, how does she know that he’s worried she’ll order the lobster? This scene might seem like an exaggeration, but it’s only a slight exaggeration. We’ve all read scenes that had that much headhopping or more. So how can we improve it? Let’s assume that Blythe is our heroine. That will make her a good choice to carry the viewpoint of the scene. But aren’t we going to lose Anthony’s perspective on this scene if we limit the scene? Not if we do this right.

    Glancing over the top of her menu, Blythe looked Anthony in the eye. He was already scowling at her; on their last date, he’d rewarded her with the same inviting expression when she’d ordered the lobster. “The specials look nice,” she said, wondering if he would notice that the featured special was lobster. He needn’t have worried. What she really wanted was the buffalo wings.

    Anthony smiled, but his smile looked more like a grimace, reminding her of the politician she’d seen on TV last night. He glanced at his menu and then flipped the pages around, as if looking for something. “I don’t seem to have the list of specials,” he said. “By the way, I hear their buffalo wings are good.”

    The waitress came by. “Are you ready to order?” The harsh tone startled Blythe.

    This scene no longer tells you everything that everyone is thinking, but is that really a loss? By sticking to Blythe’s point of view, the scene gains focus. Blythe can figure out what Anthony is thinking by reading cues or from his dialogue. (We hope she’ll figure out someone else must be the hero of this novel!) More importantly, we don’t need to know what the waitress thinks.

    Now that is not head-hopping in the sense that Le Guin also condemns, as where you are inside Blythe’s head and you read “she looked at him lovingly out of her beautiful eyes”, where beautiful is the intrusion of someone else’s viewpoint. It’s quite simply involved narration, it wouldn’t really confuse any reader that ever had a story read to them as a child, and no one before the magic date would think it at all necessary to “edit it out”.
    Finally, as to 1915, I admit copying this date from Le Guin without searching for evidence, and agree that she might have said December 1910 if she’d thought of it. She has actually written an essay called “Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown” about whether a science-fiction writer can write a novel (she speculates that based on the evidence of her day, Woolf would have said no), and points to some latter-day Mrs. Browns in fantasy and science fiction: (in order of creation) D-503 from We, and most of the people in Islandia, and the character whose four aspects are Frodo, Sam, Slinker, and Stinker; Thea Cadence and Nobosuke Tagomi, and her own Genly Ai and Estraven and Shevek, and ends thus:

    I think art remains centrally important in any age, the best or the worst, because it doesn’t lie. The hope it offers is not a false hope. And I think the novel is an important art, because it talks about what we live by, other than bread. And I think science fiction is — well, no, not important, yet still worth talking about, because it is a promise of continued life for the imagination, a good tool, an enlargement of consciousness, a possible glimpse, against a vast dark background, of the very frail, very heroic figure of Mrs. Brown.

    Selah.

  37. Maybe this is really about English, along with the virtual disappearance of intimate forms and politenesses.
    Indeed it is. Though I suppose by “intimate forms” you mean thee and thou, it’s also the case that literature, most particularly post-Hemingway literature, isn’t written in what Le Guin (sorry, she’s my Prince Charles’s Head today) calls the mother tongue:

    In our Constitution and the works of law, philosophy, social thought, and science, in its everyday uses in the service of justice and clarity, what I call the father tongue is immensely noble and indispensably useful. When it claims a privileged relationship to reality, it becomes dangerous and potentially destructive. It describes with exquisite accuracy the continuing destruction of the planet’s ecosystem by its speakers. This word from its vocabulary, “ecosystem,” is a word unnecessary except in a discourse that excludes its speakers from the ecosystem in a subject/object dichotomy of terminal irresponsibility.

    The language of the fathers, of Man Ascending, Man the Conqueror, Civilized Man, is not your native tongue. It isn’t anybody’s native tongue. You didn’t even hear the father tongue your first few years, except on the radio or TV, and then you didn’t listen, and neither did your little brother, because it was some old politician with hairs in his nose yammering. And you and your brother had better things to do. You had another kind of power to learn. You were learning your mother tongue.

    Using the father tongue, I can speak of the mother tongue only, inevitably, to distance it — to exclude it. It is the other, inferior. It is primitive: inaccurate, unclear, coarse, limited, trivial, banal. It’s repetitive, the same over and over, like the work called women’s work; earthbound, housebound. It’s vulgar, the vulgar tongue, common, common speech, colloquial, low, ordinary, plebeian, like the work ordinary people do, the lives common people live. The mother tongue, spoken or written, expects an answer. It is conversation, a word the root of which means “turning together.” The mother tongue is language not as mere communication but as relation, relationship. It connects. It goes two ways, many ways, an exchange, a network. Its power is not in dividing but in binding, not in distancing but in uniting. It is written, but not by scribes and secretaries for posterity: it flies from the mouth on the breath that is our life and is gone, like the outbreath, utterly gone and yet returning, repeated, the breath the same again always, everywhere, and we all know it by heart.

    John have you got your umbrella I think it’s going to rain. Can you come play with me? If I told you once I told you a hundred times. Things here just aren’t the same without Mother, I will now sign your affectionate brother James. Oh what am I going to do? So I said to her I said if he thinks she’s going to stand for that but then there’s his arthritis poor thing and no work. I love you. I hate you. I hate liver. Joan dear did you feed the sheep, don’t just stand around mooning. Tell me what they said, tell me what you did. Oh how my feet do hurt. My heart is breaking. Touch me here, touch me again. Once bit twice shy. You look like what the cat dragged in. What a beautiful night. Good morning, hello, goodbye, have a nice day, thanks. God damn you to hell you lying cheat. Pass the soy sauce please. Oh shit. Is it grandma’s own sweet pretty dear? What am I going to tell her? There there don’t cry. Go to sleep now, go to sleep….Don’t go to sleep!

    It is a language always on the verge of silence and often on the verge of song. It is the language stories are told in. It is the language spoken by all children and most women, and so I call it the mother tongue, for we learn it from our mothers, and speak it to our kids. I’m trying to use it here in public where it isn’t appropriate, not suited to the occasion, but I want to speak it to you because we are women and I can’t say what I want to say about women in the language of capital M Man. If I try to be objective I will say, “This is higher and that is lower,” I’ll make a commencement speech about being successful in the battle of life, I’ll lie to you; and I don’t want to.

    I only wish I had been in the audience at that 1986 Bryn Mawr commencement to hear Le Guin speaking her mother tongue right out there in public.

  38. It is written, but not by scribes and secretaries for posterity
    Drats I wish they had covered this supposedly-dispensable language in ESOL textbooks cuz it gets pretty baffling when patronizing Anglos start talking to you that way. Cuz you know, it’s so obvious that people who speak accented English must be able to understand motherly talk So Much Easier. Aren’t they like, er, babies?
    I still remember how I went with a kid with a GI problem to an American family practice doc, and I just couldn’t make sense of one word he insistently repeated to me. Turns out it was “tummy”. Heck I could tell apart duodenums from rectums and stuff but I’ve never heard of “tummy” before

  39. How close to Gogol’s Russian did Guerney get with his translation of Dead Souls? http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Souls-Nikolai-Gogol/dp/0300060998/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1339362750&sr=8-1
    I know no Russian to speak of, but the translation zings, much more than any of the other more pedestrian Gogol translations.
    Nabokov, for one, through it jaw dropping, and that’s why I bothered to hunt it out and be duly impressed.

  40. J.W. Brewer says:

    I am puzzled by John Cowan’s apparent notion that it took some modicum of courage or imagination to speak out against some strawman (strawperson?) version of the oppressive linguistic patriarchy in the context of addressing the graduates of a very liberal all-women’s college in 19-frickin’-86. This was the public-speaking equivalent of shooting fish-that-don’t-need-bicycles in a barrel. And as to the linguistic substance, I mean, really? Degradation of the ecosystem is a consequence of people speaking or writing in a register of English that Le Guin doesn’t like? That might be too pop-Whorfian for Whorf himself. Note also the etymological fallacy re “conversation” . . . And didn’t the same snooty lit-fic modernists who dispensed with old-style narrative voices also shove a heck of a lot of that vulgar/common discourse right into their narratives at the same time?

  41. As an ex-pat viewing my country from afar over decades, I have become aware with astonishment of the waves of fashionable rectitude that sweep over America at irregular intervals. There is fashion in every country, of course, but at least in Germany there are no ephemeral tyrannies of public certainty, backed up by law, as to how other people should behave and speak.
    It would only be giving Le Guin the benefit of the doubt to suppose that in 1986 she was just going with the flow. It all seems so retro today, of course, but that is the fate of catwalk convictions.

  42. Rodger C says:

    @Christopher Burd: Actually the reality of the war itself, as I understand it, wasn’t evident till the spring offensive of 1915.
    Thanks to Stu for correcting my dates. It all was, at any rate, happening around the same time, along with that offensive that numbered, what, 150,000 Allied casualties in the first hour? (But I’m relying on memory again.)

  43. There is fashion in every country, of course, but at least in Germany there are no ephemeral tyrannies of public certainty, backed up by law, as to how other people should behave and speak.
    Well, not for the last sixty-odd years, anyway. (Don’t mention the war!)
    I think that the four-word cheng-yu (sort of like proverbs summing up some truth, often from classical sources) are so important in everyday communication that they’re almost like a part of speech.
    Quite so. I wrote about them here (quoting a hilarious passage from Poagao’s Journal) and here (the last link, amazingly, still works).

  44. Bathrobe says:

    The thing about chengyu is that some people use them more than others — a lot more. I have one colleague who constantly uses chengyu, but one time I found out that even Chinese people had no idea what he meant.

  45. marie-lucie says:

    MOCKBA: it’s so obvious that people who speak accented English must be able to understand motherly talk So Much Easier. Aren’t they like, er, babies?
    I don’t think this is peculiar to Anglo-Americans or other Anglos, as it seems to occur naturally in many languages. Faced with grownups with a very limited command of the language, speakers instinctively revert to speaking as they would speak to toddlers, not realizing that this way of speaking might not be much simpler than the adult versions.

  46. Google Translate gave this… Needs some cleaning, of course, but definitely looks like better translation, especially, for those colloquialisms and staff.
    The problem is not that the translation is wrong. The translation is perfectly fine. It shows absolutely no signs that the translator misunderstood the text. It’s not a difficult novel. The problem is that those few sentences in Russian add up to a portrait of the narrator. In English, no matter how accurately or idiomatically those sentences are translated, they do not add up to any kind of portrait. That is the loss.
    Does the other translator do a better job?
    The problem is not that Bouis did a bad job or that Bormashenko (the newest translator) did a better job. They both did a perfectly adequate job, adapting the text to various extents where it became necessary. Their translations are readable and engaging. The problem is that the novel loses a lot in translation regardless of the choices you make. The “voice” of its narrator is just not part of English writing. Book English does not have an analogous “stratum.” If the translator makes an effort to keep the narrator’s voice, you get a weird and incoherent pastiche of Holden Caulfield. If the translator does not keep the narrator’s voice, you end up with Standard Adult Male Narrator.

  47. J. W. Brewer:
    Degradation of the ecosystem is a consequence of people speaking or writing in a register of English that Le Guin doesn’t like?
    Obviously “doesn’t like” is absurd, since she describes it as “immensely noble and indispensably useful”. But as for the idea that one of the uses of formal language is to cover up crimes, I think the last 25 years should put that beyond dispute, if it wasn’t already so. Describing is not causing.
    But most attacks on patriarchy are also put in impeccably formal language, whether written by women or men. Le Guin is, I think, suggesting that the point is not to attack formality, but to see where it’s useful to use it and where it’s destructive to use it.
    Mockba, you’re quite right that using this style can be dreadfully patronizing, or matronizing. But by no means all of those sentences (which don’t form a connected discourse) are ones that would be used to children. Rather, they are used in circumstances of intimacy, and talking to children is only one of those circumstances.
    Wimbrel: Exactly. Holden’s not alone, of course: the first-person narrator of Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey, for example, was talking much the same way in the eighteenth century, the last time sensibility was considered safe for literature.

  48. Tom Recht says:

    one occasionally refers to himself in the first person, but does not appear to play any role in the action
    This and the recent discussion of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell reminded me of a somewhat relevant anecdote. In that novel, Clarke’s faux-Victorian narrator occasionally does the above, using phrases like “I have sometimes thought that” and “a cleverer person than the present writer might perhaps be able to say” and the like. To me it was clear that this was simply part of the old-fashioned ‘involved’ style Clarke was aiming for; but I remember seeing a thread on some discussion board where readers were eagerly trying to sleuth out, based on these first-person asides, exactly which of the novel’s characters was secretly the narrator. When someone asked Clarke this question in an online interview, she was baffled and said the idea that the narrator might be one of the characters in the novel had never occurred to her. Such a misunderstanding would not, I think, have happened a century ago.

  49. michael farris says:

    Getting here late, but without having read every comment, I wonder how much this problem (which I’ve noticed in Polish as well) stems from trying to translate a high context text into the langugae of a low context culture?
    In the context of translation, I’ve noticed:
    High context* – the author assumes the reader shares many, most basic values and has similar life experience and it is assumed the reader can/will infer some of the author’s intentions without everything being spelled out. On the other hand, very obvious things might be stated and restated. One of the goals of the author is rapport with the reader and writing is much like a conversation. There is often a respect for formal, elaborate language for its own sake. It’s hard to say something important using simple language.
    Low context – there is no assumption of shared background or values, if it’s not overt in the text it’s not there. The author is less interested in rapport and more interested in creating an interesting/convincing monologue. Elaborate language is suspect and there is an ideal of being able to say important things as simply as possible.
    In any culture large enough to create a written tradition you can find both types of writing but generally there is a clear cultural preference for one or the other.
    Also, as has been pointed out. Less formal English is inevitably going to acquire local connotations. There is no common everyday register that’s not marked region (except maybe within countries).
    *very sloppily after Hall with some additions and deletions of my own based on my (limited) experience in translation and trying to teach high context Polish university students the ins and outs of low context writing in English.

  50. Wimbrel said, way back, To begin with, who talks like that? “Holding up the wall”?
    Plenty of people in my experience. I think that’s a perfectly good translation of стену подпираю – slangy but not odd, and captures the speaker’s character as someone who is disrespectful of authority.
    Maybe this is an example of what michael is talking about – there are so many registers of English that an English translation that is acceptable to some people is going to seem stilted or odd to people who speak a different variety of English.

  51. Bathrobe says:

    I agree with Vanya. ‘Holding up the wall’ sounds fine.
    The whole translation seemed ok, except that it wasn’t colloquial enough. Especially the last sentence: “examining each one from every angle (and they’re heavy little bastards, by the way, fifteen pounds each), and carefully replacing them on the shelf”, the translator has slipped back into very neutral English (except for ‘bastards’). I don’t know what аккуратненько means exactly, but “carefully replacing them on the shelf” doesn’t match the casual style of the earlier part. It’s wooden, as though this guy only speaks slangy English for effect, not as part of his true personality.

  52. Bathrobe says:

    Even ‘putting back’ for ‘replacing’ would have been an improvement.

  53. стену подпираю – is not exactly holding up the wall, if holding would sound as if like with one’s hands, it’s to stand leaning on the wall preventing it from fall, akkuratnen’ko is accurately with a little exaggeration of the attitude, maybe just said as accurately would have sounded enough there for translation

  54. michael farris says:

    “carefully replacing them on the shelf”
    maybe “putting them back on the shelf real/all careful like” ?

  55. Bathrobe says:

    it’s to stand leaning on the wall preventing it from fall
    But that’s exactly how I would interpret it.

  56. Their translations are readable and engaging. The problem is that the novel loses a lot in translation regardless of the choices you make. The “voice” of its narrator is just not part of English writing. Book English does not have an analogous “stratum.” If the translator makes an effort to keep the narrator’s voice, you get a weird and incoherent pastiche of Holden Caulfield. If the translator does not keep the narrator’s voice, you end up with Standard Adult Male Narrator.
    A superb summation of the problem.
    I wonder how much this problem (which I’ve noticed in Polish as well) stems from trying to translate a high context text into the language of a low context culture?
    That’s an interesting approach I hadn’t seen before, and it seems like a useful way of looking at things. Take, for instance, the complaint that an increasing proportion of world literature today is written for translation (or, in the case of English, for easy comprehension in countries other than the author’s) and therefore the writing is flattened and simplified. I don’t know how true that is, but the low-context idea would explain it.

  57. “But that’s exactly how I would interpret it.”
    well, if you would, then no problem with translation of the expression there i guess
    if you would perceive it holding up not by hands but one’s spine and not a falling down, but firm standing wall, all is well
    too many colloquial expressions i guess, holding up, back, off, over, with etc etc are in english imo to say it has no prostorechie

  58. “maybe “putting them back on the shelf real/all careful like”?”
    maybe something like “a tad too accurately”? accurately sounds strange there maybe though, but that’s the original word used there

  59. Bathrobe says:

    @ read. As you say, ‘hold’ usually means ‘hold with the hands’, but it can also be used in a more abstract or general sense, e.g. as in ‘that stick is what is holding (=propping) it up’; ‘it’s held onto the wall by a piece of string’; ‘all that’s holding it together is a dab of glue’. I assumed that ‘holding’ in this case meant the more abstract sense rather than ‘hold with the hands’. And for some reason I’ve heard this expression before, but I can’t think where.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    holding up the wall: this is humorous: the character (who is in the lab where he works, at quitting time) is not using his body to hold up a wall in danger of falling, he is just leaning heavily against a wall in normal condition.
    putting them back on the shelf real/all careful like
    “real/all careful like” sounds unmistakably British to me.
    He had loaded, locked, and sealed one safe and was loading up the other one–taking the empties from the transporter, examining each one from every angle (and they’re heavy little bastards, by the way, fifteen pounds each), and carefully replacing them on the shelf.
    Aside from the neutral vocabulary (except in the parenthetical comment), this sentence is far too complex to reflect a colloquial style. Regardless of the structure of the original, it should have been broken up into component parts. As it is, it is wrong not just stylistically but psychologically: the narrator is in a hurry to leave and meanwhile his partner is taking his own sweet time doing a routine job. The sentence as translated is purely descriptive and gives no hint of the narrator’s growing impatience.

  61. J.W. Brewer says:

    Just to link threads, it appears that Charles and Ursula Le Guin still have the samovar they were given as a wedding present way back in the 1950′s https://blogs.emory.edu/historynews/2011/08/24/update-from-charles-le-guin/, with “samovar” not italicized or glossed (except for the mild exegesis implicit in describing it as a part of a set including teacups) and it thus being assumed that the particular audience will not be too puzzled by the word. But if the Le Guins ever acquired a slenthem, google doesn’t know about it.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    Ursula did not grow up in the average American family. She is the daughter of famous anthropologists (the Kroebers), who would be expected to have cosmopolitan tastes.

  63. “real/all careful like” sounds unmistakably British to me.
    That would not necessarily take away from the novel, which ostensibly takes place in an unspecified English-speaking country, possibly UK or Canada. (Albeit, an exoticized English-speaking country that is made very alien to the novel’s original Soviet readers.) The result would be something like A Clockwork Orange in reverse, but it would not be uninteresting.

  64. I like micheal’s “high context” vs. “low context” approach. Russian is unique – it is very odd to have a major world language spoken by hundreds of millions of people across different ethnic groups and thousands of geographic miles remain “high context”. This would seem to be historical accident created by the rapid fairly recent expansion of the Muscovy state, combined with constant population movement both in Tsarist Russia and the USSR, and the collective trauma, shared by the vast majority of Russian speakers, of revolution, war, and Soviet isolation. I suspect that literary “standard Russian” is probably going to evolve fairly rapidly to a more low context language as Russian speakers in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, the Baltics, not to mention large numbers of Russian speakers in Israel, Germany, etc. continue down separate historical paths.
    In fact, I think we saw that trend before with 20th century “White Russian” emigre writers – Nabokov, for example, does not use prostorechie the way a Soviet writer, or even Gogol or Bely, would.
    Приглашение на казнь (Invitation to a Beheading), for example, has always struck me as oddly “unRussian” for some reason, maybe this is why.

  65. To belabor the point further, here is the original sentence:

    Я стою просто так, стену подпираю, свое отработал и уже держу наготове сигаретку, курить хочется дико, два часа не курил, а он все возится со своим добром: один сейф загрузил, запер и опечатал, теперь другой загружает, берет с транспортера “пустышки”, каждую со всех сторон осматривает (а она тяжелая, сволочь, шесть с половиной кило, между прочим) и с кряхтеньем аккуратненько водворяет на полку.

    And a very rough translation:

    So I’m standing there, just doing whatever, you know, done for the day and getting ready to light up, ’cause I really need a smoke, I haven’t had a smoke in two hours, and he’s still screwing around with his crap: loaded up one locked cabinet, locked it and sealed it, now he’s loading up the other one, so he picks up those “empties” from the belt and turns them over in his hands (and those fuckers are heavy, by the way, they’re like fifteen pounds each), and then he makes a noise and sticks them back on the shelf, super carefully.

    That should give some kind of indication of the ongoing, casual, almost stream-of-consciousness style of the narration. It would be difficult to sustain that kind of narrative for an entire novel in English without it starting to wear on the reader a whole lot. English-language readers would probably also object to reading an entire novel written in the style of a Facebook comment, which Roadside Picnic is not too far from. In written media, linguistic elitism is paradoxically stronger in English than in Russian.

  66. marie-lucie says:

    Wimbrel, yes, that sounds much better (at least to me) than the official translation.
    Sure, the English-speaking reader of Don Brown might object to this style (which might vary depending on the situations?), but perhaps not the English-speaking reader of Samuel Beckett.

  67. Wimbrel: Thanks for showing how the mother-tongue is spoken by a man, for it is certainly a male voice here.
    m-l: I think this is early to mid Beckett, say Watt through Krapp’s Last Tape (but excluding The Unnamable, which really should have been written in the 1960s). That said, I know Beckett only in English: is his original French equally colloquial?

  68. Another commenter who’s late to the party. I just wanted to second Mr Farris’s remarks (I’m from Poland) and notice a few other angles: English doesn’t, of course, lack colloquial expressions. It is a fantastically rich, incredibly inventive language – but it is now very flexible in one respect: it likes spelling the agent.
    This can be seen at all levels, from short subjectless sentences that describe natural events (Polish ‘świta’ – ‘dawns’, ‘zmierzcha’ – ‘dusks’, ‘grzmi’ – ‘thunders’; I purposefully omitted all its, cf. it hails, it snows) through everyday expressions (cf. English ‘you know what I mean’ and Polish ‘wiesz, o co chodzi’, literally ‘you know what it is about’ – and even in this circumlocutory translation I couldn’t avoid using ‘it’) to the characteristic Slavic particle ‘się’ to show the idea an event isn’t really anyone’s wish or anyone’s fault (how does a child ask for water? ‘I wanna drink’ is ‘chce mi się pić’, literally ‘it wants to me to drink’ if I may borrow a trick from the verb ‘seem’; ‘I don’t want to’ may be ‘nie chcę’ or, more colloquially ‘nie chce mi się’, again putting the agent in a dative position). Not to say that more direct form of address aren’t elbowing their way in. Actually, current proliferation of second person singular – instead of more polite (and distancing) expressions like Pan/Pani (Mr/Ms) changes the whole tone of Polish prose and sounds, to my ears, almost aggressive.
    Another thing is common use of free/ethical datives. To harp on the Strugaccy quote: стоим это мы с ним sounds a bit like ‘stoimy sobie’ and how can we translate the second word? ‘We’re just standing there’ is the only idiomatic version coming to my mind but it doesn’t capture the freewheeling quality of the original.
    Another issue still: diminutives, which English is almost devoid of.
    What I see as a possible solution is to make writing more accessible and flavourful (is this a valid word?) by employing short Germanic words: in the passage above, instead of those examinings, careful replacings and all ornate Latinate vocabulary, a modest ‘neat’ would do the job: putting them back neatly. And, from time to time, maybe dropping pronouns acting as clause subjects?

  69. Slav: Short words for sure, but pro-drop, no. “In two words: im-possible.” (Chaplin/Goldwyn)

  70. True Blood yesterday: – Is that bad?|- Can’t imagine it’s good.
    Bridget Jones Diary: Waited in frenzy of excitement for reply.
    That’s what I’m thinking of, that’s off-the-cuff, I’m-here-among-friends-and-can-talk-like-a-regular-bloke type of phrasing fussy English translations could use more of. That, and more sentence fragments?
    Going off on a tangent, I’m of course painting with a brush so broad its ends disappear on the horizon when I’m saying English needs to have agency pinpointed but those are just random thoughts from a fledgling translator.
    Also, sorry for that, but I’m a young guy and can’t help myself: yay, John Cowan noticed my comment! I’m on cloud nine. For real.

  71. marie-lucie says:

    Slav: neatly: the narrator is getting annoyed at his co-worker, so he is not likely to use a word with positive connotations like “neatly” (which would imply he thinks the other man is doing a good job – which he probably is, but the narrator does not care about that, only about leaving as soon as possible).
    from time to time, maybe dropping pronouns acting as clause subjects
    For a complete sentence in English, you do need NP VP (the basic Chomskyan schema, at least when I learned about it). If there is no obvious NP (for snow, rain and a few others), then you need the default pronoun “it” (which of course cannot be used about persons). I think the only personal pronoun you can really omit (in obvious contexts) is “you”, as in Got it?, not a third person pronoun. That one only gets omitted along with an auxiliary (as in He had loaded, locked, and sealed …).
    The omission of he had (not just “he”) with the second and third verb of the series at the beginning (loaded, locked, and sealed) does not make the sentence more colloquial, just the opposite. The subsequent, subjectless -ing verbs (taking, examining, replacing are also a mark of written style, not of colloquial speech.

  72. if to insert “like” and “whatever” in every few words intervals, it would sound english informal speech, with a few profanities now and then too, i guess
    “just doing whatever” if there could be an idiom meaning idling, would sound a bit closer, no? and “super” and “crap” also sound a little bit different there
    it says dobro – stuff, sounds almost like one’s riches, not crap

  73. marie-lucie says:

    JC: I know Beckett only in English: is his original French equally colloquial?
    I think I am the opposite: I read several of Beckett’s works a long time ago, and at least the majority of those I read were written in French (I think I read at least one written in English, but not much more). Since I read them many years ago, I hesitate to compare his English and French works in more detail, but the French ones showed that he had a pretty good command of very colloquial, slangy French. If anything, the French works sounded more colloquial than the English ones, which were a little more literary, with more complex sentence structures. I got the impression that he had learned French mostly from living among French people (not very learned ones at that), rather than through reading French literature.
    Correction: I see I mistakenly wrote Don Brown, but of course I meant Dan Brown, the best-selling author of The Da Vinci Code and similar works.

  74. Young André the Giant was too big for the schoolbus, so Beckett drove him to school in his truck. They mostly talked about cricket.

  75. dobro – stuff, sounds almost like one’s riches, not crap
    добро could be used as a like-sounding substitution for дерьмо “crap”
    in the online thesaurus I was surprised to find to find the two formally listed as synonyms:
    дерьмо =
    кал, говно, экскременты; дрянь, мерзость; скверный, не то, шлак, швах, копролит, шаврик, навоз, низкопробный, никудышный, никуда, черт те какой, испражнения, гроша ломанного не стоит, не того, никуда не годный, говешки, ***добро***, мерзопакость, не выдерживает критики, лажовый, дрянцо, фекалии, слабый, ни черта не стоит, ломаного гроша не стоит, ни к черту, оставляет желать лучшего, низкого пошиба, ничтожество, не выдерживает никакой критики, хромает на обе ноги, оставляет желать многого, не подарок, подгулял, хоть брось, ниже среднего, дерьмецо, ниже всякой критики, плохой, ни к черту негодный, гнусь, ни к черту не годится, негодный

  76. nu, vam vidnee, if you say so, never would have thought that dobro is crap, what a list, really merzopakost’ kakaya-to

  77. dobro = goods, google translate says, so without its double meaning it’s still more like goods, stuff, and in the paragraph there is not that much negative feelings towards the slower person, more like amusement, is felt upon reading imo
    if some annoyance was to be conveyed there it could have been a little bit scarier swearing text i guess
    but crap in english must be sounds almost neutral

  78. добро could be used as a like-sounding substitution for дерьмо “crap”
    That’s what occurred to me. Printed Russian uses a lot of that kind of substitution.
    In fact, I think we saw that trend before with 20th century “White Russian” emigre writers – Nabokov, for example, does not use prostorechie the way a Soviet writer, or even Gogol or Bely, would. Приглашение на казнь (Invitation to a Beheading), for example, has always struck me as oddly “unRussian” for some reason, maybe this is why.
    I don’t think it’s true of emigre writers in general (as you say, it doesn’t apply to Bely), but you’re right about Nabokov—when I started thinking about this, he immediately occurred to me as a counterexample to the general Russian trend. On the other hand, he perfectly exemplifies Flaubert’s influence on the modernists; I suspect, too, that his aristo upbringing plays a role here, not to mention his conscious upholding of the very Highest of High Tradition (rather like the deliberately magisterial Akhmatova).

  79. Wimbrel says:

    if to insert “like” and “whatever” in every few words intervals, it would sound english informal speech, with a few profanities now and then too, i guess

    So, like, I’m standing there, you know, over by the wall, and I, like, wanna start smoking? Cuz the last time I smoked was like two hours ago? And he’s, like, still playing around with his stuff, you know? Like, he already put a bunch away in one cabinet and, like, totally locked it and everything, but he still has this other one and he’s still putting stuff in it, like, you know, whatever? Like, there are these “empties” that he picks up from the belt and then he, like, flips these thingies over to look at them better before he puts them away this shelf? (And each thingy totes weighs like fifteen pounds, like, ohmygawd, right?!)

  80. Marie-Lucie: Jakobsen spoke of the tendency of anglophones to create well-formed sentences in their minds and not bother to enunciate the first few words: “[I'm/We're] off to the store, [do you] wanna go?” This is not pro-drop, of course.

  81. Bathrobe says:

    Jakobsen spoke of the tendency of anglophones to create well-formed sentences in their minds and not bother to enunciate the first few words
    I would agree with this. I’ve had to correct English written by young Chinese, and the problem with their writing is not just that you have to add subjects and whatnot; you often have to recast sentences so that the verb and its arguments are all in order, including being correct in the greater context, that of the paragraph (preceding and following sentences). You can’t just throw an English verb in there and say that it’s ‘vague’; the arguments have to be understood as being there, even when they are omitted.

  82. that sounds totally informal, how as if nowadays kids and young people talk like, no? or maybe people talked like that since long before
    thanks, Mr. W!

  83. I only wish I had been in the audience at that 1986 Bryn Mawr commencement to hear Le Guin speaking her mother tongue right out there in public.
    The proto-feminist voice that launched a thousand romance novelists! Oh mother…

  84. marie-lucie says:

    Wimbrel, well done! that paragraph sounds like it is uttered by a teenage girl (I don’t have much contact with teenage boys), not a “loutish” man as described in the post. Perhaps in fifteen or twenty years this will be normal among adults (continuing their teenage-speak), but not right now.

  85. marie-lucie says:

    Hozo, Ursula K. Le Guin, queen of romance novelists?

  86. I can also testify that most English translations feel different from their Russian originals, and there seems to be some system to this difference. I never could quite arrive at formulating it though. It usually seems that the English text lacks the heft of the Russian original somehow, that it’s losing the redundant, nonsensical extras that convey a lot of the mood and feeling to a Russian speaker.
    That said, I believe that this would be the case for a mediocre translation from any language into any language, unless the languages in question are really close. The tendency to generalize to languages, cultures, and, even worse, “national characters”, from such translated samples can be really ridiculous. It reminds me of a short story by Huxley (?) where an English lady gets infatuated with an Italian pimp, because, disoriented by language and foreign setting, she takes the cheapo’s bravado and his gross flattery for the “real thing” that her M.D. husband supposedly lacks (or maybe the husband does lack it, but, obviously, so does the pimp); we tend to assume something is not there at all, or are too eager to recognize it, when we are looking for it in a wrong guise. So I think a part of this impression of mine – the impression that the English translation has lost shades of meaning – is due to the same effect: a good translation conveys this by something that I, in my turn, would not appreciate as a foreigner. After all, one is rarely in a position to fully appreciate a really good translation.
    As for the Strugatsky fragment, well, I do suspect it’s translatable, but of course I can’t quite produce a proof. The key would be, I think, not to look for carrying across the nonsensical, but to find a register for the main protagonist’s speech that would be colloquial and vivid – sometimes remarkably inventive – without vulgarity or profanity, but with a distinct and consistent rhythm (“Clockwork Orange”?). A lot of it comes from playing on idioms and phrases well-known to the Russian reader, like “there I stay, like your good loafer, cigarette in hand, supporting the wall with my back” – a hint to a typical disparaging remark “what are you doing there, lazy? supporting the wall?”

  87. Bathrobe says:

    Translators are probably afraid to do “So, like, I’m standing there, you know, over by the wall, and I, like, wanna start smoking?” style translations. While such a translation may seem attractive to people who are adventurous enough to want something a bit “different” if it approaches the Russian original, it would be so far out of the expectations of the average English reader as to possibly destroy the career of the translator who did so. Better safe than creative (unless you are an artist or author yourself and feel up to the challenge of doing something different.)

  88. Bathrobe says:

    In fact, we don’t know what sort of job the translator originally did. It’s quite possible the publisher demanded that the book should conform more closely to English-language publishing standards.

  89. OK, it’s a semantic issue: not pronoun dropping but pronoun suppression is what I meant. Of course the sentence is, at a deeper level, well-formed and all necessary verb arguments are there – but they aren’t uttered. Marie-lucie’s assertion (‘I think the only personal pronoun you can really omit (in obvious contexts) is “you”, as in ‘Got it?’) goes completely against my observations: it is actually ‘I’ that is left out in everyday speech (hence quotes from a popular book and a popular TV series). Copula dropping is important, too.
    Mind you, I’m not advocating peppering every paragraph with it; you _don’t_ want to sound like Bridget Jones. But it may be a useful technique for making translations less, for lack of a better word, rigid.

  90. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe: My approval of Wimbrel’s translation with “like” etc was with respect to how well he imitated this sort of spoken style. Of course it is an exaggeration, unsuitable for more than a sentence or two. Any direct speech used in a written or at least scripted context (as in plays and films) should suggest, rather then totally imitate, a person’s conversational style. That’s why transcriptions of interviews or quotations of actual speech have to be edited in writing in order to smooth out the “er’s” and other fillers, which may not be very noticeable in ordinary conversation (unless heard again and again, as in transcribing actual recordings) but are a definite hindrance in reading. As a representation not of dialogue but of the character’s inner thoughts or memories, it would not be suitable as written.

  91. Bathrobe says:

    m-l, I appreciate what you are saying. Like you, I found Wimbrel’s attempt impressive (if not actually appropriate for this novel). I also think it would be quite trying to read over long stretches. What I meant was that even a more serious attempt to capture the flavour of the Russian might be found unacceptable by the reading public.

  92. Any direct speech used in a written or at least scripted context (as in plays and films) should suggest, rather then totally imitate, a person’s conversational style
    True as it is, it goes far beyond the concept of a universal colloquial language, asking the written word to be not just a mere medium but an art form, akin to Impressionism – resembling the physical reality yet at the same suggesting things which aren’t actually physically there in the artwork.
    If Strugatskys used Wimbrel’s approach to spoken word, then the Russian text would be speckled with (possibly anachronistic) типа’s or more likely (unfaithful to the supposed foreign setting of the novel) бля’s. Just think of a back-translation of Wimbrel’s paragraph back to Russian :) !
    Which actually is a major issue in translations into Russian just as well – how to convey foreign prostorechie / colloquial speech (be it universal or regional). For example, I often feel an urge to borrow from Odessa slang when translating into Russian from Argentian Porteño lumfardo. There is some cultural affinity between the two dockside argots, but it so easy to over-flavor a translation this way!
    One of the most memorable examples (IMVHO) of a translating the flavor of prostorechie is of hillbilly talk of Henry Cuttner’s Hogbens series (very forgotten in its native English but extremely popular in Russian, in no small part because of its colorful speech). Couldn’t resist pasting in a few opening paragraphs:
    Мы – Хогбены, других таких нет. Чудак прохвессор из большого города
    мог бы это знать, но он разлетелся к нам незванный, так что теперь,
    по-моему, пусть пеняет на себя. В Кентукки вежливые люди занимаются своими
    делами и не суют нос куда их не просят.
    Так вот, когда мы шугали братьев Хейли самодельным ружьем (до сих пор
    не поймем, как оно стреляет), тогда все и началось – с Рейфа Хейли, он
    крутился возле сарая да вынюхивал, чем там пахнет, в оконце, – норовил
    поглядеть на крошку Сэма. После Рейф пустил слух, будто у крошки Сэма три
    головы или еще кой-что похуже.
    Ни единому слову братьев Хейли верить нельзя. Три головы! Слыханное
    ли дело, сами посудите? Когда у крошки Сэма всего-навсего две головы,
    больше сроду не было.

  93. Thanks for the kind compliments. My second pass was an attempt at humor. Although now I kind of want to try my hand at a series of Strugatsky pastiches: “In a hole in the ground there lived a stalker.”
    On the other hand, сказка ложь, но в ней намек. The starting point of this blog post was that Russian (among other languages) loses quite a bit in translation. It’s interesting that the explanation has aspects other than the merely linguistic one.
    The Hogbens thing, wasn’t there a series of short stories? I vaguely remember reading them as a child. It could be argued that the genre doesn’t support stories like this anymore, which would be considered to have problematic content and certainly problematic diction for publishable “light reading.”

    We Hogbens are right exclusive. That Perfesser feller from the city might have known that, but he come busting in without an invite, and I don’t figger he had call to complain afterward. In Kaintuck the polite thing is to stick to your own bill of beans and not come nosing around where you’re not wanted.

  94. John Emerson says:

    Just happened to be reading Frame’s book on Rabelais, and he mentions the orality of Rabelais. At that time the most respected forms of prose were highly formal (law, scholastic theology, etc.) and the first vernacular writers a couple of centuries earlier mostly adapted Latin high style to Italian or French.
    I think that Rabelais is hard to translate in the same way we mention. It’s a hodgepodge of ordinary language, many forms of technical language, dialect, and argot (that is to say, it isn’t written in popular language), but all in a sort of sloppy rambling oral style.

  95. Yes, I thought of Rabelais in this connection too; he would have sneered at Flaubert as a namby-pamby sissified writer.
    Thanks for the great Kuttner-po-russki excerpt, MOCKBA!

  96. rootlesscosmo says:

    This is a sight gag in the Marx Brothers’ “A Night in Casablanca” (1946)–Harpo is leaning, somebody asks that question, Harpo nods, the questioner yanks him away, the wall collapses.

  97. marie-lucie says:

    MOCKBA:
    Any direct speech used in a written or at least scripted context (as in plays and films) should suggest, rather then totally imitate, a person’s conversational style – True as it is, it goes far beyond the concept of a universal colloquial language, asking the written word to be not just a mere medium but an art form, akin to Impressionism – resembling the physical reality yet at the same suggesting things which aren’t actually physically there in the artwork.
    I am not a literary or art critic, so my comment did not intend to imply anything so theoretical.
    Just as transcripts of interviews are edited to omit hesitations, errors, false starts, etc, conversations in plays, films, TV sitcoms, etc, are not like conversations in real life: people are usually perfectly fluent and coming out with witty, funny, etc things that very few people can improvise on the spot with any regularity. Hesitations, “er’s”, and other fillers only occur in the mouths of comic characters. In the rare films where directors try to get actors to improvise lines, the results, being closer to normal speech, are usually disappointing, precisely because they are normal speech, while a scripted conversation seems much more realistic. I think that’s because the script includes lines that viewers (consciously or not) wish they could say, or think they might have said, in situations similar to those portrayed on film.

  98. The Hogbens stories, or some of them, were reprinted in the 2004 anthology Mountain Magic by Baen Books. Alas, the Kuttner estate refused permission to reprint them electronically, so you’d have to order the hard copy. At least three of them are online anyway — googling for Wimbel’s quotation will find them.

  99. Other better-known examples of the first-person monologues in English that would be somewhat like the Strugatskys piece discussed above:
    Mark Twain:“…And he had a little small bull pup, that to look at him you’d think he wan’s worth a cent, but to set around and look ornery, and lay for a chance to steal something. But as soon as money was up on him, he was a different dog; his underjaw’d begin to stick out like the fo’castle of a steamboat, and his teeth would uncover, and shine savage like the furnaces. And a dog might tackle him, and bully- rag him, and bite him, and throw him over his shoulder two or three times, and Andrew Jackson which was the name of the pup Andrew Jackson would never let on but what he was satisfied, and hadn’t expected nothing else and the bets being doubled and doubled on the other side all the time, till the money was all up; and then all of a sudden he would grab that other dog jest by the j’int of his hind leg and freeze on it not chew, you understand, but only jest grip and hang on till they thronged up the sponge, if it was a year. Smiley always come out winner on that pup, till he harnessed a dog once that didn’t have no hind legs, because they’d been sawed off by a circular saw…”
    O’Henry: “…”About three in the afternoon I throwed my bridle rein over a mesquite limb and walked the last twenty yards into Uncle Emsley’s store. I got up on the counter and told Uncle Emsley that the signs pointed to the devastation of the fruit crop of the world. In a minute I had a bag of crackers and a long-handled spoon, with an open can each of apricots and pineapples and cherries and greengages beside of me with Uncle Emsley busy chopping away with the hatchet at the yellow clings. I was feeling like Adam before the apple stampede, and was digging my spurs into the side of the counter and working with my twenty-four-inch spoon when I happened to look out of the window into the yard of Uncle Emsley’s house, which was next to the store.”
    Both have _very_ well known and adequate Russian translations:
    “А еще был у него щенок бульдог, самый обыкновенный с виду, посмотреть на него – гроша ломаного не стоит, только на то и годен, чтобы шляться да вынюхивать, где что плохо лежит. А как только поставят деньги на кон – откуда что возьмется, совсем не тот пес: нижняя челюсть выпятится, как пароходная корма, зубы оскалятся и заблестят, как огонь в топке. И пусть другая собака его задирает, треплет, кусает сколько ей угодно, пусть швыряет на землю, Эндрю Джексон – так звали щенка,- Эндрю Джексон и ухом не поведет, да еще делает вид, будто он доволен и ничего другого не желал, а тем временем противная сторона удваивает да удваивает ставки, пока все не поставят деньги на кон; тут он сразу вцепится другой собаке в заднюю ногу да так и замрет – не грызет, понимаете ли, а только вцепится и повиснет, и будет висеть хоть целый год, пока не одолеет. Смайли всегда ставил на него и выигрывал, пока не нарвался на собаку, у которой не было задних ног, потому что их отпилило круглой пилой”
    “Около трех пополудни я накинул поводья на сук мескита и пешком прошел последние двадцать шагов до лавки дядюшки Эмсли. Я вскочил на прилавок и объявил ему, что, по всем приметам, мировому урожаю фруктов грозит гибель. Через минуту я имел мешок сухарей, ложку с длинной ручкой и по открытой банке абрикосов, ананасов, вишен и сливы, а рядом трудился дядюшка Эмсли, вырубая топориком желтые крышки. Я чувствовал себя, как Адам до скандала с яблоком, вонзал шпоры в прилавок и орудовал своей двадцатичетырехдюймовой ложкой, как вдруг посмотрел случайно в окно на двор дома дядюшки Эмсли, находившегося рядом с лавкой.
    Там стояла девушка, неизвестная девушка в полном снаряжении; она вертела в руках крокетный молоток и изучала мой способ поощрения фруктово-консервной промышленности.”
    The above and the Kuttener quote seems to show the translation of Strugatskys wouldn’t be that hopeless.

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