TRANSLATING KING.

Words without Borders has an interesting interview with Roberto Bui, aka Wu Ming 1, a member of the Wu Ming writing collective, on translating Stephen King into Italian. I can’t say I’m as impressed with King’s style as he is, but I enjoyed his comments on it. I disagree with this point, though:

He plays with all the singularities of the English language, precisely the stuff that can’t be translated in any way! This is typical of, er, “monoglot” writers, by which I mean those writers who don’t care about what happens to their works when they’re translated into other languages.
There are basically two kinds of novelists: those who care about translations, like Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco, because they’re used to exploring foreign languages, and those who don’t care, like Elmore Leonard or Uncle Stevie, because they’re perfectly happy with inhabiting their native language, with no forays in other cultures and koines.

To conflate people who are “used to exploring foreign languages” with those who “care about translations,” and to imply that the latter don’t “play with all the singularities” of their language, is wrongheaded and insulting to almost everyone. To take two obvious examples, Joyce and Nabokov played with more singularities than most of us can even imagine, but they were also famously “used to exploring foreign languages,” and I find it hard to imagine anyone thinking they didn’t care about translations. It seems obvious to me that writing books and caring about translations are (or should be) two entirely separate activities, and anyone who deliberately restricts their palette when writing out of a concern for their translators is cheating both themselves and their readers. If there are “puns, neologisms, idioms, local slang and so on,” the translator will just have to deal with them however seems best. They do not indicate that the writer is a monoglot, for god’s sake. (Via wood s lot.)

Comments

  1. rootlesscosmo says:

    “There are a number of signs to suggest a revival of interest in the work of
    Ring Lardner… During his lifetime and for thirty years after his death, he
    was practically unknown outside the English-speaking world; this year there
    are collections of his stories on sale in France, Italy, West and East
    Germany, Rumania, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and a number of other
    countries. How full an appreciation of his work there can be in all these
    new languages, I am not competent to judge, but clearly some obstacles have
    not been surmounted:
    “The rhythm at least of ‘And he gave her a look that you could pour on a
    waffle’ is lost when it becomes ‘E le diede un’occhiata che avreste potuto
    spalmarla benissimo su una fettina di pane.’
    “And the reader is not getting the same sense of the character speaking the
    line when ‘I’ve saw outfielders tooken sick with a dizzy spell’ is converted
    to ‘J’ai vu des joueurs de l’exterieure avoir une attaque de vertige.’”
    –Ring Lardner, Jr.: “The Lardners: My Family Remembered” (New York, Harper
    Colophon Books, 1977)

  2. Paul Clapham says:

    It’s clear that Joyce was multi-lingual-friendly, but when he wrote Finnegans Wake I can’t imagine that he made any concessions at all to the possibility of translating it into other languages.
    And in general when you’re writing in English, from the business point of view you might need to worry about translating from American to British or vice versa, but that’s all. If you get some revenue from translations into other languages that’s a nice extra. Whereas if you’re writing in, say, Swedish, you’re going to want to have a close eye on the English and German translations.
    By the way did you know that the word “hogwarts” appears in Finnegans Wake?

  3. Whereas if you’re writing in, say, Swedish, you’re going to want to have a close eye on the English and German translations.
    Where did you get that idea? I don’t know about Sewdish, but this is not true of Norwegian. We’ve got our own little world up here. Norwegians write to be read in their own language, they don’t write hoping to be translated into English. If you don’t speak Norwegian, you’re just going to miss out on some very good writing. Sorry.

  4. Should I learn Danish or Norwegian? Both have their appeal: Norwegian has black metal and Peter Zapffe, Danish has the traditional sovereignty of the Danish nation and its attendent sophistications, and less fish. Danish also has its baffling pronunciation, which counts both pro and con.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    I too find it strange that writers – especially fiction writers – should be expected to worry in advance about how their works will be translated into other languages. If authors worry about the fate of their works, it is first of all about whether they will be published in the language they are writing on, which is usually their own. And if they want to be published internationally, how could they possibly imagine what a work written in, say, Italian, is going to sound like translated into Russian or Japanese? Besides, language peculiarities are not limited to slang or special effects such as those of Finnegan’s Wake: even perfectly ordinary, simple-looking sentences in one language can give headaches to the translator into another language. I see this as a non-problem.
    ‘I’ve saw outfielders tooken sick with a dizzy spell’ is converted to ‘J’ai vu des joueurs de l’exterieure avoir une attaque de vertige.’”
    I don’t know how to say “outfielder” in French, but joueurs de l’extérieur suggests to me “players from somewhere else” (= not the home team), and the rest of the sentence doesn’t sound right: for “tooken sick with a dizzy spell” I would probably use just malades de vertige. The dialect (?) features would have to be suggested in a different way, probably through a difference in sentence structure which would affect not just this one sentence but the conversation it is probably a part of.

  6. I can’t imagine anything approaching a non-trivial fraction of novelists writing general fiction with an eye towards translation. I also can’t imagine any skilled translator giving ‘E le diede un’occhiata che avreste potuto spalmarla benissimo su una fettina di pane.’ for ‘And he gave her a look that you could pour on a
    waffle’. The sentiment of the latter is quite clear and quite simple: metaphor involving a sort of banal, everyday food, communicating oleaginousness and sweetness. I bet Italian could do that really well, and I even bet that Italian has at least several single words for food items, before you’d have to resort to ‘fettina de pane.’

  7. As I’m sure you know, written Danish is very similar to Norwegian (and written Swedish is sort of understandable), so whichever you learn you ought to be able to read the other. I find spoken Danish & Swedish hard to understand, but I’m also quite deaf. But there are twice as many Danes as Norwegians, so if you learn Danish you’ll have more people to talk to.
    Danish pronunciation is flashier than Norwegian; but Norwegian has so many dialects as well as two written forms (nynorsk and bokmål) so you can get a lot for your money here.
    I think you understand the differences better than I.
    Danish has a vigintisimal counting system (i.e. based on twenties instead of our tens). That takes a bit of getting used to, I imagine. They refer to it in this video, that Language posted about, where Harald Eia, Atle Antonsen & Bård Tufte Johansen (all Norwegian comedians) speak English with Danish accents. (This is hilarious if you’re Norwegian, maybe not so much if you aren’t.)
    Zapffe died in 1990, otherwise he would be my near neighbour.
    You’re implying that the abundant fish is a disadvantage, and I don’t see that; there are more different kinds of fish curing here than there are fish.
    Svalbard is part of Norway, a great place, and I don’t think the Danes have the Aurora Borealis — well, I know they don’t — but strictly speaking you could learn Danish, and still see the Aurora Borealis.
    Norwegian has thirty-five words for skiwax, whereas Danish has none. On the other hand, it’s currently -17 C. in southern Norway, too cold to actually ski.
    Otherwise, Denmark is part of the European Union, and Norwegians consider berries to be a separate food category to fruit.

  8. Google Translate renders English ski wax in Danish as skivoks.
    It renders English skiwax in Danish as skiwax.

  9. Oh all right. Let’s say Danish has two works for skiwax, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are no hills there to ski down.

  10. words

  11. The Norwegian word I’m getting is skismøring. It sounds good to eat.

  12. michael farris says:

    “I also can’t imagine any skilled translator giving ‘E le diede un’occhiata che avreste potuto spalmarla benissimo su una fettina di pane.’ for ‘And he gave her a look that you could pour on a
    waffle’.”
    But that translation extends Italian and better reflects the raw, unfinished style of the original … or something like that ….. oops seems like I wandered in here from the P&V thread.
    Also back in that thread I realized I’m more likely to read an English language work translated into another language than read a work from another language translated into English…
    I’m not sure what that means but even though I’m a committed fan of genre literature I’ve read exactly one book by King in English (Carrie) and one in Spanish (Running Man) and I’m working through Carrie in German now (got about a third of the way through before taking a break).
    Most worryingly, I’ve discovered what I’ve been looking for to improve my reading skills in Vietnamese – Danielle Steele (who I would never read in English). I’m sure as an example of Vietnamese prose the translation I’m working through is pretty awful, but I’m able to understand just enough to keep going while also being able to guess things from context and looking up just a few words per page that I feel like looking up.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    ‘And he gave her a look that you could pour on a waffle’.
    The “look” is not compared to a waffle but to the oversweet syrup poured on it, a typically American reference, meaningless to a person not used to cover waffles with syrup. When I was a student in Paris (ages ago), in the cold season you could buy freshly made waffles from makers/vendors on the edges of some café terraces, the same kinds of places where you could get ice cream cones in the summer. There were two kinds. My favourites were the very thick (though light) waffles (“Belgian”, if I remember correctly), served with a dusting of powdered sugar, which you could eat right there, standing in the open, without making too much of a mess. I don’t know what Italians would make of a literal translation of the American English sentence (unless syrup-covered waffles have now become a European staple).
    AJP, surely you don’t need hills to ski: “Nordic” skiing is great fun (not spectacular, but you can’t have everything).

  14. marie-lucie says:

    MF: I’m more likely to read an English language work translated into another language than read a work from another language translated into English…
    Me too! (not from English into French, though). Even mediocre works acquire great interest when you don’t understand everything: at least you are learning something. In fact, reading works that you know, translated into a language you are learning, has the advantage that since you know the plot and the characters, and you start remembering the incidents as they occur, you have the context necessary to understand unknown words (of their forms, eg verb tenses) and syntactic constructions, and that way you learn them painlessly.

  15. Skismøring is literally ski buttering, or smearing the wax on the bottom of the ski. m-l, I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I’m dying to get out there, but it is nordic that I do (occasionally), if that’s the same as cross-country.

  16. I knew it. I knew that point wasn’t clear enough…
    What I’m trying to say is that, with a little effort, one can detect whether an author inhabits his or her language as a self-contained, self-sufficient world or inhabits it as merely one of the languages that exist.
    Of course Joyce played with the singularities of the English language, but it would be very misleading to say that his English was “self-contained” and *grounded* in the peculiarities of one koine. In fact his works contain references to many koines, cultures, languages, ways of life, ages of human history.
    There are many great writers whose works are strictly focused on their own culture. This is what I imply by using the word “monoglot”. It doesn’t mean to be ignorant, it means focusing only on one’s native language. Even while exploring the singularities of his own language, Joyce always remained a “polyglot” author. As far as style is concerned, the difficulties that the “monoglot” approach creates to translators has little to do with “experimentation”, and much to do with the excessive peculiarity and “localism” of the references in the text. I’m talking about the style here. It’s the “problem” with King’s style. Luckily enough, King’s stories are intentionally based on universal allegorisms, which makes them readable and enjoyable all over the world despite the stress on singularities. At the level of the narrative, the plot, the metaphors and symbols, King is a very ecumenical writer. However, translating them is far from being easy.
    Another clarification: being “translation-conscious” as a novelist doesn’t mean to restrain one’s style to what is easily translatable: we WM are “translation-consciuous” but our books are not at all easy to translate. Umberto Eco is extremely “translation-conscious”, he sends his translators lists of possible problems and even suggests solutions (he explains this process in his book Mouse or Rat?: Translation as negotiation). Being “translation-conscious” means being aware that there are many languages and linguistic resources on earth, that your books will be translated and will be read also by people who aren’t part of your koine, your heritage, your everyday world, and that your style will create problems and will be altered during translation. Above all, it means being *curious* about what will happen to your style during translation. Eco and Calvino are/were very curious about this process, while King is not. As far as I can recall, he never wrote about translation issues.
    To my experience, translating an author who’s interested in translation (ie the kind of author I describe as “polyglot”) is very often more easy than translating one who is not (ie a “monoglot” author).
    I think that Giulia Guarnieri’s conversation with William Weaver about Calvino’s language can provide a better grasp of what I tried to say about “translation-conscious” prose:
    “When I asked Mr. Weaver if he thought Calvino wrote his novels thinking in other languages he said that he did not think so. He did agree, however, it would be fair to say, that Calvino thought of himself not only as an Italian writer but simply as a writer adding that although Calvino was very difficult to translate, his works were more translatable than those of Gadda or Pasolini who instead remained even in translation Italian writers; whereas Calvino already in Italian was an international writer.”
    http://towerofbabel.com/sections/tome/thepathtothenestoftranslation/

  17. Trond Engen says:

    My wife’s great uncle was a friend and a ski-and-mountaineering companion of Zapffe’s, and it’s told that my wife’s grandmother often joined them. The brother occurs as a character in Zapffe’s lighter writing, but some say that the character owes just as much to her.
    What was unknown to my family-in-law until the recent Zapffe biography hit the newspapers, was that in his short intermezzo as a lawyer back in Tromsø in the mid-twenties (his and the century’s) suffered unresiprocated love, first for my wife’s great aunt, then for the great aunt’s little sister, my wife’s grandmother.
    The intermezzo came to an end when he applied for a position and lost it — to the man who later became my wife’s grandfather. Apparently a formative experience for the youngish Zapffe — he gave up law and returned to Oslo to study philosophy.
    That biography was written by one of my brother’s teachers. It’s a small country.

  18. Trond Engen says:

    Also, I have a friend who once went skiing before breakfast and got so hungry that he ate the skiwax. He later wrote to the manufacturer Swix about it, suggesting a marketing potential. They thanked him politely and answered that while skiwax might come useful in desperate circumstances, carbohydrates rather than hydrocarbons are generally recommended for nutrition.

  19. Wu Ming 1: Thanks very much for dropping by and providing your clarification, which makes a lot of sense. I should know better by now than to rely on inevitably compressed journalistic accounts.
    there are twice as many Danes as Norwegians, so if you learn Danish you’ll have more people to talk to.
    I was going to take issue with that and point out that Danes couldn’t even understand each other, so what good does it do to learn to talk to them, but then you took the wind out of my sails by linking to the video I was preparing to try and find to illustrate my point.
    And now I’m wondering why my dear Norwegian mother never fed me skiwax, obviously a traditional dish of her ancestral land.

  20. Are any of Zapffe’s books actually still in print in Norway? I’ve always meant to ask at some point on some web site. Having a book of his in hand would be a good reason to learn some Norwegian.
    (A search on bokkilden.no yields nothing.)

  21. Thanks to Wu Ming 1 for clarifying things here. But I’m afraid that I still don’t understand things fully.
    As things are stated the feature of translating King, as a ‘monoglot’ writer is ‘much to do with the excessive peculiarity and “localism” of the references in the text.’ In the interview as linked to in Language Hat’s post, examples of this are given as this being ‘grounded in America … usually set in places and milieux that are both quintessentially American and very particular, very singular, like some island off the coast of Maine’.
    But a writer like Joyce does this too, for Dublin, in ways that are more particular and more singular than some island off the coast of Maine. Joyce does other things as well, of course, and is a polyglot writer in the sense that Wu Ming 1 describes. But so far the problems attributed to translating “monoglot” writers seem also to be present in translating “polyglot” writers.
    I’d be interested to hear about what might be other symptoms of a writer being incurious about the way the language he/she uses relates to others.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    It seems to me that most of the writers identified here as “polyglot” are rather “cosmopolitan”. “Monoglot” or “unicultural” (?) writers (such as King) need not bother to explain specific features of their geography or culture, since their intended audience shares that knowledge, while a “cosmopolitan” writer will write with an international readership in mind and therefore will be more explicit in those respects, including some features of language (slang, idioms, etc). But one would not want to read a work which gave too much explanation: a novel is not an encyclopedia, a dictionary or a grammar, and too much expository prose spoils the novel (see for instance the long didactic passages in Jules Verne).
    Moreover, writing with other languages in mind is still quite limited in scope, since those other languages are bound to be very few (eg English or French for an Italian author, not Japanese or Swahili). Writing so that a translation will have specific linguistic features (as with the example of words which will rhyme in English translation, though not in the original Italian) sounds like an interesting exercise in bilingual virtuosity, but it does not necessarily add to the quality of the original text. It restricts the choices of the author while demanding considerable linguistic knowledge from the reader, and therefore diminishes the potential readership. Additionally, the “hidden” features in question will probably not show up in translations into yet other languages, thus spoiling the intent of the bilingual author and diminishing the potential international appeal of the work.

  23. Trond Engen says:

    I can’t find any of them either. The biography I thought of is this:

    Jørgen Haave: Naken under kosmos. Peter Wessel Zapffe – en biografi, Pax forlag 1999

    It’s older than I remembered.

  24. I’d be interested to hear about what might be other symptoms of a writer being incurious about the way the language he/she uses relates to others.
    The primary symptom, if I can call it that, is simply being ignorant about languages one doesn’t know. It is a feature of most writers, because it is a feature of most people, and most writers are people. (This is an example of the traditional “Mabel” syllogism.)
    Merely being “curious” don’t get you very far. A more valuable feature of most people is that, despite their curiosity, when they don’t have anything to say they give it a rest. It would be a dubious undertaking to equate judicious silence with incuriousness.

  25. I get nothing for “cooking with ski wax” .

  26. “… unless syrup-covered waffles have now become a European staple”
    Still no syrup, but you can have chocolate sauce (with whipped cream).

  27. I’ve read Swedish authours who make most of their money from translations saying that worrying about translations when you’re writing would make it impossible to write well, and any other answer would have suprised me.

  28. @bruessel: Stroopwafels?

  29. michael farris says:

    “I get nothing for “cooking with ski wax”
    Look under one of its other 34 names – lutefisk.

  30. Stroopwafels are hardly wafels and they aren’t _covered_ with stroop. Hence, presumably, the name.
    (“Soms zijn de stroopwafels in het buitenland kleiner en duurder dan in Nederland“, laments Wikipedia. This strikes me as a deprivation rather more worrying than a deficiency of Norwegish literature; I leave it untranslated so that the ignorant may remain blissful.)

  31. The link to stroopwafel says they were first made in Gouda in 1784. Thank Goud the Goudistes have moved on to better things.

  32. so that the ignorant may remain blissful
    This is presumably a reference to Chesterfield’s admonition to prospective pubcrawlers: “If ignorant and pissed, you’ll prolly get black eyes”.

  33. I would have to say that a writer who wrote to make translating his book easy would be like a writer who writes to make adapting his book to film easy: he’s cheating hie (original language) reader by dumbing down his prose.
    This isn’t to say that famously simple writers are cheating, but I doubt that, say, Hemingway cared about how easy it was going to be to translate The Old Man and the Sea…

  34. What about cooking with Vaseline? Wiki says of its inventor:
    Chesebrough lived to be 96 years old and was such a believer in Vaseline that he claimed to have eaten a spoonful of it every day.

  35. I used to eat a lot of Vaseline as a child, but they’ve changed the flavour and I don’t like it any more.

  36. I ate raw Jello powder out of the box. The effect on the nose is as close as I ever got to snorting coke. Strawberry was best, banana was disgusting.

  37. Do you suppose Stephen King goes in for such monogluttony ?

  38. There’s a British habit of declaring something humdrum by saying that it’s “meat and two veg”. Is the potato one of the “two veg” or is the presence of potato extra, but universally understood to be inevitable?

  39. There’s a British habit of declaring something humdrum by saying that it’s “meat and two veg”. Is the potato one of the “two veg” or is the presence of potato extra, but universally understood to be inevitable?

  40. dearieme, I am trying to assess your question in the light of the principle proposed above:

    … with a little effort, one can detect whether an author inhabits his or her language as a self-contained, self-sufficient world or inhabits it as merely one of the languages that exist.

    Are “two veg” sufficient, though perhaps not self-sufficient ? Is the potato you mention merely one of the potatoes that exist, or is it the ideal type of such ? Do you actually inhabit the potato ?

  41. marie-lucie says:

    dearieme, if you don’t want to repeat a comment, watch “post” while you wait – if there is blue around it, it is waiting too and will register in good time.

  42. Stroopwafels, yeah, well, I don’t want to be mean, but those aren’t waffles, they’re strange cookies that no self-respecting Belgian would ever bother with. This is a waffle: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/194872/

  43. Exactly, Waffeln are rectangular.

  44. anyone who deliberately restricts their palette when writing out of a concern for their translators is cheating both themselves and their readers
    Kazuo Ishiguro is one novelist who consciously restricts his palette. He gave a reading in Boston a few years ago where he mentioned that he purposely avoids too much specificity in place and time, stylistic tricks or colloquial language in order to make his books more accessible internationally. But not necessarily to make his novels easier to translate, but so that English speakers of any country, or non-native English speakers, would be able to access his work.

  45. In my family we would never classify potato as a veg. It belongs to the starch category, like pasta or rice.
    However, when striving for the ideal of protein+veg+starch=dinner, we are definitely willing to call corn (i.e. maize) a veg if there is another starch, or to call it a starch if there is another veg.

  46. Zythophile says:

    I am prepared to be corrected here, but “meat and two veg” would normally be expected to consist of sliced roast meat (beef, lamb or chicken) and any two from potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, peas and cabbage, plus gravy.
    It’s also a British euphemism for male genitalia, usually when these are clearly apparent under tight clothing.

  47. I’ve always thought of tomatoes & potatoes as “veg” in this context (not the genitalia).

  48. How about “I gave her a look you could pour on skis”?
    Most worryingly, I’ve discovered what I’ve been looking for to improve my reading skills in Vietnamese – Danielle Steele (who I would never read in English). I’m sure as an example of Vietnamese prose the translation I’m working through is pretty awful, but I’m able to understand just enough to keep going while also being able to guess things from context and looking up just a few words per page that I feel like looking up.
    I would love to find something like this to improve my Mandarin, but I’m not sure I could stomach Danielle Steele. Any suggestions from other Chinese learners?

  49. This is John Emerson’s method for reading languages he has no other knowledge of. I think he just uses well-known US detective fiction.

  50. Thanks, m-l, but the double posting was probably caused by my shivering.

  51. I decided to consult an American sage.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KM_f7PzRURw

  52. @ Peter F and Marie-Lucie
    in the WWB interview I didn’t provide any real examples, I only hinted at general issues, because it was a short interview. Trouble is, I’m neither a linguist nor a scholar in translation studies, I’m just a translator, my realm is praxis, not theory, and I find it difficult to explain what I feel while translating a “monoglot” writer. Moreover, I’m writing in a foreing language myself.
    Let me try again.
    The feeling I have while translating King (or simply while reading it in English) is that, even if he knows that his books are translated in dozens of languages all across the world, he writes having only American readers in mind.
    Again: I’m not talking about the plots or the characters: I’m talking strictly about the way he uses language, which is at times very- I would say “parochial”, by which I’m not intending any offense.
    King’s English is very much tongue-in-cheek, it’s like the pages keep *winking* at “those in the know”, ie the American readers, those who have an everyday background in common with the author.
    King’s style is filled with allusions, references and resonances that are *exclusively* directed to the American public.
    As I wrote before, this is more than counter-balanced by the fact that King is an ecumenical author with respect to the stories he chooses to tell, which have a universal value.
    The result is that a translator feels like being both *excluded* (“Gosh, how can I make Italian readers understand THIS without adding a translator’s note at the foot of the page???”) and *involved* (“Hey, that’s exactly what I’d do in such a situation!”).
    In plain words: the style makes you feel a foreigner (which of course you are), the story makes you feel at home.
    Thus, Marie-Lucie,I wasn’t talking about explanations inserted into the text.
    I hope I’ve been more clear this time. This is the most I can do, the alternative would be writing a proper essay crammed with examples, but I can’t do that now, it would take too much time…

  53. marie-lucie says:

    I agree with John Emerson. Detective fiction is a great choice to improve one’s knowledge of another language. There is action, suspense, not too much in the way of deep psychologizing or landscape descriptions, and lots of realistic, colloquial dialogue. It is ideal if you have read the book some time ago in the language you know but don’t remember all the details, so there is some suspense for you as well. (Of course, if the language is completely new to you, you want to read both versions side by side, so you don’t miss all the details).

  54. j. del col says:

    It’s hard enough to write well in one’s native language, let’s say, German, let alone to worry about how it might turn out in Urdu.

  55. This is the most I can do, the alternative would be writing a proper essay crammed with examples, but I can’t do that now, it would take too much time…
    Totally understandable, and your participation here has been greatly appreciated. Once again, I marvel at the effect of the internet on intellectual life.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    Wu Ming 1: I wasn’t talking about explanations inserted into the text.
    I was not either!
    I mentioned Jules Verne’s encyclopedic explanations within the text (or rather interrupting the text), a feature of his writing which is hardly a model of style, but his aim was indeed partly didactic. I meant that good writers writing for an international audience could manage to present a local context in such a way that the “explanations” would be hidden inside the text and not seem like didactic additions.
    For instance, I recall a French friend telling me of having to translate an English text in which a character was partially opening a window and sticking his head out to look at the street below. The scene is totally unremarkable for a British or American reader, but never having been in England, my friend did not know that English windows went up and down and did not open away from a central vertical axis like French ones, so that he was having the hardest time trying to figure out what was going on in order to translate the relevant sentences, and the scene did not become clear to him until he actually travelled to England, years later.
    A good internationally-minded author could have managed to describe the window and the act of opening it in such a way that the foreign reader either did not have to think about the type of window (thereby obscuring the local reference) or at least had some idea of the construction of the window, without interrupting a perhaps crucial episode by an inappropriately technical description. If the details of the scene were important, the window could have been described in a previous passage in the text (or even passages, adding different details bit by bit), so that the reader was prepared ahead of time to visualize the scene, not suddenly disoriented by incomprehensible details.

  57. Paul Clapham says:

    Swedish? Norwegian? Okay, I have to admit that I was thinking of Janwillem van de Wetering who was of course Dutch, and who did his own English translations, which I understand were not necessarily anywhere near the original Dutch versions.
    As for what baseball outfielders are called in French, the last time I saw a baseball card for a Montreal Expos player they were called “voltigeurs” and the French Wikipedia page seems to agree with that: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltigeur

  58. @Wu Ming 1, thank you again. I find what you’re saying very interesting, and you’re looking at writers being parochial in various different ways. (Fascinating what you mention about how much of a foreigner the text might make you feel!) And I’ll certainly be using what you say to refresh my own reading.
    My only worry was what I was trying to say above. That the division you are describing between parochial and more neutral language is *not* the same as the distinction between “monoglot” and “polyglot” authors.
    I read an article a little while back that you might find interesting. (Forgive me if you already know it, or if it’s already been posted here! I’m a foreigner to Language Hat’s website)
    “America First?” by Tim Parks in NYRB
    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jul/15/america-first/
    With the paragraph that struck me most being:
    “It is as if literary fiction didn’t so much reflect other cultures, obliging us to immerse ourselves in the exotic, but rather brought back news of shortcomings and injustices to an international community that could be relied upon to sympathize. These writers seem more like excellent foreign correspondents than foreigners. Across the globe, the literary frame of mind is growing more homogeneous.”
    This is a description of writers being neutral not in their references or descriptions or linguistic turns, but also adopting an international morality , that is, not a morality specific to where they came from but one that uses the global terms of accepted norms. A morality that’s neutral in the sense that it is searching for a political correctness.
    (And of course I’d be interested to know what other people might think about it too, as I am far from being an expert on any of these things.)

  59. These are very interesting topics. I don’t know if any actual studies have been done, as opposed to impressionistic remarks of the sort so common in such discussions (“I recently saw three books on a bookstore shelf which led me to generalize to all of humanity…”), but to the extent there actually is a trend toward writing to international norms, I deplore it. A writer should write out of a personal and immediate sense of the world and language, however wide a net is cast in terms of settings and characters. To write as a generalized citizen of the world is, it seems to me, to doom oneself to failure (as a writer, I mean, though of course one may well win fame and fortune).

  60. Trond Engen says:

    I read detective fiction on the bus, and lately I’ve been readng Fred Vargas in French with a pocket dictionary. Not a new language to me, but one sadly underused. It does improve my reading skills, but I need to practise speaking too.
    The latest I read, though, was Jo Nesbø’s Panserhjerte in Norwegian. It annoyed me a couple of times by explaining in detail some matters that would never have been mentioned if his writing was aimed at a Norwegian audience.

  61. @ Marie-Lucie
    the example you made (ie the way windows open in France – and Italy – vs. the way they open in the UK) is perfect. It doesn’t matter that a translator has visited the US many times (as I did) and has been reading American literature for ages: while translating King, he or she will often experience the slight disorientation your friend told you about. Because in King’s prose those little details are *relevant*, if not for denotation, certainly for connotation.
    For example, in a novella I translated, entitled Big Driver, King keeps mentioning Bondo:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bondo_%28putty%29
    In the story, a rough application of Bondo around a pick-up’s headlights is important for conveying a character’s slovenliness, therefore King keeps referring to those headlights. Such connotation is taken for granted by King.
    The problem is that Bondo is pure Americana, and it doesn’t exist in Italy, or at least it doesn’t exist as something non-professionals would use to repair a car’s body. No automobile owner would risk making a mess by using a product like that, not even a slovenly, or not particularly proud, automobile owner. Even DIY types tend not to screw with their cars, no matter how old they are. Only professionals repair car bodies, thus nobody keeps putty at home. Most people never saw a can of putty in all their life. Which means that the average Italian reader could never grasp the meaning of the reference. The fact that King keeps going back to it has only a baffling effect, it is perceived as over-description, a useless frill which editors didn’t have the courage to delete.
    @ Peter F
    Thanks for the link, I’ll read Tim Parks’ article.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    Trond: I read … Fred Vargas … It does improve my reading skills, but I need to practise speaking too.
    My suggestion (which I think I have explained earlier) will not be very useful to you on the bus, but in private I would recommend reading aloud. This is what I do in Spanish, since I want to keep up my speaking skills in the absence of frequent conversational partners, and in Italian which I roughly understand but don’t really speak.
    Reading aloud means you have to pay attention to all the details (therefore you don’t skim), and you get to practice things you might not have much occasion to hear or use in ordinary conversation: longer sentences, less common vocabulary, irregular verbs, etc. The spelling of Spanish makes this especially easy, and in Italian if there is an ambiguity I try both ways and sometimes skip the oral part just for that word, something you can do in French in case of doubt about the pronunciation. The main thing is to keep reading aloud as much as you can and to use the dictionary minimally so as not to lose the thread of what is going on in the text. It works for me, I am sure it would work for you!

  63. marie-lucie says:

    Janwillem van de Wetering who was of course Dutch, and who did his own English translations, which I understand were not necessarily anywhere near the original Dutch versions.
    I have several of his books, and they gave me the impression of having been written directly in English by someone who did not know English very well: the sentences are short and simple, and the vocabulary sometimes odd (for instance, the characters often eat “oxmeat” sandwiches). This style is quite charming nevertheless. Later the author moved to the state of Maine, and the last book I have is written in much more fluent English, with hardly any hint that the author is not a native speaker (I suspect a lot of editing went on), and the book is more ambitious but, to my mind, less appealing.

  64. I like voltigeur. It reminds me of the way some baseball commentators will say “he’s on his horse” when the center fielder is running hard to get to the fly ball. Google translate says that German has the ho-hum Aussenfeldspieler and Spanish the charming jardinero. Ask it for the Yiddish word for outfielder and it gives something in Hebrew letters. Ask for the Hebrew word and it gives outfielder (not redleiftuo).

  65. @m-l: I think that you offer very good advice on ways of studying a language. I like reading aloud. It has the benefit of slowing me down and making sure that every word passes through my brain, and it feels good, too. On the other hand, when reading something in a foreign language or even something Shakespearean, I am quite capable of rolling along, intoxicated by the rhythm and the syntax and the sound of my own voice, and have no real clue as to what some of the words mean.

  66. marie-lucie says:

    Ø: I quite understand these reactions. But keep at it – the point is not to understand every word right away, but to become familiar with the language and have it become part of you. If a word or phrase is particularly important to what you are reading, it will recur, and after a while (perhaps when you read another book) you will find that you understand it. I used to tell my students not to look up a word in a dictionary unless they had encountered it at least six times and still did not understand it. You want to read the book and have some sense of what is happening to whom, not to read the dictionary (a separate occupation, which has its merits but should not be confused with reading a book).

  67. Oh, I agree.

  68. Peter F: … international morality , that is, not a morality specific to where they came from but one that uses the global terms of accepted norms. A morality that’s neutral in the sense that it is searching for a political correctness.
    There are no globally accepted norms of morality – despite the best efforts of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Kant and the folks who wrote the scripts for Bambi and Desperate Housewives. And despite any any considerations about whether it is a Good or Bad Thing that no such norms exist.
    For the sake of discussion, let’s provisionally define “the moral principles of a person” to be principles of action that would lead to behavior closely resembling his actual behavior – regardless of whether the person has stated what he thinks his principles are. Now consider all the behavior in the world that is reported on the evening news. Are there any “politically correct” principles that would account for what you see on the news ? No. Do we even see anything faintly resembling a search for “politically correct” principles, amidst the killing and the ripping-off ? Not much.
    In my view, there are two main reasons why faint-hearted wishful thinking about “morality” is so widespread. One is that most people are completely ignorant of what has been written on the subject over thousands of years (we might start with Aristotle). The other is that they turn their eyes away in despair from what’s going on under their noses. There are plenty of writers under the spell of this clueless involution – I submit that they are not the best writers.

  69. Grumbly, just out of curiosity about morality (not to start a war argument), do you not think there are moral reasons as well as pragmatic ones that the US and its allies shouldn’t have invaded Iraq & Afghanistan? To me it’s a moral question first, and then one of exactly how many lives might get lost. (I agree that there’s no int’l norms for the morality of it.)

  70. do you not think there are moral reasons as well as pragmatic ones that the US and its allies shouldn’t have invaded Iraq & Afghanistan?
    Of course I think that. But for clarity I should add this: in my books, any reasons that are “unpragmatic” do not deserve the title of moral reasons. A morality that is untenable in practice is as useful as a pair of warm shoes that don’t fit.
    Considerations such as “who to kill in order to prevent whom from being killed” involve moral judgements in the most fundamental way conceivable. Moral decisions are difficult to make, painful and liable to be regretted. They are not a pair of warm shoes, even when they fit.

  71. Hey Grumbly,
    I didn’t express myself well – of course I agree with you. The question is how well writers of fiction convey these differences in morality. Rather than, in Parks’ words, relating them as “shortcomings and injustices to an international community that could be relied upon to sympathize”.
    “Human rights” are an international morality, and accepted around the globe, although as you say, this is far from meaning they are observed. But seeing things in terms of human rights is just one way among others of doing so.

  72. @Peter F.
    You may not have expressed yourself well, but now that I reread your comment in full I feel that I simply misread it originally – the word “hotheaded” springs to mind. I’m often just rarin’ to find something to be abrasive about. I agree with your additional remarks, even though they are formulated so unaggressively.

  73. “Human rights” are an international morality, and accepted around the globe.
    No they aren’t.

  74. Crown, in a way I agree, but in a way I don’t. There are not many people in the world willing to appear on the evening news and say that “human rights” are a load of rubbish. However, you do find people who say, for instance,
    1. Your insistence on “human rights” is just a ruse to interfere in our internal affairs (China)
    2. Some of your co-called “human rights” are incompatible with our religious beliefs (Iran)
    In other words, people will hedge about the details, or try to change the subject, but not attack the general idea. Or else they will set an alternative good-for-everybody idea against it.
    I myself have big-time reservations about the notion of “rights” – something that you can sue somebody for. But whom ? In what court ? Under what laws ? Who are the legislators and judges ? What happened to the matching notion of “obligations” ?
    There has been a strange, Alice-in-Wonderland shift from “right and wrong” to “actionable-claim-but-not-really”. There are many people who have written forcefully and seriously against this notion of “human rights”. The notion is so vague that one could suspect the lawyers are behind it all. But they could profit from the notion only if it were less vague.

  75. Well, I wasn’t just thinking of religious or political groups, who would have such different ideas about what human rights are as to make the idea that they’re “accepted around the world as an int’l idea” moot. I was also thinking about, for instance, myself; I have a problem with any idea of human rights that ignores animal rights or puts humans on a different level than animals. I’m certainly not alone in that.
    In what court ? Under what laws ?
    The ones under whose jurisdiction you live. You can only be indirectly supportive of people who are living elsewhere under oppressive regimes.
    What happened to the matching notion of “obligations” ? My morality says that people have an obligation to the state to pay taxes they’re liable to pay, regardless (at least, in the short term) of what the money’s spent on. They don’t have a moral obligation to die for the state. Their obligations to other people are separate from their obligations to the state.

  76. And from today’s Guardian here is an example of international use of the phrase”human rights”. What it refers to is at the discretion of the speaker:

    Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s hardline ultra-nationalist ambassador to Nato, also today voiced his support for the embattled Assange. He tweeted that Assange’s arrest and incarceration on Monday at the City of Westminster magistrates’ court demonstrated that there was “no media freedom” in the west. Assange’s “fate” amounted to “political persecution” and a lack of human rights, the ambassador said.

  77. I’m certainly not alone in that.
    No, but you are in a tiny minority among humans, though doubtless not among goats.

  78. And immediately after typing that and turning back to my copyediting job, I hit this sentence:
    This change forced the hunter-gatherers of the late Zarzian period into lower elevations, where they came into close contact with wild ancestors of a number of animals, most importantly the caprines, that is, sheep and goats.
    Synchronicity much?

  79. AJP Crown, let me give you an example of what I mean by “accepted around the globe”: the UN Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities has 147 signatories.
    This is a global acceptance. Of course, there are plenty of other ways people think about disability, and plenty of ways that these rights do not actually exist.
    I was saying “there are people all over the world that believe in this stuff” and I was not saying “everyone all over the world believes in this”.

  80. where they came into close contact with wild ancestors of a number of animals
    Were hunter-gatherers also spiritual mediums ? How else could they come into close contact with ancestors of animals ? What is the point of “close” ? Is “close contact” a euphemism for “killed and ate” ?
    It might be clearer to say: “where they fell upon, devoured and sucked the bones of wild ancestors of a number of animal kinds that exist today”.

  81. Or rather: “the bones of animals who are wild ancestors of a number of animal kinds that exist today”.

  82. Language:
    A minority certainly, but not tiny in significance. Some philosophers are interested in the moral relation between the rights of animals and humans and it’s a similar discussion to ones that previously took place about racial and sex discrimination.
    Peter:
    You’ve given the example of disability rights; but we’re talking about human rights, which is not the same thing. In other words, some people or states might consider the rights of the disabled to be a human right, but none would say it is the equivalent of “human rights”.

  83. “Ask it for the Yiddish word for outfielder and it gives something in Hebrew letters”
    I am sorry to report that the resulting Hebrew letters, אַוטפילדער, are what could be rendered back into English as _outfilder_. There is doubtless an attestation somewhere in the literature of the vocabulary that was used; but given that, surely, no significant mention of baseball was made in Yiddish before the establishment of Jewish American culture, it’s not a terrible bet that they didn’t just say _outfilder_. The calque would only be _oysfelder_, anyway, so it couldn’t have been hard for even the most English-poor Jew.

  84. I hope it was _oysfelder_, though, because it so readily suggests a Who’s On First-style routine involving a pun with _oysfeler_: one who is missing; one who is dead.

  85. Surely there has been some discussion of baseball in the Forverts.

  86. As a fellow Italian, I perfectly understood what WuMing 1 was trying to say about King. I may be an interloper in this forum, as I am not a translator. I am just a passionate reader of Stephen King, but I have read almost all of his books in English. And I entirely agree with WuMing: there is a sort of a dichotomy in his books. On the one hand, King addresses themes (love, fear, trust, hate, the pain of growing up) that are universal, and can be easily understood and related to by almost all readers. On the other hand, the language he uses, and the references he uses to describe characters and situations, are intimately American. WuMing mentions Maxidriver. But another good example is Needful Things: the description of Main Street in that book is enough to conjure a whole series of messages in an American reader’s mind, which simply do not register with a non-American. Same thing for Under the Dome, to quote but the latest books.
    To me, this is one of King’s greatest achievements: the ability to reach and touch the heart of readers all around the world (at least in the Western world, I don’t know enough about the rest of the world to comment on it), while using references that are purely American.
    It is like if he didn’t care if a reader in France, Italy or Russia didn’t understand his references to baseball, US food or other stuff like that. He knows his message lies elsewhere, and that you will still be able to get it.
    But obviously the nightmare for the translator remains…

  87. marie-lucie says:

    When I was about 10 to 14 years old, we often spent short vacations with our maternal grandparents, who were living in a house which had been in their daughter-in-law’s family and in which there were many things left from the previous occupants. Among those things were stacks of two magazines which were very similar to each other in format and organization: Sélection and Constellation. I found both very interesting to read, but there was something odd about Sélection, the cause of which I did not identify at first: the authors, places and characters all had English names, and some of the characters, attitudes and activities described were odd, while in Constellation the counterparts were all French and therefore more familiar. It was not until quite a bit later that I realized that Sélection’s subtitle “du Reader’s Digest” meant that all the contributions were translated from the American publication with little adaptation, while Constellation was a thoroughly French product in spite of its similar format.
    Later I read the autobiography of a French novelist and columnist who had grown up in Southern France, in a peasant family full of interesting characters. He had once been contacted by the Reader’s Digest for their “most extraordinary character” series, and described his remarkable grandfather. The Digest’s response was “This person has no message for the American reader – you should modify him, for instance make him into a country priest …” The author described his reaction as j’envoyai au diable le Reader’s Digest.

  88. As I understand it, most of the people who agitate for human rights, when you ask them “Which rights?”, point to these various treaties, which are very widely ratified though not so widely obeyed. In the present era, calling for human rights is primarily a matter of asking governments to in fact do what they have already promised to do.

  89. I am quite capable of rolling along, intoxicated by the rhythm and the syntax and the sound of my own voice, and have no real clue as to what some of the words mean
    the point is not to understand every word right away, but to become familiar with the language and have it become part of you. If a word or phrase is particularly important to what you are reading, it will recur, and after a while (perhaps when you read another book) you will find that you understand it. I used to tell my students not to look up a word in a dictionary unless they had encountered it at least six times and still did not understand it. You want to read the book and have some sense of what is happening to whom, not to read the dictionary
    Unfortunately, these observations and advice don’t apply so readily to Chinese or Japanese. It’s impossible to read along and get lost in the sound if you don’t know how it’s pronounced. Of course, one can also gradually get a general idea of the meaning, but it’s still important to know how it’s pronounced, which means that there is a lot more looking up the dictionary than with other languages. This is very dull, tedious, and frustrating. For the first few years it seems you will never get to read anything useful because so many words are totally unfamiliar, and will remain that way unless you bother to look up both meaning and pronunciation. Looking up the correct pronunciation is also advisable because otherwise you start supplying your own, and it’s better to memorise the correct pronunciation than one which has been guessed or made up.

  90. Bathrobe: this is true of Japanese treeware, but the modern gentleman and/or lady of today has recourse to browser “plug-ins” that can rubify Japanese text on the fly. I’m not currently learning Japanese but if I was (“were”) this is how I’d do it.
    Is there no Pinyinifier for Chinese text?

  91. Bob Violence says:

    Key Chinese supposedly has the best hanzi-to-pinyin converter out there, although I admit I haven’t tested it myself. Google Translate converts to pinyin (select Chinese-to-Chinese and click “Read phonetically”), but it word parsing is poor and it often slips up on characters with multiple readings (although this is less of an issue in Mandarin than in Japanese). I don’t really know of any plugins that will automatically romanize a whole block of Chinese text, but there is a Chinese version of the Perapera-kun Firefox plugin that can romanize and translate individual characters or words.

  92. Bob, -vold, or violence, is quite a common last name in Norway. There’s an olympic champion called Hanevold, or “Rooster violence”. Are your ancestors Norwegian, may I ask?

  93. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe, you are quite right that my method would not work so easily for Chinese or Japanese, but there are lots of languages for which it would indeed work. And as DvB and Bob V are pointing out, modern technology supplies means of circumventing the problems for those languages.
    I used to have a Japanese roommate, who read popular Japanese magazines. I noticed that the Chinese characters were provided with transcriptions in tiny Japanese characers next to them, in order to show the pronunciation.

  94. the description of Main Street in that book is enough to conjure a whole series of messages in an American reader’s mind, which simply do not register with a non-American. … To me, this is one of King’s greatest achievements: the ability to reach and touch the heart of readers all around the world … while using references that are purely American.
    But surely this is true of the vast majority of writers (mutatis mutandis). Cervantes is full of local Spanish references, Dostoevsky of Russian ones, etc. etc. Surely it is the “translation-conscious” authors who stand out (and they are presumably a very modern phenomenon). Why is it in any way remarkable that King refers to baseball, US food, etc.?

  95. I should add that there is no such thing as “an interloper in this forum”; LH is not exclusively for specialists in translation, linguistics, or any other subject, it is a place where anyone interested in language, literature, or any of the other subjects that get discussed to hang out and share their knowledge, ideas, or sensibility. So: welcome!

  96. I agree with marie-lucie that reading aloud is a good idea. But I also agree with Bathrobe’s comment that you may end up “supplying your own pronunciation”. The danger is that you will get bad habits, and may never be able to correct your pronunciation later on.
    Reading something aloud in a way that sounds natural, or is appealing/non-boring instead of just sounding mechanical, is a difficult thing for me to do, even with English. I suspect it’s difficult for most people – otherwise, we would not have actors recording audio books for us. I’ve recorded some attempts of mine to read English out loud – horrible ! I can’t get the phrasing, stresses and pauses anywhere near non-bad (I don’t want to say “get them right”, because there are as many versions of right as there are of good and bad).
    There are many reasons for this, one being that prose is nothing like speech – except when an author is attempting to imitate speech. Even “reading aloud in your head” can be a bad idea. I noticed a few years ago that my German accent deteriorates badly when I have been reading a lot of English for a day or two – even though I speak only German during that time. Somehow muscles are being tensed or moved during this “reading aloud in my head”.
    Maybe I’m only imagining it, but now that I know that reading has an effect on my pronunciation, I have tried to “sense what’s going on physiologically” while reading – and I think I can feel the muscles in my jaws slightly tensing, as if I were in some way actually reading out loud – but suppressing it. It is a commonplace about the history of reading in European societies that a time came when it became “unseemly” to read out loud – and many people had difficulty getting adjusted to this.
    I wrote that people have said my English accent sounds vaguely German. That may be partly because I usually read and speak only German. But after a few weeks speaking and reading only English, I bet the “German accent” in my English would go away. I wish I had perfectly stable pronunciation in English and German – particularly in German, of course, because I pique myself on that – but the sad truth is that I have to keep in practice, even after all these years. <* Sob! *>

  97. @ language hat
    what do you think of the example I made above, ie Bondo? It’s not just the fact that King uses everyday details that can be understood exclusively by Americans; it’s the fact that King relies heavily upon the *relevance* of such details for world-building and character connotation. Such a heavy reliance makes his books difficult to translate.
    I translated several American authors, even authors that are 110% American-minded (eg Elmore Leonard), but no other writer gave such an impression of being “monoglot”.
    And I take this opportunity to state that by “monoglot” I don’t mean being personally ignorant of other languages: I call “monoglot author” an author who writes having in mind only his compatriots, readers who speak only or mainly his same national language. Specularly, I call “polyglot author” a more “internationally minded” author, which is the phrase Marie-Lucie used when she made another key example, the one related to windows.

  98. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly: I agree with marie-lucie that reading aloud is a good idea. But I also agree with Bathrobe’s comment that you may end up “supplying your own pronunciation”. The danger is that you will get bad habits, and may never be able to correct your pronunciation later on.
    You are both right that this is a danger, especially if you never hear the language, but presumably, if you are trying to learn a language, you will also try to hear it, through movies, songs, radio, etc if you are far away from any speakers. And even if you were surrounded by the language, in a country where it is spoken by the population, you would most likely have an accent.
    I had forgotten that I got the idea when reading about how Schliemann (the discoverer of Troy) learned Greek and some other languages, by reading aloud (presumably with the help of a translation). I tried it and have been doing it ever since.
    In my professional capacity I have been studying a large group of native languages, some of which have not been spoken for decades and for which there are no recordings, only texts written in more or less phonetic transcriptions (with translations), yet I still try to read them aloud: it is very difficult at first, and my rendering probably never sounds like how they were spoken, yet I find that reading the stories aloud as best I can does help in my attempts to understand how the language is put together. My first attempts at pronouncing are slow and laboured – some of these languages have sound combinations which are difficult to practice = but after a few weeks and months the pronunciation gets easier, common words are no longer a problem, sentence structure becomes clearer, and I can concentrate on less common vocabulary and structures. The most difficult part to try to recreate is intonation, since that is rarely included in a phonetic transcription.

  99. @languagehat:
    First things first: thank you for not considering me an interloper!
    Now back to the main issue. I would disagree that what I said about King (i.e. that he is full to the brim of references and innuendos exclusively related to American culture) is valid for most authors. At least I would say that the “intensity” of this phenomenon is peculiar to King.
    Let’s take other contemporary English speaking authors who – in terms of world popular success – can be compared to King: Follett, for instance, or Grisham, or Chrichton. None of them use the English language (dialects, neologisms, reference to pop UK or US culture) to the same level of King. None of them rely EXCLUSIVELY on their being British or American in painting their characters.
    Or take Lunar Park, which is a “King type of book” by Brett Easton Ellis. Nowhere there is this sense of alienation, of not belonging, that I sometime experience in King. Because Ellis is not using 100% American references. Or if he is, he uses those American references that are now universal to the Western world (the rich Hollywood actress, the artistic drug addict…).
    If I broaden the examples to Italian, French and Spanish contemporary authors that I have read in their original language and that are successfully translated abroad, I cannot come up with a name with the same mono-cultural immersion as King: Umberto Eco, Javier Marias, Wuming themselves, do not rely entirely on the national cultural background of their primary readers to describe characters or conjure images in the readers mind.
    The only example that would come up to my mind is Haruki Murakami: but I am reading him in translation (Italian and English). But I have this nagging feeling that I am losing 50% of Murakami’s messages when he describes his Japanese characters. But again, like in the case of King, his themes are universal, even if his world is not (one example: ghosts are a lot more mainstream in Japanese culture than in the Western world, so I am pretty sure that a Japanese reading Murakami’s description of a chat with a ghost “receives” very different messages than an Italian or an American reading the same description).

  100. presumably, if you are trying to learn a language, you will also try to hear it, through movies, songs, radio, etc if you are far away from any speakers.
    marie-lucie, I agree, but presumably and will also try ain’t quite good enough. In a word: to get a satisfactory result you must deliberately plan in all these things, and then actually do them. Read aloud while the radio or TV is on at low volume, repeat under your breath what you hear people say in stock situations in which you are present (buying a bus ticket, asking for directions, giving directions), sing commercial jingles in the shower, play already familiar games like football … In another word: get off your butt and get a linguistic life.

  101. Wu Ming 1, A Tuscan Foodie in America: I have read very little King, so I defer to you; I am certainly willing to believe that his density of specifically American references is unusually high. But that to me is a fact that, however interesting, does not justify putting him in a separate category; he is simply an outlier of a natural tendency to use local references. Take the Bondo thing; I’m an American, yet the name would have meant nothing to me, and I would have had to look it up just as you did. But I don’t mind looking things up, whether in English or another language—the minor inconvenience is far outweighed by the pleasure of understanding another little corner of the world.
    To take another example, Tolstoy’s kovernaya is now thoroughly obscure even to Russians, and I was lucky to happen upon a nineteenth-century Russian source that bothered to explain it as a place where carpets were woven. It’s not vital to understanding the novel, but of course a translator has to deal with it (which most of them have done badly). Or the many references to obscure brands and sorts of alcohol in Erofeev’s wonderful Moskva-Petushki; for him and his circle, they were matters of everyday use, but for the poor translator they require endless investigation. To me, that’s nothing unusual, it’s just the inevitable effect of living in an immensely complicated world (and using an immensely rich language). As I said above, to me it’s the writers who deliberately impoverish themselves (which is how I see worrying about one’s foreign readers) that require explanation.

  102. Also, it’s not clear to me whether Wu Ming 1 or Tuscan are critical of Stephen King for having very local language and other local references, or if they think it’s a good thing, or if they just want to point it out.
    I don’t read Stephen King, but I like local references myself. English is spoken all over the world; Bertie Wooster doesn’t sound like Sam Spade, because they talk different English.

  103. Mine was not a criticism, merely a pointing out of a special feature of the way he writes. I personally love (most of) his book, but this is beside the point…
    When I read his books in English, I often ponder on how the translator will be able to convene the same feelings/messages that King is often able to convey either with a word that he invents from scratch or with references to US only stuff (like the bongo that wu ming was mentioning) that are always present in his books, and in great numbers. Again: everybody uses references to his/her own culture. But it seems to me that King does this to a completely different level. You are still going to be able to understand what he is talking about if you are not familiar with these references obviously, but you are missing out an awful lot. An example: how the hell did translators manage to translate King’s novel Duma key? In that book King reinvents the English language, with word games that are mind blowing.
    Now, I understand that something will always be lost in translation. But in the case of King my feeling is that A LOT will be lost in translation. And this is irrespective of how good the translator is. I feel it is less so for a lot of other authors.
    Also, I think that comparing King with authors from centuries ago doesn’t solve the issue: 19th century Russians or Cervantes lived in a world that is completely different from what it is now, in terms of capability of readers to appreciate cultural references.

  104. I think that “monocultural immersion” (a phrase used by Tuscan Foodie) is the best way of describing King’s prose, and I regret not having provided such a good conceptualisation myself at the beginning of this debate.
    @ AJP Crown
    this discussion started from an interview I gave to Words Without Borders, in which I said that I’ve been reading King’s books for thirty years, I’ve written about him, I’ve reviewed his books. I also acknowledged that his writing has had an influence on mine. It should be obvious that I’m not cricising King. I’m just pointing out a basic difference I experienced between translating his prose and translating other writers.
    @ Language Hat
    I share your enjoyment in looking up things, checking out obscure references. The difficulties I described are the difficulties of a professional translator trying to convey as many meanings and connotations as possible and at the same time deliver a translated text that’s as readable and enjoyable as the original one. I’m working on stuff that will be read by a huge number of people.

  105. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly,
    I did not mean to suggest that reading aloud was the only way to learn a living language! Of course the ideal is to be right there where everyone speaks it around you (and doing all the things you suggest) and, even more important, speaks it to you so you have to respond, but that is not always possible (and, for extinct languages, there is no other choice but using the written word). I learned to speak Spanish fluently (I mean freely) by being around Latin American immigrants (before that, my knowledge was mostly passive), and I continued to improve my Spanish by reading (mostly aloud) material written in the language, especially when I was not in touch with Spanish speakers (like now).

  106. The fact that King keeps going back to it [Bondo] has only a baffling effect, it is perceived as over-description, a useless frill which editors didn’t have the courage to delete.
    I know you didn’t mean this as criticism of the original, but rather how a foreign reader might see it. But Americans might possibly (and some do, I’m sure) have just this criticism of the original. It might remind them of a familiar tic of many American writers, who can’t mention a car or a type of cereal without specifying the exact brand, year, model, coupon on the box, etc.
    Not saying I have this criticism myself (I haven’t read King), but it might be a possibility.

  107. @Wun Ming 1, @A Tuscan Foodie in America:
    I am baffled by your insistent thesis that the novels of Stephen King (of all people !!) have something especially special about them. Having read a few of them, I am disinclined to read more. My verdict is that they were cleverly constructed pulp in perfect tune with American WASP middle-class values, fears, hopes and beer brands. They describe weirdness and horror entering the lives of plain ol’ folks – food blenders fling their haunted blades at exhausted English teachers, time and space split to admit armies of vacuum cleaners inimical to law and order.
    King’s books are the printed form of Buffy, Cold Case, X-Files etc etc. This kind of crap is extremely well-received by audiences with ready spending money, so more power to its creators. But it’s not worth spilling ink over. There is much more cash to be made by writing like King than writing about him. It would require an equivalent level of talent, but would be more interesting.

  108. m-l:
    I wholeheartedly second your recommendation of reading aloud in other languages. It’s especially important for poetry, of course, and reading foreign poetry aloud can have side benefits. It’s been a great help to me in learning Russian accentuation, for instance, which is hard for a foreigner to predict but which becomes clearer in meter (and most Russian poetry still has meter).

  109. Sorry, that should be @Wu Ming 1.

  110. @Grumbly Stu: personally, I completely disagree with what you say about King’s value. But irrespective of what I think about his books, we were referring to the difficulty to translate him. Which is an entirely different story, completely separate from whether his books are good or not.
    Ironically though, the words you use to dismiss him seem to entirely confirm the fact that King speaks only to a constituency…
    But I do not want to enter into another argument on whether King’s books are real literature or not…

  111. @A Tuscan Foodie in America:
    On the contrary, what I wrote exhibits precisely why he would be difficult to translate. But it also makes clear why he is not worth translating: fluff is hard to pin down.
    By the way, I recently read Doctorow’s Ragtime. King comes nowhere near the “density of specifically American references” there. Bellow also springs to mind as a writer chock-full of “specifically American references”. I haven’t read many novels by American writers in the last 20 years, but those I have read were very very – just as the German novels I read were very Germany (Lenz, Fontane), and the French ones very Frenchy (Houellebecq, Hugo, Alain-Fournier).

  112. Let me say it another way: I admire the money the guy makes, and think that his “constituency” has every right in the world to read and enjoy his books. But that’s about all that can be usefully said about him. If you are so absolutely set on translating King, why are you groaning and moaning about the difficulty ? It can’t be harder than making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

  113. Ok, so we agree that he is difficult to translate…whether you think that the translation exercise is worth it or not.
    As for Houellebecq and Hugo, I would disagree on the “FrenchY” thing. Yes, they are French, but they are not as French as King is American, at least in my opinion. But for Hugo is valid what I was saying about Cervantes or the 18th century Russian: an entirely different era…the capability of readers of their time to appreciate cultural references was a lot different than what we have now.
    As I UNFORTUNATELY do not have to translate King for work, I wasn’t moaning about it…nor do I think Wu MIng was…I guess he was just stating what he perceives as a fact…or at least it was my case!

  114. OK, sorry for my aggressiveness. It’s just that I can’t believe we’re spatting over the Barbara Cartland of fantasy and horror.

  115. You mustn’t mind Grumbly, he puts his persona right there in his moniker. I’m afraid I agree with him about King’s prose (which is why I haven’t read much), but I will defend to the death your right to love and (as the case may be) translate him!

  116. “America is in love with the ephemeral, and Europe is in love with America.”
    -Vseslav Botkin

  117. In America … where law and custom alike are based upon the dreams of spinsters.
           Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals, 1929

    As a Russian said a hundred years ago, these people believe that they are the doctors of society, whereas in fact they are only the disease.
           Kyril Bonfiglioli, Don’t Point That Thing At Me, 1972

    Bein’ from Texas and all, I frown on such sentiments, but can hardly dismiss them out of hand.

  118. More or less on the topic of middle-class values:

    Language is the house of being. It’s also the floorplan of being, and the wallpaper and matching sofa of being.
           David Weinberger, The Language Thing (or: Heidegger made dense)

  119. marie-lucie says:

    AS: … reading foreign poetry aloud can have side benefits. It’s been a great help to me in learning Russian accentuation, for instance, which is hard for a foreigner to predict but which becomes clearer in meter ….
    I am very glad to hear this suggestion. I learned a little Russian years ago, and the problem of accentuation keeps me from reading aloud in Russian, and therefore from reading the language at all. Russian poetry! I could just reread LH looking for it, and practice the samples. Thank you!

  120. Of course I completely disagree with any dismissal of King’s prose. I analyzed the hidden subtleties and the tropes in his fiction in several articles, reviews and essays. All his books are connected with each other and form one colossal, extremely complex book. One has to read several of them in order to understand the consistency and multifariousness of that narrative universe. The most recent books are more experimental, it’s a phase of his career that started with Hearts in Atlantis, the most explicitly political book in his body of works, dealing with the 1960s, the Vietnam war, the Weathermen etc. I’ve worked thoroughly on his writing and now I’m about to start work on the next book, and I can say that – to say the least – there’s much more than detractors and superficial readers are able to notice.
    Anyway, we weren’t talking about King’s literary merits. We were talking about how difficult it is to translate his books. Try to read Lisey’s Story and you’ll understand.

  121. Russian poetry! I could just reread LH looking for it, and practice the samples.
    m-l: The rules of Russian meter are similar to those for English, but much more clearcut. Take the first line of the Mandelstam poem from the Mother of All LH Threads (A Draft of Mandelstam):
    Бессонница. Гомер. Тугие паруса.
    Once you figure out that this is iambic hexameter, you can be quite sure that every line in the poem will have either 12 syllables (masculine ending) or 13 (feminine ending). Some “strong” positions can be filled by unaccented syllables, but not all. For instance, the last strong position in the line has to be accented. So right away you know that паруса is accented on the final syllable. An accent is usually also obligatory in the first strong position, so that gives us Бессонница aceented on the second syllable. Russian words of course have only primary accents, not secondary ones.
    Probably the best way to begin, though, is to listen to recordings of Russian poetry recited while following along with the text. I’m sure Russophone Hatters can recommend some good recordings.

  122. marie-lucie says:

    AS, Thank you!

  123. Bob Violence says:

    @m-l –
    I used to have a Japanese roommate, who read popular Japanese magazines. I noticed that the Chinese characters were provided with transcriptions in tiny Japanese characers next to them, in order to show the pronunciation.
    Maybe things have gotten to the point in Japan that even magazines for adults provide ruby characters for all kanji, but I doubt it. Publications for younger readers will do so, but in other publications the transcriptions are provided for kanji outside the standard ~2,000-character list, or for those with rare or unexpected pronunciations. (Sometimes the pronunciations can be very unexpected, like giving an English reading to an otherwise normal kanji word — to take the thread full circle, the Japanese translation of Finnegans Wake supposedly makes extensive use of techniques like this.)
    @A J P Jesse –
    It’s nothing even half that clever, it’s just a goofy name I made up (which coincidentally turned out to be the name of a comic character). Sheer inertia keeps me from changing it to something less 3DGY and more mature.

  124. I missed the discussion on reading aloud.
    I agree with m-l that reading aloud is a great way to assimilate a foreign language. And modern technology now gives us ways to instantly access the correct pronunciation. Still, lack of knowledge of the correct pronunciation is a stumbling block to the use of m-l’s method. I can read Chinese aloud with a certain amount of fluency, but it can be quite disspiriting to continually stumble across characters that I’m not quite sure how to read, or difficult and rare characters and usages, and this acts as a disincentive to using that method. The end result is that it becomes easier to read Chinese and Japanese with the eye than with the voice. In other words, you can skim through and understand a passage while not being sure how it’s pronounced. It’s probably something that’s worth working on, but when I pick up an in-flight magazine, for instance, the situation isn’t very conducive to checking readings or meanings, and eventually you find yourself getting lazy about looking things up.

  125. Violence, what’s “3DGY”? Is it “edgy”?
    Grumbly v. Stew, you may be interested, there was recently a short post about Fontane and German troops in Afghanistan at the LRB blog. I was interested by the Fontane quote, supposedly about the class system: ‘England and Germany relate to one another like form and content’.

  126. @Wu Ming1. There are some authors, probably working in almost every language, who describe their characters through “stuff” — the brands of clothing they wear, the alcohol they are drinking, their watches, their newspapers, etc. There are some who describe them through their names. And then there are authors who don’t — who describe their characters in other ways (manner, tone of voice, gestures, whatever). The first batch are hard to translate because the translator needs to provide the foreign reader with more information than the name of the brand of beer or clothing (what it connotes).
    These are techniques, devices, styles. Full stop.
    I don’t think that has anything to do with their sense of language or translation or awareness of other languages and cultures. No matter how much you try, you won’t be able to “prove” that. There are too many contradictory examples. Nabokov comes to mind immediately. He was profoundly aware of other languages and cultures, and then translated his own work from English into Russian. But Lolita is a laundry list of Americana.
    My two cents.

  127. marie-lucie says:

    Bob V, not knowing Japanese (except for a few phrases I picked up), I can’t tell you how many of the Chinese characters were provided with a Japanese key to the pronunciation – I was not actually reading the magazines, mostly looking at the pictures, but I noticed this feature in the texts and figured out the reason for it. This was many years ago, and I have not looked at such magazines since.

  128. Russian words of course have only primary accents, not secondary ones.
    This fact is in part responsible for the famous rift between Edmund Wilson (who did not understand it and therefore depreciated Pushkin in a letter of Aug. 20, 1942) and Nabokov (who did not realize that Wilson did not grasp this basic fact and therefore talked over Wilson’s head in his long and learned response, a letter of Aug. 24). Their contrasting understandings of Pushkin certainly played a part in Wilson’s belligerently negative review of Nabokov’s four-volume edition of Eugene Onegin. My post on the Wilson-Nabokov correspondence does not go into that aspect but is an interesting read on its own (and the contentious thread ends up with an exchange on Nabokov’s self-translation).

  129. ‘England and Germany relate to one another like form and content’
    Crown, I recently saw a TV documentary about the modern history of European football (there was nothing else on the box). In the ’60s and ’70s, England lost repeatedly to Germany, including world cup matches. The reason given was that Germany were ambitious and on top form, whereas the English were content with the assumption they would always win, because it was their game. Is that what you meant ?
    Fontane and German troops in Afghanistan
    That’s interesting, I must have missed it while watching football documentaries. As for Germans being lazy, drunken and overweight – that can only be the ones who want to fight abroad. The streets of Cologne are full of star-studded muffinry just rarin’ to go – but not to Afghanistan.
    I don’t know why journalists bother to write such a sentence as this in the article: “Fontane is extremely uncool these days”. Is that to give people something to say at cocktail parties and get coolness points for ?

  130. mab’s two cents are worth their weight in platinum.

  131. Ah gosh.
    Wu Ming1, I apologize if I sounded dismissive. I think you have two interesting sets of observations: authors who use “stuff” to define their characters and the problems of translation; and authors who are aware of and concerned about translation of their works. I don’t think you can combine the two sets, but I think you can have a blast investigating each of them.

  132. Hear, hear. Long live mab. She’s so smart.

  133. Is that what you meant ?
    Yes. Germans often (in my presence, anyway) admire British old-fashioned culture, but they must really think that it’s not very productive compared to their own. British football is, of course, miserable and Britons are consistently bad at all sports (but better than me) — except they’re doing quite well at cricket at the moment — whereas Germans are quite good. I never saw a good German cricketer, now I think of it.

  134. michael farris says:

    I think I understand Wu Ming’s point. One of King’s techniques is to ground stories of the incredible against a very dense background of American realia. Thre’s a spectrum from plausible small town locales (meant to resonate with anyone who’s spent time in small town America) through archetypical American stereotypes with individual quirks that make them seem more real but with real brand names and celebrity names and lots of references to the minutiae of American life, things that readers can recognize consciously or unconsciously so they can imagine themselves in similar situations.
    The goal is to make the stories more immediate for American readers. But they make them much harder for translators and act as a, probably unintentional, distancing advice so the stories don’t have the imeediate impact of ‘this is just like where I live’ but continually remind the reader that the stories are happening to people who aren’t like them in a setting unlike anything they usually come into contact with.
    The questions are does King realize the same technique that makes his stories more immediate for Americans makes them less immediate for foreign readers? Does he care?

  135. Yes, three cheers for mab’s good sense, which struck me as a breath of fresh air. And three cheers for Wu Ming1′s enthusiasm: (s)he is obviously in the grip of a powerful and useful idea, even if many of us don’t quite buy it as stated.

  136. But, mab, what did you mean about describ[ing] them through their names?

  137. Wu Ming have an interesting website, for anyone who hasn’t seen it. WM1 (all the Wu Mings are boys) recently wrote a piece for the LRB on Berlusconi, and why he’ll go on and on, and on.

  138. Trond Engen says:

    Ø: what did you mean about describ[ing] them through their names?
    I know how I immediately understood it: A name isn’t only a name. Both family names and given names are distributed according to social and geographiacl patterns. To someone immersed in the culture they come with expectations of a place in society. Those expectations and how the character conforms to them are part of the portrait.
    A later thought was of novelists like our host’s sambygding Kjartan Fløgstad, who use the names to make puns on defining elements of the character. But I don’t think this is what mab meant.

  139. It strikes me that most Japanese literature in the past was totally written with a Japanese audience in mind. But Haruki Marukami is a different kettle of fish. Since he is heavily influenced by Western culture, he appears to be much more easily translated into English than earlier writers. Does this fit in with Wu Ming’s point?

  140. Both family names and given names are distributed according to social and geographiacl patterns. To someone immersed in the culture they come with expectations of a place in society.
    Thurston Howell III
    Gomer Pyle

  141. Trond Engen says:

    Thurston Howell III
    Gomer Pyle

    And Homer Simpson, for that matter.
    But even a ubremarkable name used for a character that isn’t in any way stereotypic may invoke a set of values or a background. I suspect that often the author isn’t even conscious about it, just intuiting the name of a believable character. And the same goes for other attributes of the character. Foreign readers may not share those intuitions, and the translator will have to deal with it.
    But it’s a difficult balance. Part of the joy of being a foreign reader is to slowly acquire an idea about the subtleties of a foreign cultural context.

  142. oh, I meant “talking names” (Karamazov, Severius Snape, any name in Dickens, etc etc etc) or names that have associations of class. In Possession Maude Bailey (which I’ve probably misspelled) was a key to understanding the book. Some authors play with that more than others.

  143. “talking names” (Karamazov, Severius Snape, any name in Dickens, etc etc etc) or names that have associations of class. In Possession Maude Bailey (which I’ve probably misspelled) was a key to understanding the book.
    mab, what does “Karamazov” suggest ? Or “Maud Bailey” ? (I decided to post this short comment instead of the original peevish one that went on and on about why I find Byatt umreadable, in contrast to her sis Drabble).

  144. Id est: her sis Margaret.

  145. umreadable
    This was originally a typo, but does in fact indicate what I experienced repeatedly when trying to read Possession: “Um … What does this mean, what is she trying to say now ??”.

  146. what does “Karamazov” suggest ?
    It looks to be a combination of Turkish kara ‘black’ and Russian mazat’ ‘to smear, stain, soil’; the suggestion is certainly not positive.

  147. I’ve never been able to derive pleasure from Stephen King and I’m a unregenerate (or, to reduce the prefixes, degenerate) Joycean, but I’ve been struck by the two authors’ common reliance on brandnames and uncompromising immersion in the particulars of a time and place. The major difficulty of Ulysses for a first-time unaided American reader is as one with its difficulty for a translator: it is the product of a radically alien environment, many of whose taken-for-granted aspects will likely remain unrecoverable (e.g., “U.P. UP”).

  148. kovernaya is not only obscure, it’s so obscure in Tolstoy’s usage that it suggests there might be something hiding behind it that wasn’t really appropriate to spell out to a prudish gentile reader of the time who would either understand the wink-wink, nudge-nudge reference, or, in innocence, just take it as ‘a room with carpets’. In the days that Tolstoy describes it was fashionable for men to decorate the walls of their ‘cabinets’ (studies or private rooms) with Oriental rugs – kovër – and put war trophies on them – sabres, pistols and guns. Russian serf-made rugs had a different name – polovik or polovitsa (from pol – floor). It was also a common custom for country gentlemen who retired from active military duty to create ‘harems’ from young serf-girls. And ‘kovernaya’ appears in the sequence where the man is described as ‘cavalerist-bachelor’, a huntsman, an expert in horses and possessor of lots of good wine, a kovernaya and a stud farm. I don’t think one needs to dig deep to see what Tolstoy is alluding to? He also uses the word ‘vladetel’ which is somewhere between simple ‘owner/vladelets’ and exalted ‘lord/vlastelin’ and to me has an obviously humorous colouring.
    And there is a second, more obvious instance of ‘kovernaya’ in the same chapter:
    ‘At posting stations, at inns, and in the landowner’s snuggery, maidservants had been flattered by his notice, and here too at the governor’s party there were (as it seemed to Nicholas) an inexhaustible number of pretty young women, married and unmarried, impatiently awaiting his notice.’ (Maudes) or ‘in the country landowner’s smoking-room had servant-girls been flattered by his notice’ (Rosemary Edmonds)
    The whole chapter is built around pent-up frustrations of a young officer sent from the front-line deep into the rear, feelings with which Tolstoy himself was intimately familiar. And it is a build-up to Nicolas’ realisation that he is in love with Princess Mary and their engagement.
    So ‘kovernaya’ is a room covered in rugs where something naughty might be happening. Maudes use ‘snuggery’ which makes sense, because it’s a place where you snuggle up with yourself or someone else. Years ago I used to stay at an old manour house in the Cotswolds which had a small room that my hosts called ‘the snug’, meaning somewhere where you could be left alone to relax. Edmonds, whose version remains one of the standard translations, uses ‘den where he smoked’. I am not sure where ‘smoking’ enters into it, it’s not in Tolstoy’s original, but ‘den’ has long been used in modern English meaning ‘men’s only room’, so Edmonds’ version captures some of Tolstoy’s flavour. Peaver/Volokhonskaya’s ‘carpet room’ does not, I think. Except that in modern Russian sex slang there is something called ‘carpet/rug position’ which I dare not explain on a linguistic blog and which is not, I think, derived from Tolstoy’s covernaya, but, probably, from the circus lingo, where ‘kovërny’ means a clown or an acrobat performing tricks involving exciting body bends and twists on the ‘carpet/kovër’ – circus arena.
    Which brings us painfully close to the subject of this post: how do you translate the vernacular and the obscure. Let’s face it, not every translator is ready to spend the whole day or even days hunting down the exact meaning of an obscure archaic reference when publishers’ deadlines are looming. I once had to, trying to find out what the hell is a ‘baby shower’, when translating a book on bringing up children, but at least my client was flexible. With Stephen King, at least his references are contemporary, you can ask around, google, look at the context. Who do you ask with Tolstoy? Maudes’ translations have very interesting notes, but not on ‘kovernaya’ and googling gives a rather confusing set of results. Of course, one can choose the Peaver/Volokhonskaya method and leave it to the reader to find out – if they are interested. Hat is, but he is a rare species in the world or readers, who are mostly interested in the narrative rather than the obscure meaning of particular words or phrase. I think an English reader would be less likely to trip on ‘snuggery’ or ‘den’, than on ‘carpet room’ even though the chapter (soap opera episode) gives a very good idea of what’s going on.
    I completely agree with Hat’s point that one cannot expect a writer to write while making allowances for possible translations. You just write as best as you can in the style you have developed – and that’s that. Some writers can be more difficult to translate because of their wider use of the vernacular (King, Platonov, Leskov), others are easier because they employ international, cosmopolitan imagery. The Mandelstam super-thread is one example: there is only one specifically Russian usage – the cranes.
    Wu Ming has made a very interesting observation in saying that some writers are ‘translator friendly’ and others are not, but that’s the way it goes, tough luck if you have to translate someone like King.
    King may not be a great in style or form, but his mastery of the narrative is outstanding, he is certainly not a b-writer. In fact, the way he blends reality and fantasy, for instance in ‘Thinner’, strongly reminds me of how Daphne Du Maurier does it, for example in ‘The House on the Strand’.

  149. oops, sorry, Hat, I didn’t realise it would be so long, please feel free to remove the comments on kovernaya and put it on the relevant thread, which I haven’t read until you mentioned it here. It’s a Sunday and I got carried away.

  150. Haruki Marukami
    yes, that’s what I’ve heard too, but he has worked for a long time in Boston and other places. I’ve recently read his wonderful ‘What do I talk about when I talk about running’.

  151. the “hidden” features in question will probably not show up in translations into yet other languages, thus spoiling the intent of the bilingual author
    well, exactly! I’ve just thought of Saroyan, Jerome K. Jerome, Mark Twain and O’Henry – what would they be in other languages if it were not for their original flavour?

  152. I don’t know how to say “outfielder” in French, but joueurs de l’extérieur suggests to me “players from somewhere else”
    Marie-Lucie, in cricket, fielder is chasseur, which makes perfect sense to me because ‘flyers’ are less common than in baseball and an outfielder (chasseur de éloigné?) is more likely to chase the ball bouncine on the slow turf rather than running to catch the ball falling from the sky (voltiguer). But they use mostly English terms in French cricket. Did you know that France holds the only Olympic silver medal for cricket?
    joueurs de l’extérieur
    with my limited French this suggests ‘players from outside the stadium/oval’ as in outside/inside [of prison].

  153. in the cold season you could buy freshly made waffles from makers/vendors on the edges of some café terraces
    you still can – I did it today with my daughter, though there was no sticky syrup, just powdered sugar or Nutella chocolate spread. They are called gaufrets.

  154. reading works that you know, translated into a language you are learning,
    I’d second this. I’ve recently read Le Petit Prince in French which I know almost by heart in Russian, and then Three Men in a Boat, which I also know in English and in Russian, and am finishing La fille du capitaine. It’s a very good learning tool.

  155. my friend did not know that English windows went up and down and did not open away from a central vertical axis like French ones,
    you are describing ‘sash windows’, an increasing rarity in England. The main difference between English and French windows is that in England windows open outside, while in France they open inside. That’s why English cats always sit on window sills, but French cats never seem to do that. An English family here in Normandy spent a lot of time and money planning their perfect kitchen only to discover to their chagrine that the French window would hit the taps of their perfect sink. The whole thing had to be redone.

  156. I noticed that the Chinese characters were provided with transcriptions in tiny Japanese characers
    this is called furigana and restricted to characters that are not in the secondary school minimum (around six thousand). I felt very proud of myself when my son asked me to translate some of his yugioh cards that he he got in Japanese.

  157. Sash, “sash” windows slide up and down, two operable pieces per opening, one at the top, one at the bottom, meeting in the middle of the height. They have them in the USA too.
    The ones that are hinged on the side are called casement windows. Pairs of casements that meet in the middle and go down to the ground are known in GB & the US as “French” windows. There’s no law about whether casement windows open inwards or outwards. Though it’s often inwards in France and outwards in Britain, you just have to check with window manufacturers first, and if you can’t find the one you want you bloody well design the frame yourself to work how you want it — one of the many benefits of using an architect.

  158. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: In North America the casement windows going all the way to the floor are called “French doors” in English. In French they are “portes-fenêtres” (literally doors-windows, or rather “window doors”). Regular windows (“fenêtres”) in French houses are built on the same principle but go down to about the same level as English “sash windows”.
    French windows open inward and the sill is on the outside – many people in apartments grow potted geraniums on the window sill, outside the window. A cat can sit there, but it is then outside the house, not inside where there is no sill (except in some old houses with very thick stone walls, where the window frame is set midway through the thickness of the wall).
    I think that sash windows are the norm in older houses in North America as in England. All the windows in my house are sash windows (in Eastern Canada). It is easier to moderate the intake of air with sash windows, but it is very difficult to clean them on the outside. With real French windows there is no problem: you just open the window, step on a ladder if necessary (inside the room), and clean the panes on the outside just as easily as on the inside.

  159. marie-lucie says:

    Sashura: I had no idea that cricket was now played in France.
    in cricket, fielder is chasseur, … an outfielder (chasseur de éloigné?)
    You can’t say that: éloigné is an adjective and cannot be used after de. Someone (you?) said voltigeur.
    ... running to catch the ball falling from the sky (voltiguer).
    The verb is voltiger. In its original meaning it denotes the action of a bird flying very short flights and constantly changing its direction, something like “flitter” as opposed to voler “to fly”. There is also a noun la voltige which is about doing acrobatics while on a running horse.
    Did you know that France holds the only Olympic silver medal for cricket?
    I trust that you have the correct information. I am amazed!

  160. only Olympic silver medal for cricket
    From Wiki I gather that:
    - There were only two teams (England and France) playing cricket in the Olympics that year (1900).
    - The contest was not exactly considered to be part of the Olympics at the time it was played.
    - The teams were not nationally selected teams.
    - The French team consisted mostly of British expats.

  161. It seems that in Napoleon’s army there were men called voltigeurs, foot soldiers who could hitch a ride with the cavalry by vaulting onto the rump of a horse.

  162. michael farris says:

    The 1900 Olympic French silver medal cricket team was neither French nor did they really win a silver medal – discuss!

  163. Olympic silver medal for cricket
    still a nice bit of history. Can’t you say ‘silver medalist’ about someone coming second even if there are no medals?
    Cricket is not huge, but is growing in France thanks to the influx of British residents. There is an active club with mostly French membership at Saint Jean le Thomas not far from us (where you can ‘walk on water’ to Mont Saint Michel), they keep inviting, but we never got round to go. Perhaps next Summer I’ll go and check what the ‘live’ terms are.
    la voltige which is about doing acrobatics while on a running horse
    it’s called вольтижирóвка (vol’tizhirovka) in Russian.

  164. “They are called gaufrets.”
    That looks a bit strange. I would say the usual word is “gaufres”.

  165. nor did they really win a silver medal – discuss!
    I left out this part. Wiki says:
    The Great Britain team was awarded silver medals and the French team bronze medals, together with miniature statues of the Eiffel Tower. The match was retrospectively formally recognised as being an Olympic contest in 1912, and the medals were later reassigned as gold and silver.

  166. the medals were later reassigned as gold and silver
    “Reassigned as” is olympically vague. Does the statement mean “later there was a cover-up to make people think that the medals had been of gold and silver” ?
    The whole business sounds not very cricket.

  167. Sashura: “They are called gaufrets.”
    bruessel: That looks a bit strange. I would say the usual word is “gaufres”.
    Or gaufrettes.

  168. m-l, there is no real difficulty washing sash windows, you just gave to know how (sit on the exterior sill, facing inwards, legs dangling inside, first wash the upper unit and then push it upwards and wash the lower one).
    These days Europe has a window that hinges at the bottom and opens partially to let in air, but it also hinges at the side and opens fully as a casement for when you need to clean it. I think they must have them in N. America too. They don’t look as good as multi-paned old windows.

  169. sorry, everybody, looks like I’ve spoiled and interesting discussion on translation.
    gaufrets – I just copied what was written on the vendour’s van, not Robert’s obviously, but I’ll check next time I’m there.

  170. What I want to know is, how come your name now has an apostrophe at the end?

  171. michael farris says:

    “how come your name now has an apostrophe at the end?”
    A clear provocation!

  172. “how come your name now has an apostrophe at the end?”
    I took it to be a lenis mark in line with the gentle apology for “spoiling an interesting discussion on translation”.

  173. ‘s simple: I’ve joined The Apostrophe Protection Society of my t-shirt friend’s, the redmolotov.com. (I’m not putting link’s here, but, Hat, please remove this if it’s spam under cricket’s rule’s here, if not, you are welcome to join in too, I get a few bob every time someone order’s their’s t’s through my blog’s).
    Another version is that I’ve read Matt Brzhezinsky’s ‘Red Moon Rising’ with some examples of how Sputnik changed the world, including adding that word to international English, so I decided to add a little sputnik to my name in the form of an apostrophe. (Hat, do you get a commission when someone clicks on an Amazon link in the thread?)
    Marie-Lucie: reading poetry out loud, especially nursery rhymes, is a really good learning tool, I can’t agree more. Read ‘Bagazh’ by Samuil Marshak to spot a few French borrowings (I’ve counted five) – a few years ago I had my students read and recite it, we had a lot of fun.

  174. I wonder what was really going on with those “miniature statues of the Eiffel Tower”.

  175. Hat, do you get a commission when someone clicks on an Amazon link in the thread?
    I get a commission when someone buys something via an Amazon link on my blog, and every once in a while someone buys a TV or something and I get a nice extra bump in what’s normally around a $15 gift certificate each month. So remember, if you want to make your beloved LH’s life a little bit nicer, you can make your purchases through my links and know that you’re feeding my book habit! (Naturally, I spend my certificates exclusively on books.)
    Thanks for explaining about the Apostrophe Protection Society, and don’t worry, I would never accuse a regular of spamming; you’re all free to link to whatever you like.

  176. The first comment in this thread opens with the words ‘There are a number of signs to suggest…’ I know that in world where there isn’t one dominating media source or schooling standard it is very difficult, if not impossible to change language practice, but still every time I see or hear it – and I hear it a lot – I cringe. The agreement to me is wrong there. To me it should be either ‘there is a number of signs’ (number is singular) or ‘there are signs’ (signs are plural, and it says the same thing as with ‘a number’).

  177. michael farris says:

    “The agreement to me is wrong there. To me it should be either ‘there is a number of signs’ (number is singular) ….”
    You’d think so, wouldn’t you. But “there are a number of signs” sounds better to me.
    If there hasn’t been already, there’s a very good dissertation topic for some linguist on the facts (as opposed to theory and wishful thinking) of number agreement in Standard American English.

  178. miniature statues of the Eiffel Towers
    that’s a funny story, I didn’t know the film.

  179. A cat can sit there
    You are right, Marie-Lucie, they do sit outside: on the school run today I saw one – in freezing weather and snow! And, my wife just pointed out to me, windows opening outside created the whole profession of window-cleaners with the accompanying folklore.

  180. The agreement to me is wrong there.
    No, it’s correct. Think of “a number of” as equivalent to “several” or “many.”

  181. The analysis of “a number of” favored by CGEL is a special process whereby the plural percolates up. The alternative of treating a number of as a single fixed lexical item is less desirable, because it isn’t in fact fixed. a can be some or what for a question. number can be qualified: “a large number of.”

  182. a number of… plural percolates up
    That’s what I was thinking too. I understand that in quick spoken speech, when you think more of content, you tend to fall on set language forms, rather than construct sentences ‘from scratch’. ‘There is/are’ and ‘a number of’ are both popular (I call it agressive) forms of introducing an argument – and when you have several, many, a number of, then you tend to fall on agreeing in plural.

  183. To me at least, there are really two different usages of “a number of”. The great majority of the time (for me) it is, as LH says, equivalent to “several” or “many” – when used this way it has to have plural agreement, just like “several” or “many”. *”There is a number of signs to suggest…” is completely unacceptable (again, to me). Sometimes, though, “a number of” refers to a particular number. In those cases (for me) it takes singular agreement – as in, “30 is a number of days that can make up a month” or “There is a number of things I’m thinking of” (during a guessing game, say, when it is the number, not the things, that I’m thinking about). Ok, these kinds of uses are probably vanishingly rare, but they’re the only cases in which I could conceivably say “there is a number of…”

  184. Yeah, Matt has it. Usage trumps logico-mathematical analysis every time.

  185. And anyway, a Russian who counts один год, два года, три года, четыре года, пять лет (“one year, two of a year, three of a year, four of a year, five of summers…”) shouldn’t be complaining about other people’s illogical number usage!

  186. Хa! That’s easy – there is a repeated pattern, you only have to learn it once. Don’t you think it’s nice to count years as Summers? And лето is just the Old Slavonic word for year. And a nice reference to Leta/Lheta.
    With respect, I am not really complaining about illogical number usage – as a Russophone, I am asking if this is correct usage as a member of Anglophonie.

  187. I know, I’m just busting your chops.

  188. Oops. Went away on business trip (Kyiv is beautiful and it’s a delight to hear people switching languages all day). On Maud Bailey — the reference is to motte-and-bailey castles, combining Christabel LaMotte and Maud. Also references to Tennyson. Hat kindly deciphered Karamazov.
    Sashura: don’t agree with your not-so-flattering comment on translators. Or rather, I guess there are bad ones, but the ones I know DO spent hours, days, weeks, and months searching for one word. On translator blogs people are always asking about obscure words. I certainly drive Russian speakers crazy with my questions and have spent a lot of time explaining what PopTarts are (or describing other weird aspects of American life). For 19th century prose, we search through academic monographs and call specialists. There’s nothing like the pleasure when you finally figure it out!

  189. Karamazov…a combination of Turkish kara ‘black’ and Russian mazat’
    That’s what comes to mind first – karamazy=chernomazy=blackened, dirtied, smeared, but also dark, dark skinned, with dark features, as in derogatory Russian nickname for Caucasians/Southerners and Africans.
    This resource says ‘karamazy’ was a real dialect word, but also gives a completely different etymology: from Turkic qara – to look, to watch and affix mazmez forming negative participle. Hence: Карамазов – ‘someone who doesn’t look, doesn’t watch’. Which would mean what, blind and arrogant? Ignoring what’s around?

  190. That’s really interesting. I wonder if Dostoevsky knew that?

  191. I’m racing to meet a deadline, but I’ll look it up later. Dostoyevsky was good friends with Chokan Valikhanov, the legendary Kazakh explorer and imperial agent, so he would have had at least some knowledge of how Turkic languages worked.

  192. The endnotes to Karamazov’s (p.549, v.15, the green 30 volume academic Dostoyevsky, Nauka, Leningrad, 1976) go with the ‘black’ interpretation of Kara-. They say it’s a thought-up name. The note itself is to ch.VI, Book 4, Part II, when Aleyosha is addressed as ‘Chernomazov’(Black-painted). Baron Alexander Vrangel, Dostoyevsky’s friend and patron in Semipalatinsk (modern Kazakhstan), is quoted as saying: ‘As for nicknames, in Siberia they were very fashionable, particularly among tatars and kirghiz: everybody was given a nickname. For instance, I was called ‘Karasakal’ [soft l], i.e. black beard or, to be more exact, black sideburns, which I wore in those days, and moustache…’
    The notes also refer to these sources: П.Бицилли, Происхождение имени Карамазовых, “Россия и славянство”, Париж, 1931, no152 and А.Бем, Личные имена у Достоевского, Сборникъ в честь на проф. Л. Милеичъ, София, 1933. I don’t have access to these.
    I also leafed through Archbishop Rowan Williams’ ‘Dostoevsky. Language, Faith and Fiction’ to see if there is anything on interpreting the name of Karamazov’s. I couldn’t find any direct explanation, but what absolutely amazed me is that Williams traced, perhaps even discovered, mostly on the basis of Bakhtin’s observations, the concept of ‘visibility-invisibility’ of Dostoyevsky’s characters: ‘…a major theme in Dostoevsky’s understanding of human maturation and its opposite, which can be summed up briefly as the supreme importance of visibility for human flourishing. All those characters in his major work who are crippled by antihuman forces inside and outside of them are imperfectly visible, and those who are on the path to some sort of healing are those who take the risks of being seen.’ He tests this thesis on the Karamazovs, Verkhovensky and others. Which brings us very close to the interpretation I cited above: Karamazov – Unseen, Unwatched or Invisible?
    Williams mentions the meaning of Stavrogin (Devils): ‘A good deal has been written about the double echo in Stavrogin’s name, diabolical and Christological: the name contains a Russian root meaning ‘horns’, which is clear enough, but the stavro- element, for anyonoe familiar with Church Slavonic adaptations of Greek words, would also evoke the cross. Dostoevsky seems to surround Stavrogin’s person with a lavish amount of such irony.’ This passage shows that Dostoyevsky built a lot of meaning into the names of his characters, more that could be immediately seen.
    Williams’ book is very perceptive, I recommend it to anyone interested in Dostoyevsky.

  193. Sashura, I saw the Turkic possibility, but I seem to recall (from 30 years ago) discussions of the name as “blackened.” I think this fits better, and is also less obscure. Dostoevsky’s character names are fairly transparent, don’t you think? I don’t think he expected his readers to sit in the library with dictionaries.

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