TRANSLATOR AMBIVALENT ABOUT AUTHORS.

Sam Taylor (translator of Laurent Binet’s HHhH) has a piece in the Financial Times that has some interesting if not terribly original things to say about translation; I want to reproduce one paragraph that I find odd:

Although translators often say they enjoy the inter­action with authors – as I enjoyed my email exchanges with Laurent Binet – I am ambivalent about the idea of authors being involved in the translation process. Perhaps this is because I have been on the other side of the equation. When I told my French editor I would like to read the translation of my second novel, The Amnesiac, at an early stage, she told me I ought simply to trust in her and the translator’s judgement. I think she was right. No matter how good their understanding of the target language, the author is generally too subjective – too focused on the idea of seeing their exact phrases reproduced in another language – to be able to judge the effect of the translation.

I’m sorry, but I can’t help but think a translator who doesn’t want to deal with the author is motivated more by fear of reproach than high-minded scruples.
Taylor goes on to say “There is also something else slightly troubling about the relationship between authors and translators. It can, I suppose, be reduced almost to a hierarchical relationship: the author is primary, the translator secondary.” Well, yeah. Why is that troubling? If you want to be primary, write a book.

Comments

  1. I suppose it depends on how well the author understands the target language and the problems of translating into it, and whose initiative the contact is. It’s surely ideal if the author is keen to answer the translator’s questions. It would indeed be a problem if the author, being ‘primary’, used his or her power to enforce inappropriate changes. But then I haven’t read Taylor so don’t know the context of his remarks.

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  3. Why would the relationship between the author and his translator be any different from the one between the author and his editor? In both cases, you have to walk a fine line between being unreasonably stubborn and excessively submissive :-)
    And in both cases, the interaction between the author and his editor/translator can be very productive: a good reader can point out imprecise wording, misleading statements, etc., and help improve the style a lot.

  4. marie-lucie says:

    Quite some years ago I ran across one of Gurdjieff’s books, in English (written by disciples according to the master’s lectures and conversations but reviewed by G himself). I only read a few pages, because I found it unreadable: it appeared to be French translated word-for-word into English, not only from the point of view of syntax but also without an awareness that apparently synonymous words were not always used in the same way. For instance there would be anecdotes or parables about “A mister” (un monsieur ‘a gentleman, a man’, from Monsieur ‘Mr, Sir’). The explanation was that Gurdjieff, who must have spoken good French but very poor English, insisted on literal transcription of his words, without corrections. This did not seem to bother unilingual anglophones interested in his work, but I found it very painful.

  5. Just another traitor.
    (Marie-Lucie, Gurdjieff was a charlatan who deceived many people, some of them rather well-known persons. Incidentally, he didn’t speak good French. In his memoirs, Académie française’s former member Jean-François Revel mentioned for instance the “Franco-Russian pidgin” used by the Georgian guru.)

  6. Just another traitor.
    (Marie-Lucie, Gurdjieff was a charlatan who deceived many people, some of them rather well-known persons. Incidentally, he didn’t speak good French. In his memoirs, Académie française’s former member Jean-François Revel mentioned for instance the “Franco-Russian pidgin” used by the Georgian guru.)

  7. Interaction with author is one of the best experiences you can have in this job as you get to know someone new and really understand him/her.

  8. Rocco DiStreitlmahn says:

    Taylor’s discomfort with the traditional role of the translator most likely has its origins in Benjamin’s essay “The Task of the Translator” as well as the ideas of Lawrence Venuti in the “The Translator’s Invisibility” (http://www.powells.com/biblio/61-9780415394550-1). Both have had a pretty significant impact on the field of translation studies.
    I think this post from the Harriet Blog of the Poetry Foundation about translators & poets Brandon Brown & David Larsen is apropos (the comments are especially interesting):
    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2010/02/proceeding-translation-brandon-brown-david-larsen/

  9. Sig: in what particular ways did Gurdjieff “deceive” people, on your view ? He merely talked and wrote a bunch of mystical poppycock, and a lot of people scarfed it up – so whose fault is that ? Deception is what Bonzi, Madoff et al practiced.

  10. I mean “Ponzi”. I was thinking of Bozo the Clown when I wrote “Bonzi”.

  11. Right the first time, Stu. Those tiny Japanese trees are a complete scam.

  12. “I’m sorry, but I can’t help but think a translator who doesn’t want to deal with the author is motivated more by fear of reproach than high-minded scruples.”
    The only reason a translator would fear reproach is 1) if the author had aspirations to knowledge of the target language or the translation process and felt like it was his place to correct the translation and 2) people involved in the editorial process were naive/incompetent/inexperienced enough to give the writer his “authorial due” out of a misplaced belief that the person who wrote the original has magickal understanding powers of foreign languages. In other words, if 1) holds but 2) doesn’t, then the editor will do his job and fend off any meddling by the author. (If 2) holds but 1) doesn’t, then it doesn’t matter, because the author isn’t trying to meddle.)
    I’ve translated a few books and I’ve been lucky enough never to have been faced with 1) or 2).
    That said, the worst case I’ve heard of this kind of thing involved a novel written in Arabic and translated into English by a professional translator. The author decided to translate the book into English herself after the first translation was done, and the publishers ditched the original translation and published the author’s. The translator (also a woman) wrote a blog post about it, which is where I heard about this. Maybe someone can remember names/titles/etc. The details escape me right now.

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  14. In my admittedly limited experience with authors and their translators, authors were always ready to help with, but never attempted to interfere in the translation process. The target language might have had something to do with that…
    Incidentally, has someone here read “HHhH”? I picked up a copy yesterday (thank you iTunes) and so far, I’m not impressed. Yeah, ok, Binet knows his shit, including the difference between Czechs and Slovaks (which, however, doesn’t stop him from referring to “armée tchèque” or Beneš as “président tchèque”), but the writing is … weird. For example, section 10 begins with the following sentence:

    Bien sûr, je pourrais, peut-être même devrais-je, pour faire comme Victor Hugo, par exemple, décrire longuement, en guise d’introduction, sur une dizaine de pages, la bonne ville de Halle, où est né Heydrich en 1904.

    Now with the reference to Pozner in the previous section (they are really too short to be called chapters) and with one to Hugo in this sentence, I would not be surprised to find this is to parody someone or other, but Binet does this all the time. And then there are the short quips he begins and ends the sections with (one reviewer referred to them as “cheap exclamations” and “duff sentences”) which combined with the incessant section breaks results in a staccato effect that just drives me off the wall after 30 or 40 sections.

  15. So it goes.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: As I said, I only read a few pages of Gurdjieff before I gave up in frustration. I was curious to see what was special about his “teachings”, that attracted so many famous people. In his pictures, he looks hypnotic. As for his use of language, I assumed that as an educated Russian of his time (as I thought him to be), he would have known French quite well, since the English text seemed to be calqued from French. In any case, the writing was atrocious.

  17. J.W. Brewer says:

    One way to avoid interference is to translate works whose authors are no longer alive. If the original is old enough to be out of copyright you won’t even have to deal with the original author’s agents/publishers/assignees/family members/etc.

  18. There’s nothing worse than a translator with an ego (barring Nabokov!), or one who considers him/herself the wise interpreter of the “spirit” of the original, etc.

  19. Trond Engen says:

    I don’t know. I’m always annoyed when I sense literalism or over-exactness in translation. A translator should at least have the ego to interpret the spirit of the original into fluent use of the proper register.

  20. Could you please cite examples of translators who have written their own works? It seems to me, having good writing skills would be valuable.
    What if Hemingway had translated Faulkner’s works into Spanish? Are there cases of well-known authors translating another well-known author’s works?
    I can imagine the drama that can ensue. Are there many novels about translators, either literary or otherwise? There was a recent Hollywood movie about a United Nations translator, The Interpreter.
    Thanks, and happy new year.

  21. “Are there cases of well-known authors translating another well-known author’s works?”
    This is very common in poetry, where a well-known poet in one language will take on a well-known poet in another language. Whether it be Robert Lowell’s mangling Russian greats, T.S. Eliot translating Saint-John Perse, Eugenio Montale and Sándor Weöres’s translating T.S. Eliot into Italian and Hungarian respectively, the list is endless really.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    Trond, not all translators are qualified. They are not all capable to display “fluent use of the proper register”, or even just “fluent use”. The worst translation I have ever read was that of Jules Verne’s 20.000 lieues sous les mers into English, apparently done by a French speaker with not more than a functional command of English. I have mentioned before the translation of lentille (there meaning ‘lens’) as “lentil” – a possibility in the abstract but not in the context of using the object in question in attempting to light a fire. This was the most memorable error in a text that was full of them, not to mention the general awkwardness of an almost word-for-word translation. (This translation appears to have been the only one for decades, since I encountered it in two separate editions, published at different times by different publishers, but there may be a better one available now).
    I have more recently encountered something similar in a French translation of an ethnographic book written in English by a German-speaking author and translated into French by an English person. Here the most memorable error occurs in a label for a photograph showing a sample of local jewellery, made from various materials: some flat pendants are identified as (made of) sac d’épaule (“shoulder bag”). Obviously the author looked up “shoulder” to find the equivalent of “shoulder blade” (omoplate) and read the French word listed in the wrong line. Nobody can be expected to know every word of a language, but that’s what dictionaries are for, and the translator could have been alerted by the fact that the objects in question did not look much like “bags” and she should double-check to make sure her translation was correct (something needed for any doubtful word anyway). But surely the editor was at fault too for not reading the translation and picking up the error. Again, beyond this vocabulary error this translation is generally clumsy and painful to read, and even though the content is interesting I haven’t been able to stand reading more than a few pages at a time.

  23. @stephen: Lydia Davis is one example.

  24. “Are there cases of well-known authors translating another well-known author’s works?”
    Baudelaire translating Edgar Allen Poe into French comes to mind. Haruki Murakami translating quite a few things into Japanese – Raymond Carver almost in toto I think, The Long Goodbye, Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby… He’s doing a lot of translations even now.

  25. “Are there cases of well-known authors translating another well-known author’s works?”
    I’m by no means a fan, but Paul Auster has translated some from the French (including, Wikipedia says, Mallarmé and Sartre).

  26. Trond Engen says:

    Trond, not all translators are qualified. They are not all capable to display “fluent use of the proper register”, or even just “fluent use”.
    Oh, I know. What I mean is rather trivial: Just as idiosyncratic translations are too easily defended as interpretations in the true spirit of the original, overly literal translations are too easily defended as faithful.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    writers translating other writers
    The French poet Charles Baudelaire translated a number of Edgar Poe’s stories. Another famous poet, Stéphane Mallarmé (who was also an English teacher), attempted to translate The Raven but could not do it in verse: Poe’s verses make so much use of the sounds of English words that their musical effects cannot be reproduced in French, so Mallarmé translated the verses with French prose lines: the story is there, but not the well-known sound effects.
    stephen: What if Hemingway had translated Faulkner’s works into Spanish?
    Why would he want to do that? A translator needs both motivation and ability. What could have been Hemingway’s motivation?
    As for ability, is Hemingway known to have written in Spanish? or even to have read Spanish language literature in the original? Between Spain and Cuba he probably learned enough Spanish for everyday communication, but from there to translate a difficult English-speaking author with a completely different literary style into a suitable form of literary Spanish is rather a big step – more like crossing the Grand Canyon than crossing the street. This, apart from the fact that Hemingway’s personality was not what one might consider compatible with that of a translator.

  28. Kenneth Rexroth translated many classics of Chinese poetry (‘One Hundred Poems from the Chinese’ etc.), although this is probably a pretty marginal example.

  29. I was under the impression that Haruki Murakami’s stuff reads like a translation anyway.

  30. m-l,
    Poe’s verses make so much use of the sounds of English words that their musical effects cannot be reproduced in French
    Interesting… There were several translations of Raven into Slovak and Czech and IIRC, at least one volume collected most of them (at least the ones in Czech). One of them was done by Jaroslav Vrchlický, himself an acconplished poet.

  31. Thanks, everybody.
    *blush*…I didn’t specifically mean Hemingway and Faulkner, I just felt like giving random examples.
    As for motives…Author A has a different
    native language and admires Author B, or Author A thinks he can write way better than that hack Author B.
    Or Author B is dead and Author A thinks a recent translation is a bad one.
    Or Author A takes a bar bet
    (either with Author B or with somebody else)
    and either wins it or loses it, and now will proceed to translate Author B…
    Or Author A is bedridden and/or wants to try something new and different…

  32. You have it all wrong Hat. A translator who is professionally and intellectually competent has no desire much less the need to consult an author. How could he/she be considered otherwise if they must ask the author’s help on minor points of syntax or cultural minutiae? Why would an author trust their translation to someone without the requisite breadth of knowledge and certainty of voice in the first place? No doubt there are many translations of convenience (ie cheapest) which could have greatly benefitted from an author’s assistance. But to impute a fear of being reproached to any translator who produces a singularly concomitant work without an author’s hand-holding is to underscore to what extent the slackening of competent standards has become the rule rather than the exception.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    stephen: Perhaps I misunderstood your choice of Hemingway, Faulkner and Spanish, a rather unusual, even outlandish combination, that’s why I questioned what could have been Hemingway’s hypothetical motivation for such an undertaking. In general I would think that authors prefer to write their own stuff rather than translating others’ works, especially into a language that is not their own. Most translators translate from a foreign language into their own, since they can usually express themselves better and more stylishly in their own. The two egregious examples I quoted were from people who were obviously translating into a language they were not fully familiar with (French to English for the Jules Verne case, English to French in the “shoulderbag” case).

  34. to impute a fear of being reproached to any translator who produces a singularly concomitant work without an author’s hand-holding
    Yeah, not what Hat said. Not even close.
    Right the first time, Stu. Those tiny Japanese trees are a complete scam.
    Literally LOL’d, Crown. Thanks for that. (This is the first time I’ve ever written “LOL.” Not sure if I should thank you for that.)
    Anyone know anything about Robin Robertson’s The Deleted World: Poems, his selection of loose translations — or versions, as he calles them — of Tomas Tranströmer’s poems? Anyone know much about Tranströmer and his work at all? For those who know as little as I do, Robertson wrote this tribute to Tranströmer in the NY Review when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. This shorter version, a blog post, includes a few of the “versions” from The Deleted World: Poems.

  35. Siganus: The cognitive scientist and oligoglot Douglas Hofstadter believes that “Translators are traitors” is far too witty and clever a translation of “Traduttore, traditore” to exemplify itself, and should forthwith be replaced by “Transductors, treasoners”, a rendering far more treasonerific to both Italian and English.
    Crown: I thought the trees were called Bonzos or Bonzes. But I suppose Bonzi could be the plural of Bonzo, as in i Bonzi Madridi. (To an Argentinian net.friend of mine, it seemed perfectly natural that since the plural of “this dog” was “these dogs”, the plural of “this big dog” should be “these bigs dogs.” But alas, it was not to be so.)
    Marc: Surely there is another reason a translator would fear (or rightly, should fear) reproach: namely because the translator is a baboon who does not understand the source language, cannot use the target language, or both.
    Paul Ogden: Si et hoc legere scis, nimium eruditionis habes.
    Stephen: Well, Hemingway did translate his own works, or parts of them, out of Spanish, or at least wished us to believe that he had.

  36. “I was under the impression that Haruki Murakami’s stuff reads like a translation anyway.”
    It does, but he does that on purpose, e.g., “it was a monumentally boring day” = “記念碑的に退屈な一日だった” (using kinenhi (“monument”) as an adverb). Oe does the same thing, but better and more subversively. Murakami’s style is like a high school kid with a dictionary. Oe’s challenges the reader to reassess the value/effects of the simplicity and understatedness which are considered to be hallmarks of good Japanese writing style.

  37. John: “Surely there is another reason a translator would fear (or rightly, should fear) reproach: namely because the translator is a baboon who does not understand the source language, cannot use the target language, or both.”
    Well, yeah. But that still wouldn’t make the author competent to assess the translator’s work, so the reproach our baboon fears would come from the editor or letters from readers, etc.
    Hozo: “A translator who is professionally and intellectually competent has no desire much less the need to consult an author.”
    A translator is first a reader, and just as there are times when, say, an American reader might have difficulty understanding a passage in a book written by an American, so a translator might have difficulty understanding a passage, separately from his ability to understand the source language. Writers can be ambiguous, recherché, coy, recondite, you name it. They aren’t all graduates of The Economist, after all. In those cases there’s no reason the translator shouldn’t ask the author what he meant.
    I’ve heard that Umberto Eco provides a lot of useful guidance to his translators. For example, he told a translator not to translate a particular metaphor, which he had picked for its familiarity to Italians, but instead replace it with a metaphor that would produce the same effect of familiarity in the reader of the translation. I think I mentioned before that I’ve done something similar: I replaced a reference to “Furuhata Ninzaburo” with “Columbo” (and I was lucky that there was such a close equivalent) (although luck might be the wrong way to put it: Furuhata Ninzaburo was intentionally modeled on Columbo I think).

  38. Paul Ogden: Si et hoc legere scis, nimium eruditionis habes.
    Maybe, but Paul Ogden’s Latin is a joke that’s been around for a while. Wait, now that I look it up, so is yours. Meaning this is a trade in jokes, not Latin quips. Which makes more sense. I had trouble believing you believed yours, John.

  39. Paul Ogden: Si et hoc legere scis, nimium eruditionis habes.
    Maybe, but Paul Ogden’s Latin is a joke that’s been around for a while. Wait, now that I look it up, so is yours. Meaning this is a trade in jokes, not Latin quips. Which makes more sense. I had trouble believing you believed yours, John.

  40. John, apparently the tiny trees formerly known as bonzi, at least in England, are now called bonsai. You’re thinking of the Bonzo Dog Do-dah Band. Or possibly John Bonham, greatest drummer on Earth.

  41. Trond Engen says:

    Aye aye, Kpayn: apparently the tiny trees formerly known as bonzi, at least in England, are now called bonsai
    Obviously, Jap. bonsai is from (Norman?) French bonne saille, where saille reflects a Germanic form akin to ON selja f. “Salix”.

  42. Marc:
    Quite so, though on occasion the author does in fact have the necessary knowledge. I was thinking primarily of Tolkien’s blistering of Ohlmarks, the first Swedish translator of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was particularly concerned with Ohlmarks’s biographical fantasies about Tolkien, but also with Ohlmarks’s botched translation, and with his private rudeness to Tolkien, denouncing him for not understanding the hostility of the Swedish language to non-Swedish vocabulary, about which Tolkien grumped “the word thriller-genre [which appears in Ohlmarks's introduction] being an example of particularly good old pure Swedish.”
    After the Swedish and Dutch translations came out, Tolkien wrote a Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings to assist further translators, not all of whom seem to have been able to make good use of it. Here’s a typical entry:

    Brockhouse. Brock is an old word for the badger, still widely current in country speech up to the end of the nineteenth century and appearing in literature, and hence in good dictionaries, including bilinguals. So there is not much excuse for the Dutch and Swedish translators’ having misrendered it. In the Dutch translation Broekhuis (not a misprint, since it is repeated in the four places where this name occurs) seems absurd: what is a ‘breech-house’? The Swedish Galthus ‘wild-boar house’ is not much better, since swine do not burrow! The translator evidently did not know or look up Brock, since he uses Grävlingar for the name Burrows
    (Swedish gräflingar, gräfsvin ‘badgers’).
    Brock occurs in numerous place-names, from which surnames are derived, such as Brockbanks. Brockhouse is, of course, feigned to be a hobbit-name because the ‘brock’ builds complicated and well-ordered underground dwellings or ‘setts’. The German rendering should be Dachsbau, I think. In Danish use Graevling.

    Tolkien does praise Ohlmarks for getting Middle-earth right (as Midgård, of course).
    Here is also Le Guin on the French translator of her first novel Rocannon’s World: more mixed and more polite, as you’d expect, but fundamentally the same complaint of not really paying attention:

    May I record my heartfelt joy at the final disappearance in this edition of the typographical errors which, plentiful in the first edition [of 1966], have been multiplying like gerbils [a common metaphor in Le Guin's non-fiction] ever since. One of them — Clayfish for Clayfolk — even got translated into French. The Clayfolk, euphoniously, became Argiliens, but the misprint, “the burrowing Clayfish”, became “ces poissons d’argilière qui fouissaient le sol”, which I consider one of the great triumphs of French Reason in the service of pure madness. There may be some typos in this edition [of 1977], but I positively look forward to them. At least, they’ll be new ones.

  43. Not to be confused with “banzai,” commonly and erroneously explained as 万歳 (10,000 years), but really coming from “bans ege”: OE ban (bone) and OE ege (eye), “having bones so old they can see,” whence the meaning “long live.”

  44. Krah-Oon: Is it possible to have been thinking of things one has never heard of? Evidently so when one falls into the hands of the Quellenforschers, who are among the worst enforshers [hic] known to literature.
    Trond: I thought Harry the V of England had pretty well established (or his Archbishop had, anyway), that Salix law did not apply to the realm of France. So that can’t be right; nevertheless, a good try.

  45. A translator is first a reader, and just as there are times when, say, an American reader might have difficulty understanding a passage in a book written by an American, so a translator might have difficulty understanding a passage, separately from his ability to understand the source language. Writers can be ambiguous, recherché, coy, recondite, you name it. They aren’t all graduates of The Economist, after all. In those cases there’s no reason the translator shouldn’t ask the author what he meant.
    Well yes, a translator is a “reader” in the sense that someone is a “homeowner” but that tells us nothing of how they arrange the furniture, stock their kitchen, landscape the garden, interact with the natural elements or perceive the passing of seasons.
    The greater irony would be when a translator’s competence outweights that of the native in terms of mastering the source language. What to do when the difficulty in understanding a passage is attributable more to an incompotent writer than a conscientious translator?

  46. marie-lucie says:

    What to do when the difficulty in understanding a passage is attributable more to an incompotent writer than a conscientious translator?
    The conscientious translator who cannot understand a passage asks the writer to clarify. If the difficulty remains after the work has been published, the writer gains a reputation for obscurity. Depending on the field, this may be interpreted as good or bad.
    (Great word, incompotent)

  47. I always think that those little Japanese trees are singularly concomitant.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Hemingway did translate his own works, or parts of them, out of Spanish, or at least wished us to believe that he had.
    Out of Spanish? Does it mean (he said) he wrote them in Spanish first, or that they were written by a Spanish writer and he just translated? either of these claims sounds extraordinary to me. Perhaps he tried to write something in Spanish and realized he was not up to it?

  49. m-l: I can’t find any specific cases right now, but he (as well as John Steinbeck) often transcribed the speech of characters who were supposed to be speaking in Spanish as if they were translating literally from Spanish: the syntax, the choice of pronouns, and so on, were English imitations of Spanish. So I spoke of that metaphorically as “translating his own work [written in English] out of Spanish”. A slender jest, I fear.

  50. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks for clarifying, JC. Some writers do that, giving the impression to monolinguals that the characters’ language is actually English with “broken” or “primitive” syntax.

  51. Hozo: “What to do when the difficulty in understanding a passage is attributable more to an incompotent writer than a conscientious translator?”
    Return the book to the library and borrow something worth reading.

  52. Trond Engen says:

    Heh! “Le nom de Sailly est dérivé du latin salictum, lieu planté de saules.”

  53. plenti-incompotentates: those members of Congress who regularly translate incompetence into inaction

  54. Thanks again, m-l, and everybody else.
    Speaking of bonsai…
    I’ve read they actually do have bonsai sequoias.
    Now for the next big thing, a bonsai shih-tsu…

  55. The reference to Steinbeck’s Spanish-speaking characters reminds me of Christie’s Hercule Poirot. The strange thing about Poirot is that he speaks perfectly good English but throws in the odd French phrase for authenticity. When he does so, it is always a very simple French phrase that (1) Poirot should really know the English for and (2) an ordinary English-speaking reader is likely to be familiar with. This affords the incongruous impression that Poirot slips back into French not because he is experiencing difficulty with his English but because the author wants to ‘add flavour’.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    I think that this mannerism is part of Poirot’s deliberate image as someone slightly ridiculous, in order to deflect people’s attention from the intellectual gifts of which he is very aware and very proud. If people consider him not only a harmless eccentric but also someone not very bright they won’t be on their guard. This technique is similar to the one used by the TV detective Columbo, except that Columbo cultivates a sloppy appearance whereas Poirot is always immaculately dressed and groomed.

  57. The same goes for Miss Marple. Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe etc. are also absurd and have vulnerabilities but they aren’t figures of fun.

  58. The way Hemingway injected Spanish grammar into his dialogue was meant to be ironic and humorous, I think. He wasn’t making his characters sound stupid.
    Think of all the “thy”s and “thou”s to indicate “tu”-level verb forms in A Farewell to Arms. That humor is intended is also evident from his use of “unprint” as a stand-in for obscenities (from “unprintable word”): “unprint thyself!” etc. Sheer genius (if you appreciate that kind of thing).

  59. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, that’s the difference, those others may hide their intelligence and real motives, but not behind a facade which makes them not only noticeable but easy to dismiss because of its eccentricity. Miss Marple sometimes presents herself as a not-very-clever old maid, but she does not make herself a figure of fun (she wears hats, like other women of her class and time, but not silly hats, for instance). Most people who know her are well aware of her razor-sharp mind behind a conventional middle-class-old-lady appearance. Poirot or Columbo do not look conventional, and they play this up. Poirot also uses French, or Frenchified English, Columbo his endless digressions about his mother or (alleged) wife, to lead the listener away from their actual detective interests.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    marc, I don’t mean that Hemingway was making his Spanish characters sound stupid, but that some readers of this type of literal translation get the wrong idea of what foreign languages (and their speakers) are like. As for “unprint” (I did not read the book), it does sound like a great way to thumb his nose at censorship.

  61. Poirot or Columbo do not look conventional, and they play this up. Poirot also uses French, or Frenchified English, Columbo his endless digressions about his mother or (alleged) wife, to lead the listener away from their actual detective interests.
    In the course of doing so also betray their cynical disdain toward what they perceive as the common man’s banal ability to be duped. The “you aren’t smart enough to recognize how smart I am” attitude which is worrisomely redolent of a narcissistic personality. How should we reconcile Columbo’s everyman persona with his evidenced elitism? Sportsmen call it mis-direction, magicians call it slight of hand and politicians call it being of the people…presto!

  62. Ἰατρέ, θεράπευσον σεαυτόν.

  63. marie-lucie: I see. You’re right. In another book Hemingway describes something like similar to what you’re talking about: how some American tourists think that by speaking loudly and slowly enough, they can make anyone understand them.
    I recommend AFTA. It’s a great book.

  64. Marc – don’t mock it, it sometimes even works.

  65. magicians call it slight of hand
    Shouldn’t that be ‘sleight’?

  66. Magicians are awful spellers, though actually I thinks it’s “prestodigitayshun.”

  67. marie-lucie says:

    The French word is la prestidigitation and a “magician” of this kind is un prestidigitateur.

  68. m-l: In English too. James “wrote Sarkasticul”.

  69. narrowmargin says:

    Hemingway’s Spanish dialogue is from For Whom The Bell Tolls, dealing with the Spanish Civil War.
    A Farewell to Arms concerns Italy in World War I.
    I think FWTBT is an underrated novel, and may be Hemingway’s best.

  70. marie-lucie says:

    JC, I understood the “Sarkasticul”, but I had never seen or heard the words in an English context. Actually, with the growing influence of English in France, prestidigitateur is being replaced by magicien which until recently referred only to the likes of Merlin or perhaps Nostradamus, not sleight-of-hand performers.

  71. Is this word sleight used in any other context? It’s probably costing every US taxpayer the equivalent of one cheese Danish* per week.
    *1982 Danish, allowing for inflation.

  72. Trond Engen says:

    The opposite is happening in Norwegian. Magiker used to mean a sleight-of-hand performer, albeit mainly as a self-designation among those with aspirations more up-market than tryllekunstner, while Merlin was a trollmann.

  73. I’m afraid that in all the excitement some of you may have overlooked a pun:
    Magicians are awful spellers

  74. Trond Engen says:

    Saw it, appreciated it, but couldn’t expand on it. Spellbound, I suppose.

  75. David Marjanović says:

    Jules Verne’s 20.000 lieues sous les mers

    Ah yeah. Stand back, I’m getting German title rage again.
    One should think 20.000 Meilen unter den Meeren shouldn’t be difficult. But no, the book was published as 20.000 Meilen unter dem Meer. Now, “20,000 leagues under the sea” conveys the idea that it’s a depth measured down from the sea surface. 20,000 nautical miles? Well, no, not on this planet. To translate the plural as such wouldn’t have been unambiguous, but at the very least it wouldn’t have been unambiguously wrong!
    While I am at it, popular science books in English are always translated into German by people of limited competence. They don’t even know what freshwater means, so they calque it, not knowing that English calls “fresh” what Standard Average European calls “sweet”.

    “Le nom de Sailly est dérivé du latin salictum, lieu planté de saules.”

    Tu t’es donc pas planté, quoi.

    Poirot is always immaculately dressed and groomed

    Especially his mustache. X-)

    “unprint thyself!” etc. Sheer genius

    Oh yes :-)

    Ἰατρέ, θεράπευσον σεαυτόν.

    I’m way too proud of myself for understanding this. ^_^

    Merlin was a trollmann

    O_o Wow.

  76. The English title confused me as a child. I did immediately think of depth rather than distance traveled, and perhaps as a consequence briefly imagined that a league was a much smaller unit than it is.

  77. marie-lucie says:

    David, la lieue = league, an old measure of distance on the ground, in use in France from Gaulish times until the Revolution, was approximately 4 km (give or take about 10%). For distances at sea there is the lieue marine, which has been standardized. According to Wikipédia.fr:
    La lieue marine vaut 1/20 de degré du périmètre terrestre, soit 3 milles marins ou exactement 5,556 km.
    So one league = 3 nautical miles.
    For depths, Jules Verne would have used la brasse = ‘fathom’.

  78. I say “sleight of hand” as if it were “slight”, but I always feel uncertain about that. Should it rhyme with “eight” and “freight”?
    I knew a German who pronounced “height” like “hate”. An easy mistake to make. I should have corrected him …

  79. Crowlthone, do the English not have the word “sleight of hand”? What do they say instead? Full fat soft cheese? Bonnet?

  80. I say “sleight of hand” as if it were “slight”, but I always feel uncertain about that.
    Feel uncertain no longer. Your pronunciation is traditional/correct.

  81. I’m afraid that in all the excitement some of you may have overlooked a pun: “Magicians are awful spellers”
    Glad you and Trond got that part, Empty. I almost wrote, “. . . are awful at spelling,” then thought, Wait a minute, while I’m goofing . . ..
    It was too silly to point out, and I always feel silly explaining jokes anyway.

  82. It’s funny, only now do I realize the version I was about to write contained the same pun! (So I guess I was just describing my own little bubble-bath eureka-inditement moment.)

  83. I say “sleight of hand” as if it were “slight”, but I always feel uncertain about that.
    Of course it’s pronounced like ‘slight’; that’s why Hozo misspelt it.

  84. marie-lucie says:

    Knowing sleight of hand only on paper, I had always assumed that sleight rhymed with “eight” not “height”.

  85. Sleight of hand is a commonly used expression in Britain. But sleight itself seems like a word with no other usage, rather like inclement and the expression “inclement weather”. No one ever says “Jolly clement weather for the time of year!” or “inclement” anything else. In fact clement’s main role is as a pope’s and antipope’s name and it hasn’t been used for that since…….. 1769, when Clement XIV took it.

  86. marie-lucie says:

    Clément(e) occurs in French as an adjective, not very common in conversation but used in literature, mostly about a benevolent and forgiving ruler or judge, especially in former times, and also about a pleasant climate. I don’t remember reading the negative inclément but the TLFI gives this word as ‘used in poetry’. The masculine form Clément is also a man’s name.
    The corresponding noun is la clémence ‘clemency’. The English word is only used about a king, judge, etc, but in French also about a climate. Clémence is also the feminine form of the name Clément. In France these names, especially the feminine one, were considered very old-fashioned when I was young, but they are coming back into use.

  87. marie-lucie says:

    Hozo: A translator who is professionally and intellectually competent has no desire much less the need to consult an author. How could he/she be considered otherwise if they must ask the author’s help on minor points of syntax or cultural minutiae? Why would an author trust their translation to someone without the requisite breadth of knowledge and certainty of voice in the first place?
    There are often instances where even the most brilliant, insightful and culturally aware translator would need the author’s help, and where not asking the author would be a sign of a lack of knowledge. Take the English word chair. It is impossible to translate this word into French without knowing whether the chair in question has arms or not (un fauteuil vs. une chaise). Similarly, an English scarf may be a long, narrow rectangle (une écharpe) or a square foldable into a triangle (un foulard). There may be clues in the text, but often there will not be. There is also the case where the same word has a different meaning in different countries, or where an author from one country is referring to another country, among other sources of difficulty. If I were to write something which needed to be translated, I would hope that the translator would consult me.

  88. m-l:
    Ambrose Bierce defined dentist in The Devil’s Dictionary as “A prestidigitator who, putting metal into your mouth, pulls coins out of your pocket.”
    “Clement climate” is too singsongy for me, but “clement weather” is perfectly cromulent. As for sleight, a good mnemonic for pronunciation is the closely related word sly, once spelled sleygh. Etymologically they are both about hitting, German (ver)schlagen.

  89. Marie-Lucie,
    all generalisations limp, but as they go, would you agree that the French school of translation takes more liberties with the original than others? French to English, for example?
    It is claimed that XVIII Century French translations/versions of Shakespeare really gave him world fame. But quite a lot of the Bard’s earthiness was gentrified for the French audiences (hog changed to pigeon etc.). Would you say it’s true?

  90. I occasionally hear people pronounce “inclement” with first syllable stress, perhaps on the model of “increment”.

  91. my own little bubble-bath eureka-inditement moment
    I am afraid that my image of the historical moment to which you allude is forever colored by this speech of Bertie Wooster:
    Harking back to Archimedes just once more, Jeeves’s description of
    him discovering the principle of displacement, though brief, had made a
    deep impression on me, bringing before my eyes a very vivid picture of
    what must have happened on that occasion. I had been able to see the man
    testing the bath-water with his toe … stepping in … immersing the
    frame. I had accompanied him in spirit through all the subsequent
    formalities — the soaping of the loofah, the shampooing of the head, the
    burst of song…
    And then, abruptly, as he climbs towards the high note, there is
    silence. His voice has died away. Through the streaming suds you can see
    that his eyes are glowing with a strange light. The loofah falls from his
    grasp, disregarded. He utters a triumphant cry. “Got it! What ho! The
    principle of displacement!” And out he leaps, feeling like a million
    dollars.

  92. Ø, You’re a good explainer, and if you were to write a math textbook as Bertie Wooster I’m sure it would be a bestseller.

  93. The more a man has colored by Wodehouse, the jollier he shall be!

  94. Speaking of pronunciation, though, Robin (my wife) cannot, for the life of her, stop saying, “Woʊd·haʊs.”

  95. I imagine PG gave Yanks a pass on that. We are, after all, mere colonials, without so much as a gentleman’s gentleman.

  96. John Cowan says:

    If PGW had a really authentic pronunciation, it would be Woodhouse, which after all is what it means.

  97. Well, yes, that’s how the Brits (and those overeducated enough to know such things, such as yrs truly) say it.

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