New Russian Chronicles
Surviving monotaxocausofilia

Translation mountains

I was home. I mention that because my usual readers probably noticed the scarcity of posts. Didn’t you, usual readers? (… sual readers… al readers… aders…)

Anyway. Today I am going to talk about translation. It’s my job and I love it. I love it because it is an intellectual challenge, it’s a sort of obstacle race, where you don’t get points for going over the obstacles fast. You get the points for making those same obstacles more interesting for your target audience.

From that point on, and right from my bellybutton, let me state Pablo’s first law of translation:

– To Translate an English text into Spanish is the same thing as taking an English minefield and, with a shovel, transforming it into a Spanish leisure park.

I hope it’s clear enough.

So, yeah. Every writer, in every language, enjoy putting difficult things in their texts. Puns, literate words, ambigüity, references to places or historical facts that other nations are not familiar with*, terms and concepts other nations don’t have/use**.

* I mean, who the crap knows who a “Minuteman” was, outside the US?
** I mean, Barrister and Solicitor? Gimme a break! And I thought soliciting was illegal, so why are there solicitors? Whatever.

Those things are all very nice. They make the writer feel important and literate. They make the reader feel intelligent, since he understands them. (Little does the halfwit reader know that those things are there for his benefit, to make him feel intelligent).

And then comes the translator.

Your average translator

Your average translator

What is a translator to do ?

That debate has never died. That debate is very ancient, in fact the reason why Lucifer was expelled from heaven is because he told God just once too many that “You have to stick to the original”.

God was pissed.

‘Cos you see, those who say
“No, the author is sacred, you have to respect it!”
“Fidelity hurrrrrr!”
“The author something something respect!”

Have completely missed the point, and thus, have been corrupted by the forces of evil. These forces want to destroy mankind, and they do so by sowing misunderstanding among the nations.

How do they do that?
You guessed: Bad translations.

A good translator, however, is capable of reading and understanding fully to achieve not a translation but an interpretation of the original text. Long story short, he ends up with a translation that achieves the same effect in the reader and the original text causes in the original reader.

In other words: if the author wanted you to laugh at the main character, that’s your objective, the reader of your translation has to laugh at the main character. So what, if you change the joke!!
(That said, yes, you may have to make a different joke, but it has to be consistent with the rest of the book).

Do you get the point?

All this long explanation results in Pablo’s second law of translation:
– Translating is not like walking on a text, and climbing a mountain when you find it. It’s more like flying well above your text, undisturbed by those mountains (translation troubles), to be able to change them at your will, adapting them to the enjoyement or use of your target audience.

I actually set out to write this post about one particular translation problem I found recently, but… I’ll do it later. So… expect at least two posts soon about two translation problems, two mountains, that I have never been able to overfly. One, I was able to contourn. The other… its peak is yet beyond my reach.

The Cardigans – Carnival


9 comentarios to “Translation mountains”

  1. So… 2 things 🙂

    1. EVERY guy, no matter where he lives, and many girls, have come (ahem) across the concept (and sometimes the tattered pride) of a minute-man. They just don’t mean it quite the way they do in the states (nudge-nudge, wink-wink).

    2. I would tend to agree. But I’ll still take cheap shots by stating that floating too high up above the mountains you end up seeing a different world (like in Disney’s Aladdin, where Prince Ali and Jasmin fly around on Carpet? You know? Just Like THAT).


    • 1. That deserves a laugh. Watch for it… LOL. xDDD I really laughed at that, hadn’t seen it that way. But let me tell you about Hourmen…

      2. Yes, I totally think that the scene you mention in Aladdin is a hidden reference to marihuana abuse. First sex, then drugs… when is disney doing a film about a rock band?

      • Wasn’t Beauty and the Beast about a rock band? I always thought so. You’ve got the flamer/guitarist, the time-keeper/drummer, the hot chick on vocals (Angela Lansbury will always be the queen), the sullen animal/bassist, and the quietish lyrical chick/keyboard player.

      • AW! When are people going to stop turning adorable and innocent children´s films and songs into secretly dirty movies about drugs and sex!

  2. Wasn’t Beauty and the Beast about a rock band? I always thought so. You’ve got the flamer/guitarist, the time-keeper/drummer, the hot chick on vocals (Angela Lansbury will always be the queen), the sullen animal/bassist, and the quietish lyrical chick/keyboard player.

  3. sorry bout the spam

  4. Wow man… that was so sharp…. had never seen it that way.

    There is but one but: THe clock/timekeeper/drummer is not, by any means, crazy enough to come off as a drummer.

  5. Our job is wonderful. It’s all I have to say.


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