Words and Stories, Foreign and Domestic

“How do you feel about having one of your novels translated into another language?”

Flattered, to begin with.

However, I think that I would like to have an independent reader translate back to me what my work ended up saying in the other language.

I dealt with the idea of problematic translations just last August: [https://fourfoxesonehound.wordpress.com/2020/08/28/lost-in-translation/]

I will probably repeat myself some in this post, with new observations.

 I remember my 7th grade Spanish teacher trying to explain why literal translations of the Spanish texts to English were often missing; idioms simply make no sense from one language to another. “Remember me to your mother” was a line in the  Spanish  side of our dialogues that sticks in my mindto this day. It is equivalent to our society then of, “Give my regards to your mother”, but that would have been too forward at the time in many Latin cultures, and perhaps may still be.  (I hate to admit that it was more than half a century ago that I was in 7th grade.)

One author that I know had her Japanese translators call her to ask what one rude, but very amusing, insult in her book meant and how they should translate it. It was this side of a real swear, and kind of a mash-up combo, very suited to her protagonist. The writer was at a loss and told them just to throw in a Japanese insult, but so much was lost from the personality of the main character and how funny the silly insult was from her.

I have mentioned how my mother, who was born in America but spoke Italian in her family’s home, would often speak Italian  with her brothers and sisters, mostly to talk over we kids’ heads,(to keep us from hearing what they thought we shouldn’t. To this day, when we are watching an Italian movie with subtitles, I will nudge my husband with “That’s not what they said.”).  Mom also used phrases on us and often spoke in idioms, old sayings, excerpts from famous works, and even family quotes. To this day I do not know the literal translations of a few, but have the ‘gist’ of them. However, many people who have learned Italian would still be lost  on the literal meaning of the words  of the familiar phrases my mother would use, but anyone  from Rome  to farther north would understand most of them.  Some southern Italian regional idioms and phrases were sometimes undecipherable even to Mom.

Indeed, there are many famous and popular movies from around the world which many Americans don’t ‘get’. American producers try to  remake them in English, they find that they really must change much of the story because Americans don’t, (or didn’t), have the same mores and would not accept the same situations. Many of these flopped, or after many rewrites, were abandoned. Those that were changed are generally weaker, but some are actually better, but they are CHANGED.

Even Carl Sagan introduced a wildly popular book on the possibilities of life on other planets written  by a Russian scientist many years ago, however, even then, he (I imagine along with others), edited the phraseology to suit the American market. I often wondered how much was left out.

I had a friend in India who used to communicate with me quite often. His English is perfect and distinct, but we would misunderstand and confuse it other’s intentions just by usage of different words and in just not comprehending each other’s phraseology and propriety. In fact, we have taken a break because he and his people, (conservative lower-middle class, educated), really don’t grasp what can be proper to say concerning one’s health, family, habits, many things. Everything is wide open there. Indeed, just going to an Indian market in America, people will look in your grocery cart to see what you are picking up. It was very disconcerting to me at the start. I thought was very rude, but it is normal for their culture. I’ve gotten used to it, (and I only pick up foods there anyway!) I can’t imagine any Americans being comfortable with everyone snooping in their carts. I no longer give a ‘hard stare’ when in “Patel’s” , but I would not put up with it from people here at Kroger. To tell someone that you are glad to see that their grandchildren are now better looking is just not something that is acceptable to Westerners, and probably many Asians, but  they consider it a good compliment to make.

Therefore, I would really be upset if someone took my hard work, the phrases which I lost sleep over, the words that I reworked while in the shower, a turn of  words that came suddenly to me that I tried to scribble  down at a stoplight and changed the meanings by the wrong choices while translating.

I do love a good story with a good message, but is that what we really love about reading good works? It is more the turn of a phrase, the well-written lines, the poetry, the way the story is written that I truly appreciate. In fact, I can’t say that I truly enjoyed any of Hemingway’s stories, but I have read everything he published because I enjoy the way he writes, like listening to a speaker with a fascinating accent; I cannot imagine how his work goes over in translation.

Even when we Americans are speaking to English people, what is said in one culture means something different in another. I think we are all aware of  “The Underground”  here meaning something hidden, done in secret, generally against unjust powers (The Underground Railroad,  an Underground newspapers,  or a  Resistance Movement), but it is only a subway in Britain. “Pants”, a simple enough word  for to us  to use to mean jeans, slacks, or shorts, but can be embarrassing  since it means ‘Underwear’ to the English, Scots, Irish and Welsh.

There are others which I was completely used to, (like ‘biscuits’  meaning ‘cookies’), but I read one very charming book written in England recently with so many references which even I had no idea what the writer was describing that actually, I had planned on making it the subject of  my post for the  next ‘Free Day’ here, (next week).

So, all in all, I’d love for someone to want to translate my work, but now that I think of it more, I don’t think I’d like to know how they may have changed it, or  had to change it.


About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
This entry was posted in America, authors, big plans, Books, characters, decisions, dialogue, editing, imagination, inspiration, Life, lifestyles, Miscellaneous, novels, reading, short stories, Tonette Joyce, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Words and Stories, Foreign and Domestic

  1. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I agree. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.


    • Yes,I think that I would lose sleep! “How can I fix that?” “How can I straighten that out?” “How can I get another version of that published?” “How can I explain to all the readers that that isn’t what I said?” LOL!


  2. Jeff Salter says:

    Excellent points… all.
    Now I’ll go back and re-read your blog from last year.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Elaine Cantrell says:

    I don’t think I’d want to know either.

    Liked by 1 person

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