2013/10/03

Begad! a dago version of Flashman voices it as if it were BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Drama! With 100 Spanish synonyms for "prostitute" and much other useful information.

Flashman, the first instalment in George MacDonald Fraser's glorious reinvention of Harry Paget Flashman, the baddy in Tom Brown's Schooldays, was first published in 1969. Ten out of the first 34 US reviewers, including minor academics, swallowed GMF's "editorial" pitch and dealt with it as if it were a genuine memoir; without the series it is difficult to conceive of the British at large knowing anything at all about the Victorian age, beyond the fact that Adolf Hitler was married to Vicky just in time for the Battle of Hastings.

In 1997 Edhasa published a Spanish translation under the title Harry Flashman, but this time no one was going to be fooled. Why? Because, while the content is pretty much all there, the form is largely missing.

Flashman's narrative and his chats with his father and others of similar standing are written in a standardised (diachronic change is confined to the occasional neologism), invented idiolect, which I fondly imagine to be the offspring of the union of Punch with Eric Partridge, midwifed by the mid-20th century British Army.

That would be no small achievement, but GMF chooses to repeat the trick for virtually every character and type introduced (including representations in English of register in Pashtun and a dozen other languages), creating a sense of geographical and social space unrivalled by any other historical novelist I can think of.

Let's see how that fares in translation. First some examples of the systematic (I haven't cherry-picked) neutralisation of Flashlect in situations where the protagonist's misogyny is revealed*:

My tumble with her had only whetted my appetite for more of her, I discovered; I tried to get rid of it with a farm girl in Leicestershire and a young whore in Covent Garden, but the one stank and the other picked my pocket afterwards, and neither was any substitute anyway.Descubrí que mi revolcón con ella sólo había servido para aumentar mi apetito; traté de saciarlo con una campesina de Leicestershire y una joven prostituta del Covent Garden, pero la una apestaba y la otra me aligeró los bolsillos y ninguna de las dos me sirvió para sustituirla.
His lovely new regiment, he found, contained officers who consorted with French whores and even fought duels over them.El hombre descubrió que su precioso regimiento albergaba oficiales que mantenían tratos con prostitutas francesas y que incluso se batían en duelo por ellas.
So without thinking I said the first words that came into my head: "Hamare ghali ana, achha din," which is what the harlots chant at passers-by, and means "Good day, come into our street". Dije sin pensar las primeras palabras que me vinieron a la mente: Hamare ghali ana, achha din, que es lo que les dicen las prostitutas a los viandantes y significa «buenos días, ven a nuestra calle».
it was better than being sliced up by that Afghan tartsería mejor que ser mutilado por la puta afgana
"Hasn't the guv'nor got a new whore yet?"¿Es que el jefe aún no se ha buscado otra puta?
me decía que Judy era una puta embustera que pretendía asustarme con sus insinuacionesI told myself that Judy was a lying bitch trying to frighten me with implications
It was pure moonshine, aye, and deliberately put into my mind to make me jealous by that brown-headed slut of my father's.Todo aquello no eran más que unos disparates que la morena querida de mi padre me había metido deliberadamente en la cabeza para ponerme celoso.
Why, I didn't have the least reason to think ill of Elspeth; everything about her denied Judy's imputations - and, by God, I'd pay that cow out for her lies and sneers.No tenía el menor motivo para pensar mal de Elspeth; todo en ella negaba las acusaciones de Judy... y por Dios que le haría pagar a la muy puta todas sus insinuaciones y sus desprecios.
Had that slut Judy been hinting at the truth, then? Was Watney cuckolding me -and heaven knew who else besides him?Entonces, ¿era cierto lo que me había insinuado la muy puta de Judy? ¿Me habría estado poniendo los cuernos con Watney... y cualquiera sabía con cuántos más?
It was a common custom at that time, in the more roman-tic females, to see their soldier husbands and sweethearts as Greek heroes, instead of the whoremongering, drunken clowns most of them were.Por aquel entonces era costumbre que las mujeres más románticas vieran a sus esposos y prometidos soldados como héroes griegos y no como los putañeros y borrachos payasos que eran casi todos ellos.
"I could hold this house with two men and a whore's protector."Yo podría defender esta casa con dos hombres y un rufián.
"It's not cowardly to punish an insolent whore!"—¡No es cobardía castigar a una puta insolente!
she was only a whore, after all, for all her fashionable airsno era más que una puta por muchos humos que se diera
"Elspeth," I said, "this is Judy, my father's tart."—Elspeth —dije—, ésta es Judy, la puta de mi padre.
"And I'm not sure that the company of a rake and a harlot won't be better for her than yours."No estoy muy seguro de que la compañía de un bribón y una puta no sea mejor para ella que la tuya.
took me off whoring in the bazaarme llevaba de putas al bazar
Have you forgotten a dancing girl called Narreeman, you pig's bastard? Just another slut, to the likes of you, to be defiled as you chose, and then forgotten.¿Ha olvidado usted acaso a una bailarina llamada Narriman, maldito hijo de cerdo? Una puta sin importancia para la gente como usted, a la que uno puede violar cuando le apetezca y después olvidar.

Let's leave aside the translator's lamentable ignorance of English polysemy: to reduce {whore, harlot, tart, bitch, slut, cow} to {prostituta, puta} is grotesque given the length and breadth of Spanish synonyms for prostitute (Cela unfortunately died before completing his Diccionario Secreto):

araña, bagasa, bordiona, buscona, cantonera, capulina, cellenca, chai, chingada, churriana, cotorrera, cuera, enamorada, esquinera, establera, fulana, furcia, güila, gabasa, gamberra, golfa, gorrona, guaricandilla, hetera, hurgamandera, iza, jalona, jinetera (specialises in foreigners), lagarta, lagartona, loca, madama, magalla, mala, pécora, maraca, marca, meretriz, mondaria, moza, mujer de punto, mujer del arte, mujer del partido, mujer mundana, mujer pública, mujer perdida, mundaria, pípila, pajillera (wanker), pecadora, pedorra, pelada, pelandusca, pelandusca, peliforra, pelleja, pelota, penca, pendanga, pendona, perendenca, perra, pilla, piruja, pobreta, polilla, prostituta, pupila, puta, ramera, ribalda, suzia, tía, taxi (maintains, a, taxi, driver), tusona, uta, vellaca, yira, zángana, zorra, zorrupia, zumbadora

(

BTW, here are all the Spanish synonyms for breast I can think of:

bubi, busto, chichi (also used for fanny), dominga (minga = penis), espetera (rack), goma, limon, lola, mama, melon, pechera, pecho, pechuga, pomelo, sandia, seno, teta, ubre.
There are comparatively so few because Spanish men on the whole prefer domination to delight. Thank God Freud never set foot here.

)

This is 19th century England reduced to a particularly polite 20th century Surrey golf course, but his more exotic co-stars are also Anglicised and cleansed:

"It is so fonnee," she giggled. "You . . . you half beneath de bed, and Charles glaring so fierce at your derriere." And she shrieked with laughter.
I told her to hold her tongue, and she stopped laughing and tried to coax me back to bed again, saying that Bernier had undoubtedly gone, and sitting up and shaking her tits at me. I hesitated, between lust and fright, until she hopped out and bolted the door, and then I decided I might as well have my sport while I could, and pulled off my clothes again.
—Qué gracioso —contestó, muerta de risa—. Tú... medio escondido debajo de la cama y Charles mirando enfurecido tu trasero —añadió sin dejar de reírse.
Le dije que se callara, ella me obedeció y trató de convencerme de que regresara a la cama, señalando que seguramente Bernier ya se había ido. Después se incorporó en la cama y empezó a brincar arriba y abajo sobre el colchón. Me debatí un instante entre el deseo y el temor, hasta que ella saltó de la cama y cerró la puerta con llave. Entonces decidí pasarlo bien mientras pudiera y me volví a desnudar.
"You need have no fear, sir," I told him. "We shall protect you."
"Fear?" he snorted. "I'm not feart, sir. John Morrison doesnae tremble at the whine o' his ain workers, let me tell you. As for protecting, we'll see." And he gave me a look and a sniff.
—No tema, señor —le contesté—. Nosotros le protegeremos.
—¿Que no tema? —replicó—. Yo no tengo miedo de nada, señor. John Morrison no tiembla ante los gemidos de sus obreros, se lo aseguro. En cuanto a protegerme, ya veremos —añadió, mirándome con desdén.
"Ye damned blackguard! Ye thieving, licentious, raping devil! I'll have ye hanged for this, as Goad's my witness! My ain daughter, in my ain hoose! Jesus Lord! Ye come sneaking here, like the damned viper that ye are ..."—¡Maldito sinvergüenza! ¡Maldito demonio ladrón, lujurioso y violador! ¡Le haré ahorcar por eso, pongo a Dios por testigo! ¡Con mi propia hija y en mi propia casa! ¡Señor Jesús! Ha entrado aquí furtivamente como una maldita víbora...

On just the one occasion is an attempt made to convey something of the speaker's individual style - Lord Cardigan's Elmer Fudd-ism:

That almost cooked my goose for good. His lovely new regiment, he found, contained officers who consorted with French whores and even fought duels over them. He played the devil about this, and the upshot was that Cardigan had to summon me and tell me that for my own good I would have to go away for a while.
"It has been demanded," said he, "that you weave the wegiment -I take it the official intention is that that should be permanent, but I intend to interpwet it as tempowawy.
La cosa estuvo a punto de destruirme para siempre. El hombre descubrió que su precioso regimiento albergaba oficiales que mantenían tratos con prostitutas francesas y que incluso se batían en duelo por ellas. El príncipe armó un escándalo y, como consecuencia de ello, Cardigan me mandó llamar y me dijo que, por mi propio bien, tendría que marcharme una temporada.
—Se nos ha pedido —dijo— que abandone usted el uegimiento... Supongo que la intención oficial es la de que su uetiuada sea peumanente, peuo yo la voy a inteupuetar como tuansitouia.

Of the considerable number of straightforward mistranslations, this is my favourite:

The picture to which Flashman refers is by W. B. Wollen, R.A., hung at the Royal Academy in 1898.El cuadro a que se refiere Flashman es obra de W. B. Wollen, de la Artillería Real, y se colgó en la Royal Academy en 1898.

The translator had just one bite at the Flashman cherry (that version is however regularly reissued - God knows who buys it), but the BNE lists 293 translations by her over the last 35 years, most of which appear to be novels (I haven't clicked through the list). Her versions of John Grisham (she has apparently translated 50% of his Spanish editions) appear to be unloved, but Grisham will survive just about anything.

More distressing is the case of Andrea Camilleri, of whom I believe she is the only Spanish translator. Like Montalbán's Pepe Carvalho novels, when you've read one commissario Montalbano you've pretty much read them all. Maybe it's just that I struggle with the genre, but the only enjoyment I've got from them has been the original ~Italian: for, like GMF, Camilleri relies less on plot and other conventional devices than on linguistic and human diversity in the considerable grey area between "Italian" and "Sicilian". As Margherita Taffarel notes in her excellent study of the Spanish translation of Il cane di terracotta, from which the following example is taken, translators into other languages have endeavoured to reflect that essence, but the translator suppresses the non-standard with glee:

Montalbano: “Fazio, sei già vigilante a quest’ora?”M: “Fazio, ¿ya estás de guardia a esta hora?
F: “Sissi, duttù. Manco mezzo minuto fa m’ha telefonato Catarella”.F: “Sí, duttù. No hace ni medio minuto que me ha telefoneado Catarella”.
M: “Che voleva?”M: “¿Qué quería?
F: “Poco ci capii, s’era messo a parlare taliàno. A occhio e croce pare che stanotte hanno sbaligiato il supermercato di Carmelo Ingrassia, quello grosso che sta tanticchia fora di paese. Ci sono andati almeno con un tir o un camion grosso”.F: “Casi no me he enterado, se ha puesto a hablar «taliàno». Me ha parecido entender que esta noche han saqueado el supermercado de Carmelo Ingrassia, aquel grande que hay en las afueras del pueblo. Tienen que haber ido con un tir o un camión muy grande”
M: “Non c’era il guardiano notturno?”M: “¿No estaba el vigilante nocturno?”
F: “C’era, ma non si trova”F: “Sí estaba, pero no lo encuentran”
M: “Ci stavi andando tu?”M: “¿Estabas yendo hacia allá?
F: “Sissi”F: “Sí, señor”.
M: “Lascia perdere. Telefona subito a Tortorella, digli che avverta Augello. Ci vadano loro due. Dicci che tu non ci puoi andare, contagli una minchiata qualsiasi, che sei caduto dalla culla e hai battuto la testa. Anzi no: digli che i carabinieri sono venuto ad arrestarti. Meglio, telefona e digli d’avvertire l’Arma, tanto il fatto è cosa da niente, una cazzata di furto e l’Arma diventa contenta perché l’abbiamo chiamata a collaborare. Ora stammi a sentire; avvertìti Tortorella, Augello e l’Arma, tu chiami Gallo, Galluzzo, madonna santa mi pare di essere in un pollaio, e Germanà e venite dove ora vi dico io. Armatevi tutti di mitra”.M: “Pues déjalo correr. Llama enseguida a Tortorella y dile que avise a Augello. Que vayan ellos dos. Dile que tú no puedes ir, que te has caído de la cuna y te has golpeado la cabeza. No, diles más bien que te han venido a detener los carabineros. Mejor todavía, llama y dile que avise al cuerpo de carabineros, de todos modos es una bobada, una mierda de robo y así, de paso, los del Cuerpo estarán contentos de que los hayamos llamado para que colaboren. Y ahora óyeme bien: después de haber avisado a Tortorella, Augello y a los carabineros, llamas a Gallo, Galluzzo –madre mía, eso parece un gallinero- y a Germanà, y os venís todos adonde ahora te digo. Todos armados con ametralladoras”.
F: “Cazzo”F: “¡Coño!

And so on and so forth.

Taffarel writes that "en media se ha suprimido un 90% de las marcas dialectales del texto original", notes that (unimaginative?) academics (eg Clifford Landers) tend to suggest not attempting to retain non-standard features in translation, sympathises with anyone who does in this particular case (while noting the solutions attempted in Catalan, English, German...) and suggests "la elaboración de un método traductor innovador" - code for spending money on a better translator. And there, probably, lies the rub.

If the translator in question has churned out 300-odd novels over 35 years, she may have been averaging something like 2700 words a working day (20 days a month, 11 months a year) - quite a lot before online dictionaries and corpuses, and still not a bad figure. At 5 cents a word that would be about 30000€ pa, but I know literary translators into Spanish who are charging half that, making it difficult to envisage them conducting the kind of rescue work Lucia Graves did in her English translation of Zafón's The shadow of the wind.

Translators are generally a pretty reactionary bunch, and I guess many will start muttering about capitalism and markets, but I wonder whether the/a solution might not be to move to a more market-oriented system: have rights-owners abandon exclusive country/language deals, allow multiple translations, and bill each publisher/translator for each copy sold, allowing the public to balance quality against cost in choosing the translation most suited to its mysterious purpose.

Some (particularly in Barcelona) will wonder whether this cultural grey-out isn't a particularly Spanish thing, a reflection of a certain view of colonialism, the reason why Falcones, Pérez-Reverte et al are so wooden (not to mention film dubbers), and comment that it's so sad, since the roots of English picaresque lie to a considerable extent in Spain, and what would the world be like if ethnic jokes all suddenly began "There were three men"... But it's getting late:

"I shall go," says I, and started crawling for the flap. "But I may tell you," I added, "that in polite society it ain't usual for gentlemen to squeeze ladies' tits, whatever you may have been told. And it ain't usual, either, for ladies to let gentlemen do it; it gives the gentlemen a wrong impression, you know. My apologies, again. Good night." —Ya me voy —dije, empezando a gatear para salir—. Pero permítame decirle —añadí— que, en la buena sociedad, no es correcto que los caballeros pellizquen las tetas a las damas, por más que a usted le hayan contado lo contrario. Y tampoco es correcto que las damas se lo permitan; eso causa más bien una mala impresión, ¿sabe usted? Le pido nuevamente disculpas. Buenas noches.

*The Polly Toyndency has it that the novels are sexist and racist. Not so: they are stuffed with strong, positive non-male/-WASP characters, the portrayal of Empire is anything but jingoist ("the old and nonsensical lie that one Englishman is worth twenty foreigners"), and the fact that real life rarely lives up to the Book of the City of Ladies or other neo-Platonic claptrap is hardly the author's fault.

2 comments:

Tom said...

Great stuff! I'm a big fan of the series and I agree with yer closing comments. A damned tricky translation job, though.

I also generally favour political correctness in discourse, by the by. There's no conflict here because one's being polite to people and the other's a bloody book.

Barcelona's Singing Organ-Grinder said...

I'm pretty doubtful that changing what and how we write can change the future, and, time being what it is, the past strikes me as a lost cause.