Showing posts with label translation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label translation. Show all posts

27 August 2018

Crime in Translation

Introducing special guest Ken Wishnia…
Part of the Bcon panel:
Wishnia, Lopresti, and Jason Starr,
photographed by Peter Rozovsky
We have a special guest today. I first met Ken Wishnia at a Prohibition-themed nightclub in Chicago named Tommy Gunn's. It was Bouchercon weekend and the Private Eye Writers of America was having its annual Shamus banquet. Years later Ken edited Jewish Noir for PM Press and found a place in it for one of my stories. This led to me being on a panel about the book, one of my favorite Bouchercon experiences.

His novels include 23 Shades of Black, an Edgar Allan Poe Award and Anthony Award finalist; Soft Money, a Library Journal Best Mystery of the Year; Red House, a Washington Post Book World “Rave” Book of the Year; and The Fifth Servant, an Indy Notable selection, winner of a Premio Letterario ADEI-WIZO, and a finalist for the Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery Award.

His short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Queens Noir, and elsewhere. He teaches writing, literature and other deviant forms of thought at Suffolk Community College on Long Island. He appeared briefly at SleuthSayers once before, but this is his first guest star appearance.

— Robert Lopresti

CRIME IN TRANSLATION
by Kenneth Wishnia

I was thrilled when my publisher announced their plan to bring out Blood Lake, the last novel in my series featuring Ecuadorian-American female investigator, Filomena Buscarsela, in Spanish translation. Latin American readers would finally get to read this novel based on my experiences living in Ecuador for three years, during which time so much crazy crap happened to me that I couldn’t even fit it all into one book. And I would actually get to work closely with the translator.

Good thing, too. Aside from some simple misreadings--a “flaming sword” somehow became a “famous sword,” and a beat-up old car described as a “rattletrap” was translated as un ratonero, a “mousetrap,” which is definitely not the same thing--you might never realize just how many culturally-bound idioms you use in a story, much less a full-length novel, and just how hard they might be for a native of another culture to understand. Let’s just say that most native Ecuadorians have no idea what “Super Bowl Sunday” is. We also had quite a bit of trouble finding the Spanish equivalent of “thick-bladed front-opening lock-back stilettos with good balance and throw weight.”

Can’t imagine why.

I learned some fun stuff, too, like the fact that a police APB (All Points Bulletin) is called a “descubrir y aprehender” in Spanish. Remember that: Someday it may save your life.

I learned the Spanish for “freaking” is freaking.

And you’ll be happy to learn that the Spanish title of the classic 1950s sci-fi movie, It Conquered the World is El conquistador del espacio. You’re welcome.

I also had fun working in some of my own experiences with language during the writing of this novel. For several months, I was a civilian employee teaching English to members of the Ecuadorian Army, and at one point during classroom conversation, I used the word “fear,” and they gave me nothing but blank looks. When I pressed them on it, none of them knew what the word meant. I praised them for their bravery, citing this as proof that “The Ecuadorian army does not know the meaning of the word ‘fear.’”

But it wasn’t all fun and games, alas. Ecuador is a beautiful country continually wracked by natural and man-made disasters—landslides, floods, food shortages, protests, crackdowns—and one corrupt government after another. Although these circumstances are not as life-threatening as the dangerous and destabilizing conditions that have led to so much migration by Central American refugees to the United States, such distinctions don’t matter much when these desperate people reach Long Island, where I live and work.

Several years ago, Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero was murdered by some “nice” kids from stable, middle-class suburban homes who hopped into an SUV one night and drove to the town of Patchogue looking for a “Mexican” to jump. Another Ecuadorian immigrant in the news recently is Pablo Villavicencio, an immigrant who came to the US illegally in 2008, but who never committed a crime, who is married to a US citizen, has two children who are US citizens, and who applied for a green card in February: he’s the guy who was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and held for deportation after delivering a pizza to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn.

That’s one of the things that attracts me to crime literature in the first place: it puts us in someone else’s shoes, so we can experience the shared humanity of the “strangers” among us. It poses basic questions about crime and punishment, about justice and injustice, about who gets caught and who gets away with murder. Studies have shown that reading any kind of well-written fiction, no matter what genre, increases the reader’s empathy toward others.

And we all need a little empathy now and then, don’t we?

24 October 2013

A Question of Grammar

by Eve Fisher

In the course of a misspent life, I've noticed that words are tricky things. Slippery. Even though most people think they know exactly what words mean, what a passage means, what this SAYS - well, maybe not. There are two main reasons for this:

(1) We all interpret everything we read, hear, or say through the filter of our own separate minds, and we can never QUITE get across what is in our minds.

EXAMPLE: I taught (briefly) a creative writing class, and the first exercise I did was say words, and have everyone write down the image it conjured in their minds. Then we compared images. "Apple" was represented by Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, the Apple record logo and, of course, the computer. So much for precision in language - choosing the exact word that everyone will understand the same way...

(2) The actual grammar of language, learned as infants, coded almost into our DNA, leads to far more ambiguity than anyone ever talks about.

I have a lot of examples for the second one, which I personally think is very important. Some of it comes from when I put myself through undergraduate school by teaching ESL classes. I taught Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Brazilian, Vietnamese, and Puerto Rican students, and in the course of teaching them English, I learned a lot about my language, their languages, language in general.

English has the largest vocabulary on the planet, because we have incorporated, adopted, and stolen words from every culture we've run across. This gives us a huge array of nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives to choose from. So many, that foreign students often got fed up. Just take a look at Roget's Thesaurus some time to understand why.

English has an obsession with time. Most languages make do with simple present, simple past, simple future, conditional past/conditional future (woulda/coulda/shoulda), and the imperfect past (the way things USED to be). English laughs at that simplicity, and slices and dices time until we swim like a fish in a multi-dimensional chronology that we take for granted. The prime example is that English (as far as I know) is the only language with three - count them, THREE - present tenses: I do. I do that often. I am doing it right now. I eat. I eat here often. I am eating. Drove students crazy, and they usually just stuck to the simple present, because they could never figure out the others.

But English is sweet when it comes to nouns, because we don't gender them. ALL our nouns are gender-free. The book; the chair; the woman; the man. All European languages, of course, decline nouns (changing the end depending on where it stands in the sentence) and they also gender nouns - they are male, female, and (sometimes) neuter. What this means is that the pronoun you use after you use the noun must match the gender of the noun. This is a piece of cake in English: I took the book to the library, where I gave it to the librarian. But in French, it would be I took the (male) book to the library, where I gave HIM to the librarian. Well, what's the big whoop about that, you might ask? Allow me to provide an example where changing the pronoun changes the meaning:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:1-5, King James Version)

St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Au commencement était la Parole, et la Parole était avec Dieu, et la Parole était Dieu. Elle était au commencement avec Dieu. Toutes choses ont été faites par elle, et rien de ce qui a été fait n'a été fait sans elle. En elle était la vie, et la vie était la lumière des hommes. La lumière luit dans les ténèbres, et les ténèbres ne l'ont point reçue. (John 1:1-5, Louis Segond version)

Or, to translate it literally from French to English [my emphasis added], "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. SHE was in the beginning with God. All things were made by HER, and nothing of what was made was made without HER. In HER was the life and the life was the light of men. The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not receive HER."

A slight difference. With implications. For one thing (aside from all questions of faith or Catholic doctrine) I think it helps explain the Cult of the Virgin Mary, and the concept (later doctrine) of Mary as Mediatrix of all the graces.

On a lighter note, my favorite example of differences in translation:

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (KJV, Matt. 5:5)
"Heureux les débonnaires, car ils hériteront la terre!" (Louis Segon, MAtt. 5:5)
Let me assure you, les debonnaires are not the meek... they are the good-natured, the easy going. THEY will inherit the earth, at least in France!

Pronouns matter; words matter; grammar matters. Think about that the next time you read a Maigret, or a Steig Larsson - or the next time someone tells you, "just do what it says."


PS:  By the way, the fact that all of the quotes above are from the Bible is in no way deliberate - it's just that the Bible has about the only books that I've read both in French & English.  Almost all the other books that I have read in French, I have only read in French.