Tuesday, 15 July 2008

In Translators We Trust - John Dougherty

Hurrah! My first foreign translation! No longer am I a single-language author; now Italian children too can read Jack Slater, Monster Investigator - or as they'll know it, Jack l'Acchiappamostri.

I'm happy for about 30 seconds before my brain switches to Paranoid And Precious mode and the question occurs to me: How do I know they've done it right? Quickly, I flick through the story in both languages, comparing passages for similar-looking words. The Italian edition says 'dormire' roughly where the original uses the word 'sleep', which seems right; I know the French equivalent is 'dormir', after all. The phrase 'Two timid-looking pyjama-clad figures' is rendered, 'Due figurine in pigiama, dall'aria timida'. I am reassured. For about 30 seconds.

Then I think, Hang on, the bits I think I can figure out are probably the easy bits anyway. What about the rest?  I have no idea whether words like 'spostarlo' and 'spazio' translate as my words, the words I used in my story. Or even as words I'd normally use in polite company.  And for that matter, maybe the words that look right to me, well, just aren't. Maybe 'figurine' has something to do with action figures, or technical pictures in a textbook - as in 'See figure 8 for a graph on how paranoid the same author can be made by translations into different Indo-European languages'. How do I know 'pigiama' means 'pyjamas' and not something to do with pigs? Perhaps the whole thing actually translates as 'It was due to diagrams in pigskin, singing an aria out of time'.

I know, I think: the title. If at least the title's right, that's a good sign, surely. And doesn't Google have a handy translation tool? I find it, set it up to translate from Italian to English, and eagerly type in 'Jack l'Acchiappamostri'. 

The translation comes up almost immediately: 'Jack the Acciappamostri'. Humph. Wait, though; doesn't 'Acciappamostri' look like a compound word? If I separate the two parts, I bet 'mostri' will turn out to be 'monster'. And so it proves. Google's helpful language tool translates 'Jack l'Acciappa mostri' as 'Jack the monster Acciappa'.

There's only one thing to do: make friends with an Italian. 

Thankfully, before the town is full of bewildered Italians fleeing a deranged children's author, I remember that I'm going to see my friend Concetta in London at the weekend. I can wait till the weekend. Who needs fingernails, anyway? And she puts my mind at rest: it's fine. The lovely Francesca Fiore has done a sterling job (yes, the translator is credited - a fine idea, to my mind, as it means there's someone to blame if it does all go horribly wrong).

Now, I know some of you will be thinking at this point that I am utterly barmy, and that of course a professional translator will do a good job. But I do have reason to worry. You see, when I was a teenager, I once got about half-way through an English translation of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It started out fine, but became more and more impenetrable as I progressed. I finally gave up when the bold Captain Nemo told his men to put on their diving suits because they were about to leave the submarine to walk on the sea-bed. At least, I presume that was the gist of what Verne was getting at, but this particular translator rendered it as:

"We will now put on our dresses and go for a walk."


Nick Green said...

I had that Verne translation too! I put it down to the fact that he was French.

Lee said...

Nick, keep that in mind about your German translations - and preferably get me to check them over first!

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

I always despair at the translations of Rapunzel where the witch grows salad in her garden. Clever witch! Does it grow with the dressing already on? (Salat in German = both salad and lettuce in English)

Mary Hoffman said...

Next time, if your Italian friend isn't available, I'll do it for you, John!

I can read the Italian and French versions om Stravaganza titles - and HAVE found some mistakes. But I can't read German, in spite of my name. But a friend who lives in Germany was most upset by the translator's lack of imagination when it came to the word "haggis". "There are much more disgusting meat products they could have chosen rather than the ordinary sausage word they used," he objected.

And when it comes to Slovenian or Faroese or Japanese .... I just put one copy on the shelf to look pretty, as I'm sure you will do in time.

Mary Hoffman