Sunday, February 01, 2009

Andrea Camilleri's translator speaks

I've mentioned Stephen Sartarelli from time to time, and the tough problems he must face translating Andrea Camilleri from Italian into English. I've long thought about asking Sartarelli for his thoughts on the matter, to go along with my interviews of Sian Reynolds and Mike Mitchell, translators, respectively, of Fred Vargas and Friedrich Glauser.

But Sartarelli beat me to it. His article on the Picador blog highlights some of the special problems of translating an author who

"writes in a language that he has been the first to grace with literary status. An invented language, in the sense that, though made up of existing manners of speech and writing, it has never before been assembled in quite this fashion."

I especially enjoyed some remarks of Sartarelli's that bear directly on questions I once asked about translating clichés.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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30 Comments:

OpenID maxine said...

It was a lovely piece, I agree. It was part of a guest series on the Picador blog to celebrate UK publication of The Paper Moon. Two of the four posts were by Norman Price and me!

February 01, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

It is always interesting to hear about translators´ trials. I wrote a comment on Reg´s nuts-and-bolts post about something a translator should not have done - in Danish. I think you should try your dictionary there - it is the most hilarious error I have ever come across..

February 01, 2009  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

*laughing* This post reminds me of the many faux pas I've made in translating period! And I also get a kick just using Free Translation and translating back and forth to read the literal translations. They're hysterical!

Still chuckling at your comment on
"Do You Believe Fortune Cookies?"
Thank you, Peter. :))

February 01, 2009  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Oh, I meant to ask, if you'll be watching the Super Bowl today?
I'm in New Jersey, yet there is Super Bowl frenzy all around me!
Are you rooting for the Steelers?
I don't assume anything. For all I know, you may not be into football at all. Enjoy and good luck if you are, Peter!

February 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Maxine. Camilleri lovers will find those pieces here and here. I believe Sartarelli when he writes that translating Camilleri is fun.

February 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, that is a cruel tease, asking me translate a post about a translation error and forcing me to rely on online translation.

February 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

PM, I once found an online translating program that allowed successive translations between numerous languages. I could translate a passage of English into Russian then have the result translated into Portuguese and that into Finnish, for example.

With respect the the Super Bowl, I discovered by accident during the World Series that a non-sports bar is a good place to watch a sporting event. I have two such possibilities for the Super Bowl, and I may take advantage of one.

February 01, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Peter, I know, so I´ll do my best - but kindly remember that Reg calls it untranslatable.
The story takes place among the Sami population. One sami is called ´en same´ or ´en lap´ in Danish. Someone from the outside visits them and is impressed by their huge herds of reindeer. A sami explains that to count the herds they use ´lappe-toppe´ as if this were some local kind of calculator. But it was laptops, of course, or in Danish "bærbare computere"

February 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! I wonder if that was some sly attempt at wordplay.

February 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

PM, Pittsburgh might as well be on another planet, as far as Philadelphia is concerned. I foolowed through on my plan and watched the first half of the game at one non-sports bar and the second at another.

I say non-sports bar, and not anti-sports bar. A few people at each place watched the game, but both bars were blessedly free of the obnoxious, loud-mouthed frat-boy types pumping their fists and telling: "YAHHHHHHH!" that one finds at too many sports bars.

February 02, 2009  
Blogger Reg said...

Peter, thanks for the links, I'm a huge Sartarelli fan... oh yeah, and Camilleri too. The perfect books to read when recuperating from major surgery! Squid ink rocks.

February 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

May you always enjoy Camilleri, and may you never need to do so from a hospital bed!

Sartarelli is good at writing about what he does. I've always enjoyed his end notes to the Camilleri novels, for instance.

It's interesting to hear that translators have fans. What does one translator admire about the work of another?

February 02, 2009  
Blogger Reg said...

I don't really know what to say about why I admire Sartarelli, but as you said, he is obviously having fun! He's inventive, catches the precise tone spot on, and walks the fine line of retaining the Sicilian flavor of the language and setting while amazingly making you think it was written in English. That's the whole trick!

February 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oddly enough, what first caught my attention about Sartarelli's translations was something that bothered me, though I realize now that Sartarelli probably could not have done better than he did. I mean Catarella's fractured speech. I especially appreciate that Sartarelli appreciates the difficulties Catarella presents. Catarella is part of why I imagine a translator's job as a succession of problems.

February 02, 2009  
Blogger Reg said...

Fortunately most books don't have anything that hard in them, along that line at least.

Actually I read all the Camilleri there was in translation at home in early '06 after the operation. Couldn't drive for 2 months. Very soothing.

February 02, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

Nice interview.
I don't think clichés are the worst part- there are many expressions with the same meaning in any pair of languages -leopard spots or pelo di lupo, sow your wild oats or corri la cavallina.
What troubles me, thinking about Adrian's books, are words like afeared, eejit, aye -variants so minimal there's no clear way to render the difference, especially because the language isn't otherwise particularly different from that of those of non-Irish origin and therefore even compensation strategies are difficult.
Or words like paddy or mick- we don't have derogatory nicknames for Irishmen (though,if Adrian stays in Italy for a few months, this may change)

v-word= burde as,in die Würde, but also the burden, of translation.

February 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Reg, the two issues that got me interested in translation may have presented similar problems to a translator. They were a character in Fred Vargas, who muses thus about a mysterious beech tree: "Un hêtre. Un être?" This means "A beech. A being?" and it depends for its effect on the identical sound of "être" and "hêtre" in French. How does a translator render this?

In a different book, Vargas has fun with the mutual puzzlement of Quebecois and Parisian police officers over the others' brand of spoken French. There's another challenge, perhaps more akin to Sartarelli's.

February 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, I think you're right about cliches, and I think Sartarelli does an excellent job finding equivalents.

If I were a translator faces with afeared, eejit, aye and the like, I'd read every interview I could with translators to see how they may have dealt with similar problems. Perhaps a compensation strategy some other translator applied to a different problem might be of use here.

Re paddy and mick, you'll have to consult with Irish sources, of course, but I've been surprised by the freedom with which Irish stories, novels and songs use the words. Perhaps an Italian translation could leave such words untranslated.

February 02, 2009  
Anonymous John Rowen said...

Where is Stephen Sartarelli living these days? On the back of one of the early Camilleri novels, I thought it said he lived in "upstate New York" and something more recent said he lives in France.

John Rowen

April 29, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have seen both those reported as his place of residence. I may also have read reports that he lives in yet a third place, so the answer is: I don't know.

April 29, 2010  
Anonymous applegranny said...

What am I missing? The translation of Camilleri's books in the so called "Sicilian dialect" turn me off.
An Example:
Page 10 "The Potter's Field.
I watch the DVDs & thank heaven the subtitles are not translated in the Sicilian dialect.

April 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

AG, I don't have my copy of The Potter's Field at hand. But I can tell you I found the translations of Catarella's malapropisms and garbled speech annoying when I first started reading Camilleri. As I read more, though, I began to appreciate the difficulty of the translator's job rendering such speech into English, and I began to enjoy the character more.

April 11, 2012  
Blogger Fractal Angel said...

I imagine similar problems would arise if anyone tried to translate Marie-Hélène Ferarri's Comissaire Pierucci novels into English, as there is Corsican mixed in with the French, and the French is Corsican French anyway. They're a wonderful read, to me anyway, but most of the things that have me laughing out loud pass straight over most English people's heads ...

October 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fractal, do you know the Ile noire blog?

October 27, 2012  
Blogger Fractal Angel said...

I didn't, but I shall certainly have a look at it when the servers aren't too busy! Thanks for the tip.

October 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's the only Franco-Corsican crime fiction site I know. And what should I know about Marie-Hélène Ferarri? I had not heard of her.

October 28, 2012  
Anonymous Jean said...

Just read The Sophinx and August Heat. A great descriptor of Scicylian life and culture and geography etc.
Question August Heat. Over and over author mentions August 15. Never tells us the significance. I know it is the Virgin's ascent to Heaven. so, why doesn't Stephen tell us this? thanks, Jean Castagno The Villages Fl USA

April 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment. I don't know the significance of August 15, beyond the Assumption of Mary. I'd have to look back to see if the novel offers any clues--unless Stephen Sartarelli or anyone else has the answer.

April 11, 2013  
Anonymous A-J said...

The significance of August 15th is that although it is a religious holiday, it is a national holiday, and because all schools, businesses, banks, etc., are closed (much like our 4th of July, or Christmas, ), NOTHING gets done on that day! It signifies also, the (un)official end of summer.

July 03, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here’s more information about Aug. 15, or Ferragosto. Thanks.

July 03, 2013  

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