Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A lexicon of South African crime or, Don't move, or I'll klap you

Nice sense of place in Deon Meyer's Thirteen Hours, shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association International Dagger award, some of it due to expressions left untranslated from the original Afrikaans:

"No blood on the floor, no bullet holes in the walls or bookshelves ... She didn't klap him here."
or, as two detectives talk about a call one has received from their furious boss:

"Did the Commissioner call you?"

"He's
the moer in."

"Benny, it's nobody's fault."
Isn't learning fun?

(Go here for more South African expressions. I'll bring the Mrs Balls' Chutney. And tell me how you feel about dialect and untranslated slang in crime fiction from countries not your own.)

***

P.S. to the publisher if you read this: It's vocal cords, not chords.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"...how you feel about dialect and untranslated slang in crime fiction from countries not your own."

I love it; especially when it is used with “prudenza” so that it may be figured out within context. But I really don't mind going online or to a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words or terms either. The good translator must make careful choices about when to leave such words or terms in so that they don’t overwhelm or frustrate the reader. Learning _is_ fun.

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

I love it; especially when it is used with “prudenza” so that it may be figured out within context. But I really don't mind going online or to a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words or terms either. ... Learning _is_ fun.


The question seems to vex publishers. I've mentioned that I've heard of publishers wanting to translate Australian slang for export elsewhere in the English-reading world, which would be a great shame.

I've mentioned, too, that figuring out the meaning of a word or expression from context is great fun. It would be nice to think that more readers feels this way and that publishers will note this.

There's one bit of English slang early in "Thirteen Hours" that context makes only approximately clear. But there is nothing wrong with that, either. (A quick online search yielded no immediate answers.)

June 09, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"...publishers wanting to translate Australian slang for export elsewhere in the English-reading world, which would be a great shame."

It would indeed. This is a good point and I did not consider non-North American English-speaking countries in my first reply.

I don't like to see _any_ changes in English-language novels. Including spelling variants, slang, dialect, etc. The changes made by Little, Brown to Ian Rankin's novels for for the US audience irked me so much, for example, I ILL'ed them in their UK editions.

If I can't figure out a term or phrase (as you mention above), I agree, "there is nothing wrong with that, either."

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Kiwicraig said...

i think, like Elizabeth says, that if it's done well, and you can work things out from context (so it doesn't pull you out of the story), then it's good. It's fun, and can make the tale more vivid and fresh, which is what you want. Rubbing all the colloquialisms and dialect edges of a story can make it bland... but then going too far and having too much in there, that pulls the reader out of the story, is also a bad thing...

it's a balance, like anything. Comes down to 'is it done well, or not?' in the end, like most things...

June 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

I don't like to see _any_ changes in English-language novels. Including spelling variants, slang, dialect, etc. The changes made by Little, Brown to Ian Rankin's novels for for the US audience irked me so much, for example, I ILL'ed them in their UK editions.


What sorts of changes did U.S. publishers make in the Rankins? I once argued with someone over the change from "Fleshmarket Close" to "Fleshmarket Alley" for the U.S. edition. I generally oppose changes in dialect, slang and other local usage, but I could understand the U.S. publishers' decision in this case. "Close" in the Scottish sense of an enclosed area or dead-end alley not only does not occur in U.S. English, the word does occur at all as a noun in normal usage. It does, how ever, occur as the common verb that is the opposite of "to open," though pronounced with a final -z sound, rather than the final -s of the Scottish word.

So U.S. readers might not only have been confused by the U.K. title, they would have mispronounced it.

June 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kiwicraig has ...

if it's done well, and you can work things out from context (so it doesn't pull you out of the story), then it's good. It's fun, and can make the tale more vivid and fresh ...Rubbing all the colloquialisms and dialect edges of a story can make it bland... but then going too far and having too much in there, that pulls the reader out of the story, is also a bad thing...


I've read more of "Thirteen Hours," and I wonder if the translation isn't flirting with excess in the matter of Afrikaans phrases, some of them given in translation after the original versions. In deciding how much to give in the original language, I'd say a translator ought to include just enough to give a flavor. I forgot which author suggested that dialect is best when front-loaded: Include a fair amount at the beginning to get the readers used to it, then gradually drop off, with the idea that the reader will now hear it internally.

The linguistic and social dynamics of South Africa complicate the translator's task, too. If I'm remembering right, Meyer has so far introduced or referred to characters who speak English, Xhosa, Zulu and possibly two varieties of Afrikaans. Many of these characters will speak more than one language, and their choice of language in any given situation may be significant. What is an author to do in such cases, much less a translator?

June 10, 2010  
Blogger Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Peter I think there are two separate issues in your question at least.
On one side authors use words, their raw material, and they are entitle to use whatever word suit them best, although we might not like the final result. (This applies to Mexican Spanish or Australian English)
But there is a different issue with translations and I’m very much in favour, in this sense, of helping the reader with footnotes or even a glossary at the end of the book.

Thanks for your South African expressions link, they will be very helpful to help me understanding Deon Meyer’s books.

June 10, 2010  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Can't really add to the foreign ( non-english) to english translations, as I don't think I have read any. I certainly don't want any of the text modified if the original work was written in English,by an author from a different country. I love reading the slang,differences in speech patterns, and new words that might be used, even if they are in a different language.

June 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jose Ignacio Escribano has left a new comment ...

But there is a different issue with translations and I’m very much in favour, in this sense, of helping the reader with footnotes or even a glossary at the end of the book.


This can help. I've often cited Stephen Sartarelli's footnotes about cultural and translation issues in his English translations of Andrea Camilleri's novels.

I don't remember ever being puzzled to the point of confusion by a foreign, slang or dialect term in any novel or story.

June 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sean Patrick Reardon has ...

I have read any. I certainly don't want any of the text modified if the original work was written in English,by an author from a different country. I love reading the slang,differences in speech patterns, and new words that might be used, even if they are in a different language.


Yes, one's vocabulary can increase this way. I say "shite" much more than I used to, for example.

June 10, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"What sorts of changes did U.S. publishers make in the Rankins?"

Little, Brown not only changed spelling variants (grey > gray, colour > color, etc. ) but words like "boot" became "trunk" and I recall being so irritated with the first L,B edition I read that I think there must have been even more annoying examples ("they don't say that in Scotland!"), which I can't recall now, as the 3 most recent ones I read were UK eds.

I wonder if a US publisher would change the title of the (fictional) UK title "Cathedral Close" to "Cathedral Alley"? Or maybe change it to "Cathedral Precinct" to lure unsuspecting readers to believe it was a police procedural...

The presupposition on the part of US publishers that we can't figure out boot > trunk, etc. seems ludicrous when people who are readers to begin with are generally used to figuring out, or at least not agonizing over, words they are unfamiliar with in novels.

"I say "shite" much more than I used to, for example."

Uh-huh.

June 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth has ...

"What sorts of changes did U.S. publishers make in the Rankins?"

Little, Brown not only changed spelling variants (grey > gray, colour > color, etc. ) but words like "boot" became "trunk"


American publishers may underestimate readers' intelligence when they make changes like that. They certainly deprive readers of part of the pleasure of reading books set elsewhere.

June 10, 2010  

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