Thursday, November 15, 2012

11 Odd Things Learned in the Course of Translation

--tidbits picked up in translating Beyond the Islands (Alicia Yánez Cossío) and Trafalgar (Angélica Gorodischer)--

Some days, translation is like a treasure hunt, a sanctioned scavenge after curious words and unfamiliar allusions. (Happily, I'm a fan of dictionaries and reference books; my dictionary stand is a prized possession.) When the project's finished, some of those definitions and associations slip back out of mind and beyond memory, but others linger. These details may already have been known to many of you, but they were new to me.

Boulevard Oroño
Riddle or rest?
  1. Aerugo is another word for verdigris (a green or bluish patina formed on copper, brass, or bronze surfaces exposed to the atmosphere for long periods of time).
  2. A tero is a Southern lapwing, a loud-voiced bird common in South America. 
  3. Rosario's Oroño Boulevard is indeed lined with "cold, serious, heavy houses, with grilles but without gardens, maybe at the most a tile patio paved like the sidewalk" -- and also with palm trees, Sphinx benches, and Sunday strollers. 
  4. José de Villamil, born in New Orleans in 1788, later became an advocate for Ecuadorian independence and was the first governor of the Galápagos islands.
  5. Baby's breath is also called gypsophila.
  6. A pair of embracing skeletons, found in an 8000-year-old burial site on the Santa Elena Peninsula (Ecuador), have been called the pre-ceramic Adam and Eve or Los Amantes de Sumpa.
  7. Newell's Old Boys (one of Rosario's soccer teams--early team of Lionel Messi) can also be spelled Ñuls.
  8. Aguamala is a word for jellyfish (not nasty water).
  9. Opuntia is a prickly pear.
  10. Cheviot is a fine, wool fabric. Also a breed of sheep.
  11. And Trafalgar is not only a the name of a battle, and--in Gorodischer's stories--a proper name, but the title of a Bee Gees song.

I'm getting ready to start a new project. I wonder what I'll learn this time around?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Verbicide, the misunderstood crime

The word of the day (happy result of a dictionary detour) is:  

1. the willful distortion or depreciation of the original meaning of a word.
2. a person who willfully distorts the meaning of a word.

Note the deliberation: verbicide is a sin of commission. This isn't malapropism, mistaken identity, well-meaning thought getting out ahead of vocabulary. Destructive of language, destructive of meaning, verbicide might be a form of lying. A cause of loss, occasion for mourning, for fury. 

But I especially like the second meaning, the thought that one might be a verbicide. What might a verbicide wear, how might she try to conceal her crimes? Is there a Most Wanted list?

Now, cross-checking this definition in the little electronic dictionary embedded in my word processor, no verbicide appears. The closest options are herbicide and vermicide. Worm poison, plant poison-- lots of poisons in the world. No human agents of destruction (think parricide, fratricide) in those definitions. Just substances, slick and dangerous and, one hopes, sparingly applied. But verbicide goes unmentioned, unrecorded--the forgotten crime, the silent killer.

Riffing on verbicide, it's true, might lead me down that slippery slope, that primrose path paved with good intentions to the hell of depreciated or distorted meanings, decapitated verbs, slaughtered adjectives. And what of the adverb, so frequently maligned by the authors of writing how-to books? Who will protect hopefully, quickly, brilliantly?

Verbicide: stop it, prevent it, punish it! You can't be too careful.

I have never said of anyone, "He is an unrepentant verbicide," but I will be looking for my chance to do so.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Proofreading and Second Chances

It has never yet happened that, reading proofs, I haven't found some dreadful if trifling error--often after 20 or 30 error-free pages, when I was beginning to wonder whether the task was, indeed, worthwhile. But there it will be, the third i in the middle of a word, the second however in a row. No matter how many times I've reread, revised, and corrected the manuscript. Is correcting proofs worth my time? Yes. Always.

I've just been correcting the proofs for Trafalgar, Angélica Gorodsicher's novel-in-stories. Sure enough, there were a few things to fix.    

Lisa Carter, in a recent post on her blog Intralingo, offers 3 Reasons to Review Galleys and Proofs. One of these is learning from the editor. The copyeditor for Trafalgar didn't make too many big changes, but there were several pointed questions (third cup of coffee? two pages ago, he ordered his fifth) I was glad to resolve. Not to mention a slew of commas I should have put in to begin with.

It's hard to read the same text again, and again, and still imagine one is reading with fresh eyes. But some months had passed since I'd last looked at the manuscript, and by forcing myself to read slowly, as if I didn't yet know the stories, I caught a number of errors (an excess letter here, an omitted  "  there) that I would have hated to see in the final, printed book. 

And, though this might seem to contradict that "fresh eyes" aspiration, this time around I also found it was fun to revisit the translation process, to remember conversations about particular points, questions I'd had, discarded solutions. I was lucky enough to meet with the author regularly while I was in Rosario, working on the translation. Reviewing the proofs was like a mini mental visit.

Finally, at a couple of points, there were still translation issues to be wrestled with, in particular a paragraph in which I found I'd omitted the verb. I read it a couple of times before I saw what was missing. The passage didn't quite make sense, but was that because I had mistranslated it, or because something odd was happening in the original? One of the challenges in translation is the need to convey the points at which the author is experimenting or playing with the source language. Maybe there was never a verb to lose. . .  

But there was. And, once I'd retrieved it, it wasn't immediately clear how to incorporate that verb into the English sentence, a long catalog that needed to accumulate and pile up and intermingle without too much interruption. Appropriately enough, the chapter in question is titled "Mr. Chaos." 

I came up with a satisfactory solution. I think. If I reread the proofs again tomorrow, there might be other things I'd want to change. But that's the case with any writing, translation no more nor less than fiction or poetry or criticism. That last-ditch chance at correction is another reason to read proofs: it's not quite as scary (though also not as thrilling) as opening the cover of the published book. There's still time.

Thanks to Small Beer Press for including this translator in the process and giving me the chance to go over the manuscript one more time.