Dare to Read

April 20, 2012

My adventures on Translation : Bécquer Eternal / Bécquer Eterno

Filed under: Becquer Eternal,On Translation — carmenferreiroesteban @ 5:35 am
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by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban



Good news: I just finished the translation of Bécquer Eternal into Spanish.

It was a time consuming project, but I’m very happy that I did it because the translation worked also as a thorough revision of the original text. Trying to express in other language what I was trying to say revealed to me some weaknesses I had not noticed before and helped me solve minor inconsistencies that several rounds of critiquing and editing had missed.

The result is that I have now not only a Spanish version of my story but also a stronger English one.

Both versions are not carbon copy of each other. I did not translate the words or even the sentences as they were in English, but in each scene I asked myself: how would I describe this in Spanish or what would a Spanish person say in this situation.

Because a language is not only made out of words, but those words create a different frame of mind with which to describe the world. In a way the language determine how we see the world.

Yes, in very simple sentences the translation may work word by word.

For instance: “The boy is tall” translates as: “El niño es alto”.

But “the tall boy” is not “el alto niño” but “el niño alto”. As you see adjectives go after nouns in Spanish. Usually.

Even simple questions like: “How old are you?” require a totally different structure in Spanish: “¿Cuántos años tienes?” Literary: “How many years do you have?”

Things get even more complicated when a word has several meanings in one or the other language.

For instance: “flesh” and “meat” are the same word “carne” in Spanish, while “spirit” can be translated as “espíritu” (ghost) or “licor” (liquor).

This is why a computer asked to translate the sentence: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” into Spanish and then back came out with: “The alcohol is arranged, but the meat is weak”

(See more funny computer translations at http://www.geoffreylandis.com/sight.htp).

As for my translation of Bécquer Eternal I offer you one example below.

The first paragraph is the original text in English (A), while (B) is the back translation of the Spanish version.

See the differences? Which one works better for you?

A. Bécquer had closed his eyes while I rambled on, as if embarrassed by my barely concealed distress. He opened them when I finished and fixed on me his dark stare.

“And you?” he whispered. “If I die, would you mourn me for a day?”

Bécquer había cerrado los ojos mientras yo divagaba, como si le avergonzase la angustia que mis palabras no podían ocultar. Los abrió cuando terminé y su mirada oscurecida por un dolor que trataba en vano de disimular me hizo estremecer.

—¿Y tú? —me susurró— Si me muero, ¿Llorarías tú por mí?

B. Bécquer had closed his eyes while I rambled on, as if embarrassed by the anguish my words could not hide. He opened them when I finished and his stare darkened by a pain he tried in vain to conceal made me shiver.

“And you?” he whispered. “If I die, would you cry for me?”


  1. Congratulations, Carmen. It’s a wonderful project. Thank goodness for people like you who love literature and keep it alive.

    Comment by Sandra Carey Cody — April 20, 2012 @ 9:32 am | Reply

  2. Thank you, Sandy.

    We are a stubbor bunch those of us (you included) who love literature, aren’t we?

    Comment by carmenferreiroesteban — April 20, 2012 @ 12:13 pm | Reply

  3. I like it when I can see the original language next to a translation, and compare how I would have translated it. Not that I’m expert, but I can understand enough French, Spanish and Italian to consider how else a phrase might be expressed in English.

    And if you want to see just how hilarious computer translation can be, this is my favorite example ever (it’s not from my own blog):

    Comment by Jenn Hubbard — April 30, 2012 @ 7:34 pm | Reply

  4. Hi Jen, Thanks for the link. I guess it’s good news for me and my fellow translators. No computer translator is taking our jobs yet.

    Comment by carmenferreiroesteban — April 30, 2012 @ 10:33 pm | Reply

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