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?”

April 12, 2012

My adventures on translation : Bécquer Eternal / Bécquer Eterno



by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban



I haven’t blogged lately because I have been way too busy with the translation of my paranormal story Bécquer Eternal into Spanish.

The reason?

This year marks the 176 anniversary of Bécquer’s birthday and his home town of Sevilla (Spain) is having an Exhibit in his honor.

Many artists (poets, musicians, painters, sculptures, silversmiths, etc.) will remember him with their work. And I’m happy to say a copy of my book in Spanish will be included in the exhibit.

As the Exhibit will take place between May 25 and June 24, I must finish my translation, like yesterday, so I can get a printed copy in time.

I have worked as a translator for over ten years and Spanish is my native language. So I was surprised to realize how difficult it was to translate my own work.

The difficulty was not only on translating the meaning accurately, but on trying to keep the rhythm and lyricism of the original, as well as other factors like cultural references, slang, etc…

Yes, I knew this to be the case when you’re working with a literary text. But I knew it in a cerebral way. I knew it in my mind, not in my guts.

I will show you examples in future blogs.

Right now, Ill explain what I mean with an image, two images to be precise, that happen to be the covers of the English and Spanish version of my book.

Although they’re quite different, both transmit the spirit of my story.

The Spanish cover includes a portrait of Bécquer on the left. This portrait is as iconic in Spain as a picture of a blonde Marylyn would be in the States. But the cultural reference would be lost in an American audience.

And so it’s with the literary images. Cultural references are lost and must be substituted with others, making the translation both a frustrating and an exhilarating experience.

I’ll tell you more about it next week. Now, it’s back to work for me.

Until then, Happy Spring!