Dare to Read

April 26, 2012

My Adventures on Translation : Music and Words

Filed under: Becquer,On Traslation — carmenferreiroesteban @ 3:48 pm
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by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban




Last week after finishing my post, My adventures on Translation : Bécquer Eternal / Bécquer Eterno, where I talked about how a literary translation differs from a technical one, serendipity, that most gracious sister of chance, brought me to the following sentence while reading Robert Greenberg’s How to Listen to Great Music:

“Broadly defined, music is sound in time (…) Far beyond spoken language—which, with its sounds in time, might rightly be considered a low-end sort of music—music is a universal language.”

This struck me because it was exactly what I had been trying to convey in my post.

If language is as Mr. Greenberg so nicely puts “sounds in time” and “a low-end sort of music”, it makes perfect sense that to translate a sentence from English into Spanish word by word will not work in a literary/lyrical text because the length and sounds of the words that represent the same concept in English or Spanish are different. Thus “the sounds in time” the translation delivers in the other language will not “sing”.

To make them sing, the translator must find, in the other language not only words that translate the meaning, but words that translate the music. And that is quite a difficult task.

As an example of how words are indeed a form of music, I invite you to listen to this traditional song that fits perfectly the words of Bécquer’s Rima XXV.

Please don’t feel discouraged if you don’t speak Spanish because music, as Robert Greenberg tells us above, is “a universal language.”


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!

March 20, 2012

Never before published Rhymes by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer : Bécquer as Translator

Filed under: Becquer,On Traslation — carmenferreiroesteban @ 5:19 am
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Ciprés alto y airoso,

flor de corola oscura,

joven de ojos más negros

que la noche sin luna.

¿Ves ese vellón blanco

que leve el aire empuja?

Así pasan los días

para no volver nunca.

The Spanish publishing house, Reino de Cordelia, published in 2010 two stories, Abdallah, and Aziz y Aziza, written in French by Édouard Laboulaye, translated into Spanish by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, and illustrated by Bécquer’s brother Valeriano.

Because I am both a writer and a translator, I appreciate the difficulty intrinsic to a literary translation.

Technical translators must act as mirrors. They must “invert” (pour) the text into the other language while maintaining its meaning and the integrity of its sentences and structures.

The mission of the translator of a literary work is more complex. The one of the translator of a poem, near impossible. He/she must keep not only the meaning, but also the rhythm, assonance and alliteration of the original verses. In a few, perfect words, the translator must convey to us the story and, at the same time, touch our heart by provoking in us a visceral and mystique reaction that will transform us.

In his translation of the twelve rhymes included in these two novels, Bécquer passes the test with flying colors. The poems interspaced among the prose touched my heart as Bécquer’s own did, so long ago, when I read them for the first time, as a teenager, back in Spain.

Out of respect for the master, I won’t translate the poem into English. But, if you ever considered learning Spanish, reading Bécquer’s poems in his native language, could be as good an incentive as any. For I promise, they’re well worth the effort.

 Rimas inéditas de Bécquer: Bécquer traductor

La editorial Reino de Cordelia publicó en el 2010 dos novelas cortas, Abdallah, y Aziz y Aziza, escritas en francés por Édouard Laboulaye, traducidas al castellano por Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, y con ilustraciones de su hermano Valeriano.

Porque soy escritora y traductora aprecio por partida doble la dificultad intrínseca a una traducción literaria.

Un traductor técnico ha de ser como un espejo. Debe “invertir” (verter) el texto al otro idioma manteniendo su significado y la integridad de sus frases y estructuras.

La misión de un traductor de una obra literaria es más compleja. La de un traductor de poemas, casi imposible, pues ha de conservar no solo el sentido sino también el ritmo, la asonancia y la aliteración del texto original. En breves, perfectas palabras, el traductor nos han de transmitir la historia y, al mismo tiempo, provocar en nosotros una reacción visceral y mística que nos transforme.

En su traducción de las doce rimas incluidas en estas dos novelas, Bécquer pasa la prueba con nota alta. Los versos que salpican la prosa me conmovieron como los suyos propios hicieron, hace ya tanto tiempo, cuando los leí por primera vez durante mi mocedad en España.

Esperando que la editorial disculpe mi atrevimiento, he reproducido más arriba uno de ellos como ejemplo.