Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Translators should look at The Sun (but not for too long)

Leave your political hang-ups to one side, you decide which: reading the news from any source is an excitement waiting to happen for the literary translator.
While it could be argued that news journalism is divorced from fiction, storytelling lies at the heart of both disciplines. And the line often blurs: Truman Capote based Cold Blood on real events and Juan Goytisolo weaved in newspaper excerpts in Señas de Identidad.

For the literary prose translator, analyzing and practising journalistic writing is a convenient way of perfecting source language competency. And for the poetry translator, tabloid headlines are especially loaded with stylistic effects and culture-specific references.

Reporting on the UK’s biggest ever diamond heist in 2009, The Sun’s two word effort is a double entendre, heightened by a stress on the syllable where the reader expects one thing, but gets the other (see the picture here). So instead of a ‘Diamond RO-ber-ry’ we get a ‘Diamond RU – bb e-ry’, as the perpetrators wore elaborate latex masks to conceal their identities. My attempt into Spanish – Ladrones Látex – compensates the dactylic (strong-weak-weak) stress of Rubbery with alliteration. Questions of ambiguity also arise - Did the robbers steal latex and, if so, why? Are they made of latex? Why the obsession with latex? - which leave the reader (hopefully) craving more latex.
Whether sonic effect should always be preserved in headline translation, whether we as translators should concentrate solely on conveying information, or whether there can always be a happy medium is, perhaps, another story.

There is, however, scant widespread translation of tabloids (at which point I might say fortunately but I can’t because I, like you, left my hang-ups to one side). Instead, news feature publications such as Le Monde Diplomatique, and news agencies such as Reuters and the BBC specialising in both features and bulletins, receive the most translation. An effective approach to this task requires not only awareness of linguistic differences, but also the journalistic conventions of both source and target communities. To illustrate, I’ll briefly look at news feature writing in Britain and Spain.

Features in Britain tend to put the most important information in the first sentence, acting as a bait which draws in the reader. Facts are then presented in order of decreasing importance, which is often termed the ‘inverted pyramid’. Perhaps this is a throw-back to the days when stories would often be crudely cut short by the printer. Or just the realisation that many readers won’t make it to the end of an article.

In contrast, Spanish features often introduce the hook mid-way into a story, language is more flowery, and sentences are lengthier, and packed with clauses (much like this one). Consequently, news stories tend to be longer, often without the afore mentioned pyramid structure. Working into English, it is feasible to re-structure a story, to drastically cut back on the text in order to transmit the news to the British readership. Without the British readership throwing its stylistic rattle out of the proverbial pram.

--Andrew Nimmo is a translator working from Spanish, Portuguese and French into English. His areas of interest include music, journalism, fiction and film. You can contact him at this.means.nimmo@gmail.com.

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