Friday, September 25, 2015

How to Translate Dialect

In the newest anthology of short stories by Haruki Murakami, there is a story titled "Yesterday." It tells of two friends.  One, originally from Kansai, moves to Tokyo to go to a university there and within a few weeks starts speaking like somebody born and raised in Tokyo. His friend, Kitaru, born and raised in Tokyo, speaks in Osaka dialect, and a pretty rough version of it (kanari diipu na) at that. It turns out that Kitaru is an avid fan of the Hanshin Tigers, a Kansai baseball team and that he had studied and learned the dialect not to feel out of place when he went to games and, surrounded by fans from Osaka, wanted to join them in cheering on his favorite team.

The fact that he speaks the Osaka dialect is an important part of the story and has an alienating effect. Kitaru is rather short, small-boned, and has noble features, so when he opens his mouth the contrast is really striking. I wasn't sure how to handle this in translation.

The usual wisdom in translation studies is to not even try translating a dialect, because one ends up localizing it in the wrong place and the effect can be comical.

Edward Seidensticker referred to this issue in remarks he made years ago about his translation of Sasameyuki (The Makioka Sisters):

"I did try to differentiate between Tokyo speech and Osaka speech. I think it was not a good solution. I rendered Osaka speech in a formal kind of English, without contractions, without any "don'ts" and "wasn'ts," and to emphasize the contrast I introduced more contractions than necessary in Tokyo speech. Someone from Osaka -- it was quite a while after the translation came out -- told me I should have done just the opposite. He said that Osaka speech is a speech of abbreviation and Tokyo speech is not. That had not occurred to me, but it is true. In standard Tokyo speech, all of the markers, the the-ni-o-ha, the postpositions, are there. They may be only vestigially there, but they are there in a Tokyo sentence. A lot of them are left out in an Osaka sentence. Therefore I should have had the exaggerated contractions in the Osaka part. But the experiment was a complete and utter failure for the simple reason that nobody even noticed what I have done." (Cited in Donald Richie, Words, Ideas, and Ambiguities:  Four Perspectives on Translating, pp. 76-77.)

Having read the above, I felt a little disheartened not knowing what to do about translating Kitaru.

Let's look at the first conversation between the two male students appearing in the story:

It is clear from the very first words that Kitaru "sounds different." This is how this conversation was rendered by Philip Gabriel:
“Kitaru is an unusual last name,” I said one day.
“Yeah, for sure,” Kitaru replied in his heavy Kansai accent.
“The Lotte baseball team had a pitcher with the same name.”
“The two of us aren’t related. Not so common a name, though, so who knows? Maybe there’s a connection somewhere.” ("Yesterday," The New Yorker, June 9, 2014)

From this short fragment, it seems that Gabriel did what Edward Seidensticker wished he had done: put more contractions in the Osaka speech. I did not have that option in Polish, since Polish doesn't really use contractions. I briefly considered making up a dialect, but did not feel equal to it. After a lot of hesitation and looking at some other translations, I decided to try an experiment, which I will describe in the following post.

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