Tuesday, November 24, 2015

More on Dialect in "Yesterday"

My Polish translation of Onna no inai otokotachi, titled Mężczyźni bez kobietcame out several weeks ago from Muza S.A. 

I'm happy to say that the reviews are good -- critics seem to like this short-story anthology more than Tsukuru Tazaki. There are also a lot of readers' comments on reading blogs. One of the things that often gets mentioned is my experimental treatment of Kansai dialect in the story "Yesterday." 

I had hesitated for a long time about how to render Kitaru's dialect in Polish. The best thing would have been to have created a new dialect, but that would have taken a long time, time I did not have due to the publisher's deadline. And I wasn't sure whether I had the ability to do it in the first place. 

In the end, I decided to stylize Kitaru's speeches to make him speak the way people speak in Poznan, in Western Poland. Somehow the intonation and the melody of the language there reminded me of Osaka dialect: it seemed a little more direct, a little louder.  

So I began by changing Kitaru's lines a bit. I added a "nie" ("no?") at the end of sentences (which is reminiscent of the "ja?" Usula Gräfe added at the end of some Kitaru's lines in the German version quoted in the previous post), but I still felt that my Kitaru did not sound different enough. So I sent the story to my cousin, a born-and-bread Poznanian and asked his opinion. A scholar and a historian, my cousin approached the task methodically and changed Kitaru's speeches so that he started sounding like a working-class kid from Poznan. I was pleased with the results, but I still needed help with a few phrases and with the final polishing (Polishing?) of the dialect. I asked around and somebody put me in touch with a writer from Poznan, who made a few additional changes and carefully reviewed things to make Kitaru's language more uniform. 

At that point, though, I started feeling a little anxious: Was I even on the right track? 

Let me explain my dilemma briefly: there are many differences between Kansai dialect and standard Japanese, but the most noticeable ones have to do with different verb and adjectival endings, different intonation and some differences in vocabulary. Poznan dialect, on the other hand, is a working-class dialect containing a great deal of distinct vocabulary, partly due to the influence of German. As a result, a sentence written in the Poznan dialect may sometimes include a number of words that a speaker of standard Polish will simply not understand, though usually one can figure the meaning out just fine. Here are some pictures showing the Poznan dialect word in capital letters, and the standard Polish one below. The difference is striking. 


Fortunately, the way the story is written, the reader can always understand (with one exception, where I had to repeat a word in standard Polish) what Kitaru is saying, if he or she reads what comes before or after. Below is the first exchange between Kitaru and the narrator quoted in the previous post runs as follows: 

   「ああ、あれな、うちとは関係ないねん。あんまりない名前やから、まあどっかで ちょこっと繋がってるのかもしれんけどな」(p.68)

      “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," tr. Philip Gabriel, The New Yorker, June 9, 2014) 

In Polish, I translated the passage like this:

    – Kitaru to rzadkie nazwisko – powiedziałem.

    – Nie za czynste, co nie? – odpowiedział Kitaru.  [Ain't so common, I reckun, eh?]
    – W drużynie Lotte był pitcher o takim nazwisku.
    – Łe, to żadna famuła, tej. Ino mało wiary sie tak nazywo, może dzieś dalij jest jakaś krewność, nie. [Nah, they hain't no kin. 'Course, not too many folks usin' that name, so I s'pose way back mebbe we got some o' the same rellies.] (p.62)

The above passage is fully understandable to a speaker of standard Polish, but a more difficult phrase was "wyćpnąć bejmy w glajdę" (lit. throw money in the mud, as in "throw money away"), which has little in common with the standard Polish equivalent, "wyrzucić pieniądze w błoto." For the English reader wondering what this effect might be like, the Poznan phrase "wyćpnąć bejmy w glajdę" might sound something like "hench welties in the flumber."  Given the right context, you could probably figure this out!

Overall, I felt pleased that this operation has achieved a result somewhat similar to the Japanese original: when Kitaru opens his mouth for the first time (and throughout the story) the reader is surprised and continues to feel somewhat alienated. But I was a little worried how Polish readers would react and decided to write a short introduction to explain my choice of Poznan dialect, something I have never done before. 

When the book came out, I was interviewed by the Poznan edition of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's biggest daily newspaper. The interviewer was very interested in why I chose that particular dialect. When I asked her how the story read, she said that to her it "felt weird." I am hoping that this was because she was from Poznan and the dialect felt too familiar. I also got an e-mail from a reader who wrote, "The idea of using Poznan dialect in the story 'Yesterday' was great. The piece became so funny and whimsical in its feel that it is unforgettable."

Maybe that whimsy is captured in this rather pretty view of Poznan's Old Town. 

photograph from: http://www.careersinpoland.com/city/poznan