Friday, October 9, 2015

More on Dialect Translation

In the previous post I wrote about my doubts as how to translate kansai-ben (Kansai dialect) in Murakami's story, "Yesterday."

After looking at other language versions, I discovered a range of choices made by other translators:  some did not differentiate between Kitaru's and Tanimura's speech, others differentiated somewhat, and then there were those who decided either to use an existing dialect or invent one. 

Clearly, there is no correct answer here! 

On the one hand, one can argue that a dialect (or some form of differentiation) should be used in order to reflect the impossible-to-miss difference in Kitaru's kansai-ben speech; on the other hand, one can also make the case that using an existing dialect ends up localizing the translation in a way that readers may find hard to accept.  

Let's look at a few examples to see how different people have handled this difficult challenge.

Here is the fragment (quoted in the previous post) translated into German by Ursula Gräfe (hers is I believe the first European translation - Dumont 2014):

 »Kitaru iste ein seltener Name«, sagte ich.
 »Ja, ziemlich selten«, erwiderte er.
 »In der Baseballmannschaft von Lotte gibt es einen Werfer, der so heißt.«
 »Ach ja, der. Wir sind nicht verwandt. Aber bei einem so seltenen Namen könnte es doch trotzdem sein, dass es da irgendwo eine Verbindung gibt, was?«
(Von Männern, die keine Frauen haben, p. 50)

Ursula used a gentle touch here. She showed the difference between the two styles of speech by adding was? at the end of Kitaru's second line.  To further highlight Kitaru's idiosyncratic speech habits, she also used ja? at the end of many of Kitaru's sentences in the rest of the story. She explained: 
"I intended to give Kitaru's speech an emotional quality, which relates stronger to the person he is talking to than it generally would be the case. Also "ja?" und "was?" create a rising intonation. This in combination with the use of so-called "modal particles" (like "doch" - blue in the last sentence of the quote) would give - or so I hoped - the impression of a casual politeness. German modal particles - like sentence-final particles - mark the speaker’s mood or attitude towards the statement expressed. Also they create a common basis for continuing a conversation by the speaker’s appraisal of the mutual knowledge. Both features are characteristics of spoken German and seldomly used in written language."

Next, let's look at the Spanish translation by Gabriel Álvarez Martínez (Tusquets 2015):

—Vaya apellido más raro, Kitaru, ¿no? —dije.
—Sí, la verdad es que es bastante raro —dijo Kitaru.
—Había un lanzador en el Lotte Orions que se apellidaba igual.  
—Ah, sí, lo recuedo. No, no tiene nada que ver conmigo. Aunque es un apellido tan poco común que quizás estemos emparentados. (Hombres sin mujeres, p.56)

My friend Noemí Martín Santo, a scholar of Spanish literature who also knows Japanese, tells me that Kitaru does not use any dialect here. She also suggested that, had the translator chosen to use a dialect, it would have been possible to have used Andalusian, though she acknowledged that doing so would have caused other kinds of complications and potential misunderstandings. 

Here is a quote from the Taiwanese translation by Lai Ming Chu (Reading Times, 2014):


(《沒有女人的男人們》, p. 62)

Lai Ming Chu told me that she decided not to make Kitaru's speech different in any way, but to simply rely on the explanation in the narrative that he speaks in a "perfect Kansai dialect."  

Now, for the Danish version. Mette Holm (Klim 2015) translated these four lines like this: 

“Kitaru er da ikke noget almindeligt navn,” sagde jeg.
“Nej, det’ det ik’,” svarede han med kraftig kansai-dialekt.
“Baseballholdet Lotte har en pitcher, der hedder Kitaru.”
“Ja, men vi er ik’ i familie. Eller hvem ved, der’ ik’ mange
med det navn, så måske er der en forbindelse.”

Mette said she was inspired by the way Mr. Gamfield spoke in Oliver Twist! Apparently her editor had suggested that she consult the Dickens work, although her Kitaru dialect is "less exaggerated." 

She wrote to me: "I invented my ‘accent’ – and I did it with a lot of abbreviations … using apostrophes instead of letters. And I left out the verb in several places. At first I did more – but then I simplified it and did it very consistently."
The two lines Kitaru says in the above exchange would look like this in standard Danish (the syllables marked in blue were shortened).
“Nej, det er det ikke,” svarede han med kraftig kansai-dialekt.
 “Ja, men vi er ikke i familie. Eller hvem ved, der er ikke mange
med det navn så måske er der en forbindelse."(Mænd uden kvinder, p. 42)

Mette tells me that critics' were divided on this. 
One critic, Søren Kassebeer, liked the book very much, but wrote this about "Mette's dialect": 
En tekst, som han i øvrigt har forfattet på den japanske dialekt kansai-ben, som han har lært sig selv og konstant ævler løs på (og hvis den dialekt lyder meget specielt på japansk, så er det ikke rigtig lykkedes den dygtige oversætter at få den oversat til noget overbevisende dansk, men det er måske også umuligt, for man kan jo ikke lade en japaner tale jysk, vel?) [Berlingske, 7 September 2015]
In the translation kindly provided by Mette: "Part of Murakami's text is written in the Japanese dialect kansai-benwhich Kitaru has taught himself and he is always always blabbering in that manner.  If the dialect sounds very characteristic in Japanese, the skilled translator did not manage to translate it into convincing Danishbut perhaps it is also impossible, because you cannot let a Japanese speak Jutlandish (a Danish dialect), can you?"  
He did give the book 5 out of 6 possible stars though.
However, another critic, Christian Møgeltoft, wrote:
(in Mette's translation)
"I never get tired of praising Mette Holm’s faithful way of transferring Murakami’s imaginative prose into Danish. There is no doubt that the guy is good in his own language, but in Danish he is unequalled. The writer would be happy to see his ideas incarnated so convincingly. As a translator, Mette Holm is living proof that male writers without a mediation of a wise woman are an unfulfilled race." (Jyllands-Posten, 8 September 2015

(Note the nice word-play on the title of the book!) 
Møgeltoft also gave the book 5 out of 6 possible stars.

You can't please everybody all the time, but as long as we manage to please some people some of the time .... 

More posts on translating dialect to follow!

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