Saturday, August 19, 2006

Translating Dialects

In the last post, we looked generally at dialects. But whether we can confidently define what a dialect is doesn’t necessarily matter when faced with a translation that includes something we believe to be a dialect. So what do we do?

Of course, we can simply ignore the dialect and translate it as standard language in the target language. That’s an easy, if not faithful, solution, and in general should probably be avoided. An author, after all, has chosen to use dialect for a reason, and dismissing that choice isn’t respectful of the author or his work. However, for some languages, ignoring the dialect may in fact be the only solution. Not all cultures represent spoken language as it truly is in the written language; for some languages, only a standard written style is acceptable. So there may be no actual way to express dialect in the target language, or the written language may have a strict style that does not correspond to the spoken and thus does not allow for the expression of dialects.

But if we decide to translate the dialect and believe it is possible to do so, what choices do we have? I believe some of the main methods available to us are to translate geographically, socioeconomically, or by equivalency of meaning. As with most things in translation, there is no one right way; each choice a translator makes is based on the context and the situation, and what may work in one translation could be completely inappropriate for another one.

A geographic translation means that we choose a roughly equivalent region in the target culture and pick one of its dialects. This doesn’t mean that the stereotypes and feelings that are attached to the dialect in the source language and culture will be translated correctly, although of course that could happen. If a book has a southern American dialect, for example, a Swedish translator might choose a southern Swedish (Scanian) dialect. The people who speak both these dialects are stereotyped to some extent as being “country” or “slow,” so translating the southern American dialect with a Scanian dialect could create some of the same feelings or impressions for readers.

Obviously, though, a geographic translation of this kind can be a problem when a translator is faced with source and target countries that have different sorts of regions or different stereotypes about those regions, or with languages that are spoken in more than one country. Should an Egyptian Arabic dialect be translated to a German dialect from Germany, Austria, or Switzerland? Or does that depend on where the publisher, or audience, of the translation is located?

By translating socioeconomically, I mean that a translator working with, say, an upper class dialect in the source text chooses an upper class dialect in the target language. The source and target dialects don’t have to be geographically related, although obviously that could be the case, but they simply represent the same approximate social and/or economic class. If the original author uses a lower-class dialect from northern England, the Slovenian translator may not be able to find an appropriate dialect in northern Slovenia, but instead can use a lower-class dialect from another region. Translating socioeconomically can be challenging if the source and target cultures have very different populations and/or social systems, and thus different class-based dialects.

A dialect may create a certain feeling or idea for the readers of the original text that is not quite possible to get across to readers of the translated text if the dialect is translated geographically or socioeconomically. In that case, a translator can decide to translate by meaning or feeling. If an author chooses a dialect to suggest a character is unintelligent, or whiny, or especially happy, an equivalent dialectical representation can be picked in the target language. However, not all languages have dialects with the same stereotypes, and not all people who speak a language have the same understanding of which dialect is considered cranky, or serious, or silly, and this translation technique will be unsuccessful and possibly even confusing if readers don’t understand what is meant or implied by the choice of dialect.

Clearly, there are pitfalls and difficulties associated with each of these methods of translating dialects, and translators must attempt to find a way to express the dialect in the target language without exaggerating how it is used or what is means. Dialects have to be translated carefully and judiciously, so that they portray the characters, location, and/or story in the source document without mocking them.

In the next post, I will show a few examples of translated dialect from the Swedish translation of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

34 comments:

sara said...

Hi!!!!

My name is Sara. I am working on my thesis which basically deals wiht the translation of dialects in Hardy´s novels into Spanish language. It´s obvios that the omission of dialects in the target texts is not the best option and, translators should always look for the best option so that the readers of the translated text get a complete idea of the text. If dialect in Hardy´s novels were not translated into the targeted text part of the message would never arrive to the readers.

B.J. Epstein said...

Thanks for your comment, Sara!
In some texts, the dialects really affect a reader's understanding of the story and/or the characters, and that's why it is so important to for translators to find the best strategy to use in translating dialects. What has your research shown you about the Spanish translations?

Best wishes,
BJ

Eric Dickens said...

Dialects are an incredibly important part of translation when you deal with regions and their idiosyncrasies.

There are various options, along a continuum, ranging from fully representing the dialect by using a real one from the target language; via giving hints of dialect usage; to completely ignoring the dialect altogether.

I favour the first option if you can get away with it. But what is sometimes incomprehensible to outsiders in the source text, may end up incomprehensible to those people who don't speak the same dialect in the target-language text too.

Any more specific ideas on this?

B.J. Epstein said...

Thanks for your comment, Eric. This is a really interesting topic and I have spent some time researching it (see the post at http://brave-new-words.blogspot.com/2007/04/child-and-book-conference-and.html).
I am not sure what I think of the first option you mentioned. Someone told me, for example, that she read an Italian book in English translation. The book apparently employed Sicilian dialect and the translation transferred this to a New Jersey dialect. What does that mean, exactly? Do Italians who hear the Sicilian dialect get the same feelings and associations that Americans do when they hear a New Jersey accent? What about non-American English-speakers? Was the connection simply that the Sicilian characters were gangsters, as there are some mobs in New Jersey? What would have been the best solution in this case?

Best wishes,
BJ

Eric Dickens said...

BJ, I agree entirely that there is a problem with Sicily and New Jersey. But as there have indeed been Italian mobsters in existence in America, the link is not as far-fetched as turning, let's say, Berber expressions in Maghreb Arabic into Wisconsin English, or Scottish English, where there is no relation whatsoever between the dialects, not even culturally.

For instance, the Flemish author Louis Paul Boon came from a highly industrialised part of Belgium. The Yorkshire dialect that I know something of was also spoken among coalmines and factories. So that dialect could be useful, if I were to translate something by him. However, if you used a rural dialect, like say one from Norfolk, you would be stretching it a bit. The rural-urban clash would make the dialect sound phoney.

Eric Dickens said...

Those of you that read Swedish can look at an interesting MA dissertation by Julia Tidigs who studies at Åbo Akademi in Finland.

She is tackling a related issue to dialect, namely the use of what she there terms code-switching (she changed her mind later about the terminology) in the work of one particular Finland-Swedish author who was born and brought up in Viborg (now Russia) and lived in the Swedish- and Finnish parts of Finland proper later on.

The dissertation is entitled "En allvarsam olägenhet till följd af språket" (clearly a quotation from around 1900).

It tackles code-switching in one of his novels. The theoretical background of her dissertation is based on Guattari and Deleuze.

B.J. Epstein said...

But where I think the use of target-language dialects to replace source-language ones gets difficult is that not everyone who reads the target text would be familiar with, say, the Yorkshire dialect and what it represents. So they may miss the connections there. Also, they may also think that it is odd that a novel that takes place in Belgium has characters speaking a specialized British English dialect, and that could distract them. Unless, of course, you propose bringing the entire Belgian book over to the UK and giving it an English setting and background?
What does Tidigs refer to with the term "code-switching"?

Best wishes,
BJ

Eric Dickens said...

Julia Tidigs says in her dissertation:

"I denna avhandling används termen kodväxling som ett instrument för att bättre kunna analysera beståndsdelar i texten. Inom sociolingvistiken diskuteras skillnaderna mellan olika typer av språkliga element som kodväxling, lån och interferens, ofta i termer av hur integrerade de är i det mottagande språket. Att avgöra var gräserna går är inte lätt. (...) Den vägledande principen i begränsningen av det flerspråkiga materialet i romanen är en inklusiv sådan: såväl fullständiga meningar som namn på platser och förryskningar av svenska egennamn omfattas av undersökningen. "

And so on. You'd have to read the whole of her argumentation to get the full picture. The dissertation can be bought for about 10 dollars from Åbo Akademi library.

B.J. Epstein said...

Thanks for the information and the quote, Eric!

Best wishes,
BJ

fabiola said...

Hello!
my name is fabiola and I am writing a specialistic thesis on the translation of an italian novel into english. it is partially written in Sicilian language and i am analysing the strategies used. I am asking you a suggestion about some good theory scholars to quote in my work. thanks in advance...

B.J. Epstein said...

Hi Fabiola, I am not sure what to recommend exactly, but I suggest you read about different dialects of Italian and english and also check out general books on translation and books such as "Translating Voices, Translating Regions," which is one of the few to focus on translating dialects.
Good luck!

Best wishes,
BJ

Anonymous said...

Hi,

My name is Raphael. I´m going to write my bachelor degree project this semester within the 'translation studies' area at Stockholm University. The general aim of the essay is to analyze how translation of dialects (or sociolects etc.) are dealt with in translations from English to Swedish. So, I was wondering if you know of any English novel translated into Swedish that could provide material for such an analysis?

Best wishes

B.J. Epstein said...

Thanks for your comment, Raphael. There are a lot of books that include some dialect; I can't think of a big list offhand. However, if you try to think of a book in which setting, time period, and/or class is really important, it is likely that that book will have dialect/sociolect. Good luck!

Best wishes,
BJ

Melanie said...

Hi there,

My name is Melanie, and I am writing a dissertation in which I have to analyse the subtitles of a French film into English.In one point of the film the character speaks with a Belgian accent, and the subtitler has opted to translate this by writing "like" at the end of each sentence which is a common way to speak in Northern England. Would you define this strategy as a geographic translation or a cultural equivalent? And do you know where to find theory on this?

Thanks for your help,

Best wishes,

Melanie

B.J. Epstein said...

Hi Melanie!

In your example, I would consider that replacement with a geographical dialect. The translator is adapting the text to another language and another culture by using a different dialect.
You can check out: Clifford E. Landers, Literary Translation: A Practical Guide (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2001) or Peter Trudgill, Dialects (New York and London: Routledge, 2004) (the former mentions translating dialects and the second is on dialects in general).
Good luck!

Best wishes,
BJ

Anonymous said...

Hello!

I am currently working with my home exam in translation at the Nowegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, and I am writing about the translation of 'Trainspotting'. I am writing about the differences between the translation of the book and the subtitling of the movie. The reason for this is that the Source Text and the movie both uses a very distinct Scottish dialect, and while the Norwegian translation of the book uses an almost equivalent dialect the subtitles of the movie are in the standard written form (bokmål). I guess this has something to do with conventions and norms in subtitling, but I find it quite interesting because I think that the feeling one gets from reading the two translations are quite different.I posted this comment because I wanted to ask you if you know any movies where the translation of a dialect into another equivalent dialect has been done or if you have any examples of theories/books about this issue.

Best wishes
-T-

B.J. Epstein said...

Hi T,

Well, I can recommend the same books to you that I recommended to Melanie. There are many books about translation, but few mention the translation of dialect per se, and few books about dialect refer to the issue of translation. So your best bet is probably to combine information on translatorial strategies with information on dialects and to come up with your own theory.
I must confess that I don't know that much about films that use dialects, however.
Good luck!

Best wishes,
BJ

nitcheli said...

Hi,

I'm not sure if you will be able to respond to this - I have just realised that the post is from quite a while ago!

I'm looking into translating an original austrian fairytale, in austrian dialect - into english. But i'm not sure whether to translate it into english dialect? I was just wondering if you knew off any books that what be useful reading to think of a plausible translation brief and strategy - my lecturer thinks that nobody in England would like to read an austrian fairy tale!

Thanks in advance

B.J. Epstein said...

Hi Nitcheli,

I disagree with your lecturer -- I think plenty of people would be interested in reading an Austrian fairytale, and I applaud your decision to translate it and to attempt to keep the dialects.
If you email me, I can send you a forthcoming article by me that analyses possible strategies for translation dialects.
You can also try:
Dimitrova, Birgitta Englund, “Translation of Dialect in Fictional Prose – Vilhelm Moberg in Russian and English as a Case in Point,” in Norm, variation and change in language: Proceedings of the centenary meeting of the Nyfilologiska sällskapet (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1996), 49-65.

and

Dimitrova, Birgitta Englund, “Orality, Literacy, Reproduction of Discourse and the Translation of Dialect,” in Irmeli Helin (ed.), Dialektübersetzung und Dialekte in Multimedia (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2004), 121-139.

Good luck!

Best wishes,
BJ

Anonymous said...

Hello
I am just beginning a disseration for my Applied Linguistics masters course and I want to examine eyedialects in the novels of Charles Dickens and how they have been translated in Spanish and Catalan. It is very early days in my research and I am hoping that the translations I find will at least include some examples of a style choice which relect geographic, socio-economic equivalency, so I can examine parallels in indexicality etc. (although I imagine many translations will not try to reflect language difference) I would be very interested in looking at South American Spanish translations as well as Spanish. I wondered if by any chance you might know of a good source of translated English books in the UK? I have been able to order some on Amazon and I am travelling to Catalunya next week to find books in Catalan, but wondered if there was anywhere in the UK which held English books translated into other languages?

Alice

B.J. Epstein said...

I will ask the the readers for you, Alice.

Best wishes,
BJ

raúl said...

Hello BJ,
My name is Raul and I am a Peruvian translator that has just discovered your blog. I'm writing a thesis (for my licentiate degree) on the translation of the Michel Tremblay's play "Les belles-soeurs" into Spanish. The play is entirely written in a dialect/sociolect (the "joual" quebecois). I've just read a paper stating that a text of this kind, being monodialectical, can be reproduced in any dialect, or even deprived from its "dialectness" and translated into (for example) a neutral Spanish, for the sake of reaching a broader audience. I partially disagree with this but would love to hear an opinion from you. Do you believe that, if a dialect appears not in sections but in the entire text, it can be taken as a "standard" variety?

Raúl

PD. I've just read your posts on the translation of dialects and they have been very useful! Thank you in advance for your reply.

B.J. Epstein said...

Thanks for your comment, Raul. I don't think that just because a dialect is used throughout a text that means it's standard; it only means it's standard in that text. It's still a dialect in that given language.
How are you planning on translating it?

Best wishes,
BJ

raúl said...

Dear BJ,

Thank you for your reply! I'm planning to use the Peruvian Spanish for my translation. As I see it, the relationship between the Spanish talked in Spain and my country's Spanish is equivalent to that between the French of France and the Quebec French.

Now, the "joual" is specifically a popular sociolect, used by the French-speaking working class in Canada, and my intention is to preserve that "flavor" in my translation; besides, almost all of the characters in the play are middle-aged woman (and there are up to fifteen on stage at a time!). So, for my translation I'm trying to get familiarized with the way of speaking of people that fit this profile (more familiarized, actually, popular language use is far from being something alien to my life). As you see I'm in the initial stages, but I hope something good comes out in the end.

Well, in any case, thank you again for your help. You have a really great blog, keep up the good work!

Best regards,

Raúl

B.J. Epstein said...

Thanks, Raúl! That sounds fascinating! Good luck with it!

Best wishes,
BJ

Owen said...

I think the bigger problem in all this is that as translators we need to be translating into our native languages. There is a real danger of translating into a dialect not one's own and ending up with a mangled pastiche. One would at least need to have a native speaker of the target dialect proof-read it.

safa said...

Hi
My name is Safa, I intend to work on translating diglossia in literary texts.My idea is to deal with the difficulties the foreign translator faces when dealing with Algerian texts that mix both Algerian Ammiya (Dialect) and MSA (Fusha).my problem now is finding an Algerian piece of literature to work on in the practical part.Sir, would you please help me in this regard?
Thanks in advance

safa said...

Hi
My name is Safa, I intend to work on translating diglossia in literary texts.My idea is to deal with the difficulties the foreign translator faces when dealing with Algerian texts that mix both Algerian Ammiya (Dialect) and MSA (Fusha).my problem now is finding an Algerian piece of literature to work on in the practical part.Sir, would you please help me in this regard?
Thanks in advance

B.J. Epstein said...

Dear Safa,

Unfortunately, I don't know anything about Algerian literature, so I can't recommend any materials to you. I imagine your teachers will have a better sense of the field, though.
Good luck!

Best wishes,
BJ

Tina Šlajpah said...

Hi!

I found your blog while working on my diploma (which is connected to translation of dialects in Slovenian language) and must say it will help me a lot! Thank you for helping us :)
I would like to ask you (if you still remember) what was the source of your statemenet "if the original author uses a lower-class dialect from northern England, the Slovenian translator may not be able to find an appropriate dialect in northern Slovenia, but instead can use a lower-class dialect from another region." Since my research is connected to this very theme your answer would help me a lot.
Greetings from Slovenia,
Tina Šlajpah

B.J. Epstein said...

Sorry to disappoint you, Tina, but that was just a made-up example.

Best wishes,
BJ

pErsoNaldiAry said...

Hi, I'm Lina from Indonesia. I want to ask you, is African American language one of the dialects? or it includes into a variety of language? How about the translation of that kind of language?
Do you have any suggested theory about translating dialect?

Thanks..

B.J. Epstein said...

Hi Lina,

Well, Mark Twain thought there were a number of African American dialects, and many people would still agree. So it really depends on how you define a dialect. And thus there are different ways of handling dialects, as I suggested in my post. Perhaps one of those strategies would work.
Best wishes,
BJ

Liċeo Carlo Diacono - Id-Dipartiment tal-Malti said...

Hi, my name is Kenneth and I'm writing from Malta. I've just submitted my doctorate in translation studies. My thesis involves an exercise of practical translation, i.e. I've translated the first chapter of Frank McCourt's memoir "Angela's Ashes" into Maltese. I also had the problem on how to render the source-dialects into the TT (a dialect of Brooklyn and a dialect of Limerick). I decided to transpose the use of dialects into the TT using two Maltese pseudo-dialects (one to represent the dialect of Brooklyn, and one to represent that of Limerick). In this way, although both pseudo-dialects still reflect various linguistic aspects typical of Maltese dialects, no reader can associate of the two pseudo-dialects with specific local region (thus, avoiding any social negativity which is likely to be associated with some local dialects). Moreover, I extended the use of the source dialect in the TT without, however, affecting the basic characteristics of the respective characters. Nevertheless, losses involving the effects of dialect on the reader are unavoidable.