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January 19, 2016

On Translating

Spain exposition on Galvez            Rule Number One – don’t.

I just received the manuscript, no, I take that back, the English version of the published e-book of the biography of Bernardo de Gálvez. It was written (in Spanish) by my dear and beloved friend, the vice president of the Association of Bernardo de Gálvez in Malaga, Spain. With the financial support of many contributors, he has successfully published the biography in Spain and now will offer the English translation for sale in the United States.

To my cringing horror, I have learned that he, or his supporters, may have used Google Translator to produce the English version. It is legible, and after stumbling through some of it, I’m sure that whoever reads it will –sort of—understand something of the life of Bernardo. A sample, taken verbatim from the text:

Galvez“Bernardo de Galvez, a native of Malaga born in Macharaviaya who was involved in some of relevant periods of the History of our Nation and even in the History of Humanity, a position which resulted in determining the origin of the first democracy in the Contemporary era.

Paradoxically, his unique and extraordinary career has been sparsely spread in Spain, contrary to what happened in the United States, what is understandable as Bernardo de Galvez was one of the key figures in US Independence.” OMG!

I am currently working on a translation for a dear friend who is working on yet another book /movie on Bernardo de Gálvez. I am doing it as carefully as I can, keeping the two manuscripts open side-by-side and going back a forth, translating word-for-word. Does it result in beautifully crafted English? Absolutely not, but that is not the purpose, or at least I hope not!

            There are a few people who are truly excellent translators – Galen Greaser, who used to work for the General Land Office, comes to mind. He is a delightful, humorous (with a name like that, how could he not be?), red-headed Puerto Rican who speaks both English and Spanish with a fluency that is truly awesome. And he can translate with precision and flair in both directions. Others, not so much.

I have numerous friends, some who speak good English, some who speak good Spanish, but one or the other language is always the stronger of the two. But, again, the spoken language and the written language are not opposite sides of the same coin. To be able to speak articulately in Spanish, or English, does not mean one can write with equal fluency. And, God forbid, Google Translator should not be asked to do either.

            I remember trying to write a letter to the General in charge of the Mexican military archives requesting permission to use their facilities. I gave my feeble attempts (in Kitchen Spanish) to Galen’s wife, and she turned it into a paean of praise in (Professional Business) Spanish that I’m sure gained me entrance. I would never have been able to do the same without her help. However, she can’t do the same in English although she grew up in Mexico speaking English as a child.

          The Spanish author of the 1,000 page thesis on Bernardo de Gálvez is planning to turn it into a published biography. The Spanish version, I am certain, will be excellent. The English version, which he plans to publish through the University of Florida Press, is going to need some major editorial help, whether he admits it or not. I hope he is sensible enough to request it.

      Translating a book is incredibly difficult.  Each author chooses a very specific word that evokes a feeling or lovingly crafts a particularly apt phrase. Those words and phrases often don’t translate easily into other languages. The flowery (see above) Spanish writing does not translate well into English. The translator must be aware of the nuances intended by the author and be able to articulate them in the other language, even if, or especially if, it is not to be word-for-word.

The translators who did Arturo Perez Reverte or Isabel Allende or even Gabriel Garcia Marquez have been able to retain the fine distinctions and the lovely phrases intended by those authors. Not just anyone could have done that. I know I couldn’t.

So how do I tell my beloved friend that the English translation is a bust? Ouch!

General
About Caroline Castillo Crimm

Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!

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