I’m conflicted about the limits of translation as a way to convey culture. When I first saw the Spanish translation of “Push” by Sapphire, having read the original book, I was very annoyed. However, now I believe that the editorial decision made in this case was perhaps the right one to make. To what extent can translation convey cultural references related to the use of language? Can anyone tell me, is there a uniform “official” academic practice in translation in this case?
SPOILER ALERT If you haven’t read “Push” and plan to, continue at your own risk.
I haven’t actually read the whole translation of “Push”, but I did manage to notice that the illiteracy of the main character and first person narrator of the novel, Precious, was lost in the translation into Spanish. In a case similar to “The Artist” (see my earlier post), a significant part of the message conveyed by the words lies in the form, not the content. Yes, the story is important; it’s a novel after all. However, the novel relies heavily on the fact that Precious is, for the most part, illiterate. It is her story of overcoming social and family adversity to forge herself some sort of future. This is reflected in her expression, but most of all in how the words are written. Her writing is full of what should be considered ‘creative spelling’, mostly associated with how words sound, as opposed to ‘misspelling’, which is a convention, after all. Given the context of the book, this makes a lot of sense considering the general difficulty of the written English language.
So, originally I was disturbed by this. I thought the translation would be unable to convey the message. However, now I can understand the publisher’s or translator’s decision not to pursue that path. After all, misspelling the English and Spanish languages are two completely different issues altogether. Although there are exceptions to the following, Spanish misspelling is generally limited to mistaking “b” and “v”, “g” and “j”, “y” and “ll”, doubting whether a word has a silent “h” at the start or somewhere in the middle or leaving out your “tilde” (for an example of an increasingly common orthographical and grammatical horror, take a look here: http://tomasee.blogspot.com.es/2012/02/gramatica-profesional.html ).
However, as any student of the English language will testify, English spelling is, to put it mildly, unconventional. Especially since people aren’t usually interested in the origins of a language when they learn it. To be honest, I’ve never had much of a problem with it; I guess I have a good visual memory. However, I completely sympathise with people who complain about how difficult it is for them to grasp English spelling and pronunciation. For people brought up in a language like Spanish, which is pretty much written the way it’s spoken, with a letter for each phoneme (more or less), English spelling and pronunciation seem mostly unrelated. So, how can we translate misspelling, when misspelling in each language is rooted in a different thing?
Now I wonder, were Precious's social background and educational shortcomings reflected in the book at all? If not in the spelling, perhaps in the vocabulary used?