The story unfolds in Spain over 24 hours. Names, brands, food, music, all of these components reflect the place and times: Barcelona, Holy Week, 1990. The day is divided using Spanish words: madrugada, mañana, mediodía, tarde, siesta, anochecer, noche, las altas horas de la madrugada, amenacer.
Why use castellano (Spanish)? Why does a translator not translate all the words? Why make a text sound unEnglish?
The flavour, the evocative or connotative powers of words may not resonate as readily in Language 2 as they did in Language 1. How to judge when it is better to retain a foreign word or translate it? Obviously literary translation might permit this more than legal or technical translation. However, questions of habit, metaphor, and cultural reference permeate style in several sectors.
Native speakers, even bilinguals, often forget the metaphorical uses, the very visual idiomatic expressions, and the typical turns of phrase used in certain contexts until they are confronted with a translation. If not used to reading material in a field, how to know? Context and experience guide the professional.
For example, it is a commonplace that spoken English especially prefers simple, even monosyllabic “Anglo-Saxon” words to Latinate terms. The rise of plain language means that this applies to written English also, depending on the public targeted. The two broad categories of English etymology emerge clearly when translating to French, a romance language closer to its Latin roots. Récupérer quelque chose becomes get back something. Note the short, go-everywhere verb ‘get’ and the post-verbal preposition ‘back’. Yes, recuperate exists in English but is not used in this context. I recuperated my lost gloves? (Sounds sic!) A possible Latinate term would be retrieve but the level of language shifts. Usage stands with context and experience here as guiding lights for translators.
What if the translator wished to make the text sound foreign?
While this may be desirable in novels, it is hardly sought after in insurance policies or instruction manuals! (Who among us has not experienced confusion or convulsion while reading the label or handy instruction leaflet for a product made in Asia?!) Unfortunately poor renditions abound. Weak translations may actually function, thanks to photographs, diagrams or consumer background knowledge. Many people are satisfied with a ‘gist’ translation that provides the essence. Google may provide this on occasion. Hopefully the reader can figure out the rest safely. Human error and computer error are not mutually exclusive! Warnings like “This bag is not a toy” serve a primarily legal purpose as most people know that a plastic bag is not a toy. The message, no matter how well or poorly translated, has been placed as a precaution intended to save the lives of small children unable to read yet.
Recipes sometimes fool the finest home cooks because ingredients and preparation may change. How one cuts a lemon or tomato, how one treats garlic to be put in a sauce may vary from one culture to another, from one cuisine to another, hence from one language to another. Think about it: Are there quarters or slices of tomato in salad? Is the garlic crushed or chopped? This may explain the popularity of lush photos in cookbooks alongside step-by-step instructions.
Foreignizing or domesticating a text
The linguistic term is foreignization, a term associated with Lawrence Venuti in translation theory. The concept is not new. Briefly, foreignization requires keeping touches of the original language, either vocabulary or syntactic structure. The technique is not new either. Note it may be found in original writing, as seen in this fine example from Hemingway, who wrote the passage below in English to make it sound like Spanish. A hotel guest reports on his arrival in The Sun Also Rises (1954:240):
“Did I want to stay myself in person in the Hotel Montana?
Of that as yet I was undecided, but it would give me pleasure if my bags were brought up from the ground floor in order that they might not be stolen. Nothing was ever stolen in the Hotel Montana. In other fondas, yes. Not here. No. The personages of this establishment were rigidly selectioned. I was happy to hear it. Nevertheless, I would welcome the upbringal of my bags.”
Often words evoke memories, so place names, first or last names remind us of another space and time. Brands, ads, song titles or lyrics reflect the trends of the day and place. In One Dress, One Day, a duplication or doubling of words usually gives the Spanish in Italics, followed by the English within the text. One example is the brand Heno de Pravia directly associated as an adjective for soap in the text. However, Churros are described as fritters. Bits of text or dialogue appear within the manuscript like archival material with suggested subtitles. This is the case of diary pages penned with doodles by Nieves. Some Berlitz-style phonetics lend humour to the thief’s efforts at speaking French (peu becomes poo).
In fact, as a hybrid genre, One Dress, One Day gives readers the feel of a foreign film without the need for subtitles. A key advantage of staging directions, sound effects and colloquial dialogue is precisely the foreign taste many are unable to access because of their location or because of their distaste for subtitles, not to mention dubbing! Terms related to local customs combine with paraphrase-translations in dialogue, as seen in popular novels like Khalid Hossein’s The Kite Runner (Persian), or in Rawi Haj’s De Niro’s Game (Arabic and French).
One Dress, One Day will make most readers feel they understand the language of Cervantes while experiencing a tale infused with Spain.
NOTE re Translation and the Foreign:
In terms of literary translation, the usual figure of 2 to 3% of literature translated into English has not changed much despite globalization. In passing, fiction especially offers a window into the lives of others in a way that travelling rarely does. Compare that paltry percentage to translation in France, where approximately 27% of all books published are in translation or with the Spanish figure of 28%.
 email@example.com BBC Newsletter Culture 9 September 2014 Why won’t English speakers read books in translation?