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Thread: Translating atmosphere

  1. #1
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    Default Translating atmosphere

    I don't want to get too involved in Platonic distinctions between ideal types and concrete examples of things, but when translating you do think about, for instance, different atmospheres.
    '
    A pub is a pub, and in beer-drinking countries such as Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany, Flanders, Estonia, and a dozen other beer countries, novels can be set in pubs. But these pubs have different atmospheres, depending on national character and décor, yet have many things in common, such as the landlord / landlady, barmen / barmaids, and regulars.

    I often wonder how much of such atmosphere can be brought across in the translation if the reader has never been to the country concerned and has never been in one of their pubs, as opposed to one nearer home. To what extent can the reader compensate for this lack of experience?

    This question involves many other things such as the way flats and houses are furnished, landscapes and geography, types of political dealings, traditional customs and habits, etc.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    I'd say that a reader's image of atmospheres in foreign places greatly depends on how much the reader reads, how many foreign films are watched (not Hollywood fiilms where Americans visit Rome, Paris, or London and have stereotypical experiences...), books read, and how much that person travels. Unfortunately those who don't travel a lot or read much, are more likely to believe the stereotypes that are served to them.
    The translator translates, the reader reads. The more the reader reads translated literature, the better!

    Since I'm working on children's lit these days, this is something I have been thinking about a lot. Because children have limited knowledge of the world outside their hometown, and foreign atmospheres to them are just that - foreign, and perhaps abstract.

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    I have few dealings with children, but when I myself was a kid, they had red double-decker buses in the local town (Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England) and also in London. So as a small child, when I saw a red double-decker in a children's book I never realised that London was not Dewsbury. Also, adding to this illusion was the fact that the chimes of the local town hall bells were the same ding-dong ding-dong ones as those of Big Ben.

    Similarly, when reading about cowboys and Indians, the idea of America as a separate entity just didn't exist in my mind. These stories were located in a cowboys&Indians world that was beyond space and time. You just accepted all those funny carriages and the fact that people rode horses and shot at one another.
    Last edited by Eric; 19-Apr-2011 at 13:01.

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    Another atmosphere thing is the passage of time. I visualise Kraków in Poland as I remember it from 1975-76 when I lived there for a year. So even when I consult the internet and see that some things (but not key things) have changed in the appearance of the city, I still in my mind's eye fall back on my default mode of 1970s Kraków. Much has changed with the demise of Communism and the rapid growth of the consumer society in Poland, plus the re-emergence of the Catholic Church after being suppressed in Communist times. So the Kraków atmosphere in my head will be slightly off-centre compared with the reality of today.

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    I came across this thread which immediately brought to my mind "The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole" by S. Townsend. It was given to my young daughter by some British friends of mine and I wondered if she could actually feel the atmosphere of the place and understand what Adrian was going through. Her English was pretty good and she would certainly have no difficulty in understanding facts but having lived all her life in Italy, would she be able to catch all of it? She wouldn't have been familiar with the everyday life of this boy and his concerns.
    That's why I don't think any translator could give the reader this skill.

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    This is one reason why a translator must have a clear readership in mind when translating. Given the fact that the school systems in Britain, the USA, Italy and elsewhere are different, but that teenagers often have similar behaviour and yearnings in many countries, the translator would have to judge, in the case of Adrian Mole, what was part of the psychology of a teenager (Adrian Mole) and which parts, involving schools, would be incomprehensible to foreign readers.

    Another problem is the "national atmosphere". The Mole books were written during the Thatcher period of British history. That is special to Britain. But Adrian's dysfunctional family could perhaps be found anywhere in the world.

    There are eight Adrian Mole books, and publishers are no doubt eager to start a series where they can sell all eight in a row and make lots of lovely money. But are all of the eight comprehensible or interesting to a foreign audience? Does Sue Townsend maintain the quality of humour all the way through, or does she become preachy? (I don't know, I've not read the books in any language.) What can be a cult in one country does not always work in another. Because Townsend is very much a product of her age and a supporter of the British Labour Party. In a Europe where several countries have swung to the right-wing of politics, including Britain itself, what she was making fun of may no longer be comprehensible to a modern mass audience. Or she may maintain her readership by her sense of humour.

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    Well..I read two of the series and I can say they mustn't be very appealing to a foreign audience,at least an Italian one. I'm especially referring - so was I when I talked about my doubts whether my daughter would understand it or not - to what you called the "national atmosphere". Of course family problems are much the same all over the world,but it's just the context which I found peculiar in this case and fully enjoyable from those who knew it well and could catch the humor.
    I believe translators cannot do all the job,sometimes translations are not enough to depict a scene..

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    Translation does, of course, have its limits. If the density of local reference and in-jokes is too great, the book moves in the direction of untranslatability.

    The book I've just translated involves Nazi Germany, an area of reality that is often in the news. So when brown shirts or Brownshirts are mentioned, most older people with an education would understand. But would a teenager, born in 1995, some half-century after the end of a war that must seem like ancient history to teenagers?

    The children's book I hope to translate next, involves a big house, ghosts, and pirates, features that are well established in the minds of young and old alike.

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    Quote Originally Posted by Norma View Post
    Well..I read two of the series and I can say they mustn't be very appealing to a foreign audience,at least an Italian one. I'm especially referring - so was I when I talked about my doubts whether my daughter would understand it or not - to what you called the "national atmosphere". Of course family problems are much the same all over the world,but it's just the context which I found peculiar in this case and fully enjoyable from those who knew it well and could catch the humor.
    I believe translators cannot do all the job,sometimes translations are not enough to depict a scene..
    Here's the Italian translator of Adrian Mole explaining her method. I assume you read Italian!

    http://cercopdf.com/visualizza/aHR0c...FuTW9sZS5wZGY=
    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."--Jack Layton

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    lenz, I can't open properly the link you've posted. A little window opens and I can't close it.
    The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    I am wondering how much of the atmosphere of the children's book I'm translating (from Swedish) is specific to one country and how much is easy to understand by everyone. I rather suspect the latter. Because the book adopts a number of character styles and symbols from European literature, but there is nothing to stop children understanding big old houses, ghosts, hidden treasure and pirates. I mean pirates in the Long John Silver sense, not the ones round Somalia today.

    I too am curious to see what Lenz posted, but I too couldn't open the link properly.

    To address Norma's point, I think that translators do have limits, but if they know their target language / mother-tongue well enough, they can certainly be creative. When people say that a phrase is "untranslateable" they often mean that they themselves haven't thought of a solution, not that such a solution does not exist.

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    CercaPDF.com is the name of the site. The link works for me - I don't know how that works.

    http://cercopdf.com/visualizza/aHR0c...FuTW9sZS5wZGY=
    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."--Jack Layton

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    By the way -- I can't really read Italian, but found that I could understand enough to get the general idea.
    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."--Jack Layton

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    My level of Italian is perhaps at that of Lenz's. The problem is that that link still gives me the promise of pages 1-5 but nothing happens when you click on the links inside the webpage.

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    I still couldn't get to the article: I went on the home page, searched "nome alimenti", and on the first one I clicked on "Scarica" (download).

    It was interesting, and it showed what a mess the Italian translator had made! I cannot believe he has made mistakes so banal: he sometimes opted for too literal translations, so that the result was incomprehensible.
    The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    I still couldn't get to the article: I went on the home page, searched "nome alimenti", and on the first one I clicked on "Scarica" (download).
    It was interesting, and it showed what a mess the Italian translator had made! I cannot believe he has made mistakes so
    banal: he sometimes opted for too literal translations, so that the result was incomprehensible.
    I'm exhausted from figuring out how to do this, but here is, I hope, a copy of the first page of the article.

    http://docs.google.com/viewer?url=ht...number=1&w=623
    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."--Jack Layton

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    Default Re: Translating atmosphere

    Sorry Lenz, but there's something, er, wrong. This doesn't work either. Maybe your computer has been infected by the dreaded lurgi.

    Let's get back to atmosphere. It is surely a build-up of many tiny things in a text that all point roughly in the same direction, so that the reader is somehow enveloped by the mood or atmosphere of the story. The weather, the mood of characters, the time of day, the season of the year, all these things can affect your perception of something that on the surface seems to be quite a banal occurrence or story. But in the context of mood and atmosphere, the story can become suffused with a particular mood.

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