I had some short stories, poems and photographs to share ... and so here I am

Why Agnus And Wally Aren't Married


What language are you speaking? What language are you writing in? Will your words get through to everyone who reads them?

It makes me sad to think that there are so many great foreign books that I will never truly be able to digest in the way the authors might've liked. As this universe hasn't yet given me the ability to read every book in the language in which they were originally written, I am denied the chance to get up close, figure out what an author was really trying to express. Yes, we do have translations, many of which are wonderful, but for me it is just never enough. It astounds me when I read a book in French and then compare it to the English translation; I feel sad that non-French speakers will never have access to the nuances, the authors' breaths and slight humming, the little flicks and caresses that translators struggle to transmit.

This brings me on to the story of a couple we'll call Agnus and Wally. To illustrate the dangers of translating with online programmes, and to illustrate the power of words, I thought I would try a little experiment. For a bit of fun, let's imagine that Wally writes a love note to Agnus, but for complicated reasons it must be translated into three other European languages and then back into English. I clicked on to the Babel Fish translating programme at Yahoo.com. Will our lovely couple live happily ever after? Let's find out:

The original letter in English:

Dear Agnus Punk,
I am writing to profess my undying love for you. My mother says you are the right woman for me and you cook and play darts very well. My father says I should quit dreaming and just accept my lot. He says I cannot expect to attract someone better looking than you. The church is booked, the ring is chosen, the pig has been slaughtered - all you have to do is say yes! I have left my secretary's number below and I expect a speedy reply. Kindest regards, Wally Moles.

Translated into Italian:

Caro Agnus Punk, sto scrivendo per professarvi il mio amore undying per. La mia madre dice che siete la donna di destra per me e cucinate molto bene e giocate i dardi. Il mio padre dice che dovrei rinunciare sognare ed accettare appena il mio lotto. Dice che non posso pensare attrarre qualcuno che osserva più meglio che voi. La chiesa è prenotata, l'anello è scelta, il maiale è stata macellata - tutta che dobbiate fare deve dire sì! Ho lasciato il mio numero di secretary's qui sotto e prevedo una risposta veloce. Riguardi più gentili, talpe di Wally.

Which is then translated into French:

Cher Agnus Punk, j'écris pour vous professer mien amore undying pour. Ma mère dit que vous êtes la femme de droite pour moi et cuisinées beaucoup bien et jouées les flèches. Mon père dit que je devrais rinunciare rêver et accepter à peine mon lotto. Il dit que je ne peux pas penser attirer quelqu'un qui observe plus de mieux que vous. L'église est réservée, l'anello est choix, le cochon a été abattue - toute que vous deviez faire doit dire oui ! J'ai laissé mon nombre de secretary's ici sous et prévois une répondue rapide. Égards plus gentils, taupes que Wally.

Which is then translated into Spanish:

Costoso Agnus Cerdo, j'écris para profesarles mío a undying para. Mi madre dice que son la mujer de derecha para mi y cocinadas mucho bien y jugadas las flechas. Mi padre dice que debería rinunc soñar apenas y aceptar mi lotto. Dice que no puedo pensar por atraer quelqu'un que observa mejor más de que ustedes. ¡Se reserva a L'église, l'anello es elección, se cortó al cerdo - toda que debían hacer debe decir sí! J'ai dejado mi numeroso secretary's aquí bajo y prevé uno respondida rápidos. Respetos más agradables, topos que Wally.

Which is then translated back into English and smartly posted off to Agnus:

Expensive Agnus Pig, j'écris to profess mine to them to undying stops. My mother says that they are the woman of right for my and cooked much and played the arrows well. My father says that rinunc would have to dream hardly and to accept my lotto. He says that I cannot think to attract quelqu'un that he observes better more of than you. Reserve to L'église, l'anello is election, was cut to the pig - everything that had to do must say yes! Lazy J'ai my numerous secretary's here low and anticipates one responded fast. More pleasant respect, awkward people than Wally.

Suffice to say that Wally remains a bachelor!

Isn't that great? I know it's hard to believe that "Dear Agnus Punk" can become "Expensive Agnus Pig", but it's absolutely true. Try it yourself!

I rest my case regarding online translating - just in case some of you are thinking about flogging your books to many different publishers/agents in foreign lands. Also, I suppose we'll just have to go on reading all of those wonderful foreign books that have been "adapted" - or we could sign up for non-stop, intensive language classes!


unarex said...

I've used those online translations before, and once when this friend of mine was going to translate some of my poems into French, I showed him what the online translator brought forth, and he laughed. The translator has a job in that (s)he has to infer the writer's meaning, but also not put too much of him/herself into it. That's why I always read diff translators when it comes to poetry. I feel sad about Russian works, especially someone like Marina Tsvetaeva who, I know that because of her complex metaphors, there are poems of hers that are just 'untranslatable'.

S. Kearney said...

Hi Jessica,
There are some Spanish novels that I prefer reading in French, as I feel English is too far away from the original. It's a pain having to read translations, and sometimes it puts me off even wanting to start a book. I also like to check out the credentials of the translators, making sure that it's someone who's on top of both languages. It will always be a very difficult area though.

Anonymous said...

That's amazing. I used an online translator to send someone a message in Polish once. I am now very worried about what it might've said!

unarex said...

That's cool that you can read in more than one language (without having to run to the translation dictionary).

Once I watched part of a Bergman film- it was "Winter Light" and I played the version that was dubbed from the Swedish and read the English subtitles, and was surprised to find how different they were. Same ideas, but phrased differently.

Anonymous said...

English-to-Japanese (and vice-versa) has some bizarre complexities as well.

I have found that there are some translators I will follow and read more of just as though they were an author I admired. A good translator, who approaches his or her work with sensitivity and can write well is something I'll seek out, probably because i know how incredibly rare they are.

Anonymous said...

I've never trusted those online translators. Not after I translated something from English to Norwegian and then back to English again and found suddenly I was being extremely rude!
Really not very good for international relations (and relatives)!

S. Kearney said...

There seems to be a real rush to get translations out and so maybe many shortcuts are taken. Do publishers settle for less than qualified/capable translators because they're more expensive or take more time? I've read articles that hint at this.

You are right to be cautious!
I know some companies who turned to online translating devices to cut costs. They will probably lose far more money in the longterm, when they realise what they're sending out to their clients!

Anonymous said...

Ooh, lost in translation, eat your heart out! I like the babel effect.

Anonymous said...

Hello Shameless,

I rest my case regarding online translating - just in case some of you are thinking about flogging your books to many different publishers/agents in foreign lands

I think in the UK and I also know with mainstream publishers in New York & with literary agents in the UK & New York, full-time staff are hired to deal with foreign rights. These staff deal directly with literary scouts and associate agents in Europe who sell rights. An author just waits for the phone call.
It often comes automatically with the territory of an author, being published through these channels in the UK & US. A lot of negotiations for foreign translations also takes place at books fairs like the London one, Frankfurt & in Canada where many European publishers gather to meet with British & American agents & publishers, to buy rights of english language fiction & non-fiction, that they suspect will sell well in their home countries.


S. Kearney said...

Thanks for the reminder. Frustrated with the difficult task of getting anywhere with English-language editors and publishers, I may just get my manuscript translated into French - where part of the story takes place - and then approach agents/publishers in Paris. For that, I will be calling in a REAL human to translate the synopsis and first chapter for starters. Can you imagine the result if I were to do it on the Internet? I think there would be many examples of "Expensive Agnus Pig". :)
I look forward to reading your future work in French, Susan! :)

Anonymous said...

I am completely hooked into Babel at the moment and have had hours of fun with it. If anyone is stupid enough to run a manuscript through it then they will have to deal with the consequences. Multiple translating makes for very intersting reading. I have also noticed a couple of blogs who are employing this as a way to write posts!

Forgot to say congratulations on your honoured mention on the 'Clarity' competition. So well done Shameless. A great comp for getting out and about!

Anonymous said...

Hi again Shameless,
You are so creative & talented with words. Just waiting for your book.
There is one literary agent who has operated in London & Paris for years. Her name is Shelley Powers.

I believe that France, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal and Italy are one of the more popular countries for British publishers or agents to sell foreign rights to.

About me. I'll have to be published first. Keep your fingers crossed & I'll be rootng for you too. :-)

S. Kearney said...

Yes, Babel has been giving us all some good laughs, which it should be doing! Your Spanish and French is impeccable by the way. :)
Thanks about the short story; I'm glad my words found their way into some new, unknown territory.

Shelley? Goodness! The world is small! A friend referred me to her a while back but she didn't bite. She wrote back a nice letter saying the writing was good but the story didn't grab her. She asked me to send her my Dublin story when it's finished, as that would be easier to sell. Mmmm. We'll see how the other one goes eslewhere.
I send you lots of good vibes for your writing too, Susan.:) 2007 is the year, according to the stars!

Anonymous said...

Well Wally sounds a 'right wally'. SO it is no loss to the female species that he remains a bachelor. But the translation was hilarious.

I often find that translating from any language into another causes a loss of sorts. I often see that with Arabic translated into English. You never pick up on the nuances.

S. Kearney said...

You're right that Wally deserves to be single. :) Interesting that he was keen on the darts, though!
But yes, translation or no translation, few people would want to tie the knot to this one.

Anonymous said...

Just goes to show ... the language of love isn't universal after all.

S. Kearney said...

That's why it's probably better to forget about words when it comes to love. :)