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 »  Articles Overview  »  Specialties  »  Art/Literary Translation  »  Translation Criticism- How to deal with Regionalisms?

Translation Criticism- How to deal with Regionalisms?

By rociogomez (X) | Published  02/26/2006 | Art/Literary Translation | Recommendation:
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rociogomez (X)
English to Spanish translator

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Society & culture and their influence on language

To Kill a Mockingbird is both regional and historical in its setting. Through the characters' dialogue and narrative, Harper Lee conveys how some Southerners used language during the Great Depression. She also suggests differences in language use depending on the characters’ role in the community. This novel shows how, even within the same town, a variety of language communities exist. The society of Maycomb county has a definitive structure containing four classes.

How members of Maycomb’s four different classes speak their minds:

q First Class:
They mostly speak the standard American dialect of the 1930s, together with some features of the Southern dialect spoken by white people in Alabama at that time. The latter dialectal variety is mainly used by Atticus’s children: Jem and Scout.
Through the following examples we see that members of this so-called first or upper class, Aunt Alexandra in this case, employ quite a wide range of complex structures such as passive voice and the if conditional clause of the second type, in addition to a correct conjugation of verbs and plural forms.
- Aunt Alexandra discussing Scout’s choice of friends (chapter 23):
“Don’t be silly, Jean Louise,” said Aunt Alexandra. “The thing is, you can scrub Walter Cunningham till he shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he’ll never be like Jem. Besides, there’s a drinking streak in that family a mile wide. Finch women aren’t interested in that sort of people.”
“No seas necia, Jean Louise –dijo tía Alexandra-. El caso es que puedes restregar con jabón a Walter Cunningham hasta que brille, puedes ponerle zapatos y un traje nuevo, pero nunca será como Jem. Por otra parte, en aquella familia existe una tendencia a la bebida que se ve desde cien leguas de distancia. Las mujeres de los Finch no se interesan por aquella clase de gente.”
“That’s your father all over again,” said Aunt Alexandra, “and I still say that Jean Louise will not invite Walter Cunningham to this house. If he were her double first cousin once removed he would still not be received in this house unless he comes to see Atticus on business. Now that is that.”
“- Esta es otra de las teorías que retratan a tu padre de pies a cabeza –dijo tía Alexandra-, pero yo continúo asegurando que Jean Louise no invitará a Walter Cunningham a esta casa. Si fuese primo hermano suyo por partida doble, una vez fuera de aquí no sería recibido en esta casa a menos que viniera a ver a Atticus por asuntos profesionales. Y no hay más que hablar.”
Before discussing further instances I would like to point out some aspects of the translated paragraphs I consider worth mentioning:
“Besides, there’s a drinking streak in that family a mile wide”
“en aquella familia existe una tendencia a la bebida que se ve desde cien leguas de distancia”

This translation, though not totally faithful to the original, still manages to convey the same idea, retaining the visual image created by Aunt Alexandra.

“Finch women”
“Las mujeres de los Finch”

I do not think this translation to be accurate since it may lead to ambiguity. The Spanish version suggests that those women’s husbands are named Finch when actually Finch is the maiden name of both Scout and Aunt Alexandra.
Instead I would have written “Las mujeres Finch or las mujeres de la familia Finch".

“ If he were her double first cousin once removed he would still not be received”
“Si fuese primo hermano suyo por partida doble, una vez fuera de aquí no sería recibido ”

I do not agree with the translation of the expression “once removed” that in English means: (of cousins) belonging to a different generation so that a first cousin once removed is a first cousin’s child. In Spanish it means: hijo/a de primo/a hermano/a.
Moreover, the translation lacks the emphatic force of the original given by the word “still”.

It is through Scout and Jem that we find some instances of Southern dialect and even Black English, in the upper class. This becomes more evident when they talk to each other as seen in the conversation below: (simplification of consonant clusters in words like “chewin(g)”, use of ain’t, imperative with go, elision of auxiliary do in yes/no question, use of compressed phonetics).
- Jem asking his sister Scout to get rid of two pieces of chewing gum she had found near Boo Radley ’s house (chapter 4):

“Don’t eat things you find, Scout”
“This wasn’t on the ground, it was in a tree.”
Jem growled
“Well it was,” I said. “It was sticking in that tree yonder, the one comin’ from school.”
“Spit it out right now!”
I spat it out. The tang was fading, anyway. “I’ve been chewin’ it all afternoon and I ain’t dead yet, not even sick.”
Jem stamped his foot. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to even touch the trees over there? You’ll get killed if you do!”
“You touched the house once!”
“That was different! You go gargle – right now, you hear me?”
“Ain’t neither, it’ll take the taste outa my mouth.”
“You don’t’n I’ll tell Calpurnia on you!”

“-No comas las cosas que encuentres, Scout”.
“Esta no estaba en el suelo, estaba en un árbol”.
“Jem refunfuñó.”
“- Pues estaba – aseguré–Salía de aquel árbol de allá, el que se encuentra viniendo de la escuela”.
“¡Escúpelas enseguida!”
“Las escupí. De todos modos ya perdían el sabor”
“- Toda la tarde las masco y todavía no me he muerto, ni siquiera me siento mal”.
“Jem dio en el suelo con el pie.”
“-¿No sabes que no tienes que tocar siquiera aquellos árboles?¡Si las tocas morirás!”
“- ¡Una vez tú tocaste la casa!”
“- ¡Aquello era diferente! Ve a gargarizar... En seguida, ¿me oyes?”
“- De ningún modo; se me marcharía el sabor de la boca”.
“- ¡No lo hagas y se lo diré a Calpurnia!”

The translator does not reflect the use of this dialectal variety. However, the fact that he chooses to translate this phrase “I’ve been chewin’ it” (an action with progressive aspect) into: “Toda la tarde las masco” (an action with non-progressive aspect), may attempt to suggest that Scout’s grammar is not standard.

- A classmate of Scout’s announced that Atticus defended “niggers”. The girl somewhat puzzled talks to her father (chapter 9):
“Do you defend niggers, Atticus?” I asked him that evening.
“Of course I do. Don’t say nigger, Scout. That’s common.”
“’s what everybody at school says.”
“- Atticus, ¿tú defiendes nigros?-pregunté a mi madre aquella noche.”
“-Claro que sí. Y no digas nigros, Scout. Es grosero.”
“- Es lo que dice todo el mundo en la escuela.”

In this instance it is interesting to point out how the translator keeps the sound of the term “nigger” (at least that of the 1st syllable) using “nigro” instead of the Spanish word “negro”.
The object pronoun “him” is translated as “mi madre” – it surely must be a printing mistake.

q Second Class:
This class is mainly made up by farmers like the Cunninghams whom, according to Atticus’s words: “the crash hit hardest”. They make use of the Southern dialectal variety characterised by elisions and simplifications galore. In spite of this we can still make out what they mean.
- Walter Cunningham addressing Miss Caroline, the teacher (chapter 2)
“Did you forget it this morning?” asked Miss Caroline. Walter’s jaw twitched again.
“Yeb’m,” he finally mumbled.
Miss Caroline went to her desk and opened her purse. “Here’s a quarter,” she said to Walter. “Go and eat down-town today. You can pay me back tomorrow.”
Walter shook his head. “Nome thank you ma’am,” he drawled softly.

“- ¿Lo has olvidado esta mañana?- insistió miss Caroline.”
“La mandíbula de Walter se movió otra vez.”
“- Si señora – murmuró por fin.”
“Miss Caroline fue a su mesa y abrió el monedero.”
“Aquí tienes un cuarto de dólar- le dijo a Walter-. Hoy vete a comer a la población. Mañana podrás devolvérmelo.”
“Walter movió la cabeza negativamente.”
“-No gracias, señora – tartajeó en voz baja.”

The translator does not reflect the use of this dialectal variety in any way. Moreover, in the first example I do not agree with the choice “tartajeó”; since “drawled” implies that Walter spoke slowly, even in a lazy manner which is not the same as “stammer”- the English equivalent for “tartajeó”.

q Third Class:
This class, represented in this novel by the Ewells, also uses the Southern dialectal variety. However, their attitude and manners (as seen through their much more “corrupted” idiolect) are both different from the Cunninghams’. In the following example we see: simplification of consonant clusters, elisions, verbs that are not conjugated for the past simple, use of compressed phonetics, among other characteristics of this variety – which also form part of Black English.
- Mayella Ewell accusing Tom Robinson in the trial (chapter 18)
“I said, “Come here, nigger, and bust up this chiffarobe for me, I gotta nickel for you.” He coulda done it easy enough, he could. So he come in the yard an’ I went in the house to get him the nickel and I turned around an’fore I knew it he was on me. Just run up behind me, he did. He got me round the neck, cussin’ me and sayin’ dirt – I fought ‘n’hollered, but he had me round the neck. He hit me agin an’ agin-”
“- Yo dije: >. El podía hacerlo fácilmente, en verdad que podía. El entró en el patio, y yo entré en casa para ir a buscar los cincos centavos, pero volví la cabeza y antes de que me diera cuenta, él se me había echado encima. Había subido corriendo tras de mí, de ahí lo que había hecho. Me cogió por el cuello, maldiciéndome y diciendo palabras feas... Yo luché y grité, pero él me tenía por el cuello. Me golpeó una y otra vez... ”

The constant repetition of the personal pronouns “el” and “yo ” (something that does not sound grammatical in Spanish), could be taken as a factor that tries to suggest Mayella ´s use of dialect.
The word “nickel” (repeated in the original) has been translated as “una moneda” and later as “los cinco centavos”.

- Burris Ewell, Scout’s classmate and Mayella ’s brother, talking to Miss Caroline (chapter 3)
“And Burris,” said Miss Caroline, “please bath yourself before you come back tomorrow.”
The boy laughed rudely. “You ain’t sendin’ me home, missus. I was on the verge of leavin’ – I done done my time for this year”
“- Y Burris – añadió la maestra-, haz el favor de bañarte antes de volver mañana.”
“El chico soltó una carcajada grosera.”
“- No es usted quien me echa, señorita – replicó con tosco lenguaje dialectal-. Estaba a punto de marcharme; ya he cumplido mi tiempo por este año.”

In this example we see how the translator chooses to add a comment or explanation of his own within the narrative itself, in order to account for the use of dialect. Although this device may be an attempt to deal with regionalism and favour the reader by simplifying the prose, I do not think it successfully achieves its goal. Since we are missing the full essence of this character´s “persona” which has been so masterfully depicted in the original through his use of dialect.

q Fourth Class:
It is made up by Maycomb ’s, as the novel puts it, “coloured folks”, who speak Black English. I will just mention the two most outstanding black characters (Calpurnia and Thomas Robinson).
Calpurnia is the housekeeper and cook who shares her days with Atticus and his children. The lawyer sees in her a mother figure for his kids as he recognises she is far better able than himself to be a “homemaker”.
Calpurnia at home:
We learn through Scout that Atticus believes Calpurnia to have more education than most coloured folks. When she is at the Finch’s home, she generally speaks what can be referred to as a “common core” Southern English variety used by the first class. So we see that in spite of some characteristic elisions her sentences are well constructed and her conjugation of verbs is correct.
However, when Calpurnia gets angry her grammar is different. We may say that she makes use of some typical features of Black English, such as: absence of tense in some verbs, wrong conjugation, use of ain’t, elision of consonants, deletion of auxiliary in yes/ no questions, lack of any distinction between /I/ and /e/ (so that the verb sit becomes set) . Scout puts it this way: “… when she was furious Calpurnia’s grammar became erratic. When in tranquility, her grammar was as good as anybody’s in Maycomb.”

- Calpurnia scolding Scout (chapter 3)

When she squinted down at me the tiny lines around her eyes deepened. “There’s some folks who don’t eat like us,” she whispered fiercely, “but you ain’t called on to contradict ‘em at the table when they don’t. That boy’s yo’ comp’ny and if he wants to eat up the table-cloth you let him, you hear?”

“He ain’t company, Cal, he’s just a Cunningham -”

“Hush your mouth. Don’t matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house’s yo’ comp’ny, and don’t you let me catch you remarkin’ on their ways like you was so high and mighty! Yo’ folks might be better’n the Cunninghams but it don’t count for nothin’ the way you’re disgracin’ ‘em – if you can’t act fit to eat at the table you can just set here and eat in the kitchen!”

“Cuando me miraba con sus ojos bizcos, las pequeñas arrugas que los rodeaban se hacían más profundas.”

“- Hay personas que no comen como nosotros- susurró airada-, pero no has de ser tú quien las critique en la mesa cuando se da este caso. Aquel chico es tu invitado, y si se quiere comer los manteles le dejas que se los coma, ¿me oyes?”

“No es un invitado, Cal, es solamente un Cunningham…”
“- ¡Cierra la boca! No importa quién sea, todo el que pone el pie en esta casa es tu invitado, ¡y no quieras que te coja haciendo comentarios sobre sus maneras como si tú fueras tan alta y poderosa! Tus familiares quizás sean mejores que los Cunningham, pero sus méritos no cuentan para nada con el modo que tú tienes de rebajarlos... ¡Y si no sabes portarte debidamente para comer en la mesa, te sientas aquí y comes en la cocina! – concluyó Calpurnia, estropeando bastante las palabras.”

Once again we see how the translator includes a phrase to account for Calpurnia’s “erratic grammar”.

Calpurnia at church

In Chapter 12 Scout and Jem attend the “First Purchase African M.E. Church” with Calpurnia. They notice that she uses language differently at church than she does at their home.

As soon as they arrive, a black woman named Lula tries to tell Calpurnia that white children don't belong at the church. However, Calpurnia points out that it's the same God, and the rest of the congregation welcomes the newcomers. Scout is surprised to hear Calpurnia speak in the same black dialect as the others. The girl describes Calpurnia as “having command of two languages”.

- Calpurnia, Scout and Jem talking about this (chapter 12)

“Cal,” I asked, “why do you talk nigger-talk to the – to your folks when you know it’s not right?”
“Well, in the first place I’m black-”

“That doesn’t mean you hafta talk that way when you know better,” said Jem.

Calpurnia tilted her hat and scratched her head, then pressed her hat down carefully over her ears. “It’s right hard to say,” she said. “Suppose you and Scout talked coloured-folks’ talk at home – it’d be out of place, wouldn’t it? Now what if I talked white-folks’ talk at church, and with my neighbours? They’d think I was puttin’ on airs to beat Moses.”

“- Cal –le pregunté–, ¿por qué hablas el lenguaje negro con ... con tu gente, sabiendo que no está bien?”

“- Pues, en primer lugar, yo soy negra...”

“- Esto no significa que debas hablar de aquel modo, sabiéndolo hacer mejor – objeto Jem.”

“Calpurnia se ladeó el sombrero y se rascó la cabeza; luego se lo caló cuidadosamente sobre las orejas.”
“- Es muy difícil explicarlo – dijo –. Supón que tu y Scout hablaseis en la casa el lenguaje negro; estaría fuera de lugar, ¿no es verdad? Pues, ¿qué sería si yo hablase lenguaje blanco con mi gente, en la iglesia, y con mis vecinos? Pensarían que me había dado la pretensión de aventajar a Moisés. ”

The translator adds the expression “con mi gente” which is not present in the original.

- Calpurnia’s conversation with Lula (chapter 12)

“What you up to, Miss Cal?” said a voice behind us.

I felt Calpurnia’s hand dig into my shoulder. “What you want, Lula?” she asked, in tones I had never heard her use. She spoke quietly, contemptuously.

“I wants to know why you bringin’ white chillun to nigger church.”

“They’s my comp’ny,” said Calpurnia. Again I thought her voice strange: she was talking like the rest of them.

“Yeah, an’ I reckon you’s comp’ny at the Finch house durin’ the week.”

A murmur ran through the crowd. “Don’t you fret,” Calpurnia whispered to me, but the roses on her hat trembled indignantly.

When Lula came up the pathway towards us Calpurnia said, “Stop right there, nigger.”

Lula stopped, but she said, “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here- they got their church, we got our’n. It is our church, ain’t it, Miss Cal?”

Calpurnia said, “It’s the same God, ain’t it?”

Aspects of Black English found in Calpurnia: elision of auxiliary in wh-questions, wrong conjugation, use of ain’t.

Aspects of Black English found in Lula: elision of auxiliary in wh-questions, wrong conjugation, elision of consonant “g” when it is in final position, use of ain’t, use of lexical item “chillun” instead of children, absence of the possessive morpheme –’s, use of a double negative construction, use of compressed phonetics.

“- ¿Qué se propone, miss Cal? – preguntó una voz detrás de nosotros.”

“Sentí que la mano de Calpurnia se me clavaba en el hombro. -¿Qué quieres, Lula? – preguntó con unos acentos que no le había oído emplear jamás. Hablaba con voz calmosa y despectiva.”
“- Quiero saber por qué traes niños blancos a una iglesia negra – dijo con lenguaje dialectal.”

“- Son mis acompañantes – contestó Calpurnia. Otra vez me pareció extraña su voz: hablaba como los demás negros.”

“- Sí, y creo que tú eres la compañía que hay en casa de los Finch durante la semana.”

“Un murmullo se extendió en la multitud.’

“- No te asustes – me susurró Calpurnia, aunque las rosas de su sombrero temblaban de indignación.”

“Cuando Lula vino hacia nosotros por el sendero, Calpurnia dijo:
- Párate donde estás, negra.”

“Lula se detuvo, pero replicó: - No tienes obligación alguna de traer niños blancos aquí: ellos tienen su iglesia, nosotros tenemos la nuestra. Es nuestra iglesia, ¿verdad que sí, miss Cal? ”

“- Es el mismo Dios, ¿verdad que sí? – replicó Calpurnia.”

Once more the translator introduces an explanatory phrase to account for the use of dialect.

Thomas Robinson, the man wrongfully accused of raping Mayella Ewell, is the other main black character. Despite the significant evidence pointing to Tom's innocence, the jury convicts him. Atticus hopes for an appeal, but unfortunately Tom tries to escape from prison and is shot to death.

- Thomas Robinson at the courthouse facing his trial (chapter 19)

“Were you acquainted with Mayella Violet Ewell?” asked Atticus.

“Yes suh, I had to pass her place goin’ to and from the field every day.”

“Whose field?”

“I picks for Mr Link Deas.”
“Were you picking cotton in November?”

“No suh, I works in his yard fall an’ wintertime. I works pretty steady for him all year round, he’s got a lot of pecan trees’n things.”

“- ¿Conocía usted a Mayella Violet Ewell? – preguntó Atticus.”

“- Sí, señor, pasaba por delante de su casa todos los días yendo y viniendo del campo.”

“- ¿Del campo de quién?”

“- Recojo algodón para míster Link Deas.”

“- ¿Estaba cosechando algodón en noviembre?”
“No, señor, en otoño e invierno trabajo en su patio. Trabajo fijo para el todo el año; tiene mochos nogales y otras cosas.”

“When did she ask you to chop up the – chiffarobe?”

“ Mr Finch, it was way last spring. I remember it because it was choppin’ time and I had my hoe with me. I said I didn’t have nothin’ but this hoe, but she said she had a hatchet. She give me the hatchet and I broke up the chiffarobe…”

“-¿Cuándo le pidió que partiese el ... el armario?”

“- Fue la primavera pasada, míster Finch. Lo recuerdo porque era la época de partir leña, y yo llevaba una azada. Yo le dije que no tenía más que aquella azada, y me contestó que ella tenía un hacha. Me dio el hacha y yo hice pedazos el armario.”

The constant repetition of the personal pronoun “yo” could be taken as a factor that may try to suggest Tom’s use of dialect. This device has already been used.

“Where were the other children?”

“They was always around, all over the place. They’d watch me work, some of’em, some of’em’d set in the window.”

“-¿Dónde estaban los otros hijos?”

“- Siempre estaban por los alrededores, por la finca. Algunos miraban cómo trabajaba; otros salían a la ventana.”

I do not consider the translation of “set” into “salían” to be accurate, I would have written “estaban sentados en la ventana” – taking into account that in the Black English variety there is generally no distinction between the /I/ and /e/ sounds. Moreover, in one of the examples discussed above, Calpurnia also uses the verb “set” meaning “sit” and the translator wrote: “just set here - te sientas aquí ”.
Aspects of Black English found in Tom: elision of consonant “g” when it is in final position, use of lexical item “suh” instead of “sir”, wrong conjugation, use of compressed phonetics, use of double negative construction, absence of tense in verbs, repetition of the subject for emphasis, lack of any distinction between /I/ and /e/ (so that the verb sit becomes set), elision of cluster “th”, use of lexical item “chillun” instead of “children”, simplification of consonant clusters, particularly at the end of words, use of lexical item “sho” instead of “sure”, deletion of auxiliary have, use of ain’t.

Surprisingly enough the translator has not included any phrases- as the ones discussed above- to indicate Tom’s use of dialect.

by Rocio Gomez

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