Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Translation options

I'm working on my translation of "Sortileges", and came across a little passage that left me with a choice of translations. The scene is a traditional feast day in a remote French village, time not specified, but I suspect it's the early 19th century. In addition to music, dancing and eating, there are some carnival-style attractions, including a "target shooting" event. Now, this is a bit gross, but remember, these are earthy peasants: the event consists of two chickens tethered to the ground, while contestants hurl stones to try to hit them! A skilled marksman can hit a chicken and kill it with one blow, while the less gifted...well, an onlooker refers to it as "un vrai massacre des innocents!" Of course this isn't just sheer cruelty - the winner gets to keep the dead chicken, and naturally would find it a valuable prize, as it would go into the pot for a nice supper. And the winner would be interested in getting a nice clean kill, instead of a mangled heap of feathers!

There's a barker drumming up business, and he chants "Deux pierres, deux coups, deux sous/Visez le coq et le coq est à vous!" and I tried to get as close a translation as possible. I came up with two possibilities:

Two stones, two shots, two sous;
Hit the bird and it belongs to you!


Two sous, two shots, two stones;
Hit the bird and take it home!

Which is the best one?

Technically, the first is the most accurate: it follows the exact word order and is a nearly literal translation. As it also rhymes, it would work fine for a subtitle.

The second one, though, has something the first one lacks; it has the real sound of a barker. "Hit the bird and take it home!" sounds like something a carnival barker would say. You can almost hear it in your head - it sounds like something you might have actually heard. Not a barbaric contest like this, but maybe a wishing well: "Hook the fish and take it home!" "Hit the prize and take it home!" Translation tries to give more than just the bare meaning of words; it tries to reproduce the same effect in the reader or hearer that the original passage produced in its original audience. And the original audience - in the movie and in the theatre - heard a carnival barker trying to draw and excite a crowd. That's why I think the second effort is the better one, event though it adds in some words that aren't in the original.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

HA HA HA HA...I just love you Wanda.

10:44 pm  
Anonymous Bill in Ottawa said...

Perhaps this would work:

Two stones, two shots, two sous
Hit the bird and take it with you

2:26 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

That would also work! I'll see which one fits best into the subtitle format - there's a limit to how many spaces per line one can use. All three of these would convey the meaning of the words.

4:02 pm  
Blogger Tina said...

What a fun job to have. You are so fortunate to have the talent for languages!

FWIW, I am always listening for the deep grammar of words, so I like the one that sounds like the Barker. :-)

Happy Easter!


8:38 pm  
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9:52 pm  

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