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Translating punctuation in novels, such as speech marks: help with the conventions.
Thread poster: Kate Major

Kate Major  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:57
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
Sep 3, 2008

Hi everyone,

I am just about to start translating the first few chapters of a novel written in Spanish (Spain) to English (UK). I completed a sample for the author (and whoever else might have been involved in choosing someone for the project) to look at, and they were happy with what I had done, and so I shall be starting work properly this week.

One question that the author had for me was whether it would be possible to retain the Spanish-style speech marks (guiones) rather that using inverted commas as I had done. This is something that I am not sure about, and am not even sure who to ask about such conventions. Are there any general norms for whether you do or do not change the original punctuation marks? For example, I would tend to change commas where they are inappropriate in a funding proposal, for example, but would be inclined to stick closer to the author's use of commas in a novel for reasons of style, tone, voice...

I would greatly appreciate any advice from those more experienced than me in translating full-length novels, as this will be the first full novel that I will work on. Is there a particular book that I should read in preparation for this job regarding conventions? I have read various works on translation techniques and translating specifically from Spanish to English, but have not yet read anything specifically on translating literature, conventions for this kind of work. Suggested reading anyone?

I am also simply very interested to see where this discussion might lead to in general with regard to how much we should correct things like punctuation in cases when it might be seen as a matter of style. In my work I frequently chop up enourmous Spanish sentences of 10 clauses separated with commas for clarity's sake, but of course would not think the same should be done in a novel (Dickens comes to mind!)

Finally, I do hope that these are not moronic queries: I thought I would ask here as it is the first place I thought of where the answer might come from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

Look forward to hearing your opinions and advice. Thanks very much for your time.
Kate


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:57
Spanish to English
+ ...
Use target-language punctuation Sep 3, 2008

Look at any published literary translation in English or Spanish and you'll see that the target-language punctuation of dialog is almost always followed.

This makes sense, since the source-language punctuation would cause confusion.

As for long sentences, for a variety of grammatical reasons it's easier to read a long sentence in Spanish than in English. So when translating a long sentence that's much harder to follow in English, I sometimes split it into more manageable smaller units. With literary fiction, there's an artistic incentive for preserving the longer sentences, I know, but sometimes it's just not a practical option. One of my favorite Spanish novels -- very well written and hugely popular in the original language -- is almost unreadable in English precisely because the translator felt the need to slavishly preserve the author's sentence structures.

It's a judgment call, of course, since literary translation is more an art than a science. Sometimes an author deliberately uses long, convoluted sentences to create a particular effect. In those cases, I'd try to preserve the original structure.

[Edited at 2008-09-03 14:44]


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 19:57
Italian to English
Style conventions... Sep 3, 2008

... and punctuation are usually the domain of the publisher, who will generally have a house style sheet the translator and copy editor are expected to follow. Often, the publisher will nominate one of the published style manuals, such as the Oxford Style Manual or the Chicago Manual of Style (there are plenty of other good ones), to sort out the ground rules. If you haven't found a publisher yet, it's good discipline to use a style manual anyway.

That said, most publishers are happy to accommodate authors' preferences unless there is some practical reason not to do so.

HTH

Giles


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:57
Spanish to English
+ ...
English puntuation Sep 3, 2008

Yes, stick to English punctuation. Approach it like any other translation job you have done. Leave plenty of time at the end for reviewing the book. Translating books is hard work.

Good luck to you.


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Kathryn Litherland  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:57
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Punctuation should be "nativized" Sep 3, 2008

In general, I think you should use standard punctuation for the English variant the book is targeted at. However, the use of dashes to indicate speech may be a bit of a special consideration. The Chicago Manual of Style, at least, lists it as a permissible variant, especially for translations from languages where this is standard (15th ed., 6.93 and 11.46 for those of you following along in your bibles at home).

That said, if I were in your shoes I'd encourage the author to accept the use of the more standard English notation. This reflects my general stance that if the original text follows the rules and common practices in the source language, it should follow the rules and common practices in the target language. If it sounds normal and natural in the source language, it should sound normal and natural in the source language.

Of course, there may be a lot of fuzzy ground between rules/common practices and authorial idiosyncrasies. There is also the problem of authors who break the rules in their native language not as an artistic device but out of carelessness or ignorance.

As an example, I often come across complex sentences written in Spanish where the author will insert a comma between the end of the subject phrase and the beginning of the predicate. I do not think this is, to use a technical term, "ok" per formal Spanish rules of grammar. But I see it much more often in the writing of educated Spanish-speakers than I do in the writing of educated English-speakers, so I assume it falls under a different level of "not ok" in the two languages. ("not ok according to fussbudget grammarians" in Spanish, vs. "you'll sound like a high school dropout" in English). So if you were to faithfully copy that comma in your translation, you would be transforming a minor rule infraction in the one language into a major no-no in the other--a significant change in register.

(I should note that I do not have experience translating fiction, and have only worked as a copyeditor on one piece of fiction in translation, but I do have extensive experience working as an editor for academic social sciences and humanities texts, including works in translation.)


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Kate Major  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:57
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you all so far! Sep 4, 2008

Just a quick note to say thanks everyone so far. Very interesting advice, and helpful tips and support. Much appreciated!

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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:57
Italian to English
+ ...
Comment from an avid reader Sep 4, 2008

I have no experience at all in literary translations, but as an avid reader I'd say you'd do well to stick to the standard target language punctuation in your translation.
If the author objects, ask her to consider this: does she want her readers to be caught up in her novel or distracted by the punctuation? It's no trivial matter: I once tossed a Roddy Doyle novel out (metaphorically speaking; it was a library book) because I was so distracted by the use of dashes instead of inverted commas to report speech that I literally could not concentrate on what was written on the page.

Punctuation is there to help the reader, not hinder him. If it's done well you shouldn't even notice it's there. There are exceptions where it's used to produce a specific effect - Irvine Welsh's extensive use of punctuation and line breaks to form stories within stories comes to mind - but on the whole, conventional punctuation is best, in my opinion.

[Edited at 2008-09-05 07:44]


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Kate Major  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:57
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
More resources Oct 16, 2008

Hi guys,
Just a note for anyone who might be interested, or stumble across this forum post. I wanted to point out that despite not having found anything particularly specific (thus far) for the language pair I am working on, I have found the Oxford Style Guide extremely useful. It is now published as "New Hart's Rules" by the OUP.

What I really wanted to say, however, is that I discovered (many of you may know this already, but it was a new one to me) that there are several style guides available online. This is useful if you do not want to spend more money on reference works right now, or simply as an extra resource.

One that I have found particularly useful is the Guardian Style Guide (http://www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide). When you arrive on the page, it seems to just offer you a link for the purchase of the book. However, it is in fact available on that page. You just have to click on any of the letters of the index, and the relevant content appears. I have found that this is a useful, up-to-date, consistent guide, which is especially relevant when it comes to translating journalism. I remember the days when the Guardian was always called "the Grauniard" because of their tendency to commit typos, homophone errors, etc.Nevertheless, their style guide is very useful indeed.

Finally, would like to thank you all for your input on my question. The novel is going very well, partly because the author is a gem and is happy to answer any questions I have, no matter how insignificant or daft the question, and he is also extremely enthusiastic and encouraging. I am lucky indeed to have such help and support. Thanks everyone!
Kate.


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xxxVerse 5B
Local time: 19:57
English to Serbian
+ ...
... Nov 16, 2008

You should definitely retain the target language punctuation standards.The novel must read as if originally created/written in English. That's the way to do it if you want a high-caliber professional translation.




[Edited at 2008-11-17 01:52 GMT]


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