Need advice on inner speech translation into English
Thread poster: Lotto
Lotto
Russian Federation
Local time: 09:00
Aug 9, 2015

I'm a writer (my native language is Russian). I'm working with a pro to translate my fiction book to English. We have stuck at translation of text that can be approximately described as "narrative inner speech". In the original text, it looks like the character tells about him/herself in third person. It works fine in Russian. However, it seems that native English speakers don't understand who is speaking when the text is translated literally.

Here is a short excerpt from the literal translation (performed by me, not by the translator):

--
Imponderable case with the memory card weighted heavily the suit inside pocket. The collar lay heavily on the neck with its weight like a rope-tied stone pulling a self-murderer underwater. Bikata shivered. That’s it. If he doesn’t abandon his plan right now, there will be no coming back. At best, he’ll be fired with a big scandal. At worst, he’ll be sentenced to compensate for impossible damages to property and will possibly be accused of industrial espionage and criminally indicted. He squinted his eyes. Kalaya was sitting next to him with her safety belt fastened. Noticing his gaze, she smiled trustfully.
--

The best solution we have come up with is replacing third person with first person in such narration and mark it with italic. Here comes the modified excerpt:

--
Imponderable case with the memory card weighted heavily the suit inside pocket. The collar lay heavily on the neck with its weight like a rope-tied stone pulling a self-murderer underwater. Bikata shivered. That’s it. If I don’t abandon my plan right now, there will be no coming back. At best, I’ll be fired with a big scandal. At worst, I’ll be sentenced to compensate for impossible damages to property and will possibly be ac-cused of industrial espionage and criminally indicted. He squinted his eyes. Kalaya was sitting next to him with her safety belt fastened. Noticing his gaze, she smiled trustfully.
--

We aren't happy with this solution, though. It worsens "smoothness" of reading and sometimes looks unnatural. Besides, this internal narration often comes in short sentences amidst blocks of "standard" narration, so the text becomes spotted with italic.

Does anyone has an idea how can the situation be improved? I mean, short of rewriting the source text from scratch to adapt it to English? Or maybe the literal translation is not so bad and can be left as it is?


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KirstenL
Norway
Spanish to Danish
+ ...
Wrong forum? Aug 9, 2015

Maybe you should public your questions in KudoZ.

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Danik 2014
Brazil
German to Portuguese
+ ...
Change of perspective Aug 9, 2015

Lotto wrote:

I\'m a writer (my native language is Russian). I\'m working with a pro to translate my fiction book to English. We have stuck at translation of text that can be approximately described as \"narrative inner speech\". In the original text, it looks like the character tells about him/herself in third person. It works fine in Russian. However, it seems that native English speakers don\'t understand who is speaking when the text is translated literally.

Here is a short excerpt from the literal translation (performed by me, not by the translator):

--
Imponderable case with the memory card weighted heavily the suit inside pocket. The collar lay heavily on the neck with its weight like a rope-tied stone pulling a self-murderer underwater. Bikata shivered. That’s it. If he doesn’t abandon his plan right now, there will be no coming back. At best, he’ll be fired with a big scandal. At worst, he’ll be sentenced to compensate for impossible damages to property and will possibly be accused of industrial espionage and criminally indicted. He squinted his eyes. Kalaya was sitting next to him with her safety belt fastened. Noticing his gaze, she smiled trustfully.
--

The best solution we have come up with is replacing third person with first person in such narration and mark it with italic. Here comes the modified excerpt:

--
Imponderable case with the memory card weighted heavily the suit inside pocket. The collar lay heavily on the neck with its weight like a rope-tied stone pulling a self-murderer underwater. Bikata shivered. That’s it. If I don’t abandon my plan right now, there will be no coming back. At best, I’ll be fired with a big scandal. At worst, I’ll be sentenced to compensate for impossible damages to property and will possibly be ac-cused of industrial espionage and criminally indicted. He squinted his eyes. Kalaya was sitting next to him with her safety belt fastened. Noticing his gaze, she smiled trustfully.
--

We aren\'t happy with this solution, though. It worsens \"smoothness\" of reading and sometimes looks unnatural. Besides, this internal narration often comes in short sentences amidst blocks of \"standard\" narration, so the text becomes spotted with italic.

Does anyone has an idea how can the situation be improved? I mean, short of rewriting the source text from scratch to adapt it to English? Or maybe the literal translation is not so bad and can be left as it is?


Hi, Lotto
If you change from third to first person you change the outlook of the story IMO. The narrative will become much more subjective.


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:00
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Reported speech; sequence of tenses. Aug 9, 2015

In reported speech, if it is introduced in the past tense, it should all be in the past tense.
When I was learning Russian, I was told that in Russian \"нет последовательности падежей\". But in English there is. So the passage should be:

Bikata shivered. ***That was it. If he didn’t abandon his plan right now, there would be no coming back. At best, he would be fired with a big scandal. At worst, he would be sentenced to compensate for impossible damages to property and would possibly be accused of industrial espionage and criminally indicted.*** He squinted his eyes. Kalaya was sitting next to him with her safety belt fastened. Noticing his gaze, she smiled trustfully.














[Edited at 2015-08-09 21:41 GMT]


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Lotto
Russian Federation
Local time: 09:00
TOPIC STARTER
Inner narration Aug 10, 2015

Jack,

You're absolutely correct that the problem is translating the sequence of tenses. However, if it was the only issue, I wouldn't ask questions here. The situation is aggravated by the non-standard (for an English fiction text) point of view. In your opinion, does your variant of translation look natural? Is there clear understanding that it's a narration from the point of view of the character?


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 12:00
Chinese to English
Why inner speech? Aug 10, 2015

Jack is absolutely right about tenses.

I wonder why you think this is "inner speech"? Usually speech means speech by a character. Is this character talking about himself in the third person? Is that normal in Russian? Perhaps you mean reported inner speech:

Bikata shivered. That was it, he thought. If he didn’t abandon his plan right now, there would be no coming back.

I've added in the "he thought" to make it more explicit. You've chosen to omit that "he thought" which is also fine. But you should still write it as indirect speech (with proper tenses, as Jack said), then just delete the "he thought". It works fine in English.


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philgoddard
United States
German to English
+ ...
I'm surprised this has emerged as an issue. Aug 10, 2015

Your translator should be able to deal with this without your help, and without posting a question online. Is he or she an experienced translator and a native speaker of English?

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The Misha
Local time: 23:00
Russian to English
+ ...
Whatever you mean by "inner speech," Aug 10, 2015

no particular "treatment" is required here except what Jack has already suggested. I first thought you meant interior monologue aka stream of consciousness by that, but what you have is definitely no interior monologue. Just do what Jack said and you'll be golden.

Well, on second thought, maybe not. I am sure you realize that neither version cuts the mustard as the final text ready for publication. If that's the best your translator can do (I am assuming he or she signed off on the second version) maybe you should reconsider your choice of the translator. I can also glimpse the original text behind the translation and I can't say I am particularly inspired. Or maybe I am simply being an old grump. Good luck to you.


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Lotto
Russian Federation
Local time: 09:00
TOPIC STARTER
Some clarifications Aug 10, 2015

Phil,

> Is this character talking about himself in the third person? Is that normal in Russian?

It's not exactly the character speaking. It's like the narrator is speaking giving insight to the character's thoughts. It's a known narration method in Russian. It's not often used, though, and that's the main problem, as there are, to the best of my knowledge, no set tecniques for translating such a style to English.

> Perhaps you mean reported inner speech:

Yes, this narration manner might be similar to reported inner speech (although not always). It lack elements like "he thought" as they are implied, and I don't consider them necessary. Adding such elements, I could make the text be more comprehensible to foreign readership, but it would drastically change my style. In addition, sometimes there are places where such addtions would look completely unnatural.

> But you should still write it as indirect speech (with proper tenses, as Jack said), then just delete the "he thought". It works fine in English.

Thank you, the point is taken.


philgoddard,

> Your translator should be able to deal with this without your help, and without posting a question online.

The problem is, I can speak English too well to let him make such decisions on his own. If I couldn't speak the language at all, I'd have no choice but to let him make the final decision. But in this scenario, this project means too much to me, my English is relatively decent, so I prefer to be in control.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:00
Spanish to English
+ ...
Ditto what Phil said Aug 10, 2015

Perhaps they should enlist Jack D to do it? I think most non-native speakers trying to translate this text would find they'd bitten off a sizeable chunk more than they could chew.

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Lotto
Russian Federation
Local time: 09:00
TOPIC STARTER
Answer Aug 10, 2015

Danik 2014

> If you change from third to first person you change the outlook of the story IMO. The narrative will become much more subjective.

Yes, that's the exact problem we're trying to tackle.



The Misha

> no particular "treatment" is required here except what Jack has already suggested.

Thank you, the point is taken.

> If that's the best your translator can do (I am assuming he or she signed off on the second version)

No. He has nothing to do with that particulat excerpt, it was translated entirely by me as an illustration of the problem.

> I am sure you realize that neither version cuts the mustard as the final text ready for publication.

Of course. Why do you think I've hired a translator?

> I can also glimpse the original text behind the translation and I can't say I am particularly inspired.

Er-r... With all due respect, I'm not sure what you mean by it. Could you elucidate it please? BTW, if you need the original text, I can provide a link to the full version, no need for guessing here.


neilmac

> Perhaps they should enlist Jack D to do it?

Sorry, the position is already filled.


[Edited at 2015-08-10 13:35 GMT]

[Edited at 2015-08-13 07:23 GMT]


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