Welcome to Al-gul

The Middle East and More

Translations: On 100 Years of Solitude

leave a comment »

I was reading the other day that Gabriel García Marquez told Gregory Rabassa, the translator of One Hundred Years of Solitude, that the English was better than the Spanish. While I have no doubt that that García Marquez wished to pay a compliment to his translator for his masterful work, the story is somewhat nonsensical. García Marquez, as far as I know, has never lived for any length of time in an English-speaking country. His English is simply not good enough to make this judgment. And in any case, I don’t see in what possible sense the English is “better.” Just to give a flavor of the subtleties here, let’s look at the title of an earlier work of García Marquez: El Coronel no tiene quien le escriba. This is universally translated into English as, “No One Writes to the Colonel.” But what is going on? “No one writes to the Colonel” in Spanish is, “Nadie escribe al Coronel.” Present indicative tense. But that’s not what García Marquez wrote. Instead he used the subjunctive tense. And the subject of the sentence is “No one,” not “Colonel.” So to give you a flavor of what lies underneath the English one could write, “The Colonel has no one who would write to him” or perhaps (to keep the flipped subject-predicate) “There are none who would write to the Colonel.”

Jorge Luis Borges, who was indeed fluent in Spanish and English (his grandmother was British and I heard him speak once at U.S.C. in English, much to the chagrin of many in the audience who didn’t speak English) said that Spanish is not merely a collection of word equivalents for English, instead it is a different way of ordering reality. To suggest that the ordered reality of the translated text of 100 Years of Solitude is somehow ‘better’ than the Spanish is merely a social compliment, lacking real content.

Written by mokane

September 1, 2008 at 10:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: