"coming with" in San Francisco
t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Wed Aug 4 07:14:19 UTC 1999
Dan Goodman wrote:
> Writers who set their fiction in their adopted homes probably make
> such mistakes _much_ more often than I've noticed.
The problem came up a couple of years ago, at what otherwise was one of
the most enjoyable dissertation defenses I've attended. On the way to
her doctorate in English, the candidate had done two magnificent jobs.
The first was translating _Native Son_ into colloquial Brazilian
Portugese. The second task she undertook in the dissertation was to
show how Richard Wright represents ways a single black speaker marks,
and manipulates, interactions with whites compared with how the same
speaker talks black-to-black. This led her to an interesting discussion
of the problems facing a translator who wants to convey these subtleties
in a language which has dialects that mark social class/social
position, but very little dialect variation marking so-called "race".
She wrote a beautiful dissertation and did an impressive job all around.
I was there as Dean's representative. Our Graduate Dean had asked me to
read the dissertation and serve as outside examiner at the defense
because I read Portugese and know something about linguistics and
translation problems. He didn't realize that I had other relevant
knowledge: _Native Son_ is set on Chicago's South Side, and Bigger
Thomas kills Mary Dalton at her home in Hyde Park. That's the
neighborhood where I grew up. My knowledge of the local scene gave me an
excellent chance for pedantic nit-picking that wouldn't raise any
substantial problems for the candidate. I took it. I wanted this
excellent student to get her degree with the honors her work deserved,
and I didn't want to get in her way with anything that might sound like
Without realizing it, I just happened to pick on one of the ways _Native
Son_ shows that Wright didn't really know much about Chicago when he
wrote the book. I thought it was safe to point to what I thought was a
typsetting error in the translation to Portugese, where a Chicago street
is called "South Parkway". It's clear that should have been "South Park
Way", a subtle but extremely important difference.
In the time setting of the novel, South Park Way was the main drag of
the South Side extension of Bronzeville, the Chicago black ghetto. Among
other things, it was the home of the old Regal Theater, where you went
to hear all the great black bands and orchestras, from Duke Ellington to
Louis Jordan. When I was growing up, shows at the Regal also featured
Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley, Pigmeat Markham, and other legendary performers,
but I used to go there to hear the great jazz.
The name of the street was always pronounced with juncture marking that
it contained three separate words. Nobody who spent any time on that
street could possibly have called it "South Parkway", in two words.
There was a two word abbreviation, all right, but it was "South Park".
At the dissertation defense, the candidate said that she didn't know
the street, but she was sure that the book called it South Parkway.
That gave everybody a chance to look at something in English, instead of
the Portugese translation we were discussing at the time. Sure enough,
it was South Parkway in three different editions people had brought with
them that day.
Score one for the accuracy of the translation, and one down for the
picky pedant. (When I read the dissertation, I had checked the
translation against a paperback edition -- which had South Parkway. I
simply assumed that other editions would have the correct name in three
My scholarly reputation was saved by the few old Chicagoans in the
room. They confirmed that South Park Way, in THREE short words, was the
former name of what is now officially called "The Reverend Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr., Memorial Drive". (It has the only street signs in
Chicago that need both fine print and several lines to get in the whole
name of the street. The short, colloquial version is "King Drive", which
appears on signs saying things like "King Drive exit, 3/4 mile".)
Only old-timers remember South Park Way today. Obviously, Richard
Wright was not a Chicago old-timer when _Native Son_ was published in
-- mike salovesh <salovesh at niu.edu> PEACE !!!
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