Dialect Translation

Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM
Fri Dec 10 18:28:25 UTC 1999

martinezg <martinezg at KENYON.EDU> writes:

A student of mine is currently working on translating an early twentieth
century Mexican text in which the characters use a "campesino" dialect. I have
told her that the fact that these characters use this dialect is crucial to
the meaning of the text. However, I am at a loss to suggest ways in which she
might deal with it.      [...]

The main problem that I see is that by altering the dialect she would, without
a doubt, be altering the character.

There is no choice. A word like "agua" can generally be translated without
"altering" the meaning, although certainly there are cases where the
connotations, specific applications, etc. of "agua" and "water" do not coincide.
But it is impossible to "translate" a dialect without changing the effect on the
reader in ways that would be considered "alteration", as you put it.

It is somewhat like (but much more complex than) asking for the Japanese
equivalent of matzo balls, or the Paraguayan equivalent of lutefisk. There is
none. Even if the target cuisine (language) has a dish (dialect) that resembles
the food (dialect) in question -- and what constitutes resemblance for a
dialect?? -- the cultural matrix that gives those differences their meaning is

The best she can hope for is to achieve a comparable effect, deciding what
aspects of the effect are most important to her.

You might also pose this question in a forum on translation.

   Mark A. Mandel : Senior Linguist and Manager of Acoustic Data
         Mark_Mandel at dragonsys.com : Dragon Systems, Inc.
 320 Nevada St., Newton, MA 02460, USA : http://www.dragonsys.com/
                     (speaking for myself)

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