Mostly Music
sábado, maio 31

The Hungarian and His Dog

By Paulo Rónai, Translated by Tom Moore 

I had in mind to take a brief excursion into the mysterious domains of expression, to tally the imaginative wealth of language and surprise it in its picturesque contradictions. For this purpose, I was intending to borrow some examples from my mother tongue. In picking up one of those strips of paper on which one usually writes for the press, it occurred to me that such a strip would be called a “dog’s tongue” in Hungarian. I had never thought this worthy of note; one always accepts the expressions of one’s maternal language as natural. It was the first time I had picked up on the strange association. And, thinking more about it, I realized that Hungarian has an extraordinary number of expressions relating to dogs.

The phenomenon can be easily explained. The primitive, the essential, occupation of the Hungarian is raising livestock. The Magyar shepherd spends part of his life on the limitless puszta on the Great Hungarian Plain, following his cattle in the company of his dog, the only creature that he speaks to for weeks on end. In spite of the increasing industrialization of the country and the development of urban centers with apartment complexes where there is no longer any room for animals, the dog still maintains his old place in the Hungarian vocabulary.

There are doubtless numerous expressions about the horse, the ox, and the sheep, but they are of more restricted usage. The phraseology relating to the dog is part of the vernacular, whether in the countryside or the city.

As in English (or in Portuguese), in Hungarian the dog is generally known by two names (kutya and eb). The use of the second is less frequent and more literary. From the logical point of view, however, the two terms are perfect synonyms. This is why, in trying to say that two persons are the same, the Hungarian will say that “one is a dog, the other a hound.” Perhaps this point of view is linked to the phrase “it is just a dog,” which simply means “it makes no difference.”

Surprisingly, there is no figure of speech in Hungarian which evokes the proverbial faithfulness of the dog. The dog is frequently linked to its lamentable fate, its slavery, and forced humility. “He is not a dog” is used to recognize someone’s worth. “Not even fit for a dog” is how one describes bad food. “It’s his duty as a dog” indicates an obligation which the individual cannot shirk. “To not even treat someone like a dog” is a sign of the most absolute disdain. Barking impresses no one, since “a dog’s bark doesn’t reach heaven,” and as everyone knows, “a dog barks, and money talks.” No matter how sad the fate of the poor animal, it has no other until its death, and even after: “dogs don’t make bacon.”

Is there a humbler rank in the army than that of orderly? In Hungary, this individual is a “dog-washer.” And though no one is between a rock and a hard place in Hungary, many Magyars are in a “dog-squeeze.” One who has no mount, and therefore cannot go on horseback, has to go on foot; that is, “to go by dog.” Another verb, derived from the same noun, and even less translatable, is synonymous with “to flatten one’s self, to shrink in front of another” (similar to avacalhar in Portuguese; literally to “cow,” although the English verb cow seems not to be related to the common noun).

Similar disdain for the dog’s life marks one of the most significant episodes in Magyar history. When, at the beginning of the 18th century, Rákóczi’s rebels resolved to dethrone the Hapsburg house, they did so shouting “the bay [horse] commands the dog” (with the meaning “but not us”).

But since any situation in this world can give rise to envy, even a dog’s life is judged enviable by some. And thus the locution “the frost will yet come for the dog” is a threat hurled at those who are too comfortably well-off in order to remind them that they won’t miss the water till the well runs dry.

Other expressions, in flagrant contradiction with the morality of the popular tales, are evidently suspicious of the standards of ethical behaviour among dogs. “There’s a dog in the backyard” (in traditional Portuguese, “there are Moors on the coast”) alludes to some suspect occurrence. After having verbally agreed on a contract, the parties take leave of each other saying, “He is a dog who reneges.” Woe to him who does not keep his word and seeks to enrich himself by fraudulent means, for “he who earns like a dog will lose like a dog.” A third verb formed from the noun alludes to sexual practices which are irregular. When a husband is accused of “dogging” (in English, this would be “catting around”), we can be sure that he is not a model of conjugal fidelity. “He’s a big dog,” which indicates an elevated position, though generally spoken with a certain amount of envy, nevertheless includes a condemnation of the means by which the position was achieved.

Even the figures of speech alluding to the iron constitution of the dog are lacking in tenderness. Quite the contrary, they show a healthy dose of cynicism. If you break a bone, you receive this consolation: “Dog’s bones mend.” If someone is complaining for no reason, the doctor is quick to reassure him or her by saying “What you have is a dog’s disease.” Nevertheless, if the sufferer should reply “I’m sick as a dog,” the physician will stop joking around and look for some potent medicine. The homeopath, it is clear, should not have to ponder long. The diagnosis itself will point out the cure, since “the dog’s bite is cured with the hair of the dog.” The patient either improves or doesn't. Of course, in the latter case, let the patient not blame himself for having consulted an incompetent doctor, seeing that “tardy repentance is thinking like a dog” (there’s no use crying over spilled milk, in English usage).

Let us note also “as the dog runs,” that is, in a hurry, a few more traces of our creature’s passage through the Hungarian vernacular. The audacious man who will not turn back at any cost “ties his dog to the stump.” One who finds the key to a mystery that had intrigued him exclaims “Here is where the dog is buried.” And one who has missed his chance for good can say to himself “There was only one dog market in Buda,” alluding to a curious historical fact that no one remembers.

Here are two more phrases which are full of perfidy. The meddlesome friend, who exhorts another not to take an offense sitting down, will hypocritically whisper “Far from me to sic the dogs, but I wouldn’t stand for it.” And the rich man who is hard-hearted when approached by the poor man will give him, instead of a handout, this proverb: “Dig, dog, and you will have some as well.”

In curses, which are so numerous in Hungarian, the dog must certainly be present, if even the French, with no talent for cursing anyone’s mother, speak of the “nom d’un chien.” But this fact, if examined closely, rather than diminishing it, surrounds it with a sort of mythological aura, since, as the ethnologists have shown, it is these curses which preserve the last vestiges of the ancient pagan religion of the Hungarian, dating to before the year 1000. Insulting someone, but without much force, the Hungarian will say that “the dog barked at him”; really badmouthing him, he will say that he was “raised by a dog.” The mysterious insult “dog’s tree,” whose meaning has been lost over time, is not directed at people. It is a general protest against the miseries of the world.

I am citing all these expressions from memory. If I had some good Hungarian dictionaries, I could certainly cite many which are no less interesting. But “one who has no dog must bark on his own.”  
sexta-feira, maio 30

American premiere for Sergio

Last night I went with Swain to the spring concert for the musical ensembles at West Windsor/Plainsboro North High School. WW/P probably has the best school music program in the area, and the results of the effort they put in were evident last night. John Enz, the conductor of the orchestra, attends my Quaker meeting, and he took on the challenge of performing Sergio Roberto de Oliveira's Suite for Strings last night. It was wonderful to hear a piece performed live that I had only know from recordings. The large body of strings did an excellent job, with very good intonation and tone in music that is not easy to tune. The piece got warm applause from the audience of several hundred parents and friends. It was the next to last work on the program, and was followed by the 1812 Overture!!
Way to go Sergio!! Let's work on some more orchestral performances here....
quinta-feira, maio 22

Sex and Lucia

...."is a beautifully made piece of unwatchable drivel"
-Ian Waldron-Mantgani

I tried to watch it last night and I couldn't agree more. But Paz Vega has incredible eyes....

quarta-feira, maio 21


....Ville de banlieue, chambre anonyme, petit travail, salaire correct, peu d'intérêt, pas d'amis, de vagues relations. Aucune envie, plus de désir, quelques habitudes. C'est tout un monde de désespoir et de non-sens .....(from a description of the novel Extension du domaine de la lutte, by Houellebecq)



BACH Six partitas, BWV 825-830. Kenneth Weiss, harpsichord. SATIRINO SR011 (67:33, 69:47).

In his note to this disc Weiss points out that the six partitas could never be assimilated by a listener in one concert or in one listening session, that indeed they have “too much protein, too much confectionery”. This is indeed the problem with each individual partita, or even movement. Bach creates inexorable structures, architecture (Weiss’s protein), rather than speech, in a sense, so that the player cannot help but be carried along by it without ever a pause for reflection or breath. And hung on this structure is an amazing filigree of decoration (Weiss’s confection), all of it crying out to be inflected, so that each melodic moment has its due. But no, it must fit in with the structure. The two elements are at cross purposes – a dish can be a meat course, or a dessert, but not both at the same time.
When I began to listen here I was impressed by the ability of Weiss to create nuance for each gesture, with impressive control of shape and phrasing, especially in the opening of the first partita. But overall it seems that Bach’s structure wins out, so that the listener has the sense of a great machine that has but to be turned on, and the music spills out. Would slower tempos help? Perhaps here and there – the Rondeaux of the second partita rushes along in one, despite its 16th note triplets. But in general what I miss is either more French character (sweetness) or Italian (caprice) to moderate the great man’s innate and heavy Germanity. Does it say something that the cover art is a mountainous scene in black and white without a speck of humanity to be seen?


Baroque Ecstasy

EXTASES BAROQUES. Maria Cristina Kiehr, soprano; Christina Pluhar, triple harp, theorbo, guitar; Sylvie Moquet, viola da gamba, violoncino; Matthias Spaeter, archlute; Jean-Marc Aymes, organ, harpsichord. L’EMPREINTE DIGITALE ED 13119 (63:21)

Giovanni Felice Sances (1600-1679) seems to have begun his career as an exceptional boy soprano in Rome, with operatic roles at age 14. His earliest published works date to the early 1630s, at which time he was in Padua. Shortly thereafter he moved to Vienna, and spent the rest of a long and successful career at the imperial court, finally becoming choirmaster at almost seventy years of age. Virtually all of his output is vocal, with published books of both cantatas and motets for one to three voices with continuo, as well as many unpublished choral works.The motets and cantatas recorded here belong to the early baroque, with notable use of repetitive bass patterns, the emphasis being rather on the latter, tuneful, part of the “recitar cantando” in the new style. Like Purcell, Sances is able to create a compelling musical fabric over a simple framework.
Kiehr’s voice in this 1994 is dark, with a timbre approaching that of a countertenor, but at the same time light in body, with very little vibrato (the sort of sound Quantz might advocate for the flute).
Her diction is excellent (all the more important as there is no booklet, at least in this release), her pitch superb, her coloratura clear - exceptional singing.

SANCES: Ardet cor meum. Domine Deus. O bone Jesu. Lettamini in Domine. Audite me. Usurpator tiranno. Altre le vie. Risiede più. Filli mirando il ciel. Misera hor si ch’il pianto. Accenti queruli. KAPSBERGER: Toccata IX. Toccata V. ROSSI: Passacaille.

terça-feira, maio 20

Banana Peels

by Paulo Ronai

Prosper Merimée, the great French storyteller, author of Carmen and Colomba, among other classic works, was also a translator of exceptional merit. He was the first to bring the Russian authors to the French reading public, and thus responsible for the dissemination of their works throughout the West. A witty and ironic man, he had adopted as motto for his private life the Greek adage “Remember to be suspicious”. We can ask to borrow this saying as the translator’s slogan, since the most important quality required for his trade is a perpetual suspicion.
And this is because as a professional he spends his life treading steep paths, set about on either side with precipices and paved with banana peels. This article will be dedicated to the identification of some of the latter. In reality, their number is legion, for, as we will see, there is no word, no matter how simple, which may not be harboring, in particular circumstances, some ambiguity, and thus be transformed into a dangerous trap.
Don’t expect a theory of translation with definitions and fixed rules from me. Even if they could be formulated, they would teach us little about the actual process of translation. If you ask me what red is, I would be able to give the exact measure in microns of the wavelength which produces this color, and even so you would not see it; but if I should say to you that it is the color of blood and of fire, or were simply to show you a poppy, your curiosity would be satisfied.
Naturally if a blind man were to ask the question there would be no way to satisfy him. I consider blind in the area of translation the person who is indifferent to the subtleties of his own language, who does not normally seek the best manner of expressing himself, and who speaks and writes in a slapdash way; he naturally would never become a translator, even if his life depended on it.
My words are directed to those who take care to improve the gift of speech that God gave them, take an interest in the language, read much and attentively. With this article, a collection of examples rather than precepts, I hope to inculcate in them a healthy fear with respect to any text which they may come to translate, a fear which will be a stimulus not to slacken in study with the passing of time, not to stop improving over the course of a career.
I am a literary translator. But the phenomena we are looking at are of interest to all sorts of translators, since we all work with the same raw material, language, a mysterious impalpable reality which surrounds us on all sides.

* * *

Taking it as a given that the translator should know his own language profoundly, a solid knowledge of the language which he is translating is another indispensable requirement. And this must be a grammatical and lexical knowledge, and as complete as possible.
As far as grammar is concerned, the aspiring translator will have all the irregular form of the conjugation and all the unusual inflections of the declensions, the more so as they are not always listed alphabetically in dictionaries. He will be able to distinguish archaic from modern forms, slang from everyday forms, spoken from written forms. He will have an especially acute awareness of phenomena that do not exist in his own language.
If he is to translate from French, he ought to know thoroughly the tricks of the pronominal adverbs en and y ; if from Italian, the difficult handling of the unstressed pronouns combined with the verb, as in scrivermela, facendoglisi, fateglielo; if from German, the distinction between verbs with a separable prefix, such as wiedersehen, zusammenkommen, from those without, such as übersetzen, beschreiben; if from Latin, the relation of the prepositions which take the accusative and those which take the ablative, and so forth. All this seems as if it hardly needs saying: but there are so many heedless people who venture into translating without being deeply steeped in the grammatical rules of the target language that we judged this preliminary warning necessary.

* * *

As far as the lexicon is concerned, the first and principal source of confusion is in great part that the fact that words possess various meanings. If they had simply one unique well-determined meaning – as, for example, pin, aspirin, and centimeter, translation would be something that is relatively easy. But the majority of the vocabulary used in everyday language have various meanings, listed and often numbered in dictionaries, and which can be quite far removed from each other.
This phenomenon is called polysemy, and it can be found in every language. Aware of the danger that it represents for clarity of discourse, the creators of artificial languages, among them Zamenhof, father of Esperanto, tried to eliminate them, giving their vocabulary one unique and well-delimited meaning. A useless attempt: given the tendency of the human mind towards the extension of metaphors, they soon began acquiring new meanings.
But, you will say to me, if the phenomenon is common to all languages, there is no reason for alarm. However, only in very rare cases do two corresponding words in two languages have the same
senses, as for example French punaise and Portuguses percevejo, which both indicate a certain insect and a certain type of nail.
But the French noun prix, which corresponds to Portuguese “preço” (English price), also has the sense of “prize”; or another noun, rapport, can signifiy both report and rapport. We need context in order to be able to understand them and translate them. Only after we read the complete phrase le prix Nobel do we know that it is a prize, and not until we have heard mention of the rapport Kinsey do we understand that one is thinking of a report.
Sometimes the context is much larger than a unique phrase or a simple expression. The translator who had to translate a French novel titled Adresses would have to read at least a few pages of the volume in order to know if it was called “Addresses” or “Abilities”.
This last example shows that even words with the same origin in two languages can branch out in different directions. French maitre (and English master) have the principal senses of Portuguse mestre, but they have in addition the sense of “master” in the context of “master-slave” or “master-servant”, a sense which is lacking in Portuguese.
So that we can draw the conclusion that the meaning of a word is not contained only in the word itself, but comes from the words which surround it. An excellent proof of this is in the two German phrases Er dient and Sie dient, where the first is understood to mean “He is doing his military service” and the second “She works as a maid”.
The difficulty for caused by polysemy in other languages (French, German, English) is paid back in the same coin when natives of these countries set about translating our Brazilian books. A Frenchman who had only a superficial knowledge of our vocabluary would be easily deceived when coming upon our word papagaio, as it designates not only the multi-colored bird (parrot), but the toy known also as pipa or pandorga (kite). And even if he is not unaware of this meaning he will be up the creek without a paddle if he comes upon a story in which someone pays for a whole truckload of merchandise with a single papagaio, that is a bank draft or promissory note.
One of the causes of polysemy is the tendency of our spirit towards metaphor, which can be noted in every language. It seems natural to call a child a cub, a beautiful woman a flower, or to speak of the leg of the table, the heart of the problem, the head of the mutiny. When the metaphor is so obvious that it exists in all languages, or even when it represents a new way of seeing, peculiar to the author, it can be translated with the greatest fidelity. The difficulty begins when the metaphorical expression comes to be a stereotyped part of the language, transforming itself into a figure of speech. Someone who uses it in his own language no longer even notices the image that gave it birth; but the translator who, through ignorance, considers them individual creations, and re-establishes the image, would make a dreadful mistake.
Let us take, for example, the German Handschuh (glove), made up of Hand and Schuh. The image of “shoe” does not even occur for a German; it would be absurd to translate it thus. This mistake is highly unlikely, since not only is it a very common word, but because the elements of the word are combined. Whereas the French expression bellemère (mother-in-law), belle-fille (daughter-in-law), beau-père (father-in-law), beau-fils (son-in-law) are responsible for innumerable blunders, even though they are connected with a hyphen. The situation gets worse when the words that make up the expression are not even connected with a hyphen : thus tête de mort (death’s head, or skull), and tête de Turc (whipping-boy, the butt of a joke, though in English a Turk’s head is a sort of knot).
The most likely spot for mistakes is that of modish figures of speech with a certain currency. It is true that the same phenomena inspire metaphorical expression in various languages; but the images which serve as a basis are not always the same. While the Brazilian “faz das tripas coração” (Eng. puts a bold face on it), the Frenchman prend son courage à deux mains. Other similar examples ne rimer à rien, “to not make head or tails of it”; une soupe au lait, “a hot-tempered person” (in Portuguese, uma pessoa esquentada, an over-heated person); and poser un lapin, to stand someone up (in Portuguese, dar um bolo, or literally, to give a cake to someone).
In English, there is matchmaker, not a “match manufacturer”, but one who arranges marriages; and sleeping partner, the secret partner in a business deal, who usually keeps his eyes wide open. Identifying these sorts of snares requires, in addition to good sense, lots of attention and sufficient experience.
At this point it is appropriate here to cite some lapses stemming from the non-recognition of metaphorical locutions. A “pinprick” would be the wrong translation of un coup d’épingle (biting sarcasm, meant to “burst someone’s bubble”); worse yet would be to “break the dogs”, from rompre les chiens, that is, to interrupt the conversation.
One of the most curious cases is when the metaphor itself is used metaphorically. Those who know English well know that the expression man-of-war denotes a warship. The contributor to the Jornal do Brasil, who had to translate a story about a intrepid swimmer, who was to swim from Cuba to the U.S., knew this as well; but he did not know that the expression Portuguese man-of-war was another metaphor to indicate the sea creature known to Brazilians as medusa or água-viva. And thus he was to bravely write that the sportsman would encounter serious difficulties, as those waters were infested by Portuguese warships, without noticing how absurd such a statement was. Here is a case where a little good sense would have advised the use of the dictionary.

* * *

We can distinguish polysemic words from homonyms, pairs of words of identical appearance, but differing in meaning, which also give rise to many mistakes. Doubtless we have these in our own tongue, but there we get out of difficulty thanks to the context in which they appear. In Brazil, if our guest says during lunch that he will fazer uma sesta (take a nap), we know that he is going to snooze, rather than make a basket (fazer uma cesta). In a foreign language, however, we can get into trouble if we only know one of the homonyms, or if we do not understand the context.
When it is simply a case of two homophones, words with the same sound, but written differently, their appearance warns us: sceau (stamp), seau (bucket), and sot (fool) are recognizable and differentiable due to their spelling. But when it is a matter of homographs, words identical in form, errors are easier to make. For someone who does not know the French word nue, a rarer synonym of nuage, the expression tomber des nues will be a puzzle, since for him those letters only signify “nude”. The same is true with the word mine. If you only know this as the equivalent of “mine”, you will not understand when you are complimented on your good appearance: Vous avez bonne mine. The translator from English will have similar surprises if he cannot distinguish between pole (North) and pole (rod), or between pool (of water) and pool (pot, in gambling).
We will mention another few pairs of homonyms which are responsible for a great deal of confusion: in French, feu “fire” and “deceased”; in English, light (of little weight; illumination); in Spanish, pez (fish, if masculine, pitch if feminine); in Italian, vita “life” and “waist”; in German, Weise, wise and manner; in Latin, latus, “side” and “wide”. Indeed, in each one of these languages you would be able to make a list of dozens of these pairs of tricky words.
But this number is infinitely increased by the inattention or ignorance of translators. Erwin Theodor cites the case of a translator from German, who having not noticed the umlaut on the latter of this pair, confused schon and schön; Dom Marcos Barbosa remembers the specialist in French who translated la pucelle d’Orléans with “the flea of Orleans”, mistaking pucelle for puce; Magalhães Jr. cites a colleague who took General Staff for the name of a superior officer; and I myself have already found j’ai attrapé un rhume terrible translated by “I drank a horrible glass of rum”, due to the confusion between rhum (“rum”) and rhume (“cold”).

* * *

Among the elements of language which give rise to confusion the paronyms must also be mentioned, words which are so similar that they are almost homonyms: thus in French, émigrant and immigrant, or rabattre and rebattre, or repartir and répartir. We can get a sense of how easy it is to confuse such pairs of words if we remember how often in Portuguese paronyms are interchanged, for even if the authors do not fall into error, the printers persist in using apreender for aprender, usuário for usurário, estático for estético, and lúdico for lúcido.

* * *
You might think that synonyms, at least, do not constitute a problem, but rather a help to the translator. It seems logical, in fact, in the cases in which we are not finding a satisfactory equivalent for a term, to look for the equivalent of one of its synonyms. As there is not an equivalent in Portuguese, for marron, we lay hands on the equivalent of châtaigne, “castanha” (all are chestnut in English).
At the same time synonyms, although they do not present a perceptible difference in meaning, generally correspond to different levels of language, so that they may not always be exchangeable. In comparing debut and commencement, the first belongs more to the literary sphere, the second to oral usage; of j’ai entendu dire and j’ai oui dire, the first is more modern than the second. In expressions, synonyms cannot be substituted one for another; in France, on rompt des fiançailles, on casse un jugement, on brise une carrière, as in Portuguese one rompe-se com a namorada “breaks up with one’s girlfriend”, but quebra-se a cara” (“breaks someone’s face). For another even more convincing example, I will cite the Portuguese “progenitora”, a synonym of “mãe” (mother), but which in the majority of cases cannot be used without producing a smile. Pascal used to say that there were passages where it was necessary to say Paris, and others where capitale du royaume was appropriate, an observation which is as important for the translator as for the writer. The question of synonyms is really a question of style, as Jules Renard knew well when he wrote “there are no synonyms; there are only the necessary words, and the good writer knows which they are.”

Much worse enemies for the translator are the so-called “false friends”, or deceptive cognates, that is, words with similar form in two languages, but differing in meaning. Frequently they are words from the same origin, but which in the course of evolution, have assumed different meanings. Thus French jument is neither Portuguese jumento (donkey) nor jumenta (she-donkey), but égua (mare), French mater is not Portuguese matar (kill), but simply to mate in chess; French remarquer is not Portuguese remarcar (hallmark), but to observe or note.
More than once, however, the resemblance is sheer coincidence: stemming from different origins, the words were brought together by the phonetic and orthographic evolution of the respective languages: French fiel (gall) has nothing to do with Portuguese fiel (faithful), nor French cor (horn, or corn) with Portuguese cor (color).
Worse are the false friends that are not always false: that is, they are equivalent in some senses, and not in others. An example of this is the English intelligence, which corresponds to Portuguese inteligência in the sense of “intellect”, but not in its sense of “information” (e.g. the Central Intelligence Agency); or devout, which sometimes can be Portuguese devoto, but also Portuguese entusiasmado.
Every translator will remember, from his own experience, some amusing example of the ill effects of false friends. Magalhães Jr. tells of a “translator” who rendered éleveur de moutons (sheep raiser) by “elevador de carneiros” (sheep elevator). Julio Cortázar notes this find from a “Latin-American professional”: “la vaca no habla” as a translation of res non verba (“things, not words”). I will end by citing a pearl found in a North American collection of boners, which must be too good to be true: le peuple ému répondit = the purple emu laid another egg.
Interlegibility is the possibility of reading another language which one does not speak, which is the case for Brazilians with respect to Spanish. It is at the same time both a help and a danger. The similarity of the two languages frequently leads us to guess rather than interpret: if we were to go to the dictionary, we would know that Sp: criança= Pt. criação (education), not criança (child), polvo is pó (powder), not polvo (octopus), ratito is momentinho (a moment), not a little mouse. Even when there is not such a chasm in meaning between these words which are identical in form, the current use of the two can differ substantially: and this is why many times we understand less of the Portuguese translation of a Spanish book than we would the original.

* * *

In this quick review, it should be understood, it is impossible to review all the sorts of pitfalls that the translator encounters in his professional activity. Even so, we cannot overlook the risks stemming from difference in cultural background. Every language is an archive of historical reminiscences, of allusions and events and characters from a common past, whose knowledge is indispensable for one who lets himself in for translating. I am thinking of such bits of civilization as for example, the “fico”, the “I am staying”, the famous cry of Ipiranga that led to Brazilian independence. When in Portugal one says “Ines é morta” (Ines is dead), the speaker may not even recall the historical event that led to the saying; the Italian who may say, with almost the same meaning, “Non é piú il tempo che Berta filava”, he may be ignorant of the identity of Berta, but he will understand the expression perfectly. (In English these both have the sense of “it’s too late now”). Every Frenchman knows the phrase attributed to Marie Antoinette: “S’ils n’ont pas de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche.”
When one says in Hungarian “Hátra van még a feketeleves” (The black soup is still ahead), speakers of this tongue understand that the worst is still to come. It was discovered that the sentence had been uttered for the first time at the end of a banquet to which the Turkish sultan had invited some Hungarian nobles, in order to announce that coffee would be served, which was still without a name in Hungarian in the sixteenth century; but as the guest, soon after the coffee, were arrested and imprisoned, the utterance earned a tragic connotation.
Fragments of culture preserved in the language do not always have this historical halo: they can be the simple reflections of common habits of day-to-day life. There existed in Paris an ultra-rapid system of communication, by which letters written on onionskin were sent through tubes by means of compressed air from one neighborhood to another. Such a missive was given the name lettre pneumatique, shortened to pneu. The translator unaware of such an institution would not understand why a certain character in a novel, who didn’t even own an automobile, would be given a tire. His surprise would be no less learning of a schoolboy, who being promoted, moved from the fifth to the fourth grade – since in France the grades are numbered in reverse order. Reading, in a story by a Hungarian author, that a peasant woman put on her skirts to go out, the jejune translator, judging that the problem was an evident typographical error would change the plural to the singular – since he would not know that it is the custom of Magyar peasant girls, especially on feast days, to wear at once all the dresses that they own.
These minutiae help us to understand that translating is much more than simply replacing the words of one language for those of another; it is establishing a series of contacts between two cultures, two realities, without a keen knowledge of which the act of translation is doomed to failure. They also demonstrate that the translator cannot be an uncultivated person, with limited horizons; he has to be someone with an ever-lively curiosity, since ignorance of the environment of the original does not constitute an attenuating circumstance, just as ignorance of the law does not exempt the malfeasor from blame.
We will mention now three areas apparently free from ambushes: those of proper names, of numbers, and of acronyms. These, at least, should not bring complications for the translator. But, here as well, appearances are deceiving.
As far as translating personal names is concerned, there are more practices than rules. Italians, for example, translate everyone’s forename and speak of Pietro Corneille and Onorato de Balzac; the Spanish do the same and speak of Juan La Fontaine, which seems highly ridiculous to us. Nevertheless, when it is a matter of fictitious characters, the custom is to translate them in Brazil as well. This was what João Ribeiro did in translating Cuore by Edmondo de Amicis, leaving only the surnames in Italian. More recently the tendency is to leave both intact.
In the majority of languages there are affectionate forms of personal names, called hypochoristics. Robert is familiarly called Bobby in the U.S., Giuseppe Beppe in Italy, Aleksandr Sacha in Russia. The translator must notice when in a work a character is designated by two or more names; he must not mistake the sex of the male characters, whose hypochoristics end in a, such as Valia, Volodia and Duma (in place of Valentin, Vladimir and Dmitri). He should respect Russian usage of employing the person’s forename and the patronymic in respectful speech: Ivan Ivanovich. He should also know that in certain languages transcription noticeably changes the form of the names: Heine becomes Geine in Russian, Homer Gomero, and Theocritus Feocrit. He cannot ignore the fact that names from Greco-Latin antiquity have different forms in the various modern languages: in Italian, for example, Jupiter is Giove and Juvenal Giovenale.
A curious case is that in which proper names are employed to represent common names: Tom, Dick and Harry, are Fulano, Sicrano and Beltrano in Portuguese, Tizio, Caio and Sempronio in Italian; reduced to only two in German, Hinz and Kunz; and in French, to one, M. Untel.
In addition to antoponyms, toponyms, that is, place-names, oblige us to redouble our attention. We must not speak of Genève, Firenze or Livorno, since in English we have Geneva, Florence and Leghorn. To add to the confusion there are the changes imposed by history, which transforms the names of cities depending on their successive owners. Gdansk and Danzig, Wroclaw and Breslau, Kaliningrad and Königsberg refer to the same city in different epochs. But here we have come to the specific cultural substrate that the professional must acquire depending on the field in which he works.

* * *

Is there anything easier than an acronym? One simply needs to copy it. But let’s not move too fast here: acronyms are formed by putting together the initials of the essential words of a name. Now, these initials will not be the same in different languages, and if even if they are, they may be in a different order. Thus in Brazil we speak of the ONU (Organização das Nações Unidas), while Americans speak of the UN (United Nations); and when Russians referred to the SSSR, Brazilians used URSS, and Americans USSR
And so we must reconstitute the name of which the acronym is an abbreviation, and translate it to form a new acronym with the initials of the words in our language. This rule is not absolute, since certain famous or notorious acronyms, such as GESTAPO, KGB, and CIA, are never translated.
This is a place which shows that the translator must always keep up with current events, read the newspapers attentively, and conform to their practice.
But certainly numerals must present no problems. Another mistake. In the land of translation half can equal one, and four equal six. While the Brazilian refers to a man de meio olho or meio perna (half an eye, half a leg), English refers to a one-eyed or one-legged man. The Italian says C’erano quattro gatti, and the Brazilian meia duzia de gatos pingados. There is much diversity in the area of indeterminate quantities: a boy who does whatever he wants in France has 36,000 whims (faire ses trente-six mille volontés). Portuguese has a clear preference for seven: one speaks of a cat with seven breaths, a man with seven instruments, something locked with seven keys; German also uses the same number, but with different expressions: siebenmal klug is “wise”, seine sieben Sachen zusammen packen is to pack one’s bags and go. How would one guess that Portuguese são outros quinhentos (another five hundred) would be c’est une autre paire de manches (another pair of sleeves, or to use the English expression, another kettle of fish). It often happens that a foreign figure of speech using numerals is translated into another with no allusion whatsever to numbers: se mettre sur son trente et un is simply to put on one’s Sunday best. As can be seen, we must always be careful in this area as well.

He would be mistaken, finally, who might judge that one only translates language, that is, words. There are many other elements, in addition to words, which contribute to the meaning of a text: the order of the words, the use of majuscule and minuscule, the choice of the typeface, even the arrangement of the blank spaces. One needs to know the conventions that regulate the use of all these ingredients which can differ from one language to another.
As far as the placement of the words, their order in a Latin sentence can vary to infinity, but each different order corresponds to a different nuance of thought. Whereas in French the word order is generally rigid, and has thus no influence on the meaning of the whole. But there are exceptions, especially in the case of qualifying adjectives which change in meaning or connotation depending on their placement before or after the noun: we recall un homme bon and un bonhomme, mon propre cahier and un cahier propre, un sacré farceur and un devoir sacré.
In compensation, in German and English adjectives are generally before the noun, so that their placement is a matter of grammar, and not of style. It seems incredible, but there are Brazilian translators of English who still have not noticed this fact and in their translations use such expressions as “un inesquecível dia”, “uma incompreensível frase” and so forth (the normal order in Portuguese is the opposite). In the Scandinavian languages the article is definite or indefinite depending on whether it precedes or follows the noun. In Hungarian or Japanese, the surname precedes the forename; this does happen in Italian, but only in official documents.
Differences in the use of upper and lower case can also be noted. In the neo-Latin languages, to begin a noun with an upper-case letter is a sign of emphasis; in German it is a grammatical obligation. In English it is normal to write the personal pronoun in the first person with a capital; in other languages it would be a sign of megalomania.
In Brazil the dash opens and closes characters’ speeches, while in England this function is served by quotation marks, and the dash represents suspense or shock.
In conclusion: every element, even non-verbal ones, on a page contributes to the message, and for this reason must not be neglected.
We have arrived at the end of our reflections. Translation one learns by translating. The craftsmen of earlier days were trained as apprentices by their master’s side, with whom they spent long years. It is very difficult to find a master translator who accepts apprentices. Courses in translation teach the basic and indispensable tools of the trade, but how to do it is the object of an individual apprenticeship. Each translator ought to be his own master. He himself should invent his own exercises, compare an original with some printed translation, compare his own translation with one of these versions, juxtapose two or more versions of the same text, put together his own lists of false friends, of idiomatic expressions, of syntactic equivalents. One must resign one’s self to doing these unpaid exercises before daring to do paid translations. The Horatian motto – Multa tulit fecitque puer, sudavit et alsit (A youth must do and bear much, and sweat and shiver”) is particularly applicable to the translator.
Naturally there are also books especially dedicated to translation, and the more concrete examples they list the more useful they are. I beg your indulgence, in closing, and mention a book of my own, A Tradução Vivida Lived Translation (Nova Fronteira).



Juan Carlos Rivera directing Armoniosi Concerti (Juan Carlos Rivera, Juan Miguel Nieto, baroque guitars; Consuelo Navas, theorbo). HARMONIA MUNDI IBERICA HMI 987030 (73:58).

This is a recording with many good qualities, but that as a whole fails to satisfy. Juan Carlos Rivera and his ensemble have arranged seventeenth and early eighteenth century Spanish music for guitar for an ensemble of plucked strings – various sizes of guitar, with the theorbo taking the bass. Virtually all of the pieces are based on folk dances – folias, fandangos, jácaras, passacalles, and perhaps therein lies the problem. Individual moments, and individual pieces, may grasp the listener (the hurdy-gurdy in the Galician folias, the somewhat more complicated passacalles by Santiago de Murzia), but overall the paucity of contrast, the simplicity of the repeated harmonic patterns, eventually causes the ears to glaze over. One yearns for an exceptional phrase, an unexpected chromaticism, something to break the lovely and lulling diatonicism.
Extensive notes, a fine-looking production, good sound. But only a lukewarm recommendation.

Music by Murcia, Santa Cruz, Martin I Coll, Guerau, Zavala and Anon.


Philip Thorby directing Musica Antiqua of London. SIGNUM SIGCD031 (70:14).

This collection explores the instrumental elaborations of vocal models during the later Renaissance ranging from the early Spagna settings through the Susannas to Selma y Salaverde’s 1638 reading of Palestrina’s Vestiva i Colli. There is ample evidence for the practice of ornamenting or “diminishing” an original, with many didactic examples for the aspiring virtuoso. From our modern viewpoint, these frustratingly point to a vernacular tradition that was lost centuries ago. It is as if all we had left of jazz was the textbooks on learning to improvise, with no recordings surviving, and only a few transcriptions. How much of a sense of John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Charlie Parker, would we have in such a situation?
These settings jettison the text which shaped the musical original, and the rhetoric which goes with it, as well as the contrapuntal interplay of equal and independent lines, for the filigree of a single important line, over an accompaniment in which the harmonic rhythm has slowed to a point where it no longer propels. They are also lacking the elan that true “improvisation in the style of…” might bring.
All this is by way of saying that although I have enjoyed the work of Musica Antiqua in the past this outing seems rather somniferous to me. It needn’t be so – witness, for example the wonders that can be wrought with Van Eyck’s variations (at the very end of this tradition in mid-seventeenth century).

La Spagna. Ancor che col partire. Cantai or piango. Susanne ung jour. Petit Jacquet. Vestiva i colli.


TELEMANN Alla polacca.

Jörg-Michael Schwarz directing Rebel. DORIAN DOR-90302 (73:02).

I have been familiar with the excellent work of Rebel since being knocked out by their fiery performance at the Boston Early Music Festival in 1995, when they were self-presented. In June 2003 they will be one of the featured ensembles with this very program.
The revelation here is the spirited Suite for pastoral flute (a little recorder in the renaissance style pitched in D (a-440) or E-flat, in relation to instruments at a-415). This is top-notch Telemann, full of vigor, character, and wit. There seems to have been an arrangement of the work recorded on Supraphon in 1976, but as far as I can tell this is the first recording of the suite in its original garb. It boggles the mind that such a fine piece has waited until now to make its debut.
Matthias Maute plays the concertante parts for recorder and flute on this disc, and his work deserves the highest praise. He is a virtual energumenon, inspired, quick, accurate, and playing more, and more idiomatic, ornamentation than I have yet heard anywhere. His character is a good fit with the virtuoso
Schwarz, who digs for all the expression in these pieces. The ensemble is tight, yet with a mellow and full sound.
Highly recommended – not to be missed!

Suite for Flûte Pastourelle, Strings and Continuo in E-flat, TWV 55:Es2. Concerto for Traverso, Strings and Continuo in D, TWV 51: D2. Concerto Polonoise for Strings and Continuo, TWV 43:B3. Suite for Recorder, Strings and Continuo, TWV 55:a2.

segunda-feira, maio 19
I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked
at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated.
--Poul Anderson
quarta-feira, maio 14


O carro velho tava morrendo. Então comprei um seminovo coreano - se chama Rio. Pequeno, bonito.
segunda-feira, maio 12
Best title that I've seen recently - Cafe com aroma de mujer, by Gaitan.

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