Translating Lady Chatterley

The other night at a leather parade (lots of parading, not much leather) I got talking to an English-Catalan literary translator. I rambled on to him a bit about my frustration that so much original and translated fiction set in varied geographical and social milieux reduces common dialects and sociolects to the politically correct standard Catalan, which, like Union Shona and other languages invented in the early 20th century, is spoken by very few people. (To the extent that it is spoken, it is in a heavily Castilianised variant which is bitterly resented by the purists.) This is despite the fact that in many of these cases diglossia forms a crucial dramatic ingredient.

My friend gave me one particularly surprising example of how regional- and class-based forms should be removed on translation. He would, he said, filter Lady Chatterley, so that, for example, this excerpt:

“Why don’t you speak ordinary English?” she said coldly.
“Me! ah thowt it wor ordinary.”

… would be left thusly for translation into Catalan:

“Why don’t you speak ordinary English?” she said coldly.
“Me! I thought it was ordinary,” he said in Derbyshire dialect.

The thought of having to wake up the narrator every other page in order to remind readers that Mr Mellors is still no reconstituted Claude Monet is amusing, but this approach is basically mad–and that’s not the hot and dirty madness of much linguistic fooling around, but the sterile white-out of the asylum.

(To prove I’m not all mouth, I’ll translate the gypsy chapter from Blasco Ibáñez’s La horda (The mob, 1905) tomorrow evening. I’m not very good at keeping promises made here, but I’ll try to be good this time round.)

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