Thursday, September 07, 2006
Armchair immersion for regional Spanish
Because of all the regional variations of Spanish it is very easy to make mistakes in word meaning, the register or level of voice in a poem or story, or the tone of a conversation. And because I like to translate from a broad variety of countries I haven't actually been to, the regional variations are tough. I first ran into this while translating "Florentino y el Diablo", a long long poem by Alfredo Arvelo Torrealba, which is full of 100-year-old venezolanismos!
With contemporary poetry from a Latin American country I have always tried to look at country-specific dictionaries in the library, and books of slang. Stories are especially useful when they have a lot of dialogue and you see the way that regular people talk. If I'm translating Chilean poetry I can poke around on the web and find glossaries like this one, or listings of phrases, or explanations of grammatical variations Chileanisms. It is helpful to search on Google both in English and Spanish; in this case, the search [chilean + slang] gave me great results, but a search in Spanish on [chilenismos] gave me longer word lists like this one from chile.com. So, then what, once you've found this sort of resource? I tend to read it all through quickly so that I can be alert to regional word use. (For example, "pendejo" or "cabro" is not so harsh and rude in Chile as it would be in Mexico - and that's important to know. Don't even get me started on the multitude of meanings for "huevón".) Then I copy and paste all the slang from a particular country into a text file on my own hard drive, so I can search through all of it easily.
In conjunction with that level of research it can also be useful to read some blogs from a particular country. You can search in Google for [blogs + chile] and see what comes up. Again, what I am usually looking for is a personal, somewhat informal voice that will help me in translating contemporary literature. Another option is searching in Technorati, which focuses specifically on blogs. Searching here on [chile] will get you tourist blogs in English; not what you want. So take some common slangy word from a glossary, and search on that: for example, take huevón, or "weon", or even more goofy... search on [weon + po]. That gets awesome, extremely colloquial results.
Happy armchair immersion, and I hope this is helpful for people translating from other languages as well as from Spanish.
Posted by Liz at 9:10 AM