Thursday, September 07, 2006

Armchair immersion for regional Spanish

Some odd verb forms confused me for a while the other day, and then the most casual of web searches turned up useful information. There's great resources out there! So I would like to outline some of the process that I go through to find relevant information on the web.

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 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.


The Touro Communication Club said...

Does anyone know where I can get a copy of the English translation of "Florentino y el Diablo," mentioned in this blog?

Liz Henry said...

Hi Ricardo,

That would be from me. And you can get it here:

Scroll down a little bit, and you can get a PDF of the Spanish, the English translation, and my footnotes. There is also an MP3 version of it performed by Los OlimareƱos.



The Touro Communication Club said...

How absolutely extraordinarily, beautifully translated! What's your name? It must have taken 100 years to translate "Florentino y el Diablo! I'll never forget seeing it at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, in the Vzlan filmed version by Michael New, one month before 9/1 ;-(
I now live in Brooklyn, was born and raised in Venezuela, fluent in Spanish, and would never have been able to render "Florentino y el Diablo," as you have with such eloquence, in English.
(Now that you've done that, let me share another life-long ambition, that, there be a translation into English of a short story of the Fool, or Narr, Hahns Ohne Sorge, Juan Bobos of Venezuela, namely, "Juan Chiqutico," which you can hear me read aloud, on the following mp3 file, --- as the subway rumbles outside my window, at the end of my recitation,-- from Manhattan to Coney Island ;-))
By the way, how can you make a living translating such texts, for free? If I had $$ I'd pay you!
Thank you so much, you are the greatest!
John Richard Green