Friday, 7 May 2010

Dirty Words, Picture Dictionaries and Wetlands

Jessa Crispin and I discuss the above at Bookslut. The picture dictionary, just in case it gets you wondering, is the Duden-Oxford Bildwörterbuch (Mannheim, 1994) and is a very useful tool for translators with some fascinating illustrations of car engines, church architecture and the human body, all painstakingly labelled in two languages.

If you own a copy, I recommend a look at pp. 552-553 for the most hilarious drawings of a nightclub you'll ever see. My, how we laughed.


Jan Groh said...

Very interesting - especially for Germans.
Actually, I think "die Scham" is very unusual in modern German, though Schamlippen and Schamhaar are widely used when not speaking slang (but the "shame" notion gets somewhat lost in these words, I think).
This really made me laugh: "There was a sense, and I think it was even stated out loud, in the US and UK that the success of Wetlands was proof something was fundamentally wrong with the Germans" - and not just because almost every Brit I ever met told me something like that, no matter what topic we were discussing, LOL.
No, I remember various hard core arguments between US/UK people and Europeans (i.e. continental Europeans as every Brit will understand)/non-US-Americans on an international photography forum. Again and again it was about nudity and what was appropriate to show in public fora and e.g. what children/teenagers should expect to be confronted with in a museum. (There was a story about a Texan school teacher who was dismissed because he brought his class to a museum with an unwrapped copy of the Venus of Milo. No mercy for him. What, of course, was regarded as absolutely ridiculous by the Europeans and not so much so by the UK/US participants... - There was a similar story about sexual education in scotland. Now that is your-body-is-a-cesspool, too, but with slightly different connotations, too.)
Don't get me wrong, I don't want to start one of those futile "us vs. you" discussion. It is just funny and fascinating how different perspectives on something as common as sexuality can be. And I wonder how much of the differences should be preserved in a translation. For example, afaik the English language prefers sexual terms for cursing whereas in German there is a tendency for excretional (? - hope you get what I mean) terms (no, please, forget about Freud for a moment). Of course it would sound strange to a German to read about "Mutterficker" (mother fuckers) in a book, yet, at times I think we would gain a deeper understanding of our different ways of thinking, if mother fucker would not be translated as "Arschloch" (arse/ass hole) or something comparable.
There is a tendency (or is it just one school among others in translating?) to close the gap between cultures. Yet, are we that close? And isn't most of the fun of intercultural communication hidden in the differences?
I wonder.

kjd said...

Oh Jan, I'm so embarrassed. After all these years I still get der, die and das muddled up. But thanks for your input.

Anyway, perhaps the shame element isn't explicit on the ear any more, but it's still very much there if you ask me.

Those different approaches to the body between cultures are fascinating, I agree. Jessa and I had been talking about the modern German love of nudism versus the terrible language used to describe the body parts it exposes, but that didn't make its way into the interview. Possibly because we're both a bit freaked out by it...

I agree with your swearword ideas. The word you're looking for is scatological - a beautiful euphemism. But when we're working towards achieving an equivalent effect on the reader, we have to consider how swearwords sound in each language.

And an adult using the word "poo" for "Kacke" comes across as plainly silly in English, which is why we'd probably use something like "damn" or "shit". Actually I like to sneak extra swearwords into my translations. Travel on a London bus to understand why.

Sorry it's taken so long to reply - see the post above for my official excuse.