About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Lost in Translation II

A week ago, I read a blog post on the difficulty of translation. I happen to use a lot of translated media: I watch subtitled anime, and read translated light novels (For example, I've read the light novel series Sword Art Online at Baka-Tsuki). So it's an interesting exercise to try to translate a Tagalog song to English, just to see the problems that a translator might encounter. 

The song I chose was Hotdog's Pers Lab. "Pers Lab" is a Tagalog rendering of the word "first love", and I confess that I find the lyrics funny (maybe because I've become autistic somewhere along the way).

Pers Lab
(composed by Ramon Torralba, lyrics by Dennis Garcia. Performed by the band Hotdog.) 

When I see you, I melt

Like ice cream left under the sun.

What's your secret, why can't I lose the thought of you? 

What potion do you use, that I have fallen for you?"

I can't sleep, I can't eat:

Pimples on my nose and on my cheek;
as I keep thinking of you, they multiply.

When I see you, I melt

whenever you pass by
My heart peeks out.

When shall I get to know you?

I wish it will be soon.
It will be soon.

The original lyrics would be:

Tuwing kita'y nakikita
Ako'y natutunaw
Parang ice cream na bilad
Sa ilalim ng araw

Ano ba naman ang sikreto mo
At di ka maalis sa isip ko
Ano bang gayuma ang gamit mo
At masyado akong patay sa'yo

Di na makatulog
Di pa makakain
Taghiyawat sa ilong
Pati na sa pisngi
Sa kaiisip sa'yo
Taghiyawat dumadami

Tuwing kita'y nakikita
Ako'y natutunaw
Tuwing daan sa harap mo
Puso ko'y dumudungaw

Kelan ba kita makikilala
Sana'y malapit na
Malapit na

Now a few comments: the translation is stanza by stanza. The second stanza gave me a problem because of the word "gayuma". It's a Filipino form of witchcraft that's supposed to be a love spell. One version I've read online mentions using a jar and a photograph and saying words in dog-Latin, so the translation of potion doesn't work out right. 

On the other hand, some people refer to gayuma as something ingested by the target of the spell, with some accounts having it mixed in drinks or eaten. I chose the word potion as a nod to the second meaning, although using love spell would probably work. 

Another problem was the translation of the fourth stanza. "Puso ko'y dumudungaw" was hard work. The connotation of "dumudungaw" is a the act of looking outside a window. How exactly you do that depends on context as well.  I tried google translate to see if someone has provided something I can start with, but it just gives me back the same word.

How many ways can you look outside a window? You could peek through a window, while trying to hide yourself from view. Or you can fully show yourself: there are degrees, depending on how shy you are. I chose "peek" because the song was composed in the 70's, and one model of beauty is "Maria Clara", a character in Jose Rizal's novels. There's a scene in Noli Me Tangere where she is first reunited with a childhood friend (and lover), and of the possible ways that she might look out of the window to spy on her lover's arrival, peek would be the best choice. 

Mind you, it doesn't necessarily mean that this kind of shyness (or lack of assertiveness) is something I approve of in girls, but it might be a good description of the kind of person the band had in mind. "Ako'y natutunaw" translates to "I melt", so it's probably a good hypothesis to think of the lyrics as reflecting the emotions of someone who feels shyness at the sight of the beloved.

And so, the Korean has hit the problem correctly. The art of bringing the context into the translation is difficult, and one should be grateful to translators, especially those who do the job for free... like the translators of light novels, scanlators of manga, and the people who subtitle anime. 


1 comment:

Tim said...

What you actually did there was transliterate the song; a practice that language interpreters often do on the fly, while mentally 'buffering' the stuff being said while they convey the meaning of a sentence spoken a few seconds ago. Even with a high degree of fluency in both languages, it's *extremely* hard to do.

My mother was a sign language interpreter and told me about a big mistake a colleague made. Her client was arrested, and she interpreted the reading of the Miranda rights. Those rights begin with "You have the right to remain silent", which she interpreted as "You are right, be silent." That simple homonym created quite a problem.

Federal and state accessibility laws mandate that a sign language interpreter be present for most events, such as concerts, plays or lectures. Interpreting concerts was her least favorite thing to do, for just those reasons. I can't think of anything comparable to the mental difficulty of doing what you did in (close to) real time. It's definitely a way to 'pump iron' with your brain.