2011-01-23

The Hoose at Pooh's Neuk / Kidnappit

Well, I've finished the second Pooh book in Scots, and it seems to me just a hair less good than the original. I have no idea if that's the translator, the author, or just me. Definitely it's harder to understand, perhaps more Scots and less English, though not so much you'd notice it right off. I do, however, want to present one of Pooh's hums in three versions: Robertson's translation, a literal back-translation by me, and Milne's original. It comes from Chapter VIII, "Where-intil Wee Grumphie does a Gey Graund Thing":

I lay on ma chist
   I lay on my chest
      I lay on my chest
And thocht I wid jist
   And thought I would just
      And I thought it best
Pit on I was haein a sleep I had missed;
   Put on I was having a sleep I had missed;
      To pretend I was having an evening rest;
I lay on ma wame
   I lay on my belly
      I lay on my tum
Some verse tae declaim
   Some verse to declaim
      And I tried to hum
But naethin particular seemed to strike hame.
   But nothing particular seemed to strike home.
      But nothing particular seemed to come.
Ma face was flat
   My face was flat
      My face was flat
On the flair, and that
   On the floor, and that
      On the floor, and that
Is aw guid and weel for an acrobat;
   Is all good and well for an acrobat;
      Is all very well for an acrobat;
But it doesna seem fair
   But it does not seem fair
      But it doesn't seem fair
Tae a Freendly Bear
   To a Friendly Bear
      To a Friendly Bear
Tae streek him oot unner an auld creel-chair.
   To stretch him out under an old wicker-chair.
      To stiffen him out with a basket-chair.
And a kind o squoot
   And a kind of squoot
      And a sort of sqoze
He could dae wioot
   He could do without
      Which grows and grows
Is no that braw for his puir auld snoot;
   Is not that pleasant for his poor old snoot;
      Is not too nice for his poor old nose,
And a kind o squeed
   And a kind of squeed
      And a sort of squch
Is sair indeed
   Is grievous indeed
      Is much too much
On his mooth and his lugs and the back o his heid.
   On his mouth and his ears and the back of his head.
      For his neck and his mouth and his ears and such.

Plainly some of the changes are enforced by the rhyme, but I do think "I lay on ma wame / Some verse tae declaim / But naethin particular seemed to strike hame" is better, and better poetry, than "I lay on my tum / And I tried to hum / But nothing particular seemed to come."

I'll also mention here Kidnappit, a graphic novel based on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic romance Kidnapped, which is available both in English and in Scots. In the original book, much of the dialogue is Scots-and-water, whereas all the narration, though in first person by a Scotsman, is in standard English or nearly so. I don't know how the characters speak in the English comic, but some lines of dialogue can be usefully contrasted between the two versions that I have read: when our hero David Balfour confronts the Red Fox in Stevenson's original (chapter 17), he says: "I am neither of his people [the Stewarts] nor yours [the Campbells], but an honest subject of King George, owing no man and fearing no man." But in the Scots comic, what David says to the Reid Tod is "I am nae aucht of James's folk or o yours. I am a leal subject o King George, aucht a nae man and feart o nane." Somehow I think that's more likely to be what the real David Balfour (so to speak) actually said.

12 comments:

abadguide said...

I do think "I lay on ma wame / Some verse tae declaim / But naethin particular seemed to strike hame" is better, and better poetry, than "I lay on my tum / And I tried to hum / But nothing particular seemed to come."

That's possible. But it's not written in the words of a child speaking in the 1920s, and that's the main problem with this exercise: it exchanges one set of phrases for another, but that's all it does, it doesn't add anything significant. It's as if I took Matisse's Harmony In Red into Photoshop and changed it into Harmony In Green - wow, that's clever!

AJP Crown

John Cowan said...

Crown, that sounds like an argument against translating the books altogether. Would you claim that the French translation "doesn't add anything significant"? Indeed, why should it?

abadguide said...

That's right, why should it? I haven't read the French translation but that's not a good example. French people would read a French version to understand the book, there's a practical reason for a translation, whereas Scottish or the Lénárd Sándor Winnie Ille Pu don't have any utility. So what's the point? Well, Pooh works well in Latin, it doesn't disturb the original and it's fun. "Some verse tae declaim" is the exact opposite of Pooh, it's asking the reader to laugh at a puny figure using a pretentious Rabbit or Owl word. It's not in the original, but it doesn't add anything to the original, either.

AJP Grumpy

John Cowan said...

I won't attempt a direct traverse of your main point, which is I think a matter of taste, but the books are certainly not just a curiosity like Winnie ille Pu (which I also love). They have direct utility in being read to and by Scots-speaking children. The publisher, Itchy Coo, makes a living at this, publishing both original and translated works in Scots, mostly for children but some for adults.

abadguide said...

What, you're saying this is a translation for Scottish children who can't understand English? Pull the other one, John.

John Cowan said...

Hispanic children in New York City understand English, but that doesn't mean there isn't, or should not be, a brisk trade here in Spanish-language kid's books. Having books in the language spoken in your home and school is a very important matter. Indeed, Itchy Coo sells lots of books to schools in Scotland, where the language of instruction is English.

The Arab world, indeed, suffers most damnably from the lack of such books in local Arabic. Even kid's cartoons on TV are in Modern Standard Arabic, which nobody speaks, except when reading from a printed manuscript, and (I believe) few children understand.

abadguide said...

Agreed about Spanish and Arabic. But, just as you don't need to translate A Streetcar Named Desire for New Yorkers, a version in local dialect isn't required by Glaswegians reading Pooh. That's no reason not to translate it anyway, of course.

AJP.

John Cowan said...

Scots, however, is not a local dialect, but an autonomous language, even if its Dachsprache is English.

abadguide said...

Call it what you like, Scottish is no more autonomous than any other British dialect. Apart from the odd word an English person doesn't need it translated; that's the point. Relative to English to lump Scottish together with French, Spanish and Latin is absurd - as you well know.

AJP.

John Cowan said...

How many languages are there in Scandinavia again? Just one? Didn't think so.

Lexical dissimilarity is in fact the largest barrier to mutual intelligibility, as the tale of the Englishman reading the sign "Please uplift your messages outwith the store", which is not even Scots but Scottish English: all he gets is "Please". (The American can do a hair better, but not much.) Thanks to lexical similarity, it is quite common in my neighborhood to have mixed Spanish/Italian marriages where each spouse speaks their own language exclusively.

Because English is fairly isolated from its relatives other than Scots, we anglophones are not used to the idea that there are other languages we can partially understand: if we understand it, it's English, if not, it's Foreign. But this is not at all the typical situation worldwide.

abadguide said...

Thanks to lexical similarity, it is quite common in my neighborhood to have mixed Spanish/Italian marriages where each spouse speaks their own language exclusively.

This is a common feature in any household where two or more languages are used: French, Nordic, Russian, English, doesn't matter. We do it all the time here.

Because English is fairly isolated from its relatives other than Scots, we anglophones are not used to the idea that there are other languages we can partially understand: if we understand it, it's English, if not, it's Foreign. But this is not at all the typical situation worldwide.

It's rather more complicated than that if you know anything about German and some of the Scandinavian languages, and I'm sure you do, but this is all a linguistic technicality that I don't have any opinion about. I'm beginning to forget what this was all about...What I do know is that French children would need Pooh in French if they were to understand it, whereas Scottish children would understand the original version without any trouble.

It's nice that someone translated it, but I don't feel from the very little I've seen that the translation is much in the spirit of A. A. Milne's book. I feel the same about the Disney version, of course, though in the Scots case there could at least be something worthwhile coming out of the change, I haven't really seen enough to tell.

AJP.

nataliebinder said...

I lay on ma wame / Some verse tae declaim / But naethin particular seemed to strike hame

I think that's lovely poetry too. Not too bad in standard English either:

I lay on my tum/ Some verse to hum/ But nothing particular seem to strike home.

It's subtly different from the original. Milne's Pooh has writer's block, while Robertson's Pooh is struggling for the right words, the words that "strike home."