By Radoslav Genchev
Very often translators here and everywhere else are faced with presumably incorrect or erroneous translations, but this is not always the case. There are many factors to be taken into account. In translation, there are multiple errors that on second thought, do not appear as such. Here are some examples from translating into Bulgarian.
ГДР, КНДР, Варшавския договор (G.D.R. – German Democratic Republic, D.P.R.K – Korean People’s Democratic Republic, Warsaw
Treaty). This is how these countries and organizations (and others) were translated during the socialist times. The institutions and the media were not allowed to talk about East Germany, North Korea or the Warsaw Pact, for ideological reasons. Similarly, there was no
mention of East Berlin. For us it was Берлин and Западен Берлин (Berlin, West Berlin). Nowadays, all these follow the Western parlance. Many follow developments in North Korea, and many are thankful for the abolition of the Warsaw Pact.
Another supposed error was how we expressed the English sound ‘æ’ as in ‘have’. There is no such sound in Bulgarian; it tends to be more like ‘a’ than the ‘ɛ’ of ‘dress’. We accepted writing proper and place names like Майкъл Джексън and Кемп Дейвид (Michael Jackson, Camp David) with ‘е’ as a norm simply because they have been established as such in our language long ago. Newer and unestablished names tend to be transcribed with ‘a’.
The Subtitling Heresy
Translating subtitles sometimes goes beyond the linguistic norm, and linguistic ‘errors’ are acceptable.
The polite form of the personal pronoun Вие (you) and its derivatives (на Вас – ‘to you’, Ваш/Ваша/Ваше – ‘your’, masculine, feminine and neutral, etc.) must always be capitalized, according to the Bulgarian Academy of Science, Bulgaria’s linguistic watchdog. But the Netflix Bulgarian Timed Text Style Guide reads: “Do not write formal pronouns with a capital letter, as subtitles are considered an artistic work.” Good deal!
Another example is the feminine possessive pronoun ѝ (her). It must always be written with an acute graphic accent. This was a problem years ago because one had to look for special character key combinations on the keyboard. And subtitlers opted for й instead – a separate letter in the Bulgarian alphabet used only in diphthongs such as, among others, ай, ей, ий (ay, ey, iy). The reason was that ѝ could not be read correctly by subtitling software. Well, nowadays, with the advancement of computer software, this long-suffered ugly duckling has its deserved place on the keyboard – Shift + x, and voilà!
The same Bulgarian Academy of Science watchdog orders that all punctuation marks (!, ?, …) be succeeded by a space. But when addressed with the question of the front ellipsis, indicating a pause in speech, the answer was: “Well, this may go without a space, if used in subtitling (…и продължи. – ‘…and she went on.’).
Love you, watchdog!
This is my gravest error and professional sin ever, but I have never regretted it.
A long time ago a Bulgarian businessman wanted to buy several used slot machines from a Spanish company and asked me to interpret at
the negotiations. Obviously, the Spaniards wanted to get rid of their rusty iron and offered a very reasonable price. It was more than acceptable, but the Bulgarian businessman still wanted to ask for 5-10% off the price just for the sport of it. The problem was, his politeness got in the way as he stammered through, “Well… it really is… and surely… but… could we just… given the… We can also… if you would agree…” In the end, I couldn’t resist, and spat it out for him, “Mr. Mladenov is ready to pay half your price and this is final!” The Spaniards agreed on the spot.
Oh, how sweet the champagne was afterwards!
Radoslav Genchev was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. Holds a Master in English and Spanish Linguistics from Sofia University. Practiced journalism at Spanish Foreign Radio, Madrid, Spain. Worked as a news presenter, editor and translator for the English Service of Radio Bulgaria. Currently freelances for several localization companies. Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Deep Focus, Issue 4, September 2019