Monthly Archives: April, 2012

Translation Theory & Practice

“Learning a second language doubles life” Jacqueline Bouvier

After I had been living in Spain for some years, I was in London on a visit & talking with friends; I described my Spanish neighbours as peasants, but they said that they couldn’t be! & I realised that ‘peasant’ has only negative connotations in Britain; which goes to show how far removed British society is from it’s rural past.
I recognised that my peasant neighbours taught me more than I ever learned at University. I realised that myself & my fellow graduates had been groomed to live in a society in which someone else does all the work; bred to be middle men, or guaranteed jobs by the government, whilst all the digging, & smelting & chopping & weaving is done by others. The problem with this is that without personal experience, people are reliant on the dictates of scientists & ‘experts’; they lack the information to draw their own conclusions.
For many years I had no access to a library, so that my exposure to Spanish literature was confined to the cheap books published throughout the nineties by publishers such as Anaya, subsidised by the government which aimed to promote literacy. Previously, the subject matter available was limited to a few mouldy religious textbooks & a copy of ‘la Marca’ at the bar. Very few of my older neighbours could read or write. Speech patterns developed over centuries had hardly been influenced by outside changes & language continued to be anchored to the the physical universe.
Now that I write in Spanish I try to imagine how my neighbours would express what I want to say. For example, I myself would have difficulty in explaining why chlorinated water is so unpleasant to drink, whereas a gardener in the municipal park put it like this:
– ¡Aquella agua da mucha sed!
In the words of Fernando Lazaro “Solo podemos pensar con el lenguaje”; & it is the process of mastering the Spanish language that helps me to clarify my thoughts & impressions. I take Lazaros’ assertion that we can only think with language to further signify that clarity of expression enables us to think clearly.
Having spent some time in the linguistics section at the UCL library I was struck by how badly linguists express themselves. I get the impression that, in trying to break language down to its component parts, they have thrown the baby out with the bath water & produced a code which can only be understood by their fellow academics. I suspect that this is because language is so closely linked to its meaning that it cannot be studied for itself. I believe that the mind assimilates language when it is trying to understand something THROUGH that language; & that literature does not only teach us language, but also thought.
At the end of my aural exam at the Cervantes Institute last May I was encouraged by one of the examiners to take a teaching module in Spanish rather than continuing into Translation. I enjoyed the course, but felt that my inadequacies as a non-native would be an impediment to effective teaching.
I am an enthusiastic reader of Spanish literature, especially the realists; I love the way that the Madrid that Fortunata walked through, or the streets in ‘La Dama Errante’ can still be plotted on a map. I have a pet project to organise a literary tour through the streets of Madrid, as is done in Dublin (following the inebriated steps of Leopold Bloom); but my more immediate aim is to finish “La Tesis de Enri” part of which I have temporarily posted on my wordpress site for you to see, strictly as a work in progress.
I see my specialist subjects as Marine & Agriculture, in both of which I have an interest & some experience. I was farming for the last ten years before coming away from Spain
My wordpress blog is predominately visual; however as I was influenced by the artists Marcel Broodthaers & Laurence Weiner whilst working at Art Monthly in the 1980’s, both of whom were instrumental in the inclusion of language as a visual element in art at that time, my work since then has been continuously word inspired. The edacta project, a publishing enterprise in which three Artists Books were produced in three different languages; also included a self scrolling reproduction of the MallarmÈ poem “Un Coup de DÈs” reproducing the original format envisaged by the poet.
I recently attended the Sebald lecture at Kings Place which was given by the poet Sean O’Brien, I was interested to learn that he worked from ‘literals’, from languages that he doesn´t speak; my position is quite different in that I am only inspired by other languages, if I stick to English I only write middle-class guff.
My overwhelming motive for continuing my studies is to break away from the ‘plateau’ on which I find myself & learn to write in Spanish as well as a native speaker; my preference for UCL is due to the incomparable library in which I could study the Spanish language, not it’s ‘nocio-funcional’ cousin.
(for copies of this, & CLTA essay, please see