Friday, September 29, 2006


Come to think of it, I've never had the doubtful pleasure of watching Law and Order: The Original in Slovak dubbing on Slovak state TV. Having caught a few old episodes of it last night (in English) I'm really glad I haven't. Why, you ask? Slovak translators, I answer. Idiots, the lot of them. As long as I live I will never forget abominations like "Gettysburgská adresa" (i.e. "the address - as in street number and zip code - of Gettysburg" for Gettysburg address, instead of "Gettysburgský prejav") in one episode of West Wing or "ničiteľ" (i.e. "the thing/person which destroys" for destroyer, instead of the proper nautical term "torpédoborec") in several episodes of Babylon 5. All I could do was bang my head against the wall and repeat "And someone got paid for this..."
Listening to the fast one-liners (usually delivered by the late and great Jerry Orbach) and quick retorts filled with idiomatic expressions and slang made me (and my forhead) glad I didn't get to see LandO on STV. I can't even begin to imagine what those shmucks there did to these colorful expressions when translating them:

"Maybe you should stop giving us the runaround."
"- Well she has nerve!
- Not to mention several organs below Mason-Dixon."
"Bachelorette number 1..." (Brisco referring to a young woman)
"Either this girl is doing a real Meryl Streep or she doesn't know anything..."
"Don't quit your day job, detective."
"- What did she expect you to do?
- Well, to be blunt, she'd like me to jump down, turn around, pick a bale o'cotton."

And my favorite from that episode (13x15):

"Makeover maven..."

To translate these wonderful examples of US slang requires not only an extensive knowledge of American language and culture (which most of our translators do not possess), but also cojones on the part of the translator. I've said it once, I've said it twice and I'll say it again: standard Slovak is still a language of the theatre and those famous monday night adaptations. Although slang, expletives and other non-standard modes of expression are a normal part of everyday speech, in any even remotely public context, people are still uncomfortable to use words that are perceived as "not being proper Slovak".
The other day, a buddy of mine wrote an email to a discussion group asking for help concerning an item of hardware. The discussion group in question is not noted for it's insistence on decorum, in fact the lack of any such thing would be item number one on any description of that forum. Yet still, the guy felt the need to put quotation marks around the word "pasovať" (a common, yet non-standard word for "fit"). Why? Knowing the kind of people that hang around the said discussion group, there is no doubt in my mind he wouldn't have any problem saying the word out loud. I suspect that the reason he put those quotation marks there to distance himself from this word is the same reason why most public personae precede every perceived non-standard word or phrase with the waiver "ľudovo povedané" (i.e. "as the simple people would say"): it's the ghost of "spisovná slovenčina" (standard Slovak). Once a beautiful idea, it is now a scary half-dead monster baring its teeth at anyone who'd dare to approach it from the wrong side of the social and dialectal divide, yet incapable of defending itself from being eaten away by anglicisms and general disregard for knowledge and education. I'm pretty goddamn sure this is not what Bernolák or Štúr had in mind.

Oh and fyi, the following is how I would translate the expressions above:

"Možno by ste nás mohli prestať vodiť za nos."
"- Tá má teda drzosť!
- A riadne veďvietečo od pása nižšie k tomu."
"Kandidátka číslo jedna..."
"Buď nám tu táto slečinka predviedla úžasný herecký výkon, alebo naozaj nič nevie..."
"Len si nerobte nádeje, detektív."
"- A čo čakala že urobíte?
- Asi že si sadnem, založím ruky a budem sa tváriť že ja nič, ja muzikant."
"Kúzelníčka s mejkapom..."

Or something like that, given enough time and money. Anyone wants more, you know where to find me.


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