Volume 5, No. 2 
April 2001

  M. Calzada





Another Milestone
by Gabe Bokor
Index 1997-2001
  Translator Profiles
The Translator Is a Writer
by Eileen Brockbank
  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Marketing Your Translation Services: Test Translations—To Do or Not to Do?
by Andrei Gerasimov
The Changing World of Japanese Patent Translators
by Steve Vlasta Vitek
Sounding the Language-Elephant's Trumpet (a guide for intelligent buyers of translation services)
by Paul Sutton
  Translator Education
Toward a Model Approach to Translation Curriculum Development
by Moustafa Gabr
Translators or Instructors or Both
by Carol Ann Goff-Kfouri, Ph.D.
World Translation Contest
by Danilo Nogueira
  Literary Translation
Three Translations of La Chanson du mal-aimé by Guillaume Apollinaire
by Giovanna Summerfield
Translating The Sisters and Happy Endings: a proposal of a model of translation and a discussion on women's language and translation
by María Calzada Perez
  Financial Translation
Problématique de la traduction économique et financière
by Frédéric Houbert
The Check is not in the Mail—Banking in Brazil
by Danilo Nogueira
  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XXIII
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.
  Dictionary Reviews
Emotions, Taboos and Profane Language
by Zsuzsanna Ardó
  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
  Translators’ Tools
Translators’ Emporium
Letters to the Editor
Translators’ Events
Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Literary Translations


Translating The Sisters and Happy Endings

a proposal of a model of translation and a discussion on women's language and translation

by María Calzada Pérez


ollowing my firm belief that translators should work at both a theoretical and practical level, this paper consists of two translations, preceded by a theoretical explanation. This explanation, in turn, revolves around two main topics: models of translation and feminist discourse. I find them of great relevance to the translation of the two stories included here:

Pauline Smith's The Sisters (1991) and

Margaret Atwood's Happy Endings (1991).

Being a translator myself, the problem of devising a model which can be of use for practicing translators has always interested me. Part One of this essay summarizes the opinions of Günter Kandler, Louis Kelly and James Holmes and applies them to the translation of The Sisters.

To say that a woman's speech has been traditionally marked by her social and sexual conditions is a rather obvious statement.
Feminist discourse, for its part, is a relatively new concept which has nonetheless already acquired great importance. To say that a woman's speech has been traditionally marked by her social and sexual conditions is a rather obvious statement. It is not so easy, however, to discover which specific traits can be related to a feminine style. The research in this field has not been totally successful so far and it probably never will be. But then again, the same degree of failure applies to the task of translation. Presumably, the (feminist) translator's work is to be affected by the conclusions to which some feminist theorists have arrived as far as women's discourse is concerned. Thus, I reproduce those feminist theories that I deem most attractive—those formulated by Robin T. Lakoff (1975, 1977) and Barbara Godard (1980)—and in Part Two relate them to Happy Endings.

Part one: a model of translation

Translation denotes both the process of transferring a text from one language into another and the product resulting from this process. Some theorists believe that the "process" concerns academics and translators whereas the "product" is the critic's task (Toury 1985). The model I propose renders translators responsible for some sort of criticism as well as for the actual production of the translation. In this way, Holmes's three branches of Translation—Descriptive, Theoretical and Applied Translation Studies—intertwine in the figure of the translator, whose task is not just "art and craft," but also a "skill" and a "science" (Holmes 1978).

The translator's task is viewed in a remarkably similar way by two theorists: Günter Kandler (1963) and Louis Kelly (1979). A combination of their approaches would recommend the observance of the following steps:

  1. Choice of the source and target languages
  2. Understanding the text and setting priorities
  3. Transfer into target language
  4. Assessment of quality


1. Choice of the source and target languages

One of Kelly's achievements is that he mentions aspects of the process of translation others seem to miss. The choice of the source and target languages is a clear example. Many theorists do not explicitly acknowledge this choice because they do not consider it an important matter. Like Kelly, I do believe that the choice of SL and TL has always existed (he gives several examples) but I must here advocate what I consider to be the right choice: that translators should always transfer a text into their mother tongue. Therefore, I did not have any difficulties whatsoever in deciding on the languages I was to translate from or into.

The decision about the languages is not the only one translators might be entitled to make before they start working. They might also be able to single out the text they are to translate, although it must be made clear that there is some truth in Flaubert's remark: "We don't choose our subjects; they choose us." (G. Flaubert). Nevertheless, this decision is as important as the options translators may favour while confronting the texts, since it determines their attitude towards such texts.

In my case, I had several texts in mind before starting to translate. My final decision was to be made from among the stories included in this essay, The Sisters and Happy Endings, and Dorothy Parker's The Waltz and Susan Hill's Lanterns Across the Snow. The choice was not easy because all are appealing stories, each of them for different reasons. The Waltz would have allowed me to analyze the influence women's speech may have on translation in a very clear way. Lanterns Across the Snow would have tested my poetical abilities as a translator. However, "choosing" unfortunately means not only "selecting," but also "discarding," and these were the two stories I finally cast aside.

With The Sisters, I hoped to be choosing a feminist text that is not as bitter as Parker's The Waltz but which, on the contrary, offers a conciliatory tone. It seems to me that this text sternly criticizes a shameful reality, while avoiding the fictitious certainty many feminist writers practice.

Happy Endings, in turn, caught my eye for its harsh humor and criticism, its innovative structure, its rich and changing vocabulary and—why shouldn't I admit it?—for its short length. A translator's reasons for selecting a story are not always and only sublime. Sometimes they are rather pragmatic.

2. Understanding the text and setting priorities

First of all, translators are "lecteurs du texte" (G. Flaubert). This means that they analyze what the text says—primary and secondary meaning—and how it says it. A theory of understanding, thus, becomes very important, although Kandler complains that "even translators seem to be unaware of it" (Kandler 1963).

Understanding means, according to Holmes, disclosing the meaning of the text at two levels: "the serial plane" and the "structural plane." The former deals with microunits such as sounds, words or sentences, whereas the latter concerns the tone and ideology of the text—in short, it refers to what Holmes calls the "map" of the source text. Both levels are related to each other since an initial analysis of the serial plane will definitely affect the mapping of the source text.

Translators have to apply a set of rules during their work. At this second stage—that of understanding the text and setting priorities—Holmes mentions "derivational rules," which determine "the way in which translators abstract their map of the source text from the text." This abstraction works at three levels: "the linguistic artifact," "the literary artifact" and "the socio-cultural artifact" (Holmes 1978:74).

3. Transferring the text into the target language

Although this stage was inexplicably obviated by both Kandler (1963) and Kelly (1979), Holmes devotes to it part of the explanation of his model.

According to Holmes, translators continue their work by applying a set of "projection rules" and "correspondence rules." The projection rules set the way in which translators "make use of their map of the prospective target text in order to formulate it." The correspondence rules refer to the way in which "they develop their target-text map from their source-text map" (Holmes 1978:74). Depending on the decisions translators make, their re-created texts will be either source-oriented or target-oriented. These rules are to be applied at all levels: linguistic, literary and socio-cultural.


CASE STUDY: The Sisters

In the case of The Sisters, I differentiated between the text's serial plane and its structural plane. An analysis of the former stems from the "linguistic artifact" and results in a description of the "literary artifact." A study of the structural plane is influenced by—and at the same time influences—the translator's socio-cultural map of the source text.

The serial plane

Translators read in order to reproduce what they have understood. Their reading is not only, therefore, aiming at the overall meaning of the story; it is also an analysis of vocabulary and grammar.

A. Vocabulary: legal terms, South African words, key terms and phrases

As far as vocabulary is concerned, The Sisters stands out because of its legal terms ("water cases," to "bond" a propriety...) and especially its South African words (nouns: "stoep," "platkops" and verbs: "inspanned"). The legal terms posed no problems for the translation, but they had to be included in the Spanish translation. The South African words, however, presented me with a twofold option: leaving the words as they appear in the English text or replacing them with Spanish equivalents. My decision was clear from the beginning. In the case of nouns, which name specific realities of the South African way of life, I was to keep them but italicized, so that the target-language reader notices that these terms are culturally bound. In the case of verbs, the use of which only highlights the peculiarities of South African English, I was to disregard them altogether. On the one hand, I felt it was impossible to re-create a South African dialect in Spanish. On the other, I thought it would be deceptive to use a specific Spanish dialect. So I decided for the standardization of the language.

Idioms were also interesting from the translation point of view. Expressions such as: "and when my father's back was up against the wall" had more than one translation:

"y cuando mi padre se encontraba entre la espada y la pared..."


"y cuando mi padre se encontraba con el agua al cuello..."

The former keeps the reference to the wall but the latter creates a new image—that of the father almost drowning in water—which I thought was appropriate in this case because of the plot of the story. This idiom is a premonitory metaphor of what happens later in the story. Indeed it is the greediness for water that brings tragedy to Burgert de Jager's family.

A short story, for its part, always has key terms and sentences that translators must reproduce efficiently. In The Sisters, many of these terms gain their importance because of their constant repetition. Thus, "mad," "save" and "sinful."

I translated "mad" (when it refers to Jan Redlinghuis) as "es capaz de todo tipo de locuras." This expression sounded natural in Spanish and it could be repeated later on, in the same way and places the English uses "mad."

"Save" was not to be translated as "salvar," which did not mean much in Spanish, but "librar de este mal." Although the Spanish sentence was longer that the English "save," I was only making more explicit the original implicit meaning while conveying the religious aura that envelopes the verb "save."

I decided to change "sinful" totally. "Pecador" was definitely not appropriate for a young girl and "en pecado" sounded too serious. "Malo" lost some of the religious connotations of "sinful" but was indeed more natural for Sukey de Jager to use. I chose the latter option.

There were also key sentences I had to make sure I was translating correctly. Some gain their importance due to their metaphorical meaning: "At sun-down Marta died." Others occupy a relevant place in the text—normally at the end of a paragraph: "And in bitterness and sorrow my mother died." Finally, others determine the tone of the story and must be translated carefully: "Do now as it seems right to you."

The translation of "At sun-down Marta died" was to change the original slightly. I did not write "Marta murió al atardecer" but "Marta murió con el atardecer," which creates a more poetical image by linking Marta's tragedy with the "death" of the day.

The inversion of the adverbial phrase in "and in bitterness and sorrow my mother died" and its definite position at the end of the paragraph confer this sentence a powerful semantic charge. The Spanish was also to invert the order of the sentence but it needed something else to convey additional emphasis. The otherwise insignificant adverb "así" fulfils this purpose.

Finally, the sentence, "Do now as it seems right to you," marks the tone of the story, which is not that of bitterness and revenge but rather that of resignation and uncertainty: nothing can be judged, for who are we to judge, anyway? The translator's understanding of this key sentence will indeed determine not just its rendering into Spanish but also the whole story. I could, for instance, have said: "Haz lo que te de la gana." Or, being less derogatory, "haz lo que te plazca." With these translations I would have given my target-language readers a more belligerent version of the story (which I could have done if my initial purpose had been to emphasize the radical feminist stance). On the contrary, I rendered it: "Haga lo que considere oportuno," using a more respectful, though disenchanted, answer.

B. Grammar

Differences in grammar are also to be taken into account while reading, because they will have to be reproduced at a later stage. Translators should have what could be called a "reflex mechanism" by which they stop and take notice when they come across certain grammatical structures. However, this reflex mechanism can only be built up gradually, by having a thorough knowledge of the morphology and syntax of both the source and the target language.

1) Morphology: pronouns, verbs, nouns and adjectives

Morphologically speaking, this story renders evident differences within three categories of words: pronouns, verbs and nouns.

Pronouns seem to form a minor linguistic category because they only have a deictic meaning rather than a full semantic meaning. However, they are of great importance to translators, who will not succeed in their task if they do not adapt the referential system of their target text. There are two clear examples of this in The Sisters: demonstrative pronouns and possessive pronouns.

Sentences like: "And all this time Marta spoke no word against Jan Redlinghuis" have to be slightly modified in Spanish:

"En todo aquel tiempo no salió un solo comentario en contra de Jan Redlinghuis de la boca de Marta."

Spanish, on the other hand, conveys possessive connotations in a different way than English. Thus,

"It was as if my heart must break..."

"Se me partía el corazón..."

However, in this particular story I have maintained many of the possessive pronouns of the original in order to convey the atmosphere of greediness that permeates the story. This greediness is more evident in Spanish, where it is uncommon to find so many possessive forms:

"If he could but get a fair share of the river water for his furrow, he would say, his farm of Zeekoegatt would be as rich..."

"Si lograba hacerse con una buena tajada del caudal del río para su acequia, decía, su granja de Zeekoegatt sería tan fértil..."

English verbs, in the past tense, normally present translators with the problem of selecting between the Spanish imperfect tense and the simple past. By choosing the latter in my translation of The Sisters, I intended to emphasize its definite ending rather than to make it more vivid with the use of the imperfect tense:

"So it went, day after day, day after day, till at last there came a day when Marta was too weak to climb into the cart..."

"Y así fueron transcurriendo los días, uno tras otro, uno tras otro, hasta que Marta estuvo tan débil que no pudo subir al coche de caballos..."

(alternative: "Y así iban transcurriendo los días, uno tras otro, uno tras otro, hasta que Marta estaba tan débil que no pudo subir al coche de caballos...")

There are two other problems as far as verbs are concerned. First, there are moments when Pauline Smith uses two verbs with similar, although not identical, meanings. Translators should also convey a similar pair in their target languages:

"'Look,' he would say, 'how she sits in her new tent-cart —the wife that Burgert de Jager sold me.' ..."

"'See now how green they are...'"

"Mirad —decía—, mirad cómo se sienta en su carreta la esposa que me ha vendido Burgert de Jager. — ..."

"Veis que verdes están ahora las tierras que le vendí..."

Second, Spanish translators have to decide the way the characters address each other. It is particularly difficult to determine how the sisters address their father. Are they to use a familiar tone with the father or a rather more formal one? In other words, will the sisters use the tu-form or the usted-form?

Linguistic, contextual and socio-cultural evidence helped me decide on this point. Linguistically, when Marta talks to her sister about their father she says:

"Sukey, my father has asked me to marry old Jan Redlinghuis..."

The use of the possessive pronoun—"my father," instead of "our father" or even "dad"—paradoxically distances Marta from her father, and the readers receive the impression that Marta is being rather formal.

The context and the socio-cultural image the story portrays gives the same impression. Even at the risk of being accused of analyzing the story from a Western European point of view—which, in any case, is the only point of view from which I could analyze this or any other story—I would say that a father who sells his daughter to "a sinful" man must have a formal and cold relationship with her. I am well aware that my discourse at this point is not totally scientific. Moreover, it may contradict the impression of impotence and resignation (who are we to judge others?) that I want to convey. By choosing, as I did, the formal address, I may be seen as judging the father's behavior. Nothing could be further from my intention. In making this choice I am relying on what seems intuitively logical to me.

The nouns and adjectives also posed the problem of the way characters addressed each other. Marta says: "Sukey, my darling." I could have translated this sentence: "Sukey, querida," however, it seemed highly unnatural to me. Only in the dubbed versions of American films would we hear someone addressing her sister as: "Sukey, querida."

Thus, I tried to find another sentence which, at least, did not carry this cinematographic load. I had to choose between "princesita" and "hermanita." The former seemed semantically richer and more poetic.

The way in which I was to translate: "Old Jan Redlinghuis" also posed difficulties. In Spanish it is not very normal to refer to anyone as "el viejo...." However, I not only found it necessary to do so (to express the fact that Jan Redlinghuis was much older than Marta), but I also found it allowable as Jan Redlinghuis's nickname.

Some English nouns, for their part, do not have a grammatical gender. Translators are also the ones who decide on this matter. For instance: "Marta was the eldest of my father's children."

Here I had to choose between

"Marta era la mayor de las hijas de mi padre,"


"Marta era la mayor de los hijos de mi padre."

Both were possible but I decided to use the former because, while reading the story the reader is only aware of two daughters.

2) Syntax: adverbs, conjunctions, the passive voice and emphasis

The syntactical differences between The Sisters and its translation into Spanish are of four types: adverbs, conjunctions, passive voice and emphasis.

It is not unusual for English adverbs to be translated into Spanish as prepositional phrases or even periphrastic constructions:

"My father was surely mad..."

"No cabe duda de que mi padre no estaba en sus cabales..."

As far as conjunctions are concerned, a perfect parallelism between English and Spanish does not exist. Sometimes an English negative construction becomes, so to speak, positive in Spanish:

"But if there is a God..."

"Y si hay un Dios..."

In turn, the pure passive voice (verb to be + past participle) is hardly ever used in Spanish. Instead, Spanish offers two possibilities: the active voice or a construction with "se." I normally chose the second option because it kept the impersonal tone of the original:

"...the lands of Zeekoegatt must be sold."

"...tendríamos que vender las tierras de Zeekoegatt."


"...se tendrían que vender las tierras de Zeekoegatt."

Finally, the characters in this story very often tend to emphasize the meaning of their utterances. However, Spanish and English resort to different methods in order to do this:

"It is blood that we lead on our lands..."

"No es sino con sangre con lo que estamos regando las tierras."


"to save the farm, he bonded some of the lands to old Jan Redlinghuis himself."

"y para salvar la granja no se le ocurrió otra cosa que pedir un préstamo al viejo Redlinghuis, ofreciéndole las tierras en garantía."

C. Dangers to avoid: ambiguity, cacophony and TL mistakes

After their analysis of the morphological and syntactical characteristics of a text, translators must ensure the high quality of their work by avoiding ambiguity, cacophony and target-language mistakes.

There are two types of ambiguity: one which may be caused by the source text and another which can be caused by the target language.

In the former case, ambiguity should be maintained as long as it enriches the text; otherwise, it should be abandoned. Sometimes the translator simply cannot re-create the double meaning an expression has in the source language and must, somehow, make up for the loss of meaning:

"And all that night I cried to God..."

"Me pasé‚ toda la noche llorando y suplicándole a Dios..."

The latter case—when ambiguity is caused by the target language—should be avoided. Sentences like:

"his madness was to cry to all the world to look at the wife that Burgert de Jager has sold to him..." could be rendered as:

"gritándole a todo el mundo que observase la esposa que le había vendido Burgert de Jager..."

The Spanish sentence is ambiguous in so far as "que" could be introducing two types of clause: a relative clause or a noun phrase which functions as a direct object. I looked for another sentence that avoided this unnecessary ambiguity:

"pavoneándose a gritos, y ante todo el mundo, por la esposa que le había vendido Burgert de Jager."

Translational cacophony, for its part, occurs when the translator's rendering of the text does not sound good:

"And he put his pipe in his mouth and no other word would he say..."

"Se volvió a meter la pipa en la boca y no volvió a pronunciar palabra." (INADEQUATE)

"Se metió la pipa en la boca y no volvió a pronunciar palabra."

Finally, translators should be very aware of the grammatical rules of their own language. At first sight, this might appear to be a lesser problem than it actually is. In the translation of The Sisters I encountered a particularly arduous obstacle that forced me to consult various sources. Spanish speakers tend to mix up direct object pronouns with indirect object pronouns and vice versa. This grammatical confusion leads to various linguistic phenomena which are not accepted by the Spanish Royal Academy of Language (RAE): "laísmo," "loísmo" and "leísmo." I had to be very careful not to incur this mistake. This proved to be difficult, especially when the characters used the formal usted form in their dialogues:

"Who am I that I should judge you?"

"Además, ¿quién soy yo para juzgarle?"

D. The translator's personal choices

Finally, there are times when translators decide on this or that expression or structure with no scientific—linguistic or semantic—reason. Their decision is based on a personal preference. This happened to me when translating The Sisters.

Thus, the target text includes vocabulary terms that have no other explanation but this personal preference, such as "amargura" for "bitterness." And this was also the reason for some of the changes I introduced in the translation: merging of sentences, additions, expansions, and changes of order of the original. On most occasions, it seemed to me that—using a somewhat unprofessional expression—it simply "sounded better" if I altered the source text slightly.

Merging of sentences:

"With each new water-case came more bitterness and sorrow to us all. Even between my parents at last came bitterness and sorrow. And in bitterness and sorrow my mother died."

"Cada pleito perdido venía acompañado de una creciente amargura y tristeza que acabó hasta separando a mis padres. Y fue así, entre amargura y tristeza, como murió mi madre."


"Who am I to judge Jan Redlinghuis?"

"Además, ¿quién soy yo para juzgar a Jan Redlinghuis?"


"I will take your daughter Marta Magdalena instead."

"Te perdono la deuda si a cambio me das a tu hija Marta Magdalena."

Changes of order:

"God forgive me, I will do it."

"Lo haré y que Dios me perdone."

Also due to personal preference, I used phrases that were more idiomatic than those of the original because, in my opinion, they enriched the target text:

"And from that day Jan Redlinghuis pressed him, pressed him, pressed him ..."

"Y desde ese día Jan Redlinghuis no paró de apretarle las tuercas..."

Sometimes I resorted to words that were not included in the original and which were apparently unnecessary. However, I entirely agree with Belloc when he says:

"I do not see that one translates by leaving in unnecessary words; that is, words not necessary to the meaning of the whole passage, any whole passage. An author uses a certain number of blank words for the timing, the movement, etc., to make his work sound like a natural speech." (quoted in Kelly 1979, 124)

In my translation the best example is precisely the last sentence of the story:

"Who am I that I should judge you?"

"Además, ¿quién soy yo para juzgarle?"

Finally, on a few occasions I intentionally chose certain terms to emphasize the feminist message of the text. This again was due to a totally personal preference which could have been avoided:

"...and he drove her round the country."

"...y la lucía por los alrededores..."

The structural plane

Globally, The Sisters may be studied as a collage of three styles:

A. colloquial style, with introductory phrases like "look here";

B. religious style, with constant reference to a biblical language:

"... if I do the right thing, right will come of it,"

"... who am I to judge Jan Redlinghuis?"; and

C. "South African style," with words like "dorp" or "stoep."

The translator should aim at reproducing these three styles, which form the text and confer it its idiosyncrasy.


4. Assessment of quality

Once the translation has been produced, translators should come back to it at a later time in order to analyze it critically. In doing so, they may follow the advice of Gideon Toury (1985) or Jose Lambert and H. Van Gorp (1985).

Toury tries Holmes's mapping theory on what he labels "Descriptive Translation Studies" (DTS), thus focusing on the product of translation. In my opinion, translators should become the first critics of their work, and in order to do so they may satisfactorily use Toury's method. The critic-translators are to study the text they have produced and measure it against the target culture. Then they are to map the source culture, after which they should make a comparison between units of both cultures. This comparison repeats, in a more scientific way, what they have already done while translating. These procedures lead to the conclusion that the critical analysis of the translational product is really a study of the shifts that take place during the translational process.

The analytical dimension of my translation of The Sisters actually took place while writing this essay. This is when I had the opportunity to go through what I had done while translating, to compare my text with the original and to discover some translational rules I had used intuitively before but that I could now rationalize. The things I have learnt at this stage will be put in practice in understanding and doing translations in the future.


Part two: women's language

The two stories included in this essay were written by women. The second one, in particular, depicts and criticizes a series of stereotypes among which translators may find traditional women's language. Thus, in cases like Happy Endings, along with the knowledge of a translation method, some sort of theory concerning traditional women's speech can be helpful for translators. The second part of this essay focuses on the feminist aspects of Margaret Atwood's story.

As I pointed out in the introduction to this essay, it is difficult to describe traditional women's language and especially to differentiate it from that of men. I will focus on two different aspects translators may find useful.

The first one is concerned with the linguistic differences in women's and men's styles. With regard to this issue, one of the earliest and most influential scholars to write about language and gender is Robin T. Lakoff. In her seminal study she analyzes women's language in various strata: Lexical traits, phonological traits and syntactic-pragmatic characteristics (Lakoff 1975).

For the purposes of this essay, it is the lexical traits that are most useful. As far as the lexical stratum is concerned, women's language uses the following:

  1. weaker expletives than men
  2. a special vocabulary referring to the reality that surrounds us
  3. more intensifiers than men, which may range from adverbs like "such" or "very" to adjectives that seem devoid of all but a vague positive emotive sense ("divine," "magnificent"...)
  4. topics that are considered trivial
  5. most importantly of all, traditional women's speech is full of euphemistic and polite forms
  6. "hedges" or tentative language

The second interesting study on women's language is by Barbara Godard and it explicitly refers to the relationship between feminist theories on language and translation. On the one hand, for Godard, feminist discourse is a type of translation or transformation of the traditional, muted discourse and it also involves the displacement of the dominant male discourse. Godard believes, by and large, that a new language is required to express the modern woman's needs. On the other hand, translation could be a tool at the service of feminism, since both women and translators have undertaken a similar struggle. They rebel against a system that places them on a secondary level, considering them sometimes as servants (Godard 1980).

Translators are to work upon the original to "decenter" it. Godard recommends feminist translators not to pursue equivalence but to encourage difference in their target-language texts: The feminist translator, affirming her critical difference, her delight in interminable re-readings and re-writing, flaunts the signs of her manipulation of the text.

CASE STUDY: Feminist-oriented views of Happy Endings

Margaret Atwood's Happy Endings is a very interesting story, but less for its linguistic problems—which do exist—than for its cynicism and irony. In my translation, I tried to convey the author's harsh criticism.

To use Barbara Godard's term, Atwood decenters different aspects of the present dominant society (Godard 1980). Her first criticism is against the typical middle-class ideal way of life. For the writer, this ideal is naive and absurd and it hardly ever comes true. Nevertheless, the members of the bourgeoisie seek it desperately, and even when they do not achieve it, they pretend they do, with hobbies they do not really have time to practice.

Atwood's second criticism is directed towards relationships. Perfect couples do not normally exist and even when they do, "eventually they die." So the writer seems to wonder if they are "worthwhile."

Third, Happy Endings also attacks a bourgeois, commercial approach to literature.

However, Atwood's most interesting criticism is about language and especially about traditional women's speech. By and large, her technique is more elaborate than it seems. She writes story A in the typical middle-class feminine language that Robin T. Lakoff describes in her article. Let us analyze her linguistic choices in terms of Lakoff's assumptions.

She corroborates Lakoff's belief that women writers describe the reality that surrounds us more in detail and perhaps pay more attention to "matter-of-fact" things: "worthwhile and remunerative jobs," "live-in help," or a "steady, respectable job." She also introduces topics which can be considered trivial: "He's worried his hair is falling out," "a house they bought before real estate values go up," "real estate values go down," or "they both have hobbies which they find stimulating."

Her style is especially notorious in the lexical stratum, with empty adjectives that nevertheless have very positive meanings, such as "charming house," "wonderful record collection," "much nice," or clichés such as "stimulating and challenging." Similarly, there are several examples of intensifiers: "giant tidal waves," "downright sentimentality," "excessive optimism," "malicious intent."

She partly confirms the use of euphemistic and polite forms: "some top-grade California hybrid." Intentionally, I kept these lexical choices in order to produce an effect similar to that sought by the author. Thus, I translated "some top-grade California hybrid" as "una mezcla de clase superior que había traído de California."

However, story B does not fit the previous style, containing rude expressions like "he fucks her," uttered in a matter-of-fact tone that clashes with the mentality of a traditional middle-class woman; and slang about drugs or sexual relations ("stoned," "keep it up longer"), both topics that constitute taboos for traditional women. "He fucks her" became "se la tira," because it conveys the meaning of the English four-letter word while maintaining its prosaic nature. I translated "stoned" as "colocados"—a very modern slang term which seemed the most appropriate option, although I am aware of the fact that this expression may be outmoded in a few years time. In the translation of "to keep it up longer," I was more explicit than the rather ambiguous English expression. I felt that, in this case, my priority was to convey Atwood's tongue-in-cheek remark and this was best done by using "tienen más experiencia en eso de levantarla."

Although there are no examples of "hedges" as such, we might conclude that the whole story is an example of "hedging" in itself, insofar as it aims at expressing tentative ways of approaching reality.

Finally, concerning the syntactic structure, the readers may appreciate what has been regarded as women's characteristic speech. Cixous coins the term "l'ecriture fémenine" claiming that feminine speech is more passionate than rational, and does not present the traditional division between speech and text (Cixous 1976). It is quite conspicuous here that feminist discourse often has an unclear organization, with few full stops but many coordinate and juxtaposed clauses, which express, in turn, the thoughts as they come to one's mind. The following sentences clearly exemplify this:

"...she acts as if she's dying for it every time, not because she likes sex exactly, she doesn't, but she wants John to think she does because if they do it often enough surely he'll get used to her, he'll come to depend on her and they will get married, but John goes out the door with hardly so much as a goodnight and three days later he turns up at six o'clock and they do the whole thing over again."

"... siempre actúa como si se estuviera muriendo de ganas de hacerlo y no porque le guste el sexo exactamente sino porque quiere que John piense que le gusta, porque si lo hacen lo bastante a menudo seguro que John se acostumbra a ella, acaba por depender de ella y terminan casándose."

"He purchases a handgun, saying he needs it for target practice—this is the thin part of the plot, but it can be dealt with later—and shoots the two of them and himself."

"Se compra una pistola con la excusa de que la necesita para las prácticas de tiro -aquí es donde flaquea la trama, pero eso se puede arreglar después- y les dispara y luego se pega un tiro a sí mismo."

"You'll still end up with A, though in between you may get a lustful brawling saga of passionate involvement, a chronicle of our times, sort of."

"El desenlace es el mismo que en A, pero el nudo argumental puede ser un culebrón pasional, o una crónica de nuestros días o algo por el estilo."

I indeed kept this style, which I think is one of the successes of Happy Endings.


My main purpose for writing this essay has been that of explaining some of my views on translation while at the same time conveying into Spanish two short stories I found of great interest.

Thus, I believe that practicing translators should carry out the process with the help of a comprehensive model. For this they need to combine several requirements:

  1. a knowledge of the source and target languages;
  2. a critical analysis of the literary traditions of both cultures;
  3. an acceptable grasp of theory and methods of translation;
  4. a certain—at times great—degree of intuition, which is based on the former requirements; and
  5. a broad knowledge of other matters, depending on the texts translated (such as feminist criticism, in the case of Happy Endings).

Then they should round their task off by critically analyzing the result of their work.

I have always been of the opinion that translation is a very difficult task, but one which does not need to be seen as such. Translators must employ all the devices available to them to produce a natural, vivid text which is at the same time respectful to the original.

I am aware that the model I have advocated in this essay may seem too exhaustive and in some cases useless. I can only defend myself against these criticisms by replying that, at least in my case, it is the only way I find to guarantee the minimum standard of quality I seek.

I also believe that translators are perfectly capable of putting into practice this comprehensive model—no matter how exhaustive it may seem—because as Holmes has claimed:

"Like other human beings, the translator can be doing various things at once." (Holmes, 1978:74)


Atwood, M. 1991. Happy Endings. In The Secret Self. Short Stories by Women, ed. H. Lee, 370-374. London: J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd.

Cixous, H. 1976. The Laugh of the Medusa. In Signs 1, 4:875-893.

Flaubert, G. (1821-1880). Quoted in The Sunday Times Books, 7 June 1992.

Godard, B. 1980. Theorizing Feminist Discourse/Translation. In Translation, History and Culture, eds. S. Bassnett and A. Lefevere, 87-97. London and New York: Pinter Publishers.

Hartmann, R. R. K. 1981. Contrastive Textology, Applied Linguistics and Translation. In Poetics Today 2, 4:111-120.

Holmes, J. 1978. Describing Literary Translation: Models and Methods. In Literature and Translation, eds. J. Holmes et al., 69-83. Leuven: Acco.

Kandler, G. 1963. On the Problems of Quality in Translation: Basic Considerations. In Quality in Translation, eds. E. Cary and R. W. Jumpelt, 291-295. Oxford, London, New York and Paris: Pergamon.

Kelly, L. 1979. The True Interpreter. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Lakoff, T.R. (1975) Language and Woman's Place. New York. Harper and Row.

Lakoff, T. R. (1977) Women's Language in Language and Style, 10, 4:222-247.

Lambert, J. and Van Gorp, H. 1985. On Describing Translations. In The Manipulation of Literature, ed. T. Hermans, 42-53. London and Sydney: Croom Helm.

Lefevere, A. 1981. Programmatic Second Thoughts on 'Literary' and 'Translation,' or Where Do We Go From Here. Poetics Today 2, 4:39-50.

Smith, P. 1991. The Sisters. In The Secret Self. Short Stories by Women, ed. H. Lee, 20-25. London: J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd.

Toury, G. 1985. A Rationale for Descriptive Translation Studies. In The Manipulation of Literature, ed. T. Hermans, 16-42. London and Sydney: Croom Helm.