Poetry translators and regional vernacular voice: Belli’s Romanesco sonnets in English and Scots

Francis R. Jones

Abstract

This study investigates how poetry translators tackle source regional voice within their wider approach to poetic text. It analyses eleven translators’ ‘outputs’ of Scots and English translations from Giuseppe Belli’s 19th-century regionallanguage sonnets, which are set in working-class Rome. Each output was coded for voice (space, community, tenor marking), text-world space, and poetic form (rhyme, rhythm), then analysed quantitatively and qualitatively; translator interviews and translators’ written commentaries provided extra data. Translators ranged along a spectrum (apparently genre-specific) between two extremes: (1) ‘relocalising’ voice into target regional language/dialect with similar workingclass and informal features to Belli’s originals, whilst relocalising place and person names to target-country analogies, and recreating rhyme and rhythm; (2) translating into standard (supra-regional, literary/educated, neutral-toformal) English, whilst preserving Belli’s Roman setting, but replacing rhyme and rhythm by free verse. This reflects a spectrum between two priorities: (1) creatively conveying poetic texture; (2) replicating surface semantics.

Keywords:
Table of contents

Poems are “symbolic, multiplex, polysemantic” texts, which exploit the possibilities of language to communicate rich or subtle messages (Jakobson [1960] 1988, 49; Matterson and Jones 2000, 13). Hence translating poems is complex, especially since a double aim drives most poetry translators: to write a viable targetlanguage poem that also “match[es] the original” enough for it to “be considered [ p. 33 ]a translation” (Holmes 1988, 50; Jones 2011, 100–101). The challenges this implies for translating rhymed, regular-metre poems have often been debated. Less often discussed, however, is how poetry translators tackle voice—an “authorial, narratorial or translatorial presence” (Munday 2006, 21–22) typically manifested via style, or the “choices” a writer makes from “alternative ways of rendering the same subject matter” (Leech and Short 2007, 31). How poetry translators engage with regional voice is even less explored.

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