Department of Language and Culture
Falsche Gesichter (False Faces)
A Critical Examination of the Swedish Translations of Buffy
This paper can be downloaded from http://www.caspianandmiranda.com/falges.html
Spring Term 2005
Supervisor: Anders Larsson
When one translates something, there is always a risk that one makes some mistakes, and one will for certain meet some difficulties, where it is impossible to make a really accurate translation. So why are translations sometimes weak? Is it usually due to the translator? Or to the translator's education? Or are most weaknesses unavoidable? My aim with this essay, is to point out how mistakes in translations can be avoided, and to point it out by analysing the Swedish translations of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was first broadcasted by Swedish TV4. They hired Språkcentrum to translate Buffy. In TV4 they broadcasted season 1-3, and a few episodes from season 4. When they suddenly quitted broadcasting the series, Swedish Kanal5 broadcasted it instead, and they started from the beginning. They hired Broadcast Text to translate it. That means that there are two different translations of season 1-3. I started to record Buffy the Vampire Slayer when TV4 broadcasted season 3. That means I have some episodes with Språkcentrum's translation, and some episodes with Broadcast Text's translation. My method is that I have seen the whole series, except for a few episodes, and when I have seen it, I sometimes have reacted to mistakes they have made in translation, passages which have been difficult to translate accurately, and sometimes I have also admired the translators for doing a good job with a difficult passage. Now I have listed examples I have reacted to, categorised them, and commented on them.
This is a linguistic term paper, so it is not important to know the plots in Buffy. However, a reader might be confused if he or she reads about how Faith kills some vampires, and later on reads that she poisons Angel, and that Buffy plans to feed Angel with Faith, since he needs the blood of a slayer. The reader might think “Hey, I thought Faith was a whitehat. Besides, why would Angel need Faith's blood if he needs the blood of a slayer? Is it not Buffy who is the slayer?” Therefore I have a really brief description of some plots. If you should want a more complete description, there are other sources for that.
Anya (also called Anyanka), is originally a demon. She lived as a human in the 9th century, on Iceland (and then she was called Aud). When her boyfriend was unfaithful, she turned him into a troll, and a demon made her a vengeance demon, who grants people's evil wishes. The first time she appears in Buffy is in episode 3:9, when Cordelia wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale. An alternative world is created, but Giles manages to undo the wish, and to make Anya lose her powers. In the beginning of season 4, she has fallen in love with Xander, and because of that (and since she can not get her powers back) she joins Buffy's gang. She stays good during season 4 and 5, and almost all of season 6. In episode 6:16, however, Xander leaves her at the altar, and in her despair, she says yes when her chief demon offers her her job back. Since she has been good that long, she really cannot stand being evil, so she rejects her powers in episode 7:5, and joins the gang again.
Spike is a vampire. He first appears in season 2, where he and his friends are the main villains. In season 4 he gets a chip inserted in his head, which makes it impossible for him to attack people. He is evil but harmless during season 4. In season 5 and 6, he is remotely good (or maybe it is more correct to say he behaves) since he is in love with Buffy. At the end of season 6, Spike becomes good since she gets his soul restored. In episode 7:13 he gets rid of the chip.
Faith first appears in episode 3:3. She is a slayer. Due to tragic circumstances, she goes over to the villain in episode 3:15. In episode 3:21 Buffy puts Faith in a coma. She wakes up in episode 4:15, ready to take revenge. In episode 4:16 she becomes good again.
Before civilisation some magicians made a girl the slayer, and decided that when a slayer dies, another girl becomes the slayer. Therefore there is only one slayer at a time. In episode 1:12 Buffy dies, and is dead for two minutes, and then Xander saves her by giving her CPR. Since she has died Kendra becomes a slayer too. When Kendra dies in episode 2:21 Faith becomes a slayer.
Angel is a vampire. Due to magic he has a soul, which makes him good. Due to magic he loses his soul in episode 2:14. Due to magic he gets his soul back in episode 2:22
Willow is part of the gang, and she is a very good and responsible girl. In episode 3:16 a vampire comes to Sunnydale, who looks exactly like Willow. This is due to the wish Anya grants in episode 3:9 (see section 2.1.1). The vampire is dominant and lesbian, and Willow thinks she can not be that way. In season 4, she realises she is gay, and if she is like the vampire-Willow regarding that, she might be like the vampire-Willow regarding her dominance too. Willow is a witch, and in episode 6 she has been addicted to magic, and her girlfriend Tara leaves her because of that in episode 6:8. In episode 6:10 Willow realises she has gone too far. Tara takes Willow back in episode 6:19. In the same episode Tara gets killed. Willow forgets everything about staying away from magic, and uses her magic to kill the man who killed Tara. When she has killed him, the magic takes total control of her, so she wants to kill everyone. In episode 6:22 she tries to destroy the whole world, but Xander convinces her to come back to the good side. At the beginning of season 7, she is in England to be rehabilitated. During season 7 she is always afraid of becoming evil again.
In episode 3:10 a demon called The First or The First Evil tries to convince Angel to be bad again, but The First Evil fails. Then they do not hear from The First Evil until season 7, where it is the main villain.
In episodes 1:1-1:10 Cordelia is a selfish snobby patronizing girl, who picks on people she thinks are losers. In episode 1:11 she needs help from Buffy, and then she knows the truth about the supernatural powers. She is still bad in many ways, but she improves.
In this episode two children are found dead. People suspect it might be a ritual murder. Therefore the grown-ups forbid everything which might be considered occult, even black candles and black clothes. They search through the student's lockers. Eventually Buffy finds out that no kids have been killed. There is a demon which every 50 years materialises itself as two killed children, to make people suspect, hate, and eventually kill each other. Before the gang have had the chance to tell anyone, Buffy gets captured, and they try to burn her at the stake. Then Giles comes and reads a spell, which forces demons to show their true faces. He says “Ich beschwöre die Mächte der Hecate, Königin und Beschützerin der Hexen, die Masken wegzureissen. Das Böse soll das Gesicht des Bösen tragen. Hecate ruft euch an. Hebt den Schleier auf. Verbergt euch nicht hinter falschen Gesichtern.” (“I call on the powers of Hecate, queen and protectress of witches, to strip away the masks. Let evil wear an evil face. Hecate implores you. Lift the veil. Hide not behind false faces.”) Thanks to http://www.buffyguide.com for the transcription and translation. Trying to make things look like what they are, is what translation is about. The title of this work refers to the spell I just quoted, since it mentions false faces.
When categorising mistakes, one soon realises that many mistakes lie somewhere in the twilight zone between different categories. For example: Was the translator careless when he used bad Swedish grammar, or is his or her education weak, so that he or she did not know one can not write that way? Sometimes there are mistakes which could have been avoided, if the translator had listened better, or if he or she had understood the context. Sometimes the translator has made a mistake, due to lack of knowledge of American culture, but if he or she had known better, it would have been difficult to explain it, due to lack of space. And where exactly do we draw the line between language and culture? This means that sometimes I will state that “this mistake could have been placed in that category instead”.
When I write 'the system' I mean the American company which produces Buffy, the company which is responsible for the translation, and the translator. It would be impossible to draw even remotely clear lines between what is due to which part. If the translator has no education, he or she should have got that before taking a job as a translator, but the company should not hire people without education, and they should pay the translators enough to attract educated employees. If the translator is careless, and guesses what words mean, instead of looking them up, it might be the translator's fault, and it might be that the company only pays him or her for an hour's work, when it should take two hours to translate, and therefore the translator has to work too fast, to be finished in time, without having to work extra for free. If it is difficult to hear what the actors say, should the translator listen more carefully, should the translation company ask the American TV producers for a manuscript, or should the American TV producers volunteer to attach the manuscript with the film, without being asked?
In episode 2:16 Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered Buffy suggests to Xander that they could do something together, and Xander asks (as a joke) if lap-dancing would be a part of that scenario. “Lap-dancing” means “striptease”, but the translator on Broadcast Text thinks it means “snuggling”, so he or she translates it with “hångel”. This is bad, not only because it is wrong, but also because later on Buffy wants to strip for Xander, since she is under a spell, which makes her obsessed by him.
In episode 2:19 I Only Have Eyes for You there is a teacher who - while talking about the New Deal - writes “Don't walk away from me, bitch,” on the whiteboard. Obviously he did not write that voluntarily. He erases it as soon as he sees what he has written. When Buffy and Xander talk about it, Buffy is worried, but Xander says it is just “chalkboard Tourette's”. Broadcast Text translated “chalkboard Tourette's” with “tavelklotter”, which means “chalkboard doodle” (or “whiteboard doodle” in British English). That is a bad translation, since “Tourette's” is not the same thing as “doodle”. Tourette's syndrome is a disease, and some people who have Tourette's syndrome compulsively utter foul words, like for example “bitch”. Maybe it is carelessness, or maybe the translator does not know what Tourette's is, but even in this case he or she should have looked it up, so in that case it would still be careless to translate it that way. It might also be that the translator does not think that people in Sweden know what Tourette is, just because people in America do, and in that case this is an example of cultural differences, which is discussed more broadly under 3.3.2. However, I would say most people in Sweden know what Tourette's syndrome is, and therefore I have classified this as carelessness.
In episode 2:20 Go Fish Buffy explains to a boy that a monster will try to kill him. The boy thinks Buffy is an idiot, and leaves the place. Right after that, Angel attacks him. He thinks this is the monster Buffy talked about, so he cries for help, and Buffy chases Angel Away. The boy asks if that was what Buffy was talking about. Buffy says “No, that was something else.” “Something else!” the boy exclaims. Then Buffy says “Unfortunately we have a lot of 'something elses' in this town.” (referring to the fact that Sunnydale is atop of a Hellmouth). Buffy purposely uses bad grammar, and a translator should try to convey that, but Broadcast Text does not do that. They just write “Vi har mycket annat i den här staden.” when they should have written “Vi har dessvärre många 'något annat' i den här staden.”
In episode 3:9 The Wish Angel says “The master rose.” This sentence can be past tense of “the master rises” or it can refer to a master called Rose. In the context it is obvious he means the master has risen. Broadcast Text misses this completely, and writes “Mäster Rose.”
In episode 3:10 Amends Angel and Giles have a talk. Angel's background is that he is a vampire, but in 1898 he killed a gypsy girl. Her tribe punishes Angel, by restoring his human soul, so that he will feel remorse for all the people he has killed while being bad. After that Angel is a good vampire. However, the gypsies did not restore his soul to make him good. They did it to take revenge. If Angel experiences one moment of true happiness, he will lose his soul again. The gypsies did not tell Angel that, so he and Buffy sleep together, and Angel loses his soul. After he had been evil for a while, Buffy and her friends restore his soul again. In Amends, The First Evil haunts Angel, and he goes to Giles for help. Giles asks Angel if knowing why he is back would give him peace of mind. Angel says it might. Giles says “Do you think that is something you ought to have? Because (...) the last time you became complacent about your existence, turned out rather badly.” Broadcast Text translates “Do you think you ought to have?” with “Det bör du ha,” which means “You should.” This is the opposite of what Giles actually says. They have some scary music when Giles says this, so it is difficult to hear what he says, but a good translator should be able to listen that well, and understand what he should have said, from the rest of the sentence. It would also make things easier, to understand the whole context, which makes it possible to classify this mistake as a contextual mistake, which is more broadly discussed under 3.1.2.
In episode 3:16 Doppelgängland a vampire says “You don't have to be afraid just to please me.” Språkcentrum translates that sentence with “Du behöver inte vara rädd. Gör bara som jag säger.” which means “You don't have to be afraid, as long as you do what I tell you to.” The translator should have listened more carefully, and also have a better understanding of how vampires think.
In episode 4:16 Who Are You three vampires have entered a church, with the aim of eating the church-goers. Faith then enters the church to save the people. The vampires tell Faith that they have told the cops that they kill all the people, if they send someone in. Faith replies “I am not the cops. I just come to pray.” One of the vampires then replies “Now is a good time to start.” He means it might be a good idea to pray, since he is planning on killing Faith. The translator misses that point completely, and translates “Now is a good time to start.” with “Tidpunkten är illa vald.” which means “You have chosen a bad time.” The translator must have thought the vampires meant it was not smart to enter a church to pray, when there are vampires in it. He or she should have listened better.
In episode 6:8 Tabula Rasa Buffy says “Stay away from Randy!” and they translate it with “Håll dig undan, Randy!” which means “Randy, step aside!” They should have written “Du rör inte Randy!” At least they could have skipped the comma in their translation, so it would have been “Håll dig undan Randy!” That would not be wrong, but not as good as “Du rör inte Randy!”.
In episode 7:2 Beneath You Willow says “what if I (...) go homicidal again, or if...” “they won't take you back?” Giles fills in. The translator translates it with “Då tar vi dig tillbaka igen.” which means “Then we will take you back.” This passage is quite difficult to get right, since Giles has an intonation which clearly - but still wrongfully - indicates it is not meant as a question. I heard what he said, but I first thought he meant Willow should not worry, because she could not get evil again, since the evil powers would not take her back. In he next episode they have their usual “Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer”-section, and there they resume the very same passage. The translator who translates the passage that time, understands what they mean, and writes “....de inte vill ha dig tillbaka.” which is an accurate translation, even though I would prefer a question mark at the end of the sentence, instead of a dot.
In episode 7:11 Showtime Giles says “It's because she lives again.” This is translated “Det är därför hon lever igen.” which means “That's why she lives again.” The translator mixes up cause and effect.
In episode 7:15 Get It Done Spike says “Preaching to the choir, love.” This is translated “Du har övertygat mig.” which means “You have convinced me.” If one preaches to the choir, one preaches to someone who is already convinced. They should have translated it with “Du predikar för en redan frälst.” (an idiom close to the English idiom) or “Jag håller redan med.” (“I already agree.”) or “Jag är redan övertygad.” (“I am convinced, already.”)
In episode 7:21 End of Days a demon called The First Evil says “Faith go boom.” This is translated “Faith sa boom.” which means “Faith said boom.” Firstly, “Go” is not past tense, which “said” is. Secondly, “sa boom” could - I would even say it would - mean saying “boom” with your mouth. A better translation would be “Faith blir pangad.”
In this section I list mistakes which are due to the fact that the translator has not seen the whole series.
In episode 3:3 Faith, Hope and Trick Faith says as long as Oz does not attack her, it is “five by five” that he is a werewolf. Broadcast Text writes in Swedish that it is okay. “Five by five” is an expression Faith uses a lot. At the end of episode 4:15 This Year's Girl, Faith switches bodies with Buffy, and it is when “Buffy” says “five by five” the viewer realises there has been a switch. Since Faith's line in Faith, Hope and Trick refers forwards and not backwards, it is not easy to avoid this mistake. Moreover, it is not important, since Faith says “five by five” many times in This Year's Girl, before the switch.
In episode 3:16 Doppelgängland Mayor Wilkins tells Faith he does not like that she calls him “sugar dad”, since he is a family man. I have consulted Norstedts stora engelsk-svenska ordbok (an English to Swedish dictionary), Webster's Third New International Dictionary and some native English-speakers (both British and American). They all agree that a family man is someone who has a family and takes care of it. However, Mayor Wilkins has no family. It is possible that Joss Whedon (the author) uses the word “family man” as “someone who advocates family values”. According to http://www.orlandoweekly.com/news/Story.asp?ID=4651 April 2nd 2005 4.11 pm Swedish time, Joss Whedon uses Mayor Wilkins as a way of criticising Bush. They write “Mayor Wilkins (Harry Groener) - whose Bush-like homilies obscure his murderous ambitions.” Språkcentrum translates “family man” with a Swedish word which means “family man”. I think they do the right thing. In this case it must be the viewer's and not the translator's responsibility to interpret the story.
Speaking of Doppelgängland. They refer to that episode in episode 5:3 The Replacement. In Doppelgängland a vampire comes to Sunnydale, who looks exactly like Willow. In The Replacement Xander gets a doppelgänger, who tries to take over his life. When he discusses that situation with Willow, she criticises him, for not thinking about his girlfriend, before he has known about his doppelgänger for many hours. Xander replies “Wait til you have an evil twin. See how you handle it.” Then he leaves, and Willow says to herself “I handled it fine.” Obviously the translator has no idea of what Willow refers to, so he or she translates it with “Jag hanterar det bra.” which means “I handle it fine” (present tense).
In episode 5:8 Shadow the Dagonsphere is mentioned. The Dagonsphere is mentioned many times in season 5. It is a golden ball, which Buffy has found. The translators have - during the season - constantly translated “the Dagonsphere” with “Dagonkulan”. Good translation! In Shadow on the other hand, they translate it with “Daggonsfären”. Firstly, it is not good to be inconsistent. Secondly, even if “Daggonsfären” could be a ball, most people would think they mean an area called “Daggonsfären”, probably in outer space.
In episode 5:10 Into the Woods Spike says “If I had this chip out of my head, I would have killed you long ago.” What is a chip? According to Webster's Third New International Dictionary it can mean “a small usu. somewhat thin and flat piece of wood, stone, or other material separated by a quick blow (as with a cutting or striking instrument) or by natural flaking.” In Swedish we call that a “bricka”. According to the same dictionary it can also mean “the thread of material cut from a blank during the process of disc recording.” In Swedish we call this a “chip”, exactly as in English. If one has seen season 4, one knows that it is what we in Sweden call “chip”, Spike has in his head. Obviously the translator has not seen season 4, or, for that matter, much of season 5 either. He or she translates “the chip” with “brickan”.
In episode 5:18 Intervention Buffy and Giles perform a ritual to find answers. Then Buffy goes out in the desert, and the first slayer appears. Buffy says “I know you. You are the first slayer.” The translator writes “Jag vet att du är främste dråparen.” Is “främste” an accurate word for “first”, or would “förste” be better? If there are many slayers in the world at the same time, and one of them is some kind of leader, then it would be accurate to use the word “främste”. If there was one slayer thousands of years ago, and another one comes when she dies, and another comes when she dies and so on, and Buffy meets the first slayer, then the word “förste” should be used. Everyone who has followed Buffy knows that in every generation a new slayer is born, one girl in all the world. Therefore the word “förste” should have been used.
In episode 6:15 As You Were Dawn says that Willow is happy, because Xander's wedding is coming up, and there will be lots of date possibilities on the wedding. “Date possibilities” is translated with “killar” which means “guys”. Willow is gay. She is not interested in men. She is interested in women.
In episode 7:7 Conversations with Dead People a vampire says to Buffy “Wouldn't it be cool if we became nemeses?” and Buffy answers “Is that how you say the word?” She says so because in season 6 the villains of that season talk to her, and prove they do not know how to say “nemesis” in plural. The translator uses the word “dödsfiender” for “nemeses”, but in the talk with the villains of season 6, the word “ärkerivaler” is used.
In episode 7:10 Bring On the Night Xander says “It's a loop, like the mummy hand. I am doomed to replace to replace those windows for all eternity.” The translation says “Det är som i 'Mumiens hand'.” which means “This is like in The Mummy Hand.” Obviously the translator thinks Xander refers to a film called The Mummy Hand. He or she did not know that in an episode in season 6, has Buffy been trapped in a loop, so she had to sell the same mummy hand to the same costumer over and over again, since she goes back in time, time after another.
In episode 2:20 Go Fish the word “grape” is translated with the Swedish word for “grapefruit” (Broadcast Text's translation).
In episode 3:16 Doppelgängland Willow says “you'll definitely ace her on the psyche test. Just don't mark the box that says 'I sometimes like to kill people'.” Språkcentrum's translation says “peka inte på asken som det står 'Jag gillar att döda folk ibland' på.” which means Buffy should not point at the match-box with the text “I sometimes like to kill people.”
In episode 6:20 Villains a demon says “Metal meets propulsion, yeah, but you still gotta be a good shot.” which is translated with “Metall möter drivkraft. Jo, men du måste fortsätta att skjuta bra.” which means “You have to continue to shoot well.” At least they could have translated it word for word, and written “Du måste fortfarande kunna skjuta bra.” That would have been a good word-for-word-translation, and it would accurately convey the English text. However it would be even better if they had used the word “ändå” or “likafullt” for the English “still”.
In episode 7:17 Lies My Parents Told Me The translator makes three mistakes in the same passage. First Spike's mother quotes Spike, but in the subtitle there are no quotation marks around the quote. Only a few minutes later Spike says to Robin “Doesn't that piss you off?” which is translated to “surt, sa räven” which is a Swedish proverb which means someone wants something, and cannot get it, and instead of admitting that, he or she pretends not to be interested in it. He or she says “It is probably not good after all.” One cannot translate “Doesn't that piss you off?” that way, and claim to have made an accurate translation. Less than one minute after that, Spike says to Robin “Unlike you, I had a mother who loved me back.” This is translated with “Till skillnad från dig, så älskade min mor mig.” which means “Unlike you, my mother loved me.” The translator has made a grammar error, and makes unpurposely Spike talk about Robin's lack of love for him, instead of Robin's mother's lack of love for Robin. An accurate translation would be “Till skillnad från dig, hade jag en mor som älskade mig.”
What can one do to eliminate the risk for mistakes of the kind I have mentioned in section 3.1? For example, when Fawlty Towers was translated into Swedish, the same woman translated the whole series (according to Fawlty Translations by Daniel Dahlberg, Linköping University). Having the same person translate a whole series, will eliminate the risk for mistakes due to lack of understanding of the context. There are also a lot of books and homepages, which are about Buffy and explain references to earlier episodes, and cultural references (for example http://www.buffyguide.com and the Buffy-section on http://www.tvtome.com) Since the whole series was finished in the USA when Kanal5 started to broadcast it, Broadcast Text could have bought books and downloaded sites, which could have helped the translators. The American company could have sent the manuscript to the translators, and they could also have sent a list with references. Moreover, the translation companies could have been careful only to hire educated employees, and given them enough time to be careful, and they should also hire proof-readers.
“America, with business acumen conquering narrow minded literary and theatrical snobbism, readily embraced the new medium of films, once it had been established as a commercial reality” (http://www.britmovie.co.uk The text was also used in The National Judicial Board of Public Lands and Funds' translator test 2004)
The quote above, tells us that the USA succeeded to make money from films, since they could disregard snobbist traditions, which told them to look down on films, while British film trailed behind, due to snobbism. The question is, have English departments at Swedish universities been able to conquer academic snobbism, and accepted that they should teach what the students need to know in their future jobs? My answer is no. In section 3.2.1. I will point out a few examples from Buffy where the translator obviously lacks knowledge about American culture, and it would not help to take English classes at a Swedish university, since they prioritise less relevant topics (assuming that Linköping university is not extremely different from other Swedish universities).
In episode 3:3 Faith, Hope and Trick Buffy has a conversation with her mother about Faith, who has newly arrived at Sunnydale. Buffy feels uncomfortable over Faith, but Joyce loves her. Joyce asks Buffy if there is anybody else who dislikes Faith, and Buffy says “No, but I'm the one getting single-white-femaled her.” How does Broadcast Text translate that? They translate it with “Nej, det är bara jag som inte är ihop med nån.” which means “No, but I am the only one who is not dating anyone.” The translator has obviously no idea of what it means to get single-white-femaled. Single White Female is a film about a woman who has a roommate, and the roommate takes over her life completely.
In episode 4:1 The Freshman Willow and Buffy are having their first day on college, and since it is the first day, there are a lot of people handing out leaflets. When Willow realises Buffy has got a leaflet which Willow has not got, she says “I trade you for Take Back the Night.” Take Back the Night is being translated “Återta natten” by Språkcentrum. Groups in Sweden , which organise Take Back the Night-marches, usually call them Vi Tar Natten Tillbaka ( See for example http://www.roks.se/kvinnotryck/KT3_02_malmo.html April 2nd 2005 2.46 am Swedish time) However, this is not an important error, even if one might argue they should have made a cultural translation, for example write “feministdemonstrationen”.
In episode 5:2 Real Me Joyce tells Dawn to be good, and Xander says “We will. We are just gonna play with matches, run with scissors, and take candy from some guy. I don't know his name.” The translation says “Vi ska leka med eld, saxar - och sno godis från någon kille.” The translator uses “sno” for the English “take”. “Sno” means “steal”. Obviously the translator does not know that American children have to be careful not to accept sweets (or “candy” in American English) from strangers, because it might be poisoned. He or she thinks Xander is talking about stealing from someone.
In episode 6:1 Bargaining, One Giles is nearly killed, and afterwards Spike says “Poor watcher. Did your life pass before your eyes? Cup of tea, cup of tea, almost got shagged, cup of tea?” “almost got shagged” is translated to “nästan hugg”, which means “almost got killed”. Since universities do not think it is classy enough to teach slang, the translator has never learned that “shag” means “screw”.
In episode 6:18 Entropy a translation error is made regarding Take Back the Night (more serious than the one in The Freshman). Halifrek says “Anyanka, there is an easier way. I know you have this whole female power/Take Back the Night-thing, and I think that's cute, but I have been telling you for decades, men need a little vengeance now and then too.” How do they translate “female power/Take Back the Night?” They write “starka kvinnor som gör erövringar nattetid.” Halifrek is talking about a feminist movement, where one demonstrates at night, claiming women's right to be alone outside, without risk of being raped, and the translator suggests she is talking about one-night-stands. This is an insult to the author. (See for example http://www.sacnow.org/wtbn/ April 2nd 2005 2.57 am Swedish time to get more information about Take Back the Night)
In episode 7:1 Lessons , Willow says to Giles “You go all Dumbledor on me”, and the translation just says he acts like Dumbledor. They do not explain what Dumbledor is.
In episode 7:22 Chosen , Buffy says to Angel “Are you gonna (...) go all Dawson on me”, and the translation just says Buffy asks if Angel is gonna become Dawson. They do not explain what Dawson is.
Universities need to focus on what the students will find useful in the future, when they are employed by someone. They need to conquer academic snobbism.
“There is no author who has not sensed the edge of their scythe or shaken with fear at the very idea that a translator took over their work. And there is no one who has said it more clearly than that old Italian ancestor who, enraged and full of apprehension coined a phrase that has been yelled vividly for centuries: traduttore, traditore! ('translator, you're a traitor!').” (http://losvengadores.theavengers.tv/english/traduttore.htm March 25th 2005 12.29 pm Swedish time)
Every experienced translator, knows there will always be situations where it is impossible to accurately convey what the author means. It can be a word-play impossible to translate. The author can use a word which has no accurate counterpart in the language one translates into. A text can be translatable linguistically speaking, but the persons one translates for, will not understand what the author means, due to lack of understanding of the author's culture. There are probably many translators who would agree that they in one way are traitors. Sections 3.1. and 3.2. deal with how one could do, to avoid being a traitor when it is possible. Section 3.3. is here to prove there will always be weaknesses left, no matter how hard one tries to reduce them. Accordingly, it does not contain a “repair strategies”-section.
This section deals with linguistic differences.
In episode 1:3 The Witch a cheerleader catches fire, and Willow says “She is on fire!”, and Cordelia, who does not even bother to look at the cheerleader, thinks Willow does not mean it literally, so she says Willow exaggerates. (She is jealous.) Broadcast Text uses the word “överhettad” for “on fire”. This is probably the best one can do, even though “överhettad” is negative, but “on fire” is positive. However, Cordelia's reaction would have been better conveyed if the translator had let her agree that the cheerleader is “överhettad”.
In episode 1:4 Teacher's Pet Xander says “It's the most beautiful chest...dress I've ever seen.” Broadcast Text translates it with “Det är den finaste byst....klänning jag någonsin sett.” “Byst” does not sound like “klänning” at all, but there is not much one can do.
In episode 1:5 Never Kill A Boy on the First Date Xander asks Buffy “How did the slaying go last night?” When he realises he cannot talk about the slaying, when someone can hear him, he says he meant “How did the laying go last night?” This is difficult to translate, so in Broadcast Text's translation “slaying” is changed to “dödandet”, and “laying” is changed to “stötandet”.
In episode 1:9 The Puppet Show a ventriloquist says “Would I?” and lets his puppet respond “As a matter of fact it is. It is also a woodmouth and a woodnose.” This is impossible to translate, so Broadcast Text changes it to “Ta i trä.” and the puppet says “Det är faktiskt en vits.” It really takes the fun out of it.
In episode 3:1 Anne a demon says to Buffy “You've got guts. I think I'd like to slice you open, and play with them.” In Broadcast Text's translation he says that Buffy has a spinal cord, which is accurate. One could also have written that she has nerves of steel. One could also write she has a brave heart. To avoid plagiarism, I have to say that I am almost certain that Språkcentrum's translation says that Buffy has a brave heart. There we have three accurate alternatives.
In episode 3:4 Beauty and the Beasts Faith decides to go out and kill some vampires. Buffy says “Knock yourself out. But not literally.” This is impossible to translate, so the translator at Broadcast Text simply does not translate it at all. He or she skips that line.
In episode 3:10 Amends Buffy and Joyce decorate the Christmas tree. Buffy is distracted by Angel's situation. Suddenly Joyce says “Angel's on top again?” Buffy gets shocked, and says “what?” Joyce says “Angel or star?” She was talking about if they should have an angel or a star on top of the tree. Broadcast Text translates it in a way, where the word play is lost. I can not say I blame them.
In episode 3:11 Gingerbread Buffy talks about the kid that “stuck his finger in a duck.” Angel corrects her, and tells her the kid stuck his finger in a dyke, another word for “dam”. Språkcentrum lets Buffy say he stuck his finger in a “lämmel” (Swedish for “lemming”), a word which sounds like “dämme” (Swedish for “dam”).
In episode 3:16 Doppelgängland Willow says to Buffy “Aren't you sort of natural buf, Buf? He, 'buf, Buf'” finding her own joke very fun. Språkcentrum translates it in a way where the word play is lost. I can not say I blame them.
In episode 4:2 Living Conditions Buffy hides from Kathy, and Parker says “I watch your back” and then he takes a good peak at her ass, as he said he would. Språkcentrum translates it in a way where the word play is lost. I can not say I blame them.
In episode 4:18 Where the Wild Things Are Buffy and Riley are fighting a vampire and a demon. When Buffy tells Riley she will attack the demon with horns, she says “I get horny.” and then she gets embarrassed over her involuntary word-play. Broadcast Text translates it in a way where the word play is lost. I can not say I blame them.
In episode 5:4 Out of My Mind Willow asks if she should be watching her occipital lobe, in other words watch her back. The translation says she should get eyes in her occipital lobe, to get “ögon i nacken” (eyes in the neck). They trade an English idiom for a Swedish one. Good translation!
In episode 5:5 No Place Like Home Dawn asks Buffy what she is doing, and she answers “My boyfriend.” In Swedish one can not “do” someone, so the only thing the translator can do, is letting Buffy say “Have sex with my boyfriend.” in Swedish.
In episode 5:14 Crush Spike talks about the Bronze, and he is negative. Buffy says he maybe should find another place to patronize. This is an involuntary word play, since Spike both patronizes the Bronze in the meaning that he goes there regularly, and in the meaning that he looks down on it. This is impossible to convey, so the translator writes he should find another “stamställe” in other words another place to go to.
In episode 6:1 Bargaining Xander says he comes with his tool, and when he realises that is also slang for “penis”, he says he has a lot of tools, to avoid misunderstanding. The translator translates “tool” with “verktyg”. The translator should have chosen the word “grej”.
In episode 6:8 Tabula Rasa everyone in Buffy's gang has forgotten their names, due to a spell. When a few vampires say they want Spike, Buffy and her friends think they want spikes. A Swedish word for “spikes” is “spikar”. Luckily for the translator, the words are similar enough, so he or she just had to translate “spikes” with “spikar”.
In episode 7:1 Lessons Spike says “Duck!” and Buffy replies “There is a duck?” One second later she got hit. That is why she should have ducked. In Swedish we do not have the same word for the singular form of “ducks” and the present tense for “ducked”, so the translator only translates it with the question “What do you mean by that?” in Swedish.
In episode 7:2 Beneath You Anya says “You wish it. I dish it.” because that is what a vengeance demon do. The translation says “Du önskar. Jag uppfyller.” Linguistically it is correct, but the word play is lost. I would prefer “Din önskan är min lag.” It is not a word play, but it works as a slogan, and it is familiar to a Swedish viewer.
In episode 7:21 End of Days Xander talks about all jokes he have heard since he lost his left eye. He thinks that they at least could come up with some joke which is actually fun, like “I Claudius.” The translator simply writes it in English. Since it is a title, one can do that, and most people understand it.
In episode 7:22 Chosen Faith tells Robin he should have a little faith, and Robin says he has already had her (referring to the fact that they have had sex earlier). In Swedish one does not say one “has” someone when one has sex with him or her. Furthermore, the Swedish word for “faith” is not “faith”. The translator therefore lets Faith say that Robin should put his trust in her, and he says he has already done that. That is really a long shot, but it is the best one can do.
When Monica Sheer translated Fawlty Towers, she always found out new word plays when there was word plays in the English text (see Fawlty Translations by Daniel Dahlberg). In Fawlty Towers it is important to do so, since it is a humorous series. The word plays are not as important in a series like Buffy.
In episode 3:9 The Wish Cordelia talks to Anyanka (who pretends to be human, because she can not do anything magic until someone has wished it, and her speciality is to trick people to make wishes they do not really mean). Cordelia wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale, and the demon says “Done.” showing her true face. How should one translate “done” in this context? One could translate it with “Din önskan är uppfylld.”, and to avoid plagiarism I must say I am almost certain Språkcentrum translates it that way, but I do not have their translation of The Wish recorded. Broadcast Text translates it to “Det ska bli.” Those are both good translations. In Older and Far Away another vengeance demon says “Your wish is granted.” which is translated with “Din önskan är beviljad.” “Bevilja” is actually a very good word. In The Wish one could translate “done” with “beviljas” even if the official translations are good too.
In episode 3:10 Amends The First Evil has just stood and bragged for Buffy about how evil it is, and Buffy gets impatient and says “Yeah! I get it. You are evil. Do we have to chat about all day?” They talk some more and then it says “You have no idea what you are dealing with!” and Buffy replies “Let me guess? Is it evil?” Since English has the same word for the substantive “evil” and the adjective, it is impossible to know what Buffy means. Språkcentrum guesses she means the adjective, and writes “Låt mig gissa. Något riktigt ondskefullt?” (assuming I remember correctly. I do not have their translation of Amends recorded.) Broadcast Text on the other hand, guesses Buffy means the substantive, and writes “Låt mig gissa. Är det ondska?” I would guess Språkcentrum's translation is right this time, but one can not know that.
In episode 3:11 Gingerbread Willow says that her mother does not show any interest in her extra-curricular activities. When she has said that, she adds “or my curricular activities.” The English language has the word “curricular”, and if something is not curricular, it is extra-curricular. When Willow says what I just conveyed, it is therefore easy to see that she means that her mother does not care about her at all. Unfortunately the Swedish language is not built the same way. We do not talk about “skoliga” and “icke-skoliga” activities. Consequently, when Språkcentrum translates “extra-curricular activities” with “fritidsaktiviteter” and “curricular activities” with “skolarbete” it is harder to see what Willow means. In the same episode Giles says “There is a fringe theory, held by a few folklorists, that some regional stories have actual, very literal antecedents.” This is quite difficult to translate. First one has to understand the difficult words, then one has to find Swedish words, which are as difficult as the English, to get the right class. Språkcentrum translates that with “Några folklorister har framfört en teori att vissa lokala berättelser faktiskt har exakta antecedentia.” That is a very good and accurate translation.
In episode 4:1 The Freshman Willow tells Buffy that Maggie is renowned. Buffy then wonders how one becomes renowned. She asks if one has to be “nowned” first. Luckily, the Swedish word “renommerad” works the same way, so Språkcentrum can let Buffy ask if one has to be “nommerad” first.
In episode 4:22 Restless Buffy and her friends have a “little” problem. In 4:21 they have summoned the first slayer, which was an insult to the source of that power. Therefore the first slayer comes in Restless and tries to kill them in their dreams. Buffy says to Giles he could have brought that up before they invoked the first slayer, and Giles says he did say it could be dangerous, and Buffy says “Yes, but you say that about chewing too fast.” This can mean “You, Giles, say that about chewing too fast,” or it can mean “One says that about chewing too fast.” The translator writes “Det säger du om att tugga för fort,” which proves he or she thinks Buffy means Giles says so. I do not know if Giles talks much about chewing too fast. I would guess it would be more correct to write “Så säger man om att tugga för fort.”, but I might be wrong.
In episode 5:7 Fool for Love Dawn is happy and proud when she has helped Buffy. So she says “Come on! Who's the man?” Buffy replies “You are. A very short, annoying man.” We do not have the expression “Who is the man?” in Sweden, so the translator has to convey what Dawn means, and also make it possible to let Buffy answer the question. The translation says “Vem är boss?” and Buffy answers that Dawn is a short, annoying boss. That is a good translation. If one wants to translate “Who is the man?” without Buffy's answer, it would be good to write “Vem är bäst?”, but what would Buffy answer to that? Should she say “Du är det. En kort och irriterande best.”? No, she does not dislike Dawn that much. (The Swedish word “bäst” means “best”, and the Swedish word “best” means “beast”.) In my suggestion Buffy calls her sister a beast. Bad suggestion, in other words. Another possible translation would be that Dawn asks who is the hero, and Buffy says that Dawn is a short, annoying hero.
In episode 5:12 Checkpoint Spike tells Joyce and Dawn he has blood in the fridge, if they would like some. Dawn asks if it is real blood. Spike says “What do you think?” “Mostly, I think 'ugh'.” says Dawn. In Swedish we have different words for “think” if one means “tro” (believe) and “think” if one means “tycka” (have an opinion). Therefore the translator has to let Spike say “What do you think?” in Swedish, and let Dawn respond “Ugh” in Swedish.
In episode 6:7 Once More, with Feeling a spell makes everyone sing. Music is very difficult to translate, especially when it rhymes. Moreover, it is very important to get that episode right, since it is one of the most popular episodes in Buffy. Heather Morrissey has told me in a personal e-mail, that she has got e-mail from more than 100 persons, who have answered her questions about their favourite episode. Becoming, Part Two, The Gift and Once More, with Feeling are those most people choose. On http://groups.yahoo.com/group/davidboreanazishot she has polls for every season, where she asks for the favourite episode of the season. Once More, with Feeling is the only episode in a season with 22 episodes, which gets more than 50 % of the votes. Despite the problems, the translator has made a good translation during the whole episode. Not a perfect translation. Many passages are unsingable, but a good many are singable. When I saw it, I had a few suggestions on how to improve it, but it is on the whole very good, and maybe it is not necessary to make all songs singable, since the viewers are not supposed to sing along.
In episode 6:8 Tabula Rasa everyone in Buffy's gang has forgotten their names, due to a spell. However, they can find out their names, by IDs, necklaces, and contracts. When they see that the store they are in, is owned by Rupert and Anya, they pronounce the first A in “Anya” as one pronounces the A in “half” when one speaks American English. Usually one pronounces the first A in her name as one pronounces the A in “half” when one speaks British English. Of course such a detail is impossible to convey in text. It must simply be the viewer's responsibility, to hear such details.
In episode 6:11 Gone Jonathan and his friends do not know what the plural form of “nemesis” is. The translator could not translate “nemesis” with “ärkefiende” since no one would have a problem with what the plural form of that is. Therefore he or she chooses the word “ärkerivaler” and lets Jonathan say “ärkerivalor”. Not many people would have a problem with “ärkerivaler” either, but there is not any good word to choose.
In episode 7:9 Never Leave Me Xander calls Andrew “Sleeping Ugly”. He means Andrew sleeps as much as Sleeping Beauty, but he is not beautiful. Since Sleeping Beauty is not called “Den sovande skönheten” in Sweden, the translator has to disregard that little joke.
In episode 7:22 Chosen Willow says “Oh, my goddess.” which is translated with “Min... Gudinna.” This is an accurate word for word translation, and one can say “Min Gud” in Swedish. However, one would more likely say just “Gud”, but since the viewer might miss what Willow means if the subtitle just says “Gudinnan”, one has to translate as the translator did.
“you write those silly books telling people how to take trips without a jolt. That traveling armchair isn't just your logo; it's you” (The Accidental Tourist Anne Tyler 142 Penguin 1986)
The quotation above, is something Sarah says to Macon, whose job is to write travel guides which tell American business men how to do, if they are travelling in business, and want to live like they do in America, as far as it is possible, when they are on their business trips. Sarah finds this absurd, since a point of traveling, is to see other cultures, and learn something. Reading books and seeing films from other countries, is also a way of learning, and therefore one should not take the idea of making cultural translations too far. However, the primary goal with seeing a film, is to get what the author aims to convey, and therefore cultural translations sometimes are necessary.
In episode 1:4 Teacher's Pet Xander says “Forgiveness is my middle name. Actually it is Lavelle, and I'd appreciate it if you guard that secret with your life.” We do not have a saying in Swedish, which says a characteristics is a middle name, so Broadcast Text only writes it is what characterises Xander. Moreover, it would be too long to write “Förlåtelse är mitt andranamn, men egentligen är det Lavelle, och jag skulle vilja att du skyddar den hemligheten med ditt liv.”
In episode 2:20 Go Fish Angel has attacked a guy, but when he has started to feed of his blood, he spits it out. Later on, Buffy and her friends are trying to guess why. “Maybe his eyes were too big for his stomach.” someone says. We have that saying in Sweden. “Magen blir förr mätt än ögat.” one can say. I think they should translate it that way. However, I might be wrong. The only person I have heard say “Magen blir förr mätt än ögat.” is my mother, so maybe not many people have heard it. If one does not think many people have heard it, one can write that Angel maybe was not hungry. One could write “Han kanske var mätt.” Broadcast Text does not choose any of those alternatives. They write “Han kanske gapade över mycket.” This is a bad translation. “Den som gapar över mycket, mister ofta hela stycket.” is something completely different from “Magen blir förr mätt än ögat.”
In episode 3:1 Anne Lily tells Buffy that she used to call herself “Chantarelle” during her exotic period. When Buffy tells Lily that a chantarelle is a mushroom Lily feels embarrassed so Buffy says “It's an exotic mushroom, if that's any comfort.” In Sweden chantarelles are not exotic at all. Does that mean a translator should change the name? No! It can not hurt to teach people that Americans find chantarelles exotic. Consequently, Broadcast Text does not change the name. A good decision.
In episode 3:10 Amends Buffy wonders what they should do about Angel. Since it is Christmas Eve, Xander says “I think right now the best plan is to deck the halls with branches of holly. We catch the bad guys, sooner or later.” One could translate it word for word, and write they should “sätta upp järnekskvistar” which we do not do in Sweden. I do not have Språkcentrum's translation of Amends recorded, but I distinctly remember they translate it word for word, since my first thought when I saw this scene, was that there might be some ideas of holly repelling demons, like garlic repels vampires. I understood what Xander meant, a few seconds later, though. Broadcast Text preferred to make a cultural translation. In their translation Xander says they should “sjunga in julen” (which means they should celebrate Christmas). Both are valid choices. One could also choose to let Xander say something about putting a mistle-toe in the ceiling, or buying Christmas gifts, or baking gingerbread, or decorating the Christmas tree.
In episode 3:11 Gingerbread Willow talks about "The patriarchal bias of the Mister Roger's Show". Most Swedish people do not know anything about the Mister Roger's Show. Therefore Språkcentrum translates it with “patriarkala tendenser i barnprogram” which means “patriarchal bias of a programme for children”. In the same episode, Giles says “There is a fringe theory, held by a few folklorists, that some regional stories have actual, very literal antecedents.” and Buffy replies “And in some language that's English?” Could one really translate this with “Speak English” in Swedish? Actually one can. I have seen that translation in other programmes. It would be odd to write “Speak Swedish” in Swedish. Språkcentrum chooses to write “och på ett språk man förstår?” which means “and in some language one can understand?”
In episode 4:1 The Freshman Willow and Buffy are talking about Giles. Willow says that Giles enjoys being a gentleman of leisure. Buffy asks sarcastically if “gentleman of leisure” is British for “unemployed”. (Giles is British.) Språkcentrum simply translates it with “Du menar arbetslös?” which means “Do you mean unemployed?” .
In episode 4:18 Where the Wild Things Are an extremist lady says “I can smell the sin on each and everyone of you!” and Xander replies “She who smelt it, dealt it!” We do not have that saying in Sweden, so the translation says “Den som sa det, hon var det!” which means “She who said it is it.” That is a valid translation.
In episode 5:3 The Replacement Riley criticises Giles, and he exclaims “Toth!” Riley asks what “Toth” means, and Buffy says “He called you a toth. It's a British expression. It means like 'moron'.” Giles explains that he just found out that Toth is the demon which maltreated him earlier. The translation says “Han kallade dig 'toth'. Det är brittisk engelska för 'idiot'.” This is actually exactly what Buffy said. The translator chooses to let Buffy talk about British, even in the translation. A good decision. Most Swedish people know there are differences between British and American English.
In episode 5:5 No Place Like Home Anya works in a shop. When a customer has paid and got what he or she paid for, Anya says “Please go!” When Xander hears that, he says “Anya, the Shopkeepers Union of America called. They want me to tell you that 'Please go!' just got replaced with 'Have a nice day!'” The translation says “Facket ringde.” which means the union called. This is a bad translation. The union is something the employees join, but the Shopkeepers Union of America is something the employers join. Why would the union care if they have to say “Please go?” An accurate translation would say that SAF or Köpmannaförbundet called.
In episode 6:7 Once More, with Feeling Anya sings “I take the fifth.” which is translated with “Jag vägrar prata” which means “I refuse to talk.” That is a good translation. “I plead the right to remain silent.” in Swedish, would be too long.
In episode 7:11 Showtime a demon says he would not sleep with Anya for all the kittens in Chorea. The translation says he would not sleep with her for “allt smör i Småland” which means “all butter in the landscape of Småland in Sweden”. Replacing one idiom with another, which means the same thing, is an accurate way of translating. This is clearly a valid choice.
In episode 7:21 End of Days Xander talks about all jokes he have heard since he lost his left eye. Everybody makes jokes referring to the saying “It is all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.” We do not have that expression in Sweden, and not one similar either. The translation translates it word for word anyway. Unlike the “Kittens in Chorea”-idiom, this is easy to understand what it means, so one can refer to my arguments about learning from other cultures, and therefore argue that this is the best possible translation.
Sometimes the characters talk so fast, so that there is no space for subtitling everything they say.
In episode 3:11 Gingerbread there is a fast conversation between Willow and her mother Sheila:
W: Mom, how would you know what I can do? I mean, the last time we had a conversation over three minutes was about the patriarchal bias of the Mister Rogers' Show .
S: King Friday lorded it over all the lesser puppets.
W: Mom, you are not paying attention!
S: And this is your way of trying to get it.
The Swedish translation (Språkcentrum):
W: Hur vet du vad jag kan? Sist vi pratade mer än tre minuter, handlade det om patriarkala tendenser i barnprogram. (Accurate translation)
S: (Actually they do not translate Sheila's line at all here. There is not space for that.)
W: Du hör inte på, mamma. (You are not listening, mom.)
S: Du vill bara ha uppmärksamhet. (You just want attention.)
This really destroys the whole conversation. If one does not listen to the English text, one totally misses Sheila's inability to understand what Willow says, but there is not much one can do. I doubt the viewers would accept the TV company freezing the picture for a few seconds, to get room for longer conversations.
In episode 3:21 Graduation Day, One Faith has poisoned Angel, and the only thing which can cure him, is the blood of a slayer. Buffy then decides to find Faith, kill her and give her blood to Angel. When Buffy is preparing to go, Xander says “I just don't wanna lose you.” Buffy replies “I wont get hurt.” Xander replies “That's not what I mean.” In Språkcentrum's translation they translate Xander's first line accurately. They also translate Buffy's line accurately. The problem is that they do not translate Xander's second line at all. It is sad, but that is their only option. Taking away the last line, destroys the whole conversation, but there is not much they can do about it.
In conclusion, there are eight things one can do, to make translations better:
1. The same translator should translate the whole series, so that he or she knows the plot, and can translate consistently.
2. If it is not the same translator who translates the whole series, the translation company should - if possible - give the translator material to understand the context.
3. The company which produced the series, should attach the manuscript with the tapes, since it is sometimes difficult to hear what the characters say.
4. The TV company should also attach documents which explain references to earlier episodes, and cultural references.
5. The translation companies should only hire people who are educated in English.
6. The translators should be careful, and the translation companies should give them enough time to be careful.
7. Translation companies should hire proof-readers.
8. The English departments at universities should not take valuable time to teach things which are of secondary importance for the students' future jobs. It is not fair to the students' future employers. They should prioritise practical knowledge.
And if all these rules are followed, the translations will be better, but they will never be perfect, because there is no such thing as a perfect translation. The translator will always be a traitor.
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