Slang in literary translation
Slang is a set of words and phrases used to express thoughts and feelings in a specific, unconventional way. Quite often it is a combination of uncombined, the meaning of which can be specified by context only.
Slang can cause a lot of problems for translators since the word-for-word method of translation does not work in this case. Inaccurately interpreted slang words and phrases in translation can distort the meaning and message conveyed in the source text to unrecognition, leaving holes, inconsistencies, stylistic distortion, and semantic conflict in the final (target text) translation which is unacceptable.
But fiction is built on slang words and phrases, on these riveting and unique form of expression that just ten years ago was criticized and regarded as barbaric tarnishing of speech. Luckily, there has been established three methods to solve the problems that arise in translation of slang: softening, stylistic compensation, and literal translation.
Due to censorship and cultural differences that has to always be considered when translating, the translator can choose to omit slang words and phrases but only if it does not distort the stylistics of the ST (source text). But what to do when omitting is not an option?
The purpose of this method is to soften the rudeness and vulgarity of slang, adjusting the effect that it has on the ST (source text) readers to the TT (target text) readers.
Look at the examples:
Oh great, we’re so butt-fucked!
As we see, this line is a part of dialogue, so omitting method will simply not work here. Neither will work word-for-word translation, since the word in question carries too vulgar and rude character for that, that might sound shocking and alien to the ears of the TT (target text) readers. In this case, softening is the most fitting method to use. But before we do this, here are three things to consider before using this method:
1. the softened version of the slang word or phrase must be stylistically fitting
2. the softened version of the slang word or phrase must sound natural to the TT readers
3. the softened version of the slang word or phrase must cause the same emotional effect to the TT readers as it does to the ST readers
So, using this method, my softened version of Russian translation for this slang word would be:
Oh great, we’re so butt-fucked! – Ну отлично, мы в полной заднице!
Here are some more examples, regarding the softening method:
What the fuck are you doing? – Какого черта ты делаешь?
Oh shoot! – Черт!
Fuck you! – Да пошел ты!
Softening is a great method to neutralize slang words and expressions in the ST for the reason to conform the rules of writing in the TT. It is quite often used in translation of dirty slang words, denoting sex and swearing to meet the requirements of cultural differences of the TL and make the translation more organic and natural for the TT readers.
Stylistic compensation method
Stylistic compensation is a technique which involves making up or the loss of the source text effect by recreating a similar effect in the target text through the means that are specific to the target language and/or text. (Harvey 2001, 37)
The purpose of this method is to compensate the linguistic loss occurring due to the differences in cultures. Using this method, the translator adjusts the meaning and message of the slang words or phrases, using the accustomed way of saying the same thing in the TL. It should not be word-for-word and can be even said in a different way but the meaning and message must stay the same and be relevant for the certain context and style of the ST.
One thing at a time, please. – Давайте все по порядку.
Yeah, tell me about it. – А то я сама не знаю.
This method can be also applied when translating humor since again due to cultural differences what sounds funny in one language can be not so much or make no sense at all in another. So in this case, the translator needs to recreate the same effect in the TL relying on the stylistic compensation method, their sense of humor, and experience.
Direct or literal translation method
This method is used when a slang word or phrase can go from one language into another without major changes. We are lucky that today this method is used more often which significantly helps in recreating the closest translation of ST into many other languages.
Here are some examples:
How many bucks do I owe you? – Сколько баксов я тебе должен?
Do you have some ciggies on you? – Есть сиги (сигаретки, сигареты) при себе?
Eat your vegies, man. – Ешь свои овощи, чувак. (In this sentence, for example, in a certain context man can be omitted.)
Now, using these methods you can find the best salvations to the problems arising when translating slang. Especially considering that quite often word-for-word or omitting methods in translation just do not work.