Tag Archive | translation

Carlos Gamerro@Grinnell

You might be forgiven for thinking this blog has become a Writers@Grinnell column, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but fear not, I can promise some more varied content soon. In the meantime, the next writer I saw at Grinnell was Argentinian novelist Carlos Gamerro, who is an International Writing Program resident at the University of Iowa this fall. He taught a short course at Grinnell on the vanishing narrator (which reminded me of Philip Pullman’s fondness for the omniscient narrator, which he touched on in this wonderful recent interview). As he explained it at the reading, Gamerro’s class was on the historical progression from omniscient narrators to forms of storytelling without a narrator at all.

At his Writers@Grinnell event, Gamerro read from his latest novel, Cardenio. In fact the excerpts he read were dialogues, so he and Dean Bakopolous of the English Department read them as though they were scenes from a play. Cardenio is a character in Don Quixote and presumably the eponymous hero of a play, Cardenio, written by Shakespeare and his contemporary, John Fletcher. The play was lost, but Gamerro’s novel centers on John Fletcher and the writing of Cardenio. The scenes they performed for us were mostly comic exchanges between Shakespeare and Fletcher, as Fletcher tried to convince him it was worth writing a play from this material, and between Fletcher and Thomas Middleton, another playwright who has written his own Cardenio in two days and wants Fletcher to buy it, lest Middleton have it released before theirs.

Gamerro introduced these lesser-known English playwrights with not a little enthusiasm. He described how Fletcher and his friend and collaborator Francis Beaumont lived together, wrote plays together, shared their clothes, and shared the same girl, Joan. All three lived together in a happy ménage à trois (this was how I interpreted it, at least) until Beaumont decided to make a good marriage and left. Gamerro made it sound like Fletcher was left bereft. Poor fellow. He also told us Fletcher had written a play, The Tamer Tamed (the full title seems to have been The Woman’s Prize, or the Tamer Tamed), a perhaps rather feminist follow-up to Shakespeare’s nowadays reviled The Taming of the Shrew.

According to Gamerro, there is evidence that Fletcher knew Spanish and thus read Don Quixote before his compatriots, though the first English translation was produced relatively early. Gamerro said you can hear the Spanish in this first translation. Interestingly, to prepare to write his novel, Gamerro immersed himself in primary sources of the time. He decided this was the best strategy after being frustrated by the clearly false generalizations being made in works of history on that era: “We want to think the past is much more homogenous than the present.” He consumed lots of English plays from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, till the language and the way people spoke began to come to him. He resolved to at least write a first version of his novel in English, even if he didn’t publish it. From what I can gather, the first edition of Cardenio is Gamerro’s own Spanish translation of the novel he originally wrote in English. The reading was from the English version.

I find it interesting when writers write in a language other than their first, or other than the language they typically write their original drafts in. There are so many reasons to do it. Jhumpa Lahiri writing in Italian comes to mind, and François Cheng. I’ve written a few original works in French, most of which I then tried translating into English, and I think I always preferred the French version. One example, from a long time ago, is “L’orchestre de Jénine,” which appeared with its English translation in an issue of Voyages, Swarthmore’s journal of original works and their translations. Writing in French isn’t something I do regularly, though; I think it has to spring from a specific impulse, and I don’t get many such impulses.

Turkish Editions

The Turkish editions of Sparkers and Wildings have been out for a while, but only recently did I get my hands on some copies, thanks to both my publisher and a family friend who regularly visits Turkey. The books are pretty!

There are also Sparkers bookmarks and Kırmızı Kedi bookmarks!

I also saw that How to Tell If You’re in an X Novel meme, inspired by The Toast, going around on Twitter (where I sometimes lurk unofficially), and Isabelle helped me come up with my own list:

How to Tell You’re in an Eleanor Glewwe Novel

  • One of your parents is dead
  • You play at least one musical instrument
  • Music might be magical
  • Siblings are the best
  • Not a lot of food, but what there is is tasty
  • Ship it all you want, it’s never coming to the foreground

Come All You Fair…

A couple of news items: 1) The Turkish translation of Wildings appears to be out! The translator is different this time. If you read Turkish or know anyone who does, the book is available through the publisher, Kırmızı Kedi, here. 2) I’ve made my Chinese New Year zines available on my Other Writing page, if you want to print your own copy.

Recently Isabelle and I were trying to figure out if we had any more folk songs in common–something we do every so often, usually to no avail–and she asked if I knew a song that began, “Come all you fair and tender girls…” She looked up the song she knew, and it turned out to be Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. When she first described it to me, I thought the words were, “Let no man steal your time,” but no, it’s actually thyme. The song starts out as a warning to young women to guard their gardens from thieving young men, and the plant metaphors are so heavy-handed that even I get them. The song also involves rue (both kinds).

The melody was a pretty minor tune that was not familiar, and most of the words I also didn’t recognize, but the opening was reminding me of a song I’d heard before. Except I thought it began, “Come all you fair and pretty ladies…” I could hear it in my head (though I couldn’t remember the gender of the singer), and the tune was different. In fact, the tune was awfully close to that of Wayfaring Stranger, which made me think I wasn’t remembering it correctly.

Later I consulted Google and discovered that Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies is a famous enough song to have its own Wikipedia page (nothing but the finest research for this pseudo-musicology series). But the text I found was, apart from the nearly identical first line, almost completely different from the text of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. In fact, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme is a different song with its own Wikipedia page and Roud number.

I finally figured out where I knew the first line from: “You Fair and Pretty Ladies” from Anonymous 4’s album Gloryland. And indeed it does sound like Wayfaring Stranger. But most renditions of Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies out there seem to have a different melody altogether. There’s a line in the “standard” Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies, “Then they will go and court some other” that’s almost identical to a line in Solas’s “The Silver Dagger,” a song I like very much. And actually, the more prevalent tune for Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies reminds me vaguely of The Silver Dagger, mostly rhythmically…

Then I noticed this comment on a Youtube video of Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies: “Interesting that the lyrics seem to be half what I know by this title and half what I know as ‘The Water is Wide.'” Ack! It never ends!

Georgian Food and the Turkish Sparkers

Last weekend I was in Chicago because I was giving a talk at the Chicago Linguistic Society’s conference (I had an awfully good time the last time I went to CLS two years ago). Shortly before I left, my advisor sent me a magazine article about a Georgian restaurant (the only Georgian restaurant?) in Chicago. The conference ended on Saturday, but I didn’t fly out until the following evening, so on Sunday I decided to seek out this restaurant.

Chicago Diplomat Café is a deep, high-ceilinged restaurant with leather-backed armchairs and black tablecloths and an aquarium with goldfish. When I arrived shortly before noon, there was only one other party, a couple, dining. I was seated at a little table not far from them. I can’t remember if I’ve ever eaten alone in a sit-down restaurant before, but it wasn’t too awkward. With my suitcase in tow, I fancied I looked like a worldly traveler.

The magazine article had mentioned all sorts of scrumptious dishes, and my one regret in coming alone was that I doubted I’d be able to try more than one dish (no supra for me). There were three kinds of khachapuri, but if I ordered one I didn’t think I’d be able to eat anything else. I decided I wanted the khinkali, Georgian soup dumplings. But when I asked the waiter if I could have them, he said no. I was a bit flummoxed and said something about them not having khinkali today. The waiter didn’t exactly confirm this, but I switched my order to the mtsvadi. I also ordered a Georgian lemonade, pear flavor (the other option was tarragon). If the waiter approved of my Georgian pronunciation, he gave no sign of it.

Georgian lemonade

The Georgian lemonade turned out to be a bottled soda that didn’t taste at all like lemonade. It was a little too sweet for my taste; it gave me the impression of carbonated apple juice (the kind of apple juice preschoolers drink). The mtsvadi was tasty, though it wasn’t quite what I’d expected from the menu. The seasoned chunks of chicken had been cooked on a skewer, and the Georgian fried potatoes were…basically French fries (though quite good ones). The red sauce on the side was sour (in a good way). The menu had called mtsvadi the dish of kings. According to the magazine article, the chicken was marinated in pomegranate juice, and the sauce was tkemali, a sour plum sauce.


While I was eating, a larger party with a reservation came in. One young woman was explaining the dishes to her friends, and I later heard her tell the waiter she’d been a Peace Corps volunteer in Georgia. She and the waiter discussed the fact that Georgian lemonade is in fact flavored soda, not lemonade (wish I’d heard that sooner). The group discussed ordering khinkali, and I thought to myself that they would be disappointed as I’d been. But then when the Peace Corps volunteer asked for two orders of the dumplings, the waiter accepted the order! There was some brief exchange I didn’t catch (perhaps khinkali take a while to prepare?), but the Peace Corps volunteer said one of her friends had his heart set on khinkali, and it seemed clear they were being allowed to order them. I was miffed. Someday I will eat khinkali!

In other news from roughly the same part of the world…the Turkish edition of Sparkers appears to be coming out tomorrow, June 1st! The Turkish title is Kıvılcımlar, which Google Translate tells me means “sparks,” and it was translated by Canan Vaner. The publisher is Kırmızı Kedi (Red Cat!), and their page for the book is here (it seems to be on lots of Turkish bookselling sites, but I can’t really read any of them, so I’ll just link to the publisher). If you or anyone you know reads Turkish, consider buying the first foreign edition of Sparkers!

Linguist Problems

Last Friday, I turned in my latest draft of Book 2. It’s been sent to copyediting! I promise I’ll tell you something more substantive about Book 2 one of these days.

In revising the manuscript, I was occasionally distracted by particular sentences that caught my attention for linguistic reasons. There was little reason for me to dwell on these sentences from a writing perspective, but my linguist’s brain would latch onto them and wonder. Now you get to see what sorts of things I get hung up on (and you can offer your judgments and/or ridiculous sentences too!).

First up is this sentence:

Their gazes never lingered on each other.

Somewhere between Drafts 2 and 4, it struck me that this sentence was ungrammatical. It violates Condition A of Binding Theory, which says that anaphors must be locally bound. What does that mean? Anaphors include reflexives (like himself) and reciprocals (like each other). For an anaphor to be locally bound, it must have an antecedent (the thing it is co-indexed with, or refers back to) that is sufficiently close to it, where sufficient closeness is defined in technical linguistic terms. To give a quick example, Will likes himself is good, but *Will thinks Lyra likes himself, where himself is meant to refer to Will, is bad because Will is somehow too far away to serve as the antecedent of himself.

What does this have to do with the sentence from my manuscript? First, the meaning this sentence is supposed to have is something like:

A’s gaze never lingered on B, and B’s gaze never lingered on A.

That is, the things the gazes are not lingering on are people, not gazes. In other words, the anaphor each other refers back to they (the people), not their gazes. The intended antecedent of each other is they. For this to be grammatical, then, they must locally bind each other (in order to satisfy Condition A). But it can’t.

To show why, I’m going to pretend I haven’t forgotten most of my syntax and draw a tree.

If you don’t already know X-Bar Theory, this tree probably doesn’t make much sense to you. The point is this: While the whole chunk their gazes is able to bind each other over under the T’, the pronoun they cannot do so (if you really want to know why, it’s because they doesn’t c-command each other, while their gazes does). Consequently, my sentence cannot mean what I want it to mean. Not technically. It can only mean:

A’s gaze never lingered on B’s gaze, and B’s gaze never lingered on A’s gaze.

And maybe this is fine. Gazes can linger on other gazes as well as on people, right? Why not?

If the technical discussion did nothing for you, consider my sentence with some words swapped out for others:

Their dogs never bit each other.

This sentence must mean A’s dog never bit B’s dog, and B’s dog never bit A’s dog. It cannot mean A’s dog never bit B, and B’s dog never bit A. It can’t be about two well-behaved dogs who never bit each other’s humans. Do you agree? Similarly, in Their gazes never lingered on each other, each other cannot refer to two people, it can only refer to the gazes.

Okay, so that’s what the principles of grammar say, but really, is it that hard to get my intended reading? I don’t think it is, which is why it took me so long to notice this sentence was probably ungrammatical. Gazes, unlike dogs, are not sentient, so we accept that each other refers back to people rather than to gazes. Semantics are powerful enough to get around what the syntax is telling us. I’m curious to see whether the copy editor flags this sentence.

Next up is this exchange:

“These remind me of our cook’s cinnamon buns,” says Hilah. 

“Are hers as good as ours?” I tease.

I later changed the second line of dialogue to avoid the problem I’m about to get into. Here’s why this sentence gave me pause: I meant ours to mean our cook’s cinnamon buns (the ones the girls are eating in this scene), but one day I realized it only meant our cinnamon buns. Rivka (“I”) is comparing the two cooks’ cinnamon buns, but the sentence doesn’t quite mean that. The issue is that our cook’s cinnamon buns has two possessive morphemes in it (compare Rivka‘s cook‘s cinnamon buns). This is obscured because in English we + ‘s = our. For ours in the dialogue above to mean our cook’s cinnamon buns, it also needs to have two possessive morphemes and look something like ours’s.

That got me wondering whether English allows the stacking of ‘s. I’m still not sure what the answer is. I think it is worse to stack them when they both have to be pronounced as ‘s, as in Eleanor’s’s. However, when ‘s combines with pronouns, it goes away, making stacked possessive morphemes sound better, as in mine’s.

I posed the question about stacking ‘s on Facebook, and my creative linguist friends delivered. Chris offered the following, quite good-sounding example:

Your laptop is older than mine, but mine’s battery doesn’t last as long.

Erik offered this one:

Speaking of political views, a certain friend of mine’s are off the wall.

(Side note: I think this above example sounds better because ‘s isn’t just attaching to mine, it’s attaching to a certain friend of mine.)

Then Michael got more daring:

Speaking of books, a friend of mine’s’s pages are falling out.

And then he went off the deep end:

Speaking of books whose pages are higher quality, a friend of mine’s’s’s quality is amazing.

That’s it for morphosyntax, but there are a couple of other places in my manuscript that made me stop and think about language:

With trembling hands, I open the drawer at my waist and find myself in the right part of the alphabet. But when I find the place where Kadmiel should be, there is nothing.


He moves his hand in a series of shapes while Caleb looks on, amused but also pleased. The string of signs seems too long, though.

“Is that Elisha?” I say.

“Oh. Yes. But I learned [redacted] too.” He shows me. “And I guess Rivka would be…” He starts my name, using the signs from the middle of his own…

(For context, the above excerpt is about fingerspelling names in sign language.)

So, here’s the thing: both these scenes involve the alphabet. But what alphabet? In the world of the novel, nobody is speaking English. Their spoken (as opposed to signed) language is Ashari. So when Rivka finds herself in the right part of the alphabet to find Kadmiel, where is that? It shouldn’t be the English alphabet, but in fact the way I wrote the scene sort of assumes this. I envision the drawer at Rivka’s waist to be a middle drawer of a file cabinet, and K is roughly in the middle of the English alphabet. Should it have been the Hebrew alphabet1? Kadmiel begins with ק qof, which is toward the end of the alphabet, so in that case Rivka ought to have been opening a drawer at her feet. But in fact, the Ashari alphabet can have whatever order I want it to. I just haven’t invented it.

In the second scene, the characters are fingerspelling. But as I wrote the parts about a name looking too long and two names sharing certain signs/letters, I started to wonder about alphabets again. What does this fingerspelling alphabet look like? Does it have signs for consonants and vowels, like American Sign Language, or does it omit signs for (at least some) vowels, the way I believe both Hebrew and Israeli Sign Language do? I managed to write this scene while remaining agnostic on this question, but I did make sure that the statements the characters make meshed with a fingerspelling system based more on Hebrew than on English.

1. I’ve written about my naming choices here and here.