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Translation blunder #4…the curious case of the sex changes

In line with my occasional series on linguistic gaffes, I was intrigued by an article published in The Telegraph on Monday about the translation into Galician of the famous book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. As the article mentions, the book “won the Whitbread Book of the Year in 2003 and has been translated into more than 40 languages”. It is a personal favourite of mine, and I’m thrilled that it is now so widely read that it’s even being translated into Galician.

I was surprised to read, however, that the translator was fired for ‘changing the sex of several of the book’s characters’, including Toby the rat, to female. Her translation was deemed ‘feminist-biased’ by the publishers, who she is now taking to court. Hers did seem like a *curious* (geddit?) translation technique, but perhaps the case isn’t quite as black and white as it first appears. There’s been a lot of discussion about the case on translators’ forums, and the consensus seems to be that the translator herself should not necessarily be to blame, that it’s simply a confusion over the lack of neutral gender in Spanish grammar. Perhaps others would disagree….?

By way of example, the word ‘rat’ in Spanish is actually a feminine noun (‘la rata’) so it would just have been plain incorrect to use the masculine gender, and quite tricky to inform the reader that ‘Toby’ was in fact male, when presumably a Galician readership would not be familiar with the name ‘Toby’ .

The crux of the issue is whether the translator was sufficiently faithful to the original text, which is after all the primary concern of all translators, but I think it would be nice to see a translator get some good press for a change!

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  1. This is a tricky case but I think that ultimately it could have been prevented by the translator being professional and asking questions regarding the piece. If in doubt, ask. It is better to ask and get it right than to assume and get it wrong.

    I hope that the translator has professional liability insurance.

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April 08, 2008

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