Translating Code-Sliding

The previous post on Os Doces Bárbaros explored a song that moves between Yoruba and Portuguese. That movement is part of the cultural context of Brazil, especially African Brazil. In some ways, the song is not an example of code-sliding: swithcing between Yoruba and Portuguese informs a great part of the Brazilian-Portuguese language. A similar relationship between languages exists in Spain. We see the convergence of languages clearly in Flamenco, where Andalusian Spanish and Calé (often called Caló), the language of the Spanish Romani, flow together. The joining of languages is already part of the linguistic map of Andalusia: Spanish, especially as spoken in the south, is heavily influenced by Calé and it is common to hear Spanish and Calé spoken together in Romani communities. Here, we have the great Camarón de la Isla singing in Calé and n important space for Romani-Andalusion expression is claimed:

One scholar transcribed and translated this fragment as follows:

Calé-Andalusian Spanish
Cuando estiñaba estardo
Mi Rumi, Mi Rumi
Bajó a esquinar
Me trajo un balichó
Y cuatro o cinco balñas

Spanish (back-translation)
Cuando estaba preso
mi mujer, mi mujer
bajó a robar
me trajo un cerdo
y cuatro o cinco barras de pan

English (back-translation)
When I was in the cage
My wife, my wife
Would steal
She’d bring me a pig
and four or five loaves of bread

“Me trajo un cerdo”  is clearly from the Spanish, as is “y cuatro o cinco.” These words exist alongside the Calé–that movement between codes is part of Spanish Romani diglossic, bilingual culture. So, how does one preserve that diglossia or bilingual expression in a translation? The use of Calé, particularly because Camarón represents Romani/gitano culture in Spain and beyond, is integral to the song’s meaning. The form of the message, then, carries as much meaning as the actual lyrics. The translator, then, can look for similar relationships between languages in the target culture. The translator can also bend the language of the target culture, if there is nothing that resembles the crossing of Spanish and Calé in Andalusia, so that there are spaces of tension that call the listener’s attention to multiple movements. One thing is clear: a strategy for representing the relationship between language varieties must include both linguistic meaning (Spanish and Calé into the target language) and the formal co-existence, in terms of form, of Spanish and Calé alongside each other.

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