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TorgoX (1933)


"Il est beau comme la retractilité des serres des oiseaux rapaces [...] et surtout, comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d'une machine à coudre et d'un parapluie !" -- Lautréamont

Journal of TorgoX (1933)

Wednesday May 03, 2006
02:26 AM

Nwestroymno - just a lot of questions written during a fire

[ #29502 ]
Dear Log,

Now, I worried that a Spanish translation of the Star-Spangled Banner wouldn't preserve the awfulness of the original English lyrics while still respecting the atonal aimlessness of the tune. In fact, there was the real possibility of a Spanish translation that would be better than the English.

But the Spanish translation now in the news (lyrics here) happens to be just really damn bad, beyond anything I could ever have anticipated. It's as if they held a translation contest, and picked the very worst entry.

Even the worst-metered Norteño umpá-umpá song has better meter than this. This translation has at least one tonguetwister and one serious mis-scan on every line.

Granted, the whole notion of trying to fit words to the Star-Spangled Banner's horrible (and copied) music is sort of... pataphysical. But the only thing I've ever seen that approached this level of awfulness is Native American translations of hymns that try to translate a line like "silent night / holy night" with something thirteen syllables long, all hurriedly sung.

I mean, just look:

¿Oh say can you see, a la luz de la aurora
Lo que tanto aclamamos la noche al caer?
Sus estrellas, sus franjas flotaban ayer
En el fiero combate en senal de victoria,
Fulgor de lucha, al paso de la libertada,
Por la noche decian: "Se va defendiendo!"
¡Oh, decid! ¿Despliega aún su hermosura estrellada,
Sobre tierra de libres, la bandera sagrada?

You know you're in trouble when the very first line has the near-palindrome "la aurora", with all those vowels trying pathetically to fit into one beat. And it doesn't get better.

The English has occasional phonetic horrors, like the consonantal apocalypse in "whose broad stripes and bright stars", but this Spanish translation manages to outdo that by replacing the solid "oh say does that", with "¡oh, decid! ¿despliega aún". First off, "decid" is a vosotros imperative verb form, which for Latin American Spanish comes off as something between arcane and eldritch.

And then, just to remind us that we can still feel pain, "despliega aún" is inflicted on us. In IPA, that's [dɛspljɛgaaun], and yes, that is a valid phonetic string in Spanish. Somehow. Normally, good taste would stop an actual occurrence of that in poetry or song, but good taste has had no part in this so far, and isn't about to start now.

Spanish has a poetic tradition that was alive and well when Angles and Saxons were just puzzling over whether you could rhyme "eaðfynde" and "gehwelcne", but it's not like you could tell from this translation. (There have been other translations, ya know!)

To explain in English terms-- imagine someone tried to compose a hymn whose first four lines two lines contained the words "exploits", "strengths", "insurer", "lasts", "lorgnette", and "whencesoever"-- and then tried to stretch "bitterer" across five long beats.

And then, because mere lyrics and melody are not painful enough, there is the actual performance [4MB mp3]. It is a horror worse than Lovecraft could have imagined, because even he could not have pictured a chorus of Cthulhus gospel-yodeling in the high tradition of Céline Dion and/or American Idol.


I would say try again, make a decent version in Spanish, you can do it, sí se puede! But no, this version is so awful in every way, that there are no do-overs allowed.

I say we mandate (under penalty of torrrturrrre!) that the Glorious Solemn Hymn Of Our National Civic Religion With Flag must not be soiled by being sung in any ffffilthy fffforeign language -- including English! It should be sung only in the words of any of the hundreds of languages actually native to what is now the US. Wave after wave of Europeans came to this continent and stomped on Native culture as if it were on fire, and the least they can do now is learn the language.