Speaking of spelling

The Economist has a good opinion piece about the space shuttle this week (The Magnificent Seven) which says, more or less, after we mourn the astronauts, we do them no disrespect by questioning the program in which they were employed. Here is one line pulled from the article.

“The American space programme must go on,” said George Bush.

Programme? I seriously doubt it. George W. Bush must certainly have said “The American space program must go on.” Would the Economist have Bush analysing the colours of our national flag? Finding space shuttle tyres amid the debris? Throwing terrorists into gaol? It’s an interesting point to ponder. After all, how would we quote an illiterate speaker? Then again, an illiterate is not likely to take offense at your rendering of his words, whereas I would be annoyed to have those extra letters put in my mouth.

How many presidents of Libya are there, what with Qaddafi, Khaddafy, and all the others? Saddam Hussein protects himself by moving randomly among various palaces. Qaddafi does a similar trick by moving randomly among various transliterations.

I often wonder how far to carry translation. If I am in France, it’s a reasonable thing to turn cars into voitures. But in England should I refer to lorries instead of trucks? And if I do, am I being helpful or pretentious? Douglas Hofstadter has written a fascinating book on translation called Le Ton beau de Marot in which he discusses exactly this point, having come across a copy of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye that was “translated” from American spelling to British spelling. Apparently reading about Holden Caulfield studying maths was too much for Hofstadter.

One thought on “Speaking of spelling”

  1. I always think it’s strange when people do this verbally. In the middle of speaking in their native, American accent, they’ll suddenly shift to a Spanish accent to say “Nicaragua”. This always smacks of pretentiousness to me.

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