16 March 2012

Within the Limits of his Instrument

Sir Cecil Parrott in the introduction to Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1974), p. xxi, on the difficulties of translating the novel into English:
A further complication is the richness of Czech 'bad language' as compared with our own. In common with other Slavic languages and with German, Czech can boast a wide range of words of abuse in all shades of intensity. We cannot match these in Britain, where -- no doubt under the influence of puritanism -- the bulk of our own terms of abuse are too mild and our strong expressions are limited to one or two hackneyed obscenities. Czech words of abuse generally involve domestic animals, excrement or the parts of the body connected with it. The English relate mainly to sexual functions or perversions, although there is in this respect a narrow area of common ground between the two languages. If the reader finds a certain monotony in the words chosen by the translator I hope he will realize that the bandsman has to operate within the limits of his instrument.