Portuguese vs. Portuguese

The Portuguese edition of “How Not To Be Wrong” just arrived at my house.  “Portuguese” as in “from Portugal” and as distinct from the Brazilian edition.  Interesting how two versions of the book in the same language can be rather different!  Here’s the opening paragraph in Portugal:

Agora mesmo, numa sala de aula algures no mundo, uma estudante esta a reclamar com o seu professor de matematica.  Este acabou de lhe pedir para usar uma parte substancial do seu fim de semana a calcular uma lista de trinta integrais definidas.

And in Brazil:

Neste exato momento, numa sala de aula em algum lugar do mundo, uma aluna esta xingando o professor de matematica.  O professor acaba de lhe pedir que passe uma parte substancial de seu fim de semana calculando uma lista de trinta integrais definidas.

Ok, those are not too far off.  Here’s how some lines of John Ashbery’s “Soonest Mended” are translated in Portugal:

E vimos que ambos temos razao, ainda que nada

Tenha resultado em coisa alguma; os avatares

Do nosso conformismo perante as regros,

E ficar sempre por casa, fizeram de nos — bem, en certo sentido — <<bons cidadaos>>

and in Brazil:

Esta vendo, ambos estavamos certos, embora nada

Tenha de algum modo chegado a nada; os avatares

Da nossa comformidade com regras e viver

Em torno de casa fizeram de nos … bem, num sentido, “bons cidadaos”

I don’t know whether Ashbery’s poems have official Portuguese translations.  The only one I could find of “Soonest Mended” was in a book of criticism by V.B. Concagh, where the last two lines were rendered

Deste conformarmo-nos as regras e fazermos a nossa vida

Ca por casa fizeram de nos — bem, num certo sentido, “bons cidadaos”

The line I hit very hard in English is  “For this is action, this not being sure.”  That last phrase is rendered

  • (Portugal) esta incerteza
  • (Brazil) essa falta de certeza
  • (Concagh) este nao esta seguro

I don’t read Portuguese but the last, most literal rendering seems best to me, assuming I’m right that it captures something of the “not the way you’d normally say it”-ness of the Ashbery:  “this uncertainty” or “this lack of certainty” in English don’t have at all the same quality.

Note:  Because I was feeling lazy I have omitted all diacritical marks.  Lusophones are welcome to hassle me about this if it makes the quotes ambiguous or unreadable.


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10 thoughts on “Portuguese vs. Portuguese

  1. bf says:

    As a US citizen you shouldn’t be surprised; I remember having to explain to other non-UK Europeans that no, one shouldn’t buy the latest Harry Potter while in the US because it would be a different text than the original UK version.

    The poetry translations you compare sure [pun intended!] sound different! To me, also not a Portuguese speaker, both the Brazilian and Portuguese version sound much better than the Concagh one: the este-esta in the same line is weird and does’t match the “this – this” in the original.

    As for the differences among those, they look about as similar as two different translations of any poetic text. Italy recently changed the Omeric translations for use in school (at my times we used one from the 18th century) and I find it hard to even recognize some well-known passages in the new version.

  2. bf says:

    Omeric = Homeric. Sorry, I apparently was thinking in Italian while writing that :).

  3. voloch says:

    Are you sure you got the first quote correct? “A gota mesmo” should probably be “Agora mesmo”, which means “right now” (what you have in the original). The Brazilian one means, as you can guess, “at this exact moment”. Also, it’s probably “estudante” not “estudiante” (which is Spanish, not Portuguese, for student).

    I also checked the original and you say “mouthing off”, which was rendered as “reclamar” (to complain) in Portugal and as “xingando” (swearing at) in Brazil. You could have meant either. Which did you mean? Otherwise, the translations are identical, except also that in Portugal they tend to use the infinitive when in Brazil, we’d would use the gerund.

    It is the same language, with very different choices of idiomatic expressions.

  4. What about the two English editions of your book, how much do they differ? I see there are two different subtitles (The Hidden Maths of Everyday Life vs The Power of Mathematical Thinking), but when it comes to the main body, is it just a few u’s missing or are there significant differences?

  5. agogo22 says:

    Reblogged this on msamba.

  6. JSE says:

    Felipe — thanks, fixed both those typos! Re “mouthing off” — in English, its literal meaning is closer to “complaining” and would certainly not suggest in this context that the student was swearing. But it’s a bit stronger than “complaining” — I’d say it means “complaining in an insolent fashion.”

    Peter — the two English versions have identical text as far as I know.

    One difference between the two Portuguese editions is that the Portugal one says right on the cover that the book was a “#1 Bestseller do The New York Times.” I wish!

  7. Hi Jordan, congrats on having the book in Portugal! I just ordered a copy for my mom :) Afonso

  8. Roger Joseph Witte says:

    Early in my career I had to look after some visiting Quebecois Software engineers. While they were in Europe, they took two weeks off to go on holiday in France. They came back in tears. They had ended up because the French so ridiculed their native tongue for not being French enough/ I was secretly pleased because I no longer had to believe that the English were the worst language bigots in the world.

  9. Peter says:

    The translations of “For this is action, this not being sure” are really using different meanings of ‘sure’. Translating back literally, in order you have ‘this uncertainty’, ‘this lack of certainty’ and ‘this not being secure’, the first two being (I think) more or less identical in meaning (but the second surely sounds better, in either language; also ‘essa’ could be translated as ‘that’, it’s a little more distant), and the last (over-?)emphasising the ‘security’ connotation of ‘sure’.

  10. JSE says:

    Hmm. To me, the connotation of “secure” is almost entirely absent from the Ashbery in English, so I may have to withdraw my endorsement of that translation…

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