marcel barang

Grappling with text

In English on 15/07/2010 at 9:24 pm


These days I’m experiencing the loneliness of the long-distance worder: translating See Phaendin over months was a protracted lark compared to polishing the stuff in the final stretch.
That’s when the translator turns into first an art worker to format the 350,000 words of Four Reigns as a book and then a proof reader who must see to the glitches involved in switching from Word to InDesign format and flush out misprints and other errors that have escaped his previous four or five or six attentive readings and the eyes of no fewer than four other editors. That’s when vexation and despair set in.

InDesign is a superb formatting programme that has a few annoying weaknesses: for one thing, it doesn’t respect italics in imported texts, so they have to be reinstated; for another, its hyphenation is at times erratic: that ‘Preim’ is hyphenated as ‘Pre|im’ or ‘Pra|phai’ as ‘Prap|hai’ can be forgiven, given that the words are foreign names whose transliteration defies English language rules, but ‘everything’ cut up as ‘eve|rything’ is definitely wrong; ‘ev|ery|thing’, of course.

This merely takes time to fix but doesn’t challenge the spirit. Neither does the odd comma added or subtracted for smoother reading. Or the battle over capitals: ‘the Throne’ or ‘the throne’? ‘the royal family’ or ‘the Royal Family’? (Well, the answer is in the context.) And substituting a better word on occasion is a real morale-booster.

What challenges the spirit, though, are the proverbial gremlins messing up the text behind my back, as it were, a whole school of them, writing twice ‘Khun Chin’ for ‘Khun Chit’, thrice ‘Khun Chui’ for ‘Khun Cheui’ and ten times ‘On’ for ‘Own’, amongst other shenanigans. Why didn’t the spellchecker ferret this out earlier?
What challenges the spirit even more are those turns of phrase that betray the non-native English speaker, the fluent writer who learned English at school and then in Fleet Street. Did I write ‘X was happy that Y had confided to her’? Did I really write ‘start from scrap’? That ‘scrap’ is in the Thai text is a paltry excuse.
This terrifies me: how many other boobs will have to be left behind for the world to slobber over and laugh at? This from a former boss who was wont to tell his underlings that being a native English speaker didn’t give them a licence to rape their mother tongue. Oh my.

So that this final stretch is rather gruelling, like the last gradients of the Tourmalet. Besides, life interferes: there are domestic chores to attend to; emails to answer; faucets for ever leaking; a spin to Makro to purchase ten kilos of printing paper; a brand-new HP ink cartridge that fails to ink every fifty pages or so; a taxi ride to the post office, the bank and the office; a TOT promotion that can’t be missed (at least trebling my internet speed for half a euro more a month) and involves a couple of motorcycle-taxi rides in the neighbourhood; an evening eye on the étape du jour as per the still primitive L’Équipe and FranceTV reports on the net; etc.
In a way, these are necessary breaks: if one can still read for pleasure round the clock, one can’t read pen in hand for hours at a stretch without having to reel back one’s attention to the page time and again from the oddest thoughts while thunder claps and then rain falls. The paradox is that I’m reading some of the most brilliant pages ever written in any language, am feverishly endeavouring to preserve their shine, and in doing so am bored to tears and feeling hopelessly inadequate.
And so it is that I can only tackle eighty to a hundred pages a day (there are nine hundred involved) and then, to relax my eyes, indulge, since I now have those hundred TV channels to play with, in a string of mostly daft movies until the darkest hour before dawn.

To top it all, this late morning I woke up with an ailing left ear, one of the plights of the rainy season. I’ll treat it with drops for a day or two, but might have to go to the doctor. But don’t you worry, Khun T, by Monday you should have a clean PDF and with your help maybe this masterwork will see the light of print.


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