Volume Five, December 2004

home » articles » Anca Muresan


Stau câteodata si-mi aduc aminte ce vremi si ce oameni mai erau în partile noastre pe când începusem si eu, dragalita-Doamne, a ma ridica baietas la casa parintilor mei, în satul Humulestii, din târg drept peste apa Neamtului; sat mare si vesel, împartit în trei parti, care se tin tot de una: Vatra satului, Delenii si Bejenii. S-apoi Humulestii, si pe vremea aceea, nu erau numai asa, un sat de oameni fara capataiu, ci sat vechiu razasesc, întemeiat în toata puterea cuvântului: cu gospodari tot unul si unul, cu flacai voinici si fete mândre, care stiau a învârti si hora, dar si suveica, de vuia satul de vatale în toate partile; cu biserica frumoasa si niste preoti si dascali si poporeni ca aceia, de faceau mare cinste satului lor. Si parintele Ioan de sub deal, Doamne, ce om vrednic si cu bunatate mai era! Prin îndemnul sau, ce mai de pomi s-au pus în tinterim, care era îngradit cu zaplaz de bârne, stresinit cu sindrila, si ce chilie durata s-a facut la poarta bisericei pentru scoala; s-apoi, sa fi vazut pe neobositul parinte cum umbla prin sat din casa în casa, împreuna cu badita Vasile a Ilioaiei, dascalul bisericei, un holteiu zdravan, frumos si voinic, si sfatuia pe oameni sa-si deie copii la învatatura. Si unde nu s-au adunat o multime de baieti si fete la scoala; între care eram si eu, un baiet prizarit, rusinos si fricos si de umbra mea. Si cea dintâi scolarita a fost însasi Smarandita popei, o sgâtie de copila agera la minte si asa de silitoare, de întrecea mai pe toti baietii si din carte, dar si din nebunii. Însa parintele mai în toata ziua da pe la scoala si vedea ce se petrece. (…) Si ne pomenim într-una din zile ca parintele vine la scoala si ne aduce un scaun nou si lung, si, dupa ce-a întrebat de dascal, care cum ne purtam, a stat putin pe gânduri, apoi a pus nume scaunului “Calul Balan” si l-a lasat în scoala.1

I sometimes stop and try to recollect the times and the people there used to be in my part of the world when I had just begun – dear God – to grow up, in my parents’ house, in the village of Humulesti, that faced the town, straight across the waters of the Neamt River. It was a large and merry village, divided in three closely connected parts: the village itself, Deleni and Bejeni. Moreover, in those days, Humulesti was not just a village of idly people, but an ancient village of freeholders, with a long assured reputation, with hard-working farmers, with robust young men and beautiful girls who knew how to dance but also how to swing the shuttle so that the village would buzz with the sound of the looms on every side. It had a fine church and worthy clergy, teacher and villagers that were a credit to their village. As for father Ioan, who lived at the foot of the hill, Lord, what an active and kind-hearted person he was! On his urge, many trees were planted in the graveyard – which was surrounded by a fence of beams, with caves of shingles – and the well-built room was made at the gate of the church, to serve as a village school. You should have seen the untiring priest walking through the village from house to house, together with Mister Vasile, the son of Ilioaia, the teacher, a sturdy, handsome and robust bachelor. They would persuade people to send their children to school. And you should have seen the number of boys and girls who gathered into the school, I myself among them, a stunted, shy little boy, afraid of my own shadow! The brightest schoolchild was the priest’s own daughter, little Smaranda, a mischievous, quick-minded girl, so diligent that she would put all the boys to shame in both learning and pranks. However, the priest used to come to school almost every day and he saw what was going on. (…) One day it so happened that he came to school and brought us a new, long bench. After he had inquired the teacher how we were behaving, he reflected for a little while, and then he named the bench Dapple-Grey and left it in the school.

The text above is an excerpt from the first chapter of Ion Creanga’s autobiographical novel Memories of Childhood. The popular character of Ion Creanga’s language manifests itself in the use of specific vocabulary. One should take into account the lexical elements which create a rustic environment, because they constitute a particularity of the peasant’s speech. Their presence in the work of Ion Creanga is imposed by the context. We are dealing therefore with a rather difficult text which raises some problems from the point of view of the vocabulary. Creanga’s local and popular language poses diverse and serious difficulties to a translator. Among the lexical problems, special mention should be made of Creanga’s use of numerous terms related to rural life and system, to church service, superstition and so on.
First, it should be mentioned that the fragment is a narrative text rather than a descriptive one, hence, the extensive use of concrete words. On the other hand, the short dialogue and the monologue do not have a formal character, on the contrary, they have a rather colloquial, informal nature which I have tried to convey into English through the use of contracted grammatical forms like: “Let’s play…,” “he hasn’t yet …,” “Well! Well! that’s that.”
Further on, I will try to explain some of the translation choices in as far as vocabulary is concerned. They may not always prove to be the best choices but they seemed the most appropriate. I have also tried to find the best English equivalents, occasionally, making use of an archaism or dialectal word. As it can be noticed, most of the words in Memories of Childhood are of popular origin being archaic words: “fara capataiu,” “suveica,” “poporeni,” “tinterim,” etc.
I will now pass on to the vocabulary of the fragment as far as archaic and regional words are concerned. The first word we should take into account is the word “capataiu.” This word, undetermined, is just a simple notion with a rich linguistic potential. In the original text, the noun determination is mediated, among other things, by a preposition. In our case, the preposition is “fara.” This preposition grants the word a negative connotation. The English term for “fara capataiu” would normally have been “vagrant,” “nomadic,” “homeless.” But I have used instead “idly persons” with the meaning of “lazy.” The reason for this choice is the fact that it better stresses the idea the author wants to convey: his birth place is not just a village of idly persons but an ancient village of freeholders.
Another word I would like to say a few words about is “badita.” In Romanian, this word designates a person that is felt as being closely related to the story-teller, somebody familiar. Thus, the English equivalent may be the term “old man,” “brother.” Neither of these two terms seems appropriate because, in the process of translation, the Romanian word loses its original meaning. On the one hand, “old man” is too vague: it can refer to a person that is advanced in years or it can be used derogatorily, “gaffer.” On the other hand, the word “brother” is even farther away from that of the original because we know that Vasile is not a relative of the family. Therefore that is the reason why we have used the term “Mister.” Knowing that Vasile was Nica’s teacher this word seems to be the most appropriate, taking into account the fact that as a pupil, one cannot refer to his or her master unless he uses a proper, polite term.
Going a little further on, we come across a regional term, “zgîtie” in “o zgîtie de copila.” According to D. Macrea in his book entitled Dictionarul limbii române moderne, the meaning of this word is “fata sau femeie tânara, vioaie,” “strengarita,” “dracoaica.” Trying to find the perfect English equivalent for each noun, we have two options: “mischievous” and “shrew.” According to Andrei Bantas in Dictionar Englez – Român, “mischievous” means “poznas” and in the same dictionary, the word “dracoaica” is translated by “shrew.” However, it is not in that sense that the noun is employed in the text. The word “shrew” has negative connotations while “mischievous” can be attributed to a person full of life, a person who likes to play tricks on others. That is why I have preferred this word over the term “shrew.”
After having explained some of the choices as far as the archaic words are concerned, the focus will be shifted to lexical choices. In the first sentence “I sometimes stop and try to recollect the times and the people there used to be in my part of the world,” the words “times” and “people” are polyfunctional and polysemantic. That is why we need a noun determiner that can decide their lexical meanings. This determiner is the definite article “the.” The reason for the choice of this article instead of the relative pronoun “what” is the fact that, according to Leon Levitchi in Îndrumar pentru traducatorii de limba engleza în limba româna, “the” has an anaphoric function, emphasising the fact that the nouns which it denotes are known to the speaker. It also stresses the nouns it accompanies: exactly those times and people.
The first main clauses lack the subjects in the Romanian version, these being included in the verb inflection. In the English version, “I sometimes stop and try to remember…,” the presence of the subject, especially the pronominal one is compulsory. This does not hold true in the Romanian sentence, where its repetition would lead to unwelcome emphasis. In order to avoid the unnecessary repetition of the subject mentioned in the previous sentence, the English language allows us to use the term “there.” It is the so-called existential subject, distinct from the true subject following the verb. In the same sentence, we come across the verb “erau.” My choice of translation is “used to be…” The verb “were” expresses an action wholly completed at some moment or during some period in the past. But, according to Constantin Paidos in his work Gramatica limbii engleze, in order to express a past habit or a habitual action in the past, one must employ the verb “used to.” That is why this verb is much more appropriate to the text due to the fact that this is literature of memoirs, the author recollecting his childhood days. The pronoun “noastre” should be also taken into account. The English equivalent is too vague; “our” does not give specific information. The context requires a much more specific pronoun; that is why we have used instead the possessive adjective “my.” In this way, the reader will know that the narrator is referring to his birthplace.

“… pe cînd începusem sî eu, dragalita – Doamne, a ma ridica baietas la casa parintilor mei…”
“… when I had just began – dear Good – to grow up in my parent’s house.”

Since the activities are seen in a past perspective, the moment of reference is a past activity in connection to which “I had just begun” expresses a priori action. In this sentence, mention should be made of the use of the long infinitive “to grow up.” The verb “to begin” usually requires a gerund – “growing.” According to Andrei Bantas, when the verb “to begin” expresses an involuntary action, it is usually followed by the long infinitive: “I had began to grow up.”

“… sat mare si vesel împartit în trei parti”
“…it was a large and merry village”

Again, as we can notice, the original version lacks the subject. In the English version, the pronoun “it,” is the grammatical subject. English requires that a sentence have a subject even when there is no subject to talk about. In our case “it” is used in an introductory-anticipatory construction. Such constructions are called “introductory” because they begin the sentence, and “anticipatory” because they anticipate the real logical subject, “village.”

“S-apoi Humulesti, si pe vremea aceea …”
“Moreover, Humulesti, in those days…”

In order to ensure the fluency of his story, Ion Creanga uses such introductory words as “and,” “but,” “then.” The English equivalent of this adverb of time would be “and then,” but talking into account that an extra reinforcing piece of information is added, the adverb “moreover” seems the best English counterpart.

“…ci un sat vechiu, razasesc întemeiat în toata puterea cuvîntului…”
“…but an ancient village of freeholders with a long assured reputation…”

Another lexical item I would like to draw attention upon is the adjective “ancient” which I have chosen instead of “old.” This has been done with the conviction that the English term “old” would not have suited the informal nature of the text. Ion Creanga is a master of the wonderful vocabulary of the spoken language and since his work is addressed to the whole nation, it seems natural that we should use such words that give a colloquial touch to the story.
Mention should be made of the use of the adjectives “long assured.” In order to express the choice of words, we should take into account the word “razasesc” – “freeholders.” This term has historical connotations that bring into relief an old tradition of the villagers in Humulesti. These freeholders had fought under Stephen the Great, against the Ottoman Empire. As a reward for their bravery, the ruler offered them land. This land was then passed down from generation to generation. We have used these adjectives to emphasise the noble ancestry of the villagers. Another argument to support my choice is that the sentence contains several other adjectives that describe his town. Thus, in order to insure the fluency of the text we have resorted to adjectives connected by the preposition “with.”

“…cu gospodari tot unul si unul”
“…with hard-working farmers.”

In this particular case mention should be made of the pronominal phrase “unul si unul.” In order to better understand its meaning, we have to start by explaining the word “gospodari.” By its definition, the term “gospodari” – “farmers” means someone who runs a prosperous farm. Thus, the author uses it to convey favourable qualities. To emphasise the meaning of this word, Ion Creanga adds a determiner, formed by the infinite pronouns “unul si unul.” Starting from this expression, we had to make some analogies so as to find the most appropriate translation. We have substituted the meaning of the pronominal phrase by an adjective in the superlative “foarte harnici” – “very hard working.” However, we have taken the decision not to use the superlative since one of the meanings of the adverb “hard” is “to the full extent / fully,” thus being by itself an intensifier.

“… de vuia satul de vatale”
“…so that the village could buzz with the sound of the loams”

In this sentence, “would” is not used as an auxiliary, but as a modal, expressing a habit in the past. A few words need to be said about the verb “to buzz.” This is a verb that I have preferred over “to hum,” “to dim.” The reason consists in the connotation of the term “buzz.” Having an onomatopoeic nature, it suggests a symbolic sonority, something that is to a certain extent, annoying to one’s ears.

“…cu biserica frumoasa si niste preoti si dascali spoporeni ca aceia de faceau mare cinste satului lor.”
“… It had a fine church and such clergy, teachers and villagers that were a credit to their village.”

This last segment is part of a long and rather elaborate sentence. In order to make it as comprehensible as possible without interfering too much with the original construction, I have taken the liberty of splitting the sentence into two units. In order to avoid repetition, I have used the personal pronoun “it” to replace the subject of the original sentence, “village.” In this unit, the preposition “cu” holds a special place. It is not used as a preposition proper but rather as a substitute of the verb “to have,” which, in this case, denotes possession: “it had a fine church.” Regarding this sentence from a lexical point of view, mention should be made of the word “clergy” which has been chosen instead of the term, “priests.” This word designates the clerical members of a church and being an archaic word, it suits the colloquial character of the text.

“Si parintele Ioan …”
“As for father Ioan …”

The paragraph is introduced by the narrative “si” which contributes to the binding of the context. It is not employed as a copulative conjunction “and” or as a linking element. The conjunction is used to add new information. That is why, it seems natural to use the complex preposition “as for” due to the fact that it introduces a topic related to what has already been discussed.

“… ce om vrednic si cu bunatate mai era …”
“… what an active and kind-hearted person he was …”

As it can be noticed, the English version does not follow the same word order as in the original text. But the arrangement of the words within this sentence is deliberate. The sentence begins with an inversion to bring into prominence the words “active” and “kind-hearted.” I have placed the subject of the sentence at the end, not only to suspend the two adjectives in a still more marked isolation, but also to give the subject itself an emphasis, by placing it where one should least expect it.

“Prin îndemnul sau, ce mai de pomi s-au pus în tinterim…”
“On his urge, many trees were planted in the graveyard…”

In the Romanian version, we have another instance of Ion Creanga’s use of the popular vocabulary. He perfectly renders in writing the popular language of the peasants. The colloquial expression “ce […] de” substitutes the use of the adjective “multi,” thus allowing for the employment of the English counterpart, the adjective “many.”
Going a little farther on, it can be noticed that the text demands that we should use a passive construction: “were planted” since the author is interested not in the doers of the action but in the result.

“Si-apoi sa fi vazut pe neobositul parinte …”
“You should have seen the untiring priest …”

Another grammatical aspect that is worth paying attention to in this sentence is the problem of the Subjunctive. The grammatical connotation of the Romanian subjunctive expressing advisability on the part of the speaker, requires the use in English of the modal verb “should,” with the same shade of meaning. I have chosen the English Past Subjunctive “you should have seen” because, as it has been already mentioned, the time of the reference is past and this type of subjunctive can be connected only to the Past Tense of the verb it depends on.

“Si unde nu s-au adunat o multime de baieti si fete la scoala, între care eram si eu …”
“And you should have seen the number of boys and girls who gathered into the school, I myself among them …”

We are facing once more a rather difficult challenge when it comes to translating this sentence. The adverb “unde” is not employed as an adverb of place proper. Ion Creanga’s intention is not to emphasise an exact location but, in his well-known colloquial style, to underline the surprising result of the priest’s advice. The author invites us to witness this process and, in order to render this exact idea, I have taken the liberty of using once more the modal verb “should” expressing advisability “You should have seen.” Further on we come across the personal pronoun “I.” In order to emphasise this pronoun, to stress the personal involvement, I have added the emphatic pronoun “myself.”

“Si cea dintîi scolarita a fost insasi Smarandita popei …”
“The brightest schoolchild was the priest´s own daughter, little Smaranda…”

Little Smaranda is one of the characters Ion Creanga remembers with great pleasure. She is characterised in broad lines, but the thing that first comes to his mind when he mentions her is that she was “the brightest schoolchild” – “cea dintâi.” This adjective requires special attention. On the one hand, it is placed at the beginning of the sentence, not obeying the rules of word order and thus it gains an unusual emphasis. On the other hand, the Romanian adjective “cea dintâi” does not provide us with too much information. Fortunately, the text offers us the way out. Further on, Ion Creanga calls her “quick-minded” and diligent. From here, we can draw the conclusion that “cea dintâi” refers to the fact that she was the first in her class. Knowing that, we have chosen the English adjective “bright” and put it in the superlative “the brightest.” That Ion Creanga was very close to little Smaranda can be seen in the use of the diminutive “Smarandita.” Once more, the English language does not have such devices that one can use in order to render the same idea. The most appropriate term was the adjective “little.”
Further on, the grammatical aspect of the text will be dealt with. In order to better understand the text not only from the point of view of vocabulary but also of grammar, we have to know at least the minimum about Ion Creanga’s way of writing. As we have already said, Ion Creanga was a master of the spoken language. He knew the authentic language of the nation, and he used at maximum this wealth, passing without mistake from the usual expressions, to the picturesque vocabulary of the villagers. In choosing a little boy as his narrator, the author allowed himself to write freely, to use a certain vocabulary, without being restricted by grammatical rules. He used at maximum the virtues of the colloquial speech. By this, we do not mean the role of grammar or pronunciation. It has something to do with his ease and freedom in the use of language. Most of all it has to do with the structure of the sentence which is direct, simple and fluent, maintaining the rhythm of the word-groups of speech and the intonation of the speaking language.
We have seen so far that the text does raise some difficulties in as far as the lexical aspect is concerned. This does not hold true for the grammatical part. Yet, Ion Creanga is known to be a writer with a peculiar way of using the verbal tenses in Romanian. From this point of view, his writings are rather difficult to translate. This difficulty is reinforced by the fact that in Romanian, the rules of the sequence of tenses need not be observed, as opposed to English where they are very strict.
The need to observe the rules of the sequence of tenses is obvious from the very first paragraphs of the fragments: “who knew how to dance but also how to swing the shuttle so that the village would buzz….” As we can see, we have a finite clause of purpose introduced by the compound subordinator “so that.” In the case of the finite clauses, a past tense in the main clause requires the use of the analytical subjunctive with “would” in the following subordinate clause.” The same reason holds true for a few other sentences in the text, where the same rule of the sequence of tenses applies. On the other hand, apart from the classical sequence of tenses, we are confronted here with a rather interesting grammatical choice. In order to bring the action closer to the reader, to emphasise its importance, Ion Creanga’s choice is Present Tense even if the point of reference is past. For example, in the Romanian sentences: “Si ne pomenim într-una din zile ca parintele vine la scoala si ne aduce un scaun nou …” the verbs are employed in the Present Tense. However, in English the rules of sequence of tenses prevent us from using Present Tense when the point of references is past. That is why, since all the activities in the main clause and in the subordinate one are simultaneous, it allows for the use of Past Tense. “One day it happened that he came to the school and brought us a new, long bench …”
The observations that have been made so far show this fragment to be a typical piece of writing belonging to Ion Creanga. As we have noticed, the fragment abounds in regional and archaic words and, form the point of view of the vocabulary, the text raises some problems for the translator since most of the words do not have an English counterpart or if they have, their original meaning is lost in the process of translation.

Creanga, Ion. Amintiri din copilarie. Povesti si povestiri. Bucuresti: Ed. Ion Creanga, 1984, 30-33.

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