The Translation of Elvira to English

Why a Translation. Even though Elvira was fluently bilingual, her original narrative is written almost entirely in Spanish, the language that she originally told it in. Because of this, her life history would be largely inaccessible to many members of Elvira’s own extended family, a primary audience for this memoir. Although many of these family members are bilingual, they are not necessarily fluent readers of Spanish. This is true for the most part because all their schooling has been in English.

Moreover, this memoir will attract a more general English readership that includes persons interested in immigration history, Mexican-American life and culture, and the roles of women within that social milieu. It will also be very relevant in academia to scholars and students of Chicana/o studies, women’s studies, family studies, and bilingualism.

For these reasons, the entire Spanish text has been translated into English, and the two language versions are published as separate volumes.

Elvira’s Voice. It was the intention of the translator, Eduardo Hernández Chávez − for each language version − to represent as genuinely as possible Elvira’s own way of talking, i.e. her ‘voice’. In her original Spanish narrations, the familiar content and her conversational manner of story-telling both lent themselves directly to an informal, colloquial manner of speaking.

This translation from the Spanish is written in the closest approximation as possible to her own informal use of English in her home and in her community – that is to say, in her own English voice.

Elvira acquired English as a young school child in Kansas and Nebraska. As a result she was, for all intents and purposes, a native speaker of each of her languages. Her English usage consisted largely of a colloquial midwestern variety of the language. In addition, it was occasionally interspersed with constructions and expressions that are remnants of her early experience as a second-language learner.

Colloquial pronunciations and structures are, of course, not comparable across languages. Thus, the forms used to represent her casual speech in the translation involve pronunciations and sentence structures specific to the English that Elvira herself used. So, maintaining the authenticity of Elvira’s voice requires the faithful use of her own informal vernacular in all the contexts in which it is called for − which I call “linguistic realism” – and which include the use of words, originally in Spanish, adapted to English pronunciation and structure, as well as code switching, the rapid and unconscious shifting back and forth between the two languages.