Translating ‘Trainspotting’ into Spanish – by Lauren Bailey, Translation Project Manager, Global Connects

I recently graduated from the University of Edinburgh in Translation Studies MSc. For my dissertation I chose to compare different translations of Irvine Welsh’s ‘Trainspotting’ into Spanish, showing my Edinburgh roots here. ‘Trainspotting’ is a significant piece of literature which uses the vernacular to represent a specific socio-political identity originating in the Leith area of Edinburgh in the 1980s.

When researching this subject, I found many different translation strategies that translators can use to represent non-standard language. The translation model I chose for my comparison was created by Sarah Ramos-Pinto in her chapter of ‘How Important is the Way You say it?’ (2009). Here, she highlights the different stages and decisions a translator may face and highlights the effect that this will have on the target text.

Throughout this research, I was exposed to a different side of translation. I had many translation exercises throughout my course which were mainly official documents (newspaper articles etc.) where I did not have to think in detail about the tone of the text as it was fairly self-explanatory. When translating literature which uses non-standard language, the translator must take time to understand the source culture, the source language, and recognise the best way to transfer the author’s intention into the target language and culture. This also means translators must take into account obstacles such as censorship, religious and moral standards etc. For a piece like this, it would be difficult to directly translate the vernacular into Spanish due to the fact that the language and references are deeply rooted in Edinburgh.

The two translations I compared were written first by Federico Corriente published by Anagrama in 1996, and then Eduardo Barros-Grela who translated the first chapter as part of a research study published in 2003. Throughout his research, Barros-Grela conveys the loss that can occur when translating between two very different cultures and acknowledges the difficult task Corriente faced during his work. He shows the cultural and spatial losses when translating between Scots and Spanish due to the fact there is not often a direct equivalent. While both of these translators tried to use similar non-standard language, it was not possible to recreate the socio-political identity that Irvine Welsh portrayed. Simply using colloquial language in translation does not automatically recreate the same effect in the target text. Some examples include: ‘The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling. Ah wis just sitting thair, focusing oan the telly…’ In translation it is difficult to preserve the linguistic variation Welsh uses here which has a direct impact on the understanding of the environment in which the scene is taking place. In their translation, Corriente standardises this sentence completely and Barros-Grela conveys this idea with the misuse of grammar. For those readers who are familiar with the Spanish language, I have inserted the excerpts I analysed in my dissertation below:

Irvine Welsh – “The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling… He wis bringing me doon. Ah tried tae keep ma atten- tion oan the Jean-Claude Van Damme video. 

As happens in such movies, they started oaf wi an obligatory dramatic opening. Then the next phase ay the picture involved building up the tension through introducing the dastardly villain and sticking the weak plot thegither. Any minute now though, auld Jean-Claude’s ready tae git doon tae some serious swedgin. 

—Rents. Ah’ve goat tae see Mother Superior, Sick Boy gasped, shaking his heid.”

Corriente – “Sick Boy sudaba a chorros; temblaba… Me cortaba el rollo. Traté de mantener la atención sobre el vídeo de Jean-Claude Van Damme. 

Como sucede en este tipo de películas, empezaba con la típica escena dramática. La siguiente fase consistía en ir acumulando tensión mediante la presentación del villano y hacer que la débil trama mantuviese su cohesión. De todas formas, de un momento a otro el viejo Jean-Claude estaría listo para ponerse manos a la obra y repartir candela en serio. 

«Rents, tengo que ver a la Madre Superiora», boqueó Sick Boy, sacudiendo la cabeza.”


Barros-Grela – “Sick Boy estaba3 sudando a chorros. Temblaba…Ya me estaba empezando a rayar. Intenté mantener la atención en Jean Claude Van Damme. 

Como siempre pasa en esas películas, la primera escena es dramática. La siguiente fase acumula tensión gracias a la presentación del malo de la película, y se trata de hacer el débil argumento un poco coherente. A partir de ahí, en cualquier momento nuestro querido Jean Claude aparece listo para caer con todo su peso sobre unos cuantos malos. 

—Rents, tengo que ir a ver al Madre Superiora, ladró Sick Boy sacudiendo la cabeza. […] 

[Footnote: 3. “El loco”, o “el enfermo”]”

Something I spent a lot of time researching was the context of Trainspotting, researching the political upheaval of the 1980s in Scotland and the working-class environment in which Irvine Welsh based his novel. The idea that language can represent such a big time in Scotland’s history conveys the significance of language and how culture develops with it.

This is an issue that translators face daily due to an ever-expanding international community in Scotland, something which we are proud to represent here at Global Connects. We are happy to provide a service which connects not only cultures and languages, but people.