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How might one translate the excerpt below (from Mark Twain's novel Pudd'nhead Wilson,...

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mmms1981 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted April 1, 2012 at 11:04 AM via web

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How might one translate the excerpt below (from Mark Twain's novel Pudd'nhead Wilson, into plain English?

 

I have to translate this text (see below) into Spanish and I need some help. I have already prepared a Spanish version --which I will send you later, if necessary--, but first of all I would like to know if my literal comprehension of the English text is accurate. Could you translate this excerpt into plain English for me? That would be great to begin with. Thank you very much.

"Whatever has come o' yo' Essex blood? Dat's what I can't understan'. En it ain't on'y jist Essex blood dat's in you, not by a long sight -- 'deed it ain't! My great-great-great-gran'father en yo' great-great-great-great-gran'father was Ole Cap'n John Smith, de highest blood dat Ole Virginny ever turned out, en his great-great-gran'mother, or somers along back dah, was Pocahontas de Injun queen, en her husbun' was a nigger king outen Africa -- en yit here you is, a slinkin' outen a duel en disgracin' our whole line like a ornery lowdown hound! Yes, it's de nigger in you!"

Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894) - Mark Twain

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 1, 2012 at 12:07 PM (Answer #1)

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The words quoted below, from Mark Twain’s novel Pudd’nhead Wilson, are spoken by Roxy, in slave dialect, to her son Tom. 

 "Whatever has come o' yo' Essex blood? Dat's what I can't understan'. En it ain't on'y jist Essex blood dat's in you, not by a long sight -- 'deed it ain't! My great-great-great-gran'father en yo' great-great-great-great-gran'father was Ole Cap'n John Smith, de highest blood dat Ole Virginny ever turned out, en his great-great-gran'mother, or somers along back dah, was Pocahontas de Injun queen, en her husbun' was a nigger king outen Africa -- en yit here you is, a slinkin' outen a duel en disgracin' our whole line like a ornery lowdown hound! Yes, it's de nigger in you!"

These might be translated into “plain English” as follows:

Whatever has become of your Essex blood?  (In other words, why don’t you act like someone descended from the respectable Essex family?)  I don’t understand your failure to behave in the ways that an Essex would behave. And it isn’t just the ancestry of the Essex family that you have inherited, not by any means. Indeed (I repeat), not by any means. My great-great-great grandfather, who was therefore your great-great-great-great grandfather, was Captain John Smith, one of the most prominent of all the Englishmen who helped to settle and colonize Virginia. And, in turn, John Smith’s great-great-grandmother, or in any case someone who lived three generations before Smith himself, was Pocahontas, the famous American Indian princess, and Pocahontas, in turn, was married to a black African king.  Nevertheless, despite all this exalted and honorable ancestry, here you are, trying to evade a duel and thereby disgracing our entire line of ancestors, as if you were an unruly, disreputable dog. Yes, you are behaving this way because you are partly black!  

Part of the comedy of this moment derives from Roxy’s misinformation about the ancestors whose histories she claims to know. Thus, Pocahontas was a contemporary of John Smith, not a distant ancestor of Smith. Likewise, Pocahontas was not married to an African king but was instead married to a white man named John Rolfe.

Twain’s decision to have Roxy speak in a thick “slave” dialect may result, in part, from his intention to satirize the ways in which slaves were defined. After all, Roxy is only one-sixteenth African-American and could easily pass physically as white, but she has been defined by her culture as a slave and speaks the only language she has ever had a chance to learn.

 

 

 

 

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