The Mysterious Task of Translating the Names of Mystery Subgenres: A Private Eye Investigation
Unpublished Research Paper
How would you translate into English the Spanish term “novela negra”? How about “novela policíaca”? If you don’t know much Spanish (or even if you do), you probably guessed that the first term must mean “black novel”, and the second one “police procedural (novel)”, if you are acquainted with this genre. Did you? Let’s try translating from English into Spanish: How would you translate “hard-boiled” novels? How about “soft-boiled”? I don’t know about you, but, to a native Spanish-speaker like me, it sounds like you are talking about eggs! Believe it or not, a “hard-boiled” novel is translated into Spanish as “novela negra”. However, not all “novelas negras” could be translated as “hard-boiled” novels! If you think these translation challenges are hard, this is just the beginning. The meaning of these and other Spanish terms that are used to classify the different mystery subgenres has been changing in the last few decades, and, to make matters worse, it depends on who uses them: regular readers, bookstore owners, librarians, authors, or scholars. Even authors and scholars disagree among themselves!
In addition to the names given to the different mystery and suspense fiction subgenres, there are many other terms related to this genre that pose a challenge to translate, but discussing them as well and still keeping this essay under 2000 words was too daunting a task for me to try. Therefore, this article will be mostly devoted to the translation of the main terms given to the main mystery and suspense subgenres from English into Spanish and vice versa. However, the lessons we will learn from this task will be profitable and entertaining (I hope!) for translators working in other languages as well.
World Languages and Cultures
Torner, Enrique, "The Mysterious Task of Translating the Names of Mystery Subgenres: A Private Eye Investigation" (2019). World Languages & Cultures Department Publications. 16.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.