Since a reader questioned whether Chat GPT had perhaps filched my own translation of the Jergović text I tried out in my previous test, I am trying it with a text that hasn’t been translated into English yet to my knowledge (if anyone knows otherwise, please send word!). This time I just prompted it to “translate this text into English” and entered the following, from Miljenko Jergović’s story “Učiteljica,” from his 2022 collection Trojica za kartal:
– A u koji si ti školu, sine, išao? – pitala je, da nekako razbije šutnju.
– Nisam ja ničiji sin, moja je mati preselila – mrko je odgovorio.
Ona se na to povukla, samo je umukla, uvukla još malo glavu među ramena, i nastavila hodati. Asfalt je bio vlažan od jutrošnjeg pljuska, ali je sjalo sunce i sve naokolo je mirisalo, kao što ljeti u ovom gradu zamiriše nakon kiše.
Vidiš, eto ti i rime, pomislila je, rastjerujući nelagodu: zamiriše nakon kiše. Ispred je išao crni, visoki. Njega je znala. Prije rata je stajao tamo ispred samoposluge kod Svetoga Ante, pušio i pio pivo iz flaše. Ponekad bi ljudima utovarivao ćumur u podrume. Danguba, ali dobroćudna. Znao je pozdraviti.
And it gave me this:
What school did you go to, son?” she asked, to break the silence.
“I’m not anyone’s son, my mother moved away,” he replied sullenly.
She retreated at his response, fell silent, tucked her head a little further between her shoulders, and continued walking. The asphalt was wet from this morning’s downpour, but the sun was shining and everything smelled like it does in this city after rain in the summer. “See, there’s your rhyme,” she thought, dispelling her discomfort: “smelled like after the rain.”
Ahead of them walked a tall, black man. She knew him. Before the war, he used to stand in front of the grocery store near Saint Anthony, smoking and drinking beer from a bottle. Sometimes he would load coal into cellars for people. A scoundrel, but good-natured. He knew how to say hello.
There is really just one big problem here — the rhyme. What rhyme? Well, there’s a rhyme in the source text, and the character repeats it to herself with the “smelled like after the rain,” except that doesn’t rhyme in English. This would be something to look into if one had questions (one hopes one would).
“Retreated” would probably be better as “pulled back,” but “tucked her head a little further between her shoulders” is quite good. “Dispelling her discomfort” is probably too dictionary-like, but it’s easy to fix with something like “easing.” “This morning” would probably be better as “that” or “the” morning’s downpour, Saint Anthony is probably better as Saint Anthony’s, and a slight turn of phrase here and there could spiff up the rest of the prose. These are minor things, it seems to me.
Okay, I lied. Second big problem. The translation has rendered the man she sees as “Black.” Where is this taking place? Is it in some area of the former Yugoslavia? There are very few Black men there, and the word could be being used for “dark-skinned” to designate a southerner, a Jew, a Roma…. Is this guy really a Black man, or does the viewer see a dark man?
Here we have probably run up against something that Chat GPT might not have enough inputs for yet: the on-the-ground ethnic and cultural connotations of an adjective that is used differently in different cultural contexts, in the U.S., for instance, versus in Brazil, or Bosnia.
Still, I like this translation. It’s got issues, but the issues are no bigger than those my students routinely face. If someone turned it in as an assignment, or submitted it as a possible publication, I could work with it. If it functioned as my own first draft, knowing what I know, I could most certainly work with it. It took about twenty seconds to create this draft.
“Knowing what I know” is a key caveat. It’s the place to focus, it seems to me. But I’ll do some more tests first.