Below is a quick translation that I wrote of The Dinosaur (El dinosaurio) by Augusto Monterroso. I did this as an exercise in one of my Fall 2018 classes Here and Now: Millennial Latin American Fiction and Graphic Novels. I made slight adaptations upon later rumination, but decided on this version mere hours after leaving the class.
El dinosaurio (Spanish, Original)
Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.
The Dinosaur (English, My translation)
When they awoke, the dinosaur persisted.
The Dinosaur (English, common translation)
When (he/she/it/they) woke up, the dinosaur was still there.
The Dinosaur is famous for being one of if not the shortest story, and similarly famous for being untranslatable. The sensation of the poem is incredibly difficult to grasp in English, and many people have analyzed this poem to no end, so I am not going to do that, but instead make a few select remarks about why I translated this story the way I did.
From what I could google, other people have translated “despertó” as “awoke”, however I was unable to find any other version in which the verb “persisted” is used. Choosing “awoke” was easy — the concision replicates the Spanish verb conjugation much better than “woke up”, even if “awoke” is no longer in the common vernacular.
The easiest part of the translation was to use the pronoun “they” in its singular form, especially because even if there is some confusion as to the number, I think that adds to the charm.
I knew from the beginning that translating “todavía estaba allí” as “was still there” did not feel right to me. The stakes had been lowered, and the English lacked the punch of the Spanish original. The first word I considered as a substitute was “remained” but again, the stakes felt incredibly low. Even so, I liked “remained” better; it was more concise, if not as elegant as the Spanish, so I stuck with it for a few moments.
All the same, I searched my psyche for a replacement, and had my eureka moment where I settled on “persisted” for a few reasons. The first is, again, concision. This is a translation of the shortest short story after all. The second reason is that persisting represents a consistent, continued movement toward a goal, a stubbornness, and those are the emotions that I felt when reading this story. There is a sharp and loaded continuation present with “persisted” and as such I decided that was the route I wanted to take.
I am not particularly familiar with scholarship regarding this work, but even a quick Google search showed me that it’s out there if you want to look for it.
Please do let me know if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, either by commenting on this page or via my contact form!