Monday, August 10, 2009

Anyone speak spanish?

While reading All the Pretty Horses, Blood Meridian, and now No Country for Old Men, I noticed that McCarthy includes dialogue written in Spanish. When I first saw this in All the Pretty Horses it kind of threw me off. I would understand some words but usually I didn't know what the character was saying. Eventually I got used to it and just skimmed past it. Did anyone else wonder what the dialogue translated to? I was surprised McCarthy included so much of it because he had to have known that a lot of the people reading the books wouldn't know Spanish. Do you think he did this for a specific reason or did he just want to make the books more realistic?


  1. Justin,

    I didn't really have too much trouble with it. I don't speak Spanish, but Italian's close enough that I have a pretty good idea of what's going on. Usually the conversation is pretty much what you would imagine it would be with the context of what's going on in english. If you get too distracted by it look up the key words at

    I think that it's in there for realism. They're in Mexico. Somebody's going to be speaking some Spanish even though we've been dealing primarily with Americans in this country. I think it also does a good job, though, of pointing out that the English speakers are the outsiders.

  2. Justin,
    Here are some sites to help you translate these passages. I speak some Spanish as well, so I'd be happy to help you if you can't figure them out.

    I'm sure that the Spanish is in there to make the novel seem more authentic and help set the scene for the reader. For me, it helps transport me across the border into Mexico and feel as if I'm on the journey with the characters. I also agree with Rebecca that it makes the English-speaking Americans appear to be the "outsiders" even though they are the focus of the novels.

  3. Wow! I am glad that someone has finally brought this up. I had a conversation with a friend about this very subject. I have a BA in Spanish and he is Puertorican, so obviously we both understand all of the Spanish. I asked him if he thought it would matter if they just gave some indication that it was Spanish being spoken, but put it in English. What I mean by this is that I read a book for an Asian American Lit class that was a graphic novel about Chinese and Chinese American teens. In some of the dialogue they used brackets to indicate that Mandarin was being spoken, but the text was in English. My question to him was: "Which is better?"
    I kept wondering myself as to whether the non-Spanish fluent person loses a lot by not understanding everything. Do you miss out on enough that you are adversely affected? No. Would you gain more understanding or perspective if you could read it? I don't know, but honestly I don't think so. I think that what I found is that at most points things were clarified enough in English to avoid the reader having any confusion. There are still some instances that the non-Spanish reader will miss out on some action or interaction that takes place. I guess if you can answer yes to the question: Did you understand the novel and enjoy it? Then the Spanish doesn't matter.
    A side note: When I was looking into this issue as a possible paper topic, I googled spanish all the pretty horses, and you get several websites dedicated to providing you with the translations of the spanish passages. Good luck!