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04 April 2008


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And how does the size of the gap evolve as more modern translators take on the classics?

I read a Chekhov short story recently (for a class; I'd like to say I read the Russians casually on a Saturday afternoon but you know...) and it seemed to me that a single word near the end of my very recent translation was the key to the whole story. When I brought this up with the MA group, people didn't seem to know what I was talking about. There were at least six or seven different translations at the table, and every one of them had a different version of this 'key' word.


I'm intrigued. What was the word?


'Tapping'. Hmmm, doesn't have quite the same power on its own.


On the Tanzaki front, can I recommend The Makioka Sisters? It's wonderful.



Jonathan, this point about 'Tapping' is very interesting. Could you tell us a little more?

As an aside, I'm reading Sjón's The Blue Fox (which is so evocative it caused snow to fall on Sunday). I was rather delighted to read the way the title is translated in different countries:

Skugga-Baldur - Iceland
English: The Blue Fox - Telegram Books 2008
Danish: Skygge-Baldur - Athene 2005
Finnish: Skugga-Baldur - Like 2005
Norwegian: Skugga-Baldur - Tiden 2005
Swedish: Skugga-Baldur - Alfabeta 2005
Faroese: Skugga-Baldur - Nýlendi 2006
Italian: La volpe azzurra. Una leggenda islandese. - Mondadori 2006
Dutch: Blauwvos - Uitgeverij De Geus 2006
French: Le Moindre Des Mondes - Payot & Rivage 2007
German: Schattenfuchs - S. Fischer 2007
Serbian: Pticje mleko - Geopoetika 2005


Actually I got it wrong: the word wasn't 'tapping' it was 'hammered'. It's in the last line of the story Gooseberries. Earlier, one of the characters says "There ought to be someone with a little hammer outside the door of every contented, happy person, constantly tapping to remind him that there are unhappy people in the world... But there is no person with a little hammer."

And the last line (Rosamund Bartlett's 2004 translation): "The rain hammered against the windows all night."

Beautiful symmetry, and far superior to "The rain beat..." or even "The rain tapped..." Which translator got closest to literal original, I don't know, but I know which of these is transcendent, at least to my eye.

John Simmons

That list of translations of Sjon's title posted by Tim reads like the track listings for a Sigur Ros CD. Icelandic or Hopelandish? I don't know if anyone's ever managed to translate Sigur Ros lyrics.


Ah yes, Sigur Ros. I love the way they talk about their lyrics and language, especially Hopelandic. Here's a taste:

"on von, ágætis byrjun and takk, jónsi sang most songs in icelandic but a few of the songs were sung in 'hopelandic'. all of the vocals ( ) are however in hopelandic. hopelandic (vonlenska in icelandic) is the 'invented language' in which jónsi sings before lyrics are written to the vocals. it's of course not an actual language by definition (no vocabulary, grammar, etc.), it's rather a form of gibberish vocals that fits to the music and acts as another instrument. jónsi likens it with what singers sometimes do when they've decided on the melody but haven't written the lyrics yet. many languages were considered to be used on ( ), including english, but they decided on hopelandic. hopelandic (vonlenska) got its name from first song which jónsi sang it on, hope (von). tracks 7-9 on takk are in hopelandic."

Andrew Arnold

There's so many levels to follow when translating - which makes it such a facinating process and ends up teaching you a huge amount about your own language. Try it it's fun!

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