Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Translator’s Diary

Erik Andersson’s published diary, called Översättarens anmärkningar, from his work doing a new translation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to Swedish in 2002-2005 reveals his concerns and thoughts about a variety of topics regarding Tolkien’s classic text. It is very interesting to read about Mr. Andersson’s experiences translating this book. Some entries, all he writes is how many words he translated that day, or he discusses the physical pain that can come from sitting by your computer all day, but most of the time, he explores the challenges involved in crafting a fresh translation of a well-known text.

Some of his most interesting passages are in reference to names. Tolkien clearly spent a lot of time choosing the names, and other features of the text, and he even wrote a list of instructions for his translators. Also, Mr. Andersson had the additional complication that there was an already existing translation of the book, including the names, and Tolkien fans had strong opinions about what should be retained in the new translation and why. Mr. Andersson explains the problem of translating names as follows:

Tolkien has had certain ideas for the names, but he wouldn’t choose a name that didn’t have euphony. From the euphonic, one can always rationalise to the meaning, but the question is whether the process can go in reverse. Can I go from the meaning and rationalise to the euphony? (Here are all translation problems in a nutshell.) (20-1, my translation)

I think Mr. Andersson’s book offers a lot of insight into the translation process and thus would be of interest to translators themselves, Tolkien enthusiasts, and others who would like to learn about what it means to translate literature. As of now, it’s only in Swedish, but perhaps it will be translated, and maybe the translator of Mr. Andersson’s work will write an accompanying book about the challenges of translating Översättarens anmärkningar.

1 comment:

marta said...

"Can I go from the meaning and rationalise to the euphony?" I guess synesthesia would be helpful. If not a prerequisite.