Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mr et Mrst Dursley, qui habitaient au 4, Privet Drive...

I was sitting around at school today waiting for a teacher, and having nothing else to do I picked a book off a shelf. It was A Book of Surrealist Games. It was full of word games (things like Exquisite Corpse and Telephone, and variations on these plus a lot of others), drawing games, and various brain games. A lot of the word games were really interesting, and I kind of want to borrow the book and do a lot of them, but there was one in particular that I liked. Here's how it goes:

One person writes a short story (a paragraph or two), or finds one. They send it on to someone else, and this person translates it into another language. That person then sends their translation on to someone else, who translates it into another language and sends it on again. You keep sending it on and translating it into different languages, until eventually someone translates it back into English (or whatever the original language was), and you see how much it's changed.

I've done this sort of thing just using Google Translator and a random paragraph, but I think it would be more interesting if you're really translating it properly. The whole thing is especially interesting to me as I have vague career plans of becoming a translator, and translation in general is rather interesting. Word play doesn't translate, but maybe in translation new word play will appear. Cultural things don't translate well--like the Russian word for the main meal of the day, which would probably be translated as lunch but which is more important than lunch, or Finnish "sisu," or German "fremdsprachenfeinheitseifersucht" which as I understand it means basically "envy of a language that has a word as cool and completely nebulous as this word" (that last one totally convinced me I should learn German).

I've read three things in translation this year. The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson (of Moomin fame), translated from Finnish, and two Greek plays--Lysistrata and The Bacchae. I suppose technically I've also read part of another book in translation--Harry Potter, only in French. That was by far the most interesting experience with this. I know Philosopher's Stone pretty much back to front nearly by heart, to the point where I anticipate words really accurately, so despite the fact that my vocabulary in French is iffy I hardly ever had to stop and look things up. There were some interesting translations though. Snape is called Rogue, which struck me as rather too obvious, Draco Malfoy has become Drago Malefoy, Filch is Rusard and his cat Mrs. Norris is Miss Teigne (why did she stop being married, I wonder)--it's interesting how titles aren't always translated. Nearly-Headless-Nick is Nick-Quasi-Sans-Tete, which I like. The four Hogwarts (Poudlard) houses are Choixpeau (Ravenclaw), Gryffondor, Poufsouffle (Hufflepuff), and Serpentard.

I would love it if someone would tell me why French lemon drops are lemon Eskimos.

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