NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: THE LIVING HARP
Good evening, good evening, good evening. Welcome into my humble abode. Pretend you’re stepping into a cramped living room as you are reading these words. But what’s this? The furniture is alive. Don’t worry. It’s just conscious, it can’t move.
Sorry about that. We have a nice and juicy translation for you with today’s piece, The Living Harp. As always, you should have read the original before reading the notes (found at the bottom) although hopefully you don’t need to have read the original to understand the translation, or I’ve failed horribly.
NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: DEN LEVANDE HARPAN
av Uel Aramchek
översättning: Johannes Punkt
Den röda stadens filharmoniska orkester upplöstes för flera sekel sedan. Deras instrument blev otåligt ostämda med åren och suktar nu efter mänsklig beröring. Ljusen står fortfarande på i det gamla operahuset där de väntar på sina musiker, men dött brus mättar luften till den grad att det är nästan beckmörkt. Städrobotar har lärt sig att inte gå in och damm höljer de flesta av ytorna därinne.
Det som en gång var konsertharpan bor nu i ett av balkongbåsen högt ovanför scenen. Dess ram har vridit sig i hunger till en dubbelhelix och strängarna har lösgjort sig själva från klangbottnen. De dinglar nu som någon slags hemsk peruk. En ensam broms inkräktar på harpans territorie och en av strängarna hugger till och virar sig runt dess vingar.
Den klämmer bort insektens surrande och kommer ihåg, för ett ögonblick, smaken av musik. Sedan kommer tystnaden tillbaka.
In the past, when I’m writing this, I’ve been reading translation theory for my university courses. Since there’s nothing really tricky going on in this translation – Uel mentioned on twitter that he missed the opportunity for a “buzzfeed” pun in this one, and that omission has made this translation considerably easier, I must say – I thought I’d muddy the waters by classifying different kinds of translation here in accordance with Vinay & Dalbernet’s model of different translation methods. This is partly to help me understand what they’re saying also.
So, real quick, Vinay & Dalbernet list seven kinds of translation, three of which are direct/literal and thus not interesting. The way to remember those three though – loan word (or phrase), calque, and literal translation – is to remember that “loan word” is a calque, while “calque” is a loan word. (A calque is a phrase that may sound awkward at first in translation, but eventually it blends into its surrounding, assimilates. Like, the word order may be foreign but the words are not. A loan word is when you don’t bother translating a word. They use emprunt, “borrowing,” but that joke up there only works with the phrase loan word, so I modulated it.) And a literal translation is just that. There are more literal translations in a text the closer the two languages are to each other, of course.
So, the oblique ones, the fun ones are, in ascending order of complexity: transposition, modulation, equivalence, and adaptation. I will attempt to explain them with examples.
Near the end we’ve got “smaken av musik,” “the taste of music,” a transposition of “what music tasted like.” That is, the word class has changed without really changing the meaning. (I used a noun for taste instead of the verb because, after first having written “hur musik smakar,” which is “what music tasted like” but in the present tense, I didn’t want to figure out how infidelic I was by changing the tense.)
The phrase “grown … starved of human touch” has become “suktar nu efter mänsklig beröring,” which is a lot of modulation at once. Starved becomes suktar, longing. The thing modulated is the interpretation of the event, ever so slightly. It’s the same thing that is happening, undeniably, but the metaphor has changed.
A direct translation there would use the word svälta, but that that metaphor is not really available in the Swedish metaphor palette, so the starvation becomes instead a sort of desperate longing. This is why that translation is also an example of equivalence: different meanings in different languages that have the same meaning one abstraction up. Idioms are the standard example.
(The time implied passed in having “grown starved” was transposed onto the adverb nu, now, by the way.)
The most interesting morcels of translation are the adaptation ones, of course. There are no such examples in this one, but if you read the commentary about straw and effigies on Marionettfilament, you will get a good example. An adaptation is a looser translation, where the thing mentioned does not exist in the target language. A gap has to be filled. For this, usually one uses loan words, but if you’re translating that’s kind of cheating and bullshit, so transforming the original, adapting it to the target culture, is the way forward. Anything more abstractivized than this, says Vinay & Dalbernet, is not translation but something else. Actually, the most interesting morcels are the ones concerning so-called heroic translation but at writing time (the present. It somehow turned into the present when you weren’t looking) I have not finished my write-up of that so maybe you will get that next week. Maybe not. Tune in to find out.