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Category: Translating

NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: HAST THOU SLAIN THE JABBERWOCK?

Greetings. Today’s post is scheduled to appear on a Tuesday, which shows just how much I rely on induction. This is the last of these posts! Today’s translation is Hast Thou Slain the Jabberwock?

The notes, along with a back-translation of the translated piece, can be found at the bottom. Also there you will find the text of the translated Jabberwocky which I base my translation upon. Wild. The other entries in the project can be found at the following link: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

~

NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: OCH HAR DU DÖDAT TJATTERSLÅN?
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Säkerligen har du läst om vidundret i Eva Håkanssons översättning av Lewis Carrolls verk, detta ilskebubblande monster som gömmer sig bakom en språkslöja. Inom loppet av några strofer söker en namnlös hjälte efter Tjatterslånet och sedan, påstås det, dödar han det. När han kommer hem igen vill den unge mannens far veta om han verkligen dräpt besten. Men någonting saknas ifrån frågan:

Och har du dödat Tjatterslån?

Efter jublet som följer upprepas första strofen i hela dess oroväckande form för att markera slutet på dikten. Legenden har skildrats och slaget vunnits men ändå verkar universum ha stannat kvar i exakt samma skick. Segerropen har än en gång överröstats av grösens mommande och skrangelmopps jämrighet. Det är uppenbart att någonting fattas.

Är det verkligen fadern som ställer den där frågan till sin pojk? I originaltexten svävar det citattecken runt faderns tal för att indikera att det är han som ställer frågan; i översättningen skrivs inget sådant stängsel för hans ord: det är samma röst som berättar som ställer frågan. I en dikt som i stort sett handlar om språk och kontext är det svårt att föreställa sig att denna detalj raderas omedvetet.

Med detta i åtanke, låt oss ställa frågan: vem är det som pratar? Lewis Carroll sade aldrig ordet tjatterslån men det är han som är författare till dikten. Ursprungligen var det han som ställde frågan ifall du har dödat Tjatterslån och Eva Håkanssons svar, på ett annat språk, lyder: Och har du dödat Tjatterslån?

Men hur är det du har dödat Tjatterslån egentligen? Håkansson har översatt nonsensordet ”vorpal” till det nästan förståbara ”hälfte.” Denna översättning tycks antyda att svärdet klyver monstret i tu. Men varför antyda det? Låt oss göra ett hastigt antagande: det speglar översättningsprocessen. För att ens kunna översätta Carrolls nonsensord och de ord som kamouflerar sig med nonsensdräkt måste hon ta isär dem för att se vad de består av. Som exempel kan vi undersöka det första av dessa ord: grilltock. Ordet ”brillig” ifrån originaltexten härleds enligt de flesta experter ifrån ”to broil,” att steka/halstra/grilla, och betyder således den tid då man börjar grilla maten inför kvällsmålet. Håkansson sydde ihop det översatta ordet med ett onomatopoetiskt klockslag och kom fram till grilltock. På samma sätt har hon klyvt och klistrat ihop besten.

Carrolls monster kan ha än mer djup att utforska. Som du kanske vet är det en av de mest översatta dikterna från det engelska språket, någonting som Håkansson måste ha varit medveten om då hon inte ens var den första att översätta dikten till svenska. Ändå kände hon att det var nödvändigt att än en gång ta isär och plåstra ihop Tjatterslånet.

Reptition är nyckeln till att förstå dikten. När den första strofen upprepas i slutet av dikten kommer vi tillbaks till början, och vi vet att monstret har kluvits i tu bara för att bli helt igen. Detta händer varje gång dikten läses. Ifall denna tolkning stämmer upplever läsaren något tidlöst: kanske är det en enda hjälte, dömd till att dräpa Tjatterslån för alltid; måhända är saken en generationsfråga: sonen tror sig ha dräpt Tjatterslånet och blir sedan gammal och upptäcker att det fortfarande är vid liv, så han skickar sin egen son för att avsluta det han påbörjade. Detta händer var gång dikten läses, oavsett om den läses av någon utanför texten eller Alice själv.

Det som repeteras är tolkningshandlingen. Oavsett om du bokstavligen fläker upp dikten och översätter den till ditt eget språk eller om du bara läser den tyst för dig själv tas innebörden sönder i ditt huvud för att komma ut pånyttfödd. Sådan är odjurets anatomi: Tjatterslånets hjärtklaffar är bläcket dess namn är skrivet med. När det läses högt är läsarens tonaccent odjurets puls. Fastän tungans hälfte svärd alltid klyver besten i tu återkommer alltid den sista strofen. Håkanssons översättning visar medelst avsaknaden av citattecken att det inte finns någon skillnad mellan den som dräper monstret och den som ställer frågan, inte heller mellan den som ställer frågan och den som läser upp. Inte heller, antyds det, mellan den som läser och den som dräper.

Nu måste jag ställa frågan till dig, kära läsare: har du dödat Tjatterslån? Oavsett ditt svar finns texten kvar i väntan på att du ska läsa den en gång till.

~

Notes

This feels like a fitting note to end this project with. I admit it’s an indulgence, but I couldn’t help it. Also this is my blog, I can do what I want. I might translate a few more on the occasion of a blue moon, because this has been very tilted towards my favourites in the beginning of the NoR archives and since it’s been going more favourites have emerged of course, but this is officially the end of the project. You’ll find the translation notes below, but first a machine-assisted back-translation of the piece itself because I found that funny:

Surely you have read about the behemoth of Eva Håkansson’s translation of Lewis Carroll’s works, this rage bubbling monster hiding behind a veil of language. Within a few stanzas seeking a nameless hero after Nagging Planters loan, and then, it is alleged, he kills it. When he comes back home want the young man’s father to know if he really killed the beast. But something is missing from the question:

And have you killed Tjatterslån?

After the jubilation following repeated the first verse in all its alarming form to indicate the end of the poem. The legend has been depicted and the battle won but still seems the universe have stayed in the exact same condition. The cries of victory has once again been voted by over mome raths and mimsy borogoves. It is obvious that something is taken.

Is it really the father who makes that question to her boyfriend? In the original text hovering the quotes around the father’s speech to indicate that it is he who poses the question; in the translation written no such fence to his words: it is the same voice that tells us who asks the question. In a poem which largely deals with language and context, it is difficult to imagine that this detail is deleted unconsciously.

With that in mind, let’s ask the question: who is speaking? Lewis Carroll never said the word tjatterslån, but it is he who is the author of the poem. Originally, it was he who asked the question if you have killed Tjatterslån and Eva Håkansson’s answer, in another language, reads: And have you killed Tjatterslån?

But how is it that you have killed Tjatterslån really? Håkansson has translated nonsense word “Vorpal” to almost understand only “Hälfte.” This translation seems to imply that the sword cleaves the monster in two. But why suggest it? Let us make a hasty assumption: it reflects the translation process. To even be able to translate Carroll’s nonsense words and the words that camouflages itself with nonsense costume she had to take them apart to see what they consist of. As an example, we examine the first of these words: grilltock. The word “brillig” from the original text are derived according to most experts from “to broil,” to fry/broil/grill, and thus means the time when you start to grill the food for the evening meal. Håkansson cobbled together the translated word with an onomatopoetic time and came to the grilltock. Similarly she cleaved and bonded, beast.

Carroll monsters can have even more depth to explore. As you may know, it is one of the most translated poems from the English language, something Håkansson must have been aware of when she was not even the first to translate the poem into Swedish. Yet she felt that it was necessary to again disassemble and plaster together Nagging Planters loan.

Reptition is the key to understanding the poem. When the first stanza are repeated at the end of the poem, we return to the beginning, and we know that the monster has been cleaved in two, only to become whole again. This happens every time the poem is read. If this interpretation is experiencing the reader something timeless: perhaps it is a single hero, doomed to slay Tjatterslån forever; perhaps it is a generational issue: son believes he has slain Nagging Planters loan and then becomes old and discovers that it is still alive, so he sends his own son to finish what he started. This happens every time the poem is read, whether it is read by anyone outside the text or Alice herself.

It repeated the interpretation the act. Whether you literally flaker up the poem and translate it into your own language, or if you just read it silently to yourself is the meaning apart in your head to come out reborn. Such is the beast’s Anatomy: Nagging Planters loan’s heart valves are ink its name is written in. When read aloud the reader’s tone accent beast pulse. Although the tongue Hälfte sword always cuts the beast in two always come the last stanza. Håkansson’s translation shows by the lack of quotation marks that there is no difference between the one who slays the monster and the one that poses the question, nor between the person asking the question and the one who reads aloud. Nor, it is implied, between the reading and the slaying.

Now I have to ask the question to you, dear reader: you have killed Tjatterslån? Whatever your answer is the text still waiting for you to read it again.

Like with any translation involving Carroll, this piece presented some unique challenges. The first and most obvious of these is the fact that in the objectively best translation of Jabberwocky, by Eva Håkansson in the 1950s or so, the head of the Jabberwock is not chopped off and carried back to the father, making the father’s question entirely reasonable. This kind of uproots the uncanniness of that question. For your benefit, here is the full text of her translation:

Tjatterslånet

Vid grilltock när de smiga gropp
de snuck och spack på visotass.
Helt jämrig då var skrangelmopp
och grösen mommande bölsvass.

Sök skydd för Tjatterslån, min son,
för bitska gap och snapparklor!
Sky Jällonhök och fly ifrån
den hemska Haffagrip som glor!

Han tog sitt hälfte svärd i hand
och sökte länge utan blund.
Sen sov han i ett grönsaksland
och tänkte där en liten stund.

Då där han stod och grubblade
kom Tjatterslån med blick i brand.
Den röt och ilskebubblade
och visade var spetsig tand.

Han drog sitt hälfte svärd och svor
att utan snicksnack döda den.
Det gjorde han, och sedan for
han i galoppsan hem igen.

Och har du dödat Tjatterslån?
O, sabelfablig lyckodag!
Kom i min famn, min tapperson,
så god och glitterglad är jag!

Vid grilltock när de smiga gropp
de snuck och spack på visotass.
Helt jämrig då var skrangelmopp
och grösen mommande bölsvass.

In researching for this piece, I was able to identify three separate translation techniques relevant for the translation of Lewis Carroll. I’m sure some academics have talked about this but I was not able to find and pore over a copy of this book: aliceinaworldofwonderlands.com, which I covet, so I don’t know how much already-treaded ground I’m covering here. But no mattter. These techniques show up in nearly any Jabberwocky translation as far as I can tell. Not counted amongst these are things such as the deliberate avoidance of portmanteaux, which is an uninteresting item.

The first most obvious one is to replace “nonsense” words with nonsense words. At least as far as I can tell – in Håkansson’s translation we get the “Jällon” in “Jällonhök,” for Jubjub, for example. You can also translate words that have an actual meaning into nonsense words, which is cheating and seemingly unavoidable. Or maybe I can just not deduce the meaning of “visotass.” [19-apr-2017 I have since found out that this is a neologism to do with the sundials that toves live under, and that the ‘jällon’ is a mangled up way of saying ‘lejon’, lion. Still, my original points probably stand even though my examples have been uprooted a bit.]

The second one is to treat the words like established loan-words and to write them down using the tools of the target language. For example, the mome raths are mommande in Håkansson’s translation.

The third one is hard work. I explained it in the text because the ideas didn’t make sense without it. First, the original seminonsense word is vivisiphered, then a new word is neologized in the target language to match the meaning of the Carrollian portmanteau. Håkansson does this quite well with grilltock, for example. Also, this technique might be easier now that we can easily search the internet for clues, rather than having to pore over books in the hopes that someone else has deciphered it before you, or going through your vocabulary (or a dictionary) to match beginnings and ends to find likely candidates.

So what I did to counter the problem posed by Håkansson’s translation was to look for other distinctions between the source and the target text. I found that the translator had skipped quote-marks in the poem. Presumably this is because Swedish, especially in the 60s when she translated the poem, usually used en-dashes to indicate speech, and that’s awkward to put in a poem or something. Another, smaller, detail I latched on to was the translation of “vorpal” – a word that Carrol admitted he couldn’t find a meaning for – into a word that actually makes sense. Surplus meaning where none was. This felt important.

I constructed an alternate theory using the gutted Swedish poem for haruspicy around the bones of the English poem and analysis. Most of it is explained in the deliberately-bad machine back-translation, I guess, but I want to point out that in reconstituting the beast’s anatomy I couldn’t find a good way to make a cadence a pulse, as in Uel’s original. Sure, the word cadence can mean rhythm, and you can talk about someone’s speech rhythm – this can be translated word for word, essentially – but it doesn’t sound like it means cadence. Instead I transposed the Swedish tonals (usually these are explained with a graph to show the tone change) onto the screen of an EKG machine, and said the tone accent became the beast’s pulse instead. This bit would likely go missing if I hadn’t explained it here, you know.

I quite like the idea that a statement is true in two different contexts for two entirely different reasons. Something about it pleases me: in both Uel’s text and my translation, the reader is the one causing the beast to resurrect, but the process by which this happens is different. Ultimately, that’s why I can still call this a translation, although that’s stretching it. The linguistic context has changed, therefore some paths taken change and almost become unrecognizable.

~

That’s all, folks.

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NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: IN THE SECOND PERSON

Good evening, readers! Welcome back to the North of Reality Translation Project. For the uninitiated, North of Reality is Uel Aramchek’s website where he posts fiction that he writes. I’m a translation major/poet/ghost and I’m translating a few of his stories because I wanted to. If you’re an adult or a ghost, you can do what you want. Although I asked for permission first, before I started to post them; that’s also important. I’m translating into Swedish but there are translation notes below the story.

Today’s piece is in the second person. That is also its title: In the Second Person. All entries can be found at the following link: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

~

NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: I ANDRA PERSON
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Som barn råkade du somna på soffan en kväll medan du kollade på Discovery; dock höll sig tingesten som tror att den är du (den du kallar din kropp) vaken flera timmar efteråt. Då lärde den sig allt det fanns att veta om kameleonter från en National-Geographicsspecial. Precis innan du återfick medvetandet snappade en strövande lock av ditt hår åt sig en broms från väggen och påbörjade därmed den långa och hemska förvandlingsprocessen.

Efter den besynnerliga kvällen upptäckte din kropp att den kunde kamouflera sig som dig på pricken. Den tog tillochmed total kontroll över ditt sinne ett flertal gånger utan att du misstänkte någonting. Som tonåring började du dock förnimma en närvaro inuti skallen, en känsla av någonting fantomlikt där din hjärna borde vara. Du försökte ignorera det, men migränattackerna som följde krävde din totala uppmärksamhet.

När du besökte den där röntgenkliniken avslöjade en MRT-undersökning till läkarens stora förvåning en stor ansamling döda insekter som satt fastnaglade mellan dina hjärnlober. Det spekulerades att dessa främmande föremål på något sätt hade tagit sig igenom bensömmarna på skallen men ingen kunde förklara hur de trängt sig in genom din hud, då det inte fanns ärr någonstans på huden.

Självklart fick du omedelbart remiss till en lokal kirurg som skulle undersöka saken närmre; dock hände det att ”du” aldrig dök upp till den bokade tiden.

~

Part of me wants to translate “a stray curl” as “en irrlock,” although that violates the rule of translation that states that you should avoid innovative translations of standard phrases. I’ve got the floor and the mic, though, so I’ll tell you about irrlock anyway: it is reminiscent of irrbloss, meaning will-o’-the-wisp, and is therefore great. No-one would really say it or write it, though. It literally means “stray curl,” but a less outrageous translation of that phrase would be “en strövande lock,” a roaming curl (cf. roaming eyes, hearts).

At first I cut up the sentence beginning “Much to the surprise of …” into two. It didn’t feel right bt it was better than a straight port of that initial adverbial, which would have sounded like “Till den där röntgenläkaren du besöktes stora förvåning” – which is correct but really awkward, because now we’re having fun with clitics. A clitic, according to Wikipedia, is “always attached to a host” which sounds cool and medical. Er, I mean. I will explain, just bear with me – the possessive s (in Swedish as well as English) is the only example of a clitic that I know. You add the s onto the end of a phrase, not a word. For example:

“I solved [the heir]’s problem.”

“I solved [the heir apparent]’s problem.”

“I solved [that guy you met in the pub the other week who claimed to be next in line for the French throne]’s problem by teaching him about the Revolution.”

In order to avoid this awkwardness, we usually rewrite these notions into of-phrases, like “Much to the surprise of …” and such. So, if the reader stops to figure out where to put those brackets to parse the sentence, you’ve probably done something wrong. The main function of a sentence is to bring you to the next sentence. That is why I cut it up originally. I wrote “Eventually, you looked up doctors.” But it still sounded stilted and too far from what Uel had written.

As usual, the solution was to rearrange things until something clicked. What I went with is farther from the original text than I usually go but I’m confident it’s basically how one would express that in Swedish. So, I’m happy. Thank you for reading.

~

Thoughts are welcome! Beam them to my brain or try to use lesser, more haphazard forms of communication with me.

NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: CHOKING HAZARD

Good afternoon! This week in the North of Reality Translation Project, a story called Choking Hazard. As usual, English translation notes are found below the story. All the other entries in the project can be found at the following link: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

~

NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: KVÄVNINGSRISK
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Han lät henne välja hors-d’œuvre på andra dejten, så när det var hennes tur beställde hon in apelsinklyftefonduen.

”Åh, jag älskar det här stället. De använder bara apelsiner med bottenlösa klyftor här,” förklarade hon. ”Fåglar som försöker äta dem tappar ofta sina näbbar, eller hela sina huvuden. Det krävs en djävligt skicklig kock för att forma dem till någonting en människa tryggt kan svälja.”

”Hur fungerar det?” frågade han. ”Hur får du plats med någonting bottenlöst i någonting i storlek med din knytnäve? Den har ingenstans att gå.”

”Det finns en hel del ingenstans,” lade hon till. ”Om man vet var man inte ska leta.”

~

Notes

I FUCKING CRACKED IT. You need to go and read the original again, for real, on this one. This is like, the eighth one I’m writing so far, but I’ve been dreading this for a while because that pun is so marvellous I never thought I’d find an equivalent in Swedish. But I did. To explain: in the original they’re eating a fondue of peaches with bottomless pits. In Swedish that loosely transmogrifies into either “bottenlös håla,” which makes sense for the bottomlessness, but not for the fruitness, or “bottenlös sten,” which is a nonsense phrase. So I drew diagrams of semantically related things to both those words, trying to find a similar koncept that I could exploit to make a translation. Perhaps, I thought, there would be some equivalent pun not about bottomlessness, but with other infinities.

Our universe is a bottomless pit, says the Timescanner. Perhaps I could find something about dark matter, or about the one electron universe. I was also toying with the idea of writing a replacement story only vaguely similar, because I have an idea about an orangerie growing globe fruits with two surfaces (i.e. having 720 degrees round instead of 360) – I would then be going very far away from translation and into the murky lands of trying to recreate Uel’s process to write something equivalent, some adaptation.

Anyway. As you may have guessed, my brain was firing on all cylinders. I lingered on this problem for two weeks. Then I went back to the basics and looked a little bit closer at the idea of the bottomless pit. It is biblical. How do they translate it in the bible? Seemed like they only called it an avgrund, an abyss. Although sometimes they write out the full implications of that: en bottenlös klyfta. Klyfta. From the same word as ‘cleave.’ n. I chasm. II section, as in citrus fruit.

Make no mistake, having the fruits carry several bottomlessnesses around the core of the fruit instead of one in the middle probably changes some of the mythology in North of Reality, because these kinds of things do that. But that would be a problem for a future translation, if this were ever to resurface. Mythology is pretty malleable, so I’m fairly certain it would be fine.

~

Not much left of this project now. Also I haven’t finished writing all the notes because I somehow acquired a job, but I’ll have the next piece ready on time. Worry not. Not that you were worried.

NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: THE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL LABYRINTH

Godafton. That’s Swedish for “good evening.” How quaint. Welcome back to the North of Reality Translation Project. Tonight’s translated piece is called: The Roosevelt National Labyrinth. Translation notes are found below the story, and they are in English so that most people who are looking at this website can read them. All entries in the project are found at the following link: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

~

NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: ROOSEVELT NATIONALLABYRINT
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Roosevelt nationallabyrint börjar nära staten Selimas östligaste gräns och tar aldrig slut. Stundom är den som en skog, då dess tegel ändrar färg med årstiderna och många av murarna fäller sina tegelstenar under månaderna innan vintern. Stundom är den mer som en fängelsehåla, då murarna växer så höga att solen syns inte som en skiva, utan snarare en tunn, enslig linje. Det djupa brummandet från stridulerande jättesyrsor får benen att skallra på alla som är vilse här inne.

Den är det första federalt erkända livet efter detta, ämnat att överbrygga det uråldriga gapet mellan exil och dödsstraff. Det var inte så att labyrinten byggdes – snarare antyddes dess existens väldigt tungt av prejudikat med vikten av hela rättssystemet. ”De sade att den behövde finnas till,” skrev Eisenhower i sin dagbok efter att han underättats om dess förekomst, ”för att fylla tomrummet mellan rättvisans vågskålar. Amerika existerar nu bortom det blott rationella, och alla våra institutioner måste finna sätt att anpassa sig till detta, även de som påstår sig vila på blint förnuft.”

Din advokat försökte så gott han kunde att få dig dömd till döden på ett mer ortodoxt vis, men ditt fall var ganska dystert från första början. Det var meningen, först, att du bara skulle anklagas för att ha försökt fly från fängelset; det vill säga, tills det visade sig att det var den enda anklagelsen på ditt register. Lögndetektorns spikiga skrivstil bevisade att du alltid hade varit i fängelset och avslöjade dig som en institutionsparadox.

Din sista måltid serverades på en papptallrik som smälte sönder från den såskletiga måltiden. Det fanns ett berg av pannstekta getingar med lönnsalsa till dippa, nektarinsyltsglaserade flodhästrevben, genomstekta gelébönor, pisangmos dränkt i sågverkssky och majsmunkar injicerade med vispat tabascosmör. De gav dig varken kniv eller gaffel, så du åt hela middagen med händerna. Du var noga med att spotta ut gaddarna. Sedan sköljde du ner allting med ett glas björnbärsvin.

Dock har allt det sedan dess tagit sig igeom ditt matsmältningssystem och du har aldrig känt dig tommare. Efter två veckor veckor här inne har du äntligen funnit labyrintens minotaur, som står och betar ensam i en glänta stor som ett stadion. Han verkar tämligen förvånad över att du letat upp honom med flit. Hans fyra bisonliknande huvuden höjer sig över det långa gräset som någon primitiv variant av Mount Rushmore och när de ser dig brölar var och en ett strupvrål som avviker lite i tonart från de andra. Du antar ditt öde under hans hovar och undrar vilket liv efter detta som väntar dig härnäst. Du har hört bra saker om Valhall på senaste tiden.

Nästa gång dina ögon öppnar sig är du likväl tillbaka i fängelset i Arizona. Än en gång verkar det som att ditt försök att fly undan systemet har misslyckats.

~

Notes

I modelled the name of the Roosevelt National Labyrinth after the Swedish rendition of Yellowstone National Park, which seems like the most sensible way to translate it. It did not become a very shocking name in Swedish but I did have to take five minutes to remember any other name for a thing in the US which follows the formula of [name] National [area of land]. I found a lot of forests that no-one has translated into Swedish, though.

The difference between “capital punishment” and “death penalty” is mostly flavour, but it felt like important flavour. Capital punishment seems to me to be the category, whereas death penalty is more a specific instance of someone being sentenced to death, or the death penalty as it exists in some specific form in some state or legal system. The two are translated the same into Swedish, so I took the liberty of loosening the translation a bit for the second one, turning it into a verb to make it feel more immediate and personal: “dödsstraff” vs “dömd till döden.”

For “implied into reality” I had a lot of trouble – because we have no equivalent of “into reality” or “into existence” – and ended up inventing a metaphor based on “heavily” implying something with the full weight of the justice system.

The Swedish rapper Pst/Q once remarked in an interview that the punchline-heavy style that he rapped in at the beginning of his career was “not really Swedish” (I’m paraphrasing and translating from memory here, forgive any misrepresentations) and that people were often baffled by the barrage of wordplay present in his music. Now, basically anyone who talks to me knows wordplay is my thing in any language I’m speaking, but I feel a bit like that when trying to translate the culinary tastes of Uel’s fictional subjects – for example, how do I Scandify “refried jellybeans”?

Of course, you’re meant to feel weird about the food. Go on, feel weird about it.

Anyway, in what was news to me at least, it turns out that the re- in refried beans doesn’t mean again, it just means well. So I simply translated it literally, because there is no equivalent – we barely have these two kinds of beans in Sweden.

The last problem area here is what on earth to do with the phrase “When your eyes open again.” The easiest way to say it is to just say “När du öppnar dina ögon igen” (When you open your eyes again) or even “När du vaknar igen” (When you wake up again). But those alternatives miss the fact that there’s agency in the eyes here, not in the person. The way I read the story, the fact that it’s not the peson themselves doing the waking up is actually very important.

If one were to write that a door opens, for example, to circumscribe the problem here, the way to translate it into Swedish would be one of three options, each working fine on their own but in the context of eyes opening they all feel odd to me. I can write “dörren öppnas,” which is the passive voice and obscures the agent, or I can write “dörren öppnar sig,” making “open” a reflexive verb, or I can write “dörren öppna[s/r sig] av sig själv,” which foregrounds the autonomy of the door. Passive voice is out, because we want to focus on the agency here. Foregrounding the autonomy is also out, because it’s too heavy-laden. Our Goldilocks option seems to be “öppnar sig,” which is a phrasing I can only recall from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, where it’s used as a command and in second-person. And, actually, thinking of it like that, that’s not a bad phrasing, and certainly not a connotation Uel would object to.

~

Next week the translated piece is Choking Hazard, which, if you read it, seems untranslatable. Feel free to speculate wildly about how I will have solved this.

NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: ON IMMORTALITY

Time: evening. Quality of evening: good. Thing: the North of Reality Translation Project. Today: On Immortality. Translation notes: below. All entries: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

~

NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: OM ODÖDLIGHET
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Som barn hade du en viss förmåga att upptäcka de extra liv som låg gömda överallt i virtuella världar. Du visste alltid vilka vattenfall du skulle kika bakom, vilka väggar du skulle sträcka handen igenom och tillochmed vilka lerkärl du skulle ta sönder – men av någon anledning fann du aldrig dem som vi lämnade kvar specifikt för dig.

Det första livet låg gömt på toppen av vattentornet bredvid lekplatsen på din lågstadieskola. Vi lät det drypa i klarblåa pixlar så att du lätt kunde se det från den högsta punkten i gungans bana. Vi hade tillochmed tagit reda på att det var din favoritfärg. Tyvärr lade du aldrig märke till livet och det har sedan länge slitits sönder av fiskmåsar.

Det andra livet låg dolt i en grotta bara en bit ifrån vandringsleden du följde när din familj semestrade vid Niagarafallen. Förutom livets safirglöd såg det precis ut som ditt ansikte – vi var stolta över vårt arbete. Någon annan unge hittade dock det en kort tid efter att du åkt hem, och han bar din identitet när han tog sitt språng från vattenfallets krön med ett skratt. Ett slöseri, om du frågar oss.

De blev fler i takt med att du blev äldre; ett inlåst på en flygplanstoalett, ett annat dammtäckt under sängen där du förlorade din oskuld – men din nyfikenhet hade sedan länge sinat. Du slutade lägga märke till detaljerna i din egen värld, ty din uppmärksamhet hade erövrats av en unken skärmglöd.

Ändå har vi ännu inte slutat tro på dig, vi har inte givit upp. Sök igenom din omnejd noggrannt: det finns ett liv någonstans i närheten.

~

Notes

The first question in this translation is, do I put a space in the rendition of “extra lives” or not. I’ve mentioned agglutination before but I don’t think I went into it in any detail. Agglutinative languages mash words together; analytic ones separate them. You can’t always tell when people talk out loud, although there are signs such as binding letters used to smoothen the transition from the end of one building block to the beginning of the other. It’s much easier to tell in written language, at least if you’re using a writing system that has spaces in it. It’s a sliding scale, though with Chinese at one end as super analytic and Finnish at the other as super agglutinative. For example. And Swedish is slightly more agglutinative than English. Schoolkids playing Hangman might write 31 underscores for one long, stupid noun: flaggstångsknoppspoleringsmedel (means for polishing the knob of a flagpole). They often write longer ones as well – at my school we use dto write flaggstångsknoppspoleringsmedelsbehållare (container for “–”) but that seems to be local flavour, after a glance at the internet. Other variants include …flaska, …försäljare, …flaskkork, …prenumeration, …flaskkorksetikett … sorry, I got carried away.

The point is, there are more spaces in English writing than in Swedish writing. There is a whole lot of nuance to my ear between extraliv and extra liv. A life is a categorically different thing from an extralife. In English, the phrase “extra life” can easily carry both of the meanings, and so does. But in Swedish I have to choose, and I choose the one with a space in it, because it evokes the much more common spaceless version.

Also, for those of you keeping score at home, it took me half an hour to write out this thinking process but it took me two seconds to decide on it. Also, the sliding scale is a bit more complicated than I made it out to be but that was the level of understanding I was working at when I made my decision. A cool thing you can do when you have studied something for a time is to decide what granularity your models will have in order to serve your purposes for the moment. But do read the wikipedia article on synthetic languages or isolating languages, etc, if you want to know more.

“Lover” is not gender-neutral in Swedish. Though “älskare” is used gender-neutrally by some, it’s registered as exclusively male by a lot of Swedes. Putting a gender to the lover would ruin some of the point of the direct-address second-person pronoun, in that while most people have a first lover, fewer people have a first lover of one specifc gender, and also if your first male lover was after your first female lover that sentence sounds really weird. The points that I want to carry over in the translation are thus: 1. the gender-neutrality, because I like it. 2. the vague notion of growing up somehow, the rite of passage. 3. the conflation of the different senses of exploration – as in first love and as in charting uncharted territory – to contrast with the waning curiosity.

Every single alternative translation I could think of was wrong. I’m skipping directly, here, to the solution of simply saying: the bed where you lost your virginity. I admit this is not an ideal solution (although if you see no problem with it feel free to not think harder about it), but I have been stuck on this problem a long time. I’m typing this paragraph ten minutes before the day is officially over, actually, and I really would not like to be late two weeks in a row with this project. If I go back to this problem, I might switch it back to saying the gendered “lover,” or I might use the really old phrase for “make love” that sounds like it’s from a few turns of the centuries ago, or I might paint a teenage scenario of sneaking into bedrooms over verandra rooves, or inspiration might strike and something else entirely.

A friend looked through my translation and reminded me that it’s really easy to get tunnel-vision on these things, so I’ll probably go back through the old translations and fix a few mistakes over the next week or so. There are bound to be a few of similar kind that she pointed out, such as unclear reference and an unnatural over-reliance of the genitive. But learning is cool! And so is humility, kids. Another thing she pointed out was that in Swedish, a seagull cannot peck. It’s idiomatic in English, but in Swedish it becomes the wrong motion, for some reason. Instead, the seagulls “tear” – sliter – the heart apart.

~

Gosh. Next week: Roosevelt National Labyrinth.

NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: FOUND FOOTAGE

Good deep dark night, friends. Today’s piece is Found Footage. Translation notes, in English, are found below the story. All entries in the project so far are found here: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

~

NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: UPPHITTAD FILM
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Du har kommit till den här skogen för att leta efter varelsen som kallas ”sasquatch.” Vid det här laget har du fått reda på att han är mänsklig; åtminstone om man inte är så strikt med sin definition av ordet ”mänsklig.” Hans kött har förvridit sig från åratal av lång exponering och hans hud har suddats ut till skenpareidolisk ull. Ett groteskt tumavtryck kvarstår där det en gång må ha funnits ett ansikte, utan att kunna se eller prata.

De flesta resenärer anländer till Kanal Noll Nationalpark av misstag men du har tagit dig hit med flit. Denna plats har fötts fram ur videofeedback; träden här dryper med resterna av nattkikares limegröna glöd. Du trycker din hand mot den självlysande barken på en urgammal björk och den glider rakt igenom. Du drar tillbaks handen och dina fingrar är genomdränkta med brusande TV-sav, alldeles bortdomnade.

Stundom hörs omgivningens vita brus högre än vinden genom löven.

Somliga säger att människan har frammanat denna plats, en knut i rymdväven som fötts fram ur avståndet mellan lins och spegel. Andra säger att det är ett urtidsrike, lika gammalt som spegelbilderna av träd i Minnesotas sjöar, och att mänsklig inblandning bara har tjänat till att skynda på en urgammal process.

Du har följt hans spår mil efter mil, bara för att anlända till en gravhög. Det finns dock ingen höjd jord här; bara en massa kameror och mjukt flimrande ben. ”HÄR VILAR SASQUATCH,” står det på en minnestavla av järn vid högens fot. ”DÖMD TILL MYT, DRÄPT AV FÖRNUFT.”

Trots det markerar denna milstolpe slutet på din egen resa, för hans spegelbild har följt dig hela vägen hit. Ditt sista minne är hur du bländas av din egen blixt; kanske kommer någon, någon dag, att framkalla bilderna.

~

Notes

I did not know of the equivalent term for “found footage” when I started this translation, but fortunately the particular genre of horror film that shares this name is a well-blooming genre, and even though Swedes would mostly just say “found footage” when talking about the genre, the translation is unconfusing and understandable. There’s an interesting gradient of loan words being assimilated into the language, from words pronounced with a mouth still in foreign mode to words pronounced like they have always been part of the language.

What I mean by this is, well, take your American English language vowel chart. Uel’s accent looks something like this, by my reckoning:

a hand-drawn vowel chart.

That’s the place of all the vowels in the mouth. The consonants also have their places, but it would look too crowded if I included them too. And trust me, this is definitely how sounds work. Actually, don’t take my word for it, but take it up with tongueistics if you’ve got a problem.

Anyway, see how the vowels all keep some respectable distance between each other? In different languages, the sounds are in different places (and there’re different amounts of vowels! A language with a small number of vowels will have much wider berths than a jam-packed one). Switching to another tongue is very literally like switching to another tongue, one with other settings. So for a loan word like “found footage” we would switch very quickly to English for the duration of that word, then back to Swedish. For a word like “tight,” which is /taɪt/ in IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet) we would not switch, but say /taɪt/ but with the Swedish placement of those symbols instead. And then there are phrases that are undergoing this assimilation but aren’t there yet, such as “slow-motion,” which is a bit all over the map when I say it in Swedish at least. You can figure out pretty well how long ago a loan word was loaned in by judging how far along this process the word is.

I figured that Sasquatch, having had an episode or two in the X-Files, is well-known enough in Sweden that I need not intervene as a middle-man narrator and explain anything about him. The name, in Swedish, is obviously foreign because of the letter combinations, but I think it’s pronounced with a tongue halfway between English and Swedish. Like we don’t know what to do with the sounds. It’s not an exact science, this. It doesn’t help that it’s a name from another language than English, either.

That became a large tangent. That’s okay. Next let’s look at something else in the first paragraph: the word pareidoliac. Uel has made a smooth neologism, making pareidolia (the tendency of humans to find patterns in random noise) sound like an affliction akin to insomnia (cf. insomniac). This structure is sadly not mirrored in Swedish, so I had to work around it to get a somewhat similar effect. My idea here came from the prefix sken-, which literally seems to mean “shine” and is used to mean something like “false” or “mock,” as in skendränkning (“mock drowning”) or skenfrukt (“false fruit”). I tend to think of it as fae glamour or something, although I’ll admit to not knowing the deeper etymology here.

This story is all about things becoming what they seem, and surface levels affecting the deeper levels, so I made up the word skenpareidolisk, to vaguely suggest that maybe the pareidolia is false. In what way it is false is for the reader to fill in although I made sure to figure out at least two ways, in case someone corners me and demands an explanation for the freedoms I’ve taken in the translation. Which is all to say that when it comes to translating a style you have to keep the language breathing, in my earnest opinion.

Chartreuse is not a word, not a colour, in most people’s Swedish. So I picked lime instead. That colour is right in the same part of the spectrum, just shifted a little bit. It’s difficult to get the auras of colours right because colours are one of the most direct forms of symbolism (in art as well as in nature: you instinctively don’t want to eat something wild coloured black and red and yellow! Wow we’re all about the tangents here). Translators between languages less intermingled than Swedish-English have to deal with various issues like blue and green being the same colour, or light blue being as different from dark blue as pink is from red. But fortunately Swedes and Americans have the same images of such binoctulars as Uel describes, so I’m resting my translation on that shared bit of culture and hope that the description simply makes the reader recall the right chartreuse hue.

Turns out that we have “landmark” in Swedish (“landmärke”) but that it is a nautical term, and while we’ve also got it as a calque for the non-nautical use, the more commonly used word for this type of memorable abberration in the landscape is milstolpe (“milestone”), from an extension of the word’s literal meaning.

~

I didn’t actually sit down to chart Uel’s accent with linguoscopy, but wouldn’t that have been super cool and a bit creepy? The image is just roughly what a southern Californian accent is like, according to a chart I saw on Wikipedia.

NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: A WRONG TURN AT ALBUQUERQUE

Good evening! You’re looking great today. Did something happen to your hair?

Today: A Wrong Turn at Albuquerque. Translation notes, in English, are found below the story as usual. You can find all entries at the following link, except for the entries that are still to be posted: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

~

NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: EN FELSVÄNG VID ALBUQUERQUE
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

~

Du kommer ihåg Utah, och hur bergen speglades i saltöknens bleka spegel, och hur saltöknen speglades i himlens bleka spegel, och hur motorvägen, utan någon annanstans att ta vägen, speglades in emot sig själv. Du kommer ihåg avfarten mot den ensamma sträckan av tjära och betong som var motorväg I13 på väg mot Reno, du var sömnlös och ökenhalstrad och du såg din egen puls i ögonvrån.

Du kommer ihåg Nevada, och hur vägen som tidigare verkat rak egentligen hade varit en lång spiral, och hur allt neon i Reno rödskiftade iväg från dig när du ändlöst närmade dig, och hur det till slut inte fanns något annat val än att vända omkring. Du kommer ihåg att I13 på något vänster virvlade inåt i båda riktningarna, och att solnedgången framför dig också var synlig i backspegeln.

Du kommer ihåg Mazo, och hur de naturligt förekommande radiotornens blodstensmalmspännverk kastade långa skuggor över den månstekta jorden, och hur jordandarnas klagosång överröstade din bils ljudanläggning på varje frekvens, och hur svultna stäpplöpare stannade till för att frossa på överkörda djur. Du kommer ihåg den oerhörda törsten som fick dig att pröva att svälja en näve vattenpuder.

Du kommer ihåg New Mexico, och hur underligt det var att byggnaderna i Albuquerque inte hade några fönster, och hur dess gator inte hade några fotgängare. Du kommer ihåg att du stannade till vid Hotel California vid utkanten av staden bara för att få reda på att de inte hade några lediga rum, och hur utsökt festmåltiden såg ut där den hade dukats upp inne på atriumgården. Du kommer ihåg hur ditt fordon sprang iväg med en flock vilda bilar och lämnade dig att dö.

Du kommer ihåg liftandet längsmed I13 och längre in, och hur en långtradarchaffis plockade upp dig i Bolgana, och hur du var så törstig att till och med råoljecidern han erbjöd dig smakade himmelskt. Du kommer ihåg hur han förklarade för dig att världens ände brukade vara en fysisk plats ingen kunde ta sig till, och hur det sedan dess hade blivit ett datum i framtiden ingen kunde nämna. Du kommer ihåg när polisen stannade honom för fortkörning och arresterade honom när det uppdagades att han egentligen var en hägring.

Du kommer ihåg allt det här medan du står vänd mot Amerikas innersta gräns. Du sitter på en farligt långt utstickande sten över en bottenlös krater. Här tar kraftledningarna som under hela din resa kantat vägen slut; de sista kilometrarna av deras längd har flätats runt sex massiva stämskruvar. Nu när du hittat världens ände är det bara att vänta.

~

Notes

A thing they won’t tell you at fancy translation schools, but which I will tell you right now, is that sometimes translating a title of a piece will involve fruitless hours of trying to find Swedish clips of Bugs Bunny on the youtubes. As fate would have it, the Swedish Wikipedia page for Bugs Bunny assures me that the “left turn at Albuquerque” gag has been translated into “Jag borde ha svängt vänster vid Södertälje” at least once. Now the question stands: what’s the proper translation technique here? Obviously I cannot remove the Americaneousness of this quintessentially American road trip story. I didn’t need any of the extra information about Bugs Bunny or anything – a direct translation is the best option here. Very well.

I’ve probably mentioned it before – like, last week for example – but a frustration that occurs in translation is when two different words in the source language are translated into the same word in the target language. This time, both “road” and “somewhere to go” have individual translations that work best with “väg,” and I am initially averse to repeating that word. However, it only seems odd to repeat it if you have stared at it as long as I have, and initially you will not (might not, will hopeuflly not) notice anything’s amiss. I just wrote “the road” as “motorvägen” (the highway) and it does look seamless, I’d say.

For similar but opposite reasons, near the end of the story, I’ve translated “the highway” as simply “vägen” instead of its more specific cousin. Clarity and smoothness help the equilibrium the most.

On a related note, the anaphora in this piece is slightly tricky to translate, because of grammar. The “You remember” bit is easy, but in English you can follow it with a noun (as with the State names) or a dependent clause in the progressive (-ing, as in hitchhiking), no problem. The progressive doesn’t really exist in Swedish and its equivalent is not as ubiquitous. I could translate the penultimate paragraph’s progressive clause as something that means and looks like “You remember how you hitchhiked,” but the clause would lose its nounness and I’d be sad. The solution, I figured, was to make it a full noun. The present participle is a thing in Swedish, and you can noun things with it. This seems like a lot of justification for translating a present-participle word into a present-participle word. But the jump from verb to noun is huge, to the point that if you compare the onset of those sentences it looks wrongly translated. A strange effect, and one I have to remind myself of both as a reader and a writer/translator: that things that seem wrong on the detail level make the whole thing work on the holistic level.

~

The bit about the shifting dimensional idea of what the end of the world is is probably my favourite line of Uel’s ever.

NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: WAYFINDER

Good $TIME. I am so $EMOTION to see you. Take a $SEAT, and welcome to the North of Reality Translation Project! Today’s special offer is Wayfinder, with a side of translation notes and language/culture musings in English. But our menu is well stocked with other courses: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

~

NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: DEN SOM FINNER VÄGEN
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Under en synnerligen lång vinter började labyrinter bryta ut i metropolen som en infrastrukturell sjukdom. Varje natt vävde sig gränder in genom varandra och formade tjocka betongknutar som blandades med tunnelbanelinjer och fallfärdiga telegraftunnlar. Tegel och glasfiber vreds till vilda helixar och motorvägar ömsade sina skinn likt ormar för att komplicera härvan. I dagsljus återstod inga bevis av dessa rovlabyrinter, förutom de tillfrysta kropparna som lämnats kvar av de som snärjts in inuti dem.

Till slut spreds legender, inte bara om dessa mörka utrymmen men även om den som kunde leda vilse själar ut ur dessa urbana grottor. Hon sades hölja sig i paisleymönstrad midnattsskrud, upplyst av vad som verkade vara hennes eget blod. I sin högra hand bar hon sitt eget självlysande hjärta som en lanterna, en pulserande tacka gjord på gyllene muskler som tjudrats till hennes bröst medelst en ansamling tjocka kablar. Det dröp här och var som hon vandrade och lämnade ett spår av plasma som andra kunde följa i säkerhet.

De som påstod sig ha blivit uteskorterade ur labyrinten av henne säger också att hon inget namn gav mer än ”Den som finner vägen” och konverserade knappast mer än att hon insisterade på att de skulle lita på hennes omdöme. Däremot ryktades det fritt om hennes ursprung. Det förmodades att labyrinten svalde henne levande en olycksalig afton, men att hon lyckades överleva pärsen och kravla i säkerhet genom dess trådar, fast hennes anatomiska struktur förändrades permanent. ”En gatlykta hällde tillbaks henne i vår värld likt en kran,” säger en variant av berättelsen. ”Hon dog den kvällen, och återföddes som en del av staden själv.”

Andra är mindre övertygade av denna tolkning. ”Den här staden har aldrig varit på mänsklighetens sida,” förklarade en vagabond som tröttnat på den här versionen. “Stålet, glaset, fan, till och med skräpet … det trängtar efter att förtära oss. De där fantomgatorna hon vandrar igenom är stadens inälvor. Nej, hon är inte del av staden alls; hon försöker skydda oss från den.”

~

Notes

I had problems finding a good title for this. The very ideal would be a neat and compact composite noun like “Wayfinder” but the immediate solution – “Vägfinnare” – sounds daft as all hell. I was stumped for a long while and then I decided to go with a longer thing: “The one who finds the way.” It sounds equally mystical, but from another angle, and the namelessness of the name is enhanced.

Half-relatedly, in the time period in which I grew up, they stopped translating movie titles into Swedish. The effects of knowing some movies by their Swedish title because they were made before the tide turned is baffling, a bit like being from a parallel universe. Generally, the translators of movie titles were gentle and caring: classics like Some Like It Hot got translations based around the key title words (“hot,” in this case), while others were just translated literally to no fuss, like The Birds, or kept as they were because the title was not a translatable word as such, such as Casablanca. However. Things got weird, probably because of comedies. National Lampoon’s Vacation, which for some reason is considered a classic, was translated as Ett päron till farsa – “A pear for a dad.” The word for pear is slang for “parent,” I suppose, but if there’s more meaning to it than that it is lost to time (read: I don’t feel it will be enlightening to look it up, so suck it). Mel Brooks’ The Producers was translated as Det våras för Hitler, the name of the musical in the film, Springtime for Hitler. This is a bit weird, but okay: it is more eye-grabbing than “Producenterna.” Then The Twelve Chairs came, with a translated title we can back-translate into “Springtime for Mother-in-Law.” Then Blazing Saddles: Springtime for the Sheriff. Young Frankenstein: Springtime for Frankenstein. Springtime for the Silent Movie. Springtime for the Nutjobs. Springtime for World History. Springtime for World Space. World … Space? Probably that movie is what made the bubble burst, I feel. The title of Men in Tights was translated word for word, like picking up broken pieces of porcelain after one has failed an almost amazing trick using just a tablecloth and some fine china.

What were we talking about? Ah, yes, literary translation. For this piece I also encountered problems trying to translate “civic.” As it’s used and translated, it mostly refers to the human part of a city, or a population, but here that was clearly not the case, referring instead to the infrastructural schematics of streets in a city. After a few weeks of trying to climb this wall I realized that in my describing the problem I had used the perfect word for translating it – infrastructural – and just as quickly dismissed it for whatever reason. So, that was silly of me.

For some reason the phrase “to safety,” which appears twice in the text, stumped me. The correct way to say it is, unless I’m mistaken, “i säkerhet” (lit. “in safety;” but that’s very literal). Further proof that no-one should ever trust prepositions in any language. I always mess prepositions up no matter what language I’m speaking.

I feel like I’ve used the word “självlysande” for like fifteen different Aramchekian adjectives at this point. It’s actually just two – luminous and phosphorescent – but what would I do if these adjectives showed up in the same story? I’d have to use a fancy word like “fluorescerande” (fluorescent) for the phosphorescence. Which is not a word I’d really use otherwise. It’s all about the equilibrium, though, as always. This same problem actually comes up sprite-swapped in the translation of “interpretation” and “rendition,” both of which very squarely become tolkning. “Rendition” can also be version, fortunately. Although this becomes a problem when you consider that I had translated “version” in the paragrpah above simply into the Swedish “version” (imagine that I’m pronouncing these words different, since they’re spelled the same). So I changed that into “variant,” which probably is a nicer word there anyway. Solved.

Lastly, the word “ichor” is a nice word. Its roots in Greek and the mythology that it drags with it make it impossible to really translate as such, since translation is often root transplantation. (This metaphor might make more sense if you consider the roots of “translate” – trans meaning roughly “across [a border]” and late coming from something meaning “carry,” so “translate” = to carry from one place to another. We are carrying from English to Swedish here; when a word is too firmly rooted in Greek we have to use the same word in the translation. Like when you have a character talking Spanish in an otherwise English book, you would keep the Spanish, not carry it over to French or something (It’s a different story if we were to translate that into Spanish BUT that’s not my problem, so suck it (Again.).).)

So we have two options: deracinate or neologise, essentially. We do kind of have “ikor” in Swedish, in that I’ve seen it in at least one place and used it in at least one story myself, but my dictionary renders it as “gudablod” (gods’ blood) or “blodserum,” “blodserum, blodvatten” (blood serum, blood water) and googling for “ikor” only gives me obscure texts. If we deracinate it, we might instead talk of ectoplasm or just plasma. I am partial to the plasma and don’t think that the ichor has a very central role here, so I’m pulling out its roots to tend the garden.

~

It’s actually really easy to get sick of that word, “ichor” – you just have to overeat yourself on H. P. Lovecraft. I remember when I read Lovecraft I kept a tally of his favourite words. I was adolescently holed up in a Czech hotel with nothing to read but a werewolf glamour book that took a few hours to plow through and the whole Necronomicon collection, which I had conked all the way there. I remember most of them now. Squalid. Indescribable. Ichor. Could have sworn I remembered more of them. It’s been enough years now that I can speak them without bile, but it was touch and go for a while. Thank you for reading The Teenage Literary Review; next week maybe I’ll tell you about The Little Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli.

NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: THE DEATH-PAINTED PLANET

Good evening, good evening, good evening. Welcome to the North of Reality Translation Project, wherein I translate some of Uel Aramchek’s stories into Swedish but comment on it in English so that most of you can read and enjoy and understand despite not speaking Swedish. Today’s story is The Death-Painted Planet. You can find all of the posts in this project over at this link: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

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NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: PLANETEN SOM PENSLATS MED DÖD
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Löpelden kan ses från rymden: en ständigt brinnande halvring som kopplar ihop planetens poler. Till öst om denna självlysande meridian glöder världen violett med liv; till väst finns dock inget annat att se än rök och öken, ett maskhärskat landskap. Flammornas flera jordmånader långa lopp ger fälten precis tillräckligt mycket tid att växa tillbaka. Satelliter i omloppsbana runt ekvatorn kan se hela livs- och dödsförloppet i ett enda varv, från jord till aska och åter till jord.

De första hovarna av vad som kommit att kallas Den eviga vildflykten kan höras bara ett par kilometer öster om eldfronten. Denna världs djur tillbringar sina liv på flykt, dundrande och fladdrande och slingrande sig ständigt österut. De betar kvickt och kort när de kan, och de som ännu inte har utvecklat förmågan att leva utan sömn rider på varandras ryggar. Långa snablar och klängen släpas bakom deras kroppar för att sörpla upp vatten och mossa och undervegetation. Det finns även rovdjur på en sådan plats, mäktiga varelser med mångtandade lemmar som låter dem släpa eller bära sina byten med sig medan de rusar framåt.

Ett expeditionsteam av astrozoologer gjorde en enastående upptäckt medan de observerade den skenande massförflyttningen ifrån deras gyrokopter: en liten stam nakna människor som sprang vid sidan av en flock segelrenar. Det visade sig att de var den överlevande besättningen från ett fraktskepp som krashlandat på planetens yta nästan tio år tidigare, och att de tvingats anpassa sig efter den ständigt förflyttande biosfären. De hade inget materiel kvar från sina stjärnsmugglardagar, för vad de än burit med sig en gång i tiden hade nu trampats eller bränts bort, inklusive deras nödsändare. De hade lyckats anpassa sig och överleva mot ofattbara odds genom att jaga i flock och bli vänner med några av de större bestarna för att sova på deras ryggar om natten.

Trots att överlevarnas beskrivningar av denna upplevelse var mardrömslika har många människor sedan dess självmant valt att springa med Den eviga vildflykten, och många fler tränar och tar supplement för att jaga detta mål. Somliga väljer det som en personlig fysisk utmaning, somliga gör det för att de inte har någonting kvar att förlora, andra söker upplysning genom att uppoffra alla personliga ägodelar. Den fysiska uthålligheten som krävs är enastående, men kanske inte lika mycket som den mentala. För de flesta av den räddade besättningen på det olycksdrabbade skeppet fortsätter flammorna jaga dem i drömmen, och att sitta still i mer än ett par timmar är att ge vika för vansinnet.

~

Notes

The word for wildfire in Swedish is perfect for this story: löpeld, formed from the roots of words meaning “sprint” and “fire.” On that note, I was a little bit worried that the two rotations in the first paragraph would lose their connection to each other in translation, but I ran with the theme and connected them both to running laps (lopp), and that was preservation enough. (A good rule of thumb when translating is that if two parts seem connected by word choice, they should seem roughly equally connected in translation.)

At the end of the first paragraph, we get a simple smooth reference to a Biblical phrase in the English. (I looked it up and a Christian website did say that although “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is not in the Bible per se, it is very Biblical indeed because it is a poetic reference to bits of the Bible, alright.) Uel writes “from ashes to fertility to ashes again.” Unfortunately, the equivalent Swedish phrase goes “från jord är du kommen, och jord skall du åter bli” – roughly “you are come from earth, and you shall turn to earth again.” Earth or soil connotes fertility very strongly already, so we’ll lose the whole ashes bit if we just transpose this literally. Fortunately, as I was writing this down expecting to have to go on a Bible hunt and everything, I realized that since it’s a cycle we can just phaseshift it, from ashes → earth → ashes to earth → ashes → earth. The focus of the phrase shifts a little this way, but it would have to anyway because when you start making references you have to triangulate much more. And it feels goddamn smooth so I’m keeping it.

The most immediate solution to translating the phrase “[the] wall of fire” would be “mur[en] av eld” but that sounds so much like translationese (translationese being the name for that special written dialect that includes famous sentences like “Do not disturb tiny grass is dreaming,” along with more subtle but wrongly rendered idioms and overly complicated constructions. Usually these are the result of translators too focused on getting the meaning right, not worrying about making things sound like one would say it in the target language). And, indeed, googling the phrase I mostly find translations of English books.

It’s not that you can’t say the phrase in Swedish – I did find examples of Swedes using it – and it’s not even like you’d suggest the wrong thing by saying it, it’s just that it irks me. I opted instead to make up the word “eldfront” (fire front), giving the wall of fire a meteorological flair without (hopefully) losing its immediacy. I’ve talked a little about how translation has to restrict itself and be conservative before, and surely this neologism – when there’s an equivalent phrase used by other native speakers available – is breaking that rule? Well, yes. But you have to know when to break your own rules. It’s still all about what the result sounds like.

There is an interesting challenge in the word “tumbledeer.” It seems to be a portmanteau of tumbleweed and deer, and as such how would one translate it? Although considering it solely as a Frankenstein of tumbleweed and deer would be missing an important part of it: when we encounter something new we use language to map it to something we already know. A favourite anecdote among some linguists to illustrate this is how the Gurr-goni (also known as Guragone) language genders aeroplanes as vegetables. See, trees are vegetables (kinda) and so things made of wood, such as canoes, are then also vegetables. And an aeroplane is a sky-canoe.

(If you think that’s absurd instead of cool, consider why you’re thinking of crewed rockets as ships.)

So to describe the tumbledeer in Swedish I should figure out how to analogize it. But to do that I should first figure out what they look like. Since I’ve decided to interpret this as though they’re tumbleweedlike, I’m going to assume that they move with the wind. It makes sense to imagine that a giant roaring fire is going to generate some strong and pretty constant gusts. So, imagine a mess of antlers and hooves, with heart and head and stomach placed wherever there’s room. Actually, if they move with the wind, perhaps a big moose-antlercrown could act like a sail, and the hooves could be used to push against the ground quick when they land, to regain speed.

Now I’ve decided sort of what the animal looks like, I will spit out some names for it and see which is best. Segelälg (sail-elk), segelren, skuttlöpare, studslöpare, hovsegel, studshjort, rullhjort, studsdjur, flygren, flygälg, stormälg, stormhjort … I quite like hovsegel (hoof-sails), although it is very silly. It should not be that, though, because hov also means “of or pertaining to the royal court,” annoyingly. But with another pronunciation. It would be a muddying connotation, not an enriching one, so it gets cut. I think of the ideas I listed above, the most evocative is segelren (“sail-raindeer;” it sounds better in Swedish) and so I will go with that.

~

Well, that was a lot of words. Thanks for reading, pals. If you like this story of Uel’s, there’s a similar mechanism on a fictional space planet in Iain M. Banks’ The Player of Games, which is really good space opera. If that’s your thing, I mean.

Are you doing cool things with words? If you speak a language that is not English, but also speak enough English to read the things I write here, are you translating things? Let’s talk about that, if you have the time.

NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: BOOKS IN JARS

Good day! And what a day. On the menu today is Books in Jars. English translation notes are below the story as usual. These introductions in English are mostly here so that people don’t click away as soon as they think the main thing is not in English. We are very worried about click behaviour. By “we” I mean humans. If this is the first time you’re reading and you like what you see, you might like reading everything else in this series as well. In which case, here’s a link for you: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

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NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: BÖCKER I BURKAR
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Magnetiskt bläck var en intressant litterär innovation då det lät oss lagra böcker utan papper. Tack vare flytande kod kunde varenda molekylklunga komma ihåg vilket alfabet och vilken sekvens den tidigare tillhörde. Detta tillät orden att lägga sig själva i rätt ordning när man hällde ut dem på någon lämplig yta. Till slut ledde det till fenomenet av att lagra böcker i burkar som en pöl av oåtskilt bläck där de väntade på ytor att trycka sig själva emot.

Som förväntat ledde detta till experiment. Flytande böcker blandades och skakades – vi tvingade orden inuti att kompromissa om sin ordning. Resultaten var förvånansvärt begripliga: mönster och handling kunde på något vänster överleva strömningsdynamikens kombinatoriska kaos. Vi kunde kombinera kokböcker med varandra för att snabbt kasta om recept, eller med skönlitteratur för att hitta tidigare omöjliga smaker. Skön- och facklitteratur fattade förvånansvärt nog tycke för varandra; de verkade känna igen något av sig själv i varandra under hopblandningen. ”Man skulle kunna säga att böckerna läser varandra när vi kombinerar dem,” påpekade en forskare. ”Det som oroar mig är att de också verkar förstå varandra.”

De mest skärrande resultaten uppmärksammades inte förrän årtionden senare. Vi hade valt ut särskilda volymer att låta fermentera i en vinkällare i Oxford. Efter att de uthärdat det otryckta livet alldeles för länge hade dessa litterära verk blivit författarlösa Cyprianusar och volymer av fram tills dess oskriven skräck. Analyser visade att bläcket hade lärt sig att läsa sitt eget innehåll genom att trycka sig mot sig själv upprepade gånger, vilket skapade komplexa, patologiska handlingsavvikelser som reflekterade varje burks personlighet. Bara ett fåtal karaktärer lyckades någonsin överleva de fermenterade utgåvorna av sina romaner.

~

Notes

In Uel’s original, the passive voice is used … well, I mean – Uel uses the passive voice to let the narrator absolve themself of responsibility. That’s the way I read it, at least: the agent (i.e. the doer in a sentence) is so conspicuously absent that it almost has to mean that the entity responsible is the one giving the address.

So, I made a bold move to unhide the “we” lurking in there. This was not a task undertaken lightly. I mean, I did not undertake this task lightly. The main reason was flow: I found no adequate way of letting the narrator keep their distance and not trip over the words. While that stumbling diction may be a good literary device, hinting at nervous guilt, I found no trace of it in Uel’s original and introducing it would change more than letting the narrator reveal themself and move dispassionately on, letting the “we” obscure individuality and absolve responsibility in another way but a way similar to the passive voice. After all, the boardroom may be guilty even as each individual member of the board gets off scot-free. As the saying goes.

My first translation of “liquid encoding” was “Vi chiffrerade vätskan …” which, unfortunately, seems to say a different thing than what the English says. This is a problem with the present participle (the -ing form), which is deceitful and doesn’t always point at the direct object, if it has one. It’s also a problem with there being no exhaustive equivalent of encode in Swedish – there is chiffrera, which is closest to cipher (although the word for decipher, dechiffrera, is far more common by my reckoning), and then there is koda, which is the only option my dictionary gives. And now that I’m this deep into the explanation I don’t know if I understand it well enough to explain it. It’s the two domains of code – language and cipher. We have them both in the noun kod but I can’t make both domains fit into the verb. The phrase “liquid encoding” seems to blur them, because you need both the cipher of turning a letter in dried ink into a blobule of liquid ink and back, and the language of telling it where to go.

If I had gone with “Vi kodade vätskan” I would be committing two errors, the first being that, for whatever reason, “we encoded the liquid” in both languages sounds grammatically wrong whereas “liquid encoding” does not. The second is that I would not be including the cipher. Now, the thing is maybe not meant to be plausible; this magnetic ink idea is not necessarily waterproof. But it needs to make sense when you read it, surely. I toyed, briefly, with the idea of a pun on the homophony of “koda” and “kåda” (resin), but this was too silly, if not entirely out of place. Then I went away from the problem a long while, went back to write down my progress, and hit on the idea of “flytande kod” – liquid code. It sidesteps the present participle problem (although the adjective for “liquid” is in the present participle in Swedish) and it implies the exact same thing as the English, as far as I can tell. One must use liquid code to do liquid encoding. Phew.

Another issue with the present participle – hah, you think I’ve got it bad here but my non-fiction translator friends tell me it’s the bane of their lives and the result of an ancient curse and whatnot – is the -ing-clause that begins “revealing,” in the second paragraph. In Swedish I rendered it as a colon, because I’m daring and reckless and it works, actually, to signal what “revealing …” signals in English, in this specific context, because of the helpful exposition of “reults” earlier in the sentence.

This next thing is, depending on your philosophy, either a bonus or a grievous oversight. The Swedish verb “trycka” means both to print and to push/press, so the phrase “printing against itself” becomes more subtle, meaning press/push more broadly as well as the specific print.

We have no word for grimoire in Swedish, the closest we get is an old Danish spellbook called Cyprianus, after its witchmaster author, Cyprianus. One can, apparently, use the word to mean an old book full of spells, and probably no-one reading knows about it really. It’s not like I did. But I really like the effect of Cyprianus the man unbecoming, becoming an unauthor, so I picked this word instead of saying something like dödsbok or svartbok, death-book, black book.

~

This has been the North of Reality Translation Project and I’ve been your translator, Johannes Punkt. It was foolish of me to start doing outros because now I have to think of content for them, too. But we keep ourselves alive by accepting small but ongoing responsibilities. We’re not alive by design or some grand faith that life is better than death, we’re alive because I have a dance to go to this evening, and because you promised you’d write that email about your top five Lana Del Rey songs and why.