The Living Mahabharata.

Audrey Truschke, who teaches South Asian History at Rutgers, has a lively piece for Aeon on the Mahabharata:

From the moment that the Mahabharata was first written two millennia ago, people began to rework the epic to add new ideas that spoke to new circumstances. No two manuscripts are identical (there are thousands of handwritten Sanskrit copies), and the tale was recited as much or more often than it was read. Some of the most beloved parts of the Mahabharata today – such as that the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha wrote the epic with his broken tusk as he heard Vyasa’s narration – were added centuries after the story was first compiled.

The Mahabharata is long. It is roughly seven times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined, and 15 times the length of the Christian Bible. The plot covers multiple generations, and the text sometimes follows side stories for the length of a modern novel. But for all its narrative breadth and manifold asides, the Mahabharata can be accurately characterised as a set of narratives about vice.

What I particularly like is that she quotes Sanskrit in the original and provides what read in English as excellent translations (I actually studied Sanskrit almost half a century ago, but it’s way too rusty for me to try to figure out how accurate they are):

After the slaughter, when blood has soaked the earth and most of the characters lie dead, Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five Pandavas, decides that he no longer wants the throne of Hastinapura. What is the point of ruling when you got there only through deceit, sin and death? Yudhishthira says:

आत्मानमात्मना हत्वा किं धर्मफलमाप्नुमः
धिगस्तु क्षात्रमाचारं धिगस्तु बलमौरसम्
धिगस्त्वमर्षं येनेमामापदं गमिता वयम्

Since we slaughtered our own, what good can possibly come from ruling?
Damn the ways of kings! Damn might makes right!
Damn the turmoil that brought us to this disaster!

At the end she says:

A note on the text: translations in this article are my own; I prefer colloquial translations. For recent retellings of the Mahabharata in English, I recommend that of John D Smith’s Penguin edition (2009) for fidelity to text and completeness, and Carole Satyamurti’s Norton edition (2016) for poetry.

So if you want to investigate further, there are some suggested translations. Thanks, Jack!

A Chat with Rosamund Bartlett.

Bloggers Karamazov (“The Official Blog of The North American Dostoevsky Society”) has an interview with Rosamund Bartlett on the occasion of her new Dostoevsky translation, The Russian Soul: Selections from a Writer’s Diary. I’m very glad to see the Diary get some attention, even if this selection is drastically abridged (“a mere 135 pages”); I read basically the entire Russian text (skimming some of the more repetitive and anti-Semitic political passages) last year and found it a great help in understanding Dostoevsky in general and Karamazov in particular. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

I certainly did not realize quite how interesting I would find the Writer’s Diary until I came to spend a month researching and writing about it. Once I began reading the main sources, beginning with Gary Saul Morson’s 1981 monograph, and realized what a fundamental and innovative work it is, I became riveted. It was a revelation to learn that the Diary was only ever re-published once during the Soviet period, in 1929, and that it was not until 2011 that the first properly annotated complete edition was published in Russia. I also became fascinated by the story of the Diary’s recent popularity as subject of scholarly enquiry after Joseph Frank finally first confronted the issue of its troubling political content in the final volume of his biography in 2002. This is one of the reasons I was keen to include a list of Further Reading, which Notting Hill Editions agreed to. […]

The initial, very good selection of texts, mostly taken from Kenneth Lantz’s excellent translation, was made by the Notting Hill Editions series editor Johanna Möhring. Once I had drafted the Introduction, we had a lively exchange by email about the final selection, which was circumscribed by the need to stay within the 45,000 word limit, which is standard for Notting Hill Editions books. We both wanted to include a representative selection of entries which would reflect the diverse nature of the Diary’s contents but approached the task from different angles. Johanna’s background is in international relations, with research interests in defence, security and the nature of power, as well as Russia and Eastern Europe. She was concerned to show the “acid social realism” of Dostoevsky’s Weltanschauung, and his argument for Russia occupying a “special spiritual realm” in European politics and culture, not ignoring his anti-Semitism. I came to the project as a cultural historian whose background is in Russian literature, so I was particularly keen to convey Dostoevsky’s great power as a writer, as well as his ability to impart a deeper moral and religious resonance to the social and political concerns he raises. I was particularly adamant, for example, that we include “The Peasant Marey,” since it is a precious piece of autobiography which links an event in Dostoevsky’s childhood to his prison experiences and religious conversion in Siberia. […]

In the end I think the volume gives a fair idea of the Diary’s hybrid contents, as they evolved between 1873 and 1881. We begin with “Environment,” in which Dostoevsky starts polemicizing with imaginary opponents, and presenting opposing views in a manner reminiscent of the great dialogues in his novels. His advocacy of individual moral responsibility in “Environment” is also one of his central themes, which he will of course extend further in The Brothers Karamazov. “The Boy Celebrating his Saint’s Day,” meanwhile, in which Dostoevsky discusses a letter a reader had sent to him about a twelve-year-old boy who had committed suicide, was written when he had become both editor and publisher of the Diary. It goes to the heart of the Diary’s new focus on the causes of the spiritual crisis Dostoevsky perceived in society. I thought it important to include “My Paradox,” as it is one of Dostoevsky’s first expressions of anti-Semitism in the Diary, and appears alongside his utopian nationalism as a natural part of his analysis of contemporary politics. We balanced these kinds of entries with a selection which focus on literature, such as Dostoevsky’s obituary of George Sand, in which he discusses her supreme importance to his idealistic generation of the 1840s. We also included his review of Anna Karenina, and his musings on Don Quixote, important to him as the greatest exemplar in literature of a “positively beautiful” figure. The volume inevitably culminates with Dostoevsky’s paean to Pushkin. “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” is the fictional centerpiece in the anthology, since it presents Dostoevsky’s major themes in microcosm, anticipates their amplification in The Brothers Karamazov, and is a perfect distillation of his art. I would ideally have liked to have also included “The Meek One” as a counterpart, not to mention “Bobok.” I would also have liked to include one of the many discursive accounts concerning the trial of Ekaterina Kornilova, in whose case Dostoevsky became personally involved, but it would have been difficult to find the right excerpt to present in isolation. […]

The Diary was Dostoevsky’s favorite work, which he viewed as a single oeuvre like the novels, and it was more popular, because he deliberately wanted to enter into direct conversation with his readers. The way they responded by entering into passionate correspondence with him was in many ways prophetic of the blogosphere. At 1500 pages, however, the Diary is longer than two of his novels put together, and I believe The Russian Soul provides the first representative anthology, conveniently squeezed into a mere 135 pages.

It’s a good selection, considering the ridiculous space constraints, and I hope a lot of people read it; I second her praise for Gary Saul Morson’s brilliant writing on Dostoevsky and for the Lantz translation (which has excellent notes and an indispensable introduction by Morson).

If you’re curious about my own Russian reading, I gobbled up Andrei Sinyavsky’s delightful Прогулки с Пушкиным (Strolls with Pushkin, which portrays Pushkin as a quintessential outsider who didn’t take anything very seriously except poetry and was very controversial in the exile community, which like all Russians worshiped Pushkin) and made my way more slowly through Georgi Vladimov’s grim Верный Руслан (Faithful Ruslan: Ruslan, deprived of his position as a guard dog when the Gulag camp is closed, finds new purpose in guarding a released prisoner in a nearby town and waiting for the camp to reopen), and I’m now about halfway through Yury Trifonov’s Другая жизнь (Another Life) — it’s slow going so far, maybe a little too Chekhovian, but I trust Trifonov and am sure I’ll be satisfied by the end.

Addendum. Melissa Frazier has a nice piece on Dostoevsky for the Jordan Russian Center:

Aileen Kelly has recently accounted for Herzen’s commitment to the natural sciences with reference to his reading of both Feuerbach and Schiller. The same is also true for Dostoevsky. While Feuerbach is most often remembered in the crude terms of “you are what you eat,” his was not a material world devoid of thought, but a world where thought as both imagination and reason is itself always embodied. As Feuerbach writes, his philosophy “joyfully and consciously recognizes the truth of sensuousness: It is a sensuous philosophy with an open heart.” Like Herzen and like Dostoevsky, the young Schiller trained in the sciences, and his plays anticipate Feuerbachian “sensuousness” on two levels: it is not just that his characters are remarkably physically involved—in The Robbers (1781), Franz “paces violently,” faints, and even “writhes … in fearful convulsions”—but that his audience responded in kind. Belinsky remembered the Moscow production of The Robbers in 1828 as “that wild, flaming dithyramb erupting like lava from the depths of a young, dynamic soul”; on just reading the same play in 1794 an excited young Coleridge wrote to his friend Robert Southey: “My God! Southey! Who is this Schiller? This Convulser of the Heart?” This insistence on putting minds in bodies and bodies in the world runs all through nineteenth-century science, although not in the kind that literary scholars know best.

Which gives me a chance to plug Aileen Kelly’s great biography of Herzen; see my review.

An Unclosed Parenthesis.

I’m still reading John Burnside’s The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century (see this post), and I’ve gotten to the chapter “La razón poética,” about the Generation of ’27. Burnside has an admirable desire to focus on women poets, and this chapter has a section on Ernestina de Champourcín (the name is apparently from Provence, and the -ou- is pronounced /u/). On p. 196 we find the following:

To live, and to welcome, not just the unknown but that which no mortal being (nadie) can know. It is, perhaps, tempting to see in such work the language of exile, where the love of home-place, and of those who remain there, is tainted with bitterness and longing for what is forever lost (and, as exiles soon learn, once the home-place has been corrupted, the only remaining option is to carry on, as a very different writer puts it, ‘boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past’. That past, however, can never be regained.

I don’t know whether the average reader notices these things, but as a copyeditor I can’t help seeing that the parenthesis before “and” is never closed; what’s especially surprising is that there’s no place to put an end-parenthesis, since “That past” refers to the immediately preceding “the past,” and you can’t really do that across the barrier of a parenthesis. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m outraged or disgusted (not being from Tunbridge Wells), but it doesn’t sit well with me. This is what happens when you get lost in the weeds of a rambling bit of prose, and the publisher doesn’t pay somebody to notice and fix it.

A Conversation with Olga Tokarczuk’s Translators.

Jennifer Croft at LARB presents a fascinating discussion:

I recently had the chance to catch up with a dozen friends and fellow translators of Polish Nobel Laureate Olga Tokarczuk at the finale of the summer series Translating the Future, organized by Esther Allen and Allison Markin Powell. We talked about our languages, processes, philosophies, and more — and while in many ways we’re all very different, we have one very important thing in common: a love of Olga’s work and a wholehearted dedication to carrying it over into our own cultures for more people to appreciate and enjoy. That conversation, facilitated by Susan Harris, was such a joy that I wanted to continue it further, so I followed up with everyone over email and am pleased to share their thoughts here.

First everyone responds to the questions “How did you feel when OT’s Nobel Prize was announced? Where were you when you heard the news?” (lots of screaming), then they go on to the topic “Olga’s books are part of Polish literature, but they are also part of world literature,” which leads to some good reactions:

MM [Milica Markić]: Olga as a local and universal writer is highly recognizable in terms of topics that are the nemesis of the people in the region of the Southwest Balkans in dealing with identity-related issues, the mixture that Yugoslavia represented as a melting pot of ethnicities and religions. The first book of hers translated was The Journey of the Book People, and it is good that the reader’s adventure with Olga in Serbia (then still Yugoslavia, but in a mutilated form) started with that book, because the plot takes place in France in the 17th century, but already strongly raises the theme of religious persecution. In the afterword I wrote in the first edition of the book, in 2001, I touched on this seemingly incidental topic of the exodus of Huguenots from France. Then the late Tadeusz Komendant visited us on the occasion of the publication of Olga Tokarczuk and Natasza Goerke in Serbia and he told me that none of the critics had written about it in Poland. I was very proud of it, but it somehow naturally coincided with my way of living and existing at the time: as an ardent religious practitioner, I was very sensitive to religious issues. Had the topic been narrowly Polish, the book certainly would not have had such an echo. Almost 10 years later, in 2010, when Flights was published in our country, this was only confirmed. Namely, the chair of the jury for the biggest Serbian literary award (the NIN) stated that instead of any of the domestic candidates for the prize, she would choose Flights, a book that is out of competition as a foreign literature, because: “This Polish woman writes like no one else in our country! She taught us a lesson! It is an unsurpassed work, both in terms of genre, topic, and style.”
[…]

LQ [Lothar Quinkenstein]: Speaking in terms of The Books of Jacob, which is for us — Lisa and me — our most intense experience of Olga’s writing to date, I would say that the enormous power of this novel consists in the meticulous local settings, which transcend the specific at the same time and attain a kind of universal significance (“Write local, think global!”). The history of Central Europe, in which the Jews played an essential role, as Milan Kundera put it in his legendary “Tragedy of Central Europe” essay, reveals everywhere how each local Central European microcosmos with its rich diversity (in language, culture, religion) becomes a mirror image of a universal experience. (OT’s earlier novel House of Day, House of Night would also be a good example, of course.)

At the Bruno Schulz Festival in 2018 in Drohobych, Olga created a wonderful metaphor, which is actually more a precise description of a real loss than a metaphor, namely that we can look at Schulz’s lost novel Messiah as the epitome of Central Europe, and that our awareness of that irreplaceable loss radiates an enormous power of inspiration until this very day. So, extending the metaphor, the Central European literature is, in a way, still “searching” for its lost Messiah. This holds true for The Books of Jacob, in which, by the way, the alleged first sentence of Schulz’s Messiah is quoted! But beyond that, also the journey of the eternal stranger is the epitome of a universal experience — a reflection of the human condition.

But the most interesting bits for me came in response to “How do differences between the Polish language and your language condition your translations?”:
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Oddest Title of the Year.

Alison Flood reports on a vital cultural indicator:

A Dog Pissing at the Edge of a Path has beaten Introducing the Medieval Ass to win the Diagram prize for oddest book title of the year.

Both books are academic studies, with the winning title by University of Alberta anthropologist Gregory Forth. It sees Forth look at how the Nage, an indigenous people primarily living on the islands of Flores and Timor, understand metaphor, and use their knowledge of animals to shape specific expressions. The title itself is an idiom for someone who begins a task but is then distracted by other matters. […]

“I thought it would be a closer race, but A Dog Pissing is practically a perfect Venn diagram of an ideal winner,” said Tom Tivnan, the prize coordinator and managing editor of the Bookseller. He said it combined “the three most fecund Diagram prize territories: university presses (a tradition dating back to the first champ, 1978’s University of Tokyo-published Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice); animals (like 2012’s Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop or 2003’s The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories); and bodily functions (such as 2013’s How to Poo on a Date and 2011’s Cooking with Poo).”

Thanks, Trevor!

Epithets: The Case of -o.

I wrote about Glossographia a decade ago; it’s “a blog dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of language from a social scientific perspective,” run by Stephen Chrisomalis, a linguistic anthropologist and cognitive anthropologist at Wayne State University in Detroit. I was recently surprised and pleased to discover it’s still a going concern, and I thought I’d pass on the post Epithets in contemporary English: the case of -o:

Recently over on the social media hellsite, I offered the following puzzle:

What do the following words have in common? SICK, WINE, RANDOM, WEIRD?

The answer, which a couple people got, is that they all are used to form negative epithets ending in -o. This morpheme is actually somewhat productive: pinko, weirdo, wino, dumbo, sicko, wacko, lesbo, fatso, rando, lameo, maybe also psycho, pedo, and narco if you don’t analyze them as abbreviations.

There are of course a bunch of other words formed using -o as a suffix that aren’t insulting nouns: ammo, camo, repo, demo, aggro, combo, promo, etc. Again, some of these are analyzable as shortenings but others, like ammo for ammunition, have something else going on. But these are different insofar as the role of the -o is not to create a noun describing a person.

Having looked around a while, I can’t find a single one of these epithets ending in -o that’s positive or even neutral. You can’t describe a smart person as smarto or a fun person as a funno (I think?).

The Google Ngram chart for these forms shows them to be largely a late 20th-century phenomenon; wino is the earliest and most popular through the early 90s, now overtaken by far by weirdo, but most of these words seem to emerge in the 1980s or later […]

I think little mini-word classes like these are interesting in that they show linguistic change and productivity on a small scale and in a way that doesn’t really show up in reference grammars and dictionaries. They’re a little aesthetically rich fragment of English informal speech that really, all languages have, but don’t get well-captured in some kinds of formal analysis. And as a language weirdo – or wordo? – I think that’s pretty cool.

So do I. (You can see a Google Ngram chart at the link.)

Old Dutch in an Irish MS?

Pádraic Moran writes for RTÉ about an interesting find:

It’s not often that medieval Irish manuscripts make the news – and it’s all the more unusual when they feature on Dutch national media. Last October, the Dutch national newspaper NRC Handelsblad carried a report that a new word of Old Dutch had been discovered in an Irish manuscript. […] The story has its origins in PhD research carried out at the University of Leiden by Peter-Alexander Kerkhof. He published some of his ideas on a blog dedicated to Dutch studies, where he cited an early Irish text known as “O’Mulconry’s Glossary”. This is found in a manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin, dating from 1572, now bound as part of the Yellow Book of Lecan. The name “O’Mulconry’s Glossary” was assigned by the great (and often controversial) Celticist Whitley Stokes (1830–1901), although the text’s title is really De origine scoticae linguae (“On the origin of the Irish language”). Despite being copied into a 16th-century manuscript, the language is very ancient and coherent with Irish of the early eighth or possibly even seventh century, putting it among the earliest compositions in the Irish language.

De origine scoticae linguae does exactly what it purports to. After a remarkable prologue which claims that the Irish language derives from Hebrew, Latin and Greek (and that the Irish people are descended from Greeks!), it discusses the origins of about 880 mostly Irish words, deriving them from Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as Welsh and Norse. Modern scholars would not now accept most of these derivations, but nonetheless this represents one of the earliest milestones in the study of the Irish language and the beginnings of Celtic linguistics.

[Read more…]

Havering.

Anne Nelson has a nice piece in the Dec. 4 TLS called How I became a guinea pig: Joining a trial for a Covid-19 vaccine in New York; I recommended it to my wife, and when she got to this passage she called me over:

I’d been following the developments of the vaccine with interest, but I wasn’t particularly looking to participate. The opportunity presented itself in September on my Facebook feed. I filled out the application – why not? – and asked around for advice. My daughter said I was crazy, but she tends to worry. I have three friends who are emergency physicians and who have worked with Covid-19 patients. Dr California said I shouldn’t go near a trial vaccine – look at polio. Dr New York said she knew the vaccine people at Mount Sinai and trusted them as first-rate. Dr Saskatchewan said he wished he could participate in the trial because his own province was spiking.

By the time I’d filtered through all the advice and responded affirmatively, the places had been filled. Given my havering, I was surprised by my disappointment.

“What does ‘havering’ mean?” she asked. I said it was a British word and meant, uh… I realized I didn’t quite know what it meant, and after fumfering for a minute I gave in and looked it up. Turns out the reason I was confused is that it means two different things (OED, entry updated March 2015):

1. intransitive. Chiefly Scottish and English regional (northern). To talk foolishly or inconsequentially; to talk nonsense; to blather, ramble; to chatter, gossip. Frequently with on, about.
1776 Weekly Mag. 25 Jan. 145 Troth, Branky, man, I hinna faul’t my een Since here I left you havrin’ late the streen.
1816 W. Scott Antiquary III. xv. 332 He just havered on about it to make the mair o’ Sir Arthur.
[…]
1907 N. Munro Bud xxvii. 259 ‘The sweetest in the world!’ cried Auntie Bell. ‘I wonder to hear you haivering.’
1943 Scots Mag. May 129 Yin o’ Scotland’s great race o’ engineers that the writers write aboot an’ the orators haver aboot.
1988 C. Reid & C. Reid I’m gonna be (500 Miles) (song) in Proclaimers Sunshine on Leith (record sleeve notes) And if I haver, yeah I know I’m gonna be I’m gonna be the man who’s havering to you.
2009 I. Welsh Reheated Cabbage 260 Lawson eyed and pawed at her in lewd obscenity as he havered on. It was as well she probably couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

2. intransitive. Chiefly British (originally Scottish). To behave indecisively or hesitantly; to vacillate between opinions or courses of action; to waver, dither.
1866 W. Gregor Dial. Banffshire (Philol. Soc.) 73 Ye needna be haiverin’ that wye aboot gain’ haim..wee the lassie. A ken ye like ‘ir.
1919 M. Diver Strong Hours iii. 83 You’ve been havering long enough; and I gather that my proposal—broadly speaking—is not distasteful to you?
1955 J. Bayley In Another Country 75 It was a classic moment for polite havering, but the sensible girl did not haver: he was holding the front door open and she climbed in without more ado.
2013 Express (Nexis) 1 Mar. 15 Over 20 years successive governments havered and dithered over nuclear reactor replacement.

(It’s “Of uncertain origin. Perhaps an imitative or expressive formation.”) Clearly Nelson is using it in the second sense, which apparently is filtering over here like so many UK terms. I’m sure my readers from across the pond know all about this, but I present it as a public service to my fellow confused Yanks.

Monks Should Write Nothing at All.

I’ve gotten back to A History of Russian Literature by Victor Terras (see this post), which I set aside and forgot about for a while, and I’ve run into some more great stuff I have to pass along. From p. 116:

Peter the Great put an end to the role of the clergy in Russian literature. In 1701 the boyar Ivan Alekseevich Musin-Pushkin was instructed “to take charge of the Holy Patriarch’s house, the bishoprics, and matters pertaining to monasteries.” Musin-Pushkin immediately ordered that “monks should write nothing at all when alone in their cells, nor should they keep ink or paper; and if they are to write, then only in the refectory, with the permission of their superiors and in compliance with the traditions of the church fathers. […] Feofan Prokopovich, archbishop of Novgorod and a leading poet, man of letters, and preacher of his age, was the father of the “Clerical Regulations,” which in effect severed the ties between the Russian church and Russian literature. In the West, even in modern times, many clergymen were also important men of letters. In Russia no member of the clergy ever entered secular literature with any success.

From p. 117:

Gradually secondary education also began to spread across the empire. […] Russian education developed from the top down. Russia had a distinguished academy before it had a university; it had a university before it had a network of secondary schools; and it had adequate secondary schools long before it had any organized elementary education.

And from p. 118:

Peter the Great launched a program to make Western thought and knowledge available in Russian. […] The translators of all these works were a motley crowd: Muscovite officials and clerks, Ukrainian clerics, Polish noblemen, Swedish prisoners of war, and Germans from the Moscow “German suburb.” Their lexicon was a chaos of Slavonic high style and vulgarisms, Ukrainianisms and Polonisms, loan translations from the German, French, or Latin, and thousands of outright borrowings. The grammar was anarchic, mixing Slavonic, Muscovite, and Ukrainian forms and syntax. Subsequently Russian literature, in particular the theoretical and practical works of Trediakovsky, Lomonosov, and Sumarokov, played a decisive role in transforming the chaotic language they faced as young men into the serviceable literary idiom they left to their successors.

On Self-Translating Icelandic to English.

Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson discusses how he translated his own novel into English:

I never intended to translate my own book. The way it happened felt almost as if by accident. I self-published a fantasy novel called Hrímland in 2014. I was exhausted after the process, but soon after I decided to try out translating it. Gollancz had opened their submissions for a limited time, and I used that for motivation. It was just supposed to be an experiment to see how on earth I would manage to translate this work. I never imagined it would go anywhere. That book ended up becoming Shadows of the Short Days.

See, I knew this was the kind of book where I couldn’t just hand it off to a translator and get a good result without massive interference from myself. I wanted to find out how I could do it, and perhaps in doing so learn something new about how I wrote in English.

Writing fantasy fiction naturally lends itself to a lot of worldbuilding – and that worldbuilding is done through language. In Icelandic, I had pillaged my country’s archaic vocabulary when coming up with fantastical terms in universe, also looking up old kenningar, poetical words and phrases. I turned these words into species, warrior-castes, sorcerer names. Icelandic also lends itself well to making up new words – a language with a lot of compound nouns is fun that way. So, when I looked how I would tackle the translation, I had to decide what to keep and what to translate into English.

When is something too precious to worldbuilding lost in translation? When is something a bit too untranslatable, too culturally important, or just too damn cool to be turned into English?

A whole lot, according to the glossary at the end of the book. […]

In the Icelandic text, the ravenfolk speak a very strange type of Icelandic (or, well, Hrímlandic). Their corvine vocal cords can mimic human languages effectively, but they care little for the ways of land-bound species. They much prefer to speak in the rough caws of their native skramsl (which is an archaic word for a raven crowing). They speak a faux type of Old Icelandic, like something you see when reading the Sagas of the Icelanders. The Sagas took place in the 9th to 11th centuries during the settlement of Iceland, written a few centuries later. In universe, the náskárar learned the human tongue then, and have since not bothered with updating it much.

So how do you translate someone speaking fake Old Icelandic in English? […] This is where it becomes convenient being the author as well as the translator. I did something a bit strange. I rewrote their dialogue and kept a lot of Icelandic words in there. Like, a lot. They almost speak Icelandic half of the time, although it’s the same kind of strange, faux Old Icelandic. The fusion feels like something from another world, a different time, and the English reader gets a real sense that these bastards really are speaking the old tongue. This was a big part of why I wanted to do the translation myself. I knew I wanted to do something unorthodox with them, as with so many other parts of the world.

Even if it’s just mundane things like not translating landi as moonshine.

I personally think those are pretty dubious decisions that another translator would sensibly have avoided, but hey, it’s his book, and it’s fun to read about. (There are more details at the link, of course.) Thanks, MattF!