Translating Alice.

Andrea Appleton at smithsonian.com reports on a new publication:

Middle Welsh and Manx, Lingwa de Planeta and Latgalian. In its 150-year history, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been translated into every major language and numerous minor ones, including many that are extinct or invented. Only some religious texts and a few other children’s books—including The Little Prince by French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry—reportedly rival Alice for sheer number of linguistic variations.

But the real wonder is that any Alice translations exist at all. Penned in 1865 by English scholar Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, the book’s delight in wordplay and cultural parodies makes it a torment for translators.

How do you write about the Mouse’s tale without losing the all-important pun on “tail”? Some languages, like the Aboriginal tongue Pitjantjatjara, don’t even use puns. What about when a character takes an idiom literally? […]

A massive new work, Alice in a World of Wonderlands, devotes three volumes to exploring such questions. Published by Oak Knoll Press, the books include essays by 251 writers analyzing the beloved children’s book in 174 languages. The essays are scholarly but peppered with anecdotes illuminating the peculiarities of language and culture as they relate to Carroll’s book. […]

Language and typography scholar Michael Everson says the novel’s inherent difficulty is part of its appeal. “The Alice challenge seems to be one that people like because it’s really fun,” he says. “Wracking your brains to resurrect a pun that works in your language even though it shouldn’t, that sort of thing.” For instance, an early Gujarati translator managed to capture the tail/tale pun for readers of that western Indian tongue. When someone talks incessantly, it is often conveyed through the Gujarati phrase poonchadoo nathee dekhatun, which means “no end in sight”—allowing the translator to play on poonchadee, the word for “tail”, with poonchadoo.

I love the Gujarati example, and there are other goodies at the link (“In the Swahili edition, the Hatter wears a fez and the dormouse is a bush baby”). It’s amazing how clever people can be at coming up with corresponding wordplay. And I should note that the article doesn’t mention one of the more famous and successful versions, Nabokov’s Аня в Стране Чудес.

Comments

  1. Russian sports not only several excellent translations and adaptations of Alice, but also musical play with songs by Vladimir Vysotsky.

  2. but also musical play with songs by Vladimir Vysotsky
    If you have any links to that, I’d really appreciate it – I’m a big Vysotsky fan, but didn’t know about that play, so I’m really curious.

  3. Talking of curious, at least two of the Russian renditions of ‘curiouser’ – страньше и чудесатее – are current in modern usage with people not even realising they come from Alice.

  4. Nabokov skipped a scene or two but his finds are brilliant. One of my favourites from chapter IX is when lessons are called so because they lessen from day to day. He renders ‘lesson’ as ‘укор’ (reproach) and then turns it into a double pun. As Gryphon explains, укор (lesson-lessen) is called son because it укорачивается – shortens.

  5. I’ve recently come across an assertion that renditions or adaptations like Nabokov’s or Chukovsky’s would be impossible today because of copyright restrictions. Writers and translators simply have to stick to the original work and translate it as close to the original as possible without deviating or experimenting. Does this sound true?

  6. As an Alice translator and contributor to “Alice in a World of Wonderlands”, I must say that it’s been a fascinating project to work on and finally get to read the published volumes. Nabokov’s version is one of those discussed and analysed – and was one of the versions I had to hand when I was doing my own translation. The comparisons of varying translation strategies in the publication are really valuable, but even spread across three hefty volumes there’s only room for each target language to get a taster. I’ve been tantalised reading through so far (although I’ve been skipping backward and forwards by language group between studies of Romance versions, Germanic versions, Celtic versions, Slavic versions, etc) and wanting to find out more about Alice in some of the languages I don’t have a clue about. Some of the more detached overview commentaries are good, but I’ve been finding that the commentaries by translators, with their remarks on why they chose certain renderings and rejected alternatives, are the most personally compelling. Of course, now having read many of my fellow-contributors’ essays, I have the feeling I’d like to go back and revise my contributions to “Alice in a World of Wonderlands” – but on the other hand I feel rather justified in many of the choices I made in my Alice translations (others may disagree!)

  7. I don’t think that’s much a legal issue (a copyright holder is allowed to authorize a movie, a musical, an adaptation for tweens, a lunchbox; why not a brilliant yet daringly free translation?) as a cultural one — changing ideas on what it is appropriate for a literary translator to do, generally disfavoring “deviation and experimentation” and other ostentatious interventions. Even if the results are good as literature, if they aren’t an “authentic” representation of the semantic content of the original, they are likely to be deemed inappropriate. (The form of the original is usually considered less vital, in my experience — thus a rhyming poem may be translated into unrhymed verse, but leave out one of the types of fruit listed in line 12 and watch the reviewers pounce.) Nabokov’s review of Arndt’s translation of Eugene Onegin is a good example of this kind of thinking taken to a searing, contemptuous extreme.

    That said, I think books like Alice are generally exempted from this to an extent — people might be nervous about “authenticity” but they aren’t unreasonable, they know that puns can’t be translated literally and some adaptation is needed. The Harry Potter books, for example, were translated with spell names, proper nouns, etc. adjusted as considered appropriate to each language, so that for example Voldemort’s full name can be rearranged into a sentence meaning “I AM LORD VOLDEMORT”. (Bathrobe has pages and pages about this.)

  8. (Er, replying to Sashura there, of course.)

  9. Many of the things Alice parodies are now far more obscure than the parody, so that even English-speakers need annotated editions.

  10. Thanks, Matt

  11. Hans, it’s right here on youtube, for one.

  12. centralasian says:

    @Hans – you may find the full album – “Alice in Wonderland (Soviet audio play) feat. Vladimir Vysotsky” – here on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQsn-GBkm98. The album, in two vinyl disks, was published in 1976, and had quite a cult status among certain intelligentsia circles in the USSR. This YouTube video actually shows the cover of this vinyl set.

  13. It would be interesting to see how successful different translations are in different sections of the story, since one of the unusual things about Alice in Wonderland is that the various chapters have characteristically different kinds of jokes. Most obviously, the tea party is comedy of manners, while the part with the mock turtle is mostly puns.

  14. if they aren’t an “authentic” representation of the semantic content of the original, they are likely to be deemed inappropriate.

    I don’t think is true. I mean, I wish it were true, while acknowledging cases like Alice. But in general, it seems to me that Anglophone literary culture does not value semantic accuracy very much. Coleman Barks is popular even though his “translations” are neither translations nor particularly accurate, and he is one of numerous “translators” who don’t know the original language. I posted an article the other day about Neruda translations which leave out poems in sequences and make things up at whim. I have read translations which silently excise sections of novels or rewrite lines of poems without anyone objecting. I would say the problem is at the other extreme.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Some years ago I was able to buy versions of Alice in French, Italian, German and Russian, as well as The Annotated Alice. The Russian version (which was much too hard for me to read) is Nabokov’s. Among other difficulties, it uses an older spelling, for instance the letter which is now written “e”.

  16. The link at the end of my post will take care of that last problem, at any rate, since it’s in the modern orthography.

  17. I just ordered a copy in OE!

    There is a publisher called Evertype that does dozens of (often weird—Gothic anyone???) translations.

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Evertype

  18. Michael Everson and Evertype are one and the same.

  19. @ D.O. & centralasian – thanks a lot!

  20. marie-lucie says:

    one of numerous “translators” who don’t know the original language

    Slightly off topic, but this is a big problem with many editions of Native American/Canadian First Nations texts rewritten to make them more “literary”, based on earlier transcriptions and translations which may give the basic meaning of the words and sentences but miss the subtleties, especially if the texts could be considered deliberately “minimalist” rather than “crude”.

  21. The ninth Polish translation came out three years ago. My favourite one (mostly because I was brought up on it) was Alice #4, translated by Maciej Słomczyński (who, despite his 100% Polish first and last names, was of half British and half American descent).

  22. 2nd (or 3rd) recommendation to Vysotsky’s albums. BTW I think my first poetry translation (commissioned by my English-fluent grandmother, a scholar on US linguistics and ethnicity in her day) was from Alice too. Precisely because a good pun is so precious. How doeth the little crocodile improve his golden tail etc. A very humbling exercise it was ;).

    (But to mark the occasion, I’m officially replacing the website link above – to a poetry translations blog 😉 )

  23. [Posted on the Conlang list back in 1998]

    As a translation of this English original from Chapter 6, ‘Pig and Pepper’:

    “You see the earth takes twenty-four hours to turn round on its axis —”

    “Talking of axes,” said the Duchess, “chop off her head.”

    the version by Antonie Zimmermann is fair enough:

    “[…] Die Erde braucht doch jetz vier-und-zwanzig Stunden, sich in ihre Achse zu drehen—”

    “Was, redest du vom Axt?” fragte die Herzogin. “Hau’ ihr den Kopf ab!”

    But Henri Bué’s translation is nothing less than sublime:

    “[…] vous voyez bien, la terre met vingt-quatre heures à faire sa révolution.”

    “Ah! vous parlez de faire des révolutions!” dit la Duchesse. “Qu’on lui coupe la tête!”

    The axe becomes by implication a guillotine.

  24. That is indeed brilliant.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    De revolutionibus orbium cœlestium

  26. I am currently reading Aiko Itō and Graeme Wilson’s translation of Sōseki’s I Am a Cat; they give the characters names like “Mr. Sneaze” or “Avalon Coldmoon”, which I think is acceptable in conveying that the names in the original are also silly made-up monikers. And a character notable for her wealth is dubbed “Opula Goldfield.” Why not?

  27. Fisheyed, I believe I read that post and in fact it was an example of exactly the trend I’m talking about – frowning on insufficient fidelity in the translations of even a generation or two ago. (Leaving out some of the poems in a “sequence” I consider more of an editorial matter – the same thing might be done in a same-language “selected works”.)

    I guess the question is, have things changed? It may depend on the field. But I can’t, for example, imagine a new translation of the Genji Monogatari that arbitrarily left out poems, paragraphs and chapters on aesthetic grounds the way Waley’s (hugely acclaimed at the time, not so much now) does – perhaps an established author or poet might dare to present “their” version this way, but a translator would not be forgiven such liberties.

  28. The Ito/Wilson translation I spoke of is from 1972. I suppose that a new version would tend toward explaining jokes rather than finding equivalents to them — but that would be ponderous! I certainly find Royall Tyler’s Genji not very readable (although good for reference if you want to compare detailed translation to other versions).

  29. a translator would not be forgiven such liberties.

    And yet Chandler is acclaimed for his translation of Grossman’s Life and Fate, in which he admits up front that “I have myself omitted or abridged some of the more sententious passages.” I find that utterly shocking — if you’re going to translate any novel, let alone perhaps the greatest novel ever written about WWII, translate the damn thing, and who are you to decide what’s too “sententious” to sully the vision of the English-speaking reader? — but reviewers seem to swallow it without protest. (That’s leaving aside the long list of howlers that I hope will be corrected in some future edition.)

  30. If there is nothing wrong with an abridged edition, what is wrong with an abridged translation, particularly when the translator takes the trouble to mark it as such? I first read Don Quixote in English in an unabridged translation, then again in an abridged one for school. I liked the style of the first translator better, so I marked up my copy of it to indicate the (large-scale) abridgments made by the second translator, and read it thereafter with satisfaction.

  31. Okay, perhaps it is just confirmation bias — but still, that was in 1985. I was barely even aware of my surroundings in 1985, so clearly we are talking about the distant past here. (Seriously, I do think that what I’m talking about became a thing in the 90s along with the fragmentation of mass culture and all that jazz.)

    Maybe what I am really trying to describe is less “Everyone is a strict Nabokovian now” and more “Back in the day, everyone was willing to let all kinds of semantic liberties slide; now there is a significant minority of people who vigorously protest even small changes.” But even then, I suppose it’s possible that I just haven’t read closely enough and even in the 1920s there were reviewers objecting strenuously to Waley’s ways.

  32. If there is nothing wrong with an abridged edition, what is wrong with an abridged translation, particularly when the translator takes the trouble to mark it as such?

    Nothing, as long as there are unabridged editions to turn to if that’s what you want. If you’re doing the first and for some indefinite time only translation of an important work, it’s dereliction of duty.

  33. Nothing, as long as there are unabridged editions to turn to if that’s what you want. If you’re doing the first and for some indefinite time only translation of an important work, it’s dereliction of duty.

    Amen, amen. Plus, there is the responsibility to be HONEST about the abridgement in teh introduction. I think it’s the duplicitous silence that is shocking both in the Neruda example I read about and in the Tamil/English ones that I have seen first-hand (e.g. Shobasakthi’s excellent novel, Gorilla).

    now there is a significant minority of people who vigorously protest even small changes.

    I am happy to hear we are numerous enough to be significant. I sometimes feel like a old man with a long beard shrieking YOU MUST REPENT.

  34. Eh, Verne’s novel The Mysterious Island was published in 1874 and had four abridged English translations before two unabridged ones appeared, both in 2001.

    When push comes to shove, translators are responsible to their audiences and their publishers, not so much to the original author. Some books just aren’t worth translating in their entirety.

    A master’s thesis on abridged translations into Finnish, mostly from English. I have only dipped into it so far, but it looks very interesting.

  35. Some books just aren’t worth translating in their entirety.

    You’ll just have to take my word for it that Grossman’s isn’t one of those.

  36. (I reviewed it here, for anyone who might be interested.)

  37. Did you see Chandler’s response? No P & V he.

  38. Yes, and I sent him (at his request) a list of the errors and omissions I had found. I’m not holding my breath for a new edition, though.

  39. I’ve read the thesis now. The chapter on Morte D’Arthur and its 1979 YA Finnish translation is particularly interesting, particularly the parts that aren’t specialized to YA of that time (like the general reduction of sex and gore). The thesis makes the general point that English that was not archaic in the 15C should be translated into Finnish that is not archaic in the 20C. More specifically, the original suffers from not being able to tell a story linearly, as in this passage quoted by the writer:

    And so when he loved her there was cried in this country a great jousts three days, and all the knights of this country were there and gentlewomen, and who that proved him the best knight should have a passing good sword and a circlet of gold, and the circlet the knight should give it to the fairest lady that was at the jousts. And this knight Sir Pelleas was the best knight that was there, and there were five hundred knights, but there was never man that ever Sir Pelleas met withal but he struck him down, or else from his horse; and every day of three days he struck down twenty knights, therefore they gave him the prize, and forthwithal he went there as the lady Ettard was, and gave her the circlet, and said openly she was the fairest lady that there was, and that would he prove upon any knight that would say nay.

    This is reduced in the translation to:

    Seudulla pidettiin kolmen päivän turnajaiset, joitten voittaja sai palkkiokseen oivallisen miekan ja kultarivan, joka hänen piti antaa turnajaisten kauneimmalle naiselle. Sir Pelleas voitti kilvan, vaikka paikalla oli viisisataa ritaria. Hän antoi otsarivan Ettardille ja sanoi kuuluvasti, että tämä oli kaikista naisista kaunein.

    which is rendered by GT as:

    Resort was held three days of jousting among whom the winner received the rewards of a sword and an excellent kultarivan, which he had to give tournament flagships’s most beautiful woman. Sir Pelleas won the race, even though there were five hundred knights. He gave a diadem of Ettardille and said loudly that this was the most beautiful of all women.

    This is much closer (ignoring infelicities) to how a 20C writer would put it. Similarly, the translation omits in describing the battles the long lists of who killed or injured who, well-satirized by Twain.

  40. Alice must have been one of the first books I read in primary school back in the seventies (no knowledge of English back then). I don’t think I realized anything about puns and wordplays, so perhaps it was a bad translation, but the most intriguing thing about that story was the little girl’s efforts to make sense of a bizzare world based on what she knew about her own. It was not funny at all, I don’t remember myself laughing when I read the book, but it was crazy, fascinating and surreal enough to make me fall in love with the book for life. Alice was genuinely puzzled at what was going on around her, but she was curious, optimistic, adventurous and determined to find her way back home. Perhaps an inspired story prevails over any reading between the lines. Or perhaps I was just as clueless as she was.

  41. Eh, Verne’s novel The Mysterious Island was published in 1874 and had four abridged English translations before two unabridged ones appeared, both in 2001.

    What did they cut?

  42. From an article at self.gutenberg.org:

    In September 1875 Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle published the first British edition of Mysterious Island in three volumes entitled Dropped from the Clouds, The Abandoned, and The Secret of the Island (195,000 words). In November 1875 Scribners published the American edition of these volumes from the English plates of Sampson Low. The purported translator, W. H. G. Kingston, was a famous author of boys’ adventure and sailing stories who had fallen on hard times in the 1870s due to business failures, and so he hired out to Sampson Low as the translator for these volumes. However, it is now known that the actual translator of Mysterious Island and his other Verne novels was actually his wife, Agnes Kinloch Kingston, who had studied on the continent in her youth. The Kingston translation changes the names of the hero from “Smith” to “Harding”; “Smith” is a name often used by gypsies and not suitable for an English hero. In addition many technical passages were abridged or omitted and the anti-imperialist sentiments of the dying Captain Nemo were purged so as not to offend English readers. This became the standard translation for more than a century.

    In 1876 the Stephen W. White translation (175,000 words) appeared first in the columns of The Evening Telegraph of Philadelphia and subsequently as an Evening Telegraph Reprint Book. This translation is more faithful to the original story and restores the death scene of Captain Nemo, but there is still condensation and omission of some sections such as Verne’s description of how a sawmill works. In the 20th century two more abridged translations appeared: the Fitzroy Edition (Associated Booksellers, 1959) abridged by I. O. Evans (90,000 words) and Mysterious Island (Bantam, 1970) abridged by Lowell Blair (90,000 words).

    No unabridged translations appeared until 2001 when the illustrated version of Sidney Kravitz appeared (Wesleyan University Press) almost simultaneously with the new translation of Jordan Stump published by Random House Modern Library (2001). Kravitz also translated Shipwrecked Family: Marooned With Uncle Robinson [an earlier version rejected by Verne’s publisher], published by the North American Jules Verne Society and BearManor Fiction in 2011.

  43. Thanks!

  44. marie-lucie says:

    Translating Jules Verne

    I think I wrote a comment on this a few years ago, but there is no harm in repeating the gist of it.

    In my youth I read some of the novels (though not L’île mystérieuse). Much later I ran into an English translation of 20.000 lieues sous les mers (which I had read in French years before) and started on it for lack of other reading matter at the time. It was appalling. It seemed to have been written by a francophone minimally proficient in English in terms of both vocabulary and sentence structure. The only detail I remember is the episode when the passengers on the Nautilus go ashore on a desert island and want to make a fire. The scientist Paganel takes a magnifying glass out of his pocket and uses it to concentrate the sun’s rays. The French text uses the word une lentille, which means both ‘lens’ and ‘lentil’. The English text has Paganel starting the fire with the help of, guess what, a lentil.

    Some time later I ran into another, apparently more expensive English edition which I hoped would be better. No such luck! It was the same! No wonder that, as I had read somewhere, Verne was less popular among adults in English-speaking countries than in France.

    A few years ago there was an article in Scientific American by two scientists who deplored the poor quality of most existing translations and said they had started on a long-term project to provide new ones which would be more reflective of Verne’s genius.

  45. The old bad translation is still on Project Gutenberg, but fortunately so is F. P. Walter’s 2002 translation by permission of the translator. It is unabridged, and its corrections begin with the title: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Seas, rather than Sea, which gives the impression that Verne thought the ocean was 80,000 km deep instead of (at most) 11,000! The translation also keeps the metric system (which is appropriate for an English science fiction novel of today), with a handy table of equivalents up front.

    I haven’t yet read this translation, but here are the openings. Old:

    The year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten. Not to mention rumours which agitated the maritime population and excited the public mind, even in the interior of continents, seafaring men were particularly excited. Merchants, common sailors, captains of vessels, skippers, both of Europe and America, naval officers of all countries, and the Governments of several States on the two continents, were deeply interested in the matter.

    For some time past vessels had been met by “an enormous thing,” a long object, spindle-shaped, occasionally phosphorescent, and infinitely larger and more rapid in its movements than a whale.

    The facts relating to this apparition (entered in various log-books) agreed in most respects as to the shape of the object or creature in question, the untiring rapidity of its movements, its surprising power of locomotion, and the peculiar life with which it seemed endowed. If it was a whale, it surpassed in size all those hitherto classified in science. Taking into consideration the mean of observations made at divers times—rejecting the timid estimate of those who assigned to this object a length of two hundred feet, equally with the exaggerated opinions which set it down as a mile in width and three in length—we might fairly conclude that this mysterious being surpassed greatly all dimensions admitted by the learned ones of the day, if it existed at all. And that it did exist was an undeniable fact; and, with that tendency which disposes the human mind in favour of the marvellous, we can understand the excitement produced in the entire world by this supernatural apparition. As to classing it in the list of fables, the idea was out of the question.

    New:

    The year 1866 was marked by a bizarre development, an unexplained and downright inexplicable phenomenon that surely no one has forgotten. Without getting into those rumors that upset civilians in the seaports and deranged the public mind even far inland, it must be said that professional seamen were especially alarmed. Traders, shipowners, captains of vessels, skippers, and master mariners from Europe and America, naval officers from every country, and at their heels the various national governments on these two continents, were all extremely disturbed by the business.

    In essence, over a period of time several ships had encountered “an enormous thing” at sea, a long spindle–shaped object, sometimes giving off a phosphorescent glow, infinitely bigger and faster than any whale.

    The relevant data on this apparition, as recorded in various logbooks, agreed pretty closely as to the structure of the object or creature in question, its unprecedented speed of movement, its startling locomotive power, and the unique vitality with which it seemed to be gifted. If it was a cetacean, it exceeded in bulk any whale previously classified by science. No naturalist, neither Cuvier nor Lacépède, neither Professor Dumeril nor Professor de Quatrefages, would have accepted the existence of such a monster sight unseen—specifically, unseen by their own scientific eyes.

    Striking an average of observations taken at different times—rejecting those timid estimates that gave the object a length of 200 feet, and ignoring those exaggerated views that saw it as a mile wide and three long—you could still assert that this phenomenal creature greatly exceeded the dimensions of anything then known to ichthyologists, if it existed at all.

    Now then, it did exist, this was an undeniable fact; and since the human mind dotes on objects of wonder, you can understand the worldwide excitement caused by this unearthly apparition. As for relegating it to the realm of fiction, that charge had to be dropped.

    Original:

    L’année 1866 fut marquée par un événement bizarre, un phénomène inexpliqué et inexplicable que personne n’a sans doute oublié. Sans parler des rumeurs qui agitaient les populations des ports et surexcitaient l’esprit public à l’intérieur des continents les gens de mer furent particulièrement émus. Les négociants, armateurs, capitaines de navires, skippers et masters de l’Europe et de l’Amérique, officiers des marines militaires de tous pays, et, après eux, les gouvernements des divers États des deux continents, se préoccupèrent de ce fait au plus haut point.
    En effet, depuis quelque temps, plusieurs navires s’étaient rencontrés sur mer avec « une chose énorme » un objet long, fusiforme, parfois phosphorescent, infiniment plus vaste et plus rapide qu’une baleine.

    Les faits relatifs à cette apparition, consignés aux divers livres de bord, s’accordaient assez exactement sur la structure de l’objet ou de l’être en question, la vitesse inouïe de ses mouvements, la puissance surprenante de sa locomotion, la vie particulière dont il semblait doué. Si c’était un cétacé, il surpassait en volume tous ceux que la science avait classés jusqu’alors. Ni Cuvier, ni Lacépède, ni M. Dumeril, ni M. de Quatrefages n’eussent admis l’existence d’un tel monstre — à moins de l’avoir vu, ce qui s’appelle vu de leurs propres yeux de savants.

    A prendre la moyenne des observations faites à diverses reprises — en rejetant les évaluations timides qui assignaient à cet objet une longueur de deux cents pieds et en repoussant les opinions exagérées qui le disaient large d’un mille et long de trois — on pouvait affirmer, cependant, que cet être phénoménal dépassait de beaucoup toutes les dimensions admises jusqu’à ce jour par les ichtyologistes — s’il existait toutefois.

    Or, il existait, le fait en lui-même n’était plus niable, et, avec ce penchant qui pousse au merveilleux la cervelle humaine, on comprendra l’émotion produite dans le monde entier par cette surnaturelle apparition. Quant à la rejeter au rang des fables, il fallait y renoncer.

    Note that the dates in 20,000 Leagues and the lesser-known interquel The Children of Captain Grant are hopelessly incompatible with those in The Mysterious Island, and should be resolutely ignored.

  46. Ack! Pkease fix.

  47. Fixed! Amazing how much havoc a simple “i” instead of “a” can cause.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    Merci, JC, for the three parallel texts. Jules Verne was a very good writer, something that is not at all obvious from the earlier translation.

    I think that Les enfants du capitaine Grant was the first of the novels I read, at the age of 10 at the most. It was one of many interesting big books I read in my father’s grandmother’s apartment, lying face down on the rug between a big leather armchair and a rolltop desk. My father’s grandfather (whom I never knew) owned several volumes of the first edition of the series, hard cover with many lithographic pictures, part of a library he had started to collect for his future children.

  49. The one good thing about the “bad old translation” is that it helps you get a good feel for French!

  50. There are some respects in which I find the new translation less than satisfactory. Small things that jar. For instance:

    Traders, shipowners, captains of vessels, skippers, and master mariners from Europe and America, naval officers from every country, and at their heels the various national governments on these two continents, were all extremely disturbed by the business.

    Why “extremely disturbed by the business”? “Extremely disturbed” is just bad style.

    In essence, over a period of time several ships had encountered

    Is “in essence” stylistically appropriate here?

    infinitely bigger and faster than any whale

    I feel that “larger” is a better choice than “bigger”, as in the old translation.

    The translation is marred by these kinds of stylistic infelicity. The grave pomposity that comes from a direct translation from the French seems to shine through in some places, while at others the English seems to lurch in the direction of colloquial style.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    I have not analyzed the two translations, only read through rather fast, but it seemed to me that the older one was more repetitive as concerns vocabulary. You may be right for the rest.

  52. I think that Les enfants du capitaine Grant was the first of the novels I read, at the age of 10 at the most.
    I think it was one of my first novels too, in Russian. It is very popular in Russia. The book has inspired the academic curiousity and the sense of adventure in generations of Soviet children. Its popularity is supported by a never-fading 1936 musical film based on Les enfants du capitaine. Here is Paganel’s song from the film and here is Robert’s song “Веселый ветер” (Jolly Wind) from the film.

  53. Is “in essence” stylistically appropriate here?

    En effet, it isn’t.

    I feel that “larger” is a better choice than “bigger”, as in the old translation.

    But on the other hand, “faster” is superior to “more rapid”. Why has neither translator thought of “infinitely larger and faster than any whale”? To be sure, it would be still better (also in terms of rhythm and general euphony) without “infinitely”, but here the exaggeration is Verne’s own.

  54. has neither translator thought => did neither translator think (sorry, I forgot to change the tense after a minor edit)

  55. I actually prefer has neither translator thought: it is more vivid.

  56. Yes, there’s nothing wrong with that wording.

  57. I defer to the native speakers’ Sprachgefühl.

  58. And be pleased with your own, since you’re the one who wrote it in the first place!

  59. Verne’s first translator was Lewis Mercier, under the name of Mercier Lewis.

    Much of his fault is a misunderstanding of the science. One of the more famous howlers is « acier dont la densité par rapport à l’eau est de sept huit dixièmes » becoming “steel whose density is from .7 to .8 that of water,” rather than “steel whose relative density is 7.8 times that of water.”

  60. You don’t have to be a science expert to realize that steel is denser than water! Sheesh.

  61. Who knows, perhaps Mercier didn’t quite understand that .7 or .8 means less than 1. Or did it escape him that the Nautilus was a submarine and had to dive?

    But he also simply left out quite a lot of the science, apparently because he had no idea how to translate it.

  62. marie-lucie says:

    Was he the one responsible for lentil not lens? No doubt this was not ignorance of science, but lack of familiarity with English technical vocabulary and assuming that the resemblant French and English words meant exactly the same.

    Backtracking: I am sure that mistake is in 20,000 Leagues, the only Verne novel I have read in both French and English, but I must have made my own mistake about the name of the scientist.

  63. Yes, Mercier is the lentil man. But I think it was Ned Land, not Paganel, who held the “lentil” up to the sun. Professor Paganel is a character in Les Enfants.

    Mercier was a clergyman, with a Master’s degree in Divinity, which may account for his scientific illiteracy. What accounts for his notorious skipping of the more technical parts of Verne’s text, I can only speculate. Probably a combination of incompetence and determination to meet the publisher’s deadlines (to be paid on time).

    As a boy, I read 20,000 Leagues in an anonymous pre-war translation into Polish. Having re-read a few fragments, I now realise it was a very good, professional job on the unknown translator’s part. I wish I knew who he (or she?) was.

  64. this is a big problem with many editions of Native American/Canadian First Nations texts rewritten to make them more “literary”, based on earlier transcriptions and translations which may give the basic meaning of the words and sentences but miss the subtleties,

    I meant to reply to thThat is really terrible. It’s one thing for people to honestly write imitations of widely translated/known poems in foreign languages, but it’s another thing for people for people without liinguistic competence to write “translations” of poems they can’t read and mislead readers. The situation is worse for lesser known languages of course, but there are also people who claim to be translating Dante without knowing Italian.

  65. Verne had a knack for coming up with fictional names which always seem unsettlingly odd. Paganel above; the Icelander Arne Saknussemm (Journey to the Center of the Earth); The Californian J. R. Taskinar (Godfrey Morgan, a.k.a. The School for Robinsons). I could never figure it out.

  66. Zéphyrin Xirdal (La Chasse au météore) is also quite unforgettably odd.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    Y: “odd names” : I don’t know about the others, but I don’t see anything odd about Paganel as a French name. It sounds Southern (Occitan-derived), but that is all.

  68. m.-l., I agree, the form is not as weird as the rest. It’s the ‘pagan’ which gave me pause, though I suppose it’s no odder than Paganini.

  69. Surely these names just mean ‘countryman-DIM’. There is also Spanish Pagano and English Payne.

  70. And Paganotti.

  71. Fisheyed, the closest I could find to evidence for Mary Jo Bang not speaking Italian is an admission that she is “no Italian scholar proper,” which obviously isn’t the same thing as not speaking Italian — could you elaborate on that one? (“Translations” made by people who don’t really understand the original is a topic that interests me a great deal.)

    That said, even if as you say Bang can’t actually read Dante in the original, I don’t think her case deserves censure as such — she’s quite upfront about her work being an aggressive modernization (South Park characters, etc.) and given that I think even her use of the word “translation” is best interpreted as a provocation.

  72. Oh, joys of google!
    1) There is Paganel Primary school in Selly Oak, south Birmingham with Headteacher by the name of Mr. Shufflebottom. I mean, Verne didn’t like Great Britain or England specifically, but I don’t think he would have named an English character Mr. Shufflebottom. There happened to be Ralph Paynel or Paganel (ca 1089), sheriff of Yorkshire, his son William Paynel, whose occupation Wikipedia lists as Baron of Hooton Pagnell, and his grandson Fulk Paganel (Paynel), Lord of Dudley. Otherwise, the world seems to be full of real life Paganels.
    2) Last name Saknussemm is firmly occupied by author Kris Saknussemm who might or might not be a real person and even if he is this might be a pseudonym.
    3) Taskinar seems to be vacant.
    4) Zephyrin Xirdal is not odd anymore…

  73. That said, even if as you say Bang can’t actually read Dante in the original, I don’t think her case deserves censure as such — she’s quite upfront about her work being an aggressive modernization (South Park characters, etc.) and given that I think even her use of the word “translation” is best interpreted as a provocation.

    Here, Bang runs smack dab into the conflicting urges of her performance art. (We can’t call it a “translation” – can we? – since she doesn’t know Italian, and merely glosses her favorite English texts.)

    I would not censure her if she and her publisher did not use the word translation. Or maybe “translation” is a word whose meaning has shifted while I was not looking, and we need another word for actually reading a text in one language and writing it down in another. Bang is one example, Coleman Barks, Sean O’Brien (and I consider him a genius), I don’t think Pinsky reads Italian either…. on and on it goes.

  74. Ah yes, the internet, whence a not-quite-complete list of Jules Verne characters. Saknusemm, who is an older author (not character) is not included. Among those who are are Dr. Clawbonny, Isaac Hakhabut, William J. Hypperbone, Hodge Urrican and Ben Zoof.

    I think Saknussemm might be inspired by the name Magnússon.

  75. Saknussemm is not even a plausible Icelandic name. It’s a corrupt version of the name of Árni Magnússon, a real manuscript collector from the 17th/18th centuries.

  76. we need another word for actually reading a text in one language and writing it down in another

    Like film adaptations, it could be called “based on” or “inspired by” Dante’s Inferno. After the first few stanzas I thought it was going to be a cross between Dante and Anglo-Saxon poetry, but then the rate of sprung rhythm and alliteration dropped.

  77. It looks like for ‘exotic’ languages, Verne made up names, and not very well: ‘Isaac Hakhabut’ is a pretty poor imitation of a Jewish name. For languages he was more familiar with, or had better sources for, he merely chose obscure ones, like Paganel, Fix, or Strogoff.

  78. “Michel Strogoff” features “Tatar” Khan Feofar.

    Verne likely meant Kazakh warlord Kenessary Kasimov who did rose in revolt against Russian empire in 1840s.

    Unfortunately Feofar is extremely unlikely as a Kazakh name, because Kazakh language lacks such phoneme.

    Kazakhs would pronounce Feofar something like Pyopar

  79. In Russia, inability by some immigrants from Central Asia to pronounce sounds like “f” or “ts” is a cause of endless jokes.

    Most common features Central Asian immigrant utterly failing to pronounce “Rossiyskaya Federatsia” (Russian Federation)

  80. Thanks, fisheyed! I appreciate it.

    Or maybe “translation” is a word whose meaning has shifted while I was not looking, and we need another word for actually reading a text in one language and writing it down in another. Bang is one example, Coleman Barks, Sean O’Brien (and I consider him a genius), I don’t think Pinsky reads Italian either…. on and on it goes.

    I think that its meaning has certainly broadened, or at least, people whose moral cores have been eaten away by poststructuralism (like me!) are more willing to accept a (let’s say) non-traditional use of the word as a statement in itself, and not a lie as such. For example, in the review you link to, Davenport says:

    “Translation,” according to Bang, “is a method of bringing the past back into the present . . . and sharing what is common to all.”

    No, that is history. Translation is not about making the old new, but about creating a spirited equivalency of a literary work in another language.

    … But I’m afraid I can’t go along with that as a crushing smackdown. Bang is not an idiot; she knows the traditional definition of translation. She’s challenging it as part of her project. That project might be misconceived or simply fail on its own terms, and a critic might certainly say so in much stronger language than this, but refusing to acknowledge it at all is a bit unsporting, I feel.

    I do sympathize with your position, though — I don’t begrudge the Bangs of the world their fun, but I’ll admit I do generally prefer a skilful translation-as-traditionally-defined to an experimental grotesque.

  81. Surely these names just mean ‘countryman-DIM’. There is also Spanish Pagano and English Payne.

    And of course German – Haydn.

  82. marie-lucie says:

    Translation is not about making the old new, but about creating a spirited equivalency of a literary work in another language.

    This sounds like translation is only about literature. Most of the work of professional translators concerns mundane texts such as official documents, technical manuals, lists of ingredients, and other less than “spirited” stuff.

  83. Haydn? (looks it up)

    Oh, heathen. Sure.

  84. Most common features Central Asian immigrant utterly failing to pronounce “Rossiyskaya Federatsia” (Russian Federation)

    You mean they substitute /p/ for /f/ and /st/ for /ʦ/, and… oh dear, Mr President isn’t going to like it!

  85. I never thought of “Arne Saknussemm” as an unusual name, since my father read me Journey to the Center of the Earth when I was five or six. It was exactly as odd to me as the name “Axel” at the time. A few years later, I also got a two hour record set of Tom Baker reading an (obviously heavily abridged) version of the novel, which was really well done.

    The strangeness of “Saknussemm” did finally hit me when I saw Kathy Ireland as Wanda Saknussemm in Alien From L.A. It’s a good MST3K episode though.

  86. J. W. Brewer says:

    Perhaps Verne was poorly served by his English translators and was an excellent French stylist, but reading him in English (probably in abridged versions) while quite young was certainly an excellent preparation for the generally quite low (yes, yes, there are certainly exceptions . . .) prose-style competence of L1-Anglophone writers of science fiction.

  87. marie-lucie says:

    I would not say Jules Verne was a “stylist”, but a good writer nevertheless.

  88. She’s challenging it as part of her project.

    It’s not exactly a challenge when it has become a norm. Just as it has become a common place for anthro grad students to not have a working competence in the languages of the society they are studying. It is this kind of chicanery that leads to the humanities being viewed with disdain, I think.

  89. -You mean they substitute /p/ for /f/ and /st/ for /ʦ/, and… oh dear, Mr President isn’t going to like it!

    just plain /s/ for /ts/

    Effect is the same – Reseiski Pederasia!

  90. Well, that’s where we disagree, I guess. I don’t think it has become the norm. But again, I don’t think it’s fair to call Bangs’ work “chicanery” because she is never less than upfront about what she’s doing. (I don’t know anything about anthro grad students, but I’m willing to stipulate provisionally that in most respects the youth of today fall far short of the golden standard set by my generation in our salad days, curiously reversing the generally progressive trend which saw my generation outshine its well-meaning but benighted predecessors.)

  91. don’t know anything about anthro grad students, but I’m willing to stipulate

    That wasn’t my point at all, but obviously further interaction is pointless.

  92. That wasn’t my point at all, but obviously further interaction is pointless.

    I’m sorry to have made you feel that way. For what it’s worth, I appreciated your contributions in this thread and I meant that last remark as a joke, not an insult.

  93. marie-lucie says:

    Matt: in most respects the youth of today fall far short of the golden standard set by my generation in our salad days, curiously reversing the generally progressive trend which saw my generation outshine its well-meaning but benighted predecessors

    As a retired person, I have to agree! (just kidding of course)

  94. I just saw a live theatre / puppetry / video version of 20,000 Leagues for children 7 and up (which definitely includes me, my wife, and our grandson). There is a frame story of today involving Jules, a graduate student with an interest in the downfall of the oceans as well as in action figures, and his professor Claire Wells. As Jules retells the story written by his namesake, Claire becomes Claire Arronax the scientist, and while he remains Jules by name, he takes on the role of the servant Conseil. Ned Land and Captain Nemo complete the live cast.

    The story is pretty faithfully told, allowing for the change in point of view away from Arronax, except for Ned Land stealing Jules’s cell phone and sending out an SOS (no cell towers in 1869, but whatever) and Jules, disguised as a member of the crew, using the same phone to document Nemo’s actions. I believe the “unknown language” of the Nautilus is Esperanto, but I’m not sure: we don’t hear much of it, and it is spoken rapidly during periods of stress. The cast is mostly Canadian with one American.

  95. There’s a Vonda McIntyre novel in which one of the secondary characters is an artist who manufactures faked fossils, shows them, and then buries them. Unfortunately, when some of them are dug up, neither the artist herself nor anyone else can convince the “discoverer” that these aren’t scientific proof that the original animals actually existed in the timeframe corresponding to the layer where they are buried.

  96. -This is much closer (ignoring infelicities) to how a 20C writer would put it. Similarly, the translation omits in describing the battles the long lists of who killed or injured who, well-satirized by Twain.

    I have a humble suggestion to use scoresheets to report tournament results.

    15th century authors lacked this useful device, but we surely can use them in translations for 21st century readers.

    Will sure get some additional readership from all sorts of people who get excited reading Gray’s Sports Almanac 1950-2000.

  97. Well, sure. But what use a modern reader has for tournaments of 15th century or so? The only reason to read them IMHO is a guilty pleasure of amusement by sex and gore and enjoying a text from which one’s head spins.

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