Encyclopedia of Literary Translation Into English.

I just discovered by accident something I’m very glad to know exists, the Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English. At $356.92, it’s not going to be showing up on my bookshelves, but Google Books and Amazon’s Look Inside the Book will allow me to use it to some extent, and of course in cases of desperation there’s always the library. Here’s a sample, the discussion of Aksyonov’s Звёздный билет/A Starry Ticket (see this LH post):

[Alec] Brown’s translation (1962) of Aksenov’s second novel, under the title A Starry Ticket, is notable for its often incongruous rendering of colloquial speech and slang expressions. Brown translates most of the slang with English and American slang equivalents taken from a variety of epochs and regions, which often results in an unnerving tension between the characters’ speech and Soviet realia. An old woman in chapter 1 erupts in archaic English: “It fair makes me blood run cold.” Brown often translates neutral Russian expressions with clumsy colloquialisms: drinking becomes “gurgling down”; tired of becomes “fed up to the gills with”; a grade of C becomes a “just-scraped-through”. Even more curious in this translation are Brown’s unwarranted additions to the text. When the narrator sits by the window to shave, Brown adds, in parentheses, “to get the light”. Inaccuracies abound, including mistakes in rendering tense in English, and Brown takes great liberties in translating the chapter headings. [Andrew] MacAndrew’s translation (1963) of Zvezdnyi bilet appeared a year after Brown’s under the title A Ticket to the Stars. This translation is readable and avoids the gross inaccuracies and ill-chosen turns of phrase typical of Brown’s translation. MacAndrew tends consistently to choose slang equivalents from standard American slang, avoiding expressions that too vividly conjure images of the culture of the target text.

Isn’t that useful? Now I know where to send people who want to know which is the best translation of some foreign work.


  1. Which bit of “It fair makes me blood run cold” is supposed to be archaic? Seems perfectly cromulent to me.

  2. The author is most likely an American, for whom me ‘my’ and fair ‘thoroughly’ have been completely disused for a long time. We know them only as archaisms or foreignisms. I gather that Alec Brown is British, or at least his portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London, an honor unlikely to be paid to (say) George Washington.

  3. John Cowan, the author of what? Of the note in question? And why British should hang a portrait of a traitor in the National Gallery?

  4. Does a grade of C mean the same thing in the US, UK, and Soviet Union?

  5. John Cowan, the author of what? Of the note in question?

    Yes, of course. And as it happens, the author is Brian James Baer, so John appears to be correct.

    Does a grade of C mean the same thing in the US, UK, and Soviet Union?

    A grade of C is purely an American thing. Again, Baer is American and naturally writes American English.

  6. John Cowan: There are numerous portraits of George Washington in London’s National Portrait Galley: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp04716/george-washington.

    And why not ? We Brits (or assimilated, in my case) have a generous spirit …

  7. And indeed there are two pictures of George III in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, it turns out: a copy of the Reynolds, and a medallion dated 1814.

  8. January First-of-May says

    I suspect the “grade of C” was probably удовлетворительно (~= “acceptable”) in the Russian original – or a 3 numerically.

  9. Yeah, that was my assumption.

  10. I thought about “тройка с минусом” at first but Aksyonov’s text only has “сплошные тройки” and “аттестат сплошь в тройках.” A straight-C high-school certificate, perhaps?

  11. Bathrobe says

    I did get the impression that the review of Brown’s translation, deserving as it possibly was, was skewed to some extent by the reviewer’s unfamiliarity with (and possible intolerance for) non-US English. So both translations and reviews of translations need to be read with a critical eye.

    Freedom rendering chapter titles doesn’t worry me, but inaccuracies and misuse of tense do. Unfortunately the reviewer seems more concerned with pointing out what expressions don’t occur in his own English than giving concrete examples of actual errors.

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