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Your assessments - how well does ASOIAF translate?


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#1 Iona

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 11:47 AM

I would be interested to hear from other non-native English speakers if you have read ASOIAF in your native language and what did you think of the translation? I know many people don’t like the names that (I guess) are often translated quite literally, and I’ve seen someone complaining of actual blunders as well. In AGOT, instead of a stag killing the direwolf, it was translated as a unicorn (was it in Italy?).

 

I’m interested, since so far I’ve only read the books in English, and had my own encounter with the Finnish translation some time ago and it left me quite baffled. Here’s my take on the Finnish situation!

 

I have a background in translation studies, though I’ve never actually worked as a full time translator. My master’s thesis is still in the making, since I couldn’t refuse a very nice job I was offered when I was finishing my studies. After a seven year hiatus, I’m now considering if I could actually use ASOIAF as the material for my thesis.

 

So, one day I took the Finnish translation of ASOS home from my local library, hoping to give it a go. I read a few pages, started leafing through the book, but after a while I had to stop. As a fellow translator who can appreciate the fact that translating GRRM might not have been the easiest job in the world I’m loathe to say I found the Finnish translation mindblowingly substandard.

 

I don't know how to say this nicely, but the translation was... well, let me just say it didn't do justice to GRRM's writing. Or maybe it did, and that's the problem. At uni, we were taught that a good translation is one that no-one notices - it needs to come off as if it was originally written in Finnish. But with the Finnish translation of ASOS, the language was unnatural, something that would be called translatese, or in our case, Finglish = too much of a literal (word-for-word) translation. And since Finnish and English are totally different, it’s bad, I mean real baaaaad.

 

It’s most obvious in the way the sentences are structured; they mirror their English counterparts, and that makes them sound ridiculous in Finnish - sometimes because they come off as infantile, sometimes because they are overcomplicated and Finnish would have another perfectly fluent way to express the same thing (usually with less words). One particularly annoying thing that caught my eye was the use of genitive forms of personal pronouns. We don’t use them all that often, since Finnish is an agglutinative language where suffixes are added to the nouns to do the trick. So when you see sentences where all the words like “my” or “your” are literally translated, it’s just redundant and silly.

 

I was surprised to find out that the publishing company was founded by the same person who translates the ASOIAF books. According to an interview, she got so excited about ASOIAF that she started translating AGOT and offered it to publishing companies. They declined, so she started her own publishing company and brought ASOIAF to the Finnish markets. Finding work as a translator can be hard, and I can appreciate her initiative for setting up a company and making ASOIAF available for Finns, but truly, there might have been a good reason behind the existing companies turning down her translation...  

 

I was also horrified to see that Finns are still waiting to get their hands on ADWD, it's only expected to be out next year (the first half of the book). All in all, I think it's a shame - some more distinguished publisher with an experienced translator could have done GRRM’s work more justice.

 

TL:DR So, how is it with other languages? Are you happy with the translations? If you are, what makes them good? If you're not, what’s wrong with them?

 

ETA: formatting


Edited by Iona, 12 December 2013 - 11:50 AM.


#2 yolkboy

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 12:30 PM

I would be interested to know how the translations hold up to things like foreshadowing and prophesies, of which the precise wording is extremely important for figuring out the answers. One dubious or ambiguous translation and it's not going to make a whole lot of sense.


Edited by yolkboy, 12 December 2013 - 12:32 PM.


#3 Iona

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 12:40 PM

I would be interested to know how the translations hold up to things like foreshadowing and prophesies, of which the precise wording is extremely important for figuring out the answers. One dubious or ambiguous translation and it's not going to make a whole lot of sense.

 

Good point. If I ever get to reading a whole book in Finnish I'll be sure to keep my eyes open. To be honest, if I was the one translating the books, I think it's safe to say I could have botched the foreshadowing thing, since I didn't really pick up on it during my first read. I imagine this forum is quite a gem for translators.

 

Hmm, do we know if GRRM is one of those authors who consult their translators? Some writers like to keep in touch to help and make sure the translator can do a sterling job. I don't think Martin is giving personal consultations, but perhaps ASOIAF translators get some kind of a fact sheet on things they need to keep in mind?



#4 BearIslander

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 01:40 PM

The Russian translation is plain ugly. No style, no creativity, no atmosphere. It has lots of fans because the books are great by themselves, but the majority of fans does not understand how bad the translation is.

 

I dropped reading it after a few tens of pages. And since then, I read only the original text.


Edited by BearIslander, 12 December 2013 - 01:41 PM.


#5 Shadrich

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 01:52 PM

 I have only read the books in Polish up to beginning of FfC, and I found them really good. Slightly worse for AGoT, as it had a different translator than rest of the books.

 

It doesn't play with place names or surnames - and leaves them like they are supposed to be (Snow, Flowers etc.). Of course there are words which are untranslatable, but generally speaking - it has the same effect and keeps the same atmosphere as the books do in English.

 

So I'm happy with the Polish translation, but I prefer to read it in English anyway (I live in England for longer than I did in Poland, so maybe that's why).



#6 Kienn

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 01:57 PM

I'd bet a proper translation would need to change names of houses or people so that prophecies can be appropriately vague.

Unfortunately people would notice that and compare them to the English one to spoil the true meanings...

So basically good translations should be avoided until the whole series is done.

#7 James Kidd

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 02:06 PM

The translation in my native language is cringe-worthy. I had to read it in English.


Edited by DrunkenRat, 12 December 2013 - 02:06 PM.


#8 Iona

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 02:23 PM

With regards to translating the names of places. In the Finnish translation, Winterfell is Talvivaara. It's actually a good translation, being both word-for-word with winter-/talvi- and -fell/-vaara (a small, usually barren "mountain", both archaic).

 

The (not-so-)funny thing is that when Finns think of Talvivaara, they think of a mining company with the same name, located in Eastern Finland, which has been on the news lately. Last winter notable amounts of dirty water containing uranium, cadmium and nickel leaked into local waterways, so when Finns think of Winterfell, the first thing that comes to mind is not all that positive.



#9 haemonculus

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 02:46 PM

The German translation is of high quality and "well written", it has a good flow in it's own right, but there are just so many incompatibilities with the English language, that some things are lost in translation. Like for example the capital S in "R'hllor shows me only Snow". In German all nouns are written with capital letters, so yeah.

Worst thing though is that they felt the need to translate names of places and also alter some names.

King's Landing is Königsmund, which directly translates to "King's Mouth" which does not make a whole lot of sense. The Lannisters are renamed Lennister, for no goddamn reason and so on.

So, while it is technically well done, there are just too many little things to not want to read the books in English. Still totally serviceable for people that are not that into English and just want to read a book in their own language.



#10 Gneisenau

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 02:50 PM

I always wondered what happens in Chinese translation, do they translate literally, or do they try to romanize the names in Chinese (pick Chinese words so it sounds like its English counterpart) ?



#11 King Tyrion I

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 02:53 PM

The German translation is of high quality and "well written", it has a good flow in it's own right, but there are just so many incompatibilities with the English language, that some things are lost in translation. Like for example the capital S in "R'hllor shows me only Snow". In German all nouns are written with capital letters, so yeah.

Worst thing though is that they felt the need to translate names of places and also alter some names.

King's Landing is Königsmund, which directly translates to "King's Mouth" which does not make a whole lot of sense. The Lannisters are renamed Lennister, for no goddamn reason and so on.

So, while it is technically well done, there are just too many little things to not want to read the books in English. Still totally serviceable for people that are not that into English and just want to read a book in their own language.

 

I felt the same way about it when I had a quick look at it and leafed through it. Funny enough, I never considered buying the German version but went straight for the original (English).

 

"Greyjoy" becomes "Graufreud" which is the literal translation, but it hurts reading it.

 

And "Jon Snow" becomes "John Schnee". "Jon" is different from "John" I believe.



#12 Wade Stark

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 03:07 PM

The Spanish version is good IMO, but I hate the "Reek Rhymes" in Spanish

"Hediondo, Hediondo eres débil en el fondo"... it hurts me :'(. Same with "Jon Nieve" and "Invernalia" 
 



#13 Shebara

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 03:08 PM

I began to read it in German but quit very quickly, because the names are so ridiculous, they did not even let Lannister stay Lannister the Lannisters had to become LEnnisters in German! The already mentioned Jon who had to become a JoHn and and and....it is annoying!

I red the books in English to avoid that joke.

It is one more riddle of ASoIaF why they could not simply either leave the names as they are or solve the problem as it was solved in Lord of the Rings..for example Beutlin for Baggins is not a 120 percent corresponding translation but...Beutlin does not look ridiculous in German as Graufreud, Königsmund etc. etc. it looks good in German and the word bag means Beutel in German.



#14 Anath

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 03:28 PM

Disclosure of interests: I am a translator.

My take on ASOIAF translation here is that while the translation itself is very good - amazing, in fact, - some of the implications are lost because of small mistakes or even choices the translator made without knowing that future books would suggest a very different interpretation.

Here, the names of different places are translated and I quite like it. ASOIAF should be for everyone, not the lucky few (well, not so few) who speak English. The names of the characters are mostly left alone although I had a discussion with a friend who was very indignant over the fact that Cersei's name was given with a consonant that is non-existent in English. Poor guy was quite stunned when I explained to him that until he improved his general knowledge, he really wasn't the one to criticize the translator. The name was given with the same consonant that Circe starts with around here.

All in all, while the translator's mistakes irk me somewhat (by the way, there's no way to avoid them entirely), I am more frustrated with people who think that just because they speak English, they can feel superior to someone who made a good translation. Especially when they howl over things that at the time, the translator simply couldn't know - they only came in the later books.

For the OP: you might want to keep it in mind that a very good translation sometimes is bad for accuracy. When there is something that obviously doesn't read quite right, you look at the English version or the editor does. When it's all nice and smooth... That's one of the problems with the ASOIAF around here, I think.

P.P .Wow! I had no idea the post was this long. Sorry!

Edited by Anath, 12 December 2013 - 03:38 PM.


#15 Bright Blue Eyes

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 03:29 PM

I began to read it in German but quit very quickly, because the names are so ridiculous, they did not even let Lannister stay Lannister the Lannisters had to become LEnnisters in German! The already mentioned Jon who had to become a JoHn and and and....it is annoying!

I red the books in English to avoid that joke.

It is one more riddle of ASoIaF why they could not simply either leave the names as they are or solve the problem as it was solved in Lord of the Rings..for example Beutlin for Baggins is not a 120 percent corresponding translation but...Beutlin does not look ridiculous in German as Graufreud, Königsmund etc. etc. it looks good in German and the word bag means Beutel in German.

Tolkien was a inguistics professor, specializing in the influence of the germanic languages on english. And he personally oversaw the translation.



#16 Shebara

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 03:37 PM

Tolkien was a inguistics professor, specializing in the influence of the germanic languages on english. And he personally oversaw the translation.

 

It is known!!!



#17 King Jackoffery

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 03:46 PM

I don't see GRRM caring too much about any language but his own. Good thing too or he'd still be on a Storm of Swords.



#18 Iona

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 03:48 PM

For the OP: you might want to keep it in mind that a very good translation sometimes is bad for accuracy. When there is something that obviously doesn't read quite right, you look at the English version or the editor does. When it's all nice and smooth... That's one of the problems with the ASOIAF around here, I think.

P.P .Wow! I had no idea the post was this long. Sorry!

 

Would you be willing to let us know what language translation you are referring to? I'm interested in general as to how well people think their native language versions have succeeded.

 

I have my background in translating as well, so I'm painfully aware of the fact that sometimes a translator needs to make some less-than-satisfactory choices when faced with a problem. My main beef with the Finnish translation was that it was bad Finnish in general, with the original English sentence structures shining through the text, making the language very unnatural.

 

And your post was not that long, my OP is looong and it was originally even longer as I was tempted to go too deep into the subject matter.



#19 MelanisticMelisandre

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 03:48 PM

I have only glanced through the Swedish translation for the books, it made me cringe, it's the names that get me... Stormborn... Stormfödd. Casterly Rock... Casterlyklippan... I can go on and on. It's impossible to explain to people who are not native swedes but there's no way to take this the translation seriously, it makes me laugh out loud every time I read höggården (Highgarden). But the actual translation is arguably very accurate, but the Swedish language and my relationship to my native tongue forbids me to take the translation in earnest.. Whenever I the Swedish version i suddenly interpret everything in a much more childish context. Någon annan svensk som förstår och kan förklara vad jag pratar om? 


Edited by MelanisticMelisandre, 12 December 2013 - 03:51 PM.


#20 Iona

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Posted 12 December 2013 - 03:55 PM

I don't see GRRM caring too much about any language but his own. Good thing too or he'd still be on a Storm of Swords.

 

I have yet to meet an author who doesn't care about the quality of translations of his/her work. They want their books to sell, and if the translation sucks, people don't want to buy it. The same goes for any kind of translated material (advertisement, for example).

 

Older books are also sometimes re-translated to update the language --> more accessible to modern readers = more money.