A Welsh Translation for Sherlock Holmes?

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82 years after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s death, there’s no doubt that his famously logical detective has left a mark on the world. The Sherlock Holmes stories have inspired countless adaptations and have been translated into 76 different languages. However, they’ve never been translated into Welsh…until now.

The Deerstalkers of Welshpool, Sherlock Holmes society based in Powys, plan to translate “The Legend of the Speckled Band,” a locked-room mystery that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle considered to be his finest story featuring Holmes.

Roy Upton-Holder, the society’s founder, had long dreamed of translating Holmes into Welsh. As he explained to the BBC, encouragement and an offer of support from across the pond finally prompted him to act:

” I had an email from a Sherlock Holmes fan in Texas who is a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, the largest Holmes society in the USA. He asked if we were thinking about translating a book into Welsh and why didn’t we do something about it. He said he’d give us $100 towards it.”

However, according to Levy Gruffudd, a Welsh publisher interviewed by the BBC, the high cost of translation and presumed low demand have kept the popular detective stories from being translated into Welsh thus far:

“Most people would be interested in reading the original in English. It would be feasible to translate a book, but the costs would be very high. It might even be in the thousands of pounds, depending on the number of pages.”

So, how does Mr. Upton-Holder plan to get around these obstacles? By crowdsourcing the translation to local university students. He told the BBC:

“Since then I’ve contacted Aberystwyth University to see if someone there could help with the translating and we’ve thought about asking Welsh A-level students if they’d like to take on the translating as a school project. One of our members has recently retired from the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and he speaks Welsh, so he could help check the pupils’ work.”

That should help keep costs down, and I’m sure it would be a great experience for the students. Potential problems stem from the fact that literary translation is a highly specialized form of translation. It’s not enough to correctly choose words that mean the same thing in both languages. To be successful, you also have to capture as much as possible the tone, feel and rhythm of the original work.

Still, it’s an interesting experiment and definitely one worth watching.