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Alice Learns a New Language

Her French skills may have been notoriously poor, but Alice, of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” fame, just learned a new language: Jèrriais.

Jèrriais is also known as Jersey French and is spoken only on the island of Jersey. The story of a little girl falling through a rabbit hole into a topsy-turvy world has long been a favorite of children all over the world. It’s already been translated into at least 97 languages, and as of this month, children in Jersey now have a version to call their own.

According to the BBC, Jèrriais author Geraint Jennings initially began translating the original book into the Jèrriais language as a side project, just for fun. Everytype, a publishing company that specializes in minority languages, found out about the project and requested a complete translation.

The island of Jersey has a long-standing literary tradition that goes back to the twelfth-century poet Wace. However, little early literature has survived the ages, and the language itself has been largely replaced by English. UNESCO classifies is as “severely endangered.”

These days, Jersey children grow up speaking English, though they may study Jèrriais in school as part of a program to revitalize it. This new translation gives them a little bit of an extra incentive to learn the language of their ancestors. Not only has the story been translated, it has been adapted so that Alice is from Jersey instead of England. Many other aspects of the story have been localised as well. For example, when Alice encounters a mouse after falling down the rabbit hole, she assumes it is a French mouse that arrived in England with William the Conqueror. For the Jèrriais translation, Jennings changed the scene somewhat to use local history instead.

He told the BBC,

“[Alice] is familiar with the Battle of Jersey in this version as it would make no sense when she meets the mouse in her lake of tears for her to imagine he speaks French and for him to have come over with William the Conqueror. As we know, William the Conqueror didn’t speak French, he was a Norman, so I make it that she knows the mouse as a French mouse who came over for the Battle of Jersey.”

The title also had to be tweaked to accommodate the local dialect. Jèrriais is closely related to French, and the French translation of the title is “Alice in the Land of Wonders.” In Jersey, however, “wonder” essentially means “donut.” Alice in Donutland, anyone?

Here’s how he handled the translation:

“I wanted to make it sound more like a country, so used Emervil’lie, which is a verbal noun that could translate as a state of wonderment. You could translate it as Alice in a state of wonderment or Alice in a wondering or Alice in a country which happens to be wonderland.”

All in all, this translation should make for interesting reading for anyone who speaks Jèrriais.

Dracula in Translation

Dracula in Translation

It’s almost Halloween! That means it’s an excellent time to reread your old horror favorites like Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Most cultures have some sort of indigenous vampire mythology. But Stoker’s novel helped spread the modern, Western image of the vampire around the world.  What dark, supernatural powers made it so influential?

The power of translation, of course! Here are 6 facts about Dracula around the world that you might not have heard before.

Dracula is available in at least 29 languages.

Dracula has been continuously in print since it was first published in 1897. During that time, it has been translated into at least 29 languages. That’s not quite Translation Hall of Fame material but it’s not too shabby, either.

Dracula’s origins are lost in translation.

Many people think Stoker based Dracula on the historical Wallachian ruler Vlad III, or Vlad the Impaler. But this is likely a myth. There are certainly some similarities between the two figures. For example, some English speaking texts call Vlad Tepes “Voivode Dracula.” And the Count talks about fighting Turks as a mortal. But there’s not much evidence that Stoker modeled his fictional vampire on Vlad the Impaler. Read more

Translation Award Winner Tells Story of Afghan Refugee

Reading stories from other languages gives you amazing insight into the lives of people from other cultures. However, unfortunately it can be difficult to get people in English-speaking countries to read literature that has been translated from another language.

In fact, according to the Guardian, only 3% of the books, poems and stories published in the UK are translations. Since 1996, The Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation has been awarded every two years to highlight the best young adult translations and to encourage more translations in the future. Read more

Google Fined Over French Books

According to the BBC a Paris court has fined Google 300,000 euros (£266,000) in damages and interest for copyright infringement of books owned by French publisher La Martiniere.

La Martiniere was one of many publishers to take Google to court for digitising books without explicit permission.

Google have also been told that they will have to pay 10,000 euros a day until it has removed extracts of the books from its database.

Google had planned to scan millions of books to make them available online; this ruling may have ramifications for this plan.

The BBC report that this case will be seen as a victory for critics of the plan who fear Google is creating a monopoly over information.

The publisher Herve de la Martiniere launched his court case three years ago but Google continued to scan books throughout this time.

This is a big set back for the web giant Google.

9 Books to Read for Women in Translation Month

Did you know that August is Women in Translation Month? If you’re wondering what that means, let me explain.  Women in Translation Month is a month to highlight translated works by female writers. In the world of literary translation, women are seriously underrepresented.

How underrepresented? You’re probably familiar with the statistic that only about 3% of published works in the US and the UK are translated from other languages. Well, of that 3%,  only about 30% of new translations into English are books by women writers.  Books by female authors are translated at a lower rate around the world, even in Europe.

With that in mind, here are 9 books to read for women in translation month. Read the ones that pique your interest and you’ll soon start to wonder what else you’re missing out on!

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was


Author: Angélica Gorodischer, translated by Ursula LeGuin

In a 2016 interview, Meytal Radzinski, the scholar behind Women in Translation Month, called this book her “go-to first choice for just about any type of favorite book these days! It’s such a special book, gorgeously written and so utterly magical.”

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was is the history of an imaginary nameless empire, as told by multiple storytellers.  Translator Ursula Le Guin is an acclaimed fantasy author in her own right.  So it’s not surprising that publisher Small Beer Press boasts that “Rarely have author and translator been such an effortless pairing.” Read more

Nighttime Parenting in Translation

When it comes to parenting, some things are apparently universal- including the desire for your sweet little bundle of joy to JUST GO TO SLEEP ALREADY!

American author Adam Mansbach tapped into that perennial source of parental frustration with his 2011 book “Go the F— to the Sleep”, which became a viral internet sensation before it was even published. Read more

8 Horror Novel Translations to Curl Up With This Fall

Halloween is over. But there’s still a month of fall left, and I, for one, am not quite ready to start celebrating the winter holidays just yet.  So, join me in keeping the Halloween spirit alive a little longer by curling up with one of these 8 horror novel translations.

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerburg

First published in Swedish in 2004, Let the Right One In is a classic vampire novel that’s been made into a movie. If you haven’t read it yet, there’s no time like the present!

The Crimson Labyrinth  by Yusuke Kishi

Translated from Japanese by Camellia Nieh

Did you like The Running Man? Then you’ll like this novel from Yusuke Kishi, in which unwitting contestants are forced to compete to survive the deadly Mars Labyrinth.

From The Hunger Games to Doctor Who, this premise has become quite common in our reality-TV obsessed era.  But this is an especially well-done example, with 4.5 stars on Amazon and 3.7 stars on Goodreads.

And Unbound Worlds recommended it as one of the best novels for readers who are just beginning to dip their toes into Japanese horror.

Read more

“Origin of Species” Now a Chinese Kids’ Book

Since Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” was published in 1859, it has been translated into more than 35 languages, making it the most translated scientific text in history.  Now, a new Chinese translation, aimed at children, has been added to the mix.

The text was translated by Desui Miao, the collections manager of the Biodiversity Institute at Kansas University. He began the project at the request of a 10-year-old boy who attended one of his lectures in Beijing. The lecture was aimed at promoting Miao’s previous Chinese translation of the book, aimed at adults. Miao told the Kansas City Star that when asked for a children’s version, “I cavalierly said, ‘Sure.’ I didn’t know what this all entailed. But how can you say ‘no’ to a kid?”

It took Miao two years to complete the project, which is really two translations rolled into one: translating the original scientific work into Chinese, and translating adult scientific language into simplified language more appropriate for kids. Plus, since it was aimed at children, it needed to be fun!

The effort has paid off in spades, with the first two printings selling out completely. To date, Miao’s publisher has sold more than 20,000 copies since it was released in January. The book is popular not just among kids, but also among adults looking for a translation of Darwin that’s a little bit easier to grasp.

Miao told the Kansas City Star that both of his translations improve upon earlier versions of the book available in Chinese:

“My translation is easier to read and is overall a more accurate translation. I cannot say there are no mistakes, but I think there are fewer mistakes than in others…Taking complex ideas and making them simple was a great challenge. The children’s book is very fun, and the main concepts still remain.”

A Translation Experiment

Translators are supposed to hew as closely to the original text as possible. But often, there is not one “perfect translation” that captures both the feel and the meaning of the original. Even the most conscientious translator has to make choices.

How do those choices change the meaning? That’s the question author and editor Adam Thirlwell tries to answer in his new book, Multiples: 12 Stories in 18 Languages by 61 Authors.

Thirlwell starts by taking 12 stories written in languages from across the globe. He has them translated into another language, and then back to English.  Then that translation is translated again, and so on, to end up with between four to six translations of each story.

The result is a book that the Guardian’s Daniel Hahn calls “big, preposterously ambitious and pleasingly silly. But meaningful, too, if you look closely enough. The devil, as every translator knows, is in the details.”

As the stories go from one language to another and back again, details both big and small are changed. Settings move in time and space. For example, Hahn describes the evolution of a story in Arabic by Lebanese writer Youssef Habchi El-Achkar:

“A Lebanese story by Youssef Habchi El-Achkar features a setting rendered by Rawi Hage as a “coffee shop”. Tristan Garcia’s French translation calls it “le café” – not quite the same thing. In English, under Joe Dunthorne, this becomes a “cafe-bar”. In Francesco Pacifico’s Italian, next, “il bar“. So we’re now, apparently, in a bar. And it’s in London. Which is absolutely not where we started.”

It’s worth noting that not all of the writers involved in this project were highly skilled in the languages they were supposed to translate. Also, they weren’t all conscientious- some of them played fast and loose with the original text on purpose.

According to the Guardian’s Lucian Robinson, the most successful translations in the collection were the ones that stayed faithful to the original source material, providing an important lesson for translators:

Multiples shows us that the most innovative translations are still crafted rather than invented from scratch.”

 

British Readers Devour Translated Novels

In a refreshing change from the status quo, British readers are gobbling up translated novels and books from foreign authors. Previously, the conventional wisdom in the publishing industry was that consumers in the UK, as well as in other large English-speaking countries like America,  were simply not interested in reading translated literature.

As Liz Foley,  publishing director at Harvill Secker, told the Guardian:

“There used to be a feeling translations were ‘good for you’ and not enjoyable … like vegetables … But actually they’re wonderful books.”

That appears to be changing. For example, the Guardian cites research from Literature Across Frontiers that shows the market for translated books has grown by 18% over the past 20 years.  Translations that have made the bestseller list include work from Scandinavian authors, most notably The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson and crime novels by Jo Nesbø.

It’s not just translations from our European neighbors that are making waves. Bookstores across Britain were mobbed by customers looking for the latest translation novel from Japanese author Murakami.

This is great news for smaller publishing houses that focus on foreign books, according to Adam Freudenheim of Pushkin Press:

“There has been an increase. Pushkin Press’s sales doubled last year and are on track to double or even triple this year.”

However, we still have a ways to go.  BJ Epstein, of the  British Centre for Literary Translation, told The Guardian:

“Mainstream publishers are still very much about the bottom line. They really do underestimate the public, [assuming] that British people don’t want to read about people in China or Iceland.”

It’s wonderful that translated literature is becoming so much more readily available and accepted.  What translated books have you read recently? Do you have any recommendations? Let us know in the comments!