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Old 01-21-2003, 02:40 PM   #1
Guinevere
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Question Tolkien Translations

My mothertongue isn't English (it's German), but I have first read the Hobbit, LotR and the Silmarillion in English. It was a bit of a challenge, but I delighted in Tolkiens wonderful language.(And I learnt a lot!)

My sons have the books in German, and I am now reading them together with my younger son (he has to read aloud to me, by request of the teacher, and alternately I read to him) As we go along I keep comparing the translation to the original, and I must say, I am often very disappointed. Much of the charm, wit and sheer beauty of Tolkien's language is lost in the translation.

Tolkien has such a rich, wonderful language and his many contrasting styles add to the special atmosphere of Middle Earth, to the feeling that the characters are "real" and historical.
Often I feel the translator could have done better. Especially in the new German translation he tried to modernize particularly the Hobbit's talk.(e.g. I wince every time Sam says "Chef" (i.e. "boss" instead of "master"!!).

On the other hand I think it is just not possible to render in another language all these subleties that come with the use of "archaic" words and sentence structures. As T.Shippey says: "Tolkien knew the implications of style, and of language, better and more professionally than almost anyone in the world."

I see there are quite many Tolkien fans here in the BD, who also come from non-English speaking countries.
I am very interested to know what you think of the translations in your mothertongue in comparison to the original.
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Old 01-21-2003, 04:44 PM   #2
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To be honest, English is my mothertongue, but I am fluent in French, and have started reading the French translation of the LotR. I actually prefered it to the English. I thought it was just so charming, and I even uderstood some of the puns better! Did you know that Bilbo Baggins lives in Bag-End, for example... And his cousins the Sackville-Baggins! I never got that before!
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Old 01-21-2003, 06:18 PM   #3
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Yeah...A "cul-de-sac" is translated literally as "end of bag" I believe, so there's another thing for you there. [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img] I think that the use of "Sackville" is supposed to imply the Sackville-Bagginses as being snobby, trying to be French.
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Old 01-23-2003, 07:51 AM   #4
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I doubt it. They have a hyphenated surname to emphasise the fact that they're not of Bilbo's immediate family. The name does convey a feeling of snobbish pretension, but it's not the slightly French flavour of "Sackville" that achieves this but the tacking of "Baggins" onto the end. This used to be done by Victorian social climbers who wanted to advertise a marital connection with a more socially elevated family. Double-barrelled names are inherently pretentious.
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Old 01-25-2003, 10:09 AM   #5
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Ah, but Prof.Shippey mentions this example also in his book (Tolkien, author of the Century):

"it is a bad mark for the socially aspiring branch of the Baggins family that they have tried to Frenchify themselves and disguise their origins: they call themselves the Sackville-Bagginses, as if they came from a "ville" (or villa?) in a "cul-de-sac". They, then, are really bourgeois."


@ Elven-Maiden: that you find the French translation more charming puzzles me a bit. Maybe because one's own mothertongue tends to sound too familiar or even trite? And if you are fond of the French language and read in French, you look at it with a new awareness, from a different angle...
That would explain why I am so fond of English [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] but Tolkien's language is very special, I think, and not at all like "everyday"-English.

All those place names of the Shire sound so real, not "invented" at all! In the German edition, they (and some of the nicknames) are translated, but they sound somehow artificial, and, of couse, they lack that special feeling of "Englishness" that I feel belongs to the Shire.
The nicknames are not always appropriate either. Strider, for example, is called "Streicher" which really means "tramp", but I couln't translate this properly either.

[ January 25, 2003: Message edited by: Guinevere ]
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Old 01-25-2003, 10:19 AM   #6
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Guinevere, my mother language is German, too, and I have read the books first in German, but I think I've got an older translation, because I can't remember any scene where Sam calls his Master "Chef".
BUt you are right, if you have read the books in English, then you don't like them in German any more. They sound like they are a book for children.
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Old 01-25-2003, 06:02 PM   #7
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I'm Russian, but I read all three books for the first time in English (anyway,only Hobbit anf the Fellowship had been translated by 1980s). Later I tried to re-read the books in Russian, but I soon gave up. I don't think something is very wrong with translations - by now there are several of them. And I'm not really a connoisser of languages. It's just that a foreign language gives that tinge of something unearthly and 'foreigh'. One's native tongue perhaps makes it too common, brings everything too close to you, just ruins the impression. Maybe even reading in a foreign language has the same effect as learning elvish. I can well understand how Elven-Maiden feels.

And the propper names. When original names are used, they seem out of place, and then there are problems with declension (Lucky English-speakers, you don't have that [img]smilies/biggrin.gif[/img] )And translated names... Translation never seems to render the meaning AND stylistic nuance AND the sounding at once. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] Perhaps I'm being over-particular, but I'm happier with my English edition.
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Old 01-25-2003, 06:25 PM   #8
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Tolkien

Guinevere, I think it would be hard for the Sackville-Bagginses to "Frenchify" (don't they serve those at McDonald's?) themselves in a world where the Republic of France will not exist until thousands of years after their entire species has vanished. And I also believe that there are some people on the Downs with a better understanding of Tolkien's work than this Shippey guy shows. Remember, books on Tolkien by other authors are hardly canonical. Hopefully this helps to halt discussion of the SBs and give this thread back to its rightful owners.
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Old 01-28-2003, 03:41 AM   #9
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@Akhtene and Elven-Maiden: about the special charm of reading in a foreign language: you and I are in the best company! When browsing in Tolkien's letters I just came across this statement (from letter #142):


Quote:
"Also being a philologist, getting a large part of any aesthetic pleasure that I am capable of from the FORM of words (and especially from the FRESH association of word-form with word-sense), I have always best enjoyed things in a foreign language, or one so remote as to feel like it (such as Anglo-Saxon)."

Still, I believe that to read a book in the original language will always be superior to any translation, and especially so with Tolkien, who was such a master of words!

In his works I feel that often information can be drawn not only from what is said but from HOW it is said.

[ January 28, 2003: Message edited by: Guinevere ]
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Last edited by Guinevere; 05-31-2010 at 12:37 PM. Reason: added the quote tags
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Old 01-29-2003, 11:37 AM   #10
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Guinevere, you asked me to post my lost reply again. Here it is.

My mother tongue is Dutch and therefore I read LotR in that language the first time. It was, in my eyes, an excellent book, yet when I was old enough to read and understand LotR in English it seemed to be even better. The story has some phrases in which only Tolkien knew what it's full intention was. Therefore LotR is better in it's original language, for the translator seems to have thought otherwise than him. Dutch is good, but English is even better [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

Hoping this one to be read...
greetings,
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Old 01-30-2003, 07:13 PM   #11
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Guinevere, thanks for the quote! Seems a good company really [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]
And it seems to me too that in translation the 'mood' (I don't know how to put it better) of some episodes is way different from the original. It seems the translators just take it less seriously than the author did.
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Old 02-19-2003, 04:13 PM   #12
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I just saw that some Swedish people are discussing in a new thread the merits of reading Tolkien translated or in their mothertongue. Therefore I'm pushing this thread up, so that perhaps they will notice it... [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] (The Barrowdowns having such a vast number of members, threads "get lost" awfully quickly.. [img]smilies/frown.gif[/img] )
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Old 03-15-2003, 08:32 AM   #13
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I read LotR first in the new German translation (to say "satire" would be better), then in the old translation and now I´ve finished it in English. I was quite surprised for it became even better everytime I read it. But I the translation of the names was good, I find, because it seems so familiar then (my Physics teacher´s name is Hüttinger=Cotton *g*). It´s everytimes better to read something in its original language, when you have the chance (e.g. Latin or Greek fables. Though to translate it is just awful).
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Old 03-15-2003, 03:34 PM   #14
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Thanks for posting, Malva!

The new German translation has really some awful blunders!
But it's not only "Wolli's" fault - I think because the editors found a new translation necessary, the translator felt obliged to alter as much as possible, and not write the same as his predecessor.
e.g. something as easy as "his voice was like music" becomes "seine Stimme klang wie ein Orchester" (His voice sounded like an orchestra) ! [img]smilies/eek.gif[/img]
Such things just destroy the mood of the narration.
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Old 03-15-2003, 04:25 PM   #15
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My mother language is also German. And since I was very young when I started to read Tolkien I started with the translations of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. Even later when I had learned a bit of English in school (I was not very found of it and just did what was absolutely unavoidable - with the result of learning not very much), I still got the translations of The Unfinished Tales and The Books of Lost Tales (beside some other books by JRR Tolkien).
My first try in the original language was a hard one: I found a copy of The Lays of Beleriand in a bookstore and at once bought it. I was only able to follow the Story because I knew it out of the other books. But I learned by the attempt and by the following attempt to make a prose translation in the style of a bi-lingual edition, fitting to the lines of the poems.

Now a few years later a have read many books of Tolkien in English including all the ones in print in German translation. I have also a good collection of German translations. I agree with what was said before: A translation however good can never reach the original. Some times the new language gives some opportunities which can enhance single points (like the use of 'Elben' instead of 'Elven' in the German translations), but such things are rare and do not compensate the shortcomings of the translation.

And some translations are really bad. The new The Lord of the Rings translation by Wolfgang Krege is such an example. But his translations of The Hobbit and The Silamrillion show that he is able to make better once.

So my advice is: if you can, take the original language, and if you want the book for children that can only read (or understand) their mother language, ask first if there are more than on translation available and try to find out which one is better.

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Old 03-16-2003, 06:35 AM   #16
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I´m glad that they used Elb instead of Elf because only Roleplayers wouldn´t mistake "Elfen"(elves) for fairies(or the HP-elves).

The Lays are really great. I read them to and I´m grateful that none made a translation of them yet. It´s simply impossible without destroying these great poems.

Hasn´t really to with the topic, but is there a translation of the Hobbit by Margaret Carroux?
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Old 03-16-2003, 07:06 AM   #17
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No Magret Carroux did not translat The Hobbit. The first German translation was done by Walter Scherf and is sold by under the DTV lable called Der kleine Hobbit. Recently Wolfgang Krege made a new translation for Klett-Cotta which is sold as Der Hobbit oder Hin und Zurück.
Walter Scherf focused one the fact that The Hobbit is a book for children. So the Krege translation is clearly better. And when Krege made that translation he had not started the absured task to change Tolkiens leanguage to a modern one.

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Old 04-28-2003, 07:32 AM   #18
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I think there's quite a few different Danish translations (or just editions, I'm not 100 % sure,) and I've read 3. As I haven't read LotR in English yet, (they're on the shelf to be read when I finished Silm.) I can't tell about expressions and so, but I probably wouldn't have noticed, as at least the 3rd edition was very poor grammatically.
I can't find one right now, but an example would be "Sam, kom med besvær. til sig selv, som han lå på, jorden." ("Sam, roused himself. painfully from the, ground") It's quite interesting to see how many ,'s you can put in a sentence, but it can get a bit annoying...
I read UT in English (of course) and that was a lot better to me than LotR had ever seemed, so that makes me guess that the Danish translation isn't that good. [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]
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Old 09-17-2003, 03:53 PM   #19
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Sting

I want to share with you a very confusing situation that is bound to arise because of two different translations of the same words in the Hobbit and LOTR in my native language.

The Hobbit:
dwarf = pitic
orc = gnom
hobbit = hobbit
LOTR:
dwarf = gnom
orc = orc, sometimes goblin
hobbit = hobbit, sometimes pitic

Confusing, right?

But at least we were spared the 'adaptation' of most proper names although the place names were translated, but well enough, I have to admit.
Feel free to share other translation specifics!
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Old 10-12-2003, 12:25 PM   #20
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There is one thing that puzzles me:
As far as I can see, the names of persons and places have been translated in all the foreign language editions.
But in Tolkien's letters I have found several places where he strongly objects to just that: e.g. from letter #190 (written 1956)
Quote:
In principle I object as strongly as is possible to the "translation" of the nomenclature at all (even by a competent person). (.....)
"The Shire" is based on rural England and not on any other country in the world. (....) The toponymy of The Shire is a "parody" of that rural England, in much the same sense as are its inhabitans: they go together and are meant to. After all the book is English, and by an Englishman, and presumably even those who wish its narrative and dialogue turned into an idiom that they understand, will not ask of a translator that he should deliberately attempt to destroy the local colour. (....) If in an imaginary land real place-names are used, or ones that are carefully constructed to fall into familiar patterns, these become integral names, "sound real", and translating them by their analyzed senses is quite insufficient.
and letter #217 (written 1959)
Quote:
As a general principle (....) my preference is for as little translation or alteration of any names as possible. (...) this is an English book and its Englishry should not be eradicated. That the Hobbits actually spoke an ancient language of their own is of course a pseudo-historical assertion made necessary by the nature of the narrative. (...) My own view is that the names of persons should all be left as they stand. I should prefer that the names of places were left untouched also, including Shire. The proper way of treating these I think is for a list of those that have a meaning in English to be given at the end, with glosses or explanations.
Now why on earth has everything been translated in spite of the author's wishes?!?
Had Tolkien finally consented to this or did the translators (resp. editors)just ignore his advice? [img]smilies/rolleyes.gif[/img]
Does anyone know?
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Old 10-12-2003, 01:53 PM   #21
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Malva, I think Hüttinger means more something like "cottager", than "cotton"; it's more an equivalent of English "Cotman", see below.
JRRT wrote in his 'Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings about "cotton":
Quote:
Cotton. This is a place-name in origin (as are many modern surnames), from cot, a cottage or humble dwelling, and -ton, the usual shortening of 'town' in place-names (Old English tūn 'village'). It should be translated in these terms.
It is a common English surname and has, of course, in origin no connection with cotton the textile material, though it is naturally associated with it at the present day. Hobbits are represented as using tobacco, and this is made more or less credible by the suggestion that the plant was brought over the Sea by the Men of Westernesse (I 18); but it is not intended that cotton should be supposed to be known or used at that time. Since it is highly improbable that in any other language a normal and frequent village name should in any way resemble the equivalent of cotton (the material), this resemblance in the original text may be passed over. It has no importance for the narrative, (...)
Cotman appears as a first name in the genealogies. It is an old word meaning 'cottager', 'cot-dweller', and is to be found in larger dictionaries. It is also a well-known English surname.
Guinevere, in the Guide quoted above, JRRT laid out his 'rules' for translating names from the LotR. He did this after the Swedish and Duitch translations had been published, and the translator in Germany was working on his translation of the LotR. Many names may be translated according to their meaning, especially from Hobbits and the Shire. In my ongoing translation of the LotR to Latin (see my thread in the Novices Forum and also my signature) I have translated so far names as Baggins, The Shire, Hobbiton.

My own mothertongue is Dutch, and I use the Dutch translation next to the original when translating to Latin, and some things are not translated very well. One example: "Old Gaffer Gamgee stopped even pretending to work in his garden." is translated thus: "De Oude Gewissies kwam zelfs kijken onder het voorwensel dat hij in zijn tuin werkte.", which is actually the opposite of the original: "Old Gaffer Gamgee even came to watch under the pretence that he worked in his garden."!
As said before: the original is always better; in translating so much is lost....
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Old 10-14-2003, 06:07 AM   #22
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Thanks for an invitation, Guinevere [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

My mother tongue is Georgian, but at the time when I've read Tolkien books there was no Georgian translation in existence (there is one of the Hobbit, which I've found terrible, but that will be dealt with later), so I've read those in Russian (I knew no English back then)

There are several Russian translations, as (if I recall correctly) Akhtene mentioned up there. The Hobbit is marvellous - all the Englishness is kept in place, the names are not rendered at all (except some obvious, like The Water and The Hill). Among several LoTR translations, however, the best for my liking was the one by Muraviev and Kistakovsky, which is so 'russified' it is hard to guess the author to be an Englishman. They have made enormous number of blunders along the way (to the extent that rendered names have lost their original meaning altogether), but (IMO) they grasped the principle. The Russian of their translation is very much alive, it gives the feel of the language and the book as the whole.

And whatever puritans of translation may say, (even to the extent when I have to contradict Professor himself) that is the way to translate Tolkien. He's a bit like Lewis Carroll - one can not at once transfer the feel of the book without changing it. Or, more precise example would be poetry - translator of verse must be a great poet oneself, and still never success in translating exactly what was written - he's rather creating new poem, and out of modesty calls it the old name.

But it is impossible to do when translating into Georgian. As I've said, only the Hobbit is translated into it thus far. I know the people who've made the translation, and respect them very much, but I find their translation horrible. (There may be a bit of envy in it as well, for I’ve made the Hobbit translation as well, (which is not published) and think it better, but I like to think it is no so). But closer to the point – Georgian being unrelated to English whatsoever, even unrelated to Indo-European language family at all, it is quite hard to preserve its Englishness. I have made two editions of my translation – one without changing nomenclature (but with a glossary and comments), and another with everything rendered (including Gandalf’s name and even the title itself, for the word ‘hobbit’ does not fit well into the book after the change of everything). If I set aside the edition number 1 (with comments and no changes in nomenclature), I have a story which has nothing to do with Tolkien, only the plot repeats his. Hola [img]smilies/confused.gif[/img]

But the Hobbit is easy. If I choose to go on with LoTR in a way of edition number 2, another problem arises. I simply do not possess the knowledge of my own language and mythology similar to Talkien's in English. So my translation (or, rather, retelling of the story in Georgian medium) would be imperfect, (as well as any translation which are discussed up there).

But the feel of reality of Professors books is achieved by the virtuous use of language(s).

Conclusion – it is impossible to translate Tolkien into other languages and achieve same scope of reality. Simple retelling of the plot does not do the trick So the sensible way is to preserve everything as it is, and give all possible comments and samples ‘how would this sound in Georgian (Dutch, German, French etc etc) either as footnotes or in the end of the narrative. For even imperfect rendering will hook up readers attention, and those to fall in love with ME are going to read it in English anyway (even when this means they have to learn English first – me being the sample)

yours truly,

[ October 14, 2003: Message edited by: HerenIstarion ]
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Old 10-14-2003, 03:36 PM   #23
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Thank you for your very interesting contributions, Earendilyon and HerenIstarion! [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

Wow, what a task, to try and translate the LotR to Latin resp. to Georgian! [img]smilies/eek.gif[/img]

(btw: how can you translate such things as "potatoes" and "smoking a pipe" to latin?!)

I knew about the existance of this "Guide to the Names in the LotR" .But then I read the above quoted letters and wondered... So eventually Tolkien must have given in?? [img]smilies/eek.gif[/img]

It's perhaps just because I read the original first that I was so much put off by all those translated names (for exactly those reasons that Tolkien gives in his letters)! After all, there are countless books by English spoken authors and nobody would think of adapting names and place-names in the translation to other languages!

I think also it must be confusing for those who read it first in their own language and got used to the names, and then read it in English...
Even in the old and the new German translation, the names are not always the same! eg: "Cotton" is "Hüttinger" in the old and "Kattun"(which refers only to the textile and not to the cottage) in the new edition!

I am also reading and writing in a German Tolkien Forum. It is impossible to ask any quotes in the Quiz there because of the differences!

[ October 14, 2003: Message edited by: Guinevere ]
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Old 10-17-2003, 01:58 PM   #24
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I was surprised at seeing this thread here, cos its something i spent a lot of time (and money) on. i speak several languages, and i find that purchasing the one text i know best not only improves my lingo skills, but lets me see the story from a different set of eyes.

what REALLY surprised me was herenistarion's post, because often I have wandered the streets of Tbilisi, interrogating the book-sellers about any georgian translation of the book. i am georgian myself, and i am very much interested in the fact that someone has actually made the translation. i have to agree, the hobbit translation isnt particularly good.

as for other languages -apart from english- i own a german and a russian tranlation. the russian edition i have was made by Natalia Rakhmanova - which i find ok, what i thought was funny was the literal translation of "Baggins". the german translation is one by Wolfgang Krege, which also isnt bad.

a georgian translation, hehe, wow, gagimarjos.
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Old 10-20-2003, 12:24 PM   #25
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Guinevere, in a sense, it's only natural for a translator to translate the English and anglicised names to the language he's translating into: JRRT himself translated the original names from the Common Speech into English, because most of his readers weren't able to read the Common Speech, whereas they (ofcourse) could read English.
As for 'potato' and 'smoking a pipe': I haven't reached the latter, so I've not yet thought about that probleem. 'Potato' I've translated from the word for it in Dutch (and also French; German too?), which litterally means 'apple of the earth', and therefore: 'mala terrana'.
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Old 10-25-2003, 09:34 AM   #26
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Earendilyon: The word for potatoes in German is "Kartoffeln", but in Swiss dialect "Härdöpfel" which is the same as the French "pommes de terre".

But I am still not happy with the Translation of the names. As Tolkien wrote
Quote:
this is an English book and its Englishry should not be eradicated. That the Hobbits actually spoke an ancient language of their own is of course a pseudo-historical assertion made necessary by the nature of the narrative
The New German translation by W. Krege goes even farther: not only translating the Place- and Personal Names of the Hobbits but changing their style of speech so that they speak a slang like the young people in Germany TODAY - which results in destroying not only the local colour but the whole atmosphere.

What do you think about these examples:

(About Gandalf) "G for Grand!" They shouted and the old man smiled.

is rendered as: "G wie g...!" riefen sie und der Alte grinste.

g... can only mean "geil", a rude word which teenagers nowadays use if they're enthusiastic. Why else should they print 3 dots?
"Der Alte" is much less respectful than "Der alte Mann" (as it should be.) And finally "grinste" means "grinned"! [img]smilies/eek.gif[/img]

About Galadriel speaking to Sam before he looks into the mirror:

"Like as not" said the Lady with a gentle laugh. is rendered as:
"Na klar!" sagte die hohe Frau leise kichernd. kichernd = giggling ! [img]smilies/eek.gif[/img]

It really pains me to read such things! And to think of all those young readers who ONLY know this version!! It's a crime in my eyes. [img]smilies/mad.gif[/img]

[ October 25, 2003: Message edited by: Guinevere ]
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Old 10-26-2003, 07:44 AM   #27
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gagimarjos, Perethil

Number of Georgians on the forum (as far as my knowledge extends) reaches 4 people now, them being myself, you, Deirdre and latando angaina. Though the latter two haven't appeared for quite a while.

Should we make a roll-call?

As for potatoes, the Georgian word for it is derived from German (through Russian) and sounds like 'kartofili' [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

[ October 26, 2003: Message edited by: HerenIstarion ]
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Old 10-26-2003, 02:31 PM   #28
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Guinevere, probably Tolkien changed his mind on this matter, or chose to live with the fact that translators would want to translate the names. After the Dutch translation had been published, and also the Swedish, he wrote the Guide I mentionned earlier.
Letter 204 talks about the Swedish translator's handling of the names. JRRT then says:
Quote:
I see now that the lack of an 'index of names' is a serious handicap in dealing with these matters. If I had an index of names (even one with only reference to Vol. and chapter, not page) it would be a comparatively easy matter to indicate at once all names suitable for translation (as being themselves according to the fiction 'translated' into English), and to add a few notes on points where (I know now) translators are likely to trip. .... (my bolding, Ear)
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Old 04-02-2004, 09:48 AM   #29
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Time to revive this most interesting thread! (Thank you Guinevere for showing me the way )

My mothertongue is Dutch, and the first time I read the LOTR it was in my native language. To be honest, the names of places and persons sounded somewhat strange to me. As said before, everything has been translated, and in most cases certainly not for the best.

But I recall that Tolkien worked very close together with the Dutch translator.
It was Firnantoonion who mentioned this in the topic Translation mistakes
Although I'm going to look for some more information concerning that matter.

All the more strange that Tolkien apparently allowed the translator to use Dutch words for the places and names of persons.

Edit: The Dutch translator's name is Max Schuchart, he translated the LOTR in 1957. But that's about everything I could find with Google about this.
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Old 04-02-2004, 01:55 PM   #30
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If you have Letters, #190 deals with the Dutch translations, which Tolkien strongly objected to. A few excerpts:

Quote:
In principle I object as strongly as is possible to the 'translation' of the nomenclature at all (even by a competent person). I wonder why a translator should think himself called on or entitled to do any such thing. That this is an 'imaginary' world does not give him any right to remodel it according to his fancy, even if he could in a few months create a new coherent structure which it took me years to work out.
And then.....

Quote:
May I say now at once that I will not tolerate any similar tinkering with personal nomenclature. (He had been complaining about various place names poorly translated into Dutch when they needn't have been.) Nor with the name/word Hobbit. I will not have any more Hompen (in which I was not consulted), nor any Hobbel or whatnot. Elves, Dwarfs/ves, Trolls, yes: they are mere modern equivalents of the correct terms. But hobbit (and orc) are of that world, and they must stay, whether they sound Dutch or not.....
(Both from Letter #190, italics not my own, bolded note my own)

I speak Czech, and I haven't actually read any of the Czech translations, but from various Czech websites I've seen some of the changes that were made in translation. I don't approve of the decision to change "hobbit" to "hobit", like Tolkien said in the quotation above, it's not an English word which can be translated accordingly, and should be kept intact, even if it doesn't look Dutch (or Czech). Without the accents, Sam becomes Samved Krepelka, which I find absurd, and Baggins becomes Pytlík, which is even worse, "pytlík" meaning literally "bag" or "sack", and generally with connotations of the type of bag used to carry groceries or hold trash. What with Sam, his name becomes rather "Samknowledge," and I wonder that they didn't just translate it all the way, though that would have rendered it "Pulved," and his nickname would be Pul, which would be simply awful beyond words.

Even where things are translated well enough, or at least literally, which of course isn't always entirely the same thing, they sound so different and rather comical- like a children's book, as many of you have said. Somehow "Prsten Moci" doesn't carry the same ominous weight that "Ring of Power" does. And like akhtene said, the declensions are simply awful- "Vzpomínáte na první setkání hobita Bilba s úlisným Glumem?" Bilba? Glumem? Necessary, but quite sad. The problem lies in the fact that Tolkien was such an artist with words- their sounds and appearances add to their meaning and mood, which cannot be carried over successfully into another language, I think. One can achieve such an effect in any language, but I don't think one could get the same effect in one language as another- it's simply not possible. And translators seem to be rather lazy: when they encounter something that's difficult to translate, they take the easy way out by overly simplifying it. "Baggins" is quite hard to translate, but I think even "Bilbo Sáckový" would have been more normal, and even more natural in Czech, than "Bilbo Pytlík"! (Sácek being generally a small bag, he would thus be "Bilbo of the Bag" instead of "Bilbo Sack").
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Old 05-24-2010, 07:45 PM   #31
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I'm sure I must have seen this thread before but never got round to posting on it. Thanks for the reminder, Guinevere!

I, too, first read LotR, and the Silmarillion and The Hobbit, in German translation (the Carroux version). I read it in the original for the first time shortly thereafter, but for most of the 30 years since, my Tolkien experience was filtered through the translations, and although I read the Prof's works mostly in the original nowadays, somewhere in the back recesses of my mind Frodo's surname will always be Beutlin, and Elrond will always reside in Bruchtal (which is a fairly close translation of Rivendell, and never mind its hilarious similarity to the real town of Bruchsal in the region of Germany where I long lived).

Of course no translation can ever hope to capture every nuance of the original, but I still feel that Ms Carroux (and Ms von Freymann, who translated the poems!) has done an outstanding job, and I think her use of dated or archaic German words like bühl (for 'hill') or tobel (for 'dingle', as in Derndingle) would have pleased the Prof. The different stylistic registers in different parts of the book (like e.g. the colloquial hobbit-talk early in The Fellowship vs the more lofty heroic mode in parts of TT and RotK) come through quite clearly in her version, even if she didn't exactly mirror every occurrence of thou vs you in the original.

As for the Krege re-translation, don't get me started on that! He's proved himself to be a competent and indeed sensitive translator with his version of the Silmarillion, so it's a marvel to me how he ever could have screwed up so completely. (IIRC he even discussed in his afterword whether he shouldn't have rendered the Rohirric names with their Old High German cognates, to mirror the relation between Rohirric=Anglo-Saxon and Westron=ModernEnglish in the original, which clearly shows he did give some profound thought to his business.) I'm willing to acknowledge he probably was under some pressure from the editors to make his translation as different from the old one as possible, but still... anybody who can seriously think of using "na klar", "kichern" on the one hand and "hohe Frau" on the other hand (belonging to totally different stylistic registers in German) in the same sentence deserves to be hung by his thumbs.
(For native English readers who may not know what I'm talking about, this is like
Quote:
'Yeah, sure', said the High Lady, giggling softly
vs Tolkien's
Quote:
'Like as not', said the Lady with a gentle laugh.
)

One more thing I'd like to address is the translation of Hobbitish sur- and place names. I'm for translating them, if done well, and I think Ms Carroux handled that part very well indeed*, using some old German place name endings like -ingen, -binge, -büttel to match Tolkien's -ton, -delving, -bottle. It does away with the Englishness of the Shire, of course, but it does preserve the homeliness, which I think is just as important. Meaning that if I read Tolkien correctly, he meant the audience at which his books were first and foremost aimed (English, of course) to feel at home in the Shire - like it was, as someone (I think Lalwende?) said on I don't know which other thread, a familiar place not far away; after all, the Hobbits are the characters from whose perspective we experience most of the story, so we're supposed to identify with them, aren't we? Now for English readers, homeliness and Englishness are of course one and the same, but translators have to make a choice here - and personally, as a reader, I prefer for the Shire to feel like home to me.

*One thing where I disagree with her is her choice of rendering Shire itself as Auenland (literally 'meadow-land', which I suppose describes the landscape well enough but hasn't the same historical connotations). In a footnote to the Appendix on translation, she says that a better German equivalent to the English shire would have been Gau, but that she chose not to use that because of its perverted use by the Nazis (as in Gauleiter). There would have been, however, a perfect dialectal alternative in Gäu (basically the same word pronounced a little differently, and with no Nazi connotations whatsoever). Its usage is rather limited to the south-west of Germany, but seeing that she borrowed a lot from SW German for the rest of her nomenclature, that shouldn't have deterred her.

Now this post has got a lot longer and more rambling than I ever intended... blame the hour (close to 4am) and some bottles of good Czech beer!
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Old 05-25-2010, 12:22 PM   #32
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Interesting. I've read the Dutch translation, which isn't too bad.

The French translation is quite good - there's a couple of other decent ones too. The Danish, for example.

I wouldn't mind looking at the Icelandic translation, Hringadróttinssaga. It would be a pity if that was less than good. There's no doubt that it is a hard book to translate. Tolkien had a unique grasp of English. You are quite right about problems in the new German translation, Pitchwife. Tolkien went to a lot of trouble to finesse his dialogue to convey specific things about different characters, and it's a pity to see someone ride roughshod over it. It would be like "translating" the English Tolkien uses into a contemporary "street" version while still randomly retaining the occasional thou and thee.

I cringed a little at a comment on this thread, admittedly from 2003, which heaped scorn on Professor Shippey! Tom Shippey might not be right 100% of the time, but he knows a heck of a lot more about JRR Tolkien than almost anyone who isn't Christopher Tolkien.

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Old 05-31-2010, 01:04 PM   #33
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Thank you for reviving my old thread, Pitchwife and PrinceOfTheHalflings!

I think my aversion to the German tranlation(s) and nomenklatura stem from the fact that I read the books first in English, and as an adult.
But I understand very well that, if somebody read and loved the translated version as a teenager, this first impression will remain dear to the heart.
(Btw, if the Shire should represent not "Englishness" but "homeliness" then for me the Hobbits should speak Swiss Dialect! In "Quotes in other languages" I did translate some Hobbit Quotes to my dialect. Orcs speech also works, but never the noble speech of Elves or Gondorians.)
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Old 05-31-2010, 02:02 PM   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Guinevere View Post
Btw, if the Shire should represent not "Englishness" but "homeliness" then for me the Hobbits should speak Swiss Dialect!
And why not? After all, the Prof himself said (in Appendix F II) that
Quote:
Hobbits indeed spoke for the most part a rustic dialect.
(Although I wonder whether Schwyzerdütsch shouldn't be more properly considered a language in its own right rather than a dialect... )
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Old 06-01-2010, 12:58 PM   #35
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I found the Spanish translation somewhere, and I have been reading it off and on. After getting used to the shock of seeing one's favorite character say the kind of snarly sentence that is the nightmare of anyone speaking in their second language, I did notice some inconsistencies.
1) The poetry didn't rhyme. I suppose this is a good thing, but it is a shade disconserting.
2) Strider was Trancos. My dictionary says this means 'trunk'.
3) When I was reading both the translation and the original simotaneaously, I noticed that the sentences were not in the right order, which might confuse persons who only read the translation.
The translation was fun, but I'd cast my vote in favor of the real one.
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Old 06-06-2010, 02:43 PM   #36
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I think for the interested parties, this thread had a similar topic - and it was one I enjoyed a lot...
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Old 06-04-2011, 10:02 AM   #37
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I first read LOTR in Russian, and I must say that I enjoyed - and still enjoy - it very much. I have a good translation that does not lose the book's charm. Some dialogue is changed a bit, but it is done to keep the spirit of the words intact. The language reflects the speaker/race, just like in the original, and it's archaic and just sounds beautiful.

On the other hand, I read a translation of The Sil, and it was the worst thing ever written. It sounded like an instruction book to a computer game.

It really depends on the translation.

The Sil for me is only in English. I know it in English. But there are 2 LOTRs for me. I don't favour either one; they are both equally good, but there is just a slight difference.
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Old 06-04-2011, 12:44 PM   #38
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Galadriel55 View Post
I first read LOTR in Russian, and I must say that I enjoyed - and still enjoy - it very much. I have a good translation that does not lose the book's charm. Some dialogue is changed a bit, but it is done to keep the spirit of the words intact. The language reflects the speaker/race, just like in the original, and it's archaic and just sounds beautiful.
I'd assume that would be Муравьев-Кистяковский one?
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Old 06-04-2011, 01:20 PM   #39
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I'd assume that would be Муравьев-Кистяковский one?
That's the one! How did you know? Are you also Russian?
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Old 06-04-2011, 02:02 PM   #40
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Ooh Galadriel you have lit the blue touch paper there.....
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