Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Translating Danish

I’m just now surfacing from a long happy period of writing and reading to find myself in 2012. I’ve had good news that the university press interested in my translation of Emilie Demant Hatt’s With the Lapps in the High Mountains, first published in 1913, is soon to make a final decision on bringing it out in English. The two readers’ reports have been positive and encouraging. This has sent me back to checking and polishing the translation of this wonderful narrative line by line.

It’s been a while since I read most of text thoroughly—and many of the changes are simply to insert a comma or a tiny missed word. But here and there I find an embarrassing mistake, for instance writing “apron” instead of “scarf” because I obviously was dozing off when I translated forklæde for tørklæde. Sometimes I decide that I’d like to change the English syntax a little or just use a more interesting word—a great chance to pore through my old Thesaurus. Perhaps it’s just that I’m more familiar with the material, but sometimes I think that my Danish actually has improved (Could it have been all those Leif Davidsen spy thrillers I read during the fall?).

I started out originally as a Norwegian translator. The written languages aren’t so different, but some things still trip me up in Danish—the same word but a different meaning (rar in Danish means pleasant; in Norwegian, rar is strange or odd). Danish seems to me to have longer, more Germanic sentences, a different rhythm. While Norwegian has a staccato speed of shorter or half sentences broken up by lengthier phrases. Demant Hatt’s book is full of paragraphs of independent and dependent clauses and a forest of semi-colons, many of which I transformed into shorter sentences. I tried to keep her wit and marvelous descriptive passages in English. I hope I have. It’s certainly been a pleasure to try.

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