Philip.Belben at Philip.Belben at
Wed Jan 5 13:31:16 EST 2000

Hello again everyone.  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a relatively
bug-free new year!  I managed to play the organ at a service on Christmas
morning, and get to my parents' (150 miles away) in time for lunch, but I
haven'd done any serious Jones reading over the Christmas period.

Sally wrote:

> Congratulations, Gili; I hope they paid you well! Translating always
> fascinates me, because I don't know how literal it can be. Puns don't
> translate well and as for poetry, I can't see how that can be much like the
> original, what with words not rhyming and being of different lengths. And
> idioms don't always repeat from language to language.

And Jacob replied:

> There's a comic book that does an incredible job translating puns.  It's the
> Astrix comics.  The originals are done in French, but the puns come through
> very well in both the English and German versions.  I hear from my Welsh
> teacher that they even do a good job of it in the Welsh version.  Obviously
> some liberty is taken to build the puns correctly, but there is no
> disconnect with the story to make it so.

I must admit I used to love reading Asterix books.  A friend of mine at uni,
studying modern languages, claimed that they were very good examples - because
where they couldn't translate the humour, they outdid it.  The only exception is
apparently "Asterix in Britain" ("Astérix chez les Bretons") which is full of
anti-English jokes that don't translate at all (and most of which I don't get
when I read it in French either)...

One of my favourite books (mentioned in Nat's survey) is a book of German poems
and their English translations.  The poet is Christian Morgenstern; apparently
the translator, Max Knight, started doing Morgenstern's poetry because he saw an
encyclopaedia entry for Morgenstern that described his work as "practically
untranslatable".  Max Knight was one of the first to translate Morgenstern, but
few later translators are as good in my opinion.

Some of the poems can't be translated literally, but Knight includes some
"approaches" by Karl Ross, who has tried to write poems that capture the spirit
of the German original.  And in several cases, where Knight and Ross can't
translate a pun or a joke exactly, they try and outdo Morgenstern's original in
their translations.

Here is a sample, the first poem in the book (with apologies for not
implementing the full German alphabet):

Es war einmal ein Lattenzaun,
mit Zwischenraum, hindurchzuschaun.

Ein Architekt, der dieses sah,
stand eines Abends ploetzlich da -

und nahm den Zwischenraum heraus
und baute draus ein grosses Haus.

Der Zaun indessen stand ganz dumm,
mit Latten ohne was herum.

Ein anblick graesslich und gemein.
Drum zog ihn der Senat auch ein.

Der Architekt jedoch entfloh
nach Afri- od' Ameriko.


There used to be a picket fence
with space to gaze from hence to thence.

An architect who saw this sight
approached it suddenly one night,

removed the spaces from the fence,
and built of them a residence.

The picket fence stood there dumbfounded
with pickets wholly unsurrounded,

a view so naked and obscene,
the Senate had to intervene. [*]

The architect, however, flew
to Afri- or Americoo.

[*] in one other translation this line came out as "they charged it with
indecency", which is rather good, if less accurate.

Anyway, happy new year.


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