rambles about translation

Gili Bar-Hillel gbhillel at netvision.net.il
Mon Sep 20 10:02:42 EDT 2004

> We have translators on this list, I think, and several people who read in
> more than one language.  Does anyone have any anecdotes of silly mistakes
> translation?  Or of things that are hard to translate?

Too numerous to start recounting here. In a way, any really clever use of
language is difficult to translate, and most good authors get clever with
language sooner or later. There are plenty of DWJ examples for thing that
would be quite tricky to translate. Just take the titles of some of her

"The Homeward Bounders" - this is a triple pun at least: "homeward bound",
"boundaries", "bound" as in leaping, "bound" as in tied... all those
meanings are relevent and they're all in there. I have yet to come up with a
fully satisfying translation of this into Hebrew.

"A Tale of Time City" seems pretty straightforward, unless you bring into
account that it's probably meant to echo "A Tale of Two Cities". In Hebrew
this doesn't quite work.

"Howl's Moving Castle". Howling away at you. Howell is a name in English -
no homynym of the Hebrew word for "howl" is a name in Hebrew. Something's
got to give.

"The Lives of Christopher Chant" was tricky because in Hebrew, there is no
way of distinguishing between life in singular and life in plural. Life is
always plural, as are some others: water, sky. It ended up being "The Nine
Lives of Christopher Chant", which I thought was something of a giveaway,
but there was no better alternative.

etc. etc.

Whoever said that "poetry is what is lost in translation" knew what they
were talking about.


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