Sunday, December 14, 2008

eXchanges, Icelandish, Freeman on -eth

eXchanges, the University of Iowa’s online journal of literary translation, will be accepting variations on the theme MIRRORS & MASKS for their spring 2009 issue until March 20, 2009. Short stories, novel excerpts, literary nonfiction, and poetry are all welcome, as well as critical essays on translation.

To be considered, submissions must include the original source text as well as the translation; biographies and photos of both author and translator; a short note on the process of translation; and permission for online publication for both languages. Submissions should total no more than ten pages in length. Electronic submissions -- which are strongly preferred -- should be send as .doc attachments to Direct paper submissions to eXchanges, Bowman House, 230 N. Clinton St., Iowa City, IA, 52242, U.S.A. The editors do accept simultaneous submissions; however, they ask that submitters inform them if work is under consideration elsewhere.

The Fall 2008 issue, ROOTS & BRANCHES, is online at the journal's website. Browsing through, I saw work from Japanese, Italian, Chinese, and Hindi, but, having recently fallen in with the writing of Halldór Laxness, decided to check out the Icelandic poem "morðsaga" by Sigurbjörg Þrastardóttir, given in German as "moritat" by Kristof Magnusson and as "murder story" by Þrastardóttir's English translator Bernard Scudder.

The title phrase "morð-saga" can be easily seen to mean "murder story," without having to clean off much of that phonetic and orthographic grime that accumulates over time on cognates, in much the same way that that sea corrosion builds up on cannons sunk with a ship-wreck. Oh, but let us be cautious of cognates -- I have in mind the admonition of translator Cola Franzen: that when rely on cognate meaning, we run the risk of ruining the tone of our version. Good advice indeed; but as readers of parallel texts we should be able to relax our vigilance against seeming sameness and faux amis, and have a little fun picking out the connections. As we can with the triplet wafer-thin / hauchdünn / næfurþunnt . Apparently "næfur" corresponds to "wafer" -- that's neat!.

It is thrilling to see clean kinship between English, German, and Icelandic, to feel part (as a native speaker of English) of an extended family of lexical relations. English: Don’t you think? German: Findest du nicht? Icelandic: Finnst þér ekki?

In today's Globe, Jan Freeman picks up the theme of linguistic cousins in a related (!) way: "Same for run the gantlet instead of gauntlet: The word was gattlopp in Swedish, but it was mangled the moment we borrowed it, almost 400 years ago. Does it really matter which spelling of the French word for "glove" we use to represent it today?" Ha, I laughed aloud; a point for Freeman again literary pedantry. Precision can be pretentious as well as useful. (Finnst þér ekki?) Elsewhere in the same column, Freeman expresses admirable irritation, admirably restrained, toward the use of verbs incorrectly conjugated in the Elizabethan way. She uses the occasion to preacheth tolerance of linguistic change, a cause we would all do well to support with our various energies. While not forgetting that there is a difference between change and degeneration, and that tolerance of the former should not admit comfort with the latter. Ah, but, like, who shall judgeth?