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Old 06-04-2011, 02:05 PM   #41
Galadriel55
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Ooh Galadriel you have lit the blue touch paper there.....
huh?


And H-I, I just saw your post waaay back... somewhere, where you say why you read the Russian translation. I missed it for some reason when I went through the thread before...
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Old 06-04-2011, 02:20 PM   #42
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He is Georgian... I learnt the hard way not to confuse the two But he forgave me! Splendid chap that he is...
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Old 06-04-2011, 02:57 PM   #43
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I'm sorry, H-I. I understand: people call me Ukranian.

As I said, I found that you said everything in the middle of the thread... Just how did I miss your post?
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Old 06-05-2011, 06:02 AM   #44
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I'm a bit sad to learn Tolkien had so much against translating his names, because the Finnish translator, for example, has done awesome job there. LotR was first read to me in Finnish when I was a kid, and I read it several times in Finnish myself before daring to read it in English. The Finnish translation was great back then, and even now when I have read the original several times too, there's little to complain of.

I have to agree with H-I though about good translators necessarily creating a different story or poem in the case of LotR. And they can even serve different functions. For me, The Lord of the Rings is a grand epic I love, filled with breathtakingly beautiful language but Taru Sormusten Herrasta is my second home.

The original strikes me as more "high" and the epic moments are more epic, and this might simply be because it someitmes uses words that are unfamiliar to me so they sound really epic and also because I'm inlicned to think things are inclined to sound less ridiculous in a foreign language. I mean, in a few moments the Finnish translation made me grit my teeth a little last time I read it simply because it was so epic it was in the brink of being ridiculous, but I never get the same feeling when I'm reading LotR in English. Also, some of the songs and poems just sound better in English even though the man who translated the poems into Finnish did a splendid job - probably partly because English is a much easier language to write poems in because words rhyme so much more than in Finnish.

On the other hand, in the Finnish version the characters and their internal struggles come so much closer to me. It might be the familiarity, of course, but it might also be some qualities of the language. I think it's also because sometimes you can't translate Finnish to be as epic/old-fashioned/poetic/formal as English. For example, whether a character says in the original "I don't know" or "I know not" it is translated into Finnish as the same phrase (there is no way to say "I know not" instead of "I don't know") and it makes some of the characters seem more down-to-earth, but not in a bad way, if you ask me. After all, it's still not the same as the poor German hobbits or anything.

All in all, I think the Finnish translation is very good because it sounds effortless - as if LotR had originally been written in Finnish. (For example there is a Finnish word for all the races except hobbits, it always makes me cringe when I see for example the word "elf" in the middle of non-English text. In Finnish "elf" is haltia and "goblin" is hiisi, both of them old Finnish words. "Orc" has become örkki, which sounds like a Finnish word and even more orcish than "orc" and "hobbit" has become hobitti to fit the Finnish language.) I'm happy to have both the versions to read, because they mean different things to me and I love them both. The only problem of course is that every time I read it in Finnish I wish I had started reading it in English instead and the other way around...
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Old 06-06-2011, 02:34 AM   #45
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I should speak here on behalf of the Czech translation, which I believe is very good. And I even think this is a very nice moment - this is the first time I get to disagree with Tolkien on something! Because when it comes to translation, I am a friend of translating the names where it seems appropriate (and if the translator is up to it, which is the most important part!), generally I would say that the point is to make the reading smooth to the reader and, if possible, to convey the feelings the reader of the original version has. Of course, the best thing is if you can read it in the original, but then, there are many who cannot, and in any case, it is not the same or as smooth reading for many people as it would be in their mothertongue, and being distracted by trying to understand complicated sentences in a foreign language might disrupt your enjoyment of the language just as much as the translation would, if not even more.

And translation is always a matter of decision (and I can imagine texts far worse than that of Tolkien's, remembering all my foregone attempts to translate ancient Hebrew poetry), and in any case, you already are breaking the basic feeling the text gives by translating it. Even a sentence like "In the green forest it was twilight" does not sound the same as "V zeleném lese bylo šero", and the, let's say, melody of the language is already different. Therefore, names should be translated accordingly too, wherever it is appropriate. In Tolkien's case, it goes for Hobbit place names and surnames at least (because they are supposed to sound "like home", therefore, they should sound akin to placenames and surnames familiar to the reader), and then specific names, for instance Gollum, which conveys a certain sound, in case it sounded weird in the language into which it is being translated - in Czech, it is Glum, and that sounds really as if you are swallowing something nasty, while Gollum is a bit too long and has double consonant, which does not really fit the language and would start seeming strange.

Although Gollum isn't such a big deal, but the word hobbit is more interesting, as it apparently has been a source of controversy in several translations. Well, let me say it plainly: Sorry, mister Tolkien, with all due respect, hobit (as we have it in Czech) is far better than hobbit for us. The reason is once again: we don't have double consonants, and even if they are in foreign words, we don't pronounce them (usually merge them into one), which would already erase the "bb" for an average reader. Hobit could almost be a Czech word, or at least it doesn't sound so utterly alien as hobbit would. And in any case, if I imagine seeing a book in a bookshop titled "Hobbit", I would most likely be "oh no, another of this pseudo-newspeak-englishised books, which try to get sold by having wannabe-cool-sounding titles which don't really say anything, just like the other book titled 'Wortharr', which is apparently the name of the main hero or the continent where it takes place". When I see "Hobit", I think "hey, that sounds funny, what does that word mean?", with the sort of assumption that it is an actual word meaning something, unlike the imaginary neighbour 'Wortharr', which obviously is not any real word, that's plain on first sight.

So speaking of the one translation I know, the Czech one, I would say that is a really good one and the person who had made it really tried to make the effort. There are very few moments when something sounds wrong, and it actually isn't character names or place names or anything - the only thing the translator didn't manage to do well was the translation of some sayings (like, I didn't know for a long time that what Aragorn says about wolves and orcs is a saying - for some reason, the translator didn't manage to make it rhyme or anything, but then again, if I think about it, in this case, it is really difficult, as the words "wolf" and "orc" don't rhyme in Czech and if you ended the line with some other word, it might sound like a bad attempt of rhyme with stupidly reversed word order), or the Rohirric poems. Most of the poems and songs in LotR are translated really nicely, but the Rohirric ones, for some reason, are totally off - they don't rhyme, they don't alliterate, they sound like random "shouts in the dark". That is a pity, but aside from this, there is basically nothing to complain about. In any case, I know that the translator tried to do her best - from what I can see from the rest of the books, and from what I know about how she came to translate it - and there probably were enough obstacles in attempts to translate these poems in particular.

So, I feel I should step in defence of it, in contrary to Luthien_ Tinuviel who spoke here before also in relation to the Czech translation, but who hasn't read it; and with all due respect, she is seemingly not a native speaker, and basically nothing she said is really valid in any way. I must say that all her proposals sound rather horrible to me - calling somebody Bilbo Sáčkový would sound like calling him "white yoghurt", because it denotes a Bilbo whose speciality, as opposed to other Bilbos, is that he is "sack-y", or made out of a sack, or of a certain kind (the same way as white yoghurt is different from a strawberry yoghurt). You must consider how the things sound to Czech ears, not to the ears of a foreigner, and that goes for every translation. Likewise, the real name used in the translation, "Pytlík", sounds absolutely fine, it can mean a "pouch" and that's what I believe most people imagine when they hear it, and it's okay, because it is actually a possible normal surname. And I don't see any problem with conjugating words, once again, it may look puzzling to a foreigner, but you don't think about it if it's in your own language, and it would be far more disturbing if you saw words unconjugated in the text.

So, all in all, my belief about translating the names in LotR is: what is English (in terms of the story, translated from Westron) should be translated into the respective language, only what is Elvish should be kept Elvish and so on, and words of questionable origin (like hobbit) can also be translated. After all, I am not sure what does Tolkien think, but the word "hobbit" is a translation, the "real" Westron word is kuduk, right? Therefore, I don't see why it should not be translated.

An interesting chapter (and another can of worms) in this scheme would be the Rohirric language, because of course, what we have in the books is not Rohirric, but something Anglo-Saxon. Personally, I believe keeping the Old English names here is good even for the translation. However, I have heard that the Czech translator briefly pondered whether she should not attempt to translate Rohirric names in Old Church Slavonic - the very ancient predecessor of Czech, with the obvious intention: to give the same feeling to the local reader as the reader in the original language has - that "these people are speaking the language we were speaking a thousand years ago". Certainly an interesting prospect, I must confess that I am still a bit intrigued by the idea, because this dimension is of course totally lost in the translation (and if it wasn't for the Appendices, I wouldn't know about that) - even though I am happy with it the way it is, and the idea of having Éomer called Vojmir or something is a bit creepy. But for some sort of "experimental translation", it might not be as bad, and might be really interesting, just for the sake of it. Because after all, if we wanted to be "proper" and approach LotR the way Tolkien did - as in "I have a book in Westron about this and this, and I translate it into English", then of course we should approach it as "okay, I have a book in Westron and I translate it into XY".

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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.
I 100% agree with this. But what I said in the very beginning, that's just how it is, and if one is a translator and wants to convey some book, at least a bit of the reflection of the original "white light" to the large audience, who might not speak the language the book is originally written in, then he or she can "only decide what to do with the words that are given to us". "Feinschmeckers" can read it in the original and enjoy it fully (though again, I doubt that a non-native speaker can really enjoy it fully the same way, unless he's been speaking English for the last forty years).
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Old 06-06-2011, 05:46 AM   #46
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Although I think the letter to Rayner Unwin has been mentioned, "The Lord of the Rings - A reader's companion" (Hammond &Scull - Calcifer!!) has the full list of names Tolkien felt should be translated with notes- it runs to some thirty printed pages so it is clearly something he cared about very much - as is to be expected for someone who felt the way he did about language. Also many of the hints and references are not obvious even to a native speaker such as myself who has studied linguistics, languages and literature to degree level. It is usual to translate into the mother tongue so I imagine that non native speakers might benefit from this insight - even though their studies and intelligence be no doubt superior to mine.

But it is hard for me to say because I haven't read Tolkien in any other language - and having loathed some of the name translations in the French Harry Potter I don't know whether it would be a good idea.

Anyway if you have access to the reader's companion it is a fascinating read.
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Old 06-06-2011, 07:36 AM   #47
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Even a sentence like "In the green forest it was twilight" does not sound the same as "V zeleném lese bylo šero", and the, let's say, melody of the language is already different.
Lol, I understand that!

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Therefore, names should be translated accordingly too, wherever it is appropriate.
...
because they are supposed to sound "like home", therefore, they should sound akin to placenames and surnames familiar to the reader
I agree. For exmple, "Baggins" would leave me staring blankly at the page (if I didn't know English), but "Torbins" would mean something, and therefore give off a certain spirit.

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and then specific names, for instance Gollum, which conveys a certain sound, in case it sounded weird in the language into which it is being translated - in Czech, it is Glum, and that sounds really as if you are swallowing something nasty, while Gollum is a bit too long and has double consonant, which does not really fit the language and would start seeming strange.
Russian has a lot of consonants in words, at least more than English (we could have a combination of tstv, for example). Sometimes the translator added in some letters to names, especially Rohirric names, to make them more Russian-sounding. Taking Gollum as an example - it's made into Gorlum, with sounds like a gurgling noise.

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Most of the poems and songs in LotR are translated really nicely, but the Rohirric ones, for some reason, are totally off - they don't rhyme, they don't alliterate, they sound like random "shouts in the dark".
They don't rhyme in Russian either, but they are melodic. The content of some poems (in generel, not only Rohirric) is sometimes changed slightly, but they sound terriffic, and most of them have rhyme. Some of them I like a little better in Russian, but maybe that's just because I'm used to them being that way.

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So, all in all, my belief about translating the names in LotR is: what is English (in terms of the story, translated from Westron) should be translated into the respective language, only what is Elvish should be kept Elvish and so on, and words of questionable origin (like hobbit) can also be translated. After all, I am not sure what does Tolkien think, but the word "hobbit" is a translation, the "real" Westron word is kuduk, right? Therefore, I don't see why it should not be translated.
That is a very good point!



Another think that I want to mention is the line that Frodo says to Galadriel when offering her the Ring.

English: "You are wise and fearless and fair"

Translation: "You are wise, fearless, and just"


A curious difference, with the double-meaning of "fair". No one knows hich one Tolkien really meant...
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Old 06-06-2011, 11:52 AM   #48
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Another think that I want to mention is the line that Frodo says to Galadriel when offering her the Ring.

English: "You are wise and fearless and fair"
Translation: "You are wise, fearless, and just"

A curious difference, with the double-meaning of "fair". No one knows hich one Tolkien really meant...
That is very interesting, because the Finnish translation says: "You are wise, fearless and beautiful."

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But it is hard for me to say because I haven't read Tolkien in any other language - and having loathed some of the name translations in the French Harry Potter I don't know whether it would be a good idea.
I probably don't know French half as well as you, but I read the Fellowship in French a few years ago and found it disappointing (to say the least). It is simply bad, the translator has been very sloppy (the language has lost most of its beauty) and translated some stuff in a simply ghastly manner - or how does Saroumane le Multicolore sound to you for example? If you're interested, I have listed the names in The Fellowship of the Ring and made a few comments here.
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Old 06-06-2011, 02:01 PM   #49
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how does Saroumane le Multicolore sound to you for example?
Like a name of a printer.
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Old 06-06-2011, 02:54 PM   #50
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After all, I am not sure what does Tolkien think, but the word "hobbit" is a translation, the "real" Westron word is kuduk, right? Therefore, I don't see why it should not be translated.
That's true, but hobbit is a Tolkien-invented word to represent a worn down form of holbytla, itself an Old English based construction intended to mean 'hole-builder, hole-dweller'... as kuduk was intended internally to represent a worn down form of a word used by the Rohirrim (thus 'Old English' holbytla) kûd-dûkan 'hole-dweller'

So kuduk has not simply been translated into English (as Quendi or Eldar with 'Elves'), but given an invented translation of Tolkien's own making, with the conceit of mirroring an internal relationship (kuduk to kûd-dûkan).

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Old 06-06-2011, 03:18 PM   #51
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Like a name of a printer.
Washing powder for non-whites laundry.
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Old 06-06-2011, 03:30 PM   #52
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That's true, but hobbit is a Tolkien-invented word to represent a worn down form of holbytla, itself an Old English based construction intended to mean 'hole-builder, hole-dweller'... as kuduk was intended internally to represent a worn down form of a word used by the Rohirrim (thus 'Old English' holbytla) kûd-dûkan 'hole-dweller'

So kuduk has not simply been translated into English (as Quendi or Eldar with 'Elves'), but given an invented translation of Tolkien's own making, with the conceit of mirroring an internal relationship (kuduk to kûd-dûkan).
Indeed! But now that is actually even "worse": now all translators should possibly start asking themselves whether they should not try to invent a word of their own which would resemble some ancient word for "hole-dweller" in their mothertongue... actually, thinking of that, at least within Indo-European languages, I wonder whether the "-bit" part at least could not be preserved (thinking of languages I know), in one way or another. But the beginning... I am just wildly guessing now, maybe something like Djerbyt or such would be appropriate in my mothertongue... but no, to be honest, I would prefer to keep the original to that.
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Old 06-06-2011, 09:43 PM   #53
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Galin
That's true, but hobbit is a Tolkien-invented word to represent a worn down form of holbytla, itself an Old English based construction intended to mean 'hole-builder, hole-dweller'... as kuduk was intended internally to represent a worn down form of a word used by the Rohirrim (thus 'Old English' holbytla) kûd-dûkan 'hole-dweller'

So kuduk has not simply been translated into English (as Quendi or Eldar with 'Elves'), but given an invented translation of Tolkien's own making, with the conceit of mirroring an internal relationship (kuduk to kûd-dûkan).
Indeed! But now that is actually even "worse": now all translators should possibly start asking themselves whether they should not try to invent a word of their own which would resemble some ancient word for "hole-dweller" in their mothertongue... actually, thinking of that, at least within Indo-European languages, I wonder whether the "-bit" part at least could not be preserved (thinking of languages I know), in one way or another. But the beginning... I am just wildly guessing now, maybe something like Djerbyt or such would be appropriate in my mothertongue... but no, to be honest, I would prefer to keep the original to that.
Here's another way of looking at it: to the casual reader, "hobbit" is a nonsense word, but one that just sounds right: it fits into the structure of the language, and also into an existing pattern of English and Scottish fairytale-creature names (hobgoblin, boggart, etc). Maybe a translator should be aiming for a similar effect of half-familiarity, rather than worrying about the etymology?
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Old 06-07-2011, 08:28 AM   #54
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Here's another way of looking at it: to the casual reader, "hobbit" is a nonsense word, but one that just sounds right: it fits into the structure of the language, and also into an existing pattern of English and Scottish fairytale-creature names (hobgoblin, boggart, etc). Maybe a translator should be aiming for a similar effect of half-familiarity, rather than worrying about the etymology?
I've heard it said that "hobbit" may have appealed to Tolkien in the context of The Hobbit being basically considered a "children's" story. The word bears a resemblance to "rabbit', so maybe there's something to that, since an eagle said Bilbo looked like a rabbit, and Beorn told Bilbo "little bunny is getting nice and fat...".
Children do have an affinity for cuddly things.
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Old 06-07-2011, 09:48 AM   #55
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There's an interesting reference in the drafts for the Appendices...

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Hobbit This, I confess, is my own invention; but not one devised at random. This is its origin. It is, for one thing, not wholly unlike the actual word in the Shire, which was cubuc (plural cubugin).*

...

* For another, I must admit that its faint suggestion of rabbit appealed to me. Not that hobbits at all resembled rabbits, unless it be in burrowing. Still, a jest is a jest as all cubugin will allow, and after all it does so happen that the coney (well known in the Shire if not in ancient England) was called tapuc, a name recalling cubuc, if not so clearly as hobbit recalls rabbit. [This note was later struck out]

In any case, I think Tolkien's choice of hobbit easily predated how he ended up explaining it within the translation conceit, yes. I don't think any of the Dwarf-names were necessarily even 'translations' in the early going, for example; rather Tolkien was probably just using a convenient external source for his tale.
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Old 06-07-2011, 10:09 AM   #56
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In any case, I think Tolkien's choice of hobbit easily predated how he ended up explaining it within the translation conceit, yes. I don't think any of the Dwarf-names were necessarily even 'translations' in the early going, for example; rather Tolkien was probably just using a convenient external source for his tale.
I'd forgotten that T. himself brought that up. I remember someone else writing of it after his death.
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Old 06-07-2011, 10:50 AM   #57
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I'm a bit sad to learn Tolkien had so much against translating his names, because the Finnish translator, for example, has done awesome job there.
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this is the first time I get to disagree with Tolkien on something! Because when it comes to translation, I am a friend of translating the names where it seems appropriate (and if the translator is up to it, which is the most important part!)
Let me play devil's advocate and offer a somewhat contrary view - with the caveat, however, that I have only read LotR in the original, and cannot comment on the quality of any translation.

Personally speaking, when I read a work in translation, I want it to stick as closely as possible to the original, not only with regard to the sense of the words, but also to the atmosphere of the writing, to which names make an important contribution. When I read, for example, an English translation of an Italian novel, I am perfectly conscious of its provenance, and I don't need or want the translator to try to make me 'feel at home', as it were. It has to be in English for me to understand it, but it shouldn't feel English; it should feel Italian. If Roberto becomes Robert and Maria becomes Mary, something of the flavour of the work is lost. Even when the goði of an Icelandic saga becomes a 'priest' or a 'chieftain', I feel like something has been lost.

There are obviously shades of grey; I don't think every proper noun or peculiar word should necessarily be left untouched. When common words are used as names, there is certainly a good case for translating them. Things like the 'Old Forest', 'Mount Doom', and the 'River Running' certainly ought to be translated. But 'Hobbit', 'Baggins', 'Mirkwood', etc.? Let's just say that if I were reading a translation of a Finnish book with people called 'hobitti', a character named 'Reppuli', and a place called 'Synkmetsa', I would prefer those names to be left unaltered by the translator. And footnotes (yes, footnotes) explaining the meaning of the names are fine by me, and even welcome.

Now, with Tolkien there is the additional complication of the translator conceit - i.e., that the English is purported to be a translation of the Westron original. This would seem to provide cover for the would-be translator of names: he or she is really just doing what Tolkien did. This is certainly a nice little line of reasoning, but it seems to me to be, quite intentionally, missing the point. The translator conceit is just that - a conceit. The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien's other writings, are, fundamentally and inescapably, English. And while the translation from Westron is an ingenious game, it strikes me as somewhat disingenuous to use this internal story about the work's origin to justify the handling of the work in the real world. Moreover, in creating his English 'translation', Tolkien stacked the deck in his favour. Clearly, he invented the English names first and then created the underlying originals in just such a way as to match the English in every important detail. The Westron names were invented so as to make the English a perfect translation, capturing every subtlety of meaning exactly. No real translator has the luxury of such an obliging original.

So, that's my view and the reason I prefer to err on the side of retaining the original names.

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Old 06-07-2011, 11:24 AM   #58
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Things like the 'Old Forest', 'Mount Doom', and the 'River Running' certainly ought to be translated. But 'Hobbit', 'Baggins', 'Mirkwood', etc.?
I agree about hobbit, but not about the others. Baggins has the essential "bag" in it. The reader has to know that it's a bag, and not a random jumble of sounds. Mirkwood makes me think of a murky wood, so why not translate it so that it would give off a similar effect?

The difference between translation names such as "Maria" and Tolkien's names is that in the Italian book the author portrays something that everyone knows exists, that everyone has some kind of idea about. Tolkien wrote a 'fiction novel'. To me, it would also sound weird if Robertos and Marias in Italy would be Roberts and Marys. However, (pretending that I don't know English), if I read "Meerkvud", or "Beggins", or a whole host of names, I'd think What on Earth did the author write? If they are translated, I know what the author wants me to think about them (in a sense), because I understand what the name means.

Names like "Theoden" or "Frodo" definitely should not be translated, but the more obvious ones, IMO, should be.


I just thought of a line from TH, where Bilbo tells his name to Smaug, and says that he came from a bag, but forgot his bag. This pun wouldn't work in another language if "Baggins", "Bag-End", etc are transliterated.

Plus, they would not sound the same in another language, so if something just sounds right, or gentle, or evil, etc in English, when transliterated it may give off a totaly different melody.


EDIT: just to clarify myself in the 2nd paragraph: I meant to say that we know what Italy (or whatever from RL) is supposed to be like. We don't know about fiction stories. That's why the names should indicate that to the reader - in any language that the reader understands.
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Old 06-09-2011, 04:49 AM   #59
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Nice playing the devil's advocate, Aiwendil. Anyway I still (surprise surprise) disagree, partly because of what Galadriel said, partly for other reasons.

Partly it's something that is possibly totally invalid as an argument but works in my head nevertheless. In most cases, English doesn't have the same kind of atmosphere and character to me than other languages, it's not exotic or "characteristic". It's a pity but I think it's simply because English is so universal and because I know it too well (there's no big difference in how many obscure names I don't understand in the Finnish version and in the English version of LotR, for example), so names like "Baggins" would feel kind of lame in a text that was in Finnish. Can't really explain it any better than that!

Maybe that English names themselves are not enough to convey a sense of "Englishness" to me since they are what I see everywhere. To get the sense of "Englishness" I need more like certain atmosphere, way of phrasing things, dialogue. And once the text itself is translated into Finnish it's not a question of the names whether the text retains its "Englishness" - it's more about how well the translator has managed to convey the atmosphere. And it worked at least for me: now the Shire feels both English and familiar to me when I read LotR in Finnish - when I read it in English it doesn't feel familiar the same way but it's just a tad more English. Wondering if this makes sense...

And lastly and possibly more importantly, I really don't like reading novels where stuff has to be explained with footnotes. Sometimes it's ok, but I'm just trying to imagine the amount of footnotes required for LotR. Explaining things like Bilbo saying he comes from a bag or why there is "G" in the box Galadriel gives to Sam in footnotes is kind of lame - it breaks the illusion of the story when you have to look up some factual explanation to get a joke or a point...
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