Literary translation

Have you ever wondered what kind of challenges you might encounter when translating Asterix? It’s not just about translating the dialogues – there are also numerous names, verbal and visual puns, songs and accents to deal with, and you have to fit the translated text into the speech bubbles. An interesting site – Literary Translation – goes into more detail of some of the difficulties of translating various literary works, including Asterix.

I’ve only read Asterix in English, plus a few of the books in German, so am not familiar with the original French text. Most of the names of the characters in French are different to the ones I’m used to in English. For example, the Gaulish bard, who is Cacofonix in English, is known as Assurancetourix = assurance tous risques, ‘comprehensive insurance’ in French. Many of the other names are made up of French words like this, and don’t sound like names if translated literally. Another example is the Gaulish chieftain, Abraracourcix, whose name comes from the phrase

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This entry was posted in Language, Translation.

11 Responses to Literary translation

  1. rek says:

    Cacofonix = cacophony; harsh and meaningless mix of sounds. A great name for a bard.

    Vitalstatistix = vital statistics; I’d never heard of the “girth” definition before, interesting.

    It’s been decades since I read Asterix (English), it’s good to know the translations of names keeps the same sense of humour.

  2. Jason Fisher says:

    Translating Tolkien presents very much the same sort of challenge. Tolkien himself wrote a fairly lengthy guide to the nomenclature of his persons, places, and things, both to assist future translators as well as to vent some of his frustration with what he saw as egregious failures in the two translations that had already been published by that time (the Dutch and Swedish).

    Much has been written on this subject already, by myself and others, so I won’t say more than this here, but if you’re interested, you can start by hunting around in the archives of my blog. There are also several book-length monographs on the topic. Three that come especially to mind are Allan Turner’s Translating Tolkien (originally Turner’s doctoral dissertation), Thomas Honegger’s collection Tolkien in Translation, and Mark Hooker’s Tolkien Through Russian Eyes.

  3. LAttilaD says:

    I’ve read Asterix comics some 20 years ago, but I still can remember some names from the Hungarian version.
    The druid’s name is Magicoturmix, „magic shake (drink)”. Turmix is among the very small number of Hungarian words that really end in -ix.
    The chief of the tribe has a fully Hungarian name: Hasarengazfix, „his belly shakes, that’s sure”. I remember a nice girl, Faringa, „arse pendulum”, or rather „arse swinging”.
    Unfortunately, I forgot everybody else. Asterix and Obelix kept their original names in the Hungarian translation, just the accent were lost.

  4. The Welsh translations of Asterix are exceptional. Gwasg y Dref Wen translated 8 in the late 70s/ early 80s (more information here). Their translations of Tintin are also excellent.

    Yn Gymraeg…

    Odlgymix – Odl gymysg (Mixed rhyme)
    Bitabix – Bwyta Bics (Eating biscuits)
    Einharweininx – Ein harweinydd (Our leader)
    Crycymalix – Crudcymalau (arthritis, and possibly a play on the word cryman (sickle))

    The above lind also describes the names of the roman camps.

  5. peter j. franke says:

    I recently translated a tale of the Skolt Samen, a nation living in the utmost northeastern area of Lappi, Finnish Lapland. I found it in a book by Robert Crottet. In Dutch the title is: “Het Betoverde Woud”. The original text is in German: “Verzäuberte Wälder” and in English it is published in 1949 as: “The Enchanted Forest”. My translation is of a narrated version from Dutch into English. It is about a boy, named “Assepoetser”. That is also the title of another fairy tale, in English known as “Cinderella”. But since this Samen tale is about a boy I translated it as: “Cinderello”…

  6. LandTortoise says:

    Another book that might be thought tough to translate is “A Clockwork Orange”. I have a copy of a Spanish translation ” La Naranja Mecánica” which flows really easily. The book goes very well in Spanish and the adaptation of the Nadsat invented language into a Hispanic one appears effortless. I should imagine the book would not flow so well in a French version for some strange reason.

  7. I thought I’d mention a harrowing experience in translation I’ve been through myself.
    I rashly volunteered – after having done several translations and revisions for the Brasilian publishing house Martins Fontes – to translate _all_ the poems and songs in “The Lord of the Rings” into our brand of Portuguese. A short time afterwards I undertook “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” as well (if you’re a Tolkien fan, you may appreciate this).
    So here I am, some time later, absolutely exhausted, but my versions have (most of) the meaning, metre and rhyme in place. They will be published sometime soon (TB in a bilingual edition).
    Sorry for the plug, but you wouldn’t really be interested in _Brasilian_ translations, would you? ;-)

  8. Arakun says:

    Speaking of Tolkien, here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

    “To aid translators, and because he was unhappy with some choices made by early translators such as the Swedish translation by Åke Ohlmarks, Tolkien wrote his ‘Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings’ (1967).”

    A new swedish translation was released in 2004. I haven’t read it myself despite being Swedish and a Tolkien fan; I simply prefer reading the “original”.

  9. Arakun says:

    A few Asterix characters in Swedish:

    Miraculix (fr: Panoramix; en: Getafix) – from “mirakel” (miracle)
    Majestix (fr: Abraracourcix; en: Vitalstatistix) – from “majestät” (majesty)
    Troubadix (fr: Assurancetourix; en: Cacofonix) – from “trubadur” (bard)

    Come to think of it, ElfQuest is another comic that ought to prove a challenge for translators.

  10. Ulashima says:

    Asterix have two translations in Turkish and each one has different names for the characters. Most older fans (like myself) do not like the new names though. The common point is that ending X has been turned into KS

    Asterix: Asteriks, same in both old and new translations, being the protagonist.

    Obelix: Probably most controversial of all name changes, because this character has a great fandom in Turkey, shadowing Asterix himself. The older translation is Hopdediks, a combination of “Hop dedik” (an exclamation with usage like “Whoa”, “watch it”, “say what?”) and -s. The new translation has “Oburiks”, a combination of “Obur” (gluttonous) with -iks. They probably made the name change for it to look more like the original name Obelix, but in our hearts, he still is our old fat…er…big boned pal Hopdediks!

    Dogmatix: İdefiks, Same as its French form “Idefix” with phonetic modifications

    Getafix: Hokuspokus (Hocus-pocus, magic word) in older translations, the only name which does not end with -iks. New translations name him as Büyüfiks, a combination of “Büyü” (magic) and -fiks. This is closer to the English translation “Getafix”, which I don’t like too much.

    Vitalstatistix: It’s Toptoriks in both translations, the “Toptor” part is kind of emphasizing on his obesity.

    Cacophonix: I remember from old days that his name was Dertsiziks, a combination of “Dertsiz” (trouble-less, carefree) and -iks, a possible hail to “Bohemian artist” stereotype, the new translations have Kakofoniks, a combination of “kakofoni” (cacophony, a loanword as seen) and -iks.

    Unhygienix: Palamutiks in both new and old. A combination of “Palamut” (bonito, a kind of fish) with -iks.

    This is what I remember

  11. Ulashima says:

    Here’s some Tolkien in Turkish.

    At the preface of the Turkish edition of Lord of the Rings (Yüzüklerin Efendisi) there was a long explanation about LOTR’s translation into Turkish. How names and speeches were made etc. I cannot remember all of it, but I’m going to tell about something funny. Name of Grima Wormtongue, the Rohanian villain was translated as “Grima Solucandil”, translation of Wormtongue (Solucan=worm, dil=tongue)…at the same time, there is Tom Bombadil, whose name was not translated and left as in its original text…but as a matter of fact, the word Bombadil HAS a meaning in Turkish if it stands as it is…that is “Bomb-tongue” (Bomba=bomb, dil=tongue)…for a long time I thought that this character was named “Bombtongue” in English…which I thought to be very strange of course.