Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The Housemaid's Daughter in Icelandic

I am sitting with 3 books in front of me:
The original English edition of The Housemaid's Daughter, the Dutch edition De Kleur Van Haar Hart, and the Icelandic edition Dottir Hushjalparinnar which you can see in the picture above.
(I am unable to do complete justice to that Icelandic title because I don't have the particular speech marks on my keyboard that should appear above the 'o' and the 'u' and the first 'a'.)

While the books look more or less the same size, with a similar print font and weight of page, they are, in fact, of different dimensions. The Dutch is the most economical - with the story taking up some 370 pages, the English is 397 pages, while the Icelandic version stretches to a luxuriant 433. This is reflected in the relative weight of the books as well - as measured on my trusty kitchen scale. The Icelandic is again the heaviest, coming in at 650g, while the English version has sneaked in below the Dutch - perhaps due to the use of a single rather than a folded cover.

These differences got me thinking - idly, over an Easter egg or two - about the relative efficiencies of languages. What may take one line and a single descriptive phrase in one may very well need a lengthier tussle with grammar and adjectives in another. And that doesn't yet take into account the requirements of each translation to deal with aspects of the original book which may stymie foreign readers.

I decided to pick out a couple of sentences in the English book and compare the number of words required by the Dutch and Icelandic versions to translate them. My casual experiment showed that the Dutch indeed managed to get across my meaning in either the same number of words or fewer, while the Icelandic version needed a couple more.
Given that there are - famously - many different words for ice and snow in the Nordic languages, maybe I should not be surprised that they required a little extra to get across the parched and dramatic Karoo landscape, and the stark realities of Ada's township life.

What I'd love to know, though, is how my English original would fare when compared with a version translated back into English from the Icelandic...
Perhaps it might very well produce a richer tale than I managed?

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