Translation Idol

Far better than Pop Idol, Translation Idol is a regular Berlin event in which contestants battle it out to provide the best translation of a German text in English. The winners get…erm, nothing much really, but it’s an illuminating exercise.

The competition is organised by No Mans Land, the magazine of German literature in translation, and the fourth one took place at Dialogue Books  last night. Participants had to translate a particularly challenging section from Verena Rossbacher’s forthcoming novel schlachten. Ein Alphabet der Indizien. (you can see the excerpt at Love German Books)

It’s  interesting to see the multiple ways in which something can be expressed. Take, for example, “aber alle aalglatt und perfekt poliert und wie gut ausgebuttert und dass er abrutscht darauf,”  which was translated in various ways from “but all are as slippery as an eel and perfectly polished and buttered and he slips and slides over them” (Anne Posten), and “but everywhere is slippery, perfectly polished and oiled, so that he skids and falls” (Joseph Given) to “but everyone’s slippery as eels and perfectly polished and like greased piglets and his grip slips” (Bradley Schmidt, who is from Kansas, where they have greased pig contests – if you don’t believe me, you can see one here) and “but they’re a’ like Teflon, all polished tae perfection, they’re like slipp’ry wee sprats, so he slides right off em'” (Hugh Fraser, whose translation into Scottish dialect, strangely, made the most sense to me.)

Or “schnaufenden Projektor,” which was translated to “puffing projector,” “gasping projector,” “snivelling projector,” and, most commonly, “wheezing projector”.

Listening to the same text being read over and over again with slight variations illuminated it from different angles – a more intense version of re-reading a book. In the end, Tom Morrison won the Poet’s Prize (which was chosen by the author, who also attended and gave a reading at the event) and Bradley Schmidt won the Audience Vote.

Most of the participants were regulars and professional translators, and, strangely, men (8 out of the 10 contestants to be precise). Can that be an accurate representation of the male-female ratio in the translating business?!

If you’re interested in the topic, Translating Berlin is an entertaining blog by a (female!) American translator living in the city.

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