International Translation Day (OK, OK, so I’m a few days late)

Why is a lion a typical translator’s pet?

That’s surely your first question on looking at the image that accompanies a post titled Koran dankon, tradukistoj, by the great Gaston Dorren, who posts all too infrequently. (In case that sentence is ambiguous, note that it’s the post, not the painting, that is by Dorren. But he’s the one who claims that a lion is a typical translator’s pet, so I’m sure it’s true.) The question sounds like a riddle, and I don’t know the answer!

I do, however, know what the title of his post means and what language it’s written in: Esperanto. The first word, koranmeaning “heartfelt” (in the accusative case, of course, to agree with “dankon,” as the object of an implied verb meaning “give” or the like), resonates with me because my dad used to sign all his letters “Cordially,” because he explained that it meant “from the heart.” From that you can figure out the etymology of koran if you haven’t already.

Dorren includes lovely photos of the covers of his books in various languages. We’ve discussed the problem of translation several times (see 9/25/2020, 9/20/2020, 9/14/2020, and 6/12/2020, for four recent examples), and it can be particularly problematic when a language is the very subject being translated. You can find yourself in all sorts of difficulties, starting with the question of when a word should be translated at all. So I’m going to have to pick up a couple of those translations (for both Babel and Lingo), preferably into languages that I at least know something about. Then I can dip into the particular translators’ solutions to some of the problems of translation. Translation from Dutch to English might be pretty straightforward — since Dutch is relatively close to English, even if not as close as Frisian and certainly not as close as Scots is — but other languages might be more illuminating. The issue here, however, is that I really need to know more than just “something about” the target language if I’m going to answer my own question. That rules out most of the available translations, not to mention the problem of availability: does even Amazon, the source of everything one could possibly want to buy, have a particular translation?

I think I have to try the German and Greek versions of one or the other book first, since they give me the best chance of learning something… if I can find those versions!

I still don’t know why a lion should be a translator’s pet. Maybe it’s like the reason that a raven is like a writing desk. (You can look it up, if you’re unfamiliar with the reference.)

Categories: Linguistics