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riverrun
October 20, 2006 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Has Finnegans Wake ever been translated? How?
posted by dead_ to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
eye'm guessturating thatibit impossetable beecuz itiz barrelly of Engillish azitiz.
posted by milarepa at 8:45 AM on October 20, 2006 [4 favorites]


There's a Dutch translation, by Erik Bindervoet en Robbert-Jan Henkes; published in 2002.
posted by ijsbrand at 8:48 AM on October 20, 2006


There's a Dutch translation, by Erik Bindervoet en Robbert-Jan Henkes; published in 2002.

wow. that must be weird!

can you imagine spending years trying to translate that?
posted by milarepa at 8:51 AM on October 20, 2006


Into English? Not that I know of.
posted by OmieWise at 8:51 AM on October 20, 2006 [7 favorites]


can you imagine spending years trying to translate that?

Exactly. It really doesn't even seem possible to me.
posted by dead_ at 8:54 AM on October 20, 2006


According to the Dutch translators there are also two German translations, a French one, a Georgian one, and a Japanese one.

I gather the Japanese one will be the weirdest of the lot.
posted by ijsbrand at 9:01 AM on October 20, 2006


I didn't expect to find it in French, but here it is.
posted by altolinguistic at 9:02 AM on October 20, 2006


O, and the Dutch translator got grants for translating it the last few years.
posted by ijsbrand at 9:02 AM on October 20, 2006


ijsbrand: that's just crazy to me. How is it possible?

How do you translate made up words? I understand English need not be translated literally into its foreign language counterpart--that is, the meaning can be translated without directly converting a word. But can't context alone only help so much in these situations, where the feeling of the text is so dependant on the way words flow together and sound with one another?
posted by dead_ at 9:07 AM on October 20, 2006


Can't you translate made-up words with other made-up words that have a similar feel or sound?

I mean, Where the Wild Things Are has been translated into most languages at this point, and a lot of its words are nonsense words.

Or is that not what you meant?
posted by leesh at 9:21 AM on October 20, 2006


The thing is, you may think a lot of the words are made up, but it turned it most are not. There was a lot borrowed from other languages.

The Dutch translators claim to have been 70% to 90% faithful to the original. Especially Joyce's jokes forced them to take a lot of freedom in their choices.

Both claim the translations couldn't have done without Roland McHugh's Annotations and Campbell & Robinson's Skeleton Key.
posted by ijsbrand at 9:21 AM on October 20, 2006


"How do you translate made up words?" That's part of the translator's craft. For that matter, translators have long had to invent words in their target language to describe concepts new to that culture, even if the word is well-established in the source language. I remember sitting in on a talk about translating Ulysses into Chinese (my understanding of Chinese is almost nonexistent so I wasn't able to get much out of it). And I've got 8-odd Japanese translations of Jabberwocky up on my website.
posted by adamrice at 9:26 AM on October 20, 2006


Finnegans Wake is of course a difficult thing to translate, but no more so than some other difficult pieces of prose and many poems. You do realize that it's not "made up words" in the sense of "Jabberwocky" (which itself has been translated many times), right? It's English mashed together with a bunch of foreign languages and proper names, but English nonetheless, and when read out loud is surprisingly understandable. It's just a matter of reproducing a similar effect in another language.

Here
's a discussion of translating FW, in this case using Japanese as a springboard, and there's a whole book on translations of Joyce (not only FW) if you're really interested.
posted by languagehat at 9:26 AM on October 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


(I'm a translator, but not a literary translator.... here goes my attempt)

I'd imagine there's a different kind of transposition going on here. In Joyce (as in any author, really, but Joyce is an extreme example) you have the words and their meanings, and then you have what I think of as the music of the thing (the sounds the words make when they flow together, as you describe). In Joyce you could say that there is more music than concrete meaning. Then, of course, there is the web of connotations spun from the meanings of the words, from the music produced by the sounds, and a bit of added magic.

The connotations and music can be reproduced in another language by a sufficiently talented translator. This individual will have to have a very perceptive ear for English - i.e. will have to pick up just as much as a native English reader would. He/she must also have superb flair for writing his/her own language, almost as much flair as Joyce really. I imagine the skill would lie in picking out the underlying sound-play and word-play and recreating something similar in one's own language.

All in all, it's a very hard job translating literary fiction, and not one I could ever do - it also pays very poorly. So someone who can successfully translate something as difficult as Joyce deserves just as much fame as Joyce himself, in my completely biased opinion.
posted by altolinguistic at 9:27 AM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Ah, on preview I see two other translators have been quicker off the mark than me, and are less awestruck by literary translators.

Still, I will add another datapoint - La Disparition by Georges Perec, a novel written in French without using the letter 'e', has been translated into English.
posted by altolinguistic at 9:31 AM on October 20, 2006


Just one more note to add: A Japanese version of Finnegan's Wake listed on amazon.co.jp.
posted by kokogiak at 9:47 AM on October 20, 2006


Sure!

Tim Finnegan lived in Walkin Street, a gentle Irishman mighty odd
He had a brogue both rich and sweet, an' to rise in the world he carried a hod
You see he'd a sort of a tipplers way but the love for the liquor poor Tim was born
To help him on his way each day, he'd a drop of the craythur every morn

Whack fol the dah now dance to yer partner around the flure yer trotters shake
Wasn't it the truth I told you? Lots of fun at Finnegan's Wake

One morning Tim got rather full, his head felt heavy which made him shake
Fell from a ladder and he broke his skull, and they carried him home his corpse to wake
Rolled him up in a nice clean sheet, and laid him out upon the bed
A bottle of whiskey at his feet and a barrel of porter at his head

Whack fol the dah now dance to yer partner around the flure yer trotters shake
Wasn't it the truth I told you? Lots of fun at Finnegan's Wake

His friends assembled at the wake, and Mrs Finnegan called for lunch
First she brought in tay and cake, then pipes, tobacco and whiskey punch
Biddy O'Brien began to cry, "Such a nice clean corpse, did you ever see,
Tim avourneen, why did you die?", "Will ye hould your gob?" said Paddy McGee

Whack fol the dah now dance to yer partner around the flure yer trotters shake
Wasn't it the truth I told you? Lots of fun at Finnegan's Wake

Then Maggie O'Connor took up the job, "Biddy" says she "you're wrong, I'm sure"
Biddy gave her a belt in the gob and left her sprawling on the floor
Then the war did soon engage, t'was woman to woman and man to man
Shillelagh law was all the rage and a row and a ruction soon began

Whack fol the dah now dance to yer partner around the flure yer trotters shake
Wasn't it the truth I told you? Lots of fun at Finnegan's Wake

Mickey Maloney ducked his head when a bucket of whiskey flew at him
It missed, and falling on the bed, the liquor scattered over Tim
Bedad he revives, see how he rises, Timothy rising from the bed
Saying "Whittle your whiskey around like blazes, t'underin' Jaysus, do ye think I'm dead?"

Whack fol the dah now dance to yer partner around the flure yer trotters shake
Wasn't it the truth I told you? Lots of fun at Finnegan's Wake

Whack fol the dah now dance to yer partner around the flure yer trotters shake
Wasn't it the truth I told you? Lots of fun at Finnegan's Wake
posted by kc0dxh at 9:49 AM on October 20, 2006 [3 favorites]


70% to 90% faithful to the original

what exactly does that mean?
posted by milarepa at 9:50 AM on October 20, 2006


Jabberwocky translations. These support the points made above that nonsense words are translated into other made-up words by the translator, and capturing not just the meaning of the words but also their sound, rhythm, feeling, etc. And doing so well is part of the translator's art. (Yes, art.)

Note, for example, the three German translations, which translate "Jabberwock" as "Jammerwoch," "Brabbelback," and "Zipferlak."

If you're interested in the issues surrounding translation--which is far more than just a mechanical replacement of word for word and rearranging the words to fit the grammar of the target language, even for a work far more mundane than Finnegan's Wake, you might like to read Douglas Hofstadter's Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:08 AM on October 20, 2006


I thought I'd read somewhere that Anthont Burgess translated sections of the book into Italian, but I can't find confirmation of that on-line...
posted by misteraitch at 10:10 AM on October 20, 2006


Anthony Burgess, even.
posted by misteraitch at 10:11 AM on October 20, 2006


Great stuff, thanks for the answers everybody.
posted by dead_ at 11:22 AM on October 20, 2006


What languagehat said. I'm kind of surprised at this question, as the answer to my mind would obviously be "of course!".

I think the heart of the matter lies with what a translator actually does: it has very little to do with "here are a bunch of French words and I am going to substitute their Spanish equivalents for them" and much, much more with "the author here conveys something in French; how would one convey this in Spanish?".

So the obstacle that a work as bizarre as Finnegans Wake poses is not really the "made-up words", but rather the fact that the translator must first grasp what Joyce was trying to say. So there is some guesswork involved, but much less than is commonly assumed. In fact, what really happens is that the translator constructs a thorough basic working view of the author's intention, and then works from that.

For an illustration shorter than FW, compare this list of translations for the already mentioned "Jabberwocky". Anyone familiar with the English original should be able to note how the form and cadence of the original generally hold up quite well and how non-words are transposed to the target language - even if you don't understand that target language.

Also compare the non-English passages in "House of Leaves": if there's some German passage in the English text and you're translating into German, what do you do? Well, there's two options, of course: either you substitute yet another language, or if that's unfeasible or inappropriate, you just make clear that it was written in German in the original.

Lastly, if you're interested in this sort of thing and don't mind an airy, passionate treatment of the subject, you really should read Hofstadter's "Le Ton Beau de Marot", which is basically a lengthy love letter to the art and science of translation, revolving around a large number of very different translations into English of the same Medieval French poem done by a large number of very different people.

Oh, and Bindervoet and Henkes are a pair of kick-ass translators, with great insight and a lovely, idiosyncratic style. If you can read Dutch you should definitely check out "Help!", their translated and wonderfully "transcultured" collection of Beatles translations.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:16 PM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Argh. Sorry, DevilsAdvocate, for failing to note that you linked the Jabberwocky translations already *and* mentioned Hofstadter. I have failed Metafilter.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:19 PM on October 20, 2006


There's a Portuguese version, translated by Antonio Houaiss, the author of one of the most comprehensive, authoritative dictionaries of Brazilian Portuguese.

It makes sense that it would take someone with that sort of mastery of language to take on the task.
posted by umbú at 12:22 PM on October 20, 2006


There's also an interesting essay by Derrida called "Two Words For Joyce" that might be relevant. I'm sure it's floating around on the web somewhere, even if I can't find it right now. And yeah, deconstructionism and all that, but still.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:25 PM on October 20, 2006


If you can read Dutch you should definitely check out "Help!", their translated and wonderfully "transcultured" collection of Beatles translations.

Transcultured translations are a fascinating topic in their own right. Earlier this year I saw U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha, which is a transcultural translation of Bizet's opera Carmen into Xhosa and set in modern-day South Africa, while using Bizet's original music, and I highly recommend it to anyone who gets the chance to see it. The director and lead actress were present at the screening where I saw it, and afterwards the director talked about some of the cultural adaptations he made. For example, a religious ritual in which a bull is slaughtered substitutes for the bullfight in the original. Whereas in the original, Carmen herself foretells tragedy by reading cards, in this adaptation Carmen relates the tragedy as foretold by a shaman.

Argh. Sorry, DevilsAdvocate, for failing to note that you linked the Jabberwocky translations already *and* mentioned Hofstadter. I have failed Metafilter.

If you have, I did too, for I had missed that languagehat had linked the same page of Jabberwocky translations before me! And multiple mentions of Hofstadter is a good thing, so I do not begrudge you also mentioning his book.

posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:49 PM on October 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Possibly related side observation: Louis-Ferdinand Céline wrote dialogue for his characters in such a stylized, jumbled and disjointed WW II-era Parisian slang/street argot that they are practically inaccessible to modern French speakers today, I am told; a friend who is a native speaker of French reports that the English translations by Ralph Manheim are actually more readable and understandable to him, even though English is not his native language.
posted by enrevanche at 12:49 PM on October 20, 2006


For another brilliant example of the translators' craft, check out any works by Stanislaw Lem. Those guys not only managed to capture his particular tone, but to replicate his intricate puns and portmanteau words in a completely natural way.

As someone who once translated the entire Aeneid by hand, I have to say that translation is far harder than just plain old writing. If anyone has managed to translate Finnegans Wake in any kind of meaningful way, they deserve the Nobel prize.
posted by felix at 1:54 PM on October 20, 2006


I own the French translation. I'll post a few excerpts or at least the first few lines when I get home tonight.
posted by nobody at 2:19 PM on October 20, 2006


70% to 90% faithful to the original

what exactly does that mean?


You're not familiar with the Drake/Hofsbinder Standardized Inter-Language Literary Faithfulness Scale? Google it!
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:52 PM on October 20, 2006


Do you mean to ask if it's been translated phonetically, or translated at all? Those are all English words when you read them aloud, and it needs to be read out loud. The puns may not be able to transcribed into another language phonetically, but the work is still in English, and if you read it aloud it's not all that difficult.
posted by goo at 5:27 PM on October 20, 2006


Here's an interesting study (in English) on two different translations of Finnegan's Wake in Japanese (Link). The author is an associate professor of English at Iwate Prefectural University in Japan.

I actually still remember either reading about it in the papers or seeing it on the TV news when Naoki Yanase completed his translation back in the '90s. It was a big deal, at least to those (like me) who are interested in these kind of things. He's also currently working on Ulysses, I think.

Naoki Yanase is well-known for his translations of Lewis Carroll's works (Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass) and has recently released a whole new series of re-translated (re-interpreted?) versions of Roald Dahl's works that really capture the whimsical tone of the original English.
posted by misozaki at 12:45 AM on October 21, 2006


I'm not sure if I understand what you mean by "translated phonetically," goo. Or, for that matter, how the wake is all english words when read aloud. As for the latter, how do you read something like "Es war itwas in his priesterrite" (p. 301, l. 2), which is clearly a mashing of German and English (simultaneously: "It was something in his priest-rite" and "It was it was in his preterite" -- and maybe, but less convincingly in my opinion, something like "yes, war it was in his priest rite")? (Since I promised a few excerpts from the french translation, that sentence happens to be resolved down into more or less just the first reading (unless I'm missing some nuance in the french): "Il y avait du vrai dans son rite hieratique.") .

I've gotten home later than I expected so I'll just type up the translation's opening lines:
erre-revie, pass'Evant notre Adame, d'erre rive en rêvière, nous recourante via Vico par chaise percée de recirculation vers Howth Castle et Environs.
which is quite nice, no?

The original:
riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs
posted by nobody at 12:51 AM on October 21, 2006


That is nice—thanks for posting it!

Not about FW, but an interesting essay on the problems of translating a similarly difficult novel full of multilingual puns: Translating In Transit, by Bernard Hoepffner.
posted by languagehat at 12:18 PM on October 21, 2006


Some thoughts about translations of the Wake.
posted by OmieWise at 8:20 AM on March 14, 2007


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