Is the world (of translation) dark and full of terrors? An interview with the translator of Game of Thrones in Greek

If there is one TV series I am totally glued to every Monday morning, it is Game of Thrones. When I read the books, some summers ago, I really had no idea as to how (and if) I would be able to escape George R.R. Martin’s universe. The series was not complete yet and the ending was far from seen on the horizon. Frustration, deprivation and fear of the unknown for my favourite heroes were my emotions. Like living with a company or with a family for so long and then losing them without closure!

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I was SO not ready for the books to end!

I started watching the shows, even though I knew it would be a (sweet) torture. And now our Mondays (we watch the episodes on Mondays) are so much better because of it!

The universe built by G.R.R. Martin, however, is not only a beautiful story, but also a real minefield for translators all over the world. Far from being invisible, as argued by many scholars, the translator adds his/her own contribution to the course of a book.

So I decided to interview for you the translator of 3 of the GOT books in Greek, Alexandra Letsa. She was more than happy to answer questions and shed some light in the dark and sinister world of Westeros and beyond, where Lannisters always keep their debts, Starks reunite, dragons are re-born and all fans await the Winds of Winter.

ygritte and jon snow

As the interview series in my blog are called Cappuccino Books, I’d like to begin by asking Alexandra: What is your favourite type of coffee?

Alexandra: Nescafe mostly – especially when translating, anything else seems  too weak.

Could you please share any particular difficulties (compared to translating other books) and tell us which were the most pleasant moments in translating GOT?

Regarding difficulties, Martin, as an author, uses word play and puns a lot, as well as multiple word meanings, so this is a recurring issue in the translation of his works.

Furthermore, the greatest challenge is, of course, consistency: due the number or heroes and the different spellings and transcribings in Greek – it is a huge feat to remember how each term was previously translated or how was each name translated or whether a place was translated or transcribed [note: because Greek has a different alphabet, names are usually transcribed]. No glossary can be as extensive as to include each and every hero and place of this series and often one would have to search in the thousands of pages of the books.

The most satisfying moments are when there are scenes full of atmosphere which manage to absorb me – when you suddenly stop and realize you have translated many pages without stopping. In a technical level, the atmosphere created by Martin is a pleasure for me – many chapters might be slow in action but they are my personal favorites.

How do you deal with the many languages featured in the books, many of which are invented? (such as High and low Valyria, Dothraki, etc)

In the books, the use of other languages is significantly less compared to the TV series. They don’t come up often, except some words in Valyrian and a few Dothraki words –mainly place names. Anyway, we always transcribe those – although our versions don’t always match the sounds used in the TV series.

Game-of-Thrones books

And what about those instances when the meaning of names or places is important for the book plot?  

It was decided from the beginning, that some things had to be transcribed – such as most castles, cities or surnames. When a name has not been translated and some sort of explanation is needed, we usually add a Translator’s (foot)note. Some particular cases, such as Snow, Ghost or Summer, names which are recurrent and have a meaning for the plot, have their Translator’s Notes the first time they appear in the novel.

What about when a pun or wordplay cannot be totally translated? How do you deal with such cases? An example from the most recent season 6 is Hodor – Hold the door … 

If you are lucky and you already know that further in the book (or in the next book) there will be a pun with the hero’s name, it will be easy to do something similar in Greek without altering (too much) the original text. This has happened a few times and I feel it was more due to luck than inspiration! If there are no other factors present, you can even change the original words. In the particular episode though we didn’t know beforehand (nor did the rest of the world)! Our only option is a translator’s note (unless something changes in the series). However, I would like to note here that I am not completely against using footnotes. A translator might feel he/she has failed when they have to resolve to using footnotes but it is more important to convey to the reader what the author was doing, in any way that they can.

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Did you have to contact the author for any ambiguous passages?  

No, despite the many questions that have arisen it hasn’t been necessary to contact the author directly.

Look at his evil smile! ;)

Look at his evil smile! 😉

What did you feel was more important for you in translating the particular books, was it faithfulness to the original’s meaning or the recreation of the atmosphere created by the author? And what are the sacrifices one has to make to achieve a balance between the two?

Being faithful to the meaning – although I have already said I consider the atmosphere created by Martin almost as important. The scales lean to one or the other once in a while and some times you have to compromise on both fronts. Besides, many times the meaning of a phrase goes much further than a simple translation of its words. A simple example of this was the songs, where we  wanted to keep the alliteration too, or the puns with Reek in A Dance with Dragons where we sacrificed faithfulness to stay faithful instead to the deeper meaning of the text). In any case, however, any choice is better than omission – I have seen translations which completely omit phrases and this is something I totally disagree with, however insignificant a phrase might be for the plot.

Has the visualisation of the series for the screen helped or complicated your work?

When the TV series aired, the first 4 books had already been published so many things were already known and given for us – it is very difficult to go back and change something in books already in circulation (even though some changes were implemented in the following books). So in the actual translation, the TV series has not been either positive or negative. In the next book, though, we will be challenged – if the episode with Hodor is indicative of what is coming! I have a feeling that the audience will already be familiar with many things and our choices will be limited.

 Who is your favourite character;

Arya, by far. And in general, I’m more of a Stark fan.

arya stark

 Who should sit on the Iron Throne in your opinion?  

🙂 I don’t mind that! All candidates have their own shortcomings as leaders and I have never been able to say that definitely he/she is the one. I am waiting to see what the author does, unless someone “convinces” me. My own criterion, however is effectiveness and not hereditary rights – and that’s why I’m not such a big Daenarys fan.

danaerys throne

What is in your opinion the element that makes the series (books and TV) so fascinating for such a wide range of audience?  

The characters and its realism.  The characters’ realism actually – they are all grey, human, with their shortcomings and their obsessions, their wrong decisions – and the realistic consequences of their actions. There is a hero for every reader or viewer, one with whom they can relate (and for the death of whom they might possibly cry…) Martin’s artistic style has a calm allure, he can provoke intense feelings with simple words and his ideas are often amazing – however, I think that his greater asset as an author is the characters he has created.

Some more things about Alexandra:

I entered the world of book translating almost accidentally, thanks to my love for literature and especially fantasy. I am almost ten years in this field now and this love for books as well as fantasy has not been reduced at all. I only hope the readers enjoy the result, too!

Thank you for your questions and the interest 🙂

The pleasure was mine, Alexandra, and thank you for all the interesting answers! I really think you opened a door to the translator’s workspace and thank you for letting us take a look inside!

So what do you think ? Is the world (of translation) is dark and full of terrors? Or is it a challenging war field between faithfulness and creativity? For me it is like a whole imaginary world, where spring fields, magical castles and exotic beaches give their place to dark and sinister forests and dangerous creeks…. Just like our own world (kind of) J

Thanks for reading!

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Literary vs Technical Translation – 5 major differences

  1. In literary translation you have fewer unknown words but spend more time deciding which word better conveys the original’s tone.    
  2. untranslatable wordsIn literary translation you get paid less for translating more than simple meaning. translation

  3. In technical translation you have to be highly specialized in the field you are translating (eg. Medicine, Finance, EU terminology etc) while in literature you might encounter many different fields and discourses in the same book (eg. an American detective, a petty criminal from Yorkshire and a farmer from Ukraine walk into a bar). images (5)
  4. In literary translation you risk twisting the original’s meaning  while in technical translation you risk mechanical accidents (washing machine instructions), and even diplomatic episodes (politics and newspaper articles). Horizon_specialization
  5. In literary translation you have to combine content and style (tone, form, alliterations, assonance and more), while in technical translation content is king.

content is king

Βoth are equally challenging and demanding and it depends on what you like most  really: being artsy and creative but having everyone say “why did you translate x as y” all the time or being accurate and strict with your words even if they sometimes don’t “sound very nice” in your language…

I’m all for Literary Translation, even though I sometimes envy Technical Translation for its accuracy and straightforward-ness 🙂 What about you?

 

Summer Essentials for Translators

  1. Deadlines

deadline

Because you know you can’t work if everyone is on the beach and you keep dreaming of mojitos and tan lines. NOTHING MAKES ME MORE PRODUCTIVE THAN THE LAST MINUTE is probably my summer mantra and I’m not ashamed of it! I need to be super focused to work!

2. Coffee

To wake up in the morning, to get a fix at midday, to stay alert on the afternoon and to stay… away from alcohol if you have still work to do in the evening. Gin and tonic with lots of ice or just a chilled glass of white on the balcony – I struggle to keep these evil thoughts away when I’m on my desk sweating with a book translation!

3. Lots of fruit

Reason? See above! Plus, they are good for you even if you would rather murder a chocolate cake with ice cream between projects.

4. Time off!

To recharge batteries, feel human again, convince yourself you’d rather be working than lounging on that sunbed doing nothing at all. Yes, you need some time off in order to be able to go back yo work with a clear head and to be more productive.

5. Motivation

Because you have to remind yourself that you love your work and enjoy doing it and as an extra bonus it will bring you the money to go to that travel on your bucket list / buy something you have been eyeing for your boyfriend/girlfriend / or just simply enjoy a day off next week.

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If you have any more tips for staying on track during the summer please share the wisdom!!!

xxx

Foteini

Summer Resolutions

Summer might not be full on here yet but I’m in a summer mood and I have set forth a couple of resolutions for this summer – don’t worry, I’ll add more soon so that I won’t have to admit that i failed them all in September 😛

My no 1 resolution this summer is: TO BE HAPPY

I went to a fantastic workshop in May with this lovely coach, Virginie and I’m looking forward to the next one (hopefully in September). It was called “Ordering from the cosmic kitchen” and it was all about defining your goals and getting in the right mindset to achieve them.

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Continue reading

Translator training summer courses

summer school 3

Personal and professional development is all the rave lately – and not without reason. Our hectic schedules and limited time, though, do not allow for much of any of those two. Or do they?

This summer consider doing something for yourself and your business – enrol in a summer course! It is fun and useful at the same time! You get to learn a lot of new things, fulfil your potential, get out of your comfort zone and enhance your knowledge and expertise in your field!

If you are still not convinced read my post on 10+1 reasons why you should enroll in summer course this year 🙂 Continue reading

10+1 reasons why you should consider doing a summer course

Being a solo-preneur is hard and not only due to the amount of work one has to shoulder but also because it makes it extremely difficult to take some time off from work to relax and think clearly about the business’ next steps and/or changes. Freelancers are constantly worried about work: deadlines when they are busy and famine when they are not. So what about taking some time off without the guilt of falling back on business issues? How? By enrolling on a summer course.

summer school

The most important advantage is that a summer training course combines change of scenery (i.e. instant mood lift and relaxation) with learning and professional development. 

The drawback would be Continue reading

The Soundtrack of Dreams -Dreamology by Lucy Keating

The science of dreams is an exciting and largely unmapped territory.

According to Freud, dreams are coded desires or symbols, while for Jung, they are a bridge towards the unconscious. Other scholars consider them to be a mental procedure, while some, such as Hartman see them as a kind of therapy. All views have a common element: they view dreams as a kind of “language” from ourselves to ourselves. Continue reading