Lost in translation – reading values between the lines

I went to see a Swedish film recently. I enjoy watching films in my mother tongue, not just because I learn (or remember) things about Swedish culture, but also because I have fun reading the subtitles.

Subtitling is a difficult job. The translator has to fit everything that’s said, ideally with nuances and not just the literal words, into one or two lines of text. It’s like tweeting film dialogue: A lot is lost. When the translator is good, you don’t mind,this is how it works. When the translator’s not so good, well, it can be annoying. I have tales. But I’m not telling one of them today. This film was well translated. It did, however, tell me something about British culture*.

Two women are talking together. One of them doesn’t understand the other one’s relationship choices. She says something along the lines of: ‘You meet someone, build a relationship, have kids and get married‘, neatly spelling out a Swedish relationship narrative. The translation laid out the British version: ‘You meet someone, build a relationship, get married and have kids.’

As my fellow lady scientist Jessica Johannesson Gaitán said when I attended a poetry translation workshop she ran, ‘translation is about choices‘. I imagine that when you translate a film, the aim is to help the viewer understand the dialogue, to ensure that there’s as little as possible between them and their enjoyment of the film.

I can’t stop wondering why the translator decided that the idea of having children before marriage would shock the viewer out of their engagement with the film. Were they they concerned that the original order would mean the film wouldn’t work in English-speaking countries with strong religious leanings? Where they themselves taken aback and wanted to save the viewer the same shock? Or was it a not a decision at all: Did they miss-hear, or assume, the order?

It’s not the choice I would have made, but the reasons for it will continue to intrigue me.

* Assuming that the translator was British.

(If you get a chance to watch Force Majeure – do. It is frustrating and sad and full of family drama, but it is also very funny and sweet.)


The Edinburgh International Book Festival: things to see and do

Last year, I went rather wild at the book festival. This year, I’m taking it easy. I’ve only booked events at the weekend or in the evening and I’m only doing one workshop. But what a workshop.

1-2-1 Writing Clinic

According to the program, the 1-2-1 Writing Clinic on Sunday 19th is for new writers who wants advice from professionals who have been through it all. To help the adviser, we’ll be asked to submit materials in advance. I’ve got 15 minutes with a publisher at 10:15 in the morning. I’ve got 15 minutes with Francis Bickmore, Editorial Director for Canongate Books. I’ve prepared my one-page CV and am choosing between a number of candidates for 500-word writing samples. 15 minutes isn’t long so to get the best out of my time, I’m thinking hard about the questions I want to ask and, of course, writing them down.

People to see

If the weather is good, Charlotte Square is quite a nice place to just hang out. You don’t have to have tickets for things to have a cup of tea, browse the book shop and do a bit of author spotting. (But don’t crowd the author’s yurt. It’s bad form.) The festival programme has all kinds of fun and I’m attending a couple of debates as well as author talks. Here are the events I’m particularly looking forward to:

Things to do

Then there’s Unbound, the free event in the Spiegeltent. They offer all kinds of booky fun in a relaxed atmosphere and for no cost other than what you spend on drink. I’m hoping to go to:

  • Wednesday 15: Magic Words – Illicit Ink at unbound! Fun times with magicians.
  • Friday 17: Literary death-match. I’ve never been to one. It’s time to change that.
  • Friday 24: Swimming and Flying, a talk by Mark Haddon.
  • Monday 27: It will be all write on the night… To close the festival brave souls will finish an audience-lead story on the night. No time for edits here. R. A. Martens and George Anderson are part of the fun.