21

A summary of J. R. R. Tolkien's "translation" methodology:

J. R. R. Tolkien was best known for his fantasy world - Middle-earth. He almost always presented his works as translated from ancient documents that somehow were passed down to him, e.g.

The Lord of the Rings translated from the Red Book of Westmarch by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Herein is set forth the history of the War of the Ring and the Return of the King as seen by the Hobbits.

-- from the title page of tLotR, in foreign letters.

While "translating" the Red Book, he of course had to "translate" the main language of narration (Westron, or Adûni in its own term) into English. But he also translated other languages that are closely related to Westron into languages that are related to English. For example, he translated the language of Rohan into Anglo-Saxon, and some others into Gothic, Old Norse, etc. Languages (Elvish, Dwarvish, etc.) that are mostly alien to Westron are only transcribed into Latin letters.

So far I believe there are real life translated books that do the same. I can imagine someone translating a Japanese novel into English, and the Old Chinese fragments in it into Latin, although I have never read one.

Tolkien went further to "translate" the names of races, characters and places into English(-ish), for example, the name Samwise is a "translation" of the "real" Westron name Banazîr, which means "Half-wise", and the nickname Sam from Ban. For names that can't be translated, because the meaning is obscure, such as Bilba, the ending -a (the usual masculine ending of real Hobbitish names) is altered to -o (Bilbo).

A better example would be the name Hobbit. It's a worn-out form in Hobbitish Westron related to Rohirric (Anglo-Saxon) Hol-bytla "Hole-builder" -- Hobbit is a translation of Kuduk, and Hol-bytla of Kûd-dûkan.

Tolkien invented these, I think, as an excuse to put English, and his favorite languages into the text, because as a philogist he couldn't allow these (relatively) modern names to exist in a prehistoric world unexplained. He didn't do so in his translation of Beowulf for example - he did not call Beowulf Beewolf.

So my question is: Are there real life translated books (novels, histories, whatever) that apply the same methodology? That is, the translator treats real-life source languages like Tolkien treated his fictional languages.

15
  • 2
    I think the various translations of The Lord of the Rings to foreign (i.e. non-English) languages apply. Just a comment, I don't have outstanding examples of remarkable translations. May 4, 2023 at 8:04
  • 2
    @SirCornflakes But even Tolkien's own Guide to the Names for translators doesn't recommend translating Anglo-Saxon in the LotR. Anglo-Saxon names should be "left unchanged" according to the Guide.
    – Eugene
    May 4, 2023 at 8:48
  • 2
    @SirCornflakes He pointed out several mistakes in the Swedish translation. I don't know if the Guide was only meant for translations into Germanic languages. Anglo-Saxon names when retained are still related to the language of translation in such cases. Had he written a guide for Asian languages, the rules might have been different.
    – Eugene
    May 4, 2023 at 9:50
  • 2
    @Eugene: yes. Mistakes like translating "River Lune" (Luinduin? I can't quite remember) as "Månfloden" (Moon river).
    – Colin Fine
    May 4, 2023 at 14:15
  • 3
    Note that the Czech translator of LOTR considered such an approach (translating Rohirric using Old Czech or Old Slavonic) but rejected it (and explained the choice in a footnote to book’s Appendix F.II) “because such a translation would introduce the Czech reader to a completely different cultural and historical area” (and “also because of the beauty of the sound of Tolkien's ‘Rohirric’ words”).
    – Mormegil
    May 4, 2023 at 16:26

2 Answers 2

47

Yes, a good example of such a book is Il nome della rosa (“The Name of the Rose”), 1980, written by Umberto Eco and then translated into Russian in 1988 by Elena Kostioukovitch. The translation is remarkable for its masterly stylization in rendering the languages and the language styles and registers of the novel originally written in Italian interspersed with lots of Latin words, phrases, sentences, with whole passages in archaic Italian, the novel being a historical murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in the year 1327. In her translation, Elena Kostioukovitch substituted modern Italian with modern Russian, archaic Italian with archaic Russian, and Latin which is often used in the novel with Church Slavonic, the language which is both the ancestor of Russian (at least in a way) and the liturgical language in Russia, like Latin in Italy. The translation won “The Translation of the Year” prize in 1988.

7
  • 1
    I tried to compare the texts. So far I only found plain Russian for Latin from the original. For example loveread.ec/read_book.php?id=3712&p=19 "В смерти нам покой готов, завершенье всех трудов." for "Mors est quies viatoris - finis est omnis laboris".
    – Eugene
    May 4, 2023 at 11:59
  • 1
    @Eugene - This very sentence, "В смерти нам покой готов, завершенье всех трудов", is identical in Russian and in Church Slavonic. The book is about 400 pages, that one example isn't representative at all, if you're looking for forms and lexemes strikingly different from modern Russian.
    – Yellow Sky
    May 4, 2023 at 18:06
  • 4
    @Eugene - In the translation, Church Slavonic is written in the modern Russian orthography, both languages having the same sounds.
    – Yellow Sky
    May 5, 2023 at 7:25
  • 1
    @YellowSky: Could you give some example of the Church Slavonic from the translation?
    – PLL
    May 5, 2023 at 13:17
  • 2
    @Eugene The Church Slavonic would have been inscrutable to most readers if an ancient alphabet was used - even if it looked cyryllic-ish. To be practical, the transcription is rendered or approximated in an alphabet readily accessible to the audience. May 5, 2023 at 22:15
11

This is actually done fairly frequently in RPG video games. The most recent example that comes to mind is Genshin Impact. The source language is Chinese, but the setting of the game is loosely based on various real world cultures, so proper nouns and archaic or technical terms given as relatively simple contemporary Chinese in the base text are often translated into a language related to the setting in the English version. A few examples:

  • The Mondstadt area is based on European folklore (a fairly typical "knights and castles" setting), so German is used as its archaic language equivalent. The character Fischl often uses archaic language, intentionally using out-of-place German in the English translation where the original text was simply haughty-sounding Chinese. As an example, her title, 斷罪皇女 ("Princess of Condemnation"), is translated "Prinzessin der Verurteilung."
  • The Inazuma area is based on Tokugawa-era Japan, so many names and terms are translated into early modern Japanese, using conventions and naming schemes that are distinctly of the era in intentional contrast to contemporary Japanese. Meanwhile the nearby Tsurumi Island with a more ancient culture uses Ainu terminology.
  • The Sumeru area takes inspiration from ancient India, Arabia, Persia, and Egypt, so terms are frequently translated into Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, or Egyptian depending on context. This has actually caused the seams in the retranslation scheme to show a bit, particularly in the translation of a prominent character, King Deshret (Egyptian for "red one"). In Chinese his name is simply 赤王 ("red king"). For a time, that was translated into English as "Scarlet King" (and for some reason transliterated from English in the Japanese translation as スカーレットキング様, "Scarlet King-sama"!) However, at some point they decided to retranslate all instances of "Scarlet King" as "King Deshret" - with the exception of previously recorded voice lines. He's also referred to as Al-Ahmar (Arabic for "the red one"). Sometimes this even leads to rare examples of ruby text in English, with "King Deshret" written in small characters over "Scarlet King" or "Al-Ahmar", reflecting ruby text in the Chinese/Japanese using an Egyptian/Arabic transliteration to give cultural flavor to 赤王.
  • Anything related to Celestia, the unreachable realm of the gods, or the pre-apocalyptic "old world" in general is translated into Latin, while the pre-Celestian civilization of Enkanomiya uses many terms translated into Classical Greek. (As another layer here, Enkanomiya was later assimilated into Inazuman culture, so many of its proper nouns are given in both Greek and an old-Japanese-style transliteration -- Erebos becomes Eboshi, Abraxus becomes Aberaku, etc.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.