“The Invoice”: Thoughts on Translation and Localization

In my private life, I follow a lot of book bloggers. Sometime last year, at least one of them brought The Room to my attention. No, not Tommy Wiseau’s “masterpiece.” This The Room is a novel by the Swedish Jonas Karlsson. The premise sounded interesting and I looked high and low for the original Swedish edition, only to turn up empty-handed. I shrugged and moved on to other things.

One of those other things was NetGalley. I finally bit the bullet and signed up a few months ago. I could rationalize that decision with “it’s important to stay abreast of literary trends when you’re an editor” but really I just wanted free ebooks. (When you live outside the US and Canada, you don’t get the free physical copies.)

Last week I noticed a new title in the Literary Fiction section: The Invoice, by Jonas Karlsson. I recognized his name immediately and requested the book as a way to give him a test run. I was also curious about how the translation was handled, as my luck with English translation of contemporary Swedish books (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) has been much worse than with English translations of Swedish classics (Doctor Glass). Where would The Invoice fall in this spectrum?

Image courtesy Crown Publishing
Image courtesy Crown Publishing

The answer: somewhere in the middle.

In the case of The Invoice, there was something clunky and choppy about the writing. I noticed it, frowned, and continued reading, because at least it didn’t use any archaic or awkward turns of phrases I had seen elsewhere, and by elsewhere I mean in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (No one uses “anon” anymore; at least, not to mean “soon.”) I eventually stopped noticing the choppiness, but only because something bothered me even more: an uncomfortable mix of American and British English.

I’m all in favor of standardizing English; it would make my job (both as a tutor and as an editor) that much easier. But we haven’t accomplished that standardization yet, and while usage may dictate rules, I don’t think individual publishers deciding on their own “blends” will successfully further the International English cause. When it comes to The Invoice, this blend was:

  • American spelling
  • American punctuation
  • British terms

So we had a character walking into a gray granite building, taking a lift up to the eleventh floor, and talking to a Mr. Something-or-other.

This is a minor quibble on my part, I realize. Once I figured out was going on, I was able to put my discomfort in a box and read the story for the sake of the story. It certainly didn’t hamper my understanding in any way. But I think it’s a point worth discussing: when translating into English, how much should consistency and localization matter?

What we have here is a failure to communicate. // Image courtesy Matthew Hull.
What we have here is a failure to communicate. // Image courtesy Matthew Hull.

After all, I had no trouble understanding the writing. The differences between British and American English have been thoroughly documented, to the point where any adult English-speaking reader (usually) knows there are differences and can (usually) switch between the two without difficulty. And how many people, exactly, really notice those differences? Literature translated into English isn’t done for the exclusive sake of native speakers. There is a huge market for non-native speakers as well; readers who might not be attuned to the differences, or who might prefer “color” and “analyze” but also “lorry” and “dustbin.” Does that make the distinction between conventions nothing more than a shibboleth on par with “rules” about ending sentences in prepositions?

For me, not quite, though I couldn’t give you a satisfactory answer as to why. I just like consistency! (Hobgoblin of a little mind it may be.) If I had been working on this project, I would have favored American terminology and made the appropriate changes, with a comment explaining why.

I asked other editors (informally) and the majority response seemed to be that this was an inconsistency, and one that “should” be rectified, validating my own thought on the issue. A not-insignificant portion replied that they had been instructed to mix conventions in similar ways, or had heard of that happening to other editors. I was surprised to learn that this is something that deliberately happens, but if that’s how a publisher or author wants to roll, that’s what they’re allowed to do.

But something that bothers word nerds might not bother the general public, so I put this question out to you, Internet: how do you feel about mixing different English conventions?

Legal “CYA” moment: in case context didn’t make it clear, I received a free preview copy of The Invoice in exchange for honest feedback and review. The translation issue I described here (in as much as it’s an “issue”) may be addressed by the time the book goes to print.

On Editing

“Editing” can run the gamut from proofreading a finished manuscript right before it goes to print to substantially altering the form and even content of a piece. So when I talk about editing, what kind do I mean?

The terms I use here I’ve borrowed from Aden Nichols, who very helpfully shared her page with a Facebook group for editors. Thank you, Aden! To a lesser extent, I’ve also used terminology from Jean Weber, Word-Mart.com, and Jacquelyn Landis’s course, “The Keys to Effective Editing.”

Typically, when editing the first draft of a manuscript, you start on the macro level. This is the developmental editing process, and it addresses questions like:

  • Is there a clear intended audience?
  • Is the author making their point clearly and cogently?
  • Is there a strong focus?
  • Where is the “filler”? Which parts need more detail?
  • Are the facts straight?

This is where major structure and content revisions happen. People also refer to this as content editingsubstantive editing, or comprehensive editing. If you remember learning any kind of formulaic writing process at school, this is most like the revisions stage.

This kind of editing is also the trickiest to do, as much of it comes down to taste and judgment calls. What I think is great, brooding characterization can be someone else’s snoozefest. Generally speaking, I do not engage in developmental editing. There are always exceptions, of course, particularly if a manuscript is fantasy or science fictionLiterary fiction is also “in my junk drawer,” as Vu Le would put it. In other words, it’s also a genre I feel fairly comfortable in.

But you’ve done your revisions and gone through the developmental editing process. Now it’s time for copyediting. Copyediting addresses issues like:

  • typos
  • syntax
  • light fact-checking
  •  grammar
  • the finer points of style, such as word choice, sentence length, etc.

Usually this is also where an editor will bring a manuscript in agreement with a particular style sheet and dictionary.

Finally, you have proofreading: the final check before things go to print. Proofreaders check for:

  •  typos
  •  orthography and formatting errors
  •  double-check image attributions (if there are any)
  • adherence to a particular style guide or dictionary (or at least internal consistency)

It’s proofreading because the proofreader reads, unsurprisingly, the proof: the mock-up that will be sent to the printer (or eBook printer equivalent).

This means that if you want me (or anyone else) to proofread your manuscript, it should be, essentially, complete. If you want someone to smooth out the rough edges of your style and help everything flow together, you need a copyeditor. If you have a first draft, you should be working with beta readers/a critique group and maybe a developmental editor before anything else.

So, as for what I do!

I specialize in copyediting and proofreading non-fiction, academic texts written by non-native English speakers, whether for publication or simply for school assignments. I can also offer developmental editing in some fiction genres (science fiction, fantasy, and literary), though I ask that you send me a manuscript that has been (1) critiqued, and (2) revised at least once based on feedback from that critique.

If you opt to work with me, I will assume that you are at a place where you feel your style and your content are essentially complete. If I feel your manuscript needs more work than I can provide (that is, if I feel you need major revisions), I will point you in the direction of another professional who can better suit your needs.

My editing philosophy is to be minimally intrusive; most of what I do involves:

  • fixing odd word choices
  • maintaining an appropriate and consistent register
  • fixing typos
  • ensuring clarity
  • trimming wordiness (as necessary)

Many of my edits are, therefore, suggestions. The final call is always yours.

If this sounds like what you need, then feel free to get in touch with me using the contact form on the right. I look forward to working with you!

English Vocabulary With Affixes: Using Affixes to Make Adjectives

This is the fourth and final post (for now) in my affixes series. There are a lot more affixes in English than I’ve covered here, but as this part of the series wraps up the list over on UEFAP, it feels like a natural stopping point.

This post will cover using both prefixes and suffixes to create new adjectives, as well as their Swedish equivalents.

1. Noun + Suffix = Adjective; Verb + Suffix = Adjective

Suffix Meaning Swedish equivalent
-al relating to a noun (central, professional) -al (central), -ell (professionell), -sk (politisk)
-ive relating to a verb (imaginative, effective) -iv (attraktiv)
-ful having or being full of a noun (beautiful, careful) -full (fridfull)*
-less lacking a noun (endless, homeless) -lös (tanklös)*
-able / -ible to be able to verb (drinkable, countable) -bar (ätbar)*

*indicates a group of adjectives that often have -lig or –ig adjective endings in Swedish

2. Negative Prefix + Adjective = Opposite Adjective

Note that all of these prefixes have the same essential meaning and job—to reverse the meaning of the root word. It’s simply that some root words take one prefix and some take another. To avoid redundancy, I’ve omitted the middle column for this last table.

Prefix Swedish equivalent
im-/in-/ir-/il- (immature, inconvenient, irreplaceable, illegal) o- (omjölig)
non- (non-fiction, non-political) o- (obefintlig), non- (nonstop), icke (a full-fledged word, not a suffix)
dis- (disloyal, dissimilar) o- (oärlig)
un- (unfortunate, uncomfortable) o- (orättvist)

Though you can see that this whole table is largely redundant, as a large number of English prefixes fall under the o- umbrella in Swedish. This certainly simplifies things for English-speaking learners of Swedish, but complicates things for Swedish-speaking learners of English!

There is much more to English affixes than what I’ve been able to cover so far, of course. And I’m far from an expert in either linguistics or Swedish! As I progress in my own studies, I will update here. Good luck with your own learning!

English Vocabulary With Affixes: Using Suffixes to Make New Nouns

This is the next part in my series on English affixes and their Swedish equivalents. You can start with part 1 (an introduction, and using prefixes to alter verb meanings), and also check out part 2 (using prefixes to create new nouns). This time, I’m focusing on creating new nouns out of a verbnoun, or adjective by way of a suffix. This process can be classified into three groups: nouns from verbs, nouns from other nouns, and nouns from adjectives.

I’ve taken the English list from UEFAP, but all of the Swedish translations are my own. This and all other posts on affixes will probably be edited as my Swedish improves. Sometimes there’s not really a Swedish equivalent; in those cases, I just skip to the next. Also note that there is rarely a true 1-to-1 correspondence; what I list here are what (in my experience) are the most common equivalents.

1. Verb + Suffix = Noun

English suffix Meaning Swedish equivalent
-tion,  -sion an action/instance of the verb (alteration, demonstration) -tion (dedikation)
-er a person who does the verb / something used for the verb (advertiser, silencer) -ör (redaktör), -are (ägare)
-ment an instance of the verb (development, punishment) -ing (utnämning)
-ant,   -ent a person who performs the verb (assistant, student) -ent (student), -ant (officiant)
-ence, -ance the act of the verb, or the result of the verb (dependence, endurance) -ans (acceptans)*
-ery,   -ry an action or instance of the verb (bribery) or a place where the verb happens (bakery) -eri (raffinaderi)*

*indicates a suffix that is often also -ing in Swedish, instead of a close 1-to-1 correspondence with English

2. Noun + Suffix = New Noun

English suffix Meaning Swedish equivalent
-er person associated with the noun (astronomer, geographer) -are (juvelerlare)*
-ist person associated with the noun (biologist, scientist) -ist (buddist)*
-ism doctrine of a noun (Maoism, materialism) -ism (buddism, marxism)
-ship state of being the noun (friendship, citizenship) -skap (ledarskap)

*indicates situations where, if the base noun ends in “i,” the “i” is removed but no suffix is added (astronomi -> astronom, biologi -> biolog)

3. Adjective + Suffix = Noun

English suffix Meaning Swedish equivalent
-ity, -ness, -cy state or quality of being the adjective (ability, similarity) -het (nyfikenhet, gulhet), -itet (graviditet)

To a lesser extent in this category you see -skap (beredskap), -ing (besittning), and a handful of others, but in my experience -het and -itet are the most common.

Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian” Wins the Man Brooker Prize; I Daydream About Korean Translations

Han Kang speaking at an event in 2014.
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons and user Ccmontgom

Han Kang’s The Vegetarian has been making the rounds on the book blog corners of the Internet for a while now, so I’m not that surprised to see it win the prestigious Man Brooker Prize. What is more surprising is the story of the English translator:

The book was translated by Deborah Smith, who only started teaching herself Korean in 2010.

She said she initially tried to translate the book for a publisher after only learning Korean for two years, but the translation was “awful”.

However, after publisher Portobello Books asked her if she had a Korean book that would be “right for their list”, she had another go at translating a year later.

Translating can be a tricky business. Even in neighboring languages there are discrepancies—when does “jag orkar inte” mean “I don’t want to,” and when does it mean “I don’t feel like it,” and when does it mean “I can’t be bothered”?—with languages from two different language families, the gulf will only widen. An artful translation that maintains all of the nuances of the original is a difficult task, and it seems like Smith succeeded. (“Seems like,” I say: I leave it to the bilingual readers to determine if she actually succeeded.)

I’ll admit, for a few years now it’s been my pipe dream to foster more translations of Korean literature into English. Smith’s success has rekindled the hopes I have for that pipe dream (there are Korean courses at Stockholms universitet! was my first thought on reading the news) and I find myself daydreaming a little. But maybe the daydream is more about attaining enough Korean fluency to enjoy a whole new realm of literature, and less about actually translating anything.

At any rate, there is certainly plenty of work to be done when it comes to Swedish literature in translation. There is far more in the Swedish literary tradition than Astrid Lindgren and gritty crime novels, after all. It’s a sad state of affairs when Pär Lagerkvist, one of the foremost Swedish authors of the last century and a Nobel prize winner, is still incompletely translated into English. I would love to bring his work, or help somebody else bring his work, to a larger international audience.

Pär Lagerkvist
Justice for Pär!

Again, congratulations to Han and Smith. I look forward to devouring (hah, hah) The Vegetarian in the near future, and I wish them much success, literary and otherwise.

English Vocabulary With Affixes: Using Prefixes to Make New Nouns

This is part 2 of an ongoing series about common English affixes and their Swedish equivalents. You can find part 1 here: using prefixes to make new verbs.

I’m using the most common prefixes, as compiled by UEFAP. Today’s segment is about using prefixes with nouns to make new nouns. When it comes to the Swedish translations of this prefixes, you’ll notice that they’re often identical or close enough. This list, and other upcoming posts on affixes in English and Swedish, is not a complete list! (For a more complete list, refer to the above UEFAP link.) These are simply the ones that have something like a Swedish equivalent.

Prefix English meaning Swedish equivalent
anti- against (antibiotic, antithesis) anti (antiklimax), mot (motgift)
auto- self (automobile) auto (autobiografi)
counter- against (counterargument, counterattack) mot- (motargument)
dis- the converse or opposite of (discomfort, dislike) o- (obehag, olust), av- (avsmak), mot- (motvilja)
hyper- extreme (hyperactive hyper (hyperinflation)
in- converse or opposite of (inattention, incoherence) in- (inkompatibilitet), o- (oförenlighet)
inter- between (interaction) inter- (interaktion)
kilo- thousand (kilobyte) kilo- (kilogram)
mega- million (megabyte) mega- (megabyte)
mis- wrong (misunderstanding, misapprehension) miss- (missförstånd)
mono- one (monoculture, monogamy) mono- (monoton)
neo- new (neoliberal) neo- (neonatal)
poly- many (polyphony) poly- (polygraf)
pre- before (prefix) pre- (prefix), för(e) (förord, företal)
pseudo- false (pseudoscience) pseudo- (pseudonym)
semi- half (semi-completeness) halv- (halvcirkel), semi- (semikolon)
sub- below (subset) under- (underavdelning)
super- more than (superpower), above (supervisor) över- (överflödig), stor- (stormakt)
tele- distant (television) tele- (telesystem)
under- below (undergraduate), too little (underpayment) under- (underplagg)
vice- deputy, assistant (vice president) vice- (viceordförande)

English Vocabulary With Affixes: Using Prefixes to Make New Verbs

In English, as in many other languages, it’s possible to create new words out of a basic root word (kind) by adding affixes. Most of the time in English, you’ll see prefixes (unkind) and suffixes (kindness). We also have a handful of simulfixes, but those might better thought of as spelling rules (man -> men) rather than as affixes. You can read more about the classification of affixes here, along with examples from different languages.

With any new student at the intermediate level, especially if they’re using English to further their studies, I talk about English affixes right away. When you have an English test in front of you, you probably don’t have time to look up every new word—in fact, you might not be allowed to look up any words at all. Being able to recognize affixes and connect them to meaning and function can be the difference between a confident, educated guess on a question and a coin toss. I’ve found that even students at a fairly high level might not have had a solid, sit-down lesson on these little word bits. So they learn happy and sad, and maybe learn unhappy as a synonym for sad, and they might notice the pattern of unhappy, unbelievable, untrue, and unseen as they learn new words and progress in their studies…or they might not.

Toyblocks
Root words and affixes are the building blocks of English vocabulary.

Over at UEFAP, Andy Elliott has done an incredible job of organizing English affixes by transformative ability. This is great information to add to your study routine (maybe by making a specific Anki deck?).

But remember to also study any possible false friends or points of confusion as well. While undersell and undervalue sound exactly how they mean, we know that understand doesn’t mean that you’re not on your feet enough! 😉 And remember that we have both warmness and warmth, but only coldness (no coldth).

I’ve taken the liberty of translating the affixes over at UEFAP into their Swedish equivalents. They’re similar, but it’s not always a one-to-one translation. It’s also quite a thorough list, so I’ll be sharing and translating in parts. This first piece concerns prefixes that alter verb meanings. Note that sometimes these verbs with the prefix are standalone verbs, and that the original root verb no longer sees usage, or has a meaning slightly different from the prefix + root word version.

Prefix English meaning Swedish equivalent
dis- negation or opposite (disappear, disappoint) o- (ogilla), av- (avskida)
re- again (redo, reapply) för- (förnya), åter- (återskapa)
over- too much (overwork, overcharge) över (överanstränga)
mis- incorrectly or wrongly (misuse, miscalculate) mis- (misräkna), fel- (felbedömma)
out- greater or more than (outnumber, outmaneuver) ut- (utmanövrera), över- (övertraffa)
co- together (cooperate, coexist) sam- (samarbeta)
inter- between (interconnect, interact) inter- (intervjua)
tran- across, over (translate, transfer) över- (översätta)
under- too little (undersell, underperform) under- (undersälja)

Easter Idioms for Kristi himmelsfärdsdag (Ascension)

Yesterday, Christians across the world celebrated Ascension, known here in Sweden as Kristi himmelsfärsdsdag: the date of Christ’s ascension into heaven on the fortieth day after Easter. Unlike in the United States, Ascension is observed as a national holiday. The religious nature of yesterday (well, not here; Swedes just love an excuse for a long weekend in spring!) got me thinking about all of the expressions we use in English courtesy of Christianity and the Bible, particularly related to the story of Easter.

You’ll find plenty of lists online of “Christian idioms” or “Biblical idioms,” but many of them are more like explanations of outdated language often encountered in the Bible rather than references or turns of phrase still used today. Here are a few, all related to the Easter story, that are still in contemporary use.

A cross to bear 

The image of Christ carrying his cross to Golgotha has remained in English as a metaphor for an unpleasant duty to fulfill, or a burden one has to carry. Most commonly misheard, in “kiss this guy” style, as “cross-eyed bear” in Alanis Morisette’s You Oughta Know.

And I’m here to remind you
of the mess you left when you went away.
It’s not fair to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me.
You, you, you oughta know.

(“It’s not to fair to deny me of the cross I bear…” is a little awkward; it should be “It’s not fair to deny me the cross I bear…” but the extra “of” helps the rhythm so there it is.)

If we want to emphasize that the issue at hand is especially difficult, we might talk about a heavy or difficult cross to bear. Either way, it’s not a bear with eye problems.

Misheard Alanis Morisette lyric: cross I bear and cross-eyed bear.
Original bear courtesy Yathin sk.

When something is a cross to bear, the suggestion is that it’s a life-long issue, or at least for an extended period of time. Managing an addiction, dealing with trauma, getting over a past relationship (as is the case in You Oughta Know), or living with a chronic illness is someone’s cross to bear. A trip to the grocery store when it’s full of people is not a cross to bear. Nor are the heavy groceries you have to carry back home or to the car.

 

Crucify

Speaking of crosses, we often use the verb crucify (to be hung from a cross in the Roman style) to describe being the object of public outrage and derision, or of persecution. Generally speaking, crucify is often used to describe the public’s desire to see a figure suffer.

Christ, you know it ain’t easy.
You know how hard it can be.
The way things are going
they’re going to crucify me.
“The Ballad of John and Yoko,” John Lennon

Why do we crucify ourselves
every day?
I crucify myself;
nothing I do is good enough for you.
Crucify myself
every day,
and my heart is sick of being in chains.

“Crucify,” Tori Amos

 

A doubting Thomas

This is another expression from the story of Easter. Anyone who is skeptical or suspicious can be a doubting Thomas (even a woman!). Here is the story, from the gospel of John:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Thomas’s skepticism earned him the eternal nickname (in English) of “doubting Thomas.” More specifically, a doubting Thomas is someone who requires physical evidence of a belief or assertion rather than just taking it on faith. To call someone a doubting Thomas isn’t necessarily rude, but it’s usually intended in a mildly disparaging manner—like the doubting Thomas is someone who has overly stringent standards, or someone who should learn to trust other people.

“Don’t be such a doubting Thomas! I tried this recipe before and it’s delicious, I promise.”

No, not that Thomas. // courtesy HiT Entertainment
No, not that Thomas. // courtesy HiT Entertainment

 

Judas

Now if being a doubting Thomas isn’t an entirely awful thing, being a Judas definitely is. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Easter, Judas was the disciple who betrayed Christ for 30 silver coins. He’s also anyone who betrays you.

Just like Julius Caesar
was betrayed by Brutus.
Who’d think an accountant
would turn out to be my Judas?

“Betrayed,” from The Producers (Mel Brooks)

 

To wash your hands of something

This is an image that came to English via the story of Pontius Pilate condemning Christ and has later been reinforced through Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In the Easter story, Pontius Pilate offers the crowd a chance to spare Christ, but they refuse and insist he release Barabbas instead.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.

They said, “Barabbas!”

Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”

Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?”

But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”

When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.”

And over a thousand years later, Lady Macbeth attempts to wash her hands as a means of assuaging her guilt over the murder of Duncan.

Out, damned spot! Out, I say! … What, will these hands ne’er be clean?

If you wash your hands of something, it means that you no longer wish to be associated with it in any way, and that you no longer wish to have responsibility for it.

This typically happens when you’re completely and totally frustrated with something, or possibly tinged with guilt over it. Since we opened with a lyric from Alanis Morisette, let’s bookend things and close with one, too: Hands Clean.

We’ll fast forward to a few years later
and no one knows except the both of us.
And I have honored your request for silence
And you’ve washed your hands clean of this.

And there you have it! Enjoy your long weekend!