Progress Report, 1/9 – 1/15

Have to say, this last week was below average. I read a 22-page Justice League comic book story, in Hungarian, and compared 1½ other Justice League stories which I’d read the week before to the original English. I did have a couple of medical appointments to deal with, but it’s still less than I should have accomplished. I’m particularly disappointed that I did so little this weekend. Checking my understanding of the Hungarian to the original text shouldn’t have taken too long, but I only got through about half a story. I should do more.

I noticed that at one point the translator changed “the last survivor of a noble Martian race” to “egy kihalt, nemes faj utolsó képviselője a mars bolygóról”, (roughly) “the last representative of an extinct, noble race from the planet Mars”. I’m not a good judge of Hungarian style, so maybe the sentence does sound better that way, but it looks to me like the translator decided to change “survivor” to “representative”, then had to make other changes to compensate. Not at all sure that was the best choice.

My goal for next week is to finish the Justice League comparison, then start on Margit Kaffka’s The Anthill. (I said in my last post that I was going to switch to The Years of Maria, but then I remembered that my paper copy of The Years of Maria is thick and bulky, while my copy of The Anthill is thin and light. And both sound equally good.)

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What Other Translators Do

Currently I’m reading a novel called The Invisible Legion by Jenő Rejtő, but I hit a slump the week after Christmas, and decided to shake off the doldrums by reading one of the comics I bought in Hungary years ago, a translation of Justice League Adventures. Since I have both the translation and the original there was the added advantage that I could check my work.

It took about two weeks to read through the whole book (which contains five issues), and I’m now going through the process of comparing my understanding of the text to the original. Ordinarily I would judge myself on felicity of expression, but I didn’t do an actual translation this time around, so I’m only looking for errors of comprehension. (A bit humbling. I feel I’m advanced enough that I shouldn’t be making any errors, but I’m still puzzling out sentences instead of just getting them, so I screw up sometimes.)

But I also get to observe how the Hungarian translator handled the material, and it’s interesting to see how often he uses dialogue that (presumably) sounds more natural in Hungarian, but doesn’t mean quite the same thing as the original. (To be clear, I don’t disapprove, I’m intellectually curious. That’s one area where I’m still not quite sure what the right approach is.)

As an example, here are a few panels from the comic:

three-panel conversation between J'onn and Batman

My construal of the meaning:

J’onn J’onnz here (speaking) from the Watchtower. I received your transmission. What assistance do you require?

Gotham has been hit by a series of attacks. In the last few weeks they’ve targeted the water reservoir,  the hydroelectric plant and the harbor.

Who were the perpetrators?

Sea creatures. Sharks, whales, squid. There are already over a hundred victims. A section of the city is without power. People are abandoning Gotham in truckloads. Mainly from the quarter by the shore.

The original English text:

I read you. This is J’onn in the Watchtower. What do you need, Batman?

Gotham’s under an attack of sorts. In the past few weeks the reservoir, hydroelectric plant and harbor have been hit. Badly.

When you say hit, you mean …

Assaulted. By sea life. Sharks, whales, squid. The casualties are in the hundreds. Parts of the city are out of power. People are leaving Gotham by truckloads, especially those in seaside residential areas.

What I find most interesting is how the translator obviously didn’t see a good way to translate the incomplete question “When you say hit, you mean …” and substituted a different question, to which Batman’s response would still make sense. Also interesting, how the translator swapped the order of the sentences in the first panel.

This has been a good exercise. I plan to finish the comparison over the weekend, and then on Monday I’ll swap novels and begin work on Margit Kaffka’s The Years of Maria, which I’m quite looking forward to reading. (The Invisible Legion isn’t exactly bad, but the colonialist attitudes are, shall we say, very much of their time.)

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