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Sixty participants attended Modern Languages & Culture’s third annual Translation Workshop earlier this month, at which Liverpool staff and students were joined by undergraduates, postgraduates, and professional translators from Durham, Exeter, Manchester, Keele, Portsmouth, Bangor, and Cambridge. This year, the workshop focused on children’s literature, and the special guest was the prize-winning writer, editor and translator Daniel Hahn.

Danny Hahn discusses translation of his children's book

Danny Hahn discusses translation of his children’s book

Danny began the afternoon’s events with a fascinating talk about the issues he encountered with his translation Happiness Is a Watermelon on Your Head (a picture book for children, published in 2012), and the solutions he found to create this crazy tale told in rhyme. After a short and social break over cake, participants broke into language-based groups to translate children’s stories originally written in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. A lot of animated discussion produced some excellent translations, and much fun was had by all.

Translators ready for action!

Translators ready for action!

One group tackled the children’s poem ‘fünfter sein’ by Austrian poet Ernst Jandl (1925-2000). Jandl adopts a lyrical style that plays with the phonetics and printed appearance of words. In this poem the short words, dark vowels and r’s create a dark mood and the count-down of ordinal numbers gives the impression of fearful anticipation. The last line of the text, which reveals that this is only about a visit to the doctor breaks the poem’s rhythm. It should also be noted that, contrary to German spelling rules, Jandl does not use capitals; furthermore, in “tagherrdoctor” three words are joined together as in spoken language. The words are colloquial rather than formal (“raus” rather than “heraus”, “selber” rather than “selbst”, etc.); overall in a style that children might use.

The illustration for Ernst Jandl 'fünfter sein', by Norman Junge (Weinheim: Beltz 2004)

The illustration for Ernst Jandl ‘fünfter sein’, by Norman Junge (Weinheim: Beltz 2004)

The illustrations take up the dark mood by letting 5 characters sit in a dark room and just a light coming out of the door, when it opens, without showing, what’s behind it, until the very last page, where opposite the word(s) “tagherrdoctor” one sees the doctor in the door. The five people waiting are represented by 5 individually characterised toys, who go into the room broken and come out repaired.

One group tackling Jandl’s poem tried to imitate in English the original poetic style but found it almost impossible to find suitable short word which would also be colloquial and create an even rhythm.

We then abandoned the short words and instead wrote longer, rhythmical lines with each verse ending in just one cardinal number. This created a lighter mood and we were quite happy with that.

Five.
Here goes the door,
How many more?
Four.
Here goes the door,
How many more?
Three.
Here goes the door,
How many more?
Two
Here goes the door,
How many more?
Just me!
Here goes the door:
Hallo, doctor!

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