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Proper Names in Translation

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by Piotr 'Daerdin' Mazur

1. IntroductionEdit

Fantasy has always been my favourite genre of literature and computer games. As soon as I found out that Polish video games developing studio - CD Projekt RED - are making a PC game based on the novels created by Andrzej Sapkowski with the witcher Geralt as the main character I was far more than happy. Soon after that, I also learned that English speaking enthusiasts for fantasy literature would finally be able to read about the adventures of Geralt in their mother tongue. Driven by professional interest I bought The Last Wish - the first volume of short stories about the witcher - to see how it was translated. After having finished reading it I could not resist writing a thesis about the work Danusia Stok, the translator of the book, had done. Especially when it comes to proper names and nomenclature.

This here is the practical part of my work, where I discuss the way Stok approached the task of translating proper names and nomenclature in The Last Wish; I will try to prove that she did not avoid some mistakes and awkward decisions while translating the short stories.

I will start however with introducing Andrzej Sapkowski and his literary works; I will also mention his point of view concerning the general concept of onomastics in fantasy literature.

2. Andrzej SapkowskiEdit

Fantasy is probably the most popular trend in Polish literature at the moment. We can observe a kind of its bloom - not only can we find new translations of foreign books on the market, but also works of Polish writers (e.g. Anna Brzezińska, Rafał A. Ziemkiewicz or Feliks W. Kres). Bestseller lists incessantly contain books of such classics as J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula LeGuin, C.S. Lewis or Andrzej Sapkowski on the top.

Andrzej Sapkowski is one of the most eminent representatives of Polish fantasy and its theoretician. He is a controversial figure who cannot be treated indifferently - he is loved by his fans for his style and caustic writing and he is hated by journalists for the same reasons. His contribution to the development of Polish fantasy literature cannot be overestimated.

In 1985 Polish fantasy magazine Fantastyka organised a competition for a science fiction story [1]. After his son's persuasion, over-forty-year-old sales specialist from Łódź sent his The Witcher and won the third place [2]. This text introduced a breath of fresh air into a bit stale universe of fantasy world, where a typical pattern was present: "warrior - princess - wizard - dragon". Both readers and writers were satiated with this schema. Sapkowski's short story gave up conventions playing blithely with them and with readers. The title character, witcher Geralt, became embedded in readers' memory thanks to his appearance, comportment and most of all profession. No wonder that people demanded subsequent stories about the mutant trained for fighting monsters. It was his credit for Sapkowski to start climbing bestseller lists and gain huge popularity.

His debut came relatively late - average age of debut fantasy writers is 23 years - he is, however, the uncrowned king of the milieu which found it difficult to accept him. His literary and journalistic oeuvre is extremely rich. So far, he has published two volumes of the witcher stories - Ostatnie życzenie (The Last Wish) (1993) and Miecz przeznaczenia (Sword of Destiny) (1993), RPG textbook - Oko Yrrhedesa (The Eye of Yrrhedes) (1995), an essay about the Knights of the Round Table and a micronovel about legendary love of Tristan and Iseult – Świat króla Artura. Maladie (The World of King Arthur. Maladie) (1995), a volume of stories previously published in magazines - Coś się kończy, coś się zaczyna (Something ends, something begins) (2000). The most important, however, is the witcher pentalogy, sometimes called 'saga' - vol. I Krew elfów (Blood of Elves) (1994), vol. II Czas pogardy (Times of Contempt) (1995), vol. III Chrzest ognia (Baptism of Fire) (1996), vol. IV Wieża Jaskółki (The Tower of the Swallow) (1997), vol. V Pani Jeziora (The Lady of the Lake) (1999). He also published Rękopis znaleziony w smoczej jaskini. Kompendium wiedzy o literaturze fantasy (Manuscript found in a dragon's cave. Fantasy literature compendium) (2001) - the first guide to fantasy literature on the Polish market. Sapkowski's most recent works are Narrenturm (Narrenturm) (2002), Boży bojownicy (God's Fighters) (2004) and Lux Perpetua (Lux Perpetua) (2006), which form the Hussite trilogy.

Sapkowski's work is subject of fascination not only to ordinary readers but also to researchers - literary scholars, linguists and historians (among others Bereś, Żabski, Szelewski, Tazbir, Kaczor). Systematically, we can find books' reviews printed in the press (mostly written by Wojciech Orliński). Most of them focus on the plot, however, omitting the style of the text.

Extremely rich onomastics, humour and cultural associations, which we can find in Sapkowski's works, are satisfying subjects for scholarly deliberation and research. Thanks to that, there are more and more studies dedicated to his texts. In the last quarter of 2005, SuperNOWA publishing house printed a very long interview given by the author to Stanisław Bereś. It is a record of the conversation which cannot be treated as an academic study of Sapkowski's artistic work. Bereś is mostly interested in the author's artistic process and workshop. That is why there are several questions concerning historical veracity, language and onomastic choices.

In 2006, słowo/obraz terytoria publishing house printed Katarzyna Kaczor's book Geralt, czarownice i wampir. Recykling kulturowy Andrzeja Sapkowskiego (Geralt, witches and a vampire. Cultural recycling of Andrzej Sapkowski). It was announced to be "the only so extensive study of Sapkowski's works on the Polish market". Unfortunately, the readers were given something far from what they expected. Kaczor presents the most important cultural associations set in the witcher saga in a very shortened form, limiting herself mostly to long quotations and a few sentences of commentary. The whole work looks rather like a synopsis of a book to come. I dare to say that the associations observed by the author are obvious to an average reader of Sapkowski's works, and this was supposed to be the target group of this monograph. Apart from that, the author - although being a lecturer of the Polish language and literary studies - does not pay any attention to the language or onomastic reference in the books. Instead, she focuses on the character himself, his appearance and characteristic features, which restricts her work considerably.

In 2003 Maciej Szelewski published his book Nazewnictwo w utworach Andrzeja Sapkowskiego i Nika Pierumowa (Onomastics in the works of Andrzej Sapkowski and Nik Pierumow). As the title points out, it is a linguistic study concerning onomastics in the witcher cycle. I will refer to this book in details later in my thesis.

Sapkowski himself gladly takes up the subject of onomastics and his nomenclature choices believing that it is a very fascinating subject, and he underlines it during interviews.

"- (Adam Dudaczyk) I have a question - where do you get all those incredible names for your books from?
- (AS) It is one of the most important things, so important that there is no recipe or a method. You need to have intuition." [3].

Sapkowski does not use his names accidentally. Very often, he smuggles his literary, but not only, fascinations in them.

"I am in favour of well thought out onomastics. Names, though mysterious and pleasing to the ear, are to be signals, they have to harmonize with the action and plot. I like using names (...) which give the readers some clues - sometimes leading him or her to erudite and language play, and sometimes to legendary matter or literature classics" [4].

Sapkowski is a very conscious writer, fully aware of the fact that with proper names you can express many things.

"You don't have to be professor Tolkien to notice the Slavonic-Germanic fashion (...) of cluster-names Bole-sław, Sławo-mir, Sieg-fried, Fried-rich. Everyone can also see that (...) the more sophisticated the name the more distinctly - especially with "de" predicate – it determines the rank, status or position. When a reader reads that Armand de Bois-Tracy met Nob, he or she will have no problem with distinguishing which one is a viscount and which one is a miller" [5].

Sapkowski admits that part of the names are invented by himself. How does he choose names for his books?

"While getting to know the fantasy canon, I promised myself that when I decide to write my own books I will avoid single-syllabic names like the plague. The names that make you think of cough, hiccup or other unpleasant sounds which are produced by human organism, especially after eating, or alternatively drinking too much. (...) Let me quote: "Gurm", "Burm", "Korh", "Yrgh", "Burh", "Urh". (...) What can you say, onomastics is art in and of itself and you need to be simply talented. Not that I am boasting..." [6].

As we can see the choice of proper names in Sapkowski's books is essential and the translator should be very careful in dealing with them.

3. Proper names in The Last WishEdit

To make the article clearer, I decided to divide this section into five categories:

1) geographical names,
2) personal names,
3) plants and stones,
4) monsters and creatures,
5) other proper names and common nouns.

In each of these, I will discuss the way Danusia Stok translated or directly transferred the names into the English version of the book. The translator did not avoid some mistakes, which will also be pointed out later in my thesis.
I will also use the division made by Szelewski [7], who distinguishes three categories of proper names and nomenclature in Sapkowski's works. These are:

1) inauthentic names which were entirely created by the author,
2) inauthentic names which were created with the use of authentic morphemes from various languages,
3) authentic names which are used as fictional ones.

The titles of short stories included in The Last Wish are sometimes presented using the following abbreviations:

- GR1/2/3/4/5/6/7 – Głos rozsądku 1/2/3/4/5/6/7 (The Voice of Reason 1/2/3/4/5/6/7)
- W – Wiedźmin (The Witcher)
- ZP – Ziarno prawdy (A Grain of Truth)
- MZ – Mniejsze zło (The Lesser Evil)
- KC – Kwestia ceny (A Question of Price)
- KŚ – Kraniec świata (The Edge of the World)
- OŻ – Ostatnie życzenie (The Last Wish)

3.1. Geographical namesEdit

Geographical names discussed in present section:

Original [8] page Translation [9] page Short story
Angren 92 Angren 89 MZ
Assengard 61 Assengard 57 ZP
Blaviken 80 Blaviken 77 MZ
Buina 166 Buina 159 GR5
Caelf 223 Caelf 217
Chociebuż 134 Hochebuz 128 KC
Cidaris 223 Cidaris 217
Cintra 122 Cintra 117 GR4
Creyden 89 Creyden 86 MZ
Dol Blathanna 177 Dol Blathanna 169
Dolina Kwiatów 170 Valley of Flowers 163 GR5
dolina Nimnar 62 the Nimnar Valley 58 ZP
Dolna Posada 176 Lower Posada 168
Ellander 38 Ellander 34 GR2
Górna Posada 175 Upper Posada 168
Góry Smocze 166 Dragon Mountains 159 GR5
Jamurlak 89 Yamurlak 86 MZ
Jaruga 166 Jaruga 159 GR5
księstwo Attre 126 Duchy of Attre 121 KC
Kupiecki Szlak 284 Traders’ Trail 277 GR7
Łukomorze 92 Arcsea 89 MZ
Lutoński trakt 80 Lutonski road 77 MZ
Maecht 159 Maecht 152 KC
Metinna 146 Metinna 140 KC
Mirt 56 Mirt 52 ZP
Murivel 44 Murivel 40 ZP
Novigrad 228 Novigrad 222
Pontar 92 Pontar 89 MZ
Rinde 228 Rinde 222
Skellige 124 Skellige 119 KC
Tridam 109 Tridam 106 MZ
Wyzima 7 Wyzim 2 W
Yspaden 80 Yspaden 77 MZ

3.1.1. Inauthentic – artificialEdit

First of all we have to remember that The Last Wish and the whole witcher cycle is fantasy literature. Therefore, names of rivers, seas, mountain ranges, villages, towns, cities, countries and so on can entirely be originated by the author. In such a case, translation seems to be unnecessary. Let us have a look at some examples of artificial names which were directly taken into the target text:

- towns/cities: ‘Caelf’, ‘Mirt’, ‘Murivel’, ‘Nimnar’;
- kingdoms/regions: ‘Attre’, ‘Creyden’, ‘Ellander’, ‘Metinna’;
- rivers: ‘Buina’.

Two names in this category not mentioned above riveted my attention – ‘Jamurlak’ (the name of a region) and ‘Jaruga’ (the name of a river). These are clearly made up names and one should expect the same approach as with the above mentioned examples. And so is the case with the latter word. When it comes to ‘Jamurlak’, however, Stok decided to change it into ‘Yamurlak’. Both original words start with ‘j’, which, in Polish, is pronounced /j/ as in ‘yeti’. It is unclear to me, therefore, why the translator decided to adapt the pronunciation only in the name of a region, and not in both cases. Additionally, the two words appear in two different short stories, which may – however, should not – be the reason of the inconsistence of the translator.

3.1.2. Inauthentic – realisticEdit

Many put Sapkowski’s novels in the same line as professor Tolkien’s works and call them ‘high fantasy’. We can read in Wikipedia that one of characteristic features of this genre is that "a contemporary, ‘real-world’ character is placed in the invented world" [10]. Sapkowski deals with this in two ways. He either puts authentic names into his stories – this will be discussed in the next section – or he uses fictional names which have graphical similarity to names present in contemporary world. This is the result of using authentic morphemes taken from various language systems. We can observe the variety of the author’s sources, as he uses many, not only European, languages.
In this category, the translator chose two approaches. When the name sounded foreign to the Polish reader, she left it unchanged. The examples are:

- towns/cities: ‘Assengard’ (Scandinavian ‘gård’ – town/farm; similar to ‘Asgard’ – a land in Norse mythology), ‘Blaviken’ (German ‘blau’ – blue, Scandinavian ‘vik’ – bay, gulf), ‘Cidaris’ (Latin ‘cidaris’ – tiara), ‘Novigrad’ (name in Slavonic stylization, similar to Belgrad, Leningrad), ‘Tridam’ (relation to an English word ‘dam’), ‘Rinde’ (German ‘rinde’ – bark, rind);
- kingdom/region: ‘Maecht’ (German ‘Macht‘ – strength, power);
- rivers: ‘Pontar’ (French ‘pont’ – bridge, the river Pontar in Sapkowski’s works is known to have many bridges);
- other: in the elfish language invented by Sapkowski ‘Dol Blathanna’ (Bulgarian ‘dol’ – valley, Gaelic ‘blath’ – flower).

The second approach is that whenever the name consisted of elements intelligible for the Polish reader she translated it directly into English.

‘Dol Blathanna’ in, so called, common language – a language familiar to all races appearing in the witcher cycle – ‘Dolina Kwiatów’ → ‘Valley of Flowers’, ‘Kupiecki Szlak’ → ‘Traders’ Trail’, ‘Góry Smocze’ → ‘Dragon Mountains’.

In The Edge of the World short story, Geralt the Witcher hears about two villages ‘Dolna Posada’ and ‘Górna Posada’. In the English version we read about ‘Lower Posada’ and ‘Upper Posada’. In contemporary Polish ‘posada’ means ‘job; position; foundation’, so this has nothing to do with either of the places and that is probably why Stok translated only the first part of both names. Nonetheless, in some local Slavonic dialects ‘posada’ meant ‘settlement, village’. Therefore, the translator may have used, for example, an old English expression ‘cotlif’ or maybe Welsh word for ‘village’ – ‘llan’. This, I believe, would represent the original in a better way.
There is another example which drew my attention in this category. In The Lesser Evil short story, Sapkowski mentions ‘Lutoński trakt’ which was translated into ‘Lutonski road’. The name clearly refers to an English town – Luton, that is why ‘Luton road’ would be a good option. Stok, however, may have wanted to avoid too clear association with the British town, that is why she had decided to use a word similar in pronunciation.

3.1.3. AuthenticEdit

As stated in the previous section, Sapkowski, from time to time, likes to smuggle some authentic names which may sound oriental to the reader and which fit the fantasy world presented in his works. It is important to mention that here, the term ‘authentic’ is used to describe also a name which may have appeared somewhere before, for example in some other literary work.
Here, Stok uses the same approach as with the inauthentic, realistic names. If the name sounds Polish and may have some meaning for the reader, she translates it directly into English.

- kingdoms/regions: ‘Angren’ (an industrial city in Uzbekistan), ‘Łukomorze’ → ‘Arcsea’ (expression taken from Ruslan and Lyudmila by A. Pushkin), ‘Skellige’ (name taken from a song by an Irish group Clannad);
- towns/cities: ‘Cintra’ (old name for Sintra, a town and a municipality in Portugal), ‘Yspaden’ (name of a giant from Celtic mythology).

Also in this category I would like to have a more detailed look at two examples. The first is ‘Chociebuż’ – name of a city mentioned in A Question of Price short story. It is the Slavonic name of a real, contemporary city in Germany – Cottbus. Stok did not decide to use this authentic name, instead she used a word which was supposed to be similar in pronunciation, namely ‘Hochebuz’. I do not believe, however, that any native user of English language would pronounce this word anywhere similar to the original one.
The second example is yet another proof of the translator’s inconsistence. ‘Wyzima’ – which is an Old Polish given name [11] – was neither translated nor transferred into English. Stok chose to use ‘Wyzim’. If she wanted to have a word that would sound similar to the original one, she should use ‘Vizima’ (which was the case with The Witcher computer game developed by a Polish game studio CDProjekt RED). Otherwise I find her decision hard to understand.

BibliographyEdit

  1. Fantastyka, 3 (30)/1985
  2. Fantastyka, 9/1987, p.4
  3. www.sapkowski.pl, my own translation
  4. Brzozowski, A., 2002, Wiedźmin i historia, In "Mówią wieki", 1/2002, p.41, my own translation
  5. Brzozowski, A., 2002, Wiedźmin i historia, In "Mówią wieki", 1/2002, p.41, my own translation
  6. Bereś S., Sapkowski A., 2005, Historia i fantastyka, Warszawa: SuperNowa, pp.268-269, my own translation
  7. Szelewski, M., 2003, Nazewnictwo literackie w utworach Andrzeja Sapkowskiego i Nika Pierumowa, Toruń: Wydawnictwo Adam Marszałek
  8. Sapkowski, A., 2005, Ostatnie życzenie, Warszawa: SuperNowa
  9. Sapkowski, A., 2007, The Last Wish, London: Gollancz, translated by Danusia Stok
  10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_fantasy
  11. Gloger, Z., 1900-1903, Encyklopedia Staropolska Ilustrowana (http://pl.wikisource.org/wiki/Encyklopedia_staropolska)
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