Some bloggers apparently think my entries are exactly what they would have written themselves if they hadn’t had something better to do. So much for vanity!


At least two blogs link to the Zeit interview with the literary translator (and occasional inhabitant of Lindenstraße) Harry Rowohlt and add the word ‘Lesen!’.

I haven’t been able to use that word since Else Stratmann became responsible for it on TV and taught us that reading is Good In Itself (provided we don’t claim to like highbrow stuff like Proust).

I liked the Winnetou reference too, although what I read elsewhere in Die Zeit about Karl May’s take on the Armenian massacre was not so appealing.

Rowohlt gets up at 6 a.m. and does his 5 pages. He says he gets standard payment. Maybe he gets more royalties than some. It’s one of the mysteries of translation how literary translators survive. When asked if he admires other translators, he mentions Hans Wollschläger, and the interviewer suggests he must envy W. for translating Joyce’s Ulysses.

bq. Ich? Das soll doch bitte außer mir jeder machen. Diesen stinklangweiligen Kalauerer. Wenn einem bei Halbinsel, peninsula, nix anderes als Penis einfällt, kann ich das weder bewundern noch im Mindesten komisch finden. Arno Schmidt hat doch, ohne es zu wollen, viel Unheil angerichtet. Leute sagen jetzt »auf jeden Fall« und denken dabei Phall. Die waren sonst schon mit Pippi Langstrumpf ganz gut bedient.

Too true. By the way, I remember hearing Wollschläger on the Ulysses translation – it took him two solid years and I think he earnt the equivalent of 2000 DM per year. Not that I think money is everything – it’s just interesting.

Is writing quicker than translating?

Bloggers ponder. There’s definitely something in it. If a lawyer is writing on his special subject, he won’t have the terminology research to do that I will. Whatever the answer, the big problem is occasional clients thinking they can allow an author three weeks, and then a fourth, to prepare a brochure, and then get that translated in one week.

4 thoughts on “Miscellanea

  1. In most cases, translating will take longer than writing the same text. As you say, the client allows several weeks for the production of the original text, but then sets aside a mere 24-48 hours to translate, say, 10,000 words.

    Most texts today are written by insiders for insiders (witness the excessive amount of in-house acronyms and abbreviations we find in most texts today). The poor translator has to find his/her way through this kind of rubbish first – and try to slip into the author’s persona. When you think about it, this is not an easy task and takes time – more time, in fact, than writing the original text.

  2. Da ich ein Leben ohne deutsches Fernsehen lebe und auch bei meinen Deutschlandaufenthalten meistens was anderes zu tun habe, als vor der Glotze zu sitzen, kann ich „Lesen!“ also noch unvoreigenommen verwenden. Eigentlich sollte es „Lesen, marsch, marsch!“ werden – klang mir dann aber doch etwas zu autoritär.

  3. As someone who both writes and translates professionally, I can confirm that writing down my own thoughts is much easier for me than translating someone else’s – not least because, as Werner points out, many original texts are so badly written that I spend at least as long trying to work out what the writer is trying to say as deciding how to render the same text in English.

  4. @ Stuart:

    Badly written does not even begin to describe it. Just last week, I was asked to translate a user agreement, which was full of typos, bad grammar AND mistakes in points of law. Of course, I pointed this out to the client and the lawyer responsible for drafting the agreement. Contrary to common belief, the lawyer did not bite my head off; in fact, he thanked me profusely for finding his mistakes (because they concerned liability issues, and that could have been quite a bit of a problem for them down the road).

    The problem today is, as Stuart has stated as well, that most source texts are so lousy that we, as translators, have to do a lot more than “just” translating, which is why we usually spend more time on the text than the author of the source text. At a minimum, clients should allow us as much time as went into the production of the source text.

    I also find that this seems to be a particular problem of the German-English language pair. I don’t wish to generalize, but the German texts I have received, especially over the last year, have gotten worse and worse.

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