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Karolina Drozdowska, University of Gdańsk

Translating Scandinavia

– a perspective from across the sea

  • Name: Karolina Drozdowska
  • Academic credentials: phd in Literature Studies (Norwegian Literature) assistant professor at the Institute for Scandinavian Studies, University of Gdańsk, Poland. Member of the Polish Literary Translators' Association (Stowarzyszenie Tłumaczy Literatury)

Abstract: The aim of the paper is to present the problem of translating Scandinavian literature (and also film) into Polish, with a special focus on how interactions between the specific languages (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish) can be and are translated – as this particular aspect poses significant problems both for the translator and the reader/viewer. As a translator of Norwegian literature, I have come across a number of cases where Swedish or Danish words and phrases have been “woven” into the Norwegian text – translating such language interactions into Polish can pose a significant problem, especially when the Polish reader is unaware of the regional historic and/or cultural context. It is therefore my opinion that interactions between specific Scandinavian languages in translated texts can be perceived as elements of the foreign (according to A. Bermanʼs theories) and should be approached as such by the translator, who, at the same time, should remain aware of the deforming forces he or she is going to be forced to face in the translation process (with special focus on the destruction of underlying networks of signification, the destruction of vernacular networks or their exoticization, and the effacement of the superimposition of languages).

For many years, “Scandinavia” has been an exotic term for Poles. Both cultural and economic exchange was very limited and a lot of stereotypes arose – not only about the Scandinavians themselves, but also their language (difficult to understand) and culture (very little accessible). In the last years, and especially after 2004, when Poland joined the EU and European borders stood open for Polish workers, the situation has been changing rapidly. Poles are, at the moment, a large minority in the Scandinavian countries (the largest minority in Norway), and this has also contributed considerably to the cultural exchange between Poland and the entire region. This has resulted in a growing interest in Scandinavian literature and film and an accordingly growing demand for translations from those languages. It is my opinion, that to translate from a Scandinavian language into Polish needs also to be combined with helping the reader/viewer understand what the Scandinavian region actually is and what the interactions between the countries constituting it – and therefore, their languages – are. To translate is therefore to explain. And, in this explanation, we have to forget about globalization and growing nationalism for a while and start perceiving Scandinavia as a historical and cultural region – otherwise the language interactions (and cultural interactions they implicate) will become completely illegible for the reader/viewer of the translated text/picture. 

In my paper, I will give examples of the abovementioned phenomenon, concentrating mainly on Norwegian (popular) literature translated into Polish and the Scandinavian film series Broen/Bron.

Theme: Scandinavia in the Eyes of the World