“In Iceland everybody has a chance to be someone, everyone has a book in them and everyone eventually writes one.”

I spent some time writing a review of Andri Snær Magnason’s LoveStar yesterday (I’ll post it when it’s been published) and in the process, ran across two interesting articles.

The first, from which this post’s title quote is taken, is an interview on Publishing Perspectives with Icelandic to English translator Victoria Cribb: “The Loneliness of the Icelandic Translator.” I was particularly heartened by this bit:

A page of crime writing can be more difficult to translate for Cribb than, for example, author Sjón’s writing. “He has an elegant style that harks back to the sagas. You can really get your teeth into his very complicated sentences which is such a pleasure.”

“I’m a linguist who stumbled accidentally into translation,” she added.

When Cribb works on books with this “new” vocabulary, she has to rely on her own instincts as she says dictionaries are completely inadequate.

“I Google laterally to try to figure out what the word means.”

(Because: me too!)

Within the interview above, there is also a link to this 2010 article published in the Wall Street Journal: “Icelandic Translators Enjoy Their Moment in the Sun.” For the most part, this is an irritating, snarky article (as you’ll probably see from the sample), but there was a section that interested me:

Even the best translators need special skills—especially in areas like finance. Icelanders may have imported their banking fervor, but they made up local words to reference the sector. Like skuldavafningur. (That’s a collateralized debt obligation, to Americans.) Occasionally several people made up words. That explains why some Icelanders call a CDO a skuldabréfavafningur.

Translator Páll Hermannsson prefers the crisper-sounding skuldavafningur for CDO. Literally, he says, it means “debt wrap.”

After the financial collapse, each bank got a skilanefnd and a slitastjórn. “Meaning what?” asked the Anglophones who lent gobs of money to the now-defunct banks. No one could agree. A few finance specialists huddled with the central bank’s translator and came up with English definitions: “resolution committee” and “winding-up board.”

Messier still were the many ways Iceland bailed out its underwater homeowners. They might have gotten greiðsluaðlögun (payment mitigation), or greiðslujöfnun (payment smoothing), or skuldaaðlögun (debt adjustment), or skuldalækkun (debt reduction), or niðurfelling skulda (cancellation of debt). The list goes on.

“The debt is not a problem,” says Ms. Kunz. “But what to call it is.”

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