You’re a Dragon. Got that?

So, we’ve started doing presentations in my Phonetics and Phonology course (barrel of laughs that, I assure you), all of which are meant to demonstrate something about pronunciation for the rest of the class. Two of the first three groups actually ended up using the same clip for their presentations, a skit from the fabulous (and not yet available in English translation, I think?) sketch comedy show, Fóstbræður (Foster Brothers), which starred Jón Gnarr and (film director) Benedikt Erlingsson among others.

I’m familiar with some of the more classic sketches from this show, although I hadn’t seen this one, in which an acountant-type (Jón Gnarr) is called into his boss’ office for some serious news. (Sorry, couldn’t embed the video, so just click the picture for the link.)


The gist of the video is that Jón Gnarr comes into the office and is told by his boss (Benedikt Erlingsson) ‘Þú ert rekinn,’ which means, you’re fired. But what he hears is “Þú ert drekinn,” or you’re a dragon. Hilarity ensues, particularly for all us útlendingar who are pleased that Icelandic pronunciation isn’t always clear to Icelanders either.

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Icelandic Tounge-Twisters!

After a quick stop in Austin, Texas (urban epicenter for food trucks, “floating,” and perhaps one of the most genius breakfast gifts known to man: the breakfast taco), Mark and I have made it to Maine, where we will be spending our last month in the US. It’s been a useful progression back to Iceland, actually: we started in Arizona, got our fill of sunshine and heat, picked up lots of pool-time in Austin, and are now back in a place where you kinda still need a (light) sweater in the summer.

But the other thing about being in Maine is that now that my work schedule will be sporadic at best, I finally have time to rededicate myself to Icelandic and re-solidify/re-learn all the stuff that has started dribbling out of my head in the last two months. To this end, I started perusing through Transparent Language’s Icelandic Language Blog (highly recommended–a good mix of linguistic tips/explanations and culture articles) and found a real gem: Icelandic Tongue Twisters.

I listened to these three times and failed, each time, to a) get through one of them without laughing like a child or b) find myself able to repeat any of them. But even the lady reciting them–first slowly and then incredibly fast–seems to have had some trouble wrapping her mouth around the phrases, as there is a blooper reel at the end of the clip.

So, for your tongue-twisting pleasure, I present:

Adventures in Amateur Translation: Skrímslapest

Before I left Iceland and finished my term as a Fulbright grantee, I was invited to participate in a presentation with my fellow Fulbrighters to present the work we had undertaken during our nine months in Iceland. My colleagues had a diverse range of interests, talents, areas of expertise and projects, ranging from poetry derived from Norse mythology to volcanic research, and child psychology to marine coastal management. Some of these projects are easier to quantify than others; for my part, I was a bit nervous that I’d need to stand up and talk to my audience in perfect Icelandic for 15 minutes straight in order to convey that I had actually been doing something all year. (Which, as I hope this blog indicates, I certainly had.) Instead of panicking (or attempting an oral presentation well outside of my abilities at that particular juncture in time), I decided to give a brief summary of my writing projects, my work on Little Free Library Reykjavík, and finally, to try my hand at a short translation from Icelandic to English. After all, that is my end goal. And I did read a great deal of children’s books this year for practice. So I took a book from one of my favorite children’s series, Skrímslapest, and translated it into English. Then I created a Reading Rainbow-style video where I read the Icelandic text over the English subtitles. It took me a whole day to create the video (I had to learn how to work with iMovie), but I was pleased with the final product and had a good time making it.

I was lucky enough to meet the book’s illustrator and co-author, Áslaug Jónsdóttir, at an event this year, and not only did she generously introduce me to her writer’s group (who then generously donated books for Little Free Library Reykjavík), she also kindly gave me permission (along with her co-authors Kalle Güettler and Rakel Helmsdal) to post the video I made of my translation on Vimeo. So I am sharing the video with you all now (below).

Some points on the translation process (such as it was) however, before you watch:

-The title, Skrímslapest is a combo word: skrímsli, or monster + pest, which can mean “disease, illness, or epidemic.” I decided to translate it as Monster Pox, because that had a nice ring to it, and in the pictures, it did look like the chicken pox, not some insurmountable monster-plaugue.

-I was made aware of one mis-translation in the text, where I translate ís to “ice” instead of “ice cream.” For the record, if you want ice in your drink while in Iceland, the correct word is klaki. It did not occur to me to even look this word up when I was doing the translation—I assumed “ís” was ice because of “Ísland” (the Icelandic name for Iceland) and because it seemed to make some sense in context. I’ve left the error in the video because a) it would be very time consuming to fix, and b) it is a good record of my learning process. It is also a fair indication that this is not, by any means, a perfect translation.

-There were a couple of interesting vocab translation pickles:

1. þungarokk: this is a combo word, from þungur, or heavy, and rokk, or rock music. I opted to just refer to this as METAL! (caps to match the original text) in the text because that’s what my high school metalhead friends used to enthusiastically yell while headbanging or drumming on their chests at lunch time. Short and emphatic and to the point. Plus, “heavy metal” has too much of a moms-talking-about-the-kids’-music vibe to it, I thought.

2. hrútleiðinlegur: another combo, from hrútur, or ram, and leiðinlegur, a sort of all-purpose word for boring/tedious/dull and which is used for everything from a boring class to tiresome weather. I was absolutely delighted with the word “sheep-boring” (I’ve also heard “dog-boring”) and thought long and hard about coming up with some sort of fun, animal-themed, catchy word for super-boring in English. (I had a ton of excellent suggestions from my YA-author friend/mom of a toddler, too. So thanks for those, buddy!) In the end, I opted to just translate this awesome word as “TOTALLY BORING!” because it really didn’t sound like the kind of wordplay you get from kids in English, and who hasn’t heard a child refer to something as “totally” dull/lame/boring etc.? Also, the original book wasn’t going for super word play, either—it’s just a common expression in Icelandic.

So there you have it. My first foray into literary translation, with its attendant debates. I hope you enjoy the video below (and share your thoughts on the translation, if you have them), but please do note that although I have permission from the authors to post this, it is still entirely their creation, and they retain all rights to its adaptations, translations, and dissemination.

I write for blood: a munnlegt próf recap

Bright and early this morning I trekked into school for Part 2 of my munnlegt próf (oral exam) in my Pronunciation and Speech class. My two group mates and I had been working diligently on our practice dialogs, but I was still nervous: the test would start with each of us (the students) introducing ourselves a little—name, where we are from, how long we’ve been in Iceland, what we’re doing this summer, etc—and then we’d have to have a short conversation about a topic which we had prepared for in advance. (There were actually four topics, and then we picked exactly which one we’d be discussing from a hat 15 minutes before the test this morning.) The test was done in front of our teacher and also an objective observer whose job it is to make sure that the grading is done fairly and impartially.

All in all, I’d say we did pretty well. Our teacher asked us to introduce ourselves one by one, but then asked us a number of short follow-up questions which we hadn’t had a chance to prepare in advance for. I don’t think that my grammar or accent were flawless by any means, but I did understand everything she asked and was able to talk a little about my interest in Icelandic literature and the fact that I want to be a translator. So far so good.

Then my teacher asked if I was a poet. I said no, but that I did write. She said, “just stories?” and I replied that yes, I wrote stories, but also that I wrote for papers.

Or, I tried to say that: “Ég skrifa fyrir blöð,” is what I went for, trying to pronounce the plural form of “blað,” or newspaper.

At this point, the objective observer looked up and asked me to repeat what I had said.

“Blöð?” I ventured. “Eins og Reykjavík Grapevine?” (Like the Reykjavík Grapevine?)

“Oh!” he said, smiling a little. “Blöð.”

Well yes, I thought, like I’ve been saying. But then I realized that I had been having trouble, as I always do, pronouncing the “ö.” So instead of saying, “blöð,” I’m pretty sure that I was saying “blóð.” Or, “Ég skrifa fyrir blóð” – I write for blood.

And, in the words of the marvelous Gilda Radner, that’s very different.

But, hey! Two tests and one (vampire) paper down! That just leaves two more tests to go! Which means, obviously, that it is time for Babs:

I Say Tomato, They Say Þðöqqxædn

Well, actually, they say “tómatur” in Icelandic, which isn’t all that hard. However, there are a whole host of interesting and interestingly difficult notes on Icelandic pronunciation which I have been picking up over the last couple of weeks which I thought I’d share, this ostensibly being a blog which deals not only with my wild and crazy adventures on The Rock (not this one; not this one; this one, and yes, they really call it that sometimes), but also the process of learning Icelandic.

So here is a list (another one! I love lists) of…

Things I’ve Learned,

or Learned that I haven’t Learned,

About Icelandic Pronunciation:

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