The City of Gothenburg – what’s in a name?

The "fish church" in Gothenburg

Feskekôrka (the "fish church") in Gothenburg

The Swedish business newspaper Dagens Industri reports that the Swedish city of Gothenburg has given up its attempt to go by its Swedish name (Göteborg) internationally, and has returned to using the name Gothenburg in English.

The English name is nothing new: according to the city’s web site, the official name Gothenburg dates from at least 1621, when it was specified on the city’s charter. Many European cities have names in languages not their own, also known as exonyms (think Copenhagen or Vienna), but Gothenburg is reportedly the only Swedish city to have one.

Why switch back? Apparently the city elders finally realized that English speakers have trouble with the name Göteborg. I could have told them that: my grandfather came from Gothenburg, and I have a “Göteborg” sticker with the city seal on the dashboard of my car. I’ve listened to many perplexed passengers tackle the name, and can report that it’s a world of trouble down to the last letter. (Try explaining the pronunciation of the final -rg in Björn Borg or Göteborg to an English speaker some time.)

As a translator I vastly prefer to use the familiar (indeed, ancient) English moniker in my translations, and I have in fact had this discussion with at least one agency which wanted to conform to the city’s policy. So I am glad that they have returned to using Gothenburg on an official basis.

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Dan Brown’s “Lost Symbol” to be translated at record speed

The Global Watchtower blog reports that Dan Brown’s new novel The Lost Symbol will be translated into Swedish at top speed by a team of translators working on 100 pages each. They will have

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seven days to complete the job. Although the Global Watchtower folks call this crowdsourcing, I don’t think that that particular label is entirely applicable here, as the project is being broken into six parts and sent out to professional translators.

The book is scheduled to be released in English on September 15, and the US publisher is apparently reluctant to release the manuscript before then due to fears that it could turn up on file-sharing sites. So, the Swedish publisher is enlisting a team in order to get the book onto Swedish store shelves by October 21.

Perhaps this extreme measure was necessary from a business standpoint given the unusual circumstances, but I wonder if other publishers around the world are following suit? And one can only hope that this translation process does not become the “new normal” for literature.

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Worshipping at the Church of Language

I have a great subject for my inaugural blog post: I’ve just gotten back from Translate in the Catskills, a weekend of intensive translation workshops organized by Chris Durban with a stellar slate of instructors. While this was primarily an event for Francophone translators, the organizers were aware of their non-Francophone students, and since the subject matter really was translation itself I got a tremendous amount out of it.

Imagine being challenged to turn tired literal translations into sparkling prose, or to transform a choppy text into a piece that flows. Imagine sharing fascinating conversations with other translators and hearing terrific tips for achieving and maintaining the level of quality that top clients are looking for.

While we spent a lot of time on business and government prose (which can in fact sparkle — who knew?), we also got to learn more about the challenges of literary translation. I spent a wonderful evening hearing Ros Schwartz share her experiences translating mysteries and other types of literature.

I made some new friends and came back with lots of new ideas, an enormous bagful of translation books

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from InTrans Book Service, and a firm resolve to be the best writer and translator I can be.

Chris Berman teaching a class at Translate in the Catskills

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