Posted by: gisspar | July 6, 2009

Homogeneity going too far

So I decided a couple of years ago to find and read a mystery novel from an author from each Scandinavian country. My preference is to also have the book be located in the same country, Swedish author in Stockholm, etc. I’ve managed to find Sweden (not so hard these days), Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. But not Finland. For a while I thought maybe the Finns don’t write mysteries given their taciturn nature or maybe nobody’s ever bothered to translate them to English. And then I ran across this:

Their answer is simple: take a book originally in Swedish, like Stieg Larsson’s wonderful Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. If somebody translates it into Dutch, the relatively small number of Dutch-speakers means that the market for the translation will be much smaller — and the royalties and profits smaller too — than the market for an English translation.

These smaller returns attract translators who are not as good as those attracted into translating a book into English; the supply curve of translators is upward-sloping.

via Freakonomics

If it’s more likely that the books will be translated to English even for the European market, then where’s my Finnish mystery novel? At some point the Matti Joensuu will have to be released (as a paperback, I just don’t like hardback books) here. But aren’t there others?

But the second issue is really that if we just focus on translating everything into English, does there come a point when “larger” languages become threatened? When the bilingual Dutch-English becomes English-Dutch and then English-Dutch?



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