Johan Palmberg about translating the Japanese Ronia to Swedish

A huge part of my working hours during the last six months have been devoted to the translation and dubbing of the Japanese film adaptation of Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, which now runs at the Children’s Channel on Swedish National Television.  Our family has worked closely with the translation crew to ensure that the language remains as close to Astrid Lindgren’s original as possible. It´s been terribly interesting of course, however I´ll not be too keen on reading the Ronia book again in the near future.

The TV series, directed by Gōro Miyazaki, is extremely faithful to the book edition. The lines are often exact quotes from the original. That´s great of course, but it creates a linguistic problem: when translated, the spoken Japanese language consists of more words than the Swedish language. Which means that there are many more mouth movements in a phrase like for example “You have the knife!” in Japanese, than in Swedish. And still, the Swedish words are supposed to fit into the mouths of what the Japanese cartoon characters are saying. This has resulted in endless discussions about whether it´s better to say “The knife Birk, you have it!” or “I know you have the knife!” Or how often it´s natural for Ronia to address the person she speaks to by saying his or her name (the correct answer to this is “not in the beginning of every sentence”), and if that particular opening of Ronia’s mouth can be interpreted as a laugh, yawn or a silent astonishment.

The few times when the series adds scenes that are not in the book have really been a challenge to us. That is often about the robber’s doings, and as they in fact are robbers the scenes are mostly about bickering and small fights.  Then you just want to be able to use more variety of phrases than I hope you fall into Hell’s Gap!! (approx. ”Far åt pipsvängen!” in Swedish) over and over again. Fortunately we have this amazing archive consisting of many of Astrid Lindgren’s notes for research and preparations for story content. Eventually, we found these booklets:

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The red booklet is Astrid Lindgren’s own script for the Swedish film adaptation of Ronia by Swedish director Tage Danielsson back in the early 80s. The blue booklet is simply named “Ronia – extra readings”, where Astrid Lindgren has written down her thoughts on what the scenes should contain, and examples on alternative lyrics and lines if the existing is not working. The best catch however, is this list of robber’s insults to be used “where and when and by whom it may fit”. These homemade insults are impossible to translate since they do not really exist in the Swedsih vocabulary.
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And suddenly you find yourself desperately looking for scenes where you have the chance to add words like ”pissedräng”, ”skitbagge” eller ”rackelhane” (an attempt to literary translation: “piss-lad”, “crap-bugg” and “ rascal – rooster“).

Johan Palmberg is a literary agent at the Astrid Lindgren company Saltkråkan and the great grandson of Astrid Lindgren. He is also a member of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award jury.

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