Egill Not Allowed to Say OK

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Egill Not Allowed to Say OK

By Alëx Elliott
Books store Reykjavík

Photo: Páll Stefánsson

Danes, Norwegians and Swedes can now read the Sagas of the Icelanders in their own modern languages.

Fifty translators have been working on the mammoth project for several years. The project culminated yesterday in the official release of the brand new volumes. One of the books’ editors says it has been among the biggest translation projects of modern times.

The volumes were presented at a ceremony at Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert and Conference Center, where the assembled audience included culture ministers from all the Nordic countries, who were given the first copies.

The publisher got the idea for modern Scandinavian translations of the sagas some 25 years ago and has now finally seen his dream bear fruit, with significant financial help from Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland.

Jóhann Sigurðsson, publisher with Sögur, says that a lot of people thought he must be crazy to put his weight behind a project like this.

“But I think one has now disproved that, it has all worked out in the end,” he told RÚV.

The Icelandic Prime Minister was also at the presentation ceremony, where he told guests that the Icelandic government has decided to make the translations available on the internet in stages over the next few years.

Jon Gunnar Jørgensen, editor of the Norwegian edition, believes that the project is the biggest coordinated translation effort ever undertaken in the Nordic region:

“I can’t think of anything bigger and if you put these three projects together; Norwegian, Swedish and Danish, then there are 50 translators who worked on it. It is 2,500 pages in each language. So it is truly world class anyway,” he said.

Was it more difficult to translate into one language more than the others?

Annette Lassen, editor of the Danish edition, and Kristinn Jóhannesson, editor of the Swedish edition, say that the problems were mostly like the solutions: various. It was not, however, easier to translate into any one language over any other.

With regard to the modernity of the modern language used, Kristinn says that quite strict limits were applied, though the limits are perhaps a little bit difficult to explain.

“We couldn’t use too old-fashioned words, but also not too modern words. And we were constantly playing around with it: Is it OK for Egill Skallagrímsson to say OK? No, that is not OK.” It was important, he says, to make the text not only simple and modern, but also beautiful.

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