Here’s how I go about it translating a text that is in Icelandic, if you’re curious.
The first step is to type out the text from whatever it is I want to translate. I know some people use either a scanner with OCR (optical character recognition) or an app on their smartphone that can take a picture and apply OCR to it, but I type about 110 words per minute on regular English text, and while the extra characters in Icelandic do slow me down a little bit because of the extra keystrokes they take to type, it still doesn’t take me THAT long to type a smaller piece out. Speaking of those extra characters, I wrote an entry on my language learning blog at all those interesting letters and that helps speed things up, at least over the extra time it would take for the extra characters if I were using ALT codes.
The next step is that I set up a Word document with a table made of 3 columns – the one in the middle is as narrow as possible, just to have some space between the two columns of text – and the other two roughly equal in width. I cut and paste the Icelandic text into the left-hand column.
Then I cut and paste the Icelandic text a sentence or two at a time into Google Translate. And when I do that, I typically get a mess like this:
The Icelandic text I started with:
“Eins og ég hef gert grein fyrir í öðru riti, er efnið í þessum snúðum útlent, sennilega norskt, og verður seinna vikið að þvi í þætti um katla.”
“As I have explained in another verse, the material in these springs is foreign, probably Norwegian, and later it will be a part of the boiler.”
Excuse me, what now? Most of this is utter gibberish. Sure, it’s English, but the sentences make no sense whatsoever. Here’s where things get fun. Now, this sentence I’m using as an example is not from the start of the section of the book, so it’s lacking in context. I picked it because the second half of the sentence is the one remaining part of this text that I’m struggling to translate. It was just the easiest thing to go to for an example. So for a little bit of context, the previous paragraph and the rest of the paragraph that came before this sentence (it’s the last sentence in the paragraph) talk about the spindle whorls that have been found in grave digs in Iceland, what they were made of, how big they were, etc. The process up to now has had me going through the whole process I’m laying out here, so I’ve already picked up a few of the odder words that Google Translate has had difficulty with. The example I’m using here is from the 3 paragraph excerpt in Kuml og Haugfé that I posted yesterday.
So once I’ve put a whole sentence in, came up with something nonsensical, and decided the translation needs tweaking, then I start putting anywhere from one to three words at a time into Google Translate. The way GT is set up, it can actually take the entire context of the sentence into account and if you start typing a whole sentence into it and have Instant Translation turned on, it will translate as you type, and it will adjust the translation as you add more words. This was actually part of what helped me develop this method of translation. Now, I’ve been studying the Icelandic language for about 5-6 weeks now, and I’ve picked up a lot of the basics – and, the, or, but, etc. and then some of the words that are less common in everyday usage, but are really common in the types of things I’m reading. For example, Snældusnúdar, which was the heading for this section of the book. I tried translating that. Ekkert. (That’s Icelandic for nothing, by the way.) But I’ve learned both through trial and error and from a couple of my Icelandic friends that Icelanders LOVE their compound words. So then I looked at the word and tried to figure out a logical place where it could be split. I tried Snældus. Nothing. I took the s off the end and bingo. Google Translate gave me “cassette”. Probably not quite right, given the topic I’m working on, but gives me a place to start.
That’s when I head over to Glosbe.com. That’s a free online dictionary for almost every language in existence, and I’ve found it to be quite accurate and to have a pretty big database. It can also sometimes handle conjugations and modifications of words, for example how Icelandic goes from “fisk” for fish, to “fiskurinn” for the fish. It also has this handy feature where, when you search on a word, a frame on the left will display 15 words that come before and after it in the dictionary. Sometimes this can be a really big help. Glosbe didn’t like Snældusnúdar, for Snældu it gave me cassette, BUT I looked at the word list and noticed it had an entry for Snælda. Jackpot. The second entry in the definitions was “Spindle”, and even had the helpful description of “spike used for spinning fibers into yarn”. Now I’ve been spinning for years and already knew that, but there are other things called spindles as well, and this helped to confirm that I was looking at the right thing.
So then from there, I took the context of the fact that I was looking at a picture of 3 things that looked like spindle whorls right next to the text in the book, plus the fact that the book happens to have a condensed English index in the back of it that actually used the term spindle-whorls, I can therefore conclude that the rest of the word meant something like whorl. In fact, Glosbe didn’t like snúdar, but the word list showed a “Snúður”, which means “head”. And yes, sometimes Icelanders do seem to be that literal. In the case of a top-whorl spindle (and I’m starting to get the feeling that those were most common), the whorl would indeed look like a head on top of a stick.
Anyhow, back to that bizarre sentence. The first half was quite easy to deal with. “As I have explained in another” makes sense. Verse… well, not so much, but I got the feeling it might mean paragraph here, which would make sense. So I made a guess that the first 6 words of the sentence were what translated to the “as I have explained in another”, and started with the seventh word. Fyrir. This one I know – it means “for”. It can also mean “already”. So I backed up. I know “og ég hef” is “and I have”. I checked “eins”. It means “like”, in the sense of “as” in “as I have said before”. I went on to gert grein, which came up with “made an article”. Gert on its own is “done”. Grein is “article”. Out of all of this, I put together “As I have noted in another article already”. There’s the first part of the sentence.
Continuing on, we have í – in. Ödru – other. Riti – writing. Seems a bit redundant, but Icelandic can be a bit quirky I’ve found. (And I mean quirky in the most loving way possible… heck, I’m pretty quirky myself. I like quirky. It’s interesting.) Er efnið – “is the content”. “Í þessum” – in these. Adding “snúðum útlent” to “í þessum” gave me “in these foreign spikes”, which is nonsensical. So I removed the í þessum, which gave me “spinning foreign”. Snúðum on its own gave me “turn”. Hmm. So over to Glosbe I went… in fact the window was still open from when I looked up snúður, and hey, those look awfully similar! In fact, they’re probably variations of the same word. So let’s pop spindle into the sentence. In other writing is the content in these spinning foreign. Now here’s the part where having my weird, ADHD-addled brain comes in handy, since it allows me to think outside the box (as obnoxious as that phrase is), and just think about how that sentence could be rearranged to make sense given the context. This is how I figured out “As I have noted in another article, the material in these whorls is foreign.” Sennilega norskt is easy – probably Norse – and I already knew that soapstone was imported from Norway as it doesn’t occur naturally in Iceland.
And here’s where I had to stop the translation, because no matter what I did, I just couldn’t make heads nor tails out of the rest of the sentence. “og verður seinna vikið að þvi í þætti um katla.” I know that og is and, seinna is later, and um is about. But even with using Google Translate AND Glosbe, I couldn’t make sense of the rest. However, katla translates as “boiler”, but… a Google search on the word katla shows that there’s a volcano in Iceland named Katla. And later, I did some searches on an Icelandic website where I found at least one spindle whorl that looks like it’s carved out of volcanic rock. So it wouldn’t surprise me if it turns out to be something like that.
So now that I’m at this point, the last step I use is… consulting with one of my Icelandic friends. Sometimes I’ll go to one of them in particular, depending on what the subject matter is, since a couple of them have knowledge of particular areas that I also am interested in (like fibre arts, or animals). Sometimes it’s for a particular word, but I’ve also said “here’s what I got out of this – how close am I?” I’ve really lucked out with running into people on Facebook groups that I’m in who are Icelandic (of course, their naming system often makes it easy to identify someone who is Icelandic at a glance), and making friends with them. Not specifically to have someone who speaks the language to ask for help – but just because I like making new online friends from other countries who I have things in common with, and since my husband and I are intending to travel to Iceland next year, I thought it would be fun to know some people there before we go. And then I ended up getting my Icelandic Sheepdog puppy from someone who immigrated from Iceland to Canada. And they are all super nice people – though I don’t think I’ve met ANYONE from Iceland so far who wasn’t nice – and seem happy to help out. So I am SUPER thankful to have them as friends, and they may all just might be getting thank you gifts from me at some point in the not too distant future.