Learning from Translating

I’ve spent a good part of the last week translating the chapter on the Birka girl’s new clothes from the book Birka Nu. At first, I was translating it simply because I want the information. I wanted to know what the writers were saying about the pretty pictures.

As I spent more and more time on this project, I began to see how much more I was learning by translating the original Swedish than I would have if I had found a translation already. First, there are many words specific to Viking garb that do not translate at all. Thus began the process if researching Swedish words and having to decipher what the word meant in relation to the Viking clothing or clothing in general. For example, what we call a gusset is not called a gusset in Swedish.

Then I would stumble upon compound words that were not common in the swedish language. In English, if we made a dress with linen, we would call it a linen dress. In Swedish, linen and dress would be one compound word, bringing a connection between the fabric and the garment even closer.

The hardest part has been figuring out what whole phrases mean. Although slang and colloquialisms aren’t often used in academic papers, there is a bit of both inherent in any language. An example is how often terms for the act of weaving fabric is used as a metaphor in many cultures. How people are woven into our lives. References to the Fates or Norns. Try looking for specific weaving phrases and see how many do not apply to making cloth.

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