Summer and 'svaberg'

Summer and ‘svaberg’

We translators at Allegro Språktjenester have compiled a list of the words we often struggle to translate into English. This list includes many rather intangible words like ‘faglig’, ‘forankring’, ‘aktør’ and ‘helhetlig’. Tourism texts, though generally more concrete, present their own challenges, and none more so than the lovely light, soft word ‘svaberg’.

Few words conjure up the idyll of summer as readily as the word ‘svaberg’. It brings to mind lazy days, a glittering blue sea and golden tans. For Norwegians that is. This simple word, however, is something of a nut to translate into English. In tourism texts, its status is almost akin to that of stave churches and fjords. It is a selling point, a fantastic geological phenomenon that enables beach-less Norwegians to spend time by the sea. However translating a phenomenon that is unknown to most English-speakers, and imbuing it with summer qualities is an impossible task. Our English translation inevitably ends up with a constellation of words including the words ‘bare’, ‘smooth’ and ‘rock’, and we have been known to throw in ‘expanses’ from time to time. Though we may capture the physical attributes of ‘svaberg’, we fall miserably short of the mark in capturing its sunny and carefree qualities.

This is illustrated by a google picture search of the words ‘sunbathing’ + ‘rock’. This search invariably produced photos of a) tortoises; b) lemurs; and 3) seals perched on rocks in the sun. Selling a rock as a place for PEOPLE to soak up the sun is a hard, hard sell.

I guess it could be worse though. The book ‘Lost in Translation’ by Ella Frances Sanders includes many examples of words that we would struggle to translate into English. We don’t, for example, have to translate the word ‘pizanzapra’ from the Malay language, which measures time as the time it takes to eat a banana. Nor do we have to work out how to translate the word ‘komorebi’ from Japanese, which, in a single word, captures the sunlight filtering through the leaves of a tree.

So on that note, wishing you a happy summer and quality time on smooth, bare rock!

JENNY MOAR, 10.7.18