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Oh! The Places You’ll Go...with Translation: The Professional Translator’s Experience with Dr. Seuss

Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel
March 2, 1904 – September 24, 1991

"You're wrong as the deuce,

and you shouldn't rejoice.

If you're calling him Seuss,

he pronounces it Soice (or Zoice)."
-Alexander Liang

Professional translators understand that a high-quality translation is not simply a word-for-word rendering of the source text. Rather, a high-quality, professional translation lies in the localization and re-creation of the source author’s intent, voice, and maintenance of meaning in the original work. With such a celebration of language as Dr. Seuss’s children’s books, one can only imagine the extreme difficulty it takes to rhyme as brilliantly in the target language as Seuss does at the source. To translate Seuss effectively, a translator must be both a linguist, a creative writer, and a poet-storyteller.

  • Arguably Seuss’s most famous work, The Cat in the Hat was first published in 1957 and is one of the best-selling children’s books of all time. The title can be found, complete with all its magic, in a number of languages:

    French: Le Chat Chapeauté
    Italian: Il Gatto Col Cappello
    Spanish: El Gato Ensombrerado
    Yiddish: Di Kats der Payats
    Latin: Cattus Petasatus

  • Terence and Jennifer Tunberg translated most of Dr. Seuss’s works into Latin. Such titles include Green Eggs and Ham (Latin title: Virent Ova! Viret Perna!!), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Quomodo Invidiosulus nominee Grinchus Christi natalem Abrogaverit) and The Cat in the Hat (Cattus Petasatus). The Tunbergs were able to maintain the playful feel of Seuss’s original, not by rhyming in the source Latin, but by using alliteration, “The challenge there was obviously the Seussian wording, but also he had his own kind of rhythmical rhyme. We wrote How The Grinch Stole Christmas in a very alliterative prose”, says Tunberg.

  • When it comes to the famous, Green Eggs and Ham, what is a Hebrew translator to do when their source language calls for a kosher version? Leah Naor, an 83-year-old playwright, songwriter, author, and a translator is at the wheel, publishing Lo Raev, Lo Ohev: the Hebrew translation in 1982. “Lo Raev, Lo Ohev”, which roughly translates into English as, “Not Hungry, Don’t Love it”, artfully does not ever mention the name of the disliked dish. The translation is so fun and whimsical that no reader has to stop to wonder what the dish actually is.

For generations of young minds, Dr. Seuss has coined countless words and themes that carry on into adulthood. The imaginative content in his books has solidified Seuss’s effect on child development, and Seuss’s many professional translators have no lesser talent.

Dr. Seuss in numbers:

60    Dr. Seuss wrote more than 60 books during his line, selling more than 600 million copies.

20    Seuss’s works have been professionally translated into 20 languages.

50    The classic Green Eggs and Ham, the fourth best-selling English-language children’s book of all time, total at only 50 words.

11    Seuss’s books have inspired 11 television programs, four films, and a Broadway musical.

For a list of all the words made up by Dr. Seuss, click here. For more Famous Translators of children’s literature, click here.

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Famous Translators is a MotaWord segment showcasing notable professional translated works and famous linguists from history to the present. We are researching, compiling and sharing stories that matter to every translator on our blog. You, too can be published right here on the MotaWord blog site - just contact info@motaword.com.

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Published on Nov 7, 2018 by KALI FAULWETTER

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