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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sherlock Holmes in German, Ja!

“A Frenchman or Russian could not have written that. It is the German who is so uncourteous to his verbs.” – Sherlock Holmes

“A Scandal in Bohemia,” from which the above quote is taken, is in part a story about a wedding. Late last month a sort of family wedding took us back to the delightful Austrian town of St. Veit. While there I acquired a new German translation of The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

A couple of things about this volume interested me. The first is that the outline of Holmes on the front of the book and the shadow on the back owe nothing to Paget, Steele, Gillette, Rathbone, or Brett. The model is Benedict Cumberbatch.

Secondly, in this translation Holmes and Watson address each other using the polite form of the word for “you” rather than the familiar – “Sie” vs. “du.” English used to have “thou” for use between friends, but this has virtually disappeared except in prayers and Shakespeare. The distinction is still alive in Italian, however, so I hauled out my Canon in Italian, Tutto Holmes, to see how the Italian handle it. Sure enough, Holmes and Watson also address each other formally in Italian.

I guess this is British reserve, as perceived by German and Italian translators.

German is well known for convoluted sentences, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the German translation of “The Adventure of the Empty House” begins with a sentence of 27 words compared to five for the German translation. But the opening sentence of the English original has 33 words!

At the wedding, I learned about a language-learning app, beelinguapp, which offers selections in English paired with the same in numerous languages that English-speakers may wish to learn. Since I’m studying German, I was pleased to find an extract from “The Final Problem” in that language.

Our St. Veit hotel room wasn’t 221, but we were close enough to sneak next door for a couple of pictures. 

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