A Wonderful Story of a True Soldier and a Real Princess. Problems in Connection with the Rendition of Hans Andersen's Vocabulary in English

Hans Andersen loved the word "rigtig", as appears from the following examples from "Fyrtøiet", "Nissen hos Spekhøkeren", and "Prindsessen paa Ærten":

det var en rigtig Soldat
en rigtig Student
en rigtig Spekhøker
en rigtig Prindsesse
Se, det var en rigtig Historie!

This is just one of the many vague adjectives with positive connotations which cannot be rendered by one single word in English, because the proper English "equivalent" is very much dependent on the context, as demonstrated in the title of this paper.

However, this is only a special case of a general problem: lack of correspondence at the lexical level, and in the following, I shall discuss the translation of a number of such words, on the basis of a list of examples from the new Odense-Copenhagen Andersen corpus. But I shall also deal with other problems which arise due to lack of equivalent, trying to sort my material according to a number of categories.

Problems of "Equivalence"

The concept of equivalence, made famous in translation theory by E. A. Nida (1964) is in fact a very unwieldy and somewhat doubtful entity. I shall not go into details here, but merely state my adherence to the view that no two words in two different languages are totally equivalent in all their uses - a Dane may be trekantet ("triangular"), an Englishman square - so that when the term is used in the following, it is simply shorthand for "the best match I can think of under the circumstances". For further discussion of the concept of equivalence, cf. Pedersen 1988: passim.

In the case of related languages like English and Danish, which have developed in close proximity and with mutual contact through most of their history, there are, of course, in any text many perfectly good matches. But even in the case of words belonging to the central part of the vocabulary, there are also many cases of incompatibility or only partial synonymity, as in adjectives connoting strong feelings on the part of the speaker towards the object spoken of, or in nouns designating well-known structures, institutions, etc.

Incompatibility may be purely linguistic, in that both the source language (SL) and target language (TL) culture know a certain object or semantic area, but describe or analyse it differently; for instance, Danish "venlig" corresponds to "kind, kindly, friendly"; but only the first two English words are registered as synonyms in Webster's New Dictionary of Synonyms; clearly the Danish word covers, in part at least, what by the editors of Webster is perceived as two different semantic fields. But incompatibility may also be extralinguistic or pragmatic, in that the TL culture lacks certain objects or concepts familiar to the SL culture, and consequently lacks words for them. Thus families consisting of both male and female children are known both in England and Denmark, but only in Danish can one refer to such a group as "søskende" - or at least that was the case until recently, when the technical term "sibling(s)" began to find its way into everyday use. And only Danes have "nisser", domesticated goblins, which is why it is so difficult to translate the title "Nissen hos Spekhøkeren".

Translation difficulties in Andersen are both linguistic and pragmatic; but it should be emphasized that although the problems are different, the cure for the two cases is pretty much the same: both linguistic and cultural gaps must be overcome by means of circumlocution or creative, innovative uses of the target language.

Below, the following categories will be examined:

  1. Vague adjectives
  2. Proper nouns, etc. without exact equivalents (personal names, geographical, topographical and historical phenomena)
  3. Danish concepts without any English equivalent
  4. Danish objects without any English equivalent
  5. Idioms
  6. Nonce-formations and allusions

The main emphasis, however, will be on categories 1 & 2 above.

The Odense-Copenhagen Corpus and its Uses

Over the last two years, the Danish standard edition of the tales by Erik Dal has been copied and stored in McIntosh-format at the H. C. Andersen-Center in Odense, and the Jean Hersholt translation at the Center for Translation Studies and Lexicography in Copenhagen. The purpose has been to make it possible to prepare educational, machine-readable editions of the various tales. But obviously the material has other possible uses, and will prove increasingly useful as it is enlarged and expanded, hopefully soon by means of scanning. So far, the texts have been typed in, a slow and laborious process, and one which must be followed by proofreading - but then again, so must scanning.

1. Vague Adjectives

For a start, I have analysed the vocabulary of a number of stories - both early and late ones - and on the basis of this, I have begun to look more closely at some "emotional" adjectives, their frequency in the corpus, and their meanings and combinations. The next step, then, is to see how these phrases have been rendered - if at all, for they are often omitted. The adjectives studied include deilig, the most common of all, sød, nydelig, forunderlig, hæslig, skrækkelig, and forskrækkelig.

Appendix 1 shows a specimen page of a McIntosh search made with a program developed by Keld Vorup Sørensen, Odense University. The beauty of it is the speed: it takes only about 10 minutes to search through the entire Danish corpus (of some 390,000 running words). The drawback is that the excerpt is too large to allow quick identification of the item sought.

Appendix 2 shows the result of a search with a WP-search programme developed by myself. The programme uses the WP-macro function to copy a string consisting of the item searched for + four words before and four after, and thus is simply a tool for the student of the text, allowing quick copying of micro-contexts.

A general conclusion, which is perhaps not very surprising, but which, nevertheless, I have not seen explicitly stated before, is that Andersen's naive use of a popular, childlike sort of Danish, where these adjectives abound, belongs to his early period, and if it is true, as Brix observes, that the late stories are variations on themes introduced much earlier (Brix 1970: 222), it is equally true that the late stories often offer a parody of Andersen's early optimism, and that words which were used seriously and innocently there may reappear almost in the form of a sneer. Cf. the following examples from early tales:

Min egen Hjalmar, du søde ["Ole Lukøie"]
en Rose, der duftede så sødt ["Svinedrengen"]

- as against the following, from late ones:

hun blev ganske vild af Kjærlighed og var jo allerede vild i forvejen. "Søde, lille fornuftige Barn!" sagde hendes Fader ["Loppen og Professoren"]

Dansken laver sig sin suttesøde fade bragesnak ["Laserne"]

- not to mention the employment of "sød" in "Tante Tandpine".

Appendix 3 shows some micro-contexts, excerpted as described in connection with appendix 2, but with a number of translations added in apparatus form to each excerpt.

Setting out translations in such a format allows a number of interesting observations. For instance, it appears that none of the most frequent English equivalents of "deilig" are normally used if the adjective modifies a noun denoting "human male". "Deilige Prindser" has only one equivalent in my material so far: "handsome princes".

Another interesting fact is the tendency for groups of translators to come up with identical or near-identical translations. On the basis of the translations examined so far, it is thus fair to surmise that Hersholt used older translations, notably Dulcken, as an aid, and that likewise Kingsland used Peachey, and Haugaard Kingsland. This investigation is only just beginning, and it is hoped that in time many more parallels and influences may be established.

2. Proper Nouns

One great difficulty in translation is the rendition of names of places, institutions, historical figures or events, etc. Andersen's stories vary considerably with regard to the importance of these categories - some, like "The Little Mermaid", are virtually free from topical allusions, others are full of them. A fair specimen of the latter category is the opening section of "The Galoshes of Fortune", which is set very firmly in the Copenhagen of the late 1840's, but with excursions both in time and space.

The story opens in medias res, in the fashionable part of Hans Andersen's Copenhagen:

Det var i Kjøbenhavn, paa Østergade i eet af Husene, ikke langt fra Kongens Nytorv, at der var et stort Selskab ...

Dealing with names such as Østergade and Kongens Nytorv, we are in the midst of it, for no matter whether we translate by "East Street" and "the King's New Market" [Peachey, Hersholt] or not, Danes will by and large be better acquainted with the background than non-Danes, hence understand both the direction and the depth of the intention behind their use better.1

The same applies to history. Councillor (Justitsraad) Knap, the anti-hero of the first episode, is enamoured of "Kong Hans' Tid", in contrast to Andersen, who much preferred the present. But how many English-speaking people can place this King Hans? And if few can, what is the point of referring to him in a text for English readers?

19th century phenomena may also present difficulties, however. All contemporary Danish readers would get the point of Andersen's flippant reference to Mrs. Gyllembourg's "Hverdagshistorier" in "The Galoshes of Fortune":

"... jeg læser gjerne gamle nyttige Skrifter, men jeg kan ogsaa godt lide de nyere, kun ikke 'Hverdagshistorierne', dem have vi nok af i Virkeligheden!"

"Hverdagshistorier?" spurgte vor Baccalaureus.

"Ja, jeg mener disse nye Romaner, man har."

Mrs. Gyllembourg was the Danish Mrs. Gaskell, wellknown and immensely popular at the time when Andersen's story was written. Many modern Danes may not appreciate the reference; but still one in ten serious modern readers of Andersen is likely to have heard about Mrs. Gyllembourg, whereas the ratio for English readers would probably be closer to one in a thousand. So, what is to be done? Appendix 4 offers some examples of ways in which Danish topography may be rendered. My own solution would be to gloss, or to leave out. Indeed, it is doubtful whether it is really possible to translate a story like the first episode in "The Galoshes of Fortune", "Hvorledes det gik Justistraaden" - whereas it would form an excellent model for recreation with English parallel material, substituting the topography of London for that of Copenhagen, and English history for Danish.2

3. Danish Concepts without any English Equivalent

Just one example shall be mentioned: Dyrehavstiden from "Den grimme Ælling", as used in the phrase "[ligge] Dyrehavstiden med". The expression refers to the period in the summer when the "Deer Park" north of Copenhagen is open, and hence had come to mean "a short while", cf. Pedersen 1990. Many English translations wisely omit the phrase.

4. Danish Objects without any English Equivalent

As I have discussed this category before, with examples from "Nissen hos Spekhøkeren", I shall merely refer to Pedersen (1988: 99ff), where among other things the difference between Danish "kvist" and English "attic" is analysed. All in all this category is less important than the preceding one, because the institutions and man-made artefacts of Britain are after all very similar to those of Denmark.

5. Idioms

To this category belong proverbs and stock phrases, which perhaps are not so difficult to translate literally, but which do not function as idioms in translation, such as, for instance, the phrase "Nei, lad os nu være Mennesker" incessantly used by the parrot in "The Galoshes of Fortune".

Sometimes phrases are used as puns, as in "Hundene sad med til Bords og gjorde store Øine" from "The Tinderbox". Or they are used to characterize the speaker, as the terse "man maa lide for Stadsen" used by the Little Mermaid's grandmother - a phrase which suggests a popular wisdom perhaps more natural to the author's own grandmother than to a queen dowager.

6. Nonce-Formations and Allusions

This is a category of which countless examples might be given, but a few will have to suffice. Towards the end of "Prindsessen paa Ærten" we hear that "Ærten kom paa Kunstkammeret, hvor den endnu er at se, dersom ingen har taget den". As mentioned by Albertsen (1972), this is a topical allusion to the Copenhagen "Kunstkammer", an oldfashioned collection of curiosities, closed by the time the story was written, from which the famous pre-Christian Golden Horns had been stolen in 1802 - facts necessarily lost on an English-speaking audience, whereas in Denmark the story is known because it is the basis of the most famous of all Danish romantic poems, Adam Oehlenschläger's "Guldhornene".

Allusion may also be purely linguistic. In "Gaardhanen og Veirhanen" the former is referred to as "en allerhønsegaards Karl", rendered by Haugaard as "an incredibly important creature"; but this translation cannot, of course, convey the allusion to the Danish phrase "en allerhelvedes karl" ("one hell of a fellow"), frequently used ironically. It is also very funny that the cock-shaped weather-hane should lægge et Vindæg, where Haugaard's "lay an egg" misses the pun on "wind", which is not only funny, but is also used to underline the hollowness of the Veirhane. As the Danish word does have an English equivalent (wind egg) the omission must be due either to negligence or to the translator's belief that "wind egg" is too rare to be included in a non-technical translation.


Hans Andersen's stories are, to a certain extent, independent of the exact words chosen to convey the poet's ideas and body forth his powerful imagery. But, local flavour and common sense apart, the switch from Danish to English inevitably means losing a dimension. Associations from one tale to another do not so easily present themselves, and even the very identity of a number of stories may be at issue - cf. "Ole Lukøie", "Tommelise", and "Deilig", which each have several vastly different names in English.3

And yet, in English, too, Andersen may tell "deilige Historier", no matter whether the Danish adjective is rendered by lovely, pretty, or wonderful.


1.Mortensen, A. T. (1972) understands by "direction of intention" the implications of a given utterance intended by the speaker, and by "depth of intention" the degree of commitment of a speaker. Thus "look, a worm!" may be an exclamation of disgust or signal that lunch is ready according to the direction intended, and "dead tired" might imply impending death, though it usually does not. (Cf. Mortensen 1972: 29, quoted in Pedersen 1987: 97.) tilbage

2.This in fact happens in the Danish translation of Newbery's The Adventures of a Silver Penny. Cf. Pedersen and Shine (1979: 278f). tilbage

3.Examples are legion. It may not be so bad that the name "Tommelise" is sometimes kept in English, whereas other versions speak of "Thumbelina", and others still of "Inchelina"; more confusing is it that "The Ugly Duckling" by Dulcken and his followers is called "The Ugly Duck", which may really make readers wonder whether this is a different story. And at any rate it does not make for quick reference that "Deilig" is sometimes "Lovely", and sometimes "Wonderful", and that "Ole Lukøie" is sometimes kept, sometimes changed to the calcque "Old Shut-eye", and sometimes rendered by an English equivalent, "Wee Willie Winkie". tilbage


Andersen, H. C.: H. C. Andersens Eventyr. Ed. E. Dal and E. Nielsen. Copenhagen 1964-91. (The English examples are taken from various versions by Caroline Peachey, Dr. Dulcken, E. Haugaard, J. Hersholt, and L.W Kingsland.)

Albertsen, L. L.: Litterær oversættelse. Copenhagen 1972.

Brix, H.: H. C. Andersen og hans Eventyr. (1907) Copenhagen 1970.

Mortensen, A. T.: Sprog og perception, et filosofisk essay. Copenhagen 1972.

Nida, E. A.: Toward a Science of Translating. Leiden 1964.

Pedersen, V. H. and N. Shine: "Børnelitteratur i England og Danmark fra midten af det 18. århunderede til ca. 1830", I-II, Børn og Bøger, nr. 5, pp. 222-30, og nr. 6, pp. 270-83. Copenhagen 1979.

Pedersen, V. H.: Oversættelsesteori. Copenhagen 1987.

Pedersen, V. H.: Essays on Translation. Copenhagen 1988.

Pedersen, V. H.: "Ugly Ducklings? Reflections on Some English Versions of Hans Andersen's 'Den grimme Ælling'". Translation Theory in Scandinavia. Proceedings from SSOTT III, pp. 229-42. Oslo 1990. [tilbage]

Appendix 1

Søgning 1: ordet "deilig"

Samlet antal fund af streng "deilig" i eventyret : Vor gamle Skolemester : 1 Æblet

Ord fundet: deiligt Citat

Og i Aarenes Løb vare tunge Dage, Prøvelsens Dage gaaet gjennem det Huus hvor Børnene havde leget. Den lille Piges Forældre bleve forarmede, Huus og Gaard blev solgt, den nye Eier lod bygge og grave, en ny Markvei blev lagt hen over et Hjørne af den gamle Havegrund og derved kom Æbletræet til at staae udenfor paa den anden Side af Veien; men Solen, skinnede paa det, som før, og Duggen faldt paa det som før; det bar deiligt Blomster, det satte rigeligt Frugt, den bøiede Grenene lige ned, og mange af dem blev brækkede, thi kaade Hænder kom og rev Frugten til sig, Træet stod jo ved Alfar Vei, hvor Enhver kom forbi, det stod der i mange Aar, Træet ved Landeveien, man brød af det Blomster uden at sige Tak, man stjal af Frugten og knækkede Grenene ovenikjøbet, det var rigtig kunde man sige ikke saaledes sjunget for det Træes Vugge, dersom man kan tale om et Træ, som om et Menneske; - det begyndte sin Historie saa smukt - og hvad kom der ud af den, forladt og glemt et Havetræ paa Grøften ved Mark og Landevei, der stod det uden Læ, rusket og knækket, det visnede vel ikke hen, men med Aarene, bar det færre Blomster og endnu færre Æbler, det kunde godt undværes, tilsidst et Aar hang der i Efteraaret kun tre Æbler paa hele Træet, de sat nær ved hinanden paa een Green, acurat ligesom i det første Aar da det var lille, ungt og lykkelig ved sin første Rigdom, den Gang ogsaa kun tre fire Æbler, men nu var det de sidste, og det ene faldt og det andet faldt, nu hang kun det allersidste, og naar det faldt var Træets Historie ude. - Mon det netop var den Tanke som opfyldte den ældre Mand, som kom paa Veien, stod stille, grundede og fæstede stirrende sine Øine paa det ene sidste Æble paa Træet, det var i det mindste saa rimeligt, thi denne Mand, var just den samme der som lille Dreng havde plantet Æblekjernen, men ikke havde seet den voxe, ikke havde seet hvad der kom ud deraf - Noget han ikke vidste, et Guds Blik for hans Tanke der i dette Øieblik grundede paa Skabnings Samhold, Guds Tanker - der, som vi kalde Naturkræfter - Verdens Gaaden vilde han løse - en sagte Luftning, rørte Træets Blade - Guds Aande svævede og svæver over det Hele - Æblet faldt fra Træet - Tyngdens Love løste et Problem, det var Newton.

Samlet forekomst af ordet : deiligt i eventyret: Æblet : 1

Samlet antal fund af streng "deilig" i eventyret: Æblet : 1

Fund ialt: 690 [tilbage]

Appendix 2: "høi"

"Den flyvende Kuffert"

ham op igjennem Skorstenen, høit op over Skyerne, længer
Byen, Vinduerne sidde saa høit!"/"Der boer Kongens Datter!"
fordi de vare af høi Herkomst; deres Stamtræ, det
Aften!"/"Jeg finder det høist upassende," sagde Theekjedelen, der

"Den lille Havfrue"

troe, at man stod høit oppe i Luften og
som lignede Solen der høit oppe, have en smuk
Grenene, kunde synge saa høit og deiligt, saa det
i Havet. Deilige grønne Høie med Viinranker saae hun,
prægtige Skove, de grønne Høie og de nydelige Børn,
løftede de store Iisblokke høit op og lod dem
Arm i Arm, steeg høit op gjennem Havet, da
for at vise hendes høie Stand./"Det gjør ondt!"
Svane, ned imellem de høie Bølger og lod sig
Vandet og steg igjen høit op imellem Bølgerne, og
lukkede; Havfruen kyssede hans høie smukke Pande og strøg
sig det faste Land, høie blaae Bjerge, paa hvis
og foran Porten stode høie Palmetræer. Søen gjorde her
for, at Hovedet laae høit i det varme Solskin.
længer ud bag nogle høie Stene, som ragede op
Sneen smeltede paa de høie Bjerge, men Prindsen saae
klare Glas i de høie Vinduer saae man ind
stort Springvand, Straalerne stode høit op mod Glaskuppelen i
Havet, stige paa de høie Bjerge høit over Skyerne,
kjendte godt til den høiere Verden, som hun meget
idetsamme loe Hexen saa høit og fælt, at Skruptudsen
Prindsen op paa de høie Bjerge, og skjønt hendes
ringede, og fra de høie Taarne blev blæst i

"Den standhaftige Tinsoldat"

sit ene Been saa høit i Veiret, at Tinsoldaten
ikke passende at skrige høit, da han var i
klart og een raabte høit: "Tinsoldat!" Fisken var blevet
og havde det andet høit i Veiret, hun var

"Den uartige Dreng"

sagde han, loe ganske høit og løb sin Vei

"De vilde Svaner"

de maatte igjen afsted, høit op imod Skyerne, langt
vaagnede, var Solen allerede høit oppe; hun kunde rigtignok
ikke see den, de høie Træer bredte deres Grene

Appendix 3: "deilig"


og Havre, ja den deilige Havre, der seer ud
D: the most capital oats
Ki: beautiful oats
H: very fine oats
Haug: how lovely oats are

"De vilde svaner"

vilde; de bleve elleve deilige vilde Svaner. Med et
D, H: eleven magnificent wild swans
Ki, Haug: beautiful swans
P: white swans

og der stode elleve deilige Prindser, Elisas Brødre. Hun
D, P, Ki, H, Haug: eleven handsome princes

bløde Hynder og de deiligste Tæpper, og hun tog
D: soft cushions and the most splendid tapestry
P: soft pillows and the gayest carpets
Ki: beautiful rugs
H: soft cushions and carpeted with the most splendid rugs
Haug: the floors were covered with costly carpets, and the softest pillows lay on the benches

Salve og lod det deilige Haar filtre sig; det
D: let her beautiful hair hang in confusion
P: entangled her long thick hair
Ki: matted her beautiful hair
H: tousled her lovely hair
Haug: filtered ashes and dust through her hair

og saae i den deilige Billedbog, der havde kostet
D, Ki: beautiful picture book
P: the beautiful book
H: wonderful picture book
Haug: lovely

laae en Green med deilige modne Bær, og et
D, H: beautiful ripe berries
P: -
Ki: lovely
Haug: -

Du kommer her, Du deilige Barn!" sagde han. Elisa
D: you delightful child
Ki: sweet child
H: lovely child
P, Haug: beautiful child

"Den flyvende Kuffert"

Øine: de vare de deiligste, mørke Søer, og Tankerne
D: the most glorious dark lakes
P: beautiful dark-blue seas
Ki: loveliest lakes
H: beautifully dark, deep lakes
Haug: loveliest dark forest pools
Jo, det var nogle deilige Historier! saa friede han
D: yes those vere fine stories
P, Ki: charming stories
H: pretty
Haug: delightful
De kan et rigtigt deiligt Æventyr, for det holder
D: a very pretty story
P, Ki: a really good story
H: pretty tale
Haug: some good fairy tales

"Den lille Havfrue"

som Bladene paa den deiligste Kornblomst og saa klart,
D: the most beautiful corn-flower
H, P, Ki: the loveliest cornflower
Haug: -

Appendix 4: (From "Lykkens Kalosker")

And: Christianshavn
P: Christianshaven
Ki: Christianshavn
H: Christian's Harbour

And: Lille Torvegade
P,H: Little Market street
D: Little Turf Street
Ki: Little Torvegade

And: Kongens Nytorv
D: The King's New Market
P: the New Market
Ki: Kongens Nytorv
Haug: the King's New Square

And: Høibroplads
D: Highbridge Place
P: Bridge Place
Ki: Højbro Place
H: Highbridge Square

Abbreviations And = Andersen (Danish)
D = Dulcken
H = Hersholt
Haug = Haugaard
Ki = Kingsland
P = Peachey

Bibliografisk information om teksten:

Pedersen, Viggo Hjørnager: "A Wonderful Story of a True Soldier and a Real Princess. Problems in Connection with the Rendition of Hans Andersen's Vocabulary in English", pp. 197-209 i Johan de Mylius, Aage Jørgensen & Viggo Hjørnager Pedersen (red.): Andersen og Verden. Indlæg fra den første internationale H. C. Andersen-konference, 25.-31. august 1991. Udgivet af H. C. Andersen-Centret, Odense Universitet. Odense Universitetsforlag, Odense 1993.