28(1) - 2016

La traduction en norvégien de Soundjata ou l’épopée mandingue

Ingse Skattum


The Norwegian translation of Soundjata ou l’épopée mandingue


Translating an oral epic performed in an African language (Mandingo), and written down in a European language (French), is challenging in several ways. I take as an example my own translation of the Soundjata epic published by D. T. Niane in 1960. My translation builds on insights gained from many years of research on Mandingo oral literature, language and culture. Niane remains faithful to the tone of the traditional storyteller, the griot, and to the medieval content, while adapting the specificities of oral literature to written literary conventions. My first challenge was to keep as close as possible to Niane’s style with its historic register and three stylistic modes: a vigorous and yet poetic prose, interspersed with praise poems and songs. A second challenge was Niane’s “personal” orthography of Mandingo names and words. I adapted them to present-day spelling rules, which, being closer to pronunciation, give Norwegians a better idea of how they sound. Niane’s footnotes, aimed at a non-Mandingo readership, constitute a second textual level and a third challenge. I have taken some liberties here, Norwegians being less familiar with African culture than the French, whose vocabulary and general knowledge testify to their colonial history.


Mali, Mandingo, Sundjata, epic, self-evaluation of translation

DOI 10.17462/para.2016.01.03

April 20, 2016
  28(1) - 2016