Tuesday, 29 March 2005

How to spiel Halma

I have noted elsewhere some examples of translations from French, Spanish and Italian. Here is a classic account of a noble struggle with German:
No-one seems to play the board game Halma any more, and if you look at the rules of the game and its variations you can see why. The late columnist Paul Jennings (inventor of the brilliant cod philosophy Resistentialism) once bought a second-hand set which had the rules in German, and with the help of a friend who didn’t know any more German than he did decided to work out how to play and then try to have a game.

The first paragraph of the rules was: An diesem Spiel können sich 2 bis 4 Personen beteiligen, von denen jede eine farbe wählt, und damit, wenn 2 Personen spielen, einen großen Hof mit 19 steinen, wenn 4 personen spielen kleinen Hof mit 13 steinen besezt.

This seemed to be pretty straightforward: At this Game 2 or 4 Persons can betake themselves and each of them wears a Colour and damn it, when 2 Persons play, a big house with 19 stones, when 4 Persons play, he besets a little House with 13 stones.

[Jennings took “damn it” to be an idiomatic way of saying that the real way to play this game is with 4 Persons. Of course, if you must you can play with 2 Persons, but, damn it, it’s a pretty poor show. His friend insisted that damit means with that or therewith, but this didn’t seem to make any more sense.]

Their translation of the next sentence was The Players now try so quickly as possible with their Stones to beset the House of the Against-man [Gegner] and he is the self-same Winner [Gewinner] who the first gelingt. Neither of them had any ideas about gelingt.

Anyway, they started to play, with 19 Stones (damn it), attempting to beset each others Houses and arguing about the way you could move – auch seitwarts oder rückwärts; they knew that seitwärts is sideways but what on earth is rückwärts?: forwards is vorwärts and you couldn’t want to move backwards, so they decided it must be the way a knight moves in chess, but this didn’t help because they couldn’t remember quite how this was.

They then had to wrestle with such complications as der Gegner muss natürlich wiederum danach trachten, diesen Stein womöglich in dem eigenen Hof des Spielers einzuschliessen, the obvious meaning of which being that the Against-man must naturally again after that treat, this Stone how possibly in the own House of the Player to shut in.

But it was all too difficult and the game petered out; they thought that perhaps the rules they had worked out would work all right with 4 Persons, but that would mean that they had to find 2 other Persons whose knowledge of German was exactly the same as theirs.

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