June 2000

Joan Tate: Interpreter of Nordic cultures

Joan Tate, who died earlier this month at the age of 78, has been described as the foremost English-language translator from Swedish. She learned Swedish as an exchange student in Sweden at the end of 1930s. Because of the war, she wasn’t able to return to Britain until 1942, thus acquiring a good knowledge of the language.

Finns know Joan Tate as a translator of Finland’s Swedish-language literature. According to Timo Hämäläinen, who wrote her obituary in Helsingin Sanomat (9 June 2000), Tate was very fond of this literature and also felt very close to the Swedish spoken and written in Finland. She thought it was richer than the Swedish spoken in Sweden.

Among the writers, whose books she translated, are Irmelin Sandman Lilius, Christer Kihlman, Solveig von Schoultz, Johan Bargum, Johannes Salminen, Oscar Parland, Yrsa Stenius and – among the latest – Monika Fagerholm.

Paul Binding, who wrote Tate’s obituary in The Independent (10 June 2000), says she “believed that books cannot be divorced from their authors or from the society which has produced them”.

“Consequently translation to her was infinitely more than the rendering of words on a page, it was the entrance into other minds, other cultures, and the task of doing these the fullest sympathetic justice, for the benefit of readers of different sensibilities and mores.”

Binding also wrote that Tate developed a deep admiration for Sweden’s humanistic egalitarian culture.

In 1998, Joan Tate was granted the Finnish State Prize for translators into foreign languages.

See also:

Finns become official minority in Sweden

3 April 2000

The language situation in Finland by Kenneth McRae

June 1998

Realities of a bilingual culture

April 1998


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