Icelandic: Annars

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by Daniel20, Sep 9, 2013.

  1. Daniel20 Junior Member

    The context is this sentence:

    'af hverju ert þu annars að laera íslensku'

    The conversation has been about why people are learning Icelandic. Someone then turns to the person who first asked and said that. The book seems to translate it into 'by the way', as in the English 'by the way, why are you learning Icelandic?' But all the other translations I've seen have it as 'other'... so I'm not really sure what's going on here?
  2. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Annars is used in a very uniform way in Icelandic but when we put it into English the translation can change vastly, potentially giving the impression that it can mean many different things when it's more how it's used in a general sense that would be easier to grasp. It does mean other(wise) normally and does here, too. It could also mean, "Why else are you learning Icelandic?" There is a sense of withdrawal of the directness of the statement when using this and one way to express that in English is exactly by using by the way.

    Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of times when it can only mean strictly otherwise and by the way would not make sense at all (e.g. Gerðu þetta fyrir mig annars kjafta ég frá / Do this for me or [otherwise] I'll blab) but as you can see in your sentence, it's added in as a sort of extra. It's perfectly fine to just ask the direct question ("Why are you learning Icelandic?"), but once it's added in (and you can sense it doesn't have to be in there) then it's pretty much to not be so direct with a question.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2013
  3. Daniel20 Junior Member


    Is there a way to tell in what sense it is used in - position in a sentence? Or is it entirely contextual? I mean, why does it mean 'by the way' rather than, like you said, 'why else...'?
  4. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    I don't think there's an easy answer to that, unfortunately.
    The person could have said the same thing and meant 'Why else?'. That's not what the author of that passage wanted to express, though.
    Ambiguity is everywhere in language and English is no angel in that regard either. :)

    Think about this for a second though: is there really that much of a difference or might we as English speakers have such defined differences that we're imposing a big split of meaning where we see two big differences in usage when in the other language the difference might be very small? It's difficult to get into that way of thinking, really difficult, but you'll have less problems getting used to that way of thinking now. One thing that blew my mind was when I did a course to teach English and there was an example like this, which tried to get training teachers to realise how stressing different things in a sentence completely changed the meaning. Read over it and you'll see how a little bit of stress adds a totally new interpretation. Compared with multiple meanings with interpreting what annars means, that is the easy stuff. Imagine being told the same eight words could have eight radically different meanings depending on how you say each word, no change in vocab or word order, just stress of the words.

    Basically, you'll get the hang of it with a bit more time.
    Part of what I was getting at with the previous paragraph is you really don't need explicit explanations of things to develop nuances for what is meant (because we don't get formal explanations of stuff like that with our native language) but we still developed it anyway. There will come a stage when you read Icelandic that you no longer translate, and then the meanings will all collapse together and you'll just know which one is meant. That's what I meant with maybe it's not a good idea to put everything into English-influenced categories (though that is an essential part of learning at the beginning stages).
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2013
  5. sindridah Senior Member

    without having reading alex's answer, which is probably too advanced for me anyway but I wanna give you some "dummy native" insight on how I use this in a question. I put "annars" in a question when I would meet
    some friend which are not so close to me for a little "chit chat" because the question with "annars" in it is much less of a bomb than if you skip it, Lets say for example I meet an old friend in Kringlan ( shopping centre here )
    and we have a little chit chat then "Hvað ert þú að gera hér?" sounds a bit strong like "what the hell are you doing here" while "hvað ert þú annars að gera hér?" is much softer and friendlier I suppose. That's my take on it
  6. Daniel20 Junior Member

    Thanks Alex and Sindri, I understand it now. The book did not make clear how it translated it - clearly, it's obviously not a translation of 'by the way', but has the same effect - putting a sentence 'under the radar' as it were. Lastly, does it always come after the subject? In the above 3 sentences it has.

    Takk fyrir!
  7. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    I think in a well formed sentence yes. I think you could get away with putting it first and saying "Annars...." have a bit of a gap as if it's a new sentence and then ask what someone is doing, but I think it's better to stick to the forms you commonly see (i.e. coming after the subject).
    I don't quite understand.
    Having the same effect is the exact definition of what a translation is. :confused:
  8. Daniel20 Junior Member

    Okay good!

    Okay, a literal translation? I know what I mean :p
  9. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Ah, okay.
    Your point makes sense when you say literal translation.
    More often than not translations won't be literal so it's good to bear that in mind.

    This meaning is in the dictionary though, if that helps establish its validity:

    With English being as weird as it is, it's not likely translating the equivalent/literal "(passing) via the road" would be a natural thing to say if you want to not be so direct. So, there's not much choice than to pick translation equivalents when dealing with stuff like this. :p
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2013
  10. Silver_Biscuit

    Silver_Biscuit Senior Member

    English - UK
    We have two basic concepts in translation called formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. Formal equivalence is a "word for word" translation, something that matches in form as well as meaning. It's not often that you'll see translators aiming for formal equivalence, but it could be important for example in poetry translations. Dynamic equivalence is achieved when you have produced the same effect in the target language as the source language. Just some little by-the-by tips if you're interested :)

    When you're just talking about what one word means, definition is probably a better word than translation anyway.
  11. Kadabrium Junior Member

    Mandarin Chinese
    Is it similar to Sv. annars, and in turn to Dk-No. ellers?
  12. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Not sure about relationship to meaning in DK/NO but yes it's the same word as in Swedish, historically the same word as other in English.

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