Icelandic: dálítið, svolítið vs. eitthvað


Senior Member
English - USA
The following sentences, all of which appear in various places among the stories found in Olly Richards Short Stories in Icelandic for Beginners (Teach Yourself, John Murray Press, Kindle Edition) appear to be using either dálítið or svolítið to translate the English word something:

  1. "Ég fann dálítið."
  2. "Andri, ég hef dálítið mikilvægt að segja þér."
  3. "Ég þarf að ná í svolítið."
  4. "Loks man hún svolítið."
  5. "Hann vildi kaupa svolítið."
  6. "Þá sér hún svolítið."
My first question about this is whether this is yet another example of questionable translation. The context here is that this book is part of a whole series of books, all of which offer the same basic stories that were originally written in English and then translated into some target language such as Icelandic. That is, there are versions of this book called Olly Richards Short Stories in French for Beginners, or German for Beginners, or Arabic for Beginners, etc. In the original English versions of these stories, the English equivalents of the above sentences all use the word something and without any qualifiers such as "a little", as suggested by svolítið and dálítið.

Whatever their merits, it seems that the process of translating these stories often produces oddities that, while being grammatically correct in a strict sense, don't actually represent how the target language is truly spoken or written by real human native speakers of the language. So, my question here is whether the above sentences fall into that category.

My second question is why didn't the translator use the word eitthvað in these sentences?

  • "Ég þarf að ná í svolítið" is a very normal sentence for "I have to go and get something (and I don't want to tell you what). The other sentences seem more unusual (2 is the strangest one) and there "eitthvað" might be better depending on context.

    For example, for straight up translating "I found something", "Ég fann eitthvað" seems the best translation. It implies the person speaking found something and they do not know what it is, while "Ég fann dálítið/svolítið" implies the person speaking knows what it is and that it is interesting or important. In sentence 4 "loks man hún svolítið" implies that what she remembers is important or relevant to something else while "loks man hún einhvað" implies that before she didn't remember anything at all. In sentence 5 "eitthvað" would imply he is interested in the act of buying anything at all while "svolítið/dálítið" would imply the person speaking knows what he wants to buy and just doesn't what to say what.

    In sentence 2 the main problem isn't actually the word "dálítið", it is the rest of the sentence. I would translate "Andri, I have something important to tell you" as "Andri, það er svolítið/dálítið (soldið/doldið) mikilvægt sem ég þarf að segja þér".