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Päivi Koivisto-Alanko

Päivi Ulla Katariina Koivisto-Alanko
Born August 9, 1969, Helsinki

BA 1993 (English Philology), PhD 2000, University of Helsinki
Erasmus exchange at Cambridge University 1993

Literature translation manager 2001-, Tammi Publishers
Literature translation editor 2001–2011 (Shakespeare project 2003–10), WSOY
PhD candidate 2000–2001, Department of English, University of Helsinki
Lexicographer 1995–2000, WSOY
EU intern 1994, terminology unit, translation services
Research assistant 1993–1994, Department of English, University of Helsinki

Articles on the history of English semantics, dissertation and a camping guide

Salli Journalism Prize for the Shakespeare Project Work Group 2006

Photo: Mika Federley
Written by Päivi Alanko-Koivisto and Tomas Sjöblom (ed.)
Translated by
Joe McVeigh

In the language and literature woods

When I started working as a translator of literature fifteen years ago, I thought like a typical language researcher. I had written my dissertation on language history and I had been working as a lexicographer, but I could not see the forest for the trees. I was enthusiastic about precision and nuances, and my English skills were better than average, but perceiving the whole was difficult. I learned from the job as I went along and the Finnish translators taught the inexperienced ones.

I think that the book always belongs to the writer, but language is shared by the writer and the translator, and the translator makes it their own. Or, if you stay in the woods, the translator navigates the writer’s work by making their own choices along the path. The publisher then checks to make sure the compass and the route map are pointed in the right direction.

In my philology studies, I only partly studied literature, which is probably an advantage and disadvantage to a translator of literature. The researcher in me would like to know how to analyse the literature through some frame of reference, but on the other hand it is good to try to be as close to the role of the reader as possible. Just being a casual reader is not enough for a publisher and I would like to tell young people that they need to think about whether they want to turn their hobby into a profession. A change in the relationship with reading is unavoidable.

It is the best when you get excited about something, you get into the story and you know that it works. That feeling is so rare that it must be followed up on, the translation right must be acquired, and a place for it in the publishing programme must be found. What is more difficult is that you can not get excited about everything. Not every book is for me, but that does not mean it would not have any readers.

A team from Tammi Publishers with Danish author Peter Høeg. Source: Päivi Koivisto-Alanko’s personal archive.​
A team from Tammi Publishers with Danish author Peter Høeg. Source: Päivi Koivisto-Alanko’s personal archive.​


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