Thursday, 20 August 2015

Translating ‘Alm-’ into English

The word Alm (or Alp in Swiss German) means “seasonal mountain pasture", i.e. alpine pasture that is only grazed during the summer months – a period known as Almsommer. This lasts around 100 days and the end of this period, falling around mid-September, is traditionally marked by a colourful celebration called an Almabtrieb in which local herdsmen drive their cows back down into the valley for the winter. As fine an example of rural pageantry as you are ever likely to see, this annual festival provides a wonderful excuse for the inhabitants of towns and villages throughout the alpine region to let their collective hair down. Attractions often include a craft fair, farmer's market and, of course, ample food and drink. And, as you might expect, da wird’s almerisch g’sungen und g’spielt in a veritable feast of alpine music and song! For anyone who has never experienced an Almabtrieb at first hand, take a look at this one in Pertisau, Tyrol: (Note: if you are a sucker for all things alpine, and the sight of cows festooned with garlands and bells makes you feel all warm inside… well, you’ve got about three weeks to get your trip organised!)

So, how best to translate ‘Almabtrieb’? Though the concept of seasonal grazing does exist in English (it’s known as ‘transhumance’, apparently!), a gloss will always ensure clarity. Something along the lines of: “the annual late-summer ‘Almabtrieb’ festival in which cattle are brought back down into the valley from the lush alpine pastures”, should do the trick!

And now to deal with Alm

·         where the word is used in its primary sense, ‘pastures’ is the best rendering, e.g. über Almen wandern = to hike across lush mountain pastures.

·         in phrases where Alm- is used as a prefix, ‘alpine’ is generally a safe bet, e.g. Alm-Kultur’ (alpine culture), im alten Tiroler Almstil = in traditional Tyrolean/alpine style.

·         most commonly, however, Alm is used by extension to mean Almhütte. Originally a simple, rustic herdsman’s hut in the mountains - the dictionary defines it as a ‘Wohn- Schlaf- und Arbeitsstätte’ mit offener Feuerstelle, only accessible on foot and with very limited facilities - these days it is more likely to have a variety of home comforts, including an Alm-Sauna, a programme of guided Alm-Marschen for all abilities, a traditional Almfrühstück and a varied dinner menu which is likely to include include a hearty Almochsenbraten (roast ox). If you can afford it, you could even go the whole hog and treat yourself to a spot of Almwellness at this 4-star establishment:

*Anyway, time to go. Can’t resist finishing up with a traditional alpine valediction: “ein kräftiges Alm Heil und Gottes Segen für die kommenden Almsommer!” Any ideas for a neat translation of that into English?! L  Answers on a postcard…