How Do I feel about My Books Being Translated?
Well, It Depends… on a Lot of Things
By Jeff Salter
Our topic this week:
How do you feel about having one of your novels translated into another language? Is there a particular nationality of reader that you think would enjoy your novels more than others?
I’ll respond to the second part first.
Of the 6500 known languages in our contemporary world, I could only imagine my works being translated into some of the languages in western Europe or possibly Scandinavia. The most likely, I believe, would be French, Spanish, or Italian.
I don’t have any research-grounded rationale for that belief — it’s more a matter of imagining that the nations which emerged in what our textbooks have called “western civilization” would have more in common with America. And the languages of those “western” nations would presumably have more in common with the brand of English that I speak (and write) in America.
That’s not to say my books couldn’t be read in Korean, or in Russian, or in Swahili — I just assume that the translations would be far more difficult.
And here’s my reply to the first part of the topic:
As an author, I rely a lot on dialog, which (in my writing style) features lots of incomplete sentences. When translating a phrase into another language, I think the tendency would be to supply the missing components… which would greatly slow down the pace of my characters’ interplay.
Picture this exchange:
Character A says, “Are ya goin’ inside that spooky old coop?”
And Character B replies, “Not even!”
Now, how on earth would someone in Italy translate that response?
In my college “advanced” grammar class, I believe this construction was referred to as an ellipsis… which meant, basically, that something omitted was understood anyway. In this case, “Not even” could mean, “Not even if you paid me” or “Not even on a bet” or “Not even if accompanied by armed guards.” But it’s not necessary (for the story) for the reader to know precisely which one of those specific meanings the speaker intended — the emphasis is on his refusal to go into the spooky place under any circumstances.
And that’s the kind of situation I fear would arise if / when any of my stories were translated into another language — it could slow down the pace and lessen the emphasis.
Another feature of many of my stories is humor (or my attempted humor, anyway). Words, expressions, and/or situations which may be quite funny to an American reading audience might not be the slightest bit amusing to someone in another country.
Though we share a (mostly) common language with Great Britain, I find a lot of their “humor” to be distinctly UN-funny (to me). Yeah, I know, some of you LOVE the “hilarity” of shows like “Keeping Up Appearances” and “Monty Python”. But I find it overdone and tedious. In terms of translating the humor in my stories to another language, I fear that type of diminishment could also occur.
Idioms and Slang
In my stories, most of my characters speak very informally, much as my ear picks up the real-life speech of ordinary, everyday individuals I know, see, and hear. My characters also use a lot of topical allusions… for example, to popular Hollywood films. I’m skeptical at how successfully those references could be translated.
Yes, I’d be delighted if the sales of any of my published titles were such that the publisher could work out a contract for them to be translated and published in another country. But I would also be quite apprehensive that my humor would fall flat, the pacing would suffer, and the American idioms would be difficult to explain.
What about YOU? Would you want your titles to be translated and re-published abroad? Have you read any translated works that you felt just lost too much in translation?
[JLS # 532]