Lost in Translation

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.

Humor

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.

Summary

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.

Question:

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]

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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11 Responses to Lost in Translation

  1. Jeff Salter says:

    When I selected this title I’d forgotten that Tonette had used it last year for her blog. Oh well, too late to change it now.

    Like

    • I happen to be very amused by much of “Keeping Up Appearances” and even some Monty Python skits, but by far and wide, the much of them and all the other ‘Britcoms’ leave me annoyed.
      So many things that can go wrong in translation, as I mentioned in a post last August.I will put the link to that in tomorrow’s post, along with a few observations.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jbrayweber says:

    Bingo! I’m with you 100%, Jeff. The informality of dialogue, idioms, intent, even tone and mood can be a real challenge when translated to other countries. We’re not talking the old English or formal exchanges such as the likes of Austen and Shakespear Or even those later like Steinbeck, Christie, Hemingway, etc. Our storytelling has evolved into more, dare I say, relaxed verse. I fear much would be lost or misunderstood in different languages. ANd as a result, not successful.

    That said, one of my publishers did translate one of my pirate books into Italian. It seemed to do fairly well for a little-known American author. This ties into your assessment of the commonality of the country within Western Civilizations.

    Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I thought I remembered that you had at least one novel translated. How did they do with the TITLE of that story? I’ve seen lots of examples where a title that’s really catchy in English becomes completely different in another language.

      Like

  3. jbrayweber says:

    Here’s the link.

    The title wasn’t that big of a deal. But the fact that the cover was an image used on ANOTHER of Harlequin’s books really steamed me. There wasn’t a damn thing I could say or do considering my publisher Carina Press is an arm of Harlequin. (Not that I would. Haha!) Also, the cover makes the book look more like a regency romp off the coast of England rather than a darker, steamier action-adventure set in the Caribbean.

    At any rate, I was taken aback and thrilled that my book was chosen to be translated for another country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Bummer that they altered your title that extensively… and used a cover image that you didn’t care for. But, hey, you’re an international author!!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I’ve watched TV shows produced in other English-speaking countries and wondered what people found amusing about them. And when visiting my relatives overseas, I was totally baffled at what passed for entertainment. Nevertheless, I’d be thrilled to find out a book of mine was available elsewhere, though I’d share Jennifer’s annoyance at the cover and title changes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Yes… and while I can understand the title changing, I don’t comprehend why the cover art / design needs to be altered.

      Like

  5. Elaine Cantrell says:

    So far all of the blog authors are on pretty much the same page. I’d have al of those concerns.

    Like

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