The big announcement (in English this time): I translated a book

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Yesterday I wrote an announcement in German that I translated a book (because the book is in German), and now the same subject in English.

I'll start with the title of the book: Demian, by Hermann Hesse. I printed ten copies of it and the cover of the translated book looks like this:

The title of the book answers why I've made a translation of a book that has been translated into English and other languages so many times: this is an interlinear translation, one that includes the original German but has the English translation just below in smaller font.

An interlinear translation of this book is something I would have liked to have seen back in 2008 or so when I owned the book but wasn't good enough at German to read it: reading it in German would have been too hard, but reading it in English wouldn't feel quite right. And this is not just an academic point, because sometimes translations have glaring errors that go missed:

Sie sehen doch, wie viele von ihnen Fische oder Schafe, Würmer oder Egel sind...

was translated in one English version as:

It is obvious how many of them are fish or sheep, worms or angels....

But the word Egel does not mean angel (angel = Engel); Egel means leech. Such an error is easy to slip unnoticed in an English translation with no hint of the original, but in an interlinear translation accuracy is much easier to achieve. Not that my translation is guaranteed to be error-free, mind you (though Olivier Simon did have a read through it and sent some corrections), but any that exist are that much easier to spot.

So, an interlinear translation is good for the following:

- Those who know German
- Those who are learning German or learned it before
- Those who simply like seeing the original, and reading a translation that feels more like it.

This brings us to the type of translation: how literal is it? There are generally two extremes when it comes to translation: one that is as faithful to the original text as possible, and one that is as readable in the target language as possible. I chose to translate it as literally as possible wherever possible, but with a minimum of readability. That means that sentences like this one:

Und das war seht gut.

remain word for word: and that was very good. This one as well:

“Nein, ich weiß nicht. Ich glaube, dem Müller.”

"No, I know not. I believe, to the miller."

Others remain word for word even when the English translation is a tad awkward as long as it is readable:

Ja, was soll ich dir noch sagen?
Yes, what shall I to you still say?

But some have no choice but to be rearranged a bit.

Hände waren nach mir ausgestreckt, vor denen auch die Mutter mich nicht schützen konnte...
Hands were to me stretched out, from which even mother could not protect me...

vor denen auch die Mutter mich nicht schützen konnte as "from which even Mother me not protect could" too awkward to be readable.

There are also words from time to time that simply shouldn't be translated: technically it is possible to translate these small words, but always finding an English equivalent for every wohl and doch and etwa and ja and so on simply isn't desirable. The first part of some split verbs was also often omitted when it came at the end: in a sentence like "Er sah blab blah blah blah (very long sentence)", by the time you get to the end of the sentence the original verb attached to the an has been forgotten, and there is often no good English equivalent anyway.

In the middle of these are sentences that could be translated word for word, but somehow just felt better with a slight modification. Sentences with the verb before the pronoun were often the case here: "Noch heute, glaube ich" just felt better as "even today, I believe" (with "I believe" spaced under "glaube ich") than "even today, believe I". Whenever in doubt I went for readability as long as the alteration of word order was not too severe.

Here are some pictures of the inside of the book:

Two more things to mention here:

1) My German is still iffy, but with four months of effort (this is including proofreading and reformatting the whole thing after I found out the font was too small) it was possible to translate the whole book. The whole thing was immensely enjoyable, both because I like the book and because I wanted to see an interlinear translation of it in person, on paper. There are even a few mentions in the book about such a thing:

"Wenn ein Tier oder Mensch seine ganze Aufmerksamkeit und seinen ganzen Willen auf eine bestimmte Sache richtet, dann erreicht er sie auch. Das ist alles."

"When an animal or man his entire attention and his entire will on a certain thing fixes, then he attains it too. That is all."

And here an iffy command of German did not get in the way either. Well, writing one's own book in German would certainly be a different matter altogether...

2) What about publishing? Well, this book at the moment is printed, but not published per se. I have ten copies of it in paper. Hermann Hesse died 49 years and 7 months ago, and apparently copyright expires 50 years after the death of an author so I could publish and sell it on or some other place starting in August. Ideally though, I would like to publish it through a German publishing firm, not only for the extra exposure it would get but also for the extra promotion interlinear translations may get, a medium that I believe to be vastly underrated for learning languages at the moment. An interlinear translation is a book in another language that one does not need a dictionary to read, while still being able to read the work in the original language. Depending on the type of translation it could also vary: from the one I have chosen with a minimum of readability in English, to a heavily marked-up version geared especially for the student, with things like different colours to indicate the gender and marks to show the case, a glossary at the back, and so on.

And so I will end this post the same way I ended yesterday's German one: send me an email if you work at a German publishing firm. While I did the translation for 99% (okay, 100%) personal reasons, I feel obliged to do whatever can be done to keep it from simply sitting here, undiscovered.


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