Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lost in Übersetzing

Oh, man.
The offspring roam the hills on the Beara Penninsula.
Everytime I go away for a bit, Google "improves" blogger.  If I could program (and I can't, so you're safe, Bloglodytes) I would launch a series of platforms with the motto "We won't change unless you make us."  I would have "Blogosaur" for people to write their blogs on and it would never change.  And "NOFACELIFTBOOK"  which would also never change.

So.  Enough of my technophobe whinging; how are you, Bloglodytes?  I've been on holiday, rain, sun, wind.  The usual mix in west Cork.
Actually, I came here today to complain about something else.  I've joked elsewhere about the quirks of (mis)translation.  While roaming around some online bookstores the other day, I found some English books with inexplicably translated titles in German.  I don't know if this happens in other languages, but it is a rampant illness in German, which drives a lot of Germans batshit, I know.  I was reminded of a comment I ran across in a local TV guide about a mediocre TV movie.  I can't remember the original title of the film in English (*found it!  It was called Woman Undone!*), but the German title was Gnadenschuss im Flammenmeer.  The basic plot was that a man was found burnt in a crashed car with a single gun shot wound to the head.  His wife, whose fingerprints were all over the gun, powder burns on her hands, and who had also been in the crash, had no memory of the incident but was put on trial for murder (or something like that).  She loved her husband and could not believe the evidence.  At the end of the film, we find out that he had been trapped in the car, burning alive (she had presumably been thrown clear).  With no way to free him, she shot him so he wouldn't suffer.  The reviewer commented that the film was very bad, and that the one -perhaps- redeeming quality, that little bit of suspense,  was annihilated by the crappy German translation of the title.  Gnadenschuss im Flammenmeer,  means 'mercy-shot in a sea of flames.' Gee, I wonder why she did it?  (Check out the Den of Geek for a more extensive list, including Man With Beard's personal favorite, the inaptly named Schlappe Bullen beissen nicht (Floppy cops don't bite, AKA Dragnet)).

So, the book titles I ran across:

Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth has been swapped for the nondescript Milos ganz und gar unmögliche Reise, or 'Milo's completely and absolutely impossible trip.'  Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz... You could swap out the name 'Milo' and use the same title for the Narnia Books, or The Hobbit, or even Neverwhere...  The Incredible Journey... My last trip to the post office with the opening times from hell... 

For some inexplicable reason, Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time has been "translated" as Supergute Tage oder Die sonderbare Welt des Christopher Boone.  'Super-good days, or the peculiar world of Christopher Boone.'

Some are down-right boring.  An Abundance of Katherines was translated as Die erste Liebe (nach 19 vergeblichen Versuchen).  'First love (after 19 unsuccessful attempts.)'  What's wrong with Ein Reichtum von Katherines?  John Green, if no one bought the German language version of your book, you now know why.

Linda Urban's A Crooked Kind of Perfect has become
Das Leben ist kein Klavier, or 'life is not a piano'.
Thanks for that, and here I was trying to get myself tuned.

I know not all things can be translated, and I realise that publishers need to sell according to their markets, but I don't think that's the problem here.  I think it's a bad case of the people who make up the titles in Germany completely underestimating the abilities of their viewer/readership.  They project their lack of imagination and creativity on the public.  And change- not translate- titles that don't need to be changed.

Any film that hits German TV in which a woman (or man, or police officer, or whatever) does, well, pretty much anything  *other* than roll over and take it will be given the title 'FILL IN THE BLANK- A Woman (Man, Police Officer, Enraged Daffodil) Strikes Back.'
'Rape- A Woman Strikes Back' (Little White Lies)
'Abuse- A Daughter Strikes Back.'  (Silent Lies)
'Trial- A Cop Strikes Back (Mistrial)
'Soggy Cereal- A Comic Strip Character Strikes Back.'  (Made That One Up But You Get The Point.)
They do this instead of translating the title.
In the case of these films, it's become a sort of shorthand for 'skip this film, it's a crap made-for-TV film.'  You might even call it a public service.  Sometimes they butcher the titles of good films, too, but they are running TV stations and I don't expect better of them.  I live in a fantasy world where book publishers have higher standards than TV people.  When it comes to the books, it seems like the publishers are shooting themselves in the foot by giving the books mediocre titles that are likely to attract the sort of people that wouldn't enjoy them and conversely not attract the ones who would.  But there's also the translation issue; I sincerely hope the books were translated more faithfully than the titles.  It wouldn't instill me with confidence, you know?  If they're that frivolous with the title, what have they done with the rest of the author's carefully chosen words?

Maybe it's time for a film project:
Shitübersetzung- ein Manuskript schlägt zurrück.
'Crap translation- a manuscript strikes back.'
Anybody up for it?