Lost in translation


Over on Facebook, my German cousin Ute left a comment after my link to the Sun Dogs post: “I’ve learned something new now, never heard about sun dogs before.”

That’s interesting, I mused.   I wonder what they’re called in German?   Because certainly they occur in Germany.   Perhaps if I used the actual German term, Ute might remember having heard of the phenomenon before.

I know!  I’ll just get the German translation of The Language of Power and turn to the section that mentions sundogs, and see what word the translator used!  Simple, right?


Yes, that is a Michael Whelan cover on the German edition

Click to see all the German versions.

Just one problem:

From The Language of Power, American edition:

The air had been too dry for snow, but the ground itself froze, as it often did, so that it crunched and crumbled beneath the feet, and two sun dogs, nearly as bright as the sun itself, stood in the sky, illusory companions of the true sun.

From Die Sprache der Macht :

Fur Schnee war die Luft zu trocken, aber der Boden war hart gefroren, sodass es unter den Fussen knirschte, und am Himmel stand eine grelle, milchige Sonne.

With some assistance from Google transate, as my German is shaky at best, this comes out as:

For snow, the air was too dry, but the ground was frozen solid, so it crunched under the feet, and in the sky stood a bright, milky sun.

Yep.  A conspicuous absence of sun dogs.

Now, I am not going to get all huffy about this, because:

a) I am a mid-list writer.  I get no respect.  Fact of life.

b) Translators of mid-list writers also get no respect.   It’s highly likely that the unfortunate translator had all four books dumped on her at once, and was told: “Here.  You’ve got two weeks.”   Or some similarly ridiculously impossibly short amount of time.  She probably came across the sun dog section, and said something like:  “WTF?  What’s a sun dog?  Things in the sky?  Makes no sense!   Should I look it up?  OMG, IS THAT THAT THE TIME?  I HAVE TO FINISH THIS BY 8AM TOMORROW I NEED THAT PAYCHECK!!  Sorry sun dogs, you’re history…”  People have to eat, folks.  I bear her no ill-will.

c) It’s outside of my control anyway.   But someday!   When I’m incredibly famous!  Some publisher (or me) will finance a highly accurate and gracefully artistic translation!   And some genius translator will make his or her fame by recreating in another language the sense and substance of (what Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010,by di Filippo and Broderick, calls) my “measured and alluring” prose.

d)  When I first submitted the book, one of my editors at Del Rey/Ballantine/Random House suggested that I cut the mention of sun dogs;  I said that I preferred to keep it, since sun dogs as bright as the ones Rowan saw are generally only seen in very cold locations, and I wanted to give the reader some authentic details of what it would be like in  the Red Desert in winter.  We decided to keep it. So, the translator merely accomplished what might have been, under other circumstances, if I had a hardnosed grouchy editor, instead of the amazing Betsy Mitchell and the wonderful Shelly Shapiro.

and e) What the heck.

But, of course…I can’t help wondering if anything else was left out.   Oh, I’m certain something was, possibly several somethings.   The sun dogs were not critically important; but, how can the translator know what is or is not critically important, without knowing what’s going to happen in the rest of the series?   Really, I plant a lot of seemingly-unimportant, seemingly-off-hand things that later pay off two, three, or even four books later.    She left out the sun dogs… Gosh did she leave out the mumble mumble smfff mmf mumble?  That would be terrible!

PS: The correct German term for sun dog is Nebensonne.

PPS: no library today, as I had to do some necessary shopping.   I hate shopping.  Except for books. And toys!   And paper goods of any sort.

9 Responses to “Lost in translation”

  • Kalessin Says:

    Are sundogs a well known phenomenon? Because I’ll admit to never having heard of them before – or of ‘Nebensonnen’ (as I’m German).

    But as I have the Language of Power here, unread, because it’s the only one of your books I have in English, I think I’ll try to parallel-read it with the German one on next re-read and tell you if I come across anything that has been cut out.

    (And one day, when I’m rich, I’ll also buy the other books in English! Then I can do the same thing with those as well.)

    • Rosemary Says:

      Kalessin —

      Sundogs are well-known — but only among people already interested in them! Most people, on average, haven’t heard of them, and don’t notice when they appear. But I am a fan of all things that happen in the sky, so I’m always looking for something. Rainbows, double rainbows (which happen more often than people notice), and triple rainbows (only saw a full-sized triple once!). Eclipses of various sorts (I’ve seen two total solar eclipses and a partial). Sundogs, halos, rings around the moon… Thunderstorms! Lightning, when I can watch it safely. The famous “green flash” of sunset at sea, which I’ve yet to witness.

      I thought of doing a parallel read of the English and German versions of my books for myself — but the investment of time was just too much! I’ve got NEW books to write. But if you do it, I’d be very interested to know if you find anything else missing.

  • Kalessin Says:

    That would explain my ignorance. While I love staring at sky phenomena going “oooooh!”, I prefer the night sky. (And it’s embarassing how ignorant I am as to the physical explainations – being a physicist in an astrophysical institute.)
    And I don’t think I’ve ever seen sundogs – I’ve lived most of my life in Bonn(Germany) or south of that in rather warm areas.

    Double rainbows are pretty common, I’d say. They seem to appear about as often as simple ones. A full-sized triple I’ve never seen – though part of a third one isn’t that uncommon. (Or maybe I’m just lucky *g*)
    I haven’t seen a total solar eclipse, just a partial one (about 10 years ago, I think) and a transit of Venus (must have been about 2004, I was still in school and missed an English lesson to stare through a telescope with a rescue blanket on it). But then, I’m still young, lots of things yet to come, I hope.

    A parallel read when not fluent in both languages would probably take a long time. (Parallel reading probably is a lot slower anyway.)
    I’d much rather you write and I read *g* Of course I’ll let you know if I notice anything missing (or being added for that matter – though that would indeed be very unexpected). I’m very tempted to just pick them up and start reading now, but there’s work I’m paid to do is waiting for me.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Kalessin —

      Wow, an actual scientist on board! Excellent!

      The eclipse you saw might have been the 1999 eclipse that my sister and I witnessed. In Bonn, it would have been a partial eclipse, but we were on an old cruise ship on the Black Sea, smack-dab in the middle of the path of totality. Amazing. Plus: it was my actual birthday.

      Over in the comments for the original Sun Dogs post, Walter Underwood pointed us toward M.G.J.Minnaert’s Light and Color in the Outdoors, which I have now added to my Amazon Wishlist. Alas. $99 new. Even the Kindle version is $79! But it seems to be THE definitive source for the science behind these phenomena. I think I’ll see if my lovely library can scare up a copy…

  • Joshua Says:

    I also don’t remember hearing of sun dogs before I read this post (though I have read The Language of Power, I must have glossed over that part in ignorance). But I did see a couple a little while before seeing the post, and now I know! (I thought they were just partial rainbows.)

    I don’t remember if Galen Rowell talks about sun dogs specifically, but he does mention a lot of optical atmospheric phenomena I’d never heard of before in his photography books, and apparently knew quite a bit about them. Something like Mountain Light might be worth checking out (especially if you can get it from the library).

  • Kalessin Says:

    Oh, I’m just a PhD student. True, I get paid and stuff, but I still feel like a student *g* Though I do have the benefit of not having to attend classes but being allowed to attend classes. This semester, I’ll do a seminar on string theory.

    Yeah, it might have been 1999. I remember being in school but not much more. My, thirteen years ago already! I was fourteen then and in 8th grade…
    My boyfriend actually went to the south of Germany (I think Burg Teck) into the path of totality. But on a cruise ship and on your birthday is of course waaaay cooler!

    I saw the link to the book in the other comments (I got the comments feed, else I would miss everything) and clicked on it and also looked it up on german amazon – but it’s just too expensive.
    Your comment with the library gave me an idea though: university library! And they have it, available. They just refuse to tell me where *sigh* (They think they tell me where, but when I try to find out what they mean, they want to give me courses in how to use the catalogue. Hng.) Well, I guess I’ll have to go annoy some people with question they think trivial. This book sounds awesome and I want to lay my hands on it.

  • Melinda Fleming Says:

    ALL Rosemary’s books are awesome! For many, many reasons. Accurate and authentic details being simply one out of many.

  • Malgorzata Wilk Says:

    Wow, and here i thought in the absense of the English original I could start with the German translation. Actually the books aren’r in print anymore. I snatched up book four first on a sale, then book one and today book three.
    And two weeks for a 400 pages book is impossible. Fortunately I always get something around 30 pages a week which is acheivable even after working hours and during weekends. And a translator should always remember to check wikipedia. Sun dogs in English directs to the article in various languges, also German as well as my native Polish.
    I’m currently doing a large piece from German, 900 pages and need to look up a lot and wikipedia is invaluable.
    Oh, yes, thez dumped the translation of at least 3 books to one translator, Angela Koonen. I should probably get the English original, then. I’m very much looking forward to reading it.

  • Joshua Says:

    This might be beating a dead horse, but I just found a post by James Gurney mentioning sun pillars, and he refers to Minnaert’s book The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air (note slightly different title! big difference in price, it’s a Dover edition, about $12 new on Amazon, $5 used).