Sunday, July 10, 2011

Blood: Lost In Translation

I have always loved the melody to the French National Anthem (La Marseillaise). It’s spirited and uplifting and memorable. And although I was familiar with the sound of the words and could mimic the opening lines, I had no idea what any of it meant. But hearing it recently (don’t ask), I recognized a word:


Not as in sing-sang-sung—that’s English.

No, this word forms half in your throat and half through your nose…. Sang.

The reason I recognized this word is that my book Swear to Howdy has been translated into French and the title is Pacte de Sang.

Pact of Blood.

So I got curious and looked up the words to the French National Anthem.

First the direct translation:

(Direct Translation)

Arise, children of the Fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us of the tyranny
The bloody banner is raised, (repeat)
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They're coming right into your arms
To slit off the throats your sons and your companions!
To arms, citizens,
Form your battalions,
Let's march, let's march!
That a tainted blood
Water our furrows!

Holy smokes! I know many national anthems were written in times of war, but...when a French citizen wins a gold medal at the Olympics in 2012, these are still the words the French hear in their heads?

And then I remembered that several stanzas into our American National Anthem there are some pretty, uh, robust lyrics (look it up)…but not in the first stanza (the only one anyone knows) and nothing like this!

Upon further search, I found the “English Versification” of the French National Anthem, which, beginning with the same French words, winds up this way:

(English Versification)

Ye sons of France, awake to glory,
Hark, hark! what myriads bid you rise!
Your children, wives and white-haired grandsires.
Behold their tears and hear their cries! (repeat)
Shall hateful tyrants, mischiefs breeding,
With hireling hosts, a ruffian band,
Affright and desolate the land,
While peace and liberty lie bleeding?
To arms, to arms, ye brave!
The avenging sword unsheath,
March on, march on!
All hearts resolv'd
On victory or death!

Wow. How completely different the tone and meaning of the same words can wind up, depending on the translation.

We authors allow our works to be translated into foreign languages with the agreement that translations stay true to the story. Still, after my little eye-opening adventure with the French National Anthem, I can’t help but wonder what sort of story Swear to HowdyPacte de Sang—is to the French who read it. Since learning French is nowhere near my bucket list, I’ll likely never know.

And maybe that’s just as well.


Alexa said...

Wow...that was such a big difference! Even though it was kind know, I liked the French version better. It just had more meaning to it...or something like that!

But you really do wonder what the translations are like and how much meaning you really are losing through translations. It would be a whole lot easier if we all spoke the same language...but we don't so oh well!

-Lexa (yay! i'm first to comment!!!)

Anonymous said...

Wow...interesting and...violentish.
It's so interesting to learn new cultures things.My brother and my sister are learning french this upcoming year.I hope they don't try to say mean things about me.That wouldn't be good.But!I do have a french dictionary from when my mom took french!Im polish and french so i speak some of each language.I do know some bad words in Polish but i never say them ^^ awesome post btw.I love learning new things everyday!


Michael said...

We just had a book club meeting last night where we talked about translations and interpretations of books (mainly Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). With a whole slew of zombie and vampire killer books out where they piggy back on classics, things have taken an even more interesting turn.

Can you imagine in 100 years they could come out with "Sammy Keyes the Hotel Thief and Zombies"? Akk! At least if if happens, you can know your book was considered a classic! :-)

N3WYORKD3VIL said...

I love the French :) I cannot help but love their language. I can't wait to take French in high school, Spanish is driving me up the wall!

Raisa Karim said...

u have the most INTERESTING posts...
this post (wierdly) reminded me of something...Do u knw the boook Generation dead? Its by Daniel Waters (he actually has a blogger blog! i follow it). Any way, its about these zombies...anyway, most ppl think its a romance novel, but my favorite thing to do is go under the surface ;P..and i realised it has a hidden meaning and view...its rly about prejudices. and how its wrong. rly deep...*sigh* totally irrelevant and stupid of me to comment about this, but it came to mind and i just...thot u shud so wierd...

Optimistic4ever said...

French seems like an interesting language, but it's not one I want to learn. Though I do wonder how Swear to Howdy would be different in French. Or maybe Sammy Keyes. But right now, I'll stick to learning Sanskrit.

Beach said...

French is an interesting language because there's an official government body (L'Académie française) that recommends changes to the language and publishes the official dictionary. However, their recommendations are non-binding, even for the government.

Translation is an art form -- nuances of character and tone are affected by diction and sonics, and often there are no 1-for-1 cultural equivalents for concepts. It'll arguably never be as good as the original, but a good translator can come close. I've read several bilingual books (foreign language on one page, English opposite), and they've all been decent. I'm sure "Blood Oath" -- er, "Swear to Howdy" -- will keep the story true; it'd be a breach of contract not to, and *someone* could figure it out all too easily.

bookworm said...

The first translation was ironic, b/c you'd said you thought utwas uplifting sounding. And it was "cheerfully" saying "we'll be slitting peoples throats!!! Yay!!! Won't that be exciting....?" I laughed a little, but then i read the rest. Needless to say, it's less gory. Old English sometimes is the best translation there is.

katarinandersson said...

I've read some Sammy Keyes books in Swedish and I think that the translator has done a good job, except for a few details: some of the names of the characters have been changed and I don't see the point in doing that. Why change Sammy's mom's name from Lana to Lena? Why change the spelling of Sammy's name to Sammie? Another detail that's bugging me is that "meth" has become "amphetamine" in the Swedish translation. It's not a big difference, I think, but it's still a bit annoying. And yet another thing: some of the titles have been changed. "Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes" sound much better than "Sammie and the Foundling" (that's what the title is if you translate it back to English). "Sammy Keyes and the Runaway Elf" is called "Sammie and the Kidnappers", which is okay, but it kind of takes the focus off Elyssa, and that's a shame.
But I'm grateful that there is a Swedish translation to at least some of them, I don't think I would have known about the Sammy Keyes series if I hadn't gotten them in Swedish when I was 12 :)

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Hi, Commenters! A few comments back -- hope it hasn't been so long that you don't recall the post!

Michael -- I laughed about your comment (thank you). Sammy & friends are zombies for Halloween in the upcoming Night of Skulls, and there are parts in the text that poke fun at vampires and that whole bloody wave. (So see, we brought it back to the original post -- how clever of us!)

HungerGamesLover: Doesn't matter if your comment was on point with the post. Good discussions come from one thought leading to another. They make us think. Even if it's about zombies. But to answer your question, no, I haven't read GD. But now I've heard about it, so that may change :)

Beach: My Dutch relatives bemoan how easily their language has morphed. It's apparently evolving very quickly and a lot of English words are just adopted without Dutch-ification :-) Language creates unity, so countries that carefully consider changes will probably have a sense of identity longer than those that don't.

Katarina: So interesting, thank you! The British translations have changes that I can follow and I find them fascinating.

Thanks to everyone for the comments!