15.39: Translation, with special guest Alex Shvartsman

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, and Lari, with guest Alex Shvartsman

Translation is fantastically complex. In this episode Lari and Alex help us navigate those complexities, both from the standpoint of the translator, and from the standpoint of the author seeking to have their work translated.

Credits: This episode was mastered by Alex Jackson


Write a story in which the characters are in trouble because of a linguistic misunderstanding.

“The Green Hills of Dmitry Totzkiy,” by Eldar Safin, (English translation by Alex Shvartsman)


6 thoughts on “15.39: Translation, with special guest Alex Shvartsman”

  1. I have an ENTIRE NOVEL in the works that involves a mistranslated prophecy causing all kinds of problems, so I think I’ve been doing the homework for a while, now.

  2. This week, Mary Robinette, Dan, Lari, and Alex Shvartsman tackled issues around translation. Different languages, different cultures, different comics, different media… take that story and put it in a different world! How do you do that? Lots of insight into translation and international publication, available now in the transcript in the archives.

  3. I’ve thought about this sort of thing with my current WIP in a couple ways that I’ll have to worry more about if it ever goes to publication. First, is that one of the major characters is named “Rose” but after I named her that, I decided that in-story she and her family would have names associated with the sun rising and that if this book were ever to be translated, her name would preserve that association instead of the more obvious flower one (though, now I realize, that might make foreign readers confused or mad so I could end up giving up on this choice). Second was that another major character frequently uses the nickname “Jules,” but there are also major magical artifacts called “Jewels,” and now I’ve inadvertently written myself into corner where it would be extremely confusing for an audiobook listener to hear these homophones so frequently, so now I’ll have to give up one term or the other.

  4. Another thing you should do as a writer to prepare for translation is make notes to clarify things that are purposely ambiguous, for example a mysterious name that includes wordplay but which will not become clear until a sequel.

    An example of not exactly this, but someone not planning for sequels, is the French version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone: the title is simply “Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers”, which means “Harry Potter at sorcerers’ school”, which would be a decent title if it had been a standalone (though not as good as the original – and don’t get me started on “Sorcerer’s Stone”), or for the series as a whole, but looks silly when the sequels come in.

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