To language enthusiasts, it’s sometimes a bit of a shock to see how a favourite book or film title is rendered in another language. A common phrase, especially since the film which took it as a title, is ‘Lost in Translation’, the idea of some slight nuance being dropped between one language and another.
But sometimes it’s more than just a little nuance. Sometimes it’s a total transformation of the title, and a total change in meaning. Consider the phrase ‘lost in translation’ itself: a clever play on the idea of physical loss and metaphoric loss, it contains both the sense of merely overlooking something, and of being geographically lost- as well as emotionally bewildered. It’s a poignant phrase. Now consider the title of this blog post: ‘The Difficulties of Translation’ (Трудности перевода) is the Russian title for the same film, while ‘Love Translated’ (L’amore tradotto) is the distinctly simplified Italian variant.
Italian also simplifies one of the most beautiful film titles of this age: ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. The original title conjures images of endless hope, while the Italian ‘Se mi lasci ti cancello’ (If you leave me, I’ll delete you) narrows the ambit significantly and reduces the complex plot to the mere idea of a lovers’ tiff. Similarly, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, the incredibly evocative title of Salinger’s great classic, certainly loses its panache and the protagonist’s sense of anonymity in the Italian edition, ‘Il giovane Holden’ (The Young Holden).
Needless to say, this works both ways, and anyone who is familiar with Proust’s famous work ‘À la recherche du temps perdu’ will be disgusted by the rather trite English version, ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ (thankfully renamed in more recent publications to ‘In Search of Lost Time’). Similarly, Camus’ ‘L’Étranger’ is only ever translated as ‘The Outsider’ or ‘The Stranger’ in English- unlike the French, English lacks a word which encompasses both nuances at once.
Got any favourite translations of titles in other languages? We’d love to hear them, whether you think they’re better or worse than the original!