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!
There was much more to the star of Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s than her movie career. Audrey Hepburn was well known for her charity work with UNICEF, and after spending her childhood in Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands, she was also fluent in English, Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish and German.
Rita Ora was born in Kosovo (then called Yugoslavia) to Kosovar-Albanian parents, moving to London when she was a year old. The pop star, model and X Factor judge speaks Albanian fluently and is proud of her heritage; last year she was named an honorary ambassador for the Republic of Kosovo.
Former yachtswoman Dame Ellen Macarthur learnt to speak French when she was 21 and living in a French boatyard while she prepared for a solo transatlantic race. She’s now fluent and says she would never have been so successful in her career without knowing the language, which helped her build relationships with other sailors and gain sponsorship.
Comedian (and record-breaking marathon runner) Eddie Izzard is currently touring with his stand-up show Force Majeure, which he performs three times a night, in three languages: French, German and English. In 2014, he was named the Guardian’s public language champion, and told the newspaper: “There’s a political basis for me to learning other languages, because if we don’t come together in the world then the world’s not going to make it.”
JK Rowling studied French and Classics at university, and when she came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series in 1990, she was working as a bilingual secretary for Amnesty International. She later moved to Portugal and split her time between teaching English as a foreign language and writing the best-selling books.
The Facebook founder surprised everyone in 2014 when, during a visit to Tsinghua University in Beijing, he started speaking Mandarin – and continued for half an hour. Though his efforts got a mixed reception from the press, the audience seemed delighted – and we were pretty impressed, too.
The star of Napoleon Dynamite is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and served a two-year religious mission to Japan after high school, where he became fluent in the language. And though he now describes himself as “a little rusty”, he still sounds pretty good to us.
Tim Peake is the first British astronaut to go to the International Space Station – but before leaving Earth he had to learn Russian (the language of the controls in the Soyuz capsule used to get to the ISS), and has described this as the hardest part of his 14 months’ training.
Okay so we already mentioned Tom Hiddleston in our last post, but frankly, we never get bored of listening to him speaking loads of languages – among them French, Spanish, Greek and Italian, plus some Mandarin, Russian and Korean. And he studied Latin at university…
The Lord of the Rings star was born in New York, but spent his childhood in Venezuela, Denmark and Argentina, leaving him fluent in English, Spanish and Danish. He also speaks some French and Italian, and understands Norwegian and Swedish.
Does your favourite celebrity make the list?
Lucy was our first ever winner of the Junior Language Challenge and at age 23 has now chosen to take part in the uTalk Challenge learning Russian. Lucy already speaks Spanish, French, Italian, German and Latin and has been learning languages since she was 10 years old.
Why? Why not?
I was talking to some friends at work at the beginning of January, and it came up in conversation that I was learning Russian. ‘Why Russian!?’ one said. ‘Why not?’ was my reply. People are often surprised when I say that I love learning languages. I think to them, it seems a little removed from what I normally do (I work in science). And while I may have decided to work in science instead of languages, that doesn’t mean to say that they aren’t useful to me.
When I was about 10, a teacher from the local secondary school came to teach us Spanish once a week, and I thought it was brilliant! My teacher entered some of our class into the first ever EuroTalk Junior Language Challenge; being able to learn three different languages was even more exciting. Spanish, Greek (my first experience of a language with a different alphabet), and Saami – Santa’s language (northern Finland, to be exact). Taking part showed me that language learning was fun, and set me on a course of lifelong linguistics.
I’d describe myself as a patchwork of languages; I can speak each to a different level, ranging from Italian, my speaking is poor but my translation is decent, to Spanish, where I can happily hold a conversation. My latest is Russian, which I’ve always wanted to learn; I’ve just about got to grips with the Cyrillic alphabet. It’s fun to learn so many languages, it stretches my brain, and I love the feeling of being able to speak to someone in their native tongue, a mixture of pride and respect for their culture. However, that doesn’t mean to say that I don’t have problems! The use of the subjunctive in Spanish will forever escape me (in English we only use it in one specific way, when we say ‘If I were you…’), and those odd little verbs in every language that don’t follow the rules always hide away in the recesses of my mind when I want to use them.
How do I overcome problems? Practice! Practice speaking with others out loud, using odd verbs and new tenses and reading with literature from your chosen language starting with children’s stories and building it up (good for new vocabulary and surprisingly complex!) If you are learning more than one, try to compartmentalise them in your head; have a Spanish head and a French head. My Latin is extremely handy for any new scientific terms, I usually have a guess at what they mean before looking them up. My other languages are great for holidays, trips with work and just keeping my brain active. I certainly don’t intend to stop (I think I may try Basque next): you never know when you might need them!
Welcome to my family! My Grandma’s called Minnie, and my Granddad’s called Jack.
Except, they’re not really.
Because, in English, we have an eccentric tendency to distort names until they no longer resemble the original at all. My Gran’s actually called Mary and my Granddad, of course, is John.
Now meet my Uncle Bob, cousins Harry, Bill and Jim, and aunts Kitty and Nancy. Their real names – the names on their birth certificates – are Robert, Henry, William, James, Katherine and Anne. Makes total sense, right?
Some common English names have not one but several permutations, just to make things more confusing. The name Edward can be twisted into Ed (OK, fine), Ted (hmm) or Ned (well….), whilst Robert can be not only Bob but Rob, Bobby or Bertie. James can be Jim, Jimmy or Jem, and Richard can be Rich, Rick, Dick or Dickie.
On the girls’ side, Elizabeth must be one of the most prolific of names, producing not only Eliza, Liz and Lizzie, but Ellie, Beth, Bess, Bett and Bettie, whilst Margaret becomes Maggie and Meg, or Peggie and Peg. Victoria becomes Vic, Vicky, Tor and Tory, and Mary can be Molly, Minnie, Polly or Poll.
It’s not just our language that does this, of course, and Russian is another which can mutate its names into seemingly unconnected variants. When I was in Russia, my friends were Tolik, Vanya, Sanya and Masha, whose real names were Anatolii, Ivan, Alexsandr and Mariya. But whereas in English a Rob might always be a Rob, both in private and public arenas, formal and informal, in Russia someone might be called Alexandr in formal situations but Sasha with friends – and Sanya, Sanka or Sashenka for extra familiarity and affection.
My name, Natalie or Natalia, was used formally, but to most acquaintances I was Natasha, and to closer friends I would sometimes be Nata, Natashenka, Natusik or Natusyenka. Alekseii becomes Alyosha or, more colloquially again, Alyoha, Lyosha or Lyoha. Dmitrii become Dima, Dimka (the -ka ending adding another level of diminutive to the already familiarised Dima), Mitya or Mitka. Evgenii becomes Zhenya and Sergei becomes Seryozha.
Of course, if you have a bit of time in Russia then the aim is to collect a group of friends with the following rhyming names: Masha, Pasha, Dasha, Natasha and Sasha. And, because of the popularity of the names Mariya, Pavel, Natalia, Dariya and Alexsandr, that’s not as hard as it seems!
We’d love to know about other languages that mangle their names!
Nancy Reynolds is a freelance writer from the USA, who’s currently working on a novel. In her spare time she studies Persian and has vocabulary contests with her teenaged daughter who has studied Latin, German, Mandarin and Ancient Greek. Here’s her language story…
For some people, learning a foreign language is good for business, a school requirement or a necessity because of a move. For me, it started in eighth grade with French, but more recently, it was to understand some Iranian friends I made on the Internet. Although my friends all know English, when they wrote posts in Persian, I felt left out. Although the different alphabet seemed daunting, I had studied Cyrillic for Russian and had done well, so I figured I could learn another alphabet. One reason I keep at it is to be able to read more and understand more of the Persian in movies.
A rewarding aspect of learning any foreign language is to understand another person. Values and concepts can be a direct result of the kind of language a person uses. Persian past tenses can distinguish between whether the life of a person in the past is still relevant today or not. We don’t have that in English. The term for a double bed in Italian is “letto matrimoniale,” implying that a person shouldn’t be sleeping in such a bed if not married. Which verb for “to be” you use in Spanish to tell someone she looks good will reveal whether you mean all the time or just today.
One of my greatest challenges in learning Persian is having to do it outside of a classroom. My friends are very busy or want me to help them with English, so I get little practice with spoken Persian. EuroTalk has made a difference because it is fun and I can use it whenever I want. The promotional assertion that it is good for five minutes or for hours of learning is quite true.
Ioana at EuroTalk asked me what my favorite word in my favorite language is, but I don’t think she was expecting the answer I have. It is “love” in English. To choose my favorite word in Persian is a challenge! I guess it would have to be “salam”, which means “hello”. Why? I have learned hello in many languages.
It is a thrill to greet someone in his or her language, get a stunned expression and then a broad smile. Such a simple word says I care about communication enough to step outside of my comfort zone.
Sometimes a funny, weird or awkward situation has occurred when I used a foreign language with a native or another speaker. In French I unintentionally propositioned a friend! Fortunately, he knew what I meant. Two delightful moments speaking Persian with natives were when I asked “Khoobi?” It is the casual way to say “How are you?” They were quite impressed.
A fun triumph, though, was reading the Persian on a soda can in a friend’s photo. Even though some of the letters were obscured, I still could read the well-known brand name: Fanta. I’ll drink to that.