Titles in Translation

If a wordless book gets picked up by a foreign publisher there’s nothing to translate, right? Nope! There’s the title. The chosen title may sound strange or awkward or just plain dull when translated directly, so books can end up with completely different titles in different countries.

I love the sound of Owl Bat Bat Owl – the roundness of ‘owl’ and the abruptness of ‘bat’ fit the story perfectly, and the lack of punctuation helps to keep the emphasis even and flowing. As a title it encapsulates the beginning of the book when the bats are refugees ‘invading’ the owls’ perch, and the end, when they are friends and intermingling.

I love the look of it too – two three-letter words repeated in reverse: Owl Bat/Bat Owl. The word shapes look pleasing together and I was delighted when the designer at Walker Books stacked the words like so:

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But the very elements which please the ear and eye in English may get lost in translation so each publisher will make a decision to keep the original title or change it to something which works better in their language.

The Danish publisher chose to translate directly, and you can see how visually different it looks, though it still sounds good (to my ear). The type size has been reduced quite a bit to accommodate ‘flagermus’ and it was set in upper and lower case with some wave action on the words to keep the effect soft.

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In the Taiwanese edition the title is Owl Bat without the repeat – the two words take up all the available space. The Taiwanese publishers also requested a change to the cover to allow some text on the left, so I moved the owls over to the right for them.

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The Dutch publisher also used this version of the cover and changed the title completely to My Branch! My Branch! Those exclamation marks add vehemence. Much to my delight they flipped the second ‘My Branch’ upside-down. Publishers are usually resistant to flipping text in a title – I know, I’ve tried to get them to do it a few times!

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The Italian title reverse translates to something like ‘head up, upside down’, which sounds clumsy in English but looks good and sounds melodic in Italian. When I told my Italian-speaking sister the Italian version was called ‘something su, something gu’ she correctly guessed, ‘Testa in Su, Testa in Giu,’ immediately.

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I don’t know what the Japanese title translates as but it’s obviously not direct:

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I wonder what it says?*

*Thanks to Mio Debnam and Kris Tsang I now know this translates as ‘Owl Family, Family Bat’.

 

2 thoughts on “Titles in Translation

  1. Reminds me of my time working in internationalisation. The Opel/Vauxhall Nova had to be renamed for Spanish speaking countries (No va = won’t go), as did the Mitsubishi Pajero, which translates to something far less polite. One lesson learnt was to always use a translator who is translating into their mother tongue. We once used a Swedish Translator for a Norwegian Word processor. I mean the languages are practically identical, right? And besides this was someone who had spent her entire adult life working in Norway. What could go wrong?
    She translated the “Body of the document” literally, into the “Document’s Corpse”!

    Like

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