How faithful does a book translation have to be to the original?
Thread poster: Tim Drayton

Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:38
Turkish to English
+ ...
Apr 13, 2007

I am working on a book translation for the first time. It is an academic book on history/current affairs which places the dispute in Cyprus into a wider regional context.
I completed my initial translation a few months ago. I produced a faithful rendering of the original text at a semantic level, if not in terms of actual sentence structure. For the past two weeks I have been re-working the text in the light of detailed annotations made by an editor. The editor has in some cases cut out swathes of text, even entire paragraphs, on the grounds that they are irrelevant or repeat earlier arguments. I have very few issues with the editor's comments and the re-written text is far better than my first version. The editor has also suggested that the author add certain paragraphs where it is felt the reader needs more background information, or rewrite certain others which require updating - such as those including speculation about the impact of Cyprus's EU accession, which was imminent when the original book was published but has now happened. Obviously, I will have to translate these and incorporate them into the exisiting text, probably making more alterations so that they fit in properly.
In other words, the translated book is taking on a life of its own and is moving away from just being a faithful rendering of the original text. I wonder if this is normal in work of this kind? I worry that somebody will compare the original with the translated version and question the validity of the translation given the amount of divergence between the two versions. I am sure this is all pretty normal in book translation, but I am hoping people with experience of this kind of work can confirm this for me.


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:38
English to Spanish
+ ...
Process Apr 13, 2007

It does indeed look like the project is taking on a life of its own. I hope you have also made arrangements to insure that all the extra work you will have to put into that new life will be duly compensated.

It does not look like a very good process where they have had you translate the text and are then revising the whole thing. What they will end up with is a revised edition, and whether or not the original will be revised to reflect that may well be up in the air.

If I were you I would not worry so much that someone would compare both versions and perhaps conclude that you are a lousy translator because they do not coincide.

What I would worry about is keeping a good handle on this poor process so that everything gets done as the client intends (as confusing as that might be) and that the client pays you fully for your trouble, which will probably be significant.


Cagdas Karatas  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:38
English to Turkish
It should concern the author him/herself before anyone else Apr 14, 2007

Hi, Tim. I believe the divergence between the versions should concern the author first. You have spent efforts, may be worked through sleepless nights and are about to finalise your project. Also, the editor performed his function, so there is no problem on your side. However, you mentioned that the editor clipped some sections from the original text. That sounds odd. If I were the author of that book, I would object. By the way, I must remind you of something important about book translations. I know by similar experiences that the editor or the person we call redactor is the person ultimately responsible for a publication. Translators are indisputably responible as well, yet they will ever have counter-arguments to raise in case the circumstances turn against them in the future.


Stephen Rifkind  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:38
Member (2004)
French to English
+ ...
Recommended Reading Apr 14, 2007

The writer of "Name of the Rose", "Foucault's Pendulum", et al, Ecco, has a book out on his experience with translators of his books. There is much discussions on the balance of adjustment and fidelity. The book is based on lectures he gave. It may help you with your clients.

Stephen Rifkind


Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:38
Member (2004)
Spanish to English
+ ...
A reasonable process Apr 14, 2007

The process you're decribing is typical whenever a publishing house buys a new book from an author. Suggestions (or demands) are made about additions, deletions, restructuring, etc. A large publishing house also will often do fact checking to make sure the information in the book is correct and current.

Some publishers do the same with translated books. For instance, the Spanish edition of Dan Brown's "The DaVinci Code" is different (and, some might argue, much tighter) than the original, since it omits many adjectives, adverbs, and descriptive phrases that merely repeat information that the author already provided on the same page or previous page.

Regarding your project: Since this is the first time this book is appearing in the target language, it sounds like this publisher is treating it like any other new title.

It seems reasonable enough. I went through this process as an author when Ballantine published a book I wrote. It was a hassle, but it improved the final product.

As Henry said, I hope you're being appropriately compensated for your time.

[Edited at 2007-04-14 21:42]


Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:38
Turkish to English
+ ...
Thanks for the reassurance Apr 15, 2007

Thanks for your comments.
This is a whole new experience for me and I certainly hope that the process is not flawed; I prefer to think that this is the normal peer review process that an academic book has to go through in order to be accepted by a serious publisher. For the latter, this is a commercial venture and in order to sell, the book needs to read well, and, since it touches on political processes that have developed since the original version was published, it needs to be updated to take account of these changes. Additionally, as the original book was written for a Turkish-speaking audience, the writer does not provide certain background information where this would be superfluous for Turkish or Turkish Cypriot readers – but an international readership cannot be assumed to possess the same “general knowledge” and thus requires more assistance. All of these points mean that the book has to be revised. However, this is more than just a manuscript; it is a book which was published in Istanbul several years ago, and this adds a different dimension. It troubles me as a translator that we are moving away from a situation where you can look at chapter x, section y, paragraph z and find a direct translation in the English version. It is reassuring to learn from Steven’s contribution that other translated books differ from the original versions, and this is the kind of reassurance I was hoping for.
I am actually flattered to be given the chance to rework the text based on the editor’s recommendations and even be permitted to dispute these if I wish. This shows that I am being credited as a serious player in the process. I am not receiving any extra pay for my efforts, but my motives for working on this project are not purely financial, anyway. Has anyone ever made their fortune from translating an academic work? Of course, the author has the final say. He was the one who passed the edited manuscript to me and we have arranged to come together and discuss the revised text. However, I don’t think he is likely to object if a major publisher offers to bring out an English-language edition of his book on condition that certain alterations are made.
In fact, there is no guarantee yet that the book will be published in English. It needs to successfully complete the peer review process first. I am keeping my fingers crossed.


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