Thursday, January 31, 2008
On the Perils of Translation

For those of you who may not know, over this last year we've sold the foreign rights to The Name of the Wind in, at my last count, 20 countries. So many countries that when I just tried to make a list of them all on a piece of paper, I was unable to remember them all.

When we first sold the Dutch rights, my giddy thought was that I would learn Dutch well enough to read my own book. Later, when a few more sales started to pile up, I realized a more realistic goal might be to learn enough so that I could read, perhaps, the first page of the book. Or the first few lines.

But now, with 20 countries, I'm thinking that if I work at it I can learn how to say the title of my book using the appropriate accent. I'd still just be saying, "The Name of the Wind," but it would sound French, or German, or whatever they speak in Holland.... Hollandaise.

But on to the heart of the matter. When I first heard we'd sold the Dutch rights, my main thought was, "Wow, a quarter million word translation... that poor bastard."

And that was about it.

A few weeks later, my translator contacted me and started asking questions about my book. It was only then that I started to get an idea of how complicated the process is. How many ways there are to go wrong in a translation....

For example, how can you translate the nicknames for all the buildings in the University? They're slang. Artificery becomes Fishery.... But you can't just translate that, because it really doesn't have anything to do with fish...

Even worse are the names in Auri has given the places in the Underthing, they're not even slang, they're puns. Imagine trying to translate the belows/bellows/blows/billows conversation into another language? It just can't be done....

Then there's the plot points. Some subtle things are mentioned in the first book that will prove to be very important later. If they're accidentally left out or changed, the series as a whole will suffer.

Luckily, my first translator, Lia Belt, was wonderful. She walked me through it carefully, asked a lot of questions, and helped me understand some of the potential pitfalls.

So over the last couple of weeks I've been putting together a comprehensive FAQ for the translators. It clarifies things that are potentially murky, and brings up some of the potential difficulties that I've become aware of.

In a way it's fun, it forces me to examine my language and word use from a different angle than I'm used to. But at the same time putting together this FAQ has been like some sort of fractal magician's trick. Where every time I answer a question it unfolds into four other important issues I need to address.

Anyway, that's what's going on in my life lately. Just thought I'd share...

And lastly, an interesting piece of fanmail someone sent me....


Dude. I was looking around on E-bay, and I found THIS. Is it really yours? I thought Name of the Wind was your first book....

Let me know because if it is yours, I'm totally buying it...

As always, I will protect the privacy of my fan by using a fake name: Susan.

Well Susan, The Name of The Wind was my first book in a lot of ways. It was my first novel. It was also my first professionally edited and published book.

But I did have a few other things printed before that, and Your Illustrated, Annotated College Survival Guide was one of them.

It is a collection of humor columns that I wrote over the space of four years for the local college paper, illustrated by a friend of mine, and with interesting annotations from yours truly. If you're wondering what the columns were like.... well, odds are you've already read one of them here in my blog. Namely: The Great Zombie Debate.

Other helpful columns were written along the lines of, "How Not to be a Goddamn Mooch." "On the Impotence of Proofreading." and "How to Deal with the Unbearable Shittyness of Your Life..."

So yeah, in a nutshell, it's me.

Later all,


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OpenID superwench83 said...

Wow! Thank you so much for the info about how foreign translations work. I'd never thought about how much work went into them on the part of the author. Good to know.

February 1, 2008 12:10 AM  
Anonymous conDion said...

I didnt know that the book en Holland was the first translation.
Im glad that it was so I could read it soon.
And i think that the translation job was done perfect, it read very good.
Btw we speak Nederlands (Dutch)

February 1, 2008 3:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for clarifying on the Fishery thing. I never picked up on it and feel kinda dumb now. I'm usually much swifter than that.

February 1, 2008 6:26 AM  
Blogger Mary J. said...

Sigh... I always zip right over puns and then feel silly later if someone explains it to me or I listen to the audio version and it smacks me over the head.

20 languages! Pat, I think you're going to grow up to be famous!

February 1, 2008 7:34 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

"The Impotence of Proofreading" is also a pretty famous teaching performance poem written by three time national Slam champion and teacher maker Taylor Mali.

February 1, 2008 7:46 AM  
OpenID rhonawestbrook said...


OMG I am in AWE! Seriously!

:::is proud and awe filled and all manner of things:::

February 1, 2008 8:19 AM  
Anonymous Pudifoot said...

I am waiting for it to be translated into American Sign Language, so that deaf people can read your book.

February 1, 2008 9:14 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

Puddifoot: I think you might just have won today's comments. I don't know why, but that really amused me...

February 1, 2008 10:40 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

I was wondering.... could you try to say a few words or the title of "the name of the wind" in a foreign language (preferrably Dutch ;-) ), record it and place it online for us? I was wondering how it would sound if an American would try to pronounce a Dutch "G". :-)


February 1, 2008 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pat I think Pudifoot's comment amused you becuase deaf people can see and can probably read the book anyway.

February 1, 2008 11:12 AM  
Anonymous The Other Adam said...

Hehe. "Impotence of Proofreading" Gods, as an English major I am in love with that.

Oh, and Dutch is the language spoke in Holland, Pat.

February 1, 2008 11:24 AM  
Anonymous Andy B said...

Re; anonymous:


February 1, 2008 11:40 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

I'm pretty sure Dutch is the language the speak over in Dutchland.

February 1, 2008 11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, your publisher needs to buy the rights to that book and get it out there for all to enjoy. The titles alone are hilarious. I want to read those columns!!!

February 1, 2008 11:49 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Dutchland... lol. If you don't believe it, ask wikipedia ;)

February 1, 2008 11:57 AM  
Blogger SWEETDADDY_73 said...

Speaking of translations, but not really, are there any plans in the works for this book to be recorded for CD?

I love to listen to books I've already read during my morning, evening commute.

However, sometimes it can be rough, as in the case of Heinlein's "Stranger In A Strange Land." I didn't care for the performance very much.

February 1, 2008 1:04 PM  
Anonymous caesar said...

It would be pretty awesome for the blind to see it on screen.

February 1, 2008 1:13 PM  
OpenID suziko said...

You should donate a copy of the College Survival Guide to a library here in Wisconsin so that all your fans here can fight over it via interlibrary loan!

February 1, 2008 2:36 PM  
Anonymous Maarten said...

c'mon Pat... Dutchland?? We know that American people think that there is America and.... uh the rest of the world?
But please we where the first foreign language in which you're novel got translated! Just for youre and other reader, an impression of the translation:

'I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.'

'Ik betreed paden in het maanlicht die anderen overdag niet eens durven te benoemen.
Ik heb met goden gesproken, van vrouwen gehouden en liederen geschreven die de minstrelen tot tranen roerden.
Je hebt misschien van me gehoord.'

To be honest, that is some damn good translation. I believe this part is even a bit more intese than the English part is.

But than again, it is true that it is usualy better to read a novel in its original language.
Still, Dutch is better than German (and French... Spanish is cool though!)

February 1, 2008 3:47 PM  
Blogger Lea said...

"How to Deal with the Unbearable Shittyness of Your Life..."
made me laugh incredibly hard. It doesn't end with college either does it!!??

February 1, 2008 3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pat, any chance of putting that translators' FAQ up where the rest of us can read it? Feel free to edit out anything that may tip us off to future happenings.

Just something else to pass the time during the wait for book two :) (For us, anyway. I'm sure you have plenty to do.)

February 1, 2008 7:44 PM  
Anonymous Pudifoot said...

anon: there are plenty of things to think about until book 2 comes out. things like what does "a wise man fears" means. in book one it says (i am paraphasing) "a wise man fears 3 things: a storm at sea, a moonless night, and a calm man's anger" or something like that.

February 1, 2008 11:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maarten, I think Pat was just being silly. Strange coming from him, I know. ;)

February 2, 2008 10:10 AM  
Anonymous maarten said...

Did I overreact?... sorry...
Any of the American fans know where the Netherlands are located on the world map? (No Wikipedia! Just try without the help of the net)
Nonetheless, your still the best Pat. And you should learn Dutch, it would be fun!

February 2, 2008 3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not great at geography, but I do know where the Netherlands are. I promise we're not all like that blond lady who didn't even know France is a country, LOL! Anyway, I'm glad we're all on the same page... that Pat rocks! :)

February 3, 2008 12:12 PM  
Anonymous team cool said...

Funny thing is, in Belgium we get to learn the gazilian states of America.
But when you tell an american that you're Belgian he's like: 'OOh so you're asian'

February 3, 2008 12:21 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I keep thinking I should really buy the College Survival Guide book. Didn't the UWSP editing class actually use that as their semester project a couple of years ago?

Good luck with all your translation issues.

February 3, 2008 12:45 PM  
Blogger Fire At Midnight said...

Hey, anyone know why we don't have a forum? How bitchin' [sic] would that be? I think it would be totally "fly" and "off the hizzook". I used to use the teamxbox forums awhile back. And yes, that means that I actually spent time contributing to discourses on the why certain consoles were superior to other consoles. Fatuous? Indeed. Puerile? Verily! Unnecessarily verbose and pleonasm-tastic? Yessir. Still, if said forum were to exist, one would assume that its inhabitants were fans of books. The resultant inference being that, yes, the contributors were literate! Something I cannot assume for this teamxbox website.
Now, (extraordinary) gentleman, my proposition is a simple one, and I believe it can accomplished with great facility. As the proposer of this idea, I would like to arrogate the position of supreme dictator. You may ask yourself, now, why do you no longer post on the aforementioned website of electronic epistolary. Do not let this bother you. There is no cake.

February 4, 2008 7:38 PM  
Blogger Mary J. said...

Fire At Midnight:
Pat is trying to piece together an official one. He has politely asked his fanboys (and fangirls) to hold off so when he launches the biggin' we won't all have to switch over. His facebook group holds most of us over in the meantime-
Pat Rothfuss's Legion of Fanatical Minions: The Global Group

February 4, 2008 8:30 PM  
Anonymous Nick said...


Highly interesting post. Though my vocabulary is currently up to pace with yours, I generally refrain from using any large words in normal conversation.

Also, I am in agreement with the forum idea, though I'll place Pat as our great and powerful leader...

Nick (whose cousins once lived in Belgium)

February 4, 2008 8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As always, I have enjoyed the college survival guide. Now a 5th year senior, I always look forward to your next work of awesomeness.

Thanks for an enjoyable college experience, and I love the Name of the Wind...

- a loyal minion for life

February 5, 2008 12:13 AM  
Anonymous Timo said...

I just finished reading your book in Dutch. I loved it.

The translation was quite good. For as far as I could see, no mistakes were made.

I'll probably be looking for the original English version the coming weeks.

I'm looking forward to reading the sequel. Keep up the good work.

February 7, 2008 6:17 AM  
Blogger Alena said...

Maarten, thanks for posting the Dutch translation snippet!

I've always felt vaguely guilty for not learning more than a few words of Dutch, as I come from a strong Dutch background (my great-great-grandfather -- or maybe another great -- came over from Holland). Maybe Pat's books will be the excuse I need to learn a little more of the language!

February 9, 2008 6:22 PM  
Blogger yellowdog granny said...

I just finished The Name of The Wind...I'm at a loss for words....No I'm not..I'm never at a loss for words...I loved your fucking book...didn't want it to end...and when I realized it was getting close to the end and I knew there was more story to come I got all excited...more Kvothe, Bast and the Chronicle...So..exactly when is Day 2 coming out..? I'm not going to be able to sleep well until I get my hot little hands on it..Bless you my child for such a great story..
Im just going to be so pissed...I have 5 more books to read in my stack by my chair.and none of them are going to be as good as could they?....sigh*.

February 10, 2008 9:05 PM  
Blogger yellowdog granny said...

ps..has some slick producer tried to talk you into a movie of the name of the wind?, how cool would that be...

February 10, 2008 9:06 PM  
Blogger Tobaldo said...

It's been nice reading this post, Pat :)
But, forgive me for boasting, some of the impossibilities you mentioned were, in fact, possible.
The Artificery in Italian has become "Artefattoria" (Artifact -> Artefatto) so the nickname became "Fattoria", which means Farm... not exactly a Fishery, but I think Italian readers can live with it ;)
For what regards "belows/bellows/blows/billows"... well, it took some thinking, but in the end "alti/arti/alati/aliti" (i.e. aboves/limbs/winged/puffs) did the trick :)

Well, congratulations for your novel and I am looking forward to the next one... also for professional reasons :D

February 24, 2008 5:16 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

Tobaldo: Are you my Italian Translator? If so, It's nice to finally meet you. (You should send me a message using the contact form on the webpage, I don't have your e-mail address....)

It's really cool for me to hear how translators managed to work around some of my (probably pretty irritating) wordplay...

Do you mind if I mention those particulars in a blog later?

February 24, 2008 6:10 AM  
Blogger Tobaldo said...

Yes, I am... and no, I don't mind ;)
Keep up the good work... and the wordplay: it is one of the reasons why I liked your book so much!

February 24, 2008 4:08 PM  
Anonymous cindy said...

Dear Mr. Rothfuss,

I am the Chinese translator for "The Name of the Wind".
I am so excited to find that you kept a comprehensive FAQ for translators.
May I have a copy as well?
It would help me a lot.

Best Regards,

Cindy from Taiwan ([email protected])

July 12, 2009 7:23 AM  

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