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Dance of the Puppets

Like a bat on a hot tin roof since August 2005

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Valerian translation project (1)

My copy of Valerian volume 2: L'Empire des Mille Planetes (Empire of a Thousand Planets) arrived today, so my attempt to translate it commences.

I was worried that I'd look at the first page and it would be complete gibberish to me, but in fact I was pleasantly surprised by how much of it I could read, even though my program of building on the french I learned at school is only up to lesson 6 (of 90) of Pimsleur's Learn French course, and I don't expect it to include words like spatio-temporel.

Even so, the words that I don't get in the sentances are usually the important ones, so I'm going to have to look a lot of it up. Looking around at what is available I decided first port of call would be Google's automatic translation service. Here's the text of the opening page in french:



Noirs espaces infinis de l'univers, soleils brulants eclairant des terres in connues. Combien de milliards de civilisations d'etres vivants pouvez-vous abriter?

And Google's translation:

Blacks infinite spaces of the universe, suns brulants lighting of the grounds in known. How many billion civilizations alive beings can you shelter?

Not bad for a machine, although when there are several likely meanings to a word the choice you get seems pretty random. The only word it rejects completely is brulant, and it doesn't even get brûler (meaning to burn) without the accent.

So correcting the mistakes and rearranging it into something that makes sense in english, what do we get? How about:

The black infinite spaces of the universe, punctuated by the light of stars that brighten the known worlds. How many billion living civilisations do you shelter?

Could be better, but I think it gets the sense across.

On to page 2. Well, page 4 actually, since it is numbered from the title page.


To start with I was flying along, only needing to check the occasional word here or there.

In a remote galaxy one planet forms the centre of an immense solar system.
It is Syrte the Magnificent, capital of the Empire of a Thousand Planets.
Syrte, with its fabulous imperial palace, houses the last descendent of a dynasty which, since the dawn of time, has extended its influence over all of the planets of the system.

Only the accredited ambassadors of the empire and the prince's favourites may penetrate the heavily guarded palace.


But then I ran into a problem.

Le peuple qui souvent se presse au pied l'edifice ne peut qu'entendre les echos de fetes mysteriouses.

Which Google tells me means:

the people which often press with the foot the building can only hear the echoes of fetes mysteriouses.

I don't get this. Who are the people referred to here and why/how are they listening to the echoes of mysterious fate by pressing their feet against the building? Is it a mistranslation or a colloquialism that is zooming over my head?

Moving on...

But Syrte is the great marketplace of the empire. In the souks and along the canals one can find anything one's heart desires. The merchants of the empire scour the outer worlds to bring back innumerable wonders.

That wasn't so hard.

Now if only someone a little more gifted with la francais can help me with the whole foot pressing business I can continue.

12 Comments:

Blogger Snard said...

I know zero French, but it seems to me that "press with the foot" might be an idiom for "walk into" or "enter" (i.e. "enter the building").

2:03 pm  
Anonymous Rose said...

I thought it took de but I'm pretty sure "se presser" is a colloquial reflexive meaning "hurry oneself" or something like that. So "the people who often hurry on foot (past?) the building are able to hear only echoes of mysterious parties." That's my rusty French guess, anyway, and perhaps at least closer to right.

2:50 pm  
Blogger Marionette said...

You're right, according to my dictionary se presser means to hurry (up), so the line would be something like "people hurrying past the building can only hear the echoes of mysterious fate" which almost works except that despite sounding portentious and atmospheric it doesn't really mean anything.

Is it just purple prose or am I still missing something?

3:36 pm  
Blogger chris heimpel said...

I'd guess it means that the little people rushing around have no idea what mysterious things are happening. Or something like that. Je ne parle pas Francais.

7:09 pm  
Anonymous Rose said...

It's not fates but fetes, celebrations, or an orgy or who knows what? The elites are up to some sort of revelry deep inside the building and only the merest hints can be noticed by passers-by. Something like that. It's setting up a dichotomy between insiders and outsiders, I suppose.

But then again we're talking about a book where there's a planet at the center of the solar system, so perhaps we shouldn't take things too literally.

And I distinguish between "only hear" and "hear only" because I'm a nerd who took too many language classes, but I assume you know which it means in the English.

7:37 pm  
Blogger Marionette said...

Oops. My bad. I really shouldn't rely on a mechanical translatation of stuff I'm unsure about when I've already proved how pants it is. Festival it is indeed. So how about

People hurrying past catch only faint echoes of the mysterious festivities going on within.

Does that fly? I think 'passers by' reads better than 'people hurrying past' but the text specifies the hurrying bit so I thought I should keep it in and 'passers by hurrying' didn't seem right.

8:35 pm  
Anonymous David Morris said...

Um...I have pretty poor french, but it occurs to me to ask if you're certain whether the foot belongs to the people or the palace, as in foot of the stairs/ ladder etc.
I've been looking at the Hodder Dargaud translation of "Ambassador of Shadows". It opens "Perhaps in the boundlessness of receding time the universe was devoid of life...but countless are the memories bearing the imprint of civiliasations lost to infinity." L Mitchell really anticipated the style of on-line translation in 1984 with his or her translation. I expect from this sample she/he went on to write lyrics for anime theme songs...

9:58 pm  
Anonymous methane said...

Well, on the first page you missed a line, and 'inconnues' is one word, meaning 'unknown'. With that in mind, I'd say a literal translation of the first page is:

"Black infinite spaces of the Universe, Burning suns lighting unknown lands...How many billions of civilizations, how many bilions of billions of living beings can you shelter?"

I think "au pied de l'edifice" means "to the foot of the building", though I'm not completely sure. I don't see passers-by in that phrase. Seems like the people hurry to the foot of the edifice. Maybe the rulers give speeches from the palace, or perhaps they all gather whenever people come and go from the palace (kind of like all the people who gathered outside the Oscars to see red carpet festivities).

The rest of it all looks fine to me.

2:20 am  
Anonymous methane said...

Oh, I should note milliard is a billion in American English (1 000 000 000). In British English, you guys traditionally use a thousand-million for milliard. In traditional British English, a billion is equal to a million million (1 000 000 000 000), though some have adapted to American usage.

2:36 am  
Anonymous Vida said...

Le peuple qui souvent se presse au pied de l'edifice ne peut qu'entendre les echos de fetes mysteriouses.
would be something like
The people that often crowd at the foot of the building can only hear the echos of mysterious celebrations.

I don't really like my use of "people", peuple means "the common folks" (more or less) here...

12:38 pm  
Anonymous Jakob said...

I own the swedish translation of said comic (my native language), and the passage reads something like this in english:

"The people outside [ie those who are NOT the above mentioned favourites of the prince] will have to satisfy with listen to the sound of the festivities"

Oops... sorry if my lousy english made this even more confusing than it was...

11:16 pm  
Blogger Marionette said...

Translations always get a bit creative. One thing that put me off working from the german edition is that they translate the title of volume 8: Les Heros de L'Equinoxe (english edition is the virtually literal translation 'Heroes of the Equinox') as 'Die Insel der Kinder' (The Island of Children').

But then they also call Laureline Veronique.

10:41 pm  

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