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August 29, 2018
The title: Not just a translation challenge

Word cloud „The World At Your Back“
© Goethe-Institut Korea

By Sabine Müller. Almost every day, Thomas Melle and the ten translators of the Merck Social Translating Project meet on the e-Book platform Lectory. Although their exchange normally isn’t accessible to outsiders, here we decided to give you some insight into the questions and the many creative solutions that are proposed and discussed on the platform.

In November 2017, the translators of the Merck Social Translating Project met in person for the first time in Seoul. Even during this kick-off meeting, a lively discussion broke out over the title of the novel and its ambiguity. Although a working title for the translation suffices for communication between the translators, publishers, and editors during the translation process, in the end everyone has to agree on a title. Does the translator or the publisher choose the title? Which considerations play a role, especially for a title that allows for such a broad range of associations in the original language?
 
In addition to the option to insert comments and entire successions of comments directly into specific passages of the novel, the Lectory platform also offers a section for “General comments.” This is where members of the platform can post their questions, comments, and thoughts related to the book in general or to additional materials. 

Exchange on the title of the book

The following exchange on the title of the book shows posts from the translators made at the beginning of the exchange in the platform’s “General comments” section as well as posts on the title in the direct exchange section.
Lectory discussion on title© Goethe-Institut Korea via lectory.io

Translator 1
The title of the book already appeals to me! In terms of the equivalence issue, how can I translate the title into my language? It’s easy in English.
 
Translator 2
I agree with Translator 1. I had the same question, namely, isn’t it the world on your back or behind your back?
 
Translator 3
Dear colleagues, have you already come up with a suitable title in your language? I like to think back to our discussion at the first meeting in Seoul, where everyone said something about it. I think I could come up with a title that alludes to both the actual meaning/interpretation of “carrying the heavy burden of the world on your back” or “feeling persecuted by the world” that is also a saying in my language that plays with an image that is easy to decipher. I’ve thought about two or three such options, but I have to talk about it with my editor and publisher. I’d like to know which possible options you are considering.
 
Translator 4
For now my “working title” is ON THE EDGE It might be a bit sensational and cheap, but a book title should encourage someone to look inside :p

Lectory discussion on title© Goethe-Institut Korea via lectory.io

Sabine Müller, Moderator
During our meeting in Seoul we had a long discussion about the title. Our understanding / our associations ranged from “having the world breathing down your neck” in the sense of feeling chased down by it; “in the back” also as an image of “carrying on your back, hard to carry” all the way to “turned away from the world”, or positively “The world having your back as support.” My question to you: Have you already come up with a title for your translation? Can you explain the translation in your languages in German [translated here in English]?
 
Thomas Melle
This naturally interests me as well!
 
Thomas Melle
As stated, the positive interpretation with the “world having your back as support” is there, but if I had to decide, I would always play it down. Above all, the idea of being alienated from the world and threatened must be expressed.
 
Translator 5
“Die Welt im Rücken, werde ich nicht aufgeben.” [“The world at my back, I won’t give it up.”] Isn’t this sentence on the last page meant positively? After all, I think that the title, which appears again on the last page (and as a “world at your back that isn’t to be given up”) is very important for the interpretation.
 
Thomas Melle
At the end, this is a positive turnaround of the title, yes. Like a surprise. But if I had to decide, I would still prefer the negative interpretation for the title.

Sabine Müller
This also came out during our discussion about the title in Seoul.

Translator 6
The world behind your back!

Lectory discussion on title© Goethe-Institut Korea via lectory.io

Sabine Müller, Moderator
Hi everyone, here’s another question related to this: To what extent do you have a say in selecting the title? Or is that solely up to the publisher? Thanks for your feedback.
 
Translator 4
The publisher generally follows the translator’s suggestions. My working title is “On the Edge” and it may even have a good chance of being realized.

Sabine Müller
Hi everyone, are there any other working titles that have a good chance of being realized? Please feel free to let us know if you have already agreed upon the title with the publisher. Thanks!
 
Thomas Melle
I quickly want to comment that you shouldn’t allow the cover to have too much of an influence. “On the Edge” is ok, but this fall metaphor reduces the topic of the book just to this (and the German cover paved the way for that). Bipolar disorder isn’t a balancing act; it is ups and downs with the risk of falling. The German cover with the “balancing act” emphasizes the risk, but someone with bipolar disorder is not as careful as someone walking on a tightrope. I just wanted to add that.
 
Translator 5
The title of the Korean translation is: “The World at Your Back.” And the subtitle is: “The chronology of my bipolar disorder.”
 
Translator 7
The Mongolian title might be “The World on Your Back,” which is also ambiguous. That is still just a preliminary decision, but it won’t be completely changed.
 
Translator 4
To date we still haven’t been able to come up with something equivalent in Vietnamese with multiple meanings. My working title corresponds to “On the Edge.”
The publisher generally follows the translator’s suggestions.
 

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