August 4, 2003

Dead Reckoning

by Nick Montfort · , 2:05 pm

I’ve just recently completed a translation of Olvido Mortal, an award-winning Spanish interactive fiction work. (You can try it on the Web should you not want to download it.) It was a rather involved process to carry across into English both its langauge and its workings, even though this piece is quite short and the author, Andrés Viedma Peláez, had written and coded clearly. But I found it a rewarding experience, and I’m glad to help share one of the gems of Spanish interactive fiction with the English-speaking world.

As far as I know there are no other interactive fiction works at all that have been translated into English by native English speakers, and there are only a few works that have been translated to other languages. (Some electronic literature in other forms has been translated into English – for instance, Chris Marker’s Immemory. I hope to say more about that work soon. Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries is exemplary in offering translations into many languages, although the task of translation is easier in this case since these works aren’t interactive programs.) Since I’m quite enriched by reading literature in translation, and since I know there are active German, Italian, and Spanish interactive fiction communities, it disappoints me that no other IF seems to have been translated. I hope others will undertake translations in the future. Is anyone aware of other IF that has been translated into English? Or interested in pointing me to other good electronic literature in translation?

4 Responses to “Dead Reckoning”

  1. Jill Says:

    There just plain isn’t much electronic literature or IF in the Scandinavian languages, which are the only non-English languages I’ve actually kept track of, when it comes to electronic literature. In Norway there’s commercial incentive to translate popular literature and cinema to Norwegian, of course, and I think there’s even public funding to help fund translations of Norwegian literature into English and other languages – spread Norwegian culture and all that, you know. That hasn’t quite spread to electronic literature yet, though…

  2. Michael Says:

    Nick, I’d be curious to hear more about the particular translation difficulties of translating IF. You write:

    Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries is exemplary in offering translations into many languages, although the task of translation is easier in this case since these works aren’t interactive programs.

    On the face of it, it seems as if one could individually translate all the room, object, action, etc. descriptions appearing within the IF. This would turn translating IF into a “normal” translation job, “only” as difficult as translating non-interactive novels or poetry. I imagine what you might say is that an IF program is a work of potential literature – the particular sequence of sentences you’ll see depends on what the player does, and the translation must be done in such a way as to work for all these possible sequences, not just a single sequence. At the extreme end, one can imagine some hypergenerative IF that uses deep NLG to construct all sentences from some inner meaning representation. All descriptions would be constructed from a lexicon of individual words, with the program doing all the work of conjugating verbs, enforcing number agreement, introducing aesthetically pleasing pragmatic effects, and so forth. In this case translating the individual words in the lexicon wouldn’t work for the same reason that word-by-word (dictionary-lookup) translation doesn’t work – context matters! But the grain size of contemporary IF is much larger than this – a room description can easily be 8 or 10 sentences. In this case it seems like most of the natural language context that matters for determining meaning is happening within the text chunks rather than across the text chunks, and thus the text chunks could be translated without a concern for the cross-chunk permutations introduced by player interaction. But, it sounds like you did find that even with large-grain-size IF the “potential” nature of IF did matter for the translation. I’d love to hear a concrete example of this.

  3. kristi harwood Says:

    i am taking a spanish literature course and i am having a hard time understanding the literature in one of the 5 books for the class. i was wondering if you knew where i could get a translated version of the book or a review or theme and character list that is in english to help me understnad a little better? the name of the book is:Panorama de la litertura espanola by adams/Keller/Aquirre. id appreciate any help. thanks

    kristi harwood

  4. nick Says:

    I won’t be of much help here, but that’s a great question to ask your TA or professor.

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