Monday, September 28, 2009

Fan Translating

Dr. Sebnem Susam-Sarajeva of the University of Edinburgh is currently conducting research on fan translations of lyrics.

I think she’s on to something new, and one implication is that the concept of fansubbing (i.e., subtitling of videos by their fans) needs to be broadened to include other media. Hence we require a cover term, perhaps simply fan translating. No doubt it’s a partial synonym of collective translating (see blog posting of Feb. 16, 2009) but in principle I don’t see why it shouldn’t be an individual activity.

Dr. Susam-Sarajeva’s email address is

She’s slated to talk about ‘Non-professionals translating/interpreting’ on Monday, December 7 at the Centre for Translation & Intercultural Studies of the University of Manchester (Samuel Alexander Building , Room A101, 2-4 p.m.). I think it will be a first for the CTIS, so here's hoping there will be a good attendance.

If anybody has news of other research projects in the fields covered by this blog (namely Natural Translation, Native Translation and Language Brokering), I’ll be happy to post it up.


  1. An interesting example of fan translating (and the legal consequences) arose a few years ago when the Harry Potter series was still being released. I read an article in the BBC ( about the Spanish and German bootleg versions, which were prepared by fans of the series who couldn't wait for the official translations to be released. Another article ( talked about a collective effort by German fans to translate the book online, with each fan translating a chapter or two and then uploading it for anyone to read. After the first six chapters were translated and posted online, the project was shut by the publisher of German editions, due to copyright infringement.

  2. Yes, thank you. And not only German and Spanish.

    "There is always a race to translate the latest J.K. Rowling. As well as the authorised versions, internet fan clubs from Germany to Vietnam leap instantly to work. But copyright issues remain murky: a teenager in Provence spent a night in jail for circulating an instant translation. The police let him off, impressed by his near-professional work."

    The French teenager wasn't an Expert Translator, but all the pirate translators are certainly advanced Native Translators because they know the previous Harry Potter translations into their language – and probably know them by heart.

    You mention one of the major motives for fan translating: the time one has to wait for an official translation, weeks or months. I think the Harry Potter industry was asking for trouble, though, because Rowling (or her publishers) refused to release the source texts to her translators before the English originals had appeared.

    It would be interesting if somebody besides the police could track down that French teenager’s translation and compare it with the official one.