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Policies & Practices > Combining translations

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message 1: by Nicolás (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:22AM) (new)

Nicolás Tamargo de Eguren (reosarevok) In the 'combining editions' section, there is a DO that says 'combine different languages editions' and a DON'T which says 'don't combine different translations'. So... if I have for example a Jules Verne book, which has several Spanish translations, should I combine the translations with the original book or not?

Another thing is... Is there any way of correcting an author's name -'Federico García Lorca' is right, 'Federico Garcia Lorca' isn't- without changing the wrong name (a 'merge' option or something). Cause I fear that in merging the wrong name into the right one I might be erasing author's information or something like that...


message 2: by Ryan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:23AM) (new)

Ryan | 2 comments I'm not sure I understand the principles behind the guidelines for combing different editions. On the belief that these guidelines are still evolving, I wanted to add my two cents and find out if I'm missing something. I understand, or can imagine, the intent behind each of the two guidelines - combine books in different languages; don't combine different translations - but don't see how they can be reconciled together.

I assume the first fosters situations where, for example, I speak english and you speak german but because of the combining of different language editions I see that you like Kafka as much as I do and I see you also like Jose Saramago, who originaly wrote in Portuguese. Thereby, readers across languages and cultures find new books to read.

I assume the latter is in acknowledgment that two different interpretations are two different books that are deliberately in tension with each other by virtue of each translator's take on the original. Or can be quite different in tone and meaning.

However, it seems the latter rule prevents the goals of the former. Also, isn't a translation from the original effectively different from the original in the same way two different translations are different from each other?

I suspect it is very rare when two different translations are at such variance with each other. I also think the majority of readers are indifferent if not oblivious to the slight differences between different translations. Finally, I suggest that for those whom a particular translation is what has really endeared - or repulsed - them to a book will identify that fact in a more thorough review. Thus, people who simply rate books will find others with similar tastes to mine for recommendations while those who are particular will give their reasons and be similarly suspect of others' ratings.

I know this is an overly long comment. I'm not suggesting we get into the particulars of the philosophy of criticism or that I find the current guidelines absurd. I just think they can be a bit confusing and wanted to suggest as much. Please let me know if I'm missing something here or my assumptions are wrong.

message 3: by Nicolás (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:23AM) (new)

Nicolás Tamargo de Eguren (reosarevok) I know that's possible. But if you edit it from the author's profile and the name you choose is the same as an author already in the database (something that's bound to happen if you're correcting accents or hyphens), the new data overwrites the previous data, erasing pics, dates, bios and all that.

message 4: by Kate (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:23AM) (new)

Kate (kate-schmate) | 6 comments Can Elizabeth or Otis comment on why we shouldn't combine different translations? If I read one translation of Camus and a friend of mine read another, I'd want to know that we read the same book. Different translations are not likely to be so drastically unalike that it's not worth listing them under a common title.

The rule seems to assume that translators take such a liberal view of interpretation, to the extent that the book is utterly transformed in the translation. To me that's like putting authorship in the hands of the translator.

I don't want to minimize the disparate effects that different translations can have on a text, but if La Peste is The Plague is Die Pest, then I don't think the various translations within each language should be kept separate.

It might also be worth considering that even one publishing house can have multiple translations of a single work.

message 5: by Otis, Chief Architect (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:23AM) (new)

Otis Chandler | 315 comments Mod
Hey everyone,

Check out this thread, where I posted a response that covers my thoughts on these topics: []

message 6: by Kate (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:24AM) (new)

Kate (kate-schmate) | 6 comments Hi Otis,

I did read those comments - thanks, and I think most people are on the same page. I guess what I'm concretely asking is whether it's then a good idea to remove this from the Combining Editions page:

"don't combine:
Different translations of the same book. One translation of Homer is not the same as another. "

message 7: by Jacques (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:25AM) (new)

Jacques Bromberg (grebmorb) | 1 comments Dear GoodReaders,

If I've learned anything from my years working in different languages, it's that there's no such thing as a "straight translation." In fact, translations always vary enormously among themselves.

Consequently, I agree in principle with Otis' instruction not to combine different translations, and I strongly feel that "One translation of Homer is not the same as another." It's easy to forget sometimes, but we actually have NOTHING written by Homer, or by many other authors (including Chaucer and Shakespeare). What we have are EDITED TEXTS which, filtered through generations of research and rebuttal, represent an editor's best guess as to the original text.

For this reason, each edition or translation of any text represents an original piece of work by an editor or translator, and their efforts deserve just recognition. I doubt very much if they would appreciate the allegation that all translations are virtually indistinguishable.

Last week, when I opened the "Hamlet" page, I was shocked to find dozens of combined editions of the play. Each of these has its own introduction, commentary, and index, and (yes) even the English text of "Hamlet" changes from edition to edition, sometimes with significant dramatic effects. I would very much like to pull out the editions I have read and enjoyed (Oxford, Arden, Folger, Yale), without worrying that someone will come along and mush them together again -- erasing my individual comments on each edition.

For some time now, I've suspected that we might run into serious difficulties with the "combine editions" feature. My immediate instinct was that we should consider scrapping it altogether, rather that leaving up to individual users to decide (arbitrarily) when an editor or translator is "just trying to translate it and not change the book significantly". In my view, this presents an impossible polarity: no translator worth his salt would admit to deliberately attempting to alter a book significantly, yet none can avoid making significant decisions on behalf of his audience; always, there remain sticky issues of cultural meaning that accompany any translation project.

Can we come up with another way to have conversations about books without necessarily assuming that every book entitled "Hamlet" or "The Odyssey" is the same? By the same token, how can users review a specific edition or translation without worrying that someone will come along and combine it with a different edition or translation?

Here's one idea: we should continue to combine editions AND ADD ALL TRANSLATIONS. If they like, readers may then specify which edition(s) and/or translation(s) they are reviewing.

Just my $0.02.


message 8: by Erin (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:25AM) (new)

Erin | 8 comments I think that, at some point with a project like this one, decisions need to be made about whether the purpose of the venture is more academic/professional or more social/informal. There are benefits and drawbacks to each. As a librarian with a background in cataloging, I can tell you that, personally, things like the lack of authority control for names and titles drive me absolutely nuts. But this isn't a library, and I don't know that it matters to any but a few of us (who are probably all professionally tied to this kind of thing) whether or not things get done the "correct" way. It would make things easier and better in some ways, but it also requires a fairly sophisticated understanding for the "librarians", a good degree of centralized oversight of records, and a codification of procedure. I'm not sure it would be worth it in terms of the return you'd get for the amount of work.
Yes, for some books (Master and Margarita comes to mind) there are significant differences between translations in terms of language, humor, and style. Some books have editions that are considered definitive and others that are considered second-best. But again, I don't think that the average user cares much beyond seeing whether they and their friends have read the same title by the same author. Perhaps the burden could be put on the user to specify a particular edition or translation, if they want (with the addition of another field on the review screen)?

message 9: by Ryan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:26AM) (new)

Ryan | 2 comments I agree. I can't add much more other than to second the reasons offered, and those in my earlier comment (#2), and comments 6 & 8 by Kate.

If a dozen people who have read a book have all rated a different edition, annotation, or translation, can't connect then this site's usefulness is severely limited.

message 10: by Otis, Chief Architect (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:26AM) (new)

Otis Chandler | 315 comments Mod
Hey everyone,

This is amazing. We asked for your input, not knowing what we would get, and I'm so excited to see people so passionate about helping us make Goodreads a better place!

When we formed the rules on not combining translations that are 'significantly different', it was based on several people's influence, who told us of the social advantages to having it that way. For instance, if you read a Greek version of Homer it would put you in touch with a smaller and more valuable group of other people who did so, and not just everyone who read him in school.

However, after reading the comments in this thread, it is clear that the 'gray area' in deciding what is 'significantly different' is too unclear. I think Jacques' suggestion is the way to go. So we're going to recommend that ALL translations should be combined. People who have read more than one edition/translation of a book can review all of them, or just review one and mention in the comments the differences. This will, as several of you mentioned, help us keep the site social, which keeps in line with the purpose of what we are all doing here anyways.

The consequences of this decision are that we may need to make some interface improvements to call out people who may have reviewed multiple editions of a book. We'll start brainstorming, but if you all have ideas, please share them here!

message 11: by Femmy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:26AM) (new)

Femmy | 26 comments I think it is great that the current recommendation is that all translations are going to be combined. I fully support this decision.

I prefer to read books in the original language (though unfortunately this only covers Indonesian and English), while some friends like to read them in Indonesian. So it is wonderful if I can see all of our ratings for Harry Potter, for example, regardless of the fact that I read the series in English and my friends read it in Indonesian.

message 12: by Dustin (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:28AM) (new)

Dustin | 3 comments I would like to emphasize the point that Jacques made: There are no 'straight translations'. Does a translator try to preserve the exact words in a sentence? The original authors writing style? The 'feeling' of the text? What do you do with rhymes, alliteration, slang, colloquialisms, word play, puns, etc.? Humor usually does not translate well. Do you change the joke to keep the humor? In verse, do you change lines in order to stick to the meter? As D. Hoffstadter points out: 'How do you translate broken Russian spoken with a German accent, into English?'

For the functionality of this site, I see the need to combine more rather than fewer books; however, I would be very hesitant to make "combine" the rule of thumb.

I think one solution would be to lump all versions of a book under one super-heading, beneath which different editions/translations could be grouped as they are now. For some purposes, such as the "compare books" tool, the super-heading could be used. For others, such as writing reviews, the specific book or group of books would be used. This would connect people that have read different translations of the same book but would still keep those translations distinguishable.

The rating system might become a bit complicated but those are details...

message 13: by Nicolás (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:28AM) (new)

Nicolás Tamargo de Eguren (reosarevok) I personally like that 'sub-combinations' idea. Don't know how hard to implement would it be, but... sounds nice.

message 14: by Otis, Chief Architect (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:28AM) (new)

Otis Chandler | 315 comments Mod

I've been thinking of similar solutions, and I think your thoughts are right on the money. We'll keep brainstorming on a good way to implement that!

message 15: by Otis, Chief Architect (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:29AM) (new)

Otis Chandler | 315 comments Mod
Hi Five,

It is dangerous. The length of this thread alone proves that there is plenty to debate. But the consensus seems to be that for social purposes, its better to combine, so you can know that a friend has read a version (any version) of a book. Then you can compare notes on different translations in your reviews. This obviously isn't perfect (as Dustin pointed about above), but I think its on the right track towards a better solution.

message 16: by Femmy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:29AM) (new)

Femmy | 26 comments Maybe Five is on to something. So far the discussion has been about how different one translation is from another, or a translation from the original, which is difficult to tell unless we've had a chance to read and compare them.

But after reading Five's post, perhaps we should have one rule for modern books (especially novels), and another rule for ancient writings, such as Dante and Homer, as some people have mentioned, but more importantly, religious books like the Qur'an or the Bible. For these kinds of books, certainly translations matter a great deal, and should be kept separate.

message 17: by Petya (new)

Petya (petyam) | 2 comments Hi, I have a problem with combining editions.
I just became a Goodreads Librarian and haven't gotten the knack of everything yet... Well, the thing is, I read a lot of translations in Bulgarian and German, so I thought I could contribute to Goodreads by creating book pages for translations in these languages and combine them.

Now, so far I added two books by Stephen King - "Misery" and "It", with their Bulgarian titles, ISBNs, and descriptions. "It" was automatically combined with the other issues, I don't remember doing anything special there. Misery, on the other hand, is a pain the fanny - I've been trying for an hour now to understand why I can't combine it with the rest! I compared the entries for "Misery" and "It" to see where I might have missed something, but I there were no clues.

So I'd be very grateful if you could give me some pointers here :)
Other than that - enjoy reading!

message 18: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) | 2413 comments Petya, Does the first author listed for those works have the exact same spelling as the author of the other editions? The spelling has to be precisely the same.

message 19: by vicki_girl (last edited Aug 27, 2009 09:49AM) (new)

vicki_girl | 2765 comments I got them to combine.

BTW, Stephen King needs ALOT of help. There are numerous foreign language editions that need to be combined. Also, there are several novels that were split into seperate volumes for translation that have been combined with the whole work. Any takers?

ETA: There also appears to be several short stories that were added separately from their original collection.

Should I start a new thread for this?

message 20: by rivka, Librarian Moderator (new)

rivka | 45451 comments Mod

message 21: by Petya (new)

Petya (petyam) | 2 comments Yes, excellent idea!
Thank you for combining the ones I wrote about, vicky_girl.
I'd love to join efforts in making a clean sweep in Stephen King's works.

message 22: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan (lisavegan) | 2413 comments I'd love to join efforts in making a clean sweep in Stephen King's works.

Petya, Just jump in! Thanks for any help you contribute!

message 23: by Marc (new)

Marc Adler (marcadler) | 2 comments Combining translations is a horrible idea, since that stops users from adding the original as well as translations to their bookshelves, and also from grading them differently, or from grading various translations differently.

I understand the desire to centralize, so that people can see who else is reading a book, but frankly how useful is that? If I read a book in language A and you read it in language B, right there you can see at least a potential barrier to fruitful discussion.

Sub-combination would be very good. That way people could add different language versions of books and still stay connected, if that's really what people think is best.

Of course, implementing some kind of more fully-featured categorization function would be even better.

message 24: by rivka, Librarian Moderator (last edited Sep 16, 2009 01:10PM) (new)

rivka | 45451 comments Mod
Marc wrote: "since that stops users from adding the original as well as translations to their bookshelves, and also from grading them differently, or from grading various translations differently."

False, false, and false.

Here's how.

message 25: by Marc (new)

Marc Adler (marcadler) | 2 comments Ah, thanks for that.

But why doesn't it just let me do that when I enter the ISBN?

message 26: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn (seeford) | 579 comments Marc wrote: "But why doesn't it just let me do that when I enter the ISBN?"

A few days later, but hopefully still helpful.

The ISBN is [usually:] tied to a particular printer's edition of a book, so multiple copies of, lets say Homer, would have multiple ISBNs.

Type in your ISBN, review that book, then follow the directions in the link rivka gave, above, to pull up other editions to review.

message 27: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 16, 2013 08:11AM) (new)

I want to add a book that has a cover with scandinavian language but his edition is portuguese..
What can I do?

Best regards,

message 28: by rivka, Librarian Moderator (new)

rivka | 45451 comments Mod
We cannot use covers or book data from booksellers like AbeBooks. (The one recent except to this is Amazon.)

As a general response to your question, you can always add a new edition with the proper language, if one in that language does not already exist. Just the same as adding any edition that does not yet exist in our database.

message 29: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 16, 2013 10:41AM) (new)

Even if the cover edition is already in Scandinavian Language?
The edition I only found in the internet is in Scandinavian,but no one appears in Portuguese..
I bought in a superstore...Ok .. I make some publicity..
I bought in Ikea..

message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

Perhaps I've the edition in English,but what happens to the cover?

message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

rivka wrote: "We cannot use covers or book data from booksellers like AbeBooks. (The one recent except to this is Amazon.)

As a general response to your question, you can always add a new edition with the prope..."

Ok,I'll check it on Amazon...

message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

Nothing.In Amazon there's not the real edition I have and bought in Portugal...

message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

I'll start a new topic later..The book is not with me..
Thanks the same.

message 34: by rivka, Librarian Moderator (new)

rivka | 45451 comments Mod
Luís wrote: "I'll start a new topic later.."

That seems best. Link to the book you are talking about and someone can take a look.

message 35: by [deleted user] (new)


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