DE > EN: Let It Go

I've looked at six versions of Let It Go in detail: Catalan, Castilian Spanish, Latin American Spanish, Chinese Mandarin, Taiwanese Mandarin and now German. They all have strengths and weaknesses, and I think each language does some really special things: "ice-sky snow-earth" is really hard to top, and I have favourite lines from each of the other versions I've translated so far.

That said, I feel like I've saved the best for last. Just like children, every version is special, but this one is extra special.

German version

English translation

English version

Der Schnee glänzt weiß auf den Bergen heut' Nacht The snow gleams white on the mountains tonight The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Keine Spuren sind zu sehen No tracks are to be seen Not a footprint to be seen
Ein einsames Königreich An lonesome kingdom A kingdom of isolation
Und ich bin die Königin And I am the queen And it looks like I'm the queen
Der Wind, er heult so wie der Sturm ganz tief in mir The wind, it howls like the storm so deep in me The wind is howling like the swirling storm inside
Nicht zu kontrollieren, ich hab' es versucht Not to control [it], I have tried Couldn't keep it in, heaven knows I tried

The first linguistics class I ever took at New York University was Indo-European Syntax. I needed a science class, linguistics counted as a science, and Indo-European Syntax fit in my schedule and had no prerequisites. I was already a declared Spanish major at the time, and I had an O Level in German, but I had zero linguistics background. I switched into Indo-European Syntax in the second week after a half-hearted first-week dip in the Animation department. I showed up in class, got a copy of the syllabus, and saw that across the top it read "Proto-Indo-European Syntax".

My heart sank. Proto-Indo-European?

After class, I met with the professor in the linguistics department, and I told him I had no prior background in linguistics. Not a problem, he said; as a Spanish major with some formal study in German, I was a perfect candidate for a class like Indo-European Syntax, and he would get me up to speed. For the next hour, he weaved together a primer in historical linguistics, morphosyntax and semantics, and I was hooked -- completely taken by the way he connected one dot to another to another, jumped from one language to another, pulled it all together into a coherent big picture, and made it all so exciting. His sense of wonder at language was pure, childlike and contagious, and it made me want to play with language, too.

It turned out he was a specialist in Germanic historical linguistics, and so for the rest of the semester I had a privileged vantage point. When he talked about subordinate word order in German, the entire syntax of German fell into place in my head. Why didn't my language teachers explain it to me like this? When I then asked him why deshalb did not enforce the same word order as the other conjunctions, he paused and thought for a moment, and said, "good question", and then said, "because it's an adverb." Well, damn it, four years of high school German and all my teachers insisted on pretending it was a conjunction. I remember him asking the class what verb was related to the adjective forlorn, and enjoying his surprise when I pulled out lose. "How did you know?" he asked; "verloren," I said. A little pride still creeps in whenever I think about that exchange.

Professor John Costello was many things to many of his students. To me, he was a magician, and he rekindled my interest in a language that I thought I had no affinity for. It's impossible for me to look at a German word and not smile just a little bit, imagining what wonder he would have found in it.

Maybe that's why I find the German version special.

That's also why I rendered einsam as lonesome, instead of isolated, lonely, etc. I wanted to keep the cognate -some ending. For me, it's part of seeing how German comes together, the history that it shares with the English language, where they meet and where they diverge.

Tracing the etymology of heulen leads back to Proto-Germanic *uwwalon-, last mentioned in the Castilian Spanish version in the discussion about aullar.

"There's always a cognate!" said Prof. Costello once, about the relationship between English and German. The English cognate of versucht is forsought: to seek for. I have sought for not controlling it.

German version

English translation

English version

Lass sie nicht rein Don't let them in Don't let them in
Lass sie nicht sehen Don't let them see Don't let them see
Wie du bist, nein How you are, no Be the good girl
Das darf niemals geschehen That must never happen You always had to be
Du darfst nichts fühlen, zeig ihnen nicht You musn't feel anything, don't show them Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know
Dein wahres Ich Your true self Well, now they know

Keep "lass sie nicht rein, lass sie nicht sehen" in mind. "Sie" here is the third person formal plural accusative pronoun. ("Ihnen" is the third person formal plural dative pronoun.) We'll come back to this later.

Dürfen is "to be allowed", and so you can make a case for "das darf niemals geschehen" to be "that is not allowed to happen", and "du darfst nichts fühlen" to be "you are not allowed to feel anything". I took a little liberty here because "to be allowed" is so clunky, I think "musn't" and "must never" parse a lot more cleanly.

I think this is my favourite version of this verse. It's coherent, it's put together well, it has a lot of force from four different types of negation, including the use of negated dürfen. It loses the sentiment of "well, now they know," but I never liked that line anyway, and "dein wahres Ich" is a perfect fit for this song.

A completely unsolicited look into the way my brain works:

Hmm, there's a random [t] between "wahres" and "Ich" in the recording.

Is it supposed to be there?

Is there some connected speech process that causes [t] to occur in that position?

Well, "Ich" begins with a glottal stop.

Wait, do glottal stops have an audible release?

*searches Wikipedia*

I'm still not sure...

30 minutes later, trying to replicate abovementioned unidentified connected speech process on the train for the first time

Wait a second, [s] doesn't stop airflow at the alveolar ridge, and [ʔ] stops airflow only in the glottis.

So there's no process that could cause a [t], which requires airflow to stop at the alveolar ridge.

It's just a mistake that she made during recording.

If you'd tried this out half an hour ago, instead of messing around on Wikipedia, you'd have figured it out at once.

But wait: do glottal stops have an audible release?

German version

English translation

English version

Ich lass' los, lass jetzt los I'm letting go, let go now Let it go, let it go
Die Kraft, sie ist grenzenlos The power, it is limitless Can't hold it back any more
Ich lass' los, lass jetzt los I'm letting go, let go now Let it go, let go
Und ich schlag' die Türen zu And I slam the doors shut Turn away and slam the door
Es ist Zeit, nun bin ich bereit It is time, now I am ready I don't care what they're going to say
Und ein Sturm zieht auf And a storm is gathering Let the storm rage on
Die Kälte, sie ist nun ein Teil von mir The cold, it is now a part of me The cold never bothered me anyway

The present progressive "I'm letting go" appears here for the same reason it appeared in the Catalan version: "ich lass' los" is an action that is about to happen, which in English is better represented by the present progressive than the simple present. In this case it's even clearer because the second half of the line moves into the imperative mood so it's definitely an impending action, not an ongoing one.

The same logic lies behind "a storm is gathering", rather than "a storm gathers".

German version

English translation

English version

Es ist schon eigenartig It's indeed strange It's funny how some distance
Wie klein jetzt alles scheint How small everything now seems Makes everything seem small
Und die Ängste die in mir waren And the fears that were in me And the fears that fears once controlled me
Kommen nicht mehr an mich ran No longer come near me Can't get to me at all
Was ich wohl alles machen kann Can I perhaps do it all? It's time to see what I can do
Die Kraft in mir treibt mich voran The power in me drives me foward To test the limits and break through
Was hinter mir liegt ist vorbei What lies behind me is past No right, no wrong, no rules for me
Endlich frei! Finally free! I'm free

White flag moment: "was ich wohl alles machen kann" tripped me up. It has subordinate word order, where's the main clause? I went with what made the most sense to me, but you're welcome to disagree with a good explanation.

I do really like the German version but the tautology from the Castilian Spanish version appears in this translation, twice. The first time it shows up is here with "what lies behind me is past" -- sure, Sherlock.

German version

English translation

English version

Ich lass' los, lass jetzt los I'm letting go, let go now Let it go, let it go
Nun bin ich endlich so weit Now I'm finally so free I'm one with the wind and sky
Ich lass' los, lass jetzt los I'm letting go, let go now Let it go, let go
Doch Tränen seht ihr nicht [And] tears you will see no more You'll never see me cry
Hier bin ich, und bleibe hier Here I am, and here I stay Here I stand and here I'm staying
Und ein Sturm zieht auf And a storm is gathering Let the storm rage on

Okay, I sat on "so weit" for a while.

The "ihr" in "seht ihr" is a second-person plural informal subject pronoun. Basically, she's gone from "Sir, I would like to be left alone" three verses ago to "You schmucks suck!" here.

German version

English translation

English version

Ich spüre diese Kraft, sie ist ein Teil von mir I feel this power, it is a part of me My power flurries through the air into the ground
Sie fließt in meine Seele und in all die Schönheit hier It flows in my soul and in all the beauty here My soul is spiralling in frozen fractals all around
Nur ein Gedanke und die Welt wird ganz aus Eis Just one thought and the world becomes completely of ice And one thought crystallises like an icy blast
Ich geh' nie mehr zurück I'm never going back I'm never going back
Das ist Vergangenheit That is history The past is in the past

My favourite verse in any language (at least the ones I can understand).

I'm not too happy about the repetition of "sie ist ein Teil von mir" but I will trade it off for everything else here. It's a lot less imagery-driven than the Mandarin versions, but most languages have such a problem with the whole thing about spiralling ice, German just got rid of it altogether. I love the oneness that the second line implies: the power that flows through my soul also flows through everything that is beautiful around here.

The word Vergangenheit makes me happy. -heit converts an adjective into a noun, or a concrete noun into an abstract noun. Although the English cognate is -hood, -hood doesn't turn adjectives into nouns, so the closest thing English now has is -ness.

Probably the most famous example of this ending comes not from -heit or -hood but from Afrikaans -heid: apartheid, apartness.

Vergangen is the past participle of vergehen, which is made up of ver- "for-" and gehen "go". Vergehen, however, does not mean "forego", because "forego" actually has a different etymology and is cognate with vorgehen, to proceed, to go forward. Vergehen instead means to go away, to disappear, to pass, to elapse.

In my head I like to parse Vergangenheit as "gone-away-ness".

German version

English translation

English version

Ich bin frei, endlich frei I am free, finally free Let it go, let it go
Und ich fühl' mich wie neu geboren And I feel like I'm reborn And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Ich bin frei, endlich frei I am free, finally free Let it go, let go
Was war ist jetzt vorbei What was is now the past That perfect girl is gone
Hier bin ich in dem hellen Licht Here I am in the bright light Here I stand in the light of day
Und ein Sturm zieht auf And a storm is gathering Let the storm rage on
Die Kälte, sie ist nun ein Teil von mir The cold, it is now a part of me The cold never bothered me anyway

Tautology number two: "was war ist jetzt vorbei". No, really?!

I really hate the trailing syllable at the end of the second line here, ge-BOR-en. It feels so anticlimactic.

I know I said I loved the German version, and I do, and I seem to have spent a lot of time talking about things I don't like about it! I have a huge amount of respect for the art and craft of translation, and I think it's super important to stress that while I may nitpick at certain things, these little things are really insignificant in the big picture. It's also much easier to talk about things you don't like than about things you do.

The point of a translation of a creative work such as this is how it makes you feel, and I must admit that in this respect I am a partisan of the German language, for reasons already mentioned above.

This post is part of the Parallel Translation series, where I translate things that have been translated from English into other languages back into English. It's my idea of fun. Yes, I'm a riot at parties.