CAT > EN: Vol Volar / Let It Go Parallel Translation

For a linguaphile like me, Disney releasing the multilanguage version of Let It Go from Frozen was -- well -- better than bacon, eggs and a Milo Dinosaur. You don't want to know how many times I've listened to all the various versions. At one point I put the entire album of 51 tracks on random and for days, I spent my very long commute trying to figure out which language was playing at any given time.

Over the next couple weeks I'm going to be publishing a few of these parallel translations, where I translate the song from Catalan, Spanish, Mandarin and German back into English, and put it next to the original English version.

I need to write a post on my approach to these translations soon. The key thing to remember is that this isn't meant to be an accurate translation. Neither isn't it meant to be a fluid translation -- I don't need that, since the original English version exists. The best way I can describe it is a language-learning translation -- I want to be able to see the nuts and bolts of the language, how one word connects to another, how one thought connects to another, how one image becomes the next. So these translations are deliberately left rough, like an impressionistic picture of the language.

That said, I break my rule sometimes, just because I like the sound of something else better. You might disagree with my translation, and disagree vehemently -- that's fine. Language and expression are incredibly personal things, and if this translation leaves you cold, well, the challenge is to find the expression that you find stimulating or that makes sense to you.

Catalan version

English translation

English version

La neu de nit té un to més bonic The snow by night has a more beautiful tone The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
No hi ha traces, tot és blanc There are no tracks, all is white Not a footprint to be seen
D'un regne aïllat del món From a kingdom isolated from the world A kingdom of isolation
En sóc reina aquest instant Where I am queen right now And it looks like I'm the queen
El vent fereix la nit per dins la tempestat The wind wounds the night from within the storm The wind is howling like the swirling storm inside
He acabat fugint tot i que lluitat I've ended up fleeing although I've fought Couldn't keep it in, heaven knows I tried

I have to say, I don't completely have a grasp of all the Catalan proforms yet, and "en" is causing me a bit of trouble here. That's something I'll have to look into a bit more. I'm guessing here it has the meaning of "de... [something]", for a meaning of "of which I'm the queen."

I remember listening to this song on repeat and trying to figure out what "fereix" was, and being very excited when I got it. The verb ending in "fereix" tells you the infinitive is "ferir", and a little bit of historical linguistics and Spanish will tell you that the cognate of "ferir" is "herir", meaning to hurt or to wound. As a general rule, where Catalan has initial /f/, Spanish has -- well, nothing. So here we also see "fugint", from "fugir", which is the Catalan cognate of Spanish "huir". Of course, it's easier to guess at the meaning of "fugir": it pretty obviously shares an etymology with "fugitive".

Catalan version

English translation

English version

No us vull a dins I don't want you all inside Don't let them in
No us vull aquí I don't want you all here Don't let them see
Porta't molt bé Behave yourself Be the good girl
Sempre em deia a mi [He] always said to me You always had to be
Desat, no ho pot saber ningú Hidden, nobody can know [it] Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know
Ja ho sap algú Now someone knows [it] Well, now they know

Just one very quick note about the appearance of the direct object pronoun [it] in the translation: in Catalan, when "saber" is used in the sense of "to know", it is always transitive: "to know [something]". In English we say "I know, I know" all the time, but Catalan doesn't allow it. You need a direct object, which here is the neuter pronoun "ho". "Ho sé" is "I know [it]".

Catalan version

English translation

English version

Vol volar, el deixo anar It wants to fly, I'm letting it go Let it go, let it go
Ni puc ni el vull amagar I can't and I won't hide it Can't hold it back any more
Vol volar, el deixo anar It wants to fly, I'm letting it go Let it go, let go
Ja tant és, ja tant me fa It doesn't matter now, I don't care any more Turn away and slam the door
És igual el que puguin dir It doesn't matter whatever they might say I don't care what they're going to say
Deixa el vent cridar Let the wind cry out Let the storm rage on
El fred no m'ha fet mai cap mal a mi The cold has never ever hurt me The cold never bothered me anyway

The chorus is always the fun part. It's where each language shows its hand, so to speak, and I know there are going to be complaints. Why the present progressive, "I'm letting it go", and not the simple present?

One reason is that "I let it go" reads like the simple past.

The other reason is that in English, the simple present doesn't (cannot?) carry an inchoative aspect. It cannot signal an impending change of state. "I'm going to school" can mean "I'm on my way to school right now", or it can mean "I am about to leave for school". The English simple present, however, only indicates ongoing states, not states that are just beginning. "I go to school" can only mean that you go to school regularly, not that you are about to go to school.

The Catalan simple present can indicate either. "Jo vaig a l'escola" can mean "I go to school [every day]", or "I am about to go to school [now]". "El deixo anar" almost certainly does not mean "I let it go [over and over]", it means "I am letting it go [now]". That corresponds with the English present progressive, "I'm letting it go".

Why "whatever" instead of "what"? Because subjunctive. English-speaking learners of Catalan, Spanish, etc. obsess over the subjunctive verb form and, in my opinion, don't often look at other ways to express what they need to express. Here, modifying the relative pronoun from "what" to "whatever" makes the noun a completely unknown quantity, which is exactly what adjectival subjunctive clauses are used for: describing nouns that may or may not exist.

Every language makes a trade-off somewhere. English lost the subjunctive mood in most places, in exchange for an increased number of modal verbs. (The subjunctive is not a tense, it is a mood, and the adjective form of the word mood is -- you guessed it -- modal.) Have you ever asked an English learner about learning modal verbs? It's a lot of fun...

Catalan is a negative-concord language, so multiple negations in a sentence reinforce each other, instead of cancelling each other out like in English. That final sentence is a triple negative:

El fred no m'ha fet mai cap mal a mi
The cold not me has done never no harm to me

Catalan version

English translation

English version

És curios com la distància It's curious how the distance It's funny how some distance
Ho fa tot molt petit Makes everything very small Makes everything seem small
I les pors que em dominaven And the fears that used to dominate me And the fears that fears once controlled me
Per sempre han fugit Have fled forever Can't get to me at all
Ara veuré el que puc fer Now I will see what I can do It's time to see what I can do
Quins límits jo superaré Which limits I will overcome To test the limits and break through
Ni el bé ni el mal no són per mi Neither good nor evil are for me No right, no wrong, no rules for me
Per fi! At last! I'm free

The imperfect verb form, as in "dominaven", can be complicated to translate into English. The simple past often works -- "the fears that dominated me" -- but because imperfective and perfective aspect often trip up English-speaking learners of Catalan (and other Romance languages), I prefer not to use the simple past.

Another translation that I often see is "would" + verb, in this case making it "the fears that would dominate me", but I hate it. "Would" already does so many things, and it's too easy to read it as a conditional instead. I find "used to" + verb to be the translation that parses best to my ears.

Catalan version

English translation

English version

Vol volar, el deixo anar It wants to fly, I'm letting it go Let it go, let it go
Sóc part de la neu i el vent I'm part of the snow and the wind I'm one with the wind and sky
Vol volar, el deixo anar It wants to fly, I'm letting it go Let it go, let go
Ja he fet fora aquest turment I've now put this torment away You'll never see me cry
Sóc aquí i no em mouran I am here and they will not move me Here I stand and here I'm staying
Deixa el vent cridar Let the wind cry out Let the storm rage on

"Ja he fet fora aquest turment" is probably the line that I spent the most time on. "Fer" (to do, to make) is one of those verbs that does everything. The gloss is something like this:

Ja he fet fora aquest turment
Now I have made outside this torment

I have taken this torment out of me? I have extracted this torment? I really drew a blank here, and I'm not entirely happy with the translation, but I can live with it.

Catalan version

English translation

English version

Tinc un poder que va I have a power that goes My power flurries through
Dels cims fins als avencs From the peaks down to the gulfs The air into the ground
De la meva anima Out of my soul My soul is spiralling
En surten gels que ni comprenc Comes ice that I don't even understand In frozen fractals all around
I un pensament sorgeix com And one thought surges like And one thought crystallises
Un gran dard gelat A great ice dart Like an icy blast
No penso tornar mai I'm not thinking of ever going back I'm never going back
Això ja és el passat That is now the past The past is in the past

Gulfs, chasms, valleys, abysses? A lot of things played into my decision to choose "gulfs" here: one is that in one of the Mandarin and one of the Spanish versions, the line here refers to power coming from underground. A valley doesn't give me the image of underground, so I dropped it.

Between the remaining three options, well, I picked the single-syllable one, because it seemed to pack more of a punch. "Avencs", of course, is two syllables, but Catalan is unique among Romance languages for having lots of lexical single-syllable words.

Why "down to" instead of just "to" the ground? That's because "fins" carries a meaning of "until", so I wanted a little more movement than "to" offered. "To" feels to me to imply more direction than movement. That came from the Department of Fuzzy Logic, also known as the Ministry of Making Shit Up. Well, that's language for you -- sometimes something just feels and sounds better.

I debated for a while whether to render "gels" as "ice" or "ices". "Gels" is plural, but in the end I went with the singular "ice" instead of going with something like "ice pieces", which to my mind lacks the simplicity of "gels". Besides, "ices" sounds too much like cold, tasty treats to be taken seriously.

Catalan version

English translation

English version

Vol volar, el deixo anar It wants to fly, I'm letting it go Let it go, let it go
I com l'alba jo creixeré And like the dawn I will grow And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Vol volar, el deixo anar It wants to fly, I'm letting it go Let it go, let go
Ja no em portaré bé I won't behave well any more That perfect girl is gone
Sóc aquí, s'alça un nou matí I am here, a new morning is dawning Here I stand in the light of day
Deixa el vent cridar Let the wind cry out Let the storm rage on
El fred no m'ha fet mai cap mal a mi The cold has never ever hurt me The cold never bothered me anyway

I would like to mention here that I have an irrational love for the word "ja" in Catalan, because it reminds me of Singlish already. Catalan "ja" and its Spanish counterpart "ya", I am glad to report, behave just like Singlish "already".

That brings the first parallel translation of Let It Go to a close. I have five more prepped and ready to go. Brace yourselves!


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.