WEIT: foreign editions

December 1, 2009 • 8:22 am

Why Evolution is True has been translated into several languages, and this month I received two new ones, the Spanish and Chinese versions.  Immodestly, I present them here.

The Chinese edition, which has a foreword by my Chicago colleague Manyuan Long, represented a difficult translation job.  Apparently many scientific words, including the word “evolution” itself, have no counterparts in Chinese.  This makes for some amusing reading: entire pages will be in Chinese save for one or two words with no Chinese equivalent. Here’s an example:

I’m working on getting it translated into Arabic, prompted by this report of a conference in Cairo dealing with, among other things, the woeful lack of evolution education in Egyptian schools.


UPDATE:  Polish edition (see comments):

33 thoughts on “WEIT: foreign editions

  1. Hmmm, if I read that Chinese title right it says “Why Believe Evolution”. Subtle difference from the English original.

    1. I think it’s more like: “Why is it necessary (or important) to trust (or believe) Darwin?”

      The last three charaters combined is the phonetic translation of Darwin, probably in Japanese kanji originally.

    2. An interesting note:
      Jerry’s last name was translated into the two characters following the capital A. The first one, when combined with the character for subject or study, means “science,” while the second one can be used to mean “reason.”

  2. I just picked up this book at the library and find it facinating. However, there is a slight error on page 23. It states “Pope Pius XI in 1988” cannonized Nicolaus Steno. Two things:

    1. Pope Pius XI reigned from 1922-1939.
    2. Nicolaus Steno has not been cannonized…yet. He has been beatified…the second step in becoming a “saint.”

    Pope John Paul II beatified Nicolaus Steno in 1987.

    Just wanted to point those things out. I appreciate the book though.

    1. Thanks. Actually, about a dozen readers noticed this, and the corrections have been made in the paperback (out Jan) and subsequent printings of the hardback.

      1. Hey Jerry, are you the reader of the audiobook version of WEIT? If not, do you know who the reader is? (I actually doubt you are to read it yourself, since you voice is…)

    2. Personally I think far more saints (and Catholics)should be cannonised. Even if it makes a mockery of Hunter S. Thompson.

      1. I agree. There should be at least 200,000 saints canonized (correct spelling) each year. All it takes is for any fool to say “I prayed in the name of X” and then X can be a candidate. Some saints should NOT be canonized though. I was praying for the Patriots to win last night but the N.O. Saints blew them away, so they don’t deserve it.

  3. It wouldn’t surprise me that if it’s also been translated into persian. I had an Iranian student working in my lab a year ago who used to supplement his income back in Iran by translating scientific type books into persian. A local publisher would sell the printed traslations to locals interested in the topic. While these were mostly textbooks there were also a few aimed at the scientifically interested public. Apparently this is quite common and the original authors and publishers are not consulted (for fairly obvious reasons).

  4. Congratulations, Jerry.

    I recently finished my second reading of WEIT and it read as fresh as the first reading at the beginning of the year.

    I did update my copy by adding Ardipithecus Ramidus on page 197.

  5. I’m glad that was corrected. However, I have to say, it does bring into question, at least for me, Mr. Coyne’s fact checking ability. What other “facts” in the book has he not verified? Considering the debate around this subject, particularly from creationists, I think this is fair question to ask.

      1. ACS:”Considering the debate around this subject, particularly from creationists, I think this is fair question to ask.”

        LOL WTF??+? Creatards get zero facts right. An error or two isn’t a big deal in this arena, sadly.

    1. Congrats on the translations! The Chinese version actually means “Why its important to believe in Darwin”. A little odd. I don’t know why they didn’t just use the words for evolution,which is usually 进化(论). Odd editorial choice.

  6. I was going to let you know about Polish edition, but I couldn’t find any contact form or e-mail address on your blog.

    Anyway, Polish edition is titled “Evolution is a fact” and it was published by one of Poland’s biggest publishing houses.

  7. While I think the US cover is great, both the Chinese and Polish are awful. The US cover actually conveys evolution quite well, while the Chinese – with a grainy image of a butterfly wing – doesn’t at all. Could be a lepidopterist handbook.

    But worse, the Polish version actually conveys something that we know is wrong, namely that humans evolved from chimps (or some other knuckle-walker). And what’s with the EKGs? What on Earth do those have to do with evolution?

    1. I find the Polish book cover quite creative. It is supposed to covey the idea of giving evolution a polygraph test. The problem is that most people can’t read polygraphs so you don’t know if the cover says evolution is true or a lie.

  8. Cool that Arabic is in progress!

    And, aah, translations!

    Parallel to not having a word for something in the language being translated into is writing something de novo and not having the word for something. That was the problem that confronted George Bauer (aka Georgius Agricola) in the 1550’s when writing his treatise on mining technology, in Latin, De Re Metallica. Being a dead language, there were no words for some things, so he devised them. That didn’t seem to be a problem at the time, as the book remained the authority on mining for nearly 200yrs and was considered so important that it was sometimes to be found chained to the altars of churches. This also made it a subsequent object of interest for translation into a modern language, but by that time these devised words were the rocks on which many attempted translations foundered.

    But in the first decade of the 20th century, Herbert Hoover (then a mining engineer) and his linguistically gifted wife, Lou Henry (first female Geology major from Stanford) undertook the translation as a hobby. It’s been written that they went so far as to conduct experiments to make sure of the translation of certain words. I’ve seen it referred to as the greatest scholarly work of any eventual US President.

    There were a large number of woodcut illustrations in the original, and these were all reproduced in their translation, which is physically huge, apparently like the original. Bound in vellum and only 3000 copies printed, it’s enormously impressive. I’m pretty sure that the first copy I ever saw was in its own little alcove at the University of Richmond’s library.

    (Dover reprinted it in 1950 and it’s still available from them.)

  9. I’m an Arab and I really find this news very exciting. I’ve read your great book and it’s really provided me with a lot of information about the overwhelming evidence for Evolution and persuasive arguments that I can use while debating people here. In fact I was thinking I may be able to translate it into Arabic at some point in the future. The vast majority of people here have no idea about the huge amount of evidence which blatantly supports Darwin’s theory. It’s so unfortunate because the Middle East used to be more enlightened and secular in the Middle Ages when Arabs began their progress by translating and learning from other civilizations to base on their knowledge and wisdon. I think the first step we should take now is translation too and I’m really thankful that you’re planning to do so. It would be great if the Arabic book comes out in January when the Book Fair is held in Cairo, which is probably the largest book fair in the whole Middle East.

  10. Though, it’s not exactly so that there is a lack of education about evolution in public schools here. The biology textbooks in secondary schools do contain some lessons on Evolution but they are very poorly presented. They generally take a sort of apologetic and relativist approach when presenting it.

  11. I find it very odd that your colleague said that the word “evolution” has no Chinese counterpart. That’s like saying there is no word for “gravity” in Chinese. 演化論 is a very common word. I also find it odd that translating WEIT to Chinese was a difficult process. Translation is never easy but translating scientific texts should be quite straightforward. I proofread a Chinese translation of Naked Lunch – that’s difficult.

    I find it slightly unfortunate that the book title was translated to “Why you should believe Darwin”. Evolution and Darwin, after all, are not synonyms. The real problem is that the original text uses the phrase “Evolution is TRUE” repeatedly and argues that we should not avoid saying that, which is what the Chinese version does. Also Jerry probably would not approve the word “believe” in the title.

    But these are all nitpicking. It’s a terrific news that WEIT is translated into Chinese. I’ll tell everyone I know to buy a copy. Not because creationism has a market in Asia, but because WEIT is such a beautifully written book

    1. Chinese does however have encoded into it one of the biases that drives evolutionary biologists nuts. The most common colloquial use (at least in my experience) is 進化 which explicitly invokes a steady progression or improvement (insofar as it uses the same character as for improvement/progress: 進步). 演化 (what Chinese-speaking scientists prefer) is much better in that it does not imply directionality.

      I guess that’s one example of why it might be hard to translate. I think it poses much the same problem encountered when English speakers conflate “theory” with “conjecture”. Lay people should almost never say “theory” as they usually mean “conjecture”.

      1. Chinese can be a frustrating language, but 演化論 is actually a very good translation. 論 is a somewhat classical/archaic word meaning “argument”. It is almost used exclusively for philosophical/scientific “theories”. This three syllabic word conveniently convey the idea of a formal theory and there is no danger of confusing it with the colloquial “theory” in English.

        It is almost funny that English, the lingua franca of science, doesn’t have a satisfying word for “scientific theory”. Richard Dawkins had to invent something called “theorum”, which I think is too awkward use.

  12. By the way, the polish book cover is very interesting. My first reaction was, what does EEG have anything to do with evolution? And then I realized that it was supposed to be a polygraph.

    If I may use this opportunity to make a comment about book translations, I think book authors need to play a more active role in supervising the process. Book titles are especially important. In my own experience as an asian, there is no visible creationism movement in asia, so you’d think there is no motivation for the publishers to be unfaithful to the original titles. But the reality is that controversy sells, and publishers are very willing to sacrifice the integrity of the text in order to make the title more exciting. They might, and very often do, change a title like “Why Evolution is True” to “Is Evolution True?” Never trust them.

  13. Oh, Jerry, you definitely need to get an official translation of your name. Find a Chinese speaking friend who scored well in their Chinese literature classes as a kid and get them to pick out a legitimate Chinese name. Your current transliteration [“Jie-Li” A. “Ke-Yin”] is very weird. I would recommend, for example that you use something that sounds more like Jerry and actually can be a legit given name in Chinese like 哲瑞 (Zhe-Rui: it sounds pretty close to Jerry and I know Taiwanese people with that name).

  14. I bought the book twice! Once as an ebook from fictionwise, to read whenever wherever; plus the paper version to lend to people.

    I had to lie to buy the ebook.

    Please, Professor Coyne, get your agent to negotiate a better contract for the electronic versions of your book. As it stands your ebook is available only to customers in the US and Canada. I’m Sri Lankan. Fictionwise refused to sell to me. A swift change of address fixed that; but what lunatic thinks geography exists online?

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