How do I find out if a foreign work has ever been published in English?
December 16, 2013 3:35 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to find out if an Italian short story now in the public domain has ever been published in English.

So far, I have tried to find out using Google and Google scholar, Wikipedia, Worldcat, and all have turned up nothing. I also enlisted the help of three different librarians (one at a public library, one at a community college, and one at a four-year university), none of whom could find an English translation as well.

In the interest of leaving no stone unturned, I wish to know if there is any practical resource that I have overlooked. I suspect that verifying that a story has not ever been translated into English is like looking for a needle in a haystack, given all the different avenues to publication which exist, but I think I would be happy to know at least that I covered all the usual bases. So, metafilter, did I miss anything?
posted by millions to Writing & Language (5 answers total)
I'm an academic librarian. You've searched in all the places I would have. What search terms did you use? The author's name? The title of the story in Italian? Possible translations of the title in English? Assuming you did all of those I think you've done a thorough job, but I'm not a publisher or a copyright expert.

How long ago did the author die? Could she or he used a pseudonym? Is the original Italian publisher still in business?
posted by mareli at 3:47 PM on December 16, 2013

Yep, searched all of those terms and more. Even tried some of the distinctive character names just in case.

Pseudonym for the author is unlikely: she was quite famous and I don't recall reading about anything like that. The author's been dead almost 80 years and the publisher does not seem to be in business still, although I only just googled that and did not look past the first page.
posted by millions at 4:36 PM on December 16, 2013

The only other thing I can think of is to check the Dictionary of Literary Biography. If the author was quite famous, she presumably has an entry in one of the volumes, which you can probably find at your local library, and the articles usually mention any translations that have been done. Since they're specialists in the author, if anybody knows, they do. (I've found some pretty obscure translations from Russian that way.)
posted by languagehat at 5:01 PM on December 16, 2013

Another academic librarian here. Ditto the above comments.

* Kind of large scope for a single short story, but the Index Translationum might be a help.

* If the DLB (related Gale reference titles) doesn't help, you might look for either book- or article-length bibliographies. Searching WorldCat, Google Books, etc. with the author as subject will often do the trick for that sort of thing.

* Definitely a long shot, but if those fail, you might try theses or dissertations for un/not-yet-published research on your author that might touch on this. Dissertation Abstracts or ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text would be your friend for this.
posted by cupcakeninja at 5:15 PM on December 16, 2013

I wasn't aware of some of these resources, and if I can't know conclusively if the story has ever been translated into English, I am at least beginning to feel as though I've looked into everything I reasonably could.

So far, an English translation does not appear in the Index Translationum, nor in the Dictionary of Literary Biography online. I will try Dissertation Abstracts and ProQuest if I can find access to those.

Thank you everyone for the help.
posted by millions at 7:24 AM on December 17, 2013

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