Is Something Lost in Translation?

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I think it’s safe to say that no one on this planet can speak every language in the world. Because of this every now and then we have to read a book in translation. When I read a translated book I have two very distinct reactions.

 

Awe:

Anybody who uses google translate can attest to how translation isn’t just a cut and paste easy thing. Think about how tough a translater’s job must be. I’m always left marveling at how complex a task it must  be to translate meaning, tone, emotion, and different characteristic of characters all while keeping the integrity of the author’s work.

 

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Wonder:

Since the task of translation is so difficult, I wonder how much of the translator I am reading and how much of the original author is left. I don’t think any book that goes through the translation process comes out completely intact. There are words and concepts that don’t always translate from language to language. On top of that, and most of all, I wonder if I’m missing something just because culture is undeniably linked to language. Looking at the world from a cultural perspective creates subtle changes, tiny nuances, that a translated work might not translate.

 

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It’s very impossible to avoid reading books that are works in translation. I’ll enjoy them but I’ll always have those two reactions in my brain. At least until I learn every language in the world.

 

What are some of your favorite translated books? And do you feel like something is lost in translation?

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2 Comments

  1. I’ve often wondered too how much of a work gets “lost in translation.” I can only read fluently in English, so I haven’t had a good chance to compare the original and translated forms of a work yet, but I have heard many people who read the Bible in its original languages discuss the differences between the Bible in English and, say, in Hebrew. There are SO many things that are lacking from even very good English translations.

    • When you mentioned the bible, it made me think of why I started thinking about translation. The bible is one of the few books where people actually read the translation and the original language and I think the problem with so many books in translation is that most everyday readers who can read a text in the original language, read it in the original language and not in translation. So there are few resources to ask about subtle differences.

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