Best Translation Quotes

Quoting Translation

Quoting Translation

One of the joys of translation and our discussions on translation and translation theory is that there are so many voices, so many opinions about our craft (art? science?). The art of translation is oft compared to a wide array of people, products and paraphernalia: translation has been likened to a (beautiful) woman, a mirror, a ghost to name but three. Below are fifteen of some of the most interesting quotations about translation. We have attempted to avoid the more memorable and famous quotations (although some are included here), and have tried to focus on selecting some which are a little less known. Consider which is closest to your idea and concept of translation and which is not. All fifteen are presented below for your enjoyment.

“Many critics, no defenders,
translators have but two regrets:
when we hit, no one remembers,
when we miss, no one forgets.”

“The word ‘translation’ comes, etymologically, from the Latin for ‘bearing across’. Having been borne across the world, we are translated men. It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately to the notion that something can also be gained.”
(Salman Rushdie)

“In antiquity , for instance, one of the dominant images of the translators was that of a builder: his (usually it was him, not her) task was to carefully demolish a building, a structure (the source text), carry the bricks somewhere else (into the target culture), and construct a new building – with the same bricks.”
(Andrew Chesterman)

“Either the translator leaves the author in peace, as much as is possible, and moves the reader towards him: or he leaves the reader in peace, as much as possible, and moves the author towards him.”
(Friedrich Schleiermacher)

“Translation is one of the few human activities in which the impossible occurs by principle.”
(Mariano Antolín Rato)

“A translator, caught in the space between two tongues. Such people tend to come a little bit unglued from the task of trying to convey meaning from one code to the other. The transfer is never safe, the meaning changes in the channel — becomes tinted, adulterated, absurd, stronger.”
(Elena Mauli Shapiro)

“Translation is the art of failure.”
(Umberto Eco)

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”
(Robert Frost)

“All translation is a compromise–the effort to be literal and the effort to be idiomatic.”
(Teo Savory)

“There is no such thing as translation.”
(J. May)

“In translation language facility is not enough; blood and sweat are the secret.”
(Samuel Putnam)

“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.”
(Roland Barthes)

“Translation is at best an echo.”
(George Borrow)

“Western Europe owes its civilization to translators.”
(Kelly Louis)

“Translation is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes.”
(Günter Grass)


Homophonic Poetry

Julian Tuwim

Julian Tuwim

Julian Tuwim is perhaps most famous for his children’s poetry. His works, such as Lokomotywa and Murzynek Bambo, are the staple of every Polish child and most of his poems can be recited by thousands. He was born in Łódź in 1894 and is regarded by many as a literary genius who produced not only poetry but was also a writer of literature, songs and sketches. Tuwim was an accomplished translator translating Latin, German, Russian and French poetry into Polish. He is also known for his experimental work and involvement with the ‘Skamander’ poetry group. One of the most interesting pieces of poetry from this monumental creative talent is his attempt at homophonic translation, two poems which sound almost identical but are written in two different languages.

Polish Version French Version
Oko trę, że mam ból
Taki los komu żal ?
oko trę, pali sól
O madame, kulą wal
Ile trosk, ile burz,
a krew kipi, wre ,
O madame, oto nóż
O, madame, oto mrę
O, contrain je m’emboulle,
Taquilosse, comme ou jalle?
O, cotrain, polissoule
O madame, coulon valle!
Il est trosque, il est bouge,
A ma creve qui pis vrai
O, madame, o tonuche
O madame, o tome rain


World’s Most Difficult Reads

Square Peg, Round Hole?

Square Peg, Round Hole?

How better to begin the new year than with a challenge. As Randy Pausch wrote in the Last Lecture: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” And so we will greet 2013 with an offering of some of the literary world’s most challenging reads. The list has been compiled using personal experience and by collating various similar internet lists (viz. Ranker; !ndigo;  Amazon; The Millions; Listserve). The top five most difficult (but also phenomenally interesting) books which we might use as a literary challenge for 2013 are:

5. The Waste Land – T.S. Eliot
T.S. Eliot often said that without his editor, Ezra Pound (a fine translator himself), The Waste Land would be a profoundly different work. Perhaps something to consider… The Waste Land references, to name a few, Homer, Sophocles, Petronius, Virgil, Ovid, Saint Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Chaucer, Thomas Middleton, Joseph Conrad, John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Baudelaire, Richard Wagner, Hermann Hesse, Aldous Huxley and even Bram Stoker. Perfect for those long winter evenings…

4. Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco
By many critics regarded as Eco’s finest work, by others the most confounding and complicated of his books, Foucault’s Pendulum is a mystery wrapped in a riddle and clothed in obscure language and grandiose linguistic gymnastics. Foucault’s Pendulum also uses the trick oft-used in ‘difficult’ books by referring to and cross-referencing other works and languages. This really is Eco at his very esoteric best. A wonderful book for linguists and a monumental challenge for translators.

3. Moby-Dick – Herman Melville
“Call me Ishmael,” begins Melville in Moby Dick and so begins the world’s greatest (epic) cetacean adventure. Moby-Dick combines Biblical symbolism (Elijah, Ahab, Ishmael to name a few), Shakespearean literary devices and a wide gamut of metaphor. Depending on the edition, Moby-Dick oscillates between 500 and 600 pages long. What is more, it is one of those books that needs to be re-read. Brace yourselves! Moby-Dick is a real challenge for even the most patient readers but what a challenge!

2. The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
Referred to as a “librarian with Alzheimer’s reading Tennessee Williams” (Xilebat). Layers and layers of confusion exacerbated by the fact that the book is written from the perspective of a variety of confused characters and utilising a variety of styles. Faulkner dips his fingers into stream of consciousness which the ‘master of confusion’, James Joyce, so adeptly put to use in his works before him (see no.1). The Sound and the Fury was an attempt by Faulkner to delve into the human mind. It helped him win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949, a year after T.S. Eliot.

1. Finnegans Wake – James Joyce
The pinnacle of linguistic aestheticism. Finnegans Wake nearly always finds its way on to lists of most ‘difficult’ or ‘confusing’ works. Joyce’s avant-garde comedic opus took him seventeen years to write and probably takes his readers just as long to labour through. Finnegans Wake cannot be ‘read’ in the normal sense, Finnegans Wake has to be felt, absorbed and… endured. This work is rife with neologisms and riddled with language that is sometimes intelligible to all but Joyce. It is the ultimate translator’s nightmare and probably the greatest literary challenge in English (if we can call it ‘English’)…

Translators Disrespected

Actually, it's not

Actually, it’s not

You’re sitting at home (or at work) slaving over a translation when out of the blue you receive a call/email/text message* (delete where appropriate) from a colleague/friend/acquaintance* (delete where appropriate) who you have not heard from for quite some time. The message usually begins in similar fashion regardless of whether it is a phone call, email or text message and whatever the nature of your relationship with the interlocutor – a polite yet brief query as to how you have been these past few weeks/months/years in order to momentarily detract from the main point of the message. Your suspicions are raised immediately – this is not the first such message you have received from ‘friends’ – yet you remain quietly heartened by the fact that this person has decided to contact you after such a long time.

However, you listen/read on and within several seconds your fears are confirmed. Your mind is awash with a range of emotions – anger, frustration and disappointment. Once again, another of your so-called ‘friends’ has demonstrated their complete lack of respect for your profession, not to mention an utter lack of respect for yourself. This ‘friend’ has done the unthinkable – he has asked you for ‘help’ in order to translate a phrase/sentence/text. The plea is usually innocent and nine times out of ten the task is ridiculously simple but what especially irks is the justification this person uses to ask you in the first place. Perfunctory explanations like, “I know it won’t take you a great deal of time…” or syrupy statements like, “For someone like you, this should be really easy…” or to really add insult to injury, “This should take you five minutes at most…”

Who are these people to determine the period of time a translation task should take? And then demand that we perform the task? What is more, the very fact that it would take, for example, only five minutes is surely testament to the fact that we are good at our job. Specialists, as we all know, are usually richly rewarded for their specialist services. Why is it that people who are not translators believe translation should be undertaken for free? Do architects receive calls from friends to ‘do a quick sketch’ of a proposed design of a room? Do copywriters get text messages from colleagues to ‘come up with a short slogan’ for a product? Do accountants receive emails from clients asking them to ‘undertake a brief audit’ of an investment?

Translators, language specialists and editors need to show people unfamiliar with our work that the services we offer are akin to those services provided by other professions. Not only do we have similar time constraints and financial requirements but we also have the need to gain satisfaction from our work. Respect for the work we do is key to achieving this satisfaction. In today’s society, the one tangible way in which measure for our work can be achieved is through remuneration. This is, after all, what we do for a living…

When is an Indian not an Indian?

(c) Gulf News

'Indian' Become 'Hindus' in Polish

For the translator, geographical names are often unproblematic and the least of his or her worries. However, there are situations (terms and names) which are seemingly ‘easy’ to translate but throw up a whole range of quandaries, queries and questions. A wonderful example of such a term is the English word Indian which is not as simple to translate into Polish as one might expect.

The term Indian (meaning a citizen of the Republic of India), or even perhaps, a person living on the Indian subcontinent is most often translated as Hindus in Polish. Simple? Not really. As we all know, a fine test of translation fidelity is back translation. Unfortunately, this is where the translation of Indian into Hindus fails.

The chief problem with the word Hindus is the religious connotation that it holds. If we were to superimpose the semantic structure/map of the word Hindus onto the word Indian we would be struck by the fact that the two words inhabit different semantic spaces. Hindus can also refer to someone who is a Hindu (i.e. Hinduism, the religion).

This is, of course, problematic. Although the majority of the inhabitants of the Republic of India are Hindus (Hinduists), there are Indians who are not Hindu. Likewise, there are members of the Hindu religion who live in Nepal, Bangladesh, Bali and interestingly (from a political point of view) in Pakistan. What is more, the term Hindus can also be incorrectly interpreted as someone who speaks Hindi, which again is not necessarily correct.

Just as members of the Hindu religion inhabit countries other than the Republic of India so too speakers of Hindi do not only live in India. Major Hindi populations can be found in Nepal and Mauritius. Furthermore, Hindi and Urdu, to all intents and purposes, are the same language – Hindi-Urdu – but have two standardised forms (i.e. it is a pluricentric language). So when one refers (in Polish) to a Hindus does that mean an Indian, a Hindu or a Hindi speaker?

The case of Indian-Hindus is a wonderful caveat against taking translation for granted. What may seem to be a seemingly ‘harmless’ word may in fact throw up a host of political-loaded problems as the Polish word Hindus can occupy the semantic space of several English words. For example, would we call a member of the Hindu religion living in Pakistan a Hindus (in Polish)?

Obviously, the translator is left to his or her own discretion when choosing a word or phrase as an equivalent but being aware of a word’s etymology or ‘real’ meaning can often be the difference between a ‘good’ translation and a ‘phenomenal’ translation. However, returning to the issue of Hindus, for those familiar with the Indian subcontinent, the word Indus is sometimes used and appears to be an elegant equivalent of the English Indian.

International Translation Day

Jerome - Patron Saint of Translators

Jerome - Patron Saint of Translators

The 30th September is our festival. On this day, the Christian Church celebrates the feast of Saint Jerome, the patron saint of translators. In turn, this date later became associated with translators. The International Federation of Translators officially designated the 30th September International Translation Day in 1991, although this date has for a long time been recognised by many as ‘our’ day.

Not only is Saint Jerome the patron saint of translators but also the patron saint of archivists, Bible scholars, librarians, school children, students and… archaeologists. Jerome – Sophronius Eusebius Hieronymus – was born c. 347 in Stridon not far from today’s Ljubljana. Although initially sceptical of the Catholic Church, Jerome later converted and grew in stature becoming a Doctor of the Church (there are only 33).

As well as making it into the history books for his scholarly work for the church, he is much admired by translators and Bible scholars alike for his contribution to Bible translation and translation theory and practice. In order to reliably master his language skills, Jerome moved to Jerusalem and Bethlehem to improve his Hebrew after which he completed several translations from the Hebrew Bible.

Up to that point the Koine Greek Septuagint was regarded as the authoritative source text rather than the Hebrew original. Jerome’s re-workings, revisions and translations led to the production of Jerome’s Vulgate. For him, a reliable source text was of great importance. So highly valued and cherished was this translation of the Bible, that it became the official Latin version of the Roman Catholic Church. Saint Jerome had finally left his mark.

Saint Jerome is also known for his humility, which can be a great example to all fellow translators. He was well aware of his inadequacies and weaknesses and is known to have often held up his hands and pleaded ignorance and admitted to being at fault which led him to regularly return to his translations in order to amend, revise and correct them.

Saint Jerome, patron saint of translators, archivists, Bible scholars, librarians, school children, students and archaeologists passed away in Bethlehem, on the 30th September 420. His work on translation paved the way for all the translators that followed him. Without him, translation would no doubt look very, very different. To mark Saint Jerome’s Day, we celebrate our own profession and the work of our fellow colleagues. Happy Translation Day!

Visual Translation & Interpretation


A New Ray of Light?

To mark the fourth anniversary of transubstantiation (which was actually in June), the passing of the 90,000 hits mark as well as the fact that we were nominated to the Top 100 Language Blogs competition, we feel it is about time to breathe some new life into transubstantiation and give the site a subtle facelift. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading, commenting and taking an active part in the development of the blog. Without you, the readers, transubstantiation would never be the success that it has been up to now.

While giving the site a facelift one cannot help consider the importance of the visual medium in translation. How important is the way the text looks? By this we are not referring to the structure, grammar or coherence of a text but rather the font style, font size, page layout, quality of paper and so on. For most translators this is a secondary issue. The primary goal is the communicative role – the goal is always to appropriately convey the message from one language/culture to another language/culture.

All things being equal, the visual aspects of the translation (that is, font, page, paper etc.) will never take centre stage and will always take final position in the long chain of activities within the translation process. However, in today’s visually-oriented world, how one’s work looks has become of greater importance. There are no excuses for poorly-produced work as 99% of translators own a word processor (complete with a spell checker) and printer. In much the same way that today’s students rarely hand in hand-written work to their tutors so to are translators expected to produce high-quality electronic documents.

Unfortunately, this race to ‘look good’ has also had some negative consequences. Many budding young translators have put the cart before the horse when it comes to translating. They focus first on their choice of font style, font size, page layout, paper and only after do they begin with the task in question. For some, the translation locus has shifted. This shift has unfortunately filtered through to our understanding of texts to the extent that an excellent, yet poorly-presented, translation might be poorly-received. On the other hand, a poor translation which is well-presented may have a chance of success.

What is important is balance, of course. Perhaps a useful rule of thumb is for translators to always begin their work by focusing on the content rather than the form. As we are all aware, however, sometimes focusing on form is simply a subtle method of procrastination when a difficult translational problem eludes us. That being the case, focusing on the visual medium will do little to help resolve our linguistic predicaments. A surprisingly useful, if not revolutionary, method for dealing with such procrastination and problem-solving in our computer-filled cosmos is to resort to a much-trusted and highly-underrated tool – the pen.


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