1. Lawless

    Lawless Member

    Apr 30, 2018
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    Are translations good?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Lawless, May 16, 2018.

    Those of you whose native language is English: have you read many books that have been translated into English?

    How good would you say are the translations? Are they usually in natural-sounding English, or is it easy for you to recognize that the text has been translated from a foreign language?

    Just curious.
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

    May 1, 2008
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    Puerto Rico
    I've never read a book that was translated from another language into English where the English was poor or questionable, no. But perfect English does not mean the translation is a good translation. Look up Constance Garnett. To this day, her translations of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are the cause of many a Russian eyeroll. Her grasp of Russian was academic and lacked understanding of the more subtle nuances of idiomatic Russian, and she simply omitted anything she didn't understand in the original Russian. To this day, most people who read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in English are reading her translations and any native Russian will tell you, "If you read Constance Garnet, then you know nothing of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky."
    Lawless and matwoolf like this.
  3. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

    Mar 21, 2012
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    They're often always interpretations - and we have versions.

    I've told the story before - but if you look at the crit section on Amazon.fr - for Papillon, Henri Charriere - the one star reviews are all 'zis paisant convicte always repeating the merde, encoulez-vous, it is the cheap memoir of a gangster pig-dog thug.'

    Whereas the English translation is by Patrick O'Brian, one of the'greatest' writers of the 20c, and it's a very exciting book

    Last edited: May 16, 2018
  4. Takint66

    Takint66 New Member

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    I read a few books that were translated into English and must say that it depends on how good the translator is. Sometimes it's good, sometimes you want to roll your eyes on each and every sentence. But I must say that if you choose the high-quality publishing house you'll be satisfied with the translation even if it has some differences in word interpretations.

  5. DeeDee

    DeeDee Senior Member

    Jan 16, 2018
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    I've once or twice tried to read a book in two languages, just to check if the translation picks all the little language quirks, you know. And I was amazed to find out that sometimes the translator would skip whole passages, maybe because they were too difficult for them, or because they just opted to retell the paragraph rather than translate it closely. It was fun. I've also seen translations of the same book (the so called classics) that differ wildly when done by different translators, but hey, the Bible started that one first and there's nothing new under the sun :D.
  6. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

    Mar 6, 2016
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    What a great question!

    I think it depends largely on the purpose of the translation. For some works, a precise, word-for-word translation, with full respect for the nuances of the phrases, will get a reader closer to the understanding of the original than a more slip-shod translation.

    But for other works, particularly poetry, a more free-hand approach is necessary in order to translate the flavor of the work as well as its meaning. In these cases, a translator who is also a gifted poet can put you in the moment the way a more pedantic translator cannot. To illustrate this point, compare Seamus Heaney's "Beowulf" with just about any previous translation. Or John Ciardi's translation of Dante's Divine Comedy.

    One could argue that the two poets I've mentioned have created their own literary works, which will never replace the originals. I have no objection to that argument. But if you wanted to approximate the emotional impact of the original works, that is all the justification those poets need.

    This rumination leads to another one. When a piece of music is transposed from one instrumentation to another, or one key to another, that's a similar translation. There's a wonderful version of the Nutcracker Suite played entirely by guitars. It doesn't attempt to transcribe the suite note for note, but it succeeds in conveying the suite's essence.

    Or, if you're a piano buff, there's a piano transcription of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue that's out now. It is dramatically different from the orchestral version, and one person who played it on his radio show got an outraged phone call from somebody who said that the transcriber should be shot, and the pianist barred forever from future performances. He had to explain to the caller that the transcriber was Gershwin himself. And the pianist? George Gershwin. (It's on the CD Gershwin plays Gershwin: The Piano Rolls.)

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