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What is translation? - Famous quotes give us the answer

'Question Mark' photo (c) 2007, Purple Slog - license: What is translation? What do translators do? Those are two of the most frequent keywords people use to find my blog in search engines. So I thought it would be only natural to prepare a separate post on the topic. But instead of reading you a lecture about the importance of translation, I decided to let famous quotes about translation speak for themselves. So here are your answers. :)

Question: Why is translation so important?
Answer: There are few efforts more conducive to humility than that of the translator trying to communicate an incommunicable beauty. Yet, unless we do try, something unique and never surpassed will cease to exist except in the libraries of a few inquisitive book lovers. (Edith Hamilton)

Question: What is the essence of translation?
Answer: 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)

Question: What is the task of a translator and what does it take to become a translator?

Answer 1: I have always maintained that translation is essentially the closest reading one can possibly give a text. The translator cannot ignore "lesser" words, but must consider every jot and tittle. (Gregory Rabassa)
Answer 2: It is the task of the translator to release in his own language that pure language that is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work. (Walter Benjamin) 
Answer 3: To translate, one must have a style of his own, for otherwise the translation will have no rhythm or nuance, which come from the process of artistically thinking through and molding the sentences; they cannot be reconstituted by piecemeal imitation. The problem of translation is to retreat to a simpler tenor of one's own style and creatively adjust this to one's author. (Paul Goodman)
Answer 4: Translators have to prove to themselves as to others that they are in control of what they do; that they do not just translate well because they have a “flair” for translation, but rather because, like other professionals, they have made a conscious effort to understand various aspects of their work. (Mona Baker)

Question: Is reading books in translation worth the time? Or is the meaning of the source text completely lost in translation?
Answer 1: I do not hesitate to read all good books in translations. What is really best in any book is translatable -- any real insight or broad human sentiment. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Answer 2: It is better to have read a great work of another culture in translation than never to have read it at all. (Henry Gratton Doyle)

Question: What is poetry translation all about?
Answer 1:  Reading a poem in translation," wrote Bialek, "is like kissing a woman through a veil"; and reading Greek poems, with a mixture of katharevousa and the demotic, is like kissing two women. Translation is a kind of transubstantiation; one poem becomes another. You choose your philosophy of translation just as you choose how to live: the free adaptation that sacrifices detail to meaning, the strict crib that sacrifices meaning to exactitude. The poet moves from life to language, the translator moves from language to life; both like the immigrant, try to identify the invisible, what's between the lines, the mysterious implications. (Anne Michaels)
Answer 2: Poetry translation is like playing a piano sonata on a trombone. (Nataly Kelly)
Answer 3: A translation is no translation ... unless it will give you the music of a poem along with the words of it. (John Millington Synge)

Question: Why is literal translation so bad?
Answer: Woe to the makers of literal translations, who by rendering every word weaken the meaning! It is indeed by so doing that we can say the letter kills and the spirit gives life. (Voltaire)

Question: How is translation quality measured?
Answer 1: Translation quality assessment proceeds according to the lordly, completely unexplained, whimsy of “It doesn’t sound right”. (Peter Fawcett)
Answer 2: A satisfactory translation is not always possible, but a good translator is never satisfied with it. It can usually be improved. (Peter Newmark)
Answer 3: There is no such thing as a perfect, ideal, or 'correct' translation. A translator is always trying to extend his knowledge and improve his means of expression; he is always pursuing facts and words. (Peter Newmark)

Question: Will machine translation ever replace human translation?
Answer: Translation software is not making translators obsolete. Has medical diagnostic software made doctors obsolete? (Nataly Kelly)

 Well, hope you got at least some of your questions answered. :)

Have you already registered for the first Sharp End Training online conference for translators? There are so many good things in store for you! We have done our very best to invite the best speakers who would love to share their experience and their passion with you. I am also going to speak there about making your blog your right hand. To learn more, click here.

I used these wonderful resources to prepare the post:
Translation quotes
A great post in the blog of my friend Aleksandra Milcic Radovanovic
Quotes about translation in goodreads
Wise quotes about translation


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