Language and Translation

I’ve started reading a book called The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain. It was originally written in French and I wish my language skills were good enough to read it in the original, but they aren’t. I couldn’t help myself in the opening pages but to go through with my editors pen and pick up a whole raft of, perhaps not errors, but places it could have been better written. However, the more I read, the more I suspected that the errors were down to poor translation rather than poor writing.

When translating from another language we have all seen the funny expressions which can result by being literal. Fiction is even harder, in my opinion, than non-fiction for a translator to master. Not only do you need to get the meaning of the language across to the reader, but the subtleties of the writer’s style and the nuances of the way he or she lays down the story. At one point the incorrect choice of word even inadvertently shifted the point of view of the story for a sentence, which is something that on reading further I am almost certain the author would not appreciate.

I have never worked with translations of this sort, but it does strike me that there is a need for an editor to treat the translation almost as a completely new story to go through in careful detail, to pick up the grammatical errors and the editorial infractions. Thankfully the only things I have to translate relate to dog breeding and I’m sure my faltering German causes amusement from time to time. Maybe one day I can look forward to my books being read in other languages, but one thing is certain, it will not be me doing the translation and nor will I be able to pick up any diversions from the intended text!

One of the things about learning German that I am enjoying most is learning the turns of phrase that provide popular expressions. Some are very close to the English but with subtle differences. My favourite so far is instead of ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ the translation of the German is ‘Better a sparrow in the hand than a pigeon on the roof’, somehow that gives a wonderful image I can relate to.

  1 comment for “Language and Translation

  1. Aug 1, 2015 at 10:42 am

    You make some interesting points, Rosemary and I agree that an editor should proof a translated book thoroughly. Incidentally, love the German version of the Bird in the Hand expression!

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