Weekend Reads #17: On Translations

I’ve ventured off on my own for this meme. Weekend Reads is a weekly discussion on a variety of topics. At the end of the post, I’ll include what I plan to read on the weekend.

The question for this weekend:

What are your thoughts on translated literature? Do you think meanings are sometimes lost in translation?

I’ve been thinking about translated work a lot lately because I’m currently reading Jason and the Argonauts by Apollonius of Rhodes. Thoughts on translated work also crossed my mind earlier this year when I read A Long Day’s Evening by Bilge Karasu, originally written in Turkish, and especially when I read Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, originally written in French, and Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, which is written in English but presents some great questions on translated work and how people misinterpret things based on what they want to see or hear.

While reading these translated works, I couldn’t help wondering how different they are from the original. I wondered at what I was missing by reading the translated version. These thoughts first sprouted when I read Verne’s Journey to the Center of Earth. I began the story by reading a free e-copy but the writing was so clunky that I quickly became uninterested. Luckily, I visited a bookstore soon after and found a Barnes & Noble classics copy that was so well written that I was eager to continue with the story.

But the free copy nagged at me and made me question why the two were so different and which of them stuck more closely to the original. Obviously, I thought the B&N copy was the better of the two because it was easier to read, but without checking it against the original, I do not know for sure if it mirrors it. Is a translated work good if it’s easy to read, or is it good if it sticks closely to the original, or both? I believe that just because a translated work is easy to read doesn’t mean that it stuck closely to the original. Certain nuances of a culture or language are sometimes lost in translation because there’s no equivalent for it in a foreign language. It would be great if I could give an example of this but none readily comes to mind; however, I do believe this to be true.

Also the translator’s biases may play a part in how a work is translated: what is kept and what is omitted and what is changed to appeal to the new group of readers. This point was mentioned in Anna and the French Kiss. The translator can’t remain objective from the work she translates and much as she may try to stick to the original, something, apart from simple translating, will change, whether it’s the function of a sentence or word or even how the story is presented (In various early translations of Journey to the Center of the Earth the characters names are changed and some chapters are omitted while others were rewritten). As such, I’ve come to appreciate the notes that pepper the translated works I’ve read. The notes keep the reader abreast of minor changes and explain aspects of the story that may be unfamiliar, which is welcome in Apollonius’ Argonautica.

Though small things might be changed, I think major elements essential to the meaning of the work will be maintained. After reading Karasu’s A Long Day’s Evening, I learned that Karasu omitted the word “and” in the original in an attempt to write the stories in a pure form of the Turkish language and to emphasize the characters’ isolation. Since I wasn’t aware of this while reading, I didn’t notice whether or not “and” was included in the translated piece but a quick look at the pages of the first two stories in the book revealed none so I assume that “and” was also omitted from the translated piece so that the significance of its omission in the original would resonate in the translated work too.

It’s works like Karasu’s story that show that reading translated literature is important. Translated works open us up to new perspectives and reveals how language functions, how we sometimes take it for granted when we easily understand what someone says, and how we just as easily misunderstand each other.

This makes me think of language barriers in my daily life. Since some of my friends are multilingual and post Facebook statuses in languages foreign to me, I sometimes use Google Translate to help interpret what’s said. But Google isn’t always reliable. It seems that in it’s attempt to translate things word-for-word, it loses the meaning of the sentence, which is interesting because one would think that translating word-for-word would be helpful. On other blogs that discuss translations, I’ve seen the software company Smartling mentioned, which is geared towards businesses but comes in handy when translating websites, documents, and mobile apps.

So what are your views on translated literature? Do you also feel that you’re missing out because you’re not reading the original? What translation app do you use?
What I’m reading this weekend:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban because I started it last week and I’m almost done. It’s one of my least favorites of the series but I’m enjoying it more this time than I usually do, though I’m annoyed that those who know that Sirius is an animagus never once considered that he’s running around in dog form to elude the dementors. But I’m in the middle so maybe it does come up and I’ve just forgotten.

Jason and the Argonauts because I really need to finish it. I’m taking more frequent breaks from it because I’m getting tired of the story.

I might continue with A Clash of Kings but I’m not sure. I’ve taken a break because I’m at a Catelyn chapter and I don’t like her.

What do you plan to read this weekend?

4 thoughts on “Weekend Reads #17: On Translations

  1. Translating books and pieces of literature is very tricky to get absolutely right, I would say! Really, it is near impossible to capture the exact flow of an author’s writing if you change the language to something else. There are different grammar rules, different ways of expressing things and the translated piece becomes slightly different, changed, in some way, in comparison to the original. And I agree, while Google Translate can be useful in some ways, in proves to be unreliable when using it for lengthy pieces of writing, because of grammar and other complications. 😀 Great post! I hope you’re enjoying the books you picked out for this weekend. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Analee. It is very tricky. I’ve read somewhere that it’s best to read more than one translations of a particular work so as to get a better grasp of it.
      The books are going good through I’ve spent more time coloring in Basford’s Enchanted Forest book than reading. It’s so relaxing. I hope you’re having a great weekend!


  2. This weekend i finished ‘day of the triffids ‘ which was an ok read. The mini series i saw as a kid i thought quite scary, but the book is pretty tame.
    Because it’s still raining AND nothing much was doing i started AND almost have finished ‘ the celestine prophecy ‘ by James redfield.
    This is the second redfield book I’ve read, their very similar in that they look at his beliefs, have a perfunctory storyline, with a highly unbelievable plot (wheew!, no ands in that last bit, how did the Turks /Persians cope) or clap 😀 😀 😀

    Yeah there’s certainly issues with google translate, i looked up your Karasu, when you posted about it, with no ands and poor translation it was hard to follow.

    Thanks for another thought evoking topic 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol you’re welcome. Yea I think it must have been difficult to do an English translation with no ands, if really none are included. Hmm…maybe you outgrew the fear from the Day of the Triffids book.


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