Quotes about translation and its compromises
Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky (1783-1852), Russian poet.
“The translator of prose is the slave of the author, and the translator of poetry is his rival.”
Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893), English theologian and translator.
“All translation is a compromise – the effort to be literal and the effort to be idiomatic.”
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), English author. Source: Famous quotes about translation
“Humour is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue.”
Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), Novelist and lepidopterist. Source: “The Art of Translation” New Republic, 4 August 1941.
“Three grades of evil can be discerned in the queer world of verbal transmigration. The first, and lesser one, comprises obvious errors due to ignorance or misguided knowledge. This is mere human frailty and thus excusable. The next step to Hell is taken by the translator who intentionally skips words or passages that he does not bother to understand or that might seem obscure or obscene to vaguely imagined readers; he accepts the blank look that his dictionary gives him without any qualms; or subjects scholarship to primness: he is as ready to know less than the author as he is to think he knows better. The third, and worst, degree of turpitude is reached when a masterpiece is planished and patted into such a shape, vilely beautified in such a fashion as to conform to the notions and prejudices of a given public. This is a crime, to be punished by the stocks as plagiarists were in the shoebuckle days.”
Michael Hamburger (1924-2007), Author, poet and translator. Source: Wiki article on Hamburger.
“Translation came naturally to me because as a child I was translated from Germany to Britain”.
George Steiner (1929- ), philosopher, novelist and essayist.
Source: “After Babel – Aspects of language and translation. Ch. 2, ‘Language and Gnosis’.
“Translators are men groping towards each other in a common mist.”
Anthea Bell (1936-), Translator. Source: W.G. Sebald – A Translator’s View.
“After its writer, no one experiences a book as intensely as its translator, who goes through the text several times. Not surprisingly, then, I approached Max Sebald’s novel Austerlitz with pleasure at being asked to translate it, but also with some trepidation.”
Salman Rushdie (1947-), British Indian essayist. Source: “Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991“.
“It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling obstinately to the notion that something can also be gained.”
Ray Kurzweil (1948-), American inventor and futurist. Source: Interview with Nataly Kelly.
“Translation: The most high-level type of work one can imagine.”
Patrick Bowles (1962) Source: Translator’s Foreword, ‘The Visit’, translation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play ‘Der Besuch der Alten Dame’. Jonathan Cape, 1962.
“One translates within the dilemma of literalness and readability, the one tending to rise as the other falls, and vice versa.”
Emma Donoghue (1969-), Irish-Canadian writer. Source: Emma Donoghue and her translators
“Translation: when I think of this profession I think of priestly, tireless dedication to getting it right.”
Patrick Rothfuss (1973-), Writer and lecturer. Source: Patrick Rothfuss’s blog “The Perils of Translation: Babelfish.” 11 December 2008
“A word-by-word translation is going to be clunky and awkward. But a beautiful one isn’t going to actually say the exact same thing as the original. A translator needs to walk that fine line between.”
“The truth is, translation has got to be one of the hardest jobs there is. Period.”
Anonymous. Source: “Found in Translation“ The Times, 11 January 2010
“The paradox of … [a translator’s] work is that successful translators pass unnoticed. A good English translation will read as if the book were written in English in the first place. A translation that is clumsy or stilted will scream its presence.”