Food for thought for the translating community

Greater than 3 minutes, my friend!

I often find both motivation and food for though in eloquent quotes. Recently, I’ve discovered that there are quite a few words of wisdom out there directed toward translators. So without further ado, I bring you the best quotes ever said about the art of being a translator.

 On translations & technology: 

  • “Similarly, Haynes (1998, viii) notes that many professional translators, () remain remarkably uninformed with regards to the progress made in translation technology. He goes on to observe that many are so largely unenthusiastic about it – with attitudes lying somewhere between sceptical and scathing – their very ignorance seeming to contribute to their fear that their jobs will be threatened by this technology.”

― Lynne BowkerComputer Aided Translation Technology: A Practical Introduction

  • “I want to type one of my books into a free online translation website, and convert it from English to German and then publish the results as an exercise in the absurd.”

― Jarod KintzThis Book is Not FOR SALE

On the personality of a translator:

  • “The translator who does not doubt on the inside is likely to raise doubt on the outside.”

― Russell Scott Valentino

  • “Never trust the translation or interpretation of something without first trusting its interpreter.”

Suzy Kassem

  • “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 NewmarkManual De Traduccion / A Textbook of Translation

Translation as a cross-cultural activity:

  • “Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, the often forgotten instruments that make it possible for different cultures to talk to one another, who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of the world, live in one world.”

Paul Auster​​

  • “If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen sie Deutsch sprechen.”

Willy Brandt​

  • “Without translation I would be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my most important ally. He introduces me to the world.”

Italo Calvino

On linguistic philosophy: 

  • “Every text is unique and, at the same time, it is the translation of another text. No text is entirely original because language itself, in its essence, is already a translation: firstly, of the non-verbal world and secondly, since every sign and every phrase is the translation of another sign and another phrase. However, this argument can be turned around without losing any of its validity: all texts are original because every translation is distinctive. Every translation, up to a certain point, is an invention and as such it constitutes a unique text.”

― Octavio Paz

  • “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 BenjaminIlluminations: Essays and Reflections​​​

  • Translation is a journey over a sea from one shore to the other. Sometimes I think of myself as a smuggler: I cross the frontier of language with my booty of words, ideas, images, and metaphors.”

― Amara LakhousClash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio

  • ​​If a translation is beautiful, it is not faithful. If it is faithful, it is most certainly not beautiful.”

― Yevgeny Yevtushenko​​

  • “If you want to produce a vital translation, at some point in the translation process you have to forget the original. Some would say you have to kill it. Ideally by eating it alive.”

― Peter Cole

Lastly, a few sobering words … 

I will finish this with a few less appreciative quotes. Not for the sake of bringing you down, quite the opposite. I hope these last quotes my inspire you to become even better, and surpass your previous best, simply to prove them wrong. When read from the correct point-of-view these will serve as profound reminders about what really is expected from any translator.

  • “There can never be an absolutely final translation.”

― Robert McQueen Grant​

  • “What is lost in the good or excellent translation is precisely the best.”

― Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel​

  • Humour is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue.”

― Virginia Woolf​

  • “The translator must be a great editor, a psychologist, a judge of human taste; if not, his translation will be a nightmare. But why should a man with such rare qualities become a translator? Why shouldn’t he be a writer himself, or be engaged in a business where diligent work and high intelligence are well paid? A good translator must be both a sage and a fool. And where do you get such strange combinations?” 

― Isaac Bashevis Singer

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7 thoughts on “Food for thought for the translating community

  1. Wow! This is the first thing I’ve read this morning (I barely got out of bed), but this is probably one of the best collection of quotes about translation I’ve ever seen. Great job on collecting all them in one place. I absolutely love them all, especially the one from Willy Brandt​. Thank you so much for sharing I think I’ve just found our #PostOfTheDay 😉

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  2. Nice post! Thank you!

    Here is another quote (though it is not about translation, I will add a remark in the end):

    “Between what I think, what I want to say, what I believe I say, what I say, what you want to hear, what you believe to hear, what you hear, what you want to understand, what you think you understand, what you understand…They are ten possibilities that we might have some problem communicating. But let’s try anyway…”
    – Bernard Werber

    Add translation into this sequence and you understand the true value of a translator’s work.

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