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Authors need translators

March 22, 2012

Which makes more sense, urging people to learn a foreign language or to read more translations? I’d choose the first, but maybe that’s a rationalization of self-interest, as I’ve done more language teaching than translating. B. J. Epstein wants people to read translations:

…translations seem to scare many people, especially those who have English as their native language. There’s the erroneous idea that translations are harder to read, and some readers fear that translators change texts beyond recognition. There are other people who simply think that anything that comes from outside the borders of their own country is just too different and unwelcome, not recognising that intercultural exchange has always been around and has already shaped most cultures to a certain extent.

I like the last point. I’ve heard a similar argument that food purists who demand, say, an unspoiled French cuisine and frown at fusion and innovation are the truly inauthentic ones, since cooking traditions develop through borrowing and mixing.

On the other hand, even if translators rarely “change texts beyond recognition,” they all change texts. Readers’ fears aren’t so unreasonable.

There’s no arguing with these points, though:

Without translators, we would be limited to only reading literature written in our native tongue and whatever few other languages we could learn well. And that literature would be distinctly different if authors weren’t able to read texts and access ideas from other cultures.

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