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Thread: Original work or translated version?

  1. #1
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    Arrow Original work or translated version?

    What books do you prefer reading? Those which are written in their original language, even if it's not your mothertongue, or those which have been translated to your native language? Why?
    I prefer the originals, because only that way you can fully understand the writing style of the author, the vocabulary he/she had, the way sentences were arranged,... But if my language level doesn't allow me to read and understand the original, then I'd go to the translated version, knowing it won't be the same but something close.

    What about you?

  2. #2
    pessimist more or less Veva's Avatar
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    where madness is just the lack of pragmatism
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    Hi, definitely the original one, besides I cannot really remember when was the last time I read something in my mothertongue, simply because translations of good books are scarce in my language....
    Stop asking where is God and keep asking where the hell is human!

  3. #3
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Jun 2007
    Saarburg, Germany
    Original definitely. Of course, sadly, one cannot know ll languages...

    I would prefer to stay as close to the culture of the original author as possible when chosing a translation, if possible. But, if not possible, then rather in my mothertongue. If that is lacking, then rather in English.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

  4. #4
    Moon Goddess crystalmoonshin's Avatar
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    Mar 2008
    I prefer reading in the original, that's why I'm studying different languages.
    Vanitas vanitatum, dixit Ecclesiastes, vanitas vanitatum, et omnia vanitas.

    Yo sé quién soy, y sé que puedo ser no sólo los que he dicho. - Don Quixote

  5. #5
    Registered User Emil Miller's Avatar
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    Jul 2008
    London, England
    It is usually better to read in the original but it is interesting to read books in a foreign language for the fun of it. There is also the fact that some authors translate more easily into other languages. Somerset Maugham translates very well while James joyce, for example, is sometimes unintelligible even in English.

  6. #6
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    I also prefer books written in the original language. I've read some translations of various English books before but it's just not the same .... Moreover, reading English books is a good way to improve my English skills

  7. #7
    A piece of carrot cake Zeniyama's Avatar
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    Sep 2009
    Under the Sea
    I would like to read some books in the original at some point, but I just don't know any other language that well. It's a pity, because I'd love to read Dostoevsky in the original Russian.

    It seems as if the only books I'll be able to read in the original language any time soon will be in French, but it may be a little while before I can, because j'aime le français, mais il peut être très difficile parfois. Also, I've only been taking it for two years...
    "Etiquette is etiquette. He kills his mother but he can't wear grey trousers."
    -James Joyce

  8. #8
    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    The original, so long as I feel sufficiently competent with the language. That said, it can also be interesting to see how different translators manage particularly obscure bits of text. With some of my stuff, various translations can differ so dramatically that its sometimes hard to believe they come from the same text.
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

  9. #9
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    The original if I have at least a smattering of the language. If I have to read a translation, I usually choose a translation into English, even though it's not my mother tongue. The translations into my mother tongue, Spanish, are usually full of slang or words which aren't really used in the Spanish-speaking world outside Spain --- and that makes them awkward reading.

  10. #10
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Feb 2007
    I'll start this off by saying I read in English, a little bit of French, Italian, Hebrew and very very limited Chinese (about a preschool level, learning children's works with the help of a dictionary!).

    The goal is to read as many books in as many languages as I can - of course, that is easier said then done.

    English alone can occupy a lifetime - but when you get serious you realize to truly appreciate things, you need more languages - so, for instance, in Canada, to get a Ph. D. in English you need a foreign language, preferably French, and more would be of an asset.

    For business too, it seems the world is pushing toward people with knowledge of foreign languages - it seems that English speaking countries are far behind the rest of the world when it comes to second language ability.

    That being said, none of this has to do with language appreciation or culture - more with education and commerce - but even so, some things cannot be translated - the hardest thing to learn is to appreciate another culture as itself. So for instance I struggle with a dictionary through Chinese literature, but in the end, I can only scratch the surface, as I cannot say why the poem is famous, why people like it, or much else about it - the same works backward when dealing with English, or even when dealing with Italian, which strangely enough seems to have had a direct affect on what has been translated.

    For instance, Tasso's Jerusalem Liberated can be translated fairly easily (besides technical aspects, and the fact that the form and writing of the original is stellar), except his Madrigals and shorter works thus far are relatively hard to find anywhere in translation. Dante is translatable, yet good editions of other surrounding poets are hard to come by.

    The more distant the culture would seem to the culture a work is being translated into, the less likely a text generally will be translated. There is still no definitive version of the vast majority of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Persian and Arabic texts - there are brief periods when work is done, and major efforts by single translators, but it hasn't been until recently, and only in some areas, and only amongst a few readers, that things have begun to change.

    I think the original instinct of translation was a sort of "cultural exoticism" - at least, that's what the first wave of Arabic and Sanskrit translations, from what I understand, seems to feel like - they all seem to paint a rather strange portrait of exoticism and imagination - no surprise then, that it was the Vedas and Sufi Poets, as well as the Thousand and One Nights that first seem to have made it into the mainstream. From Japan it was mostly exotic-feeling, often eroticised half-translations from poetry, usually missing the point, and that trend has continued until present, except collided with a sort of acceptance, at least in part, of Japanese fiction. China has been another matter all together, given the way the history of how the world saw China is very awkward - the beginning accounts of China seem to position it as something more developed than European society, so in the history of translation, there would appear to be a sort of vast praising of China as a very culturally developed, and superior nation - this of course came before translation, and when translation came though, it was mostly old classics of Chinese wisdom, and Tang Poetry that got the attention - when universities really started studying China, coursework was essentially a dictionary of definitions of words from Confucius' language (without phonetics) and copies of the classics, with the instruction to translate. Recently though other genres have made it here, but there is very little attention paid to them it would seem, especially contemporary literature which is still in the beginning phases of translation.

    What all that means to me, is that if you want to appreciate literature, and culture, one has to learn other languages, to really begin to understand things in the terms of the culture one wishes to understand - On another thread, for instance, I mentioned how Goethe and Confucius institutes in effect work as global propaganda mills, as a sort of promotion of a "classical image" of cultures centered around long histories of "scholarship, philosophy and art" - we get the same thing throughout the board - Shakespeare as the poster child of England, Dante, Verdi, Michelangelo and Leonardo (sorry Titian and Raphael) as the poster children of Italy, Goethe coming out of Germany, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky out of Russia with a little Pushkin thrown in, and depending on how international the language-origin countries take themselves, the more promotion it would seem comes out. Now with foreigner presses emerging and self-done translations, even wackier things are starting to come out.

    That's the other side to the whole idea of cross-cultural exchange, that one can, in effect, monitor and guide how people see a self-defined other. Getting beyond that even is complicated and dangerous.

    So yes, it is important, if you are serious about literature, to branch out, but it is also important to question what it is you are exactly doing, every single step of the way.

    Translation is fine, but it is tyrannical - that is always important to note. Rossetti and Pound are translating into Rossetti and Pound - the actual real text is always distorted.

    Of course, one cannot learn every language they would like, and often people have a desire to run around and get the text before they can read the language, or because they have no immediate plans to learn a language, and still see the value of translation. I do that to, but one also must remember that the translation is a necessary evil.

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