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Thread: Works impossible to translate?

  1. #31
    If it were always alwayspossible to make a one-to-one translation of statements in one language to another, then there would not be a problem. Some statements are easily translatable...say "Arma virumque cano" to "I sing [of/about] arms and [a/the/or no article] man." But then the translator from Latin to English has to deal with word order..."I sing of arms and the man"..."Arms and a man I sing" ...etc. Then there is the matter of the sound of the original, the connotations (as opposed to denotations of the words), etc. Professor Booth (UC Berkeley) has written a lot about these issues in Shakespeare, but his criticism is applicable to poetic translation in general.

    Consider a quotation from Hamlet: "I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw." Hiow would you translate that to, say modern Italian or German? You could just translate it literally. The first part of the statement (I am but mad north-north-west) is easily translated. The second part (when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw) could be translated literally as well, but it gets more complex, because there are more interpretive options (connotations) and language-specific assonances (hawk/handsaw) that might be difficult to render in another language.

    In this specific case there is ambiguity as to the meanings of "hawk" and "handsaw." A hawk can be a bird or prey or a plasterer's tool. A "handsaw" is a carpenter's tool, but folks have opined that it could be a mispelling of another bird (a sort of heron). The problem for translators is that English allows for both possibilities, and there is no way for translators of Hamlet to express in their non-English languages exactly what Shakespeare expressed in Hamlet.

  2. #32
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Jun 2007
    Saarburg, Germany
    To say nothing of the rhythm. As I said the job of translating poetry is an ungrateful one.

    I agree with you.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

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

  3. #33
    Registered User hannah_arendt's Avatar
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    Nov 2012
    Zgierz, Poland
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    Quote Originally Posted by bobb328 View Post
    Anyone speak a foreign language? What authors do you consider to be difficult or impossible to translate. For English there's a lot but mainly - with the exception of Shakespeare, that's given - I'd say Joyce and Fitzgerald (for prose). And Goethe, especially Goethe, and Kafka for German. I've heard Flaubert in French is great and Gogol and Pushkin for Russian are also great. This is a subject the interests me a lot, I'm really thinking of learning Russian...Nabokov's college lectures have convinced me it's worth the struggle. Can anyone comment on this?
    When it comes to polish literature, it is very difficult to translate Henryk Sienkiewicz and Adam Mickiewicz because of many regional expressions.

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