Friday, July 17, 2015

Language and Literature--How does it translate?

What happens when our favorite novels are translated into another language? What happens when literature unknown to us is translated from another language into English? Does it lose something, or is it easily transferrable? That's a question that was posed when I came across Smartling, translation software company.

Smartling does the translation but we do the reading. I can't say I've read a lot of novels that were originally in a language I don't speak and then translated into English--but, I wonder if some things get lost in translation. I've often spoken to people that speak other languages, and they have quotes and things that usually only make sense in their original language. It makes me wonder does that happen in books? When it's translated will I no longer understand the parts that I should?

Have any of you read novels that were in languages you don't speak but then translated into one you do? Was it hard to understand, did it seem like something was missing? What do you think is most important in keeping the consistency between the languages?

How important is translation in novels? Is it important that books like classics are translated into additional languages? I, for one really love when a novel I'm reading in English includes, tid bits of the language of it's characters, be it Spanish, Chinese whatever the character speaks. But if it's not explained I sometimes don't understand, and lose something in the reading. Has this happened to you?

I would love to hear what you guys think about this!


  1. I have read a few of these and I really do think something is lost in translation sadly. I have yet to read a book that was translated into English that didn't feel disjointed some how.

  2. The Ruby Red series was originally in another language (I can't remember which) and then it was translated to English. I didn't notice anything particularly unusual about the novels - in fact, they're some of my favorite books. However, in general, I do think that there are things that get lost in translation, such as the tone the author meant to convey, or even the wording of certain phrases.

  3. I haven't read anything translated from a language I don't know yet, but I've seen quotes from English popular books (e.g. Paper Towns by John Green) that were translated to Tagalog, the language here in the Philippines. I admit, I'm not used to reading books in Tagalog. When I read the quote, my head was spinning. I think in an attempt to recreate the tone, meaning and depth of the quote, they used such deep words that I ended up not understanding the passage.

    Kim @ Divergent Gryffindor: BLOG || VLOG
    Most recent post: The Book Shelf Tag

  4. I study French literature at university and basically read everything in translation because it saves time and my language is quite good enough for chunky novels yet. I've definitely noticed a huge difference between translations and it's really interesting to compare different editions of the same translation. They're never quite perfect and something is always lost, you cannot deny that. For some stories this doesn't matter but if they're stories that are good because they author wrote beautifully then I don't think any translation will ever do that prose justice.

    Laura @ What's Hot?

  5. Translation is definitely an important topic. It's hard when there are cultural references you don't understand, and thus are hard to translate! It's easy to get lost, and I find it can take a bit more work to fully grasp what's going on, or the significance of something a character just said.

    ~Erika @ Books, Stars, Writing. And Everything In Between.

  6. That's why I hardly read books in Spanish. So much it is lost in translation, and I know it because of first-hand experience. It sucks. I wish I had the certainty to read a good translated novel without missing out on anything. I wish I could go out to my local bookstore and buy books like everyone else. But I can't. I don't see the point of buying a book which I'll probably complain about how horrible or emotionless it was. Better stick to the books in their original language (unless it is a classic in another language, then I don't have a choice).

  7. I speak a few languages, but I mostly only read books in English, because I am loath to deal with muddling through the translations. I just feel like different languages were created & developed for far different purposes, and because of that it's so difficult to capture the same essence as in the original language. I like to think of language as an art form - just as you can't paint the same piece in watercolour as in acrylic, so you can't write the same book in French as in Chinese. It simply doesn't have the right feeling, you know?

  8. I really do think it does make a difference when the book is translated. It seems to me that something is lost and some points that I understood in one language make no sense in another. Even though the story is there, something always seems to be missing. Maybe it's just me but I think something does get lost in translation.

    Sean @ Excel Translations