Translation–Quote of the Year: D. Bellos ” Translation is another name for the human condition …” Amen.
Is That a Fish in Your Ear?
Translation and the Meaning of Everything
» David Bellos
Hardback : 01 Sep 2011
In the words of Bellos: “The practice of translation rests on two presuppositions. The first is that we are all different: we speak different tongues, and see the world in ways that are deeply influenced by the particular features of the tongue that we speak. The second is that we are all the same – that we can share the same broad and narrow kinds of feelings, information, understandings, and so forth. Without both of these suppositions, translation could not exist. Nor could anything we would like to call social life. Translation is another name for the human condition.”
People speak different languages, and always have. The Ancient Greeks took no notice of anything unless it was said in Greek; the Romans made everyone speak Latin; and in India, people learned their neighbours’ languages – as did many ordinary Europeans in times past. But today, we all use translation to cope with the diversity of languages. Without translation there would be no world news, not much of a reading list in any subject at college, no repair manuals for cars or planes, and we wouldn’t even be able to put together flat pack furniture.
Is That a Fish in Your Ear? ranges across the whole of human experience, from foreign films to philosophy, to show why translation is at the heart of what we do and who we are. What’s the difference between translating unprepared natural speech, and translating Madame Bovary? How do you translate a joke? What’s the difference between a native tongue and a learned one? Can you translate between any pair of languages, or only between some? What really goes on when world leaders speak at the UN? Can machines ever replace human translators, and if not, why? The biggest question is how do we ever really know that we’ve grasped what anybody else says – in our own language or in another? Surprising, witty and written with great joie de vivre, this book is all about us, and how we understand each other.