Lost in Translation?

Currently I’m reading an Andrea Camilleri mystery novel called The Voice of the Violin. The series which features Inspector Montalbano, was originally written in Italian and translated to English by Stephen Sartarelli. Apparently this series is quite famous in Italy with its own Italian TV adaptation written and directed by Camilleri himself.

The novel is quite interesting and intriguing so far. I wouldn’t ever have discovered this book if it hadn’t been translated into English. Which brings me to my next point. How much of quality literature are we missing out on because of language barriers? How many people are unable to access the plethora of wonderful voices out there because they cannot read English or the original language it was written in? Or how many feel they can better relate to a message if it was written in their native language?

My most recent experience with a translated text has been through reading The Diary of Anne Frank. What a wonderful book and such beautiful and inspiring thoughts! Had this book not have been originally translated by Anne’s father from Dutch to German and subsequently by publishers into English and other languages, Anne’s thoughts would have never reached the world and might have been lost forever. Literature creates history and history teaches us not to repeat past mistakes. Anne’s diary taught the world to respect one another and to support community peace. Words have the power and responsibility to empower and awaken and it’s imperative that powerful voices reach their intended audiences.

Take the example of famous books in recent years that have taken the whole world by storm. These books have sold millions of copies globally and their strong messages have inspired people from all over the world to create change in their own lives or in the lives of others. The line, ‘And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.’ from Paulo Coelho’s famous book The Alchemist has been the most quoted over the past 27 years since it was first published in 1988. If this book hadn’t been translated from Portuguese to English as well as to 79 other languages, millions would have been left bereft of its wisdom. Similarly, Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret (2006) which talks about the same idea, opened people’s mind to the Law of Attraction and endless possibilities of having, being and doing anything your heart truly desires. Demand begets supply. The book has been translated into 50 languages because millions worldwide are eager to grasp the message and use it in their lives.

The seven part book series Harry Potter written by J.K.Rowling has the largest reach ever among millions of readers – children and adults alike in its 18 years of existence and only continues to grow in popularity. Since the first book was published in 1997, the series has garnered a huge positive response and has been translated into 77 languages.

Finally, important religious scriptures such as the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, Quran and other religious, spiritual and historical texts written thousands of years ago in ancient languages would have been extinct if they hadn’t been translated into modern languages. This has made it possible to spread the faith-building messages around the world.

A text that has been translated becomes a new piece of content on its own but with the pure essence of the original. Hence, for a translated text to be effective, there can be no ambiguity and discrepancy between different languages and most importantly, words in the translated language have to be equally powerful and evoke emotions as well as paint vivid pictures in the mind’s eye as the original does. The message has to be preserved in its entirety.

The different types of content that we are exposed to on a daily basis are accessible on a larger scale because of translation. Company websites are translated into more than one language because it increases their global outreach and reach large numbers of target customers. It’s really frustrating when you come across a website and cannot find an English translation! You wouldn’t be able to buy their amazing product even if you wanted to. Imagine if your mobile phone and its apps were only configured to Mandarin because the instrument was produced in China? Even the foreign films that you enjoy watching are a result of effective subtitling.

A great cloud-based translation software platform out there is Smartling, that aides businesses in simplifying and reducing the turn-around time of translation for websites, mobile apps and documents. Since the platform is cloud-based, it eliminates the need to send large files around while making it easier to locate different versions of documents.

Language is a wonderful essence of a country’s culture, heritage, traditions, people and what they represent. To spread that culture and to sustain its message is now easily possible through traditional and new media and translation plays an important role in filling that need. It brings the world closer and makes it possible for different communities to bond together over similar interests. Translation is globalization in its truest sense of the word.

What are your thoughts on translated literature? Have you read any books that were originally written in another language and have moved you through their powerful words? Or is there a book that you wished there was a translation of so you could enjoy reading it? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below. 🙂

You can email me at thistlesandwhistles@hotmail.com
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7 thoughts on “Lost in Translation?

  1. ellarend says:

    Camilleri! In Italian it’s full of words in dialect, so “the Italians from the North” need often translation too! 🙂 I think it would be easier to read it in English.

    And: I study Foreign Languages and Literatures, so yeah translation is amazing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thistles and Whistles says:

      Oh that’s a great tidbit you gave me about Camilleri! So, his work is translated in other dialects of Italian too, that’s very interesting. Your course on Foreign Languages and Literature sounds amazing! What are you studying at the moment in the course? Would love to know more about this aspect of literature. Any books you can recommend? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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