17 Sayings on Translators and Translation

Translators may be recognized by people who need their translations to meet specific needs. These people are liable to understand the nature and importance of the translation work through their contact with translators during the translation process. Sometimes, the recognition of translation does not include the financial aspect. Therefore, I exclude from these people fraudsters who need translation but refuse and hesitate to pay.

While talking about my work and translation in general, I was asked by some educated people – a math teacher and the director of a department- about the work of translators. They asked me the following: Is the work of translators limited to the translation of legal texts required in courts? What else do you translate? Why do translators translate while people targeted today by these translations are able to read the original work in its source language? Why is translation taught academically while anyone who masters two languages or more can translate?

The questions of those educated people can be answered in separate articles. Yet, the opinion of some authors and thinkers about the work of translators shows a practical assessment of its importance and actual impact based on their own experiences. Their opinions are not theoretical but rather based on real experiences. I suppose that these authors witnessed all translation steps and the challenges faced by their translators. Their potential discussions with translators could bring them behind the scenes. Indeed, some of these authors understand the work of translation because they are translators, themselves, too.

Hence, when clients are unaware of the translation process and possible impact, translators might be obliged to explain why they need enough time to complete the work and to justify their rates. Non-translators may have more credibility in their sayings on translation because translators can be biased towards their own job. For this reason, I provide hereunder some sayings on the importance of translation in communicating, spreading the word and knowing the world. These sayings also refer to the characteristics of good translators such as being observant and skillful writers. I hope these sayings might give an idea about translator’s work to non-specialized readers:

“Without translation, we would be living in provinces bordering on silence.” George Steiner

“A translator is the most observant reader.” Agata Tuszynska

“Without translation, I would be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my most important ally. He introduces me to the world.” Italo Calvino

“Translation is a journey over a sea from one shore to the other.” Amara Lakhous

“Translation is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes.” Grass Günter

“The best thing on translation was said by Cervantes: translation is the other side of a tapestry.” Leonardo Sciascia

“A great age of literature is perhaps always a great age of translations.” Ezra Pound

“Translating is writing.” Marguerite Yourcenar

“A satisfactory translation is not always possible, but a good translator is never satisfied with it. It can usually be improved.” Peter Newmark

“The ideal reader is a translator. He or she can pull a text to pieces, remove its skin, cut it to the bone, follow each artery and vein and thence fashion a new living being.” Alberto Manguel

“The translator is a privileged writer who has the opportunity to rewrite masterpieces in their own language.” Javier Marías

“It is better to have read a great work of another culture in translation than never to have read it at all.” Henry Gratton Doyle

“I just enjoy translating, it’s like opening one’s mouth and hearing someone else’s voice emerge.” Iris Murdoch

“All translation is a compromise – the effort to be literal and the effort to be idiomatic.” Benjamin Jowett

“The original is unfaithful to the translation.” Jorge Luis Borges

“There can never be an absolutely final translation.” Robert M. Grant

“All translating seems to me to be simply an attempt to accomplish an impossible task.” Wilhelm von Humboldt

This article is also available in Arabic.

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