Translation is a powerful teaching tool

When reading literature in translation, many of my students are surprised to learn that the humanities are at a disadvantage compared with the sciences. A mathematical formula from Pythagoras or Euclid is fundamentally the same in any language because those symbols are universal, but the words of a literary artist can never be a straightforward conversion.

The best translations of literature are insightful and eloquent recreations and interpretations. But even the most gifted and redoubtable translators only give us what literary critic Cyril Connolly in The Condemned Playground called “illusions of likeness”. In spite of the beauty that might be achieved, it is obvious that all literature unavoidably loses something of the original in translation.

I do not mean to deny the importance of translated books, nor to disparage the translators themselves. Without the results of their dedication and talent, we would lose a rich literary and cultural heritage. “Without translation,” said George Steiner in Errata: An Examined Life, “we would inhabit parishes bordering on silence.”

Read more: Times Higher Education

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