Montag, 21. November 2011

Because he's right in general

I've been worrying for quite a long time how to read accurately. No, I don't want to start a philosophic discussion right now, don't worry, I'm tired and Dicken's Great Expectations are waiting for me.
I've been simply thinking a lot about whether I should read the German translations of English classics or the original versions. I'm learning a lot of languages (English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, hell, I'm even learning Latin) and thankfully I'm pretty gifted in this area. My English is rather good (well, at least I hope so!) and I love it but German is my mother tongue and there are undoubtedly some fine literary nuances that escape my attention when I'm reading in English.
Anyway, after almost falling asleep over a dreadful translation of A Christmas Carol I swore never to read anything by Dickens again, but since my curiosity was stronger I couldn't resist buying a cheap English copy of the book when I saw it in a shop window. You kno what?
It turned out to be one of my favourite (Christmas) stories ever.
With the support of Robert Frost's wisdom I've finally come to a decision. I'm going to read the original versions of all books which were originally published in English but the German versions of all books whose original languages I don't know well enough (Spanish, Italian, Japanese and French if you don't count The Little Prince) or not at all (I couldn't animate myself yet to learn ancient Greek or Russian). I know that a translation, even a good one can never be more than a faint reflexion of the original work, so I'll do my best to concentrate and understand the English versions.There it is, after all:
Poetry is what gets lost in translation.
One does not argue with Robert Frost.


  1. Translations.... Tricky, and interesting to me. English is my mother tongue, and I speak a tiny bit of French but not much more, so I'm interested in this question. Like, have I REALLY read Tolstoy or Homer or Flaubert or Dante, when I've really just read the translation? Virginia Woolf writes about this in The Common Reader First Series in a chapter titled "The Russian Point of View" - you might be interested to have a look at that :)

    So jealous that you speak all those languages, that's such a talent!

  2. Thank you, I am definitely going to check it out!
    Unfortunately I can't claim to really speak all these languages,I've found out that there's a HUGE difference between learning a language and actually being able to communicate in it :)

    You're not badly off at all, I would kill to have English as my mother tongue. You probably wouldn't believe how often I've been angry with my parents for not being English ;)

  3. Well, about translations: Reading a book, I always try to read it in as many languages as I am capable of. Thus I have read many original books and many translations as well. While I totally agree with you on the point, that in most cases the original versions of a book is by far better than any translation could be - as it captures the real essence of the story, it is the truest version - I have read some books where I personally prefer the translated story.
    I envy you - you seem to speak a lot of languages, so you are able to read MANY different translations of a book and you have much more opportunity to read a book's original version... I am jealous.
    By the way, I really like your blog.

  4. Being from Argentina I can totally relate to the original version vs. translation dilemma. I don't speak nearly as many languages as you do (for which I'm definitely jealous), so translations are often the only way to dive into books I wouldn't have the opportunity to read otherwise. But if I have the chance, the original version always wins, even if I have to double the reading time by consulting a dictionary every other page. Like you said, you don't argue with Frost ;)