The Joy of Translating

Throughout history, translation has generally been viewed as the identification of equivalent words in other languages (also known as nomenclaturism). This has disappointed some literary critics in the loss of emotion that results. David Bellos would like to change this. A professor of French and Comparative Literature and the director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton, his new book, “Is That a Fish in Your Ear?” explores the history and sociology of translation and challenges the conventional wisdom around its practice. Rather than strictly and literally interpreting a text, Bellos proposes interpreting the style and context so that the reader gains more insight into the artistry of the literature. This stance could have great impact as the earth’s population, aided very heavily by the Internet, becomes more interconnected and more people speak English as a second language.

While the Wall Street Journal questions the validity of this anti-nomenclaturist stance and the weight of Bell’s theory, The New York Times reviewer of this book sees this as a great opportunity for Google Translate, with its pattern matching algorithm. However, one may disagree with Thirlwell that machine translation as it stands today can accurately provide the context and flavor of colloquialism and idiom in most literature and poetry. Dr Bellos himself wrote an editorial a year and a half before his latest release in the New York Times stating that machine translation can get the job done in a pinch; he acknowledges the limitations of human interpretation yet still finds it preferable to the often clumsy and unreadable output from Google Translate and other computerized services.

SpeakLike recognizes the value of “the human touch” in its on-demand translation service. Not only are translations routed to people, the completed work is reviewed and monitored to ensure smoothness and elegance in flow, with potential machine translations being flagged. In an increasingly globalized world, being able to understand one another is fundamental. SpeakLike’s aim is to make that process easier while still preserving the lingustic flavor and creativity of the text itself.

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