“The Art of Betrayal: Translation in an Age of Suspicion”

At the Hudson Review, Tess Lewis writes about translation. “At the risk of appearing to shift the blame for any infelicities or infidelities in my own translations, I’ll go a step further than Emily Apter and maintain that the endeavor to transfer a text from one tongue into another is doomed from the start not only because languages are discrepant, but all the more so because treachery is rooted in the most basic elements of our medium: the word. Words are inconstant things, a single word can harbor multiple meanings, even directly contradictory ones, as in the case of oversight or peer. Then there are homophones, which function like audible, sliding doors. On top of that, personal associations and nuances accrue to words over the course of each speaker’s lifetime. And if that weren’t enough, the meanings of words can change over time and depending on the context. Until the eighteenth century, for example, the word ‘nice,’ according to the OED, was almost exclusively derogatory—meaning foolish, absurd, wanton, dissolute, lazy, ostentatious, but also elegant, precise, or fastidious. In the past three hundred years, however, its meaning has shifted 180 degrees to the laudatory senses of respectable, cultured, virtuous, decent, pleasant, good-natured, attractive, and so on”

Read more here.

Categories: Notes

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