How often do you think about whether the book you are reading was originally written in English?
As the possessor of a widely spoken lingua franca, England is one of the most ignorant countries in the world when it comes to modern foreign languages. Recent studies by the British Council found that an alarming three quarters of adults cannot speak a foreign language. I think it is safe to say that our ignorance as a nation in this area is absolutely astounding. We simply expect everyone to adapt to the use of our dominant language and make very little effort to branch out and learn the languages of other cultures.
This expectation is, I believe, the one of the main causes for the under-appreciation of the talent and artistry of literary translators. We forget those crucial individuals that make incredible works such as Les Miserables, Lolita and Inferno available to the English speaking population. These classics started out as Russian, French and Italian masterpieces that have only been shared with us via the mouthpieces of those wonderful translators who have laboured over each word to produce the beautiful translations of works that we now hold dear.
“But don’t they just stick them in Google translate?” I hear a few of you ask. My dear readers, no! The translation of a literary work requires immense linguistic skill and flare and an unparalleled sense of tone. The translator of a novel or poem is essentially required to re-write the assigned book in a completely different language losing as little of the original tone and meaning as possible in translation. Translators are, in their own right, also writers. They have as much control over how the translated work is received as the original author. It is up to them to capture their vision and make it accessible to the world.
The work of translators does not only bring foreign masterpieces to English-Speakers but also brings great works written in English to people worldwide. Without translators, non-english speakers around the globe would have no clue about the wonderful world of Roald Dahl, they would not have grown up with Harry, Ron and Hermione, they would not have swooned at Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, or felt Big Brother’s watchful eyes upon them.
Too long have these wonderful and talented people been unfairly overlooked! Too long has their importance in the literary world been lost in translation (if you’ll excuse the pun). I urge you to pick up a book off of your shelf written originally in a different language and praise the translator aloud for their valiant contribution to literature and your enjoyment of it!
Here’s those who spread the stories we love around the world, who make our libraries so much broader and more diverse. Voici pour les héros méconnus! (Here’s to the unsung heroes)