Translations never produce quite the same phrasing, feeling or meaning as the original, according to Princeton professor David Bellos. In his 2011 book, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything, Bellos, a professor in the departments of French and Italian and comparative literature, explored how people understand — or do not understand — each other in various situations and settings.
Bellos charted the complex, fragile beehive of translators who keep the United Nations operating; explored the mental state involved in translating into and out of one’s native tongue; and delved into online translation — technology that actually dates back to Cold War-era efforts by the United States to quickly unscramble Russian — among other topics.
“There’s this idea that a translation is just not as good as the original,” said Bellos, director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication. “Why does it annoy me so much? Well, a translation is different from the original. It can never be the same thing. But it’s not worse.”
In the end, Bellos said, one must put faith in a translation. “A text and its translation are two different objects, and they always will be,” he said. “So we must grant the translator authority in a language we do not know. We don’t like to do that. But we have to come to terms with it.”