What language are you speaking? What language are you writing in? Will your words get through to everyone who reads them?
It makes me sad to think that there are so many great foreign books that I will never truly be able to digest in the way the authors might've liked. As this universe hasn't yet given me the ability to read every book in the language in which they were originally written, I am denied the chance to get up close, figure out what an author was really trying to express. Yes, we do have translations, many of which are wonderful, but for me it is just never enough. It astounds me when I read a book in French and then compare it to the English translation; I feel sad that non-French speakers will never have access to the nuances, the authors' breaths and slight humming, the little flicks and caresses that translators struggle to transmit.
This brings me on to the story of a couple we'll call Agnus and Wally. To illustrate the dangers of translating with online programmes, and to illustrate the power of words, I thought I would try a little experiment. For a bit of fun, let's imagine that Wally writes a love note to Agnus, but for complicated reasons it must be translated into three other European languages and then back into English. I clicked on to the Babel Fish translating programme at Yahoo.com. Will our lovely couple live happily ever after? Let's find out:
The original letter in English:
Dear Agnus Punk,
I am writing to profess my undying love for you. My mother says you are the right woman for me and you cook and play darts very well. My father says I should quit dreaming and just accept my lot. He says I cannot expect to attract someone better looking than you. The church is booked, the ring is chosen, the pig has been slaughtered - all you have to do is say yes! I have left my secretary's number below and I expect a speedy reply. Kindest regards, Wally Moles.
Translated into Italian:
Caro Agnus Punk, sto scrivendo per professarvi il mio amore undying per. La mia madre dice che siete la donna di destra per me e cucinate molto bene e giocate i dardi. Il mio padre dice che dovrei rinunciare sognare ed accettare appena il mio lotto. Dice che non posso pensare attrarre qualcuno che osserva più meglio che voi. La chiesa è prenotata, l'anello è scelta, il maiale è stata macellata - tutta che dobbiate fare deve dire sì! Ho lasciato il mio numero di secretary's qui sotto e prevedo una risposta veloce. Riguardi più gentili, talpe di Wally.
Which is then translated into French:
Cher Agnus Punk, j'écris pour vous professer mien amore undying pour. Ma mère dit que vous êtes la femme de droite pour moi et cuisinées beaucoup bien et jouées les flèches. Mon père dit que je devrais rinunciare rêver et accepter à peine mon lotto. Il dit que je ne peux pas penser attirer quelqu'un qui observe plus de mieux que vous. L'église est réservée, l'anello est choix, le cochon a été abattue - toute que vous deviez faire doit dire oui ! J'ai laissé mon nombre de secretary's ici sous et prévois une répondue rapide. Égards plus gentils, taupes que Wally.
Which is then translated into Spanish:
Costoso Agnus Cerdo, j'écris para profesarles mío a undying para. Mi madre dice que son la mujer de derecha para mi y cocinadas mucho bien y jugadas las flechas. Mi padre dice que debería rinunc soñar apenas y aceptar mi lotto. Dice que no puedo pensar por atraer quelqu'un que observa mejor más de que ustedes. ¡Se reserva a L'église, l'anello es elección, se cortó al cerdo - toda que debían hacer debe decir sí! J'ai dejado mi numeroso secretary's aquí bajo y prevé uno respondida rápidos. Respetos más agradables, topos que Wally.
Which is then translated back into English and smartly posted off to Agnus:
Expensive Agnus Pig, j'écris to profess mine to them to undying stops. My mother says that they are the woman of right for my and cooked much and played the arrows well. My father says that rinunc would have to dream hardly and to accept my lotto. He says that I cannot think to attract quelqu'un that he observes better more of than you. Reserve to L'église, l'anello is election, was cut to the pig - everything that had to do must say yes! Lazy J'ai my numerous secretary's here low and anticipates one responded fast. More pleasant respect, awkward people than Wally.
Suffice to say that Wally remains a bachelor!
Isn't that great? I know it's hard to believe that "Dear Agnus Punk" can become "Expensive Agnus Pig", but it's absolutely true. Try it yourself!
I rest my case regarding online translating - just in case some of you are thinking about flogging your books to many different publishers/agents in foreign lands. Also, I suppose we'll just have to go on reading all of those wonderful foreign books that have been "adapted" - or we could sign up for non-stop, intensive language classes!