To translate is to betray

It was our Gaelic class today, and we were talking about the difficulties and problems of translating. Our teacher mentioned a new translation of the Irish book Cré na Cille by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, The Dirty Dust by Alan Titley. Our teacher remarked that the original which was written in 1949 was counted as a Gaelic classic and that Titley’s new translation was much praised and had received positive reviews and comments in the media.

For example:

We went on to discuss translations in general, and I remarked of the embarrassing time at my book club when I had chosen ‘The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov which is one of my favourite books, and when we met, everyone else hated it – because they had a different translation from me! I had the original translation by Michael Glenny, and they had a new one by someone else – who had destroyed the book!

It was then that our teacher mentioned the Italian saying ‘traduttore, traditore’, to translate is to betray. it’s a great saying, and I understood what was meant, but trying to translate just those two words also loses something!! Every language has so many nuances and cultural undertones that to express and convert one set of words into another set of words and have the same feelings and underlying sense is an art in itself. It’s about feelings and senses as well as exactness and sense!

This article is very interesting on the subject:


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