31 Mar 2015

My Thoughts on Translations

For me, Literature is the most important thing in the world. My life revolves entirely around books – whether it’s reading them or discussing them with my friends, or just staring at them.

The written word is everywhere – it’s social media, it’s in the newspaper, it’s in marketing. It’s an incredibly important aspect of our lives, yet reading isn’t nearly as popular as it used to be.

The value of literature is going downhill. People will go and see the film adaptation rather than reading the book, but we readers all know how much better the book is. Then there’s the issue of all those articles that have been appearing lately demeaning YA and its readership. I’m not going to start on that issue because it’s something that makes me unbelievably angry. My point is reading suddenly isn’t ‘cool’ anymore.

It’s become my life mission to change this – I buy people books for their birthdays, I lend books to certain people and I talk so much about literature that I feel that eventually the people I talk to will read something just to make me shut up.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a family of readers so I’ve tried a little bit of everything. One of my favourite things is translated literature. It sounds very lame, but I love being able to experience texts and authors that I wouldn’t be able to without translations.

Unfortunately, I don’t speak every language in the world but I hate that it means I’ll miss out on some really good books. When I think of books that I couldn’t have read without the translation, two really stick out – Beowulf (as translated by Seamus Heaney from Old English) and The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (translated from Dutch). These two are some of my favourites, and it’s weird to imagine not being able to read them. Anne Frank, in particular, changed my life and how I see the world – it’s weird to think how different things might be if I’d never read it.

There are loads more translated works that I haven’t gotten to yet, but are incredibly important pieces of literature. Anna Karenina, for example, as well as the rest of Tolstoy’s work, the Odyssey, Les Miserables and more contemporary literature like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels. Think of how well-known those books are now and how they may have shaped our world and other books, now imagine a world where only French speakers could have read the works of Victor Hugo. There’d be no Les Mis stage production and let me ask you this, where would be then? (Probably not curled up in balls sobbing about barricades)

That’s my roundabout way of saying that I think translations are important. There’s so much information to be shared in this world, information that could change the way someone thinks or change how a whole society thinks, to only ever share it with the speakers of one language.

Translations aren’t always easy to come by, and so there are a lot of websites and blogs that we miss out on because of language barriers. Translation companies like Smartling are working toward spreading messages like these to a larger audience so that we can all experience a more exciting and diverse world.

I want to thank everyone who commented on my post The Millicent Effect in which I talked about branching out to things like this. I was so worried about posting this but you were all so supportive of the idea. I hope it didn’t disappoint.