Is that a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything

David Bellos, Author
David Bellos. FSG/Faber and Faber, $26 (376p) ISBN 978-0-86547-857-2
Reviewed on: 08/22/2011
Release date: 10/01/2011
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-86547-876-3
Paperback - 390 pages - 978-0-241-95430-0
Hardcover - 390 pages - 978-1-84614-464-6
Ebook - 400 pages - 978-0-14-196962-6
Ebook - 384 pages - 978-0-86547-872-5
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Written by an award-winning translator and professor of comparative literature, this book is informed by considerable culture and an original, probing intelligence with a mostly light touch—the title riffs off of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, whose babel fish, when inserted in one’s ear, could translate any imaginable language. If only it were that easy. Bellos gets readers to think in new ways about the implications of moving a series of words from one language and society to another. Of the 7,000 tongues currently used by humankind, works are translated between roughly 50. The preponderance of translation is into English, which explains why translating is a well-paying profession in Japan, Germany, and France but not here. Whether translating Astérix comics or caustic Chinese doggerel, puns and wordplay or even legalities at the groundbreaking Nuremberg Tribunal, translators are far more than a kind of literary middleman. It is a breeze to get lost in translation, and for this reason Bellos cannily exclaims, “We should do more of it.” (Oct.)
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