What are the Biggest Obstacles to Translation?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

International book

In today’s editorial Vanina Marsot writes about discovering that her novel about a translator is itself untranslatable — particularly into the very language it is about, French.

Translation is tricky, particularly with books that are written in a distinct dialect. I’ve been told one of the joys of reading Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano novels is the Sicilian dialect the books are written in. Likewise, there’s a particular pleasure to be had in reading a writer who can nail a regional accent — be it from Louisiana, Brooklyn or Marseilles. Of course, the more authentic the dialect, the more difficult it is to render in an altogether foreign language.

What’s more, there are certain forms — and I’m thinking of poetry in particular here — that because of rhyme and other issues, make them difficult to translate.

What are the greatest obstacles to translation? Dialect? Form? Cultural opacity?

Let us know what you think in the comments below or via Twitter using hashtag #ppdiscuss.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.