The Beauty of Language — a translation series


Language, when written well, is music to my ears.

Every language has its own beauty, but I’ve been captivated by English since I immigrated to the U.S. 20 years ago.  To learn something well enough to lose yourself in, you must love it first, I suppose. Must accept it as a new part of you, let it carve its own little place in your heart. After some time, it shapes the way you see the world.

Romanian, my native tongue, is a Romance language, part of the Latin family of languages. There are Slavic influences on all levels, as the country is surrounded by mostly Slavic speaking countries, with one exception, Hungary.

It is natural, I believe, to develop a linguistic interest when living in a continent with so many spoken languages. For example, I always thought Italian sounded beautiful. Similar in many ways to Romanian, yet different and unique.

In time, studying the sound of words, the way they translate yet retain meaning, one becomes fascinated with the idea of interpretation. Especially when it comes to works of art — literature. A conversation can be easily translated, but what about a story? Now we have thoughts, emotions, action, dialect. The order of words changes. What does one do with phrases that are untranslatable? Two different skills, I would say, translating and interpreting. We move away from a mechanical act (apa means water), and try to interpret a story so readers who speak a different language experience emotions the author intended to communicate. Sees the places the author intended to show — the simple yet spectacular sight of a bird flying against the pale, blue sky.


Or very, very close.

What about poetry? The rhymes, the lyrical aspect of the work.

Recently, I found one translation (two in fact) of Romania’s most beloved poet. Mihai Eminescu (1850 – 1889).  And since I understand both languages (Romanian and English), I spent nearly a whole afternoon studying the pieces.

It’s been said that Eminescu is not translatable. But as I read the English version(s), I wasn’t so sure anymore. Intrigued, I emailed the translator, Mr. Adrian Sahlean, at Global Arts, a non-profit organization, and asked permission to use his translation(s) alongside the original on my blog. He was very courteous and said yes.

My writing friend, Edith Parzefall, a German writer who translated her English thriller into German, has also agreed to participate.  As such, a blog series was born.

So, I invite you to return and read “The Beauty of Language — a translation series,” beginning sometime next week.

In the meantime, I leave you with two quotes on translation.  Enjoy!

“Beautiful translations are like beautiful women, that is to say, they are not always the most faithful ones.”
George Steiner in After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation

“Translators can be considered as busy matchmakers who praise as extremely desirable a half-veiled beauty. They arouse an irresistible yearning for the original.”
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749–1832), German poet, dramatist. Art and Antiquity, V, 3 (1826).

11 responses to “The Beauty of Language — a translation series

  1. Hello – It always amazes me when someone says they love the English language. It’s such a difficult language to learn. Great article, nonetheless. I enjoyed it. :-)

  2. You’re quite the teaser, Silvia. I was eager to read the poem, but no, you’re building up the suspense. :-)

  3. Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It really useful & it helped me out much. I hope to give something back and aid others like you aided me.

  4. What a great idea! I look forward to seeing the next post.

  5. As a writer, of course I love language and words. I can’t wait to read these posts!

  6. Wow! I’m currently reading George Steiner’s After Babel. (Just starting though.) I would really appreciate if you could tell me which page the quote is located so I can jump to that part first! Great post:-)

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