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"Found in Translation" book review

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Found in Translation—How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the WorldTitle: Found in Translation—How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World

Authors: Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche

# of pages: 272

Binding: Soft cover

ISBN: 978-0-399-53797-4

Publisher: The Penguin Group

Price: US $16.00, CAN $17.00

Nataly Kelly photoJost Zetzsche photoI  was a bit skeptical when I first picked up this book. "What can I possibly learn about translation after having worked in the U.S. translation industry for 35 years and having been actively involved in the affairs of the American Translators Association for almost as long"? Boy, was I mistaken! Each page, from the very first to the last, surprised me with one fascinating fact after the other. And the authors somehow managed to present that cornucopia of information in such a user-friendly, easy-to-read manner that I found it difficult to put down the book before I reached the end, and then I wished for more. The chapters are one to three pages long, the style is devoid of technical jargon, conversational, and humor-filled.

Each page, from the very first to the last, surprised me with one fascinating fact after the other.
Gabe Bokor photoWhat is the yearly value of translations done worldwide? (US$33.5 billion, according to the latest esimates of Common Sense Advisory). What percentage of U.S. citizens speaks a language other than English at home? (18%) How many languages were spoken in the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans? (about 1000). Which is the world’s most translated official document? (The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights). How is the word (or rather acronym) AIDS translated into Chinese? And so on, and so forth

The book convincingly makes the case for the indispensability of translation in areas as diverse as health care, the preservation of languages threatened with extinction, international diplomacy, or when this fails, on the battlefield. We find it in restaurants, sports arenas, churches. Did you know that the 130-year domination of Maori-speaking New Zealand by Great Britain was due to an (accidental or intentional) mistranslation?

Typographically, the book dazzles with the variety of alphabets it uses to illustrate its stories: not only Cyrillic, Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, and Japanese, but also Inuit, Sanskrit, Turkish, Bengali, Thai, and, yes, Maori among others.

Most chapters end with a box containing an entertaining story about translation. However, the authors don’t indulge in repeating the well-known (and mostly apocryphal) anecdotes about the sign on the broken hotel elevator in Bucharest advising guests that, until it’s fixed, they "will be unbearable," or the tailor’s sign in Hong Kong urging the customer to "have a fit" upstairs. On the contrary, they refute several urban legends, such as the supposed language gaffe by J.F. Kennedy uttering a phrase in German (while "Ich bin ein Berliner" can also be understood as "I’m a jelly doughnut," it is correct German for "I’m a Berliner").

The title of the book, of course, is a response to the well-known phrase "lost in translation." Anybody interested in languages and translation will "find" a treasure trove of facts about translation, its use and its difficulties, as well as about the professionals who practice it. I was pleased to find the names of several friends and colleagues mentioned in the book. One of them, Izuki Suzumi, the Translator Profile of the October 2003 issue of the Translation Journal, is the heroine of an inspiring story about interpreting (and doing much more) in the auto industry. Another one, Kirk Anderson (the Profile of the January 2008 issue) is introduced as a master sommelier and wine expert, in addition to being an accoomplished translator. Luciano Monteiro, specializing in sports translation, had an article published in the April 2008 issue of the TJ.

Abundant end notes provide support and explanations to the facts mentioned in the book. A 12-page index makes it easy to find portions of the text by keyword. Kelly and Zetzsche’s book is an entertaining, yet highly informative source of well-known and little-known facts about translation, which can be used successfully both in cocktail-party conversations and serious discussions among language professionals. I can highly recommend it to my translator colleagues and to anyone interested in languages.

Published - March 2013

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