8 March 2013

That Is Translation

Hilaire Belloc in the second part of his essay "On Translation," from The Bookman, October 1931, pp. 179-185:
Transmute boldly: render the sense by the corresponding sense without troubling over the verbal difficulties in your way. Where such rendering of sense by corresponding sense involves considerable amplification, do not hesitate to amplify for fear of being verbose. For instance, if you come across the French word "constater", which in point of fact you do in nearly all official documents with which you may have to deal, you must always replace it by a full English sentence, even so ample as, "We note without further comment", or "We note for purposes of future reference", or in another connection, "We desire to put on record". In the same way there are whole French phrases which should justly be put into a shorter form in English. Take such a sentence as this: "Il-y-avait dans cet homme je ne sais quoi de suffisance". The right translation of this would not be: "There was in this man I know not what of self-sufficiency"; the right translation is rather, more briefly, "There was a touch of complacency about him". Sometimes, even often, a whole passage must be thus transmuted, a whole paragraph thrown into a new form, if we would justly render the sense of the original; and the general rule should stand that, after having grasped as exactly as possible all that the original stands for, with the proportion between its various parts, the distinction between what is emphasized and what is left on a lower plane, we should say to ourselves, not "How shall I make this foreigner talk English?", but "What would an Englishman have said to express this same?" That is translation. That is the very essence of the art: the resurrection of an alien thing in a native body; not the dressing of it up in native clothes but the giving to it of native flesh and blood.
The first part of the essay can be found here.