Is That a Fish in Your Ear?Christmas is nearly upon us once again. Recently, having been asked so many times the dreaded question “What would you like for Christmas?”, I remembered reading a review of a book called Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything, by David Bellos. It appeared in the ‘non-fiction’ section of The Times’ Saturday Review supplement, and the article was called ‘Lost in translation: the art of communication’ [The Times, Saturday 10 September 2011, Michael Bynon].

David Bellos, the book’s author, is a translator himself. English-born, he teaches French at Princeton University in the United States, where he is also a Director of the Translation and Intercommunication programme. He has written several biographies and translated many novels by the Albanian author Ismail Kadare.

Translation is not often discussed in the general media, let alone in the books section! I haven’t read the book myself but the Times article and the reviews I’ve subsequently seen on the Internet give a taster for a great, informative, witty, thought-provoking and in places provocative work on translation and its challenges (with a few solutions we are told!), but more broadly speaking, it is aimed at anybody who has an interest in languages and communication, cultural differences, history and anthropology. The book is full of anecdotes from the interpreting and translation worlds. Various examples are given from ancient cultures, recent history (such as the Nuremberg trials and the use of simultaneous interpreting for the first time), EU institutions and the United Nations, the various contexts in which written translation is used (from literature to technical manuals and the difficult task of rendering jokes in a foreign language). It is also an exploration on how the increasing use of English has changed the face of communication and the nature of other, less dominant, languages.

I haven’t quite made up my mind as to whether I will add this book to my Christmas wish-list but I would be interested in receiving feedback from anybody who has actually read it. I certainly hope it makes translation more accessible and portrays it not as a necessary evil, but as a great communication enhancer, which I believe it is.

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