Book Review: 'Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World' by Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche
Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche Perigdee/The Penguin Group (2012)
How and why “humanity depends on translation for its successful functioning”
As co-authors Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche point out, the word “translation” comes from the Latin word “translatus,” which means “to carry over or…build relationships” and the possibilities for which relationships van be built and/or sustained can be almost unlimited. Winston Churchill once observed that the United States and England are separated by a common language. The barriers to effective communication can be linguistic, cultural, anthropological, and neurological. Moreover, there are multiple forms of verbal and non-verbal communication. So what can be “found in translation”? Again, the possibilities are almost unlimited.
Here are a few examples of those that Kelly and Zetzsche discuss in the first fourchapters:
Chapter 1. “Saving Lives and Protecting Rights”: The Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) is an electronic public health early warning system developed by Canada’s Public Health Agency, and is part of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Outbreak and Alert Response Network (GOARN). This system monitors Internet media, such as news wires and websites, in seven languages in order to help detect and report potential disease outbreaks around the world. Initially, only two languages (English and French) were involved but later used nine languages that substantially increased the nature and extent of sharing important healthcare information, especially potential or imminent health crises.
Chapter 2. “Waging War and Keeping the Peace”: The absolutely essential role of translators during the war crimes trials at Nuremberg at the Palace of Justice in in 1945–1946. Kelly and Zetzsche focus on Peter Less, a German/American then residing in Chicago, who translated the testimony of 24 of the captured German leaders, including Hermann Göring, Rudolph Hess, and Martin Bormann. The accuracy of the questions asked and responses to them as well as introductions, instructions, prosecution and defense arguments, and closing remarks could all be viewed as matters of literally life or death.
Chapter 3. “Doing Business and Crossing Borders”: The example in this chapter I personally found most interesting involves the translation needs of United Airlines. “Each month, we translate between one hundred forty-four thousand and three hundred fifty-five thousand words into eleven languages,” explains Theophannie Theodore, senior manager of international reliability — eCommerce at United. And that volume covers a range during a normal 24-hour period. Given the nature and extent of globalization, and given how tricky nomenclature in the airline industry has always been, it is necessary for United to create a multilingual glossary of airline specific terminology every time it adds a new language as when, for example, there is a merger or strategic alliance with another airline.
Chapter 4. “Sharing Stories and Spreading Religion”: I found this to be one of the most entertaining chapters as Kelly and Zetzsche examine a number of complicated situations in which effective translation was also essential. They even return in tome to the Nestorians (or Church of the East) founded by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428–431, whose missionaries were often controversial as they struggled to share their faith. As you can well imagine, there were frequent and sometimes violent disagreements concerning translations of the Bible, for example, as well as concerning the meaning of passages that suggest articles of faith. More recently, Clairol launched a curling iron called the Mist Stick in 2006 and soon there was a serious problem: in Germany, the word “mist” means “manure.” Kelly and Zetzsche suggest that those who are fans of Sierra Mist should not expect to find any when traveling in Germany.
These are among the dozens of specific passages that caught my eye:
o The Seventy-Million Dollar Word (Pages 3-6) o High-Stakes Interpreting at Nuremberg (33-36) o America’s Language Problem (44-47) o Extreme Interpreting at the United Nations (53-55) o Interpreter in Chief (55-58) for Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton o The Most Translated Airline in the World (76-78) o Translation on the Orient Express (96-98) o The Bold and the Beautiful (137-139) o It’s Raining Falafel (176-178) o Take Me Out to the Ballgame (186-187) o Ideas Worth Spreading Beyond English (207-210) o Beam Me Up, Babelfish (223-225)
Accurate and sufficient translation can help people to “find” knowledge, understanding, and wisdom but as these and other examples suggest, there are formidable challenges and barriers that must be overcome. Quite literally, as the book’s subtitle correctly suggests, language really can shape our lives and transform the world because, David Crystal observes in the Foreword, “multilingual humanity depends on translation for its successful functioning.” I commend Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche on Found in Translation, a brilliant achievement. Bravo!
Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission.Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.