Where the added value is: On writing and reading translations

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Even in some "quality" newspapers, translators are deemed to be mere vessels for the transmission of other people's ideas, not deserving even of a mention in the strapline of a review. Such ignorance may be understandable among journalists, but it is unforgivable in universities. Yet even today, academic translators find their work being considered a priori unworthy of comparison with their other research. Taking it as given that the immediate source of a translation is not a text, but a reading of it, this article does not so much argue a case as analyse in detail a number of examples of compensation in literary translation between English, French and German. Compensation is considered in respect of translating polysemy, hyponymy, pun, cultural allusion, quotation and texts which are sometimes said to be rendered virtually untranslatable by their combination of formal convention and cultural presupposition. The analyses show that, whether the translator is an academic or not, translation is a mode of written reading demanding as much analytical rigour, sophistication and research as, and more imaginative creativity than, most other critical writing. As such, it deserves full recognition not only by the cultured public in general, but also by academic committees assessing quality in research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-257
Number of pages27
JournalForum for Modern Language Studies
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2008


  • translation as reading
  • translation as writing
  • compensation in translation
  • Holocaust writing
  • Celan, Paul
  • Rozenberg, Jacques
  • Wander, Fred
  • Germain, Sylvie
  • Racine, Jean
  • Phedre
  • Hughes, Ted


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