The Language Nook – Le coin langues

All the work of translation consists of weighing words - A quote by V. Larbaud

“All the work of translation consists of weighing words…”

by | 11 Nov 2017 | Quotes


Valery Larbaud was a French writer and translator from the early 20th Century who was a great traveller and spoke English, German, Spanish and Italian.

His contributions as a translator and proofreader promoted and popularised the works of great authors such as Samuel Butler, Coleridge, Whitman and James Joyce.


In this quote, he conveys his view of what translation is about:

“All the work of translation consists of weighing words. We place the author’s words alternately in one pan, and in the other, we try out an indeterminate number of words belonging to the language into which we are translating the author, waiting for the moment when both pans are balanced.”


I like the image he conveys: the careful word-weighing, the meticulous placement of each word and search for the word that will make both pans of the scales balance. I can relate to this mindful process every time I work on a translation and it is one I thoroughly enjoy.


Are you a translator? Can you relate to Valery Larbaud’s description of the translation work?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!


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