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Quote about translating - Paul Valery

A quote by Paul Valery: “Translating is… ”

by | 12 Nov 2018 | Quotes


Paul Valery (1871-1945) was a French author, philosopher, poet, essayist whose fields of interest were extremely broad. Translation was one of them. He deeply admired Edgar Allan Poe, and had not Charles Baudelaire already translated his works, Paul Valery would certainly have chosen to translate Poe’s works. Instead, he translated Virgil’s Eclogues.

He could analyse a text in its finest details like few can and commented generously on what writing and translating entail. Hence, quotes by Paul Valery on writing or on translating are not rare.


Today’s quote is but one of many:


“Translating is producing analogous effects by different means.”


I like this quote because it is a reminder that any piece of writing produces effects. One of the missions and maybe one of the major difficulties with translation is to ensure that the translated text will indeed produce a similar effect on the readers of one language as on the readers of the original version.
Of course, the means are different because the language is different, but not only: the cultural background of the reader also influences how a text is read and perceived. Actually, this was the point made in this other quotation


Isn’t that what makes reading so enthralling? Have you ever read a book or a text where you could detect the lack of effect and suspected it was because of the translation?


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  1. Ellen

    Great translators are indeed rare. Many of the English learners that I have taught complained that American authors like Hemingway or Steinbeck were boring. I ‘m sure it was because of the translation. These two men were ‘artists’ choosing their simple words for the nuisance. Google translate will never be able to compete with experienced, meticulous translators like yourself Yolaine.

    • Yolaine Bodin

      Thanks a lot for your comments Ellen. I remember reading a French translation of a Japanese author in the past and wondering all along if one phrase that was very often repeated was due to the translation or a choice for style. I couldn’t at the time get my hands on the English translation or ask my Japanese colleague. It’s sometimes not all that obvious to work out what is due to translation and what is the effect that was decided by the author in the source text. Umberto Eco talked very well about those tough choices translators sometimes have to make.


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