Wednesday, October 12, 2011


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“Tolstoy wrote…” is an opening phrase you might hear a few times in your life. As soon as you do, Dear Gentle Reader, you might pause in your listening to think, “Really?  Are you certain.”

Here are a couple of quotes from a French workbook:

“Elle a pris une decision.” (Sorry, you’ll have to imagine the accent over the e in decision.) The workbook then translates that sentence into 1) She made a decision; 2) She has made a decision; and 3) She did make a decision.

“Elle faisait..” can mean “She was doing…”, “She used to do…”, or “She did…”

Context matters; and context is a word which encompasses quite a lot, including, but not limited to the mores of the times—both of the time of the original writing and the time of the translation.

Much thought and subjective decision-making go into translations. So much so that we should be careful about placing too much confidence in what a translator finally presents.

And the more important the translated material might be to our individual and collective lives, the more cautious we should be.

For instance, religious writings should be treated with much caution. (Surely you saw that coming.)

Trust, but verify; or, in this case, read it in the original before you accept it totally.

Good luck with that.

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