Imaginary languages

From the Laudator comes this insight into the matter of translation:

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), “Another Odyssey,” in The Geography of the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981), pp. 29-44 (at 34):

Translation involves two languages; the translator is in constant danger of inventing a third that lies between, a treacherous nonexistent language suggested by the original and not recognized by the language into which the original is being transposed.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. PhilipNeri says:

    A perfect description of what happens when I attempt to speak what I think of as “Italian.”

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  2. Philangelus says:

    I love this quote. It explains so much of human interaction in general, not just translation. :-)

  3. Creoles develop frequently enough that there does seem to be plenty of room for blending and mixing of languages. Besides that, most languages would be a lot poorer without foreign loanwords.
    Perhaps for the translator the creation of a creole is a problem, but for a linguist it’s fascinating and natural.

  4. Timbot2000 says:

    As a translator I can honestly say truer words were never spoken

  5. Scarltherr says:

    A Chinese student gave me what I think is a compliment the other day. She said I made her eyes bigger. Clearly this counts as something lost in translation.

  6. TomG says:

    Which is just what happened in the “translation” known as the New American Bible.

  7. albinus1 says:

    This, of course, explains much of the occasional weirdness of literary Latin, as well as the Latin of the Vulgate. As I often tell Latin students, in many instances you can tell that the author (or, in the case of the Vulgate NT, the translator) was really trying to write Greek with Latin words.

  8. AnAmericanMother says:

    Other languages acquire loanwords.
    English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over the head, and rifles their pockets for spare grammar.

  9. ContraMundum says:


    Pretty much!

    Also, I wonder if other languages have anything like the number of recent words “of unknown origin” as English has.

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