Found in translation

Joseph Conrad, one of the finest English-language novelists of the last couple of centuries, was writing in a foreign language. His proper Polish name was Józef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski.

The contemporary novelist and short-story writer Haruki Murakami has translated a great deal of English-language fiction into his native Japanese.

Another contemporary novelist with an interest in foreign languages is Rita Mae Brown, who advocates the serious study of the Latin language and Classical literature for aspiring writers.

The Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges translated works from an astonishing variety of languages, everything from French to Old Norse. I understand that his first published work was a translation of an Oscar Wilde story into Spanish for a newspaper in Buenos Aires.

Borges was nine years old at the time.

Something I would very much like to know is whether individuals with a strong gift for using words become intrigued with adding other languages to their tool kit because (a) doing something you do very well feels good or (b) they are seeking better ways to express themselves?

Perhaps some stories can be told better in one language than another. Someone I knew in college, one of the most erudite people I’ve ever met, was convinced that Shakespeare works very well in German translations, but that it lost a lot of its steam in French. My reading knowledge of French is too slight (my German is nonexistent) to decide this for myself.

If you had grown up using a different default language, would it make you a different kind of writer?


2 thoughts on “Found in translation

  1. I write in English, even though it’s not my native language. I find it to set the right mood for my stories, there’s a certain sharpness to it, a certain tone that just works. It feels more natural to me

  2. That’s interesting. You’re not alone. I understand that Murakami sometimes writes first drafts in Engliah because he believes it works better for his kind of story than Japanese. English started out as a Germanic language that had a huge French vocabulary — Latin based — dropped into it after 1066 and later picked up even more vocabulary due to the British having a global empire. It’s big enough that you can usually find the precise word you need.

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