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Lindsay Gallimore

Lindsay Gallimore
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Read this book! You will feel like a fish in water!

Published by lindsay_gallimore@sympatico.ca on 2011-12-07

I love to read. Over the summer, I read 15 novels. Since I went back to work in September, I have read two. And one of them I read in a frenzy, the threat of deletion after 21 days looming. (If you didn't already know, the BANQ now has e-books via the OverDrive app.) Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything took me three months to read, but not because I didn’t enjoy it!


I took one Translation Studies course during my recently-completed Graduate Diploma in Translation. It was one of the most mind-bendingly challenging courses I have taken in all my years of postsecondary studies. Sentences like these made my brain hurt, and I understand French just fine, thank you very much. I needed a translator for the language of traductologie:


« Pouvoir ainsi reconstituer l’horizon d’attente d’une œuvre, c’est aussi pouvoir définir celle-ci en tant qu’œuvre d’art, en fonction de la nature et de l’intensité de son effet sur un public donné. » (Jauss)


« Dans le chronotope de l’art littéraire a lieu la fusion des indices spatiaux et temporels en un tout intelligible et concret. » (Bakhtine)


« [ ] Proust a donné à l’écriture modern son épopée : par un renversement radical, au lieu de mettre sa vie dans son roman, comme on le dit souvent, il fit de sa vie même une œuvre dont son propre livre fut comme le modèle [] » (Barthes)



If these passages speak to you, I bow down to you in deference. I love translation, and I love to think about translation, but I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the theories expounded by Bakhtine, Barthes and Jauss.


I really wish that Bellos’ book had coincided with my Translation Studies course. This book made talking about translation, evaluating translations, philosophizing about translations… accessible, and fascinating. I think anyone who loves writing and languages would enjoy it, translators especially, of course.


Bellos addresses the following questions in his 32 chapters:

-          What is it that translators really do?

-          How many different types of translating are there?

-          What do the uses of this mysterious ability tell us about human societies, past and present?

-          How do the facts of translation relate to language use in general—and to what we think a language is? (as listed in Ch. 1)


If you’re anything like me, the promise of answering those queries alone was enough to make me want to dive into the book!


One of the main topics of my Lecture critique des traductions class was how to evaluate a translation. What is a good translation? A bad translation? I think Bellos states it perfectly:


“A translation can’t be right or wrong in the manner of a school quiz or a bank statement. A translation is more like a portrait in oils. The artist may add a pearl earring, give an extra flush to the cheek or miss out the grey hairs in the sideburns—and still give us a good likeness.” (Chapter 30)


He makes some very interesting comments and states some fascinating facts about the predominance of English as a target language. I will get to that in my next post.


In the meantime, go buy Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything! And remember, even if you can barely draw a stick figure, you are an artist!


BAKHTINE, Mikhaïl (1978). « Formes du temps et du chronotope dans le roman » in Esthétique et théorie du roman, Paris, Gallimard, p. 237-238.

BARTHES, Roland (1984). « La mort de l’auteur » in Le bruissement de la langue, Paris, Seuil, p. 61-67.

BELLOS, David (2011). Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything. New York, Penguin.

JAUSS, Hans Robert (1996). « VI. VII. » in Pour une esthétique de la réception, Paris,Gallimard, p. 51-58.



The book will definitely be in my schoolbag this winter - I surely need a book like this while I finish my thesis... just to keep my thoughts warm, and not to erase the smile on my face. Have you thought about letting your TS teacher know about this book, and how much you wished you had come across it during his or her class (instead of those killing theoretical French essays)?
Now, tell me something, what does the fish and the ear has to do with anything?
(or, tell me if you can't tell me).

The title of the book comes from his chapter about interpreters, and a reference to something from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," which I have never read. Bellos says that the invisible nature of conference interpreting "makes people think that it's just a matter of time before we can all have a device to stick in our ear - the 'Babel Fish' of the 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' - to provide us with instant communication with all peoples on earth." (Ch. 24)

I definitely recommend the book, it's a fun and thought-provoking read.