didn’t figure out translation in all its particulars. Thank God—if we had, we
would have shown that we were wrong all along. Over and over, our panelists have
pointed out ways in which the dilemmas of translation can simply never be
escaped. For all the reasoned technophilia—that computers are getting suddenly
better at translation, in particular—we are no further along in the optimism
that perfect translation will ever be possible.
Many of the most interesting stories and insights in our week of conversation came
from outside the strict subject of language-to-language translation. From
Katherine’s discussion of the relationship between book and e-book, to Anthony’s
dilemma about whether to correct a bread-and-oil-soaking ritual in a book he
was working on, to Biljana’s point that we translate our thoughts into words every
time we open our mouths, we realize that “translation” is a much bigger word
than usual use allows. That is well and good, because this discussion among a
linguist, translator, English professor, and language-loving journalist
accompanies an art exhibition that uses translation as a theme both literally
and in more metaphoric ways. In our online chat, I wrote that I have to
“translate” my reporting into writing, which means editorial decisions of what
to include and what to leave out, what to stress and what to mention by the by.
Anthony pointed out that real-time interpretation of speech involves many such
spontaneous decisions as well, much as we wish to think of interpretation as
strictly technical. So we should have no problem extending the notion of
translation just as translators extend their imaginations to do their jobs.
I’d like to thank all the panelists for their participation and everyone who’s
read and commented on the Forum as well. I’ve enjoyed this discussion even as
I’ve come away with more questions than I went in with. I know it will give me
some restless nights—what if we can never really understand each other? But
that little edge of fear drives us on to make ourselves better understood.