Inspiration in Translation

As with any language barrier, translation is a puzzle and an art. You are constantly looking for the correct way to phrase a sentence or to better express something so that it transcends the original culture.

Though among translators, there can be disagreement over meaning, the task of translating a piece of literature from one language to another is like leaving something of a legacy. By translating, a story in one language can then be given to the people of another, and that is a gift. The whole of Western Culture would be nowhere were it not for the laborious work of translators dedicated to their work.

The Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation

Margaret Sayers Peden is the professor emerita of Spanish at the University of Missouri. In the late 1960s, she translated a Spanish novel she had read into English so her husband could enjoy it as she did. After translating the novel, she realized she loved doing translation work, so she continued to be a Spanish translator and has, to date, translated about 65 novels.

She has had a long career in translating texts from Spanish to English as well as Latin to English and recently received the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation. This prestigious award has only recognized a sparse number of translators since it was created.

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Translation is Like Solving Puzzles

Translation is much more than merely swapping out a Spanish word for an adequate English one. Peden would also attempt to show her students the importance of looking beyond the words on the page and finding the deeper essence of the text. The point is to continually find the meaning beneath the words, and when that is done, a translation becomes alive.

Translation is like solving puzzles. It also involves capturing the voice of the author and the characters and knowing how various words are used in the context of the culture. Peden does incredibly extensive research when translating – sometimes more than academic writers and critics – to thoroughly understand a text.

One of the joys of translation, or any translation work, is that it’s virtually impossible to be bored. Good thing, too, because nearly everything that the Western civilization stands on was given through translation. Greek texts, historical accounts, and the Bible none of it had an origin in English. It was all painstakingly pieced together and translated by people to whom it mattered deeply. It’s an uncommon career, but one that reaches past one’s lifetime. Very few people realize how fortunate they are to be translators across the globe. They give the gift of literature from one language to another.

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