Everyone enjoys giggling over translation challenges when they pop up in daily life: Chinese food menus, amateur signs or banners, and idioms that get twisted and contorted when one tries to speak a new language. These linguistic quirks are honest reminders that all people are humbled when trying to operate outside of a familiar language. In Is That a Fish in Your Ear? David Bellos goes beyond the curiosities of translation to probe at the harder questions about translation and its relationship to what he bravely defines as "everything": philosophy, humor, history, technology, international affairs, and the human condition.
Bellos's occupation as a professor of French and comparative literature at Princeton becomes evident a few pages into the book. The subtitle, Translation and the Meaning of Everything, conveys ambitiousness, but in some regards the content reads like recycled ...
The unique title of Bellos's book, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, is a reference to Douglas Adams's novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In it there is a mysterious fish creature called a Babelfish that lives in a person's ear and performs instantaneous, perfect translations. (Incidentally, "Babel Fish" is the name Yahoo gave their online translation service.)
Watch the video below to hear David Bellos talk about language and how different cultures use words in very unique ways.
Blood at the Root
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