MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Summary and book reviews of Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos

Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

Translation and the Meaning of Everything

by David Bellos

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos X
Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2011, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2012, 384 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

Funny and surprising on every page, Is That a Fish in Your Ear? offers readers new insight into the mystery of how we come to know what someone else means - whether we wish to understand Astérix cartoons or a foreign head of state. Using translation as his lens, David Bellos shows how much we can learn about ourselves by exploring the ways we use translation, from the historical roots of written language to the stylistic choices of Ingmar Bergman, from the United Nations General Assembly to the significance of James Cameron's Avatar. Is That a Fish in Your Ear? ranges across human experience to describe why translation sits deep within us all, and why we need it in so many situations, from the spread of religion to our appreciation of literature; indeed, Bellos claims that all writers are by definition translators. Written with joie de vivre, reveling both in misunderstanding and communication, littered with wonderful asides, it promises any reader new eyes through which to understand the world.

In the words of Bellos: "The practice of translation rests on two presuppositions. The first is that we are all different: we speak different tongues, and see the world in ways that are deeply influenced by the particular features of the tongue that we speak. The second is that we are all the same - that we can share the same broad and narrow kinds of feelings, information, understandings, and so forth. Without both of these suppositions, translation could not exist. Nor could anything we would like to call social life. Translation is another name for the human condition."

ONE
What Is a Translation?

Douglas Hofstadter took a great liking to this short poem by the sixteenth-century French wit Clément Marot:

Ma mignonne,
Je vous donne
Le bon jour;
Le séjour
C'est prison.
Guérison
Recouvrez,
Puis ouvrez
Votre porte
Et qu'on sorte
Vitement,
Car Clément
Le vous mande.
Va, friande
De ta bouche,
Qui se couche
En danger
Pour manger
Confitures;
Si tu dures
Trop malade,
Couleur fade
Tu prendras,
Et perdras
L'embonpoint.
Dieu te doint
Santé bonne,
Ma mignonne.

He sent a copy of it to a great number of his friends and acquaintances and asked them to translate it into English, respecting as well as they could the formal properties that he identified in it:

(1) 28 lines
(2) of 3 syllables each
(3) in rhyming couplets
(4) with the last line being the same as the first;
(5) midway the poem changes from formal (vous) to informal (tu) and (6) the poet puts his own name ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for a year or $12 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Bellos is enthusiastic about and dedicated to his subject, but in the quiet, careful tradition of an academic. Is That a Fish in Your Ear? does not read like an attempt to bring the power of translation to the masses - as Truss did with punctuation - but rather like an attempt to bring the power of the masses to translation. In many ways, Bellos has drawn a flow chart with Fish - one that distills everything down to only being as good as one's ability to translate it... Towards the conclusion, however, he draws back and gives readers a larger portrait of translation's role in global society and the human condition. This is where Bellos shines as an author, and demonstrates his knowledge and passion to a wider audience...continued

Full Review (649 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk).

Media Reviews

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
David Bellos writes like a person who chooses his words not only carefully but also confidently and pragmatically. Translation is a challenging enterprise, but one he embraces vigorously and without the gloomy pessimism that leads some to declare that it's impossible... Rich, often playful chapters.

Literary Review
Is That A Fish In Your Ear? is spiced with good and provocative things. At once erudite and unpretentious... [it is a] scintillating bouillabaisse.

The Scotsman, Jennie Erdal
This book is a wonderful celebration of the sheer diversity of language and the place it occupies in human endeavour. Conducted by a man who clearly knows his stuff, it is a whirlwind tour round the highways and byways of translation in all its glorious forms... Bellos develops a fondness for bold statements that produce an occasional 'yes… but' response in the reader.

The Times (UK)
Bellos has numerous paradoxes, anecdotes and witty solutions... his insights are thought provoking, paradoxical, and a brilliant exposition of mankind's attempts to deal with the Babel of global communication.

Sunday Telegraph (UK)
[A] witty, erudite exploration... [Bellos] delights in [translation's] chequered past and its contemporary ubiquity... He would like us to do more of it. With the encouragement of this book, we might even begin to enjoy it.

Kirkus Reviews
Erudite and occasionally dense, but ultimately illuminating, even transformative.

Library Journal
Not for everyone, but deep thinkers should find this a thought-provoking book.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. It is a breeze to get lost in translation, and for this reason Bellos cannily exclaims, 'We should do more of it.'

Author Blurb Natasha Wimmer, translator of Roberto Bolaño's Savage Detectives and 2666
Bellos dispels many of the gloomy truisms of the trade and reminds us what an infinitely flexible instrument the English language (or any language) is. Sparkling, independent-minded analysis of everything from Nabokov's insecurities to Google Translate's felicities fuels a tender - even romantic - account of our relationship with words.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for a year or $12 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Google Translate

It is a universally acknowledged truth that Google has changed the world we live in, and one of their newer features, Google Translate, is also likely to have a big impact on the future of language and translation.

Traditionally, mechanical translation has relied on systematic matching of word meanings between languages, and reordering words based on different grammatical and structural rules. This literal methodology is faulty and full of pitfalls. The vocabularies and grammars of languages do not always line up in perfect or equivalent ways, which - though the linguistic diversity is beautiful - can make mechanical translation a frustrating process. According to an article in Slate, this is "the kind of process that translates ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for a year or $12 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, try these:

  • Babel jacket

    Babel

    by Gaston Dorren

    Published 2019

    About this book

    Witty, fascinating and utterly compelling, Babel will change the way you look at and listen to the world and how it speaks.

  • Spell It Out jacket

    Spell It Out

    by David Crystal

    Published 2014

    About this book

    More books by this author

    The fascinating and surprising history of English spelling from David Crystal, everyone's favorite expert logophile.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for a year or $12 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Between Two Fires
    Between Two Fires
    by Joshua Yaffa
    It was thought by many that the fall of the Soviet Union would transform Russia from a totalitarian ...
  • Book Jacket: This Is Happiness
    This Is Happiness
    by Niall Williams
    Niall Williams's This Is Happiness offers an extraordinary portrait of a particular moment in the ...
  • Book Jacket: In the Dream House
    In the Dream House
    by Carmen Maria Machado
    In the introduction to In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado (a National Book Award finalist for ...
  • Book Jacket: Father of Lions
    Father of Lions
    by Louise Callaghan
    Our readers have given high marks to Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan. Out of 21 reviewers, 18 ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Father of Lions
    by Louise Callaghan

    A true-to-life narrative of one man's remarkable quest to save the Mosul Zoo.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Small Days and Nights
    by Tishani Doshi

    A captivating and clear-eyed story of two sisters, set against the backdrop of modern India.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Lost Man
by Jane Harper

"Strong characters, riveting plot and an honest look at life in the Australian outback make it easy to give this 5-stars!"
—BookBrowse

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The Adventurer's Son

Publishing Soon!
The Adventurer's Son

"A brave and marvelous book. A page-turner that will rip your heart out."
--Jon Krakauer

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

I I A Broke, D F I

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.