Tradition has it that something is always lost in the translation. What that something is, and the significance of it, has been a matter of debate for as long as there has been a need for translation. The practical effects of the practice of translation, however, are much easier to judge and document. Translation is not just a literal recasting of a work from one language to another, but is also an adaptation of one culture’s values and biases into another.
The Bible is perhaps the most translated work in the history of publishing. Beginning as a collection of Hebrew and Greek texts, the Bible first went through a process of canonization, in which some texts were selected as authentic, and others dismissed as inauthentic. It then underwent translation, in which the whole was brought into a single, standardized language. Further translations became necessary with the spread of Christianity, such as in the famous English King James version of the Bible, on down to the twentieth century, with such works as the “plain” English Good News Bible. This ongoing process of translation and re-translation is an example of cultural adaptation and abridgment of texts through translation.
Specific examples of censorship through translation abound in English. Works originally written in older versions of English, such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, are often sanitized through translation to suit the tastes of modern...
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