Translation Sayings and Quotes

Below you will find our collection of inspirational, wise, and humorous old translation quotes, translation sayings, and translation proverbs, collected over the years from a variety of sources.

Translation is not appropriation, as is sometimes claimed; it is a form of listening that then changes how you speak.     

Eliot Weinberger

Translation is the art of failure.     

Umberto Eco

Translation is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes.      

Gunter Grass

The original is unfaithful to the translation.     

Jorge Luis Borges

Nor ought a genius less than his that writ attempt translation.     

John Denham

Through the act of translation we break out of linguistic confinement and reach many other communities.     

Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Translation is the paradigm, the exemplar of all writing. It is translation that demonstrates most vividly the yearning for transformation that underlies every act involving speech, that supremely human gift.     

Harry Mathews

Never trust the translation or interpretation of something without first trusting its interpreter.     

Suzy Kassem

Translation cannot be dissociated from the notion of progress, some even maintain that a society can be measured by the translation it accepts.     

Jean-Francois Joly

Translation is at best an echo.     

George Borrow

Translation is a two-edged instrument: it has the special purpose of demonstrating the learner's knowledge of the foreign language, either as a form of control or to exercise his intelligence in order to develop his competence.     

Peter Newmark

Translation means that a translator has picked one word above all the others: one winner, with all the finalists gone from the page forever. Translation always calls upon the translator to make a judgement call, and what the reader hears, then, is a judgement.     

Aviya Kushner

The clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase.     

Vladimir Nabokov

Woe to the makers of literal translations, who by rendering every word weaken the meaning! It is indeed by so doing that we can say the letter kills and the spirit gives life.      


Translating from one language to another is the most delicate of intellectual exercises; compared to translation, all other puzzles, from bridge to crosswords, seem trivial and vulgar. To take a piece of Greek and put it in English without spilling a drop; what a nice skill!     

Cyril Connolly

To translate, one must have a style of his own, for otherwise the translation will have no rhythm or nuance, which come from the process of artistically thinking through and molding the sentences; they cannot be reconstituted by piecemeal imitation. The problem of translation is to retreat to a simpler tenor of one's own style and creatively adjust this to one's author.      

Paul Goodman

Any translation which intends to perform a transmitting function cannot transmit anything but information -- hence, something inessential. This is the hallmark of bad translations.      

Walter Benjamin

It is neither the best nor the worst things in a book that defy translation.     

Friedrich Nietzsche

Translations (like wives) are seldom strictly faithful if they are in the least attractive.     

Roy Campbell

The art of translation lies less in knowing the language than in knowing your own.     

Ned Rorem

Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.     

Anthony Burgess

Translation is the circulatory system of the world's literatures.     

Susan Sontag

True translation is transparent: it does not obscure the original, does not stand in its light, but rather allows pure language, as if strengthened by its own medium, to shine even more fully on the original.     

Walter Benjamin

Translation is not original creation - that is what one must remember. In translation, some loss is inevitable.     

Joseph Brodsky

It is in the translation that the innocence lost after the first reading is restored under another guise, since the reader is once again faced with a new text and its attendant mystery. That is the inescapable paradox of translation, and also its wealth.     

Alberto Manguel

f the translation respects the original, it may, and even should, be able to hold a dialog with it, face-to-face and hold its own. The aspect of respect does not mean destroying what is respected     

Jean-Yves Masson

If the dream is a translation of waking life, waking life is also a translation of the dream.     

Rene Magritte

Every language is a world. Without translation, we would inhabit parishes bordering on silence.     

George Steiner

Translation is like a woman. If it is beautiful, it is not faithful. If it is faithful, it is most certainly not beautiful.     

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

All translation is a compromise - the effort to be literal and the effort to be idiomatic.     

Benjamin Jowett