Can Literature be lost in translation?

pexels-photo-784707.jpegLiterature is a form of intimate gateway from the author’s personal world to the reader. I believe that there is some connection on whether a translation of a piece of literature can be “lost” by how it could not be translated 100% to the core.

As I was reading “Signs Preceding the End of the World” , I understood that this novel was originally written in Spanish. Being bilingual, I would try to compare how the author read the novel in Spanish while I read it in English and there are a variety of differences. The Spanish version of the novel was more emotional and had a more intimate tone. I say this because the author would use words and phrases that don’t exactly translate directly to English 100%. Although the English version was mostly spot on in translation, the Spanish version grasp my attention more.

I felt that in Signs Preceding the End of the World, the story of Makina would be better understood to Spanish speakers as well. As a Spanish speaker, I would understand the struggles that Makina would go through as she entered a new world in the United States. It is a country where people of Latino descent face many struggles and Makina explained that when she wrote a poem to an officer that was acting condescending towards her. In Spanish, the poem felt more emotional and more in depth with Makina’s personal feelings about Americans and how they mistreat Latinos. The English version of the poem was also emotional but I personally felt that because Makina’s native language was Spanish, her thoughts shown in the novel was a direct connection from her thoughts.

We are to blame for this destruction, we who don’t speak your tongue and don’t know how to keep quiet either. We who didn’t come by boat, who dirty up your doorsteps with our dust, who break your barbed wire. We who came to take your jobs, who dream of wiping your shit, who long to work all hours. We who fill your shiny clean streets with the smell of food, who brought you violence you’d never known, who deliver your dope, who deserve to be chained by neck and feet. We who are happy to die for you, what else could we do? We, the ones who are waiting for who knows what. We, the dark, the short, the greasy, the shifty, the fat, the anemic. We the barbarians.

Herrera, Yuri. Signs Preceding the End of the World (Kindle Locations 761-765). And Other Stories Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Overall, I do believe that Literature can lose it’s original tone and emotion when being translated into another language. The original language can have certain aspects where it cannot be translated 100%.



19 Ways: The Power of Translation




Translation, in of itself, is a form of art that not all can master easily. However, with patience and practice, translation can help create new and exciting pieces that readers can easily understand and enjoy. In the book, “19 Ways at Looking at Wang Wei”, the books features translated poems by the Chinese writer Wang Wei, written and translated by the author Eliot Weinberger. Through the handful of translated poems, you can read the notes that came about from Weinberger as to the process of translation, as well as his own personal thoughts on the piece. However, readers have become more knowledgeable, and more critical, of works in translation over the years.

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One thing that I learned from this book, is that not all translations can be exactly the same, or even perfect, as some might wish. With the construction of language barriers, as well as the idea that some words and phrases can not be translated to another language easily, some steps and choice at forced to be made in order to bring the translated piece to its full potential. Never the less, I believe that translation is a way that all can enjoy a piece, either by the original authors initial structure, or by a translators interpretation that they write to the best of their ability. As long as the same meaning and similar view is expressed in the translated version, why make a fuss?

What in Tarnation is up with Translation??

The beauty of language is that there are SO. MANY. We are able to communicate with one another and are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to easily learn a new language. But what if we try to communicate with someone who speaks a foreign language that you are not familiar with? Unfortunately, Google Translate is not the answer.


“Turn down for what” is a phrase used today that teenagers use to describe the act of having fun and getting wasted. Google translates it to “Reject what” in Spanish. Therefore, this translation was not accurate.

Translation has opened new doors to being able to take foreign language and rephrasing it into a language that we can understand. This is useful for looking at literature in other languages and translating it to a language other readers could understand. The problem with that is that each author thinks differently so their translations do not come out the same or there are certain words that simply do not have the same translation in other languages.

19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei 

                   Original Poem                                          Translation of each individual character

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             – Wang Wei                                                                                                 Source

C2AAMCLVQAESU6Z                 There is a book called Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Elliot Weinberger where Wang Wei writes in a literary Chinese that is no longer spoken today. Weinberger compares 19 different translations from different authors on the same poem and shows how difficult translation could be.

Behind every language there are unique cultures, traditions, and emotions that can not be completely translated to another language who doesn’t understand the true, accurate meanings behind the original words. As said above, each author thinks differently; one author’s interpretation of a poem can be completely different from another author’s, this causes translations to not always be exact.

Throughout the book there are examples of 19 different poems rephrasing Wang Wei, each of those poems were written by authors who used their own words to express their own perception after reading his poem.

Examples on how these different authors translated the same, original poem above.
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“Chinese poetry was based on the precise observation of physical world. Jenyns and other translators come from a tradition where the notion of verifying a poetic image would be silly, where the word ‘poetic’ itself is synonymous with ‘dreamy'” (13, Weinberger).
 Weinberger explains how there is a difference in emotion in the poem that Soame Jenyns translated because of their culture. Traditionally, Chinese are very respectful and connected with nature whereas, in other cultures nature doesn’t seem to have such a great impact as it does in Chinese poetry. 

Even though translation was pretty talked down upon throughout this blog, it is still helpful and useful. It has helped us understand other cultures and to take a look at their literature, but we should continue to improve translations so that we could better connect with each other.


Mexico vs. U.S.

Image result for the us and mexico border(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

In Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman, a young woman, Makina, makes her way through the border into the United States. When she first crosses, it “had hardly been more than a few dozen yards” when she noticed that the sky was “already different, more distant or less blue.” By thinking this, Herrera is implying that the United States is simply less than Mexico.

As usual, many U.S. citizens and a great deal of Mexican citizens believe that the United States is obviously better than Mexico in every way possible. But why is that? If the sky is already visibly different, then the whole entire atmosphere of the United States is different. If the sky is already more distant, then the U.S. is farther away from maybe it’s own citizens. If the sky is already less blue, then the U.S. is automatically less vibrant and colorful than Mexico.

So then why did Herrera want to make that assumption so clear and dominant in the book? Because crossing into this so-called ‘great’ country isn’t as glamorous as it seems.

Makina only crossed in order to retrieve her brother and bring him back into the U.S. It was never for her benefit. By making it about bringing the brother back to Mexico, Herrera is suggesting that not every single person who doesn’t live in the U.S. necessarily wants to live there. Herrera constantly bags on the U.S. in a negative and demeaning way through sly situations that Makina goes through, and it may not be picked up on. But Herrera does it in such an integrated way because he only wants it to be implied and not said out directly, or else the whole undertone of the book would be ruined.

Herrera is implying that the U.S. is not seen as the ‘better’ country in most Mexican citizens eyes, and he does this in order to elevate his main character’s personality and to shut down the well-known belief that the U.S. is a wonderful country.

Top Four Signs that Show You Are on the Road to Self-Discovery



Everyone is on a journey, whether they know it or not, to find who they are. The people you encounter and the experiences that you have are all part of this journey. This is demonstrated in Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera and translated by Lisa Dillman. This novel, published in 2009, introduces you to Makina and takes you on her journey. This journey is caused by her brother, who she is trying to find and bring back from the United States of America. However, it is Makina’s brother’s journey that is filled with finding one’s self.

Self-discovery is a tricky thing as it is a different process for everyone. However, there are a few signs, all of which Makina’s brother displays, that are markers for the journey of self-discovery. They are as follows:

1. You’re doing it for yourself.

“He hesitated a moment before he versed, and in the doubt flickering in his eyes you could see he’d spent his whole life there like that, holding back his tears…” (Herrera 29-30).

There is no reason to be on a journey to discover one’s self if it is not for yourself. Makina’s brother decides that this moment will be the moment he makes a change for himself. I believe that he wants to prove to himself that he can be a man as he hasn’t been taken seriously as one his whole life.

2. Things can seem brand new.

“Everything is so stiff here, it’s all numbered and people look you in the eye but they don’t say anything when they do” (Herrera 68).

You are on a new journey with new experiences that you could never have imagined. In his first letter back to home, Makina’s brother explains just how different the United States is from their home. The letter has almost a shocked tone to it as it seems he is trying to process everything.  

3. It’s hard (from beginning to end).

“Turned up all sickly and scared as a stray dog, she said. We gave him soup and a sweater and let him sleep under the dish cabinet” (Herrera 75).

You will be put through obstacles that you have never experienced. You will want to give up and return to how things were before. Makina’s brother is broken down and weak, but he preserves. If it was easy everyone would do it.

4. You ended up somewhere you didn’t know you would be.

“A few minutes later the door opened and there appeared before her, dressed in
military uniform, her very own brother” (Herrera 86).

We never know which direction life will take us. We never know where we will end up, and that is especially true for Makina’s brother. He goes to the United States to claim some land that he thought he could have. However, he ends up becoming a decorated military man.

In the end, everyone takes this journey at different points in their life. But, you will run into these four signs, and when you do, you will realize you are on the right track. The journey is never easy but it is what you learn from the journey that makes it worthwhile!

A Translation of Translation’s – Ways of Looking at Translation


An analogy that has helped me understand the meaning of translation comes as simple as 1+1=2. The 1 represents the original text, while the other 1 represents the added perspective of a writer or point of view. Resulting in the number 2. A whole new text, though it derives and is inspired from an original text. Even in its numerical essence, it shows that it is number one, it isn’ the first text created from zero.

In 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei we get multiple interpretations of a well intended translation of the four quatrain poem that was written about 1200 years ago. This poem has been completely changed, rearranged, and conformed to the writers liking to recreate a poem that only gave clues as to what was originally written. Imagine that.

Translating languages through written or spoken word relies on a unfulfilled trust of fidelity. Keeping or retaining the exact same meaning of an original text is impossible. still, there is a sense of malleability in language that allows us to express “foreign”, diverse concepts, experiences, and even interpret them into our own meaningful understanding.  Though language can bend from one to another, it never carries the same meaning if it contains a philosophical idea behind the text.

For example, the Wang Wei poem that has been translated and retranslated comes from calligraphy which can contain miles of tonal implications with each symbol. These tones or cultural ambiguities we have not defined in our day in age has differences which means this language cannot be translated quid pro quo or letter by letter, or even feeling for feeling to a different language and expect it to be at 100% fidelity.

A personal experience with translation comes from my own ability to speak two languages. There jokes that only make sense if said in Spanish due to the cultural traditions attached to the language. There are phrases that are reversed when speaking Spanish versus speaking English.

Growing by the minute.

Yuri Hererra’s novel Signs Preceding the End of the World was a book that touched me in all the right ways. This book was translated so beautifully and lost little to none of its true meaning. Opening my eyes to the main characters and descriptions of the transformation of one place to another. seeing the growth of not only a person but the idea of a place that didn’t meet its potential.

“It had hardly been more than a few dozen yards but on starting up at the sky Makina thought that it was already different, more distant or less blue.”(Herrera 40)


Excellent image of how we can imagine grounding into Gaia. She bears witness to our right to stand, to sit, to be in this spot, now. I am alive. I am All is well.

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Many people who think of crossing the border think danger, cops, death and much more. people who come across the border are headed for a new world a new land and the hope to be able to accomplish their goals in what we call the “promise land”.You wouldn’t ever think the author would use a young girl as the example to cross not only the border but the united states all on her own.This book gives one of the most courageous examples of a type of hero and her name is Makina. Makina is a brave, amazing, loving, bad ass person. Many women arent put in the position of a brave warrior but Makina is one of a kind. I love this character and how she is perceived to be someone who doesn’t care and is willing to go an extra mile to accomplish what means the most to her. Not only does Makina have faith in herself but her mother knows she can conquer the challege as well.

“I don’t like to send you, child, but who else can I trust it to, a man?” (Herrera, 12)


Image result for art of a strong women who does need a man

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the author chose Makina as the one to have seen that this so-called promise land isn’t so promising. For all she is put through on her journey she knows how to handle every situation that she comes across. Makina never gives up and always pursues her goal of getting what she wants. Not only did Makina start off in the begging as a strong-minded person as the story progressed she is learning more about herself and her abilities. She is growing and there is no stopping her. I love the fact that a woman was perceived as a strong minded person who did what she had to while growing into an even stronger person as the story progress going through challenges that were relatable and deep.

All Your Base Are Belong to US

The above image is a popular image that circulated the internet a few years ago. It is a screen capture of a translated Sega Mega-Drive (aka Sega Genesis in the States) called Zero Wing. It recalls the period in which popular Japanese media was attempting to flow into the United States with limited resources. One of those resources were primitive translation skills from Japanese to English.

American Imperialism, in which the American Government has numerous military bases throughout the world has been a shadow looming over the international community for nearly two centuries now. An American global presence is strategic choice to keep tabs on the globe. All regions of the world excluding Antarctica and parts of the North Pole has some form of military presence.

The novel “Sign Preceding the End of the World” heavily criticizes this kind of global presence. The character Makina makes an candid observation about American global domination. She likens it to America’s favorite past time: baseball. She says “One of them whacks it, then sets off like it was a trip around the world, to every one of the bases out there, you know the anglos have bases all over the world, right?”

American like to believe that this global presence is wanted. They like to see themselves as shining because of freedom and justice. And to some extent, it is true. However, it is that big of a stretch of the imagination that some countries are given no choice, and have to suffer the consequent of American Imperialism. soldier-military-uniform-american.jpg

We are so blind to the fact that we are forcing cooperation with this foreign policy. We believe that we are attributing no wrongdoing.

Do we need to rethink our global strategy? Do we really need military bases around the world? Are we contributing to threats to global stability with this policy?pexels-photo-356842.jpeg



The Truth about Translation!

While reading the book 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger and analyzing its different aspects, I got a better idea of what poetry really is, from not only English but different languages as well. I’ve always referred to translation as the change from one language to another depending on how someone interprets what is being said. Which I’m sure is a common definition of translation to many. Whereas many people might think of translation as change or conversion to another form, appearance, etc.;transformation:”     Neither definition is wrong,  because translation simply is, “The process of translating words or text from one language into another.”

But what I have recently learned is the translation of poetry is always misunderstood, and the true meaning of the content is then lost. Who knew that translating could be so difficult when trying to capture the exact meaning and tone that is trying to be used.


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In 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, there is many different examples and proof of poetry being misperceived. Something I have always noticed when translating from one language to another is, the word they may be using in the beginning of the sentence could end up in the middle or even end of the sentence. In chapter 21 I found Le Clos-aux-Cerfs  by Francois Cheng beginning with “Montagne deserte” and then being translated as “Deserted Mountains.”(65) That is exactly what I mean when I say a poem could start with a word and then get swapped around to the end. I assume Montagne means mountains and deserte means desert or deserted where as it became translated as “deserted mountains.” The thing about that is it could’ve been originally written as desert mountains, but we never really know because it isn’t a language we could easily translate ourselves. Because words can get swapped around, it loses its meaning in the process which gives the reader a different perception of what it is really trying to be said.   It’s sad knowing that poetry has lost its sentimental value over time, while people translate it into there own language losing the original meaning.





[trans-ley-shuh n, tranz-]



the rendering of something into another language or into one’s own from another language.


a version of such a rendering:

a new translation of Plato.


change or conversion to another form,appearance, etc.; transformation: a swift translation of thought in action.
What is typically such an easy word to comprehend can suddenly become complicated. As the definition above states, translation is a change or alteration of an original language into the reader’s native tongue. 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei is a prime example of translation in perspective. Each and every entry has a similar yet different interpretation of the original, written in Chinese.
“…translation is dependent on the dissolution of the translator’s ego: an absolute humility toward the text. A bad translation is the insistent voice of the translator – that is, when one sees no poet and hears only the translator speaking” (17).
“It is a classic example of the translator attempting to “improve” the original” (17).
Both of these quotes suggest that the translator feels that their native language is “superior” to the original. A loss of meaning can happen in result of translation- a removal of the experience that the poet is trying to relate. This relates to linguistic constraints. As most may know, there are some words in other languages that are untranslatable or words/phrases that don’t equate to the same meaning or even tone. One main example of this is when Wei writes about the empty mountain vs. a translation of Western thinking as choosing to translate “empty” to “lonely.” Empty doesn’t necessarily mean lonely, but it was a choice that the translator makes.