Posted by: patenttranslator | March 15, 2010

Bad Translation of “La vie s’étaint par l’isolement”


I found a message from Jeremy Angel, a Japanese-to-English translator in Nagano, Japan, on Honyaku, which is a mailing list/discussion forum for Japanese translators:

“Hi folks,

I’ve searched high and low and sideways too for an English translation or even original French for this quote from 19th century French historian Jules Michelet, but to no avail:


Somebody eventually found the original quote in French, and an English translation was eventually also found. See below:

“La vie s’allume et s’aimante à la vie, s’éteint par l’isolement. Plus elle se mêle aux vies différentes d’elle-même, plus elle devient solidaire des autres existences, et plus elle existe avec force, bonheur, fécondité.”

“Life is lighted and kindled by life, is extinguished by isolation. The more it mingles with lives different from its own, the more it is answerable for other existences, the stronger, happier, and more fecund is its own existence.”

The English translation is much better than the Japanese one, although I really don’t like the word “answerable” here. CEOs are answerable to shareholders. I don’t see solidarity in that.

But the Japanese translation, for example, simply ignores ” s’éteint par l’isolement”.  What kind of translator can possibly miss this part?

“La vie s’éteint par l’isolement”. That is why everybody and their grandmother has a blog these days. That is why solitary imprisonment is the worst kind of torture. That is why teenagers commit suicides when their love is unrequited. They cannot face the isolation.

Because nobody can.

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