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Posted By P & L Blog

by NPR Staff


The Russian language has a word for light blue and a word for dark or navy blue, but no word for a run-of-the-mill generic shade of blue. So when translators are tasked with converting "blue" from English to Russian, they're forced to choose a specific shade.

It's hard to imagine that this particular choice would have any serious implications, but interpreters are constantly translating concepts into other languages with words that have no exact match.

In his book, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, David Bellos explores the history, the future and the complexity of translation — from the tangled web of simultaneous translation at the United Nations, to movie subtitles and the text on ATM screens.

NPR's John Donvan talks with Bellos, director of the program for translation and intercultural communication at Princeton University, about the art of translation, and what's lost — and gained — in the process.

Interview Highlights

On why translation is integral to relating to others

"We translate all the time. If we refuse to translate, refuse to listen to what other people have to say to us, whichever language it is in, we're not living as fully as human beings as we could be ...

"For translation to exist, you have to accept the fact that languages are all different and they don't describe the world in quite the same way. You also have to accept that languages are all the same in that anything you can say in one language can be said in any other. And it seems to me [that the] tension between the incommunicability of difference and ... the sharing of a common set of messages and meanings is ... human. I mean, we all live in that state, that I am not like you. My experience is not directly commensurable with yours, and yet, for us to get on and to be human and to be in a society, we have to also make the assumption that in another dimension, we're all the same. We have the same needs, the same fears, the same desires."

On why good translations can never be word-for-word

"People ... often have the idea that a translation ... has to be the same as the original that it's translating. And my big argument all the way through the book is no, no — a translation has to be like. And the ways in which it is like its original vary. They vary historically. They vary in the specific language patterns that you're dealing [with]. They vary depending on the kind of text or object that you're translating.

"Likeness is what translation seeks to provide. A good match is what you're after, but sameness ... well, that you just can't have, because even in the same language, no two utterances — even of the same sentence — are actually the same. You know, time has passed and the mere fact of saying it a second time makes it not like saying it the first time. So I think it's this ideology — not very explicit, not reformulated, but [a] quite powerful idea — that unless a translation is the same as the original, then it's no good.

"That's what I'm trying to get people to drop, to abandon, to realize it's much more subtle and much more interesting than that."

You can listen to the complete interview here. 

Posted By P & L Blog

Professional writers craft their messages with a specific target audience in mind. The characteristics of each audience can vary by age, interests, gender, location, and education, to name just a few. Did you know that you can check to see if your writing is appropriate for a particular educational level?

The Readability Calculator is a free online tool that measures the number of years of school a person needs to be able to understand your text. Short sentences and simple diction score better than long, complicated sentences. The tool also offers suggestions on how you can improve the readability of complex phrases.

Check it out and let us know if you would recommend the tool to other writers.



Posted By P & L Blog

Many of our clients are successfully doing business in Canada. If our northern neighbor is your next market, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Although being on time for business meetings is important, you may find that people in French-speaking areas may not be as punctual as their English-speaking peers.
  • English-speaking Canadians are more reserved than Americans. Tone down the hype and self-promotion to get your business relationship off to a good start.
  • All labels on products sold in Canada need to be in English and French, and the French text needs to be at least the same size as the English. Any measurements need to be converted to the metric system.
  • Make sure the dates you propose for any meetings or conference calls do not coincide with official Canadian holidays. You can find a list here.
  • If you have meetings scheduled in Quebec, it is a good idea to have your presentation materials translated into French before you go.

For your business document translation needs in Canada, contact P & L Translations. Visit our website or email us at info(@)










Morrison, Terri, and Wayne A. Conaway (2006). Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands, 2nd edition. Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation.

Posted By P & L Blog

Nashville is proud to be the home of hundreds of companies involved in the health care industry. Many are these firms are now using or developing mobile applications and online sites for providers, patients, insurers and consumers to share information and communicate with each other. One key group of users is being short changed when it comes to having access to this information: Spanish speakers.

Lee Vann, author of "Online Hispanics have a hard time finding health information in Spanish", notes that more than half of Latinos who are online visit a health website every month. They are visiting English language sites because there are relatively few sites with information in Spanish. Why are so few companies meeting the demand for content in Spanish? Will Nashville be able to keep its title of the US health care capital if it ignores Spanish speakers?

You can read more of Lee's findings here.





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