In Other Languages

I’m a monoglot Anglophone yet own several books printed in other languages. Most of these are art-books of one kind or another where the pictures are part of the point, and where proper names, places and dates in the text can furnish some idea of what is being discussed. A certain something, then, is still being communicated across the language barrier. Beyond that, I like seeing how other languages fall on the page: the shapes of their paragraphs; the lengths of their words; the spatter-patterns of their diacritics & punctuation.

For example there’s an edition of Wentzel Jamnitzer’s Perspective corporum regularium (Ediciones Siruela, Madrid, 1993), a 16th-century work presented in facsimile with its original Latin and black-letter German text translated into modern Spanish. Other examples include an exhibition catalogue Mélancolie: génie et folie en Occident (Gallimard, Paris, 2005) and a monograph Bernini Architetto (Electa Editrice, Milan, 3rd ed.: 1996) which are respectively, as one would expect, in French and Italian.

Other volumes allow more or less English to intrude. Margareta Gynning’s study Det Ambivalenta Perspektivet (Albert Bonniers Förlag, Stockholm, 1999) of the painters Eva Bonnier and Hanna Hirsch-Pauli includes a seven-page English summary - more or less an abstract - after the main body of Swedish text. Opus Magnum: Kniha o sakrální geometrii, alchymii, magii, astrologii,…, on the other hand, by Vladislav Zadrobílek et al (Trigon, Prague, 1997) has a virtually complete small-print English translation of its constituent Czech chapters shoehorned into the back of the book.

In a different category are those books whose publishers have striven to be multilingual throughout. Examples on my shelves are Vrubel by S. Kaplanova (Auora Art Publishers, Leningrad, 1975) which is in English, French, German & Russian; and Giovanni Lista’s Balla (Edizioni Galleria Fonte D’Abisso, Modena, 1982) in Italian, French, English and German. In the latter case the English translation leaves a good deal to be desired, so I wonder about the quality of the others.

These last are akin to parallel texts (which, in my library, are almost all collections of poetry), where text in the source language is printed on the left of a double-page spread, with a facing English translation. In that vein I have poems given variously in Basque, Catalan, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Welsh (and perhaps a couple of others I’ve overlooked).