Friday, July 03, 2009

How the Market Influences What Language You Read In

Daniel Hamermesh:

My Dutch friends tell me that they read foreign (non-Dutch) novels that are translated into English rather than into Dutch.

Their English is very good, but their Dutch is clearly better. So, I ask, why read in English?

Their answer is simple: take a book originally in Swedish, like Stieg Larsson’s wonderful Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. If somebody translates it into Dutch, the relatively small number of Dutch-speakers means that the market for the translation will be much smaller — and the royalties and profits smaller too — than the market for an English translation.

These smaller returns attract translators who are not as good as those attracted into translating a book into English; the supply curve of translators is upward-sloping.

My friends say they would rather read a good translation into a language they know well, but not perfectly, than a mediocre translation into their native language.

1 comment:

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