Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

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Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything,  David Bellos, book reviewIs That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos, with the subtitle Translation and the Meaning of Everything, is a study of the world of translation. What is translation, what does it mean to translate, the history of translation, the pitfalls and different types of translation…these are all areas which Bellos looks at.

Having studied languages to an advanced level, and with an additional focus on translation, Is That a Fish in Your Ear? is a book which appealed to me. I was interested to learn more about this field – I may have studied translation itself, but I know little of the history or the issues surrounding it.

Although a reader is unlikely to pick up this book without a prior interest in the subject (despite the bright cover and catchy title), Bellos does not write in a heavy, inaccessible manner. His writing is clear and would be easy to follow even for a beginner to the subject of translation. Is That a Fish in Your Ear? appears at first to be an amusing and often wry look at the field of translation.

However, while Bellos style does not change and the text remains light and amusing, as the book goes on it begins to develop a bit of a rambling feel. Chapters are short, which is a good thing as it means you aren’t at risk of having to stop mid-chapter so as not to miss your bus stop, but it also means that Bellos covers a lot of concepts around translation, and I found that these started to merge together after a while. I found Is That a Fish in Your Ear? very interesting, but it wasn’t easy to remember everything I had been reading about.

Bellos writes reasonably authoritatively, and presents his arguments clearly. I found that largely I agreed with him – although I hadn’t pondered many of these questions before, if I had I would likely have reached the same conclusion as him. The only obvious stand out point for me was with regards to what defines a “native speaker” of a language, and what is a “mother tongue”. It amused me to find that I disagreed with Bellos on this point (he argues that these terms are very hard to define), and it was reassuring to know that I was thinking about things and not just accepting everything I read.

Despite the problem with feeling that the book was rambling slightly, I thoroughly enjoyed Is That a Fish in Your Ear? I will have to seek out more on this subject. David Bellos writes in a very accessible manner, and the book is lightly amusing throughout as he makes use of many anecdotes.

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos
Published by Penguin, September 2011
Many thanks to Penguin for providing a review copy of Is That a Fish in Your Ear?


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Is That a Fish in Your Ear?
by David Bellos

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Written by eilidhcatriona
eilidhcatriona

A Scottish lass in her late twenties living in London. A prolific reader always interested in something new.

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