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Food in Translation!

Language is wine upon the lips.
— Virginia Woolf

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein

The art of translation lies less in knowing the other language than in knowing your own.
— Ned Rorem

A translator is a reader, an interpreter and a creator all in one.
— Bijay Kumar Das

All recipe reading involves some degree of translation, even when it's in our own language. We read with certain conventions in mind, and we know to read older recipes differently. We make assumptions about the meaning on the page when we come to follow instructions. We (most often unconsciously) are interpreting all the time.

So how to translate words, language about food? We will start this conversation at the OFS Kitchen Table with a general introduction by Maureen Fant about her experience doing translation of recipes and other food writing: the cultural contextual issues that arise, word choices, and so much more, to get us thinking.

Anthony Buccini and Ken Albala will then report on their own observations in their wide reading and language explorations which relate to translation issues, such as where a translation was less than clear/ideal and why that might have been so.

The conversation will be moderated by Naomi Duguid.

Zoom Event Details

16th February 2023
5:00 pm GMT

Reading list

Have a look at the Proceedings of the 2009 Symposium: Food & Language, available online at the website. A number of the papers shed light on the role of the translator of works about food, who needs to engage in cultural translation as part of linguistic translation. The complexities of the task of cultural translation give a deeper understanding of the culinary culture that underpins each language.

Among the offerings you’ll find a delightful and informative paper by Maureen Fant, our guest this month, “The Italian Language of Food: Notes from a Translator” (at page 114). The paper gives an idea of the puzzles that can face a person wishing to translate from one language (and culture) into another.

In the same Proceedings is a paper by Kimiko Barber, at page 37 called “In Praise of Shadows: Japanese Language for Japanese Food Experience”. The paper sets out some of the cultural differences between Japanese and western culinary ideals, differences which mean that the literal English language translations of Japanese food words can be inadequate and sometime very misleading.


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