Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World

Title:  Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Author:  Ella Frances Sanders
Publication Information:  Ten Speed Press. 2014. 112 pages.
ISBN:  1607747103 / 978-1607747109

Book Source:  I received this book through the Blogging for Books program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Language wraps its understanding and punctuation around us all, tempting us to cross boundaries and helping us to comprehend the impossibly difficult questions that life relentlessly throws at us."

Lost in Translation is a collection of over 50 words that have no direct counterpart in English. The Oxford English Dictionary and the Merriam Webster Dictionary include about half a million entries for words in the English language. Still, some words from languages across the world have no direct English translation. They can be explained and defined in English, but no one English word captures the entire meaning.

Each word in this book is discussed on two pages. Each discussion includes:

  • Word spelled phonetically in English in all caps and different fonts to stand out
  • Definition in an outline script like font
  • Language of origin
  • Part of speech
  • Short note that further explains the word
  • Beautiful and colorful illustration of the word

I wish that this book included two more things. First, I wish I could hear the word being spoken. I realized that is an impossibility in a physical book, but perhaps some online resources in addition to the book could be made available. The book includes the phonetic spelling, but I would love to know how the word is correctly pronounced.

Second, I wish the book included the word written in its language of origin. Many languages like Japanese, Arabic, and others use a script completely different than English. It would be wonderful to be able to enjoy the written language in addition to the word.

The fonts and colorful illustrations give the book the look of a picture book, which is a delightful way of sharing languages with a child. However, this book has so much more substance than a picture book. It is definitely a book for adults, but lends itself to being easily shared with children, even young children.

The range of languages in this book is also delightful. The book has words from commonly recognized languages such as Arabic, French, and Japanese. It also has words from remote, little known languages. For example, the Wagiman language is a nearly extinct language from Australia. Yaghan is the language of the Yaghan people, an indigenous peoples of Chile. Nguni Bantu are a group of languages spoken in Southern Africa. What a delightful introduction to the linguistic history and variety in our world.

Most of the words in the book describe concepts rather than an object; words for concrete objects typically have a one-for-one translation between languages. Many of the concepts illustrated are emotions, which makes sense because after all feelings are sometimes the hardest thing in the world to put into words. As the book says, "If you take something away from this book ... let it be the realization (or affirmation) that you are  human, that you are fundamentally, intrinsically bound to every single person on the planet with language and with feelings."

This book makes a great gift for anyone who loves words and language. It's definitely got a permanent place on my bookshelf.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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