418: After Babel by George Steiner

by Gerard


418: Steiner, George. After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation. N.p.: Open Road, 2013. Approx. 520 pp. E-Book.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language
  • 410: Linguistics
  • 418: Standard usage and applied linguistics

All speech is an act of translation. We need to transmit the ideas in our head to another person, and so must translate the thought into words. This act of translation forms the fundamental basis for how people interrelate. But what if the two people do not speak the same language? The translation has to be translated again in order to get the recipient to understand. It is these two translations that interest George Steiner in After Babel.

This book is not for the timid. He looks at the history of translation, the fundamental basic of language, and how and why translations succeed or fail. He incorporates Chomskyan linguistics and an in-depth interpretation of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (that the structure of a language affects the way the language-speaker conceptualizes the world). Since he sees translation as inherently artistic, he does not spend a lot of time trying to break down its mechanics. The language in this book is a bit stilted, but Steiner gets his points across. If you’re not a student of linguistics, some of his assertions can be challenging (at least I thought it was). I wish I had more to say, but all in all, I thought he did an excellent job of encapsulating the field. A dense but informative book.