This weekend on NPR's All Things Considered, Rick Kleffel briefly discussed the difficulties and pleasures of translation. Kleffel focuses particularly on the difficulties of translating cultural elements from one time and place to another. For example, on translating 18th century Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni into English for the first time, Italian translator Bea Basso realized: "All of a sudden I was a translator of gestures, traditions, customs, ways of behaving even — how many kisses do you give to people when you enter a room." In translating Gargantua and Pantagruel, Burton Raffel met the same difficulties: "Rabelais, the author of this very strange book, ends the chapter with a sputtering iteration. I believe it's something like 43 different words in French for s- - -," says Raffel. "My problem was finding 43 different words because English is not so plentiful in these things."
Listen to a clip of the radio piece or compare different translations of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.