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The irreplaceable art of translation

As long as people joke, swear and use irony, computers will never take the place of translators

By Emily Lawford   July 2021
Captain Leigh and His Dragoman by David Wilkie. Credit: Alamy

Captain Leigh and His Dragoman by David Wilkie. Credit: Alamy

Some people are easier to interpret than others. Churchill’s meandering sentences would often trip up his translators, and USSR leader Khrushchev’s idioms baffled American listeners during Cold War negotiations. While a defendant at Nuremberg, Göring would try to catch prosecutors out by insisting translators repeat themselves and feigning incomprehension.

Dancing on Ropes tells the stories of translators through history. Anna Aslanyan compellingly recounts the verbal exploits of the Ottoman dragomans and the miscommunications during Brexit negotiations, weaving in anecdotes from her experience as a Russian-English interpreter and translator.

Should translators work towards total accuracy, which is often…

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