Is That A Fish In Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David  Bellos
(Penguin Press (UK)/FSG (US), 2011)

Is That A Fish In Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything

by David Bellos

Is That A Fish in Your Ear? will delight anyone who loves words, language, history and most other things besides. Funny and surprising, it offers readers new insight into the mystery of how we come to know what anything means—be it a Chinese jingle, a French strip cartoon or a foreign head of state.

If 100 translators tackle the same piece of writing the chances of any two of their versions being identical in every respect are close to zero. Why should this be so? Using translation as his lens, David Bellos shows how much we can learn about ourselves by inquiring into the ways we deal with the languages other people speak. Is That A Fish in Your Ear? ranges across the whole of human experience to describe why translation is at the heart of what we do and who we are. Translation is part and parcel of almost every aspect of human life, from the spread of religion to celebrity gossip, from poetry to global news, from the internet to our appreciation of literature. But it doesn’t happen everywhere in the same way, in the same directions, or at the same rate. Which countries read the most in translation? Why might manga be harder to translate than Proust? What would the world look like if translation didn’t exist? Will machines take over the job? Translation is a whole universe—the one we inhabit right now.

Is That A Fish in Your Ear? will make you look anew at the flexibility of our minds, at the strange behaviour of words, at what language is for and how it shapes our lives. Written with great joie de vivre and littered with wonderful asides, this book promises any reader new eyes through to which to understand the world.


Is That a Fish in Your Ear? is essential reading for anyone with even a vague interest in language and translation – in short, it is a triumph.”
- The Independent
Please read David Bellos's brilliant book”
- The Guardian
In the guise of a book about translation this is a richly original cultural history ... A book for anyone interested in words, language and cultural anthropology. Mr Bellos's fascination with his subject is itself endlessly fascinating.”
- The Economist
Is That A Fish In Your Ear? is spiced with good and provocative things. At once erudite and unpretentious...[it is a] scintillating bouillabaisse.”
- Frederic Raphael, Literary Review
Is That a Fish in Your Ear? offers a lively survey of translating puns and poetry, cartoons and legislation, subtitles, news bulletins and the Bible.”
- Matthew Reisz, Times Higher Education Supplement
For anyone with a passing interest in language this work is enthralling ... A wonderful celebration of the sheer diversity of language and the place it occupies in human endeavour. Conducted by a man who clearly knows his stuff, it is a whirlwind tour round the highways and byways of translation in all its glorious forms, from literary fiction to car repair manuals, from the Nuremberg trials to decoding at Bletchley Park.”
- The Scotsman
A clear and lively survey...This book fulfils a real need; there is nothing quite like it. ”
- Robert Chandler, Spectator
A dazzyingly inventive book.”
- Adam Thirlwell, New York Times