Translation & Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince

Translation & Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince

A lot of my work consists of editing translated writing. I’ve written before about how different translations of the same text can convey a very different essence and flavour, despite the original subject being the same (see my blog post on Albert Camus’s book, The Stranger).

One of the books most dear to me is Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. Although it’s only in adult life that the profound messages in the book weren’t lost on me.

My favourite passage from the book is the phrase, “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

There are lots of different translations of this famous passage, but this is the one that moves me the most, although there are only very subtle variations in the translations.

Which translation do you prefer? 💫💫💫✨

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When you say to me, “you are not like the rest of them”

When you say to me, “you are not like the rest of them”, it troubles me because your understanding of race/ethnicity/culture/heritage doesn’t take into account all the shades of grey and richness that exist outside of your own. I appreciate your sentiment, but what you are implying without realising is that I should be pleased, and even flattered, because I would rather be like you than like me. 
When you say to me, “I don’t see you as a foreigner”, I want you to see that we are different from one another, that we see the world through different eyes. That what bothers me perhaps doesn’t even faze you. That I do not want my culture/race/ethnicity/heritage to be erased by you to make you feel more comfortable; because we are not the same, but that’s ok – good, even. 

When you say to me, “I see you as British”, it’s problematic for me, because your equation of ‘Britishness’ with ‘greatness’ is something to which you think I should aspire. I agree with your high regard for Britishness, but I want you to understand that I don’t see my ‘foreignness’ as a hindrance or a hardship, nor something from which to distance. 

You may not even be aware of all the nuances and implications of your words, but I want you to acknowledge and appreciate the value of the complexities and the intricacies of the cultures that exist in the UK, that have formed the foundation of the country in which you and I live, and to know that foreigners are not burdened by their ‘otherness’ – quite the contrary! And neither should you be on our behalves. The UK that we adore is not homogeneous, and nor should we want it to be.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I love the UK and all its glorious Britishness: Sunday roasts, a stoic resolve, a stiff upper lip in times of adversity, not running for shelter when it rains, Pimm’s O’clock, James Bond, the 2021 England football team, a comforting cup of builder’s tea to solve even the world’s worst crises, Princess Diana, a meticulous politeness that never falters, the Harvester and even spotted dick. 

So when you say to me, “you are not like the rest of them”, what I want to say to you is, “but unfortunately, you are.”

12 facts about me

1. I’m a Guardian-reading, left-wing socialist. It’s how my parents raised me, and I thank them for that. I still live in hope that one day we can live in a fair and equal society.

2. I have four-year-old twins called Che (boy) and Rio (girl). They are named after Che Guevara and the Duran Duran song.

3. I’ve been with my husband for 21 years. He’s good, so I kept him. (Dear Zoo book reference)

4. My hobbies are… umm… I think my kids sabotage the potential of having hobbies.
If I were to have hobbies, they would be doing yoga, watching Netflix, sunbathing with a newspaper and drinking coffee in silence.

5. My biggest professional achievements to date have been being interviewed by Zainab Badawi on BBC World News and having my research published in a book (both are in post photos).

6. I only have three fiction books in my bookcase – The Little Prince, Animal Farm and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I have read others though! I am a SERIOUS non-fiction enthusiast. I’d take a newspaper or journal any day over a novel. Same with my TV choices; real life fascinates me. This is precisely why I specialise in non-fiction in my professional life. 

7. My twins are autistic so I spend a lot of time researching and learning as much as I can about autism.

8. For 12 years I worked as a secondary teacher in London comprehensive schools (and simultaneously as a union representative), with a prior career in academic research and journalism. Teaching in comprehensive schools taught me a lot about society, and it’s injustices.

9. I’m Palestinian and Belgian, have lived in London for over 30 years and speak a handful of languages, badly.

10. I love a quiet, simple life. Less is definitely more. I dream of countryside living and moving out of London one day.

11. I’ve played guitar for almost 30 years. Sadly, this is not reflective of my ability!

12. I really love what I do and still thank my lucky stars daily that I was able to turn my passion into my business. It didn’t come easily, having to retrain while still teaching and raising toddlers, but that makes the fruit even sweeter. 

Why I never judge a person’s grammar and spelling

I cannot emphasise this enough.

I often have people apologise to me for their spelling and grammar, or for mistakes in their text messages and emails (who has the time to proofread a text anyway?). 

Although it’s what I do for a living, I never deem it ok to correct a person’s grammar (unless hired to!) or to judge them for errors. 

Why? Because it’s ableist, it’s classist, it’s potentially racist, and it’s downright rude and naughty. It’s called linguistic prescriptivism. Don’t do it.

I also believe in creativity in language and linguistics, so let’s not be pedants and accept that language, and even punctuation, is fluid. If Merriam-Webster can accept the term ‘irregardless’ into its dictionaries, then we, too, should be more open-minded.

Aujourd’hui, maman est morte

This article from The New Yorker (link below) initially caught my attention because I have loved this existentialist book since my teenage years, but also because it highlights issues in translation. 

I work with a lot of translators and much of my editing work deals with writing that has been translated into English. 

Last week, I received two versions of the same article translated from Arabic into English, and they could not have been more different. 

Both were excellent translations. They conveyed the same message, the facts were identical, but the style, mood and the essence were so contrasting.

There are so many different ways of saying the same thing, and it is these style choices that really differentiate one writer from another. 

Personally, I’ve always loved the starkness of Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce’s writings. They taught me that you don’t need to say a lot, to say so much.

Enjoy the article!

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/lost-in-translation-what-the-first-line-of-the-stranger-should-be?utm_campaign=falcon&utm_brand=tny&utm_medium=social&mbid=social_facebook&utm_social-type=owned&utm_source=facebook