Lexicon Valley

The Invisible Complexities of Translation

A single word—take “self,” for example—reveals the thorny nature of literary translation.

Illustration depicting a female with a microphone

Listen longer

Slate Plus members get ad-free versions of all Slate podcasts, plus extra segments, bonus episodes, and more. Try it today for just $1.

Join Slate Plus

Episode Notes

The translation of any text from one tongue to another is understandably fraught with semantic inaccuracies and approximations. Language is far too nuanced for it not to be. Literary works in particular are perhaps the most difficult for translators, and they are bound to fail the reader at times, as John discovered with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s translation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Podcast production by Mike Vuolo.


About the Show

If you’ve ever had curious thoughts and questions about the ways we speak, read, and write, Lexicon Valley is the show for you. Hosted by linguist John McWhorter.

All episodes