Are Translations Better?

It is perfectly reasonable to ask whether translations are ‘better’ than books originally written in English. After all, as well as the writer writing the book and the original publisher publishing it, someone has to decide that translating it is worthwhile, so you would expect the barrier the book has to get over to be higher.

The table below shows books rated by members of our book group in descending order, with the translations marked.

If This Is a Man / The Truce 9.00
The Boy with the Topknot 9.00
Skin Lane 8.75
A Prayer for Owen Meany 8.75
Lady Audley’s Secret 8.50
The Night Watch 8.00
This Thing of Darkness 8.00
The Help 8.00
The Last Hundred Days 8.00
Fear and Trembling 8.00
Eugenie Grandet 8.00
Family Romance: A Love Story 7.75
Visitation 7.75
Star of the Sea 7.75
One Day 7.50
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society 7.50
Death and the Penguin 7.50
American Wife 7.50
Brooklyn 7.25
After You’d Gone 7.00
Bad Science 7.00
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle 7.00
The Reluctant Fundamentalist 7.00
Norwegian Wood 7.00
The Master and Margarita 7.00
Last Man in Tower 6.75
The Shadow Of The Wind 6.50
Moby-Dick or, The Whale 6.50
Complicity 6.50
Stone’s Fall: A Novel 6.50
Youth 6.25
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher 6.25
The Story of Forgetting 6.00
Legend of a Suicide 6.00
Reading Lolita in Tehran 6.00
The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling by Peter Ackroyd 6.00
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence 6.00
Anna of the Five Towns 6.00
Skippy dies 6.00
The Monkey Wrench Gang 6.00
The Fall of the Imam 6.00
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 5.50
The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories 5.25
Broken April 5.00
In Search of the Missing Eyelash 5.00
Human Traces 5.00
Me Cheeta: The Autobiography 5.00
Day After Night 4.75
The Resurrectionist 2.75

As already stated, the table above shows the Try Books!  books for which members’ marks are available arranged in order of the median of those marks and with the translations marked in turquoise.  There is no obvious sign of the translations being clustered towards the top of the table.

If we want to be naughty and treat these values as statistical variables we can apply a t-test (one-tailed, heteroscedastic) to the means of these medians.  We get a mean of 7.00 for the translations and 6.71 for the English-language works and a t-value of 0.25, which is clearly a very long way from being significant.

So we conclude  that there is no evidence of translations being better than books originally written in English on the basis of this data.

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