There's a word for light blue and a word for dark or navy blue in the Russian language, but no word for a general shade of blue. When a translator is tasked with translating English "blue" into Russian, he or she must choose which shade to use.
It's hard to imagine that this particular choice would have any serious implications, but translators constantly work to translate concepts with words in another language that have no exact match. In his new book, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, David Bellos explores the history, the future and the complexity of translation — from the tangled web of simultaneous translation at the United Nations, to movie subtitles and the text on ATM screens.
NPR's John Donvan talks with Bellos, director of the program in Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton University, about the art of translation and what's lost — and gained — in the process.