Maybe this should be in linguistics but I'll try here...

I have had this idea for a long time but productivity has never been part of my character. I'll take full credit of the idea and I am willing to recieve the Nobel Prize for it here.

Jokes aside, I have often daydreamed about writing a computer-script that would look up the etymology of words, e.g. Latin or Germanic, in a book and give me their roots.

Having done that I would ask the script how many words are rooted in Germanic if the book is translated from a German novel vs. a French novel.

The question is: are translators biased towards the original languages?

My idea is that if a translator translates a French medieval text, it would have a higher ratio of "fancy" Latin words than if it was e.g. the Icelandic sagas... and vice versa

Is this a known "issue" in the field of literary translations?

Not a native English speaker and no background in any field related to these issues so pardon my French and excuse me, the daydreaming slouch.

  • 4
    This is more suited to stack exchange literature or linguistics sites
    – Anton
    Jan 11, 2022 at 14:22
  • 1
    I’m voting to close because this is a general question about potential translator bias that is not specific to the English language. Jan 11, 2022 at 14:42
  • 2
    Are you asking for the general question 'are translators biased to the language of the source?' (ie someone has answered that already and you just want to know the answer) or are you interested in devising a program that would help you find out for any given translated text?
    – Mitch
    Jan 11, 2022 at 15:12
  • 1
    Also, food for thought, suppose you're translating Beowulf from Old English (predominant vocabulary is Germanic) to modern English (roughly half and half Germanic/Romance). There are a number of translations and you could compare the bias. Anyway, I'm sure bias of Germanic to Romance is one aspect of style that translators are aware of, given that Romance vocabulary tends towards the formal, multisyllabic, and educated. I'd look in any textbook for learning how to translate literature to see if it is a special thing they worry about.
    – Mitch
    Jan 11, 2022 at 15:14
  • The question was about English because of roughly 50/50 Germanic/Latin roots. Question was if this has been checked, and if not, go nuts and make the report
    – AWE
    Jan 11, 2022 at 15:17
  • The migration suggestion is valid
    – AWE
    Jan 11, 2022 at 15:25
  • Translations are likely to differ in this respect, depending on who the translator is, and what the intended audience is. In some cases what you refer to as a 'bias' and an 'issue' may well be desirable, in others not.
    – jsw29
    Jan 13, 2022 at 16:17
  • I would think the bias is desirable. If I read the Icelandic sagas in English I would find it strange to read fancy Latin words for everyday objects that have their Germanic root in English. I posted this in linguistics.stack... so far so god
    – AWE
    Jan 14, 2022 at 11:27
  • 2
    I think you're making a false assumption about English. This notion that Latinate words sound fancy and Germanic words sound plain is often not the case. The reverse is often true. In the following pairs of Germanic (G) and Latinate (L) words, the Latinate all sound plainer: forsake (G) - desert (L); wrath (G) - rage (L); beseech (G) - request (L); herald (G) - indicator (L); behest (G) - order (L); and on and on. Add to this complications like words that came to English through French, but were originally Germanic...the situation is much too complicated for the results you expect.
    – Juhasz
    Jan 19, 2022 at 23:24
  • No I am not. It's just the lay mans belief and to make a point. In etymology books or dictionaries you find abbrevations for Latin or Germanic. If both are there then the crude script would make it a draw. This question is on linguistics now.
    – AWE
    Jan 21, 2022 at 0:13
  • 2
    It's not so much etymology as syntax. If you take something that's been translated a lot, like Homer, you can see how some translations try to repeat the syntax and poetic presentation of the original, and some don't. The Lattimore translation of the Iliad, for instance, keeps a vast amount of Greek poetic detail in the translation, whereas others don't. Jan 30, 2022 at 18:05
  • You may get better traction on this from one of the programing sites since you seem to want software that tells you the source language of a word, so that you can then run it on an entire text, and then compare distributions. I don't know of a data/text source with etymologies (a source that you can use in, say, a python program.
    – Mitch
    Aug 16, 2022 at 13:29


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