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Mouse or Rat?: Translation as Negotiation Hardcover – 13 Nov 2003

3.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; First Edition edition (13 Nov. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297830015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297830016
  • Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 2.3 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 598,688 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Professor of semiotics, essayist and world-renowned novelist Umberto Eco's Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation is based on a series of lectures on the art of translation. Strictly speaking this is a specialist book, of interest mainly to students and practitioners of translation and in that regard the book will probably become standard. While the book is accessible to the interested novice it would be a mistake to think that the essays produced here will have the broad appeal of his 2002 book of essays Five Moral Pieces. The general lesson here is that translation is negotiation between the translator, the reader and the original author, and how enormously difficult the translating process is. The professional translator must not only have an understanding of two languages, but of differences in culture and a keen attentiveness to the style, rhythm and tone of language if the overall texture and meaning of the text is to be preserved.

The book is effectively an instruction manual for translators and a personal record of Eco's own virtuoso translating performances. The solemn duty of the translator is to give every line, every last word loving devoted pious attention in order to recreate the unique voice of the original author. In short, translation is not only an exacting science but an art and the translator's heart must be motivated by what Eco calls "faithfulness". The essays are littered with concrete examples offering practical guidance but at the same time they are full of Eco's philosophical and theoretical musings in relation to his subject. This is an indispensable text for those in the translation business, but the general reader may find it a dense and difficult, although a highly educative read. --Larry Brown


Eco's book is an entertaining, fluid tour around the problems that arise from the awkward fit between the world's languages (ALAIN DE BOTTON THE TIMES)

A stimulating and rather charming book. (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

His witty sense of humour, combined with his knowledge has rooted the book in the "practical problems" of translation and their solutions. (IRISH TIMES)

Reading Eco's fascinating study of the machinery that brings literatures across languages is an instructive addition to the pleasure of reading them. (AC GRAYLING FINANCIAL TIMES)

A blasting display of wilful complexity... a vibrant and stenuous treatment of a fascinating subject. (THE OBSERVER)

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Inside This Book

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In October 1988 I delivered a series of three Goggio Lectures on translation at Toronto University. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Format: Hardcover
To judge by its premise, the respected Professor Eco wrote one of the most brilliant books. Many authors before him (George Orwell, e.g.) and including him (Eco, 'On Literature') attempted to answer the question 'how I write', but hardly anyone asked themselves 'How am I being translated into foreign languages, and what do I think about it?'. Admittedly, to ask this question one needs to be able to answer it, and without Eco's knowledge of foreign languages it is impossible. If, however, like him, a reader knows at least one more language, apart from his native one, then 'Mouse or Rat?' will be an engaging, at times merely hilarious, reading. Bearing in mind Eco's long-standing research into semiotics of language, literature and philosophy, this monograph of his is at times a curious self-assessment of Eco the linguist, philosopher, writer and, in fact, translator.

This 'personal' aspect must always be remembered. In spite of drawing general conclusions, the book is often an analysis of Eco's own experience in engaging with professionals who translated his works. Eco argues - powerfully and convincingly - that translation is a negotiation between two cultures, and not merely two linguistic systems, which thesis cannot, of course, be regarded as the new word in Translation Studies. Strictly speaking, he does not attempt to formulate any new ideas, and shows great respect to Steiner's `Before the Babel'. His main goal is therefore to illustrate the application of different translation techniques (ekphrasis, rewriting, foreignising and domesticating of the source text, adapting for screen, etc.) to a variety of texts and then to analyse the results from the point of accuracy and equivalence.
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Format: Paperback
Those who expect some new insight or a deeper understanding of translation will be disappointed. This book mostly states the obvious - what everyone with some translation experience already knows, for instance that translation is not just about languages, but it takes place between texts and involves cultures and negotiation between them. Among other trivial aspects discussed are problems posed by ambiguities in the source text and the role of homonymy, world schemata and the importance of the context for the choice of the right word (e.g. "topo" is an adequate translation of "rat" in "Hamlet", act III, scene iv, but not in Camus's "La Peste" where "ratto" would better fit the context). The main value of this book consists in the numerous examples offered, which, however, are only drawn from French, Spanish, English and - much more rarely - German. It would have been quite interesting to examine some Non-Indo-European language associated with a cultural background markedly different from our own, but unfortunately no such example is provided.

The value of some praised solution is at least debatable (e.g. the "translation" of dialect, invented or not) and most exegeses presented by Eco are merely hypotheses, even if plausible ones, which the author however often fails to pursue in more detail, others are simply speculative or outright wrong as the example taken from Rev. 4:6 (pp. 163-165).

Intertextuality plays a major role in Eco's books and poses quite a challenge to the translator. This is the most interesting topic discussed in the book. However, here too the solutions presented are sometimes, to say the least, debatable. What is more, the downside is almost never discussed appropriately, e.g.
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Format: Hardcover
I guess that every professional translator has an author whose books he/she would love to translate. I have always felt such a desire regarding the books of Umberto Eco. As far as his novels are concerned, "Mouse or Rat?" managed to kill this desire once and for all.
The book does not only tell us a lot about translating, but about the author, too. It is a great book insofar as it makes it clear that translating is a skill, an artform, and bloody hard work, because you really have to weigh your words. Translating is not only about languages and being able to manage at least two of them, it also requires a profound knowledge of the civilization, culture, and everyday life these languages are inseparably connected with. The book makes it clear that translating is not something which virtually everyone can do (you wouldn't believe how many expat housewives with kids who can't get a job in the country their husbands have been sent to start working as so-called "translators" as soon as they have a smattering of the language of their new home country!), but that it should be left to the experts. This revelation alone should make the book compulsory reading for everyone who wants to use the services of a translator.
I found Eco's comments about his own work, especially his novels, most fascinating. Nobody who reads them can ignore the fact that he pours an awesome lot of knowledge into these books and that he secretly hopes that the reader will not just read and enjoy the story for its own sake but recognise the book as a kind of roman-à-clef. In "The Island of the Day Before" the characters indirectly quote pieces of Italian Baroque poetry ("spot the poem") and every chapter has the title of a 17.
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