How the Market Influences What Language You Read In
My Dutch friends tell me that they read foreign (non-Dutch) novels that are translated into English rather than into Dutch.
Their English is very good, but their Dutch is clearly better. So, I ask, why read in English?
Their answer is simple: take a book originally in Swedish, like Stieg Larsson‘s wonderful Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. If somebody translates it into Dutch, the relatively small number of Dutch-speakers means that the market for the translation will be much smaller — and the royalties and profits smaller too — than the market for an English translation.
These smaller returns attract translators who are not as good as those attracted into translating a book into English; the supply curve of translators is upward-sloping.
My friends say they would rather read a good translation into a language they know well, but not perfectly, than a mediocre translation into their native language.
(Hat tip: G.P. and C.F.)