How did the questionnaire respondents rate my translation?

Naturalness of language: On the whole, respondents rated my translation as more natural than either the source text or Ellis’ translation Only one German speaker rated the source text as more natural sounding than my translation and another three rated it equally. All but one respondent rated my translation more natural than Ellis’.This meets my aim of a more accessible text, although it could be argued that there is a consequent mismatch in style between the ST and translation.

Ease of understanding: whilst the new translation is still not an easy text, nobody rated it in the most difficult range and retrieval of pronoun reference was much easier than in either the source text or Ellis’ translation. Sentence length, too, was more easily manageable.

Across all these categories, academic readers found the text easier on the whole than those with a lower level of musical qualification. This would match my primary readership of 3rd year undergraduates and postgraduates. People also commented, though, that the new translation was more accessible across all readership categories. Again this matches my aim of increased accessibility to the text.

I also aimed to prioritise information retrieval over style. Many respondents felt they didn’t have time to summarise the passage, but of those who did, scores on information retrieval were generally quite high. Again, there was a correlation with academic ability, although the relatively small numbers here made it difficult to draw clear conclusions.

Generally readers liked having the German terms included in the text and preferred to have footnotes rather than in-text explanation.

As expected, I could not always match source text style and facilitate information retrieval. some respondents criticised inconsistency of style. I felt this was particularly true in more complex passages. It could be argued that Ellis translation is, in fact, a better match on style.




All but one respondent had a preference for my text, and even that was qualified dependent on the prospective use of the text. It was felt that Ellis translation may give a better feel for the complex syntax and vocabulary of Wagner.

I seem to be fairly much on target with my audience,  although I maybe would’ve liked to see a better response for undergraduates. However, I didn’t specify that I was aiming at final year students, so that may explain the result.


All in all, I feel that I was pretty much on target with my aims for the translation and so far have had some good feedback on it. Thanks again to all who have helped.


What the questionnaires told me about William Ashton Ellis’ translation.

The fact that Ellis’ translation (TT1)  is close in style to the  source text (ST), emphasises the literary aspect of the text above the informative. However, if the goal is a modern accessible translation, then TT1 is inadequate in terms of readability and clarity, as evidenced in questionnaire responses: “I’d submit that in 99% of cases, as here, the loss (in vivid communication of ideas) is decisively greater than the forensic gain.”

Questionnaire respondents commented that they often needed to re-read the text and that even this did not help their comprehension. They also mentioned idiosyncrasies, such as “manifestment” [Kundgebung] and that the text was “long-winded”. Ellis’ tendency to translate the component parts of Wagner’s neologisms literally without explanatory notes rendered them “unfathomable” according to one respondent. “Word-Tone-speech” [Worttonsprache] is one such example.

Oper und Drama is a serious theoretical/philosophical work, yet some questionnaire respondents found Ellis’ style almost comical: “the effect is a mixture of confusion, unintended humour and distraction.”  Newman, too, noticed that “unfortunately the peculiar kind of English he employs in his versions of the prose works and some of the letters gives a touch of the ridiculous to them that is not in the original” (Cormack, 1993, p.9). Clearly this is a distraction from the purpose of the text.

Several questionnaire respondents found TT1 awkward and unnatural. Respondents commented on the use of “unnecessarily obscure words”. Cormack (1993, p.7) also speaks about “pedantry of punctuation, stiffness of style, those archaisms, and that unexpectedly quaint turn of phrase”. All respondents commented on sentence length and there was no discernible difference between those who spoke German and those who did not.

It is, however, interesting to note that when asked about naturalness, fluent German speakers rated TT1 as more natural than those who spoke little or no German, and found the text on the whole less difficult to understand. This may point to the fact that TT1 adheres more closely to German syntax.

One respondent commented that “there are those who would consider that this [syntax] sheds relevant light on the writer’s thinking” but another felt that “the effect is not so much to convey a sense of the feel of the original, as to give the impression of its having been translated word-for-word.”

It was suspected that, because German marks for gender, Ellis’ literal translation of pronouns by “it”, further compounded by his use of dummy “it” would lead to confusion in retrieving pronoun reference. However, there was no clear pattern of agreement on this amongst questionnaire respondents. In any case, some pronouns are specified by nouns in TT1. Another feature drawn from German is the use of capitalisation for nouns which were felt to be intrusive without serving any real purpose.

Cormack (1993, p.8) comments that the strangeness of TT1 shows “conceptual and receptive differences” between Ellis’ audience and the contemporary reader. It is possible that the modern reader is less willing to invest time and effort in understanding the text. One questionnaire respondent felt that “it costs too much energy to read and make sense of text A.” Others mentioned that they found the style “alienating” and the chair of one Wagner Society doubted that many of their members had engaged with the prose works in the Ellis translation.

Ellis, however, does still have his supporters. Several respondents agreed that TT1 conveyed some of the historical aura of the original: “Text A does illuminate more of how the German original works syntactically, and to that extent takes us closer to the writer’s own mind in a forensic sense.”

Another day I’ll tell you what the questionnaires said about my translation!

Engaging with readers

It’s been far too long since I last posted up. My excuse is that it’s been a busy time.

Responses to the questionnaire came in thick and fast once students got towards the end of term. I would still like more replies from undergraduates, though. How about clicking on and giving it a go during the holidays?!

I don’t want to say too much about the questionnaire whilst I’m still gathering responses, but I have found it a really interesting process. I’ve had some very interesting responses about translation style, which is one of the biggest problems with the text. I’ve engaged with some very well-read people, most of whom have a deep love for Wagner’s music, so it’s been great to share that. Some of these people have sent me down paths in Wagner’s background that I wouldn’t have found for myself and set me thinking about how I interpret the text. Thanks to all of you for that.

I’ve also been enjoying playing with one of my favourite tools going back to when I was studying English with the Open University – the concordancer. I feed the open question responses from the questionnaires into the concordancer and then search on individual words. The machine sorts them all in their context with the keyword lined up in the middle. This is a quick and fascinating way of comparing responses and looking for trends. I can also make lists of word frequencies.

This afternoon’s work is going to be looking at  differences in interpretation between my translation and William Ashton Ellis, using a bit of textual analysis.

Questionnaire deadline

For those of you who took paper or email questionnaires, I set tomorrow (31st May) as the official deadline. However, the online questionnaire at

will remain online until 8th August and I will continue to check it.

Student replies have flooded in in the last couple of weeks – many thanks to friends and acquaintances at Manchester, Glasgow, Oxford and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland who have filled in questionnaires themselves and cajoled others into doing so.

Also many thanks to the Wagner Societies of Scotland, Ireland and London. Your help and support is invaluable and you bring a broad range of skills, knowledge and experience to my work as well as sharing a deep love of the music of the man himself. London members, I know your help is yet to come after your July journal is published – it is still very much needed!

BUT (yes, there’s always a BUT!)


Any replies gratefully accepted!

Wagner Society of Scotland

I had the privilege last night of attending a Wagner Society of Scotland meeting. The speaker was Humphrey Burton on Solti. It was great to hear about Solti from someone who knew him and to gain an insight into the personality of this great conductor. The clips chosen by Humphrey Burton were truly inspiring. Highlights for me were Lucia Popp singing the third of Strauss’ Four Last Songs  and film of the Vienna Philharmonic recording the Ring with Solti.

I also enjoyed meeting members of the society. All the Wagner societies have been very supportive of my work and I have received some interesting feedback from their members via the questionnaires. Replies are still being accepted right until August. Another quick plug for the questionnaire at Keep those responses coming, especially if you are a student or academic!

I have been asked to speak to the Wagner Society of Scotland in October, an occasion I am looking forward to very much. More on that nearer the time.

Thesistools questionnaire site and Wagner CD offer

The thesistools questionnaire site at is working well and is nice and easy to use, so why not give it a go? Remember to look for two “submit” buttons.

Responses are coming in but I still really need to hear from the students and academics amongst you. You are my most important target group for this translation. You can even tell me if you didn’t get to the end of the extracts – that’s interesting in itself.

If you have an interest in  Wagner I am more than happy to send you the results from the dissertation if you leave me contact details. Alternatively, you may prefer to enter into a draw for a Wagner CD from Neeme Järvi and the  RSNO’s recent recordings of De Vlieger’s arrangements of the symphonic sections from Wagner’s operas. Just remember to leave your email address.

Questionnaire progress.

Many thanks to those people who have helped with the questionnaire so far.

I really need more replies from students though. If you think you can help, please click on and look for the link highlighted “here”.  Download the form to your computer, open it, click “sign” and “add text”. At the end click “done signing,” and save the file again. Do not go through the Echo-sign process, as you’ll need to register. Instead, email the signed version to me direct at

I can also email the questionnaire to you directly either as pdf or doc if you want to email me.

I look forward to some interesting answers!


A key part of my MA is the questionnaires, which will help me compare translations of Opera and Drama and assess their readability and accessibility. I’ve spent a lot of time working on these today. Why not have a look under the tabs above? If you feel like answering the questions, you can copy and paste it into Word, then email it back to me.