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!