I am very honoured to have Dr François Grosjean on my blog today, interviewing Eva Hoffman, author of Lost in Translation, originally for Psychology Today. A huge thank you to Dr Grosjean for sharing his interview!
About Dr Grosjean:
Professor Grosjean received his degrees up to the Doctorat d’État from the University of Paris, France. He started his academic career at the University of Paris 8 and then left for the United States in 1974 where he taught and did research in psycholinguistics at Northeastern University, Boston. While at Northeastern he was also a Research Affiliate at the Speech Communication Laboratory at MIT. In 1987, he was appointed professor at Neuchâtel University, Switzerland, where he founded the Language and Speech Processing Laboratory. He has lectured occasionally at the Universities of Basel, Zurich and Oxford. In 1998, he cofounded Bilingualism: Language and Cognition (Cambridge University Press).
His domains of interest are the perception, comprehension and production of speech, bilingualism and biculturalism, sign language and the bilingualism of the deaf, the evaluation of speech comprehension in aphasic patients, as well as the modeling of language processing.
Here is the interview:
Back in 1989, Eva Hoffman published her first book, Lost in Translation, a memoir about immigration, language loss, second language acquisition, and discovering a new land and a different culture. Her autobiography was to have a worldwide success – the Nobel prize winner Czeslaw Milosz called it “graceful and profound” – and it helped launch a new genre, the language memoir. To celebrate this blog’s fifth anniversary, it was only fitting that we should ask Eva Hoffman if she would answer a few questions. She very kindly accepted to do so and we wish to thank her wholeheartedly.
More than a quarter of a century has gone by since you published Lost in Translation. How do you consider it now after all these years and the success it has had?
Occasionally, I’ve had to go back to it and reread parts of it – and I find that I have a double reaction: One is to wonder who wrote it; and the other is to think, “This is pretty good.” The success of the book was initially entirely amazing to me. When I was writing it, I didn’t know if it would be published, or whether anyone would understand, or care about, the experience I was trying to describe – the internal journey involved in emigration, and the process of translating yourself into another language and culture. But since then, of course, emigration and other cross-national movements have become one of the central phenomena of our time; and it seems that I identified something about that experience which many others understand — perhaps in part, because I was writing about it innocently, so to speak; that is, by trying to capture my own perceptions as directly as possible, without thinking about previous literary models, or worrying about the book’s reception. What can I say, I was lucky.
You can read the rest of the interview here.