I spent the afternoon defending a semicolon. My opponent asked if it were perhaps a typo. I assured him it was not. He reminded me that it was a colon in the original. “I am aware of that,” I replied. As many are prone to do, he assumed that my English translation would adopt the same punctuation as his original German text. Translating a text, however, is not “a matter of words only…a matter of making intelligible a whole culture” as Anthony Burgess once wrote; it is also a matter of punctuation.
The laws governing punctuation are not universal. Perhaps I was always drawn to German because the language is accepting of the comma splice, which is something I always got wrong on my English papers in high school. The German writer, on the other hand, seems to have a special affinity for the colon. These are just two opportunities where my own partiality for the semicolon is put to good use, which I am quite willing to defend if need be.