Playing with Portuguese: Giovanni Pontiero's Translations

Published on January 26, 2019

By Kali Faulwetter

Giovanni Pontiero
10 February 1932 – 10 February 1996

“There are things that you can do in a romance language, syntactically, that you simply cannot do in English. You would just wind up with gobbledygook. You have to impose certain syntactical rules for it to be a sentence in English, so it doesn’t match up with the original. In other words, you can leave every subject pronoun out of the sentence and move things around in Spanish or Portuguese in a way that you simply cannot do in English. But Pontiero translates it beautifully.”
    -Edith Grossman, on why Giovanni Pontiero became a famous translator.

Giovanni Pontiero was the leading professional translator of Portuguese literature in the 20th century. One of the most ardent advocates of Portuguese translation, Pontiero was a British scholar of Portuguese fiction, most famous for translating the work of Jose Saramago. Pontiero introduced many Portuguese authors to the English reading world, including Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Manuel Baneria and Clarice Lispector. In addition to Portuguese and English, Pontiero was also a translator of Spanish and Italian. His translation work received several international awards during his career.
  • Giovanni Pontiero received several awards and nominations throughout his career as a translator. His English versions of Saramago gave him the Independent Foreign Fiction Award in 1993, the American Translators Award in 1994, and the Teixeira-Gomes Translation Award from the Portuguese government, as well as a nomination for the Aristeion Award.
  • Mr. Pontiero was such a prolific, award-winning figure, that his very own award, the Giovanni Pontiero Prize for Translation, is given each year in his honor by Instituto Camões. Each year, the award is dedicated to an important translator; on years that fall on an even number, the Giovanni Pontiero Award is received by a Spanish translation originally in Portuguese, and on odd years the award goes to a Catalan translation originally written in Portuguese. 
Credited for introducing Portuguese literature to the English world, Giovanni Pontiero is the pioneer of Portuguese to English translation in the 21st century. He is known for his kindness, brilliance, hospitality, love for his subjects, and for creating the warm family atmosphere in his university department. Giovanni Pontiero certainly deserves posthumous international recognition for his vast contributions to the global translation community.

Giovanni Pontiero in numbers:

Number of Jose Saramago novels Mr. Pontiero translated into English.

Number of novels by Brazilian author Clarice Lispector that Giovanni Pontiero translated into English.

Mr. Pontiero’s age of death on 10 February.


Giovanni Pontiero is commended in Edith Grossman’s interview here.



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About This Article
Famous Translators is a MotaWord segment showcasing notable professional translated works and famous linguists from history to the present. We are researching, compiling and sharing stories that matter to every translator on our blog. You, too can be published right here on the MotaWord blog site - just contact kali@motaword.com.

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Citations: The Independent, ArchivesHub, Univ. of Barcelona, Fivebooks

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