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Are some things impossible to translate?
Thread poster: Henry Dotterer
Henry Dotterer
Local time: 18:55
SITE FOUNDER
Jun 21, 2001

Few would doubt that at times, language professionals are asked to convey/map meaning in ways that may be impossible.



Example: dubbing of films. Rapid dialog often can not be reduced to the short text permitted at the bottom of a screen.In this case, the job becomes one of creative reduction.



OK...dubbing is particularly difficult, because of the strict limitations related to size and length of text. But what about interpretation and text translation? Are there some things that are impossible to render faithfully?



I have heard that after trying for a while to translate \"Think Different\" into Japanese, Apple concluded that there was no good translation. They gave up and used the English.



I am interested in specific examples like this from others.


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xxxeurotransl
German to English
+ ...
Jun 21, 2001

Dubbing a film or TV show is extremely difficult. Not only do you lose the actors\' original voices (which is a shame, because the voice is an integral part of any actor), but it is also impossible to convey the \"ambiente\".



The reason why English has become the language of advertising (especially in Japan where this practice has gone so far as to take just about any English words as long as they sound \"cool\" - regardless of their actual meanings) lies in the fact that the English language has a natural knack for expressing things very succinctly.



Take one of the more recent fads in slogans: Whassssssssssssup. You just cannot translate something like that - you would have to create something new and \"hope for the best\".



One more note regarding dubbing: the worst practice I have ever seen (and which is still going on) is to be found on Polish TV: movies and TV shows have a voice-over narrator who - ever so monotonously - reads off the various dialogues. Now, if that does not ruin the whole viewing experience, I don\'t know what will.



I would like to add another example of situations completely \"untranslatable\": this actually comes from the world of simultaneous interpretation - at a meeting or conference when, say, 5 or more people try to talk over each other. At that point, it becomes impossible to focus on any one of these (and I usually switch off my microphone after informing my audience of the problem).



Poems, too, are not translatable. Every poem \"translated\" is not a translation, but a recreation - actually, even a new creation, a new work of art in its own right. So, strictly speaking, they cannot be translated.


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Roomy Naqvy  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 05:25
English to Hindi
+ ...
Jun 23, 2001

Quote:


On 2001-06-21 15:15, Henry wrote:

Few would doubt that at times, language professionals are asked to convey/map meaning in ways that may be impossible.



Example: dubbing of films. Rapid dialog often can not be reduced to the short text permitted at the bottom of a screen.In this case, the job becomes one of creative reduction.



OK...dubbing is particularly difficult, because of the strict limitations related to size and length of text. But what about interpretation and text translation? Are there some things that are impossible to render faithfully?



I have heard that after trying for a while to translate \"Think Different\" into Japanese, Apple concluded that there was no good translation. They gave up and used the English.



I am interested in specific examples like this from others.





Rendering faithfully is an old controversy. The best use of being true to original is certainly found in literature where it is the toughest for the translator to work out things. In non-literary texts relating to journalism and brochures, faithful reproduction of the original would not pose any problems. In technical texts, and websites which aim at a wider native audience, there would be typical problems. For instance, for the word \'file\' as in computer file, the correct \'official\' translation in Hindi as stated in the Government of India\'s Glossary published by the Scientific and Technical Vocabulary section, would be \'sanchika\'. Interestingly, all other standard dictionaries would either not refer to the word \'file\' as in computer file or use the technical glossary meaning. It sounds fine. But the problem here is the fact that when you are dealing with a wider native audience [not academics of Hindi], the word \'sanchika\' would not make any sense at all. Moreover, \'file\' can be reproduced as it is and it would form part of accepted usage in Hindi when referring to computer file. So, just using a dictionary, as many translators do, would be a gross mistranslation. I have seen numerous such instances. Google\'s Hindi site is one such example. ZDNet India\'s site in Hindi is another such example.



The most important thing in translation, which I like parroting all the time, is the target audience.



The first and the last question to answer is: \'Does it make any sense to the target audience?\'



Best wishes

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Valerie Marzac  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 00:55
English to French
+ ...
Jul 8, 2001

I think that the Italian saying \'Traduttore Tradittore\' (The translator is a traitor) examplifies the issue. Translating is not so much about sticking to the original as adapting it so that it makes sense in the target language and culture.

If \' Think differently\' cannot be translated into Japanese, it could very well be because such a concept is of little relevance in that language and culture. Our job consists therefore of adapting ideas to a specific cultural context in order to produce a similar impact. We are traitors in the respect that our job consists in analysing and understanding the underlying meaning of a term/sentence/concept while our translation will ultimately be the result of our personal and subjective understanding as much as that of our technical and cultural knowledge of the source and target languages.

No term really translates in another language as the semantic field of each term doesn\'t emcompass the same elements. There are meeting points which are more or less close depending on the term.

Problems occur when there are no visible meeting points, that is when the semantic fields are too far in two languages.

I believe that everything can be translated, this is why we resort to cultural changes and adaptations. If every language produces one world of its own, we are all human beings looking more or less for the same things ultimately. In other words, communication changes superficially in order to achieve the same end.

On 2001-06-21 19:39, eurotransl wrote:

Dubbing a film or TV show is extremely difficult. Not only do you lose the actors\' original voices (which is a shame, because the voice is an integral part of any actor), but it is also impossible to convey the \"ambiente\".



The reason why English has become the language of advertising (especially in Japan where this practice has gone so far as to take just about any English words as long as they sound \"cool\" - regardless of their actual meanings) lies in the fact that the English language has a natural knack for expressing things very succinctly.



Take one of the more recent fads in slogans: Whassssssssssssup. You just cannot translate something like that - you would have to create something new and \"hope for the best\".



One more note regarding dubbing: the worst practice I have ever seen (and which is still going on) is to be found on Polish TV: movies and TV shows have a voice-over narrator who - ever so monotonously - reads off the various dialogues. Now, if that does not ruin the whole viewing experience, I don\'t know what will.



I would like to add another example of situations completely \"untranslatable\": this actually comes from the world of simultaneous interpretation - at a meeting or conference when, say, 5 or more people try to talk over each other. At that point, it becomes impossible to focus on any one of these (and I usually switch off my microphone after informing my audience of the problem).



Poems, too, are not translatable. Every poem \"translated\" is not a translation, but a recreation - actually, even a new creation, a new work of art in its own right. So, strictly speaking, they cannot be translated.

[/quote]
[addsig]


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:55
French to English
Jul 8, 2001

I studied two fields simultaneously to degree level and beyond, namely law and French. There are many parallels.



- being faced with new technical areas with which you are not always wholly familiar



- having to get an accurate grasp of those fields quickly



- being able to analyse different expert analyses of a set of facts, a context or an idea



- being able to explain what it\'s all about to neophytes



- being able to converse with experts in the field, not on equal terms, but as an informed, thinking and analytical animal



With all that thrown up in the air, it leaves a lot of room for discussion. Small wonder that judges create precedent. Linguists do too. And, with prior client agreement, in certain \"journalistic\" fields can and should do so. I\'ve had the occasion to do so a little in the past - great fun!

[ This Message was edited by: on 2001-07-09 04:00 ]


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:55
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jul 21, 2001

A great deal of the fun in translating, as Nikki points out, is having the license to be creative about rendering and solving precisely the kind of problems that Henry refers to. When I consult proz about questions like these, I usually leave the page open until some 10 responses have come in (what I call on my end the \"brainstorming mode\") and the results are always fantastic. I give ALL the kudoz to the winner, whether he justifies his response with references or not. Part of the problem here is distinguishing to what extent the word or concept is lexically accepted in source and target language. If it is lexicalized at source but not at target, a footnote might solve the case. If both source and target languages are dealing with new concepts, evidently we are in that exciting virgin territory where no dictionaries operate, and everyone\'s poetic imagination is valid. In literature this often occurs when the author is a non-native speaker of the language in which he is writing, or bilingual in another language unknown to the reader (English has been enriched throughout the centuries by such cases). Up to now, it\'s still a wonderful challenge to confront Isak Dinesen, Samuel Beckett, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling... first-rate creative minds that bring out the most creative in translators.

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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:55
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jul 21, 2001

Another answer to Henry\'s original question: humor and proverbs. In conference interpretation, when a speaker starts, \"A popular saying goes...\", the interpreter usually shuts up until he has determined whether he has an answer to that one, or whether he\'s simply going to turn it around. Humor on its end is notorious because not only do you have to contain the story, there are often puns as well, and if the receiving culture does not have a tradition of laughing at such things, you might even put your foot in. Conference interpreters usually have a stock of \"other jokes\" to tell for the event that the speaker starts telling jokes which aren\'t jokes in the other language - the purpose, however you may question the honesty behind it is, to keep the audience laughing at the same time, even when they\'re laughing at different things.

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xxxeurotransl
German to English
+ ...
Jul 21, 2001

You are right on, Cecilia. Yes, as conference interpreters we have a \"ready-made\" stock of alternative jokes, because it is all about ensuring that the audience laugh - for the benefit of the speaker.



With conference interpreting, you also have the added component of \"entertainment\"; it is not just about producing a complete and accurate \"oral translation\", but also about creating the proper effects.



As conference interpreters we have to be \"actors\" as well as empaths. When I am in the booth, I slip into the persona of the speaker - in effect, I become the speaker. I even find myself making the same gestures and using the same body language as the speaker. Once you have reached that point, you\'ll forget about being an interpreter and worrying about the right words - it will all come to you, because, at that point, you ARE the speaker. At least, that\'s how it works for me - and has for many years. I suppose that\'s the reason why, even after a full conference day, I am usually the only interpreter who is not exhausted - to tell you the truth, I am usually sad when it\'s over; I\'d love to go on.


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