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Poll: Do you believe that no word is untranslatable?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff
ProZ.com Staff
Local time: 07:21
SITE STAFF
Nov 10, 2016

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Do you believe that no word is untranslatable?".

This poll was originally submitted by Ikram Mahyuddin. View the poll results »



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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Yes Nov 10, 2016

Words are just words. Our job is to convey meaning. Where there is no obvious direct translation, we just express the meaning in some other way. That's our job. That's why we still have a role in a world with Google Translate. For now.

That's not to say some words aren't complete pigs to translate, obviously.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:21
Spanish to English
+ ...
Other Nov 10, 2016

Probably NO, but I'm far too busy actually working to take time out for philosophical ponderings. UK newspapers and magazines keep teling us that the Danish "hygge" is untranslatable, but that's patently nonsense.

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Susana E. Cano Méndez  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:21
Member
French to Spanish
+ ...
Agree Nov 10, 2016

Chris S wrote:

Words are just words. Our job is to convey meaning. Where there is no obvious direct translation, we just express the meaning in some other way. That's our job. That's why we still have a role in a world with Google Translate. For now.

That's not to say some words aren't complete pigs to translate, obviously.


Absolutely.


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Leticia Klemetz, CT  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 16:21
Swedish to Spanish
+ ...
Flavor Nov 10, 2016

There are certain words that have a specific flavour that is not 100% conveyable into another language - or perhaps into some languages it is, but not into all. I am bilingual by birth, translate between 3 languages, have studied 7 and understand a couple more.
And the Swedish "fika" is not easily rendered into a "merienda" in Spanish.
And the "prou" expression in Mallorquín is not quite the same as "stop, that's enough" (and that's 4 words for 1).
So yes, we can translate and we can explain and even add a footnote, but the feelings and culture associated to some specific words can be very tricky to convey.
"Mysigt" in Swedish is similar to "Cosy / Cozy" in English, but I haven't found a satisfactory term in Spanish that makes me feel the warmth in my back with the feeling of that fluffy blanket while I see the dim light in the room, the nice temperature, perhaps soft music and good company.


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 15:21
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Yes Nov 10, 2016

Certain words are more difficult to translate than others, but every concept should be translatable in some way in the target language, what happens is that every now and then there is no direct equivalent in just one word. As Chris says, that's our job!

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Annamaria Amik  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:21
Romanian to English
+ ...
Agree Nov 10, 2016

Although not all words can be translated "perfectly", I think there are excellent equivalents that sound just as good in the target language.
For ages they've been claiming the Portuguese saudade is untranslatable, but there's a Romanian word expressing the exact same thing/mood/feeling.

Besides, there's no general answer to this question, unless by someone who speaks all the languages in the world. It depends on what language you translate into. Some words are difficult to translate into a certain language, but very easy to convey in another one.


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Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:21
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
No Nov 10, 2016

We can try, but I agree with Leticia that sometimes it's impossible to evoke the identical feeling. I think we are fooling ourselves if we believe that we can.

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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:21
English to Spanish
+ ...
Words aren't just words Nov 10, 2016

Consider the word “stop” and it evokes various meanings. But that word can also be made into an artwork. It is still a word but with an added layer or patina.

The fact that a word is comprised of one or several letters, in and of themselves a sign, a symbol, a graphic element, is often (and sadly) forgotten. We could say that letters and words are highly specialized forms of graphics, whether they're from a Roman alphabet, a Hebrew script or a Chinese calligraphy sheet.

Some words are untranslatable in some contexts, even in readable texts. You could also say that some of these words translate into white space, and that's okay.


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Francesca Grandinetti
Italy
Local time: 16:21
German to Italian
+ ...
Prou Nov 10, 2016

Leticia Klemetz, CT wrote:
And the "prou" expression in Mallorquín is not quite the same as "stop, that's enough" (and that's 4 words for 1).


Oh dear. In Piedmontese dialect (northern Italy, very close to the French border in my case), "Prou" has the same meaning.



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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:21
Spanish to English
+ ...
Nuff said Nov 10, 2016

Leticia Klemetz, CT wrote:

And the "prou" expression in Mallorquín is not quite the same as "stop, that's enough" (and that's 4 words for 1).
So yes, we can translate and we can explain and even add a footnote, but the feelings and culture associated to some specific words can be very tricky to convey.
"Mysigt" in Swedish is similar to "Cosy / Cozy" in English, but I haven't found a satisfactory term in Spanish that makes me feel the warmth in my back with the feeling of that fluffy blanket while I see the dim light in the room, the nice temperature, perhaps soft music and good company.


"Prou" is also common parlance in Valencia too. When doing TEFL, I sometimes signed off my classes with "prou for now"....

In Spain we probably get a similar feeling to "mysigt" when finding we have air conditioning...


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Julian Holmes  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 00:21
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
No Nov 10, 2016

Definitely no

There are lots of words in Japanese that evoke a feeling and cannot be translated since they express a concept in a cultural context that is far, far different from anything that can be expressed in English. At a push and a shove, just maaaaybe the concept could perhaps be relayed in English orally by pronunciation or subtle nuances in delivery. However, you could never capture that feeling by the written word.


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Diana Coada  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:21
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Yes Nov 10, 2016

Translation is not just about finding that perfect equivalent, far from it.

Annamaria Amik wrote:
Although not all words can be translated "perfectly", I think there are excellent equivalents that sound just as good in the target language.
For ages they've been claiming the Portuguese saudade is untranslatable, but there's a Romanian word expressing the exact same thing/mood/feeling.


Hear, hear! I'm especially worried when it's translators themselves perpetuating the myth of the untranslatable word. I see your saudade and I raise you my mioritic.


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Thayenga  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:21
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
No Nov 10, 2016

There are a few words, e. g. "yelo" in Lakota, that simply cannot be translated because they have no meaning of their own. "Yelo" only empathizes what has been said, serving almost like a double confirmation, both in the positive as well as in the negative phrases.

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 16:21
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
'Hygge' is 'untranslatable' because it has at least dozen different meanings Nov 10, 2016

neilmac wrote:

Probably NO, but I'm far too busy actually working to take time out for philosophical ponderings. UK newspapers and magazines keep teling us that the Danish "hygge" is untranslatable, but that's patently nonsense.


It is one of those words that covers a very wide spectrum of meanings, and on its own it is just too vague to define. Basically, it is something like enjoyment, but you can enjoy anything from total absorption in a book or a hobby to merry outings or parties. As a verb, it can be done alone or in good company. Planning and preparing is definitely part of the fun.

There is possibly an atmosphere - Danes associate it with candlelight, but that is not an invariable ingredient by any means. Any self-respecting family activity or holiday place claims to provide hygge, but there are plenty of adult forms of hygge too.

There may not be an equivalent single word that covers everything in other languages, but that is very different from untranslatable.


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