Non-routine translation options
Thread poster: Alistair Gainey

Alistair Gainey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:49
Member (2009)
Russian to English
May 9, 2009

I wasn't sure what to call this thread, or which section to put in, but anyway...

There are certain phrases that may be very familiar in one's target language, but which one may find oneself not using in translation because they are not the obvious choice. One example (depending on the language pair) might be "at loggerheads". More or less every native English speaker knows what it means, yet I would not be surprised if it appears in translation much less frequently than it appears in original texts in English, simply because translators would choose alternatives such as 'disagree', etc. I imagine this would apply to a lot of idiomatic and metaphorical phrases. What other examples can people think of?

[Edited at 2009-05-09 20:29 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-05-09 20:29 GMT]


Local time: 21:49
English to Hungarian
+ ...
sure May 9, 2009

I think most of the time translations are a bit less imaginative than original texts, because, well, the source text is there and it's not that easy to get it out of your head.

Translators often use the target language versions the same words that the original uses. Poor translators do it more, but I'd imagine everyone does it. I don't just mean false friends but also translations that are not incorrect per se, just perhaps break the natural flow of the text, sound vaguely off - or in fact are perfectly fine, but are used more often in translation than in original target language texts because the source language uses them more.

Large corpora and especially bilingual TMs/aligned corpora could easily be used to see that in action. In something like the EU TM you could find a LOT of examples. For example, the frequency of an awful lot of English-derived words is surely a lot higher in the Hungarian (Greek, Slovakian etc.) part of the EU corpus than in comparable monolingual corpora made up of original texts. If someone with the right computer skills really decided to go for it, it would be fairly easy to set up an automated system that looks up the frequency of words in a monolingual Hungarian corpus and then in the EU TM, providing ordered little charts showing the words that show the greatest difference - words that are either used more often or more rarely in translation than in "normal" texts.

You could even make calculations about the original assumption proposed here: whether words that are rare in the target language in general are used even more rarely in translation. I suspect the answer is yes.

This could make an interesting topic for anyone doing research in computational linguistics or translation. There is a massive amount of raw data out there and it's easy to process.


chica nueva
Local time: 08:49
Chinese to English
idioms which have largely lost their original meaning; sayings; cliches May 12, 2009

'to be at loggerheads, to be on tenterhooks
'just the bees-knees', 'happy-clappy'

As a child you ask your parents, what does that mean, and they say, 'It's just a saying' ...

In my experience translators do try to translate these. In the Eng->Ch pair you do get KudoZ questions on them. I don't know how it is in other pairs.

[Edited at 2009-05-12 01:24 GMT]


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