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What linguistic challenges does your language pose?
Thread poster: Stuart Milne
Stuart Milne
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:52
French to English
Aug 28, 2009

I was asked what made translating difficult and I had to think. I then realised that I am often stumped by too much vocabulary. When I translate into English, I often find myself with a choice of words; 'parfois' translates to 'occasionally' or 'sometimes'. I then realised that this is always adding a small amount of time to my work! I am sure this is a universal problem. I am often passing work on to other translators and am curious to know if other languages have simple linguistic challenges?

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Elías Sauza  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 03:52
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Not an easy answer Aug 28, 2009

One of the most outstanding challenges of my native language, Spanish, is finding universality. Many times clients ask for a 'universal' Spanish, which must be a mixture of the Spanish spoken in Spain, Latin America, and even of the Spanish used in the United States.

Another issue that comes to mind is that when translating in my language pair, English to Spanish, the target text grows much bigger than the source, and that usually poses a big challenge for DTP work, an aspect that sometimes we are asked to keep in mind.

Regards,

Elías


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:52
English to Spanish
+ ...
Syntax Aug 28, 2009

There are many differences in syntax between English and Spanish that must constantly be dealt with. I do not have any problems solving that, it is just an ongoing task that has to be done every step of the way from start to finish, so it's a lot of work. I suppose it is one of the bigger challenges in translating between those two languages.

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Md Abu Alam  Identity Verified
Bangladesh
Local time: 15:52
Member (2009)
English to Bengali
+ ...
alternatives are there Aug 28, 2009

In Bengali alternatives are there, but in many cases one of those could fit best.

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Maria Karra  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:52
Member (2000)
Greek to English
+ ...
Space! Aug 28, 2009

When translating from English to Greek, the text ends up being 10%-30% longer. And when space is limited, e.g. when we're translating for the press, this may present a big problem and we have to spend some time trying to figure out what can be left out or what can be summarized.
For example, "Fashion-conscious person" would become "a person who is interested in the latest fashion trends"; "user-friendly" or "environmentally friendly" have to be translated as "friendly towards the user" and "friendly towards the environment" respectively, and when you can't use all the space you want, these words ain't so friendly!


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:52
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
English into Spanish, POLYSEMY!! Aug 28, 2009

The main issue in translation from English into Spanish, or at least in my specialties (technical translation) is polysemy: one English word can mean many different things and have very different translations in Spanish. Let's see a very simple example:

"Screen" (as a noun)
- "pantalla": a display device
- "pantalla": a protection device
- "tamiz": a screen to filter gross contamination from a liquid
- "criba": a screen to screen fragments of mineral of different sizes
- "biombo": a movable piece of furniture to divide a room
- "tramado": the matrix of dots used in printing
- "malla": the porous fabric used in screen printing
- "depurador": in paper pulp making, a device that removes impurities from the pulp
- "parabrisas": "screen" as short for the windscreen of a car

The same thing happens with so many other words, like "shell", "key", "bar"... You really must know what the text is about in order to choose the right word.


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Madalena TH
Portugal
Local time: 09:52
English to Portuguese
+ ...
One says Portuguese is a very treacherous language! Aug 28, 2009

Apart from the difficulty in the pronounciation foreign people may feel (with ditongs like "ão" that should sound somewhat like "auum"or something like that) it's really necessary to have a very good knowledge of the language in order to do a good translation. I'll give 2 very simple examples:
The word "canto" in Portuguese has the following meanings:
1 - corner (the corner of a room)
2 - song
3 - It is still each part of the "Lusíadas" by Luís de Camões

The word "decorar" has the following meanings:
1 - to learn by heart
2 - to decorate

Theproblem is that the majority of Portuguese dictionaries don't give definitions of the different meanings a word may have. They normally give synonimous. So if one doesn't know the idiom well one can build some weird sentences!

Another difficulty is the difference between Portuguese from Portugal and from Brazil. For example in Brazil they say "cara" to mean "buddy", "guy". In Portugal "cara" means "face" or "expensive". These type of "nuances" in the idioms may be a problem if one doesn't have a solid knowledge of the language! But it may also be quite a challenge, and that's the fun of it!


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:52
Member
English to Turkish
Turkish - lack of uniform vocabularies, among others Aug 29, 2009

This is a very interesting discussion subject, Stuart.

I translate from English into Turkish, a language with very different vocabulary, syntax, word order etc. from English, and from Indo-European languages in general. This poses some well-known challenges and translators have effectively devised ways of handling them. For instance, the word order is Object+Subject+Verb (or, the Object and the Subject may change places in this formula), as opposed to the Subject+Verb+Object order of English. So, an English sentence beginning as "I go..." and describing how and where you go through a dozen words to follow, might pose a problem of clarity if you translated it as is: the verb would then be at the end and the reader would miss out the meaning until he arrived there. The typical way of handling this is divide the sentence and even though, in some sentences, this might be a more complex challenge than it seems, it is within the control of the translator to solve it.

The real difficulties in this combination and direction are due to factors that are beyond the control of translators. The history of Turkish might be a bit more turbulent than most other languages. It borrowed heavily throughout its history and these borrowings were usually a result of political or cultural alignments, with every new alignment purging its predecessor's vocabulary. The result is a lack of uniform vocabularies in different fields, and moreover, these vocabularies are incompatible with each other. The same concept may be expressed with a term of Arabic origin in law, one of Latin origin in medicine, and one of Turkic origin in daily speech. So if the original text uses this concept with reference to all, and worse, with word plays touching all fields, it is very difficult to impossible to reflect this in the target text. Just an example springing to mind now, a sub-heading in a book from years ago (funny, I forgot the book itself): From Nuclear Family to Nuclear War. It is impossible to reflect this word play in Turkish without being awkward.

Also, like I said above, these terms for the same concept, but of different bloodlines may be totally incompatible with one another. For instance, English, which has a similar heavy borrowing history, may use lethal, fatal, deadly, mortal, terminal all in the same text. In Turkish this would be much more difficult to achieve with a natural flow.


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Paul Dixon  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 07:52
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Agree with Madalena Aug 30, 2009

Oi Madalena, boa noite - and good morning/afternoon/night (depending on where you are in this global village) to everyone!

Couldn't agree more with Madalena in this respect - the main difficulty (apart from the sound of "ão", although this is more for spoken Portuguese) is the difference of terms between Brazil and Portugal.

Example:

English: The left pocket of the brown suit.
Brazil: O bolso esquerdo do terno marron.
Portugal: A algibeira canhota do fato castanho.

English: The boy kicked the ball, scored a goal, and lay on the grass.
Brazil: O menino chutou a bola, fez um gol, e deitou na grama (= no gramado).
Portugal: O menino chutou o esférico, marcou um golo e deitou-se sobre o relvado.

Some situations are potentially embarrassing, like "bicha" which in Portugal is a queue, and in Brazil is a gay.

Another difficulty in Portuguese is that sometimes pairs of words can be inverted with a change in meaning: we have "homem grande" (big man) as opposed to "grande homem" (great man). In English we do have the same idea, but a lot simpler: "passenger train" (a kind of train) v. "train passenger" (a kind of passenger).

In reply to Madalena's comment about "ão", a good tip for non-Lusophones is:

1. to say "ão", say "ow" while holding your nose.
So: to say "não" (no), just say "now" while holding your nose.

2. to say "ãe", say "I" while holding your nose.
So: to say "mãe" (mother), just say "my" while holding your nose.

3. to say "õe", say "oin" while holding your nose.
So: to say "põe" (puts), just say "poin" while holding your nose (probably red by now after so much nose-holding!)


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Annett S. Brown, MBA, CT
United States
Local time: 03:52
Member (2009)
German to English
German-English - What about Sentence Structure? Aug 30, 2009

Aside from my occasional struggles with certain individual terminology, nothing has giving me more of a challenge than the difference between German and English sentence structures. Surely, restructuring the word order would not be as hard were it not for the all important theme/rheme considerations. This has been particularly difficult with some of the long-winded legal texts where slight changes in the word order can lead to slight, but significant changes in the overall message.

My solution - POSITIVE SELF-TALK: "If German-English translations were not this complicated at times, the world would not need someone like me to deal with it."


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Erik Hansson  Identity Verified
Germany
Member (2002)
Swedish
+ ...
German-Swedish: Understanding passive as imperative Aug 30, 2009

When translating from German into Swedish, I now and then encounter a problem with understanding the passive German tense.

For instance, quite often a techical text doesn't include clear imperative instructions like "Check value A to judge if you need to stop the machine", but rather "The value A has to be checked in order to judge if the machine needs to be stopped". So the problem is who is supposed to check this. The reader of the text? Or should he/she get some expert to do this for him/her? Just like in English, in Swedish we often have clear instructions about who is going to do what in order to get this or that. German, otherwise a very precise language, isn't that clear in this aspect. Very often the "pure" imperative is avoided in German, and passive is used instead.

Another problem is an illogical order of different actions: "Press button A and then B. Before doing so, please check if the temperature is below 50 centrigrades". For my understanding, it would be much better (and most technical writers would agree, I think), to structure the sentences in the same order as the actions have to be carried out. But this would be a life task


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Marek Gutowski  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:52
Polish to English
+ ...
Polish and English Aug 30, 2009

Erik Hansson wrote:
When translating from German into Swedish, I now and then encounter a problem with understanding the passive German tense.


Wouldn't that be a fault on the writer's part? I have come across this problem in German, English and Polish manuals, translated or otherwise and I was warned about it in a technical writing class. Seems most companies think the first draft is fine and dandy.

As to the challenges of my language: gender and definiteness. English has little gender which is rarely revealed in speech, in Polish gender determines the form of most verbs, English has definite and indefinite articles, Polish doesn't really have that feature.


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Erik Hansson  Identity Verified
Germany
Member (2002)
Swedish
+ ...
Standard style Aug 30, 2009

MarekGutowski wrote:

Erik Hansson wrote:
When translating from German into Swedish, I now and then encounter a problem with understanding the passive German tense.


Wouldn't that be a fault on the writer's part?


Well, it's not really seen as a fault, rather than a standard style used to "keep a certain level" - nobody seems to care if the message is confused! Apart from many passive constructions, in German texts you find very many nouns (originally from verbs) which often need to be translated as verbs.

Example of garbled German (badly translated, but shows the case with noun): "The opening of this door is forbidden"

This needs to be translated at "It is forbidden to open this door", or "You may not open this door" etc.

From my point of view, the written German in manuals and other documents is very focused on nouns and passive forms, and doesn't have much in common with the standard spoken language.


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Sushan Harshe
India
Local time: 15:22
English to Hindi
+ ...
My experience in English to Hindi! Aug 31, 2009

I have taken example of my working pair. Being in the field for years and having interaction with translators of some other languages (home and abroad), I found that this view applies to almost every language in-land and offshore.

When a client requests, for localization in Hindi, and they do not ask you to localize there product in languages like Bhojpuri, Magadhi Maithili, Pahari, Kashmiri, Rajastani, Harayanwi, Malvi, Kumaoni; most of the time they even don’t ask to localize in Gujarati, Bengali or Marathi (this is cost dependent). These all are either official state languages or major spoken languages, in the states of Hindi belt. It means they expect Hindi understandable to all people in this belt.

A) Number of states where Hindi is spoken, called The Hindi belt: 1] Bihar 2] Uttar Pradesh 3] Madhya Pradesh 4] Haryana 5] Rajasthan 6] Himachal Pradesh 7] Uttaranchal 8] Chhattisgarh and 9] Jharkhand.

B) Besides, the Union Territory of 10] Chandigarh, and the National Capital Territory of 11] Delhi, also lies in this belt.

C) The states of 12] Gujarat 13] Maharashtra 14] Orissa 15] West Bengal 16] Andhra Pradesh and 17] Jammu and Kashmir have large communities of Hindi-speaking people.
Keeping above details in mind, we have to localize the product. Hindi is the state language of Uttar Pradesh; but still there are dialects in its core linguists. These are, Hindustani, Khari boli (Kauravi), Braj, Lakhanavi.

When we select a translator, we say we are looking for native speaker, and most of time, we get translators from Khari Boli (Kauravi) “The Lexicographer”. Here we spoil interest of our client. Client expects Hindi localization for Hindi belt, our pure Hindi translators churn out there linguistic knowledge and give us the cream in form of terms, which hardly (perhaps!) can be understood by a person from his own dialect. Normally this happens when we chose a lexicographer in place of subject expert. He provides content or translation, grammatically perfect with rich terms, and still difficult to understand for a user. He use such terms, which either, are very rare in use or derived from Sanskrit or they are not at all in use. This is orthodox translation.

In literature translation, we are expected ‘just to transplant the Heart’; but in localization, we are expected not only to transplant Heart but also to translate source so as, if it is translated back to source, it should fall near by the ‘source sentence’. In localization, we must keep in mind that the user is a literate person. Being National Language, we have many English terms in our day-to-day practice. Moreover, these are widely used in all Indian languages. For a century now, literate class is customary not only with technical English terms, but also regularly we use verbs, adverbs, noun, pronouns, and numbers, from English. Therefore, you will find the user is familiar with English but not fluent, and also not affluent with Hind. In h/er day-to-day life they use many more English terms without a sense that they have there native term for this specific act or noun or verb. On the contrary these people read (with help of dictionary) write (with help of dictionary) and even speak (with good enough constructional mistakes) English but with limitation. The translation should be free in nature.
Here is the role of translator. Localization should be as such that, entire Hindi belt (consisting around + 500,000,000 populations) should understand it easily. This is a field where the user is the judge. They are customers, if not satisfied they can ruin your client. We are here, not to display our rich lexicon expertise but to assist users to understand our client.
Regards,
Sushan


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Stuart Milne
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:52
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Lateral thinking Aug 31, 2009

[quote]Maria Karra wrote:

When translating from English to Greek, the text ends up being 10%-30% longer. And when space is limited, e.g. when we're translating for the press, this may present a big problem and we have to spend some time trying to figure out what can be left out or what can be summarized.
For example, "Fashion-conscious person" would become "a person who is interested in the latest fashion trends"; "user-friendly" or "environmentally friendly" have to be translated as "friendly towards the user" and "friendly towards the environment" respectively, and when you can't use all the space you want, these words ain't so friendly!


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