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Friday, 18 February 2011

lost in translation?

Translation fascinates me.

It fascinates me because more often than not, there is no exact equivalent.   As I noted in my book review yesterday, languages behave differently and have different ways of emphasising, of communicating, of speaking.

In order to show what the words mean, sometimes the translation requires the use of a word which is not the literal word-for-word translation.  It helps us understand what was meant, but often we miss the picture or metaphor of the original - and why it was appropriate in that language.

Cultures also have different ways of communicating things.  So often we find ourselves struggling to find 'cultural equivalents'.  Recognising the context of something and then contextualising it for a new context - while still trying to keep the original meaning or principle.  A different kind of translation, but with similar challenges.  As one of my college lecturers used to say (and probably still does): what did it mean?  what does it mean?

Words themselves need re-translating frequently, as over time they pick up new associations and different meanings (or refuse to shake off older associations which we never liked in the first place).  The precise definition of the word becomes shrouded in all kinds of assumptions, expectations, sensitivities.  These sensitivities vary from person to person.  For one, a certain word can be fairly innocuous; for another it is streaked with difficulty and pain.  For one, a word has an older meaning - for another, a newer one.  For some, both meanings are recognised and they are left wondering which meaning is intended and how do I interpret this?

All of which means that the writer of a sentence and the reader of a sentence can have different impressions entirely over the meaning of their words.

Translation fascinates me.

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