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Preserving Sentence Value While Translating


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So I'm rereading Notes From Underground by Dostoevsky right now, and in the introductory notes there is a lengthy explanation fo how difficult it can be to translate from Russian to English, especially when such emotional and 'weighty' sentences are used. It's interesting to me how there can almost always be a well fitting direct translation, but there isn't always a translation that carries the emotional weight of a sentence across languages.

Are there any bilingual people that can think of a sentence that can be translated between languages but just doesn't have the same ring to it in one of the languages as it does in the other? Do you think this is because different languages are built in different ways, or because of cultural differences between where the languages are spoken?

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I think it is more of cultural differences. Sometimes you have a word and know perfectly the translation but it just won't carry the same impact because in one language there is more taboo attached to it than another and this will make that even though they are the same, the mental image may differ

Of course for some sentences, there is also some true to the way the language is constructed, some words sound soft in one language then pretty harsh in another. While it is the same word, the vowels used and the length itself may affect our perception.

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Cultural differences may be a problem when keeping the value of a sentence. Nuances of diction between languages can do a lot to mess with the preservation of meaning and value. I know several people who do translation from Japanese to English (and other languages), and see a lot of translated works. Japanese puns and wordplay can be hard to translate while still conveying the joke. Sometimes, it's workable, but in other cases, it's not so simple. This is probably why the anime Joshiraku will probably never see a licensed release. The release by gg Fansubs may have been enjoyable, but they copped out on some of the jokes. Some of them may have been legitimately difficult to translate, but others were just localized, because they have a reputation for sometimes overly westernizing things. In the end, the show was made for a Japanese audience, and I'm sure there's plenty that would go over my head. The only way to get the full effect is to learn the language.

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Cultural differences may be a problem when keeping the value of a sentence. Nuances of diction between languages can do a lot to mess with the preservation of meaning and value. I know several people who do translation from Japanese to English (and other languages), and see a lot of translated works. Japanese puns and wordplay can be hard to translate while still conveying the joke. Sometimes, it's workable, but in other cases, it's not so simple. This is probably why the anime Joshiraku will probably never see a licensed release. The release by gg Fansubs may have been enjoyable, but they copped out on some of the jokes. Some of them may have been legitimately difficult to translate, but others were just localized, because they have a reputation for sometimes overly westernizing things. In the end, the show was made for a Japanese audience, and I'm sure there's plenty that would go over my head. The only way to get the full effect is to learn the language.

I totally agree. It is sometimes difficult to get the proper nuances when translating from language to another. In a cultures as vastly different as American and Japanese, the cultural differences can  often impede proper translations of even common phrases. For example, how would you translate "O-negai shimasu", when it is said by a radio DJ who just started work and is introducing herself and speaking to her new colleagues who work at the radio station?

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That's the cool thing about different languages. It's impossible to find ALL the right and appropriate words. It speaks volumes about the intricacies of a culture and the expressive nature of a given language. Many times when reading something I'd find it hard to equate words (emotions specifically). I think it'll always be something that's just going to be unavoidable between two separate tongues. It's an interesting topic though.

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  • 2 weeks later...

It really can be hard sometimes. One of my friends has just graduated from university. She wanted to become a translator and just got her first job and first book to translate. She was still feeling pretty akward and asked me to be her "test reader" . After reading few chapters I told her honestly that in some places it is visible that she is scared to go "away"from the original structure and the words from the sentence. I think sometimes it's better to twist the sentence a bit in order to capture the spirit and this is what the really talanted translators do.

For example, I don't know if you've read Terry Pratchett and especially his series about Tiffany. When translating in Bulgarian, they used a local accent for the speaches of the Wee Free Men, that fitted perfectly! I guess the translator took a risk doing this but the result was brilliant.

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My guiding principle when reading a translation is "all translation is betrayal". That was an essay title in my  final university exams and I totally agreed with the statement. I think a translated novel is a new noel suggested by the original with no hope of accurately portraying the intention of the author. This means there has to be a novelist within the translator. A good translator will do his best, but will never totally succeed if he's aiming at an exact representation of the original.

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  • 4 months later...

I believe the preservation of the real meaning of a sentence while doing translations depends on the language's expressions as there could be contradicting meanings between 2 languages. Like for example idiomatic expressions in British English have different meanings in American English.

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