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Linguaholic

How much is lost in translation


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I am curious to know how much information is lost in changing a thought or statement from one language to another? As we all know, many words are nonexistent in one language, while another may have 20 different meanings for the same word. It would not be difficult to lose the intent of the statement. Is this an issue anyone comes across? I know in the past when I would play RPG that spanned the world, the translator did not express my words and ideas well. This makes me think of a funny thing that happened in China. Coca-Cola had placed a billboard in a large city there. The phrase on it roughly translated in Chinese to: "Suck the wax tadpole". Needless to say, it didn't remain long.

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Well, you should try to ask somebody to translate a random sentence (doesn't really matter what sentence) to a specific language. Then, you need to ask someone else to translate it back to the original language. I'm pretty sure that often the sentence will have remained it's original meaning, though it's likely to be a bit different.

Though in some cases, depending on the language, and on the words you've used, a sentence could also change completely when translating it like that (there are a lot of google translate jokes who use that principle), though I'm pretty sure it's often not that different from the original.

It's often bad luck when those things happen like the coca - cola billboard, I'm sure most of the time the original meaning is preserved.

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I think it depends on what you're translating. Some phrases might have an easier time transitioning from one language to another but some might need a little more deviation from the literal translation. I find that this is most applicable when encoding subtitles because usually you not only have to find the most accurate way of translating text but also you'd need to be as brief with it as possible since the words are only up on screen for seconds at a time so you really have to get creative.

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I think it really depends on how different are the languages. For example, I feel like from French to Spanish and vice versa not much is lost in translation. Both languages share many words and even some grammar rules. On the other hand, translating from French or Spanish to English you can lose quite a bit in translation.

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  • 2 months later...

It depends on the skills of the translator. Much of the feeling of the language is often lost. However, this is often a subject of debate. For one language, you might not say something in a way evoking emotion like the other language would. Translators have some licence to translate either literally or according to the meaning. But they always need to be careful they are not just paraphrasing. Some might even choose to change illustrations used to better fit the native knowledge of the audience. But this can backfire if the subject comes up again at the end emphasizing a particular point that only fit to the situation described.

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I used to do some work a while ago where we had to translate scripts from English to different languages. By the time something had been translated into the other language, it not only felt wrong, but at times the entire meaning was distorted. I think that language does play a big part in ones life and a lot of things can go wrong when things get lost in translation.

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  • 3 weeks later...

If you take my native language Setswana and English for instance, I'd have to say a lot. You make a good point when you say some languages don't have certain word or concept equivalents in another. Setswana tends to go round the houses to convey a very simple idea, whereas English is very economical by comparison. Some ideas are better expressed in setswana to get the full effect and vice versa, so quite often you'll find people in Botswana mixing English and Setswana. -and sadly with the young, it's even worse; they much prefer to communicate in English.

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I do not know if it is accurate to put it this way but here goes: I personally think that the emotion of the language is lost in translation. What I mean is, if you are not a listener who is aware of the thinking behind both languages, much will be lost. But as an example, if I am an English listener, listening to a translation of my learned language, my back knowledge makes up the difference. So I do not think much is lost for me personally. But if I were a person who was having such translation and only had knowledge of one language, then I think it would be very difficult for me to comprehend all the concepts involved. Btu this can hardly be blamed on the translator. A translator can only do so much. There are very few out there who can accurately convey emotion. 

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I agree that it depends on the skill of the translator. From what I've seen, the best translators are almost always writers themselves: Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar and Rodolfo Walsh, for example, did some very fine translations from English to Spanish.

I've also had the opportunity to read a bilingual volume of Shakespeares's sonnets, which was revealing because some of the sonnets were translated by Manuel Mujica Lainez, a very famous and already deceased Argentinian author, while the rest were put into Spanish by Pablo Ingberg. Mujica Lainez was able to translate the iambic pentameters into an equivalent 11-syllable form in Spanish, while Ingberg needed to put his Spanish versions in fourteen syllables, because he lacked the poetic inventive of his predecessor and he had a hard time compressing the language into the needed form.

Which is to say that translation is a creative art, not just a technical procedure. So, writers and poets tend to be well suited for the job.

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Based on my experience in Filipino and English, the crux in translation is the usage. Like in the greeting - magangang gabi which can mean Good Evening and also Good Night.

Another snag is the lack of direct meaning of a word or a phrase. The word Sayang means something that should have been beneficial but no benefit was derived. It's just one word but kind of long interpretation.

And for the most popular phrase, here it is - Pang-ilang presidente is Aquino. It is a simple question in Filipino asking if Aquino is the 1st or the 2nd or the 3rd president or whatever. The question has no direction translation in English.

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I am fluent in two languages. I speak both Portuguese and English natively. Most foreign movies in Portugal aren't dubbed but rather subtitled. So I get more then enough chances to see if anything is lost in the translation. The simple answer is, depends on who did the translation. I have seen moves were the translation was so perfectly done that nothing was lost, on the other hand I have seen other translations were it seemed like i was looking at two different movies. So it depends on who did the translation.

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I think that regular vocabulary isn't all that's lost in translation.  I know there are some words that are in one language and not in another.  I can see how that would cause a problem.  Idioms, however, are a greater concern, especially for multinational companies that depend on slogans.  We also use slang and idioms in everyday life.  That can get complicated as many people use them without thinking about it.  Those can get lost in translation.

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