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Does translation result in the loss of some of the original essence?


Sora
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It is true that today, one of the easier ways to appreciate literature and works of different cultures and geographical areas is to read translated works in the preferred language. In the earlier days, scholars knew multiple languages fluently, J R R Tolkien is reported to know over 20 languages! But for the ordinary folks, who do not have the means to learn too many languages or the time to indulge in the practice, translations are what we lean towards. 

My mother tongue is one of the many Indian languages and I've read most of its works in English translations. Later, after many years when I succeeded in reading the original versions, I realized how much I had missed on while apparently enjoying the English works. Not much difference when it comes to the story or the argument, but little things, certain meanings, subtle nuances that enrich the novel were completely lost in the translated versions. I realized also, how difficult it is to capture these small essences in translating and remain true to the text. There are certain words in Bengali, my mother tongue, that just does not have an equivalent in English. The only way to communicate the meaning of those words would be through suggestions and descriptive phrases. I'm sure this is the case with many languages that translators face while translating. 

Do you ever wish you knew a certain language because you feel the translated version might not have done justice to the original?

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Yes. One of the biggest examples I can think of is anime.  My fiancé is an avid watcher.  I have seen a few that I enjoy.  The problem is that the translations seem odd because the phrases they use don't make as much sense to me as English...although I'm sure the opposite is true for a native Japanese speaker.  I think it takes you out of the show (or book) a bit when you have to wrap your brain around the phrasing.

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One of the reasons behind learning a language for me has always been this - a possibility to read some amazing books in the original.

Most translations don't manage to give you a real "feeling" of the original text. Some are better and some are worse but there's nothing like reading the source.

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I think it really depends on the language you're translating from, as well as the language you're translating it to.

Languages with similar origins are more often than not going to be easier to retain meanings when a phrase is translated between (French to Spanish, for example), while languages with vastly different origins (German and Vietnamese, for example) are going to have a much tougher time retaining those meanings. When you start to really examine a language, and break down the way it works, translations are a little bit easier to understand.

I also think that certain phrases just translate better because of the idea behind them. If a phrase is a common occurrence in life ("don't hit babies") then there's likely a way to say it in multitudes of languages.

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What I find interesting of every culture is the ability to watch nature or any other phenomena and then come up with a unique word for that. For example think of the turkish word Yakamoz, which means something like the reflection of the moon on water. It even got lots of worldwide press back in 2007 when it was considered as the most beautiful word in the world. If words such as this one exist, with no apparent translation into another language, then reading a novel in its original language could really add up to a different feeling and even subtle understanding on the overall situation in every book. 

If it were possible to learn every language in the world to catch these subtleties then that would be great, but for now we must conform with translations for most books that we eventually read. 

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It can get diluted, for sure, especially after several translations. Most of the time the original sense can be retained, although in a different shape. I remember seeing somebody doing this funny experiment where they would take a simple sentence, put it through a translator and work their way through say ten languages and then circle back to the original one. Some were way too hilarious mishaps, but most of the time the sentence retained its meaning.

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Oh yes of course. Translation is a way to TRY to convey the same meaning of the text from the source language to the target one, yet many factors are involved when it comes to translating a text. One has to have a good grasp, not to say knowledge, of both the source and the target language. Not only does one have to have good knowledge of the language,but also a fairly good understanding of the culture, background, history, behaviour, then a good idea of how to translate idioms and phrases, mainly sayings coming from ordinary folks, let's just mention villages, for instance here, in Serbia. Here, every single village has its own way of expressing thoughts and ideas, mainly using different proverbs, idioms, expressions, and sayings. Even hearing those in my own native language is hard to understand the meaning that lies behind them, or is incorporated in them. Therefore, one has to be a very skillful and educated, or at least pretty much familiar, person, so that they can, I say again TRY to use different ways to save the original essence of the texts or sentences translated from a source into a target language.

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Local color. I think that's precisely what gets missing when an original work is translated. While a lot of the essence of the original work might be preserved, there will always a few words or lines there that gets lost in the translation. For example, the Poetry of (Rainer Maria Rilke) while I enjoy the English translations, I still feel that I'm missing something.

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I think that there will be always a little loss from the original essence when you translate something. There are always little jokes or language tricks that just don't work in a translation. Of course that doesn't mean that the translations are bad, it is just that sometimes there are no translations for some words so they have to let it out and change it. 

I speak 3 languages and for example there sayings in Spanish or jokes that just don't work in other languages, they wont be funny at all or they will just don't have sense  for a person who doesn't know the original phrase. When you translate you will sometimes even lose the little things that make the book special.

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Of course, of course! The translations aren't necessarily bad. I guess it's safe to say that there will always be NO perfect correspondence between the original and translated text. Primarily because the two languages are different on their own. The original and the translation may share the same meaning, but there will always be that 'zing' that's missing.

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I do not think translations would result I the loss of some essences if it is done in the correct way. There are methods of making translations from one language to another and as I would confirm, the process needs a master in both the languages from which the content is being translated to that into which it is being translated which implies that it may be a rare chance in some cases. The reason such a dual master is needed is because languages are structured differently and therefore to preserve the essence in the meaning of the content, the structuring should not be imported from one language to another, but should rather be adapted from one language to the other. This is very important and that’s why some translations feel flat and arrogant. So it doesn’t matter whether the words used in the same content would vary from one language to another, the key is the meaning, the essence and the “life” of the translation.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Some languages offer far more deepness and diversity than others, that's why when attempting to translate from a "rich" language to a more basic one can turn out to be quite a hectic task at moments. Please note that "basic" isn't a synonym of pejorative in my prior sentence; but some languages are very rich vocabulary wise for example, while in others one term can apply to quite a number of things.
Having grow up in a French/English environment I can totally relate to this. Translating from English to French is very easy, while translating from French to English can be frustrating at moments, as you often end up trying to pinpoint out something specific which does not have an equivalent in English.. the term which relates to what you're trying to say just turns out to be far too vague, and your sentence loses in intensity.

 

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  • 4 weeks later...

   That is inevitable but it is also impossible for everyone to learn so many languages in order to read or watch something in original form. I always think of Shakespeare's sonnets. You cannot translate some things in Serbian from English because these two languages and cultures differ too much. Some idioms doesn't exist in Serbian or some analogies or metaphors are very difficult to explain or even impossible so those who translate need to adjust the poems to their own language, in order to feel theirs but still be the original. It is very hard. I read Pamuk's My Name is Red in Serbian and I think it was translated from English to Serbian and not from Turkish to Serbian. Somehow I felt it because I study English and I have learned some usual minor constructions in translation from English to Serbian.

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Absolutely, and I think that is really the main idea of translation in that you cannot really translate everything.  Words have different meanings to different people of different ages and they have cultural contexts to them that get lost in translation.  If you are interested in reading about literary theory and its ties to culture and language, you should read some Frantz Fanon.  He was a French born Algerian who is interested in colonialism and the language that they use to oppress and how they twist words.  It is interesting stuff.

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I prefer to watch and read everything in its original language, because in my country they dub everything nowadays... and it's amazing how much the dialogues between characters are when compared to the original  version D:   It's really bad :(  Sadly almost everything is dubbed now, and I often end up watching dubbed movies!  I believe with books is not as bad as it is with the movies, but i still prefer to read everything in its original language.  I mean, who would really like to read ''100 años de soledad'' in English? YUCK! 

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  • 1 month later...

Honestly I do not believe that a translation always loses the feeling of the original at all, it heavily depends on the context, your approach and how well you know the target language.

Ofc, if you were to translate an idiom to a regular sentence (ex. in Swedish "Du har fått det om bakfoten" - "You're wrong"), yeah, more often than not the feeling will get lost there bc the eccense differs greatly between "You're wrong", and "You are mistaken".  

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On 16/01/2016 at 9:35 PM, rz3300 said:

Absolutely, and I think that is really the main idea of translation in that you cannot really translate everything.  Words have different meanings to different people of different ages and they have cultural contexts to them that get lost in translation.  If you are interested in reading about literary theory and its ties to culture and language, you should read some Frantz Fanon.  He was a French born Algerian who is interested in colonialism and the language that they use to oppress and how they twist words.  It is interesting stuff.

This is very true it's impossible to translate a sentiment that might not exist in another language. languages by their very nature are different to one another so there will always be some sort of loss.

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  • 2 months later...
On 3/10/2016 at 0:45 PM, honestlang said:

Honestly I do not believe that a translation always loses the feeling of the original at all, it heavily depends on the context, your approach and how well you know the target language.

Ofc, if you were to translate an idiom to a regular sentence (ex. in Swedish "Du har fått det om bakfoten" - "You're wrong"), yeah, more often than not the feeling will get lost there bc the eccense differs greatly between "You're wrong", and "You are mistaken".  

On the latter half, that's very much true. One thing that makes a good translation is not a literal interpretation of what is written, but getting the gist and meaning across, even if there are words that are re-arranged or another idiom, for example. Some nuance will always be lost, but there's usually an equivalent in the other language, maybe worded different, but in the larger picture, it fits perfectly. 

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I definitely agree. Some things are simply lost in translation. That's because every language is unique and all languages try to apply the "Economy Principle." This is why words usually have more meanings and each of the meanings is language specific. A word "nice" in English can be easily translated into any other language, but that doesn't mean that all the connotations that the word "nice" has will be successfully transmitted into the target language. That's why the semantic fields are so complex.

I have two good examples, one from Zootopia and one from The Jungle Book.

Considering that Zootopia is a cartoon, the producers synchronised it into Croatian. I'd seen a few scenes beforehand in English, so I knew what to expect. There's one scene where Judy says "I may be just a dumb bunny, but we're really good at MULTIPLYING" and she had literally been multiplying the numbers 200 dollars a day, for two decades, etc. However, at the beginning of the movie, there was also a scene where her parents said "you and your 270 brothers and sisters" and the population of the village was growing constantly... The second meaning of the word "multiply" was lost. Not even my mum figured it out and I had expected her to - this is because it's impossible to fully get the meaning across. An even better example is with polysemy and idiomatic expressions. There's another scene in Zootopia which is a good example. Judy has just arrived at the police station and she is in the room with other officers (wolves, bison, elephant, etc) and they're all waiting for the briefing from the chief. He comes in and says "we have to acknowledge the ELEPHANT in the room. Hello Frances, happy birthday!" The elephant was translated like the elephant, of course, but one crucial meaning was sacrificed!!! The idiomatic expression did NOT survive in my mother tongue and thus the people watching the movie in Croatian did not have the same picture as those who would be watching it in English.

Another example is from The Jungle Book. Baloo is a bear and he sings a song called "BARE necessities." Of course you will translate it like vital, but bare also sounds like BEAR and Baloo was talking about wolves and their jungle law being a propaganda.... this homophonous meaning is LOST in translation. In English BARE necessities also sound like BEAR necessities, and they should, because he's a bear - and the connotation is that his song too is a propaganda, just like the law is for the wolves. But in Croatian, this second meaning doesn't survive. 

These are only a few examples from the movies that I remember. There's also one from a text by Susan Sontag, The Way We Live Now. It's a great text but it's really difficult to translate. There's one point in the text when she says... "you say hospitable, but I still hear the hospital" and this is crucial because their friend is in the hospital, he has an incurable disease and this was in the context of compromise and living with the disease. So, it is crucial to keep both concepts. But how can we when Croatian doesn't have the similar sounding words with these meanings?!?! Something has to be sacrificed! And how can a translator make that choice? Which do you sacrifice? How do you translate? You have to make compromises, but it's inevitable that some things will get lost in translation.

 

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I find that to be an issue sometimes, but what I do, I always highlight the important part of the translation first, then I give the straight forward (even with the essence removed), translation. In my opinion, it is always vital for people to get the essence then they can work around the rest of the meaning. If that is omitted, then you have a vague translation that does not carry much meaning into it and in my experience, if care is not taken, sometimes you hear people saying offensive words (point unintended), simply because they were not aware of what they had said.

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It depends on the language.
Japanese and English for instance are so different, I drop lots of words very often when doing JP>EN. EN>JP on the other hand doesn't lose as many words, in this case I use incorrect words a lot.

Like: 帰る and 戻る, the dictionary will tell you that both means "to return" and it's correct.
However, the first one is used in the context of returning home, while the latter one is used for locations you have been last.

But it doesn't end there, even NL>PL and PL>NL can be difficult for similar reasons.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I have worked as a translator. I have translated prose and poetry, creative and non-creative work.In my experience, while translation poetry some of the original essence will be lost. I believe poetry cannot be translated 100 percent. In the case of fiction, whether there is loss of original essence depends on the translator's skills  If a translator is adept, non-creative work does not lose any essence.

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Yes, definitely... Because languages have so many variables and expressions, you can't always speak like a native speaker. Translating can end up being too literal and not actually capturing the meaning. I'd say translation is better for technical texts instead of books or poems...

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