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Translating Languages

Gregg Bolinger
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    6

From a different thread
Sometimes German can be fun to the ears of a foreigner. Seitensprung literally translated could be "sides spring"; mostly it's used to mean "affair", you know, a little jump off to the side. - Pauline McNamara
So my question is, since I don't speak any other language but english, when other languages are translated to english and vice versa, it seems that not only are you translating the actual words, but also the slang and/or actual meaning to be understood in said language.
So if the above were being translated you wouldn't translate it to english as in
"She is having a sides spring" but rather "She is having an affair".
So how much more difficult does this make translating? And does this happen often when doing translations where you have to think about whether or not the translated text makes sense in it's current form?


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Marie Mazerolle
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it makes a big difference. My mother tongue is French, and I've made so many mistakes over the past years speaking to my English-speaking friends.
For example, I told quite a few people that I was arrested by a cop before I realized what it really meant.
What I meant was I got pulled-over, but when you translate word-for-word, from English to French, "�t� arr�t�" becomes "was arrested"... :roll:
Thomas Paul
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This is one of the favorite topics of Map and me. Here is a fantastic book on the subject:
Le Ton Beau De Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language by Douglas R. Hofstadter.
The question is deeper than you might think. Dante's Inferno, for example, is written in rhyming verse but it is difficult to translate that way. Here is a quote on that topic:

Rhyme is a central concern for any translator of the Commedia because of the importance of terza rima, a rhyme scheme of great narrative momentum and thematic suggestibility. In terza rima the first and third lines of each tercet rhyme with each other and with the central line in the antecedent terzina (aba bcb cdc and so on), producing the effect of two steps forward and one step back. With its seamless blend of forward motion and backward glance, the verse form has the nearly compulsive energy of waltz rhythm. Since rhyme is achieved so much more easily in Italian, the rhymes feel neither forced nor exaggeratedly emphatic. Because English is a language with greater lexical resources but far less capacity for rhyme, rhyming on the scale demanded by terza rima feels more like chiming, and is often obtrusive or comic. For this reason, some translators have modified the verse form (rhyming only the first and third lines of the tercet), or allowed themselves great leeway with inexact rhymes, or rhymed sporadically. Pinsky opts for consonantal or slant rhyme as his basic scaffold to avoid the negative potential of strong rhymes.

Another example... suppose you are translating a book from Russina into English. Some action occurs in the story that requires that the reader understand that the action occurs on the busiest shopping street in Moscow, Tverskaya Street. Native Russians would recognize the street so there would be no reason in the original Russian to remind them of the fact. But what about for the translator. Does he change his translation so that it says that Tverskaya Street is the busiest shopping street in Moscow? Perhaps he says, "The action occurred on Tverskaya Street, which is the Broadway of Moscow." Or does he move the action to Broadway and change all the characters into New Yorkers? What effect would that have on the translation?


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Ashok Mash
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Originally posted by Gregg Bolinger:

"She is having a sides spring" but rather "She is having an affair".
So how much more difficult does this make translating? And does this happen often when doing translations where you have to think about whether or not the translated text makes sense in it's current form?


Of course yes! And IMHO, that�s exactly why those who have read the original version of any book never finds a translated version as good as the original.
If I were to translate a figurative speech in my native language, 'pulivalu pidichu', which literally means 'caught a tiger's tail', and used to convey something like 'in deep and unavoidable trouble' � like someone who accidentally annoyed a tiger, and now its certain that the tiger is going to make him/her its dinner, - it would simply be �got into to trouble� or something similar (depending on translators English skills, here my skills which is next to nil) � the whole environment of the actual statement is 'lost in translation' here!
What is even more interesting is that there are some usages that are common between languages, which don�t have any direct relationship � for example, the usage �To weep crocodile tears� has the same meaning (pretending sorrow) many languages AFAIK.


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fred rosenberger
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  16

I only speak english as well, but took latin years ago. the teacher kept talking about "idioms", which "mean whatever you want it to mean".
it confused me, and made me hate learning languages.
now, i understand much better what she was trying to say. e.g. "raining cats and dogs" doesn't really mean what is sounds like.
I'm reminded of this sort of thing daily at work. my cube neighbor is from equador. his english is very good, but certain phrases confuse him. My wife got me a baseball hat that said "Captain Literal", as, according to her, i always take everything literally.
My neighbor saw it, and didn't understand what it meant until i was joking about not following specs that read "the server should respond in 2-3 seconds", because i didn't want to slow it down if it wanted to come back in 0.5 seconds.


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Mapraputa Is
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GB: So my question is, since I don't speak any other language but english, when other languages are translated to english and vice versa, it seems that not only are you translating the actual words, but also the slang and/or actual meaning to be understood in said language.
Absolutely.
So how much more difficult does this make translating? And does this happen often when doing translations where you have to think about whether or not the translated text makes sense in it's current form?
All the time, given that you can recognize idioms, of course.
Here is a horrific story:
‘You’re pussy footing.’ was the accusation made by veteran Labour MP Laurie Cunliffe against bemused fellow members of the Council of Europe.
In French it was translated as ‘jouer cache-cache’ although it’s a different activity from ‘ hide and seek’ To the Italian translator the idiom was new. Her creditable effort was ‘kicking the cat.’ Better acquainted with the lingo of international pornography, the Turkish interpreter disguised his idea of the precise meaning with a delicate ‘taking part in an English vice.’
Cunliffe’s message on Euro finance was displaced by thoughts of childrens’ games, animal abuse and sexual foreplay.
http://www.paulflynnmp.co.uk/newsdetail.jsp?id=224

Many idioms can be found in a good dictionary, and then there are specialized dictionaries of slang and idioms. The problem is to recognize when you need to use them.
From my own experience, when I met "kick the bucket" expression for the first time, it looked unusual enough for me to ask what it means. On the other hand, when one our moderator was going to ski on vacations, and another wished her to break her leg, I thought that it was kinda rude, you know.


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Sadanand Murthy
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Originally posted by Mapraputa Is:
On the other hand, when one our moderator was going to ski on vacations, and another wished her to break her leg, I thought that it was kinda rude, you know.

When I first came to US so many years ago & I heard the term 'Garage Sale' I wondered why anyone would sell just a garage & not the whole house. I then wondered who would be stupid enough just to buy a garage & not buy the house that goes with it.
I remember having read a joke many, many moons ago about a US business delegation's visit to the then USSR. I can only paraphrase here. On a visit to a factory, one of the US delegate asked what they do to the worker if his/her work is below par. The Soviet plant manager said something in Russian & the interpreter said "Why, he will be shot!" That put a damper on the US group. Just as they were leaving, the interpreter came running towards them & said that he meant that the worker will be fired.


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Michael Matola
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Then there's always fun stuff like this:
"Actually, I would have loved to see. Stolen jewels. Who is not stirred by these two words?" (Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh)
It takes three words (ukradennye blagotsennye kamni) to translate "stolen jewels" into Russian. Drop the number altogether or not? What to do?
Mapraputa Is
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SM: I remember having read a joke many, many moons ago about a US business delegation's visit to the then USSR.
Here is another.
In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from Russian Orthodox monastery:
"You are welcome to visit the cemetary where famous Russian and Soviet composers, artists, and writers are buried daily except Thursday."
MM: It takes three words (ukradennye blagotsennye kamni) to translate "stolen jewels" into Russian. Drop the number altogether or not? What to do?
To say "ukradennye dragotsennosti". But it this weren't possible, then I'd vote for "Who is not stirred by these three words?"
Mapraputa Is
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GB: So my question is, since I don't speak any other language but english, when other languages are translated to english and vice versa, it seems that not only are you translating the actual words, but also the slang and/or actual meaning to be understood in said language.
In fact, often you do not want to translate the actual words literally -- you need to find an analog in a target language that would cause the same emotional reaction, and of about the same intensity. I recently read that English "f*uck" and "sh*t" should not be translated literally, because the Russian analogs are considered more obscene. Not sure how they compared perceived obscenity, though.
AM: And IMHO, that’s exactly why those who have read the original version of any book never finds a translated version as good as the original.
This is an interesting question. There are two opposite theories about what constitutes poetry. The first: "poetry is what gets lost in translation" -- this quote belongs to Robert Frost. Another is that poetry is what is left after translation -- this quote I cannot attribute.
I noticed that most of I.Brodsky's poetry is easily translated into English and there isn't much lost, if any. That's because he doesn’t rely on features of Russian that are specific to Russian (sometimes he did, but not too often), his language is in some sense universal.
[ March 10, 2004: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]
Jeroen Wenting
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What I meant was I got pulled-over, but when you translate word-for-word, from English to French, "�t� arr�t�" becomes "was arrested"...
Of course it can als mean "was stopped" which more closely resembles the US term "pulled over"
There's a lot of stuff in any language that doesn't lend itself to direct translation.
But even more fun can be had with foreigners mispronouncing words.
There's a museum here (located in an old royal palace) called the Loo (pronounced Loh). Sometimes people from English speaking countries ask for the Loo and get shown to the toilet


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Ernest Friedman-Hill
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  34

Originally posted by Ashok Mash:

If I were to translate a figurative speech in my native language, 'pulivalu pidichu', which literally means 'caught a tiger's tail' ... it would simply be �got into to trouble� or something similar...

I understand your point perfectly, and I agree. But I just wanted to let you know that "to have a tiger by the tail" is a perfectly good, if no longer often used, idiom in English, too, and it means exactly the same thing. I think most native English speakers would recognize and understand it.


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Gregg Bolinger
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Originally posted by Ernest Friedman-Hill:

I understand your point perfectly, and I agree. But I just wanted to let you know that "to have a tiger by the tail" is a perfectly good, if no longer often used, idiom in English, too, and it means exactly the same thing. I think most native English speakers would recognize and understand it.

Yeah, I understood what that meant. An interesting read might be a collection of common idioms that have the same meaning over various languages. Although the article might be a bit small.
Axel Janssen
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I did not understand the tiger-tail thing.
Maybe this analogie (or how the thing is called) has made its way to english during colonial time.
Sadanand Murthy
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Originally posted by Jeroen Wenting:
[b]But even more fun can be had with foreigners mispronouncing words.

This reminds of the cartoon character Yosemite Sam & the park Yosemite. The 1st time I pronounced this my then future wife rolled on the floor with laughter. I being an Indian pronounced it phonetically - Yo semite.
Alan Labout
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Originally posted by Mapraputa Is:

In fact, often you do not want to translate the actual words literally -- you need to find an analog in a target language that would cause the same emotional reaction, and of about the same intensity. I recently read that English "f*uck" and "sh*t" should not be translated literally, because the Russian analogs are considered more obscene. Not sure how they compared perceived obscenity, though.

Oh, absolutely. I once bought a dictionary of mat and read the supposed translations of phrases to my Russian friends. They would translate something that would be innocuous in English into something absolutely horrific in Russian. My friends were blushing over translations of such mild English sayings as "he doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground"...
Russian television does this all the time when translating American movies. "Wow, that's some good shit!" is translated as "Kakoe khoroshoe dermo!" Sometimes it can be quite comical...
[ March 10, 2004: Message edited by: Alan Labout ]
Thomas Paul
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Originally posted by Jeroen Wenting:
Of course it can als mean "was stopped" which more closely resembles the US term "pulled over"
One of the definitions of "arrested" is "to bring to a stop", as in the phrase "arrested development".
Steven Broadbent
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In english shit and fuck are the most common expletives, but in italian for instance they are cazzo, porca - dick and pig. Dogs seem to crop up quite regularly too.
An excellent series of engish - french/spanish/german/italian idioms are published by barron's. My italian book was invaluable and I still use regularly now.
How else would I remember that "lavorare sott'acqua" means to do something in a underhand way - the literal meaning is "work under water"


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Alan Labout
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Originally posted by Ashok Mash:


Of course yes! And IMHO, that�s exactly why those who have read the original version of any book never finds a translated version as good as the original.

The other day I was listening to a radio interview with Isabel Allende and the host, some guy named Michael Toms, asked what might possibly be the stupidest question I've ever heard asked of an author. After first asking her whether she writes in Spanish or English (which itself might qualify for a top-ten finish in the list of stupid questions!) and finding that she writes in Spanish and that the English version is a translation, and that she reads the English version after it's come out....he asked her, "So do you prefer one or the other?" Which would be something like asking a parent whether they have preference between their own children or the neighbors' kids. But Allende was very graceful in her answer: "Well," she basically said, "I prefer the one that I wrote..."

Alan
 
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