Often, you find that several different translations of a certain work are considered correct even though they may be quite different. This is true of the Ancient Greek poet Sappho who was known for her love poetry. In one translation, one of her poems goes, “once I look at you for a moment, I can’t/ speak any longer,/but my tongue breaks down, and then all at once a/subtle fire races inside my skin…” In another translation, the same poem goes, “So/When I see you, for a moment,/My voice goes,/My tongue freezes. Fire/Delicate fire, in the flesh.”
If you’re bilingual, you’ve probably been practicing translation on an informal basis for a while. Maybe you’ve been in social situations where you were surrounded by two people speaking different languages, and you had to make sure they understood each other. Or maybe you went to see a French film with an American friend and wanted her to grasp certain nuances that didn’t come through in the subtitles.
Getting It Right
Translating on the spot in this manner has probably shown you how certain phrases defy translation. No matter how hard you try to convey a certain thing in a different language, you feel like you never really get it right. Often, you need to try out several different combinations of words until you feel satisfied. In such cases, speed is of less importance than accuracy. This is something that professional translators have to deal with everyday when providing translation services.
Vocabulary vs. Grammar
We’ve all heard some fairly odd if not downright funny translations of things. These are usually caused by rushing through a translation and not stopping to think about those little nuances that make all the difference. Sometimes, the mistranslation is caused by using the wrong word while at other times, it’s the difference in grammar between two languages that leads to the mistake.
For example, in French, all nouns have a gender, something that might seem rather strange to an English speaker. A book, i.e., “un livre” is masculine while a dress i.e., “une robe” is feminine. In French, one might say, “Elle a une robe bleue. Elle l’aime beaucoup.” If you weren’t to consider the difference between English and French when it comes to gender, you would translate this as , “She has a blue dress. She loves her a lot.” In fact, many French speakers who have just started to speak English find it difficult to remember the English convention of referring to things as “it” and continue to use “he” and “she” instead.
Ancient and Modern Languages
So in order to accurately translate something, you have be conversant with the vocabulary as well as the grammatical structure of both languages. In some cases, the grammatical structure of one language is more complicated than that of another. Ancient languages like Greek and Sanskrit tend to have more complicated grammatical rules. However, modern languages are simplified versions of these.
Contact us at Keylingo for translations that are accurate from the point of view of vocabulary as well as grammar.
When translating a document, a translator has the option of going with a more literal translation or one that more accurately expresses what a certain person is trying to say. For example, the verb “comprendre” in French can be translated as “to comprehend” which seems more literal because the two words are so close in spelling. However, it can also be translated as “to understand” because this is the verb which is more commonly used in English, as opposed to “comprehend.”
Anyone who is bilingual knows that translation is a difficult procedure. Not only does grammar vary from language to language, but often, one language may have words which another language doesn’t have. How do you translate phrases such as “je ne sais quoi”? Technically, you would say, “I don’t know what,” but this really doesn’t convey the sense of charm that goes with the phrase “je ne sais quoi.”
Some of the first translations into the English language were done by Chaucer who adapted works written by Giovanni Boccaccio while writing A Knight’s Tale and Troilus and Criseyde. He also started a translation of Roman de la Rose, a French work, and the oevre of Boethius, which was in Latin. Obviously, he was a very well read man to be able to translate and adapt these works.
Languages are so ancient that studying even the oldest texts can help in modern day translation services. The Ancient Greeks, who are known for their contribution to Western civilization first came up with an alphabet by adapting the one used by the Phoenicians, another ancient Semitic civilization. As a result, the works of Homer were written down and this led to a lot of discussion and dialogue—what we would today call literary criticism.