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April 17, 2016

The Importance of Inversions, Context and Borrowing in Translation Services

by brenton

Have you ever tried to translate something for someone?  If so, you might have found that the translation comes out awkward -sounding at the first try.  Initially, our brain always goes for a word-for-word translation but since languages have different grammars and idioms, this usually results in something broken-sounding.  Some phrases might come out accurate but others are trickier.  What can a translator do to smooth over these sticky spots?

  1. Inversions.  These are often necessary in the process of providing translation services.  Different languages express things differently.  For example, in English, it’s correct to say, “She slowly ate her breakfast.”  However, in French, you would say, “Elle a mangé son petit déjeuner lentement.”  Here, the French equivalent for the word “slowly” is “lentement.”  However, it is not correct for this word to come right after the subject “elle.”  It has to come at the end of the sentence.  In other words, an inversion has to take place to allow for a correct translation.
  2. Translating for meaning.  There are always going to be certain phrases in one language which have no exact translations in another language.  You might be able to find something that approximates the meaning of the phrase but doesn’t catch the exact nuance.  There are many such phrases such as the French “je ne sais quoi,” the Russian “toska” and the Brazilian Portuguese “cafuné.”  A translator might choose to go with “a certain something” or “a certain flair” for “je ne sais quoi.”  “Spiritual anguish,” “restlessness” or “boredom” can all be used for “toska,” depending on the context.  For “cafuné,” you have to use a long phrase i.e., “tenderly running your hands through someone’s hair.”  The best thing a translator can do is try to figure out exactly w hat the original was trying to say and in what sense it was using that word before translating it.
  3. Keeping the original.  In certain cases, if the original phrase is not completely unheard of in English, a translator might choose to retain it instead of translating it.  There are many words that have made their way over into English in this way e.g. chic, ennui, paramour etc.  It does sometimes happen that these words come to mean something different in English than they do in the original language.  So this technique should be used with caution.  For example, the word “pajamas” comes from the Hindi word “pyjama” which refers to a set of loose drawstring pants.  In English, however, the word refers to both, the top and bottom part of an outfit worn to sleep in.  So the original word can be used in some cases but not in all.

Contact us for translation services that take into account all these subtle nuances of language.

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