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.

Related Articles

Smart, Fun, and Fascinating Facts About the Use of Sign Language

Also known as ASL (or American Sign Language), this method of communicating with those who are either completely deaf or struggle with their hearing has been around for over two centuries. On the surface, watching those who silently speak, understand, and communicate with others using their hands may appear foreign to most, but it’s actually…

3 Traits for Healthier Meetings and Happier Employees

Have you ever sat in a meeting where you were suddenly jolted out of your daydream when someone asked for your opinion? Maybe you remember that meeting that seemed to drag on with no end in sight. Maybe you don’t remember the meeting at all. Did you ever leave a meeting wondering if you had…

Taking a Break to Manage Unsustainable Accelerated Growth

While growth is the ultimate reason people get into business, sometimes growing or expanding too quickly could lead to some unexpected complications. The challenge for any business owner is not to limit growth but to manage growth and capitalize on it if possible. The effects of unsustainable accelerated growth on your business could include: Having…

for you

We’d love to learn more about your translation and localization needs.