Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Culture and Translation

I have a thing about translation. Not that I am flawless in translating things, but I always take cultural differences into account. This article in Guardian talks about cultural gap in translating Arabic.

Watching American tv series in Indonesian telly with subtitle, I've noticed how their translator keeps making mistakes when it comes to idioms or cultural things. Most of the time they translated word for word, which of course doesnt make any sense.

The thing is, people often think if you can speak a certain language, you can translate it. It is, of course, true to some extend. However, when it comes to special subject(s), we deal with terms for that specific subject. Legalese is different than economics lingo. Medical terms is different than engineering terms.

I remember someone protested about a translation my friend did on autism, saying that it was wrongly translated. The protester also speaks Dutch, but his background was engineering. I re-read the translation and sided with my friend, which some people accused me of cronyism. That incident made me realized why my other friend upon switching from studying information technology to economics had to re-take Dutch test, because the economics faculty wanted to make sure his Dutch is good enough to study social studies despite he had been living and studying in NL for some years at that point.

So yes, everyone can translate, but it takes more than knowledge of the language to make a good translation.


tariq15331 said...

nice article about translation I have found a best site about translations.

colson said...

Interesting and absolutely right. And it even happens between twin-languages like Dutch and Flemish.

Till very recently I always translated the Flemish expression "zeker en vast" into the Dutch one "vast en zeker". But that was wrong.

The Flemish "zeker en vast" factually means ( if my translation is correct..): "Absolutely, without any doubt" while the Dutch "vast en zeker" means "very probable" ( which does leave a margin of doubt).

triesti said...

@colson Thanks for that input, never realized it, eventhough one of my ex roommates speaks Flemish too. It's the same thing with me when hearing someone speak Malay. I prefer to talk in English with Malaysian to reduce the confusion.
@tarik thanks for visiting. I think you should cut me any deal you made from this site.