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Why do words get lost in translation?

Why do words get lost in translation?

You don’t usually ask someone “What can’t you do?” when you inquire about their job. However, “untranslatable” or difficult to translate words can be both fascinating and difficult to wrap your head around.

So, why might a word or phrase be difficult to translate?

One reason might be that a word has multiple meanings in its original language, but when translated these extra meanings get lost. For example, if you were translating “to get” into French, you might need to use “acheter” (to buy), “obtenir” (to obtain), “comprendre” (to understand) or “arriver chez moi” (to get home). This is where machine translation programmes can often fall short of human translators, who can see and understand how the context a word is in changes its meaning.

Another stumbling block of machine translation can be translating word for word, rather than “sense for sense”. A real French translator wouldn’t say “the drop that overflows the cup”, but rather “the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” Here, there’s a meaning behind the phrase that a translator needs to understand, rather than the literal words on the page.

Other words might be tied to cultural practices that don’t have an equivalent in the other language. Sometimes words like this are borrowed into other languages, like “siesta” referring to the Spanish afternoon nap. Technically, we have “afternoon nap” in English, but “siesta” specifically brings to mind Spanish culture and way of life in a way that “afternoon nap” doesn’t.

While differences between word meanings and cultures might be difficult to translate, nothing beats the “aha!” moment of striking upon the perfect word for the job.

Contact our friendly team for more information about our translation services today.

+44 1562 748 778

enquiries@midlandtechnical.co.uk

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