The debate regarding the origin of language has been going on for several millennia. Within the past few years however, linguists have spread out across the globe looking for evidence of primitive languages. One of the more compelling areas of discussion is the continuing prevalence of languages based on whistling, perhaps whose origins sprang from the imitation of bird songs. Below is a link to an BBC Future article called “The beautiful languages of the people who talk like birds”.
What can we learn from this and how does it apply to our contemporary world? Like the people who talk like birds, we as modern day humans tend to alter our speech patterns, vocabulary, and accent based on our neighbors and local community. This explains the evolution of the American accent versus British, Scottish, Kiwi, etc.
But accents usually don’t alter how we translate the written word. Just like speech, there have been slight adjustments in sentence structure and spelling throughout the course of the english language. For example, the word “color” as we would spell it in America is different that what the folks on the other side of the pond write which is “colour”. Now how did this come to be? With this one- it’s political.
Noah Webster (yes, of dictionary fame) was a famous lexicographer who, when America was establishing herself as an independent entity from England, developed updated spellings of certain words to make them more unique. Color is one of these. Grammarly.com dives in even deeper here.
As the owner of a translation company, it’s subtleties like this that are extremely important when understanding where your client’s final product will land in the world. Spanish in Spain is drastically different than Mexico or Puerto Rico. It’s these little subtleties that make a translated document read “native” as opposed to “foreign” and one of the reasons we strive to use translators whose native tongue best fits our client’s needs. Good luck doing that with a computer!
Considering the popularity of emoticons, emojis and animojis, who knows- perhaps someday we will be translating those as well.
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I’ve often heard clients ask, “What’s the most important thing I need to understand about translation? Is it the size of the project or the difficulty of the language or the country where the document will be used, etc.”
The short answer is, none of the above. In a few words, translation involves converting the source language (eg. English) into a target language (eg. Chinese). I use Chinese as an example because it is one of the fastest growing languages in our field of work and it comes with specific issues that will be discussed later on. The answer to the main question is the source language. You’ve most likely heard the expression “garbage in, garbage out (GIGO).” Although this typically relates to the scientific and mathematical world, it also has significance when it comes to translations.
Making Sense Out of Nonsense
I’m not writing about nonsense in a pejorative or derogatory way, but rather to indicate writing that is not understandable. It’s like reading a paragraph, a sentence or even a phrase and not knowing what the writer is attempting to convey. This happens more often than not, and for this reason, among others, at Translation Services International we thoroughly proofread every document that comes in. If we are given a document in English that for whatever reason we can’t understand, how could we possibly expect a translator, whose native language is not English to understand it. That’s why it is imperative and absolutely necessary for us to take the time to make sure that we don’t have garbage or poorly written documents going into the process. What are the causes of bad source documents?
In this business there’s no room for garbage in, garbage out. If we don’t understand it, it doesn’t get delivered to our team of translators. For those reading this blog who are writers and want to hone your proofreading skills, I’ll be adding a section called, “How to prepare your documents for translation into any and all languages.” Feel free to reach out for a quote.
Idioms, a common form of everyday speech, are often found in formal business language. They exist is all major languages and often have as bizarre a meaning as they do in English. Let’s take the familiar idiom, I’m pulling your leg. Of course almost all native English speakers know it means, I’m kidding you or I’m joking with you. The common translation in Spanish is, Estoy tomando tu pelo. Which translates as I’m taking your hair. It makes sense to Spanish speakers, but a word for word translation into English would have us stymied. Because of this, we carefully read all documents we receive for translation checking for idioms, slang, grammar, unique terminology and any phrasing that might create an obstacle to the translation process. Here is a short list of common idioms we have encountered in the past few years.
Of the six examples, only one “At the drop of a hat” comes close to the Spanish meaning. We encourage our clients to try and avoid idioms whenever possible as they may lead to misunderstanding that might confuse not only the translator, but the intended target audience. Here is an in-depth list of idioms.
The following link explores the differences between slang, idioms and figures of speech, all which come into play in the translation process. Finally, this link showcases some of the more unique and off times humorous cases of idioms.
At TSI, we have extensive understanding as to how idiom translation works, especially considering our team of highly skilled translators are native speakers of the output language. Please reach out via email, phone or our contact page for more information on our services or if you need an estimate.
Here are two simple phrases to make a point. “You will find the books on the table.” “On the table, you will find the books.” Here we have the exact same words, but in a different order. Obviously they are both correct, but it’s interesting how many people will insist on their choice as being the correct version. This is very common and something we deal with everyday in our review process. We always make it a point to mention this to our clients prior to starting a new project or establishing a new working relationship. The preferred word in one country might not be the preferred word in another.
Not long ago we were translating a technical document that had the word, ball bearing. The document was going to be distributed in various countries in Latin America. We chose a translator from Colombia who was an engineer with more than 20 years of experience translating technical documents. His choice was rodamientos. Our client sent the translation to company offices in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Panama, and Costa Rica and received the following versions of ball bearings: rodamientos, cojinete de bolas, cojinete de municiones, rodillo, balines, rulemanes, and bolas de metal.
Our client couldn’t afford to send 7 different versions of the document, so we settled on cojinete de bolas, which perhaps was not preferred, but well enough understood by all. Typically this is not a major concern with technical terminology. A hammer is a hammer; a nail is a nail, etc. I used this example as an illustration. However, when dealing with topics such as food, clothing, etc., regionalisms often come into play. For more information see: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Regionalism+(linguistics).
Although regionalisms vary from country to country, in our experience Spanish has the widest variation.
There are 21 countries where Spanish is at least one of the recognized official languages.
For a broader perspective of language variations see: http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/countries_by_languages.htm
Our almost 30 years of experience in the translation industry at TSI is proof that we can get your documents translated properly, and unlike other companies, we use real human translators who speak the language natively. Reach out for an estimate if you're in need of document translation of any kind.
In our almost 30 years of translation services for our vast amount of clients, we've come across many different hurdles, especially in the world of technical terminology translations.
In a few words translation means conveying words, ideas and intent from one language to another.
Words are the building blocks of any spoken or written language. In and of themselves, they have very limited meaning. Even one word added, deleted or replaced in a phrase can dramatically change the meaning or intent of the message.
For example, the following 7-word phrases have just one different word, but a world of difference. “See the books on the table”. “Move the books on the table.” This may sound elementary, but it indicates intent. The first intent is passive, while the second is active. It’s absolutely crucial for a translator to understand the intent of the client. Is the client trying to inform, persuade, enlighten, alert, advise, etc.? As machine translation (using computers to translate) grows in popularity, it falls short and is generally quite inadequate when trying to decipher intent.
A computer will recognize thousands of words, but it isn’t able to get into the mind of the writer or speaker. For an in-depth comparison of human vs. machine translation see: http://www.anecsys.com/2015/04/human-translation-vs-machine-translation/.
If you’re trying to read an email from a long lost cousin who speaks another language, or you only need to get a general idea of what is written, then by all means try one of the common online translation sites such as https://www.translate.google.com/ or https://www.babelfish.com/. Quite often, especially when dealing with advertising or marketing, intent is not clear. Coca Cola has a well-known campaign called “Coke is it!” The intent, of course, is to sell their product. But how does one translate this? And how does one translate this with style? These are just a few of the things translators deal with on a daily basis. Here are a few more examples of Coke slogans. “Ice-cold sunshine.” “America's favorite moment.” “Passport to refreshment.” “Coke knows no season.” “For people on the go.” “It's the real thing.” “Coke adds life.” “Life tastes good.” “Make It Real.” “Open Happiness.” “Taste The Feeling.” and "As it should be." Send any of these slogans to a dozen different translators working with the same language pairs and you’ll get at least 6 different translations, perhaps more. And, they will all be correct.
If you're in need to technical document translations, or any other form of documents like HR translations, or Amazon page listing translations, feel free to reach out for an estimate. Here at TSI, our job is to make yours easier.
Francis Semmens is the founder of TSI and author of all blog posts with a focus on translation for clients and translators alike.