View Full Version : Lost in Translation

Liosse de Velishaf
08-15-2010, 01:29 AM
How much is? And how much can you re-insert by less than strict interpretation? What about localization?

08-15-2010, 01:55 AM
A very interesting topic. I think how much is lost in translation is highly dependent on the languages you are translating too and from, how closely related they are and how closely related the associated cultures are to each other. I mean, I think there's a bigger dissonance between say, Arabic and English than there is between German and English (just using those examples because those are languages I'm somewhat familiar with).

A friend blogged a bit about this topic, actually, specifically in regards to Russian literature translated into English. (http://misanthropology101.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/random-writing-lost-despit-translation/) His point, that some details are simply so esoteric that they are always lost from one language to another, no matter how carefully translated they are, is interesting.

I do think you can make up for it with less-than-strict interpretations, but that's a bit of a slippery slope with translation. It's a short step from "translation in the same spirit and general idea" to "complete re-interpretation of the original work." I hesitate to bring this example up because of the potential for arguments, but it's the best one I can think of offhand. The Bible. The translations of the bible from ancient, and in some cases dead, languages into more modern languages have not always been entirely successful, and in some cases an incorrectly translated word has dramatically changed whole passages (and sometimes whole religions because of it). Anyway, just something to think about when talking about interpretations and translation.

08-15-2010, 02:29 AM
Well, for a good translation, you have to be able to read a text without noticing it is a translation. Most of the times, some of the original spirit, especially word plays, will be lost. However, if the translation is good, it won't really matter as you will enjoy reading it nonetheless.

As soon as meaning is concerned, it always matters. Therefore, it is absolutely important that someone translating literature knows both languages really well in order to get hidden meanings too.

When you notice you are reading a translated text, the translation has been done poorly. I wouldn't vouch for correct meaning, then, either.

Liosse de Velishaf
08-15-2010, 03:31 AM
When I read Don Quixote in my lit class, half the book was footnotes so that english readers could get some of the jokes lost in translation.

I also happen to watch a lot of subbed anime, and I've seen(heard) some words translated three or four different ways in one 30 minute episode. And many fansub groups, though unfortunately not the official commercial dub/subs, include translators notes/footnotes to explain interesting problems moving between different languages and different cultures.

Of course, Japanese is a language far removed from English. Italian language films, for all they're from a different language family, are fairly simple to translate into English for the more commercial entertainment.

But on the other hand, reading C.S. Friedman's In Conquest Born, where a great deal of energy is devoted to explaining and demonstrating the complexities of one of the languages, I found that the English versions did perfectly fine without all the paranthetical notes on speech modes.

I write mostly spec fic, and much of that is secondary world fantasy or sf, so I'm constantly driven nuts when I write something that's fantastic in English, only to realize it wouldn't come off so well if I was writing the story in the language the characters would actually be speaking.

Finally, there's the more extreme version of translation woe: localization. At least in the anime fansub community, people rip each other apart over whether or not some fansub was too localized. For example, translating Japanese honorifics into terms like "mister" and "miss". There're a lot of familiarity and respect marking lost between Japanese and English, and it can completely ruin some of the more subtle subtext if it's not dealt with right.

08-15-2010, 06:10 PM
I think some loss is inevitable. Sometimes you can adapt, sometimes you can't, and that's one of the reasons why I prefer to read books in english (the original language).

I remember one time when my hubby was reading a Tintin album, and the same story was present in the Tintin magazines we was also reading. By chance, he noticed a particular dialogue line that was different in the album and the magazine. We looked up the original and wouldn't you know it? Both translations were correct.