Lost in translation

Published on April 17 2017

A translator’s work is seldom easy. It is time-consuming when performed properly, and it requires a solid understanding of the original language as well as the target language. Translations must reflect the original text, but to what degree? A literal translation runs the risk of being faithful to the original at the expense of natural expression and readability in the final product. But translating more loosely to get the general gist of the text, although it offers more room to accommodate the target, will easily sacrifice nuances in the original which should not be kept from the reader.

These are just some general considerations. There are also language-specific concerns:

In Ancient Greek, the word “logos” (λόγος) has a wide variety of possible meanings. It is the source of words like “logic” and “logical”, so perhaps it doesn’t come as a surprise that one of these is “reason”. But it could just as easily be translated as “word”. In fact, if you look up the term in the Liddell & Scott Lexicon, you will find as many as ten main renditions. Context will probably help the translator, but it’s really quite amazing how many nuances a single word can convey.

Hebrew seems to mystify even erudite scholars at times. Grammatically, it is very different from English. We do not find anything like the tenses (present, past, future) we are so used to seeing in English and other languages. Rather, we are dealing with aspect: the nature of the action is more important than the time when it occurred. From the root form קטל “q-t-l” (kill), one can derive the perfective form “qatal” and the imperfective form “yiqtol”. These forms simply tell us whether the action has been completed or not. A simplistic solution is to translate the former as “he killed” and the latter as “he will kill”. But one shouldn’t be satisfied with simplistic solutions, so what on earth do you do? 

In any case, check your writings on Robot Don Text checker to write a correct texts.

Translation is often like navigating a linguistic minefield, sometimes with hilarious results. But I’ll save those for future posts.

Written by Craig Ewing

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