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Untranslatable

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November 22, 2011, 05:02
Robert Arvanitis
Untranslatable
A search for "untranslatable" here yields pages of entries.

Not sure if we've ever had one on terms for relationships.

http://bigthink.com/ideas/41152

My favorite is "yuanfen," reminiscent of the red string.


RJA
November 22, 2011, 05:13
goofy
"Untranslatable" here clearly doesn't mean "untranslatable", since all of these words have English translations.

My Oxford French-English dictionary translates "retrouvailles" as "reunion". A French speaker might say that the word has connotations that aren't covered by the English word. This is true. But you could say the same about any word in any language. Translation is never a word-to-word mapping.

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November 22, 2011, 05:27
Geoff
Odd that the author says, "words," then presents phrases.

A French friend says that "apprivoiser," the word usually translated into English as "tame," has a more complex meaning in French than in English, suggesting greater emotional bonding than mere tameness.


It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. -J. Krishnamurti
November 22, 2011, 21:57
Kalleh
Ah, yes, we've discussed this "untranslatable" subject before, haven't we? The linguist types here don't think anything is untranslatable. In your link, Robert, while there isn't a one-word translation for all of them, most of them can be translated with a few words. One exception I'd think might be Yuanfen. They at least seemed to have a hard time translating it. It is Chinese, and it was really my Chinese friend who brought this subject up here once. She was telling me of words that she just can't completely translate for me. This may have been one of them.
November 22, 2011, 22:12
Robert Arvanitis
Kalleh - you are quite correct that anything can in principle be translated.

In a different context, the military says "If one man can do it, another man can." That goes for concepts as well.

However, there are different cultural foundations and emotional associations that go along with words, and a translation will never get all of that.

Some jokes in one language many not be funny in another. And that's why translations of the classics call for artistry, not just Google or Babelfish.


RJA
November 23, 2011, 05:36
zmježd
However, there are different cultural foundations and emotional associations that go along with words, and a translation will never get all of that.

As Goofy suggested. This pretty much goes for most words.

Another complaint I have about the "untranslatable" meme is that oftentimes the provenance of the asserted term and its denotation is absent. The connotations, or cultural context, is also oftentimes absent, which makes for the "foreigners have the weirdest words" feeling of the meme.

If the concept is required by the other language, the word can be borrowed and naturalized, though oftentimes the meaning changes.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
November 23, 2011, 21:33
Kalleh
quote:
If the concept is required by the other language, the word can be borrowed and naturalized,
Much like Schadenfreude.

Generally I agree with you and goofy, z, but as with anything else in life, after talking with my Chinese colleague, I believe there are a few exceptions. She is very good with language and just felt there were a few words that she could never (no matter how many English words she used) get the meaning across.
November 24, 2011, 01:16
zmježd
She is very good with language and just felt there were a few words that she could never (no matter how many English words she used) get the meaning across.

Well, then, how does a Chinese baby learn these untranslatable words? Are they hard-wired into Chinese babies? Of course not. No, they learn them by use and in context. To say that there are untranslatable words just doesn't make any sense. In the sense that most people mean by untranslatable is that there is no one-to-one correspondence between some exotic word and a (single) English word. It might take a simple phrase to translate or an entire book, but in the end all the connotations could be covered.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
November 24, 2011, 04:26
goofy
quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
Generally I agree with you and goofy, z, but as with anything else in life, after talking with my Chinese colleague, I believe there are a few exceptions. She is very good with language and just felt there were a few words that she could never (no matter how many English words she used) get the meaning across.


As a monolingual English speaker, I often have the same problem when I'm speaking English. It has nothing to do with untranslatability, in my opinion. It has everything to do with the fact that communicating exactly what you mean is sometimes difficult.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: goofy,
November 24, 2011, 06:37
Robert Arvanitis
zmježd is right, in the end nothing is untranslatable.

However, it's not clear that all the cultural baggage comes along properly.

In the Cold War, Nikita Khrushchev blustered at one point "...when a shrimp whistles under the sea." The translators rendered this in English as "when Hell freezes over."

Even more extreme, the Star Trek episode "Darmok" had a fascinating premise - an alien language built entirely on metaphors from their common culture. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darmok for the poignant story.


RJA
November 24, 2011, 10:11
goofy
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Arvanitis:

Even more extreme, the Star Trek episode "Darmok" had a fascinating premise - an alien language built entirely on metaphors from their common culture. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darmok for the poignant story.


That's a cool episode, but that language could never really work. Tenser, said the Tensor explains.
November 24, 2011, 21:19
Kalleh
quote:
Well, then, how does a Chinese baby learn these untranslatable words? Are they hard-wired into Chinese babies?
I wasn't saying that. I am not speaking about most words, at all; just a few. To be more specific, for those raised in the culture, using the context, it is very difficult (and I'd go so far as to say impossible) to translate some words.
quote:
zmježd is right, in the end nothing is untranslatable.
One thing I've learned in my field is "never" or "always" are very difficult to defend. "Nothing" is untranslatable probably goes too far, at least in my opinion. [However, I do need to avoid those extreme opinions; as Yeats said, "All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions." Isn't that the case?]

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Kalleh,
November 24, 2011, 21:47
BobHale
What we need is an example.
So let me try to provide one.

The German band Rammstein have a song called "Los".
"Los" as a suffix in German is equivalent to "-less" in English so that, as in the first line of the song "namenlos" means "nameless". "Los" as an adjective means "loose". "Los!" can also be an order, meaning "Go!". In phrases like "Wir sind los!" it can be "We are going." In "Was ist los?" it means "What's the matter?" or "What's wrong?"

The song has a long list of phrases that end in -los and some of them bear multiple possible translations.

Here are some examples.

"Es wurde Zeit. Los!"
As written this means "It was time. Go!" but as sung it could either be that or "Es wurde Zeit los." (It was time off.) or "Es wurde zeitlos!" (It was timeless.)

The ambiguity is, as with many of Rammstein's lyrics, entirely intentional. It isn't that it's untranslatable. It's that the intended nuance is difficult to express succinctly in English.

You can find more about it here. http://herzeleid.com/en/lyrics/reise_reise/los

And you can also read a lot about the translations of the other lyrics.

Incidentally until I read that particular site I hadn't noticed the "sang und klanglos" pun in the song.

What this all shows isn't that translation is impossible, just that it's sometimes difficult to get all the intended subtlety of the original.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: BobHale,


"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.

My current blog.
Photographs to accompany Anyone Can DO It available from www.lulu.com
My photoblog The World Through A lens
November 24, 2011, 22:01
BobHale
Incidentally I don't think anything can possibly be "untranslatable" as such. Maybe it will take a paragraph to identify the full subtlety of something but any concept that a person from one country is capable of formulating (mentally rather than linguistically) then a person from another country will also be able to formulate, and any concept you can think of, you can find a way to express.


"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.

My current blog.
Photographs to accompany Anyone Can DO It available from www.lulu.com
My photoblog The World Through A lens
November 25, 2011, 05:12
Robert Arvanitis
We seem to agree, repeatedly, that nothing is truly untranslatable even if, in BobHale's words, it takes paragraphs.

But in pursuing this line, I ran across a the phrase "language conditions thought." That captures the idea that before we speak, we implicitly agree on which bins we'll use to sort out reality. (The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis)

Japanese-German: http://www.catranslation.org/b...e-conditions-thought

Indonesian culture: http://www.translationdirectory.com/article634.htm


RJA
November 25, 2011, 07:12
goofy
quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
To be more specific, for those raised in the culture, using the context, it is very difficult (and I'd go so far as to say impossible) to translate some words.


You need to provide some evidence to back up that extraordinary claim!

quote:
Originally posted by Robert Arvanitis:
But in pursuing this line, I ran across a the phrase "language conditions thought." That captures the idea that before we speak, we implicitly agree on which bins we'll use to sort out reality. (The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis)


The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis might be expressed as "language conditions thought". This Language Log post discusses the experimental evidence for the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. What we find is that "language nudges thought (in certain circumstances)".

But it was also found, in one experiment, that those differences can be made to disappear quite easily:

quote:
For evidence of this relative weakness, we need look no further than some of Lera Boroditsky's excellent recent research. Her work with Caitlin Fausey5 suggests that English speakers are somewhat more likely than Spanish speakers to specify an agent in describing accidental events ("She broke the vase" versus "The vase broke"), and also somewhat more likely to remember who the agent was. These effects, though statistically significant, were quite small, in absolute terms as well as in comparison to the within-group variation. Thus students at the Universidad de Chile were on average 4.4% worse at remembering accidental agents than intentional ones, while Stanford students were on average 1.9% better.6 Even to get this much of an effect, the event videos had to be carefully crafted to make the incidents and agents as bland and unmemorable as possible. Furthermore, in a follow-up experiment, the authors found that you can turn English speakers into Spanish speakers—for the purposes of this paradigm—by having them listen to 24 non-agentive sentences before the start of the experiment.

Here a lifetime of linguistic and cultural influence is overwhelmed by a minute or two of passive listening! Similarly, linguistic effects on measures of individualism are twice as small as the effects of two minutes of silent thought about your similarities or differences to others;7 and linguistic effects on orientation experiments are roughly as strong as the effects of room decor.8



quote:
Originally posted by Robert Arvanitis:
Japanese-German: http://www.catranslation.org/b...e-conditions-thought


I don't see what this anecdote has to do with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, actually.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: goofy,
November 25, 2011, 07:32
zmježd
We seem to agree, repeatedly, that nothing is truly untranslatable even if, in BobHale's words, it takes paragraphs.

No, Kalleh seems to defend, repeatedly, the idea that some words (or terms) in some languages are "untranslatable". I agree with Goofy that sometimes it is extremely difficult, in the same language, to communicate what one knows, feels, or thinks to somebody else. (After all this is one of the key differences between poetry and expository or narrative prose. Trying to get the "untranslatable" bits (connotations) over to the hearer/reader.)

Does thought condition language? Or language thought? What about experience? Are these more than variations on the nature-nurture controversy?

When I say: "The dog sat by me on the porch." Which word has the most meaning? I'd say "me", but only in the context if the reader knows who I am. In fact you could say that "me" in this sentence defies understanding by a person who does not know me. Although anybody who knows English will know that "me" in this case refers to the person (unknown and unknowable) who wrote the sentence.Does "dog" (in this sentence) have more meaning than "porch"? People, who might even know me well, could have no idea of what "dog" denotes in this sentence. A Pomeranian, a Schnauzer, a Boxer, or an Alsatian? It's possible I don't even have a dog. (Heck, I don't even have a porch.) What about the word "the"? What does that mean? How can I translate the word "the" into Latin or Russian?

You can take the extreme view that nothing is translatable. I have even read a book by a language philosopher, the premise of which was that language is not a means of communication. OK, so communication is impossible. I would hazard the guess that not all Chinese speakers understand Kalleh's co-worker's "untranslatable" words in the same way. Indeed a lot of communicating by language is refining the context so as to make more explicit the intended meaning of one's utterances/writings.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
November 25, 2011, 18:53
Kalleh
quote:
What this all shows isn't that translation is impossible, just that it's sometimes difficult to get all the intended subtlety of the original.
I could live with this.
quote:
You need to provide some evidence to back up that extraordinary claim!
Goodness. "Extraordinary claim?"* I have created some angst here, haven't I? I agree that I need to provide evidence as this has only come from my colleague, who no longer works with us. I did try to get some examples from her, if you recall, in a previous thread awhile back. However, she did not get back to me on specifics. I will nudge her again. Clearly, my views on this are from a secondary source, which is not the highest level of evidence, I agree. I need examples!

*Interestingly, on our way driving to St. Louis yesterday we were listening to NPR Now on Sirius, and they were interviewing someone who taught English in China for years. One of his comments from his experiences was the difficulty of translating certain words. While only an English teacher and not a linguist per se, he seemed on the same wavelength as my colleague.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Kalleh,
November 26, 2011, 07:33
goofy
quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
I have created some angst here, haven't I?


I wouldn't call it angst. I'm just trying to point out that there is no evidence that something can be communicated in one language, but cannot be communicated in another language.
November 26, 2011, 10:46
bethree5
I found Goofy's link, with the closing remarks to the Liberman-Boroditsky debate in the Economist, a great look into the various aspects of the 'untranslatable' debate (a/k/a linguistic relativity, a/k/a does one's language shape one's cognition, etc)

One can probably not side wholly with the universalists or the relativists, as with all dualities the answer lies somewhere on the spectrum.

However, I can see the reluctance to apply too much weight to the influence of language on cognition. This is cultural habit only; habits can be re-trained, and singular minds will always leap beyond habit to form new concepts. nevertheless I concur with Boroditsky's conclusion that "Learning other languages is a fun way to visit other ways of seeing the world."
November 26, 2011, 20:44
Kalleh
One thing we learn in the health care arena is the importance of having professional translators with patients who don't speak English. Many errors have occurred because people who speak the other language casually (such as Americans who speak English as well as are "fluent" in the patient's language) will translate for the patient; that whole question of words being (or not being) translatable come into play. Sometimes it works, but there are many situations where it doesn't work and errors happen.

Example: A baby died in a Colorado hospital because a physician and his colleagues who supposedly were "fluent" in Spanish misunderstood that a woman's syphilis had occurred many years ago so that the newborn didn't need the requisite penicillin. Because of this mistranslation, the baby got the penicillin, which was the wrong dose (pharmacy's error) and the wrong route (nursing's error). The baby died. [The epilogue of this tragic mistranslation was that it was only the nurses who lost their licenses, not the physicians or the pharmacists. Further, the prosecutor charged the nurses with criminal negligence. Two of the nurses plead guilty to that, while one bravely fought it in front of a jury and won.]
November 27, 2011, 09:03
bethree5
What a sad story. And you'd think, in Colorado, there might have been a Mexian-American on staff they could have called over to help with the translation if they'd realized they needed it. However the litigious result would give anyone pause.

Bulletin: is this the word of the week or something? Today's Christian Science Monitor headline: "Afghan schadenfreude as Pakistan reels in wake of deadly NATO strike". The article elaborates on a report of casualties, revealing their definition: "...But for many Afghans, their neighbor’s misfortune is their gain."
November 27, 2011, 09:17
goofy
quote:
Originally posted by bethree5:

One can probably not side wholly with the universalists or the relativists, as with all dualities the answer lies somewhere on the spectrum.


I'd say the answer lies wherever the evidence shows us it lies. Smile And I wouldn't say that Liberman and Boroditsky are on opposite sides of the issue. Their positions aren't that different.
November 27, 2011, 17:07
BobHale
quote:
OHowever the litigious result would give anyone pause.


It certainly would. If you were on staff and NOT specifically paid as a translator (and therefore not covered by the hospital insurance) would you be willing to assist, however fluent your Spanish, knowing what the consequences might be?


"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.

My current blog.
Photographs to accompany Anyone Can DO It available from www.lulu.com
My photoblog The World Through A lens
November 27, 2011, 17:43
Robert Arvanitis
Alas BobHale. I reply as a matter of human nature, outside our common interest in linguistics.
In such a situation, decent humans respond with the right thing, not the legally defensible thing. That is, most people would act for the person at risk, and would NOT think like lawyers, how best to protect their own narrow interests.
I suppose I'm glad for that decency. May cost a few people a few dollars, but that's preferable to diminishing our humanity for the depredations of plaintiffs' attorneys.
Recall that we find Neanderthal graves laden with flowers and jewelry; skeletons showing long-healed breaks or advanced arthritis.
We care for our own, lawyers be damned.


RJA
November 27, 2011, 18:29
BobHale
I like to think that I'd act the right way too but I'm also glad that I've never been put to the test because I suspect that I wouldn't.

The consequences could go far beyond a few dollars should you be held legally responsible for someone's death because you are claimed to have mistranslated.

I admire your view of humanity, sadly I take a rather more cynical view.


"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.

My current blog.
Photographs to accompany Anyone Can DO It available from www.lulu.com
My photoblog The World Through A lens
November 28, 2011, 01:24
arnie
quote:
you'd think, in Colorado, there might have been a Mexian-American on staff they could have called over to help with the translation if they'd realized they needed it

I think Kalleh's point is that they specifically don't want someone like that, who with the best of intentions, might mistranslate an important phrase, at least enough to give the wrong impression. They really need a professional translator, and, I assume, one with some knowledge of medicine.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
November 28, 2011, 06:42
bethree5
Realistically, the staff of shrinking local US hospitals, whose services I had the sad misfortune to sample broadly in the last few yrs, is unlikely to include a professional translator (esp at night or on wkends), whether mandated or not. In the cited case a simple error in tense/time period could have been avoided had the doctors trained in Spanish grabbed a native to listen in during the history.

Outcomes are never guaranteed, tho you'd think they were, judging from the prevalence of litigation. I suppose in the case cited, where mistranslation was compounded by pharmacy & nursing errors, it was inevitable.
November 28, 2011, 08:35
arnie
Yes, it's pretty well impossible to retain a professional translator at every hospital. Even if Spanish to English is the most commonly required translation, theoretically every other language needs a translator too, just in case...


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
November 28, 2011, 20:38
Kalleh
quote:
And you'd think, in Colorado, there might have been a Mexican-American on staff they could have called over to help with the translation if they'd realized they needed it. However the litigious result would give anyone pause.

Yes, arnie is right that they don't want people who say they are fluent in the other language; they want professionals. If the hospital is accredited (such as by Joint Commission in the U.S.), they have no choice; they must have professional translators immediately available. That has occurred because of the many errors by those who try to translate, but make mistakes because of the nuances and cultural diversities.

Now that I think about it, I imagine that's another reason why I am not sold on the fact that language is translatable. I've seen too many huge errors made by those who consider themselves "fluent."
November 29, 2011, 05:58
goofy
As far as I can see, the fact that not everyone is a good translator says nothing about whether words are or are not ultimately translatable.

quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
Now that I think about it, I imagine that's another reason why I am not sold on the fact that language is translatable. I've seen too many huge errors made by those who consider themselves "fluent."


But Kalleh, doesn't this also happen when only one language is involved? How many times have you been misunderstood when you're speaking English to English speakers? Does this mean that English isn't translatable into English?

This message has been edited. Last edited by: goofy,
November 29, 2011, 19:55
Kalleh
You are right, goofy, that a good translator can usually interpret the patient's concerns correctly in health care.

While communication in healthcare (between healthcare workers) is the biggest cause of medical errors, that is mostly because of non-communication or bad writing of orders or assuming you know what was meant. I am not aware of patient errors because the health care providers weren't able to interpret their communication (English to English), but that certainly is plausible.
November 30, 2011, 03:21
arnie
We do sometimes have confusion as workers from European Union countries have freedom of movement, which can sometimes mean that they don't have a good grasp of English. There was a lot of fuss a while back when a German doctor acting as a locum prescribed a large overdose of a drug to an elderly patient, who died.

On a slightly lighter note, doctors and other health professionals from abroad often have difficulty understanding some of their patients (despite fluency in "standard" English) because they use euphemisms and/or dialect names for body parts or symptoms. At least one local health authority publishes a guide to help these health workers, and I've seen a couple of newspaper articles purporting to give "translations" for other parts of the country. I must say that a few of the dialect terms they gave were totally opaque to me, English born and bred, so I can well understand the difficulties faced by those for whom English is not their first language.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
November 30, 2011, 04:40
goofy
quote:
Originally posted by Kalleh:
While communication in healthcare (between healthcare workers) is the biggest cause of medical errors, that is mostly because of non-communication or bad writing of orders or assuming you know what was meant. I am not aware of patient errors because the health care providers weren't able to interpret their communication (English to English), but that certainly is plausible.


I'm confused now, because you just gave three examples of how messages are misinterpreted (non-communication, bad writing, or making assumptions about what the message is). But then you say that you've never heard of any cases where misinterpretation happens.
November 30, 2011, 19:06
Kalleh
Well, bad writing is just that; it can't be read. It has nothing to do with translating the language. Non-communication likewise is nothing to do with translation, either. The nurse just doesn't tell the physician about what she/he noticed with the patient. Lastly, making assumptions I suppose could be due to mistaken translations, but I didn't mean that. I meant, the nurse, for example, makes the assumption that most women who have chest pain usually are just stressed so they don't investigate the symptom further. It's not a mistaken translation.

Is that more clear, Goofy?
December 01, 2011, 04:48
goofy
I think I'm getting a better idea of what you're saying. I think what I'm trying to say is that when mistranslation happens, how do you know the mistranslation isn't due to something that doesn't strictly fall under translation? For instance, maybe one interlocutor isn't expressing themselves very well (bad writing). Or maybe the interlocutors are making different assumptions about the context. Or maybe the interlocutors have different meanings for the same word - as often happens when I talk to someone about grammar.

These are all translation problems of a sort.
December 01, 2011, 06:52
arnie
Kalleh,

I know that health professionals have a set format for writing prescriptions to try to avoid misinterpretation, but I'm sure that some patients who self-administer medicines might be confused on occasion, and take incorrect doses. For instance, the instruction "Take four tablets, twice daily" might be read as an instruction to take a total of four, two at one time, two at another. Alternatively it could be understood to mean that four should be taken each time, making a total of eight a day.

I realise this isn't an issue of translation, but I'd say that it's not unlikely that a translator could misinterpret the instructions, especially if the translator is not in health care.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
December 01, 2011, 19:56
Kalleh
quote:
how do you know the mistranslation isn't due to something that doesn't strictly fall under translation?
Yes, goofy, you make a good point. It absolutely could be mistranslation. So I guess there can be mistranslations in English to English, too...as arnie indicates.

You are so right, arnie, with that particular situation. And you know me...the literalist, I'd likely take that the wrong way. Fortunately I am a nurse and could look it up. Indeed, recently we had a similar vet prescription, and I had to call to make sure what he meant.
December 02, 2011, 14:49
bethree5
Given all the possible misunderstandings, it still seems a good plan in Kalleh's original example for even Spanish-trained docs to grab any bilingual handy to sit in on the consult, just to improve the odds...
December 02, 2011, 17:46
Robert Arvanitis
1. There are a finite set of standard phrases, for which we can prepare standard translations.

2. It is far more effective to decode, than to encode, language. So when American and Russian astronauts first worked together on the space station, the Americans spoke Russian (to the best of their ability) and the Russians spoke English (the same).


RJA
December 03, 2011, 20:05
Kalleh
As I was searching Word Spy for another post, I found this interesting entry about "ear worm." At the end, it mentions a citation about "untranslatable words," but I couldn't find the source.

I did, however, find these "20 awesomely translatable words " in an article. As you can see, most of them are really translatable, though they define translatable as not having one word to translate it with. Some of them overlap with Robert's link, such as "cafuné" and "Mamihlapinatapei." It had a couple of my favorite words, such as "Schadenfreude" and "Torschlusspanik." Interestingly, the latter word they define as opportunity losses as one ages, whereas I have always thought of it as panic when a deadline is imminent (such as Christmas shopping). It's one of those great German words, like "ohrwurm" that has a literal translation of "gate-closing panic."
December 04, 2011, 07:13
zmježd
An interesting blog entry over on The Economist (link) about "true untranslatability". The comments are worth reading, too.

[Fixed typo.]

This message has been edited. Last edited by: zmježd,


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
December 04, 2011, 20:38
Kalleh
Nice discussion, Z. I am beginning to think that it's romantic to believe your language has words that aren't translatable into other languages.
August 29, 2013, 05:49
Robert Arvanitis
Speaking of reviving old threads:

http://izismile.com/2013/08/28...english_11_pics.html


RJA
August 29, 2013, 07:38
goofy
I love how these lists of "untranslatable words" proceed to list the words and their translations. And they're always such poetic translations.

The exoticness of a word like German Waldeinsamkeit is an artefact of how easy it is to make compounds in German. The Japanese word is also a compound: 木 "tree" + 漏り "leak" + 日 "sunlight".

Spanish sobremesa: "after-dinner conversation".

Hawaiian pana poʻo: "To tap or snap the head".

French dépaysement: "change of scene"

As for the Inuit word... because Inuktitut is heavily agglutinative, it's possible to make an unlimited number of Inuktitut "words", each of which is translated by a different English sentence.

According to Platts Urdu-Hindi dictionary, گويا goyā is an adverb meaning "As you (or as one) would say, as it were, as though, so to speak; thus, in this manner". I could see how that might be extended to refer to disbelief about storytelling.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: goofy,
September 01, 2013, 19:32
Kalleh
It is interesting how most words really can be translated - it just takes a few words.

Still, I've always wondered if there are words that just quite can't be captured in English.

[Deleted the "I" that was just hanging there.]

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Kalleh,
September 01, 2013, 19:50
Robert Arvanitis
No words are truly "untranslatable" as in entirely impossible to map to another language/culture/system of thought.

The real issues are (i) what associations and nuances of meaning are carried in a word, and (ii) to what extent can we carry some or all of them over into a different language.

For example, I especially like the Japanese word "shayozoku" meaning impoverished aristocracy, from "shayo," sunset. Brings to mind "Dover Beach."


RJA
September 02, 2013, 07:40
goofy
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Arvanitis:
No words are truly "untranslatable" as in entirely impossible to map to another language/culture/system of thought.


Did you mean "possible"? Or did you mean "translatable"?
September 02, 2013, 09:18
zmježd
I have come to the not unsurprising conclusion that "untranslatable" means different things to different people. (This is ordinary because it's pretty much how language works.) The various meanings I have gleaned over the various threads on the subject:

1. "Untranslatable" means there is no one word that has the same meaning in English as in language X.

2. "Untranslatable" means that besides the denotation (or "translatable meaning") there is a whole slew of "untranslatable" connotations which are culture-bound in luggage X. (This would be the Portuguese saudade kinds of words.

3. "Untranslatable" means something else entirely which is "untranslatable" from the mind of the person listing the "untranslatable" words.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
September 02, 2013, 10:56
Robert Arvanitis
To goofy -- It is always possible to find at least an approximate translation between two languages.

But as zmježd notes in sense (2), there are cultural associations which may be missed or absent.

The most immediate example is the word "fine."

Now think about "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus." Which "fine" do we hear?


RJA