Why can't anything be 100% clearly translated?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by science man, Jul 18, 2010.

  1. I made a thread in the Religion section asking why someone would want to learn Hebrew if they are Christian and they said because the person would want to learn the language that the Bible was originally written in. I asked why if would they if it's correctly translated and they said because it doesn't translate everything like the feeling or tune. How is that? I'm a bit bilingual because I taken Spanish for two years and remember most of it and I do't see that at all.
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  3. spidergoat pubic diorama Valued Senior Member

    There is no such thing as universal meaning. Words have meaning within the context of culture, and every culture is different.
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  5. hmmm ok I don't see that at all but ok.
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Your thoughts are shaped by your language, and every language has a different perspective on the world. Between two very closely related languages like Spanish and Portuguese, Danish and Norwegian, or Czech and Polish, the difference might be so small that it can be easily overcome. But when two languages are not related at all, the difference can be insurmountable.

    The Hopi language has no concept of time, at least not one that we would recognize. The Hopis literally do not perceive the universe the way we do.

    The example I gave in the discussion you're referring to was Chinese. Chinese and English are not related. The two languages are not nearly as different as English and Hopi, and in fact they have enough in common that it's not too hard for a speaker of one to learn the other. Still, the differences are phenomenal. Chinese has no tense: no present, past and future. It also has no number: no singular and plural. It also has no articles: no the, a, an. When you say "dog eat fish" you give no clue as to whether you mean one dog ate one fish yesterday, or two dogs are having a feast on a bucket of fish in your kitchen right now, or you're planning on taking a whole tuna to the dogs in the shelter tomorrow, or all dogs eat fish as a matter of biology. It can be translated as, "Dogs eat fish," "A dog ate a fish," "The dogs will eat some fish," etc.

    When the listener hears gou chi yu, he will figure all this out from the context. But if this is a line of dialog in a novel or a statement of universal truth in a philosophy book, how would you translate it into English? You try to figure out the context and you do your best. You'll probably end up adding extra words to the sentence, words that weren't in the original, and this makes it a less than perfect translation.

    And we're just talking about dogs and their eating habits here, a rather simple topic. Imagine how much more troublesome these differences become when you're talking about international politics and one wrong word can ruin the chances for signing a treaty.
  8. soullust Registered Senior Member


    I feel sorry for any translater that trys to translate English to what ever Language.

    with sentences like this ..

    •The bandage was wound around the wound.

    •The farm was used to produce produce.

    •The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

    •When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

    •I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
  9. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    Reading almost anything by two individuals or more will result in varying ideas about what the book was about. Interpretation is an individual thing for each of us thinks in our own unique way looking at things with our own points of view.
  10. Doreen Valued Senior Member

    Let's take the sentence of yours above and think a little about all the nuances.

    Hmmm - this indicates some skepticism and metaphorically indicates that you mulled over the idea before resting in your skepticism.

    ok - means something like 'tentatively yes' in this context. But if I look at the rest of the sentence it seems to mean: 'well, I will accept that, though I doubt in the end I will agree.'

    'I don't see' - The verb 'see' is being used metaphorically. It is a dead metaphor, but still it doesn't quite mean the same thing as 'understand' or 'agree'. I would say in context it means something like 'fit my experience'.

    at all - fairly straight forward compared to the rest - but NOTE!!! - someone going to a dictionary will not be able to put this phrase together. They look up 'at' and then 'all' and will be confused. But sure a good translator can find a phrase or word in the other language, but will this have the same tone or meaning. It is colloquial. You are not saying 'this phenomenon does not exist', for example. It has a particular diction.

    'but ok'. - how do we translate this 'ok'. You have disagreed but are saying 'ok' to the interaction, I suppose. You are perhaps indicating that you leave open the possibility that you may be convinced later, though you would bet heavily against this now.

    Then we shift from your sentence to the Bible.....

    Some issues for a translator. In Hebrew the word for God is in the plural in this section. It is translated to the singular 'God'. Heavens in plural. Why is that? 'The earth was without form'. Imagine how complicated this is to nail down in terms of meaning. Does it mean the earth was there but it had no form - it wasn't a sphere, for example? The word void is different from 'space' 'emptiness' 'universe' and so on. Why 'face of the deep'? The Spirit of God was hovering?

    Does this mean that God was not hovering but some portion of God was hovering? Imagine the different words that are near synonyms to 'spirit' and how they might have quite different associations. Think of how confusions could arise. Do you really think Spirit is an exact translation of the Hebrew word here?

    What about this word 'deep'? Nowadays we tend to use this as an adjective. In The New Living Bible they add the word 'waters' to 'deep'
    I would have thought it was a deep in space, but it seems like it is a deep in some body of water.

    And so on.

    Words are floppy things that are affected by context. We can only approximate. We can, for example, notice that we lost the full meaning of one word, so we add an adjective to try to 'catch up'. Objects have different meanings in different cultures. How much more so the words that are meant to stand in their places.
  11. gendanken Ruler of All the Lands Valued Senior Member

    Science man:
    Because stupidity's smarter with an accent.

    Why take Spanish when you've barely learned English?

    Know what the meaning of "bullshit", literally, is?
    Speaking beyond your intelligence.

    Kinda like you, preaching from a little throne on the edge of Linguistics where children taught to respect elders won't call you out on manure like "Hopis having no concept of time".

    If the Hopi had no concept of time, he'd have no notion of "end", "begin", "during", and "after".
    He would therefore be completely incapable of coordinating his mind relative to his universe-- because, "when" could he find food? At the "end" of the day or "during" a prayer?

    Does the owl hunt in the "morning" or "evening"?
    And should he shoot the boar "now" or "later"?

    A Hopi doesn't have to display the perverse obsession with Time the typical American has with his cheeky To Do Lists that has him running around like a cockroach, nor does he have to burden his language with an obesity of synonyms and catchy phrases infatuated with time to know about time.

    What, you think those cute little schedules and phrases of yours-- those quality times, those its about times, those time will tells-- makes you any different than the Hopi in how he would coordinate hunting a rabbit?

    Here's what an anthropolgist culled from her Hopi studies, a phrase translated to English:

    "Then indeed, the following day, quite early in the morning at the hour when people pray to the sun, around that time then we woke up the girl again."

    This is an actual anthropologist, unlike you or Benjamin Whorf, who actually mingled with Hopis and studied their culture-- she found all kinds of statements and stories that showed an understanding of time: parts of the day, numbers of days, relative units of time like "tomorrow" or "yesterday", ways to quantify large periods of time like "ancient" and "quick", even recursive ones like 'again'.

    Now, if the humble little Hopi had no concept of time, why he'd prattle on for years about things he knows nothing about with no "end" until his community would take his long wind for guile and give him a modership.
  12. gendanken Ruler of All the Lands Valued Senior Member


    What, in the name of all that's holy and wise, are you babbling about?

    How is 'see' a metaphor?

    And how are prepositions "colloquial"?
  13. pjdude1219 The biscuit has risen Valued Senior Member

    well while hebrew would be of some help it wouldn't make much of a difference if own didn't know aramaic(sp?)
  14. Hipparchia Registered Senior Member

    I loved your Hopi interlude, but this......
    Really. Of course it's a metaphor. We do not actually see an idea or concept. Rather we understand, or appraciate it. We, metaphorically, see it.
  15. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Much of the Bible is written in a story-teller's language, poetically, from the basis of an essentially oral culture.

    Somebody once defined poetry as "that which is lost in translation".
  16. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Translate this sentence

    hmmm ok I don't see that at all but ok.

    into Spanish, and give it the same tone of incredulity it has in English.

    In that sense, that phrase "at all" is colloquial (chances are that to translate it into Spanish, you will not use the Spanish equivalents for "at" and "all").
  17. stratos Banned Banned

    Less of a teaser in British English; the past tense is "dived" - the dove dived.
  18. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    I do not see why these sentences should be difficult to translate?
    If such homographs or homonyms are used for some poetic effect, then it can indeed be difficult to translate them adequately, but otherwise not.

    Francis was a gay person.

    This one is of the tougher kind, to give a blatant example. The meaning of words can vary greatly throughout time.
    "Queer" went through a remarkable shift of meanings within less than twenty years.
  19. gendanken Ruler of All the Lands Valued Senior Member

    Funny, Gendanken defines it as ADD-- artistic deficit disorder.


    But do understand that by "metaphor" we servants of the Bon Mot think more in terms of the intellectual varnish coating the surface of gorgeous phrases and words that, like dew, revitalize dumb words with their freshness.

    Metaphors sing.

    Linguistic barbiturates like "see", don't.

    But I see your point.

    "Science boy" has that awesome tone of a frat boy scratching himself between beer.

    He evinces about as much "incredulity" as a diabetic coma.

    What 'incredulity' are you talking about?

    "At all" is more of a linguistic habit than a colloquialism, isn't it?

    Colloquialisms are functions of history and culture-- Northerners refer to soft drinks as 'pop' while Southerners refer to it them as "coke", and you can pretty much trace the history back to where Coca Cola was first manufactured.

    That degenerate phrase-- "blood is thicker than water"-- you can trace back to a German proverb said by some stupid German for some stupid reason we have no idea why but stupidly repeat because its easier for stupid people to repeat stupidities than think through things themselves.

    Kinda like people repeating stupidities about, ahem, Hopis having no concept of time.


    "At all" bears no imprint of the culture which speaks it-- in Spanish, you'd say "para nada" which literally translated means "for nothing" but we can imagine countless instances of curt, prepositional phrases used to modify an expression of 'seeing'.

    I don't see "at all" as a colloquialism at all.
  20. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

  21. gendanken Ruler of All the Lands Valued Senior Member

    Don't point me to a link, genius.

    What are you telling me?

    Not only this, but I've already addressed it-- or did you just skim like your parents did reading the box of condoms?
  22. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    I am sure Doreen will explain her use of the word "colloquial".
    At first, I, too, wondered what she meant.
    I think Doreen was speaking from a position of "universal language" (which is meaningful when we talk about the problem of translation), and from this perspective, it makes sense to call a particular English use "colloquial" when it is such that it cannot be meaningfully translated word by word into another language.
  23. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    You asked how "see" is a metaphor, when Doreen had already qualified it as a "dead metaphor", which is a term.

    It seemed you didn't know this term, hence your question.

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