The Beauty and Challenge of “Untranslatable” Words

19 10 2016

Every language is a psychological portrait of a culture. Thus the tricky nature of localization from any language to another: exactly what is being implied or missed in the word choices made during translation? Expert language professionals and native speakers are essential to nuanced accuracy.

definition-390785_1920But even professional translators face the challenge of finding equivalents for words that capture a concept in one language, but are not available in a succinct form in another. Idioms and slang reach into the crevices between more conventional ideas, but there are also well-established words that reflect more deeply rooted, unique aspects of the cultures that generated them.

As autumn carries us toward the end of another year, let’s look, for example, at a few words that convey experiences of the human mind in states of transition.

“Saudade” is a Portuguese word that poet/translator Carolyn Forche says describes “a vague and persistent desire for something that cannot be, a time other than the present time, a turning toward the past or future, a sadness and yearning beyond sorrow, the pain which whispers through every happiness.” And yet the book of Portuguese poems by Claribel Alegria that Forche translated, “Saudade”, was entitled “Sorrow” in English. There was apparently no closer, efficient English equivalent than a word that paints only a single aspect of the complex Portuguese word.

The Japanese word, “aware” means “the bittersweetness of a brief and fading moment of transcendent beauty.”*

“Fernweh” is a German word that captures the peculiar sensation of homesickness for a place you have never actually been.

The Korean word, “Won”, refers to the unwillingness of an individual to relinquish an illusion they have.

Vladimir Nabakov defines the Russian word “toska” this way: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

“Lítost” is a Czech word for a state of agony caused by the sudden awareness of one’s own misery.

Discovering these words that pin down rich psychological phenomena, it seems clear that the human translator is indispensable to the process of carrying complex meanings accurately from one culture to another. Skrivanek specializes in sophisticated translation of the most difficult texts and language combinations, and when necessary, we call on subject matter experts for clarification of obscure concepts. Carefully selected translation teams provide the kind of multi-faceted talent and experience capable of resolving even the most troubling language questions.

Please share with us the “untranslatable” words – from English or any other language – that you have come across!

J. McShulskis

*Anjana Iyer, 30 Untranslatable Words from Other Languages (illustrations)

 

 

 

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Is the Spanish of Argentina the Sexiest?

9 06 2016

6427241251_5dd2239c6e_b-kopie.jpgThe failure of European Spanish as a one-size-fits-all language for every Spanish-speaking country in the world is illustrated by a trend in the publishing industry. Independent Spanish publishers are seeking markets beyond Europe, in both the U.S. and Latin America, since financial recovery in Spain has been slow. Interestingly both the Spanish language used and the illustrations have had to be altered in order for children to identify with the tales.

From its European birthplace, the Spanish language has traveled and taken root as a dominant language in nearly twenty other countries. And as is always the case with vibrant languages adopted in varied environments, time, oceans, and myriad human influences have ensured that European Spanish evolved in different ways than did its cousins in Latin America and elsewhere.

Spaniards can speak with Mexicans or Argentines quite easily, but their languages are different enough to create moments of confusion. Different enough, too, to create philosophical arguments over which variation of Spanish is the most beautiful, the most pure, the sexiest. And as home to the Real Academia Espanola, which regulates the language, Madrid boasts the Spanish often considered ‘most important.’

From the marketing perspective, the variations are enough to cause disconnects between a company and its customers. A word or idiom incorrectly used, for instance, can be inaccurate at best, and offensive in the worst cases. “Coger” is a good example of the extreme: in Spain it means to “grab” or “take,” as in lunch or buses, but in most Latin American countries it is a crass way of referring to sexual intercourse. “Okay” as an affirmation is “vale” in Spain, and “bien” or “okay” in Latin America. The word “camión” means “truck” in Argentina and “bus” in Mexico. And the gap created by incorrect words frequently becomes a gap in trust.

In addition to vocabulary differences, there are a few notable pronunciation variations, including:

* In some parts of Latin America, the‘s’ at the end of words is sometimes ‘eaten’, most frequently with plural nouns, or for instance in the slang version of Buenos Aires.

* ‘C’ has a pronunciation like ‘s’ through most of Latin America, and often like ‘th’ in Europe.

* In Spain, the double ‘l’ is close to the ‘y’, but in the Buenos Aires region, it’s more like ‘sh’ or ‘zh’.

Grammatical differences include different frequency of the use of the three past tense forms, and a preference in Europe for the use of ‘vosotros’ when addressing a group as ‘you’, versus ‘ustedes’.

Whether it’s advertising or a child’s story, language is an intimate tool that can connect straight to the heart – but you have to get the details right. Skrivanek Group has over two decades of experience translating Latin American to European Spanish and vice versa, and from either one into dozens of other languages.

J. McShulskis

 

 





Dutch & Flemish – Equal but not the Same

5 02 2016

Flemish Dutch

Spoken mainly in Netherlands and Belgium by about 23 million people worldwide, Dutch is an important target language for marketing. Reaching into this combined global market with your products and services opens your business up to a GDP of over 1 trillion USD.

But not all Dutch is exactly the same. For example, Flemish Dutch is a variant that is spoken by 5.5 million people in Flanders, a region of Belgium that includes the provinces of West and East Flanders, Brussels, Flemish Brabant, Antwerp and Limburg. There are hundreds of words used in Flemish Dutch that are not used in Netherlands Dutch, and pronunciations and word order are also not always identical.

As an example, there is a formality maintained in Flemish in more instances than in Netherlands Dutch. While such characteristics may be more apparent in spoken Dutch than in the written form, the best practice for reaching Belgian Dutch markets is to have translations reviewed and edited by a Flemish translator.

One reason to take care in handling the differences is the long-standing sense the Flemish have had that the Dutch they use is considered inferior. The main Dutch dictionary, Van Dale, for instance has in the past referred to Flemish words and pronunciations as if they were deviations from the “correct” Netherlands Dutch forms. This is changing.

The Dutch Union, referred to as the “Taalunie”, was established in 1980 by the Treaty Concerning the Dutch Language Union, which stipulates that the participating countries “will set joint policy with respect to the Dutch language.” Their publication most commonly called the Green Book is an official dictionary-style guide to the spelling, plural forms and grammatical use of words, most recently revised and released in October of 2015.

But just to be sure of getting the right spellings and usage for your particular audience, you might want your translator to refer also to the “White Book,” created by Dutch mainstream media because of their objections to aspects of the Green Book. Both are in use for Flemish dialects as well as Netherlands Dutch, and while the differences are mostly subtle, they are often quite noticeable to those who care.

Skrivanek has a branch in Belgium where Dutch linguists of both Belgium and Netherlands can assist you in the right choice of tone for your translated materials.

J. McShulskis





Unicorns, Bubbles and the Placement of Dots – Financial Translation

29 01 2016

There are financial terms with origins a few hundred years old that still ring through our conversations about money. And although their roots were idiomatic, some – like “stock”, “invest” and “bubble” – are so old and familiar now that English speakers in capitalist economies know their financial implications instantly.

Financial translation

Take “capital” itself, for instance: its Latin origin is “caput,” the word for “head,” which may have become established as a term for wealth because of the common use of livestock to assess a family’s prosperity.* That word was born several eras ago — today new words flow into the financial lexicon constantly from different industries, cultures, and business and technological trends.

“Unicorn,” for instance, refers to tech start-ups valued at over $1 billion but manifesting negative cash flow, two conflicting qualities that suggest such start-ups are illusions. In Chinese will the English word “unicorn” be borrowed and used as is, or will “kirin” (a similar creature) be employed? Does a “kirin” imply fanciful unreality? On the other end of the poetic spectrum, “intraday momentum index” is the relatively new term for “a technical indicator used by day traders to signal when a stock is trending up or down….”** an awkward phrase to pin down in another language.

The greatest challenges inherent in financial translation, however, come with the high stakes around errors. A single misunderstood and wrongly assigned number or decimal point can destroy the meaning of a report. Presentation and formatting of numbers and the symbols associated with them must also be flawlessly consistent or content can become incomprehensible.

For many countries, the terminology used must comply with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) issued by the IASB, the International Accounting Standards Board, and endorsed by the EU. Translation memory and glossaries help translators stay current with IFRS changes, which they must legally do.

The nature of communication about money means that deadlines will often be super tight, and yet there cannot be any shortcuts taken when it comes to the confidentiality of financial translations. Data must be protected by signed Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) with top-notch security systems in place for all transfer of information. You must implicitly trust your LSP when it comes time to translate financial content, and be sure that, like Skrivanek, their expertise extends deeply into financial concepts and the trending jargon.

J. McShulskis

*The Devil’s Financial Dictionary, by Jason Zweig

**Investment News, Top 10 Financial Terms of 2015





Language Identities in the Countries of Former Yugoslavia

23 11 2015

800px-Former_Yugoslavia_Map

The countries that were once Yugoslavia are both bound and repelled by such tumultuous history that their close language ties are twisted by politics. Communication to each of them must be handled carefully, no one exactly like any of the others.

Among these seven countries — Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina – there are languages spoken that are essentially the same, but the fight for individual identity plays out in staunch refusal of any one “language” to be absorbed by another. Bosnians, Croats, Montenegrins and Serbs understand each other perfectly, and linguists identify the four languages as the same language with different labels; but nationalism, fueled by late 20th century wars, is crystallized in language labels that carry the added significance of who is “us” and who is “them”.

So the official, similar languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina (population just under 4 million), Croatia (population almost 4.5 million), Montenegro (population about 620,000), and Serbia (population over 7 million) are respectively: Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serbian. They are the same linguistically, with different names. And the complicating factor is that there are just enough variations among them that an individual from any one of these four countries would notice if the language in your marketing or product materials was created for one of the other countries/languages.

In Macedonia (population just over 2 million), Macedonian is the language to use for translation, and in Slovenia (population also just over 2 million), it is Slovenian.

The majority of Kosovo’s citizens speak Albanian; Serbian is the second official language in Kosovo (population just under 2 million).

As far as which countries to approach with your products, some of these seven countries of the former Yugoslavia have EU membership, ties to NATO and historically strong ties to the U.S. and/or Europe. In varying states of peace, stability and openness to trade, they must be examined one by one for specific demographics in the cities and regions where you are considering doing business. Translations and localization for these close neighbors will always be distinct from one another.

Skrivanek has experienced linguists and subject matter experts across the region to help you ensure that all of your materials are country appropriate.

J. McShulskis





Terminology: where to start?

2 12 2014

Terminology Managment aims at improving the overall quality of communications by ensuring the use of the same term for a concept in all circumstances. It involves the defining of specific terms for a special field and agreeing on recommended term equivalents in various languages.

terminologyHave you considered the value of doing systematical terminology work for your corporation? The ROI on terminology management is indisputable: a centralized terminology database will save a lot of time for various stakeholders in your corporation (technical writers, marketing, customer support, engineers…). It saves translation time, and additionally, it will prevent errors in a source text that gets translated X number of times and then needs to be corrected in all languages. The decision is yours whether you want the research on a term to be done once and shared with all translators, or done for every occurrence in every language you translate into. And perhaps the most important benefit is that a clear, consistent message results in a better customer experience.

Once you (and your management…) are convinced that investing in terminology work makes sense, where do you begin? First you need to think over the workflow and the best tools for your requirements, such as making the terminology available company-wide. After that, you could consider terminology extraction from your existing documents, a process Skrivanek has extensive experience in. Our global Marketing & Sales Manager, An Stuyven, has just given a presentation at the recent Localization World Conference in Vancouver on how terminology extraction can be accomplished effectively. If you are interested in hearing more about this option, or if you want to take advantage of our free terminology process consulting, please get in touch with us and we will be more than happy to help you get started.

Contact us at info@skrivanek.com and we will get back to you!





A Hidden International Language

25 11 2014

Into the universal realm of the Unicode, the symbols for a weightlifter, a spiderweb and the Mona Lisa have now been accepted. These are three of the more than 250 emoji considered significant enough that their computer encoding is being officially standardized for use by Apple, Google, Microsoft and others.

new_emojisThese three join hundreds of emoji facial expressions, hand gestures, food items, weather and plant elements, on and on, used to replace or augment words.The non-profit Unicode Consortium regulates embedded computer code for every character in every living language, and is “the foundation for all modern software” according to their official website (Unicode.org). Begun by Xerox and Apple leaders in 1987 as an “international/multilingual text character encoding system,” today Unicode sets officially recognized computer code standards in coordination with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Changing the standardized code for any symbol – even if that code accidentally includes a misspelling – is not possible once it is in use, because stability of past programming with present and future programming is Unicode’s fundamental reason for existence. However, adding symbols is an ongoing process: ancient scripts for example, or new currency symbols, and the ever-increasing number of popular emoji.

The formal petitioning process for the acceptance of new symbols is lengthy and complex. The first criterion is that new characters must be in widespread use as textual elements (for a glimpse of the most-used emoji, check out a real time tally of their Twitter use at emojitracker.com). When that is established, petitioners are asked to engage in discussion via Unicode forums and email exchanges to refine (or eliminate) their proposals.

Such discussions may well include cultural, political, and social concerns (see for example, “What about diversity?” at Unicode.org under FAQ), involving issues like the color of your symbol or its origins. One Unicode emoji petition argued: “Of the more than 800 emojis, the only two resembling people of color are a guy who looks vaguely Asian and another in a turban. There’s a white boy, girl, man, woman, elderly man, elderly woman, blond boy, blonde girl, and, we’re pretty sure, Princess Peach. But when it comes to faces outside of yellow smileys, there’s a staggering lack of minority representation.”

Juxtaposition of computer code standardization with a conversation including yellow smiley faces in a tally of racially diverse symbols seems impossibly odd. But this is, after all, the formative stage of a sort of international language, and human beings are incurably attached to the significance of their symbols.

The Unicode 7.0.0 symbols added this year and 8.0.0 symbols in the process of adaptation are described and listed at Unicode.org.
What do they mean to Americans? What do they mean to Swedes or Peruvians? How is the use of such symbols changing our conversations?

 

 J. McShulskis