Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Elephants from Ants

When I was studying languages, in particular Russian, I became aware of difficulties in translation, most all due to idioms. In American English if we want to say "don't make such a big deal out of a a small problem" we say "don't make a mountain out of a molehill". In Russian, you say "don't make an elephant out of an ant". So if you were to translate that phrase from one to the other, given that you knew both which is not usually a given, would you translate the words as is, or the idiom? Who is your audience? Should you footnote it? What are the pros and cons of each choice? I would be paralyzed by indecision. What you don't want is your reader to say, "It's Greek to Me", meaning it's incomprehensible.

On that topic, what's incomprehensible? A friend found this cool chart of which languages find other languages incomprehensible. Seems a lot of countries find Chinese or Greek to be the be the language they don't know.

Got any other cool language facts about how languages do the same function in different but similar ways?

1 comment:

Super Aunt said...

I cut this one out some time ago, possibly from a blurb in Reader's Digest. "During the Cold War, I was an interpreter in the Air Force. We were testing a computer that purportedly could translate Russian into English, and vice versa. We began by uttering this English phrase, 'The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.' The Russian translation came out, 'Vodka horosho, no myaca slabie.' Or, in English, 'The alcohol is good, the the meat is poor.'"