Language of the Week: Hindi 7

Translating Adopted Words

On any given day in my household, you will hear my mom announce, “I’m going to the super [shoo-puh]! Do you need anything?” Where do you think my mom is going?

When I asked my American friends, their guess was unanimously “superintendent” (of an apartment building). Actually, Koreans have adopted the word “super” as a shorthand for “supermarket.” While the full compound word, “supermarket,” and its common, North American shorthand, “market,” are also used, “super” is the most popular way of calling grocery stores.

This confusion isn’t limited to multilingual settings:

“I like your pants, ” I told a friend, alluding to her trousers. While none of the North Americans gave it a second thought, the Brits did a double-take. “Pants” in North America mean trousers, whereas the word is synonymous to undergarments in the UK.

Language conforms to people, not the other way around. The process of mixing and borrowing words is neither new nor uncommon. Even within one language, definitions and connotations continually change. Here are some English words that have changed definition over time:

  • heartburn
    • used to mean: jealousy or hatred
    • now means: an unpleasant hot feeling in your chest caused by something you ate
  • artificial
    • used to mean: full of artistic and technical skill
    • now means: not natural or real or sincere
  • awful
    • used to mean: commanding awe
    • now means: extremely bad or unpleasant

(see more from source)

The inevitable and continual evolution of language challenges content creators, translators, and consumers. Creators and consumers must be conscious about word choices, and consider possible discrepancies. Of course, it is impossible for one person to be aware of all literal and cultural meanings, so we must opt for the most reasonable definitions. For the content middleman (ie. translators, interpreters), there is an extra step. They must understand the original text and culture so perfectly that its translation fits into the second culture naturally.

Machines have successfully replaced people in many professions. But in the realms of translation, our ability to understand a piece of text on multiple levels has proven invaluable and irreplaceable. Vocabulary and grammar is one aspect of language and translation, but understanding the undertone and emotions behind those words cannot be taught or programmed.

The basic qualification of translators is their fluency in two languages’ grammar and vocabulary. The second qualification is the cultural understanding of places in which those languages are spoken in. Translation professionals must be up-to-date on cultural hot-words, changed definitions, unspoken rules and connotations.

Have your seen our blog post on hilarious translation fails?


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