How Translation Affects Language and Identity

How Translation Affects Language and Identity

When translating words and phrases, or understanding the influence of translation, it’s essential to take all aspects into account as it’s rarely as simple as providing a literal translation from one language to another. The translation of English isn’t always as easy as it might sound, especially in cultures which are vastly different such as Japan.

English is also – a language that’s spoken all over the globe, and as such many of its words have been almost unconsciously absorbed into other languages.

Here’s a look at how a translator works, and how the influence of translation can affect language and identity.

Understanding Context

In Japanese and other East Asian languages, there’s far more emphasis placed on other parts of the language than just the written word. There may not be equivalent phrases, and you may find concepts being expressed which seem impossible to describe in English, which further emphasise why the influence of translation is a necessity.

For this reason, when translating it’s a good idea to read the full text first. This provides the full context and allows a more precise translation. Without this, it’s easy to make mistakes and jump to inaccurate conclusions.

For example, in one of the Japanese writing systems, the position of the stroke within a group of characters can change the meaning. Japanese can also be unclear about gender and the subject of a sentence may be missing completely. Without taking care to translate the whole text using the right context, the full meaning could be lost. Takara International (HK) Ltd. preserves the entire package of documental text in your ideal vision and needs for communicating with Japanese firms and regulations.

Cultural Expressions

Translating from one language to another isn’t just a matter of knowing the words. Each language structures its sentences in a unique way and uses its vocabulary creatively to communicate ideas and thoughts.

If you translate words or phrases literally, you can end up with awkward results. For example, when Mercedes Benz entered China, they branded themselves as 奔死, Bensi. Unfortunately this means “rush to die” – less than ideal! Once the faux pas was spotted, they changed their name to 奔驰, Benchi. This has the rather more pleasant meaning of “to run quickly as if flying”.

All languages have their own cultural expressions and phrases which translate poorly into another language. For example, if you wanted to say that you’ve been stood up in French, you would use the phrase “poser un lapin”. This is the correct cultural reference and everyone would understand what you mean. However, translated literally it means to put a rabbit down, very confusing if you don’t understand the cultural reference!

Three Tier System

Over the centuries, languages have evolved to embed certain words and phrases from other cultures and countries until they’re claimed as their own. Every language does this, English included, creating a global melting pot of sounds, words and phrases.

Japanese is often described as one of the most complicated languages in the world. This is because it is comprised of three separate components: Katakana, Hiragana and Kanji. Hiragana is the original Japanese writing system while Kanji complements this using Chinese characters. Katakana is the cultural wild card, offering phonetic representation of words from other languages, typically English.

This means that although Katakana words are based on how English words sound, they’re still very Japanese. So much so that English speakers may struggle to recognise the English words spoken in Japan.

All of the above shows how language is deeply affected by the quality and influence of translation, and the importance of getting it right. A translator should be a native speaker in order to accurately capture the unique identity and cultural context of the written word.

Tags: japanese translation, language, translation

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