Language and Literature: Lost in Translation

03 April 2015

Language, books, writing, this is how humans communicate, spread messages, tell stories. Our words and syntax and figurative language all help create worlds and people and situations that we can get lost in. I was asked this week what the importance of literature was. How can this be shared? Smartling,  translation software, understands the power of the written word. This company allows businesses to communicate with audiences everywhere helping eliminate the language barrier. When she asked me what the importance of language and literature was I got thinking. I mean we all know it's important but it's difficult to articulate perfectly just how essential both of these things are. But I'll try.

Literature is a reflection of culture. Books are little journeys that can help you with yours. Books and literature, and all that jazz is important because it provides an outlet for people to get lost in, relate to, fall in love with. 

Reading is falling in love with every page, it's being reassured that you're never alone, its a way to deal with life, it's that friend you can always rely on, it's a light at the end of the tunnel. As cliche as some of these things are, it's true. Books carry so much meaning and knowledge. They allow for people to get into different peoples shoes, become more open minded. Books are important and to share them they have to be translated into different languages and made available to people. They have to be affordable. Companies have to make it a priority to spread their books around, give them to schools, donate them, translate them WELL.

However, when books are translated things can get lost in translation. There are many things essential in keeping a books quality when in translation. So I made a list. Here it is!

  1. Omphness of words. Some words just don't have the same impact. They just don't have enough power as they did one language as the other. I speak Spanish and English and I find that sometimes one word in Spanish is just stronger than an English word and it just doesn't translate into English the same way, or vice versa. This problem probably happens in literature so much. Sometimes its the way things are describes, sometimes it's the words that are said. They just don't hold the same power, or strength. 
  2. Slang. Probably one of the hardest things to change. Translating this isn't just about finding the words that have the same meaning but having the similar words used in the same context. This can be pretty hard if you don't know the culture. 
  3. Jokes. This just varies from culture to culture. Certain things can be deemed acceptable and funny while others are not. A joke in one language can be closer to an insult or just plain grotesque in another. I wish that no matter in what language I read, that the jokes, the humor stays intact. Humor in general is hard to keep when translating books into another language. This problem also exists in pretty much every translation.
  4. Figurative language. Metaphors, similes, hyperbole. These all are hard to translate. When learning a language this can be hard to learn. So when trying to convey the same meaning you might have to change the metaphor or whatever to get the same effect. 
  5. Sarcasm. It's hard enough to convey sarcasm with written language but it's also terribly hard to translate. While sarcasm can be universal, it's hard to convey sarcasm when it's trying to be funny. It might just not get the same effect from one audience as it did with the original audience.
Translation can help books thrive everywhere, especially when done right. It can also help people's knowledge increase, it helps people become aware of new things and different opinions. Books are important and it's essential that they be spread. 
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