Sunday, November 04, 2007

"Lost in Translation": How we perceive culture's through language translation

When one watches TV, they will sometimes see an Arab, or a Chinese person, or a foreigner in general speak. Their language is translated, but is not necessarily accurate. How has/can a situation like this affect our view(s) of other cultures and their morals?

11 comments:

Todd said...

I find this subject very much related to what our psychology group presented about sense perception earlier. Of course this isn't the only perspective on this matter, but heres a little kick to start off this thread.

To narrow down the prompt, it is adressing verbal interpretations of speech. In most situations, we rely on our ability to hear the sounds in order to comprehend what is being said. One of the biggest problems in this situation is that the translation from the original tongue usually always loses some connotation whether it be important to the overall message or not. In this sense, there will never be a perfectly precise translation so it can definitely affect our view of other cultures as the actual message will never be properly presented.

Something else to consider, and this is coming from a very IB Psych point of view, is that different cultures have tremendous influence on our sense perceptions and therefore our understanding of a translated message. An immediate example that popped into my mind is that senior HL World Authors is currently working on The Stranger. As some of you might know, the novel is a translation from the original French version. My class in particular have been fiddling with the notion that some of the words in the original version can be translated in different ways than what is in the translated version. If the novel is read as more of a "conte philosophique" and that Camus was attempting to comment on the culture at the time, this analysis of different words and their translations is very relevant as an inaccurate translation can lead to several other possiblities in the context of the messasge.

I think im losing my trance of thought so I'll stop there, but obviously there are more angles to tackle this subject from so feel free refute my statements at will.

ZoeW said...

I have noticed that when there is a foreigner on TV and you only hear the translation, some of the words they speak sound very simplistic or their ideas sound odd, like they are not very educated. I think that translating loses a lot of the culture of the person and the meaning behind their words. I know in French there are words that don't really have an English version of the word or when there is one it means a different thing. Thus, when a world leader's speach is translated you often lose the little pieces of their dialect that don't transfer to English (like idiomatic expressions) which can do as little as make the speach not very fluid or can change the meaning drastically. Often times it has nothing to do with the translator's ability (although they are under a time crunch and don't have the moment to look up a word in a dictionary) but just the compatablity between the languages. However, for those foreigners who speak English they still might not be able to get their message out (even thinking ahead to get the right sayings in English) due to the fact that English is their second language. It makes me think which would produce a clearer message: a translation or poor original English?
Zoe

ZoeW said...

I have noticed that when there is a foreigner on TV and you only hear the translation, some of the words they speak sound very simplistic or their ideas sound odd, like they are not very educated. I think that translating loses a lot of the culture of the person and the meaning behind their words. I know in French there are words that don't really have an English version of the word or when there is one it means a different thing. Thus, when a world leader's speach is translated you often lose the little pieces of their dialect that don't transfer to English (like idiomatic expressions) which can do as little as make the speach not very fluid or can change the meaning drastically. Often times it has nothing to do with the translator's ability (although they are under a time crunch and don't have the moment to look up a word in a dictionary) but just the compatablity between the languages. However, for those foreigners who speak English they still might not be able to get their message out (even thinking ahead to get the right sayings in English) due to the fact that English is their second language. It makes me think which would produce a clearer message: a translation or poor original English?
Zoe

asseal_a said...

Try to make sure to stay on topic. Think about the knowledge issues that arise from this and how they can be an impediment to us.

Rick_Andrews_Director said...

I agree with zoew, I think that when you hear a foreigner on TV, the language is simplistic. Because the language is simplistic, we get the feeling that they are uneducated and so their ideas must be uneducated and, for the lack of a better term, stupid as well. Of course, this is a knowledge issue in itself, because it causes us to stereotype that group of people as uneducated and simplistic, a bias towards them. Again, this can also be a stereotype that is positive. One could associate the simplistic translation as interpreting the man as a commoner, a man of the people, and therefore trust him more. In this case, translation is not always a bad thing.

R_Dong said...

Personally, I don't think that the text makes them out to be stupid. It is just something that is created for the general public to read.

People have different types and depth of certain knowledge. Some may not have the most distinguished and broad vocabulary as most and this plays a huge factor in the way that TV is translated.

Let's examine the main point of television. The main point of TV is to reach as many viewers as possible so that the TV producers can make the most money as possible. Therefore, in order to reach the most amount of people the text needs to be "dumbed" down to a more general vocabulary.

For example, when reading during English the articles by Albert Camus (French), the translator uses highly sophisticated words. This gives the perception that Albert Camus is smart, but the article is also meant for a different audience, a scholarly one.

Rachel said...

The language I am taking this year is German. If I had a dollar for every time someone asks me what language I take, and then makes a comment along the lines of "ach ja, German is an angry language," I would be very rich. Although some German dialects are actually very rounded and sound quite pretty, it can also sound quite harsh. This is a knowledge issue in that those who do not understand the speaker judge the tonal quality of their language in an attempt to understand the message, especially if the more distinct sounds of their speech are audible over that of the voice of the translator, and they influences the listener's perception of what is being said. For example, if someone heard certain words spoken in a certain German dialect, if they didn't understand the language, they might come away thinking "wow, Germans are really angry," regardless of what was actually being said. If it was over the radio, the only sense they would have to rely on is hearing, and they would be unable to compare the "angry" auditory imput to visual, in which the speaker may be smiling, or concerned, but not necessarily angry. And a stereotype is born.

susanna.w said...

In China, there are often signs, books, or slogans that are translated horribly. In fact there are sites on the internet totally devoted to exploiting this and making fun of them. I think when they post these mistranslations on the internet, they are making fun of a whole race of people. This may indirectly make people think that all Chinese people don't speak English well or understand it. Although in some cases this is true, these mistranslations emphasize generalizations and stereotypes in all races.

asseal_a said...

Remember to relate it to TOK. These are all very good comments, they just need more TOK in them! :)

asseal_a said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leslie Lim said...

This is a great website, so many people need this information, thanks for providing it. I love your color scheme too!

Jin
www.imarksweb.org