Some thoughts on translation

Presenting/demonstrating to an audience who does not speak your language and without real-time translation is not easy. Having a translator in non-real time requires you to think in complete, self-contained chunks — something I do not do. My thought-process (which is reflected in my presentation style) does loop-dee-loops, dithers in cognitive cul-de-sacs, and lurches forward without notice. This doesn’t mesh so well with the discrete communicational quanta required by the translator.

Translations of food descriptions into English rarely help and often make the dish far less appetizing. I’d rather be left to my ignorance of the original Chinese and take my chances. Just guessing at the Pinyin would be so much safer than actually reading “brown sauce from duck entrails,” for example.

There has to be a point at which signage translation into English crosses the line from useful to being more effort than it is worth to make sense of the grammar. I don’t have a ready example, but sometimes signage translations here are so muddled that you’d spend your time better looking for non-textual clues than trying to decipher the English. (Of course, sometimes it is worth it to read.)

Hyphenated translations from a culture whose language never needs hyphenation reminds you how strange it is to see hyphenation done improperly. To native speakers, the hyphen can only intrude at certain places in a word and certainly never to begin a line. Here, the hyphen is much bolder, splitting words wherever it damn well pleases. I like this. Punctuation with chutzpah.

See also: Words Are Pretty. (Seems to have stagnated of late, but I am banking on it revving back up.)

One response to “Some thoughts on translation”

  1. GC says :

    Your translation comment reminded me of a site I saw a couple of months ago. Check out for some humerous applications of asian (mostly japanese) translations into english (or just misuse of english) in signage.