Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Lost in translation.

Translation has always been a tricky business. It isn't just a matter of changing words in one language to another and we can all quote examples of poor, but hilarious, translations from and into English. We can tell immediately if something has been translated by a student using google translate. In short, translation is only as good as the translator.

I read an article today from abc news about Pixar's new film (I refuse to use the word "movie") Cars 2. It has been released around the world and dubbed into 44 different languages and that is where Pixar's problems begin. One character in particular, Mater, proved extremely difficult:

"Mater's kind of a redneck, but that means nothing to anyone overseas because they don't have that particular vocal culture," says Rick Dempsey, senior vice president of Disney Character Voices. "So we had to figure out what region of Germany, for example, has more of an uneducated population without being offensive."

Good luck with that one, Rick.

This article got me thinking about the word "redneck" and how it would translate into other languages. In French, according to wordreference.com the word is "péquenaud". However, if you translate it back into English it gives the meaning as "hillbilly", "yokel" or "country bumpkin". All of these translations mean something completely different in English with differing degrees of offensiveness .

I'm sure that CBS would not have had such a hit in 1962 with a programme called "The Beverly Rednecks" or that the film "Deliverance" would not have been the success it was had Adge Cutler and the Wurzels been cast instead of Bill McKinney and Herbert Coward as the "mountain men".

I think that what I'm trying to say is that translation without intercultural understanding is pointless and if I didn't teach both I would be doing my students a huge disservice.


Clare Seccombe said...

Good point well made, Dom. Reminds me of the looooong discussion on the TES about how to say "chav" in French.

Vancouver Paris Lover said...

I totally agree! I love to use the French expression "n'importe quoi" and even though it may be translated to "whatever" it does not have the same connotation in French. I explain to my students that sometimes, the essence of a word or an expression cannot be translated. That's why it's interesting learning other languages...