Question
Asked 3 years ago

Why a second language learner cannot perfectly translate target language words into source language? particularly connotative words and phrases?

Suggest some background literature.

Popular Answers (1)

3 years ago
Rudy Troike
The University of Arizona
Howdy, all,
   No one has mentioned the old Italian pun, "traductore, tradittore" (translator, traitor). I recall a comment by an interpreter at the UN on interpreting a speech by Kruschev. When he told a traditional Russian story to illustrate a point, the interpreter realized that the story would make no sense to English hearers, so he quickly realized this and substituted a completely different story which would be familiar and make the same point. 
  Research has shown that, even at a literal level, different languages "pack" different kinds of information in, for example, verbs. Both English and Spanish have a general verb of motion, "go"/"ir", but Spanish has a verb "salir", which would be translated by the Verb + Particle combination "go out", which separates the motion and direction. Translations of novels from English to Spanish and vice-versa show differences in the amount of information omitted or added. 
  Even in technical translation, people working in a field have standard expressions which a translator unfamiliar with the field would be unfamiliar with. A professional translator hired by an archeology journal to translate article summaries into Spanish produced odd literal translations because she was unfamiliar with the field. Literary translation, of course, is vastly more complex because it includes a great deal of cultural and emotional content, and poetry in particular requires a complete re-casting. I have heard it said that the English translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is better than the original. 
  Pedagogically, translation provides an important "boot-strapping" which speeds access into the target language. Learning a second language in a school setting can be likened to gaining familiarity with another country and its culture by looking at pictures in a book, or reading descriptions. Only by gradual steps does one gain greater sociolinguistic and cultural knowledge, but only living in the other country gives one the experiential and existential sensibility for deeper knowledge. (Even then, of course, no one can ever become a complete native of a second culture.) All second language learners necessarily begin with translation, overt or covert, until their linguistic competence reaches the point at which they can use the L2 without conscious awareness, but even then, psycholinguistic research shows that the L1 is being activated, suggesting that translation is still taking place subliminally.
   Rudy Troike
   University of Arizona
   Tucson, Arizona, USA

All Answers (28)

3 years ago
Reza Biria
Isfahan Islamic Azad University Iran
Dear Farxeen Chaudry,
Word meaning is defined at two levels: the physical and the cognitive levels. Second language learners have usually no problem understanding  the physical level of word meaning. For instance, the word  OWL has a clear-cut equivalence in Persian, and I believe, in other languages as well. However, at the cognitive level, word meaning involves delicate associations which transcend the linguistic domain and are frequently  rooted in the culture of the language. While OWL reflects wisdom in English, it means " something ominous" in Persian.Therefore, as you have rightly observed, translation of connotative words is quite complicated for second language learners.
Best regards,
R. Biria
3 years ago
Karwan Mustafa
Universiti Sains Malaysia
Farxeen Chaudry,
Hello, 
I do believe that there are different reasons why a second/foreign language learner is not able to translate phrases of the target language into the source language perfectly. Firstly, many phrases can only work in a particular language whereas it might not work in another language. Secondly, learning a second/foreign language does not necessarily make language learners translators. They may learn how to speak the target language, but not how to translate as translation is a totally different job to do. Thirdly, some language learners are not good in their own language. I, for example, can speak English but sometimes I am unable to translate some phrases into my mother tongue (Kurdish) due to the reasons or one of the reasons I have pointed out above. Last but not least, there might be even other reasons that make it difficult for a language learner to translate every single phrase of the target into the source language. Hope you find my comment helpful to understand the issue. 
Peace, 
Karwan 
Dear @RezaBiria & @KarwanMustafa
Thank you for sharing the views. these were of great worth.
What I need to explore is the reason behind the failure on the part of L2 learner in his/her attempt at transmitting associative/connotative meaning from target to source language under Structuralism/ Semiotics perspective. Or any other perspective except Translation Studies.
can you be of any help in this regard?
looking forward!
3 years ago
Michael W. Marek
Wayne State College
Some languages translate better than others.  Chinese and English, for example, can be hard to translate.  I think this is because often there are not words in both languages that have identical meanings, so translation consists of finding the closest meaning, not the perfect identical meaning.  
3 Recommendations
Farxeen Chaudhry
3 Recommendations
3 years ago
Rosa De Castro
Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca
Pienso que si es  más fácil traducir  palabras cuyo significado es objetivo, denotativo y se usan en ambas lenguas. Cuando una de las lenguas o las dos tienen valores connotativos distintos o no existe ese valor en una de las lenguas la traducción es imposible.
3 years ago
Maria Catarina Paiva Repolês
Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciência e Tecnologia do Sudeste de Minas Gerais
Farxeen Chaudry,
I guess associative meaning remains a cultural bound as you have pointed . Colors are such a good example. In Brazil,  when we say that everything is blue, it means it is Ok, differently from the meaning in English. There is even an old song which holds this mistake due to the pure translation of the word without considering its cutural meaning in use.
2 Recommendations
Glenn Bingham
2 Recommendations
@RosaDeCastro, @Debaker and @MariaCatarinaPaivaRepoles
Appreciate the knowledge you added to the query.
The issue still needs be dug deeply.
That users of language X cannot understand those of language Y according to Structuralism, given the absence of certain terms in either language. What is the role of culture in the problem faced by users of L1 while learning L2? and which certain other factors account for the problem stated above?
Under the light of which specific theory you guys have come up with your answers to the question? Kindly share.
1 Recommendation
Glenn Bingham
1 Recommendation
3 years ago
Naeem Dilpul
University of Management and Technology (Pakistan)
Farxeen,
The question which you are trying to address is about more pragmatics and semantics referencing for lexicons. Your research will generally do better to tease out causes and reasons beyond such linguistic phenomena. What I have understood from my own experiences and some study background, it happens because of many reasons which can be cultural orientations, different language family groups and exposure to the target language.
Deleted profile
I would agree with Maria Catarina about associative meaning.  As a bilingual and a former translator/interpreter, I can say that just knowing 2 languages does not necessarily mean you possess the same corpus of vocabulary as in L1.  Furthermore, there are many false cognates that make translation into L2 incorrect.  For example, the word "translation" itself.  In Russian, трансляция (translation) means broadcasting (as in TV) . I hear bilinguals all the time getting stuck in this pitfall; there are countless false cognates that render translation meaningless.  On a lighter side -  there's a funny anecdote about literary translation, (which connotes a certain degree of poetic license on the part of the translator), and it goes like this:  "Translation is like a woman; if it's beautiful, it's not faithful, and if it's faithful, it's not beautiful." 
3 years ago
Ahsan Rehman
Mohi-ud-Din Islamic University
Translating a text requires higher knowledge of the subject of semantics and stylistics along with the knowledge of the basic grammar and vocabulary of the target and source languages plus many other socio- linguistic aspects .Thus a learner of a language is put in deeper waters than he can swim in when translation is used as a tool to learn English.
A good example is in Urdu language where the student gives exams while the teacher takes it, however  in English,it is the opposite; the takes exams while the teacher gives it.
3 Recommendations
Farxeen Chaudhry
3 Recommendations
3 years ago
Malebogo Thabong
University of the Witwatersrand
Translators are better at translating into their native language than into a second language because their target language is naturally acquired in a culture and environment where this language is naturally acquired and practiced, whereas their second language is in most cases learned, rather than acquired. The reason behind this is that, translators who translate into their target language have more natural knowledge of the various cultural elements like proverbs, idioms, metaphors, collocations and linguistic elements of their target language such as semantics, syntax, morphology etc. than those who translate into a second language. 
3 years ago
Sorin Paliga
University of Bucharest
The answer is simpler than you may imagine: because a language is not a list of words, once you learn them, you can speak that language. You must learn modules, phrases, expressions... and beyond. 
3 years ago
Rudy Troike
The University of Arizona
Howdy, all,
   No one has mentioned the old Italian pun, "traductore, tradittore" (translator, traitor). I recall a comment by an interpreter at the UN on interpreting a speech by Kruschev. When he told a traditional Russian story to illustrate a point, the interpreter realized that the story would make no sense to English hearers, so he quickly realized this and substituted a completely different story which would be familiar and make the same point. 
  Research has shown that, even at a literal level, different languages "pack" different kinds of information in, for example, verbs. Both English and Spanish have a general verb of motion, "go"/"ir", but Spanish has a verb "salir", which would be translated by the Verb + Particle combination "go out", which separates the motion and direction. Translations of novels from English to Spanish and vice-versa show differences in the amount of information omitted or added. 
  Even in technical translation, people working in a field have standard expressions which a translator unfamiliar with the field would be unfamiliar with. A professional translator hired by an archeology journal to translate article summaries into Spanish produced odd literal translations because she was unfamiliar with the field. Literary translation, of course, is vastly more complex because it includes a great deal of cultural and emotional content, and poetry in particular requires a complete re-casting. I have heard it said that the English translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is better than the original. 
  Pedagogically, translation provides an important "boot-strapping" which speeds access into the target language. Learning a second language in a school setting can be likened to gaining familiarity with another country and its culture by looking at pictures in a book, or reading descriptions. Only by gradual steps does one gain greater sociolinguistic and cultural knowledge, but only living in the other country gives one the experiential and existential sensibility for deeper knowledge. (Even then, of course, no one can ever become a complete native of a second culture.) All second language learners necessarily begin with translation, overt or covert, until their linguistic competence reaches the point at which they can use the L2 without conscious awareness, but even then, psycholinguistic research shows that the L1 is being activated, suggesting that translation is still taking place subliminally.
   Rudy Troike
   University of Arizona
   Tucson, Arizona, USA
3 years ago
Sorin Paliga
University of Bucharest
@Rudy Troike. This is exactly what I had written before: a language is NOT a list of words. The story with Khruschëv is probably true, any uneducated politician thinks that, if using proverbs and other specific phrases, these will be wisely translated.
3 Recommendations
Glenn Bingham
3 Recommendations
3 years ago
Maja Popovic
Dublin City University
My experience: I understand and speak several foreign/second languages. However, when I have to produce a translation from one into another (even into my native/first language!) -- this is a completely different story. Sometimes it is very easy and straightforward, sometimes I have to consult dictionaries, and/or think a lot about the given context, sometimes it is even necessary to rephrase everything in order to sound natural in the target language.
3 Recommendations
Glenn Bingham
3 Recommendations
3 years ago
Sorin Paliga
University of Bucharest
@Maja Popović. Of course, this is EXACTLY the story we are talking about. 
3 years ago
Reza Biria
Isfahan Islamic Azad University Iran
Dear Farxeen Chaudhry,
The Whorfian hypothesis postulated a long time ago is back in what is today called neo-Whorfian theory. This theory maintains that langue determines thought and both language and thinking patterns are culture specific. Consequently, creating a rendition of a SL word sometimes runs into a cul-de-sac, especially for connotative words which involve extralinguistic associations. For instance, a word like OWL can easily be translated into English by a Persian speaker because both English and Persian share the same physical domain. However, at the cognitive level, the two languages are strikingly different . While in Persian OWL means ominous, in English it refers to wisdom. The reason is that,  at the cognitive domain, words are associated with culture specific associations and images making translation complicated.
Best regards,
R. Biria
4 Recommendations
Farangis Shahidzade
Farxeen Chaudhry
3 years ago
Waliya Yohanna Joseph
University of Calabar
Any professional translator must have vast and dynamic knowledge of the culture, civilisation and traditions of  the target language and its speakers. The translator must also know the diverse uniqueness of the two languages in question. These are the egresses to this problem.
Deleted profile
What Rudy Troike said is very true, and the interpreter for Khruschev was quick on his/her feet to tell another, semantically similar story. However, I've been in these shoes before - when you interpret an idiom or a pun that does not make sense in the target language, and then have the vis a vis PUN ON THE PUN, or respond to an idiom that you gave.  What do you do now?  This can get sticky :).  I have had to stop conversation and explain to both parties the reason for stopping and clarifying.  Thank G-d it wasn't at UN; I only interpreted for small business audiences, and even when meeting with heads of state, it was in a smaller, chamber settings. 
3 years ago
Irina Gvelesiani
Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University
Dear colleague,
   The major problem is the influence of the first language (the native language).
Kind regards,
3 years ago
Sophie Léchauguette
Université Charles-de-Gaulle Lille 3
Dear Farxeen, dear Colleagues,
I do agree with the above answers and would just like to add that as a translator, I find the question may be.a little odd. It seems to suggest that by acquiring a second language, you automatically become able to translate.
Translation is, as everyone knows, a very complex cognitive activity, requiring an extensive knowledge of at least two languages and cultures. But, most bilingual people are not born translators. It takes learning and practice to become one.
So, as a language teacher, I expect students to find it hard to translate from target language into source language. I actually make a point of finding short texts my students are able to understand, but unable to rtanslate, to try and convince them that translation is a huge waste of time and effort if you want to learn to speak a language for communicative purposes.
Best regards
2 years ago
Kiran Grover
Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College, Abohar
translator will be the master of culture,features,nature of target & source language then third one is creative mode.
1 Recommendation
Farangis Shahidzade
8 months ago
Farangis Shahidzade
Yazd University
hi. translation is culture-related. some concepts are usual in a language but needs a lot of effort to find an equivalent in the other. as u stated, regarding connotational meaning , it is more demanding. different cultures with different views interpret the same concept differently. translators should be familiar with intercultural differences and views. translators need linguistic, socio-cultural and pragmatic competence of the two languages to translate efficiently.best
5 months ago
Farxeen Chaudhry
The question stated above was initially asked from the standpoint of a novice researcher some two years back, the satisfactory answer to which (from Second Language Learning perspective) is still not reached. Although I agree with all of the answers given by colleagues, but the question I put was not to be answered or interpreted under the Translation Studies head to be more specific. Initially it is somewhat closer to what Reza Biria has come up with & I would appreciate if anyone furthers the answer by suggesting some theoretical framework, model or methodology to help me look at the query more clearly.
regards
1 Recommendation
Farangis Shahidzade
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