On Language - Dangerous Translating Mistakes



Raul Guerrero

Translation is communicating the meaning of a source-language text to a target-language. That is, translation is not about words but what words are about

If a translator doesn’t understand the ideas behind the words, the result has to be a fiasco (and a liability.) One incident comes to mind: A doctor asked an old patient suffering from depression—her granddaughter translating—if she heard voices. “Do you hear voices,” asked the girl. “Sure,” replied the grandmother, “I hear your voice and the doctor’s just fine. I hear voices all the time.” The girl told the doctor: “Grandma hears voices all the time.” The doctor prescribed her antipsychotic meds.

About Online and Machine Translation

First Night in Russia was online-translated to Nuptials in Russia

A more drastic example, a Human Resources nightmare: Capable of learning was online-translated to Spanish as Capable de aprender. English and Spanish do have the words 'capable,' identically spelled but with diametrically different meanings. The English 'capable' conveys the capacity to learn. The Spanish capable states the condition of being castratable. 

And a marketing campaign gone indecorous: Evening shoes for ladies was translated as Shoes for ladies of the evening.

It pays to have a subject-matter expert edit any business translation. 

Raul Guerrero directs the Downtown Arts + Science Salon -DASS

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