THE FOLLY OF TRANSLATION


USING LANGUAGE versus ANALYSING LANGUAGE.

As language educators, we are constantly asked, “WHAT DOES IT MEAN?” . . . “What does this word mean?” or “What does that phrase mean?

Our response : “IT DEPENDS ON THE CONTEXT – IT DEPENDS ON THE SITUATION.”

Imagine what could happen if we told a student that the English word ‘bright’ means ‘shiny, sparkling, glowing’ . . . without having any ‘context’ for the word. The student might later encounter a sentence like, “The boy is very bright,“ and become utterly confused. We would need to explain that, “In this particular context, the word ‘bright’ means ‘clever’ rather than ‘shiny.’

As this example illustrates, to truly understand the meaning of the English word, ‘bright,’ one must know the ‘context’ in which the word is being used – one must know the situation.

The same is true with Bahasa Indonesia. Consider the Indonesian word, ‘lewat’.

When speaking of the ‘time of day,’ we might say, Sekarang, jam 2 lewat 10 (It is now 10 past 2).

But when giving directions, we might say, Untuk pergi ke Dunkin Donuts, lewat Jalan Fatmawati (To get to Dunkin Donuts, go by way of Jalan Fatmawati).

As you can see :

In different contexts, there are subtle changes in the meaning of the word ‘lewat.’ In one of the above contexts, ‘lewat’ might be translated as ‘past’ ; and in the other, it might be translated as ‘by way of.’

In short, CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING! Words and phrases DO NOT exist independently. They are encountered in many different contexts. And without such contexts, words and phrases can not be assigned any accurate meaning.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY :

DO NOT SPEND TOO MUCH TIME ATTEMPTING TO DEFINE WORDS AND PHRASES.

TRANSLATIONS ARE FUZZY AND INACCURATE, AND THEY DO NOT REMAIN CONSTANT IN DIFFERENT SITUATIONS.

JUST USE, USE, USE THE LANGUAGE IN THE VARIOUS CONTEXTS OF YOUR LIFE . . . AND EVENTUALLY, YOU WILL DEVELOP AN INTRINSIC UNDERSTANDING OF HOW WORDS AND PHRASES ARE USED IN DIFFERENT SITUATIONS.

Nobody ever learned to communicate effectively in a language by opening a dictionary and memorising translations of words. Those who become fluent users of a language are those who focus less on translation and analysis, and more on USING THE LANGUAGE in the various contexts of their lives.

#thefollyoftranslation

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