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https://www.duolingo.com/revdolphin

Translating ambiguity

revdolphin
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A habit I picked up from my days of writing poetry is intentionally writing in a way that leaves something open to multiple interpretations. I don't do that as frequently in my academic writing, but occasionally there is a place for it.

As I've been using Immersion to translate my blog into Spanish, I've found that there have been some occasions of confusion among my fellow translators, particularly in those instances of intentional ambiguity.

How do you translate something that was intentionally written to have multiple interpretations, particularly if the words used don't have all of the same meanings in both languages? How do you decide which interpretation merits representation in the translation, or is it possible to somehow maintain the ambiguity?

6
4 years ago

5 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/kirlll
kirlll
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I think this is a really interestng problem because it depends on context whether a translation (of a word, a sentence or a text as a whole) should be taken litterally or more naturally. I guess this depends on the individual translator(s), whichever they feel is more important.

There is an interesting chapter in Douglass Hofstadters book "Gödel, Escher, Bach" about such translation difficulties. Lewis Carrols nonsense poem Jabberwocky is an interesting example because it is made up of non existant words which do carry meaning as they are composed of two or more existing words. Despite (or meaby Because of) the many difficulties, it has been translated into various languages, there is a webpage which lists a whole bunch of them: http://www76.pair.com/keithlim/jabberwocky/translations/

I think this is a really fascinating subject and I have been toying with the idea of submitting a nonsense verse to Duolingo to see what the community would make of it. =)

4
Reply4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/toomath
toomathPlus
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What drives me nuts is when people "correct" a translation that is accurate simply because they want to say it a different way. We shouldn't be fighting over nuances of English. But I agree with the poster here, some literary works or other more artistic types of writing can have genuinely ambiguous translations. I'm reading a dual language version of Gabriela Mistral right now and there are a few spots where the translator has had to make a genuinely creative choice to capture the spirit of the poem.

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Reply4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Dessamator
Dessamator
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As usual, the guidelines inadvertently speak of this:

Immersion Community Guidelines, Content Correctness:

  1. Try to be as accurate as possible. Don't add any meaning that is not in the original sentence and don't drop anything that is there. This does not mean being literal because it applies to the meaning and not to grammar, syntax or exact wording (Olimo).

That's what a professional translator recommended. However, in this case as the author of the writing, you have creative freedom, and you are your own client. Generally speaking, from my other readings a translation should not be ambiguous. You have the benefit of being the original author and knowing exactly what you meant, but a common translator would not have that privilege, and can only translate what is there to the best of their ability.

If ambiguity was intended, use a word that is ambiguous enough to preserve the original meaning, but not too ambiguous to take into account all possible definitions of the word. Truthfully, another reader of your original text may not understand the ambiguity and may see a straightforward idea or concept. That is of course unless there are notes in the original text indicating ambiguity.

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Reply4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/revdolphin
revdolphin
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It is precisely this point that I was thinking of, specifically about not dropping anything that is there. As for your latter point, yes the purpose of ambiguity is for a reader to see a straightforward idea or concept. And for a different reader to see a different straightforward idea or concept. The object is to allow readers to apply their own interpretations of a text. And ambiguity is not just in vocabulary, sometimes it is in phrasing as well, which can also become complicated when one of the interpretations involves an idiomatic use of language. I'm thinking about the title of a work that I cited, "Naturally Speaking." This is speaking about nature, but it can also be speaking in a natural way, or being straightforward.

0
Reply4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Dessamator
Dessamator
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I see your point, but it really depends, do you wish to preserve the concept in the title because you reference it in the text, or do you just want to translate it to allow the reader to know that you are talking about "speaking naturally"?

If there is a point that needs to be emphasized, then it is up to the artist, the writer, so you could create another ambiguous sentence, keeping the original meaning, or you could translate it literally and put another interpretation of the title in brackets, or you could just add footnotes or a comment somewhere indicating your choice of words in the title, or describing it.

It is funny that you mention a poem, there was a interesting poem I submitted [1] to immersion, and people misinterpreted it and translated it their own way, despite the fact that I made a mention of how the original author wanted it to be translated. But I now realise that is simply the nature of art, it simply has new life when carried over to another medium.

1 -http://www.duolingo.com/#/translation/4d9651e5cb8fd5d16822ac2e7ca6380e

0
Reply4 years ago