Translating and Interpreting – The Translation Page

The Problem of translation is that the map is not the territory.

We live in a world of abstractions:

The map is not the territory.

The photograph is not the actual object.

The painting is not the subject.

The recipe is not the actual meal.

The ideal is not the actual achievement.

When we try to translate something from one language to another we have difficulty sometimes because each language is a system of thought and they are not the same. One language uses one system of metaphors. Another language uses another system of metaphors.

Let’s look at some examples of translation difficulties:

1. Here and there and over there

Japanese has three words for here and there

“koko” means “here”.
“soko” means “there (by the listener)”
asoko means “over there (away from listener and speaker)”

Thai has three words for here and there:

ti-nee means “here”.

ti-naan means “there (by the listener)”

ti-noon means “over there (away from listener and speaker)”

In this respect Thai and Japanese are the same. Does your language have a two part system or a three part system or something else?


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Lafcadio Hearn

Lafacadio Hearn was poet and translator who wrote and thought about the problem of translation.

Problems of Translation

The attempt to translate is in some respects a paradox.

It can only be an approximation or a finding of an equivalent but that is a question of selection or composition and in this sense a translation becomes a composition. It becomes a creative process.

Understanding and Translating Metaphors

Link to The Metaphor Page

A metaphor is a thing which is described in terms of other things. In the words of William Blake:

To see the world in a grain of sand.

To see all things in one thing


To see one thing in terms of another

This is the faculty of metaphor which is a feature of human thought, understanding and communication.

We use categories of metaphors. Can you identify metaphors in your own language and try to translate them.

Are you a translator?

The answer has to be “yes”
If you are learning English, the answer has to be “yes”
If you are a language learner, the answer has to be “yes”.

Write and tell us of your translation difficulty.

think feel etc
know be familiar with kennen wissen shite iru wakaru

place in aboriginal languages

The Metaphor Page

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