Monday, November 10, 2003

Hello, good afternoon and welcome!

And what a fine, jolly day it's been so far. I actually woke up with a smile on my face this morning, the kind of smile which says "yes, I know it's Monday morning but even though the majority of the populace is heading for the workplace with a face as long as the time added on when your team is under constant pressure and clinging on to a narrow lead, this particular individual is under no contractual obligation whatsoever and will have the whole house to himself all day and yah boo, sucks to you kind of thing."

Or, in a word....smug.

Trouble is that on this kind of day it is always rather difficult to tear myself away from the routine of coffee, cigarettes and speed surfing and actually get on with something worthwhile which in my case (financial pressures being what they are) is usually a synonym for profitable.

It was with a huge effort of will, therefore, that I opened Word and called up one of the many translations that, my being of a reasonable proficiency in my native tongue, people see fit to remunerate me for the proof-reading thereof.

Now, one might imagine that this would involve the simple correction of spelling mistakes and the replacing of the occasional word or few. However, one is speedily disabused of such a notion when faced with such meaningless drivel as the following.

"...was founded on 1st May, 1951. From before the time of foundation, other public libraries of educational aims were known. However we can speak about public libraries only from 1951."

Yes, quite. And this from a professional translator with a State Certificate in English (Advanced Level) and a further qualification as a State Accredited Translator.

Now don't get me wrong, I have every respect for anyone who bravely attempts such a task but the whole enterprise is doomed to failure from the start. Languages do not differ from each other solely in the respect that we use two different sounding words for the same fact this is rarely the case. Take the word table for example. I could only translate this word into Hungarian as "asztal" if it meant a flat, approximately mid-thigh height, horizontal surface supported by four legs. A table of contents or to table a motion would require entirely different words or phrases.

On top of this, language represents the whole history and culture of a nation. To take the above example; to understand the problem faced by the translator, I have to realise that before 1951 the term for a library was kozkonyvtar and that post 1951 it was nyilvankonyvtar and that koz and nyilvan are both translatable as public. The difference for a Hungarian means something and yet in any other language it probably won't make any sense at all. to proceed? Bravely as it happens! Disregarding the sensibilities of the translator is a must. Paragraph by paragraph, I read the translation, sometimes referring to the original Hungarian, and then, forgetting the words the translator used but retaining the meaning, I have to ask myself how an English speaker would have conveyed the same message. The result often bears little relation to the original translation, often has extra sentences included and has, in the past, resulted in relations between myself and several translators of my acquaint becoming strained to say the very least. My solution to the above problem was a bit of a cop-out but perfectly servicable as I hope you will agree.

"...founded on 1st May 1951. Although other libraries with educational aims existed before this time, we can only really speak of public libraries in their present form from 1951."

It does, however, demonstrate my point in that although it scans pretty well now, it still does not contain all the information which was conveyed in the original Hungarian.

The more I become involved in this kind of work, the more I am convinced that it is truly impossible ever to communicate totally with anyone whose native language is different from one's own. Even within different speech communities who share the same language like the US and the UK, there are nuances and cultural references that are not shared and therefore, mitigate against a complete understanding of each other.

So, it would appear that the punishment meted out at Babel was a pretty severe one after all. No wonder Nations can have bi- and multi- lateral treaties and agreements the interpretation of which is later found to differ considerably between the signatories. Is there no hope? Can we ever find a shared expression of our common humanity? Answers on a postcard please to....

Anyway, talking of cultural differences, this might tickle your fancy. I know it did mine.

Or for those of you yearning for a simpler more innocent age you could always try this.

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