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The Chaos of Direct Translation


The Chaos of Direct Translation  

"The heart is broken"  

Would you translate this expression into Burmese as "the heart is broken? If you do Burmese people will laugh at you. This is literal translation, in other word, direct translation without considering the cultural norm or the common usage of Burmese language.  In consistence with Burmese cultural norm and usage it has to be translated as;

 "The liver is broken."  

Yes, it's the liver, not the heart that is broken when your loved one leaves you for the one who is younger, prettier and smarter than you. So you're left with the broken liver, but it is  broken heart for an English person.  

Likewise, when you see "the liver is broken" in Burmese you need to convert it into English as "the heart is broken." If you direct translate it as "the liver is broken" into English, the English people will definitely laugh at you as well.   As a translator I have seen many direct translations in my life when I did checking/proofreading the translations done by other translators. This probably prompts me to write this interesting article.  

Let's see another example.  

"She is over the moon."   Do you know what would it be if we direct translate this expression into Burmese? I am quite sure that it would be a total chaos. The equivalent translation is "she is happy."  

Translation is not verbatim, word for word translation. Translation is the process of converting the same message into the other language. The message should be complete and it should not be added with new idea and also should not be subtracted. Most translators called it NANS, Nothing Added, Nothing Subtracted. Quote: [Translator shall not alter, make addition to or omit anything from their assigned work (AUSIT, Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators)].    

The message should be the complete rendition of the original message. Quote: [Translate original message faithfully to satisfy the needs of the end user (ATA, American Translators Association)].  

The translated message must satisfy the original message. Quote: [Guarantee that translation is a faithful rendering of the original (UN, United Nations)].    

Let's see another example.  

"I love you to the moon and back."  

Again, what would it be if we direct translate this expression into Burmese? Wow, I am quite sure that it would be a beautiful disaster. The equivalent translation is "I love you more than anything."    

Here are a few direct translations which are odd in appearance and absurd in the view point of cultural norms.   Please fill in the table with more examples of your experiences. I'll add more in the table later. Thank you. 


69 Comments to The Chaos of Direct Translation:

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Jeff Marlon on Saturday, 8 March 2014 4:26 PM
I am really laughing while readying that the translation of "The heart is broken" is "The liver is broken" :-) Really if it is true then it is very interesting to the English people.
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Understanding the language of others is very important to avoid misunderstanding. Translating a message into another language is not that easy. It may have different meaning. Translating something does not mean converting it word for word, it should have the same thought. That is why we should respect others' language because we came from different cultures and have different views. Thus, understanding others is to communicate with them effectively. Language is not a barrier if we are open to learn how to understand and know the cultures of others.


Tony Latt on Sunday, 9 March 2014 1:55 PM
Yes, Jeff. It is. Don't you believe me?
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