Lost in Translation

by on August 15, 2004 at 7:02 am in Science | Permalink

Here from a survey of translators are the top ten most difficult to translate words.

THE TEN FOREIGN WORDS THAT WERE VOTED HARDEST TO TRANSLATE

1 ilunga [Tshiluba word for a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time; to tolerate it a second time; but never a third time. Note: Tshiluba is a Bantu language spoken in south-eastern Congo, and Zaire]

2 shlimazl [Yiddish for a chronically unlucky person]

3 radioukacz [Polish for a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain]

4 naa [Japanese word only used in the Kansai area of Japan, to emphasise statements or agree with someone]

5 altahmam [Arabic for a kind of deep sadness]

6 gezellig [Dutch for cosy]

7 saudade [Portuguese for a certain type of longing]

8 selathirupavar [Tamil for a certain type of truancy]

9 pochemuchka [Russian for a person who asks a lot of questions]

10 klloshar [Albanian for loser]

†¢ THE TEN ENGLISH WORDS THAT WERE VOTED HARDEST TO TRANSLATE

1 plenipotentiary

2 gobbledegook

3 serendipity

4 poppycock

5 googly

6 Spam

7 whimsy

8 bumf

9 chuffed

10 kitsch

My take: It’s rather common to hear that language determines thought and thus if a language has no words for a concept then that concept can’t really be understood by a speaker of that language. I find this theory difficult to believe (perhaps it was first proposed in a language other than English.) If the theory is true, however, I would like to learn the language where “spam” is untranslatable.

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