Tag Archive for: emphasis

Lost in Translation

Anyone who speaks two languages knows that some phrases in one language communicate certain ideas better than in another.
For instance the word “gezellig” in Dutch.
In English it is pronounced “heh-sell-ick.”
According to Wikipedia, “A perfect example of untranslatability is seen in the Dutch language through the word gezellig, which does not have an English equivalent. Literally, it means cozy, quaint, or nice, but can also connote time spent with loved ones, seeing a friend after a long absence, or general togetherness.”
It means everything from cozy to friendly, from comfortable to relaxing, and from enjoyable to gregarious.
Just one word and eight letters in Dutch, and it takes Wikipedia and me two dozen words to try and summarise, define and understand that one Dutch word, of which there is no English equivalent.
In fact different cultures prescribe different words to various emotions, and words to express a particular emotion may not be found in another language.
I have learned that all languages have strengths and weaknesses.
Recent observations have taught me something about the Dutch.
Firstly, many Dutch will explain something, and then secondly, they’ll add an English translation to emphasise a point they wish to make, or ensure understanding.
Frequently I now do it myself!
Consider this example in English and the possible interpretations, depending on the emphasis you give different words. (𝒃𝒐𝒍𝒅 𝒊𝒕𝒂𝒍𝒊𝒄𝒔 added)
“𝑰 never said he stole my phone”. Suggests I never said it, but someone else did.
“I 𝒏𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓 said he stole my phone”. Suggests that I never said that at all.
“I never 𝒔𝒂𝒊𝒅 he stole my phone”. Suggests I may have implied it, even if I didn’t directly say it.
“I never said 𝒉𝒆 stole my phone”. Suggests that I didn’t say that boy stole it, but some other boy did.
“I never said he 𝒔𝒕𝒐𝒍𝒆 my phone”. Suggests that I never said he stole my phone, but perhaps he borrowed it.
“I never said he stole 𝒎𝒚 phone”. Suggests that he stole someone’s else phone, not mine.
“I never said he stole my 𝒑𝒉𝒐𝒏𝒆”. Suggests that he stole something else, but not my phone.
𝐄𝐦𝐩𝐡𝐚𝐬𝐢𝐬, changes meaning – a lot!
What have you lost in translation?