While translating, we sometimes find a word that does not seem to exist, at all, but in the text we are working on. We look it up in the monolingual dictionary: nothing. We look it up at WordReference, Linguee, Reverso, ProZ… Nothing. No one seems to have encountered this word ever before. We google it to search for a definition or to find more context for it, and it is not even there!
How is this possible? Why does this happen?
4 reasons why you can find “nonexistent” words in the original
- The word is misspelt. We usually assume that the texts we translate from are perfectly written, with zero grammar or spelling mistakes. This is true in most cases. However, it is possible to find mistakes in the original texts, whether serious or not. If the text is in English, it may feature spelling or typing mistakes to such an extent that the word might be beyond recognition, especially if it is used in technical jargons.
- The original is itself a translation. You are struggling to translate the words in this area-specific What if the original is itself a translation? Well, then that translator probably found it hard as well to find the right words that fit the context. Some words can be translated in many different ways, depending on their context. Take, for example, the words run and set. If the translator does not know the right terminology for a certain area of knowledge, he or she is likely to use the wrong term. Let alone if machine translation was used. In a retranslation, you can encounter difficulties in understanding both vocabulary and grammatical structures. You may even find untranslated words.
- The writer was not writing in his or her mother tongue. In a similar way, the article could have been originally written in a certain language, but the writer’s mother tongue may be a different one. You could say it is another kind of translation process. This could also introduce both grammatical and spelling mistakes in the text.
- The word is a neologism. Given the number of technology advances, hundreds of words have taken on new meanings, and a number of brand new words have been added to our languages. We, as translators, are the ones who find these new terms and the ones who are in charge of providing with a correct equivalent term in the target language.
What to do
A professional translator knows it is utterly important to dig deep about the topic being translated, as well as make sure of retorting to reliable and certified sources. Also, translators are always suggested to choose an area of specialization to work in. This allows us to be familiar with the topic and be better prepared to spot this kind of issues.
What do you think? Which is the weirdest expression you have ever had to translate? Your opinions and suggestions are welcome! Did you enjoy the article? Like it and share it with your friends!
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