Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why learning the language is preferable to 'translation'

I am very much looking forward to using my Korean on a daily basis again in its native environment next week, as there is nothing like full immersion. It is important to know both the langue and parole of the culture under one's ethnographic investigation. Human translators are great, but that is of course a layer of mediation that one would preferably strip away if possible. Time and money play a key role in what one is able to do by oneself, like transcription (an absolute pain to do, would rather escape the chore by paying someone else to do it, but there is some removal of data from the interpreter/researcher/writer).

While it's perfectly good and fair to not fully master a language in which one is doing ethnography (and many would argue not necessary at all), it is still good to at least try. Invoking the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis here, it postulates that a particular language's nature influences the habitual thought of its speakers....

So, to understand a culture more, it makes sense to understand the language.. what was important enough to 'make it' into the local vocabulary, etc.

Anyway, this post was more of an excuse to post some funnies with the translator widget on my dashboard. I initially started with a simple phrase,"What are you doing today?" and "translated" it to Korean. Then what I generally like to do is translate the Korean it spits out into English, and hilarity ensues.

What are you doing today?
너는 무엇을 오늘 하고 있는가?
(which translates to...)

It spreads out what today?
오늘 무엇 그것은 밖으로 퍼진다?
(which becomes...)

What it spreads out today at the outside?
그것은 무엇 외부에 밖으로 오늘 퍼지는가?
(and then...)

Does it outside what spread out today at the outside?
밖으로 오늘 퍼지는 것이이상으로 외부에 그것은?

Spreading out today at the outside at above outside it?
밖으로 오늘 퍼지는가 그것이상으로 상기에 외부에?

It spreads out today at the outside above it in minute description outside?
그것은 작은 묘사안에 그것의 위 외부에 밖으로 오늘 밖에 퍼진다?

It inside small depicting outside up of it spreads out only today at the outside?
그것은 외부에 그것의 안 작은 묘사 밖에 위로 밖으로 단 오늘 퍼진다?
(Last one...)

It outside it only small depiction spreads out only today at the comfort outside?
그것 밖에 에 의하여 안락에 단 작은 묘사 밖으로 단 오늘 밖에 퍼지는?

Lost in translation, indeed. Is this why Asians seem so stereotypically 'mysterious'? It all sounds like a haiku...

I know some of you in the field of translation might have something to say about this!

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