The Cluetrain Manifesto states that people recognize each other as such from the sound of their voices. How true… Some things are so obvious, yet we tend not to think about them until they are so apparent that it becomes hard to ignore them.
I’ve been reading blogs for more than two years, and blogging for a little less than that. From the beginning, some things about blogs were instantly clear; others, however, I only came to understand when specific events brought them into focus. For example, that blogs are more like e-mail and instant messaging was evident from day one. Whether they allow comments, pingbacks, trackbacks or not, they generally exist in the context of larger conversations. What is said of art, that it’s a commentary on other art, it’s true of blogs. That’s obvious when you think about them as an exchange of information, but the inevitable comparison with normal sites and the fact that they can be used in a variety of contexts can hide it.
Nothing of what I’m talking about is new. Since the first blogs came into being, people inquired into their natures — and still are. The analysis of the blogging phenomenon is continuous among the practitioners, in an attempt, most likely, to understand their own motivations. Consciousness about the process, which is as apparent in blogging as in other writing activities, requires it.
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Via Roberto, a curious bit of news: “Congo word ‘most untranslatable’.” According this news item, a British company, in consultation with a thousand linguists, compiled a list of the ten most difficult words to translate. The list includes, in the seventh place, our Portuguese word “saudade”.
In order, the words are (found elsewhere, so it’s not guaranteed to be correct):
- Ilunga (Tshiluba)
- a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time
- Shlimazl (Yiddish)
- a chronically unlucky person
- Radioukacz (Polish)
- a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements again Soviet ocupation in the countries behind the former Iron Curtain
- Naa (Japanese)
- a word used in a part of the country to emphasize statements or to show agreement with them
- Altahmam (Arab)
- a kind of deep sorrow
- Gezellig (Dutch)
- cozy, snug
- Saudade (Portuguese)
- Selathirupavar (Tamil, a language spoken in Southern India)
- a word used to define a certain type of absence without official leave in face of duty
- Pochemuchka (Russian)
- a person who makes way too many questions
- Klloshar (Albanian)
Some of the words above seem deceptively simple, but more than often they have meanings that can only be expressed in approximate ways in other languages. Such is the case of “saudade”, that is commonly translated as a kind of longing, but it’s more close to “a sweet and sorrowful reminiscence of persons or things that are far away or are no more, coupled with a desire to see or posses them again.”
As someone who has done a lot of translations in the past (and still does, in this blog), I understand this problem too well (and I guess you can see that too in my problems with English). For interpreters, the problem in magnified since they generally don’t have the time to think about different ways to translate hard words.
A related problem is that of languages that can combine words to form more complex expression. Both English and German are famous for that. In those cases, translation becomes much harder.
Sometimes those problems can result in humorous incidents. For example, in the official site of a favorite writer of mine, the writer himself recently mentioned that the name of one of his characters, that in English was called “Saltheart Foamfollower”, was translated to “Briny, the Pirate” in the French edition of his books. I laughed until my sides ached when I heard that. Of course, that’s an exaggerated example, but it surely shows to what extent translation can be hard. Only very experienced translators would be able to get the name right in their native languages. (By the way, the reasoning behind the name is: “Saltheart” means “sea”, and “Foamfollower” mean “compass”, so the name really means “Sea Compass”, which is very appropriate in the context of the story it which it appears.)
Considering the complexity of human languages, this is a problem that will exist as long as languages are different. And, in truth, we want it to exist. After all, what fun would it be if all languages were similar?