15 November 2011

On the organisation of thoughts in different languages

Excerpt #6  from The Little Book of Transcreation elegantly describes one aspect of translation by emulation:
In English and northern European languages, there is an emphasis on logical structure. (“Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you’ve just told them.”)

In languages such as French or Spanish, this style is often thought dull or inelegant. Digressions are seen as a sign of intellect, not disorganization.
I could not have put it better myself.

For Latins, one of the most sought-after skills is 'synthesis' or the capacity to state something in comprehensive but often abstract terms then work top-down from principle or synthesis to applications. In English and northern European languages, it is often preferable to mix deductive and inductive (or, top-down and bottom-up) thinking.

Another aspect of this vast subject is the value or importance of examples and anecdotes. In English and northern European languages, both are often considered pluses; in Latin languages they are often seen as trivial. In French, to say that something is anecdotal is fairly pejorative.

All this is especially useful when writing for a relatively homogeneous first-language (or L1) readership. Just what the translator should do when the client's mandate is to translate into English for L2 (i.e. second-language) readers in, say, the Middle East and/or southeast Asia is another challenge entirely.

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