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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translator Education  »  Adaptation, Transliteration, Domestication

Adaptation, Transliteration, Domestication

By Roomy Naqvy | Published  03/15/2006 | Translator Education | Recommendation:
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Roomy Naqvy
անգլերենից հինդի translator
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Adaptation, Transliteration, Domestication

These terms, adaptation, transliteration and domestication might sound grand to the ears of the people who might come across them but they do refer to certain important concepts that a translator might have to face. There are certain languages which are more open to these concepts while some are less open. This may depend from language to language and there may not be any specific rules in these situations.

How does one ‘translate’ a term that does not have an equivalent in the target language? Should one explain the term in a phrase? Or should one transliterate it? More importantly, when a word is borrowed from another language, in what ways does it appear in the target language? These are important questions that may worry the translator and make him ponder over perplexing issues. These are not mere rhetorical questions that are being posed by this author.

I would like to quote few examples of how languages borrow words from other languages, using examples from the languages in which I am fully proficient. There is a word called ‘committee’ in English with a small /i/ after /m/ and a small 'i' after 't'. In Hindi, there are three translations for the same word, and these can be checked with any authoritative dictionary[i] . These translations are ‘samiti’with a soft ‘t’ sound. This word is a translation of the English word. But now, look at the other two versions as well. They are ‘kametee’ with an /e/ sound as in ‘pen’ after ‘m’, a hard ‘t’ as in seen in English ‘tin’ and a long ‘i' after ‘t’. The third Hindi term is ‘kamitee’ with a short ‘i' after ‘m’, a hard 't' and a long 'i' after 't'. Interestingly, all these three terms are perfectly acceptable in Hindi and they could most possibly be used interchangeably in many contexts. The rules of transliteration normally state that if the translation of a word does not exist and if has to be transliterated, then it should be written in the target language in a sound which is the same or ‘as close as possible' to the original. The question that arises for the translator here is to choose one of the three existing and standard choices. It is here that a novice translator is most likely to commit errors of judgment.

Now, if you look at Gujarati, which is also a sister language of Hindi, and again, one can refer to a standard dictionary [ii], the Gujarati words given are ‘samiti’ with a soft ‘t’ sound and ‘kamiti’ as it is in English. Isn’t this interesting? There was one English word ‘committee’, it was translated as 'samiti' but it was corrupted in Hindi as 'kametee' and adopted in Hindi as 'kamitee' but it was translated in Gujarati, a sister language of Hindi, as ‘samiti’, the same as in Hindi but it was adopted in Gujarati exactly the same way as it was used in English. I hope that this illustration has been helpful to prove the various ways in which languages adapt various words from other languages. This would also show that some languages are more adaptable to borrowing words than other languages, which might be more inflexible.

Another interesting word is ‘dengue’. My English dictionary [iii] defines it as “A debilitating tropical viral disease transmitted to man by the mosquito Aedes aegypti”. The Shorter Oxford states the pronunciation of this word to be 'dengi', with a longish ‘e’ after ‘d’ and a short ‘i' after ‘g’. Now, I have lived all my life in India and in New Delhi, which is known as part of the Hindi heartland in the country. It was few years ago that this disease made its way into the country. This disease was not known to people at large a few decades ago and so, there was no name for it in the language of the people. So, what happens when a new term makes its way into language? There is no way that one would be able to explain or paraphrase ‘dengue’. One would have to use the word as it is and the phonetic rules of transliteration should apply there, which means that the word should be phonetically written the same way as it is written from the source language. I still remember the educated sort calling it 'dengi' in Hindi [as in English] but then there were people who called it 'dengyu' trying to transliterate the English as it was written and some people also called it ‘dengoo’. Now, when one looks at all kinds of official documents, one realizes that the standard pronunciation and spelling is ‘dengoo’. In Gujarati, which is a more flexible language, both in linguistic as well as phonetic terms, it might be possible to call the disease 'dengi' or use the more Indianized version, 'dengyu'.

I can quote a number of such examples based on my study of languages but I believe that the point that I am trying to make might have been illustrated pretty well.

When I translate the large variety of documents that I do or when I translate mobile telephony documents or in-flight menus, sometimes, one has to localize, adapt, transliterate, domesticate and often, there is another person who is the proof checker, who is unknown to me, who in his/her wisdom would strive to ‘correct’ my choices. In these situations, unless, there is a gross error on part of the editor, I have a tendency to remain stoic and let it pass though I know pretty well that I would have researched the topic much better than the editor who would have ‘corrected’ it.

i. I am referring here to Comprehensive English-Hindi Dictionary by Hardev Bahri, vol 1, p. 358, published by Jnanamandal Limited, Varanasi, 1969. But one can check this in other dictionaries as well.

ii. I am referring here to Universal English-Gujarati Dictionary by P G Deshpande, p. 148, published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1988, 2005.

iii. I am referring here to The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 1, p. 632, edited by Leslie Brown, published by Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993.

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