Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hidden in Translation – Erich

I can only imagine that traveling a decade ago would have been much harder than it is today. There is so much technology that makes it easier and more convenient now.

One such piece of technology is translation software. We, for example, use Google Translate on our cell phones. It's great when you need to find rubbing alcohol or ask for bus tickets. But it does have its limitations.

Say you want to tell someone you have a cold. Well, the translator can give you a word for cold. You can even check for alternative translations. And they even tell you if they are nouns or adjectives. (They also tell you which are verbs, adverbs, conjunctions, and so on, but you don't get a lot of these when translating “cold.”) But how do you know which noun “cold” means the one that makes your nose run rather than the one that makes you shiver?

I have also been using technology to learn Vietnamese. I'm not master of the language, but I have learned a few things. The most important thing to know in any language is thank you (cm ơn). You say it all the time. Perhaps next most important is hello (xin chào) and then excuse me/sorry (xin li.) Excuse me and sorry are the same phrase in Vietnamese, and we've found that to be the case in several languages. Finally, being able to say the numbers is very useful for buying things and figuring out how much you owe.

But I know more than that. I have learned many useful things like verbs for “know” (biết,) “understand” (hiếu,) “go” (đi,) and others. I have also learned several useless words like “ferris wheel” (đu quay) or “dragonfly” (con chun chun) which are not going to come up in conversations here.

Yesterday, I had a chance to enjoy something on a new level because I know a little Vietnamese: subtitles. Several Vietnamese television stations play American movies. Some are dubbed, but most are played in English, but with Vietnamese subtitles. Last night Alrica found a movie on one of them called “Spy” with Melissa McCarthy. I wasn't even aware of the existence of this movie before last night, but we watched it.

It was fascinating! Not the movie itself, though it was fine. What was fascinating was the language. First, even though the movie is in English, they still blanked out all of the curse words. (And that movie had plenty to blank out.) It was actually a bit jarring. In America, sometimes you see a movie on television with curse words and someone has overdubbed the “bad words” with some other word that sounds similar and bad, but isn't the unacceptable one. How many times have I heard about “fracking” in movies that have nothing to do with drilling into the earth? Here, there was just a moment of silence each time a curse word was spoken.

Except once, where whoever was in charge of the pregnant pauses must have missed one. Someone used a word that would be the -ing form of defecation, and that apparently got by the censor.

Also fascinating to watch was the subtitles. Because where those words occurred, they didn't leave gaps in the translation. They just bowdlerized them. For example, America's favorite curse word becomes an expression of a desire to sleep combined with with.

Not only that, but Vietnamese subtitles seem to have fewer synonyms. I noticed that the phrase I learned for perfect (hoàn hảo) was used for “perfect”, and “scrumptious” when describing how someone looked, and “incredible” in describing someone's battle prowess after the climactic fight scene.

It was a fascinating experience to watch both the movies and the words at the bottom. I can't say I knew them all, but I knew some. And that made it fun on a new level.

And if you don't agree, well, that's just cold! Though it's unclear whether I mean you are rudely indifferent or that I need a jacket.

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