Translating from one language to another isn’t as simple as it might seem. There are nuances and cultural factors that come into play at almost every turn. A great way to illustrate the cultural factors that need to be taken into account is the recent translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone into Scots language.
Now, Scots isn’t actually a language in its own right, it’s a dialect of English. However, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were reading an entirely different language, as it’s utter gobbledegook to most people from anywhere south of the border.
Here’s an excerpt:
As you can see, it would be easy to completely fail in the translation of Scots to English or vice versa. For example, ‘Tha Laddie Wha Lived’ is translated by the man behind the Scots version of the book, Michael Fitt, from the original ‘The Boy Who Lived’.
To the less-expert eye, ‘The Laddie Wha Lived’ could be translated directly back to English as something along the lines of ‘The boy whose conscious continued’ but Scots readers would know that the meaning within the phrase ‘Tha Laddie Wha Lived’ was different to this. And why not ‘The Wee Man who Survived’?
Identifying these subtle, often implicit, differences is what expert translation services can help with.
When it comes to translating dialects like Scots, which are so closely linked to an area’s culture and the way speakers feel about themselves and where they come from, the real complexities involved are exposed.
This Scots language site gives more examples of Scots dialect that could so easily be mis-translated. For example, one Scots speaker when asked if he was caned at school, replied:
“Fan I wis at the scweel in the 1960s thay wisna daein that ony mair. Bi then Aiberdeenshire wis a bittie mair forrit-lookin ye see.”
The direct translation into English would perhaps be something like: “When I was at school in the 1960s that wasn’t done any more. But then Aberdeenshire was a bit more forward-looking you see.”
The last part of this translation isn’t quite right and a more skilled translator might instead translate it as: “Aberdeenshire was a little more progressive, you see.”
Scots language, as well as many other strong English dialects, uses words that may, on the surface, seem easily translated, but are incredibly culturally sensitive. Speaking Scots makes Scottish people feel Scottish. The dialect has as much to do with Scottish culture as Burns night, bagpipes and whisky (and that’s whisky, not whiskey!).
Getting the translation of a dialect wrong can cause offense and undermine the importance of that dialect to the culture of the place it is spoken.
Anyway, ‘that’s me doon the road’ as the Scots, would say. And no, that doesn’t mean ‘that’s me down the road’, it means, ‘I’m off!’