Saturday, 7 December 2013

untranslatable words

Here's an interesting list of untranslatable words. I haven't provided any translations, because they're untranslatable.

(Thanks to Bob Hale for directing me to this list.)

saudida (Portuguese) - untranslatable
sponsz (Hungarian) - untranslatable
rastapopoulos (Greek) - untranslatable
kûrvitaş (Turkish) - untranslatable
txunyayo (Hixkaryana) - untranslatable
avakṣana (Sanskrit) - untranslatable
tlhaqSoD (Klingon) - untranslatable
myludh (Sindarin) - untranslatable

15 comments :

Bob Hale said...

Very interesting list.

Bob Hale said...

Just for fun I put your words into Google translate and used the detect language feature.

It suggested that

sponsz might be Polish
rastapopoulos might be French
kûrvitaş might be Finnish
tlhaqSoD might be English (yes, really!)
myludh might be Welsh

Scot said...

I'm no linguist but how do you have a word in Klingon that is untranslatable? :-)

Mwncïod said...

Am I missing something here but from the list:
kûrvitaş (Turkish)
rastapopoulos (Greek)
sponsz (Hungarian)

are the names of fictional characters from The Adventures of Tintin series of comic albums created by Georges "Hergé" Remi

"kûrvitaş" = Marshal Kûrvi-Tasch"
"rastapopoulos = "Roberto Rastapopoulos (Ρασταπόπουλος although he's supposed to be Italian?)
"sponsz" = Colonel Sponsz

Ronald Kyrmse said...

"Saudida" should be "saudade"... No relation to Saudi Arabia. And identifying "kûrvitaş" as Finnish misrecognizes the Finnish language, which has neither "ş" (that's Turkish or Romanian) nor (to my knowledge) circumflexes. Thank you, myludh.

goofy said...

I guess I need to work on my humour circuits.

None of these words are real. I made them all up, with some help from Hergé. You know those articles that give you a list of "untranslatable words", and then proceed to translate them? That always bugged me; I don't believe there is such a thing as an untranslatable word.

But what if some words really were untranslatable? What would that list look like?

Stan said...

I laughed. It's so trivial. Yes: words in other languages can convey meanings in a single word that we need more than one word to convey. Amazing!

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

The word "rastapopoulos", being a fictitious surname in Tintin, has only one resemblance with Greek; namely, the ending "opoulos". The rest of the word is arbitrary. In fact, it is easy, for a Greek, to guess that the name is not Greek.

Anonymous said...

"rastapopoulos (Greek) - untranslatable"
There is no such REAL common word in Greek. That's a surname. Well, congrats. Every surname can't be translated like Cornwallis and names like Brandon in Greek. If you want a REALLY untranslatable word I suggest "κατασταλαγμένος" or with Latin letter "katastalagmenos" or with the closest thing you guys to the "γ" sound "katastalaymenos". Now you will think that the English equal is "settled" or "undecided", but it's actually more complicated than that. It means someone who doesn't settle to one ideology, opinion about if gravity exists or not and whatever and he CHANGES those thinga like clothes. He may not be confused with his thoughts fighting each other, but he CHANGES many things every week. He may have one thought that week and the other the other week.

Anonymous said...

"Saudade", not "saudida"

goofy said...

How can κατασταλαγμένος be untranslatable when you just translated it?

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

He didn't translate it. He gave an interpretation of it in English.

Another Greek word that is untranslatable is φιλότιμο (filotimo). Google it. Not only it is untranslatable but the concept expressed by the word is completely absent in some societies (e.g. in Sweden).

Conversely, the word privacy is untranslatable in Greek. However, the concept exists.

goofy said...

Takis: He gave an interpretation of it in English.
That's a translation!

φιλότιμο (filotimo)

So there's a wikipedia article that seems to do a good job of translating it.

Conversely, the word privacy is untranslatable in Greek.

I find that difficult to believe.

However, the concept exists.

If the concept exists, then it must be translatable!

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

We have to agree on what we mean by "translation". Of course you can write a Wikipedia article explaining the word φιλότιμο but there is no single word in English, or a combination of a small number of words, that expresses the concept compactly.

Likewise, privacy has no translation, in the sense I tried to define above, in Greek. However, since the concept has been important for legal reasons, the 2-word translation "ιδιωτικός βίος" has relatively recently been introduced in Greek. But it's not used in every day talk. In English you can say "I need my privacy" but in Greek you can't say "χρειάζομαι τον ιδιωτικό μου βίο". Of course you can say something else, depending on the situation (such as "άσε με ήσυχο" -- "leave me in peace") but then you're not using the translation of the word privacy.

Incidentally, μυστικότητα is related to secrecy. A better word for privacy would have been ιδιωτικότητα; but this word does not exist.

goofy said...

We have to agree on what we mean by "translation". Of course you can write a Wikipedia article explaining the word φιλότιμο but there is no single word in English, or a combination of a small number of words, that expresses the concept compactly.

I figured that is what you meant by "translatable", and that is what the people who make these lists of untranslatable words seem to mean as well.

But it's trivial. So a word in language X is translated by more than 2 words in language Y. So what? Why should we expect all languages to encode all concepts in single lexical items? After all there is an infinite number of concepts but presumably a finite number of words. When we don't have a single word for something, we paraphrase.

It would be much more interesting if there was a language that expressed a concept that simply could not be expressed in another language. But no such language exists. That's why I say there is no such thing as an untranslatable word. A concept that can be expressed in one language can be expressed in all languages.