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I think the more pertinent point is not that the words are not necessarily directly translatable, but more the case about the interpretive quality of words, dependent on situation, context, inflexion and all the other mechanisms that we employ in communicating with each other. When I was at university, I used to have many conversations with my professor, Dr Vladimir Zegerac, on one of his favourite topics, Relevance Theory, or the « So What theory ».
Why do we communicate with each other? Is it to pass information on, or is it to obtain something we want, perhaps something like an informational negotiation. The relevance side of this transaction is in that the word, in one language may transfer to an idiomatic expression in another language, effectively achieving the same point, but suitably « localised » to suit the target audience or population. I tend to equate it to the analogy of perhaps making a certain food dish,, where the style in one country may or may not include certain flavouring elements, but in another country the same dish may contain the same basic elements but may contain one spice and not in another, but the same basic ingredients, if that makes sense. For example, an omelette is an omelette is an omelette, but is localised according to the « taste » and cultural needs of the locale being used. But in the end it is still interpreted as a dish made with beaten eggs and other elements and gently fried.
Their is also another major point in the way that the host language processes ideas and concepts, sometimes with a more unique term, sometimes with a compound word, which effectively achieves the same but is easier to supply the idea to another person, who might not be directly aware of the earlier version. English is a prime example of the earlier and Germany a good example of the latter, again historical events have had a huge influence on this, whereby English even though a descendant of the same family tree as German, is very different in cases such as this. I hope this is understandable for everyone, but if not please feel free to contact me 🙂
Wow, that’s so interesting. I know there are a few French words that can’t be translated to English directly like « hélas ».
And I’m sure there are English words that can’t be translated into French, like « home ».
Thanks Sévrine! I think in English we say « alas » for « hélas » but it is not very common today…
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