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The Babel Fish and Cultural Mistranslations

Feb 24, 2015


In Douglas Adams’ classic novel, ‘The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy,’ he presents a magical creature called the Babel fish. This is a small fish that, when placed inside someone’s ear, will provide them with instant translations of any dialect across the galaxy. Just picture the scene, you can go anywhere and meet anyone from across the universe, and you will easily be able to fully understand them as well as be understood. No need for crude hand signals to illustrate your point or communicate your need, (unless that is integral to their communication.) However, until such a fish is discovered, or invented in the form of yet another addition to the wearable tech industry, we must look to interpreters for this service.

Nevertheless, any old interpreter is unlikely to be the equivalent of the fish. What I mean by this is, what happens when direct interpretation is not good enough. Independent interpreters may or may not be exactly what you need, it is a matter of wading through the ‘bad’ ones to find exactly the person you need. An example of a ‘bad’ interpreter is someone who is akin to Google translate in their interpretation techniques, technically they are interpreting, but you are still clearly speaking two very different languages.  Thankfully, there are larger organizations sort through the chaff on your behalf.

One of the benefits of selecting an official translation company, is the training they provide to their team members. In Adams’ novel, the fish was not only able to directly interpret the words that need translating, but also the nuances of what is being interpreted (granted this is for dialects of other worldly beings but the sentiment remains the same.) Specialized translation companies, such as Morningside Translations, pride themselves on the in depth training they provide their teams of translators and interpreters. This training not only focuses on accurate translation and interpretation into numerous dialects, but also localization to capture the cultural nuances as well.  Colloquialisms, sayings and metaphors all almost always lose their essence when being interpreted literally and end up a far cry from their intended meaning. This is because they represent elements of the culture of the original language that is being interpreted, and it takes a trained professional to appreciate and effectively transport the cultural intent also.

If you are in need of highly trained, professional interpreters, check out our interpretation services page here.

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