Monthly Archives: May 2016

Klingons are, famously, not real. There is a version of Hamlet available in Klingon.

So far, so ridiculous.

We could mention that the Klingons originally spoke English in Star Trek, and that when James “Scotty” Doohan came up with some alien sounding language for the first movie it wasn’t designed as a consistent language, rather as some unconnected noises. It was Leonard Nimoy, when working on one of the follow-up films, who decided it needed to have some structure. The task was given to Mark Okrand (pictured), but – as often is the case with long running stories – the language has expanded and changed within the fiction.

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While this expansion has mainly come through Star Trek fandom it must be noted that fictional languages – for example Game of Thrones’ Dothraki or Far Cry Primal‘s language based on Indo-European dialects (see blogs passim) – have become increasingly complex in comparison to Klingon. Yet the latter has been, through its longevity, the most famous of them. As well as Hamlet there have been Klingon translations of Much Ado About Nothing, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Tao te Ching. There is even an institute to promote the language and a daily Klingon word available on Twitter!

Nonetheless, Klingon is not a viable concern for the translation industry. The number of people who speak it is in double figures only and an attempt to raise a child speaking the language ended in the child rejecting the language in favour of English.

Intuitively, fictional languages are thought of as being unworthy of interest from the business of translators: broadly speaking  this is true. Klingon, for example is only ever going to be relevant for people in spaceships with futuristic technology. Dothraki is centred on a nomadic warrior culture fixated with horses. They simply aren’t relevant to the day-to-day lives of people consuming the fiction they enhance. Also, fictional languages are subject to copyright, as a Star Trek fan film recently found to his cost.

However one must not assume that fictional languages have no linguistic virtue. We blogged earlier about the devising of Far Cry Primal‘s language and how translation involves creativity. The logic behind Klingon’s structure is intriguing. Okrand had intended Klingon to be dissimilar to existing natural languages, and so chose to avoid word patterns and structures that appear frequently. As a result, Klingon feels more ‘alien’ to the viewers while simultaneously rewarding a knowledge of natural languages and their structures. I’d be really interested to hear from any translators out there who have, if only for professional interest, tried to translate (or in any other way work with) other mythical languages. If nothing else, as Tolkien demonstrated, there is money in it!

Rosetta Stone, Global Connects

Translators or interpreters – what do they do?

This is a question that often perplexes people who call upon our services. They ask for interpretation, when they mean translation – and vice versa.

To be fair, there is no reason why anyone who doesn’t work in our industry should know. As far as our clients are concerned, they want one language changed to another – and that’s it.   There is a danger that companies like ours get snooty about this sort of thing, and it’s important that we don’t.

So…. What is the difference between interpreters and translators?

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (whose origins are being commemorated in an exhibition, as detailed here) offers a simple definition of an “interpreter” as a “person who translates the words that someone is speaking into a different language.” So interpreters translate. Or do they interpret? It’s hardly surprising people get confused.

The difference is that interpreters work to interpret the spoken word, while translators translate printed copy. Or, to put it another way, if it’s written down it’s then translated, but if it’s said then it’s interpreted.

So far, so good, however (and I appreciate I may be accused of making a fine distinction), here is a fuller definition of an “interpreter” (again from our friends at Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary):

Full Definition of interpreter

1 : one that interprets: as
a : one who translates orally for parties conversing in different languages
b : one who explains or expounds

Part ‘a’ is exactly what I’ve written above. Part ‘b’ though is a more general description and can be regarded in much the same way that a talented musician ‘interprets’ the work of a great composer. The notes in the original manuscript don’t vary, but how they are interpreted does. In this context, “One who explains or expounds” is an excellent description. The nuances and understanding of the precise definition of words with seemingly similar meanings become very important. An example might be the difference between the English words “garrulous” and “loquacious”.

This applies equally to “translation.” While the definition may mean taking written content in one language and changing it to another, this is not a literal thing that a machine or program can (yet) do to the same level of sophistication and understanding as a talented human. Machines don’t really care, but a good human translator does – or certainly should. Words and phrases have multiple interpretations and idioms or “sayings” rarely translate well when taken literally. This article, covering the very basics of what translation can do for you, states that “translators not only translate, but they also teach sometimes.”

The good translator (or indeed interpreter) “interprets” the original language and provides the light and shade and, dare we say it, grace notes that transform a precise and well-expressed translation to a piece of quality work that not only conveys meaning but also expression and “mood music.” It’s a rare skill, whether done orally as an interpreter or in writing as a translator.

Rosetta Stone, Global Connects