Let the Staff Do It for You

Direct translations are the bane of languages. Even for the simplest sentences, like this reminder at a tourist shop, there is the linguistic weight as well as the cultural dimensions of the message. The advantage of a direct translation is that a careful study would bring out the intended meaning. In this case, the intended message was “Do not touch the merchandise. Ask assistance from the staff.” It got mangled due to the redundant, “yourself.”

There are some languages, which are inherently redundant, if just to clear up who is doing what action and to whom. If you have read a legal document written by a lawyer, or a law passed by a legislative body, you would understand the importance of being specific. In other languages, like English and Spanish, the word, “yourself” is implied. A sentence like “I will do that” becomes “Will do.” The reverse of the above example is something like translating “I am hungry” directly to English. You would end up with “Have hunger.” The Spanish would say “Tengo hambre,” concatenated from “Yo tengo hambre” because “tengo” and “yo tengo” are syntactically redundant.

It should be noted that India is one of the countries that have the largest English population, and because the country has a lot of languages, the easiest way for them to understand one another is through an externally introduced language. The sign above would have been completely acceptable, even if verbose, if written in another way: “Please do not touch this by yourself. The staff can assist you.” This translation would have been wordy, but acceptable and not redundant. Or simply put, it can be written as, “Please do not touch this. The staff can assist you.”

Understanding the context of what is implied usually helps with the language. Whether by social convention or from logical interpretation, “Don’t touch yourself, ask the staff” does not translate well to English, because of the implied meaning of “touch yourself.” In a world, which is increasingly conscious of word meanings and implications, there would be more of these sensitive translations in the future.

Image credit – Mistranslations via Pinterest

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