Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 20 of 69

Thread: Translating prepositions

Hybrid View

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    7,775

    Default Translating prepositions

    Those of you who translate will have noticed how difficult it is to translate prepositions. They never overlap exactly in different languages, as we soon hear if we listen actively to banalities spoken into mobile phones by people who are "on" or "in" the bus, depending on the language involved.

    In some languages you find things "out of" a cupboard, rather than "in" one, as in English.

    In some languages you stay "into" the place you are at, rather than "in" it, also as in English.

    Prepositions such as "at" or "by" also cause problems when translating.

    Some languages even have postpositions instead of prepositions.

    And so on.

    Do any of the rest of you have examples of preposition problems between languages?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Time prepositions are an example too.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    Buenos Aires, Argentina
    Posts
    1,671

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Prepositions are the most difficult part of learning any given language as a foreigner. Each language has its own prepositional peculiarities and these even change over time. Even native speakers have trouble using them.

    One of the most intriguing ones for me in English: Why do you sit 'on' everything but 'in' a chair?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Connemara, Ireland
    Posts
    118

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Could be wrong, but I have a notion that one can sit 'on' a chair with no arms, though one sits 'in' an arm-chair. I wonder if sitting 'in' an armchair is a usage somewhere between sitting 'on' a bench and sitting 'in' a bus, if there's a sense of somehow being enveloped by and hence 'inside' such a chair. . .
    the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on the dissecting table. . .

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Posts
    2,416

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Quote Originally Posted by Stiffelio View Post
    Prepositions are the most difficult part of learning any given language as a foreigner. Each language has its own prepositional peculiarities and these even change over time. Even native speakers have trouble using them.
    They're not the most difficult part of learning Finnish as Finnish doesn't have them.

    Harry

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    7,775

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    This play thing with "in" versus "into" is a question of movement or action. The play in five acts just is in five acts. Whereas the verb "divide" suggests that someone is actively doing the dividing. Think of a cake or a pie. You will cut it up into slices, then it will be displayed on the table in slices, segments or wedges (before everyone gobbles it up). But the use of "in" is not entirely logical. "Displayed as slices" would be more accurate, but sounds rather unnatural and clinical.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    7,775

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    For those of us whose languages hardly have any subjunctives at all, the forms of the subjunctive require extra learning.

    In English, the subjunctive is very rare and in any case looks like the infinitive of the verb. So there is only one form. The present is used in most cases where you would use the subjunctive in Romance languages.

    One handy, and rather similar, thing in German is a tense which means you don't have to have to say "he is said to have been" or "he is supposed to have been" but use a kind of subjunctive, usually "sei" or "wäre" to indicate indirect speech. A Wikipedia example is:

    Mein Bekannter sagt, er habe geheiratet. (My friend says that he's supposed to have got married.)

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    7,775

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Yes Loki (#18), that was what I was thinking of. I've only had a very few Spanish lessons, when I was in a group of twelve young people learning how to teach English to foreign students, and one of our number had not only studied Spanish, but had read Cortįzar's Rayuela (Hopscotch). He gave us a few lessons, as we were going to Madrid for part of our teaching practice. I think he brought up this curious "a". He has been senior lecturer in English in Hong Kong for donkey's years now.

    "Po polsku", prosze pana.

    Loki's "into scenes" reminds me of something I hinted at earlier on: that you find things "out of" a cupboard in Finnish and Estonian, and stay "into" a place. This certainly seems odd to the English-speaking mind. (Do minds speak?)

  9. #9

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Yes, two details that always make me stop a moment before saying out loud or writing in Croatian are expressions of congratulations and expressions of gratitude.

    čestitam na uspjehu
    literally translated: congratulations ON your success

    hvala na pa˛nju.
    literally translated: thank you ON your attention

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    7,775

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Ser and estar do have more logic to them than the "a" problem, but as Loki says, they are pretty tricky at first for us poor non-native-speakers.

    I'm glad that Loki pointed out thinking in and dreaming with, idioms you have to get used to. I didn't know them.

    As for the subjunctive, there are two problems: a) knowing when to use it and b) learning the different forms. As in French, that is a whole term's work. The only thing I know as tricky regarding verbs is the imperfective versus perfective distinction in Slav languages.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Location
    Italy
    Posts
    1,471

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Also, lest we forget: "por" and "para", although as with "ser y estar" there's some kind of logic.
    I don't think the forms of the subjunctive are that difficult; however, I may be advantaged by (in?) the fact that I am Italian, and some forms coincide.

    As for the imperfective/perfective thing, it is tricky indeed! First of all the different forms: some adds just a prefix to the perfective form, others just change the tematic vowel, others still change completely... Then, there's the basic the basic distinction of complete/incomplete actions, but it's difficult (at least for me) to get used to it.
    The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    7,775

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    I agree in general with what Accidie says. An armchair is soft and encloses you (the arms that Accidie mentions). And maybe when the omnibus was first invented it was an open vehicle, so people sat on top of it rather than inside it with a roof. So tradition plays some part. The Swedes say "on the bus" like we do, but the Dutch say "in the bus". (You know this because of the endless mobile phone calls around you where people tell their loved ones exactly where they are.) The "bus" bit is in fact a Latin noun case ending for the expression "for all", i.e. "omnibus" in the dative or ablative case. But that case ending has become an international word for a public vehicle.

    As for time prepositions they are certainly a problem between languages. Why can't we (idiomatically) say : "I've never been there after" instead of using "since", when the meaning is the same? Convention, I suppose. The Finns say the equivalent of "as Monday" where we say "on Monday". As you are within the day in question, why not "in Monday"?

    But a translator is not there to question convention, merely to write idiomatic prose.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    7,775

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    True, Harry, true. But the little bits stuck on the ends of words in Finnish, Estonian, Turkish, Basque, Hungarian, etc., are like sort-of "pretend prepositions" which come after instead of before.

    Estonian has several postpositions which act like prepositions, are equally loose, but come after the word such as "päeva jooksul", the latter word meaning "during", the former word being the genitive of "day". The Estonians also alternate, with small subtle stylistic differences, between having an ending and having a postposition. So you can say "põrandal" or "põranda peal", both meaning "on the floor". The loose postposition is reckoned to be Germanic influence from German and Swedish.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    Buenos Aires, Argentina
    Posts
    1,671

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Some Latin languages, such as French and Italian, but neither Spanish nor Portuguese, have the so-called 'pronominal particles', which are something like a mixture between prepositions and pronouns. These are the 'en' and 'y' in French, or 'ne' and 'ci' in Italian. They work like prepositions referring to a noun which has been mentioned in a previous sentence. They are easy to read and understand when listened to, but fiendishly difficult to apply correctly for the non-native speaker.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Location
    Italy
    Posts
    1,471

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    At school I had some problems with the "en"s and "y"s in French, but only if I had to use them: they were indeed pretty easy to understand, as you've said. In Italian of course I use them automotically, but I imagine the difficulties of foreigners.
    There are no such particles in Spanish: I remember when I started to learn Spanish that it sounded weird not having these particles.
    The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Posts
    2,416

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    In learning Swedish, you have to grapple with the fact that "ett bord" means 'a table', but "bordet" means 'the table' - the "-et" being the neuter form of the enclitic [attached to the end] definite article. It seems odd to a foreigner that "ett" can mean 'one' but "et" can mean 'the'.

    Harry

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Location
    Italy
    Posts
    1,471

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    It doesn't seem odd, it is! I thought that modifiers were either before or after the head of the phrase. I didn't know languages could have both possibilities.
    The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    7,775

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Convention can not be altered at whim by logicians. That is why Esperanto has failed up to now. It has logic (in some parts of the grammar and spelling) but has no cultural hinterland.

    By convention in English, the cake will be "divided in two" yet "into two, five, or seventeen pieces". Languages have an element of wild irrationality, which is rather fun really.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    7,775

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    Stiffelio mentions that particle they have in French and Italian. Curiously, they have it in Dutch too: "er" which can mean the same as the French "y" or "en". I wonder how it is that two Romance and one Germanic language have these little things.

    When I first learnt Swedish, the fact that the definite article was stuck on the end fascinated me. I don't think about it much nowadays, which shows that you can get used to anything, however odd. They do it in Romanian as well. Again, a Romance and a Germanic language. How curious.

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    7,775

    Default Re: Translating prepositions

    In English, we congratulate someone on his success or for having succeeded. In Swedish, the preposition "till" is used, which usually means "to" in the motion sense (e.g. går till stan = walks into town). So you get "Jag gratulerar honom till förstapriset", i.e. "I congratulate him on [winning] the first prize".

    Yet another preposition that isn't the same in one language as it is in another.

    I've noticed that in Spanish, you tend to put an "a" in front of a person's name where we have the straight direct object in English. I can't think of examples, but some of you can perhaps provide some.

Similar Threads

  1. Translating Rilke
    By Taleb in forum Literary Translation
    Replies: 17
    Last Post: 22-Jan-2013, 13:43
  2. Translating atmosphere
    By Eric in forum Literary Translation
    Replies: 16
    Last Post: 02-Sep-2011, 13:07
  3. Translating for children
    By Eric in forum Literary Translation
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: 25-Aug-2011, 08:40
  4. Translating poetry
    By DWM in forum Literary Translation
    Replies: 9
    Last Post: 31-Aug-2010, 12:49

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •