Monday, March 30, 2015

Botched Communication

"The word 'translation' comes, etymologically, from the Latin for 'bearing across'. Having been borne across the world, we are translated men. It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately to the notion that something can also be gained." -Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991

People in countries around the globe use various forms of communication on a daily basis. There is non-verbal communication, hand gestures, written language, and spoken language. While each of these forms of communication may work exceptionally well within our own communities while we're surrounded by people of our own culture, once we take these communication forms outside of our native culture, we may begin to run into problems.

As we can see in the video above, hand gestures that mean something in the American culture can mean something entirely different as well as something offensive in other cultures around the world. Hand gestures do not translate well 100% of the time; similarly, words are often poorly translated cross-culturally. One area that suffers greatly from poor translation is cross-cultural advertising. Below are several examples of poor translation as written in an article by Mike Fromowitz.

Advertising is not the only example we see of poor translation. While researching translation errors, a popular search result that I came across was sign translations within international airports. By looking at these examples we get a good sense of how easily translations can be lost to error. One can get a good sense of how difficult it is to translate across two very different languages. As a native-born English speaker, I can admit that I cannot fluently speak a second language; however, by seeing how flawed an English translation can become in an Asian-to-English translation, it allows me to see how flawed and Asian translation might be in an English-to-Asian translation.

A poor understanding of language and a poor sense of research of language are two large issues when it comes to translation. Seeing the English translation found on signs within international airports makes me wonder what other areas of translation might not be up to par. Understandably, a sign in an airport is not of utmost importance and may be in and of itself an answer as to whether or not other English translation are done as poorly as these signs. But it does make me stop and wonder how many of our English translations of ancient Greek and Old English text are actually botched up translations.


adjective co·her·ent \kō-ˈhir-ənt, -ˈher-\

   : logical and well-organized : easy to understand

   : able to talk or express yourself in a clear way that can be easily understood

   : working closely and well together

1   a : logically or aesthetically ordered or integrated : consistent

     b : having clarity or intelligibility : understandable

One key characteristic that is lacking greatly in the examples shown above is coherence. The definition of coherence includes characteristics such as logic, organization, clarity, intelligibility, and understanding. In a scholarly article written by Cristina Valdes and Adrian Fuentes Luque the issue of coherence in translation is discussed. Valdes and Fuentes Luque point out that, "the intended meaning of the text is successfully delivered to viewers only if the elements that constitute the target text are cohesively and coherently intertwined."

"It goes without saying that when textual cohesion fails, the intended meaning (message) is miscommunicated." -Cristina Valdes and Adrian Fuentes Luque


noun in·ter·tex·tu·al·i·ty \-ˌteks-chə-ˈwa-lə-tē\

   : the complex interrelationship between a text and other texts taken as basic to the creation or interpretation of the text

Intertextuality is another keyword that we need to look at when talking about translations. Wikipedia defines Intertextuality as "the shaping of a text's meaning by another text." This term is also connected to the term Recontextualisation. Recontextualisation is defined by Google as "a process that extracts text, signs or meaning from its original context (decontextualisation) in order to introduce it into another context. Since the meaning of texts and signs depend on their context, recontextualisation implies a change of meaning, and often of the communicative purpose too."

A solution to avoiding poor advertisement translation is research. After reading through examples of mistake made by brands who did cross-cultural translations of their brands and slogans it seems that most of these mistake could have been easily avoided by researching the translations being used as well as cross-checking with a variety of sources.


Lost in Translation
Cultural Blunders: Brands Gone Wrong
Coherence in Translated Television Commercials

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Reading Response Two

"We must learn to speak a foreign culture in the same way that we must learn to speak a foreign language." -Edward T. Hall

The second group of reading material for Intercultural Communications focuses on poor communication between different cultures based on the differences in language between cultures. One issue that is highlighted in the readings was stereotyping other cultures and making assumptions about others with different backgrounds from ones own.

"The term stereotype was coined by social scientist Walter Lippmann in 1921 when he wrote about why people so readily imagine how other people are, or why they behave as they do, even in the face of ready evidence to the contrary. In his landmark book Public Opinion he tells us that to stereotype is to ascribe to all members of a group or class those characteristics or behaviors observed in just one or a few members."

"It is human nature to think that all people are just like us. We often assume we are similar rather than different and expect that others will think the same way, perceive the same way, and behave the same way we do. While this is a natural assumption, this way of thinking is actually a form of ethnocentrism." 

Both of the previous quotes from Intercultural Communication for Business by Elizabeth A. Tuleja express the importance of recognizing the stereotyping that happens in business settings. The second quote specifically talks about ethnocentrism. Below you will find the full definition of ethnocentric as it is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. A straight-forward way to define it, however, would be to say that ethnocentrism is the natural way of thinking that one's own culture is the best.

Ethnocentrism is a natural instinct; however, it is also ingrained into the thoughts of most people through nationalism. Nationalism is defined as a belief, creed or political ideology that involves an individual identifying with, or becoming attached to, one's nation. People groups from around the world come forward every four years to show public displays of nationalism to cheer on their country at the Olympics. It's a commonly accepted concept, but we don't often think about the negative effects this concept can have on the communication between cultures.

adjective eth·no·cen·tric \ˌeth-nō-ˈsen-trik\

: having or based on the idea that your own group or culture is better or more important than others

: characterized by or based on the attitude that one's own group is superior
   eth-no-cen-tric-i-ty      \-sen-ˈtri-sə-tē\ noun
   eth-no-cen-trism          \-ˈsen-ˌtri-zəm\ noun

"We cannot talk about audience these days without including the significant problems involved in writing for non-native speakers of English."

"Most of the "principles of clear writing" were developed through research conducted with native speakers of American English. The influential work of Joseph Williams interpreted research results from the fields of psychology and reading for writers and teachers of workplace English. However, I have been able to find little evidence of the effects of these principles on readers whose native language is something other than English and whose English may be less than completely fluent."

The previous quotes, found in A Study of Plain English Vocabulary and International Audiences by Emily A. Thrush, point out the problem with many business settings and communication principles being tailored to work best for native, English-speaking people. Because of the variety of cultures found within a single country, it is not adequate to assume that language that works well for one group of people will work equally well for a different group of people.

"To begin to answer these questions about the universal clarity of Plain English, we need to study two areas: 1) Whether the principles advocated by proponents of Plain English make documents more readable for people whose native language is not English. 2) Whether the kinds of "simplification" that writers do for English speaking audiences are the appropriate ones for international audiences."

"Plain English is clear, straightforward expression, using only as many words as are necessary. It is language that avoids obscurity, inflated vocabulary and convoluted sentence construction. It is not baby talk, nor is it a simplified version of the English language." -Google Definitions

It is important to keep different cultures in the forefront of our mind when communicating in different settings. A Study of Plain English Vocabulary and International Audiences talks about whether Plain English is adequate for multicultural communication and what we need to look at to determine whether Plain English can adequately and appropriately meet the standards of cross-cultural communication in a business setting.

"No one when he uses a word has in mind exactly the same thing that another has, and the difference, however tiny, sends its tremors throughout language... All understanding, therefore is always at the same time a misunderstanding... and all agreement of feelings and thoughts is at the same time a means for growing apart." -Wilhelm von Humboldt