L0ST IN TRANSLATION-Why is it impossible to translate Hebrew or any other language.
In this article, I will show and demonstrate why it is inherently impossible to translate the full meaning of a language from one language to the next.
I will demonstrate it using an example taken from the Hebrew language and after that, I will show why this example (mutatis mutandis ) is applicable to any language.
The example that I chose is the title of the book that is called ”בשבילה גיבורים עפים” by the Israeli author Amir Gutfreund. But before we dive in let’s review together some basic ways in which Hebrew is different than English
As some of you know, in Hebrew and most other languages there is a gender that accompanies every noun. Which simply means that every noun has masculine or feminine attribution (just like people do)
for example the Hebrew for word ‘chair’ (כיסא), is in masculine form, On the other hand, the word ‘box'(קופסה) is feminine. .so we will say ‘a good chair’ in Hebrew as ‘כיסא טוב’ but we will say ‘a good box’ in Hebrew as ‘קופסה טובה‘.
Pay Attention, there is a letter that has been added to the adjective. In this case the letter – ה
(F.Y.I: All feminine adjectives in Hebrew end with the letters – ה – or – ת- No exceptions).
This approach is not limited to nouns that signify material objects but to all nouns. So, words like: problem – בעיה, solution – פתרון, happiness – אושר, …. all have a gender attributed to them
Let’s take the sentence:
״בשבילה גיבורים עפים״
Which means ” for her heroes fly”
For her- בשבילה
Heroes – גיבורים
Fly – עפים
In English, it could only mean one thing. If it is ‘for her’ then it can only be for a female,(a real one), but in Hebrew, half of the nouns in the Hebrew language are feminine as well. So ‘for her’
can substitute many words in Hebrew.
The word ‘love’ (אהבה) for example, is one of them…
so this is the part that the people who came here for a quick Hebrew lesson thinking about leaving and the people who came here for the linguistic are waiting for me to get it on already.
but don’t go yet.
because, here is the thing, to know the mechanism behind the language gives you a better understanding of what you can do with the language but even more importantly what you can not do with it. not all the time you can find solutions that correlate with your own language. for example, the hardest part for me in writing this paragraph was to treat the feminine Hebrew word ‘שפה’ – ‘language’ as ‘it’.
Another peculiarity of the Hebrew language (Ancient Greek & Hindi share this quality as well) is that it does not possess the verb “to have” in her arsenal. So how would you translate a phrase that contains “have been” in it?
As for my original claim that “you can’t translate anything from one language to the other in full” my bet is that the crowd is divided in two. The first part can see already from the examples above that I am right and the second part (suspicious bagger’s that you are) thinking that I cheated because my comparison was from Hebrew to English which is a strange language that does not possess a gender attribute for nouns like most languages.
So let me emphasize even if I will compare it to French. a language that has a gender specification for nouns, things will not improve. because the word “amour” which is ‘love’ in French is masculine. unlike like the word ‘אהבה’ (which is love in Hebrew) and it is a feminine word. And to make it even more complicated in plural the word love ןמ French is in feminine form.
So if we would like to translate the Hebrew sentence “בשבילה גיבורים עפים” to English we will lose the double meaning that refers to a real woman and the word love itself in the same sentence. And as you can see the problem is not limited to English. In French, we can have a double meaning that will refer to the man because there the word love is mescaline.
In conclusion: not all the time you can get the same meaning if you translate a sentence from one language to the other. Understanding and applying it when you learn a new language can help you reduce your frustration and maybe will help to try to understand a language from its own perspective system and not to import the rules and habits of your own mother tongue