Translation is about cultures, not just languages

Here’s something from the most bicultural person I know about translating from one culture to another, and how powerful meaning is often “lost in translation” even with when the translation is ‘correct’.

“In order to translate with integrity, one must transfer the concepts, worldview, values and history from one cultural framework to the other…I often encounter words in English I can’t translate to Chinese and vice versa…The word “fun” is inexplicably difficult…The value American culture places on entertainment and “having fun” just does not translate into Chinese culture I hate to break it to my foreigner friends, but sometimes what you think are fun, whimsical behaviour are viewed as ridiculous childishness precisely because of this disconnect in cultural difference…

“An example of a Chinese word which does not find an easy equivalent in English is the word “陪“ (pei, pronounced “pay”)….When a Chinese person says, “wo pei ni” or “ni pei wo” (I accompany you, or you accompany me), the implied understanding is a mutual need for each other. This is a spirit which is easily dismissed in American culture where value is found in independence, and needing company is a sign of weakness…

“Yet in my life journey of interweaving cultural paths, I am rediscovering the beauty of this Chinese value. I am a firm believer…that God is already at work in every culture, and I believe he placed this gem of truth inside the Chinese language to reveal a foundational element of the Gospel…

“The truth of the Gospel is God “pei” us through this battle of life. And He asks us to “pei” each other. No more walls of hostility, no more judgment. No more lies of individual strength, no more isolation. Our fears are meant to be overcome in community, not on our own. Our needing others is a sign of strength, not weakness. We become heroes in our life stories not because of our own resilience and might, but because of our utter reliance on each other.”

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