Untranslatability of Languages

Why certain words and expressions will never render a one-to-one translation: blame it on the context.

M. Soledad Berdazaiz
Babel

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A vintage typewriter keyboard.
Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

In order to understand why untranslatability exists, it is first necessary to frame the concept of language.

The first notions of language defined it as the system of symbols and sounds used by people of a particular country or area.

However, this definition left out a key component of language: its creator and utterer, the human being itself, for language is intimately connected to their social identity.

It wasn’t until the development of sociolinguistics in the 1960s that language began to be studied in relation to society, including cultural norms, expectations, transactions; i.e., language was no longer considered a mere abstraction, but a system in actual use, produced by real speakers in every-day situations, who aim at accomplishing different purposes in different social contexts.

Before they were exterminated, there once existed an indigenous people in Southern Patagonia called the Onas (I often find myself writing about them in my stories).

They would refer to sadness with the same word they used to describe “the difficult time when the crab loses its old shell and is waiting for the new…

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M. Soledad Berdazaiz
Babel
Writer for

Eng<>Spa translator | writer | avid reader | languages enthusiast. Born in Patagonia, currently in Italy. https://in-other-words-translations.com/