To translate or not to translate?



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A recent assignment on Academic Kazakh brought up another controversial issue related to Kazakh language – translating international words and terminology into Kazakh. The task involved checking and correcting the translations done by previous year students. Reporting and reflecting on the completed work triggered a heated debate in class on some issues connected with translating terminology.

Firstly, some, including me, were in doubt whether we have the right to make up new words in Kazakh, if we ourselves are just learning Academic Kazakh. Others felt that we, as researchers in the field, are responsible for translating, as “If not us, who?” For example, the word “translanguaging” is used a lot in multilingual education and is researched by several of my group mates. However, it does not have a translation in Kazakh. Well, it did not have until one of my group mates translated it as “транстілдесу” [transtildesu], which, in my opinion, sounds nice and is an example of a successful translation.

Another controversial issue was translation of words which are internationally common. Some students held an opinion that words like “context” do not need to be translated because it confuses people. The word is translated into Kazakh as “мәнмәтін”, whereas in Spanish it is “context”, in Italian “contest”, “context” in French, “контекст” in Russian, “kontekst” in Uzbek and “kontekstində” in Azaerbaijan. Others thought that people will get used to new words as they did in case of words like “сынып” [synyp] (class) and “пайыз” [payiz] (per cent) which were met skeptically when introduced in the 1990s.

Finally, some students mentioned that translations of some words were more like definitions rather than equivalents. For instance, “magnet school” was translated as “жеке пәндерді тереңдетіп оқытатын арнайы мектеп” (literally: the school which offers specialist tuition in a particular subject). The argument for such translation was that we need to think of the ordinary people who are not experts in the field as for them leaving “bullying” as “буллинг” does not make sense, whereas its definition does. However, others argued that people can look up the definition of the term when needed in a thesaurus or defining dictionary as we do with medical or other terminology.

What do you think?

4 thoughts on “To translate or not to translate?

  1. I think you have done an excellent job bringing the classroom into the blog. I am pleased to hear about your productive and informed debates about Academic Kazakh! Superb post. Crystal clear and well developed.



    1. Thank you, Philip, for this task! I got five fives in a row and am happy as a schoolchild:) I have always liked writing, but it takes me so long to write a piece, that I usually get discouraged and gave up. So, the task and your feedback increased my writing self-esteem:)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear, makpaloralovna!
    Your raising issue is really acute for both students, who learn academic language; and for trasnlators to choose right version. Moreover, it can be difficult for those, who expose information with new terms, which are usually ambigous to understand.
    I also would like to mention that you try to look at the problem from various sides. The essay suggest several versions of translation, which are possible. It shows that you critically consider the given theme.
    Thanks a lot!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I find your ideas really interesting on this topic. Nowadays, translation English words into Kazakh are a new challenging process for young linguists or specialists who have to translate it because of their jobs or study interests. As we know that, there are no analogies of English words in Kazakh, in order to increase the number of analogies of English words in Kazakh our Ministry of Education and Science has to train qualified specialist who will be able to find appropriate analogies of English words in Kazakh.


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