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?