Translation of proverbs and idioms
Probably the most challenging task for any professional linguist is translation of idioms and proverbs contained in a text he or she works with. Quite often, idioms and proverbs serve as an ornament or decoration of a text, adding special tone or colour to it. When translated, it is often required to convey an exact message with its tone and possible hidden meaning and interpret it to the target language.
Take, for example such morphologically distant languages as English and Russian. Very commonly used Russian proverb “без труда не вытащишь и рыбку из пруда” could be translated as a “No sweet without sweat” or as a not always appropriate in business communication “No pains, no gains” or even “a cat in gloves catches no mice”. The last one could also have additional tone not necessarily expressed in the original text.
Here’s another example: a Syrian (Arabic) proverb “اللی بیشرب البحر ما بغض الساقية ” which could be literally translated as “He who has drunk the sea does not choke on a brook” or simply “One who has done something big will not fear a small thing”.
So what is a rule of thumb for a translator when working with proverbs or idioms? Unfortunately, there’s no unique answer. Generally, it is up to the linguistic professional to convey the message correctly and appropriately under the given circumstances. Sometimes, when translation is required to be done word by word, there is no choice but to use literal meaning, in other cases, a linguistic expert may find a phrase in the target language which would reflect the exact meaning of an idiom or proverb.
Professional certified translators are trained to handle such situations and use appropriate language for the given job. Those working in translation industry for years typically are seasoned experts who could assist you with the correct and accurate document translation not sacrificing the meaning of the text.
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