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How American movies change when they are exported

Translation has always been interesting to me. It is interesting to me how something like a movies are translated. Even before making it to the theater the movie can be changed dramatically through translation. The name of the movie can reshape the expectation and focus of the movie for example. While not lingual, the movie poster can also be “translated” for a different audience.

Meryl Streep’s It’s Complicated is an example of those two things happening at once. The result is that the bakery (which isn’t featured at all in the American marketing) and the character’s family become the focus. While the American version seems to focus on the character’s complicated love life.

It’s really interesting. The big question is how these two marketing campaigns reflect cultural values and whether these reflections are pleasing to witness.

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A Good Translation Makes a Difference

The BBC reported recently that Shanghai is trying to get rid of “chilglish” (English poorly translated from Chinese). If you want to see some examples see their slide show.

Sometimes a bad translation is cute, “you are hear,” or “beware of the bee.” Other times they are funny like “don’t fall down,” instead of the more standard “watch your step.” Sometimes they leave folks scratching their heads like “Forbid hatchet man machine.”

Of course english speakers make mistakes translating too. The point here isn’t to beat up non-native speakers. It’s about how important it is to do it right.

Signs are only the most obvious places (T-shirts being the second most obvious). But there are other places where translation is important. For me, the most important place is literature.

I couldn’t get through Crime and Punishment until a friend pointed me towards the translation by Richard Pevear, and Larissa Volokhonsky. Another example is the new translation of the Little Prince that may (or may not) be worse.

Some people think that machines will save us, and that it is possible. I doubt that a machine will ever be a reliable source of translation for anything more complex than a set of instructions— at least not in this lifetime. Even with decent machine translation it won’t save people from doing stupid stuff like this:

translate-server-error

Until we all get super computers from the future, or magic powers that let us understand the nuances of every written language translators are essential to sharing culture across borders.

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Misled in Translation


Since I first found months and months ago I’ve been in love with this sign. It reads

“K” Samothrace Guardian
KSG
Still young beautiful day’s. So many men,So many minds. We are rough diamond, we are NO.1

While there’s the obvious attempt at using the “diamond in the rough” cliché, I still have no idea what any of it really means to this day (maybe a publication?). Samothrace is a Greek Island, it is also figures into the name of the famous Winged Victory of Samothrace statue. But none of that information squares away what it has to do with Japan, rough diamonds, of beautiful days, or men’s minds. However I do feel vaguely inspired by it. Go KSG!!!

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