“Traductore Traditore?” Reflections by Laura Kortelainen

Must the translator be a traitor as the Italian saying puts it? I hope not, but having finished the translation of the Migrant diversophy® game into Finnish, I have learned a lot about the risks involved in crossing the boundaries of language.

English to Finnish, seems simple right?  

At first, I thought the translation process would be quite easy, but I soon found out that it is not. English and Finnish are two very different languages. Finnish is one of the Finno-Ugrian languages and English is a language of the West Germanic branch. Common features of Finno-Ugrian languages and differences from other languages is that there are no articles, no a, an or the, neither are there separate words for genders. Personal possession is expressed with suffixes, there are postpositions in addition to prepositions, and there is no equivalent of the verb to have.[i]

These differences force you to think more about the way you form a sentence, so that it flows in both languages. For me, it was interesting to compare the differences. I learned more about both languages’ structures and the ways to express something in each of the languages. I have studied English for about 15 years and used it in daily communication for the past few years, but during the translation process I learned even more about the distances between these two languages.

The main challenge was translating topics unknown to me. Sometimes the process included researching and learning about the cultural topic a card was based on. Translation does not happen by translating a text word for word, but reading the text aloud and relying on the help of my proofreader’s insights. The need for the a game to be easy to play and to move along at a good pace made me want to keep the translations clear and simple, so the sense of the text would be easy for all players to grasp.

The culture of the language?

Another interesting part of the process was translating proverbs and comparing the meaning behind them in different cultures. Trying to choose words to express a proverb with the same meaning in another culture was really interesting and also fun to learn. The meaning of proverbs and how and when they are expressed tell a lot about the culture and the values of people in different countries. They tell about the history of a country, how people there think and how they react to different kinds of situations. [ii]

I think getting to know proverbs from different cultures is a fun way to understand cultural differences even better. It offers perspectives to ponder about the challenges we face in everyday life.

Nature is important for Finns and many of Finnish proverbs are related to it. This proverb means the way you speak to people and treat them will reflect in their words and actions towards you.

Changes of a language – opportunity or threat?

I am a little worried that the Finnish language might disappear due to the lack proper usage. The Finnish you learn in school is totally different from what you actually speak. Of course, you read news and articles in proper Finnish, but in everyday life, when talking to others, you might have your own personal language. The words you use and how you talk about different things gives a personal touch to your language.

At the same time, I think it is a richness to have so many dialects and ways of saying things; I have always liked the way you can play with words in Finnish and always learn new words too. The culture around language is changing really fast in Finland, especially among the youth. There are tons of words borrowed not only from Swedish and Russian, but also from English. Most Finnish words have a connection to some other language – Finnish is the most energetic borrowers of words of all the world’s languages.[iii]

In addition, new and borrowed words are added to the vocabulary regularly. How you speak and what it actually says about you is quite interesting. It tells where you are from and can reflect your personality as well.

A learning experience to remember

I am really thankful that I had my proofreader to correct the translations and also to explain why something was wrong or just didn’t sound right. A couple more proofreaders and pairs of fresh eyes will help finalizing the game cards before they go to print.

My translating continues as I now attack the game’s Facilitator Guide and its QuickStart and debriefing instructions. By the way, we urgently need an Arabic translator for the Migrant deck, so If you are interested, or if you know someone who is, please contact laura@diversophy.com.  



[i]   http://finland.fi/life-society/where-does-finnish-come-from/

[ii]  http://www.elore.fi/arkisto/2_12/granbom-herranen.pdf

[iii]  https://www.onehourtranslation.com/translation/blog/finnish-words-borrowed-other-languages

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