Cultural Translation

Translation is an interesting area, because of how words change so dramatically. Words are formed by culture, and I have previously mentioned for example languages with no numbers.
The power of changing between languages can be very dramatic. For example the utterance "To be or not to be" in Chinese more literally translates to "To live or to kill yourself" when Shakespeare is recited. The meaning is the same literally, but the character is lost because a more complex translation to convey the concept would be clunky.

Friends reading books in multiple languages often express their frustrations. Murakami for instance is said to translate from Japanese into Chinese far more successfully than to English. I can imagine German to English is much more accurate than into Chinese. There are cultural uses of words that are far more similar in certain languages because of their cultural similarities.

Cultures only continue to invent words as they are needed. There is for example Pirahas that tells the same two stories one way. In English either, John said he was going to ride a bike, or, I believe John is going to ride a bike, they are in Piraha however instead the same thing. The inferred meaning of a conversation is interpreted instead as if it were completely true, because in all likely hood it is. In English if you claimed somebody said instead of inferred something you would be called out on it, particularly in politics. Perhaps also the Pirahas actually get things done.
I owe this reference to Daniel Everett.

In Chinese there is a different cultural associations with giving thanks. In European and Western cultures, giving thanks is expected to be polite, though it often gets left out with people we don’t know who are simply doing their jobs. The Japanese take this to an extreme. In China however, thanking somebody such as a friend is seen differently. To thank somebody close to you is like treating them as a worker or servant, and the response is something like “Don’t thank me, of course I would do this for you.” The words “Thank you” don’t simply translate literally then because they come with different cultural baggage and contexts.

By cultures I don’t just mean nations and whole languages. Cultures also means groups of like minded people. That could be artists, designers, any occupation in fact, and so on. Jargon therefore serves the same function. Nobody but a designer needs to know what a colophon is, and only a calligrapher will talk about nibs. Similarly words are reused for different causes like marketers talking about sneezers, or smokers talking about darts. This could extend to the euphemisms of politicians revenue raising, or saying the elderly are close to the end. Hidden meaning takes place with drug takers asking for Molly, or vandals who like to write.

Learning other languages can give a lot of insight into a culture. Equally, learning from other disciplines may expose you to insight about your own work.