Saturday, 26 September 2009

I think I detest Polish...

If you want to argue it’s a blasphemy or I shouldn’t speak like that about my mother tongue it’s your right. It took me quite long to get to such conclusion and what happened today was only the proverbial last straw – my friend asked my to translate quickly (and possible correctly) an excerpt of the report on the biomass in the UK. I glimpsed at the six pages long document, noticed there were no words I wouldn’t understand and tempted by the promise of generous pay I took up the offer.

Just after I set out to dealing with the text I realised or rather recalled one of the basic truths of linguistics: comprehension doesn’t have to translate into ability to translate. The main reason behind this very case is the structure of the language. English has a strict syntax, tends to be plain, uses few words to convey a certain message. In Polish, in turn, use of syntax is at user’s discretion (although putting the words together in the correct and comprehensible order requires some effort), but the worse feature is that my native language is too descriptive – it uses more words than English. To give you the idea of what the problem consists in, I’ll provide you with an example: “low-carbon economy” – could you fit the whole meaning of the term into two Polish words?

The second reason of my disinclination towards Polish is the ongoing distortion of the language, mangled by its native speaker (including those educated ones, like journalists – dreadful!). Sentences are built in such way that it’s hard to catch on what the author intended to say, many words are misused or overused. My mother, a graduate of Polish philology tells me it’s caused by a “linguistic paucity” (ubóstwo językowe) – people know too few words, so they face difficulties with expressing their feelings or giving information. That’s only one side of the coin, still probably the brighter one – in every nation there are scores of people who find it hard to express themselves, by dint of insufficient education. The darker side is misuse or excessive use of some words (may realizować serve as the best example – I hear it a few times a day and every time it pisses me off. As the Polish wiktionary informs, Pinolona was right to claim it’s derived from French and… what’s the most important the definition sets out the contexts it should be used in. They cover broadly the same situations as in English “realise” (1. put into practise, 2. turn into cash, 3. realise one’s plans, ambitions, dreams, 4. become a reality). So why do Poles have to use in hundreds of different contexts – realizować inwestycję (what means to build a house or a road, possibly also carry out another project, like construction of a sewage treatment plant or a windmill, don’t you be taken aback when you see pompous phrases like realizować drogę), realizować świadczenia (I felt like hitting my head against the wall – it means to pay (out) benefits), realizować zyski (to take profits), realizować usługi (to provide or render services), realizować zlecenie (to fulfil or execute an order), realizować płatności (to make payments), realizować materiał (to go over the curriculum).

Improperly used words often confuse translators – the task for a translator is much easier if the text in the source language is written in a plain way – then the work runs smoothly. Whenever they come across an improperly formulated phrase or sentence this perfect mechanism jams. A translator has to figure out the author’s intention, sometimes it’s imperative to change something in the structure of the text. As in the example of realizować – each case of misused Polish word has to be dealt with separately – in some cases realizować can be translated with another English verb, in others you just need to convert a sentence, just like in the receipt I got today by e-mail, after purchasing a top-up for my mobile phone. Doładowanie telefonu zostało zrealizowane will be translated as “your mobile phone has been topped up”. Simple, isn’t it?

After a longer, holiday break, my translation and linguistic fixation has been awakened. More freakish posts with questions I’m pondering upon will appear soon…

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