I Hate Translations

“Translation is like cruelly mutilating a human’s body into parts and rejoin them afterwards.” Jean Paul Sartre, Les Mots

Let’s skip the ‘this-might-not-make-sense-to-you’ appetizer and get to the main meal. Translation, as how Sartre (paradoxically rendered from French) opened this post, is a highway shortcut for people who don’t have the high-motivation to take the long, winding road a.k.a. ‘comprehend literatures–or speeches–in the purest form’. These are people who don’t have time to learn languages, who don’t care if they might misunderstand some part of it as long as they have the raw apprehension.


“Insert beautiful shapes and I’ll transform them into new, shapeless ones!”
said the machine.

Surprisingly, I’ve met several exceptional minds who prefer to take hard lane. A teacher of mine, Mas Iqbal, spent at least 6 months studying German in order to understand Marx’s Das Kapital. Many others probably go to Kairo University, learn Arabic and everything before they have the holistic comprehension when they read the Quran.

Translation, my friends, is a semantic crime. No two words in different languages are ever completely interchangable. I hardly understand how translators have the heart to kill a sentence’s truest meaning and offer some shallow substitution. To my eyes, translation is like breaking a sentence into pieces and trying to rebuild them with weak glue. I always believe that there are cultural and historical aspects behind vocabularies–which mostly aren’t comparable in other nations’ chronicles.

However, getting your ideas translated to a number of languages (let’s call Dee’s Supernova or Ayu Utami’s Saman) is inevitably an honor for writers. To that we–I–can’t deny. (Not to mention the fact that I first met the magic world of Harry’s at my 3rd grade through bahasa Indonesia and not English.) Translation, hence, is an addictive yet destructive drug.


One Comment

  1. even editors can often change authors’ sentence constructions and turn beautifully emphasized thoughts into bland ‘just any other sentence’ paragraphs, let alone translation. i completely agree with the point your were making. while translations can help convey numerous thoughts and ideas to people who may not have the advantage of knowing all the language in the world, and therefore ‘open doors/windows to the world’ in the process, it can only go as far as give one the general idea instead of the author’s most genuine emotions every piece of writing contains. and boy, are emotions hard to translate! every language has its own distinctive ways of carrying emotions, after all. that’s why english to indonesian novels can be such a pain to read, and dubbed movies don’t work (ew!)


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