Translation is hard. I don't mean just difficult, I mean really amazingly hard. Not only does one have to be fluent in two languages, one must also be culturally extremely literate in both cultures, and be a good writer to boot. Thinking of trying some easy translation? Maybe a poem or comic book? Don't kid yourself. Poems are damn near impossible to translate, and comic books are so full of cultural references that no matter how elegant your textual translation is, you'll want to put lots of footnotes in by way of explanation.

Only bad translators have to use explanatory text.

I want to be a translator, but some days I feel like giving up, it's just so damn hard. It's harder than you think. Next time you read something that's been translated, have a moment of silence for the translator. It's as much their work as it is the original author's.

Translation can be a difficult task. Words for objects can be relatively simple, but anything more abstract than that can run you into troubles. For example, emotion words and color terms. Where translation also gets sticky is where the only word you have has different connotations from what you wanted. (My favorite example is Ransom's translation into Malacandrian of Weston's speech in Out of the Silent Planet, even though it's only fictional.)

Anna Wierzbicka has proposed a kind of "Natural Semantic Metalanguage" (consisting of basic concepts found the same in all languages) that can be used to more clearly enumerate the difference between different words. She uses it in her books to expound stuff like how Russian duša is different from German Seele and English soul, and the concepts of fate and destiny in a bunch of European languages. It's very like Sapir-Whorf, almost.*

Sometimes it takes a chapter to properly translate a word, but you do get a good feeling for how a word in one language does not necessarily mean the same thing as the closest word in another language.

Also, "translation" in religious contexts means being moved directly to heaven without dying first. According to the Bible, Elijah and Enoch were translated, and possibly Moses, depending on what you read.

* The Wierzbicka book is "Semantics, Culture, and Cognition", IIRC.

In geometery, a transformation that glides all points of the plane the same distance in the same direction, and maps any point (x, y) to the point (x + a, y + b) where a and b are constants. Also called a glide.

The following text has been translated between English, French, Portuguese, and Italian, using a computer automated translation service. Can computers do an adequate job of translating between human languages? Judge for yourself!

The jobs of the translation automate to you from the calculating had existed during a complete definitive hour, but, because this famous example, the challenge of the meant one if to communicate exactly a job of the translation for the fists of the calculating too much seems to be large in the way those. It turns out you of problem give to you that the some languages differ from consideravelmente in the grammar, the sintassi and the dictionary. The literal translation between two, limits the relative languages exactly, is unsatisfactory to give to you the meant one and to the intention of the text it begins them. The computers difettano of in full load in the acquaintance, one characteristic necessary of good translator. In order correctly translate, the Marches of the examination also of a talent for the poetry, as the translator must find "the good ones rollback of the words" in the new language, that the new context means the base, the extremity just for giving the intention of the author begins them.

To more illustrate the insufficiency than more of the calculating that has automated the translation, me will include three poetries of the haiku for Basho. These poetries same they had been translate of the Japanese in English for the human translators, before the subject to mangling of translation of the machine for the calculating:

The old lagoon!
A râ the song of the water
jumps the inside --.  

The moon of the summer 
polishes in the momentary dreams 
in the potenziometro of the polipo.  

A flash of the lightning bolt!  
Screech of a flight of the night-heron 
for the current lack electrical worker.

In a biological context, translation refers to the synthesis of proteins encoded by mRNA (messenger RNA). Translation is a fundamental activity of all cells so it must have evolved very early in the history of life. It is remarkable that nature engineered (rather most scientists assume it did) such a complex process, which has remained unaltered for billions of years and has allowed life to flourish on the Earth. One of the most exciting frontiers of science is the understanding of how complex processes such as translation evolved from the chemically-simple, inanimate Earth.

Preparatory steps

Translation occurs after (or during in the case of prokaryotes) transcription of DNA to mRNA. In eukaryotic cells, before translation the introns (non-coding portions of the mRNA transcripts of genes) are excised from the mRNA and the exons (coding portions of the transcripts) are stitched back together. The excision and splicing process is known as mRNA processing. The mRNA strands eventually make their way to ribosomes where they will be translated into proteins.

Cells continuously produce molecules of tRNA (transfer RNA) bound to amino acids. The binding is catalyzed by 20 enzymes known as activating enzymes. The enzymes bind a particular amino acid to a tRNA molecule with a corresponding three-nucleotide sequence (called an anticodon) that will later bind to a three-nucleotide sequence (called a codon) of mRNA. Since four nucleotides--adenine, guanine, cytosine, and uracil--are used, there are 43 = 64 possible anticodons. This implies that some amino acids correspond to more than one anticodon. For example, the amino acid leucine can be binded to tRNA with anticodon CUX (X is any nucleotide), while tryptophan binds only to tRNA with the anticodon UGG.

Translation of mRNA into protein

Translation occurs on ribosomes, organelles made of protein and yet another kind of RNA--ribosomal RNA (rRNA). I will not discuss the physical structure of ribosomes or the details of how they bind mRNA to tRNA since the ribosomes are difficult to visualize and the biochemistry is over my head. The first step of translation is the binding of a tRNA molecule (known as met tRNA) carrying the amino acid methionine to a ribosome. The anticodon (UAC) of met tRNA corresponds to the start codon (AUG) of mRNA. An mRNA strand binds to the ribosome and tRNA such that the start codon and met tRNA anticodon bind. The second mRNA codon attracts a corresponding tRNA anticodon, and they bind with the help of the ribosome. The two amino acids carried by the tRNA molecules form peptide bonds, resulting in the release of the met tRNA molecule.

At this point the protein consists of two amino acids--methionine and another, depending on the second codon. The mRNA moves three nucleotides relative to the ribosome (in a process known as elongation), leaving the third codon in a position where the ribosome can help it bind to its anticodon. This process repeats tens to hundreds of times resulting in a long amino acid chain, or protein. Eventually the mRNA reaches a stop codon (UAA for instance). No tRNA binds to a stop codon, but cleaving enzymes do bind to it and release the polypeptide chain. Thus the mRNA has been translated into a protein.

Trans*la"tion (?), n. [F. translation, L. translatio a transferring, translation, version. See Translate, and cf. Tralation.]


The act of translating, removing, or transferring; removal; also, the state of being translated or removed; as, the translation of Enoch; the translation of a bishop.


The act of rendering into another language; interpretation; as, the translation of idioms is difficult.


That which is obtained by translating something a version; as, a translation of the Scriptures.

4. Rhet.

A transfer of meaning in a word or phrase, a metaphor; a tralation.


B. Jonson.

5. Metaph.

Transfer of meaning by association; association of ideas.

A. Tucker.

6. Kinematics

Motion in which all the points of the moving body have at any instant the same velocity and direction of motion; -- opposed to rotation.


© Webster 1913.

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