Happy Year of the What?


By: Meredith Moon, Editor-In-Chief, @cirque_luna

As you probably know, today is Lunar New Year, otherwise known to Americans as Chinese New Year. My guess is that we really just like their zodiac signs, because who doesn’t love cute animals and reading horoscopes?

Usually the animal for the year is pretty straightforward—a horse, a snake, a tiger—but not this year. People can’t decide how the Chinese character yang is supposed to be translated. Is it a sheep? A goat? A ram? Some people just make their own decision based on what is more favorable to them, as each animal has certain characteristics that are more or less desirable depending on who you ask.

This calls into question the issue of translation. Having worked as a translator for years, I don’t believe that it is a cut and dry process, one that can be mechanized or computerized or even agreed upon. In the best cases, it is an art (and in the worst a complete disaster) —an open interpretation of words based on the translator’s view of the world mixed with the author’s view of the world. Depending on where you are from, your vocabulary will differ, adding in a sprinkling of linguistic chaos in some cases. For instance, let’s take the word popcorn. Pretty simple in English: corn that pops. Check out this infographic for all the different ways to say popcorn in Spanish. Crazy, right? This example is G-rated, however some words go from G- to X-rated from one country to another pretty quickly. We won’t go there though.

Basically, translation is hard and many times there isn’t a right or wrong answer. And other times you can make a complete fool out of yourself on the world stage. My suggestion? Have a lot of different people review a translation and be patient. There isn’t just one right answer, but there can definitely be a wrong one.