Translating is a hard job. One is constantly confronted with subtlety which belongs to one language and simply cannot be rendered in the other.
I was expecting to notice this when translating from English to French. After all, they are both my language. But I was much more suprised to be faced with the problem when translating from Hindi.
Thinking of it, I shouldn’t have been. The language structure of Hindi is quite different from French or English – to say nothing of the treatment of verbs. What astonishes me most, in fact, is that I am actually capable of understanding some of these shades of meaning even though I haven’t been studying Hindi for very long.
There is something almost gratifying in being able to truly understand a sentence or expression in a foreign language, while in the same time being incapable of reproducing it in your own.
The translation job makes you take all this understanding one step further, by bridging the gap between the languages.
I think this shows two things – which may be considered contradictory. First of all, thought and meaning depend on language and are influenced by it. And second, thought is independant of language in some way – we need not think in words. I have to abstract my understanding of the hindi phrase from its original language and reproduce that meaning in French.
Artists are already aware that one can think without words – you can “think in painting” or “think in music”, just like we often “think in writing” or even “in typing”. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to write a letter with a pen in your hand than dictate it?
I’m often surprised at how unaware of this people tend to be – hanging on to the idea that we only “think in words”.