When I was visiting home and family few days ago, one of my much younger cousins asked me after a bit of a conversation: ‘Do you translate everything you hear or read?’ I could see where he was coming from and his question made me start thinking if I think like a translator, or a linguist, and what does that really mean?
Thinking and dreaming in different languages
It’s a common knowledge now that one of the determinants of bilingualism is the ability to dream in the foreign language. I’m a bit of a moon-walker, so at the age of 12 or 13, I was screaming for help in three different languages while asleep. Now, I have dreams of me interpreting in court and forgetting a word, or getting stuck somewhere in the middle of interpreting the key evidence. But that doesn’t determine my way of thinking as translation-like, it merely helps me indulge in the oh-so-longed-for bilingualism.
Noting down interesting or weird words
I have quite a few black leather notebooks with all these weird, obscure words that I come across. It’s just this passion for words, some of them really funny for me (recent discovery: “młodziczki” in Polish, something like a junior league, but the word formation is so not typical in here). I chase these words as well, looking them up online in all sorts of dictionaries (English Etymology!). But does that allow me to say that I think like a translator?
I do it all the time, especially with speech or when trying to describe some events to my Polish-speaking family. I just NEED to know the right word, in both languages. There are no excuses. Whenever I see some word that grabs my attention, I immediately look for its equivalent. Sometimes it doesn’t let go till I get home and look it up. I know I might need this synaptic connection at some point in the future, that’s why nurturing my inside glossary does bother me.
I-would-translate-it-differently way of thinking
Doesn’t that happen to you? Well, it happened to me few times when I was actually reading an original. Is it my in-build linguist or my Polish language studies background that automatically spots all these minute lapses? Oh, and it does happen when I revise my old translations as well, with a bit of a blush on my cheeks.
Seeing translation problems in all sorts of texts
Leaflets, brochures, tourist guides, letters, notices, signs, product copies… “Normal” people just read them. But no, translators (most of us I believe) immediately see them as potential translation problems and try to apply some of the available solutions. Even without any pay! Is it just in our minds?
Running a text analysis. Always
Whenever I read something longer than a Tube service update, I just analyse it for all these intra and extratextual features. It’s such a nightmare with books or longer articles. It’s said that linguists can’t read like “normal” people. They analyse and get under the skin of the text straight away. How does that change our perception of any communication?
Do translators see texts in a different way? Do we see cultures differently? From my own experience I know that my profession has changed the way I receive and process any kind of texts- including spoken. I think that our profession changes our role in the whole communication process for good. We are no longer only on the receiving part. Any time we get hold of texts we just co-create them, even if it’s just in our heads. Do you think like translators?