I came across this lovely animated video about language and translation for a new book called “Is That a Fish in Your Ear?” by David Bello. I love pieces like this which combine language and typography into a potent message.
As a Finnish person living in Wales, I have experienced an interesting environment of languages over the last eight years: English used and heard on a daily basis, Welsh seen and heard often, and other languages such as Arabic, Urdu and Chinese heard in student areas and areas with bigger ethnic populations. And of course my native tongue Finnish used by me on erratic intervals either in speech or inside my head.
I love the part in the video where they show the “lack” of right and left for the Aborigine people of Australia. It made me think of different concepts or hard to translate words between Finnish and English – here is a classic example:
“strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity”
“defined by a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain an action against the odds”
And what about when there are so many variations of one word?
karhu / otso / nalle / mesikämmen…
… plus a few hundred more words for a ‘bear’. This is a good example of language expressing the priorities and deep significance in a culture: bear is the national animal of Finland and can be traced back many placenames, old myths and bear worshipping.
After many years abroad I experience interesting conflicts and gaps in Finnish and English. Mainly it’s Finnish that is problematic as I have started to forget vocabulary and caught myself struggling to find the word even if it’s just an internal conversation. The other occurrence is when I simply cannot find a suitable translation for a Finnish word in a conversation. So it seems that recalling Finnish words is unreliable and unexpected at most times, although I do not see this purely as a bad thing: it really makes me think about the meaning and subtle nuances of words and communication on a daily basis.