As a linguist, I still find myself being amazed with the creativity of some people in replacing certain foreign terms into their mother tongues. Sometimes it happens so subtle that one can hardly detect the ingenuity unless he or she is editing or proofreading the text. However, this attempt is really worth appreciation. Why not? People who have been working for a long time with words know that translating the context of a foreign text in a way that it can be well understood by the target language’s addressees is very challenging.

Autumn, Bathroom, Etcetera…

It is not easy to describe the word “autumn” to people who only know two seasons in a year. The television might have helped him or her to understand the meaning yet still, there are some aspects of the season which are missing. For instance, how cold it is in the autumn? What the people commonly wear during the autumn? What color do the leaves of a certain tree turn into? (Before I went to college, I’d never known about certain leaves can turn their color into gray during autumn—that was my lecturer who said so. Well, I’ve never been abroad up until now hence I cannot prove it yet).

Another example, when an Englishman says “bathroom”, most Indonesians will think about a place where there is a large water container and a scoop to draw the water from it. Of course you will not find such thing in hotels, offices and other places where the European standard is used.

You might even be more surprise when we say that we take a leak in the bathroom. You will suddenly feel disgusted when you hear this. But since most Indonesian bathroom consists of a bathing area and a water closet, it is possible to do it.

Taking a Shower or Taking a Scoop?

And talking about “bathroom”, I remember a phrase which greatly relates to this term, i.e. “take a bath”. Well, yes, there is also “take a shower” which refers to washing your body with the help of a shower in a shower room. But again, we do not wash our bodies the same you do it.

Most of us do not “take a bath” or “take a shower”. While washing our bodies, we “take a scoop” to draw out the water from a large bucket or a container. Try to invite a Javanese to your house and bring him or her into your bathroom. Show him or her the bath tub and he or she will start looking for a water scoop. They will fill the tub, then with a help of a scoop (or a small bucket), they take the water from it and start washing their bodies. That is what we mean by “taking a bath” (“take a shower” remains an unpopular term to be taught in English lessons as people rarely use this method to wash their bodies).

Translating Names…When It Is Necessary

Now, back to creativity in translation. I was reminded at one day, when I was still working for a company. I was editing a translated text about HR Training. I found that the translator did not only translated the text but also the names of the people used in examples. He changed “Mary” to “Marni” and “John” to “Joni”. Since the names are used only for an anecdote, the replacement would not change the meaning of the story. Yet contextually, the replacement had successfully created a sense of “cultural closeness” to the Indonesian native speakers as “Marni and Joni” sounds familiar while “Mary and John” foreign.

Some translators might have decided to stick to the names mentioned in the source language. First, simply because the idea to replace names can hardly come into everyone’s mind. Second, translators are afraid to take the risk; what if the clients get upset to find such replacement?

It is indeed challenging for translators to make a courageous move; de-structure the available context and build a new one which is more suitable for the target addresses. Most translators will be happy to make the translated text to be “dead” but follow nearly the same structure as the source language’s grammar rather than to kill the source language’s soul just to give a new space for the targeted language’s seed to grow.*