Are you digging it?

I really give his pike, the pure fain, but the guy has been fluttering so much lately on Instan, he’s really printing himself. All right, now I’m stepping, pick axe!

No… we didn’t go mad, we just used machine translation for translating a couple of slang-laden sentences from Hungarian. Well, actually… If we did that, we really might have gone mad!

While machines can handle more straightforward texts and prepare them for a human translator for post-editing, there is really no point in using machine translation for more creative texts, including copy full of idioms, set phrases or, as we’ve seen here, slang.

Translating slang correctly is a more complicated matter and requires a huge amount of creativity machines simply lack.

First of all, there are different types of slang.

Slang is defined as “an informal nonstandard vocabulary composed typically of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and extravagant, forced, or facetious figures of speech” and while we often think of it as words used by teens, there are other slang types out there, like army slang, slang used by various occupational groups, argot (a kind of secret language used to exclude others), sports slang, text speech/internet slang (think LOL and l8r), etc.

Anyone attempting to translate slang needs a high level of linguistic and cultural awareness to decipher the source text. Slang is one of the fastest changing area of a language’s vocabulary, so the translator really needs to be in the know to be able to understand it. (Just think about it: do you always understand your teenage kids or professionals from another industry talking amongst themselves?)

The translator will also need to find matching expressions in the target language. Needless to say, there is no point in translating slang literally! They don’t only need to get the meaning of slang expressions, that’s only half the job. Translators working with these types of texts need to find equivalent words. Slang is (sub-)culture specific and sometimes it is a tough task even for an experienced translation veteran to produce a text in the target language that reads just as great – and also, just as easily understood by the target group! – as the source text.

What does this all mean for clients who wish to have their content translated?

Depending on the purpose of the text, it might be better to stay away from obscure slang words in copies that are written specifically for translation and it’s perhaps more advisable to use other expressions with a similar meaning. This way misunderstandings or the use of forced equivalencies can be minimised.

Another good tactic could be providing a small glossary of the lesser known slang expressions used in the text that could help translators get the right meaning. Once they understand the source text in its entirety, they can focus on finding the best translations for those tricky expressions.

We hope you found this short article informative but if you have any further questions about translating creative texts or slang expressions, do not hesitate to get in touch via translations@firstedit.co.uk, our team will be more than happy to help!

Oh, and before you go, would you like to know what the machine translated Hungarian text really says?

Here is the original: Nagyon adom a csukáját, az tiszta fain, de a pasi annyit flekszel mostanában az Instán, nagyon nyomatja magát. Na jól van, most lépek, csákány!
And here is what it really means: I’m really digging his kicks, they are on point but the dude’s flexing so much on Insta, he is plugging himself too much. Ok, leaving now, laters!

You are welcome.

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