Challenges in Malay to English translation

Translating is a very interesting, yet challenging process. Whatever the languages that translators are working with, they always bear the great responsibility of correctly transferring the exact meaning of words from one language to another. Although all kinds of translations require a lot of skill and delicacy, there are some language pairs that pose greater challenges than others.

A very demanding group for translation is the English/Asian language ones. The translation challenges usually come from great dissimilarities in the cultures that affected the growth and development of the said languages. In this article, we are going look at the Malay translation, the challenges it poses to translators, and the way they work their magic to communicate information from one language to the other.

Translation challenges when working with Malay

The first difficulty that English translators meet when working with Malay is the lack of similarity in vocabulary. Since both languages come from different language families, it is only natural that they have nothing in common. “But what about loanwords?” you might ask. Malay, unlike other Asian languages, uses very few English loanwords. In the cases where English terms are borrowed, the way they sound is fully altered. Who would have guessed that the Malay “sains” comes from the English “science”.

Malay TranslationAnother obstacle translators come upon when dealing with Malay translation is how Malaysians form the plurals of their nouns. While in English we just put an “s” after the word without changing its form, in Malay people use repetition. They might repeat the whole word, for example, rumah means a “house” and rumah-rumah – “houses”, or they might repeat just a part of the word – daun means a “leaf” and dedaun stands for the plural “leaves”.

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Verb conjugation poses a challenge when translating from Malay just as often. In English, verbs don’t change their form nearly as frequently as they do in Malay. As a matter of fact, this goes about nouns and adjectives as well!

How do translators tackle Malay translation difficulties?

There are many methods translators and interpreters use when they work with such language pairs.

Difficulties regarding culture-specific concepts are a common occurrence. It isn’t rare to meet a concept in the source language that doesn’t exist in the target language or one that exists but is not lexicalized as there are no words in the target language to describe it. In such cases what translators do is to substitute the concept to another, closer in meaning and well known in the target language. If the text doesn’t allow such a substitution, translators then use more general terms (superordinate) to describe the specific term (hyponym) used in the source language.

In cases where it really is impossible to paraphrase, authors borrow words from the source language and use them as terms in their target language texts. This is also done in works where translators prefer to preserve as much authenticity of their work as possible.

Of course, if none of these methods can be used and if the work allows it, sometimes translators just omit the “untranslatable” terms, which in general is a very tricky job to do as keeping the right meaning of the text in a translation is one of the essential parts of a well-done job. Don’t you think so?

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