According to Prof. Vemuri of University of California, Davis, about 75 million people speak Telugu the world over. It belongs to the Dravidian family of languages that are about 21 in number. Telugu has heavily borrowed from Sanskrit. Other languages that contributed to its development are English, Urdu and Persian. Telugu is extensively used in government, media, law, and other walks of life. It is also the medium of instruction in many government schools and colleges. Aspirants to government jobs can appear for the qualifying examinations in Telugu.
English is a universal language spoken across the globe. Translation of content from English to regional languages seems to be a natural requirement for many customers. Therefore, we came up with this article to support translators and customers who seek English to Telugu translation. This article discusses some of the challenges in translation, some solutions and resources.
The Structure of English Vs. The Structure of Telugu
English’s mechanics are different from those of Telugu. English lets you play around with the placement of subject or object at the beginning of the sentence. However, if we imitate the same in Telugu, it reads avoidable.
Here is a simplified example.
- ‘Ram beat Somu.’ (Subject + Verb + Object)
- ‘Somu was beaten by Ram.’ (Object + Auxiliary Verb + Verb + Preposition + Subject)
In Telugu, writing the second alternative, even if we want to emphasize the subject, reads very colloquial at best and meaningless at its worst. Telugu has many alternatives.
- ‘Ram somuni kottadu.’ (Subject + Object + Verb)
- ‘Somuni ram kottadu.’ (Object + Subject + Verb)
- ‘Somuni kottinavadu Ram.’ (Object + Verb + Subject)
- ‘Somu Ram chetha kottabaddadu’ (Object + Subject + Verb). This is the literal translation that follows the flow of the English sentence in II. Here, not only do we increase the number of words used, but comprehension beats a quick retreat. This is even more true of complex sentences.
Note 1: I am not showing the case or other inflections for the sake of brevity.
Note 2: Probably the above examples, and the argument above goes for the other Dravidian Language (Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam) translation.
Things can get complex quickly when translating content from English to Telugu. Here is a sentence I picked up from a white paper:
“Growth of the Industrial and Services sector is critical (a) to achieve the 12-13% overall economic growth (b) to create employment and (c) to increase per capita income. (d)”
The translation reads best in Telugu when we bring (b), (c), and (d) to the beginning of the sentence. Here, I am presenting both literal (1) and ideal versions (2):
- Parisramalu, sevala rangala abhivruddhi (a) 12-13% vruddhi retuni saadhimchadaniki (b) udyoga kalpanaku (c), thalasari aadayam penchadaniki (d) keelakamayindi.
- vruddhi retu (12-13%) saadhimchadaniki (b) udyoga kalpanaku (c), thalasari aadayam penchadaniki (d) Parisramalu, sevala rangala abhivruddhi keelakamainadi.
To rearrange each sentence as in 2, the translator should make a considerable cognitive effort. The more complex the sentence, the more the effort. When the writing is ambiguous, the cognitive load is further enhanced.
Idioms and Sayings
Idioms in English (for that matter those from any language) sparingly lend themselves to translations. A translator should find something close enough in his language or write in such a way that the writing comes close to the original. The same argument goes for sayings in English as well.
Lack of terms can be a huge hindrance. English is enriched every day with words from the world of technology, economics, science, politics, and so on. However, the regional dictionaries have no way to cope up with the pace. The regional versions of these new words are either unavailable or, are a far cry from the original. Even when the regional versions are available, they don’t have the ‘vibe’ of the original.
- For example, the word ‘transformation’ can be used as a very positive word in English. However, in Telugu, the closest is ‘roopantharam’ (రూపాంతరం) or ‘roopantharamu’ (రూపాంతరము). In Telugu, it is mostly used in science to indicate ‘metamorphosis’. Another alternative ‘Parinamamu’ (పరిణామము) also indicates evolution. And both words are a far cry from the positive vibes of ‘transformation’. In such cases, translation pales despite the best efforts of the translator.
Complex Original Text
When a single sentence in the original runs into 2 to 3 lines, or contains 15+, or sometimes, 18+ words, you are staring at complexity in terms what is being said, and your understanding of the same. (The writer must be a master of his trade to write long sentences and communicate precisely.) That is two levels of complexity. Such overly loaded sentences can attract mistakes in proximity leading to incorrect comprehension.
Regional Names and Words
The mistakes in regional names or words have two sources.
When a non-native speaker writes about a regional happening in English, it is likely that the writer is unaware of the meaning of the regional word and makes a mistake.
For example, the word ‘Veena’ is pronounced with a distinct nasal sound by a Telugu-speaking person, whereas, in English, it is written as ‘Veena.’ Merriam-Webster’s phonetic description for the word is vīṇā. According to the International Phonetic Alphabet, this is [ɳ], the voiced retroflex nasal.
However, it should be noted that content rarely includes pronunciation. Such text, when translated into Telugu, will lose the sound and translate into vīnā, where ‘n’ is pronounced as the voiced alveolar nasal (as in ‘none’) rather than the voiced retroflex nasal.
Another source of mistakes occurs when the English version is written by a writer who doesn’t speak the regional language, (here, Telugu). When he must include the regional names, he is likely to make mistakes.
With the Telugu language pack installed, I noticed that MS Word could point out a mistake, only when the word doesn’t exist in the language.
However, if you write two unrelated words that are meaningless together but are meaningful separately, MS Word doesn’t recognize that the pair is awkward or wrong. So, the onus of finding such mistakes is on the translator.
How to Minimize the Challenges in Translation from English to Telugu
Three steps that you should take for content that reads just right:
- Selection of a professional translation company is of the highest importance. Professional agencies come with a wealth of knowledge, training, and troubleshooting capabilities that don’t let the project slip on its KPIs.
- The translator should be fluent in English (the transcribed language) and the target language (Telugu).
- Ask the agency for a typed script rather than a manuscript. If you handover the typing job to a typist or a desktop publishing company, the scope for mistakes skyrockets. This is so because the person who is typing may have minimal training in language.
It is possible that I haven’t seen all the tools available for translation into Indian languages. If you know of any, please send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be happy to update this blog post with credits to your inputs.
I am adding this section on 30 March, 2019.
When I contacted Dr. Vemuri to thank him for his class notes, he graciously provided more resources to help English to Telugu translation:
- A Wikipedia article on English to Telugu translation
- A dictionary useful for translators working on English to Telugu translation.
Another useful resource is Andhra Bharati. The dictionary section is a store house of translation terms. It shows entries from various renowned English to Telugu dictionaries.
Dr. Vemuri, thanks a ton for your support.
Articles on Translation Around the Web
I came across some amazing articles on translation around the web. Here is the first among them: