There has never been more of a need to translate things accurately, to translate things truthfully, and this has to coexist with the fact that languages are growing, changing, and dying all the time—shaped by humanity as it races forwards. It can be difficult to keep up with something that is always moving, but it is important to at least try. Translation at its best gives people the opportunity to acutely understand, to experience how another human being far removed from their daily life feels about something. It means we can empathise with problems we would have otherwise never known existed, and begin to comprehend the emotions of the cultures and nations which lie across oceans.
Even with the aforementioned best intentions, it can still be nigh on impossible to convey the specifically vague yet deeply-rooted emotions or thoughts of a culture or language, and therein lies the ‘untranslatable’ word. It is perhaps easiest and also most futile to try and begin to demonstrate this with love, as even within the boundaries our native tongues, we still struggle to articulate the inexhaustible facets of this word and what it ultimately means. Part of the reason for this is that love is excruciatingly subjective—we cannot study it effectively from neatly laid-out textbooks, and it is never experienced in the same way by two people. With this in mind, I’m sharing with you some examples of translated love from my two books, Lost in Translation and Speaking in Tongues.
First up is the Norwegian word forelsket, which for them pinpoints the euphoria we feel when we first begin to fall in love. The idea behind ‘untranslatable’ words is that we don’t have a direct, word-for-word translation for them, and have to grapple a little—try and explain using sentences, paragraphs, and in my case, illustrations.