TED Translators work at the intersection of culture and language. They help big ideas transcend language and global borders. Together, TED Translators represent more than 115 unique languages, many of which contain certain words that don’t exist in other languages. We asked a few of the TED Translators attending TED2018 to share a word from their language that cannot be easily translated into English. Enjoy learning these 12 words—and let us know what untranslatable words exist in your own language!
On November 28, the inaugural TED@Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany gathering went down at London’s Here East. The event, produced by TED and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany through the TED Institute program, convened 16 innovators in healthcare, art, technology, psychology and other fields to speak under the banner of “Breakthroughs”. Among the attendees was a contingent of veteran and new TED Translators from London and neighboring areas who came together not only to engage with the speakers’ novel ideas, but also to connect with each other in person and share their translation knowledge and experiences.
Of the wide variety of talks delivered at TED@Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, one which resonated most with the TED Translators was Tiffany Watt Smith’s The history of human emotions. A research fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London, Smith probed how the words we choose to describe our emotions can in turn affect how we feel; furthermore, our emotional lexicons often change in response to shifts in cultural expectations and perceptions. “[Emotions] are shaped not just by our bodies,” she explained, “but by our thoughts, our concepts, our language…[A]s language changes, our emotions do, too.” This observation drove home a crucial point for the TED Translators, especially since one of the translator’s key, frequently painstaking jobs is to distill ideas into their appropriate words: If language can influence emotions, then the translator’s quest to find the right words for her translations must extend into the realm of emotional accuracy as well.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the initial TED@Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany gathering was itself a breakthrough, giving everyone who attended and spoke plenty of new food for thought. For their part, the TED Translators group wrapped up their time at the event feeling inspired, better-connected with each other and more committed than ever to the art of translation.