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Language, Translation and Perception

Language and translation

There are approximately 3000 languages in the world. They do not have the same rules and vocabulary, therefore word-to-word translation is not possible. Since languages are so different, translation is more of an art than a science.

Problems of translation

  • Context – words are related to other words in the language. It is necessary to know all of them. (chat, talk, gossip)
  • Untranslatable words – There are words in languages which are unique and untranslatable with one word into other languages (Schlimmbesserung).

There are also words which have more than just one equivalent in another language (du/Sie)

Idioms – colloquial expression which has a meaning which cannot be worked out from the meanings of the words it contains. It is required to know the idiom itself. E. g. an English person wouldn’t understand “Bez pri?? ce nie si?? koli?? ce” if translated word-to-word.

Lost in translation

Criteria for translation:

  • Faithfulness to the original text
  • Comprehensibility
  • Back translation

Labels and stereotypes

There are proper names and general words.

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Using general words is basically creating labels. Creating labels is efficient for the purpose of saving time. However, mislabeling may create problems. There are many different ways of classifying things. Labels can be natural (objective) or cultural. Labels of people can easily slip into stereotypes – that is making assumptions about members of a group simply because they belong to it. (e. g. Giovanni eats spaghetti since he’s Italian). These often lead to racism and sexism. Labels and stereotypes are useful when simplifying things but can be dangerous since they’re not able to capture the uniqueness of each member of a group.

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Language and thought

The extent to which language affects the way we think The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis = “Language determines thought”. Our reality is determined by language. E. g. Eskimos see different patterns in snow since they have many different words for it. – Edward Sapir” We cannot understand what we cannot label. E. g. Hopi Indians have no “time” in their language – Benjamin Whorf It is a form of linguistic determinism. Testing the hypothesis Evidence of thought without language: Babies and animals are able to think without language (simple mental arithmetic) Language is secondary, thoughts come as images. We sometimes cannot express our ideas with words New words created and first languages arising (pre-language thought needed).


Rather than determining thought, language more likely influences thought. It is a useful tool to enable us think. E. g. babies have some basic mathematical knowledge but are unable to multiply since they don’t have the appropriate “vocabulary”

Language and values

Language can have great influence on people. For example, advertisers use language as an advertising tool (sparkling water, economy class in planes) Using language to influence and persuade

  1. Emotionally laden language – words not only have a descriptive meaning but also an emotive meaning – that is the “aura” around the world. For example “toilet” has different emotive meaning than “restroom”. Euphemisms are a kind of emotionally laden language – positively. E. g. positive – hero, love, peace negative – death, hunger, terrorist. Phrasing may change the outcome in questions or surveys – it is a powerful tool of influencing people
  2. Weasel words – words that are put into sentences to create an escape route. Words like “can”, “should”, “may” and “might” are typical E. g. “Our toothpaste HELPS fight cavity” (it is not certain)
  3. Grammar – may affect the way people set things. E. g. passive may be used to escape responsibility (The city was bombed).
  4. Revealing and concealing – may also influence people.

Concealing undesired information and only saying positives may have a positive effect. Using euphemisims may make it easier for soldiers to kill their enemies and lose the moral responsibility. (kill = neutralize, invade = liberate, destroy = take out, dead = no longer a factor,… ) Language can be used to gain power over people. It plays an important roles in our attitudes and may change our opinions. E. g. Adolf Hitler used language to gain power and manipulate people.


Perception is the awareness of things using the five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Humans are visually oriented and use their smell the least.

  • Empiricism – school of philosophy that says all knowledge is based on perceptual experience
  • Common-sense realism – a theory according to which perception is passive and only gives us an accurate image of reality.

Senses not only reflect the reality but actively construct it. Perceptual illusions Perception consists of two elements:

  • Sensation – provided by the world
  • Interpretation – provided by our minds ( usually subconscious)

These things play an important role in perception:

  • Context – what we perceive depends on the context, the background; optical illusions are often based on changing backgrounds and contexts Figure and ground – double images – we consider one part of what we see as the main part (figure) and the rest as background (ground). (e. g. black color = letters in books is the figure)
  • Visual grouping – humans have a tendency to group patterns together into a meaningful whole. They are able to fill in missing parts of images
  • Expectations – people tend to ignore things which are not expected in a given situation. (own errors in written work are often not seen;)
  • The role of unconscious – most interpretations occur unconsciously – people do not realize they’re distinguishing objects in space – the inability to do so is called visual agnosia and is a medical condition

Selectivity of perception

Perception is selective – it picks some elements to concentrate on and ignores others. Therefore we often not hear the ticking of a clock but hear a scream in the middle of the night. Important factors are contrast, interest and mood.

Seeing and believing “Believing is seeing” 3 examples:

  1. Science – in 19th century, astronomers believed in a planet and saw it but it was actually not there History – On Bloody Sunday, Catholics saw the others attacking first, the soldiers saw it the other way around Arts – people tend to draw not what they see but what they believe – in 19th century, horses were drawn with 2 eyelashes while they only have one.
  2. Eye-witness testimony – single eye-witnesses are unreliable since they tend to commit perceptual errors and the element of time plays a major role as well. Distinguishing appearance from reality Perception causes problems since: We may misinterpret what we see We may fail to notice something We may misremember what we have seen These can be eliminated by: Confirmation by another sense – If we doubt something which one of our senses perceives, it is reasonable to prove it by another one.
  3. Coherence – when things do not “fit in” they are to be doubted Independent testimony – when more people see the same thing, it is likely to be true. Psychology of perception – Our senses are limited. Different animals have different types of senses. Their reality is different from ours. What is really out there? Pain, taste and color – “Tickle is not the feather” – pain, taste and color are not only based on the objects that cause them but also on the receptors that sense them. They are all subjective The tree in the forest – “If a tree falls in a forest…. ” – there are two ways to look at the problem.

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Language, Translation and Perception. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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