Dutch: not as untranslatable as they say by mattsteinglass
January 14, 2010, 4:31 am
Filed under: Netherlands

The Felicia Lee NY Times review of what looks like a pretty great Flemish teen-theater production notes that “Once and for All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen” is “not its original, untranslatable Dutch title”. Checking the theater company’s website, the original Dutch title appears to be “Pubers bestaan niet”, which unless I’m missing a pun translates pretty easily as “Teenagers don’t exist”. (There’s a little slippage between “pubers” and “teenagers”, which could also be translated “tieners”, but not too much.)

The theater company’s name, “Ontroerend Goed”, is based on a hard-to-translate pun, so perhaps that’s what Lee meant to refer to. (The company itself makes a good stab at it with “Feel Estate”.) In general though I think claims that things are “untranslatable” should be taken with a grain of salt. There’s an incentive for both producers and reviewers to exaggerate these sorts of things as part of an exoticist cultural sales job.


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I’m reading my first ever Robert Ludlum novel and I don’t see how he gets away with it. One of the offenses in the chapter now dog-eared for later was where he included a Russian word he describes as: the untranslatable word, meaning ‘[something or other].”

Granted, virtually all of Hmong, Yoruba and Quechua are untranslatable if I’m the one translating.

Comment by citifieddoug

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