Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Let Me Hotwire Your Head!

It was just past 8 am and we were at home, having a leisurely breakfast. A movie was rambling on on an Astro channel; some inane story about gigantic wormlike creatures stalking the rocky peaks of Northern Afghanistan.

I was trying my level best to ignore the decidedly ridiculous plot while spreading a generous dollop of marmalade on my toast. Pak Abu, in the meantime, was stealing glances at the TV screen while waiting for his bread to pop out of the toaster.

A comely female character in US army fatigues suddenly appeared in one scene, saying "Let me hotwire the truck." My eyes automatically shifted to the crawl space at the bottom of the screen, in time to see this gem: "Biar saya wayarpanaskan trak itu."

Wayarpanas? Arrrghhh... It's the same old "lost in translation" crap all over again! Can't these translators get their act together once and for all?

I know, I know. It's only bad subtitling. It even has mirth value for a job done so poorly, but I tend to get emotional (and irrational, I'm afraid) about shitty translation.

Because translation is my bread and butter, I take pride in a job well done and take offence in a half-baked one (even if they are not mine), especially because bad translation serves only to confuse.

First of all, wayarpanas does not exist in Bahasa Malaysia. The translator had plucked the term out of thin air, for want of a word. This is the work of a lazy person.

Secondly, if your audience is not English-educated or at least have some basic rudiments of the language, they wouldn't know hotwire from a hotplate or a hothouse and it's presumptuous of you to assume they do.

There's nothing wrong in saying "Biar saya cuba hidupkan enjin trak tu tanpa guna kunci" (let me try to start the engine without a key). It may be a mouthful, but it makes sense. Most importantly, it is correct.

I can imagine an old, barely literate and completely baffled Dungun makcik congok in front of the telly watching the movie, probably with her grandkids, wondering aloud: "Wayarpanah tu amende pulok?"

I remember those good old days in the '90s when my public relations consultancy was swamped with translation work, particularly prospectus of companies going for public listing.

We had to deal with such a broad spectrum of industry that sometimes we got lost in the maze. There were times we reached out to Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka (DBP) to get the proper terms, only to be told translation of the said words had yet to be coined.

Sometimes, they would jokingly tell us to create new words and inform them. Those folks in DBP were a kind and helpful lot, and to them I owe much in the course of my business....


NanaDJ said...

I agree with you, translating is not about changing the words from English to Malay and vice versa. You have to understand the source language well including the subtlties. I remember reading Malay subtitles of a movie, when the police said "fire" it was translated as "api!", and the phrase "cold fish" as "ikan sejuk".

Tommy Yewfigure said...

Hey Puteri, u hot under the collar lately? I can see smoke coming out your nose & ears..hahaha

Chill mem :), iced lemon tea do wonders!

Pok Soh... said...

HULLO MEM..! below is what Mr. Google says when I asked him to translate your entry... it works..!


Let Me Hotwire Kepala anda!

Itu hanya masa lalu 8 dan kami di rumah, setelah sarapan santai. Sebuah filem Astro saluran itu mengoceh terus dan terus; beberapa film konyol tentang makhluk gergasi mengintai nguler puncak yang berbatu Afghanistan Utara.

Aku cuba yang terbaik untuk peringkat saya mengabaikan jelas kejadian-kejadian konyol pada saat menyebarkan murah sesendok mentega pada roti bakar. Pak Abu, sementara itu, mencuri pandang pada skrin TV sambil menunggu roti untuk pop keluar dari pemanggang roti.

Kemudian salah satu watak wanita cantik dalam seragam tentera AS berkata: "Biarkan aku Hotwire lori." Mataku secara automatik dihalakan ke ruangan merangkak di bahagian bawah skrin, pada waktunya untuk melihat batu permata ini: "Biar saya wayarpanaskan trak itu."

Wayarpanas? Arrrghhh ... Itu sama lama "hilang dalam penterjemahan" omong kosong lagi! Penterjemah ini tidak boleh mendapatkan bertindak bersama-sama sekali dan anda semua?

Aku tahu, aku tahu. Itu hanya subtitling buruk. Bahkan mempunyai nilai kegembiraan bagi masyarakat miskin dilakukan pekerjaan, tetapi saya cenderung menjadi emosional (dan tidak rasional, aku takut) tentang penterjemahan buruk.

Kerana penterjemahan adalah roti dan mentega, saya bangga dengan pekerjaan yang baik dilakukan dan tersinggung dalam yang buruk (bahkan jika mereka tidak saya), terutama kerana penterjemahan buruk hanya berfungsi untuk membingungkan.

Pertama-tama, wayarpanas tidak ada dalam Bahasa Malaysia. Penterjemah telah memetik istilah dari udara kosong, kerana ingin dari sebuah kata. Ini adalah pekerjaan orang yang malas.

Kedua, jika anda tidak Inggeris berpendidikan atau setidaknya memiliki beberapa asas-asas asas bahasa, anda tidak akan tahu Hotwire dari kompor listrik atau rumah kaca.

Tidak ada yang salah dengan mengatakan "Biar saya cuba Hidupkan enjin tu trak tanpa guna kunci" (biarkan aku cuba menghidupkan enjin tanpa kunci). Ini mungkin sebuah rasuah, tapi masuk akal. Paling penting, itu benar.

Aku bisa membayangkan tua, nyaris buta huruf tapi Makcik Dungun-benar bingung memikirkan atas masalah ini. "Wayar panas amende gok tu?"

Aku ingat orang tua yang baik hari di tahun 90-an ketika saya perunding PR itu menang dengan pekerjaan terjemahan, terutama prospektus syarikat yang akan listing awam.

Kami harus berurusan dengan spektrum luas industri yang kadang-kadang kita tersesat di labirin. Ada saat-saat kita menghulurkan tangan untuk Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) untuk mendapatkan istilah yang tepat, hanya untuk diberitahu kata-kata belum mempunyai versi BM.

Kadang-kadang, mereka akan bercanda mengatakan kepada kita untuk membuat kata-kata baru dan menginformasikan mereka. Orang-orang dalam DBP adalah baik dan banyak membantu, dan kepada mereka aku berhutang banyak dalam perjalanan perniagaan saya ....

Kak Ezza@makcik Blogger said...

saya rasa yang buat subtitiles ni budak sekolah kak...pernah dulu masa anak sulung saya pulang dari sekolah, dia bawa srip cerita kartun untuk di alih bahasa kan...cikgu nya dapat kerja partime dari astro so dia sub kat anak murid dia...hahaha..maka terjadi lah perkataan yang terus di melayu kan oleh budak2 yang tak cukup akal ni...hahhaha

Anonymous said...

I remember a subtitle in a war movie over TV2 many years ago. The platoon leader of the troops instructed hos men to fire at the approaching enemy: "Fire! Fire!" The subtitle" "Api! Api!" Can you imagine that?

Patricia said...

"Biar saya cuba hidupkan enjin trak tu tanpa guna kunci" That seems simple enough, doesn't it? So why didn't the idiot use that?!

I think most people think translation is a breeze. It's too easy, they think.

FEW realise how complex it is, and how, sometimes, it can take hours to translate a simple phrase!

It's not about translating the words. It's about ideas, and feelings, and trying to get at the meaning the 'author' intended.

I'm thinking it went like this at his/her/its interview: "You speak Malay and English? Bagus. Welcome to our translation department."

typhoon sue said...

there was a line in a movie i saw, saying "GET YER ARSE BACK 'ERE NOW!!!"
Guess what the subtitles said?

Anonymous said...


Hamba sudah pileh untuk tukar ka daun baru. Is this OK?


Anonymous said...

Oh Sardin suci!!!!


Kama said...

Nana - You got it spot on, nana. The worst culprits are those who translate literally.

Tommy - ice lemon tea on a hot day like this is heavenly. Hope you had a good CNY holiday, tommy..

Pok Soh - Terbahak2 saya baca Mr Google punya translation.. hancoq!

Zah - oooh, itu jadinya! This is so unprofessional of the teacher-cum-partime tranlator. buatlah sendiri...

Anon - this is such a common mistake that I don't understand why it is still happening.

Pat - indeed pat. translation is never literal. if only it's that easy, eh..

Sue - 'bawak ponggong awak balik kesini! oooboy...hahaha..

DerebaR - daun baru? really? congratulations! we must hv a drink at LClah like this.

Jue - holy mackerel! et tu, jue? LOL

IBU said...

Kak Puteri, I'm sure you've come across:
1. Holy cow! -> Lembu suci!
2. Duck! (combat movie) -> Itik!

From movie titles:
1. The day after tomorrow -> Lusa


Siti Munirah, Kg. Kuala Ping... said...

salam Kak Kama, yg mana betul? "Terengganuese" atau "Terengganuan" atau "Terengganuhite"..? lagi satu, orang bagi ke saya ayat ni... "he always squeeze one to another..." apa maknanya? tolong saya kak, terima kasih.

Capt's Longhouse said...

Puan Puteri,

,,,Guess the older malaysian generation, we still acknowledge and celebrate our ties to British education and British institutions not out of sentimentality but out of an understanding that these are foundational influences that have had much to do with stability and competitiveness as a nation.
,,,British educational, administrative, legal and cultural institutions continue to be of vital importance to us as Malaysians.
,,,We still need to reaffirm these links without political blinkers, understand their cultural, political and economic importance to us, and build on them.
,,,One result of such a change of attitude should be a rethinking of our attitude to the English language. By now it is also a Malaysian language. It would be sheer hypocrisy to deny its value and centrality to us as Malaysians.
,,,Do we continue to deny in political rhetoric what we practice in reality, or do we grasp the situation and come up with better policies for the teaching and adoption of the language?. My question to the ruling elites ??..THINK !

,,,Rather than indulge in grand schemes of cultural “import substitution” we should appreciate the extent of these influences and links and explore ways to develop them further.

,,,indeed we need to HOTWIRE some heads in PUTRAJAYA too !. Please use your head-lah.

i rest my case.

Patricia said...

Hi Kama,

Please let me tumpang sekaki with Capt Longhouse:

"Do we continue to deny in political rhetoric what we practice in reality, or do we grasp the situation and come up with better policies for the teaching and adoption of the language?"

I think that was brilliantly said. It is as if they don't live here, eh?!

Kama said...

Pat & Capt - I am in total agreement with you both. Such a shitty state of affairs, english-wise, we have here:(

Ibu - hehehe, i find 'itik! very amusing!

Siti - pada hemat saya, Terengganuese betul. kita ikut law of probability here.

Truth be told, saya belum pernah dengar this phrase "squeeze one to another" jadi tak tau apa maksudnya. Google dalam english adages pun takdak, mungkin colloquial term kot.. nanti saya cari lagi.

Siti Munirah, Kg. Kuala Ping... said...

terima kasih Kak, banyak membantu..... apapun phrase "...he always squeeze one to another..." adalah seorang teman maya emailkan pada saya, tapi saya tak faham... memang nak tau sangat, harap-harap dapatlah Kak atau orang-orang lain tolong...
dulu saya tak sekolah orang putih Kak, Hulu ni mana ada... cuma minat belajar dan antaranya dengan melayari blog-blog macam blog Kak ni dapatlah memperkayakan lagi istilah dan nahu berbahasa Inggeris...
"terima kasih daun keladi..."

Rose said...

Salam Kak Kama.Yup,kadang-kadang imran yang sebelas tahun pun gelak sakan bila baca subtitle kat astro. bukan movies je, saluran lain pun sama - Disney, AXN AFC etc...Bukannya kita suka-suka nak baca subtitle tapi mata ni dah terbiasa menjeling ke situ. Totally agree dengan Kak Kama. Terjemahan langsung (dan malas) ni memang boleh buat kita sakit perut (sebab gelak banyak sangat) dan menyampah sebab (kita ambik masa untuk translate any job yang client bagi supaya maksudnya tepat dan kerja kita dibuat dengan teliti).Yang kelakarnya, most of the translation was done by a so-called reputable company - SDI Media.

Remember prospektus Petronas Gas? :) Even Dewan Bahasa pun give up on some of the terms we encountered. Salam to Ann, Nawwar, Joe, Naj and Abg Mizi.

Kama said...

Rose - those were the days, kan? we had such a good (and busy) time with our translation jobs. I do remember having to create terms for the oil & gas industry sebab DBP pun belum coin those terms. As they say, all good things must come to an end..

Kama At-Tarawis said...