24 Nov

High or low – it is all about Tone.

20150609_092858I love hearing stories from around the world illustrating the importance of having a good understanding of a language and culture before launching into translation.

One thing our linguistics experts try to work on is a language’s tonal structure. What this means is that the tone used when saying a word can completely change the meaning.

One of my colleagues shared this story recently.

“One missionary translator in East Africa had never accurately analysed the tonal differences in a local language and accordingly in the communion service, he seriously mispronounced the statement, “This cup of blessing do we bless”. What the people heard was “This cup of poison do we bless”, because the words for blessing and poison differed only in tonal patterns. But the congregation did not realise that this was a mistake in pronunciation. They themselves had a custom of drinking a poison cup in the case of trial by ordeal when someone died under mysterious circumstances. Accordingly, the people assumed that each Sunday believers drank a poison cup and in this way showed that they were innocent.” In writing, it would be crucial to mark such a tonal difference, otherwise major misunderstandings would ensue.

Isn’t that amazing – the difference HOW you say the word can make! Our teams do multiple drafts and checks to make sure the final product is both accurate and understandable.

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