Difficulties When Translating Food

June 23rd, 2015

Any translator will tell you that the language of food is just one of the many issues a translator must learn to deal with.

Difficulties When Translating Food | One Hour Translation

A lot of issues that arise during translation occur at the intersection of the many different cultures and ways of life that are a reality in our world. Food is one area of language where this is especially true, because food is a direct expression of our culture. Even the most experienced translator can be challenged when it comes to translating the names of the foods we eat.

Globalization, and the cultural exchange that comes with it, has resulted in some foods that are popular in most areas of the world being known by their original name; like cupcake, pizza, and fajitas. These are just some examples of foods whereby their huge popularity has resulted in their names being integrated into different languages.

Translation Is Never Straightforward

And then we have foods that are not so well known, and their names require translating. As we know, translation is not a simple, straightforward discipline, and in this care there’s no one easy answer. However, there are some various options to consider.

Let’s begin with empanada: this is a Latin American food, and if you’re unfamiliar with this word, empanadas are small parcels of dough containing different fillings; these might include chicken, beef, tuna, and cheese and onion. They’re either fried or baked, and they’re consumed in many different countries right across Latin America.

So, How Do We Translate Empanada Into English?

  • Our first option is to italicize it and leave it in the original language (as we’ve done here in this heading); showing that this word has been borrowed from a foreign language. And yes, this does maintain the essence of the word, but we’ll never be sure that our readers will know what we’re referring to. (Of course there are some United States communities that will be quite familiar with this word due to the large Hispanic population).
  • The second option is to leave the word in the foreign language and provide a brief description explaining the word. Alternatively, we might add a footnote and offer the explanation there, but this would depend on the register of the target text. Of course the issue with this method is that the description you offer could affect the overall flow of the translation.
  • The final option is to look for a way of expressing the idea of an empanada in the target language. If (say) we were translating in into English we might call it a small pie; or if we have a British audience we might refer to it as a small Cornish pasty: this is a British food which is very similar to its Latin American counterpart.

Unfortunately, many times during translation the real essence of what we’re translating, in this case the delicious empanada, becomes lost in translation. Any translator will tell you that the language of food is just one of the many issues a translator must learn to deal with. 

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