God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

I Could Care Less About Translating Each Word

We have an expression in English: “I could care less.” And what’s funny about the saying is that it seems like it should be “I couldn’t care less.” The image is of something about which I care so little that there is no way I could care less.

I imagine two approaches to translating that English phrase into a foreign language. One approach translates word by word, not daring to add the “missing” negative. The other apporach translates phrase by phrase.

Three questions come to mind:

1. Which approach will yield a better translation?

2. What investigative techniques would let a translator recognize that this English phrase shouldn’t be taken literally?

3. What can we learn from this example to help us translate ancient Hebrew and Greek?

(While the English “I could care less” is extreme, it is not unique. Modern Hebrew has a pleonastic negative. In Hebrew, “Park wherever you don’t find a spot” means “park wherever you find a spot.” I think French has something similar, but I can’t remember the details.)


September 23, 2009 Posted by | general linguistics, translation theory | , , | 5 Comments