Archive for category Translation

The art of translation: English to Māori

“Translating is a craft”

Translating a document from a source language to a target language, in this case from English to Māori, can be a time consuming process and complex undertaking. There are many variables to consider before, during and after completion of a piece of translated work. After completing some translation work for a sports organisation, I thought I would share several insights that I gained from that experience.

The first sensible step was to make sure that I had a plan of action, reliable resources and materials readily available at my disposal. In short, my plan of action included consultation with my client in order to 1) determine the work to be carried out, 2) establish the type of translation, in this case, it was a technical job, 3) clarify any terminology that was unfamiliar to me, 4) agree on deadlines and expectations, 5) make any enquiries from the client or myself and 6) organise my work space, manage my time and begin the work.

I decided from the outset of the work that I would use the Te Matatiki dictionary because it contained contemporary words that were appropriately suited for the technical type of translation that I completed. However, it didn’t contain all the vocabulary that I needed, therefore, I consulted the Ngata and then the Wiremu to find suitable words related to the registry of the subject matter being translated.

At times, there were no words contained in any of the Māori dictionaries that translated to their English counterparts, therefore, it was necessary to create new words from Māori vocabulary, as appropriately as possible, in order to convey the essential meaning of the concept into Māori. To demonstrate, there was no Māori word for a ‘softball tee’ and although there is a Māori word ‘tīhoka’, ‘tī’ meaning ‘tee’ these words were not suited for this context considering their meaning and function. Wherefore, a combination of the words ‘pou’ and ‘pōro’ to create poupōro seemed appropriate for the essential meaning, concept and context for a ‘softball tee’.

Considering the technical type of the translation within a sports context, it was easy to determine from the outset appropriate Māori language structures that would best suit the translation work as 90% of the English wording were instructions repeated constantly and consistently throughout the text, which made my work easier. The structures I used were 1) ka, ka sequential, 2) kia, ka future aspectual, 3) hopu(ngia) passive commands and 4) VSO ordering to name a few. However, caution must be taken when using these and other structures in the right context, for example, not confusing the different tenses of conveying ‘when’ in Māori relating to past/present tense and future aspectual.

In keeping with consistency, it’s was a good idea to use the same sentence structures to maintain cohesion throughout the text; however, this applied only to certain features of the document and not the whole so translation of other wording would follow as normal according to appropriate structures other than those already mentioned. It would be worth mentioning that I believe that translations can fall into four categories 1) transliterations, 2) verbatim, 3) abstract and 4) conceptual with emphasis on the latter and caution about the first three so that meaning does not become unrecognisable or obscured, but maintaining as accurate as possible the integrity of the translation into the target language (Māori).

It was important to keep in mind the target audience, that is, the group for whom the work was done and to consider certain variables that helped me to determine language level appropriateness that I used throughout the translation, for example, was the language suitable for adults or children, what was the age group or profession such as corporate, education, professional or general groups. The use of reo ōkawa, reo opaki (formal/informal) plays a vital role in the use of language level appropriateness for your target audience. The work I completed was for a young audience on behalf of a professional organisation incorporating both formal and informal writing.

A final word and an integral component of translating is a piece of advice I learnt a long time ago from one of our Ngāti Porou kaumātua nāna i kī atu “kāhore he mea kotahi, kāhore he mea tika” meaning ‘there is no one, right way of doing things’ in this case translating so long as it makes grammatical, semantical and pragmatical sense. In addition, it’s always good and professional practice to engage in post translation reflection and note taking of your experience in order to add to and build on your previous notes.

If I get time, I may write and publish a more comprehensive article about this subject based on my personal experience. Ā tōna wā, kitea ai.

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