11. What is lost in translation from one language to another? Why?

Translation between languages is an interesting concept, as languages, fundamentally, are the same; however, only on this fundamental level. When we use different languages to convey our meanings, the building blocks that we use to piece together our thoughts are essentially congruent: blue is still blue in Chinese, and door is still door in German. However, then how can saying the same things in different languages create such a chasm between intentions?

Translation is analogous to, and perhaps should even be renamed,  transmutation. In transmutation, the alchemists of the old attempted to change one substance into another; for example, lead into gold, stone into gold(, anything into gold.) Of course, they weren’t very successful; the best they could do was make the substance look like gold. However, the idea seems possible. We know now that, according to the atomic and quantum models, every substance is (supposedly) made up of strings arranged in different patterns; therefore, if we just rearrange these basic building blocks, then we could turn one element into a completely different one, right?

The same could be said for language: if we just rearrange the patterns of the fundamental pieces, then we should be able to transmute one language into another easily, right?

Sometimes, I wish this was true. If it was, then, according to the analogous relationship, transmutation would also be possible, and I would be able to change my homework into gold and get rich quick. :D…… I wish.

As the alchemists of the old discovered back then, such a process was hardly successful. There was more to an element than just the blocks; it was more than just the sum of its parts. There are other factors there: maybe bonds, maybe shapes, maybe inter-atomic forces. Language is very much the same. In addition to the fundamental parts, there are other pieces that add to a language: maybe bonds between words, sentence shapes, and the inter-sentence forces. There are infinite number of possibilities that can affect substances; equally, there are infinite number of possibilities that can affect language, which are almost all lost in translation. True translation, like transmutation, is nearly impossible.

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