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Delving into the art of translation

Share Your Words judge, Dr Charlotte Bosseaux, tells us there’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ solution in translation and why the phrase Wabi-Sabi resonates.

Photo of Charlotte Bosseaux
Dr Charlotte Bosseaux

Edinburgh graduates live in some 180 countries around the world, so using a language other than English is a daily occurrence for many.

In the next edition of Edit, the University of Edinburgh’s magazine for alumni, former students are being asked to share their words in celebration of our community’s linguistic diversity, with a particular focus on words with no direct English equivalent.

Dr Charlotte Bosseaux, Senior Lecturer in Translation Studies, has been helping the Edit team choose from the many words submitted by graduates worldwide.

We asked her what Translation Studies involves, how it deals with ‘hard to translate’ words, and what’s her own favourite word in a language other than English.

Beyond translation as a language learning tool

“As a discipline, Translation Studies examines the various reasons why translations exist and the factors that shape translations”, says Charlotte.

“At undergraduate level in our School, students use translation as a language learning tool, for instance to improve their vocabulary and grammatical skills.”

“Our MSc in Translation presents a wide range of theories that are designed to help students better understand the activity and process of translation. The programme builds an awareness of what the role of translation has been, and is, in different cultural and linguistic traditions.”

“Postgraduate study also helps you reflect more on the meaning of the role of translator.”

One size does not fit all

Share your words
A selection of Share Your Words entries courtesy of Edinburgh Alumni

“Many foreign words do not have a direct English equivalent and vice-versa”, says Charlotte. “ There is never a single solution applicable in all situations.”

“Through learning various theories from linguistics, pragmatics, but also gender and politics, Translation Studies students learn how to make the right decision in a specific context.”

“They also learn that words cannot be separated from their contexts, and that there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ translation solution.”

Finding beauty in imperfections

Charlotte is French and, through Erasmus exchange programmes, has taught in Universities throughout Europe, but one of her favourite ‘non translatable’ words is Japanese.

“It is 'Wabi-Sabi' and means 'finding beauty in imperfections'”, she explains.

“We are all obsessed, to a certain extent, with perfection. Literary translators, for instance, have an extremely difficult task when they are confronted with words or concepts that do not exist in their mother tongue or the languages into which they translate.

“Perfect equivalence does not exist because when you translate you try to convey a language and culture to an audience who speaks another language, is from another culture and in certain cases live in very different times.”

“To me, searching for pure equivalence is searching for perfection, and I’d rather find beauty in imperfections.”

Are you interested in Translation Studies at Edinburgh?

The University of Edinburgh is an official Higher Education (HE) Language Partner of the Chartered Institute of Linguists and an official member of the SDL University Partner Program. With a wide range of languages offered, our one-year taught Masters programme will enhance your practical skills in, and theoretical understanding of, translation as an activity. We also offer expert supervision in PhDs in Translation Studies. 

Find out more about Translation Studies at Edinburgh

Related links

Find out more about Share Your Words on the University's Alumni pages

Read more about Charlotte Bosseaux's teaching and research interests

Explore BABBLE, our creative writing magazine in European languages, on the theme of 'Lost in Translation'