Translating Politeness from English to Hindi

1-StopAsia - Translating Politeness from English to Hindi

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Despite the multitude of linguistic differences between all the languages of the world, they all have one thing in common and that is that they contain levels of politeness, making politeness a universal language factor. Since politeness is socio-culturally determined, the context in which a polite request or statement is made can have devastating consequences when translating from a target language into a source language if not done correctly. For example, inadequate levels of politeness may lead to conflict and misunderstanding and ultimately frustration and negativity. In this article, we explore some of the ways in which one can translate English to Hindi politeness levels as well as the implications for machine translations.

Politeness Levels

When it comes to someone who will translate English to Hindi, what becomes apparent based on research is that there are three main politeness levels to be taken into consideration. These are the lexical, syntactic, and pragmatic/discourse levels. However, these three levels should not be considered mutually exclusive and they are not to be viewed as autonomous. Rather, they should be viewed in terms of a hierarchical relationship with pragmatic/discourse appearing at the top and lexical and syntactic at the bottom. Let’s take a look at each one in turn.

  • Lexical: the lexical level is the level of words and vocabulary in a given language such as English to Hindi. There are highly specific words in an utterance which make it polite. For example, in English, in order to be polite, one would say “Could you hand me the pen please?” as opposed to the direct command “Give me the pen”.
  • Syntactic: the syntactic level deals with the sentence structure in a particular language, such as English to Hindi, and all its associated rules and relationships to other aspects including semantics, morphology, pragmatics, and phonology. In the context of English to Hindi translations of politeness levels, we need to consider when the syntactic structure of the sentence type (such as a request or an apology) makes the utterance polite. One example of this would be the sentence: “Please speak, Jahul Ji.”
  • Pragmatic/discourse: at the discourse level, translating politeness from English to Hindi will depend on the context of the use of politeness. Using the previous example of “Please speak, Jahul Ji”, we see that it could be perceived as impolite, a rebuke, or even sarcastic if, for instance, a teacher catches out a student in front of a class, that he has not attended in a while, or a father speaks to his son over the phone after not communicating for several months. But the crucial aspect to remember with this level is that politeness or impoliteness remains hidden or inactive until the values are assigned in the default context.
Translating Politeness from English to Hindi

Because both English and Hindi are highly complex languages with vastly differing rules for sentence structure and other linguistic intricacies, translating politeness comes with its own set of issues and this, in turn, has implications for translation results. Here are a few scenarios to consider when it comes to translating English to Hindi.

  • Mistranslated polite structures: in this scenario, the structure of the source language is translated into the target language but not the politeness value. This could lead to mistranslations at the lexical and syntactic levels. In such a situation, the structure of the source language may have an equivalent in the target language but the politeness value equivalent is not the same. As a result, this implies that at the lexical level, a particular word in the source language has a one-word equivalent in the target language and that at the syntactic level, the sentence structure of the source language is preserved in the target language. (Although it must be remembered that word order distinction in both English and Hindi must be taken into account).
  • Dissimilar structures: in such a case, the politeness value of a sentence is said to be carried through in the target language. However, the sentence structure itself changes and differs from the source language. The reasons this situation may arise include the fact that although a politeness structure is possible, it is not carried through in the target language. In addition to this, the politeness structure of the sentence may be preserved irrespective of the dissimilar structures of the sentences in the source and target languages. 
  • Non-translatable structures: in this case, there is simply no possibility to translate the structure of the source language into the target language, meaning that the structure cannot be preserved. As a result, neither the structure nor the politeness value is carried through. The possible consequences for such an outcome on an English to Hindi translation could include an accurate translation, improper translation, or simply a poor translation.
Translate in Hindi With Machine Translation

Machine translation has advanced significantly over the past years but it still has some ways to go, especially when it comes to English to Hindi translations and incorporating levels of politeness. Some of the factors outlined above have implications for machine translation, which must attempt to maintain structural similarity and integrity by either translating a word for another word and no other; translating a phrase for another phrase and no other; or translating a clause for another clause and no other.

The Future of English to Hindi Translation of Politeness

Whether you wish to translate in Hindi or in English, incorporating levels of politeness is a must in order to produce accurate and quality translations. However, it must be noted that when it comes to machine translation, the linguistic levels of politeness need to be factored in, as should their challenges and methods of overcoming them. For example, there is no equivalent of the Hindi word “Ji” in English, although it can signify a friendly and polite relationship and approach to a person. Therefore, both on the lexical, syntactic, and pragmatic or discourse front – language particularities need to be paired with the closest equivalent when engaging with English to Hindi machine translation.

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