Odd Collocations

It is strange how collocations work in different languages.  When considering collocations, idioms and set phrases in Indo-European languages then the common root is often Latin which has given birth to hundreds of idioms, proverbs and the suchlike. Translation often becomes difficult when trying to transfer a metaphor or collocation over to another culture. It is worth looking at a few examples here.

In English, we might say “birthing an idea”, “the author gave birth to some great characters”, we might also say “give birth to a concept”. (Examples taken from corpus evidence)

Similarly, in Polish we might hear “pytania rodzą się”, “rodzą się uczucia”, “rodzą się znaki pytania”, “rodzi się koncepcja” or “rodzący się opór mniejszości”. (Examples taken from corpus evidence)

The above examples may not be so difficult to translate, but what happens when we hear a phrase like “rodzić kamień” when a person is admitted to a hospital with kidney stones. We would of course not say “to birth a stone” – this would sound odd. In English we talk of “passing a stone”.

Translation is all about transfer and communication, emotion and understanding but good translation is all about delicacy, refinement and precision.

20 Responses to “Odd Collocations”

  1. Luke Rejter Says:

    It would be so much easier to translate such phrases literally, like in one of the funny examples – “thank you from the mountain”. But it is the essence of the translation work, and the greatest difficulty for all translators: be familiar with both cultures(target and source)and be able to find equivalents that work best in a given context.

  2. Sylwia Krawczyk Says:

    I agree that it is very difficult if not impossible to know all the collocations from foreign language and when to use them…

    But at the same time I wonder how it happens that in such different languages and so different cultures there are so many similar collocations, idioms, etc. Maybe it is because of the language origins, or maybe it is because people in fact are not so different around the world😉

  3. transubstantiation Says:

    Luke Rejter: The question is, how can this be undertaken? How to become functionally fluent in both cultures?

  4. transubstantiation Says:

    Sylwia Krawczyk: As mentioned above, the collocations that we share (in English, German, Polish etc) all stem from a common root (our European culture and our mother tongue – Indo-European) as well as a shared historical lingua franca – Latin.

  5. Luke Rejter Says:

    “The question is, how can this be undertaken? How to become functionally fluent in both cultures?”

    I would say that the best solution is to live in both realities – at least for some time, and acquire as much as possible.

  6. transubstantiation Says:

    Indeed. One needs to taste both cultures, “realities” etc in order to ‘feel’ and understand the ins and outs of it.

  7. asiaw Says:

    I was wondering if translating collocation from one language into another is really possible, even if we really know both coutries and both languages. I think it is impossible to achieve good results in translating but only similar one.

  8. transubstantiation Says:

    If one takes the view that translation is impossible then the answer is quite simply ‘no’. However, it’s probably best not to be too down-hearted and attempt the translation of collocations. Together with idioms and set phrases, they are the cultural building blocks of language.

  9. asiaw Says:

    Well, as we can see translation is possible (because many people do it) however, for me translation of collocations is quite difficult and not everyone do it correctly. I mean that these idioms and phrases used in collocations are a little bit complicated.

  10. transubstantiation Says:

    Yes, but the question is what can or can not be done about it…

  11. asiaw Says:

    One thing for sure can be done – keep trying to do the best.

  12. transubstantiation Says:

    Obviously, but “the best” needs to be quantifiable and open to analysis.

  13. Magdalena Gołoś Says:

    Collocations, idioms, metaphores and the like are very often mistakenly translated just because they are translated ‘word for word’. Sometimes transaltors forget about the deeper meaning of this lexical units (especially in the case of metaphores and idioms). Sometimes translators do not think about the fact that these sentences or expressions simply sound badly in the target language.I think that metaphores and idioms are particularly difficult to translate, as in their case translation must take place at the level of the meaning, not the language itself. And here, a very important thing is the knowledge of the source text and target text culture.

  14. transubstantiation Says:

    Do you think lexical units have ‘deeper’ meaning. A metaphor or idiom is greater than the sum of its parts, therefore it is ‘above and beyond’ the simple meaning of the lexical units therein. An example of difficult lexical units with what you termed ‘deeper’ meaning might be: https://transubstantiation.wordpress.com/2007/04/15/cultural-anomalies-part-i/

  15. Magdalena Gołoś Says:

    What I just wanted to say is that they cannot be translated word for word, as it is sometimes done. We have to think about the meaning.

  16. Hard Nut to Crack « transubstantiation Says:

    […] We have already looked at the concept of collocational transference in a previous blog entry (click here). However, the linguistic world is awash with strange constructions that provide the translator […]

  17. ICanLocalize » Blog Archive » Why automated translation produces gobbledigook Says:

    […] – Multi-word units such as idioms and collocations […]

  18. Amir Says:

    what is the use of DICTIONARY . In my idea, dictionary is used when i dont know the meaning of words or its collocated words in another language.


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