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Do You Know about Food Translation?

July 28 , 2021

Do You Know about Food Translation?

by Target Language Translation Services

- July 28, 2021

Food Translation

Many translation issues arise at the intersection of the vast number of various cultures and ways of life that exist on our planet. One area of language for which this is particularly true is food. Nothing exemplifies the staying power of the translation industry like food does. There hasn’t been another period of history where people’s dinner plates collate items worldwide as much as they do now. And this market sector is a very broad church – it spans from the legal minutiae of compliance in food label translations, to pleasure and entertainment in the booming markets for recipe books, cookery show formats and international tourism.

At a moment’s reflection, it is obvious that food-related translations are among the most routine texts we ever engage with. But food, culture, geography and even economics are so inextricably bound to each other that precisely translating the names of simple things we eat is anything but routine; even for the most professional translator, it can be a daunting task.

The globalization of the production and distribution of food has been so thorough that it has in some ways made the translator’s task easier. Food terms are so culture specific that the normal method of translation, looking for the word with equivalent or near-equivalent meaning in the target language, is sometimes inapplicable by virtue of the fact that the item in question doesn’t exist in the target culture and language.

Relationship between Food and Translation

Generally speaking it would appear that a sort of food mania has pervaded the post-modern world. There is a widespread increased interest in food and gastronomy at a global level and the volume of translated food-related texts such as cookery books, television programmes and formats, food labels and food-related websites has, of late, been hugely amplified. In major bookstores worldwide, next to cookery books containing national classics of autochthonous gastronomic tradition, there is an abundance of translated cookbooks providing access to the cuisines of others, often authored by celebrity chefs or well-known personalities. TV cookery formats like the Great British Bake Off and MasterChef are translated and adapted for countless target cultures, which in turn spawn eponymous books and magazines. While the World Wide Web overflows with food-related sites, blogs, forums, and last but certainly not least, different social media serve as platforms for discussions and visual representations on the subject. And if words do not suffice, a photograph of whatever may be on plates at a given moment can be posted on Instagram or Pinterest for the world to see.

Yet despite a rapidly expanding market for translation of food-related texts, the relationship between food, culture and translation remains under-researched. Translation has lots of things in common with the vast area that encompasses food. The simplest analogy could be the comparison of the act of translation with the preparation of a dish. Translation begins with an alien text made up of words that are strung together through syntax, in turn upheld by grammar; similarly, a foreign dish consists of a number of unusual ingredients, combined in such a way as to create a dish that is acceptable within a diverse culinary culture. Both cook and translator must examine the original recipe or text, find the right ingredients or words and consider strategies that will make the dish or script appealing to readers or diners. These strategies may involve the omission or substitution of an ingredient or an expression, if not the explicitation of a cooking method, of a pun or a metaphor. However, the work of the translator and his or her strategies and choices are merely the tip of a lingua-cultural iceberg. The twenty-first century is emerging as a liquid society in which borders and cultures appear to be slowly merging not only into a multicultural melting pot but also, as far as culinary habits are concerned, into a huge transcultural cooking pot in which translation plays a major role thereby justifying the whys and wherefores of this special issue.

Challenge and Corresponding Methods of Food Translation

As a direct expression of culture, translating the names of what we eat is often a challenge for even the most experienced translator.

Due to globalization and the cultural exchange it has brought with it, some foods are known in most areas of the world by their original name. ‘Pizza,’ ‘cupcakes’ and ‘fajitas’ are all examples of foods whose immense popularity has led to their names being integrated into other languages.

But what about foods that are less well-known and whose names require translating? Well, as is usually the case in translation, there’s no one simple answer, but a few different options to consider.

Here is an example from Latin America: empanada. First of all, for those who are alien to this food, empanadas are small, dough parcels with a variety of different fillings: beef, chicken, cheese and onion and tuna, which are baked or fried, and are eaten in numerous countries across Latin America.

So, what are the proper options when it comes to translating this word into English?

Leave it in the original language and italicize it to show that it is a word borrowed from a foreign language. While this allows us to maintain the essence of the original word, we can’t be sure that the reader will understand what we’re referring to. (Although some communities in the US may well be familiar with the word due to the country’s Hispanic population.)

Leave the word in the foreign language, but give a description briefly explaining the word, or, depending on the register of the target text, we could add a footnote and provide our explanation there. However, the disadvantage of this is that the description may affect the overall flow of our translation.

Find a way of expressing the notion of an empanada in the target language. If we’re translating it into English, we could perhaps call it a ‘small pie,’ or, if our audience is British, a ‘small Cornish pasty,’ as this is a British food which is actually very similar to its Latin American cousin. But, as I think you can see, the true essence of what our humble empanada started life as has been lost in translation somewhat.

This article is reprinted from Taylor & Francis Online, today translations and Trusted Translations.

If there is a copyright, please inform us in time, we will delete it right the first time.

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