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Translating Sounds and Noises

Translating Sounds and Noises

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English onomatopoeias are being used more and more in foreign television and cinema. For example in the Spanish version of the Teletubbies, surprise is expressed with the English onomatopoeia oh-oh instead of the Spanish uy. Was this simply a translation mistake or did the translators just think it would sound better in English? Unfortunately, we don’t know, but the same decision was made both in the Spanish version as well as in some Spanish dialect versions such as Catalan and Galician.

There are also different sounds to express disgust in every language. However, it is becoming very common to use the English onomatopoeia ‘yuk’ in several languages. The same happens with the surprise, in Spanish for example there exists a range of onomatopoeias that express surprise, such as uy, hala, anda yet we keep hearing the English one oops.

It is very important to also translate onomatopoeias as they are part of the culture of a language and they are used to express feelings and emotions. Onomatopoeias can be a challenge when translating as sometimes they don’t exist in the target language. Therefore translators need to carefully consider the correct way to communicate them. In some cases, the English onomatopoeia can be used but the spelling should be adapted to the target language, as if we write them in English, the audience may not understand what we are trying to convey.

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