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To what extent is knowledge limited by the language?


August 31, 2016 by Nancy Jung

My Chinese friend and I watched a Korean TV Program called Infinite Challenge together. Most of the Koreans agree that Infinite Challenge is the most famous and the funniest TV Program in the South Korea. As a Korean, I, of course, think that Infinite Challenge is extremely funny. On the other hand, my friend, a Chinese, does not think so. After the observation, I found out that she only laugh at the comedic actions of actors. The important point is that, in Korean TV Program, subtitles given by the producer played a big role in the sense of humor. In this case, my friend couldn’t successfully understand the translated subtitles. Then I start to think about the relationship between the translation and acquiring knowledge.

Here is my knowledge question: To what extent is knowledge limited by the language?

When the language is translated properly and knowledge is acquired successfully, the language might be the powerful way of knowing. However, the translation can create several problems for the acquisition of knowledge. Again, Infinite Challenge is a great example for the topic. According a search, many Koreans think that Infinite Challenge is funny, while foreigners, non-Koreans, think that it is boring.

Recently, nonsense quiz (아재개그) is popular among the South Korea, and thus it frequently appears in the Infinite Challenge. However, the foreigners can feel difficulty in understanding this sense of humor because such joke is closely related to Korean words. In other words, to understand the joke, people the need to know the Korean letters clearly. Therefore, this comedy is failed to foreign audience because it can’t share the same language. Similarly, every language contains words that have not equivalent in other languages, and can only be translated by lengthy and inelegant paraphrase. For example, Rojong in Indonesian means the relationship among a group of people committed to accomplishing a task of mutual benefit. Such untranslatable words make the

In addition, another problem of translation would be the idiom, which is a colloquial expression whose meaning can not worked out from the meanings of the words it contains. When the speaker (or writer) uses the specialized or specific vocabulary to represent an idea, it might make the listener (or reader) easier to interpret the idea. However, when the idioms are used, this situation might bring the difficulty in sharing the same knowledge because we can interpret the sentence in the differently in order to the different cultures. For instance, “He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth”. The same meaning of the sentence would be “He was born rich.” Therefore, the idiom is the one that makes “bad” translation, which inaccurate to the original or is incomprehensible.

In conclusion, the language is the basis of communication and sharing the knowledge, and it also has many forms and variation, not only specific to the same lingual group or nation. Most of countries have different languages, so translation is needed to interpret and acquire meaning of certain content. However, the differences in language and other factors can cause the meaning to be vague and misinterpreted. As a result, translation sometimes can inaccurately represent or convey an idea.


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