How to make even the easiest of languages like English the most difficult to keep up with, and send years of studying down the drain? Slang. A whole new language made of little words that take on a whole other meaning, abbreviations that look like alien communication, or verbs you never heard off just a week ago. And I’m not talking just about English. All living languages have taken on a new dimension in the fast changing times of cell phones, social media, and new social practices. Slang tells more about the society we live in that any deep rooted language can ever do. And since English is the global conduit for all technology, business developments and social innovations, English Slang is the most sophisticated, complicated and enigmatic language there is for simple professional folk such as translators, but the easiest thing to do for native speakers which don’t really bother to thoroughly study their language as we do.
It is especially so in translating movies, which is kind of my specialty, and although I enjoy a good linguistic challenge now and then, I often find it difficult to find the appropriate translation for slang that doesn’t really fit in with our Albanian culture.
Abbreviations such as FYI (for your information), IMAO (in my arrogant opinion), FOMO (fear of missing out), BTW (by the way) are some of the most common among what I call “alien language”, considering that I’m an Albanian translator who really appreciates clean written content that makes my life easier.
From derivative words such as Dejagoo (Dejavu with a twist), to universal terms such as Jawn (which is used for basically anything), or the more than 30 synonyms for marijuana, and a freakishly large number of sexual activity references, slang encompasses practically any area of life with about 2,000 words added daily to its vocabulary. One of the newest inventions in these times of Covid is The Vax – The Vaccine – accompanied by all language “accessories” (Being vaxxed, vaxxinista, etc.) It’s a constant struggle keeping up with all of these words that spring up everywhere with teenage movies, and comedies being some of the most challenging movies to translate because of the profusely used slang.
If it looks like I’m complaining, I’m not. I love slang. Especially in movies, because it gives the dialogue that contemporary edge that standard curated language can never give. And it tells a lot more about the characters’ background than an explanatory scene. What I’m saying is that our job hasn’t gotten any easier although a lot of people speak English nowadays, and many think translation is more of an automatic process of converting languages. Human Translation is much more than that. It has to bring meaning as well as connotation, style and emotion to any version of the original material. And translating slang means keeping up to date with all social developments, such as everyday use of technology (WhatsApp lingo being one), social movements (LGBT added I and Q to the mix along with new guidelines when respectfully referring to their community), the underground terminology of perpetrators who know enough about language to twist it in case of legal ramifications, sexual innuendo which is one of the most colorful branches of slang considering that imagination plays a more important role in this area, etc. So all in all is a whole different game, and should be seriously considered when deciding to work as a translator. I have studied French for ten years, but I only studied English for four.
I can never say I’m fluent in French, although I know all about grammar and structure. It’s like an expensive software which I never updated, whereas English is something I learn every day thanks to this wild little thing called Slang.
My advice to translators? Don’t underestimate slang. Don’t regard it with contempt just because it doesn’t fit in with the beautifully crafted standard language. Treat it as a new way of communication which is unconventional yet more useful when dealing with human interactions.
And don’t be afraid of creating your own slang words from time to time. The Albanian language needs some spicy deviations from the norm in order to keep up with the world.