Do you sometimes wonder why certain materials are badly translated? This is due to polysemy: the many meanings that a single word can take.
For example, In English, the word plain can take on the following meanings:
- ordinary / undecorated: a plain white shirt
- easy / simple to understand: plain English
- a level area of land: great plains
It gets more complicated when translating English into other languages.
For example, there are over 20 ways of saying "to get" in French. This is because there are multiple meanings of "get" that are used in English, but the French must use a different word for each of those meanings. It isn't that obvious, but this can give translators some trouble.
At elementary levels of French, most are taught the verb obtenir ("to get"). But which sense of the word "get" is really used here? Obtenir is used when something is acquired (it looks like the English word obtain). A different word must be used if you want "get" to take on a different meaning.
In each of the following sentences "get" takes a different meaning:
- I need to get some bread. (buy)
- I get the idea. (understand)
- We need to get home. (arrive)
This is just one word out of many which can cause translation difficulty. One must study the context carefully and do not try to translate word for word, or even worse, rely on an automated translator.