Art of Translation

It’s been a bit of a minute since I last posted, but I’m back (with a couple exams behind me too, to boot)!

Fall is here! I love this time of year. I’m pretty sure I can vouch for the fact that no matter where you are, fall weather is always agreeable – whether the day is quietly sunny or breezily cloudy, it’s beautiful. I’m enjoying Pécs’s fall weather so much (minus the mosquitoes… shudder); looking out my window in the early evening at this time of year brings on bouts of introspective thoughts and future-minded daydreams. I experienced one of those thoughtful days recently; a couple weeks ago, I hosted a Bible study at my place here in Pécs with the ladies from the church I attend here (I use the word “host” loosely…though I didn’t cook any food for the event, I’ve recently gotten into baking and a little cooking! I apologize in advance because I may be sharing a ton of food photos in future months…). Since my church here strives to reach out to as many Hungarians as possible, services are often held in Hungarian, and then translated into English (or vice versa). So this time, the Bible study was taught in English, and translated into Hungarian. It was a hilarious ordeal at the onset, because our Bible study leader speaks both English and Hungarian, so at certain intervals, she’d stop and look at her friend translating her words into Hungarian and say, “Aw come on! That’s not what I said! There’s a better way to say that!” We all had a good laugh at these instances, chuckling to ourselves about the translator’s use of artistic license in conveying original words and ideas to the listeners.

A couple days later, at church on Sunday, I started looking at – and trying to sing – the Hungarian translations of the English words during our worship time (both languages are on the screen for attendees). I’ve only been taking Hungarian classes for a few weeks at this point, but it’s still fascinating to see how an English word or phrase translates into Hungarian: conjugations, appropriate endings, and all (at least for the words I know). I still experience that same fascination over translations when I understand how to idiomatically say a certain English expression in French. In fact, over much thought, I’ve realized that essentially, French grammar boils down to speaking very proper English (if French were miraculously spoken in English…). So far for Hungarian, I’ve realized that if translated to English word for word, it would basically consist of inverted sentences and omitted articles (“Layo I am!” and just “Med Student!” for example, rather than “I am Layo!” and “I am a med student!”). I’m pretty sure that the people in some sci-fi series speak like this (Star Wars?), but I can’t be quite sure. Aside from my nerdy fascination with languages, grammar, and translations, one thing completely struck me almost speechless (and joyful) as we continued to sing worship songs…

The fact that one word is exactly the same in English and Hungarian.


Let me repeat: the world hallelujah is exactly the same in English and Hungarian. Now this seems pretty innocuous. But to me, it was everything. In French, one will routinely see these words called cognates, where the word is probably similar in spelling and meaning to English (like “adorable”, or “possible”). You won’t find this in Hungarian. A Romance language it is not. The language’s roots are more eastern in influence, stemming from a Uralic past. So seeing a word that’s exactly the same in Hungarian as it is in English is exciting. And it’s exciting that it’s specifically hallelujah.

The word hallelujah is Hebrew; when I looked it up in my study Bible, it was defined as “Praise Yahweh.” How cool. Here is this word that basically means “Praise to our Lord” and denotes a spontaneous expression of joy and thanksgiving to God, and no matter the language, the word is the same. That’s one of the things I love about worship, and music in general: it’s a connecting factor between different groups on a level much deeper than words could ever reach on their own. Worship impacts me in a way that nothing else can; the act draws me closer to God in such a way that it seems that my heart literally soars, reaching for more – more of His love, more of His power, more of Him in my life. I’m going to take some time in the coming days to meditate on the simple, yet powerful, word hallelujah. It’s only one word, yet I feel like there’s more to learn on it than I can gather in one sitting. Praise be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corin. 9:15)


P.S. October has two celebratory days for me: the 1st of the month was Nigerian Independence Day, and the 12th was Rice Day! Happy (belated) days of fun for everyone who celebrated them!

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