Are English - Bulgarian translations inherently easy?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fervent TED watchers may know that Bulgarian has nearly the highest number of translated talks, and this isn't a recent phenomenon either: Bulgarian has been around second or third place (after Spanish) for as long as I can remember. Most of this is certainly due to simple enthusiasm (and maybe funding from somewhere, but my Bulgarian isn't good enough to check) but translations from English into Bulgarian also seem to be particularly easy compared to a number of other languages. Let's take a look at some examples.

Now that was the advice that St. Benedict gave his rather startled followers in the Fifth century.
Сега това е съвета, който Св. Бенедикт дал на своите слисани последователи в пети век.
Exact word order: Now that is the-advice, that Saint Benedict gave to the-his surprised followers in fifth century.

It was the advice that I decided to follow myself when I turned 40.
Това е съветът, който реших да следвам когато станах на 40.
That is the-advice, that I-decided to follow when I-turned to 40.

Up until that moment, I had been that classic corporate warrior -- I was eating too much, I was drinking too much, I was working too hard, and I was neglecting the family.
До този момент бях класическия корпоративен войн - ядех прекалено много, пиех твърде много, работех твърде много, и пренебрегвах семейството си.
Until that moment I-was the-classic corporate warrior - I-ate too much, I-drank too much, I-worked too much, and I-neglected the-family mine.

And I decided that I would try and turn my life around.
И аз реших, че ще се опитам да обърна живота си.
And I decided, that would me try to turn the-life my.

The word order here is nearly identical to English, and interestingly enough even with the adjectives, since in Bulgarian you put the definite article on the end of the adjective before the noun, as opposed to a Romance language where you usually have to reorder them at the end of the noun. Relative clauses retain the same word order, as opposed to German where everything is turned around.

Let's compare the German equivalents of these sentences.

Nun, das war der Rat, den St. Benedikt seinen recht verdutzten Gefolgsleuten im fünften Jahrhundert gab.
Now, that was the advice, that(accusative) St. Benedict his very surprised followers(dative) in-the fifth century gave.

Es war der Rat, dem ich zu folgen beschloss, als ich 40 wurde.
It was the advice, to-that(dative) I to follow decided, as I 40 became.

Now, I'm not saying that Bulgarian is fantastically easy to translate into while other languages are hard - other languages may have a lot more English cognates than Bulgarian, for example (although Bulgarian has quite a few too). But it does seem to me that a Bulgarian speaker fluent in English would have a really easy time hammering out a translation into Bulgarian, using mostly the same word order, definite article usage, and some other nice familiarities like an infinitive before the verb and no cases except with pronouns.

In fact, if I had to conduct a translation of a talk where all the vocabulary was given to me and all I had to decide was the word order, I would feel much more confident doing it for Bulgarian than for German, and ever so slightly more confident than French and Spanish.


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