“Untranslatables”, a project by Yolanda de los Bueis, Christoph Schwarz, Elisa Marchesini and Sarah Vanhee is not a dictionary. It is not an encyclopaedia. It is not a language course, a grammar book or linguistic research: it is an imaginary word universe that shows gaps and (im)possibilities. It reflects the inability to name everything there is, and the indomitable human desire to do so. It is a colourful answer for the grey zone in our daily vocabularies.
Uffda, morbo, colorido, tubli, polegnal and jufli: some of the words presented in the Untranslatables. Each word originates from another language. All words share one common ground – untranslatability.
When translated, a word is traveling from one language to another. The word’s shape is changed, but its concept, or idea behind it, remains untouched. But what happens if a word cannot be translated? If there is no term that can be its equivalent within a different context? Therefore, untranslatable words have the potential to become lost in translation. These words are missing the right concept to be utilized; they stay untranslatable / lost in translation.
As language echoes life’s situations and certain customs, untranslatables are showing varieties and particularities of such situations and customs within different linguistic spheres, often within different geographical contexts. A comprehension of the particular scope of linguistic signification, specifically a vocabulary, provides space for an understanding of particular customs and culture. As untranslatables, these words can add up to the vocabulary of other languages, for they can linguistically signify more specifics.
Yolanda de los Bueis, Christoph Schwarz, Elisa Marchesini and Sarah Vanhee brought about the reach of these untranslatables in order to fill in the possible gaps and understandings. Accompanying these words and there textual explanations, photos are presented to serve as extension or further experience of the scope of these words. These photographs are not depictive; they rather focus on body language with the potential to inscribe different meanings, lost in translation. The message of it might be clear, but there is always a possibility not to be understood.
An ’untranslatable’ is special, even unique for the particular community. ’Untranslatables’ offers a contextual understanding of these words, offer a further experience with these signifiers and their cultural body of signification: with the modes of specific linguistic communities. What do they express and how do they express it? Therefore, this project doesn’t aim to realize a dictionary, nor a linguistic research about the structure of language itself. It rather tries to outline the scope of words as signifiers, on a level of human subjectivity and on the level of cultural voicing.
By emphasizing untranslatability, the authors bring about individual and particular characteristic of each language, both with pluralist respect for the subject as with Universalist qualities; a unique combination. They both bring about extra qualities to the global as they voice specific qualities of the local! Through this book these unique elements connected to customs, or just lingual contexts, are made visible to the ones placed outside of that community. Furthermore, they are clarified in English that is used as a common ground for such trans-lingual dialogues.