Among the things I am kicking around today are future possibilities for the Word-of-the-Day feature. I’ve got some interesting ones in the form of words which have distinct values implied – say, “greed” – which necessarily require multiple translations – “ambition”, for example, or “compromise” – or whose closest equivalent have very different nuances and whose literal meaning can only be expressed by rather awkward circumlocution – such as our “professional”.
And then I thought of one real fun job to translate into their language. How, exactly, would one translate “social justice” into Eldraeic?
(Bearing in mind that the literal gloss, tramoníë saráv, lit. “a society-kind-of-justice”, would actually mean “international arbitration”.)
So let’s have a little informal competition, here. The best circumlocution, using only the sorts of concept which are native to the language, is an awkward phrase that comes out as, roughly, “the coercive enforcement of a sophont-owner’s preferred group-level outcomes upon the involuntarily coadunated”.
Think you can do better? Offer your best circumlocution in the comments, and we’ll see if it passes the Conclave of Linguistics and Ontology.
(But remember, and this is important now: the aim here is to provide the translation that a charitable translator working around the constraints of a language that doesn’t have a background tradition of compressed euphemisms would come up with. We’re not going for “the Worlds’ snarkiest value judgement”, nor are we going all-out to offend people in the real world, here, especially any who might find squeezing the concept into an unhelpful vocabulary an interesting game; it’s supposed to be a fun little conlanging exercise. Don’t let me down here, folks.)
Two Of Your Earth Minutes: Mostly averted, between the Translator Microbes and that most people using measurements internationally (or between species where that amounts to the same thing) are using either Accord System measurements or Imperial Standard, which just happen, since the latter uses a sensible Planck base and the Empire is a heavyweight on the Presidium of the Conclave, to share their base units and most of their derived ones. So it’s usually not much of an issue.
Strange Syntax Speaker: Mostly averted by well-programmed translators; of course, this is not the case for relatively recently contacted species (whose linguistic corpuses may not be complete and conclusive, and who may well therefore play this absolutely straight, along with some vocabulary peculiarities) or, of course, cheap knock-off translators.
Also sometimes played straight because many languages include linguistic features not found in others, and if you want a full-fidelity translation, this would make languages like English sound a little strange while all the evidentials and attitudinals and politeness markers and dubifiers and other such qualities are inserted in-band. This is most evident with the attitudinals, since given differences between different species body languages and expressions, everyone’s playing I Do Not Speak Nonverbal straight, and so a full-fidelity interspecies translation would generally involve everyone talking like Mass Effect‘s elcor (“Grumpy: Inconvenient as it is.”).
Tempting as it is, I should probably not declare the official English translation of the Eldraeic “elén tramoc arkúël” (“servitor-robot blobs”) to be “shoggothim”…
Translator Microbes: More or less ubiquitous, in one form or another, and pretty much essential to sustaining galactic culture. Advanced cultures use neuroprosthetic translators, which are embedded directly into the language center of the brain (or are software run on more sophisticated brain implants) which provide real-time translation between ear and thought, thought and mouth, with a thinker-class AI to provide seamless, real-time (you hear the alien language; you just understand it), and meme-level translation; less advanced ones rely on handheld devices, or translators built into clothing or jewelry – which repeat, rather than go in real-time – and lower standards of translation quality.
Either way, there’s no such thing as a “universal” or “self-teaching” translator; the translators generally require the software and database package (the “linguistic corpus”) to be obtained and installed for every language you expect them to handle, and producing those in the first place requires a lot of time and work from professional linguists. Fortunately, two people with translators that both work to/from “Trade” – for all intents and purposes, a simplified Eldraeic I pidgin – can communicate enough for most simple purposes.