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  • Yaniv Berman

Translating between SVO and SOV languages


About 40% of human languages have a word order of Subject-Verb-Object (SVO. For example: The child ate the apple). SOV order is found in another 40%. Curiously, the rarest word order, OVS, is the easiest for computers to process because traditional computers build their information bottom-up. Humans use their world knowledge to understand, building their information top-down. Alternative word orders can be challenging for translators, especially for interpreters translating between two languages with different word orders.

The main challenges for translators between SVO and SOV languages are as follows:

1. Rearranging the word order in the target language to match the word order of the source language.

2. Differences in emphasis: The different word orders of the two languages can also affect the emphasis placed on different parts of the sentence. In SVO languages, the verb often receives more emphasis, while in SOV languages, the object may receive more emphasis. This can make it difficult to accurately convey the intended emphasis of the original text in the target language.

3. Grammatical structure: As with translating between languages with the same word order, differences in grammatical structure can also pose a challenge. For example, the two languages may have different rules for constructing sentences with indirect objects or using pronouns.

4. Vocabulary: Different languages may have different words for the same concepts, and some words may not have direct equivalents in the other language. This can make it difficult to accurately convey the intended meaning of the original text.

5. Cultural references: As with translating between languages with the same word order, cultural references can also be a challenge. The translator will need to be familiar with the cultural context of both languages in order to accurately translate references to cultural or historical events, idioms, or expressions.

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