Lost in Translation: A Tale of My Family and Beyond

Names, Sounds, and Stories. Celebrating Linguistic Richness Amidst Globalization

Lost in Translation: A Tale of My Family and Beyond


Nepal, tucked away in the embrace of the Himalayas, is a living display of both nature's beauty and linguistic richness. Here, various languages weave together to form the backdrop of daily life—from the calls of marketplace vendors to the soothing sounds of evening prayers.

Yet, as our world becomes more interconnected, there's a growing pull towards simplification. Elements of linguistic complexity often get lost or mispronounced in this tide. This is not just about my sister Anujna's (अनुज्ञा) intricate name; it's a call to action for everyone. In our rush towards global communication, we shouldn't overlook the intricacies that make each language unique and vibrant.

Come along with me as we delve into one family's story, the story of my sister's name, to spotlight the broader issue: the need to honor every sound, every shade of meaning, in our linguistically diverse yet interconnected world.

1. The Pull of Simplification

Collage of Hollywood posters, pop music icons, and a string of emojis, AI generated

| Image: wepik |

In today's fast-paced world, where communication is instant and cultures are more interlinked than ever, there's a clear move towards making language simpler. Take Hollywood for instance. Movies, once a treasure trove of regional accents and phrases, are now leaning towards a more neutral, globally understood English. The same goes for pop music, where localized expressions are making way for lyrics that resonate with a worldwide audience. Even emojis, the colorful icons we use in texts, aim for universal comprehension.

There are obvious upsides to this trend. Clear, straightforward language makes it easier for people to understand each other, especially in global settings. In the tech industry, focusing on widely spoken languages makes software more accessible to a larger audience.

But here's the catch: this drive for simplicity has its own trade-offs. On one side, there's the allure of a universal language—a common ground where everyone gets the message, loud and clear. On the other, there's the richness of each language's unique sounds and patterns, each reflecting its own culture, history, and way of seeing the world. For example, English, despite its global reach, has a hard time capturing some linguistic elements unique to other languages, like 'Jna' (ज्ञ) and 'Ksha' (क्ष) in Nepali.

So, the real question isn't just about making communication easy or broadening global reach. It's also about what we might be giving up in the process. Are we, in our pursuit of universal understanding, risking the loss of the deep, complex details that make up our languages?

2. A Name's Journey – 'Anujna'

A traditional Nepali naming ceremony, AI generated

| Image: wepik |

A name is more than just a label; it's often a story, a wish, or even an embodiment of hopes and traditions. In Nepal, where I come from, a name can also be a linguistic gem, carrying with it a rich history that spans centuries.

When my sister came into the world, choosing her name became a family affair. I was just 8 years old at the time and suggested 'अनुज्ञा' somewhat casually. The name struck a chord with everyone. However, this led to a common issue many of us with complex linguistic backgrounds face: how to represent the name accurately in English for a global audience?

The challenge wasn't just about writing it down but saying it right. In English, the sound 'ज्ञ' doesn't have a direct equivalent. The closest we could get was 'Jna', which is often mispronounced. Another option was 'Anugya', which aimed to be easier on unfamiliar tongues, but it lost some of the original sound's richness.

In the end, we chose "Anujna." It was a nod to our cultural heritage, and it stayed true to the name's authentic sound. But as my sister met more people, especially those unfamiliar with Nepali, her name was often said wrong. Each mistake was a small but poignant reminder: when languages with unique sounds and structures step onto a global stage, something is often lost in translation.

But this is more than just a story about a name. It's a window into a bigger issue: how can we keep the authenticity of our languages in a world that's leaning more and more toward simplicity? The journey of naming my sister encapsulates this eternal struggle between making things easy to understand and holding onto the things that make them special.

3. The Beauty of Unique Sounds: Going Beyond 'Jna' (ज्ञ)

landscape and text showing significance of nepali compound letters

Languages around the world are filled with unique sounds that not only challenge our vocal cords but also enrich our understanding of human speech. In Nepali, for example, there's a wealth of complex sounds that might seem difficult to outsiders but are daily occurrences for those who speak the language.

Take the sound "Ksha" (क्ष) as an example. It's not just a mix of 'Ka' and 'Sha'; it's a sound of its own. In the Devanagari script, we see the blend as: क्(k) + ष(sha) = क्ष(ksha). And it's similar with other combinations like ज्(j) + ञ(na) = ज्ञ(jna) and त्(t) + र(ra) = त्र(tra).

So, why does this matter? Because each unique sound carries a history. It's like a living, breathing storybook, filled with poems recited under the Himalayan moon and age-old teachings that still touch hearts today.

You might think these nuances are trivial in the grand scheme of global communication. But paying attention to them adds depth to our collective experience as humans. These sounds offer clues into how languages have evolved, how they've moved across regions, and how they've interacted with other languages over time. They also serve as markers of cultural heritage and exchanges that have happened throughout history.

To truly get the essence of a language, you need to delve into these complex sounds and understand the stories they narrate. It's only then that we can grasp what we stand to lose if these unique elements of language are overlooked or forgotten.

4. The Trade-Offs of Language Simplification

alphabet learning toy on gray apparel

| Photo by Ryan Wallace on Unsplash |

Globalization offers us a host of advantages. Ideas zip across borders, economies blend, and cultures learn from one another. But every silver lining has a cloud, and in this case, it's the gradual loss of the unique features that make our languages special.

Let's be clear: making languages simpler has its perks. It makes it easier for people from different backgrounds to understand each other, and that's not a small thing. But this streamlining comes at a cost: the unique sounds, expressions, and cultural subtleties that make each language a treasure.

When a word or unique sound disappears because it's too hard to say or doesn't translate well, we lose more than just that word. We lose stories, traditions, and pieces of cultural heritage that make our world rich and diverse. Imagine this as a sort of cultural extinction. Each loss chips away at a richer ecosystem of human expression.

And it's not just culture at stake; our brains might be losing out, too. Research shows that diversity in languages can actually help us think in different ways, making us more flexible in how we see and solve problems. By making all languages the same, we might be limiting our own potential without even knowing it.

Take my sister's name, "Anujna" (अनुज्ञा), as an example. Each time it's mispronounced, it's like a small piece is taken from a much larger, beautiful mosaic of language diversity. Every simplified expression, every overlooked unique sound, chips away at the richness of our linguistic landscape.

So, it's worth asking: What are we willing to give up for the sake of easier communication? Can we find a balance that keeps conversations efficient without sacrificing the rich history and diversity of our languages?

5. The Wonder of World Languages

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| Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash |

Language isn't just a way to talk to each other; it's a form of art, a piece of history, a way of thinking, and part of what makes us who we are. Around the world, you'll find languages with sounds and structures that might seem strange if you're not used to them, but they mean a lot to the people who speak them.

Take the 'click' sounds in some languages from Southern Africa, for example. These clicks aren't just sounds; they're important parts of words that can change their meaning.

Or look at Welsh, a language spoken in the UK. It has a special sound—“Ll”—that doesn't really have an English equivalent. If you don't say it right, you could end up saying a completely different word.

In China, the way you say a word in Mandarin can change its meaning. The word for "mother" and "horse" are both pronounced "ma," but with different tones. Get the tone wrong, and you could end up calling your mom a horse!

Over in India, the Punjabi language has sounds that need you to roll your tongue in a certain way. If you don't get it just right, you might be saying something different from what you meant to say.

These examples are just a small taste of what's out there. Every part of the world has its own unique language features that have been shaped by history, culture, and even the local landscape. It's really cool to think about how creative and flexible humans have been in coming up with ways to communicate.

But here's the catch: As the world becomes more connected, there's a risk that these unique features could get watered down or forgotten. By talking about these special sounds and structures, my hope is to encourage you to dig deeper into languages. Don't just take them at face value—explore them, understand them, and appreciate how much they add to the rich tapestry of human interaction.


Talking to people from different parts of the world is easier than ever, thanks to technology. But as we make things simpler, there's a risk we might lose the special sounds and ways of speaking that make each language unique. We have to be careful not to lose the richness of our languages in the name of making things easier.

Luckily, we have new tools to help us. Language apps, translation software, and new ways of writing down sounds can help us keep both local languages and international communication strong. Imagine a world where we don't just change words from one language to another but keep the spirit and special touches of each language alive.

Learning about and respecting the unique parts of each language is important, too. Each of us can help by taking the time to say names right, correct others kindly, and show interest in the special sounds that make each language what it is.

Being a global citizen doesn't mean we all have to speak and sound the same. The beauty is in the differences. Sounds like 'Jna' in Nepali or 'Ksha' in Sanskrit aren't just interesting—they tell us something about what humans can do with their voices and how cultures have grown.

In conclusion, as we stand at the crossroads of tradition and modernity, let's make a conscious choice. Let's choose to cherish the Anujnas, Prajnas, and Samikshas of the world, and in doing so, celebrate the little linguistic wonders that make our global conversations richer, deeper, and infinitely more colorful. Because in the end, our languages are not just tools – they are living, breathing entities, deserving of our respect, understanding, and love.

Special Thanks: Special thanks to OpenAI's ChatGPT and Microsoft's Bing AI for providing valuable insights, research assistance, and rephrasing assistance in crafting this blog post.

Feedback: I'm really interested to hear what you think about this article. Your thoughts can help shape what I write in the future. Feel free to share your opinions in the comments below or reach out to me directly. Thanks for reading!