Bogus Hindi translations

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <ams@toroid.org>

2019-10-30

My annoyance at tortured translations between Hindi and English is not confined to the strange inverted use of until in Hinglish.

Here are some phrases that have suffered terribly in translation in the opposite direction.

कार्य प्रगति पर है

This is the usual translation of “work in progress” on road signs, but प्रगति means “progress” in a larger sense—think “scientific progress”, not “the progress bar is stuck at 95%”. And कार्य is a very grandiose word to apply to construction work, but it's just the sort of Sanskrit-derived word that the powers that be love to slip into official signs as if they were nothing out of the ordinary.

What's worse, “पर है” means “on” in the sense of putting one thing on another. So if you were to translate the sign back into English, “The work is on the progress” wouldn't be too far off. Nowhere else is प्रगति used in a way to suggest that you can put things on it (or in it).

It would be perfectly natural and unambigous to write “काम चल रहा है”, but that's just not officious enough to satisfy anyone.

निजी अस्पताल

Hindi newspapers use this term to mean “private hospital”, but निजी would be better translated as “personal”. It doesn't convey the private vs public sense of being the opposite of a “सरकारी अस्पताल” (Government hospital). When I read about someone going to a निजी अस्पताल, I always imagine them going to their own hospital (which I would too, if I had one).

In this case, I don't know of a better way to say it.