Found in translation – untranslatable words, in pictures

If you liked our recent infographic on words that don’t exist in English, you’ll love this. New Zealand-based designer Anjana Iyer has been working on a project called Found in Translation, illustrating 41 ‘untranslatable’ words so far, with more to come.

We asked Anjana about the background to her project, and where she gets her ideas from. Here’s what she had to say…

What’s the 100 Days Project all about? How did you get involved?

The 100 Days project is basically choosing one creative exercise, and then repeating it every day for 100 days. It was started three years ago by Emma Rogan, who is quite a renowned senior designer in New Zealand. I came across this through one of the creative meetups happening in Auckland every week, and I decided to participate to improve my illustration skills.

Backpfeifengesicht - a face badly in need of a fist

What made you choose untranslatable words for your subject?

I wanted my 100 Days project to be something compelling enough to do every single day. I have had a fascination with learning new languages for the longest time and I just happened to come across this article about 14 words with no English equivalent on The Week. I knew I wanted to base my project around illustrations, since I have only been illustrating for the past two years and I still have a very long way to go, and this was a perfect medium to improve my skills.

This project was started last year as a part of the 100 Days project but I had to drop it after Day 41 due to some professional and personal commitments. It’s suddenly been brought to spotlight because of my friend who recommended me to DesignTaxi and it went viral from there. And with the growing response that it’s gotten, I have restarted the series to include more illustrations.

Komorebi - the sort of scattered, dapplied light effect that happens when sunlight shines in through trees

How did you choose which words to illustrate?

Well, when I first came across these words, I could think of one friend or another when it came to certain words. For example, the Yiddish word Shlimazl (which means a chronically unlucky person), reminded me of a classmate who had the worst luck with our professors. And so I picked words which we could all relate to in way or another and maybe share a laugh or two.

Shlimazl - a chronically unlucky person

Do you have a favourite so far?

Iktsuarpok has a been a favourite word, simply cause it holds so much meaning. It’s waiting, whether you are waiting for the bus to show up or for the love of your life. It perfectly describes that inner anguish. From the point of view of illustration, I am very happy with how Schadenfreude turned out. That was fun to illustrate.

Iktsuarpok - the frustration of waiting for someone
Schadenfreude - enjoyment obtained from the misery of others

What’s your background as a designer?

I am a media designer with three years of experience. I love illustration and web design in equal measure. I quit engineering to become a designer. When it comes to illustrations, I love doing mostly vector work. Currently I am in the final year of my studies as a web design student.

Friolero - a person who is especially sensitive to cold weather and temperatures

Do you speak any languages yourself?

Well, being from India, I think we are born to speak several languages. I do speak about five Indian languages and I have a working understanding of French.

Rire dans sa barbe - to laugh in your beard quietly while thinking about something that happened in the past

Can you give us a sneak preview of any forthcoming illustrations?

It’s quite surprising how some words can really unite people. The Portuguese word Saudade is such a popular one. I have lost count of the number of people who have requested an illustration of said word. And I am looking forward to completing that one.

Pochemuchka - a person who asks too many questions

Lieko - a trunk of tree that has submerged to the bottom of a lake

Utepils - to sit outside on a sunny day enjoying a beer

To see some of her other illustrations, check out Anjana’s website.

Thanks to Anjana for talking to us; we’re looking forward to seeing more of her brilliant work!

Do you have any favourites? Or any words you’d like to see illustrated? Let us know in the comments.



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