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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2010

Автор: Витвицкая О. С.

In this article we intend to take a quick look at some problems that exist in the field of transferring culture through translation and share some findings that might prove useful.

People used to see translation as a process of substituting source language items with analogous target language items and it was believed that every word had an equivalent in another language. As time went by, people began to notice there were some words that do not have equivalents, mostly because the things they named did not exist in other cultures. They became the “cruxes” of translation and were often referred to as being “culture-specific”. In other words, the concern up to the recent times has been with realias. That is, translators try to deal with culture elements at the word-level. Over time some techniques have been developed in an attempt to find both universal and language-specific ways of dealing with this stratum of lexis. Let us review these strategies as given in works of two authors.

Isabel Negro Alousque provides an overview of some translation procedures and illustrates them through French.

1) Cultural equivalent. The source language (SL) cultural word is translated by a target language (TL) cultural word: les sans-abri ➞ the homeless, logement social ➞ state-subsidized housing;

2) Functional equivalent. The SL cultural word is translated by a TL culture-free word: baccalauréat ➞ French secondary school leaving exam;

3) Descriptive equivalent. The SL cultural word is replaced by a description of the word in the TL: civet ➞ stewed rabbit;

4) Domestication. The SL cultural word is adapted to the target culture: pause-café ➞ tea-break;

5) Exotization/Foreignization. The SL cultural word keeps its graphic or morphological form to make it closer to the source culture: punch (drink) [8].

Sugeng Hariyanto in his article called ‘The Implication of Culture on Translation Theory and Practice’, basing on existing translations, gives the following overview of translation procedures to translate culturally-bound words or phrases.

1. Transference - the SL word is brought into the target language text.

2. Naturalization - the SL word is brought into the target language text and the writing is adjusted to the target language text writing system.

3. Using cultural equivalent - the SL word is replaced with the TL cultural word.

4. Using synonym - the SL word is translated into neutral TL word.

5. Using descriptive equivalent - the translator explains the description and/or function of the idea embodied in the SL word. Usually it results in long wording.

6. Using recognized translation - the SL word is replaced with previously recognized translation of the SL word in the TL.

7. Using componential analysis - SL word is replaced with a more general TL word plus one or more TL sense components to complete the meaning which is not embodied within the first TL word. At a glance it is like descriptive equivalent, but much shorter and does not involve the function of the idea of the SL word.

8. Reduction - SL word or phrase, as a translation unit, is replaced with a TL word or phrase which does not embrace part of the SL word meaning.

9. Expansion - SL word or phrase as a translation unit, is replaced with a TL word or phrase which covers the SL word meaning plus something else.

10. Addition and note - an addition or note is added after the translation of the TL word or phrase. This addition is clearly not a part of the translation.

11. Deletion - SL word or phrase, as a translation unit, is dropped in the TLT.

12. Modulation - the SL word or phrase, as a translation unit, is translated into a TL word or phrase; and this involves change in the point of view.

13. Literal translation - if a SL word or phrase, as a translation unit, is translated into a TL word or phrase, without breaking the TL syntactic rules [13].

The above mentioned techniques prove useful under the condition that the translator possesses good knowledge of realia of both cultures.

But if we look closer, culture is not always ‘word-bound’. There is a stratum of information, and we tend to think this stratum is a great deal larger that the word-stratum, that is transferred through meaning rather than word form. Thereto, the same words that seem to have the same meaning in both SL and TL in fact might not do so. Let us take the case of ‘house’. Those who grew up in a middle-class American family, when meeting the word in a text, will most likely think of a cottage with, probably, a small garden, or, at least a lawn in the front. For the post-soviet union generation, a house is an apartment house, block of flats. Hence, there is a distinction both between the objects referred to by cultural words and between the function and value of these objects in their cultural context (Bassnett 1991: 19 as cited in [8]).

Sometimes it is not even about the direct meaning of a word. Some notions, or more often connotations, do not have a separate word for themselves, but they go along with others. These are called “associative realia” and reflect themselves in some notional components of a word (Виноградов). For example, the title of a novel by a Panamanian writer Joaquín Beleño “Luna Verde” in many cultures may evoke only false associations and mixed feelings. But for people of Panama or Chile this is a symbol of hope, an image of something new, because green is associated with youth and beauty, and the moon represents the spirit of a man, his destiny.

Thus the realization grew that not only were particular items culture-specific but indeed the whole language was specific to the particular culture it belonged or came from, to some degree or the other. Edward Sapir maintains that language is the symbolic guide to culture. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, to the effect that a language defined and delimited the particular world-view of its speakers, in the sense that what they could not say in their language was what they could not even conceive of, seemed to support the view that the specificity of a culture was coextensive with the specificity of its language [6].

A wide-know example says that the Eskimos have around 20 words to name snow and that it is determined by their way of life. Other languages do not have as many snow-words because they do not deal with it to the same extent. But this fact does not mean that other nations “are incapable of perceiving the items which are described with such specific vocabulary elsewhere” [6]. They can identify snow using phrases, and we are sure such translation can be made with most languages.

Some approaches have been developed to transfer cultural meaning of a text. Venuti suggests the domestication and foreignization. “Domestication ‘leaves the reader in peace, as much as possible, and moves the author towards him’. Foreignization, on the other hand, ‘leaves the writer alone, as much as possible and moves the reader towards the writer’” [7].

Newmark speaks of transference and componential analysis. Transference gives "local colour," keeping cultural names and concepts. He describes componential analysis as being "the most accurate translation procedure, which excludes the culture and highlights the message" [12]. Nida's definitions of formal and dynamic equivalence (as cited in [7]) may also be seen to apply. According to Nida, a "gloss translation" mostly typifies formal equivalence where form and content are reproduced as faithfully as possible and the TL reader is able to "understand as much as he can of the customs, manner of thought, and means of expression" of the SL context. Contrasting with this idea, dynamic equivalence "tries to relate the receptor to modes of behavior relevant within the context of his own culture" without insisting that he "understand the cultural patterns of the source-language context" (idem) [10].

From these we see that there are two main directions: the first one puts the TL culture above the SL culture, the second one does the opposite. Let us quickly take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the two.

If we take the first approach, then, as translators of a text, we will have to re-write the text, to modify it to the extent the reader does not even ‘notice’ the text originated in another culture. This means, however, that some themes, styles, inferences, etc. will inevitably be lost in translation, and, thus, never perceived by the reader. The text might fail to evoke the reaction in readers the author intended to.

The second approach, although it looks absolutely different, will lead us to the same results – the presence of items the reader does not understand will stop him from perceiving the message of the text, it will make that message vague to the reader.

What we have discussed so far mostly deals with translation of a written text, but how about interpreting? How is it affected by cultural difference of the two parties?

There is no doubt that lexical concerns of an interpreter are the same as those of a translator, but there is also the part of communication that goes beyond words and is culture-specific too – nonverbal communication. According to Wikipedia, nonverbal communication is usually understood as the process of communication through sending and receiving wordless messages. i.e., language is not the only source of communication, there are other means also. Nonverbal communication can be communicated through gestures and touch (Haptic communication), by body language or posture, by facial expression and eye contact. Nonverbal communication can be communicated through object communication such as clothing, hairstyles or even architecture, symbols and infographics. Speech contains nonverbal elements known as paralanguage, including voice quality, emotion and speaking style, as well as prosodic features such as rhythm, intonation and stress. Thus, an interpreter deals with several dimensions of culture at the same time. There are no universal rules of how to manage this side of translation, but we believe that, when interpreting, one should comment on nonverbal communication to make the process of communication between the parties as clear as possible. For example, we know that the Japanese avoid saying no by all means, but if the second party is not familiar with the Japanese culture, they might fail to understand their offer has been turned down. In this case, we believe the interpreter should clarify the situation by explaining the peculiarity to their client.

When they want to emphasize something, the Korean people prolong some sounds in a word, so, for example, when expressing their thanks for, say, a meal, rather than adding a word like “very”, they would say something that would sound like “thaaank yooou” (meaning “thank you very much”).

There are several types of Non-verbal communication the interpreter has to be aware of: Kinesics, Proxemics, Chronemics, Oculesics, Haptics [11].

Kinesics – bodily movements (head, arms, legs, etc.). For example, the gesture that in America means “OK” (B), in the Mediterranean means “zero”, in Japan means “money”, in Tunisia means “I’ll kill you.”

Proxemics - the use of space between the sender and the receiver of a message. For example Greeks and South Americans find it comfortable to stand, sit or talk to people at a distance which seems to North Americans and some Europeans intolerably close and causes them to have the feelings of hostility, discomfort and even intimidation. On the other hand, if Americans back away to their distance of comfort they'll be perceived as cold, unfriendly and distrustful.

Chronemics - the timing of verbal exchanges during conversation. Americans expect their partner to respond to their statement immediately. But, for example in eastern cultures, in Japan or China, they leave silence between each statement. For Americans this silence is unsettling and the person might seem shy, inattentive or nervous. In intercultural situation, it might be best for the visitor to tolerate the silence and wait for a response.

Oculesics is the use of the eyes in a communication setting. Eye contact is very important in communication. People In the US, Canada and eastern Europe are used to direct eye contact preferably for 2 seconds. If you look longer into someone's eye, this will be considered as staring which is rude. Avoiding eye contact can be considered as insecure, untrustworthy, etc. In Japan, the gaze has to be below the chin. Lowering the eyes in China and Indonesia is a sign of respect. They prefer indirect eye contact. Prolonged eye contact is seen as a sign of bad manners. In the middle east the people are used to long eye contact, but long eye contact with women is considered inappropriate and a sign of no respect. In the US, France and Italy staring at women is considered a sign of interest and may even be interpreted as sexually suggestive. Minimal eye contact can be seen as a lack of interest or understanding, fear.

Haptics - is the tactile form of communication. Where, how and how often people can touch each other while having a conversation are culturally defined patterns. Some cultures are very comfortable with bodily contact, and others avoid it. The US touching has a lot to do with hierarchy. The general rule is that people who are older or of higher status may touch those who are younger or of lower status, but not vice versa. Equals may touch each other. Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal are touch-oriented cultures, as well as Latin American countries. In the Middle East the behavior is quite similar, but you better avoid touching the person with the left hand as the left hand is considered unclean and is reserved for personal hygiene. The location of touching is also very important. In Thailand, it is offensive to touch the head, as this part of the body is considered sacred. In fact, it would be better to avoid touching all Asians on the head, including small children. Even placing a hand on the back of an Asian worker's chair is considered inappropriate. Tactile behavior is highly cultural; knowing when and how to touch in various cultures is important to conducting business globally.

This is only a short overview of nonverbal communication aspects, but they may be of crucial importance in some communication settings, and the interpreter, as a bridge between two cultures, has to provide the connection.

In conclusion, it can be pointed out that translation now is viewed as something far more complex, than before, when people thought of translation as mere substitution of correspondent words. A good translator has to consider culture in all its manifestations – words, connotations, nonverbal and others. This aspect has to be considered when training future professionals of translation and interpretation.


1. Alejandra Patricia Karamanian “Translation and Culture”, retrieved from http://accurapid.com/journal/

2. C. Thriveni “Cultural Elements in Translation, The Indian Perspective”, retrieved from http://accurapid.com/

3. Douglas Robinson “Becoming a Translator, An Accelerated Course” Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005.

4. Forogh Karimipur Davaninezhad “Cross-Cultural Communication and Translation”, retrieved from http://accurapid.com/

5. Georgios Floros “Cultural Constellations and Translation”// EU-High-Level Scientific Conference Series, MuTra 2007 – LSP Translation Scenarios: Conference Proceedings.

6. Harish Trivedi “Translating Culture vs. Cultural Translation” retrieved from iwp.uiowa.edu/

7. Huiping Xian “Lost in translation? Language, culture and the roles of translator in cross-cultural management research” Cultural Implications for Translation www.emeraldinsight.com/

8. Isabel Negro Alousque “Cultural Domains: Translation Problems”// Revista de Linguistica y Lenguas Aplicadas, vol.4, 2009.

9. Joseph A. DeVito “The Elements of Public Speaking” (6th edition) Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc., 1997.

10. Kate James “Cultural Implications for Translation” retrieved from http://accurapid.com/

11. No author, no name, retrieved from http://users.telenet.be/ February 2, 2010.

12. Peter Newmark. Approaches to Translation London: Prentice Hall, 1988.

13. Sugeng Hariyanto. “The Implication of Culture on Translation Theory and Practice” retrieved from http://www.translationdirectory.com/

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