Translation of Some CulturallyBound Expressions andPhrasesBYDr. Montasser Mohamed AbdelwahabAn Assistant Professor at Al ImamMuhammad Bin Saud Islamic University
Cultural issues in translation• Cultural issues in translation are connectedwith the problem of understanding the textsto be translated, because in many cases thetranslator is not necessarily a member of thesame culture.• without any cultural or factual pre-knowledgethe translator will not understand a piece ofinformation, even if it is presented to him/herin the most logical way.
Cultural Elements in Texts• Detecting cultural elements in texts is decisive fortranslation as culturally based conventions of textconstruction may even constitute a major translationproblem for communication.• Cultural elements are a background of knowledge which isgenerally relevant for adequate communication within asociety• Culture is not a material phenomenon; it does not consistof things, people, behavior, or emotions. It is rather anorganization of these things. It is the forms of things thatpeople have in mind, their models for perceiving, relating,and otherwise interpreting them (Goodenough 1964: 36).
Literal Translation of the Phrases• Such translation means a lot to the target reader. Infact, it does not reveal the correct or semi-correctmeaning of the English.
Examples of Culturally-BoundExpressions in EnglishHow can we translate the following expressions?• 1. one parent child• 2. palimony• 3 . car boot sale• 4. mentors• 5. big brothers and sisters organization
The Phrases in Sentences(1) The one parent child association released its latestbooklet which includes all the services it offers to itsmembers.(2) The Lee Marvin palimony case shows that marriedor unmarried people who live together can notavoid a shared responsibility.(3) According to the police, car boot sales arenotorious places where stolen goods are sold .(4) In the US, an organization called big brothers andsisters provides mentors for poor under-privilegedand high-risk children.
Difficulty in Translating theseCulturally-Bound Expressions1. The context is not clear at all.2. The inability of an Arab or a Muslim reader tounderstand such notions.3. These phrases reflect the existence of conceptswhich, in turn, reflect events/actions that arenot found in the Arabic or Islamic culture,therefore the concepts expressing them do notexist and consequently, the language has notdevised linguistic means to express them.
Some Guidelines to Translate these Phrases• As for the first example, An Arab or a Muslim reader cannot understand the notion of a child with one parentonly.• The nearest notion in the Islamic culture to the phraseone parent child is the child who has lost one or bothparents, in which latter case it is called an orphan inEnglish. Even in this latter case, i.e. losing one’s parentsin war or earthquake etc., the parents of the child arestill known through the Civil Service Records.• In the case of a child who is found by itself without itbeing possible to know his/her parents by any means, itis called laqiit, i.e. foundling not one parent child.
A Suggested Solution• Any rendering of the phrase one parent child withoutadding a commentary or a footnote will not yield atranslation that is understandable to the Arab reader. Thefollowing comment should be presented to give anacceptable translation:“ It is possible for a woman in the western world tohave a baby with any man she likes, and she is notlegally obliged to declare the father’s name ornationality etc. or she may not be certain aboutthem. In this case the family which consists of onlythe mother and the child is called “one parent family”and the child is called “one parent child”.
A Suggested Acceptable Translation• Without such commentary, the translation is notunderstandable at all. Although this translation ismore accessible to the target reader, neverthelessit may be opaque without the commentary.
Problems in Translating The Second Phrase(1) The problem lies in the word palimony (pal informallymeans a close friend + alimony, an allowance paidunder a court order by one spouse to another whenthey are separated, either before or after divorce)(2) Arabs and Muslims in general cannot understand howa person could be obliged to pay a regular sum ofmoney for someone he or she is not legally married to.(3) According to the Arab’s culture and religion and in factto all Muslims alimony, rather than palimony, is to bepaid by a husband to his former wife if they are legallydivorced, but the opposite can never be, i.e. a divorcedwoman can never be obliged, neither by court nor byculture or tradition, to pay alimony to her divorcedhusband.
How to overcome this cultural gap?The translator has to translate the original and thensupply the necessary missing information either bya footnote or between parentheses. Without theadditional commentary , the translation would notachieve its purpose.• The translation could be accepted as an adequatetranslation with the following commentary:“It is common in Western civilization for a man anda woman to live under one roof and to have asexual relationship without being marriedlegally.”
The Translation of the Third Phrase(1) The problem lies in the phrase car boot sale.(2) The nearest equivalent in Arabic would be anauction sale, which is, of course, not what carboot sale is.(3) This problem too is a cultural mismatch.(4) The following commentary could be helpful:“In Britain, it is usual for a person to collect somegoods (second hand or new) in his car boot, andsell them in some assigned places on weekends,special occasions, festivals etc. and this event iscalled car boot sale.”
Translation of the Fourth Phrase• There are two unfamiliar phrases: big brothers and sistersand mentors. Each of them needs a commentary from thetranslator because the concepts that lie behind them arenot found in the Arabic culture yet.• As for the word,” mentor”, The nearest equivalents to it inArabic would be mushref which means academicsupervisor, or murabii which means an educator, a personwho teaches small children good behavior, or mu’adeb,which could be translated into a tutor and is considered asynonym to murabii.• However, these words are not equivalent to the Englishoriginal as mentor is a member in the Big Brothers andSisters organization.
The second Phrase in the fourth textIn the USA, Big Sisters and Brothers is a specialorganization of adults and experienced volunteerswho spend about five hours weekly withunderprivileged or high-risk children to help themovercome the difficulties they may face in their dailylife so that they may not be victims of drugtraffickers etc.The point that should be stressed is that suchexpressions are culturally bound as they are notfound in the Arab/Muslim target culture