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Translatability and
untranslatability
THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE PROBLEM OF TRANSLATABILITY OR
UNTRANSLATABILITY STEMMED FRO...
 For example, Many people in ancient

religious worlds were incredulous of the
validity of translating as they believed t...
 Based on that understanding of the nature of

language, they tended to regard translation
or any kind of contrived conve...
 ‘The perennial question whether translation

is, in fact, possible is rooted in ancient
religious and psychological doub...
 ‘After the end of the fifteenth century, the

postulate of untranslatability has a pure
secular basis. It is founded on ...
 ‘Translatability is a relative notion and has to

do with the extent to which, despite obvious
differences in linguistic...
 translatability/ untranslatability provides an

opportunity for translation scholars to
express their views on the relat...
 Opposition:

 View 1 = reality is the same for all of us; only
the L expressions referring to the different
segments of...
 if languages segment reality differently

different “world view”
 certain phenomena of reality appear in
excessive deta...
e.g.,
 - Eskimo: many names for the different types of
snow;
 - Argentinean gauchos: the multitude of colour
names for h...
 ''The degree of difficulty of translation

depends on their nature, as well as on the
translator's abilities.”
 In a larger sense, the problem of

translatability is one of degrees: the higher
the linguistic levels the source langua...
 Throughout the history of translation the

question “Is translation possible or
impossible?” has been repeatedly asked a...
 Newmark, for example, argues that the

“untranslatables” can be translated indirectly
by transferring the source item an...
 every variety of meaning in a source language

text can be translated either directly or
indirectly into a target langua...
 Others (von

Humboldt, Quine, Virginia Woolf, Derrida, to
name a few) insist that translation is
ultimately impossible.
 Von Humboldt, e.g. maintains that all

translations are apparently attempts at
finding a solution to some insoluble prob...
 Untranslatability is the property of a text or

any utterance, in SL, for which no equivalent
text or utterance is found...
Types of untranslatability
 Catford distinguishes two types which he

terms linguistic and cultural
Linguistic untranslatibility
 Linguistic untranslatibility

 When there is no lexical or syntactical
substitute in the T...
Cultural untranslatability
 The absence in TL culture of a relevant

situational feature for the SL text. Different
conce...
Examples of
untranslatability
 Register
 Although thai language has words that can

be used as equivalent for english wo...
Grammar
 The english verb to be has no direct
equivalent in chinese. In an english sentence
where to be leads to an adjec...
vocabulary
 German as well as Dutch has a wealth of

particles that are particulary difficult to
translate as they convey...
Family siblings
 In Arabic brother is often translated into akh.

However, while this word may describe a
brother who sha...
Family grandparents
 Swedish, Norwegian and Danish have

different words for paternal grandparents
and maternal grandpare...
Family aunts and uncles
 Arabic contains separate words for mother's

brother khal and father's brother 'am. The
closest ...
Family nephews nieces and
cousins
 Whereas english has different words for child of
one's sibling based on gender nephew ...
Family (Relations by
marriage)
 In American English the term "my brother-in-

law" covers "my spouse's brother", "my
sist...
Puns and Wordplay
 Similarly, consider the Italian adage

"traduttore, traditore": a literal translation is
"translator, ...
Procedures to compensate for
this problem
 The translation procedures that are available

in cases of lacunae, or lexical...
 In the Belgian comic book “The Adventures of

Tintin”, Tintin's trusty canine sidekick “Milou”
is translated as “Snowy” ...
Borrowing
 Borrowing is a translation procedure whereby
the translator uses a word or expression from
the source text in ...
Calque
 Calque entails taking an expression, breaking

it down to individual elements and translating
each element into t...
Compensation
 Compensation is a translation procedure
whereby the translator solves the problem of
aspects of the source ...
 Many languages have two forms of the second
person pronoun, namely an informal form and a

formal form. This is known as...
Paraphrase
 Paraphrase, sometimes called periphrasis, is
a translation procedure whereby the
translator replaces a word i...
Translator's note
 A translator's note is a note added by the

translator to the target text to provide
additional inform...
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Translatability and untranslatability

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Translatability and untranslatability

  1. 1. Translatability and untranslatability THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE PROBLEM OF TRANSLATABILITY OR UNTRANSLATABILITY STEMMED FROM THE VAGUENESS OF THE NOTION OF MEANING AND A LACK OF CONSENSUS OVER THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE AND TRANSLATION.
  2. 2.  For example, Many people in ancient religious worlds were incredulous of the validity of translating as they believed that language was sacred and mystic, in which was hidden the will and order of God.
  3. 3.  Based on that understanding of the nature of language, they tended to regard translation or any kind of contrived conversion of a divine message from one language into another as no less than profanity and vice (Steiner, 1957).
  4. 4.  ‘The perennial question whether translation is, in fact, possible is rooted in ancient religious and psychological doubts on whether there ought to be any passage from one tongue to another.’
  5. 5.  ‘After the end of the fifteenth century, the postulate of untranslatability has a pure secular basis. It is founded on the conviction, formal and pragmatic, that there can be no true symmetry, no adequate mirroring, between two different semantic systems.’ Translatability and comprehensibility
  6. 6.  ‘Translatability is a relative notion and has to do with the extent to which, despite obvious differences in linguistic structure (grammar, vocabulary, etc.), meaning can still be adequately expressed across languages.  ‘TT comprehensibility’
  7. 7.  translatability/ untranslatability provides an opportunity for translation scholars to express their views on the relationship between language and reality
  8. 8.  Opposition:  View 1 = reality is the same for all of us; only the L expressions referring to the different segments of reality are different  View 2 = L also affects reality (Whorf 1956, Sapir 1956) (e.g., the way we perceive the external characteristics of objects is influenced by the kind of words available in our L1 to describe these characteristics)
  9. 9.  if languages segment reality differently different “world view”  certain phenomena of reality appear in excessive detail in one L, while there is only a collective name for them in another one
  10. 10. e.g.,  - Eskimo: many names for the different types of snow;  - Argentinean gauchos: the multitude of colour names for horses;  - Arabic: the postures of camels;  - Russian: the types of fish;  - Italian: the types of pasta;  - English: the objects and concepts related to navigation
  11. 11.  ''The degree of difficulty of translation depends on their nature, as well as on the translator's abilities.”
  12. 12.  In a larger sense, the problem of translatability is one of degrees: the higher the linguistic levels the source language signs carry meaning(s) at, the higher the degree of translatability these signs may display; the lower the levels they carry meaning(s) at, the lower the degree of translatability they may register.
  13. 13.  Throughout the history of translation the question “Is translation possible or impossible?” has been repeatedly asked and debated among philosophers, linguists as well as translators and translation theorists. Some scholars and artists believe that virtually everything is translatable.
  14. 14.  Newmark, for example, argues that the “untranslatables” can be translated indirectly by transferring the source item and explaining it if no parallel item can be found in the target language and no compensatory effect may be produced within the same paragraph.
  15. 15.  every variety of meaning in a source language text can be translated either directly or indirectly into a target language, and therefore everything is translatable. (Newmark, 1989:17)
  16. 16.  Others (von Humboldt, Quine, Virginia Woolf, Derrida, to name a few) insist that translation is ultimately impossible.
  17. 17.  Von Humboldt, e.g. maintains that all translations are apparently attempts at finding a solution to some insoluble problem. (Ke, 1991:10)
  18. 18.  Untranslatability is the property of a text or any utterance, in SL, for which no equivalent text or utterance is found in TL. A text or utterance that is considered to be untranlatable is actually a lacuna or lexical gap.
  19. 19. Types of untranslatability  Catford distinguishes two types which he terms linguistic and cultural
  20. 20. Linguistic untranslatibility  Linguistic untranslatibility  When there is no lexical or syntactical substitute in the TL for an SL item. Linguistically untranslatables sentences are such as involves structures not found in english.By restructuring and adjusting the position to conform to english norms a translator would unhesitatingly render two sentences.
  21. 21. Cultural untranslatability  The absence in TL culture of a relevant situational feature for the SL text. Different concepts of bathroom in english,finnish and japanese context where the object and the use made of that object are not at all alike.
  22. 22. Examples of untranslatability  Register  Although thai language has words that can be used as equivalent for english words i you he she it. But they are relatively formal terms. In most cases thai people use words which express the relations between the speaker and the listener according to their respective role. For a mother to say her child 'ill tell you a story' she would say 'mother will tell child a story'.
  23. 23. Grammar  The english verb to be has no direct equivalent in chinese. In an english sentence where to be leads to an adjective 'it is blue'. There are no adjectives in chinese instead there are stative words that donot need an extra verb.
  24. 24. vocabulary  German as well as Dutch has a wealth of particles that are particulary difficult to translate as they convey sense and tone more rather than strictly grammatical information. Doch dutch toch which roughly means 'donot you realize that or it is so, though someone is denying it'. What makes translating these words difficult is their different meaning depending on their intonation or context.
  25. 25. Family siblings  In Arabic brother is often translated into akh. However, while this word may describe a brother who shares either one or both parents,there is a separate word shaqeeq to describe a brother with whom one shares both parents.
  26. 26. Family grandparents  Swedish, Norwegian and Danish have different words for paternal grandparents and maternal grandparents. Famor and farfar and mormor and morfar. The English terms great grandfather and great grandmother also have different terms in Swedish depending on lineage. This difference in paternal and maternal is also used in Begali, Thai and Chinese.
  27. 27. Family aunts and uncles  Arabic contains separate words for mother's brother khal and father's brother 'am. The closest translation in english is uncle which gives no indication as to lineage whether paternal or maternal. Similary there are specific words for father's sister and mother's sister.
  28. 28. Family nephews nieces and cousins  Whereas english has different words for child of one's sibling based on gender nephew for the son of one's sibling and niece for the daughter, cousin applies for both genders belonging to one's uncle and aunt. Many languages approach these concepts very differently. Spanish distinguishes both cases differently the son of a sibling is sobrino whereas a duughter is sobrina equally a male cousin is primo while a female cousin is prima. Though Italian distinguishes between male cugino and female cugina cousin where English does not, it uses nipote for both nephew/ niece genders.
  29. 29. Family (Relations by marriage)  In American English the term "my brother-in- law" covers "my spouse's brother", "my sister's husband", and "my spouse's sister's husband". In British English, the last of these is not considered strictly correct.
  30. 30. Puns and Wordplay  Similarly, consider the Italian adage "traduttore, traditore": a literal translation is "translator, traitor". The pun is lost, though the meaning persists. (A similar solution can be given, however, in Hungarian, by saying a “fordítás: ferdítés”, which roughly translates as "translation is distortion".)
  31. 31. Procedures to compensate for this problem  The translation procedures that are available in cases of lacunae, or lexical gaps, include the following: Adaptation  An adaptation, also known as a free translation, is a translation procedure whereby the translator replaces a social, or cultural, reality in the source text with a corresponding reality in the target text; this new reality would be more usual to the audience of the target text.
  32. 32.  In the Belgian comic book “The Adventures of Tintin”, Tintin's trusty canine sidekick “Milou” is translated as “Snowy” in English, “Bobbie” in Dutch, and “Struppi” in German; likewise the detectives “Dupont and Dupond” become “Thomson and Thompson” in English, “Jansen and Janssen” in Dutch, “Schultze and Schulze” in German, “Hernández and Fernández” in Spanish
  33. 33. Borrowing  Borrowing is a translation procedure whereby the translator uses a word or expression from the source text in the target text unmodified.  In English text, borrowings not sufficiently anglicized are normally in italics.
  34. 34. Calque  Calque entails taking an expression, breaking it down to individual elements and translating each element into the target language word for word.  the German word: "Alleinvertretungsanspruch" can be calqued to "single-representation-claim", but a proper translation would result in: "Exclusive Mandate”
  35. 35. Compensation  Compensation is a translation procedure whereby the translator solves the problem of aspects of the source text that cannot take the same form in the target language by replacing these aspects with other elements or forms in the source text.
  36. 36.  Many languages have two forms of the second person pronoun, namely an informal form and a formal form. This is known as T-V distinction, found in French (tu vs. vous), Spanish (tú/vos vs. usted), and German (du vs. Sie), for example, but not contemporary English.  the translator may have to compensate by using a first name or nickname, or by using syntactic phrasing that are viewed as informal in English (I'm, you're, gonna, etc.), or by using English words of the formal and informal registers, to preserve the level of formality.
  37. 37. Paraphrase  Paraphrase, sometimes called periphrasis, is a translation procedure whereby the translator replaces a word in the source text by a group of words or an expression in the target text.  The Portuguese word “saudade” is often translated into English as "the feeling of missing a person who is gone".
  38. 38. Translator's note  A translator's note is a note added by the translator to the target text to provide additional information pertaining to the limits of the translation, the cultural background, or any other explanations;  Some translation exams allow or demand such notes. Some translators regard resorting to notes as a failure. 

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