Translation of Some Culturally Bound Expressions and Phrases BY Dr. Montasser Mohamed Abdelwahab An Assistant Professor at Al Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University
Cultural issues in translation• Cultural issues in translation are connected with the problem of understanding the texts to be translated, because in many cases the translator is not necessarily a member of the same culture.• without any cultural or factual pre-knowledge the translator will not understand a piece of information, even if it is presented to him/her in the most logical way.
Cultural Elements in Texts• Detecting cultural elements in texts is decisive for translation as culturally based conventions of text construction may even constitute a major translation problem for communication.• Cultural elements are a background of knowledge which is generally relevant for adequate communication within a society• Culture is not a material phenomenon; it does not consist of things, people, behavior, or emotions. It is rather an organization of these things. It is the forms of things that people 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. In fact, it does not reveal the correct or semi-correct meaning of the English.
Examples of Culturally-Bound Expressions 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 latest booklet which includes all the services it offers to its members.(2) The Lee Marvin palimony case shows that married or unmarried people who live together can not avoid a shared responsibility.(3) According to the police, car boot sales are notorious places where stolen goods are sold .(4) In the US, an organization called big brothers and sisters provides mentors for poor under-privileged and high-risk children.
Difficulty in Translating these Culturally-Bound Expressions1. The context is not clear at all.2. The inability of an Arab or a Muslim reader to understand such notions.3. These phrases reflect the existence of concepts which, in turn, reflect events/actions that are not found in the Arabic or Islamic culture, therefore the concepts expressing them do not exist and consequently, the language has not devised linguistic means to express them.
Some Guidelines to Translate these Phrases• As for the first example, An Arab or a Muslim reader can not understand the notion of a child with one parent only.• The nearest notion in the Islamic culture to the phrase one parent child is the child who has lost one or both parents, in which latter case it is called an orphan in English. Even in this latter case, i.e. losing one’s parents in war or earthquake etc., the parents of the child are still known through the Civil Service Records.• In the case of a child who is found by itself without it being possible to know his/her parents by any means, it is called laqiit, i.e. foundling not one parent child.
A Suggested Solution• Any rendering of the phrase one parent child without adding a commentary or a footnote will not yield a translation that is understandable to the Arab reader. The following comment should be presented to give an acceptable translation: “ It is possible for a woman in the western world to have a baby with any man she likes, and she is not legally obliged to declare the father’s name or nationality etc. or she may not be certain about them. In this case the family which consists of only the 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 not understandable at all. Although this translation is more accessible to the target reader, nevertheless it may be opaque without the commentary.
Problems in Translating The Second Phrase(1) The problem lies in the word palimony (pal informally means a close friend + alimony, an allowance paid under a court order by one spouse to another when they are separated, either before or after divorce)(2) Arabs and Muslims in general cannot understand how a person could be obliged to pay a regular sum of money for someone he or she is not legally married to.(3) According to the Arab’s culture and religion and in fact to all Muslims alimony, rather than palimony, is to be paid by a husband to his former wife if they are legally divorced, but the opposite can never be, i.e. a divorced woman can never be obliged, neither by court nor by culture or tradition, to pay alimony to her divorced husband.
How to overcome this cultural gap? The translator has to translate the original and then supply the necessary missing information either by a footnote or between parentheses. Without the additional commentary , the translation would not achieve its purpose.• The translation could be accepted as an adequate translation with the following commentary: “It is common in Western civilization for a man and a woman to live under one roof and to have a sexual relationship without being married legally.”
The Translation of the Third Phrase(1) The problem lies in the phrase car boot sale.(2) The nearest equivalent in Arabic would be an auction sale, which is, of course, not what car boot 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 some goods (second hand or new) in his car boot, and sell them in some assigned places on weekends, special occasions, festivals etc. and this event is called car boot sale.”
Translation of the Fourth Phrase• There are two unfamiliar phrases: big brothers and sisters and mentors. Each of them needs a commentary from the translator because the concepts that lie behind them are not found in the Arabic culture yet.• As for the word,” mentor”, The nearest equivalents to it in Arabic would be mushref which means academic supervisor, or murabii which means an educator, a person who teaches small children good behavior, or mu’adeb, which could be translated into a tutor and is considered a synonym to murabii.• However, these words are not equivalent to the English original as mentor is a member in the Big Brothers and Sisters 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