Jumat, 06 Maret 2009

Translation and Culture

I define culture as the way of life and its manifestations that are peculiar to a community that uses a particular language as its means of expression. More specifically, I distinguish `cultural' from `universal' and `personal' language. `Die', `live', `star', `swim' and even almost virtually ubiquitous artefacts like `mirror' and `table' are universals - usually there is no. translation problem there. `Monsoon', `steppe', `dacha', `tagliatelle' are cultural words - there will be a translation problem unless there is cultural overlap between the source and the target language (and its readership). Universal words such as `breakfast', `embrace', `pile' often cover the universal function, but not the cultural description of the referent. And if I express myself in a personal way - `you're weaving (creating conversation) as usual', `his "underlife" (personal qualities and private life) is evident in that poem', `he's a monologger' (never finishes the sentence) - I use personal, not immediately social, language, what is often called idiolect, and there is normally a translation problem.
All these are broad and fuzzy distinctions. You can have several cultures (and sub-cultures) within one language: jause (`Austrian' tea), 7ugendweihe (GDR - `coming out' ceremony for twelve-year-olds), Beamter (Austria, Switzerland, FRG - but not GDR) are all cultural words which may need translation within German. However dialect words are not cultural words if they designate universals (e.g., 'loch', `moors'), any more than the notorious pain, vin, Gemutlichkeit, `privacy', insouciance, which are admittedly overladen with cultural connotations. And, when a speech community focuses its attention on a particular topic (this is usually called `cultural focus'), it spawns a plethora of words to designate its special language or terminology - the English on sport, notably the crazy cricket words (`a maiden over', `silly mid-on', `howzzat'), the French on wines and cheeses, the Germans on sausages, Spaniards on bull-fighting, Arabs on camels, Eskimos, notoriously, on snow, English and French on sex in mutual recrimination; many cultures have their words for cheap liquor for the poor and desperate: `vodka', `grappa', `slivovitz', `sake', `Schnaps' and, in the past (because too dear now), `gin'. Frequently where there is cultural focus, there is a translation problem due to the cultural `gap' or `distance' between the source and target languages.
Note that operationally I do not regard language as a component or feature of culture. If it were so, translation would be impossible. Language does however contain all kinds of cultural deposits, in the grammar (genders of inanimate nouns), forms of address (like Sie, usted) as well as the lexis (`the sun sets') which are not taken account of in universals either in consciousness or translation. Further, the more specific a language becomes for natural phenomena (e.g., flora and fauna) the more it becomes embedded in cultural features, -and therefore creates translation problems. Which is worrying, since it is notorious that the translation of the most general words (particularly of morals and feelings, as Tytler noted in 1790) - love, temperance, temper, right, wrong - is usually harder than that of specific words.
Most `cultural' words are easy to detect, since they are associated with a particular language and cannot be literally translated, but many cultural customs . are described in ordinary language (`topping out a building', `time, gentlemen, please', `mud in your eye'), where literal translation would distort the meaning and a, translation may include an appropriate descriptive-functional equivalent. Cultural objects may be referred to by a relatively culture-free generic term or classifier (e.g., `tea') plus the various additions in different cultures, and you have to account for these additions (`rum', `lemon', `milk', `biscuits', `cake', other courses, various times of day) which may appear in the course of the SL text.
However, in this chapter I shall be discussing the translation of `foreign' cultural words in the narrow sense. Adapting Nida, I shall categorise them and offer some typical examples:
Flora, fauna, winds, plains, hills: `honeysuckle', `downs', `sirocco', `tundra', `pampas', tabuleiros (low plateau), `plateau', selva (tropical rain forest), `savanna', `paddy field'
Material culture (artefacts)
Food: `zabaglione', `sake', Kaiserschmarren
Clothes: `anorak', kanga (Africa), sarong (South Seas), dhoti (India)
Houses and towns: kampong, bourg, bourgade, `chalet', 'low-rise', `tower'
Transport: `hike', `rickshaw', `Moulton', cabriolet, `tilbury', caleche
Social culture - work and leisure
ujuh, amah, condottiere, biava, sithar, raga, `reggae', 'rock'
Organisations, custo»is, activities, procedures, concepts
Political and administrative
Religious: dlaarma, karma, `temple'
Gestures and habits
`Cock a snook', `spitting'

A few general considerations govern the translation of all cultural words. First, your ultimate consideration should be recognition of the cultural achievements referred to in the SL text, and respect for all foreign countries and their cultures. Two translation procedures which are at opposite ends of the scale are normally available; transference, which, usually in literary texts, offers local colour and atmosphere, and in specialist texts enables the readership (some of whom may be more or less fmiliar with the SL) to identify the referent - particularly a name or a concept - in other texts (or conversations) without difficulty. However, transfer­ence, though it is brief and concise, blocks comprehension, it emphasises the culture and excludes the message, does not communicate; some would say it is not a translation procedure at all. At the other end, there is componential analysis, the most accurate translation procedure, which excludes the culture and highlights the message. Componential analysis is based on a component common to the SL and the TL, say in the case of dacha, `house', dom, to which you add the extra contextual distinguishing components (`for the wealthy', `summer residence'; cf. maison secondaire). Inevitably, a componential analysis is not as economical and has not the pragmatic impact of the original. Lastly, the translator of a cultural word, which is always less context-bound than ordinary language, has to bear in mind both the motivation and the cultural specialist (in relation to the text's topic) and linguistic level of the readership.
Geographical features can be normally distinguished from other cultural terms in that they are usually value-free, politically and commercially. Nevertheless, their diffusion depends on the importance of their country of origin as well as their degree of specificity. Thus `plateau' is not perceived as a cultural word, and has long been adopted in Russian, German and English, but translated in Spanish and usually Italian (mesa, altipiano). Many countries have `local' words for plains - `prairies', `steppes', `tundras', `pampas', `savannahs', `llanos', campos, paramos, `bush', `veld' - all with strong elements of local colour. Their familiarity is a function of the importance and geographical or political proximity of their countries. All these words would normally be transferred, with the addition of a brief culture-free third term where necessary in the text. This applies too to the `technical' tabuleiros (Brazilian low plateau) if one assumes that the SL writer would not mention them if he does not attach importance to them.
The same criteria apply to other ecological features, unless they are important commercially - consider `pomelo', `avocado', `guava', `kumquat', `mango', `passion fruit', `tamarind - when they become more or less a lexical item in the `importing' TL (but note `passion fruit', passiflore, Passionsfrucht)-and may be subject to naturalisation: mangue, tamarin, avocat (Sp. aguucate) particularly, as here, in French.
Nida has pointed out that certain ecological features - the seasons, rain, hills of various sizes (cultural words: `down', `moor', kop, `dune') - where they are irregular or unknown may not be understood denotatively or figuratively, in translation. However, here, television will s~on be a worldwide clarifying force.
Food is for many the most sensitive and important expression of national culture; food terms are subject to the widest variety of translation procedures. Various settings: menus - straight, multilingual, glossed; cookbooks, food guides; tourist brochures; journalism increasingly contain foreign food terms. Whilst commercial and prestige interests remain strong, the unnecessary use of French words (even though they originated as such, after the Norman invasion, 900 years ago) is still prevalent for prestige reasons (or simply to demonstrate that the chef is French, or that the recipe is French, or because a combination such as `Foyot veal chops with Perigueux sauce' is clumsy). Certainly it is strange that the generic words hors d'oeuvre, entree, entremets hold out, particularly as all three are ambiguous: `salad mixture' or `starter'; `first' or `main course'; `light course between two heavy courses' or `dessert' (respectively). In principle, one can recommend translation for words with recognised one-to-one equivalents and transference, plus a neutral term, for the rest (e.g., `the pasta dish' - cannelloni) - for the general readership.
In fact, all French dishes can remain in French if they are explained in the recipes. Consistency for a text and the requirements of the client here precede other circumstances.
For English, other food terms are in a different category. Macaroni came over in 1600, spaghetti in 1880, ravioli and pizza are current; many other Italian and Greek terms may have to be explained. Food terms have normally been transferred, only the French making continuous efforts to naturalise them (rosbif, choucroute).
Traditionally, upper-class men's clothes are English and women's French (note `slip', `bra') but national costumes when distinctive are not translated, e.g., sari, kimono, yukala, dirndl, `jeans' (which is an internationalism, and an American symbol like `coke'), kaftan, jubbah.
Clothes as cultural terms may be sufficiently explained for TL general readers if the generic noun or classifier is added: e.g., `shintigin trousers' or `basque skirt', or again, if the particular is of no interest, the generic word can simply replace it. However, it has to be borne in mind that the function of the generic clothes terms is approximately constant, indicating the part of the body that is covered, but the description varies depending on climate and material used.
Again, many language communities have a typical house which for general purposes remains untranslated: palazzo (large house); h6tel (large house); `chalet', `bungalow', hacienda, pandal, posada, pension. French shows cultural focus on towns (being until SO years ago a country of small towns) by having ville, bourg and bourgade (cf. borgo, borgata, paese) which have no corresponding translations into English. French has `exported' salon to German and has `imported' living or living room.
Transport is dominated by American and the car, a female pet in English, a `bus', a `motor', a `crate', a sacred symbol in many countries of sacred private property. American English has 26 words for the car. The system has spawned new features vith their neologisms: `lay-by', `roundabout' (`traffic circle'), 'fly-over', `interchange' (echangeur). There are many vogue-words produced not only by innovations but by the salesman's talk, and many anglicisms. In fiction, the names of various carriages (caleche, cabriolet, `tilbury', `landau', `coupe', `phaeton') are often used to provide local colour and to connote prestige; in text books on transport, an accurate description has to be appended to the transferred word. Now, the names of planes and cars are often near-internationalisms for educated(?) readerships: `747', `727', 'DC-10', `jumbo jet', `Mini', `Metro', `Ford', `BMW', `Volvo'.
Notoriously the species of flora and fauna are local and cultural, and are not translated unless they appear in the SL and TL environment (`red admiral', vulcain, Admiral). For technical texts, the Latin botanical and zoological classifica­tions can be used as an international language, e.g., `common snail', helix aspersa.

In considering social culture one has to distinguish between denotative and conno­tative problems of translation. Thus charcuterie, droguerie, patisserie, chapellerie, chocolaterie, Konditorei hardly exist in anglophone countries. There is rarely a translation problem, since the words can be transferred, have approximate one-to­one translation or can be functionally defined, 'pork-butcher', `hardware', `cake' or `hat' or `chocolate"shop', `cake shop with cafe'. Whilst many trades are swallowed up in super- and hypermarkets and shopping centres and precincts (centre commercial, zone pietonniere, Einkaufszentrum) crafts may revive. As a translation problem, this contrasts with the connotative difficulties of words like: `the people'; `the common people'; `the masses'; `the working class' la classe ouvriere; `the proletariat'; `the working classes'; `the hoi polloi' (`the plebs'); les gens du commun; la plebe; `the lower orders'; classes inferieures. Note that archaisms such as the last expressions can still be used ironically, or humorously, therefore put in inverted commas, that `the working class' still has some political resonance in Western Europe amongst the left, and even more so in Eastern Europe; though it may disappear in the tertiary sector, `proletariat' was always used mainly for its emotive effect, and now can hardly be used seriously, since the majorities in developed countries are property-owning. `The masses' and `the people' can be used positively and negatively, but again are more rarely used. `The masses' have become swallowed up in collocations such as 'mass media' and 'mass market'. Ironically, the referent of these terms is no longer poor, a toiler or a factory worker. The poor remain the out of work minority. The political terms have been replaced by la base, die Basis, the rank and file', `the grass roots', the bottom of the bureaucracies.
The obvious cultural words that denote leisure activities in Europe are the iational games with their lexical sets: cricket, bull-fighting, boule, petanque, iockey. To these must be added the largely En'Mish non-team games: tennis, ;nooker, squash, badminton, fives, and a large number of card-games, the ;ambling games and their lexical sets being French in casinos.
The political and social life of a country is reflected in its institutional terms. Where he title of a head of state (`President', `Prime Minister', `King') or the name of a )arliament (Assemblee Nationale, Camera dei Deputati or `Senate') are `transparent', hat is, made up of `international' or easily translated morphemes, they are hrough-translated (`National Assembly', `Chamber of Deputies'). Where the lame of a parliament is not 'readily' translatable (Brrrrdestug; ,Storting (Norway); tie1`rrt (Poland); l:iksdcrg (Sweden); lialuskrnrta (Finland); futcssct ~lsrael), it lias a -ecognised official translation for administrative documents (e.g., `German 7ederal Parliament' for Bundestag, `Council of Constituent States' for Bundesrat) )ut is often transferred for an educated readership (e.g., Bundestag) and glossed for i general readership (`West German Parliament'). A government inner circle is isually designated as a `cabinet' or a `council of ministers' and may informally be -eferred to by the name of the capital city. Some ministries and other political nstitutions and parties may also be referred to by their familiar alternative terms, .e., the name of the building -Elysee, Hotel Matignon, Palais Bourbon, `Pentagon', White House', Montecitorio, 'Westminster'- or the streets -'Whitehall', `Via delle 3otteghe Oscure' (Italian Communist Party), `(10) Downing Street' - where they are housed.
Names of ministries are usually literally translated, provided they are .ppropriately descriptive. Therefore `Treasury' becomes `Finance Ministry'; Home Office', `Ministry of the Interior'; 'attorney-general', `chief justice', or the ppropriate cultural equivalent; `Defence Ministry', `Ministry of National )efenee'. Translations such as `Social Domain' and `Exchange Domain' (Guinea) hould be replaced by `Social Affairs' and `Trade'.
When a -public body has a `transparent' name, say, Electricite de France or Les 'ostes et Tilecommunications, the translation depends on the `setting': in official Locuments, and in serious publications such as textbooks, the title is transferred nd, where appropriate, literally translated. Informally, it could be translated by a ultural equivalent, e.g., `the French Electricity Board' or `the Postal Services'.
Where a public body or organisation has an `opaque' name - say, Maison de la Culture, `British Council', `National Trust', `Arts Council', Goethe-Institut, `Privy Council' - the translator has first to establish whether there is a recognised translation and secondly whether it will be understood by the readership and is appropriate in the setting; if not, in a formal informative text, the name should be transferred, and a functional, culture-free equivalent given (Maison de la Culture, `arts centre'); such an equivalent may have to extend over a word-group: 'National Trust', organisation chargee de la conservation des monuments et parcs nationaux (britanniques); in some cases, a cultural equivalent may be adequate: `British Council', Aitiance franqaise, Goethe-Institut, but in all doubtful cases, the functional equivalent is preferable, e.g., `national organisation responsible for promoting English language and British culture abroad'; the description (e.g., the com­position and manner of appointment of the body) should only be added if the readership requires it; a literal translation or neologism must be avoided. If the informative text is informal or colloquial, it may not be necessary to transfer the organisation's name. The cultural (or, if this is non-existent, the functional) equivalent may be sufficient. For impact and for neatness, but not for accuracy, a TL cultural equivalent of an SL cultural term is always more effective than a culturally free functionzl equivalent but it may be particularly misleading for legal terms, depending on the context. ` "A" level' for the bac has all the warmth of a metaphor, but there are wide differences.
One assumes that any series of local government institutions and posts should be transferred when the terms are unique (region, deporternerct, arrondisse­ment, canton, commune) and consistency is required. `Mayor', rrtuire, Burgerrneister, sindaco translate each other, although their functions differ. Giunta (`junta') is usually transferred though, being an executive body usually elected from a larger council, `board' is the nearest English equivalent; this becomes junte in French, though used only for non-French institutions. Ironically, the caution about faux amis applies to `dictionary' rather than `encyclopaedia' words. Thus, `prefect', `secretary' and Conseil d'Etat (consiglio di stato) but not `tribunal' tend to translate each other, although their functions differ.
The intertranslatability of single words with Graeco-Latin morphemes extends through political parties to political concepts. Within the frame of right, centre and left, about twenty words make up the names of most of the political parties of Europe, East and West. Whilst concepts such as `liberalism' and `radicalism' each have a hazy common core of meaning, they are strongly affected by the political tradition of their countries, not to mention the confusion of ideas that either identify or polarise socialism and communism. Here the translator may have to explain wide conceptual differences (e.g., `the Italian Liberal Party is right wing', `the British - left of centre'; `the French right is liberal').
In general, the more serious and expert the readership, particularly of textbooks, reports and academic papers, the greater the requirement for trans­ference = not only of cultural and institutional terms, but of titles, addresses and words used in a special sense. In such cases, you have to bear in mind that the readership may be more or less acquainted with the source language, may only be reading your translation as they have no access to the original, may wish to contact the writer of the SL text, to consult his other works, to write to the editor or publisher of the original. Within the limits of comprehension, the more that is transferred and the less that is translated; then the closer the sophisticated reader can get to the sense of the original - this is why, when any important word is being used in a special or a delicate sense in a serious text, a serious translator, after attempting a translation, will add the SL word iftrackets, signalling his inability to find the right TL word and inviting the reader to envisage the gap mentally (e.g., any translation of Heidegger, Husserl, Gramsci). No wonder Mounin wrote that the only pity about a translation is that it is not the original. A translator's basic job is to translate and then, if he finds his translation inadequate, to help the reader to move a little nearer to the meaning.

Historical terms
Up, to now I have been discussing the translation of modern institutional terms. In the case of historical institutional terms, say, procureur-general, le Grand Siecle, l'Ancien Regime, Siecle des Lumieres, Anschluss, Kulturkampf, intendant, ispravnik, zemstvo, obshchina, duma, the first principle is not to translate them, whether the translation makes sense (is `transparent') or not (is `opaque'), unless they have generally accepted translations. In academic texts and educated writing, they are usually (e.g., all the above except Siecle des Lumieres, `the Age of Enlightenment') transferred, with, where appropriate; a functional or descriptive term with as much descriptive detail as is required. In popular texts, the transferred word can be replaced by the functional or descriptive term.
International terms
International institutional terms usually have recognised translations which are in fact through-translations, and are now generally known by their acronyms; thus `WHO', OMS (Organisation Mondiale de la Sante), WGO (Weltgesundhritsorganisa­tion); ILO, BIT (Bureau International du Travail), IAA (Internationales Arbeitsamt). In other cases, the English acronym prevails and becomes a quasi-internationalism, not always resisted in French (`UNESCO', `FAO', `UNRRA', `UNICEF').
Ironically, whilst there is a uniquely platitudinous international vocabulary of Marxism and communism which offers translation problems only in the case of a few writers like Gramsci, the only international communist organisations are CMEA (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance - Comecon), the Warsaw Pact, which appears to have no official organisation, and the International Bank for Economic Co-operation (Internationale Bank fur wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit - IBWZ). The others - WFTU (World Federation of Trade Unions - German WGB) and World Peace Council (German RWF) etc. - appear to have fallen into decline.
Religious terms
In religious language, the proselytising activities of Christianity, particularly the Catholic Church and the Baptists, are reflected in manifold translation (Saint­Siege, P(ipstliclter Stnltl). The language of' the other world religions tends to be transferred when it becomes of'1'L interest, the commonest words being natural­ised (`Pharisees'). American Bible scholars and linguists have been particularly exercised by cultural connotation due to the translation of similes of fruit and husbandry into languages where they are inappropriate.

Artistic terms
The translation of artistic terms referring to movements, processes and organisa­tions generally depends on the putative knowledge of the readership. For educated readers, `opaque', names such as `the Leipzig Geuandhaus' and `the Amsterdam Concertgebouw' are transferred, `the Dresden Staatskapelle' hovers between trans­ference and `state orchestra'; `transparent' names (`the Berlin', `the Vienna', `the London' philharmonic orchestras, etc. ) are translated. Names of buildings, museums, theatres, opera houses, are likely to be transferred as well as translated, since they form part of street plans and addresses. Many terms in art and music remain Italian, but French in ballet (e.g., fouette, pas de deux). Art nouveau in English and French becomes f ugendstil in German and stile liberty in Italian. The Bauhaus and Neue Sachlichkeit (sometimes `New Objectivity*), being opaque, are transferred but the various -isms are naturalised, (but usually tachisme) even though `Fauvism' is opaque. Such terms tend to transference when they are regarded as faits de civilisation, i.e., cultural features, and to naturalisation if their universality is accepted.
For `gestures and habits' there is a distinction between description and function which can be made where necessary in ambiguous cases: thus, if people smile a little when someone dies, do a slow hand-clap to express warm appreciation, spit as a blessing, nod to dissent or shake their head to assent, kiss their finger tips to greet or to praise, give a thumbs-up to signal OK, all of which occur in some cultures and not in others.
Summarising the translation of cultural words and institutional terms, I suggest that here, more than in any other translation problems, the most appropriate solution depends not so much on the collocations or the linguistic or situational context (though these have their place) as on the readership (of whom the three types - expert, educated generalist, and uninformed - will usually require three different translations) and on the setting. I have attempted to indicate the alter­natives below.

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