Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Translation of Cultural Terms: Possible or Impossible?

Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Translation of Cultural Terms: Possible or Impossible?

Article excerpt

1 Defining culture and culture-bound terms

Translation is seen nowadays as an important human action and the translator as a mediator between cultures. That is why many scholars have asked how or if culture can be eventually translated into another language. Translation is always placed at the core of the intercultural aspects, so that the study of the translation goes along with the cultural studies. Consequently, cultural aspects of translation have emerged into a series of theories about cultural translation, about its very existence in terms of cultural identity of a specific community. From the beginning, we may ask what culture is. This is not an easy question to answer. In Duranti's opinion, culture is "something learned, transmitted, passed down from one generation to the next, through human actions, often in the form of face-to-face interaction, and, of course, through linguistic communication" (Duranti 1997:24, cited in Thanasoulas 2001). From this definition, we can observe that language plays a very important role in a culture. Pierre Bourdieu has emphasized the importance of language as a system determined by socio-political processes. In his opinion, language exists as a linguistic habitus (1990:52), which implies not only a particular system of words and grammatical rules, but also a symbolic power of a particular way of communication, with specific patters for every community (particular systems of classifications, specialized lexicons, metaphors, reference forms, etc.). To speak means to choose a particular way of viewing the world, a particular way of establishing contacts. According to Bourdieu, in a wider sense, we are members of a community of ideas and practices through the language we speak. Therefore, language is linked to culture, as a link between thought and behaviour. Duranti observes that

words carry in them a myriad possibilities for connecting us to other human beings, other situations, events, acts, beliefs, feelings... The indexicality of language is thus part of the constitution of any act of speaking as an act of participation in a community of language users. (Duranti 1997:46)

According to Goodenough (1981:62, cited in Thanasoulas 2001), culture is:

* The ways in which people have organized their experience of the real world so as to give it structure as a phenomenal world of forms, their precepts and concepts.

* The ways in which people have organized their experience of their phenomenal world so as to give it structure as a system of cause and effect relationships, that is, the propositions and beliefs by which they explain events and accomplish their purposes.

* The ways in which people have organized their experiences so as to structure their world in hierarchies of preferences, namely, their value or sentiment systems.

* The ways in which people have organized their experience of their past efforts to accomplish recurring purposes into operational procedures for accomplishing these purposes in the future, that is, a set of "grammatical" principles of action and a series of recipes for accomplishing particular ends.

Moreover, for Goodenough (1963:258-259, cited in Thanasoulas 2001) culture "consists of standards for deciding what is, standards for deciding what can be, standards for deciding how one feels about it, standards for deciding what to do about it, and standards for deciding how to go about it". Another translation scholar, Peter Newmark, defines 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" (1988:94). Consequently, each community has its own particular cultural patterns. The translator's role becomes clearly a transcultural mediator between communities. Newmark sustains (1988:95) that language is not a component of culture, whereas Hans Vermeer remarks (2000:222) that language is part of a culture. In these terms, Newmark says that, in Vermeer's opinion, it would be impossible to translate cultural elements. …

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