Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Translation as Cultural Transposition

Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Translation as Cultural Transposition

Article excerpt

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1 Introduction

The aim of the paper is to study different ways of using culture specific lexica and different methods of its translation. The paper examines to which extent and under which conditions a translator is able "to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work" (Benjamin 2008:82). As Brisset (2008:337) argues, "translation is a dual act of communication. It presupposes the existence, not of a single code, but of two distinct codes, the'source language' and the 'target language'. The fact that the two codes are not isomorphic creates obstacles for the translative operation. This explains why linguistic questions are the starting-point for all thinking about translation".

In some cases, the intrinsic quality of the text (Xie 2006:207) cannot be preserved without transposition of linguistic and cultural patterns or "culture units". The paper gives the examples of translating (or preserving) specific phrases and lexical items as the superficial markers of overlapping of different cultures, ethnicities, beliefs and values.

In the analysis of the translation procedures we will apply definitions of cultural information given by several authors. Chick (1999:5) comments that "When viewed as information, culture includes shared knowledge, behavioural patterns, material artefacts and may be characteristic of either small groups of individuals or of large aggregates of people". The first of the prerequisites which Durham (1991:188) sets in order to define units of culture is that the cultural unit "consists of information that actually or potentially guides behaviour". Galisson (1991:116) makes the difference between two types of culture: explicit, learned culture which consists of encyclopedic, learnable knowledge and implicit culture, common culture. The 'lexiculture' is defined as the entirety of culture-bound and frequent lexical items, which are more or less culture-loaded.2 In other words, 'lexiculture' is a collection of implicit knowledge, shared by all members of a linguistic community.

The signs of the "lexiculture", or more widely, the units of culture, can be used for different aims in the text. Translation strategies should respond to these aims. As "translation is a special kind of transfer, one of which is culturally determined, since culture forms a general framework within which any possible action is included" (Inigo Ros 2003:4), the paper aims to analyse translation strategies of source texts which contain different cultural references themselves.

It is well known that the translator must have perfect knowledge both of the source and the target cultures: 'Er muss bikulturell sein' (Reiss & Vermeer 1984:26) (Inigo Ros 2003:4). But, when the source text already contains a variety of cultural references from culture(s) other than the source culture, it is not easy either for the translator or for the reader of the target text to follow the multicultural references and to mediate the complicated and multiplied cultural transfers - primarily from the foreign culture(s) to the source text, and secondarily from the source to the target text.

In such cases, the role of foreign lexica and its transference to the target text is very important. Moreover, one of the groups of such lexical items is that of 'cultural words'. Despite the fact that there is no absolute agreement on defining the concept of 'cultural words',3 there is a general agreement that such words denote (at least) material objects which are characteristic for certain nations (i.e. for their customs, culture, social and historical development) (Vlahov & Florin 1980:47-140). Cultural words can also be connected to different phases of the social and historical development of a community (Kutz 1977:256). In other words, these lexical items belong to certain semantic fields.4

The treatment of untranslatable culture-specific words is one of the important questions in this paper. …

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