Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Translating Contextualized Arabic Euphemisms into English: Socio-Cultural Perspective

Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Translating Contextualized Arabic Euphemisms into English: Socio-Cultural Perspective

Article excerpt


This study examines the role context plays in determining the translation strategies pursued by translators of Arabic euphemisms into English. Due to different cultural backgrounds, adherence to the employment of euphemism in a social context may differ in both Arabic and English. While some situations call for the use of euphemism in one culture, the other culture finds no point in using such euphemisms for such situations; preserving the original Arabic euphemisms when rendered into English in this case could lead to misunderstanding and may deprive the Source Language (SL) from a cultural trait. The study derives evidence from 11 Arabic euphemistic expressions taken from five literary masterpieces written by the Egyptian novelist and Noble Prize winner Najib Mahfouz, and it looks into the English translation of these euphemisms. The present study attempts to advance the proposition that Arabic euphemisms in their context exhibit fluctuating, unstable meaning, which emanates from various contextual factors such as speakers, addressees, shared knowledge and background information, and hence these factors combined dictate on translators the chosen translation strategy.

Key words: Euphemism; Translation; Translation strategies; Arabic; Context

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)


Translating from Arabic into English abounds in problematic areas. This study touches upon euphemism as a cultural and linguistic gap and as one of the most problematic of these areas. In fact, calls such as that of Casagrande (1954, p.335) for the treatment of translation as a 'primarily cultural act' highlight so intrinsic a relationship between culture and translation. Culture poses a problem to the translation process because of a 'cultural gap' between the Orient and the Occident, a gap to which a number of theorists attribute the processes of manipulation, subversion, and violence the Arabic source text undergoes. Venuti (1996, p.196) succinctly argues that the violence of translation "resides in its very purpose and activity: the reconstruction of the foreign text in accordance with values, beliefs, and representations that pre-exist in the target language." Venuti's notion underpins the hypothesis with which this study is mainly concerned: processes such as manipulation, domestication, appropriation, and, more severely, substitution and subversion could create a demeaned, distorted stereotypical image of the Arabs' social, cultural values and beliefs.

This study is mainly concerned with the translatability of contextualized Arabic euphemisms into English, and shows how this translation activity could be seen as a source of stereotyping in Arabic/ English translation. It identifies and discusses cultural-gap-related problems associating translating Arabic euphemisms into English, taking into account their prospective sequels. This study does not only pinpoint and attempt to demonstrate the fact that processes such as manipulation, domestication and appropriation wreak havoc on the Arabic original, causing it to lose its cultural values in favor of the English text, but it also provides room for the subjective translator to replace and substitute with too malevolent an intention that would influence the target (Western) readers with denigrated views of the Arab culture and its people. In his article "The Cultural Encounters in Translating from Arabic", Faiq (2004, p.5) makes it clear that an attitude as such "stems from the one-sided still current stereotypical ideology based on universalism, unitarism, and the homogeneity of human nature." In fact, this politicized translation ideology also serves to marginalize, if not to vicariously exclude, the unique traits of the Arab societies and their "discursive traditions expressed in their literature", as Faiq adds. Therefore, this study could also be viewed as an attempt to bridge the cultural gap and to lessen culture-related stereotypical exchanges between the Western community and the Arab/Muslim one; it promotes a true, objective, rather than stereotypical, image of the other. …

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