Cultural Elements in Translation The Indian Perspective

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Cultural Elements in Translation The Indian Perspective

مُساهمة من طرف SADOUN في الأربعاء 30 مارس 2011 - 21:51

One language cannot express the meanings
of another; instead, there is a distinction between the meanings built in and the meanings
that must be captured and expressed. In this sense, different languages predispose their
speaker to think differently, i.e., direct their attention to different aspects of the

Translation is therefore not simply a
matter of seeking other words with similar meaning but of finding appropriate ways of
saying things in another language. Different languages, then, may use different linguistic
forms. But these forms are only one of the aspects of the difference between the two
language systems.

Culture and Translation
Cultural meanings are intricately woven
into the texture of the language. The creative writer's ability to capture and project
them is of primary importance for, this should be reflected in the translated work.

Caught between the need to capture the
local color and the need to be understood by an audience outside the cultural and lingual
situation, a translator has to be aware of two cultures.

One of the main goals of literary
translation is to initiate the target-language reader into the sensibilities of the
source-language culture.

Some problems
The process of transmitting cultural
elements through literary translation is a complicated and vital task. Culture is a
complex collection of experiences which condition daily life; it includes history, social
structure, religion, traditional customs and everyday usage. This is difficult to
comprehend completely. Especially in relation to a target language, one important question
is whether the translation will have any readership at all, as the specific reality being
portrayed is not quite familiar to the reader.

We shall discuss some of the problems a
translator encounters while translating a text from one language to another in the Indian

A name is a linguistic cultural element,
and an author uses it for its associative value. It resists translation; therefore its
evocative value is lost.

In the Indian culture, people show
respect to their elders by addressing them in plural. A simple he/she cannot be
substituted, because then the idea behind the use of plural address would be lost. So, in
addressing an elder person, either choice-retaining the plural form or replacing it by a
simple "you"-will lead to ambiguity.

It seems artificial here for family
members to greet one another with "good morning," "have a nice day,"
etc., to apologe, or to express gratitude by saying "thank you."

Regarding social relationships, most
Indians used to live with their extended families. A need to address each relative arose.
For this reason, there are different words in all Indian languages to refer to each
relation. There are words to address a wife's mother or father, a wife's sister or
brother, a husband's sister or brother, a mother's sister or brother, and so on. This
concept(practice?) of extended family living together is unheard of in western countries;
therefore, the English language lacks the corresponding terms.

One may say that this extended-family
lifestyle keeps many family values alive. In some texts, awareness of the society's or the
family's values must be stressed; the linguistic manifestations of these values cannot be
translated into a language where the audience is unfamiliar with these values.

Dress code or ornaments used and the
symbols behind each of them also pose a problem for a translator. Here some of the
ornaments are meant for only a woman whose husband is alive. A widow has certain
restrictions. This idea of widowhood is non-existent in western countries. The pain behind
this widowhood cannot be conveyed to such an audience.

Regarding food habits, the very flavor
behind a food or its significance is untranslatable to an audience who has never heard of
it. For instance, certain foods are prepared only during certain festivals, and such foods
remind Indian readers of the season or some religious story. But this is not experienced
by an audience of a different culture.

Customs and tradition are part of a
culture. Be it a marriage or a funeral, be it a festival or some vows, the story and the
significance or hidden symbolism behind it become a stumbling block for a translator. For
instance, in a Christian marriage, the exchange of kisses is part of the ceremony. In an
Indian context, this would be totally inappropriate! Even expressing feelings in public is
outrageous here.

Beliefs and feelings change from culture
to culture. The color white may represent purity and black evil in the Indian context, but
it may not be the same in another culture. What is considered a good omen, whether an
event, an animal or a bird, may not symbolize the same thing in another culture.

Religious elements, myths, legends, and
the like are major components of any culture. They present major hurdles in translating a
text. This sensitive issue demands the translator's full attention.

Lastly, geographical and environmental
elements are also part of one's culture. For instance, snow is a part of the Eskimos'
life. There are different words to identify different kinds of snow in their language. In
India, people have no idea of snow, and there are no words to describe different kinds of
snow. Another example: the Chinese language has different words for different types of
ants; in the Indian languages all kinds of ants are just ants!

Cultural transfer requires a
multi-pronged approach. It is concerned with the author's relationship to his subject
matter and with the author's relationship to his reader. These should be reflected in a
good translation. The translator has to transmit this special cultural quality from one
language to another.

Most translations are intended to serve,
however imperfectly, as a substitute for the original, making it available to people who
cannot read the language in which it is written. This imposes a heavy responsibility on
the translator.

Awareness of history is an essential
requirement for the translator of a work coming from an alien culture. Thorough knowledge
of a foreign language, its vocabulary, and grammar is not sufficient to make one competent
as a translator. One should be familiar with one's own culture and be aware of the
source-language culture before attempting to build any bridge between them.

If the reality being represented is not
familiar to the audience, the translation stumbles and becomes difficult to read. The
translator would have to consider whether similar or parallel language resources exist in
the literary subculture of the target language. In translations of a culture rich in
literature, the question of relevance to the projected audience is more significant to the
translator than to the original author. A translator has to look for equivalents in terms
of relevance in the target language and exercise discretion by substituting rather than
translating certain elements in a work. Even with all the apparent cultural hurdles, a
translator can create equivalence by the judicious use of resources.

Translation is an intellectual activity
that will continue to thrive, deriving inspiration from fiction in the source language and
passing on such inspiration, or at least appreciation, to target-language readers.

As Goethe observes: "There are two
principles of translation. The translator can bring to his fellow countrymen a true and
clear picture of the foreign author and foreign circumstances, keeping strictly to the
original; but he can also treat the foreign work as a writer treats his material, altering
it after his own tastes and convictions, so that it is brought closer to his fellow
countrymen, who can then accept it as if it were an original work."

By Ms. C. Thriveni

This article was originally published at Translation Journal (

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