1. Introduction Introducing the topic



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1. Introduction


    1. Introducing the topic

In this thesis, I examine translation strategies applied to culture specific items (CSs), concentrating on expressions specific for a culture other than English and inserted foreign words (FWs), or elements of languages other than English, in novels written by English writing authors of Indian origin. To be able to outline some general rules about how these distinct kinds of items in this specific kind of texts is handled by translators, I investigate three Czech translations, made by different translators, of books written in English by Indian authors. The main objective of the thesis is to outline which are the factors that influence translators’ choice of strategies and the reasons for this.



There were several factors which influenced my choice of this topic. While much has been written about translating CSs from the language of their origin into the target language, it is not so for CSs coming from a different culture or for elements of other foreign languages used in the source text. Now, when English is the code of communication for people of very different cultural backgrounds and the languages influence each other faster than ever, a multi-lingual environment has been created; I find it interesting to investigate how translators cope with this linguistic situation. I decided to concentrate on Indian CSs and FWs since English is commonly used by writers from the subcontinent and since the Indian culture is distant and rather exotic for Czech readers and thus the Indian CSs and FWs require more attentions than for example those coming from a culture considerably close and generally well-known to the readers.

1.2. Terms specific to a different culture than English in English texts

Translating from one language into another breeds the problem of translating CSs from a culture where they are commonly understood into another culture where the concepts might be not known and thus there is no word available to refer to it, e.g. Baker’s example of Speaker at the House of Commons (Baker 21). However, the situation of CSs that I examine in my thesis differs in that the terms are not specific for the Anglophone culture, i.e. British or American, and thus not well-known to the British or American readership, but for Indian culture. Besides, the chosen texts reflect the influence of other languages as the characters of the books are not native speakers of English and the settings of the books are also outside the English-speaking world. In this respect, even for the British or American readers of the English original, these elements are striking as foreign, implying a foreign setting and giving the local color of a distant place to the text, which also needs to be reflected in the translations. Translators have at their disposal several strategies which they can apply to them; but before discussing the different translation procedures, I specify which the items in question are.
1.3. Cultural Categories
Newmark (95) divided CSs into the following categories (examples are from the selected texts):


  1. Ecology – flora, fauna, winds, plains, hills

  2. Material culture (artifacts)

  1. Food (samosas, chapati, roti, tikka masala, momos, paratha)

  2. Clothes (sari, mundu, dhoti)

  3. Houses and towns (haveli, gompa)

  4. Transport (rikshaw, tonga)
  1. Social culture – work and leisure (ayah, paan)


  2. Organisations, customs, activities, procedures, concepts

  1. Political and administrative (ICS, Muslim League, rani)

  2. Religious (bhajan, puja)

  3. Artistic (thangkhas)

5) Gestures and habits (namaste, namaskar)
Since the listed categories have direct relation to the setting of the book or the lifestyle of the characters, and as the selected books are set in India and most of their characters are Indian, these terms are specific of the Indian culture, even though the code of narration is English. The words belonging to these categories are referred to as CSs in this thesis, and if not explicitly stated as different (e.g. American Chinese in Desai’s novel), their home-culture is Indian. Beside these, there are also phrases, expressions or whole sentences in different languages inserted into the English texts with no or little relation to the culture; to these, I decided to refer as FWs in order to distinguish them from the culture-specific terms, as they have proved to have different functions in the texts and are usually handled differently by translators. This distinction is explained in more detail in the characteristics of different strategies (see 2.2., points 4) and 5)).

  1. Translation strategies in question

To sort the CSs and FWs according to the translation strategies applied to them, I first need to outline a suitable list of applicable strategies. There are also several possible categorizations of the strategies, thus I first comment on my choice of approaches to the categorization and my reasons for choosing these as opposed to other possible approaches; then, I briefly name the categories (Newmark’s and Baker’s) on which I based the final division; finally, I characterize each category from this final list in more detail and provide examples from the chosen texts with the focus on border cases.


2.1. Translating Culture
The final list of 9 translation strategies which are applied to CSs and FWs in the selected texts most often is based mainly on Newmark’s division of translation procedures (Newmark 103) and Baker’s examples of strategies used by professional translators (Baker 26). The reason why I did not adopt either of them fully is that they both deal with translation strategies (TSs) in general, whereas I only investigate the CSs and FWs; or more precisely, only terms specific for a culture different from English and elements of languages different from English. Having narrowed my focus in this way, I also had to adjust the list of strategies according to this. For this reason, some strategies mentioned in Newmark’s and Baker’s lists could not be applied at all, e.g. those commenting on non-equivalence or grammar structures or Baker’s translation by illustration; some are mentioned in both lists with only a slight difference in naming – these I simply adapted and named as it best suited my purposes, e.g. Baker’s d) and Newmark’s 1) refer to a very similar procedure, which I adopted as using a loan word with a further subdivision based on the nature of the explanation given, as this was also relevant for my work; and some procedures which I added to my list are not mentioned in either Newmark’s or Baker’s categorization, but were applied by the translators of selected texts: the nature of the texts where parts in other languages, e.g. Hindi, Malayalam, Nepali, are inserted leads to adding strategies like retaining the original (Hindi/Malayalam/Nepali...) phrase.

I also decided to base my own division mainly on Newmark’s and Baker’s lists because I needed categories which make it possible to focus on specific parts of the texts rather than whole text units and could be more easily applied only to chosen phenomenon (Indian CSs and FWs) than for example Chesterman’s (1997) or Hatim & Mason’s (1997) classifications of strategies. For the same reason, it would not be possible to base such an analysis on Tymoczko’s holistic approach to translation,

where instead of focusing primarily on the surface aspects of culture in a text, particularly the material aspects or customs of a culture as the occur in a localized and linear fashion, a translator begins by considering (however briefly) the entire scope of cultural underpinning that come into play in the specific source text being translated (Tymoczko 234).

This approach to translation of culture as such or of CSs as its manifestations is surely a useful strategy when translating a particular text, and as Tymoczko states, there is “[n]o doubt many translators do this on an intuitive level” (ibid), but for the purposes of my thesis, which is based on a quantitative comparison of translation strategies applied in different situations by different translators, and as the holistic approach is such a broad area aspects of which could hardly be expressed quantitatively, I decided to concentrate exclusively on the manifestations of the culture in the texts rather than on the culture as a whole.

Baker’s Strategies used by professional translators (Baker 26 – 42) are:


  1. Translation by a more general word (superordinate)

  2. Translation by a more neutral/less expressive word

  3. Translation by cultural substitution

  4. Translation using a loan word or loan word plus explanation

  5. Translation by paraphrase using a related word

  6. Translation by paraphrase using unrelated words

  7. Translation by omission

  8. Translation by illustration

Newmark’s Translation Procedures (Newmark 103) are:



1) Transference

2) Cultural Equivalent

3) Neutralization (Functional/ Descriptive Equivalent)

4) Literal translation

5) Label

6) Naturalization

7) Componential Analysis

8) Deletion

9) Couplet

10) Accepted standard translation

11) Paraphrase, gloss, notes, etc.

12) Classifier


Other strategies mentioned in the chapter are: Synonymy, Through-Translation/Calque, Shift or transposition, Modulation, Compensation, Reduction and Expansion, Equivalence and Adaptation.


2.2. Possible strategies to translate CSs and FWs

1. Using a loan word (without any additional information)

2. Neutralization (functional or descriptive equivalent)

3. Omission

4. Retaining the original (phrases, sentences...)

5. Using a loan word + gloss

6. Using a loan word + explanation in the text

7. Retaining the original + translation in the glossary

8. Using a loan word + in-text explanation + gloss

9. Transference of brand or proper names with additional information

The first four points are the most commonly used strategies; the next four points are the most frequent couplets/triplets, i.e. combinations of procedures applied at the same time; and the last point refers to a strategy often used to make a brand and proper names, a distinct kind of CSs, more understandable to Czech readers. Points 5) to 9) actually all refer to different kinds of explicitation, “the technique of making explicit in the target text information that is implicit in the source text” (Routledge 80). On the importance of this phenomenon in this particular type of translation, I comment later (see 3.4.). The individual categories are defined as follows:
1. Using a loan word (without any additional information)

“In regional novels and essays [...], cultural words are often transferred to give local color, to attract the reader, to give a sense of intimacy between the text and the reader...” (Newmark 82) This procedure is applied when for example a concept is unknown in the target language (TL) culture and thus the TL imports with the introduction of the concept the name from the source language (SL). When they are already commonly understood by the TL users, the loan words can appear in texts without any explanations or glosses or sometimes it is simply clear from the context what does the loan word refer to. Typical examples of this procedure are: sárí, rikša, mahárádža, karí, sáhib, etc.

2. Neutralization (functional or descriptive equivalent)

“Functional equivalent...applied to cultural words, requires the use of a culture-free word, sometimes with a new specific term, it therefore neutralizes or generalizes the SL word...” (Newmark 83) In the Czech translations, general culture-free words are sometimes used where there were CSs in the original, for example: “...soft white muslin dhoti” (God 103) – “...měkkou bílou mušelínovou bederní roušku” (Bůh 108); or even for FWs (although this is much less common – it only appears in Pešinová’s translation): “There was... even a murga-murgi in a cage under the cart. They were a foreign breed and that hen laid more eggs than any other murgi I have known” (Inheritance 60). – “Měli jsme s sebou... dokonce, v kleci pod vozem, i kohouta a slepici. Byla to cizí odrůda, nikdy v životě jsem neviděl žádnou slepici , která by tolik nesla” (Dědictví 69).

3. Omission

“If the meaning conveyed by a particular item or expression is not vital enough to the development of the text to justify distracting the reader with lengthy explanations, translators can and often do simply omit translating the word or expression in question” (Baker 40). For example in this description of a situation: “...the music would have been Baby Elephant Walk from Hatari. Or colonel Bogey’s March” (God 97) – “...a hudba hrála Procházku slůněte. Nebo Pochod plukovníka Bogeyho” (Bůh 103), the name of the film from which the song comes is not mentioned in the translation: it is not very well-known to the Czech readership and as the name of the song is translated, it is hardly possible to identify it anyways. Moreover, what is more important here is to retain the atmosphere of expectation which is depicted in this scene.

4. Retaining the original (phrases, sentences...)

Since the code of the original narrative is English, but the setting is of non-English speakers, there are many instances of local expressions infusing into English. It is easy to recognize a case of retaining the original when it is applied to a whole non-English sentence which stands out of the English text as well as from the Czech version, but it is sometimes difficult to decide whether to classify a foreign expression in the Czech translation as a loan word or rather a retained original phrase or expression when it is not a whole sentence.

I decided according to the following criteria: if the expression has an English equivalent which is nevertheless purposefully not used, and if the expression left in the original language is used only once in a particular situation or as a specific comment of a person, I regard it a belonging to this category, e.g. “Ay! Eda cherukka!” (God 101) – “Aj! Edá čerukka!” (Bůh 107) This differs considerably from instances when new expressions mentioned in 1), for example words like sari, roti, chapati or riksha which have no English equivalents are established as part of the vocabulary of the book and used several times throughout the story. Thus the difference is not so much in the nature of the translational process as in the nature of the expression in the original which nonetheless has an effect on how the translator finally decides to handle the phrase. I decided to treat these two categories separately since they usually differ in their functions in the text, too (see 3.3.4.2.), and this has important implications for the choice of the TS.

It is also notable that these original phrases are transcribed into English from languages using a different alphabet; and in the Czech translations, they appear transcribed directly from the original language (Hindi/Nepali/Malayalam...) into Czech following the rules of transcription into Czech, thus they differ from the English transcriptions, for example: “Inquilab Zindabad! Thozhilali Ekta Zindabad!” (God 66) – “Inkiláb Zindábád! Tořílá Ékata Zindábád!” (Bůh 74)

5. Using a loan word + Gloss

“Translation using a loan word or loan word plus explanation...is particularly common in dealing with culture-specific items...” (Baker 34) As mentioned above (points 1) and 4)), this strategy is used for CSs which are part of the authors vocabulary, but not very commonly known among the readership of the TL, so that it is helpful to give the readers an explanation of the expression at the end of the book. It is also a useful way of avoiding sometimes clumsy explanations within the text, especially if the expression requires a longer, comprehensive definition. Examples of such loan words could be maulví, kasaundí, samózy (Děti); báppa, mundu, món (Bůh); or huzúr, rótí or tikká masála (Dědictví).


6. Using a loan word + explanation in the text

Where possible, the additional information should be inserted within the text, since this does not interrupt the reader’s flow of attention... However, its disadvantage is that it blurs the distinction between the text and the translator’s contribution, and it cannot be used for lengthy additions (Newmark 92).

As the length of such an explanation is limited, this strategy is mainly applied when explaining loan words that are less important for general understanding the text, or those which can be explained briefly and easily, for example: “Huge haveli like a palace” (Inheritance 56) – “V haveli, velkém domě s patiem, obrovském jako palác” (Dědictví 65); or: “There was still trade for the horse-drawn tongas, but it was dwindling...”(Children 49) – “O tongy, lehké dvoukolové vozíky tažené koňmi, byl sice stále ještě zájem, ale i ten zvolna upadal” (Děti 72). “Once explained, the loan word can then be used on its own; the reader can understand it and is not distracted by further lengthy explanations.” (Baker 34)

7. Retaining the original + translation in the glossary

The only difference between 7) and 4) is in providing translation in the glossary of the phrases or sentences which are uttered in a foreign language (Malayalam/Hindi/ Nepali) in the English original, thus giving the readers of the Czech version additional information which is not available to those speaking only English (when there are no glossaries in the original English novels, which is the case of the chosen books), but is only available to those who have mastered both English and the other language in question. Examples: “Onner. Runder. Mooner.” (God 64) – “Onnu. Randu .Múnnu.” (Bůh 72) + “malajálamská číslovka jedna, dva, tři” in the glossary; or: “Hup! Hup! Poda Patti!” (God 90) – “Jedeš! Jedeš! Pódá patti!” (Bůh 96) + “táhni, psisko” in the glossary. The difference between points 5) and 7) reflects the difference between points 1) and 4): these are also expressions or whole sentences uttered in a foreign language, but with little relation to the Indian culture as such, used only in a specific situation in the book; notably, almost always in direct speech (there was only one exception in the selected samples when it was not the case: on page 67 in Dědictví ztráty).

8. Using a loan word + in-text explanation + gloss

This is the only case of a triplet in my table, it combines three strategies: translating a CS by a loan word, providing a short explanation or specification within the text, and adding an explanatory entry in the glossary. Examples of applying this triplet are: “his lunchtime parathas” (Inheritance 51) – “se smaženými plackami parátha k obědu” (Dědictví 60) + in the glossary: “parátha – placka vyrobená z celozrnné mouky a osmažená na ghí, která se většinou plní...” (Dědictví 340); or: “Hartal! Which is to say, literally speaking, a day of mourning, of stillness, of silence” (Children 33). – “Hartál! Den klidu! Což znamená, doslova řečeno, den smutku, nehybnosti, ticha” (Děti 48). + in the glossary: “hartál (hind.), všeobecná stávka, zastavení práce” (Děti 691). Notable is the considerably higher level of explicitation in the Czech version, as demonstrated by the use of this triplet, if compared with the original.


9. Transference of brand or proper names with additional information

Transference of brand or proper names with additional information is a possible way of dealing with brand or proper names which have a significant meaning in their language. According to Baker and Malmkjaer, this is an example of pragmatic explicitation:


Pragmatic explicitations of implicit cultural information are dictated by differences between cultures: members of the target language cultural community may not share aspects of what is considered general knowledge within the source language culture and in such cases, translators often need to include explanations in translations... a translator might for instance write ‘the river Maros’ for Maros... (Routledge 83)

The real names of products and proper names are generally transferred; but as opposed to Indian readers, who are familiar with them (but probably not American and British readers of the original), readers of the translation are given additional information about the products and names in question, e.g.: “The vehicles paused and quickly the crates were unloaded – Teacher’s, Old Monk, Gilby’s, Gymkhana” (Inheritance 55) – “...vozy zastavily, posádka rychle vyložila bedny s lahvemi známých značek - Teacher’s, Old Monk, Gilby’s, Gymkhána” (Dědictví 64); or: “...along with a chunky Ganesh” (Inheritance 50) – “vedle zavalité sošky slonního bůžka Ganéši” (Dědictví 59).

Similarly as in the distinction between categories 4) and 5), the decisive factor for distinguishing translating by a loan word plus an explanation and transferring a brand or proper name while providing additional information was not the nature of the strategy but rather of the original word itself. Brand and proper names are granted a separate category because they are a distinct type of CSs – I comment on implications of their nature for the translation in the analysis (see 3.3.4.1.).
3. Analysis
3.1. Methodology

My analysis is based on the comparison of selected parts of Czech translations, by different translators, of three books written in English by Indian writers: Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss. I extract all CSs or FWs from a selected sample of each book, the length of which is adjusted according to the density of CSs and FWs, so that each book provides 24 to 37 examples; classify them according to the categories introduced above (see Appendices 1 – 3); and then count how often each TS is applied, which I use to make a table of quantitative representations of each translator’s use of each strategy (see 3.3.) which reveals what the most common strategies are and how the three translations differ. Then I examine the CSs and FWs to which the same strategy was applied, the common features of the translations and their differences, and finally conclude by outlining a list of factors which come in question when choosing appropriate TS to be applied in this type of writing.

Although the analysis is based on the division of strategies into clearly defined categories, there are inevitably several sources of possible bias of the analysis of which I am aware because the translation could also be affected by other factors than those examined. The main possible sources of bias are:

1) Density of CSs and FWs in each of the books differs: in the abstract from Desai’s book, the CSs and FWs are four times more frequent than in Roy’s; and the number of examples from the text also differs. To avoid the bias caused by this condition, I provided the information on how often each strategy was used in real numbers and in percentages.

2) Once established words are repeated with different frequency in each book, for example, the expression Mon appears several times on few pages, the expression Mol is included in the way a girl is almost always addressed, thus although readers are reminded of the Indian setting on almost every page, only few examples appear in the table.



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