by Maria Rotger

Translation can be defined as an activity:

  1. historically defined as an art

  2. involving the transfer of a source language (L1) into a target language (L2)

  3. which is also framed within a different culture that conditions it

Implications of cultural translation go further than crossing between languages; it also crosses cultures. Therefore, cultural reference points are essential for transmitting our message effectively and faithfully.

Translation and localization

A translator’s work is not the result of magic, nor is it creating a perfect machine that can replace human work.

Instead, it is a meditative reflection on the original text that takes into account linguistic and cultural aspects such as:

The translation is a complex and compromised activity, as the translator sometimes comes up against non-translatable aspects, such as:

Implications of cultural translation meaning

Therefore, a translator must be aware of the implications of cultural translation and certain cultural aspects when translating and make a rational assessment of the most appropriate strategy for efficiently conveying the message of the original language.

However, what is culture from a translator’s point of view?

“The way of life and its manifestations peculiar to a community using a particular language as its means of expression”

And regardless of whether we more or less agree with these authors, we can state that culture and language are inseparable.

Knowledge of the translation’s audience

Furthermore, the translator should be aware of the knowledge that their readers or audience (in the case of simultaneous translation) may possess and how this determines the implications of cultural translation.

Because some of the cultural references we refer to are additional classifications such as those used by Newmark:

And we will now provide some practical examples, taking into account various texts with different languages and cultures, due to our interest in highlighting the difficulty of translation, not in terms of grammar or syntax but rather on a linguistic level.

Therefore, we would like to focus on examples of something that we can all understand: food. Newmark (1988: 97) views food as:

“The most important expression of natural culture; food terms are subject to the widest variety of translation procedures.”

Which let’s us think about the expression pâtisseries tunisiennes:

  1. The translation will not be complicated if we have cultural reference knowledge as readers or receivers.
  2. However, the case may be that this expression may seem foreign or alien to the speaker of a foreign language without this prior knowledge.
  3. The translator’s work looks for an equivalent expression in the target language and culture.
  4. This task will involve assessing different possibilities ➤ For instance, can we translate it as “cake” or “pastries” in English or Spanish as “pastas tunecinas”?

  Also, another example is the difficulty translators sometimes have when working with an eponym, that is to say, the name of a person that denominates a geographical place where wine is produced, such as bouteilles de Sidi Brahim.

  1. How can we translate this to obtain an equivalent expression if the reader has no cultural knowledge?
  2. The translator can use a neutral means, such as “inexpensive Algerian wine.”

  Let’s analyze another example, which would be the expression Chez l’Arabe.

  1. Not only is it necessary to take into account the origin, “Arab”
  2. but also the notion that “Chez l’Arabe” is an always-open place where you can find almost anything you are looking for.
  3. How can we maintain the cultural and geographic reference if our receivers do not have the prior cultural baggage or experience?
  4. Therefore, an “Arab shop” should be explained in the translation to consider a cultural equivalent.

  And yet another example, how do we translate Les Loukoums?

  1. We can translate it by keeping the original word or using a well-known term.
  2. In the first instance, the information can be interpreted by a community of people familiar with oriental customs, specifically those of Turkey and Greece.
  3. In France, for example, loukoum is a word that has been integrated into the French language from North African countries.
  4. The translator must search for an equivalent word in the target language and culture in the second case.

We could translate this expression as “Turkish Delight” or even paraphrase the phrase “Arab Turkish Delight,” as bought in Turkish shops or stores that differ substantially from the shops with fixed opening hours; for example, in France, England, Spain, and many other countries worldwide.

Main references

James, Kate. “Cultural Implications for Translation.” Translation Journal. Volumen 6 October 2002
Newmark, P. A Textbook of Translation. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1988
Vermeer, H. “Skopos and Commission in Translational Activity.”
In Venuti, L. The Translation Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 1989


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