Translation is a kind of activity which inevitably involves at least two languages and two cultural traditions – Gideon Toury
Translators permanently face the problem of how to treat the cultural aspects implicit in source a text and of finding the most appropriate technique of successfully conveying these aspects in the target language.
The cultural implications for translation may take several forms ranging from lexical content and syntax to ideologies and ways of life in a given culture. The translator also has to decide on the importance given to certain cultural aspects and to what extent it is necessary or desirable to translate them into the target language.
The Importance of Culture in Translation
Culture is the way of life and its manifestations that are peculiar to a community that uses a particular language as its means of expression.
The notion of culture is essential to consider the implications for translation and, despite the differences in opinion as to whether language is part of the culture or not, the two notions appear to be inseparable. Discussing the problems of correspondence in translation, Eugene A. Nida, an outstanding linguist, one of the founders of the modern discipline of Translation Studies, confers equal importance to both linguistic and cultural differences between the source language and the target language and concludes that “differences between cultures may cause more severe complications for the translator than make differences in language structure.
For every translated sentence, the translator must be able to decide on the importance of its cultural context, what the phrase means, not necessarily what it literally means, and convey that meaning in a way which makes sense not only in the target language but also in the context of the target culture.
Translation and Culture: Literal and Contextual Meaning
Many institutions and practices exist in one culture and don’t subsist in other cultures. Deeply held belief systems, even commitments to truth vary from culture to culture. Each of these unique culturally based psychological entities is associated with words that have meaning in one language that is distinct to that language and not duplicated in other languages. How would those unique features of culture be translated? Only someone steeped in the cultures of both source language and target language can hope to interpret.
General cultural implications for translation
Language and culture may thus be seen as being closely related, and both aspects must be considered for adaptation. When considering the translation of cultural words and notions, there are two opposing methods: transference and componential analysis.
The idea of transference method lies in the technique of saving all the local color, keeping cultural names and concepts.
In opposition, a componential analysis is the most accurate translation procedure, which excludes the culture and highlights the message.
How to avoid cultural mistranslations
In order to prevent misunderstandings, translators have to look out for the lexical content and syntax, as well as ideologies, value systems and ways of life in a given culture – translators need to know their audience in both languages and also consider the variants of the target language, like European French and Canadian French, among other things.
There are a variety of cultural elements to take into consideration when starting a translation. For example, the name of a company or a product may have a damaging impact on its success. When rolling out a global product marketing or branding campaign, it is always important to verify the connotation of the product name in a foreign language.
Humor may also be a problem as the target audience may not appreciate or even understand it.
The style of the language and the target audience have to be studied because the grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary will be different if the audience is, for instance, college students, or conversely if a text is targeted at an audience of older business professionals.
Pictures, symbols, and colors are essential cultural factors too. Indeed, some photos, images, symbols, and colors may have negative connotations in some countries. For example, white is usually associated with mourning in Japan while in the UK, among others, grief would be denoted by the colour black; icons used in computing are sometimes different like the icon for “Mail” that is represented by a mailbox – but all the mailboxes don’t look the same in every country.
Among pictures, for example, even maps can have a cultural or political implication. For example, the depiction of the disputed area of Kashmir between India and Pakistan can sometimes cause a problem with the target audience.
Preferences and prejudices may be a problem since the social context is different depending on the country. Translation and linguistic expression always have to be viewed within the broader societal and cultural environment.
Material culture as expressed by food, for example, is always an accurate reflection of a national culture. Translating food terminology can be done in a high number of ways, and sometimes the translation may lose some of its true meaning.
Gestures, habits, traditions, as well as cultural references, have to be known by translators to convey a cultural equivalent in the target language correctly.
Taboos and Value Differences
Deeply held restrictions in one culture can be completely neutral in another culture. A translation must be sensitive to the moral, spiritual values associations of the words and symbols in the language to find meaning equivalents. The values dimension is where some of the worst translation confoundings take place.
Culture may thus be a source of difficulties for translators. Beyond their linguistic expertise, they need to have a thorough understanding of the culture of the source language as well as that of the target language. At times, a text with cultural implications may lose some meaning in translation or information may have to be added because it is impossible to communicate all the levels of meaning that a cultural reference may imply.
Culture gives language different contexts. The same words passed from one culture to another obtain slightly or radically different meanings. Sometimes those meaning differences represent slight or intense value differences that could be critical in translations.
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