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Alborz Higher Education Institute

A Thesis Proposal Submitted as a Partial Fulfillment of the

Requirements for the Degree of MA in Translation Studies

Translation Strategies of Culture-Specific Items:

A Case Study of “Dayee Jan Napoleon”

Proposed By:
Hossein Abbasi Hosseini

Summer 2010

Background and Purpose

Theories of translation have always tended to revolve around the two

poles of ‘literal’ (or word-for-word) and ‘free’ (or sense-for sense) translation.

When Newmark(1981) advocates literal word-for-word translation, but adds the

qualification, “provided that equivalent effect is secured” (P.39), he is touching

on a concept fundamental to the thinking of many translation scholars

concerned with bridging the cultural gap between ST and TT. Later, particularly

in the mid 20th century, there has been increasing interest in the question of

translators’ attitudes to cultural hegemonies when cultural features and values

expressed in a Source Text (ST)are different from the translator’s, and target

reader’s, . But here there is a question remains to be answered, which is how to

translate these cultural factors.

Lawrence Venuti’s work (1995) has focused on the dichotomy between

what he terms ‘domesticating’ and ‘foreignizing’ translation. ‘Domestication’

implies here that the translator’s aim is to give the readers of the Target Text

(TT) the illusion that it was originally written in the Target Language (TL),

whereas ‘foreignizing’ translation aims to challenge the TL reader by

confronting the dissimilarities between Source and Target Language cultures.

This dichotomy has also proposed by other scholars under different names. In

Schreiber’s (1993) outline of different methods of translating, one of the


contrasts drawn between foreignizing and naturalizing translation. Schreiber

(1993) explains that difference is that in making a foreignizing translation the

translator believes the reader expects it to read like a translation, where as the

reader expects a naturalizing translation to red like an original. A further

distinction is between linguistic versus cultural foreignization / naturalization.

Linguistic foreignization / naturalization has to do with the degree to which the

translation confirms to stylistic and idiomatic norms of the target language,

while cultural foreignization / naturalization is concerned with translation of

culture-specific aspects of source text. He points out that in practice a

combination such as linguistic naturalization and cultural foreignization may be


According to Venuti (2000) there are two different groups concerning

literary translation: one side is for “foreignization”, namely, the translated text

should be source language or source text oriented; the other side is for

“domestication” which is target language or target reader oriented. However,

Baker (2000) seems to put more emphasis on study of translation ontology such

as translation principles, translation criteria, translation processes and

translation methods, etc. According to aforementioned statements when certain

translation criteria are defined, more efforts should be made to study various

objective and subjective factors that may affect translation activities so as to

make the discipline of translation more normative and scientific.


Statement of the Problem

One of the most challenging tasks for all translators is how to render

culture-bound elements in literary texts into a foreign language. Indeed, not

much attention has been paid to this problem by translation theorist. According

to Newmark "Translation is a craft consisting in the attempt to replace a written

message and/or statement in one language by the same message and/or

statement in another language" (1981, p. 7). However, with culturally-bound

words this is often impossible. Indeed, the meaning which lies behind this kind

of expressions is always strongly linked to the specific cultural context where

the text originates or with the cultural context it aims to re-create.

Behind Venuti’s (2000) unease at the prevalence of ‘domesticating’

translation in the English speaking world is a suspicion that it reflects an attitude

of superiority, even colonialism, towards cultures whose language is not


Bearing in mind the differences between ST and TT audiences, not only

in their previous knowledge of the subject matter, but also in their relationship

with and attitude to the events referred to in the text, in this dissertation the

researcher addresses the extent to which such culture-specific items should be

either domesticated or foreignized. Then different strategies which are available

to the translator are outlined and discussed, and the dissertation shows how a

compromise can be reached between the imperative to make the TT clear and

easy to read, and the desire to help the TL reader to an appreciation of the

cultural differences of another country and another time. To reach this goal, the

corpus of the study is chosen from literary genre.

Research Questions

1. What translation strategies dose the translator employ to translate

culture-specific items in the translation of “Dayee Jan Napoleon” from

Persian into English?

2. What strategies are the most frequent in the translation of “Dayee Jan

Napoleon” from Persian into English?

3. Are culture-specific items mostly foreignized /domesticated in the

translation of “Dayee Jan Napoleon” from Persian into English?

Definition of Key Terms

Culture. Newmark (1988) defines culture as:

The way of life and its manifestations which are peculiar to a community

that uses a particular language as its means of expression. (p. 94)

Culture specific (culture bound) items (CSIs). According to Newmark


culture-bound terms, whether single-unit lexemes, phrases or

collocations are those which are particularly tide to the way of life

and its manifestations that are peculiar to a community that uses a

particular language as its means of expression. (p.94)


Translation units. Vinay and Darbelnet (1985) define translation unit as

“the smallest segment of utterance whose signs are linked in such a way

that they should not be translated individually. (p.95)

Translation strategies. Baker (2001) states:

Translation strategies involve the basic tasks of choosing the

foreign text to be translated and developing a method to translate

it… determined by various factors: cultural, economic, and

political. (p.240)

Lexical Gap. Lexical gap according to Hutchins and Somers is “the gap

which occurs whenever a language expresses a concept with a lexical unit

whereas the other language expresses the same concept with a free

combination of words” (1992, p. 33)

Translatability. According to Baker (2001) “translatability is mostly

understood as the capacity for some kind of meaning to be transferred

from one language to another without undergoing radical change” (p.


Descriptive Translation Studies. According to Holmes (cited in Munday

2001) it is a branch of translation studies that describe translation

phenomena as they occur without imposing perspective principles on

translation task.

Significance of the Study


The second half of the twentieth century had been witnessing an

increasing cooperation and communication among countries and regions all

over the world in fields such as economy, politics, science and technology,

culture, etc. Introducing Iranian culture is now a necessary job for all the

translators. Literary works contain rich and colorful information of the culture

in a country. Therefore, study of the translation of cultural information in the

literary works has become both necessary and important.

Persian literature is undoubtedly one of the nourished literature of the

world which replete with cultural-specific items and there are many people who

are eager to study it, the process of translation is surly a painstaking burdens on

the person who undergone the task. On one hand the process of globalization

and on the other expansion of information and innovation in IT try to show to

show and verify cultural depth and stability. Translation in general and literary

translation in particular, can best demonstrate a nation’s cultural specifications

and identity. This necessitates a good knowledge of translation strategies

prevalent in translation.

One of The best-known and best-selling satirical novels in the Persian

language is My Uncle Napoleon, by Iraj Pezeshkzad, which describes the

ridiculous and eventually hateful existence of a family member who subscribes

to the "Brit Plot" theory of Iranian history. The novel was published in 1973 and

later made into a fabulously popular Iranian TV series. This novel is translated

by Dick Davis. Living in Iran and teaching Persian literature, Dick Davis

became familiar with Persian language and culture. Newmark (1981) suggests

two kinds of translations for literary translation: semantic translation and

communicative translation.

Communicative translation attempts to produce on its readers an effect as

close as possible to that obtained on the readers of the original. Semantic

translation attempts to render, as closely as the semantic and syntactic

structures of the second language allow, the exact contextual meaning of

the original. (p.39)

The translator of My Uncle Napoleon translated cultural concepts with

communicative translation, because the translator wanted to produce the same

effect on target reader as the source reader and this kind of effect doesn't obtain

with word for word translation. In communicative translation, the translator

should be familiar with target language and culture, so the translator tried to

render cultural concepts into target language and culture. The first language of

translator is English; he changed in some parts with the deletion, cultural

substitution and sometimes definition for some special words.



Review of Literature

Translation is process of connection between two cultures. We can say

that without translation exchange of material or non material factors of two

cultures are impossible, because according to Ivir (1987) there is an inseprabele

relation between culture and language and entrance of a cultural factor from one

culture to another is through language. Accordingly translation means

translation of cultures not languages.

Culture is too board a term to be define in a line or two. Vermeer (1986,

citer in Nord 1997) defines culture as “the entire setting of norms and

conventions an individual as a member of a society must know in order to be

‘like every body’ or to be different every body”. (p. 28)

Some scholars try to narrow down culture to simplified assumptions about tastes

and preferences. In their view “culture is the way of life and its manifestations

that are particular to a community that uses a particular language as its means of

expression” (Newmark, 1988: 94).

Culture-specific items

As Álvarez and Vidal (1996) point out:

Everything in a language is a product of a particular culture, beginning

with language itself, it is difficult to define exactly what can be classified

in a text as culture-specific. One broad definition of what might be


termed ‘culture-specific items’ (CSIs) could be every feature in a ST

which presents a problem for the translator because there is an

intercultural gap between the SL and the TL. Such a gap is found where

an item in the ST does not exist in the TL culture, or the TL has no word

for that item. (p.57)

An intercultural gap is also to be found where, as Álvarez and Vidal state,

the referred item has a “different intertextual status in the cultural system of the

readers of the TT” (1996, p.58), for example where an item has common

metaphorical associations in the SL, but conveys quite different connotations in

the TL. It follows that an item of lexis might be classified as a CSI in a

particular context, although in general it would not be considered specific to the

SL culture. Álvarez and Vidal give as an example the month of April, which in

England suggests spring or the renewal of life, but would not do so for TL

readers in whose country April was the month of severe hurricanes.

Álvarez and Vidal identify a third component in the nature of CSIs as the fact

that, in the course of time, “objects, habits or values once restricted to one

community [may] come to be shared by others” (1996, p.58). This requires

flexibility in the definition of what constitutes a CSI at any given time in a

particular text. In practice, it obliges the translator to decide to what extent the

item is now integrated into the SC.


Style as a culture-specific feature

Hatim and Mason (1990) see style as being “an indissociable part of the

message to be conveyed” (p.9), style here being distinguished from idiolect, or

from the conventional patterns of expression to be found in a particular

language. Modification on stylistic grounds is seen as “a step on the road to

adaptation” (p.9), which turns the producer of the ST into someone with the

outlook of the TL community, and therefore a different person. The translator

must therefore consider the cultural significance of such linguistic features as

dialect, words marked for social class, or ‘officialese’. Bassnett (1991) also

notes that dialect forms or “regional linguistic devices particular to a specific

region or class in the SL” (p.119) can be significant, so their function should be

first established, and then rendered adequately by the translator. Features of

style or register could therefore be classified as CSIs.

Translating culture specific items

Jacobson (2000) asserts that “all cognitive experience and its

classification is conveyable in any existing language”, but there is “ordinarily

no full equivalence between code units”. (p.139)

According to Jakobson (2000) the translator therefore works mostly in

messages, not single code units. This contrasts with Catford’s(1965 cited in

munday 2001), concept of formal correspondence, which he defines as

“identity of function of correspondent Items in two linguistic systems” (p.60).

However, as Ivir notes, it is “practically impossible to find categories which


would perform the ‘same’ functions in their respective systems, even when the

two languages are closely related” (1981, p. 54).

Equivalence and equivalent effect

Nida as a prolific writer on the subject of equivalence in translation has

attempted to formulate a ‘science of translating’ based on the work of

theoretical linguists in the 1950s and 1960s. (Munday, 2001)

Nida(2000) rejects the concept of a ‘fixed meaning’ for any given word,

maintaining that its meaning is acquired through context, and “ultimately words

only have meaning in terms of the corresponding culture” (p.13).

The translator must aim for the closest possible equivalence, but he

identifies two opposite poles of equivalence, which he terms ‘formal’ and

‘dynamic’. In its strictest manifestation, formal equivalence aims to match the

message in the TL as closely as possible to that in the SL, in structure as well as

in the content of the message. In a translation oriented towards a dynamic

equivalence, the focus is on the response of the TT audience.

Nida (2000) states:

A translation of dynamic equivalence aims at complete naturalness of

expression, and tries to relate the receptor to modes of behavior relevant

within the context of his own culture; it does not insist that he understand

the cultural patterns of the source-language context in order to

comprehend the message. (p.156)


On the other hand Newmark sees equivalent effect as unlikely where

there is a “pronounced cultural gap” between the ST and the TT, or if the

purpose of one text is to “affect” and the other to “inform” (1988, p.48). He

states furthermore that:

The more cultural (the more local, the more remote in time and space) a

text, the less is equivalent effect even conceivable unless the reader is

imaginative, sensitive and steeped in the SL culture. (1988:49).

Newmark thus places the focus on text function, seeing the spectrum of

translation strategies in terms of ‘semantic’ and ‘communicative’ translation.

According to Newmark (1981) text functions are classified as Expressive,

Informative or Vocative, and equivalent-effect translation is given as the

appropriate strategy for the translation of either informative or vocative STs. A

semantic translation keeps as close as possible to the form and the exact

meaning of the ST, while a communicative translation aims to sound as natural

as possible in the TL, and to be reader-friendly. Newmark (1981) considers that

semantic translation may use culturally neutral words, but should not use

cultural equivalents. In assessing the quality of a translation, his main criterion

is the quality and extent of the semantic deficit.

Ivir (1981) sees the ‘dynamic equivalence’ approach to translation as

being based on the assumption that for each unit in the SL there is an equivalent

unit in the TL, and it is the translator’s job to find it. This dynamic view of

translation regards it as a process rather than a result, consisting of the


substituting of messages in one language for messages in another. Ivir’s view on

this understanding of translation equivalence is that the nature of the translator’s

role in receiving the original sender’s message does not differ essentially from

that of other SL receivers of that message. The translator’s job is to code the

received message again in the TL in a way which is substantially the same as

the task performed by the original reader. It is only the communicative situation

which is different. Inevitably the message undergoes modifications in this

process, but the translator must strive to change as little as possible, while

changing “as much as is necessary to ensure communication” (1981, p.53).

Equivalence does not exist separately outside the communicative act; it is

dependent on the relational dynamics in that particular act. Ivir (1981)

summarizes dynamic equivalence as the presence in a translation of both

textually realised formal correspondents in the SL and the TL, and the

“communicative realization of the extralinguistic content of the original

sender’s message in the TL” (p.59).

Hatim and Mason (1990) find difficulties with Nida’s concepts of formal

and dynamic equivalence. Where the translator chooses a strategy of formal

equivalence, it is likely to be in a situation where there are good reasons for

doing so, and therefore the formally equivalent translation may achieve an

equivalent effect on the reader of the TT.

Hatim and Mason (1990) state that:


since it is difficult to gauge the actual effects of TTs on their receivers, it

is preferable to talk of equivalence of ‘intended’ effects” (1990, p.7)

linking what the translator is aiming to achieve to a judgment of what the

author of the ST intended. (p.7)


As complete equivalence is probably an unattainable goal, Hatim and

Mason (1990) prefer the concept of ‘adequacy’ in translations. Adequacy should

be judged in terms of the specifications given by the initiator of the translation,

and the needs of the TT users. They are critical of Nida’s emphasis of the

message over the style of the TT; they consider that to modify the style of the

TT on these grounds would be “to deny the reader access to the world of the SL

text” (P.9). They see this approach as being a step towards adaptation, where the

producer of the ST is effectively given the outlook of a member of the TL


Hatim and Mason( 1990) sum up:

The role of the translator as being that of a mediator between different

cultures, with the major principles involved in translation being

communicative, pragmatic, and semiotic. The terminologies used in a

translation should be seen as the vehicles of a culture, but while relaying

propositional meaning, the translator must also be sensitive to the

‘politeness strategies’ which exist in interaction in every culture. Finally,


the socioideological stance reflected in the ST should be readable in the

TT if it is to be regarded as a successful translation. (P.238)

Domestication and foregnization

As Munday notes (2001:27), the nineteenth century theologian and

translator Schleiermacher acknowledged the difficulty of translating texts of a

scholarly or artistic nature because the language of the ST is very “culture-

bound” and the TL can never fully correspond with it. Schleiermacher’s

response to this problem is to adopt the strategy of “[moving] the reader towards

the writer” (Munday. 2001: 28).

In Venuti’s words, “the translator must aim to be as ‘invisible’ as

possible” (2008:1). Venuti takes a similar position to Schleiermacher, though he

uses the concepts of ‘domestication’ and ‘foreignization’. Domestication

implies that everything foreign in the ST is made familiar and recognizable to

the TL reader, whereas foreignization “signifies the differences of the foreign

text … by disrupting the cultural codes that prevail in the translating language”

(2008:15). In advocating foreignization, Venuti is urging the translator to

“[resist] dominant values in the receiving culture so as to signify the linguistic

and cultural differences of the foreign text” (2008:18). This choice represents a

question of “fundamentally ethical attitudes towards a foreign text and culture”


Venuti is not alone in expressing disquiet about the tendency of

translators into English to make their translations as transparent as possible.


Hermans, for example, acknowledges that a translation into English is only

deemed successful when the translator’s labor is “negated or sublimated”,

leaving “no identifiable trace of its own” (1999:62). Franco Aixelá (1996:54)

writes of a clear trend in the Western world towards “maximum acceptability”,

which means that domestic readers may be given the impression that they are

encountering an original text. As Zlateva points out (1990:34), critics reviewing

a translated work rarely know the language in which that work was originally

written, and are therefore judging the TT as a text in their native language. Their

judgment on the beauty, richness or fluency of the language may be entirely at

odds with the style of the ST and the intentions of its author.

In deciding on an appropriate strategy the translator has to make a

fundamental choice as to the extent to which the reader of the TT should be

made aware that the ST has sprung from a different culture. Various factors will

influence this decision, including the genre of the TT, the translator’s perception

of the TT audience, and the translator’s own ideology or possible political





In this chapter, the design of this study which shows the nature of this

project, the corpus on which this study is run besides the justifications for

choosing it, the framework which constitutes the theoretical basis of this study,

the procedure of doing this project and the method of data analysis used in this

study will be mentioned.


This study is a descriptive and library research and its aim is to analyze

and describe the strategies applied by translator to deal with CSI. Based on the

classification of cultural categories by translation scholars the CSIs will be

extracted, their translation will be reviewed, strategies determined, and the

results will interpreted.


The corpus of this study is a body of culture-specific items which would

be extracted From “Dayee Jan Napoleon”, a novel by Iraj pezeshkzad, translated

by Dick Davis. The reason for choosing this novel of is that it is replete with

different CISs which its translation might be a challenging task.


Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework of the present research is based on the Ivir’s

model, which proposed 7 strategies for translation of cultural words: borrowing,

definition, literal translation, substitution, lexical creation, omission and

addition (1987). Ivir, notes that "combinations of procedures rather than single

procedures are required for optimum transmission of cultural information (e.g.

borrowing-and-definition, borrowing-and-substitution, lexical creation-and-

definition, etc.)" (1987: 37).

Ivir (1987) says that borrowing is a strategy that translators quite

frequently use. It is a very precise transmission of cultural information, but

only when it is reasonable to believe that the TL reader would recognize the

term and know what it means. A borrowing is often used along with its

definition, or with a substitution by a term in the TL that is close to it in

meaning, although not its exact translation. Once the borrowed term has entered

the target language, it can be used freely in that language.

Ivir notes that borrowing is a more accepted practice when the TL "is

relatively open to foreign influences" (1987:38).

According to Ivir (1987), definitional translation tends to be unwieldy. It

is used mainly to complement borrowing. The definition is given "in the body

of the text or in a footnote, when the borrowed term is first introduced" (39).

Ivir (1987) says that definitional translations may result in overtranslation and

draw attention to themselves in a way that the corresponding non-definitional

source-language expression do not. This strategy is not recommended when the

term is used only as "cultural background"

As Ivir (1987) state, the translator can resort to substitution where the two

cultures display a partial overlap rather than a clear-cut presence vs. absence of

a particular element of culture. The disadvantage of substitution is that it

identifies concepts which are not identical, eliminating the 'strangeness' of the

foreign culture and treating foreign-culture concepts as its own. By adding

information to the TL text, the translator makes explicit the information that was

unexpressed yet implicit in the source text. Substitutions and omissions, on the

other hand, fail to reflect the fact that the original communication was taking

place in a different cultural setting and that the source text was an expression of

a source culture.

According to above statements and venuti’s model these strategies can be

divided into main dichotomies Foreignization / domestication as follow:


Translation procedures ( Ivir)

Foreignization Domestication

Borrowing Substitution

Literal translation Deletion

Definition Lexical creation



This study is descriptive and library research and its aim is to study

cultural influences on translation, to identify culture-specific items, and to study

the ways and methods for translating them. According to researcher’s intuition

and taste, as a native speaker of modern Persian, and after perusing different

cultural categories and during the comparison of STs and TTs, the CSIs will be

identified and extracted.

The next step will be determination of the strategy used by the translator

to render the item into English; for sure this process will be according to

framework which is proposed. The items will then be populated into several

tables to specify the frequency of each strategy.

In the process of this research two criteria are used to identify lexical gap;

first, the researcher’s own intuition, second, the fields and domains that have

been previously mentioned and identified by translation scholars to which CSIs

belong and the strategies to which translators refer when encountering a CSI.

After collecting data, they will be analyzed to see which of the aforementioned

strategies of translation was the most frequently used in the process of

translating of each group.

Data Analysis

This article is qualitative research. After the items and their translations

are extracted and entered in to a chart, then the kind and frequency of strategies

will be determined. The results will be interpreted in order to determine which

strategies are most frequent and whether the culture-specific items mostly

foreignized or domesticated.


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