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Paragraphing and Syndesis/Asyndesis in Arabic-English Translations Waleed Ahmad Othman Al-Zaytoonah University Amman, Jordan Abstract

This paper addresses two main points in translation from Arabic into English. The first point has to do with paragraphing, the second with syndetic/asyndetic coordination. The researcher assumes that Arab translators, when translating Arabic texts into English, tend to follow the norms of the source language (i.e. Arabic) rather than those of the target language (i.e. English) as regards paragraphing and syndesis/asyndesis. For the purpose of this research, the paper makes use of an Arabic text alongside its translations (by 8 Arab translators) into English. The text is not taken as a representative of any text type or genre. Rather, it is thought of as typical Arabic written discourse, where paragraphs usually tend to be long and contain more than one idea each. The translators involved in this research represent two categories: four practitioners and four translation teachers.

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1. Introduction Baker (1995:223), among others, suggested that translated texts have the tendency of deviating from original target texts in various ways, which, according to Toury, results in an output with source text features that does not qualify as a translation. A translated text, being intended for target language readership, needs to take target language norms into consideration. (1980:39-40; 1984: 78). But "a source text is not simply a linguistic entity as it enters into networks of relationships of not only a linguistic, but also a textual and cultural nature," Therefore, "a knowledge of the source language in itself is insufficient; what is also essential is a close familiarity with the source culture, literary traditions, textual conventions, and so forth," (Shuttleworth, 1997: 157-8). See also Kelly: 1979 ; Sykes: 1983) In this paper, it is hypothesized that English texts translated from Arabic would be characterized by long paragraphs and syndetic coordination (coordinate structures with the use of a coordinator: Quirk et al. 1985:918), two features typical of Arabic, not English. This is likely to have an impact on the comprehensibility of the translation and thus lower its acceptability among the readership, as a result of nonconforming to the norms of the target language (i.e. English). Paragraphing A paragraph, as defined in almost every English writing book, is a series of sentences developing one topic, and can be identified by its visual representation. The topic of a paragraph is expressed in a topic sentence which also has the functions of limiting the topic and letting the reader know how the paragraph will be developed. No irrelevant sentences or digressions are expected to be present in a good paragraph as such irrelevancies and/or digressions distract or confuse the reader. Most often, an English paragraph is not too long to comprehend. An A4 sheet of paper would usually have two or more paragraphs.

This is not the case with Arabic written discourse, where the concept of the paragraph is quite recent. The Arabic paragraph usually holds too much information which could include two or more ideas. Complex digressions are also expected and a topic sentence is often difficult to cite. To allow no misconception in this context, it is worth mentioning that the way Arabic paragraphs are constructed and developed is neither inferior nor superior to that of English; it is just different. However, such differences do create a difficulty in comprehension on the part of the native speaker of English when he/she reads discourse originally written in Arabic along the lines traditionally laid down for it in the Arabic language and culture. But, what causes the difference in the methods of developing paragraphs in the first place? Differences in paragraphing stem from the fact that ideas dont fit together in the same way from language to language []. These differences exist because each culture has its own special way of thinking (Bander, 1983:5). In an English paragraph, the pattern of thinking follows a straight line of development. This makes it different from Arabic, where paragraphs tend to follow parallel lines of development. Generally speaking, the different approaches to writing are related to the cultures thought patterns (Kaplan, 1967). See also Sapir: 1951, 1956; Nida: 1964. For a translator to whom English thought patterns are not native, it is essential that he/she understands them if his/her translation is to be rendered effectively. In other words, a translator needs to be aware that rhetorical patterns differ from one culture to another and thus be urged by this awareness to follow the writing pattern that is native to the target language. A translation which does not pay due attention to such "rhetorical strategies gives rise to certain communicative and textual problems" (El-Shiyab: 1992: 73)

Syndetic / asyndetic Coordination Coordination is a grammatical phenomenon present in both Arabic and English. To realize it, both languages employ conjunctive particles. Sometimes, however, coordination is marked by means of juxtaposition of syntagms with no words linking them (i.e. the phrases or clauses are placed next to each other without a conjunction). Constructions with a conjunction are typically regarded as syndetic parataxis; coordination without an overt linker is termed asyndetic. In Arabic, asyndesis is not the normal means of coordination as the use of a conjunction (especially wa) to link phrases and clauses is the favored option. This is unlike the pattern in English, where a combination of syndesis/asyndesis is required stylistically and even grammatically (Holes, 1995: 216). 2. The Sample Text The sample text is an Arabic newspaper article published in the Jordanian Addustour daily newspaper (Sept. 17, 2003). The text has about 750 words in two paragraphs, the first of which is a short introduction (45 words). The English translations of the article were provided by eight translators, four of whom are teachers of translation; the other four are practitioners. Grouping the translators into two categories (practitioners and teachers of translation) is meant to give a hint of the impact of translation theory on translation practice. The sample text is not to be thought of as a certain text type or genre. It is simply a representative of typical Arabic writing, with long paragraphs and syndetic coordination. 3. Analysis The method of analysis applied was two-fold: First, to count the number of paragraphs in the English translations against those in the original Arabic text. The Arabic text (source text) is made up of only two paragraphs (see appendix). Table No. (1) shows the results of the first method of analysis:

Table (1): Number of paragraphs in the translated versions of the sample text:

No. of paragraphs frequency

A 2 paragraphs 2 translations

B 3 paragraphs 1 translation

C 4 paragraphs 4 translations

D 7 paragraphs 1 translation

Table (1) above shows a discrepancy in paragraphing the target language text. Two translations opted for the same pattern of paragraphing present in the source language text (Column A). One of those two translations was carried out by a young teacher of translation who holds an MA in Translation, but has a short experience (i.e. 2 years). The other translation was provided by a practitioner, who is also young and inexperienced in the field of translation practice. Both translators thought they needed not change the paragraphing pattern of the Arabic text. By so doing, they had more than one idea in one paragraph, which is not typical of a well-developed English paragraph (O'donnell, 1986:1) Column B in table (1) shows that only one translator chose to divide the second Arabic paragraph into two, making the total number of paragraphs in the translated version 3 altogether. The translator who carried out this job has been a teacher of translation for about five years. He has also been practicing translation as a freelancer for about the same period. It is interesting to know that this translator, when asked why he opted for three paragraphs, instead of two, said that the article needed a concluding paragraph that would lead the readers to a conclusion, rather than leave them wandering about the purpose of this piece of writing. Again, the second paragraph in this translated version of the text housed more than one idea, a failure according to a sound English writing style. The four translations (under Column C) were each divided into four paragraphs: an introductory paragraph (the same as in the source text), two paragraphs making the body of the article, and a concluding paragraph. These translations were provided by four translators, two of whom have been teachers of translation for more than five years. The other two (i.e. the practitioners) have

been in the field for more than ten years. What attracted our attention in these translated versions of the article is that the paragraphing pattern in the four of them is just the same; all the translators broke their paragraphs and started new ones similarly. The introductory paragraphs in their translations were the same as that of the Arabic text. They all divided the other Arabic paragraph into three paragraphs, the last of which made the conclusion to the article. In their second paragraphs; i.e. the first in the body of the article, the main idea was the declaration Perez made, as well as the writer's astonishment about it and the questions he raised. The following paragraph; the second in the body, answered the writer's questions by recounting facts and events. The last translation (Column D) was supplied by a practitioner who has been practicing translation for five years. This translator came out with seven paragraphs. Looking more closely at the results above, one could reach the following conclusion: Of the four translation teachers, three chose to change the paragraphing pattern of the source text. The fourth, as mentioned above, has only been teaching for two years. Three of the four practitioners also decided to have more paragraphs in the target text than there is in the source text. Regardless of the number of paragraphs in the six translations (i.e. those with more than two paragraphs), it is interesting to know that the decision of chopping pieces of writing into smaller units was taken by both teachers of translation and translation practitioners alike, which surely suggests a considerable (perhaps equal) impact of both theory and practice on the process and output of translation. The translators thought it would be wise to cut a long paragraph (as the one in the source text) into three paragraphs. By so doing, they have made it easier for readers to follow the line of thought of the writer. That is, by paragraphing, the translators managed to imitate the way English speakers usually arrange their ideas following a direct line of development. A word of caution is vital in this context: It should not be understood that the mere slicing of

a text into paragraphs would render it comprehensible. A bird's eye inspection of articles in some current magazines and newspapers will show that some writers do break their paragraphs for no apparent reason, except that they feel the old paragraph has run on long enough. In the case of the Arabic text of this study, the writer does not seem to bother about paragraphing his text though he presents more than one idea in the body of the text. This last hypothesis (the effect of paragraphing on comprehension) was further authenticated by a reading comprehension test prepared by the researcher. He asked ten 4th-year students of English to read the 2-paragraph version of the target text, and ten other students of the same level, to read the 4-paragraph version of the target text. The students were asked to write down what they thought the main ideas of the texts at hand were. Of the first group, 7 out of ten thought there were only two main ideas. 7 out of ten of the second group thought there were four ideas. These results clearly show that the number of paragraphs did have an influence on the student's decisions and comprehensibility of the text, which suggests that ideas are more readily noticed in a well-paragraphed text than in a poorly-paragraphed one (i.e. the text with only two paragraphs that contain more than one main idea each). The second analysis procedure adopted in this paper was to mark every case of syndetic coordination in the Arabic text to see how it was rendered in the English translations. The total number of syndetically coordinated clauses in the Arabic text amounted to (32) instances (see appendix), 24 of which are instances of wa. (In this paper we are only interested in coordination of clauses).
Table (2): Number of syndetic coordination instances in the eight translations:

Translation No. No. of syndetic coordination instances

1 14

2 16

3 6

4 7

5 7

6 6

7 6

8 5

The table above shows the number of syndetic coordination instances in each of the eight translations of the sample text. In the first and second

translations, which were done by the two novice translators cited in column A of table (1), we could count (14) and (16) tokens of syndetic coordination, mostly with the use of and. The translators here opted for syndesis in about half of the coordination cases in the source text which amounted to (32). The remaining cases were mostly rendered asyndetically; i.e. without the use of any conjunctive devices. As for the other six translators, as table (2) above shows, the number of syndetic coordination instances ranged from (5) to (7). Most translators opted for coordinating particles in translating particles number(1,5,9,12,14,16,21,23,31). See the appendix. For the remaining instances of coordination in the source text, the following techniques were observed: I Changing the second coordinated unit, which is an independent clause, into a dependent relative clause. e.g. (1): This is a fact that has been realized, although late, by those in the Palestinian Authority, led by Yaser Arafat, who took upon themselves the rejection of II Using subordinators to replace coordinators: e.g. (2): . Unless the Palestinians accept what Israel offers them, they (the Palestinians) will get nothing. e.g. (3):

Now that they have turned the Palestinians life into hell, they only want III Using the present participial in English to replace coordinators in Arabic: e.g. (4): usurped three quarters of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, imparted the Zionism character on Jerusalem, declared , having turned into hell e.g. (5): Getting the point, Perez went IV Using paired conjunctions: e.g. (6): ... not only to recognize Israel, but also to establish political and economic relations with it. e.g. (7): . either accept what Israel offers them or they wont get anything. V Using apposition: e.g. (8):


The Palestinians recognized the State of Israel and its right to exist , a recognition that led a number of Arab and Muslim countries VI Using punctuation marks: In the following sentence, the translator used a semicolon to give the meaning of the particle fa: e.g. (9): : We managed to entrap the Palestinians; we were able to achieve in ten years what we In the following sentence, a dash was used to replace the Arabic fa e.g. (10):: Oslo Agreement, sponsored by the US, has given the Israelis what they had never even dreamt of The Palestinians have recognized the Hebraic State and its right to exist and live in peace in the region. VII Rendering coordinators asyndetically: e.g. (11): ... Actually, I .. e.g. (12): ... 11

Were the Zionists really able to ? In the two Arabic examples cited above (as well as in five other instances 6, 8, 17, 22, 32) the wa is resumptive, that is, it functions as an indicator of topic continuity ensuring coherent transition from one discourse into another (Hamdan, 1999: 593). In English, the use of a resumptive 'and' is rare, which justifies the translators' decision of leaving such instances out. In the example below, however, the wa is dropped for another reason (i.e. the wa is not resumptive in this example). The wa in this example is additive, which is repeated in Arabic before all coordinated units (phrases or clauses), unlike the case in English, where only the last instance of and is retained: e.g. (13): Having usurped , imparted , declared , turned , and 4. Conclusions The present paper has shown that: Both experienced practitioners and teachers of translation tend to change the paragraphing pattern of an Arabic text when rendering it into English. Novice translators, on the other hand, are subject to influences which come from the source text paragraphing style. The only sound option before a translator if he/she is to create an understandable and effective target text is to follow the norms of writing in the target language. However, paragraphing should not be misunderstood as the mere chopping up of a lengthy discourse or text into small units without understanding the actual function and organization of the paragraph. 12

Well-developed pieces of writing are more easily comprehended. Readers find it easier to elicit ideas from such discourse than from longer blocks of writing where more than one idea are usually found. This has been proved by the reading comprehension test mentioned above. When paragraphs are not too long, the reader can readily follow the main theme therein. Everything within such limited paragraphs leads to a smooth comprehension and helps the reader get to the point intended by the writer.

Both experienced practitioners and teachers of translation opt for other techniques rather than coordination when dealing with a highlycoordinated Arabic text. Such techniques include the use of subordination, present participials, paired conjunctions, apposition and punctuation marks to replace instances of coordination. It is worth-mentioning, in this context, that Arabic favors coordination more than subordination. Reid (1992) did a computer text analysis on essays by both native English speakers and non-native speakers from Arabic, Spanish, and Chinese language backgrounds, and found that Arabic writers use more coordinate conjunctions than writers in the other languages of the study. Along similar lines, Ostler (1987) found that long sentences conjoined with coordinating conjunctions are typical of Arabic Writing. This tendency is not a drawback of Arabic. In 1967, Kaplan compared rhetorical and syntactic styles of English and Arabic and found that in English subordination is considered more elegant than, and hence preferable to, parallelism, while the opposite holds for Arabic (Kaplan, 1967). Therefore, the translators who opted for methods other than coordination, including subordination, were on the right track; they did manage to make their translations more sophisticated, mature, interesting and effective (Oshima, 1991:165)

5. Suggestions More descriptive and contrastive studies on paragraphing and coordination are needed. Such studies should include discourse from different genres. Prospective translators ought to be made aware of paragraphing conventions in both English and Arabic. This would entail paying due


attention to the concept of cultural thought patterns employed in the writing process of both languages. Prospective translators should also be made aware of the coordination/subordination preferences in both English and Arabic. (See also Othman: 2004) In longer research projects more extended texts could be surveyed and analyzed through the use of massive amounts of computerized collections of texts that are currently available on the Internet.


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Reid, Joy. (1992). "Cohesion is not coherence". Journal of Second Language Writing. 1(2). 79-107 Sapir, Edward. (1951). Language. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. ____. (1965). Culture, Lnaguage and Personality. Berkeley: University of California Press. Shuttleworth, Mark and Moira Cowie. (1997). Dictionary of Translation Studies. Manchester, UK, St. Jerome Publishing Sykes, John B. (1983). "The Intellectual Tools Employed", in Catriona Picken (ed.) The Translator's Handbook. London: Aslib. Toury, Gideon. (1980). In search of a Theory of Translation. Tel Aviv: The Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics. Toury, Gideon. (1984). "Translation, Literary Translation and Pseudotranslation", in E.S. Shaffer (ed.) Comparative Criticism 6. Cambridge University Press, 73-85.


Appendix :

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