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Hindrances in Arabic-English Intercultural Translation

by Adel Salem Bahameed, Ph.D. Abstract Translation as a paradigm of cultural contact is not as clear a concept as it might seem to be. In the last 30 years, the field has expanded considerably towards a macro-level, encompassing the cultural context as a whole. Most recent theories in social linguistics raise the question of intercultural translation; they mean hermeneutic issues rather than the problems of faithfulness. Contemporary cultural orientation deals with the relationship between knowledge production, in one culture, and the same information being transferred and interpreted in another. As a level of interaction, cultural translation takes place whenever an alien experience is internalized and rewritten in the culture where the experience is received. However, it is often found out by theorists that there is always a gap, a point that is difficult to be culturally transmitted into the target culture. This paper is concerned with the cultural hindrances in Arabic-English translation. Intercultural translation here can help people understand better the alien cultural elements as long as competent translators keep trying to overcome these hindrances, which are related to the field of translation. Introduction n principle, this study is about translation between Arabic and English. These two languages belong to different settings and different language families. Arabic is classified as a member of the Semitic family of languages, English as a member of the Indo-European language family. Arabic is defined here as the official language spoken in more than 15 countries in the Middle East. English is an Indo-European language and the official language of Britain, the United States, and most of the commonwealth countries. Syntactically, Arabic and English exhibit different word orders. Arabic is, for the most part, a synthetic language. For instance, nouns are inflected for case and verbs are inflected for mood. Prosodically, each of the two languages has its own ways of versification and

phonologically Arabic and English have different phonemic inventories. In addition, if one wants to assess the real hindrances of translation, one cannot ignore the geographical distance between Arabic and English settings, which resulted in a distance between Arabic culture and English culture. Therefore, one may classify the main hindrances of translation, which affect the quality of the translation outcome into: lexical hindrances, prosodic hindrances, structural hindrances, and cultural hindrances. Out of these, the most important cultural hindrances are surveyed below. 2.5.3 (a) Conceptualization of Culture Actually, looking at culture as a construct, we come into some fundamental issues of definition. The hindrance here is that there is no commonly agreed upon definition of culture. Indeed, as Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1963) state that some sociologists and anthropologists consider the term so vague that they refuse to use it in scientific discourse. Despite this, the term culture is widely used in the information systems literature, although usually without defining it probably because of the complex nature of this term. Translators should be aware of and well acquainted with the cultural dimensions of the environment from which the SL text is taken. Having said so, it is prudent, at first, to have a look at some definitions to know what culture is. Newmark (1988) defines culture as the way of life and its manifestations peculiar to a society. Bloch (1991) defines culture as what needs to be known to operate effectively in a specific environment. Rohner (1984) is more specific than Newmark and Bloch and defines culture in a non-behaviorist way, as a system of symbolic meanings that shape one's way of thinking. The emphasis for Rohner is on how people conceive their behavior. Rohner's definition highlights two things: (i) Culture is systematic, i.e. it is organised in a group. (ii) Culture is a way of representing one's world through thinking. Furthermore, Sapir (1949: 79) notes that "culture is technically used by the ethnologist and culture historians to embody any socially inherited element in the life of man, material and spiritual." Lado (1957: 111) defined culture as "structural systems of patterned behavior". To Bennett (1968: 10), "culture is the reflection of the total behavior of a society". Culture, then, is a cumulative experience, which includes knowledge, belief, morals, art, traditions, and any habits acquired by a group of people in a society. Culture also includes the total system of habits and behavior of which language is an essential subset. Generally speaking, one culture

should have one language. However, it happens sometimes for a single language to cross several culture borders. English for instance, has become the dominating and official language of societies having different cultures. There are different ways of understanding the concept of culture, which cause wide disagreements within the humanistic sciences. These disagreements need not be incompatible, owing to the fact that they may serve different yet complementary purposes (Van de Vijver and Hutschemaekers, 1990). For example, consider two schools of thought, at opposite extremes. One school sees culture as a "superordinate organizer" (Van de Vijver and Hutschemaekers, 1990: 5), where the emphasis is on the behavior. The other school assumes a different perspective and regards culture as a moderating factor, which includes education, economics and politics (Van de Vijver and Hutschemaekers, 1990: 5). Both of these schools should be regarded as complementary, just as two ways of looking at the same thing. Some researchers regard culture as a statistically measurable set of variables, most notably Hofstede (1980), whose work is popular in the information systems literature. Hofstede (1980) states that culture is learned, not inherited. It derives from one's social environment, not from one's genes. He offers culture as a construct processed by "human mental programming" (Hofstede, 1980: 15-16) that includes three levels. These are: (i) the universal level, which is related to the common bodily nature of all humans and is inherited; (ii) the collective level, referring to the culture, which is shared within a group and is learned from other individuals in that group; and (iii) individual level, which is specific to the individual and is both learned and inherited. Human nature consists of the basic parts of `mental programming,' such as the ability to feel anger, love, joy, sadness, observation of the environment, and the ability to communicate those feelings and observations to others. The way one expresses these abilities is modified by culture. Thus culture influences our every action. Ito and Nakakoji (1996) show that all levels of a communicative interaction are influenced by cultural factors. Language reflects the interests, ideas, customs, and other cultural aspects of a community. The vocabulary of a language manifests the culturally important areas of a group of people in a particular setting whether religious, aesthetic, social, and environmental, among others. Arabic for instance, has a variety of names for dates, camels, swords, horses, rain, winds, etc. English, on the other hand, has a variety of linguistic signs associated with the sea as English-speaking people are continuously exposed to it in their environment.

The Highland Quechua Indians whose main diet is mainly based on potatoes have more than two hundred different words for potatoes. The Waunana of the Chaco of Colombia take the spleen to be the source of emotions and the English phrase my sweetheart will be expressed by them as my spleen. (Ilyas, 1989: 123). This makes us say that lexical items of different cultures may have different functions and meaning. This is determined by elements peculiar to the environment where these items exist. Having attempted to offer definitions and conceptualization of culture, what one can then say is that the relationship between culture and translation is strong and durable whereas translation is an essential means through which people can get access to the cultures of the other nations. Translation therefore deals with the transfer by the translator of concepts which belong to one culture and which are communicated by the linguistic system of that culture into another culture using the latter's linguistic system. Thus, we can then look at the hindrances related to intercultural translation. 2.5.3 (b) Culture and Translation Translation theorists have noted many hindrances in relation to intercultural translation. As a result, they have extensively investigated the cultural differences among languages and facilitate the development of translation procedures in order to overcome these hindrances. Culture represents an interlaced network of different aspects of life. Theorists thus realize that culture is a very complex and controversial issue because "all human groups are cultured, though in vastly different manners and grades of complexity" (Sapir, 1949: 80). In addition, it has been noted that such complexity lies in the fact that what is considered culturally acceptable to one group of people can be regarded as totally strange and mysterious to another. For instance, "In the Muslim Arab society, it is lawful for a man to marry up to four wives if he can treat them equally and fairly, whereas in the Christian West, polygamy is prohibited" (Makhlouf, 1996: 4). Polygamy, thus, is strange and unacceptable to the people of the West because normally it never happens in their society and it is by no means part of their culture. As for translation, these differences among cultures represent an area of difficulty, the degree of which depends on whether the languages involved are close or remote culturally.

This implies that translation between languages of disjunct cultures is more difficult than carrying out translation between languages that are culturally related or similar. This does not imply, however, that translation between languages that are culturally related or similar is a straightforward activity. In fact, it embodies some serious pitfalls from the translators as well, though to a lesser degree compared with translation between languages of different cultures. (Ilyas, 1989: 123) This difficulty often becomes unavoidable simply because the culturally emotive terms of the message drop some or all of their connotative meaning when processed by translators. That is to say, the picture of some linguistic elements arrives to the readers of the TL with partial or total blur. Consequently, they do not elicit the expected response as they do from SL speakers. In this case, the translator should use compensation to make the picture look clearer. "When the languages involved are so distant that the same figures do not exist in one or the other, different procedures for the translation are implemented to achieve a partially successful transfer. In this case, compensation is nearly always resorted to" (Garca, 1996: 64). As far as intercultural Arabic-English translation is concerned, the example presented by Ilyas (1989: 124) may give more understanding to this point. Suppose one comes across the English term owl in text, which is to be translated into Arabic. The term owl refers to a universal creature i.e. bird. The difficulty lies in the fact that, in English, it stands for or carries positive connotations (wisdom and grace), but in Arabic it is a symbol of pessimism and has other negative associations. The translator in such a case has either to incorporate additional material in his TL version in order to make such implicit connotations explicit in the TL, or resort to explanatory footnotes to make up for the missing connotations in his TL version. Moreover, according to Ilyas (1989: 124), when the translator comes across the hindrance of not finding a corresponding TL equivalent for the SL item, the translator usually resorts to a non-corresponding equivalent item, which may have an equivalent function in the TL culture. Ilyas (1989: 124) gave an example saying that translating the phrase as white as snow into a language whose people have no experience with snow can be carried out successfully by looking for a non-corresponding but functionally equivalent TL expression that would match the SL. This can be achieved by rendering it into something like: as white as cottonfor instance, since both fulfill the same function of emphasizing the feature of whiteness in an expressive way.

This is very much similar to what is referred to as "Functional Equivalence" (de Waard and Nida, 1986). When it comes to fixed expressions such as proverbs, of course, they are rooted in the structure of the language and are deeply immersed in the culture of a particular people. Thus, they are included among the cultural elements that cause difficulty in translation. Overcoming such a difficulty requires a considerable effort on the part of the translator, who should at least try to provide a TL translation that is equivalent both in meaning and use to the SL phrase. The translator is supposed to be well aware of the compensation tools of translation so that they can ensure proper transmission of the proverbial expressions to the TL readership with reference to the cultural context in a particular setting. Translators involved should be aware of the Arabic culture so that they can successfully transfer the Arabic text into English. 2.5.3 (c) Untranslatability Untranslatability reflects the area where intercultural equivalence does not exist. For Catford (1965), intercultural non-equivalence which can cause untranslatability arises when a situational feature is functionally relevant to the SL text, but fully absent from the TL text in which the TL culture is rooted. The more disagreement there is between the concepts of the source culture or its linguistic system and those of the TL culture or its linguistic system, the more these variables hinder intercultural translation. This may lead to untranslatability such as in cases overwhelmed by tension between form and meaning. This can make obtaining full equivalence difficult, or even impossible. In this connection, Winter says: The system of form and meaning in language A may be similar to that in language B, but it is never identical with it. This statement has a very simple, yet very important corollary: There is no completely exact translation. If an interpretation of reality as formulated in language A does not exist in isolation, but as part of the system total of this language, then its correlative in language B cannot be isolated from the overall system of B, which must be different from that of A. (Winter, 1969: 478) Winter's argument is obviously applied to the translation of text in which form and meaning are closely interwoven. There is an infinite number of shades between form and meaning. In expository writing, form and meaning

are not as close-knit as they are in poetry, for instance. Indeed, impossibility of translation could arise from the untranslatability of context, that is, life patterns expressed in the SL text could be completely alien to the TL reader. However, the cultural gap among nations could still be bridged; in recent times, globalization and modern communication technology has helped the world's cultures to get closer and become more accessible (mostly through the English language). This, of course helps to enlighten the TL reader and increase his awareness of many concepts that belong to cultures completely alien to his own. Thus, Al-Najjar states: The receptor-culture reader may share with the source-culture reader knowledge about the life patterns of the source culture. He may have been informed previously about the source culture. He may have read an anthropological study of the other culture, or may have lived for a certain time with the society of the source culture. (Al-Najjar, 1984: 25) Actually, Al-Najjar's declaration is affirmative. However, our position is that it is the translator who is one of the determining factors. The role of the translator can by no means be underestimated, for he is the one who decodes the SL message and analyzes its meaning, and he is the one who re-encodes it into a presumably equivalent TL message. His knowledge, culture, performance, skill, experience and proficiency play a major role to mitigate and dilute the obscurity even of the most culturally complicated items and can discharge them from the obscurity of the SL to the clarity of the TL and make them digestible to the TL readership. Thus, the issue of translatability is believed to be translator-dependent. Using his skill and experience, the competent translator can translate the untranslatable and creatively offer somewhat meaningful TL versions out of the most obscure texts. This paper deals with the issue of translatability in this sense. On this basis, translatability can be defined as the process by which an equivalent TL text exists for a particular SL text. On this basis, a particular Arabic cultural item is considered translatable as long as a translator is able to offer an equivalent TL translation. It is true that in some cases, the Arab translator may find certain lexical items in Arabic having no equivalents in English because the concepts they refer to do not exist in the English-speaking culture. Such items are normally culture-bound terms. From Arabic-English intercultural translation perspective, examples can elucidate the issue of translatable versus

untranslatable terms. These examples include: saHuur (a meal eaten before the dawn for fasting); khalwah(unmarried man and woman found in a place where there is nobody else); tayammum (the use of sand for ablution when water is unavailable); qaTii?at al-arHaam (to be on bad terms with one's relatives); ? aqiiqah (a goat to slaughter and distribute its flesh to the poor on the occasion for having new baby); salaat al-'istisqaa (the prayer asking God to make it rain); sallat al-'istikhaarah (the prayer asking God's guidance to make a good choice); and ?iddah (a period during which a Muslim woman usually keeps at home and does not use make-up or perfume to beautify herself. 130 days for the woman whose husband passed away and about 90 days for the divorcee). The difficulty in translating these words is due to lexical gaps resulting from the cultural differences between the two languages. 2.5.3 (e) Emotiveness Emotiveness is the other cultural hindrance related to the speaker's emotive intention embedded in the text. Comprehension often involves much more than understanding what the words which make up the text point to in reality. There are other implicit matters such as thoughts and feelings to consider. Some types of text intend to express or arouse emotional responses to a special topic. Other types of text aim only to denote. That is to say, some text-producers use a neutral/objective vocabulary, whereas others use emotive/subjective vocabulary. Shunnaq (1993: 37) mentioned a nice example saying that the lexical item abyaD (white) is denotatively used as in qamiisun abyaD (white shirt) while connotatively or emotively as in thauratun bayDa (white revolution), which connotes (peaceful, bloodless revolution). Thus, emotiveness is strongly connected with the concepts of denotative meaning and connotative meaning. The former is, generally speaking, equivalent to the referential, or dictionary meaning, whereas the latter is equivalent to an expressive or emotive meaning. It is to be noted that native speakers of a language have a keen appreciation of the emotive meanings of words. The analysis of the emotive meaning is by no means as easy as that of a referential meaning. Shunnaq (1993: 39) argues for the view that an emotive meaning has a function of responses to words i.e. certain words tend to produce emotive meaning to achieve their function of bringing about certain emotive responses by language users. This function is determined by the purpose for which the text is written or said. He supports Stevenson who gives the following definition of emotiveness:

The emotive meaning of a word or phrase is a strong and persistent tendency, built up in the course of linguistic history, to give direct expression to certain of the speaker's feelings or emotions or attitudes; and it is also a tendency to evoke corresponding feelings, emotions or attitudes in those to whom the speaker's remarks are addressed. Stevenson (1963: 21-22) Newmark (1981: 133) suggests that translators sometimes must give precedence to the emotive and affective elements in the SL over the informative or content elements if the context requires that. Shunnaq (1993: 38) agrees with Newmark in that an Arab translator who renders emotive lexical items into English should pay due attention to this suggestion as well as to the context, particularly cultural one, which can also become very helpful in analyzing the emotive meaning and render it properly in the TL. Shunnaq goes on to say that in Arabic we have numerous examples of lexical items or expressions, which pose a difficulty when translating into English and their translation look incongruent despite the efforts made by translators and that, in most cases, translators fail to convey their emotive connotative meanings, managing only to convey the denotative meanings. Proverbial expressions are no exception in the sense that they are linguistic structures, which are deeply rooted in and emotively colored by culture from which they are taken. When translating from Arabic into English, much attention should be paid to proverbial expressions not only because of their wisdom but also because they also well reflect the down-to-earth philosophy, humor, and character of Arabs. To illustrate this point further, this proverb is quoted from (Theodory, 1959: 26): ) 212 'itha HaDara al-maa baTala at-tayyammum [if][present][the water][discontinued][the use of earth] If water is present for ablution, the use of earth is discontinued The rendering of at-tayyammum as "the use of earth" is considered odd and less emotive in the English version. is a religious term which means washing with clean sand for ablution because of the unavailability of water in some places. This lexical item has emotive associations that connote the dry conditions of Arabia, where Islam was originated, a man who cannot walk far to get water, a man suffering in a long journey and who has no full control

over his supplies. The above emotive example reflects how such linguistic expressions would arouse the feelings of the Arabs and, when translated, they would not have the same influence on the TL receivers due to the differences in culture and degree of emotiveness. This can justify this proverb being more emotive to Arabs than its English translation on Englishspeaking people (see Shunnaq, 1993). 2.5.3 (f) Culture-Specific Expressions Another hindrance is manifested in culture-specific expressions. With regard to translating from Arabic into English, the translator must sometimes deal with texts containing proverbs, verses, historical incidents long forgotten, legendary personages, names of places, animals, plants, etc that are peculiar only to a specific culture. In addition, we must consider the normal difficulties in interpreting cultural contexts of worlds with completely different tastes and conventions such as the Arab world to the Englishspeaking world. When translating, a translator must bear in mind the fact that s/he should convey messages, not merely words. Taking this into consideration, the translator should be familiar with and sensitive to both cultures, the one which the text is translated from and the one the text is translated into. As part of culture, translators should consider the ecological conditions because Arabic belongs to an area of hot and dry climate, whereas English belongs to an area of cold and wet climate. Thus, according to Ilyas (1989), some Arabic expressions are associated with cold weather to express positive and favorable connotations of joy and delight to Arabs such as khabarun yuthlij aS-Sadir (news that freezes the chest). In fact, it is happy news whereas the ecological equivalent in English expressions that have positive connotations are usually associated with warmth rather than cold such as: 'He was given a warm welcome' and 'He is a warm-hearted, i.e. kind, person.' This is why Ilyas states: A translator of English-Arabic texts may come across some problematic ecological-based idioms and expressions. Some such items acquire different connotations in both languages. What may be a connotatively favorable expression in Arabic could have a pejorative sense in English, and vice versa. (Ilyas, 1989: 128) Consequently, translations of proverbs will predictably include this type of

hindrances. Expressions that include terms reflecting culture-specific or ecology-related concepts may be challenging because the translator can often find no one-to-one correspondence in both languages. However, translating some proverbs becomes manageable if the translator bears in mind the fact that he should exchange messages and not merely words. For instance, the Arabic proverb SaaHib Sin?atein kaththaab. It could be literally rendered as: "a man of two professions is a liar". This rendering offers insufficient sense to the English reader. However, it has an equivalent in the English (functional equivalence), which is: "a Jack of all trades is a master of none." To conclude this point, one can notice how controversial it is to translate culture-specific expressions. For us, the degree of simplicity and possibility of translating such expressions between languages of different cultures depends in the first place on: who the translator is, his background, and the way he decodes and re-encodes the source text. The translator as the decisive factor will be dwelled on below. 2.5.3 (g) The Translator The translator plays a crucial role in the success or failure of the process of translating. The translator should enter the author's mind the moment he starts translating the text so that he can, then, see what the author sees and feel what the author feels. Rose's view to achieve identity with the author of the SL message is declared as he says: Since as translators we must become the mirror of the original author, think his thoughts, have his opinions and feelings, we must train ourselves to see the world through his eyes or effect a symbiotic arrangement that lets the world impinge upon the resulting compound consciousness. (Rose, 1977, cited in Al-Najjar, 1984: 27) Can such identity between the author and the translator be achieved? Rose's condition for achieving identity with the author of the SL message seems impractical because it is possible for the same SL text to have different TL versions even though it was processed by the same translator. This implies that the translator's background and psychological mood at the time of translating among other things are also factors of importance that can affect the quality of the translation product. This view was substantiated by Wilss who states:

The success of translators to come to grips with their translation tasks depends on various factors such as their mental disposition, experience, the congeniality (or uncongeniality) of the textual input, the correlation (or non-correlation) of the degree of difficulty of the pertinent text to be translated and the translator's competence level. Wilss (1996: 166) Moreover, it should be borne in mind that the translator is a reader in the first place. He is the one who analytically decodes the author's text and reencodes it in the TL language. The task of the translator might look simpler than that of the author because the author is the one who offers new information, while the translator only repeats what the author has said or written. However, the translator's task is more crucial and challenging than the author's: It is axiomatic to say, therefore, that the translator's task is more difficult than the writer's because the former is confined to the ideas of the latter. Moreover, he is obliged to convey the ideas of the SLT into the TLT giving utmost care to the linguistic and cultural norms of the TL, as well as its naturalness. In other words, the translator is expected to produce a TLT, which should be equivalent, creative, and genuine, and has the SL-cultural flavor. (Shunnaq, 1998: 33) This premise upon which this assertion is made indicates that the translator's task is more critical since translation always involves hindrances arising from the transfer of the message from the SL to TL. Producing full equivalence in translating certain Arabic texts into English involves major hindrances for Arab translators. These hindrances may affect translating proverbial expressions. Indeed, translation with full equivalence is expected to be hardly achievable for the type of text we are dealing with (i.e. culturespecific terms) because the translator always comes under pressure coming, on the one hand, from his desire to be faithful and loyal to the semantic and structural properties of the SL and, on the other, from his aim to produce a version that suits the mentality and cultural expectations of the TL addressees. Now 'who is the translator?' This is a very significant question simply because the outcome of the translating process varies due to many factors, among which the most important one is the translator. Translators of

different linguistic and cultural backgrounds will not produce similar versions. It often happens for the same SL text to have different TL versions when performed by different translators of different backgrounds. That is the reason behind the emphasis that translators should be aware of and well acquainted with the cultural dimensions of the environment from which the SL text is taken. This is believed to be an essential prerequisite for the successful rendition of the text. In summary, translation is not impossible, since this human activity, whereby man has overcome the language barrier, has been practiced between different languages of the world since ancient times. By contrast, it is not a smooth and straightforward activity, which can easily be carried out. Translators have always come across perplexing problems and difficulties while carrying out their task, which demands talents and capabilities on their part. Indeed, while some texts are easy to translate, others are so difficult that they may almost be described as untranslatable.

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