Guest post: Culture in translation

Dear readers, hope you are all having a nice beginning of September, the month we celebrate our beloved profession. On my side, it’s been an even more hectic month than August: projects and more projects, two translation events coming up, one presentation to prepare and please do not forget our giveaway! Haven’t heard of it yet? Then check our Facebook fan page.

Why not have a quick break with a nice and warm cup of coffee/tea and read this nice piece today’s guest, Sofia Polykreti, has kindly written to us?

Welcome, Sofia!


Culture-specific elements in non-literary translations

The link between language and culture has always fascinated me. And when I translate, I find that this link is stronger than ever, especially when I have to deal with culture-specific elements. Culture-specific elements do not concern just literary translators; on the contrary, such elements come up very often in legal contexts, e.g. when translating contracts from Greek into English. Moreover, culture-specific elements are of particular importance when translating for the tourism industry.

When translating a contract, I always try to preserve the “foreignness” of the source text, that is, to stay as close to the source text as possible – without translating word-for-word, of course. For example, if the users of the translation have to contact, let’s say, the Greek authorities regarding an issue that is mentioned in the contract, they need to be able to fully grasp all the culture-specific elements that are included, as well as to be able to refer to them in an appropriate way.

One such culture-specific element is the Greek AFM. When I met the word AFM in a translation for the very first time, I thought that the users of this translation, who – most probably – don’t speak any Greek, will have to be able to understand what on earth AFM is, as well as to be able to use the element as it is in case they have to contact the Greek authorities e.g. in case they visit a Greek tax office. That’s why I decided that the best way to handle AFM was to transcribe it into Latin characters. But that wasn’t enough: the users must understand exactly what AFM is. So, I decided to add the necessary information, as well. Therefore, the translation was like this: “AFM (tax identification number)”.

Another example comes from the tourism industry and concerns a popular Greek food: gyros. I have seen that it is often translated in the same way as AFM above: transcribed in Latin characters. But what’s really interesting is that the translation of gyros is often accompanied by a photo, in order for the traveller to be able to understand exactly what type of food this is. This particular dish is culture-specific. It resembles nothing else in the world, that’s why the best way to translate it is the way I just described.

In cases like the above, what are translators but transmitters of culture? Culture is ever-present in our work. And the link between language and culture remains stronger than ever. Besides, the choices we make as translators are far more important than it is usually believed, a fact which becomes clear only when specific examples are brought forward, examples like the ones I mentioned above. Therefore, as translators, we must keep in mind that very often our job will be none other than to create an accurate, fully-detailed map of the source text. Well, isn’t that fascinating?

Thanks, Sofia, for accepting my invitation and being so kind to write such a great post! You know, culture-specific items (CSIs, as Javier Franco Aixela calls them) were the basis of my MA dissertation, in which I compared some of those items in two Brazilian Portuguese translations of Alice in Wonderland. I may as well talk about it in one of my weekly post.

Would anybody like to comment or ask any question?

About the author
SofiaSofia Polykreti is an Athens-based, fully equipped surveying engineer as well as a freelance translator for English and Greek. She is currently studying for an MA in Translation while she holds a Rural and Surveying Engineering Degree and a BA in English Language and Literature. A thorough researcher, with extensive general knowledge and an eye for detail, she always tries to blend engineering and the humanities into her life. Her Twitter account was among the 25 Best Language Twitter Accounts for 2014. You can also read her blog, where she writes about language and geography, visit her LinkedIn profile, or contact her in Google+.

3 thoughts on “Guest post: Culture in translation

  1. Pingback: Mais do que palavras / More than words « ACPN Traduções

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