Certified translation, translation studies and the cultureme

From the sixties onwards, and always with increasing intensity, translation studies has become increasingly interested in the relationship between language and culture.

The functional theory of translation, theorized by Nord (1997), Reiss, Vermeer (1996) and other important scholars, in spite of not referring explicitly or exclusively to literary translation, introduces problems and methodological parameters that are fundamental in the transfer of a culture from departure to arrival.

In the 1960s, Nida proposed a distinction between formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence to highlight the differences between a translation totally linked to linguistic aspects and one more oriented to the global communicative effect of the translated message. However, this distinction was not complemented by a reflection on the interpretation of the text as the task of the translator.

The word cultureme is used in translatology to indicate the specific aspects of a culture that can cause concrete problems of transposition into another culture. Its definition is due to Vermeer (1983) who proposed it as follows: "Cultureme: A social phenomenon of culture A, which is considered relevant by the members of this culture and which, when compared with a corresponding social phenomenon in culture B, is found to be specific to culture A" (1983: 8). Therefore, the concept of the cultureme is relative, because an element of culture A that may be specific to culture B is not specific to culture C.

It is common for language to be the most important instrument of communication and reflection of cultural reality. In the case of communication between two languages, as in the case of translation, the difficulty is to "translate" the message from the original text to be transmitted to another cultural reality.

In other words, or as Nord (2014, p. 24) expresses it, the message of the text has to be referred to the cultural reality of the recipient of the target culture, that is to say, the so-called "cultural barrier" has to be overcome.

It means then that the translation is three in one: language + text + culture. This act of transferring a message from one language to another through the process of translation, in its essence as a linguistic act, is also a social act in a particular situation that in turn materializes in the product or result - the translated text.

It is very important that this final result, or translated text, has cultural coherence. What do we mean by this? We mean that in such a case, the target text (i.e. the translated text) must find its roots in the target culture but it must not lose completely the relationship it has with the source text and thus with the source culture. Its motivation is fidelity to the original text.

In this sense, the translator is seen as a mediator since he is a producer, receiver and bearer of culture.

Often one finds the denominations "specific cultural items" or cultureme, as in the following definition:

Specific cultural elements are those textually updated elements whose function and intertextual load in a source text cause a translation problem due to the non-existence of the referred element in the target system or due to its different intertextual and cultural implications. (Franco Aixelá, 1995:114).

Molina defines the concept of the cultureme as "a verbal or paraverbal element that possesses a specific cultural load in a culture and that when coming into contact with another culture through translation can provoke a cultural problem between the source and target texts" (2001: 89).

According to this same author these cultural elements are due to:

Natural environment: ecological differences between geographical areas, such as fauna, flora, atmospheric phenomena, winds, climates, landscapes and place names;

Cultural heritage: physical or ideological references to a culture, religious culture, material culture such as objects, products, artefacts, fictitious or real characters, historical events, festivals, popular beliefs, folklore, works, artistic movements, cinema, music, emblematic monuments, well-known places, town planning, musical instruments, fishing and agricultural techniques, means of transport, etc..;

Social culture: conventions and habits of a culture, forms of treatment and courtesy, way of eating, dressing, moral values, gestures, greetings, political systems, legal, educational, organizations, trades or professions, coins, calendars, eras, measures, weights, etc..;

Linguistic culture: transliterations, sayings, ready-made phrases, proper names with additional meaning, generalized metaphors, symbolic associations, interjections, insults, blasphemies, etc.

Based on the principle of cultural coherence, this means that creating a product for the exclusive use of the reader, completely denaturing the source text, does not seem to be a viable option.

In order to solve this problem, Bruno Osimo defines translation strategies that fundamentally propose three options: neutralization, substitution and explanation.

In addition, Molina and Hurtado Albir propose broader solutions based on the following translation techniques:

Adaptation: replacing one cultural element with another that is specific to the receiving culture.

Linguistic extension: adding linguistic elements.

Amplification: introducing unformulated clarifications in the original text (information, explanatory paraphrases, etc.).

Tracing: literally translating a foreign word or syntagma.

Compensation: to introduce in another place of the text an element of information or a stylistic effect that has not been able to be reflected in the same place in which it is located in the original text.

Linguistic compression: synthesising linguistic elements.

Discursive creation: to establish an ephemeral equivalence that is totally unpredictable out of context.

Description: replace a term or expression with a description of its form and/or function.

Coined equivalent: to use a term or expression recognized (by the dictionary, by the linguistic use) as equivalent in the target language.

Generalization: use more general or neutral terms.

Modulation: to make a change of point of view, focus or category of thought in relation to the formulation of the original text.

Particularization: to use more precise or concrete terms.

Loan: to integrate a word or expression of another language without modifying it; it can be pure (without any change) or naturalized (transliteration of the foreign language).

Reduction (elision): do not formulate information elements from the original text.

Substitution: changing linguistic elements to paralinguistic or vice versa.

Literal translation: to translate word by word a syntagma or expression.

Transposition: to change the grammatical category.

Variation: changing linguistic (or paralinguistic) elements that affect aspects of linguistic variation (tone, style, social dialect, geographical dialect, etc.).

By way of conclusion, we can say that cultural elements have an important influence when translating because translation is placed at the centre of two poles, there will be those who affirm that no translation is totally acceptable in the target culture because it introduces new information and forms unknown to that system; and on the other hand the translation does not conform to the original version either because cultural norms cause changes in the structures of the source text.

In this sense, the translator finds herself in a predicament, as she must not only take into account the cultural model of the recipients of the text, but must also respect the link between the original text and the target culture and thus ensure coherence between the different parts of the translated text.

So, what is the answer for the translator?

Adaptations of grammar, vocabulary and cultural references or elements are essential in order to achieve naturalness. In view of this, and following Nida's postulates, we can say that the success of a translation will depend mainly on the achievement of the equivalent answer.

We have often said that a misunderstanding on the part of the reader or a translation error could have serious consequences. When hiring the services of a translation agency, you are assured that they have the qualified personnel to resolve in a timely manner any lexical or cultural difficulties that are so crucial to the quality of a translation. Professional translators are experts in linguistics and, as mentioned above, also being mediators, they are not only producers but also bearers of culture. If you want a reliable and quality translation, turn to a professional. Especially if you need certified translations, in which case an accurate translation is even more vital.


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