The paper aims at assessing the significance of religion in cultural translation. As the world increasingly becomes a global village, authors such as Lynne (2005, p. 11) argue that there is a dire need for religious texts from different religions, particularly Christianity, Islam and Buddhism to be accurately translated(Wilson, 2012). This is mostly for purposes of ensuring that the religious texts are in different languages for purposes of the spiritual growth of people from different parts of the world that ascribe to the regions (Boëtsch & Blanchard, 2008). Despite this identified need for translating religious texts, these texts are often time perceived as untranslatable.
The field of translation has greatly expanded over the years and currently incorporates an analysis of the cultures and texts of the source and target languages(Forsdick, 2003). Despite the contemporary preeminence that is accorded to cultural translation in the twenty first century, translations theorists assessed the cultural aspects of translation as early as the 19th century (Wilson, 2012). In the year 1811, for example, a German thinker known as Goethe purported that “There are two maxims for translation, the one that requires that the foreign author be brought over to us so that we can look him up as our own; the other that we cross over to the foreign and find ourselves inside its circumstances, its modes of speech, its uniqueness” (Cited in Robinson, 1997, p. 222). Te term culture is commonly defined as a people’s way of life depicted in their values, religion, family institutions, educational systems, values, traditions and beliefs. Culture thus encompasses al the shared elements of a people’s existence(Boëtsch & Blanchard, 2008). The cultures that exist in the present day are characterized by different perceptions of what comprises ethical or unethical behavior. The process of translation is thus characterized by two cultures and languages.
Religion is a very important aspect in the discussion of cultural translation(Wilson, 2012). This paper will describe the concept of cultural translation in detail. Some of the theorists, who have contributed significantly to the area of cultural translation, and their contributions, will also be examined. A major part of this paper will analyze the significance of religion on questions of cultural translation. At the end of this paper will be a conclusive summary of the entire discussion followed by an alphabetical list of the references cited herein.
In order to gain an understanding of the concept “cultural translation” one must first comprehend what translation is(Thomas, 2012). The term translation has been described in different ways by different philosophers and scholars. Catford (1965, p. 20) describes translation as the “replacement of textual material in one language by equivalent textual material in another language”. The process of translation must be characterized by a reproduction in the target language as naturally as possible, the message received from a source language(Boëtsch & Blanchard, 2008). Translation is usually carried out in terms of meaning before being conducted in terms of linguistic style(Wilson, 2012). During a translation process thoughts and notions are usually transferred from a source language to a second language, which is commonly referred to as the target language(Forsdick, 2003). The definition of translation remains significant regardless of whether the languages are in documented form or not(Boëtsch & Blanchard, 2008).
Lynn (2005) asserts that in order form any form of cultural contact to take place between two or more groups, it is necessary for the exchange or interference to be carried out through a process of translation. This is especially so for the translation of texts or areas that are perceived or believed to be holy by the source culture(Thomas, 2012).It is generally understood that it is impossible to perfectly translate culturally bound texts(Wilson, 2012). In order to successfully engage in cultural translations, a translator must consider three main things (Venuti, 2004). The most important is the meaning of the text being translated, the context and degree of formality within which the text occurs and the natural way in which points may be expressed(Wilson, 2012). These three steps are carried out for both the source and target languages.
There are many theorists who have made their contributions to the issue of translation and culture or translation as culture. One such theoretician that has contributed to cultural translation, particularly the significance of religion in translation, is Eugune Nida (Nida, 2004). In the year 1964 Nida wrote a Book entitled Toward a Science of Translating: with Special Reference to Principles and Procedures Involved in Bible Translation. The main aim of this text was to describe the processes and challenges which translators encounter in their effort to translate religious texts(Boëtsch & Blanchard, 2008). Nida formulated the model of Functional Equivalence that is widely used as a translation principle by many contemporary translators (Nida, 1964)
According to Nida (2004) there are many differences that characterize the process of cultural translations; these differences are described by three fundamental factors (Lefevere, 1992). The most important factor that determines the nature of a cultural translation process is the type of message being translated(Thomas, 2012). In some of the messages or texts being translated, such as religious texts, the content of the message as well as its context are of utmost importance. A second factor that impacts the process of translation is the intentions of both the author and translator of the text (Nida, 1964). At times the author and translators may purpose to offer information on both form and message while at other times the purpose or intention of the text may be to ensure that the reader of hearer of the message gains a complete understanding of the communicated content. The third facto that significantly impacts translation is the intended audience. Nida (1964) argues that different types of audiences will decode and comprehend messages differently.
Another theorist that has contributed significantly to cultural translation is a German scholar known as Doris Bachmann-Medick. Bachmann-Medick has carried out many studies on translation and culture and even considers the possibility of a translational turn. The cultural turn describes a shift from the notion of translation as a text to the perception of translation as culture and politics (Minabad, 2004, p. 34). The cultural turn ideology occurred in the twentieth century. The proponents of the cultural turn disregard the theories of translation that are linguistic in nature based on the argument that linguistic theories of translation fail to move beyond the notion of a word to text as a unit(Boëtsch & Blanchard, 2008). The proponents of cultural turn purport to go past the mere linguistic translation of texts and pay great emphasis on the associations that exists between translation and culture. Proponents of the cultural turn also analyze the different impacts and limitations that culture may have on the process of translation (Forsdick, 2003).
Many studies have bee carried out by experts regarding the associations that exist between translation and the culture of the source and/or target languages relevant to a translation process(Lefevere, 1992).Despite this, Al-Shabab (2003, p. 21) asserts that “the building of a translation culture is always swarmed with controversy”. The concept of “cultural translation” surfaces from the fact that the source and target languages which are involved in translation processes tend to be associated to distinct cultural backgrounds referred to as source language culture and target language culture respectively (Al-Shabab, 2003).
Al-Shabab (2003, p. 24) defines translation culture as “a body of translated texts, translation problems, topics, and issues shared by a group of translators and language users as evident in translated texts produced over a well-defined span of time”. It is interesting that the manner in which issues, texts and cultures are interpreted by a translator greatly impact the process of translation (Kashgary, 2011. In fact, Al-Shabab (2003, p. 24) claims that “interpretation…is the backbone of the enterprise of translation”.
The issue of translability and untranslability is one of the most pertinent issues in the discipline of translation. The importance of this issue is exacerbated when it comes to the translation of religious texts(Boëtsch &Blanchard, 2008). Over the decades, there are several conclusions that have been made by experts regarding the issue of translation and untranslability. One of these conclusions is that untranslatability is one of the most common issues in the discipline of translation(Forsdick, 2003). Secondly, the main reasons why words and phrases in certain contexts become untranslatable are barriers in language and cultural constraints. The third conclusion made by experts regarding the issues of translation and untranslability is that untranslability is connected to the character of a language as well as the translator’s comprehension of important phenomena such as language, translation and meaning (Thomas, 2012). Fourthly, experts have realized that words which cause most problems in translation endeavors are those that “assume an awareness of a certain culture or convey a certain emotion/judgment (register)” (Kashgary, 2011, p. 50). The fifth, and probably the most important, conclusion made by translation experts is that translation experts have succeeded in coming up with strategies and solutions to respond to the issue of untranslatability (Wilson, 2012).
The impact of religion in cultural translations is an issue that has gained increased preeminence in the present days(Lefevere, 1992). The translation of texts that are religious in nature is very impactful and significant in the process of reconstructing the cultures of the world(Lefevere, 1992). The cultural legacy and customs of most regions of Europe and the United States of America, for example, were shaped completely by the impacts of Judeo-Christianity for many centuries(Thomas, 2012). In fact, most of the most reputable writings on translation and cultural translations borrow heavily from passages in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament(Lefevere, 1992). In the twenty first century however, it is not possible to restrict the theories and models of translation solely on the Bible. Owing to the fact that the rates of globalization currently being witnessed in the world are unmatched, there are high rates of cultural exchange and interference in different regions and cultures of the world.
Cultural exchanges and interferences are very significant in the twenty first century world(Lefevere, 1992). This is especially in regards to the power that religious texts, teachings, principles and dictates have in transforming the cultures or way of life of converts and followers. It is impossible to imagine that there is any culture of the world that can exist and grow without the interference of other cultures at some point (Lynn, 2005).There are many motives fueling the translation of religious texts, which have existed since time immemorial(Wilson, 2012). These motives tend to be very many and diverse, for example, to further evangelism, curiosity and as a form of celebrating the religious texts(Thomas, 2012).
As the world increasingly becomes a global village, authors such as Lynne (2005, p. 11) argue that there is a dire need for religious texts from different religions, particularly Christianity, Islam and Buddhism to be accurately translated (Venuti, 2004). This is mostly for purposes of ensuring that the religious texts are in different languages for purposes of the spiritual growth of people from different parts of the world that ascribe to the regions(Lefevere, 1992).
A major aspect that characterizes the process of simplifying the translation of religious texts is that, more often than not, in the procedures of translating such texts more importance is assigned to main message of the original religious text, rather than the target language or the medium used for the process of communications (Wilson, 2012). Such a perception the process of translating a religious text is no longer as difficult and impossible (Simpson, 2006). This is because the translator can then crate a balance between the exact transcription of the texts from the source language, and the effective transfer of meanings (Lefevere, 1992).
Despite this identified need for translating religious texts, religious texts are often time perceived as untranslatable(Boëtsch & Blanchard, 2008). The translation of texts that are religious in nature is a very pertinent area in the development of theory and practice in the field of translation. According to Lynne (2005) it is not uncommon to translate religious texts from religions such as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. In comparison to other texts that are usually translated however, Lynne (2005) argues that religious texts tend to be very untranslatable in nature. In order to successfully translate a religious text, it is important to understand the factors or features that cause a text to be classified as a “holy text” as well as the reasons why the aspect of holiness makes it extremely difficult to translate texts (Thomas, 2012).
There are many different aspects of religious texts that make them very untranslatable. In contrary to popular belief, it is not the content of the religious texts, but rather their contexts that make them very difficult to translate (Venuti, 2004). Expert translators who embark on the endeavor of translating religious texts discover very quickly that it is almost an impossible feat to adjust religious texts in order to fit them into diverse cultural settings (Wilson, 2012). Lynn (2005) purports that more often than not, “the holy [text] resists translation since the space it needs in the target language is often already occupied [and] available vocabulary is already culturally loaded with indigenous referents”. Such a limitation only serves to make holy texts very untranslatable (Lefevere, 1992). It is however very important for translators of religious texts to remembers that their desire to faithfully represent a people and their culture should not be more important than that of transferring the wide-ranging and significant elements of that culture (Venuti, 2004). The main reason for the translation of religious texts is usually to preserve the underlying meanings of the messages communicated in the source language and transfer them to a target language (Thomas, 2012). This objective is significantly different from the mere intention of verbum pro verbo translation (Lynn, 2005).
Another important reason why religious texts tend to be quite untranslatable, particularly in the context of cultural translation is that often time there is lack of space in the target language to accommodate the motives and projected audiences of religious texts from source languages (Forsdick, 2003). This lack of space describes the absence of vocabulary of specific cultural notions of the worlds in cultural settings that are different from the source cultural setting in which the religious text originates (Venuti, 2004). Lynn (2005) argues that one such example of restricted religious texts is the Liturgicam Authenticam which guide the manner in which liturgy should be conducted in the Roman Catholic Church(Venuti, 2004). Lynn (2005, p. 116) asserts that “it is to be kept in mind from the beginning that the translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman Liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language”.
Religious texts may also become untranslatable due to the existence of vocabulary incompatibility between the source and target language (Lynn, 2005). It is not uncommon for the different languages of the world to have very diverse and dissimilar versions of the same text (Santaolalla, 2000). The untranslatability of religious texts becomes increasingly difficult when both the source and target languages are characterized a large base of different versions of a similar text (Thomas, 2012). Such an occurrence becomes a very significant challenge for the translator since it becomes necessary for the target language to come up with translations of the source language that are as accurate and precise as possible. It is not an easy thing to achieve such a feat(Venuti, 2004).
The translatability of a religious text may also be obstructed by the existence of peculiarities that are specific to a language. A feasible example is when the target language is devoid is terminology of words which may be used to accurately translate terminology or concepts contained in the source language in which religious texts are written. This is one of the most common challenges for translators working with religious texts(Venuti, 2004). The seriousness of this challenge is exacerbated by the fact that when a particular word or phrase in the source language in which the religious text is written is left out or mistranslated, elements that are very invaluable in comprehending the text or its message are either distorted or omitted (Wilson, 2012). The consequence of either eventuality is that the target audience’s understanding of the message is greatly impaired. In addition to this, it is not uncommon for the lack of terminology in the target language to cause the process of translation to take longer than usual and the translations to be elongated (Thomas, 2012). Religious texts thus become untranslatable since most publishers tend to shy away from significantly elongated texts.
Religion is a very important aspect in the discussion of cultural translation. Cultural exchanges and interferences are very significant in the twenty first century world. The importance of religion is especially significant in regards to the power that religious texts, teachings, principles and dictates have in transforming the cultures or way of life of converts and followers. Expert translators who embark on the endeavor of translating religious texts discover very quickly that it is almost an impossible feat to adjust religious texts in order to fit them into diverse cultural settings.Despite this identified need for translating religious texts, religious texts are often time perceived as untranslatable.The untranslatability of religious texts becomes increasingly difficult when both the source and target languages are characterized a large base of different versions of a similar text.This paper has described the concept of cultural translation in detail. Some of the theorists, who have contributed significantly to the area of cultural translation, and their contributions, have also been analyzed. A major part of this paper has been dedicated to the assessment and discussion of the significance of religion on questions of cultural translation.
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