How can I write an introduction about translation and culture?The introduction that I want to do is a project on translation and culture.

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jk180's profile pic

James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

lynnebh gave a good answer to your related question about translation and culture: she focused on the need for someone translating a text to be aware of two cultures, the one that produced the text and the one that will be receiving the translated version. I want to avoid overlap and will suggest another approach.

You could begin an introduction by exploring the literal meaning of the word "translation," using its Latin roots: "trans-" means across, "-lation" means carrying. You could then go on to argue that translation is more than just the carrying of a text across languages; it also the carrying over of cultural values and perpectives. If I can't read Spanish, for example, that enormous world of Spanish writings is closed to me unless I am able to find a translation. We can't possible learn all of the languages in the world, which makes good, easily available translations essential if we want to get detailed glimpses into the lives of people living in very different culture groups.

There's a popular saying that "to translate is to betray." Some people claim the saying is from the French, others from the Spanish, and yet others from the Italians. Whatever its origins, this saying suggests that a perfect translation is impossible. While the saying may have some truth to it, I would counter that translation is essential.

P.S.: Two recent posters to your topic have both talked about Americans spreading Christianity in foreign cultures. To me, that's a very limited form of contact with other groups; missionaries go abroad not so much to learn about others as to spread their own views to others. True appreciation of cultural differences requires genuine engagement with people where they are and genuine respect for their beliefs and practices. The noblest goal of translation, in my mind, is to understand people who are different from me, not to try to change them.

I know almost no Russian, but I'm sure that "voda" is the Russian word for water. It's easy for me to remember that; "vodka" means "little water" (the -ka is a diminuative, like the English -kin/-quin in mannequin). I can't find a Russian word for hell that looks or sounds like "voda."

mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The answers above are both excellent.

But, you will have to limit your topic. One may write a book on "translation and culture" or volumes on either.  An introduction must be very selective.  A thesis must not be vague.

In translation, there are three parts, and they match up to Aristotle's triangle:

1.  Speaker (Ethos)

2.  Language spoken (Logos)

3.  Audience (Pathos)

You can focus on one of them, two, or all three.  All three may be too broad, however.  Here's some ways to narrow it further:

  • Focus on a specific language. (Spanish)
  • Focus on a narrow culture. (urban or suburban or rural; type of community)
  • In a specific country. (Ecuador or The Dominican Republic)
  • Specify a type of speaker and/or translator (is it male to male, female to female, upper class to lower class, formal to informal, etc...?)
brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Here's a true story you can use, as it happened to a former student of mine:

Two missionaries were in the second year of a mission trip to Russia.  They were in an industrial town int he Ural Mountains.  They had been approaching people on the street and striking up conversations about their religion, and had been invited home for tea at the house of one Russian couple.

As they were explaining in their primitive Russian about their religion, they began to talk about baptism and the need to be fully immersed in water.  The Russian word for water (if I remember correctly) is Vadu, with the emphasis on the A.  Instead, this missionary said Vadu, with the emphasis on the U (Va-doo).  Which means hell.  So he told this poor Russian family that they must be baptized by immersion in hell.  Suffice it to say, they didn't win any converts.

Great lead in to the connection between language, translation, and culture.

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