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The definition of non-equivalent units

Cultural or culture-bound words may cause translation problems for a number of reasons. Baker enumerates eleven types of translation problems, one of them being culture-specific concepts. Other scholars use different terms to denote this notion. Newmark, for instance, refersto culture-specific items as cultural words(Newmark), Robinson and Schäffner & Wiesemann label them realia; the latter source also employs the phrases culture-bound phenomena and terms or culture-specific items.As for the researches of Ukrainian and Ukrainian linguists they prefer the terms "non-equivalent, equivalent lacking words" (Komissarov, Koralova).

All these labels cover specific objects which may be defined as "words and combinations of words denoting objects and concepts characteristic of the way of life, the culture, the social and historical development of one nation and alien to another" (Florin), e.g.: kilt, shish kebab; shashlik, jurt, yurta, baby-sitter, muffin, pudding.

Most "cultural words", according to Newmark, are easy to detect since they are associated with a particular language and cannot be literally translated. However, many cultural customs are described in ordinary language, where literal translation would distort the meaning and thus the translation "may include an appropriate descriptive-functional equivalent".

Non-equivalents are SL words which have no corresponding lexical units in the TL vocabulary.

The absence of equivalents may be explained both by extralinguistic and linguistic reasons. Accordingly, non-equivalents may be divided into two groups. The first group consists of words denoting referents unknown in the target language – things, objects, notions, features of national life, customs, habits, etc. the words of this group bear a distinctly national character and are tied up with the history of the people speaking that language, the growth of its culture, its way of life and traditions. Cultural discrepancy accounts for the appearance of words which are untranslatable in the literal sense of the word. Yet there are different ways of rendering these words in translation and of overcoming the so-called “barrier of untranslatability” (cultural untranslatability). The words belonging to this group cover a wide range of denotate, e.g. speaker, parliament, public school, landslide, coroner, teach-in, drive-in, know-how, striptease, brain drain, backbencher, grill-room, as well as titles of politeness, etc.

The second group embraces words which for some linguistic reason have no equivalents in the target language, the so-called linguistic lancunae, e.g. privacy, involvement, glimpse, conservationist, environmentalist, oralist, readership, riser, bedder, vote-getter, statehood, etc.

It should be stressed that the term “non-equivalents” merely implies the absence of a word or a word-combination in the vocabulary of the target language but does not exclude the possibility of rendering “non-equivalents” in translation, usually by descriptive translation.

2. Cultural approach in translation.

Since the concept of culture is essential to understanding the implications for literary translation and culture-specific items in translation, many translation theorists have dealt with the definition of culture. In 1984, Larson defines culture as "a complex of beliefs, attitudes, values, and rules which a group of people share". In 1998, Newmark remarks that culture is "the way of life and its manifestations that are peculiar to a community that uses a particular language as its means of expression". Here, he underlines that each language group has its own culturally specific features.

The process of transmitting cultural elements through literary translation is a complicated and vital task. Culture includes history, social structure, religion, traditional customs and everyday usage. This is difficult to comprehend completely.

Schmitt in 1999 maintains that culture is composed of "everything that a person should know be able to feel and to do, in order to succeed in behaving and acting in an environment like somebody from this environment". In 1997, Shuttleworth argues that cultural translation is a term used to refer to those types of translation which act as a tool for cross-cultural or anthropological research. He believes that cultural translation is sensitive to cultural and linguistic factors and takes different forms.

Such sensitivity might take the form either of presenting TL recipients with a transparent text which informs them about elements of the source culture, or of finding target items which may in some way be considered to be culturally "equivalent" to the ST items they are translating.

According to Nida and Taber, cultural translation is "a translation in which the content of the message is changed to conform to the receptor culture in some way, and/or in which information is introduced which is not linguistically implicit in the original". Nida lists four basic factors which make communication possible and, therefore, make possible the translation of a message from one language and culture to another. These are:

1) the similarity of mental processes of all people;

2) similarity of somatic reactions (similar physical responses to emotional stimulus);

3) the range of common cultural experience;

4) the capacity for adjustment to the behavioral patterns of others.




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