Exploring the Interconnectedness of Translation and Culture

cultural translation

The relationship between language and culture

Language, culture and translation are inextricably connected. One clear example of this connection is the unique vocabulary and phraseology that cultures employ. Many words in a language arise to describe specific items, beliefs, and behaviours associated with a specific cultural group. Beret, chana daal, saari, haggis, jeans and cravat are all words that have been adopted into UK English. No equivalent words existed to describe these once foreign items and so the words arrived with the items. It is easy to connect each of these words with a country. We identify a culture by the items associated with it. Words evolve in a language to describe habits, items and beliefs unique to that culture and they therefore may not have an exact translation in another language.

Words for clothing items specific to an ethnic or tribal group have no meaning out of context. Without an explanation, we would not understand what a Pashayi is, nor does an equivalent English phrase exist for a Kandahari Doozi. 

Then there are words we don’t have in English but might like to be able to use. “Sobremesa” in Spanish means to linger at the table, conversing, long after finishing the food. The Germans use the word “kummerspeck”, translated literally as “grief bacon”, to denote weight gained following a failed romance. “Natmad” in Danish, or “night food”, is served at the end of a party before the guests are sent home. It’s a traditional farewell! “Utepils” in Norwegian is “outside beer” which is self-explanatory. And not to be outdone for creativity, the Fins have a word to describes drinking at home alone in your underwear. The Finnish word “kalsarikännit” translates as underwear drunkenness. 

Can you learn a foreign language without learning the culture?

Many people learn another language at some time or another. In most cases, they do so without the cultural immersion of those who speak that language as a first language. How much of the relationship between language and culture is appreciated depends on the reasons for learning the language. A person who is interested in becoming fluent in another language because they want to travel, live, work or study in a country where that language is spoken will find they will soon be confronted with a culture-specific language with which they will want to familiarise themselves to effectively communicate. People studying languages will often not understand slang and idiomatic expressions that do not translate well. While we can all understand phrases like “slippery as an eel,” not everyone understands “he threw the baby out with the bath water” or “let’s break the ice”.

Language and culture in translation

Translators who deal with the translation of marketing material, app translation, video and film dubbing, and literature will need to develop a keen interest in the culture of the people for whom the translated text is targeted at. They may be asked to ‘localize’ the translated material, i.e. make it attuned to cultural nuances. This is easy to understand when examining  advertising campaigns that were literally translated instead of created to appeal to the local audience. “Come alive with Pepsi!” was translated into Chinese as: “Pepsi bring your ancestors back from the dead!” The original add for Coors light was: “Turn it loose” but the Spanish translation was: “Suffer from diarrhea”. To introduce its cars to the Chinese market, Mercedes Benz used the shortened name “Bensi.” This word, however, means “rush to die” in Chinese. Technical, medical, or scientific material will be less affected by cultural differences but specialist terminology knowledge will be required.

Cultural considerations when translating content

Culture plays a significant role in shaping the beliefs, social habits, customs, and traditions of certain groups of people. Language, being an integral part of culture, helps to define it. It is a complex system of communication that humans adapt to their cultural backgrounds.

Translation is a process that enables people who speak different languages to understand one another and connect cultures by eliminating cultural barriers. Translation is important for language and culture as it promotes better communication and helps bridge the gap created by different languages. The need for trade and other forms of interdependence among humans has given translation a high significance.

What a good translation does and how does it have an effect on cultural exchanges

Good translations elicit the same feelings from readers of a translation in their native language as those feelings that arise for people reading the original text. A good translation will enable a brand to communicate ideas and beliefs in the correct cultural and native languages of their audience so that people of different cultures and geographic areas experience the same emotions about a brand and product. 

Translating for international audiences

Translation began so that no communication gap existed between different Nation-states so cultural exchanges and trade may occur. As Eugene Nida, a renowned American translation researcher said, translation reproduces one language so that it closely resembles the source language, in terms of style and meaning. The translation should assist a reader to connect with the text and gain a thorough understanding in his or her own language.

Translations are highly influenced by cultural dissimilarities so the translation accuracy of a translated text is proportional to the translator’s knowledge of the other culture. Therefore a translation doesn’t just test the linguistic ability of the translator but also the amount he or she knows of the targeted language’s cultural background. The more the translator knows the more useful the translation is to international audiences. This is why our translators always translate into their mother tongue.

Cultural translation

The knowledge the translator has of another culture makes it much simpler to translate as well as helps to ensure the translation is accurate. A translation’s aim is to gain semantic equivalence which can only take place if the translator has good knowledge and understanding of both the source and targeted languages’ cultural backgrounds.

What is a cultural universal?

A cultural universal or human universal is an element, pattern, trait or institution that is common to all humans. It helps us to enhance communication and is not possible to achieve without translations. The exchanging of ideas, intercultural-growth, and trade is a result of the concept of a cultural universal which influences most of our lives. 

Hiring the right translation services

There is an undeniable fact that both translation and culture do have a deep bond. Good translations can be performed by human translators who strengthen the bond between cultures by performing translations that are not only accurate but include the cultural differences that exist between different language speakers. The translators expose the targeted audiences to translations intertwined with their cultures. As with any professional service industry, for translations, varying levels of product quality, customer service and reliability exist. It is important to choose the right service level for your project. Look for a reputable translation company with experience in your subject field. Ensure the translators assigned are professionally qualified and if quality is key, choose human translations and full proofreading. The human translator is still the quickest and most economical way to the highest quality translation that can elicit the desired emotional response. With 34 years of experience, you can trust Aplomb to get it right.