Cultural Aspects of Translation

Cultural Aspects of Translation

It’s hard to avoid the link between translation and culture. It is easily exposed when rudimentary translation tools are used that have no ability to adapt original text in one language to a culturally appropriate equivalent in another language. These days of increasing economic globalisation, translation is an important skill and the need for it is growing rapidly. Professional translators are keenly aware of the need to be immersed in not just the languages they are translating but the cultures of the people who speak these languages, too.

The cultural significance is apparent when converting text from its use in one geographical location to another where ostensibly the people speak the same language, They may have the same language, but the culture may be distinct. That means they will probably have distinctive words and phrases that are unique to them, even if the syntax and grammar rules are the same. Take the English language, for example. American English is distinctively different from U.K. English and anyone who is translating say French or Spanish into English must be aware of which English is.

Cultural differences may be as simple as the use of particular units of measurement. Americans, for example, still use Imperial measurements, such as Fahrenheit, miles, feet, pounds and ounces. Australians use the metric system. Even though the two communities developed at more or less at the same time, they are culturally distinct.

More subtle than these obvious differences are the norms of behaviour that distinguish different cultures. When translating text from one language into another it may be easy to offend the target culture because of a literal translation which appears to use a taboo word or phrase.

These cultural imperatives are less important when highly specific language is used, for example, when translating scientific research documents. There has developed an international understanding within the scientific community which transcends borders.

The need for cultural sensitivity is probably the most relevant in marketing messages. Many of these messages use idiomatic slogans which may have different connotations in different cultural groupings. The whole point of marketing is to get the target group to want to buy the goods pedalled by the business employing the marketing. That’s not going to happen unless translation and culture is taken into account.

Somewhere in the middle is legal document translation. While legal documents tend to use highly specific language, the fact is that different societies use different legal systems which may have unique laws. Translating legalese from one language to another literally is full of pitfalls and that means that legal translators are a highly specialised bunch who pay a lot of attention to the two different legal systems whose documents they are translating.