Stylistic Problems Confronting Arab Students in Arabic-English Translation
Translation, which procures increasing significance at present, has, from time immemorial, attracted the attention of scholars and men of letters. It has, no doubt, contributed a great deal in connecting various cultures of the world. This interplay has naturally led to the enrichment of human knowledge at large (Cf. Savory, 1968: 37-48; Pinchuck, 1977: 16).
Multifarious definitions of translation, though superficially different, seem to agree upon the point that this activity means conveyance of some sort of information from one language into another (1). This process that might appear simple at face value, is, in fact, painstaking if not arduous in some of its aspects, for it comprises transferring not only meanings of individual words or structures into the receptor language, but also stylistic features and implicational meanings. Translation, therefore, is a reproduction in the translated version of the thoughts and meanings implied in the original text (Khulusi, 1958:16). Not only this, but "to produce the message one must make a good many grammatical and lexical adjustments... Many translations attempt to reproduce the significance of the source language expressions," Nida & Taber, 1974: 12)
2. The Test
2.1 Description of the Test
This paper seeks to investigate stylistic error made by Arab students at the university level in translating a text from Arabic into English. We have chosen, as our tested, (30) advanced-level students of the Department of English Language & Translation, Faculty of Foreign Languages & Translation, Ajman University of Science & Technology (2). The tested were allowed to consult dictionaries. Our choice was primarily based on the fact that students at this level have a fairly good command of English after 2-4 years of intensive study. Added to this, they have studied and practiced translation in a number of courses ranging from 2-10 courses. They come from nine different Arab countries. Our concern would, however, be focused on expressive connected writing, i.e. students’ versions should reflect the context (including particularly its literary flavour), and not merely on isolated items or structures.
The passage chosen for the test is on Basrah, Iraq. The economic and cultural aspects of the city are especially pinpointed (3). The passage has deliberately been chosen for the following reasons:
Students’ renderings are analyzed, errors diagnosed, and examples are given for elucidation. The paper is rounded off with a conclusion.
2.2 Categorization and Analysis of Errors
The present study is not going to deal with every problematic area facing students in Arabic into English translation, as this would necessarily require more extensive work. It has therefore been found convenient to restrict this study to one of the main scopes where students’ pitfalls were observed to revolve around in abundance, namely style.
3. Style Operationally Defined
The term "style" has been looked at in different ways. It would be out of the scope of this study to circumscribe this term fully (4). For the main purpose of the present paper, then, style is intended to mean a mode of expression that differentiates one person (here the student) from the other. Our concern would be, however, confined to the stylistic errors and pitfalls diagnosed in the renditions of the passage given to the tested students. Moreover, the text given is "written in the kind of style which the learners are familiar with"; the students are expected to be aware "of most of the vocabulary included in the text" (Barkho and Gorgis, 1986: 102-3).
Students’ styles in their translated texts would be handled with reference to the following categories:
4.1 Literal vs. Free Translation
There have always been much controversies on the type of translation to follow: either literal or recreation of the original text, i.e. free translation. In this test, the phrase وحقول نفطها المتدفقة بالخير والعطاء has conduced to different translations. While (8) students tended to omit the phrase المتدفقة بالخير والعطاء , the remaining tested students rendered it differently, to the extent that not even two counterpart versions were observed. Here is a list of some selected translations depending on literality, i.e. "faithfulness" to the Arabic text:
Table (1) Showing Literal Translation
المتدفقة بالخير والعطاء
The disparate renderings included free translations, some of which are quite unusual. The following are only haphazard examples: "effluent, rich, beneficient, charitable, grand, fload with welfare", and so on.
It is observed that in the above (10) versions, the students sought to achieve literal translation in their attempts to come very close to the style adopted in the original text, i.e. in their views translation should not fall short of the original. Two remarks might be indicated here:
The free translation, on the other hand, appeared both awkward and aloof from the original.
A more reliable translation, then, necessitates little alterations on the original text to bring out the effect required. Such a translation should appear as if it were really the original text reflecting its freshness and spirit (Savory, 1968: 52; 55; 139). A possibly better rendering of the phrase وحقول نفطها المتدفقة بالخير والعطاء is "and its oil fields which overflow with welfare and prosperity," where the image implied in the Arabic expression is reproduced in the TL (English) (Newmark,1981: 88).
Another example in this respect is the word معانقا in the phrase معانقا أسواقها المكتظة which is related to the Shatt-al-Arab River. Although the students’ translations reflected (12) different versions of the word معانقا , yet there appears adherence to literal translation in that (8) students translated it as "embracing". Such a noticeable tendency might be ascribed to their wish to convey the connotative or emotive
meaning expressed in the word, for the river, in the sentence, seems to be personified, and the word "embracing" itself carries a literal as well as a metaphorical meaning. While (7) students avoided translating this word altogether, others made translations
like "enfold", "surrounding", "rounded", "meeting", "containing"; some went too far as to make translations such as "necked"? "includes" "hungs"? "combined"? and so forth.
To "mistranslate" simply means "to translate incorrectly" (Webster, 1976: 1446). One main reason for this is the fact that Arabic and English belong to different linguistic and semantic domains. Another reason might be the limited translation experience of the students. Their translations projected a number of pitfalls attributed to a variety of reasons.
It is worthwhile mentioning here that good translation should preserve the idea (s) of the original. The content of the message should then receive a prior concern in the translation process. Nida and Taber summarize this as follows: "obviously in any translation there will be a type of "loss" of semantic content, but the process should be designed as to keep this to a minimum" (p. 106). Only the form of the message then is liable to be changed. The test clearly shows that the majority of the students face hard hurdles to preserve the meaning of the statements containing parenthetical sentences. An example is deduced here for illustration. For the Arabic statement three different versions were chosen:
(1) Ur which is one of
the ruin for the
(3) Today "Aour" brings
visitors and tourists
In this example, the translated texts failed to convey the meaning required, for while the first and second texts adhered mostly to literality, the third one delayed the parenthetical sentence to the end; this produced an awkwardly non-cohesive sentence loaded with extra words ("it is beautiful area because it is.."). These renditions and many others are "so badly done that the original is... deformed and mutilated"
(Aziz,1971:20). They, moreover, make it rather hard to understand the message of the original text. The sentence can better be translated as follows:
"Today, Ur, one of the antiquities of the deep-rooted Sumerian civilisation, and the surrounding marshes, attract visitors and tourists from all over the world."
4.3 Inadequate Translation
In mistranslation (discussed in 4.2), the denotative meaning of the text loses much of its efficiency. In "inadequate translation", the connotative or implicational meaning is missed. To illustrate this point, two examples might be cited here. First, the word غابات in the phrase غابات النخيل الباسقة has elicited a number of different equivalents. The following table explains students’ various renderings of the word غابات :
Table (2) Showing translation Inadequacy
It is evident that the above renderings are all inadequate since they fail to represent the deeper meaning of the phrase, i.e. the connotative meaning. Reading the passage carefully, one could recognise that the writer allocates an appreciable part of the text to describe the Shatt-al-Arab River right from its formation in Al-Garma, north of Basrah, up to its termination in the Arab Gulf. The main aim seems to display how beautiful this river is. Part of the lovely picture of the whole scene is the innumerable number of date - palm trees spreading all along its two banks. The word "forest" means "wild trees or bushes grown extensively"; the word "jungle" means "a tropical forest too thick to walk through easily", thus, bringing to mind an African flavour; the word "wood" suggests an area of land covered with trees, but not as extensive as a forest; while the word "grove" means "a group of trees" limited in number (Longman Dictionary, 1995). The word "forest" is definitely preferable to other items, for it conveys the density of date – palm trees extending all over the banks of the river. However, a local colour could well be infused into the context by using the word "orchard"; the translation can thus recast as follows: "dense orchards of tall date-palms," where the word "orchard" seems to be deeply associated with the scene of palm-trees being fruit trees.
Another problematic area in this connection is the expression بلاد ما بين الرافدين where students displayed marked disparity of translations. The following table explains the problem.
Table (3) Showing Translation Inadequacy
It is worth noting here that only one student was able to grasp the profound meaning incarnated in the word "Mesopotamia". The author, however, wants to communicate that Basrah, after a relatively short time of its establishment, has prospered quickly in various fields; it, therefore, became a distinguished political and intellectual centre for a country whose civilisation and glories date back to the remotest past. To link past with the present, the translator has to be alert to choose a suitable word geared to this purpose.
4.4 Inexact Rendering
Good translation, no doubt, requires fidelity, on the part of the translator, to the text he is going to render into the other language. Due to the intricate process of translation, translators, as the circulated saying says, are accused of being "traitors". Translation, thus, occurs when "the translator does not tell the whole truth; he either omits from, or adds to, the original sense" (Aziz, p.22) The first aspect above (i.e. omission) is labelled as "under-translation" for important features of meaning are left out (Shamaa, 1978: 68) (7). The table that follows exhibits places where students intentionally omitted words or phrases from the original text; consequently, the translated texts appeared not only inaccurate, but also ambiguous in certain aspects.
Table (4) Showing Under-translation
Errors committed by students are either attributed to their incompetence such as in items (4, 5, and 6), or to lexical or structural complexities as in items (1, 2, and 3).
The second aspect is referred to as "over-translation" where the translator adds more items to the text, thus providing extra meaning. The following table is an illustrative example.
Table (5) Showing Over-translation
To avoid redundancy in item (1), the words "together" or "each other", could be omitted without affecting the meaning. In item (2), the translated forms seem overstated. A better rendering would be "... it had become... " In item (3), the students added more words where they could have omitted them by resorting to "punctuation", i.e. by using either colon or comma after the phrase أجمل المجاري المائية من as follows: " one of the loveliest waterways in the world: the Shatt-al-Arab River which... " In item (4), there is redundancy in the translated text which can be tackled like this: "... of more than three hundred thousand people... "
4.5 L1 Interference
It is a common fact now that the translated text should appear as an original text and not as a duplicate of the original. Interference from the mother tongue plays a vital role in distorting the translated text, although in very limited cases it helps in "introducing a local color into the TL text" (Cf Catford, 1965: 21). The following table displays this translation problem:
Table (6) Showing L1 Interference
Influenced by Arabic, the students have produced alien English forms, especially in item (2). In item (4), the students go so far that they neglect the syntactic form of the English sentence; rather, they should have recast the sentence as follows: "Basrah, the second largest city in Iraq, lies... "
In Arabic-into-English translation, the students encounter thorny problems in rendering style. Students’ errors in translating style stems largely from the fact that they focus on words as isolated items whereas their main task ought to be directed to "perform a given function in the best possible way, and the details concerning the translation of individual words ought to be subordinated to this task" (9) (Kul3maul,1985: 13).
Students’ attention, thus, need to be aimed at "complete discourse, which in turn is incorporated into a particular context of situation" (Harmann, 1979: 67).
The errors diagnosed in the students’ versions fairly indicate that the task of the translator is rather multiple, for he should be aware of the linguistic, cultural, as well as idiosyncratic features of the language involved in the translation process. Savory both succinctly and eloquently summarizes this as follows: "... to linguistic knowledge and literary capacity, a translator must add sympathy, insight, diligence, and consciousness) (p. 36).
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Catford, J.C. A Linguistic Theory of Translation. OUP, 1965.
Crystal David & Derek Davy. Investigating English Style, London, Longman, 1969.
Hartmann, R.R.K. Contrastive Textology: Comparative Discourse Analysis in Applied Linguistics, Exeter, 1979.
Khulusi, Safa’. The Art of Translation (in Arabic), Baghdad: al-Liwa’ Press, 1958.
Kul3maul, Paul. "The Degree of Semantic Precision in Translation". Babel, Vol. XXXI. 1 (1985), pp.12-16.
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. London: Longman, 1995.
Newmark, Peter. Approaches to Translation. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1981.
Nida, Eugene & Charles Taber. The Theory and Practice of Translation. Leiden, 1974.
Pinchuck, Isadore. Scientific and Technical Translation. London: Andre Deuch, 1977.
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Shamaa, Najah. A Linguistic Analysis of Some Problems in Arabic into English Translation. (Ph.D. Thesis), Oxford, 1978.
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تقع مدينة البصرة ثاني كبريات مدن العراق في منطقة أتسمت منذ القدم والى يومنا هذا بأهميتها الثقافية والأقتصادية. والى الشمال من مدينة البصرة يلتقي نهرا دجلة والفرات ليكونا واحدا من أجمل المجاري المائية في العالم: شط العرب الذي ينساب جنوبا . تحيطه غابات النخيل الباسقة مارا بمدينة البصرة معانقا أسواقها المكتظة وأرصفتها المزدحمة وبيوتها القديمة والحديثة وحقول نفطها المتدفقة بالخير والعطاء ليصب أخيرا في الخليج العربي. منذ خمسة الاف عام خلقت ارادة الأنسان العظيمة في هذه المنطقة من جنوب العراق احدى اولى الحضارات التي اقامها الأنسان على الأرض. واليوم تجتذب (اور)- وهي احدى الأثار الشاهدة على الحضارة السومرية العريقة- وما يحيط بها من اهوار الزوار والسائحين من كل أرجاء العالم. لقد أختار موقع البصرة الخليفة عمر بن الخطاب (رض) عام 17ه – 638 م لكي تكون موقعا حربيا لكنها ما لبثت أن نمت و أصبحت في أقل من خمسين عاما مدينة بحرية تجارية كبيرة يربو عدد سكانها على 300 ألف نسمة، واستطاعت أن تكون مركزا سياسيا وفكريا عظيما لبلاد ما بين النهرين وفيها غدت اللغة العربية، التي لم تكن
قداستخدمت من قبل للاغراض العلمية،لغةالحضارة والفكر الأسلامين.
دليل جامعة البصرة 1981
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