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The Problems of Third Person Pronoun in Translation

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Golnoosh Golestany photoTranslation is an activity comprising the interpretation of the meaning of a text in one language –the source- and in the other language-the target. Translation must take into account a number of constraints, including context, the rules of grammar of the two languages, their writing conventions, and their idioms. In translation, both the source language and the target one are important. Sometimes in translation, the translator will face some problems related to the equivalences of source and target languages. Finding a good equivalence is an important job which the translator should care about it. One problem which will arise in translation is the translating of the third-person pronoun from Persian –as a source text- into English –as a target text. In this case the translator will face many difficulties.

A text has some features which make the texture of a text. According to Lotfipour-Saedi (1991), the texture of a text can be characterized by textual features of 1) thematization strategies, 2) schematic structure, 3) paralanguage and 4) cohesion. Cohesive relations may be grammatical or lexical (see Haliday, 1989:49). They are classified as 1) reference, 2) substitution, 3) ellipses, 4) conjunction and 5) lexical cohesion. The first four are grammatical and the last one lexical. Lexical cohesion is a relation that exists between or among specific elements of different sentences in a text and is achieved through the vocabulary. In this research the researcher tries to highlight the problems of the translator’s hesitation of translating the third-person pronoun, which the gender is not obvious, from Persian to English.


I.1 Definition

This section will focus on translations where the sex of the referent is unknown or, perhaps, not relevant. It is the property of a word according to which people assign male or female generality. It may be worth pointing out that social gender assignment is not bound to any specific occupational title as such, but is dependent on pragmatic and societal considerations. One of these considerations is frequently based upon status. Thus, the status explains why most English speakers today will associate the occupational title secretary with a female, whereas the denomination Foreign Secretary or Secretary of State, more often not will evoke an image of a male. In this research the researcher discusses about the problems of translating the third –person pronoun from Persian into English and from English into Persian. In translating from the source text into the target text, the translators usually will face some problems, which some are related to the cultural differences, some other to the language differences. Furthermore, the source and the target texts have some grammatical differences as well as vocabulary differences. So in these cases, there will be a big gap between the source and the target, and we, as translators should try to fill up the gaps. One of these differences relates to the translation of the personal pronoun.

There are certain elements in every language which make reference to something else within the text or context of situation for their interpretation. These elements, in English are: personals, demonstratives, and comparatives according to Halliday and Hassan.A list of personal pronoun is provided here:

Personal Reference: I, you, he, she, we, you, they. In Persian, there is a tendency to omit the subject pronouns or to use their presupposed noun, because the verb carries an enclitic subject

Pronoun; the list of these enclitic subject pronouns attached to the verb is as follows: ام ، ای ، د ، ایم ، اید ، اند

Reference is a different form of presupposition; that is, they may relate to something else, a presupposed item, within the text (endophoric), or in the context of situation (exospheric). The presupposed item usually precedes them (anaphoric relation), and only in case of reference, it occasionally follows them (anaphoric relation) .These relation may be summarized as follow:

anaphoric relation image

A pro-form is a type of function word or expression that stands in for another (expresses the same content as) a word, phrase, clause, or sentence whose meaning is recoverable from the context. They are used to avoid repetitive expressions and in quantification.Pro-forms are divided into several categories according to which part of speech they substitute: A pronoun substitutes a noun or a noun phrase with or without a determiner: it, this. A pro-adjective substitute an adjective or a phrase functioning as an adjective: like that. A pro-adverb substitute an adverb or a phrase functioning as an adverb: how or this way. A pro-verb substitutes a verb or a verb phrase: do. A pro-sentence substitutes an entire sentence or sub sentence: Yes or (some have argued) that is true. In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun or noun phrase with or without a determiner, such as you and they in English. The replaced phrase is the antecedent of the pronoun. A pronoun used for the item questioned in a question is called an interrogative pronoun, such as who.

Personal pronouns: denotatively defined as a pronoun designating the person speaking (I, we, me, and us), the person spoken to (you), or the person or thing spoken about (he, she, it, they, him, her, and them). (American heritage dictionary of the English language).

II. 2. Research question

Inclusion is one of the problems which will be arising here in which the area of the source word is much wider than that of the target word and sometimes it is the reverse. In this case the source language word is more general and the target language word is more specific or sometimes the target word is more general and the source is more specific. When translating from Persian into English, the more general word like "او" should be chosen as” he” or “she” (Mollahassani, 2001) .In translating the third person pronoun from English into Persian or from Persian into English, this case _inclusion_will cause problem for the translator.


It is generally accepted that languages can be classified according to whether they show grammatical gender or not .The determining criterion of gender is agreement, and saying that a specific language has, for example, two genders implies that there are two classes of nouns, which can be distinguished syntactically, according to the agreements they take. Thus, the definition of agreement itself becomes important but, in the vast literature on gender, there seems to be no unanimous acceptance of what agreement means (cf. Corbett 1991: ch. 5) and a bone of contention is often whether or not agreement includes the control of anaphoric pronouns by their antecedent, e.g. the husband ... he. According to Corbett, languages in which pronouns present the only evidence for gender are to be included in grammatical gender languages but, as this approach is not generally accepted, he prefers to label them 'pronominal gender systems (1991: 5). In Daphne du Maurier's gothic-like novel Rebecca, the protagonists, Maxim and his wife, have invited some relatives to their once-deserted manor in the English countryside. After dinner, Maxim's brother-in-law expresses his admiration for the meal by saying:

Same cook I suppose, Maxim?

There is no later reference in the book to the cook and the sex of this chef de cuisine is never revealed. How does a translator, whose task it is to translate the sentence into a language that shows grammatical gender, cope with this problem? How does he/she know whether the cook is male or female?

When a language that shows grammatical gender marks gender syntactically in a way unavailable to a pronominal gender language, difficulties may arise for the translator as to how to supply the information about the sex of the person in question.

Grammatical gender may cause translator some difficulties when they translate from the source language in which gender is differently grammaticalized compared with the target language. These difficulties may be particularly intensified when grammatical gender coincides with the sex of the referent.Nissen (2002; 27), for example, presents an example in which source language shows grammatical gender syntactically in a way unavailable to the target language, so that, difficulties arise from the translator as to how to convey the information about the sex of the person in question.

When grammatical gender is a category with syntactic consequences throughout the grammars, English is said to show ‘Semantic gender’ i.e. the nouns English speakers refer to ‘she’ or ‘he’, assumed to possess a biologically feminine semantic property in the real world. The surprising incongruity reflected by the translations above could lead to the assumption that the assignment of social gender depends on the target language as such, perhaps because of its internal structure. However, the next fragment and its translations demonstrate that the target language as such is not crucial, but, rather, the cultural and, hence, ideological assumptions in which the language is 'embedded'.

In languages that are said to have a pronominal gender system, gender is marked solely a personal pronoun (Carbett, 1991; 12).English has a pronominal gender system based on semantic criteria that is reflected only in personal possessive and reflective third-person pronouns. The use of ‘she’, ‘he’ and ‘it’ determined by simple principles, male humans are masculine (he), female human are feminine (she).

Translating the pronouns through languages that encodes gender differently in their pronoun systems has been always problematic, whereas some languages like Persian, do not encode gender distinction in their pronoun system at all.

According to Livia(2003), when translating from a language in which there are many linguistic gender markers into a language which has fewer, either gender information is lost, or it is overstated, where in the original it is more subtly presupposed.

Al-Quini (2001) argues that the translator has to make a decision between the masculine and feminine pronouns and the gender agreement entailed thereof.



The researcher chooses this subject because in translating the third- person pronoun and also in translating some pronouns or nouns whose gender is not obvious, always the translators face many problems. So the researcher decides to look at this problem carefully in order to find a way for having a good translation.

The researcher tries to find some ways in order to translate the third-person pronoun in the possible contents. In languages, that are said to have a pronominal gender system, ’gender’ is marked solely on personal pronouns (Corbett,1991;12) .Translating pronoun between languages that encode gender differently in their pronoun systems has been always problematic, where as some languages like Persian, do not encode gender distinction in their pronoun system at all.Al-Quiani argues that the translator has to make a decision between the masculine and feminine pronouns and the gender agreement entailed thereof. But as the sex of the referent in the source language is not known, the unknown masculine rather than the feminine form is used. Nissen (2002) argued that in such cases, where target language does not mark gender in predicate construction, then the translator should resort to other means to convey necessary information about the sex of the referent.


The researcher chooses the samples accidentally from the following books named:

  • “of Mice and Men”, which was written by ‘John Steinbeck’ and was translated by ‘Elham Tabe Ahmadi’.
  • ‘Sherlock Holmes’, which was written by Arthur Conan Doyle ‘and translated by ‘Monire Kordestany’.
  •  ‘the Alchemist ‘ which was written by ‘Paulo Coelho’, with two translation 1) Arash Hejazi 2) Dr. Bahram Jafari’s translation.
  • “The biography of Avicenna” which was written and translated by “Eqbal Farhat”.


The researcher selected some sentences from the above mentioned books, and in some parts she compared the sentences with each other in order to see which one is the best.

 There are some sentences which are collected from the book “SHERLOCK HOLMES”:

  • خسته و ناراحت به نظر میرسید و چهره اش بسیار رنگ پریده بود.

She looked tired and unhappy and her face was very white.

In this sentence as you can see the translator can not decide who the subject is and what the gender is!

  • بنابراین برای پزشک شدن درس خواند، و به هند رفت.

 So he studied to be a doctor, and went out to India.

Here again the gender is not obvious in the Persian sentence.

  • یکبار در هند از خدمتکار هندی اش عصبانی شد و او را کشت.

 In India he once got angry with his Indian servant and killed him!

  • بخاطر این کار به زندان افتاد .

He had to go to prison because of that.

Only through the text the translator can understand the gender of the subject.

  • هولمز گفت: " و حالا شما با او در حومه شهر زندگی کنید."

‘And now you live with him in the country,’ said Holmes

Who is "او" in this sentence? Is "او" “she “or “he”?

  • هلن استونر جواب داد،بلی، آقای هولمز ،اما در خانه مینشیند و هرگز کسی را نمیبیند.

‘Yes, but he stays at home and never sees anybody, Mr. Holmes!’answerd Helen Stoner.

  • الان همه از او میترسند و هر وقت او را میبینند فرار میکنند.

Everybody’s afraid of him now, and they run away when they see him.

Again who is "او" here?

  • یک دوست آنها را از هند برایش میفرستد.

A friend sends them to him from India.

  • چیزی نگذشت که او مرد.

But soon after that she died.

  • و گفت: " درباره مرگ او همه چیز را برایم بگو."

‘Tell me everything about her death ‘, he said.

In this sentence there are two subjects whose genders are not obvious!

  • گفت ، "عجیب است."

‘It’s strange’ she said.

  • در را باز کرد و به زمین افتاد.

She opened it and fell to the ground.

  • خواست بیشتر بگوید اما نتوانست.

 She wanted to say more, but she couldn’t.

In all the above sentences the translator will be confused if there is no text and can not choose the best pronoun.

  • به نظرم چون زیاد ترسیده بود فوت کرد ، اما نمیدانم از چی ترسیده بود.

I think she died because she was so afraid, but I could not know what she was afraid of.

  • اول اتاق او را دیدیم.

We saw her bedroom first.

  • بعد نگاهش را به دور تادور اتاق انداخت.

Then he looked round the room.

  • او دستهایش را روی بازوی شرلوک هولمز گذاشت.

She put her hands on Sherlock’s arm.

  • علاقه شدیدی به او نداشت.

He didn’t love her.

In this example also we can see that it is so difficult to decide the gender of the two subjects.

  • " اما آ قای هولمز ، عکسم پیش اوست."

‘But, Mr. Holmes, she also has my photograph.’

  • چه نقشه ای برای آن عکس در سر دارد؟

What does she plan to do with the photograph?

  • وقتی ترکش کردم عصبانی بود.

She was angry when I left her.

  • باید قبل از اینکه عکس را بفرستد ان را پیدا کنیم.

We must find the photograph before she sends it.

  • اگر او وکیلش است، شاید عکس را قبلا" به او داده باشد.

If he’s her lawyer, perhaps she’s already given him the photograph.

As you can see, here we have two subjects but their gender will be obvious through the text.

  • یکی با صدای بلند گفت:"یارو مرده"

‘He’s dead,’ cried some voices.

  • صبح خیلی زود ، قبل از اینکه از خواب بیدار شود میرویم.

We’ll go very early, before she gets up.


  • اما خیلی جا خورده بود.

He looked very surprised.

  • شگفت زده به دوستم نگاه کردم.

I looked at my friend in surprise.

Friend can be a male or a female, which one should be considered?

  • با من خیلی مهربان بود.

He was very kind to me.

In this text, because of the kindness usually we use “she”, but the man is kind so we use “he”.

  • اما هرگز برنگشت.

But he never came back.

  • به قلم خودش است.

It‘s his writing.

We can not decide “his writing” or “her writing”! The text will obvious which one is the best.

There are some other examples which are chosen from the book “of Mice and Men”:

  • او از لحاظ ذهنی خیلی باهوش نیست.

This was translated as: He, Lennie, is not very intelligent.

We can not really decide what we should use instead of ’He’. Can we use ‘She’ instead of ‘He’?

  • او از لینی باهوشتر است.

What is the gender of this sentence? How can we understand the gender of the doer?

He is smarter than Lennie.

  • او همه چیز را در اطرافش زیر نظر داشت.

He saw everything around him.

  • او نوشید و نوشید.

He drank and drank.

  • او با دستانش مقداری آب نوشید.

He drank water from his hand.

The researcher tries to find some other sentences from the "زندگینامه ابن سینا, which is translated by Eqbal Farhat. The sentences are:

  • از ورود او خوشحال شدند.

Became glad of his entrance.

  • او شب را در خانه آنها میماند.

He would spend the night at their home.

In this sentence, what is the subject’s gender?

  • او تا آن روز سه زن گرفته و طلاق گرفته بود.

He had got married three women previously and had divorced them.

In this sentence although the gender is not mentioned, we can understand it through the sentence.

  • او یک جفت قالی را که خود بافته بود همراه برد.

She took along a couple of carpets which she herself had weaved.

In this sentence also we can guess the gender through the sentence.

  • او به هر حال از بزرگان جهان خواهد بود.

Anyway, he will be among the world’s dignitaries

  • او خود بسیار آموخته بود.

He himself had learned a lot.

  • او در تدریس انگیزه ای جز آموختن نداشت.

He had no motive in instructing but teaching.

  • او یادآور میشود همه کتابهای مود نظرش را خوانده و مورد استفاده قرار داده است.

He reminds that he had studied all his desirable books and he had used them.

  • مرگ او دگرگونیهایی  را باعث گردید.

His death caused some changes.

  • باید او را نجات دهد.

He ought to have been saved.

We will understand it through the text; if you look at the text you will clearly understand the subject and its gender.

Without the text, it will be difficult to understand the gender.

Look at these two sentences:

‘A child appeared and began to play’.

In Dr. Jaffari‘s translation it was written as: 

" دختر بچه ای ظاهر شد و شروع به بازی با آن حیوانات کرد".

But in Arash Hejazi’s translation it is written as follows:

٭" ناگهان کودکی ظاهر میشود و شروع می کند به بازی با آن جانورها"

If you look at the tow translations, one of them used the word دختر بچه ای  for the child, but the other one used the word کودکی. What is the difference? How does Dr. Jafary understand the gender?


On the text level, the translator intuitively make certain ‘conversions’, he/she transport the SL grammar into their TL equivalents. The translator should not read a sentence without seeing it on the referential level. The referential goes hand in hand with the textual level. Beyond the referential level of translating, there is a’cohasive’ level; it follows both the structure and the moods of the text; the structure through the connective words that is conjunction, reiteration, definite article, general words, referential synonyms, punctuation marks linking the sentences, usually proceeding from given information (theme) to new information (rhyme); proposition, opposition, etc. According to the selected sentences one can conclude that in translating a sentence from source language the translator’s job is going through the text in order to understand the gender of that noun or pronoun .So in translating the third person the source language -Persian- into the target language –-English- vice versa; one should first go through the text. He/She cannot judge about the gender of the noun out of the text. In such cases which the sentence is out of the text, he/she should consider both male and female genders in translation. Languages that do not mark gender in predicate constructions must, naturally, resort to other methods to supply the reader with the necessary information. The exposition of some of the problems that arise when translating gender has shown that a variety of parameters are involved when translators have to make their choice of gender. This is especially true of the translation of expressions where the determination of social gender has turned out to be more complex and ambiguous than the selection of expressions which inherently belong to a specific gender.


Conan Doyal, Arthur (1384).Sherlock Holmes.Monirolsadat Kourdestanchi. Published by Vajeh

Corbett, Greville (1991): Gender. Cambridge

Farhat, Eqbal (1385).The biography of Avicenna.Eghbal Farhat.Published by Bastan Publication.

Halliday, M.A.K., and Hassan, Available from Principles and Methodology of Translation.Hossein Mollanazar 2001.

Larson, Mildred, L. (1984) .Form and Meaning. Meaning –Based translation. Published by university press of America.

Mollanazar, Hossein (2001). Principles and Methodology of Translation. Published by SAMT.

New mark, Peter (1988). A Text book of Translation. British library cataloguing in Publication Data

Steinbeck, John (1382) .of Mice and Men.Elham Tabeh Ahmadi.Published by Jangle.

T.Bell, Roger, (1991).Translation and Translating. Published by Rahnama.

Yarmohammadi, lotfollah (1995). Fifteen Articles in Contrastive Linguistics and the Structure of Persian.Rahnama publication. in, the free encyclopedia the oxford dictionary of English grammar pro-forms in English

http://www.Translation of pro-forms in English,the free encyclopedia

I: /u-k-Nissen Aspects of Translation Gender. htm

I: / John Benjamin’s Book details for Gender across Language [Impact 10].htm

I:/Gender in Translation (Linguistics).htm

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