The study of address terms and their translation from Persian to English Persian translation jobs
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The study of address terms and their translation from Persian to English

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In translating from Persian to English, choosing natural proper equivalents for address terms is one of the problematic areas of translation. In this study, the researchers clarify the complexity of the address systems of Persian and English languages in order to offer the used translation strategies according to Newmark's procedures for the translation of cultural words. It should be noted that culture is the most important factor involved in the use of address terms and the choice of appropriate equivalent in translation between Persian and English with two different cultures. Considering the characteristics of the interlocutors and the source and target cultures, the accepted procedures for translating different versions of address terms is suggested and illuminated by various examples.

1. Introduction

At first sight the terms used for addressing one another may not seem worthy of so much attention. However, since they play a crucial role in communication and maintaining social relationships between members of a society, they need to be studied in every language and culture.

According to Yule (2006), address term is a word or phrase for the person being talked to or written to. Oyetade (1995) defines address terms as words or expressions used in interactive, dyadic and face-to- face situations to designate the person being talked to. Leech (1999) considers that terms of address are an important formulaic verbal behavior well recognized in the sociolinguistic literature as they signal transactional, interpersonal and deictic ramifications in human relationships.

Address terms have long been of interest to sociologists, anthropologist, and social psychologist, since they reflect the social relationships between members of a specific speech community. Moreover, address terms are not static but vary according to the social context occasion and situation of communication (Brown and Yule 1989). This variation causes difficulty while translating between two languages with two different cultures, which in turn is an effective factor in determining the choice and usage of address terms. Obviously, it is significant for the translators to become aware of the differences between the address terms, the factors involved in their usage and the best strategies, which lead to an acceptable translation.

It also needs to be mentioned that address terms may have two functions: one is referential by which one refers to people; the other is vocative by which one calls another directly. Each of these functions covers a vast area of knowledge and need separate studies. In this study, the researchers regard the vocative function of address terms. The other point of importance is noting the features, which greatly influence the use of address forms including power, solidarity, reciprocal use, politeness, status, education, vocation, age, gender, race and ethnicity, religious and ideology of both addresses and addressers. Above all, culture is a determining factor in the use of modes of addressing since members of a speech community utilize various address terms according to their socio-cultural relationship. Translation as a communicative process should reflect these cultural variations. Therefore, it is crucial to consider address terms while translating between two languages.

There are some investigations on the modes of addressing in English and Persian, nevertheless no single study has been conducted considering the translation of address terms between these two languages. Consequently, the present study is an attempt to investigate address terms in English and Persian and the used strategies in translation from Persian to English.

2. Review of Related Literature/ Theoretical framework

Throughout the past decades, address terms have been investigated sociolinguistically in English and Persian. Although there has been little done on the translation of address terms between these two languages.

Methven (2006) studied the difficulties in translating kinship address terms and honorific pronouns in Chinese and English.He reported that since there are large lexical gaps in translating Chinese family terms of address and honorifics into English, the only way for their translation is through the pragmatic translation of address terms into its simple deictic equivalent.

Xiao Ying (2007) explored the translation of address terms from the cultural and cognitive perspectives. To solve the problem of translating cultural connotations in address terms, he introduced experimental view and cultural model. He asserts that only by adapting various translating techniques can an equivalent rendering of address terms became possible.

Ngo (2006) conducted a study of the strategies adapted in translation of Vietnamese terms of address and reference into English in four short stories. He investigated the degree to which these strategies are effective in conveying the rich nuances of the terms. He suggested that, since these two languages and cultures are distant, practicing translators may need to pay more attention to the need to accommodate the linguistic and cultural elements of the source text in their translation not only for a better understanding of the original text but also for providing the target reader with enhanced knowledge of the customs and culture of another nation.

Inez probst lucena (2009) investigated and analyzed the forms of address in the translation of Animal Farm from English to Brazilian. She believes that since it is not easy for the translator to express the message in other contexts through other equivalents, which cause the same reaction in the reader, it is necessary for the translator to perceive the exact meaning and apply the best form that conveys the whole meaning.

The terms suggested for the translation of address terms are borrowed from Newmark (1988).Therefore, mentioning the terms and their brief definition seems necessary for clarification.

1. Transference: transferring a source language (SL) word to a target language (TL) text (incl. transliteration)

2. Cultural equivalence

3. Neutralization

4. Literal translation

5. Label

6. Naturalization

7. Componential analysis (CA): splitting of a lexical unit into its sense components

8. Deletion

9. Couplet

10. Accepted standard translation (AST)

11. Paraphrase, gloss, notes, addition, etc.

12. Synonymy: a near TL equivalent to an SL word in a context

13. Adaptation (borrowed from Viney and Darbelnet): use of a recognized equivalent between two situations(Newmark 1988 p.103)

3. Research questions

1. Is there any difference between English and Persian address terms usage?

2. What are the potential strategies and procedures used for the translation of address terms when translating from Persian to English?

4. Method

When you see your intimate friends, you may call them by their first name or some terms of endearment such as dear, honey, etc. However, if you visit your professors or boss, you are not allowed to call them by their first name or you may seem impolite. Status, age, education, power and solidarity are the factors involve in the choice of the appropriate address term in this case. Moreover, gender, race and ethnicity, religion, etc. may also influence your choice of the proper address terms in some other situations. These features have inevitably great impact on the translation of address terms between two languages. The classification of address terms is carried out, considering these features. Every classification was identified, elaborated and illustrated through some examples. Due to lack of a specific book and its English translation useful for the study, the researcher collected the examples from different books and articles, partially available in the internet, and wikipedia, an online encyclopedia. Moreover, the researcher collected some examples intuitively from every-day life situations and by reading different English-Persian translated works.

After the necessary data were gathered, the form of every classification was presented both in Persian and English. They were compared and contrasted, then the translation of every category was investigated and the suggested procedures were offered.

5. Results

According to the aforementioned features, the classification of address terms, in both Persian and English languages is as fallows. After each classification, you can also view the suggested translation strategies illuminated by some examples in the tables.

5-1. Personal Names

One common form of address terms is using the addressee's personal name. In Persian and English, people use first name (FN) (including diminutives), last name (LN), first and last name (FLN), and nicknames or maiden names to call each other. In addition to these, English people in particular, use other kinds of personal names like middle name to address each other.

FN is mostly used in informal situations to indicate intimate relationship between users. Sometimes in this situation Persians add a term of respect or endearment to FN like جان /jan/ and آقا /agha/. On the other hand, in formal settings like school or army, with observable status differences, a teacher or an officer may call students or soldiers by FN or LN.

In English, LN is not commonly used by itself; however, its usage may be seen among men especially in the military and in British public schools (Gramley and Patzold 2003)

The main strategy of translating personal names is transliteration, with some phonological adaptation to preserve their nationality albeit if they have no connotations in the text. However, sometimes, especially in literary text when the transference of the connotation and cultural specificity of the name is necessary to convey the message of the text, it is possible either to adapt it to a target equivalent or to transliterate and note the connotative meaning of the name in parentheses or note (either footnote or endnote).

In the case of the translation of terms of respect like جان /jan/, the most used strategy is literal translation; however, sometimes they can be deleted or expressed by their near equivalents in TL.

Personal names

5-2. Title terms

This type of vocative in English and Persian can be classified into four categories: Generic, religious, honorific and occupation bound titles.

Generic titles (GT) include آقا /agha/ and خانم /khanom/ in Persian and M. forms (such as Mr., Miss) also lady, sir and gentleman in English .In Persian these titles proceed FN, LN or FLN. Sometimes they may follow FN. Nevertheless, in English, these M. forms, applicable to anyone, considering age, gender and marital status, are most often used with LN (Gramely and patzold 2003). English enjoys more options in the case of generic tittles. As an illustration of generic terms for addressing women, Mrs. refers to a married woman, Miss refers to a single one and Ms. is used when you do not know the marital status of the addressee. In translation from Persian to English, the translator, being aware of the nuances of meaning among them and regarding the context, age, gender and marital status of the addressee, use CA and will choose the best option.

Both English and Persian have their own specific religious address terms. One way of religious addressing refers to hierarchical ranking of Shia clergymen in Persian language such as آيت الله /Ayatollah/ which is used before the full formal name. Still in English since the religion of the majority is Christian, people use different titles to call the religious individuals. Pope is one of such titles, which cannot stand alone. In both languages, some religious address terms like خواهر /khahar/ (sister) and برادر /bradar / (brother) have different usage. In Persian, interlocutors utilize these terms as a religious way of addressing each other, and according to Keshavarz(1988), their frequent use signifies Islamic post revolutionary attitude and ideology of their users marking solidarity between them. However, in English people use these terms to refer to religious individuals in the church. It should be noted that this type of religious address terms are mainly referential.

In Persian, one particular way of addressing refers to pilgrims of three holy shrines: Mecca, Karbala, and Mashhad. A person who has been to those holy places is referred to as حاجي /haji/ or حاج آقا /hajagha/ for men and حاجيه خانم /hajieh khanom/ for women, كربلايي /karbalaii/ and مشهدی /mashhadi/ for men.

The last case of religious oriented address terms which is specific to Muslims is the use of the titles سيد /seyyed/ (male descendant of Holly Imams) and سيده /seyeedeh/ (female descendant of Holly Imams). These terms can be used in isolation or with FN or FLN. These words are transferred into Persian from Arabic language. Therefore, it is worth noting their translation from Arabic to English in Hatim and Mason (1990) who consider it from a semiotic point of view; however, it is out of the scope of this study.

Each religion has some words and expressions peculiar to itself. It is not easy to find identical terms in another language with different religion. Therefore, these terms need to be transliterated in TL. Sometimes the translator may use a note to explain the meaning of the term and rank of the person. In the case of two words رادر /baradar/ and خواهر /khahar/, their English equivalent brother and sister are used.

Another type of vocative under the category of title terms is occupation- bound terms that are very common in Persian and English language. These titles may be classed as vocational (دكتر /doctor/ (doctor), استاد /ostad/ (master) as ranks in the military or police (امير /Amir/ (general), سرباز /sarbaz/ (private).

In Persian these titles can stand alone or in combination with GT (خانم دكتر /khanom doctor/, آقاي رئيس جمهور /aghaye ra'eis jomhoor/, LN (دكتر محمدي doctor mohammadi, سردار محمدي /sardar Mohammadi/) or both of them آقاي /دكتر احمدي /aghaye doctor Ahmadi/) also they can be combined with GT and FLN ( آقاي مهندس احمد محمدي /aghaye mohandes Ahmad Mohamadi/). Obviously, these title terms would be recursive in Persian; however, in English, they can be used either alone or in combination with LN. Due to the recursion of these terms in Persian language in translation from Persian to English, the translator may translate the main title of that person. In the case of titles in the army or vocational titles, they can be rendered to their equivalents in English. Some of the Persian vocational address terms may not be used as vocative in English, so they can be translated to M. forms.

Mehrotra (1981) points out that the use of honorifics is the common characteristic of most oriental languages. These honorifics carry the idea of politeness, power and solidarity between the interacting people. In order to put more respect and formality into speech, Persian speakers enjoy such address terms. These kinds of titles may be conveyed through job title (JT), FN+LN or GT+FN+ LN.

The English use such words as Madam / sir, Ma'am, Miss, Lady alone or M-forms plus LN. Other terms of honorific refer to the way of addressing officials or royal members. Such honorifics are used in isolation, both in English and Persian.

One of the Persian language characteristics is exaggerating in using honorific terms in order to observe politeness. Such high politeness does not exist in every day use in English. Therefore, in translation from Persian to English these address terms may be deleted or rendered by M-forms. Concerning the translation of address terms referring to the royal members and officials, they can be rendered by their proper near equivalents in English.

Title Terms

5-3. Kinship or Family / Relative Terms

A good number of address terms indicate the family relationships among individuals that may function as a name or title. In both Persian and English, one use these kinship terms (KT) to refer to family members and other relatives. Moreover, one may use such terms to address non –relatives in order to show intimacy or respect. In English, diminutives may also be used. Some kinship terms may combine with name in the manner of title. As Mollanazar (2008) remarks it, some of the relative terms have a wider reference area in Persian than in English. As a result, when translating from Persian to English, the more general word will be used as the equivalent of one of the words noted in the area (Mollanazar, 2008). Since the use of KT for non-relative is not so common in English compared to Persian, they can be translated to M –forms or the same KT, when it does not seem unnatural in the context.

Kinship terms

5-4. Terms of Intimacy

Another type of address terms is used to show affection and friendliness among the members of an in-groups, friends, or persons whose wants and personality traits are known and liked for each other. In addition to the aforementioned conditions for using FN and LN in intimate modes, there are other possibilities to address intimate partners. One is to use nicknames that are defined in oxford dictionary as informal often humorous names connected with a person's real name, his / her personality or appearance or with some thing s/he has done. The other possibility of addressing intimate partner is to call them by their abbreviated FN such as / Mamad/ used for Mohammad in Persian. The last common way of addressing in situations where there is a very intimate relationship between the interlocutors is using pet names like عزيزم /azizam/ (My dear) since these intimate terms are used in almost the same situations and have the same functions in both languages, finding appropriate equivalent is not very difficult. The best technique used for the translation of nicknames is literal translation. However, the translation strategies used for pet names depend on the context, and gender of the interlocutors. One may use literal translation or other terms of intimacy with the similar connotative meaning. However, if one wants to adapt the target text to the target culture one will use the similar cultural equivalent with the same connotative meaning familiar to the readers of the receptor language.

It is worth noting that the use of intimate terms may differ regarding the gender of interlocutors and their cultures.

Terms of intimacy

5-5. Descriptive Phrases

Other types of address terms are the terms, which include an element of description. These phrases may be used as either courtesy expressions or insulting expressions to address other people. In Persian, courtesy expressions may have the forms of N+ Adj, N + N, and Adj + N, N + possessive pronoun, N, Adj and Title+ Adj.[ Adj: Adjective, N: Noun.]

Gramely and Patzold (2009) represent a different categorization of descriptive phrases in English. According to this categorization, there are numerous general terms for males only (buddy, chum, fellow…), some for females only (toots, babe …) and some for both males and females (guys, people). Both English and Persian use some specific structures for insulting expressions: you+ Adj+ N, you + Adj. the only difference is that , in Persian , one adds the word 'hey' to the beginning of these structures as an insulting way of addressing; while in English hey+ you structure is a general mode of addressing which does not connote offensive meaning.

Another common instance of abusive terms is comparing human beings with animals that leads to words like 'cow', 'cat', گاو /gav/, الاغ /olagh/. These animal abuse terms may have connotations. As Newmark (1981) noted, these terms, on the one hand, maybe universally associated with a characteristic, in which case one uses the proper target language equivalent. On the other hand, these terms may be specific to a language or culture and should not be translated intact. In this case, one uses another animal name that represents the same quality as the one in source text, unless the animal with its specific characteristics is important in the text. He also mentioned that insects except bees and ants are vermin in all languages.

Moreover, the animals that do not live near us like lions, tigers, wolves, etc. may be more objectively described and all have special connotation in different languages (Newmark 1981). If the animal abuse terms, having a different connotation to that of the target language, have to be translated by its correspondence, its connotative meaning should be noted in the text or footnote.

Abusive terms may be also formed by using the word head in combination with an Adj, for example bighead and كله خر /kalleh khar/. The other insulting expression includes appellation as a form of Adj which alludes to the addresses personality , appearance or something s/he has done , for instance tom thumb, غول بي شاخ و دم /ghoole bi shakho dom/ . The only feature specific to Persian is to use an Adj by it self such as يچاره /bichareh/ to address people. Since English lack this structure, in translation from Persian to English, Adj will be substituted by another existing structure preserving the main adj.

Descriptive Phrases

5-6. Personal Pronouns

Both in English and Persian, people use pronouns to address each other. Persian has two pronouns تو /to/ (second person singular 'you') associated with relative intimacy and شما /shoma/ (second person plural you) associated with relative distance and formality. However, the English use only one second-person pronoun 'you' (archaic form: 'thou'). In both languages, in more formal situation where a superior-inferior relationship exists, an honorific term such as جناب عالي /jenabe–ali/, you Excellency, is used to show more respect to the addressee. The final matter is their translation, since English does not differentiate between singular and plural second person pronoun, there is just one equivalent you for both تو /to/ and شما /shoma/.

In the case of honorific terms, adaptation may be the best procedure which is defined by Newmark (1988) as the use of a recognized equivalent between two situations.

Personal Pronouns

5-7. Zero Address Terms

When a person is in doubt as to how address people, s/he can solve this problem by not using any specific address term. These zero address terms may be used as attention getters or greetings. Since every language has its own expressions in this case, the accepted equivalents may be used in translating from Persian to English.

Zero Address Terms

6. Discussion and conclusions

This study investigated the system of address terms in English and Persian, with the aim of highlighting the differences between their usage and function in both languages. Nevertheless, the main goal of the study is considering the translation of address terms from Persian to English and suggesting the possible translation procedures illuminated by representative examples.

Personal names are transliterated in most of the texts. However, when personal names have connotation in the text, it had better be either translated or transferred while explaining the connotative meaning.

Title terms have been classified into four categories. The First categories, generic terms are translated to their English equivalents regarding age, gender and marital status of the addressee. The second category is religious address terms specific to Muslims, which are mostly transliterated. The exception is the use of some KT as a religious way of addressing which depending on the context can be translated to M-forms or the similar KT. The third category, occupation -bound terms can be translated via three strategies: 1-by their main title, 2- by their English equivalents or M-forms. Finally, honorific titles can be deleted, rendered by M-forms or by their accepted proper honorific titles in English.

KT for family members and relatives can be translated into their English equivalents.

In the case of KTs used for non-relatives, depending on the context, they can be rendered literally (e.g. brother and sister for برادر /baradar/ and پدر /pedar/) or translated by M-forms, in the case that the use of KT seems unnatural in target language.

As to the translation of intimate terms, the best strategy offered is adaptation (i.e. rendering by the similar cultural equivalents with the same connotation) or literal translation, if possible.

Descriptive phrases as the most culture specific address terms are generally translated via adaptation strategy, since the connotation of most of these terms is important in conveying the message of the source text. Moreover, some Persian structures are absent in English.

The two Persian second personal pronouns (تو /to/ and شما /shoma/) are translated by "you" into English.

The English render the zero address terms in Persian by zero address terms, which have the same function in the same situation.

The most problematic area in translation of address terms is that most of the address terms are culture specific and can not be translated literally. Therefore, the best strategies for translating address terms were suggested in this study; although these are not the only possible ones. This study paves the way for other researchers to scrutinize every classification of address terms from different points of view. In sum, the source and target languages and cultures, the contextual situation and different characteristics of interlocutors, the translator's ideology and personal characteristics are the most influential factors in selection and translation of address terms.


Adj: Adjective

AST: Accepted Standard Translation

CA: Componential Analysis

FLN: First and Last Name

FN: First Name

GT: Generic Titles

JT: Job Title

KT: Kinship Terms

LN: Last Name

N: Noun

SL: Source Language

TL: Target Language


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Inêz Probst Lucena, M. A brief analysis of forms of address in the translation of animal farm, retrieved from the web December 19, 2009.

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Xiao-ying, W. (2007). On address term translation from the cognitive perspective: Sino-US English teaching, USA: 4, 7.

Yule,G. (2006). The study of language. UK: Cambridge University Press (3rd Ed.)

Published - June 2010

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