Translation of culturally colored words: approach of the Russian translation school
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014
Borissova Anna, Kazakh American Free University, Kazakhstan
Gersonskaya Valentina, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
Further globalization and integration
increase interest in cultures of different nationalities, and, consequently,
enhance research of their peculiarities. Nowadays we tend to learn more about
other people`s life by means of art, i.e. various films, books etc., showing us
their mode of life and mentality. Fiction being one of the most reliable
sources, shows all the mentioned above without misrepresentation. The issues of
preserving ethnic “flavor” and national coloring in the translation of a book
into any foreign language is relevant and even crucial for the translator. This
article is dedicated to the cultural peculiarities, creating the authentic atmosphere
of the text and variants of their rendering, elaborated by the Russian school
of translation and implemented into the English language practice.
Literary text differs from other types of
texts and is considered to be more difficult for reader`s perception and full
understanding of the concept due to its diverse nature. Professor L. Babenko
defines the literary text as “a verbal piece of art, aiming to realize author`s
concept, as an individual worldview, created by his artistic imagination, and implemented
in the matter of the text by means of purposefully selected linguistic means,
corresponding with the author`s idea, reflecting the reality and addressed to
the reader who interprets all these in line with his own social and cultural
competence” (Babenko, 2000, p.126).This definition proves that the literary
text has linguistic and extra-linguistic connections. This idea was further
developed by professor V. Vinogradov in his book “Introduction to the
Translation Studies (General and Vocabulary Issues)”. He notes that linguistic
connections or, in other words, linguistic information carries intralingua
content, reflecting objects of the linguistic system, their interrelations and
existing regularities of speech (Vinogradov, 2001, p 23). Linguistic connections
are equally inherent in all types of texts, but the situation is not the same
with extra-linguistic ones. They are mostly common for literary texts; this
feature singles them out of the other text type and causes difficulties in
literary translation. These difficulties are explained by the fact that this
type of information presupposes notions and understanding of the phenomena,
existing in material and spiritual cultures of other peoples (Vinogradov, 2001,
The translation of the literary text is
complicated because of figurative and associative elements, i.e. the
extra-linguistic part of the text. Writing about extra-linguistic information,
V. Vinogradov subdivides it into semantic information (information that denotes
objects); expressive and emotional information (in other words – stylistic or
connotative information); social and cultural information (including geographic
information); chronological information (diachronic and monochromic);
differential information (that varies in accordance with the meaning of the
message, pointing either to the object or the subject, modality, etc.);
background information (Vinogradov, 2001, p. 27). In “Language and Culture”, E.
Vereshchagin and V. Kostomarov define background knowledge as “common for all
participants of communication” (Vereshchagin, Kostomarov, 1973, p. 126). Such
background knowledge includes information about cultural peculiarities of other
peoples, and can be seen as the result of “historical development of an ethnic
community” (Vinogradov, 2001, p. 135).They suppose that authors, while writing
a book, address the average reader. So they consider this type of information
acceptable and appeal to it. Knowledge about the country is a key element in
understanding the text (Vinogradov, 2001, p. 170). However, we must take into
consideration that the reader often belongs to other culture and does not speak
the language the book is written in. In such a case communication will not be
successful, as the message cannot be apprehended in the correct way. It leads
to the change in the aim of translation, as the translator must obtain correct
connotative meaning and thereby provide full understanding of the text.
Translation of realias is the most complicated part of the process, as they
reflect the social part of the language, i.e. the result of interaction between
language and culture, representing the peculiarities of life style and habits
(Repin, 1970, p. 88).
These issues have been analyzed by many
scientists, including O. Akhmanova who writes about realia – objects (components
of culture) and realia – words (vocabulary, representing realia – objects in
language) (Akhmanova, 1966, p. 324). According to E. Vereshchagin and V.
Kostomarov, translation of realias into other languages by means of exact match
is impossible (Vereshchagin, Kostomarov, 1973, p 175); G. Tomakhin analyses different
languages and cultures and writes about peculiarities of realias implementation
evoked by them (Tomakhin, 1988, p 85). In our opinion, the definition given by
S. Vlakhov and S. Florin fully shows the nature of realia. Thus, the realia is
a word, denoting objects typical of life, culture, social and historical
development of a nation and unknown for others. It represents national and
historical coloring, has no exact correspondences in other languages, and so
cannot be translated by means of common rules (Vlakhov, Florin, 1980, p. 265).
Having reviewed works by B. Repin, A.
Reformatskiy, S. Vlakhov and S. Florin we are coming to the conclusion that classification
of realias is based on different indications, such as time, place, semantics,
grammar and phonetics. B. Repin, for instance, singles out five groups of
realias: accomodation, clothes, jewelry; food, drinks; relations customs,
plays, songs musical instruments, ethnographical; mythology and religion;
onomastic phenomena (Repin, 1970, p. 92). Classifying realias, A. Reformatskiy
considers not only objects, but also language. He distinguishes proper names,
coins, ranks and titles, costumes and jewelry, cuisine, direct addresses
(Reformatskiy, 1967, p. 221).
The most detailed classification was done
by S. Vlakhov and S. Florin. They divide realias into three groups, based on
objects, place and time. To the first group they refer geographical objects,
including meteorology, and endemics, the second group is ethnographical
realias, describing life style, culture, money,the third group is social and
political realias, describing administrative and territorial system, bodies of
power, social and political life, military realias, etc. (Vlakhov, Florin,
1980, p. 268). Subdivision of realias in this classification is done taking
into account not only the national origin of realias, but also translation
languages. The authors consider
realias as “native” and “foreign”. “Native” realia is national realia. “Foreign”
realia is a phenomenon not typical for certain community of people (Vlakhov,
Florin, 1980, p. 290). S. Vlakhov and S. Florin suggest subdividing all the
realias for translation purposes into outer and inner. In their opinion, outer
realia is a realia foreign for both languages, i.e. the language of the
original text and the language of translation. Inner realia, in its turn, is
native for one of the languages. Also, realias can be seen as modern, and
historical ones (p. 293).
As translation of culturally colored
vocabulary is one of the most difficult tasks, many scholars pay great
attention to it. E. Vershchagin, V. Kostomarov, V. Vinogradov and others
contributed much to the development of the Russian translation school in
general and translation of realias in particular. Analyzing their works, we can
conclude that there are many ways to render realias. However, the fact that no
ideal way to translate them exists is obvious. The task for the translator to
choose the best variant, suiting the situation, is of great difficulty. The
most obvious way is not the best one. Footnotes cannot be applied in all cases,
despite the great number of its advantages. It takes a lot of place and
requires reader’s attention and patience to read them. It also leads to the increase
of pages in translation and so cannot be accepted by many publishing houses.
Transcription and/or transliteration are
also commonly used. In the first case the phonation of the word is preserved,
and the translator writes it down by means of the alphabet of translation
language. This way is used in translation of the W. Scott`s novel «Ivanhoe»
“…to offer a hundred zecchins in
ransom of these horses and suits of armour (Akhmanova,
1966, p. 647).
We think that transliteration is not quite
good as it shows only the written variant of the word which cannot provide the
reader with enough information. Transliteration was used in the translation of
the Pushkin`s “The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish”. So the word «izba» was
The way called “transplantation”
presupposes inclusion of foreign vocabulary into the translated text. This can
be only used if the vocabulary is familiar to most of the readers. But
translators must remember that this way cannot make a text easy for
Loan translation is a technique that
implies adoption of lexical and semantical model from the original. It was used
in translation of the M. Sholokhov`s short story “Herdsman”. The translator
took the word Исполком and translated every part
«So, we, the Executive Committee,
propose Frolov, Grigory, in this place».
The disadvantage of this way is that
translation of words parts cannot provide full understanding of culturally
Polyonization in translation consists of
the search for the best suited equivalent, incorporating the whole specter of
meanings and colors of the word. For instance, in translation of the W. Scott`s
novel «Ivanhoe» the translator changes baron into помещик. Though such means misunderstanding and
the wrong perception of the object.
Xenonymic explication, called descriptive
translation by many scholars (Akhmanova, 1966, p. 691), allows us to explain
the meaning of a word in the text, as it presupposes word combinations, illustrating
the meaning and peculiarities of the described objects. This way was used in
the translation of the «Breakfast at Tiffany’s» novel by Truman Garcia Capote.
The word combination
«He rang open his cash register, and
produced a manila envelope»
was translated as
«Он с треском выдвинул ящик кассы и достал конверт из
Alongside all the advantages, this way has
also a disadvantage, as the xenonym itself is replaced in the translated text,
and the reader can`t picture the object, and therefore, understand it (Tomakhin,
1988, p. 211).
Techniques employed in rendering the
cultural component of a literary text can be readily seen in a typical specimen
of translation made by a representative of the Russian translation school, i.e.
the English version of the world-famous A. Tolstoy’s novel “Peter the First”
made by T. Shebunina in 1961. The choice of this literary work for our research
has been predetermined by the plot of this masterpiece of Russian literature as
the scene of the book is laid in Medieval Russia and acquaints the reader with
many aspects of the Russian life in the XVII century. To recreate the
atmosphere of the epoch, the writer intensively uses archaisms and words
denoting Russian realias. Take, the first chapter of the novel. Fifty – two pages
contain 194 culturally colored elements.
Realias representing social life is the
majority in the text (126 out of 194). There are realias denoting clothes,
food, interior and exterior of the house, words, connected with religion,
geographical names, words, describing the political and social environment of
the XVII century.
The text is “overcrowded” with words,
denoting objects of everyday life: clothes (лапти, тулуп, колпак, войлочный кафтан, телегея, валенки, кушак, food (солонина, подовые пироги, щи, тестяные шишки, левашник, перепечи), household
items (сени, печь, изба, кадка, волоковое окошечко, усадьба, крыша луковицей, подклеть, крестовая палата), religious
festivals and notions (покров, крестная сила, дьяк, подьячий, звонница, образа, патриарх), geographical
names (Кукуй-слобода, Архангельск, Холмогоры, Река Неглинная, Яуза, Китай-город), political
and administrative realias (дворня, боярское царство, стрельцы, ратник, кабальная запись).
The above-mentioned words were translated
in the manner, typical of the traditional Russian translation school.
Thus, the realias of Chapter I were
translated in the following way:
clothes and foot ware:
words, describing interior, exterior of the
house, and yard:
There is wide variety of religious words:
The names of the cities and rivers (16
There are 54 realias, connected with social
structure and political system showing political climate and governmental
system of that time:
Transcription and transliteration are two
the main frequently used ways of rendering realias, used by the translator.
В стрельцы пойти?
Join the streltsi?
In many cases the translator had to
describe the meaning, but not to translate the given realia:
Под черным потолком клубился теплый, сухой дым, уходил в
волоковое окошечко над дверью: избу топили по-черному.
Warm, dry smoke curled up to the blackened
ceiling and made its way out of the little transom over the door— there was
One of the most frequently used way to
render the realias in the translation of the novel is to change them by neutral
Один, рослый холоп, бросив
One of the men, a tall fellow, flung
down his cards and turned round.
The translator preferred not to miss the
realias out, however some examples of this mean can be found in the text:
Володька Чемоданов с челобитной до царя дошел, два
сельца ему в вечное владенье дано.
Volodka Chemodanov reached the Tsar himself
with his petition and got two tidy villages in
Loan translation is the other way of
rendering, implemented by the translator:
“Oh, they ’veki-i-i-lled me!” and dragged
him out of the house, pushing through the crowd towards the Red Square, to show him to others.
Footnote is the way of rendering used only
twice in the first chapter, and can be considered as the least implemented.
The choice of ways of realias rendering
made by the translator can be explained by great amount of culturally colored
words in the text. Transliteration and transcription are used to preserve national
coloring of the text; explanation of the words, used instead of their
translation, helps the reader to understand the nature of the phenomenon
described. The best ways of rendering, i.e. footnotes and comments in the text
cannot be used very frequently as they increase the number of pages and require
the reader to be very attentive and patient to read extra amount of text. The
translation reviewed reveals the problems that literary translators face and
the way they try to deal with them.
1. Babenko L.G. Lingvisticheskij analiz
hudozhestvennogo teksta. – Ekaterinburg, 2000. – 534 s.
2. Vinogradov V.S. Vvedenie v perevodovedenie
(obshhie i leksicheskie voprosy). — M., 2001. — 224 s.
3. Vereshhagin E.M., Kostomarov V.G. Jazyk i
kul'tura. M., 1973.
4. Repin B.I. Nacional'no - specificheskie
slova-realii kak osobaja chast' leksiki v perevodimom proizvedenii. // Sb.
Teoreticheskie i prakticheskie voprosy prepodavanija inostr. jaz. - M., 1970 - s.
5. Ahmanova O.S. Slovar' lingvisticheskih
terminov. - M., 1966. - 607 s.
6. Tomahin G.D. Pragmaticheskij aspekt
leksicheskogo fona slova // Filologicheskie nauki, № 5, 1988 - s. 82- 90.
7. Vlahov S. i Florin S. Neperevodimoe v
perevode. - M., 1980. - 342 s.
8. Reformatskij A.A. Vvedenie v jazykoznanie.
- M., 1967 - 542 s.
9. Tolstoj A. Sobranie sochinenij v 10
tomah tom 7 - M., 1959
10. Tolstoy A. Peter the
First – New York, The New American Library of World Literature, Inc., 1961
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014