Volume 13, No. 4 
October 2009


Front Page

Forogh Karimipur Davaninezhad
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Index 1997-2009

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
In Less Than Twenty Words!
by Pimpi Coggins
Gabe Bokor for ATA Treasurer
by Gabe Bokor

  From the Editor
The Big Five-O (bis)
by Gabe Bokor

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
I Want the Credits for my Translation!
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

  Translators Around the World
The State of the Translation Industry in Saudi Arabia
by Afnan H. Fatani

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
Cross-Cultural Communication and Translation
by Forogh Karimipur Davaninezhad

  Translation Nuts and Bolts
How To Translate Personal Names
by Behnaz Sanaty Pour

  Medical Translation
'Death Panels'—Say What!!?
by Rafael A. Rivera, M.D., FACP

  Science & Technology
Translating a Patent: Translator's Templates
by Kriemhild (Karen) Zerling

  Legal Translation
Interdisciplinariedad y ubicación macrotextual en traducción jurídica
Dr. Fernando Prieto Ramos

  Translation and Politics
Revolutionary Struggle as a Counterpoint to Colonial Domination: Marathi Translations of Upton Sinclair and John Steinbeck
by Sunil Sawant

  Literary Translation
Teaching Evaluation of Classical Chinese Poetry Translation
by Chen Qiujin

  Book Review
A review of The Distaff & the Pen—French Women Poets of Nine Centuries, selected and translated by Norman R. Shapiro
by Robert Paquin, Ph.D.
A Comparative Review of Two Monolingual Dictionaries of the English Language
by Joana Rek-Harrop

  Translators' Tools
CAT Tools für Anfänger
von Lucia Gocci,
CAT Tools for Beginners
by Lucia Gocci, translated by Gabe Bokor
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Los otros asesores de los traductores y redactores médicos: Asociaciones, foros y blogs
M. Blanca Mayor Serrano, Ph.D.
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
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by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Cultural Aspects of Translation

Cross-Cultural Communication and Translation

by Forogh Karimipur Davaninezhad
Islamic Azad University, Shahreza Branch, Isfahan, Iran


In this paper we first deal with concept of communication, especially non-verbal communication and its features in communicating a message when it happens between different cultures (cross-cultural non-verbal communication). Then, we show how culture affects all those features and see cultural differences as parameters that can hinder or even halt the communication process when moving from one language to another. Finally, we recommend translation as a reasonable way of communicating between different cultures and languages, and introduce two translation procedures.

Key words: communication, non-verbal communication, cross-cultural communication, culture, translation.

1. Introduction

ommunication has always been an important need of all societies. Since the time of our cave-dweller ancestors, people have been communicating in different ways. Neanderthals drew pictures on cave walls, American Indians communicated using drumbeat and smoke. In wars, soldiers used doves to communicate top secrets. Letters and the telephone were the next step in communication. Finally, in the present century most of communication process is done through the Internet.

When words and sentences are used in communication, they combine to make meaning in different ways.
Communication is the exchange of ideas, information, etc. between two or more people. In an act of communication there's usually at least one speaker or sender, a message which is transmitted, and a person or persons for whom this message is intended--#151;the receiver (Richards,1985). There are three major types of communication: Verbal or dialog, Non-verbal, and visual. Dialog or verbal communication is a conversation between two or more entities in which they use their speech organs to convey a message. It has two subcategories: Interpersonal and public speaking. Nonverbal communication is the process of communicating through sending and receiving wordless messages. Such messages can be communicated through gestures, body language or posture, facial expression, eye contact, object communication such as clothing, and hairstyles, or even architecture or symbols. Visual communication, as the name suggests, is communication through visual aids. It is the transmission of ideas and information in forms that can be read or looked upon. (http://en.wikipedia.org)

Communication regardless of its kind may happen between people of same culture and language or of different cultures. There are often more problems in cross-cultural communication which happens between people of different cultural backgrounds than in communication between people of the same cultural background. Each participant may interpret the other's speech according to his/her own cultural conventions and expectations. If the cultural conventions of the speaker are widely different, misinterpretations and misunderstandings can easily arise, even result in total breakdown of communication. (Richards, 1985) Cross-cultural communication, also frequently referred to as intercultural communication, is a field of study that looks at how people from different cultural backgrounds communicate, in similar and different ways among themselves , and how they endeavor to communicate across cultures. (http://en.wikipedia.org)

Culture is a set of beliefs, ideas, attitude, customs, behavior, festivals, cuisine and clothes style that differ from country to country. People living in same country have some similarities in their culture but, upon closer examination, one can also see differences. Expressions like working class culture, high culture and low culture refer to such differences. Culture of a country changes over time. As an example, consider the way women dressed in the Qajar period in Iran, which certainly is different from how they dress today. A person traveling from one cultural area to another does not change his or her culture. Therefore, cross-cultural communication requires caution.

When people of different languages are to communicate, they need a common language for understanding each other. Translation is a reasonable way of communicating in these cases. The translation process is like a car that needs a good driver to control the steering wheel in the right direction--#151;a translator who knows not only both languages, but also both cultures, i.e., is not only bi-lingual, but also bi-cultural. Road signs are translation strategies used in this process. As checking oil and antifreeze by a driver before driving is necessary, analyzing cultural elements before translating is vital. Our focus here will be on the non-verbal communication area, which represents traps for translators because it occurs via wordless messages.


2. Non-verbal Communication

Communication is the transfer of information from one person to another. Most of us spend about 75 percent of our waking hours communicating our knowledge, thoughts, and ideas to others. However, most of us fail to realize that a great deal of our communication is in a non-verbal form as opposed to the oral and written forms. Non-verbal communication includes: facial expression, gestures, festivals, numbers, animals, dress code, plants, flags, and fine arts.

2.1. Facial Expressions: Facial expressions usually communicate emotions. The expressions tell the attitudes of the communicator. Researchers have discovered that certain facial areas reveal our emotional state better than others. Mehrabian believes verbal cues provide 7 percent of the meaning of the message; vocal cues, 38 percent; and facial expressions, 55 percent. This means that, as the receiver of a message, you can rely heavily on the facial expressions of the sender because his expressions are a better indicator of the meaning behind the message than his words. Facial expressions continually change during interaction and are monitored constantly by the recipient. There is evidence that the meaning of these expressions may be similar across cultures.

Smile: Smile can communicate friendliness and happiness.

Eyes: Eyes can reveal happiness, surprise or sadness.

Raised eyebrow: It can mean disagreement or surprise.

Yawn: Early in the morning, it can mean you didn't sleep enough. In a meeting or conference, it means you got bored of the lecture.

2.2. Gestures:
One of the most frequently observed, but least understood cue is a hand movement. Most people use hand movements regularly when talking. It can indicate a particular meaning, feeling or intention. While some gestures (e.g., a clenched fist) have universal meanings, others do not.

2.2.1. Gestures with Universal Meaning: This category includes Salute, Bowing, and Waving.

Salute: The salute is a formal greeting where the open hand is brought up to the forehead. It is often used in the military in a strictly prescribed manner and in specific situations.

Bowing: Bowing is another formal greeting and can be as extreme as a full 90 degree bend from the waist to even complete prostration on the floor. The greeter averts the eyes (I dare not look at your majesty) and exposes the head (You can kill me if you wish). The female variant on the bow is the curtsey, which again can be a full sinking to the floor or a slight bob. Bowing and its variants place the person into a lower rank than the person who receives the greeting and into a position of greater vulnerability.

Waving: Waving can be done from a distance. This allows for greeting when you first spot another person. Waves call attention and a big, overhead wave can attract a person's attention from some distance. This also makes others look at you and is not likely from a timid person. A stationary palm, held up and facing out is far less obvious and may be flashed for a short period, particularly if the other person is looking at you (all you need is that he or she sees the greeting). Greeting children is often done with a small up-and-down movement of fingers, holding the rest of the palm still. Between adults, this can be a timid or safe signal from a child-like position (I won't harm you--#151;please don't harm me.)

2.2.2. Gestures with Different Meaning in Different Cultures: This category includes O.K Gesture, Thumbs Up and Curled Finger.

O.K Gesture: When you put your index finger on your thumb, in America and England it means everything is well or good. In Latin America or France it is a sign of insult.

Thumbs Up: In America or Europe, it's a sign of approval or hitchhiking. In America when a person stands near the road and uses this sign, it means s/he wants to take a free ride in your car, so you will stop and pick up the person. But in Iran police advises people not to pay attention to signs like this. Maybe that person is a robber. In Asia and Islamic countries, it is considered rude.

Curled finger: In America and England, it can be used to tell someone to come to you. In Japan, it is considered rude. In Singapore, it signifies death. In Iran, to be polite it's better to use all of your fingers.

2.3. Festivals: Festivals in different countries have their roots in special beliefs and customs.

Americans and Europeans celebrate Thanksgiving, the forth Thursday in November, by cooking turkey and eating pumpkin pie because when European came to North America, native American taught them how to hunt turkeys and grow pumpkins in new environment. They have other festivals like Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine's Day.

In my country Iran, people celebrate many occasions. Yalda Night festival known as shab-e-cheleh, last Wednesday of year fire play, Sadeh festival, Mehregan, and Nourooz are only some of them. Nourooz was an auspicious occasion for the Medes, our first ancestors. Achaemenian kings celebrated it as well. They put special things on table called Haft Seen, each of which communicates a message. Following you can find some examples.

Qur'an: worshipping God.

Mirror: symbolizes light.

Coin: shows power and wealth.

Red fish: means Anahita, goddess of water. It's a sign of motion.

Garlic and vinegar: is sign of disinfection.

Bread: means blessing and abundance.

Clock: means punctuality.

Egg: is a sign of race and reproduction.

2.4. Numbers: numbers play an important role in day-to-day life in every society, but their significance differs from culture to culture. Number 14 in Iran: Comes from the "14 infallibles." Brides want 14 gold coins as their wedding present, a tradition coming from our religious belief and culture. They believe it brings them good luck.

Number 13: omen of bad luck in some western countrie. In those countries there's no platform with number 13 in some train stations, bus terminals or airports, and no 13th floor in some buildings.

2.5. Animals: animals are also important they live with us as pet and guard our properties. We use their meat and other products. But people have different attitudes toward animals in different cultures. When we call a person owl in Iran, we mean s/he is ominous. (in idiomatic sense). When a person is called owl in America, it means s/he is very wise. (in idiomatic sense). Cows in Iran are used for their hide, meat and milk. Cows in some states of India are worshipped.

2.6. Dress Code: Since the time of our cave-dweller ancestors, people paid great deal of attention to clothes. They made clothes out of tree leaves, animals' hides, and now we have excellent apparel industries that use artificial materials to manufacture clothing. Our clothing is a part of our cultural identity.

Wearing formal clothes: all over the world means person is going to an interview, workplace, celebration, or a place where some high-ranking people are present.

Wearing informal clothes: all over the world means that the person is going to a friendly party, BBQ or an informal place.

In Iran we have a variety of clothing, too. (especially for women) Married Turkaman women wear a small hat under their scarf. There are different styles of clothing for Turks, Lors, Arabs, Kurds, Bluches, Turkmans, and Gilaks.

2.7. Plants: the same plant may have different meanings in different cultures. Bamboo in China is symbol of friendship and peace. In Vietnam it is symbol of being patient and strong. In other parts of the world is a symbol of youth and longevity.

2.8. Flags: a flag is a piece of fabric with special colored design. The flag of each country has some connotations.

The flag of Iran has three colors: Green, white and red from top to bottom. The word Allah is in the middle and the words Allah-o-Akbar around 22 times. Red symbolizes the martyrs' blood. White means peace and freedom. Green means soul of life. Allah in the middle, means we worship God and Allah-o-Akbar repeated 22 times means our revolution became victorious on the 22nd of Bahman. (11th Month in the Iranian calendar).

Some flags have universal meaning. The Olympic flag has a white background and five intertwined rings which are blue, green, black, red and yellow. The rings symbolize the continents. And at least one of these colors exists in the flag of all countries of the world. The UN flag has a sphere in the middle and two branches of olive. The sphere stands for the Earth and all the countries, the olive branch is a sign of peace. Thus, the flag means that the purpose of this organization is to keep peace all around the world.

2.9. Fine Art: Fine art describes any art form developed primarily for aesthetics and/or concept rather than utility. This type of art is often expressed in the production of art objects using visual and performing art forms, including painting, sculpture, music, dance, theatre, architecture, photography, and printmaking. (http://www.en.wikipedia.com)

In the case of painting we can mention Persian miniature, which is in harmony with poetry and carpet weaving. You can find stories of Moses and the shepherd, Abraham passing fire which turns to a rose bush and the image of cypress in the form of miniature in Iranian carpets or on the margin of poetry books. Kianush believes Persian miniature is a small painting mostly related to Persian mythology and poetry.

3. Culture and Non-Verbal Communication: As we defined before, culture is a set of beliefs, ideas, attitudes, customs, behaviors, festivals, cuisine and clothes style. But on a deeper level we can consider culture as the organizer of all these elements. Culture actually refers to a group's shared values and conventions which act as mental guidelines for orienting people's thoughts and behavior. (House, 2009)

The reason for using miniature to depict prophets in Iran, other styles of painting among Christians, having haft seen for Nourooz in Iran, and pine for New Year among Christians, having fish and rice mixed with vegetable or turkey for certain holidays, having special mentality towards cypress and olive in Iran and Greece respectively, bowing in Japan to show respect, burning dead people to ashes in India, or burying them in other countries, and having special pictures or words on flags of different countries all are the result of guidelines that orient fine art, festivals, cuisine, plants, gestures, customs, and flags. This guideline is Culture, which affects non-verbal communication. It is closely related to the life of each society. Therefore, when the person moves to a new environment with totally or partially different cultural standards, his cultural background resists change. In this case, translation as the cross-cultural communication agent should reduce misunderstandings to a minimum.

4. Translation (a Cross-Cultural Communication Agent): Translation is not only a linguistic act; it's also a cultural one, an act of communication across cultures. Translation always involves both language and culture simply because the two cannot be separated. Language is culturally embedded: it both expresses and shapes cultural reality, and the meaning of linguistic items can only be understood when considered together with the cultural context in which the linguistic items are used. Translators should pay great attention to differences in kind and degree of conventionalization in the source and target cultures when transferring a text from one culture to another. One of the main characteristics of translation is its 'double-bind situation', where the translator has to link the source text in its cultural context to the target communicative-cultural condition. (House, 2009) But what is a practical solution/ procedure to acquire a translation that is successful in cross-cultural communication?

5. Transference or Componential Analysis? Transference is the process of transferring a SL word to a TL text as a translation procedure. It is the same as Catford's transference, and includes transliteration, which is representing a text written in a different source-language alphabet in a form readable by the target audience. Transference is brief and concise. It emphasizes the culture and excludes the message and doesn't communicate. It blocks comprehension. (Ketabi & Ordudari, 2008)

Componential Analysis is the splitting up of a lexical unit into its sense components, often one-to-two, -three, or -four translation. (Newmark, 1988) The procedure 'Componential Analysis' (CA) excludes the culture and highlights the message. It does not have the pragmatic impact of the original. It is not as economical as the original. (Ketabi & Ordudari, 2008)

What is a suitable procedure to do a successful translation as cross-cultural communication? Transference or CA? Simply there is no clear-cut answer! Newmark believes that using transference or componential analysis depends, firstly, on the particular text-type; secondly, on the requirements of the audience or the client, who may also disregard the usual characteristics of the text type; and thirdly, on the importance of culture-specific words in the text. He believes a translation is normally written and intended for a target-language reader even if the SL text was written for no reader at all, for nothing but its author pleasure.

House believes that the local situational context has to do with the question of who wrote the text, when and why, who is to read it now and for what purpose. And these different questions are reflected in how the text is written, interpreted, translated, and read. The context of the situation is then itself embedded in the larger cultural world. The translator who finds the correct answer to these questions is successful in cross-cultural communication.

6. Conclusion: Translation is a process of replacing a text in one language by a text in another language. A text is never just a sum of its parts, and when words and sentences are used in communication, they combine to make meaning in different ways. Therefore, it is the whole text to be translated, rather than separate sentences or words. A communicative text will carry its cultural features while moving from one language to another. The translator should be familiar with SL and TL cultures, know the purpose of the communication and the audience for correct and on-time decision making to do his/her translation as effective cross-cultural communication. We ought to keep in mind that, due to differences, there is no exact translation between any two languages. What one can hope for is an approximation. The more similar the systems and cultures of the two languages, the more efficient the translation in cross-cultural communication.




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