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Aspects to Translating Literature

Info: 4217 words (17 pages) Dissertation
Published: 11th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Translation

1.) Introduction

Translating texts requires skill, ability on the part of a translator in understanding the terms used in the source language (SL). As experts have pointed out, translation does not fully transfer the meaning of the terms from the SL toward the target language (TL) in which the texts are being translated. But in order to get closely as much as possible to the exact meaning of the term, translators follow a basic rule to put into mind the cultural nuances of the original term while finding their equivalent terms in another language (e.g. Arabic to English). In addition, because these terms have additional symbolic value as religious terms, translators must bear in mind of being careful in the translation. Toury (198 in Venuti ed.) himself highlights the role of translation in retaining the cultural nuances of the texts by saying that translators have a task “to fulfill a function allotted by a community to an activity, its practitioners and their products in a way deemed appropriate to its terms of reference.”

This researcher intends to ascertain the skill and success of Issam Diab in translating Ar Raheeq al Makhtoom, the memoirs of the Prophet Mohammad, from Arabic into English. Titled The Sealed Nectar, the memoirs records the life of Mohammad, while also discussing the socio-ecnomic background of Arabia during his lifetime. It was originally written by Saifur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri.

2.) Review of literature in brief

Translation experts have pointed out various concerns in ensuring the translation of works from different languages. These range from defining when translations “formally” diverge from the literal meanings (Catford 141 in Venuti ed.) to ascertaining the equivalence of word meanings (Nida and Taber,) But all point to the problem of retaining the message of a text translated from SL to TL as much as possible. In addition translators have to consider the referential meanings of the words that they correspond so that they can define the exact meanings of the SL-based words that they are going to use.

Culture aspects

Studies such by Ahmed Elimam being conducted at the University of Manchester have tried to show the challenges in translating Arabic-language texts to English. Translators undertaking these projects faced the fact that there is a large diversity in terms of structural, grammatical, and semantic structure between the two languages. In addition they have to consider keeping as close as possible to the Arabic heritage the translated works. They also have to make sure that they words in Arabic which, by virtue of having deep cultural connotations, One can see this in the ongoing project to translate the Q’uran from Arabic to English as shown by Elimam. In this project, a team of translators tried to examine 10 translation of verses from the Q’uran and examine what are the grammatical and syntax changes were done in order to adjust in from the transfer of meaning from Arabic to English.

Another continuing study made at the University of Manchester was of Ashraf Abdul Fattah was on comparing the changes of conjunction and passivisation in the translated works of Arab authors. This time the focus was on how changes in conjunction were made between the original and translated work made by the same authors. One can see here the attempt to verify if an author trying to translate his own works to another language can effectively transfer meaning given the differences in languages.

3). Issues in translation

Translation studies have pointed out that there are terms in texts which must be carefully analyzed by a translator before proceeding in the translation proper. These terms are called “sensitive terms” which are defined as words considered central to the beliefs of the people owning the original texts. These may pertain to sacred teachings, quotations by the religions’ prophets or sages.

Because of these, it is vital for translators to understand the religious beliefs, traditions and nuances behind the SL before undertaking any translation of religious texts. However, similar to translating works in other genres, translators have to deal with linguistic and cultural challenges before even being able to translate a work.

According to Toury (199 in Venuti ed.), the main challenges faced by translators involve the systematic differences between languages (in terms of grammar, syntax, sentence structure), the variety in textual traditions contained in the texts to be translated, and also the “cognitive ability” of the translator to comprehend and transmit the meanings of the original texts from the original language to another language.

In translating these terms, it is essential to consider first some important aspects in translation: translation shifts, kinds of norms types of equivalence, and emotive meaning. These factors determine how closely concise has a translator managed to express in the TL the meanings and terms originally expressed in the source language SL of a text .

Translating texts involve changes in the use of grammar, contexts, and sentence structure, said Cartford (141 in Venuti ed.) in a seminal study on translation shifts. These translation changes are categorized as level shifts and categorical shifts. Level shifts occur in translation when the meaning of an SL item, at one linguistic level, changes meaning at another linguistic level of the TL. In particular, this kind of shift occurs when the translator attempts to translate the meanings at the phonological and graphological meanings but the result will be only a shift from grammar to lexis levels. Categorical shifts occur when there are variations in rank, structure, class, term in systems while a text is being translated from the SL to the TL. But Cartford (141 in Venuti ed.) qualifies this description by saying that there is a categorical shift when there is some form of formal correspondence between SL and TL.

Structural shifts are the most common kind of categorical shifts and are noticeable in total translations, phonological and graphological translations Cartford (143 in Venuti ed.) added. Class shifts happen when the meaning of an SL item changes at a different translation level. Unit changes are observed when there is “a formal departure” in translation equivalent in one rank of the SL to another rank in the TL. Finally, intra-system shifts occur in cases where changes happen within the systems of both of SL and TL, where these systems still correspond to the languages’ “formal constitution.” However this must be qualified if the translation “involves selection of non-corresponding term in the TL system”

Toury (199 in Venuti ed.) noted that translators are constrained by a wide range of “social regulations” which govern the behavior of a cultural community. This implied that there are particular cultural contexts which must be retained in the translation of terms from one language to another. At one pole of this continuum, are the absolute rules. These rules include local laws, ethics and traditions. At the other end are the idiosyncracies which pertain to the particular practices of individuals exhibited according to a particular situation. Located in between these far ends of the socio-cultural regulation scale are the norms which refer to the generally flexible set of rules governing particular situations in a context. These three kinds of social regulations influence translation because texts contain particular contexts which could only be explained through understanding these social regulations.

Toury (200 in Venuti ed.) also pointed out that translation is a norm-governed activity because it also follows a set of rules pertaining to usage and transfer of meaning. This is flexible because each language has its particular meaning and context, hence the rules in terms of grammar and syntax may not be always be applicable. As he notes in his article, translation is being governed by norms depending on:

Being a text in a certain language, and hence occupying a position, or filling a slot, in the appropriate culture, or a certain section thereof;

Constituting a representation in that language/culture of another, preexisting text in some other language, belonging to some other culture and occupying a definite position.

In translation, there are two large categories of norms which must be considered in planning and doing a translation of a work, namely: preliminary norms and operation norms. Preliminary norms pertain to the rules and policies governing the choice of text types to be translated and also the “tolerance” for translation (referring to the feasibility of translating terms which may have very specific cultural contexts not available in the language of the translator.), said Toury. Operational terms, he added, refer to the actual decisions made in the course of translations such as the distribution of textual material, verbal formulation and the like. Falling under operational norms are matricial (referring to the determination on the very existence of a textual material) and textual norms (which govern selection and usage of textual material to be translated.)

Toury said that in general preliminary norms predominate over operational norms because the former lays down the structural basis in conducting a translation work (203). However despite this, the norms may still intersect, depending on the translation processes ensuing in a work. He also explained that multiplicity of norms still remain because each culture retains standards of regulating behavior even as they interact with other traditions. As a result translators have to face it and try to resolve them rather than just “ignore.” In Toury’s own words:

“ They only mean that real-life situations tend to be complex; and this complexity had better be noted rather than ignored, if one is to draw any justifiable conclusions. As already argued, the only viable way out seems to be to contextualize every phenomenon, every item, every text, every act, on the way to allotting the different norms themselves their appropriate position and valence” (205 in Venuti ed.)

Another point of concern among linguist and translators is the equivalence of translating a meaning from the SL to the TL. Nida and Taber (200) defined equivalence as “very close similarity in meaning as opposed to similarity to form.”

However, translation theorists have various concepts to explain and classify equivalence. Hoang pointed out in an online presentation that Nida and Taber had already gave out formal and dynamic equivalence in 1982 while Jakobensen theorized in 1959 equivalence can be achieved by a translator by using loan translations, neologisms, semantic shifts and circumlocutions. In 1992 Mona Baker came out with her own set of kinds of equivalences. These are “word level equivalence,” “equivalence above word level,” “grammatical equivalence” “textual “equivalence” and “pragmatic “equivalence.” Baker’s classification falls under the “formal’ equivalence category which focuses on how translators can use the forms of the texts in getting the closest meaning for an SL word, said Hoang.

“Word level equivalence” refers to the attempt by a translator to find a corresponding meaning of one word from the SL to the TL. This effort entails a translator ensuring as much as possible that the counterpart word of the TL closely hews to the context of the original word from the SL.

There are cases however when the texts between SL and TL do not correspond close enough to allow for the use of word level equivalence. In this case the translator must use the “equivalence above word level.” Here, the translator must find meanings which, while not be closely relate the corresponding TL word with the original SL word, must at least be related enough for the meanings to be still correlated.

In the third strategy, the translator uses it when the correspondence between the two texts would only be found between the grammatical structures of the text. As a result, the translator has to analyse the grammatical correspondence between the texts of SL and TL, where despite the variety in the structural order of morpheme, syntax, and sentence orders, the same concepts or meaning can still be correlated between the two texts.

However, there are instances when there is little correspondence in the verbal and grammatical structures of the SL and TL texts because there of a high diversity in the order of word and grammar structure. In light of this, the translator has to find correspondence in the overall textual structure of the SL and TL texts. He has to ascertain that the overall context in the SL text is still expressed in the TL version even though there are variations in grammar and syntax structures.

If all these strategies still would not be able to correspond meaning between the SL and TL, then the translator has to use the pragmatic equivalence mode. Here, the translator uses the implied meanings of the SL text in order to at least express them in the TL .

Another aspect in translating concepts from SL to TL is the use by translators of referential meanings. Nida (56) defines “referential meanings” as the use of “words as symbols to refer to objects, events, abstracts and relations.”

The implication of this concept in translation is that translators have to consider the exact meanings of words based from OL in the translation of texts. (This is called denotation in grammar) This importance is highlighted by the fact that there is a diversity of meanings within those cultures and more so when translators try to get these exact meanings. One way to ensure this is to consult authoritative dictionaries of the SL concerned.

One last aspect to consider in translation is the effect of emotive meanings to the translators. The Summer Institute of Linguistics online glossary defines “emotive meanings” as “affective meaning,” while terms related to it are “connotation/connotative meanings.” In sum, emotive meanings are definitions which have an association with a thing or concept even though these may not have direct conceptual relationship. The translators have to consider this while translating works from SL to TL because there are chances when the meanings that they try to correlate from SL to TL may just be a connotative meaning. Another way is to verify the specific contexts when these words are used.


The researcher aims to test, compare and synthesize the discussions above on various translation principles by conducting a review of “The Sealed Nectar (Ar Raheeq al Makhtum).” An English translation of the memoirs of the Prophet Muhammad was made by Issam Diab and was published in Saudi Arabia. With this translated memoir as the locus of the study, this researcher aims to fulfill the following aims: For the translation shift aspect, the researcher proposes to compare the source language (Arabic) and target language (English), identifying the translation shifts that happened in the book, and justifying the translator’s choice in making these translation shifts. As for the normative aspect, the researcher proposes to find out a.) if the translated version of the memoirs has consistency in the kind of norms and equivalence used even as it approached referential meaning. And b.) if the translated version has consistency in the kind of norms and equivalency while approaching emotive meaning. Finally, the researcher intends to contextualize the findings in the fact that many of the “sensitive terms” may be religious in nature

This is study is made also with the aim of understanding the cultural and linguistic nuances distinguishable between English and Arabic. The researcher would like to point out in particular that the Arabic used here was the version spoken during the time of Muhammad, hence it is necessary to understand the historic-cultural background of the narrative. In addition the researcher would like to find out if there possible refinements which could be recommended for Diab’s work. Aside from it, the researcher will also cite these recommendations as possible future references with regard to translations of memoirs, specifically Arabic memoirs.

Hypotheses and Research questions

The research would like to resolve in this study the following hypotheses regarding the translation of “sensitive terms” in The Sealed Nectar. The researcher hypotheses that :

  • there is consistency in the kind of norms and types of equivalence used while approaching referential meaning of sensitive terms either in the translation of religious texts or the book
  • there is consistency in the kind of norms and types of equivalence used while approaching emotive meaning of sensitive terms either in the translation or the book.

The researcher also hopes to answer specific questions in the course of this study. These are:

  • what are the translation shifts adopted by the translator while tackling sensitive terms?
  • to what extent do the kind of norms and type of equivalence represent consistency in approaching referential meaning.
  • to what extent do the kind of norms and type of equivalence represent consistency in approaching emotive meaning.
  • what are the most successful techniques and strategies used by the translator in conveying the meaning?
  • what are the least successful techniques and strategies used by the translator in conveying the meaning?


As part of analyzing the “sensitive terms” used in the book The Sealed Nectar, this researcher intends to use the qualitative method of research. As generally known in academic and research circles, the qualitative method is used when the focus of the study intends to look at observing at particular characteristics of the sample subject which may be distinct from the general population.

For this purpose, the researcher will both utilize three kinds of qualitative methods: book review analysis, documentary research and contrastive analysis. This researcher believes that it is necessary to use three kinds of methods because of the range of issues involved in the study and that each method have their particular loci. Initially the researcher will utilise the book review analysis to get a grasp of what they entire work contains, and to ascertain the particular context of the ‘sensitive terms” included in the book

In this regard, this writer proposes to first utilise the book review analysis in studying the work The Sealed Nectar He will primarily use the linguistic perspective in dissecting the translation merits of this book because his focus would be on how Issam Diab translated “sensitive terms: from Arabic to English. In the context of this analysis, this writer proposes also to use a) the British National Corpus and b.) an authoritative Arabic dictionary to assist him in comparing the “sensitive terms” which are the foci of this research.

Then the researcher will apply the documentary analysis method to compare the details from the book with details from other pertinent documents. These documents may include other Arab dictionaries, additional biographies on Mohammad, other Arab-language dictionaries and authoritative history books on Arabia.

For the final part of the evaluation process, the researcher will apply the comparative analysis method wherein the findings from the two methods would be examined against each other. The researcher will then draw conclusions from this comparative study and then synthesise it with previous findings on translation to

In the process of evaluating the translation, the researcher will cite previous theories and principles on translation, then use these as benchmarks in how successful was the English translation of Diab of Ar-Raheeq al-Makhtum in terms of transferring most of the original meaning from the original Arabic to English. In this aspect, this writer will primarily use the theories enunciated by Catford (141-147 in Venuti ed.) on translation shifts, Toury (198-211 in Venuti ed.) on translational norms, Baker on types of equivalence, and Nida (56-90) on referential meaning.

But the researcher is open to using other kinds of research methodology if circumstances would warrant it. For example, the interview approach would be utilised if the researcher thinks there is a need to consult scholars on Arabic language, studies and literature. This is because the historical context of the narrative is key to understanding whatever “sensitive terms” which are enclosed in the work. Aside from that, it may be helpful if the researcher can get insights from these scholars regarding English translations of Arabic language works. This is because from their expert opinions, the researcher may further understand the change of nuances in translation, but not only from a purely technical aspect (translations shifts etc.), but also from the point of view of rhetoric and literary excellence.


For the purpose of this study, the research will use the following research tools in analyzing the Diab’s translation work: British National Corpus. an authoritative Arabic dictionary (preferably with references to Arabia during the time of Mohammad), two other biographies of Mohammad, and authoritative history books on Arabia. The reason behind citing these documents as tools in analyzing The Sealed Nectar is that the researcher wants to ensure that the needed details with regard to the study are utilized. The British National Corpus would serve as a guide on English words used in the book, to get the proper context of their usage. Then this will be complemented by the use of an Arabic language dictionary, to see how the original meaning and nuances of the SL based original version of the biography Then to put context into the analysis, the researcher will cite history books on Arabia to verify the authenticity of particular historical instances mentioned in the book. The researcher thinks that a combined use of textual and historical analysis will help elucidate details on the accuracy of Diab’s translation.


While other interested researchers may find a whole range of translation issues in analyzing The Sealed Nectar, this writer intends to focus more on the accuracy of translating “sensitive terms” in the translation work. This is because these terms are loaded with religious meanings, which make these terms more challenging to translate as compared to other terms. In addition, the languages used have different nuances (Arabic as against modern English) which entails additional challenges in ensuring that the meanings of the terms do not get lost in translation.

Tentative Outline of Paper :

Within an allotted timeframe of a minimum of three years, this writer proposes an outline of the paper’s body:

Chapter One: Linguistic analysis of sensitive terms in translation

-----------à 6 -12 months

Chapter Two: Cultural, historical, and rhetorical aspects of the translation

------------à 6-12 months

Chapter Three: Evaluating the translation ------------à 3-6 months

Chapter Four: Summary, implications and recommendations ------------à 3-6 months

The writer intends to use the Sealed Nectar and the tools mentioned above in the first two years of the study. While he may formulate preliminary findings in the course of the study, the researcher intends to finalize them in the last year of the study through evaluation and formulation of summary findings and recommendations. The researcher takes note that accomplishing these aims may overlap depending on the availability of resources and the rate of research/analysis work.


Nida, E, and Taber C. The Theory and Practice of Translation. Boston: Brill, 2003.pp. 56- 90

Chapters in Books

Catford, J.C.. "Translation Shifts.'" The Translation Studies Reader. Ed. Lawrence Venuti. London: Routledge, 2000. 141-147

Toury, Gideon. "Nature and Role of Norms in Translation.” (orig. 1978, rev. 1995) The Translation Studies Reader. Ed. Lawrence Venuti. London: Routledge, 2000. 198-211


"Ar Raheeq Al Maktoom." University of Arkansas. July 28,2009 < http://comp.uark.edu/~muslim/publications/Ar-Raheeq%20Al-Makhtum.pdf

"Translation Equivalence." Hoang. October 19 2008. July 28, 2009 .

"Elimam." University of Manchester. July 28, 2009 <. .

"Abdul Fattah." University of Manchester. July 28, 2009 <

"Glossary." Summer Institute of Linguistics. July 28, 2009 <. .

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Translation is an activity of conveying the meaning of spoken or written words in a different language to the source language. Literal translation, or “metaphrase” is a word for word translation which often does not convey the true meaning of a sentence, whereas to “paraphrase” might use other words to convey the intended meaning.

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