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In the process of translation, there are different correlations between two languages: the source language and the target language. The source text and the target text are objective facts that are available for research and analysis. Comparing these texts we can reveal an inner mechanism of translation, its equivalent units and also discover the changes of form and content occurred through replace of the unit in the original text by the appropriate equivalent unit in the target text. Analysis of translation helps us to reveal how we should overcome the typical difficulties of translation connected with the specific of each language and what elements of original stay untranslatable in the text.
A comparative analysis of translations reveals the fact that there are some lexical units in the source language that don’t have direct correspondence in the target language. These kinds of lexical units are called nonequivalent units. Nonequivalent units can be found primarily among neologisms, in the words indicating specific notions and national realities, among little known names and appellations for which we have to create occasional correspondences in the process of translation. For example such English words as rope (a cigar), baby-sitter, barber (vapor above water in a cold day) don’t have direct equivalents in Russian.
However the fact of existence of nonequivalent units doesn’t mean that their meaning can’t be transferred in translation. Numerous linguistic researches showed that despite the big difficulties in transferring of nonequivalent vocabulary the solution of this problem can be found. In this work we will see varieties of English untranslatable vocabulary, its classifications and the ways of its translation into Russian language. We aim to prove the importance and necessity of researching untranslatable vocabulary for translator’s activity.
II. The notions of nonequivalent vocabulary in translating from the source language into the target language as one of the main aspects of the theory of translation. Untranslatable English.
Indeed, there are different elements in every language for which it’s impossible to transfer their meaning. Above all, to these untranslatable elements we can relate intra-linguistic meaning of the units of the original text. Sometimes separate words or larger elements of the text can’t be transferred because they are tightly connected with intra-linguistic meaning of these units. For example, in the second part of the famous tale about Alice, Lewis Carol parodied late English romanticism with imitation of Anglo-Saxon olden time and along with such elements of narration as descriptions of battles or ballads etc., he used the same stylization of olden time in writing the names of the main heroes in the first part of the tale: Hare and Hatter. In the second part of the tale these heroes appear again but like chess-men with the names Haigha and Hatia but they are read as in the second part. None of the existence translations reproduces this element of irony.
The other example with loss of considerable element of the narration we find out in the tale of O. Henry “The marry month of May”. In this tale the author relates May month to the noun of feminine gender but “May” is a noun of masculine gender in Russian:
This May, who is no goddess, but Circe, maske rading at the Dance given in the honor of the fair debutante, Summer, puts the kibosh on us all..
The deadly work of the implacable, false enchantress May was done..
But who shall shame the bright face of May. Rogue though she be and disturber of sane men’s peace, no wise virgin’s cunning nor cold storage shall make her bow her head in the bright galaxy of months.
In fact all tale is built on the character of light-headed May, empty-headed and naughty that forces the old man-invalid in a wheelchair to ask the housekeeper’s hand. But we see that this naughty May in Russian is “he” and in English is “she” and in the text this prototype is compared with guileful seduce Circe. All that is important element of the substance, which however can’t be transferred in Russian translation.
The restrictions of the translation of intra-linguistic meaning exist not only on the level of separate lexical units. Sometimes we can’t transfer the meanings in the presence of formal and semantic similarity/opposition of lexical units, sound and semantic similarity/opposition of morpheme structures and also relations of the units which are used in rhymes, alliterations or play on words. Again turning back to “Alice’s adventures in Wonderland” we will see that there are the different subjects in “sea school” such as Reeling and Writhing, Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, Derision, Mystery Ancient and Modern, Laughing and Grief. All these words express relations and states that a person gets to know in his life. But there is also another meaning of these words and it lies in the fact that they are very similar to ordinary subjects taught in school:
Reeling and Writhing - Reading and Writing
Ambition - Addition
Distraction - Subtraction
Uglification - Multiplication
Derision - Division
Mystery Ancient and Modern - History Ancient and Modern
Laughing and Grief -Latin and Greek
So this play on words built on sound similarity and difference of morpheme units wasn’t transferred entirely in any translation.
However, the most difficult for translation cases of playing on words are the cases with casual or intentional shifts of letters, words or parts of words. As the results, we get difficult sometimes hardly perceptible meaning:
After speeches the two national anthems were sung and the two youngest boys and the youngest girl received momentums (Punch).
As a result of mixing two Latin words “memento”- souvenir and “momentum” – impulse, push the children get punch instead of gifts.
The other examples of play on words can be following examples of interchange of letters or parts of the worlds: florn cakcs (forgotten cakes) from corn flakes or chapel harlot from apple charlotte.
Viewing untranslatable in language it would be rather a mistake if we considered that untranslatable vocabulary could exist only within intra-linguistic meanings of the lexical units. Besides language difficulties in translating there is also cultural barrier between the source language and the target language. To put it more precisely the language and culture are part and parcel of a single whole. So we have to speak of the culture component that is revealed in whole mass of knowledge of the collective of the source language but which often doesn’t coincide with mass of knowledge of the collective of the target language.
Thus, it is difficult to translate the name of the tale by O. Henry “The marry Month of May”. At first, there is a pun in the name: merry-“gay, jolly” and marry-“to get married”. Second, there is the threefold alliteration (repetition of homogeneous consonants). Third, there is an illusion of classic prototype of May came from traditional English folklore; May as the merry month symbolized the beginning of summer, the month of love. Therefore, it is just impossible to express this cue in the frame of the name itself.
These kinds of allusions can’t be transferred in most cases.
At the same time, we shouldn’t mix untranslatable elements by virtue of language or cultural differences and nonequivalent elements or lexical units of the source language that don’t have equivalents in the target language. If the first it’s a part, the second it’s the whole.
In that way we can determine nonequivalent vocabulary as lexical units of the source language that don’t have appropriate equivalents in vocabulary by means of which we could transfer on given level plan of expression all relevant components of meanings within given context or one of the variants of the meaning of the source lexical unit.
III. Types of nonequivalent vocabulary and the ways of translation of nonequivalent vocabulary from English into Russian.
3.1. Divergence or referential meanings of lexical units in the source language and the target language.
Despite of the fact that referential meaning (or object-logical, denotative meaning) of lexical units doesn’t usually shift during the process of translation there are nevertheless the cases of discrepancy in referential meanings of lexical units. These cases of discrepancy are usually of two types:
The lack of lexical unit in the target language equal by its referential meaning with lexical unit in the source language.
Incomplete coincidence of referential meanings of the lexical units in the source and target languages.
3.1.1. Lack of a word in vocabulary of the target language with the same referential meaning presumes a lack of notion in the target language because a notion appears before a word. A translator faces with the problem of a lack of notion in language mostly translating such types of vocabulary as terms, neologisms and semantic lacunas.
Terms are the words and word-combinations of special language (scientific, technical) set up for exact expression of special ideas or objects. They mostly have constant equivalents in other languages. And this fact is conditioned more or less by steady development of science and technique in the world. For the target language, nonequivalent terms are such terms that reflect some new ideas for this language. It’s clear that in time these nonequivalence vanishes with development of science and culture.
The main advantages of a term are its brevity and unambiguity. This fact defines the choice of the way of translation of these terms. And at first place its borrowings. For example:
radar - радар
viewfinder - видоискатель
know-how - ноу-хау
The other way of terms translation is replication i.e. reproduction of inner semantic structure of a term. For example:
brain drain - утечка мозгов
aircraft carrier - авианосец
cardio-vascular - сердечно-сосудистый
Descriptive kind of translation is also typical for translating of terms.
digital watch - часы с цифровой индикацией
accidental black spot - опасный участок дороги
There is no need to say that lack of knowledge terminology can lead to different kind of mistakes in translation and distortion of the meaning of the whole context as we can follow in the next example:
Suppose I go straight to Mother and tell her that you’ve decided to make her your temporary mistress. Do you think you’d ever get to first base? (O’Hara J. The instrument) – «Что если я пойду прямо к матери и скажу, что ты собираешься сделать ее на время совей любовницей? Думаешь, тебе удастся занять хотя бы первую позицию?» (Пер. Н. Волжиной).
In this example violation of meaning is connected with violation of pragmatic meaning of the term that is used both in British and American variants of English in everyday language. The meaning of this term came from baseball and it can be ambiguous for Russian translator. Evidently in this example pragmatic meaning was more important for translator and this element of pragmatism should have been transferred in the following way: «Думаешь, тебе удастся хотя бы начать свою игру?» или «И тебе не удастся даже начать свою игру».
There are plenty of little known author’s names in different literary works. For example, Humpty-Dumpty – «Шалтай-Болтай» (L. Carol, “Alice’s adventures in Wonderland”), Bumbershoot – «брамбахер» J. Cheever “Bullet-Park”) etc. These are so-called author's neologisms. They can be rarely found but sometimes you do come across on them during the translation. They are always hard to translate, because the important element of their meaning both the referential meaning (or the meaning that an author puts in a word) and the pragmatic meaning (the meaning of novelty and figurativeness of a world). Therefore, to achieve adequacy in translation we have to transfer both these meanings on the target language.
Speaking of semantic lacunas, we mean absence of concrete adequate notion for some lexical unit (word, word-combination) in the target language. For example, there are several words in English below for which we don’t have appropriate notions in Russian to identify them:
bouncer - человек или вещь крупных размеров
barber - пар над водой в морозный день
beauty sleep - ранний сон до полуночи
glimpse - быстрый взгляд, брошенный мельком
Semantic lacunas imply the notions that are lacking in the target language owing to the national thinking. However, this doesn’t mean that Russian collective can’t understand the meaning of semantic lacuna. Any Russian can understand that does “bouncer” or “beauty sleep” mean. There are just no determine words or word-combinations assigned to these notions but that doesn’t mean that Russian can’t operate on these notions. According to L. Sherba, “reality is accepted in different ways depending on real using this reality in every society, partly depending on traditional forms of expressions in every language.”
Most part of semantic lacunas is translated by descriptive method of translation. For example:
I however remained censorious, and the subsequent glimpses of Sebastian, driving in a hansom cab..- «Я, однако, отнесся к молодому человеку неодобрительно и в дальнейшем видя его мельком на извозчике..»
3.1.2. The words of wide meaning
Earlier we viewed nonequivalence of lexical units connected with discrepancy of their referential meanings in the target language and in the source language or, saying from the extra linguistic point, with the lack of appropriate object or occurrence in the target language. Thus this nonequivalence is obvious and requires no evidences. But there are another type of discrepancy of the referential meanings that is not full coincidence of the referential meanings of the lexical units of target and source languages. For example for the Russian word «рука» we have two possible variants of translation in English “arm” and “hand”, for the English word “cheese” we have also two possible variants in Russian «сыр», «творог». In both cases, we have the word expressing broader meaning in the target language than corresponding to it word in the source language.
«Его ранили в руку». (Arm? Hand?)
«Milk is used to make cheese». (Творог? Сыр?)
«На завтрак была каша». (Cruel? Porridge?)
None of these examples doesn’t give us a possibility to translate the word without leaving the bounds of language context. However leaving the bounds of language context can’t provide us a right choice always.
Let us take the English word party that means in Russian: партия, вечер, отряд, команда, группа, прием гостей, вечеринка и др.
In the novel of Christie A. “The Secret of Chimneys” we come across on the following phrase: “I get you”, said Mr. Fish “Under the circumstances, though, it will be a melancholy party”. In order to make right choice we have to know real situation. There are people invited to the country-house on the weekend. Account of the murder happened in the house all guests will have to stay for some time until the police permit them to leave. Therefore Mr. Fish says this phrase.
As the matter concerns the weekend in the country-house we don’t have any appropriate correspondence in Russian language. This is not «прием гостей» or «вечер» as the quests came for several days. The word «компания» doesn’t suit much either because if we said «компания у нас будет невеселая», this would mean that all people in this company are dull or someone has something unpleasant happened. So we would be far from text. Thus, we have to find some other tools for achieving adequacy of translation. For example: «Понимаю», - ответил мистер Фиш, - «однако, при сложившихся обстоятельствах и гостям и хозяевам будет не до увеселений».
Similar example we meet again in this book several times: The house party retired to bed. – Все в доме разошлись по своим спальням. Somehow or other, the party didn’t seem to go”. – Так или иначе, но все чувствовали себя скованно. In neither of the above-listed examples we can’t use the equivalents that bilingual dictionary offers. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that there is no referential meaning of the word party in Russian.
The example with the word party confirms that that we can face with the cases when the choice of one possible equivalent of the word from the dictionary can’t solve a problem of adequate translation of these kinds of words or so-called words of wide meaning.
The main way of translation of these kinds of words is their concrete definition on the base of the information extracted from wider context:
and when it rains we don’t get too wet, and in the winter we can keep the place warm enough so nobody dies of exposure while they are sleeping (Haggins G.H. The Judgment of Deke Hunter). - …и нас не будет мочить дождь, а зимой у нас будет тепло и никто не помрет от холода, замерзнув во сне.
The girl was exhausted by pain and exposure and thirst. (Upfield A. Bony and the Mouse) – Боль, жара и жажда отобрали у нее остатки сил.
Here we found the prisoners, who had the night on the beach, having been totally forgotten by us, as our minds had been full of our guests, and were ultimately overcome by sleep. They didn’t seem the worse for their exposure, however, as we judged by the hearty appetite it which they devoured the breakfast. (Ballantine R. The Coral Island). – Здесь то мы и обнаружили наших пленников, которые провели ночь на берегу, забытые нами, поскольку наши помыслы были заняты пришельцами, и где их в конце концов и сморил сон. Впрочем, ночь, проведенная на открытом воздухе, нисколько им не повредила, если судить по тому волчьему аппетиту, с которым они набросились на завтрак.
Concrete definition also can bear character of descriptive translation as we see in the last example.
However the descriptive way of translation don’t always bear character of concrete definition; on the contrary, it can correspond to widest meaning of the source lexical unit.
And some day, when you’re in Paris with your lover, you’ll come here and order just the same things as we’re having today” (Huxley A. After the Fireworks). – И когда-нибудь, когда ты приедешь в Париж с человеком, которого ты полюбишь, вы зайдете в этот ресторан и ты закажешь тот же самый ужин, что и сегодня.
Sometimes there is a more compact form of expression of a word in the source language than in the target language. For example when a word is expressed like a compound one in the source language. There are some types of compound words in English:
compound nouns with different combinations:
noun+man+ship: lifemanship, gamesmanship
noun+noun+er: boat-misser, job-getter
compound adjectives and participles with verbal element:
heavy-handed, motherly-looking, whisky-riddled, error-plagued
compound adjectives of others models:
noun+proof: foolproof, childproof, kiss-proof
to ghostwrite, to brainstorm, to buttonhole
The separate group of compound words is represented by so-called words-phrases. They are similar to a sentence or a word-combination by its structure and they are to serve mostly as definitions. Unlike the ordinary definitions expressed by one word, such words-phrases consist of several words that present a single whole that can’t be broken by setting in other components.
We can refer to this group following kinds of words: can’t-do-with-it-a-thing (type of hair), a shoot-to-kill (order), to do-this-by-yesterday (order), a-hit-and-run (motorist), a man-bites-dog (episode), a bury-the-hatchet (meeting).
The majority of above-named compound words rarely get into bilingual dictionary because they are formed by certain models that are utterly active in the modern English language so the dictionaries can’t fix them. However, the difficulties in translations of these kinds of compound words arise not due to understanding, as we can easily understand their meaning from the context, but due to necessity to find adequate ways of expressing for these words in Russian.
Most often we use descriptive way of translation of these words and also make some transformations within the whole sentence:
“Some people”, he said, “are born boat-missers, and train-missers and plane-missers” (Shaw I. Then We Were Three). – «Некоторые, - сказал он, - от рождения обречены на то, чтобы опаздывать на пароходы, поезда и самолеты». (descriptive way of translation in combination with replace of noun phrase on verb phrase)
All very nice, but this diploma is not a job-getter, above all because it does not include any practical work (The Times, 1968, Oct.30). – Это все прекрасно, но с этим дипломом на работу не устроишься, и прежде всего потому, что эти курсы не дают никаких практических навыков. (again descriptive way of translation in combination with replace of noun phrase on verb phrase)
She was a motherly-looking woman of about forty with a kindly, fat face (Shaw I. The Young Lions). – Это была женщина лет сорока с полным, добродушным, материнским лицом.
Mrs. Drechten lived a patient, homely hard-working life (Stein G. The Good Anne). – Миссис Дрехтен была женщиной лет сорока с полным, добродушным, материнским лицом. (transfer definition’s indications from the word life to the word woman)
His habit of spread-eagling the issues began to hurt him in the late primaries (Newsweek, 1976, Sept.13). – Его привычка шапкозакидательного подхода к сложным проблемам на последнем этапе предварительных выборов стала вредить ему. (descriptive way of translation by means of analogue)
Recently, a sort of man-bites-dog episode occurred in Iowa City, Iowa. (Newsweek, 1977, Nov. 22). – Недавно в г. Айова, штат Айова, произошел дикий, несуразный случай.(explanatory way of translation)
Despite computers’ blinding speed, data entry – getting information into the machine – is still a slow, tedious and error-plagued job, especially on smaller computers (Newsweek, 1977, Jan.24). – Несмотря на умопомрачительные скорости работы ЭВМ, ввод данных – то есть процесс введения исходной информации в машину, особенно на малых компьютерах, до сих пор остается медленным утомительным процессом, сопряженным с неизбежными частыми ошибками. (descriptive way of translation)
So as we can see from all these examples adequacy of translations of these kind of words is achieved by descriptive way of translation or by using different kinds of transformations. Bilingual dictionaries as a rule don’t give us equivalents for such words or give descriptive translations which however, far not always can be used without some extra transformations. All said above let us relate these kinds of words to nonequivalent vocabulary.
3.2.Divergence or pragmatic meanings of lexical units in the source language and the target language.
Pragmatically nonequivalent vocabulary.
In previous part we viewed the types of nonequivalent vocabulary nonequivalence of which was caused by the lack of appropriate notions in the target language or by the discrepancy in the vision of the world. But there is another type of nonequivalence caused by the discrepancy of pragmatic meanings of the words. The discrepancy of pragmatic meanings of the words can be found even more often than discrepancy of referential meanings. In any language in comparison with another language we can find the words coincident by their referential meanings but different by their stylistic characteristics, register and emotional coloring.
Thus, there are no pragmatically identical equivalents for colloquial names of different monetary unit in the USA and Great Britain. Some words like buck, clacker, clam have in Russian only one correspondence – dollar, neutral by its register and emotional coloring.
Some contemptuous names of nations in American English also find no equivalents by their emotional coloring equal them in Russian: Ruskies – русские, Limeys – англичане, Dagoes – романоязычные народы (итальянцы, испанцы и т.д.)
On the other hand, Russian words with the suffixes of subjective estimate have no appropriate equivalents in English. For example for several variants of the word бабушка: бабуля, бабуся, бабка, бабище, бабенция и т.д. we have only three variants of this word in English with the same referential meaning but different by their scope and connotations: grandmother, granma, granny.
Saying of pragmatically nonequivalent vocabulary in english, we can single out some its types.
Departures from language norm.
There are following types of abnormal vocabulary: dialecticisms, slang, vulgarisms, archaisms and some others that don’t have identical pragmatic equivalents in Russian.
Its established fact that sometimes dialecticisms don’t have equivalents in the target language. For example: bairn – ребенок (шотл.), guess – быть уверенным, считать (амер.), schedule – расписание (амер.). Even if such lexical unit is registered in bilingual vocabulary, the transmission of its pragmatic meaning (its belonging to certain dialect or national variant) can be a difficult problem. More often the only thing a translator can do is to hint about it in the text by means of different insets: «сказал он с сильным американским акцентом» or «добавил он, употребив типично американское словечко».
As for some other types of departures from language norm, some of them such as jargon, slang often are interlaced with one another and represent the sort of vernacular. Thus there are some words that don’t have equivalents in Russian: Big Apple – большой город (любой, но чаще Нью-Йорк), nixy – нет, rope – сигара. As long as these lexical units are departures from norm towards decreasing of style we can call then sub-standard vocabulary.
Most part of archaisms is often hard to translate. So there are no Russian equivalents for English archaisms: astonied (=astonished), behest (=order), demesne (=estate), Sire (=father) etc. Also there are poetic digressions, for example: clime – страна, климат, eld – старость, orison – молитва, happly – случайно, внезапно.
These types of words represent the digressions from language norm but towards increasing of the language as elevated and poetic one in contrast to sub-standard vocabulary.
To departures from language norm we can also relate individual neologism or so-called liberty of spoken language. For example in Russian we can relate to this group the words: загибоны, свинтус, спиноза, in English: flopnik – неудачно запущенный спутник (от английского flop – шлепнуться), buttinsky – человек, который всюду встревает (от английского butt in – встревать, совать нос не в свое дело). Such distortions are directed to achievement of humorous effect.
Speaking of departures from language norm we should note that they are not become exhausted just by nonequivalent vocabulary. Thus, dialect character of the speech can be transmitted by grammatical and phonetic departures from language norm besides just dialect words. However we can’t relate them to nonequivalent vocabulary also as some other distortions and defects of speech (accent, children's speech, broken speech, individual defects of speech) as they are concerned just phonetic or grammatical distortions of the words. Undoubtedly we can face with difficulties translating them. However since they exceed the bounds of nonequivalent vocabulary we don’t take them up.
Thus, in this work we examined different types of nonequivalent vocabulary. We discovered that there are two reasons caused the factor of nonequivalence: divergence of referential meanings of lexical units in the source language and the target language and divergence of pragmatic meanings of lexical units. The cases of discrepancy of referential meanings are usually connected with a lack of lexical unit in the target language equal by its referential meaning with lexical unit in the source language or in another case, caused by incomplete coincidence of referential meanings of the lexical units in the source and target languages.
In summary, I would like to make a brief mention of the main problems connected with transferring one or another kind of nonequivalent units.
In the part devoted to nonequivalent vocabulary caused by the divergence or referential meanings of lexical units, we saw that some types of nonequivalent units can be easily transferred by different types of translation like for instance, terms or semantic lacunas, and don’t arouse big difficulties for a translator. But some other types of nonequivalent units can be a hard deal for a translator to transfer their meaning. Such are author’s neologisms that represent creative individuality of an author and it’s important to transmit both the referential and pragmatic meanings of them. The omission of these words is very undesirable as it leads to the loss of artistic integrity of the author’s work.
With the words of wide meaning, we first of all should follow the context to make an adequate translation. Nonequivalence of this type of nonequivalent units often can be masked by as it seems big possibilities in choosing an appropriate equivalent but in fact, there is a real danger of randomness of the choice and sometimes a translator can pick up the wrong translation. The main way of translation of the words of wide meaning is concrete definition of them.
Concerning compound words, the principal problem for a translator is how to express their meanings in Russian, whereas their meanings are usually easily guessed from the words themselves. The main obstacle that we have to try to find the ways of their expressions in Russian. As a rule, adequacy of translations is achieved by descriptive way of translation with using different transformations.
In the part devoted to pragmatically- nonequivalent vocabulary of English language we viewed peculiarities of translation of the units- departures from language norm: dialecticisms, slang, vulgarisms, archaisms and other. We made sure in the fact that all these types of nonequivalent units always represent rather a complication as they often don’t have equivalents in the vocabulary of the target language. They also present difficulties because they often mix one with another and form so-called vernacular.
So we can make a conclusion that nonequivalent units in English bear quite concrete character and can be researched in the theory of translation. Knowing the difficulties what a translator forces transferring a text will help us to overcome these difficulties and make an appropriate translation. It becomes obvious the meaning of the phrase “The translations begins where the dictionary ends”. And our main aim as translators to do our best in skill and knowledge in achieving of optimal results of translation.
1. Иванов А.О. Английская безэквивалентная лексика и ее перевод на русский язык. – Л., 1985.
2. Кармин А.С. Культурология. Ч. 1. Морфология культуры. Гл. 2. Семиотика культуры. - СПб., 2001.
3. Комиссаров В.Н.Теория перевода (лингвистические аспекты). - М., 1990.
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