Journal of Universal Language
Sejong University Language Research Institue

Translation and Cultural Equivalence: A Study of Translation Losses in Arabic Literary Texts

Hanada Al-Masri1
1Cornell University

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


This article focuses on cultural translation, especially addressing the issue of cultural inequivalences or losses occurring in the translation of Arabic literary texts. The aim of this study is to investigate the translation strategies that led to cultural losses and to emphasize the important role of the translator as a cultural insider. The corpus is based on a collection of Arabic short stories written by Youssef Idris (1991). In order to illustrate cultural aspects in literature, we analyze figurative language (metaphors, idiomatic expressions, proverbs) in two texts: Arabic (the source text) and English (the target text). We argue that figurative language and cultural terms are unfamiliar and so are marked to the target reader on the grounds of the unmarked and should be looked at from the perspective of a cultural insider. The data is analyzed within Pike’s (1954) etic-emic approach to translation. The analysis has shown that translation of the source text was communicatively successful. However, it failed to represent the culture-bound and emotionally charged words which represent the implicit/emic level of the source text. The translator has failed to complete the cycle of etic-emic-etic, and so remained an outsider to both the source and target texts. The study concludes with the implication that a translator has to assume the role of a cultural insider for both texts in order to render a culturally more faithful translation.

Keywords: cultural translation; translation problems; translation and equivalence; etic-emic concepts; markedness theory; Arabic short stories



Al-Qinai, J. 1999. Explication vs. Implication in English-Arabic Translation. Theoretical Linguistics 25 (2/3), 235-255.


Anderson, M. 2003. Ethnography as Translation. In S. Petrilli (ed.), Translation Translation: Approaches to Translation Studies 21 389-396. Amsterdam: Rodopi.


Bailey, C. 1996. Essays in Time-Based Linguistic Analysis. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Bakalla, M. 1984. Arabic Culture: Through its Language and Literature. London: Kegan Paul International.


Baker, M. 1996. Corpus-Based Translation Studies: The Challenges That Lie Ahead. In H. Henas & J. Sagar (eds.), Terminology, LSP and Translation: Studies in Language Engineering by H.L. Somers. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


Battistella, E. 1990. Markedness: The Evaluative Superstructure of Language. New York: State University of New York Press.


Berry, J. 1990. Imposed Etics, Emics, and Derived Etics: Their Conceptual and Operational Status in Cross-cultural Psychology. In T. Headland et al. (eds.), Emics and Etics: the Insider/ Outsider Debate 84-99. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.


Brown, M. & B. Rosenberg. 1998. Encyclopedia of Folklore and Literature. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.


Danesi, M & P. Perron. 1999. Analyzing Cultures: An Introduction and Handbook. Bloomington, IL: Indiana University Press.


Dobrzynska, T. 1995. Translating Metaphor: Problems of Meaning. Journal of Pragmatics 24, 595-604.


El-Khadem, S. 1994. Five Innovative Egyptian Short Stories. Fredericton: York Press.


Farghal, M. 1995a. Jordanian Proverbs: An Ethnographic and Translational Perspectives. Sendebar 6, 197-208.


Farghal, M. 1995b. Lexical and Discoursal Problems in English-Arabic Translation. Meta XL (1), 54-67.


Grice, H. 1975. Logic and Conversation. In P. Cole & J. Morgan (eds.), Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts 41-58. New York: New York Academic Press.


Hart, M. 1998. Translation of the Sense of Humor: Literary Limitation. Unpublished dissertation, Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.


Headland, T. 1990. Introduction: A Dialogue between Kenneth Pike and Marvin Harris on Emics and Etics. In T. Headland et al. (eds.), Emics and Etics: the Insider/Outsider Debate 13-27. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.


Hockett, C. 1958. A Course in Modern Linguistics. New York: Macmillan.


Idris, Y. 1991. Three Egyptian Short Stories. Fredricton: York Press.


Katz, J. & P. Postal. 1963. Semantic Interpretation of Idioms and Sentences Containing Them. Quarterly Progress Report 70, 275-82.


Lakoff, G. & M. Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.


Larson, M. 1984. Meaning-Based Translation: A Guide to Cross-Language Equivalence. Lanham: University Press of America.


Levinson, S. 1983. Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Lyons, J. 1995. Linguistic Semantics: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Makkai, A. 1972. Idioms Structure in English. The Hague: Mouton.


Newmark, P. 1991. About Translation. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.


Nida, E. & C. Taber. 1974. The Theory and Practice of Translation. Leiden: E.J. Brill.


Pedersen, V. 1988. Essays on Translation. Studies in Business Language 16. Copenhagen: Erhverus økonon. SIC Forlag.


Pike, K. 1954. Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Behavior Part 1 (Preliminary Edition). glendale, CA: Summer Institute of Linguistics.


Strässler, J. 1982. Idioms in English: A Pragmatic Analysis. Tübinger Berträge zur Linguistik 185. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.


Sweetser, E. 1995. Metaphor, Mythology, and Everyday Language. Journal of Pragmatics 24, 585-593.


Toury, G. 1986. Translation: A Cultural Semiotic Perspectives. In R. Sebeok (ed.), 73, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics 3 vols. Berlin & New York: De grugter.


Trask, R. 1999. Key Concepts in Language and Linguistics. London: Routledge.


Way, E. 1991. Knowledge Representation and Metaphor: Studies in Cognitive Systems 7. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.


Weinreich, U. 1969. Problems in the Analysis of Idioms. In J. Puhvel (ed.), Substance and Structure of Language. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.