Skip navigation

1. Linguacultures and globalization

Omnes ars est imitatio naturae. We recommend this Latin proverb as philosophy of translation theory. According to this, we suggest to consider translation as a kind of "art" (human activity), which has the objective to imitate "nature" (linguacultural contacts). In other words, the centuries-old process and its results should be utilized for translation practice. This translation activity would be highly necessary, since in translation theory and practice still exist controversial views on realia. A recent survey (Lendvai 2005, 67-72) shows how this phenomenon is treated in Hungarian translation studies.

Unfortunately, there is no unity in terminology and the interpretation of translation terms either. Let us give an overview of the phenomenon. Consider the following examples: reália (realia), kulturális reália (cultural realia), nyelvi reália (language or linguistic realia), kultúrszavak (cultural words), kultúrspecifikus szavak (culture-specific words), nonekvivalens szavak (non-equivalent words), etc. Definitions also range between extremes: on the one hand, realia are treated as names of culture-specific objects, on the other hand, realia indicate the specific knowledge a given language community shares in common. As for typology, a huge amount of equivalent words are incorrectly considered as culture-bound words by many of the authors. In reality most of these items are equivalent words (pongyola ‘dressing gown', bakter ‘track watchman', csősz field-guard'), or equivalent idioms (kihúzza a gyufát lit. ‘pull out the match', fig. ‘be punished', öreganyád térdekalácsa lit. ‘your grandmother's kneecap', fig. ‘nonsense', veri, mint szódás a lovát lit. ‘beat sg / sy like the soda water maker beats his horse', fig. ‘give sy a sound drubbing', etc. These units can be rendered by lexical means of target language without any loss of cultural connotations. What is lost here, it is the connotation motivated by the colourful surface structure of the above idioms. Anyway, it is well-known in translation practice that surface structure elements necessarily and inevitable get lost in translation operations.

According to general usage the word realia means 'object of the surrounding world'. However in linguistics, especially in translation studies, realia are 'lexical items referring to culturally specific artefacts of a certain linguaculture, in other words, names of culture-specific objects'. For avoiding misunderstandings and misinterpretations below we will use the term realia (in singular and in plural) with this latter meaning. For instance, we consider the following lexical units as British / Hungarian realia: Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Union Jack, Boxing Day, cockney etc. / Balaton, Bakony, ballagás, barackpálinka, beigli etc. (see below).

Consisting of linguistic and paralinguistic components, human communication is semiotic and multicultural by nature. Words, sentences, texts are penetrated by cultural content. As for the semantics of lexical units, they can be compared to comets, with their heads representing denotative meaning, and with their tails representing specific cultural associations. Cultural associations may gain significant importance in translation, but sometimes only the translator thinks so in his/her translation decisions. Since source text is of high complexity, therefore translation gains pragmatic and interdisciplinary character.

According to a stereotype view, in the globalized world English will be the single universal language, whereas other languages will become unnecessary vernaculars. As for us, in this respect we share a more subtle view of Michael Cronin. He claims that "A global age does not just mean an increase in translation from a dominant language [English]. It also means a significant and sustained increase in translation between [other] languages [, too]. Bilingual translation (...) is not enough. Multilingual translation is the sign of maturity (...)" (Cronin 2003, 61)

Globalization results in closer contacts between cultures and languages, creating new challenges in the translation of realia. As Alexander Pushkin formulates: translation is the post horses of civilization, which means that translation is mediation between linguacultures across history. Consequently, in translation theory major role must be given the concept of linguaculture. Thus we should emphasize not only translating from source language into target language, but also translating from source linguaculture to target linguaculture. Translating should be considered as linguacultural interaction. Translators are privileged readers whose interpretation of the text (bold type is mine - E. L.) is the version of reality that will reach the masses (Megrab 1999, 69), which presupposes the translator's responsibility. In this framework, the translator has to make the foreign world familiar to the target linguaculture reader and, simultaneously, he is obliged to present its foreignness to the reader. Generally speaking, the translator is faced with two alternatives: alienation [domestication] and foreignization (ibid, 65). Our proposed relevant translation norms are the following: in case of technical and scientific texts the requirement of equivalence is welcome, but in case of literary texts equivalence is meant in terms of adequacy, creating a reasonable balance between domestication and foreignization.