Posted in EAPP Articles

NOT LANGUAGE ALONE: TRANSLATION AND CULTURE

Author: Bienvenido Lumbera
Journal of Publication: Kolum Kritika
Given by: Sofia Godes


Rendering a literary work into another language requires more than plain profi-ciency in the original language of the piece. Culture and history are so meshed in language that translation requires the translator to delve into the context that went into the creation of the literary text.

The fact that the foreign text has been the outcome of one man’s efforts at recreating in words an aspect of his interaction with people and events means that the words have undergone transformation from inert material items into living matter expressive of a specific experience.

Words have a history of having been created or invented to designate an object or signify a response. Each time of human use makes the word accrue to itself an added meaning, so that in the course of time, it assumes a meaning that is the sum-total of its history. A creative text is therefore a complex composite of verbalized sense and desirabilities coming not only from the author’s purely personal experience of the world but also from the experience of other persons on whom the words had resonated.

The audience is an all-important factor to consider in translating the dialogues of a foreign play being rendered into the language of the audience. ?e audience is being exposed to a “strange” experience, and this experience needs to be adjusted to the accustomed features of their culture.?The violence to which such requirements impose on the original text certainly alienates the translator’s text from the original. To compensate for the distance created between the original text and the translation, the translator has to invent a rough equivalent in his native language and culture so that the resulting translated text would convey the same point that the original text intended to communicate. ?e effect could be best described as “nativization” of the foreign text.


In this exploration of the relationship between translation and culture, it should become obvious that the translator’s work is not on language alone. It begins with a foray into the culture of the literary work and the language itself of the translator, with the end of establishing a bridge, no matter how tenuous, between the culture the original text implies and the culture of the translated work.

Translation when done by a simple replacement of words may communicate, but it fails to deliver the full weight of the words of the original statement. It may deliver meaning, but the culture behind the words will always be left out.

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