Logos Multilingual Portal

35 - Political and social realia

«Ya no quería ser reconocido en otro o tener un trasunto, seguía deseando figurar en una ficción pero no como ficción»1.

"He no longer wanted to be recognized in someone else or to have a replica, he still wanted to figure in a fiction but not as fiction"2.

Continuing their catalog of realia by objects, Vlahov and Florin examined the class of political and social realia. This class contains:

  • regional administrative agencies: region, province, department, county, canton, princedom; aul, hutor, bidonville; arrondissement, suk, medina, Kremlin, promenade, corso, stargalo, largo, prospekt,
  • organisms and offices: agora, forum; people's assembly, storting, kneset, duma, senate, chamber, congress, junta, municipality, ispolkom, High chamber, panchaiat; chancellor, khan, czar, shah, doge, pharaoh, Inca, lord, maire, sheriff, vizier, ataman, alcalde, ayatollah, satrap, Burgermeister, mayor;
  • social and political life: Peronist, Tupamaros, Ku Klux Klan, Wig, Tory, shock troops, Teste Di Cuoio; Partigiani, Carbonari, westernizers, Slavophiles, Magen Adom, Red Crescent; NEP, lobby, Bolshevik, Tifoso, State Advisor, società civile, Lord, Sir, Ser, Madame, Bàryshnja, Agregé, Herr, Narkompros, Zags, Ministry for Beni Culturali, Five-year Plan, college, liceo, campus; nobility, Junker, Third Estate, gentry, merchants, pariah, Untouchables, Samurai, Barin, Mujik, Fellah; Union Jack, red flag, five-pointed star, fleur de lis, crescent;
  • military realia: legion, cohort, phalange, horde; harquebus, P38, moschetto, carabina, katyusha; general, marshal, guastatore, commando, guerrilla, Feldwebel, ataman, dragon, corazziere, paratrooper.

Let us imagine having to translate a sentence containing the realia element "magen adom". It is the symbol, in Israel, of the first aid, as the red cross is commonly used in Christian countries or the red crescent in Islamic countries.

One possibility is the simple transliteration of the Hebrew word:

  1. The magen adom ambulance took the victim away
  2. Such a translation strategy is specifying, because it transforms a culturally neuter element in the context (the magen adom ambulance in Israel) into a marked element not only on the cultural plane, but on the linguistic plane as well: in an English text, the magen adom sequence is hard to understand for most readers. It is a specificity recognizing strategy.

    A second possibility consists in the simple linguistic translation of the sequence:

  3. The red shield ambulance took the victim away
  4. The translation strategy in the given case produces a very poor communication result, because what we are used to calling "Star of David" is, in Hebrew, "David's shield". "Red shield" is, therefore, for us not easily understandable. It is a neuter and recognizing choice, at least in its intentions.

    A third possibility consists in the linguistic translation of the sequence considering what is implicit in the source culture, i.e. that what is currently called "Magen adom" is, in its complete version, "David Magen Adom", and "David Magen" in English is usually translated not as "David's shield", but as "Star of David":

  5. The Red Star of David ambulance took the victim away
  6. This is a specifying translation (owing to the addition by the translator to fill the cultural gap) and recognizing.

    A fourth possibility, thinking of a Hebrew-Arab translation, consists in using the cultural homologue of the receiving culture:

  7. The Red Crescent ambulance took the victim away
  8. It is an appropriating strategy falsifying the local cultural context of the event, but renders efficiently the inner functional concept.

    A fifth possibility, thinking of a Hebrew-Arabic translation, consists in using the cultural homologue of a world-prevailing culture, outer, however, to the source and receiving cultures.

  9. The Red Cross ambulance took the victim away
  10. It is an standardizing strategy falsifying the local cultural context of the event, but renders efficiently the inner functional concept. On the specification/generalization plane, the rendering is neuter.

    A sixth possibility consists in using a generic denomination:

  11. the emergency ambulance took the victim away
  12. It is an standardizing, generalizing strategy, that, although not falsifying the cultural context of the event, deprives it of any local connotation.

    A seventh possibility consists in using the linguistic translation accompanied by an explanation or gloss by the translator:

  13. The Red Star of David ambulance - Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross - took the victim away

It clearly is a specifying strategy - the translator even uses a gloss that is usually forbidden by the ISO 2384 norm if not explained as "translator's note", and partially recognizing: it is recognized the cultural specificity, but, meanwhile, it is partially denied by the explanation that it is an Israeli 'equivalent', implicitly recalling a supposed cultural isomorphism in which all cultures have their "Red Cross" (or 'equivalent').

In the last two units we examined many kinds of realia and their possible actualizations in translation. We emphasized above all the synchronic and geographic differences. In the following units we will continue in other directions.

Bibliographical references

MARÍAS J. Negra espalda del tiempo, Punto de lectura, 2000 (original edition 1998), ISBN 84-663-0007-7.

MARÍAS J. Dark Back of Time, New York, New Directions, 2001 (translated by Esther Allen), ISBN 0-8112-1466-4.

VLAHOV S., FLORIN S., Neperovodimoe v perevode. Realii, in Masterstvo perevoda, n. 6, 1969, Moskvà, Sovetskij pisatel´, 1970, p. 432-456.

VLAHOV S., FLORIN S., Neperovodimoe v perevode, Moskvà, Vysshaja shkola, 1986.

1 Marías 2000, p. 72.
2 Marías 2001, p. 60.