Translations between Arabic and English are more complex than translations between European language pairs for various reasons. When switching between English and Arabic, translators are bridging more than just a language gap; they are crossing a cultural divide. Let’s examine the various challenges encountered by Arabic translators as they complete intercultural translations.
Different approaches are considered to be best practice across the two languages. For example, when writing in English, the correct approach in writing a persuasive argument is to state your position once, clearly, and with evidence. Repeating the same argument later in the text is considered to weaken the overall persuasiveness of the piece. In Arabic writing, the opposite is true, as repetition is used to strengthen an argument.
A talented Arabic translator can read and understand all the English grammar conventions regarding sentence structure, then use the appropriate Arabic structure rules to recreate the meaning in the target language perfectly. We might say ‘believe it or not’ but our Arab friends re-jig the phrase to read ‘believe or don’t believe’.
Words cannot be simply translated in isolation, they must be considered within the overall context of the remainder of the document or speech. Each English word may have multiple Arabic equivalents, but the correct word to use will be dependent on the overall intended meaning of the piece and the words that surround it. Semantics are lost when individual words are disassociated from their original context.
Equivalency problems can manifest at the level of individual words, or more complicated phrases. Sometimes there is no equivalent word in Arabic that can be used, and instead an explanatory sentence must be constructed. Equivalency is especially problematic when it comes to idioms. In English we talk of being eaten out of house and home, the Arabic equivalent translates literally as ‘eat a camel and all that it carries.’ In English, we understand ‘a month of Sundays’ indicates a long passage of time. In Arabic the expression with equivalent meaning would be ‘longer than the fasting month’.
Successful English To Arabic Translation
A skilled Arabic translator must do more than simply swap English words for their Arabic equivalent. Instead, they must be aware of the overall intended meaning of the source text and convey that same meaning effectively in the target language. Translation requires more than straightforward language skills. Sophisticated linguistic and cultural knowledge is necessary to create a text that successfully conveys the intended meaning.
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