Links between language and culture and what this means for translations

Date
May
9
20160913

Links between language and culture and what this means for translations

Language and culture have unbreakable ties. Language is mechanism for channelling culture and cultural bonds. Different ideas are borne from differing languages within the same culture. When interacting with a language it is important to note that there is also an interaction with a culture as well. This is important when communicating in a different market. Words, symbols, signs and so on can take on different meanings and varying levels of importance from place to place. It is for this reason why it is essential for translations to be conducted by those who know the culture and who know the language and that is one of the reasons why we at NZTC only use native speaker of the target language for our translations. 

Every language can be used as an example of the culture of its origin. If we take Japanese for instance, we get a great example of this. Traditionally, Japan was an agricultural society highly dependable to its nature with clearly distinguishable four seasons As a result of this we see a lot of phrases concerning nature, climate and seasons. Komorebi is a word describing "sunshine filtering through tree leaves/branches" and often said to be a specific word that is difficult to be translated. There are also numerous expressions for rain falling in specific season, time and style: Harusame (spring drizzle), Tsuyu (early summer long rainy season around June), Yu-dachi (a sudden squall in mid-late summer evening), Akisame (autumn rainy season around September-October), Akishigure (end of autumn drizzle) and etc. English may have rain expressions in similar sense (such as North-westery and etc.) but not as specific and established as these.

 With Korean one of the most noticeable characteristics of the language is the use of the word “our” as opposed to “my”. So phrases that would be commonly translated as “my house”, “my car” or “my town” in some cultures are translated as “our house”, “our car” or “our town”. Within Korean there is a higher emphasis on the collective rather than the individual. Some believe that this emphasis on the welfare of the collective rather than the individual has helped the growth of Korea’s economy. Many aspects of this language result directly from Korean culture.

We can also see strong cultural connections with Irish Gaelic surnames also. There are roughly 3,500 Irish Gaelic surnames, each has its own origin, meaning and coat of arms. If we look at the surname Ó Murchadha we can see that it is rich in cultural content. The name is a mixture of different words. Muir is a reference to the sea and cath can mean battle or war. As a result of this the name takes on the meaning sea warrior. Irish Gaelic names are generally rich in meaning beyond there simple translation. Although not a commonly translated language this still highlights the link between direct translation and deep culturally meaning.

 The implications of the link between language and culture is very important. Translators and linguists must be able to instruct clients on the cultural background of language and choose culturally appropriate styles of writing for the intended audience of the translation. Native speakers of the target language not only provide the best translations, they can also provide the best advice on the overall tone and feel of the translation and they can spot pitfalls in the content of the document. It is unlikely that non-native speakers could provide this level of local knowledge.