Thwarted Expectations: Investigating Translational Mishaps with Reference to Cultural Disparities

Pertti Hietaranta


While there are many types of purely linguistic differences between languages which students of translation can be explicitly taught to recognise during their formal training, it is a far bigger task to try to make future translators detect and appropriately cater to relevant cultural differences between a source text and its intended target text. Yet, snags of a cultural character are just as detrimental to translation quality as are linguistic mistakes. The problem with cultural differences between source and target environments in translation is further aggravated by the fact that, in contrast with the finite number of linguistic differences between language systems, the range of variation in differences between cultural environments is virtually infinite.

Table of contents

That culture permeates human life is something of a truism. Yet it appears that we do not always fully appreciate the extent or the variety of all the possible ramifications of this permeation despite the fact that cultural norms affect our [ p. 84 ]linguistic as well as our nonlinguistic actions. Since it is often easier to perceive the presence of such crucial cultural factors in the effects of actions which relate to the more observable nonlinguistic aspects of our lives, let us begin by considering the following incident, reported by Mr Richard Perez-Pena in the “Features Plus” section of the Gulf newspaper Khaleej Times (14 April 1998, p. 2) under the heading “On the ‘Culture’ of Jaywalking”:

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