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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Literature and Poetry  »  Translating Words without Counterparts in the Target Language

Translating Words without Counterparts in the Target Language

By Kalina Maleska-Gegaj | Published  02/9/2013 | Literature and Poetry | Recommendation:
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Kalina Maleska-Gegaj
Macedonia (FYROM)
Macedonian to English translator
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This text has been inspired by my translation of the English novel Tristram Shandy into Macedonian. One of the greatest challenges I encountered was to translate words that appeared not to have their existing counterpart in the target language, in my case Macedonian. Those words are found throughout Lawrence Stern’s novel, especially in the case of the story that the characters uncle Toby and corporal Trim narrate about the siege of Namur; specifically they refer to various parts of fortresses and defense walls built around them. The main question was what to do in such a case – to describe the term of the source language with several terms in the target language, to try to coin a word that matches closely the original word, or to opt for another possible variant.
I will list some of the words that represented a challenge due to the fact that they could not be found in English-Macedonian dictionaries: scarp, counterscarp, sluice, counter-guard, demi-bastion, glacis, covered-way, half-moon, ravelin – to name but a few. In my discussions with several native English speakers, I realized that even they are not aware of what the exact meaning of some of these terms was. On the one hand, this made the research more difficult, while on the other hand it seemed as an advantage – if native English speakers don’t know all the parts of fortresses, Macedonian readers would not be concerned with exact translation matches. In that case, it would be all right to come up with descriptive expressions, consisting of two or three words, that would convey the specific thing the source language words refer to.
However, as literature is the field I work in and am mostly interested in, I decided to try another option as well – to search for and hopefully find out if there are Macedonian words that signify the same thing referred to by the English words, some of which I mentioned in the beginning of preceding passage, even if they cannot be found in dictionaries. In fact, this is the approach that this short essay supports: despite the fact that it is much more tiresome and time-consuming, eventually it is the most rewarding, as it contributes to enriching the target language by using, and thus promoting, words that may have been long forgotten or are not normally used.
Namely, my method, after looking through all relevant dictionaries I could find and not finding the words there, was to search through books in the fields of history, archeology and related fields, as well as to talk to people whose jobs are in one way or another connected with history or archeology. Another problem, which, of course, one has to be prepared for in advance, was that the books that deal with fortresses in Macedonia would certainly not include many of these features of fortress defense, as they were invented in France (in the case of the novel Tristram Shendy) and did not exist in the fortifications built in Macedonia in the past.
However, some of these words did appear in those books. The “missing” words were all concrete objects, so it was very helpful that some of the archeology books contained drawings and schemes of castles and fortresses built in Macedonia – in some cases the drawn object matched exactly the description of the source words, such as sluice, for instance, or demi-bastion. The books were helpful even for the objects that didn’t exist, such as half-moon or ravelin – in old Macedonian fortresses, according to the drawings, there were constructions called бастион (bastion) and предѕид (which literally means: a wall before something), so on the basis on the form of half-moon and ravelin, I added the adjective triangular before the existing terms and came up with terms that didn’t exist as such, but seemed to perfectly fit the meaning of the source words.
These are just a few examples that I wanted to point to in order to defend the thesis that it is not always necessary to use only existing words in the target language, in case they only resemble but don’t fully correspond to the meaning of the source word. On the other hand, it is not always necessary to give up in advance in case the word cannot be found in any dictionaries, and come up with descriptive phrases that sometimes can sound too heavy or awkward. Looking for words in various resources does take up too much time, but it always provides the feeling of certainty that the work was done professionally, and that the translator would invariably have arguments to defend the selected word.
(by Kalina Maleska)

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