An Online Journal of Modern Philology ISSN 1214-5505

Intercultural exchange, identity and exoticism in Czech and Slovak translations from Arabic


Khalid El Biltagi


The attitudes towards translated Arabic literature are different and connected with problems of intercultural exchange and the public bias that considered Arabic societies as similar and associated it with various stereotypes. We argue in this paper theoretical framework for analysis of intercultural exchange elements in literary texts translated from Arabic to Czech and Slovak language. Some cultural categories with model examples are discussed while examining the selected translations. The approaches that were applied oscillated between veracity and informative function, reproduction and artistic level. Considering the nature of the text and the similarities between the ideal source-text and target-text reader, an important aspect is to determine how much missing background information should be provided by the translator using these methods. Completely or partial transferring the cultural contents to the target text could only do the competent translator according to the knowledge base of the target text reader about the source culture. The translator is responsible for the right interpretation of the source text and its culture elements. He is responsible as well for educating the target text reader to understand the conventions and cultural references of the remote culture. It has been recognized that in order to preserve specific cultural references certain additions need to be brought to the target text. This implies that formal equivalence should not be sought as this is not justified when considering the expectations of the target text reader.


The translated texts usually become a part of the target literature and have a similar culture function. From the other hand the translated text in comparison with the source text moreover has its specific cognitive value: inform us about the original text and foreign culture in general. The two tasks of translated literature are often in tension, and in case of two remote cultures the informative function of translation is dominant. The informative degree depends as well on the recipient – reader’s knowledge about the remote culture and literature.

The attitudes towards translated literature are different and connected with problems of intercultural exchange and the public bias that considered Arabic societies as similar and associated it with various stereotypes. Czech and Slovak translators -like others European translators- were inclined to select titles from Arabic literature that would appeal to public prejudice and to forget about a faithful representation of the modern Arabic literary genres. This attitude was strengthened by the idea of some Arab authors that, in the literature, the European novels have exhausted its potential and have lost its relevance for the dilemmas facing the Arab world. In contrast, other writers emphasized the importance of strong culture ties with Europe and of literary translation. Some authors wrote directly in English or French language, and many authors offered their work for translation, while others saw the interest of European intellectual in Arab culture as an important force counterbalancing the growing interference of Islamic movement in Arabic societies. Embedding Arabic literature in international intellectual webs would protect authors from the Islamists, who propagated the moral purification of society and culture.

In this paper we will attempt to analyze the condition in which literary translation from Arabic to Czech and to Slovak language has developed. Special attention will be given to identity, mutual culture representations and culture implications in translation.

Oriental studies and NahDa period

Oriental studies built in 18th. and century in the European academic institutes were influenced both by imperialist attitudes and interests, and also the sometimes naive fascination of the exotic East for Mediterranean and European writers and thinkers, captured in images by artists, that is embodied in a repeatedly-surfacing theme in the history of ideas in the West, called "Orientalism".

Oriental institutes were not the only place for Orientals studies and for asserting of Czech orientalists. Many of them, especially in the 19th. century, worked at the university of Vienna like (Joseph von Karabacek, O. Schlechta-Wssehrd, V. Rosenzweig) and at the theological faculty in Prague. Oriental studies thereafter developed during the 19th. century in a similar modest way as in the other European universities. The progress of the oriental studies happened after the formation of first Czechoslovak republic and establishing of oriental institute in Prague. The Oriental Institute of Prague was founded and passed by the Czechoslovak parliament on January 25, 1922. According to the act, the aim of the Institute was “to cultivate and build up scientific and economic relations with the Orient”. The establishment of the Institute was supported by the first Czechoslovak President T. G. Masaryk, who gave it both moral and financial backing.

In 1929, the first issue of the scholarly journal Archiv orientální (published by the Institute) appeared. In May 1931, the library of the Institute was opened. In 1945, the Institute started publishing the Czech language journal Nový Orient. In 1952, the Oriental Institute was incorporated into the newly formed Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. Forty years later, in 1992, shortly before the partition of Czechoslovakia, the Institute became a constituent part of the Academy of Sciences in the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic.

From its beginning in the 20th. century, the translation from the Arab literature to Czech and Slovak languages was inspired by the mystery of the medieval Arabic fiction literature and the charm of Oriental folk tales like, Sirat Baybars, the story of Baybars, who ruled Egypt and Syria in the 13th century - though with many embellishments. It portrays him as a champion of the people against officialdom and oppression, Sirat 'Antara, which is based on the pre-Islamic hero/poet 'Antarah, a black man who overcame his low status to become a leader, Sirat Bani Hilal, on the other hand, concerns a fictitious tribal prince, Abu Zayd (also a black man), who is exiled but eventually leads his people and lives for hundreds of years, the tales of The Thousand and One Nights (Arabian nights), etc.

The beginning of oriental studies started simultaneously with the cultural renaissance (NahDa) in the Arab world that began in the late 19th century and early 20th. century in Egypt, then later moving to Lebanon and other Arabic-speaking countries. It is often regarded as the Egyptian counterpart of the European Enlightenment era, and a period of intellectual modernization and reform.

The NahDa is seen as connected to the cultural shock brought on by Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798, and the reformist drive of subsequent rulers such as Muhammad Ali. Another major influence and motive, were the 19th century tanzimat reforms of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled most of the Arabic-speaking world until the first world war. These reforms brought a constitutional order to Ottoman politics, and institutionalized politics, which in turn engendered a new political class.

The Egyptian NahDa was articulated in purely Egyptian terms, and its participants were mostly Egyptians, and Cairo was undoubtedly the geographical center of the movement. But NahDa was also felt in neighboring Arab capitals, notably Beirut and to a lesser extent Damascus. The shared language of Arabic-speaking nations ensured that the accomplishments of the movement could be quickly picked up by intellectuals in Arab countries.

The efforts at translating European and American literature led to the modernization of the Arabic language. The influence of translation in many fields gave rise to a kind of schizophrenic culture, in which the intellectual elite was shaped by foreign outlooks and became relatively detached from the traditional corpus of knowledge.

The prose writing rapidly developed by the inspiration of the European literary novelistic models. In 1914, Muhammad Hussein Heikal (1888-1956) published Zeinab, the first Egyptian novel written in Egyptian Arabic.

A group of young writers formed The New School, and in 1925 began publishing the weekly literary journal al-Fajr (The Dawn), which would have a great impact on Arabic literature. The group was especially influenced by nineteenth-century Russian writers such as Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Gogol. Poetry developed no less than prose. The Prophet, published in 1923 by the Boston-based Lebanese writer Khalil Gibran (1883-1931), is perhaps the best known work of the era in the West, but was actually first written in English. Gibran's associate in the Arab-American League of the Pen (al-Rabita al-Qalamiyya), Mikha'il Na'ima (1898-1989) would later return to Lebanon and contribute to the development of the novel there.

One of the main literary innovators in the later stages of NahDa was Prof. Taha Hussein (1889-1973), the blind child of an Egyptian peasant family who is today widely considered an intellectual giant of Egypt, and apart from his Qur'anic education at al-Azhar held triple doctorates from Cairo University, the University of Sorbonne and the University of Paris. He served as Minister of Education in Egypt in the 1950s, and was responsible for creating free and mandatory schooling. His best known book is the autobiographical al-Ayyam (The Days).

Orientalism versus Occidentalism

The period of NahDa in the Arab world and its relationship with Europe in the 19th Century are often analyzed in terms of orientalism formulated by literary theorist, cultural critic and political activist Edward Said (1935-2003). A central idea of Edward Said is that Western knowledge about the East is not generated from facts, but through imagined constructs that see all "Eastern" societies as fundamentally similar, all sharing crucial characteristics unlike those of "Western" societies, thus, this ‘a priori’ knowledge established the East as antithetical to the West. Such Eastern knowledge is constructed with literary texts and historical records that often are of limited understanding of the facts of life in the Middle East. Orientalism was usually directed at the external manifestations of Arabic-Islamic culture, associated with various stereotypes of Orient which has developed over time, such as mysticism, romantic barbarism, sensual sophistication. Orientalism in Europe and Occidentalism in the Arab world are two sides of the same dialogic process although their manifestations are different. Occidentalism in the Arab world was, in contrast with orientalism, focused on the sciences, technology, warfare and socio-economic organization.

The comparisons between Orient and Occident generally were unfavorable to the Orient. The word "Orient" fell into disrepute after the word "Orientalism" was coined with the publication of Said's book in 1977. Following the ideas of French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984), Said emphasized the relationship between power and knowledge given by Foucault in scholarly and popular thinking, in particular regarding European views of the Islamic Arab world. Said argued that Orient and Occident worked as oppositional terms, so that the "Orient" was constructed as a negative inversion of Western culture.

Although Edward Said limited his discussion to academic study of Middle Eastern, African and Asian history and culture, he asserted that "because Orientalism is a cultural and a political fact, then, it does not exist in some archival vacuum; quite the contrary, “I think” – said Edward Said- “it can be shown that what is thought, said, or even done about the Orient follows (perhaps occurs within) certain distinct and intellectually knowable lines”, (Said, 2003:13). Said's discussion of academic Orientalism is almost entirely limited to late 19th and early 20th century scholarship. Although the most academic Area Studies departments had already abandoned an imperialist or colonialist paradigm of scholarship, the tradition still continues in some European universities. In the relatively young Czech orientalism, especially Czech oriental studies about the Arabic culture and literature, we can state, that the absolute majority of these studies were dedicated to the medieval Arabic culture and literature.

The idea of an "Orient" is a crucial aspect of attempts to define "the West." Thus, histories of the Greco-Persian Wars may contrast the monarchical government of the Persian Empire with the democratic tradition of Athens, as a way to make a more general comparison between the Greeks and the Persians, and between "the West" and "the East", or "Europe" and "Asia", but make no mention of the other Greek city states, most of which were not ruled democratically.

Taking a comparative and historical literary review of European, mainly British and French, scholars and writers looking at, thinking about, talking about, and writing about the peoples of the Middle East, Said sought to lay bare the relations of power between the colonizer and the colonized in those texts. Said's writings have had far-reaching implications beyond area studies in Middle East; studies of imperialist Western attitudes to India, China and elsewhere. It was one of the foundational texts of postcolonial studies.

Translation and mutual representation

The literary translation could have an informative function like some non-fiction literature (books of travel or historic novels) and becomes part of the target literature and has a similar culture function. The informative value depends on the reader’s presumption and knowledge about the foreign literature. The translated text will never be understood or interpreted according to the society that produced it, but will always be place in the receiving society and be used according to its specific needs. The translated text contributes to the dynamism of native genre as an element functioning within the dialogic process and could replace or sometimes fortifies the native genres, possibly the fields, where the domestic production is insufficient or even rivals it. The translation could discover new evolutionary trends in the domestic literature for example in means of expression. After the Second World War a great number of Russian texts were translated into Hungarian for an audience, which knew hardly any thing about the Russian culture. In these texts there many words, that had no equivalents in Hungarian. Some of them cultural terms: customs, foods, items belonging to pre-revolutionary Russian life, like samovar “Russian type of kettle”, troika “the horse-drawn sledge”, fortochka “a small window cut into the larger window, which is used during the winter, when the large window never opened”, rubashka “a kind of shirt, borsch “a kind of soup” etc. translation of these Russian words in the fifties was more than translation problem. The translator had to decide whether to find an approximate Hungarian equivalent or transplant the Russian word into Hungarian. “The choice not a theoretical question of translation but a political issue”, (Klaudy, 1991: 143).

Translated text, moreover, never retains its original meaning. Its interpretation changes somewhere between its indented meaning and the models to which is related in the receiving culture, somewhere between the veracity and informativeness, reproduction and artistic level. The Czech translation of Koran by the Czech Arabist, Africanist and Islamist Ivan Hrbek (1923-1993) with a comparison with another translation by Libuše Shortová is a good example of the tension between the artistic and reproduction level. The Hrbek’s translation is inclined to the artistic level more than reproductive. The reception of a text is therefore predestined, but is rather one of the driving forces in producing representations of other culture and definition of the self. Translated text and according to the historical situation could deliberately affect positive or negative intercultural interaction and to suggest ways of ameliorating encounter.

Translation and culture context

Language is set of common sounds and symbols by which individuals communicate. A common culture allows individuals to communicate with one another without intermediaries. In the case of language, this is most clear.

The Arabic culture context is too complicated that its simplification in one culture and one language level will not appropriate. About 13 centuries, before the NahDa period, separate the Arabic language from their native speakers. Within that period the language shrouded in mythology and confined by dogmas, its self-appointed keepers believed in its supremacy over all other language, equated their grammar books with native intuition and resisted the slightest reform to its description or even orthography.

The efforts at translating of Europe literature starting from the NahDa period led to the modernization of the Arabic language and its scientific and academic terms, a well as words for modern inventions were incorporated in modern Arabic vocabulary, and new words were coined in accordance with the Arabic root system to cover for others. The development of a modern press ensured that classical Arabic spread through society in its updated form, Modern Standard Arabic.

The newly raised awareness of complementary functional distribution between the standard language and the colloquial varieties helped open a window onto a thriving endemic culture that had long been discredited as debased and contemptible on account of its failure to employ the classic as a medium of expression. The interaction between the dialect and cultural elements is now more accessible with the dialectic dictionaries, which go beyond a mere listening of word by including speech genres and a mind of cultural information.

Translation as a kind of activity in which inescapably involves at least two languages and two cultural traditions, translators are permanently faced with the problem of how to treat the cultural aspects implicit in a source text and of finding the most appropriate technique of successfully conveying these aspects in the target language. These problems may vary in scope depending on the cultural and linguistic gap between the two concerned languages like Arabic and Czech.

These two languages belong to different settings and different language families. Arabic is classified as a member of the Semitic family of languages, Czech as a member of Slavonic language family. Arabic is defined as the official language spoken in more than 15 countries in the Middle East. Czech is the official language in Czech lands. Syntactically, Arabic and Czech exhibit different word orders. Arabic is, for the most part, a synthetic language. For instance, nouns are inflected for case and verbs are inflected for mood. Each of the two languages has its own ways of versification and phonologically. Arabic and Czech have different phonemic inventories. In addition, if one wants to assess the real hindrances of translation, one cannot ignore the geographical distance between Arabic and Czech settings, which resulted in a distance between Arabic culture and Czech culture. The cultural implications for translation may take several forms ranging from lexical content and syntax to ideologies and ways of life in a given culture. The translator has to decide on the importance given to certain cultural aspects and to what extent it is necessary or desirable to translate them into the target language. The aims of the source text will also have implications for translation as well as the intended readership for both the source text and the target text.

As far as intercultural Arabic-Czech translation is concerned, the following example may give more understanding to this point. Suppose one comes across the Arabic term Sheikh which is to be translated to Czech. It is honorific term that traditionally refers in Czech media to the Arab oil magnates (for example these titles from the Czech newspapers sound in English as following: oil sheikhs build and invest, Sheikhs invite Czech investors to the giant projects, sheikhs built the highest skyscraper etc). The term Sheikh literally means "elder". It is commonly used to designate an elder of a tribe, a lord, a revered wise man, or an Islamic scholar. In sophism it means highly situated clergyman in the sophistic discipline. It also refers to a man over 40 or 50 years old generally or a Muslim who is a student of knowledge. Whilst even a new Muslim can be called a Sheikh if he is diligent in seeking the knowledge of Islam based upon the Quran and authentic Sunnah, he can be referred to as such to those he can teach. And usually a person is known as a Sheikh when they have completed their undergraduate university studies in Islamic studies and are trained in giving lectures.

Cultural implications in Translation

We embrace here the definition of "culture" proposed by the English anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917), who states: “culture or civilization is cumulative experience, which includes knowledge, belief, morals, art, traditions, and any habits acquired by a group of people in a society”, (Soukup, 2000: 9).

Culture also includes the total system of habits and behavior of which language is an essential subset. Generally speaking, one culture should have one language. However, it happens sometimes for a single language to cross several culture borders. Arabic for instance, has become the dominating and official language of societies having different cultures before Islam. The sociolinguistic studies in Arabic in the last few decades upheld the repercussions of social differences of the Arab world on the language.

The notion of culture is essential to considering the implications for translation and, despite the differences in opinion as to whether language is part of culture or not, the two notions appear to be inseparable.

Equal importance could be conferred to both linguistic and cultural differences between the source language and the target language, and the differences between cultures may cause more severe complications for the translator than do differences in language structure. The cultural implications for translation are thus of significant importance as well as lexical concerns.

For example we can show the cultural Arabic word tozz. This word is often used in the Egyptian Arabic with the meaning of negligence, nonsense or carelessness. The word was frequently used in the novel al-Kahira al-Jadidah (the new Cairo) form the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006), who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988. The word was used as a refrain by one of the novel’s character that was depressed and imprecated from the social conditions in Egypt in the 1930s. The novel was translated in Czech in 1968 by Czech arabist Jaroslav Oliverius.

The Arabic word "tozz" needs consideration. Transferring this term using formal equivalence (blbost) would have little cultural effect on a Czech-speaking reader and be of no value considering the text-type and the definition of the ideal (educated and well informed) target text reader. The cultural implications for translation require a full understanding of the notion rather than an emphasis on the original source language reference. In this case an appropriate translation would consider the use of a cultural equivalent and the term "kašlu na to" could be used to represent a similar cultural concept.

Another extract from Czech translation of the novel al-Ard (The land), translated by Ivan Hrbek (1958). The novel is written by Abdarrahman Ash-Sharkawi (1954). In the novel are described social events from the Egyptian countryside in Delta. The novel is written in standard Arabic, but the dialog is in Egyptian dialect in Delta. We think that author didn’t quite know this local dialect and its cultural implications as well. This led him to find the formal equivalence in the standard language and thereby caused a shift in meaning of some dialogs. In the Czech translation we can read this passage: … you monkey girl, you are not a young girl any more. By this way you would be shortly upset as a bitch”. The passage in Arabic as we understand it is: … you monkey girl, you are not a young girl any more, and you would be soon a bride…

Equivalence in translation

Language and culture may thus be seen as being closely related and both aspects must be advised for translation. When considering the translation of cultural words and notions, Jiří Levý discusses three issues: “…a) relationship of two language systems, b) trace of source language in translation, c) tension in the translation style, which arises hereby that the thought is transferred to the language in which was not created”, (Levý, 1998: 68).

The source text and the target one are not linear and commensurable. And the lexical terms are not necessarily equivalent. For this reason the transference couldn’t be mechanical. The different cultural implications are chiseled. Since the reality is segmented and named by us, this segmentation is partly abided by the reality structure and partly by appellative system of language. So “the two different appellative systems could have cultural terms that are: a) equal, b) missed in one of them, or c) abundant in one of them”, (Levý, 1998: 71). In cases of B, where the terms missed, the meanings should be in the target text compensated, Compensation could be applied in the translated text as shown on visual representation of different ways of solution proposed by Hervey:

Obrázek č. 1

(Hervey, 1992: 23)

The case C is more misleading and treacherous. Every moderate translator is searching, under strain of the source text, for the right ways, how to compensate the cultural meanings in the source text. “From purely intellectual view the translator has to aware two mutual aspects: if he wouldn’t use these specific cultural words in target language that haven’t base in the source text, the expressional range in the target text would be poor than the original text. In the source text are included some semantic and stylistic dormant values, which are a part of informational function and cultural implication and that the author can’t express in verbal way. The translator sometimes could reveal these implications and clarify it by his rich means of expression”, (Levý, 1998: 73).

Compensation is further defined as “formal and dynamic equivalence”, (Nida, 1964:129). This may also be seen to apply when considering cultural implications for translation. According to Nida, a "gloss translation" mostly typifies formal equivalence where form and content are reproduced as faithfully as possible and the target literature reader is able to "understand as much as he can of the customs, manner of thought, and means of expression" of the source literature context (idem). Contrasting with this idea, dynamic equivalence "tries to relate the receptor to modes of behavior relevant within the context of his own culture" without insisting that he "understand the cultural patterns of the source-language context" (idem).

Cultural elements in translation

We consider the culture definition as cumulative experience, which includes knowledge, belief, morals, art, traditions, and any habits. Therefore the cultural implications for translation may be classed essentially as material culture (food, gestures, habits etc.), emotive intentions and cultural specific expressions, although other cultural terms are also present. These aspects may be translated in different ways according to their role in the text and the aims for the target text reader.

The extracts chosen for analyze is from the novel Ducá’ al-karawán (The Call of the Curlew) by Taha Hussein (1933), one of the most influential Egyptian writers and intellectuals. He was a figurehead for the modernist movement in Egypt. Taha Hussein was considered the "Dean of Arabic Literature". He was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize for Literature and is the recipient of the 1973 United Nations Human Rights Award. The Slovak translation “Volanie hrdličky” by the Slovak arabist, Ladislav Drozdik (1965). The novel is unique work of fiction in modern Arabic literature. It is a romantic story about the triumph of love over revenge. It describes the social taboos of the time and how one girl eventually overcomes them. It is written in highly poetic style with deep insight into the human heart. The text contains several culturally-specific words and notions whose implications for translation merit attention.

Material cultural elements

Food is for many the most sensitive and important expression of national culture; food terms are subject to the widest variety of translation procedures. The terms coming under this category are further complicated due to the "foreign" elements present. One such case is the reference to the brightly colored sweet oriental patisseries made from semolina, translated as exotic term “halva, 41”. Translating according to the Slovak idea of halva would imply the confection made from sunflower or sesame yet in the context of Egyptian culture this hardly seems appropriate bearing in mind the difference in form of the target literature reference. In this case the translation as sladkosti (sweets) seems to correspond to the idea of the original signification. Even if it is a more abstract translation of the Arabic original, and is therefore more appropriate concerning its function in the target text than a translation of formal equivalence.

Another example of material culture is “halva z hummusu, 41”. Hummus in Egypt is a Cicer arietinum, which has lighter color, larger or smaller seeds. It is used in Egypt in oriental dry sweets production. For the Slovak reader hummus generally means a dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas, blended with tahina, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. By using strictly formal equivalence, meaning would be lost. It would however be possible to neutralize the original term hummus by translating the phrase as "vysušené cícerové sladkosti" In this way; the information is passed on and elucidated by translator.


Emotiveness is the other cultural implication related to the emotive intention embedded in the source text. Comprehension often involves much more than understanding what the words which make up the text point to in reality. There are other implicit matters such as thoughts and feelings to consider. Some types of text intend to express or arouse emotional responses to a special topic. That is to say, some source languages use a neutral/objective vocabulary, whereas others use emotive/subjective vocabulary. The extracts from the Slovak translation show a huge amount of emotive expressions is the source text that sometimes correspond to the Arabic source text and sometimes are simplified with informative character. Emotiveness is strongly connected with the concepts of denotative meaning and connotative meaning. The former is, generally speaking, equivalent to the formal, or dictionary meaning, whereas the latter is equivalent to a functional or emotive meaning. It is to be noted that native speakers of a language have a keen appreciation of the emotive meanings of words. The analysis of the emotive meaning is by no means as easy as that of a formal meaning. But as we have shown, it will be always a tension between the artistic and reproduction level.

Levý claims that “certain expression in the translated text is not essential, but it is one of more possibilities. Translator is cable to choose the suitable expression for transferring the meaning implicated in the source text. Discovering and selection is possible only, when the translator has more stylistic possibilities and must to select according to the context needs. The creation process starts after the craft ends”, (Levý, 1998: 80).

In Arabic text there are numerous examples of lexical items or expressions, which pose a difficulty when translating into Czech or Slovak translations, look incongruent despite the efforts made by translators and that, in most cases, translators fail to convey their emotive connotative meanings, managing only to convey the denotative meanings.

Gestures and habits

Newmark points out that gestures and habits are "often described in 'non-cultural' language" (Newmark, 1988:103). In the selected text many gestures and habits are implied yet not specifically described thus making an entirely informative translation difficult. Once again, these are cultural references which imply certain knowledge of the way of life of the Arabic community and the attitudes towards it.

The selected translation of Arabic novel deals with a local habits and morality, especially in the Upper Egypt. It is about a young girl, who lost her virginity with a seducer. Lost virginity before official marriage is taboo and crime that adjured death to the girl in the conservative Upper Egyptian society. That is what happened in the novel, her uncle killed her. Her emancipated younger sister decided to revenge for killed sister. The author signified these habits by using some verbal gestures like: sinful passion. The original text reader knows these cultural factors, habits and traditions, for him therefore the term sinful passion is explicable and clear. All of these factors and habits are inherently present in the text, yet their full cultural significance is difficult to portray without such background knowledge. Thus, the term vašen (passion) in the translated Slovak text is not enough.

The possible lack of cultural knowledge of the target text reader implies translating in a way so as to clearly convey notions which may otherwise go unnoticed. The proposed translation of "Shahawát átima, 12" as "sinful passion(s)" may overemphasize the strength of the original source text term, and attitude aimed at being conveyed by the author is respected. When explaining certain principles of dynamic equivalence, Nida states that "the emotional tone must accurately reflect the point of view of the author" (Nida, 1964:139). Levý’s definition of compensation, being "…debilitation of some semantic category in one language have to be counterbalanced by another abundantly advanced category in the other language" (Levý, 1998:71) may seem relevant here. By translating in this way, although culturally implicit translation loss is inevitable here, a form of dynamic equivalence through compensation is adopted in order to counterbalance such loss and seems an appropriate way of conveying cultural implications present in the source text.

Cultural allusions

In the following model extract we can found examples of potentially opaque cultural allusions for the target text reader. The first of these is "…životopis prorokov nebude tentoraz reciťovať slávny šejch. 101". The author denotes the folk Islamic local celebrations in the Egyptian countryside and assigned for jubilee of different Islamic saints predominantly deceased sophists. The storyteller during that celebration narrated folk stories with a religious coloration. The notion full of cultural meaning given the context of no great cultural significance for the target text reader, who may be lost without understanding the historical and cultural background. The text-type as well as the ideal target text reader and his motivations may imply preferring the use of transference or formal equivalence despite translation loss concerning cultural implications.

Secondly, the term "sheikh" must be considered. This is another reference which has strongly attached associations due to the same cultural and historical factors and the meaning is only fully understandable if these associations are known. A literal translation of the text would be "...the event will not celebrate this time a folk storyteller”. This potential solution is not a direct translation of the source text; however it enables the target text reader to approach the cultural reference in a more meaningful way to produce the similar response as the original.

Lastly, the term "sheikh" needs further explanation. Transferring this term using formal equivalence or cultural transplantation would have little cultural effect on a Czech-Slovak speaking reader and be of no value considering the text-type. Indeed, Sheikh in classic interpretation is considered to be a nation of purely religionist lacking in culture. In Czech-Slovak languages the term sheikh maintains this concept and although the term could be translated literal as "singer", the true sense would be lacking in the target text. The cultural implications for translation require a full understanding of the notion rather than an emphasis on the original source text reference. In this case an appropriate translation would consider the use of a cultural equivalent and the term "folk storyteller" could be used to represent a similar cultural concept.

Lexical components

Lexical components present cultural implications for translation. One example of lexis in selected text, which may have a different effect on the source text and the target text reader, is the title of the novel.

The title of the Slovak selected translation from Arabic may also be considered as having cultural implications for translation and cultural connotations and that this is one of the author's aims. According to Newmark, in literary translation "the title should sound attractive, allusive, suggestive ... and should usually bear some relation to the original" (Newmark, 1988:56). This can be seen as relevant here, the aim being to portray culturally bound aspects; thus the title may be seen as conveying aspects of the narrative and deserves further attention. The title of the chosen novel “Volanie hrdličky” denotes the male nightingale known for his singing. Its song is particularly noticeable at night. Its name in Arabic also means “the gloomy night bird”. Nightingale sings even more loudly in urban or near-urban environments. It has a frog-like alarm call that interpreted in the Arabic mentality as a praying means: “The World is yours”. As we notice in the novel, the bird always came in the night, at the midnight to communicate and share sadness with the misery girl. So by translating as “Volanie slávika“, the same positive aspect may be maintained on the target text reader as in the source Arabic literature.


Untranslatability belongs to the main problems of translation and reflects the area where intercultural equivalence could or not exist. For Sapir, “there are no two languages so similar that we can consider it as image of the same cultural reality. The worlds, where live different societies are self-reliant, not a one world appointed with different names” (Sapir, 1949: 80).

Intercultural non-equivalence which can cause untranslatability arises when a situational feature is functionally relevant to the source text, but fully absent from the target text in which the target culture is rooted. The more disagreement there is between the concepts of the source culture or its linguistic system and those of the target text or its linguistic system, the more these variables hinder intercultural translation. This may lead to untranslatability such as in cases overwhelmed by tension between form and meaning. From the other hand Vilikovský states that “…mind reflects the reality before the language that expresses the content of mind. As the mind is the reflection of reality and the language is its verbal mind, the language then is also shaped by the objective reality and reflects it.”, (Vilikovský, 1984: 16). It means that the content of verbal communication is the objective reality and language is just intermediator, not creator. According to this point of view, in the literature, the functional compensation or dynamic equivalence represents a real precondition for spanning the differences between two different linguistic systems.

The issue of translatability depends on the translator, on his intelligence and appropriate and realistic interpretation of source text. Levý notes that “the translation possibility depends not only on the translator’s intelligence, but on well-educated readers as well, and the perfect translation needs perfect translator and ideal target text reader”, (Levý, 1998: 99). The target text reader may share with the source-culture reader knowledge about the life patterns of the source culture. He may have been informed previously about the source culture. He may have read an anthropological study of the other culture, or may have lived for a certain time with the society of the source culture.

Using his skill and experience, the competent translator can alleviate the way for other translators of the target culture that will take into account a well informed reader. Translator could even, according to the historical situation, deliberately act with convergence of two cultures.


We have argued theoretical framework for analysis of intercultural exchange elements in the literature. Some cultural categories with model examples were discussed while examining the Czech and Slovak translations from Arabic. The approaches that were applied oscillated between veracity and informative function, reproduction and artistic level. Considering the nature of the text and the similarities between the ideal source text and target text reader, an important aspect is to determine how much missing background information should be provided by the translator using these methods. Completely or partial transferring the cultural contents to the target text could only do the competent translator according to the knowledge base of the target text reader about the source culture. The translator is responsible for the right interpretation of the source text and its culture elements. He is responsible as well for educating the target text reader to understand the conventions and cultural references of the remote culture. It has been recognized that in order to preserve specific cultural references certain additions need to be brought to the target text. This implies that formal equivalence should not be sought as this is not justified when considering the expectations of the target text reader.

The global cultural relations maybe gradually change the traditional European public bias about the “Orient” and first of all about the Arabic culture. For the people from Eastern Europe, the tourism, especially in the last two decades, provides a particularly concentrated and significant occasion for intercultural communication and exchange. Maybe is useful to mention here the term “intercultural communication” that usually encompasses the notion of interaction between members of different cultures. This term definition was further modified by Gavin Jack and Alison Phipps as “participatory set of actions in the world… talking form in dialogical and material exchanges between members of culture groupings”. (Gavin, 2005: 6).


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Gavin Jack, and Alison Phipps. Tourism and intercultural exchange, Dublin, 2005.

Hervey, Sandor., Higgins, Ian. Thinking Translation. London: Routledge, 1992.

Hussein, Taha. Ducá’ al-karawán. Cairo: Dár al-Ma’árif. 1960.

Hussein, Táha. Volánie hrdličky. Bratislava: Slovenský spisovateľ. 1965.

Klaudy, Kinga. “In defence of linguistic theory of translation”: Hovory o překladu a tlumočení, (1991): 136-152.

Levý, Jiří. Umění překladu. Praha: Ivo Železný, 1998.

Newmark, Peter. A textbook of Translation. New York: Prentice Hall. 1988.

Nida, Eugene. "Principles of Correspondence”: The Translation Studies Reader. London: Routledge, (1964): 126-140.

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Soukup, Václav. Přehled antropologických teorií kultury, Praha: Portál. 2000.

Vilikovský, Ján. Preklad ako tvorba. Bratislava: Slovenský spisovateľ. 1984.

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