Lexical problems of translation

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Lexical problems of translation

As a rule, the object of translation is not a list of separate lexical units but a coherent text in which the SL words make up an integral whole. Though each word in the language has its own meaning, the information it conveys in a text depends to a great extend on its contextual environment. The context may modify the meaning of a word to such a degree that its regular equivalents will not fit the TT. V. Comissarov writes the following about contextual modification, “The contextual modification may extend the connotative meaning of the word. The translator is greatly concerned about the adequate reproduction of this part of the word semantics, since it has an impact upon the whole text.”

A propos of adequacy, we shall mention the method elaborated by Y. Retzcker that consists in overcoming difficulties concerning lexical aspect of translation. He tried to single out types of correspondence between two lexical units in ST and TT.

His classification runs as follows:


Equivalent is a word or phrase which completely coincides with that from the original text. For example: rose – роза.


Analogue is a word or phrase which is quite close to the SL word meaning, but without complete coincidence. One may figure out the meaning analyzing the synonymic string of this word and find the most appropriate variant. For instance, reliable – достоверный, надёжный, magnificent – изумительный, чудесный.

But the real difficulty seems to arise when translator does not see any appropriate word given in the dictionary to fit the context. Therefore Retzcker suggests one more important way of translation.


Adequate Substitution which has 3 types:

1. Logical development of the idea of the word (interpreting)

2. Antonymous translation

3. Compensation (the usage of completely different means of TL to convey the meaning of the word from SL. It happens when translator deals with proverbs or idioms).


Barhudarov, in his turn, added some points to Retzcher’s classification, developing his own ideas of the Lexical Aspect of Translation. He suggests the following types of Adequate Substitutions (he calls them Lexical Transformations):

· Lexical Substitutions

· Antonymous Translation

· Compensation

· Addition

· Omission

Lexical Substitution

There are 3 kinds of Lexical Substitution:

• Differentiation of the word meaning

• Generaliriation of the word meaning

• Substitution based on cause-effect relations

Differentiation means specifying the meaning of the word according to its contextual environment. For example, English dynamic verb “come” can be specified as “приходить”, “прибывать”, “подходить”, “приезжать” etc. Usually, verbs “tell” and “say” are not always translated as “рассказывать”, “говорить” but also “молвить”, “отметить”, “утвеждать”, “сообщить”, “возразить”, “спросить”, “велеть”.

E.g.: “Oh!” said Pooh.

-Ой-ой-ой! – воскликнул Пух.

There are numerous examples concerning Differentiation in the translation made by B. Zahoder. He often uses this device to avoid unnecessary repetition. With repetition, we shall say, that A. Miln and B. Zahoder have their own approaches. It is natural because English and Russian provide their speakers with different means for doing that.

Pooh’s friend stopped shaking his head to get the prickles out and explained that Tiggers didn’t like thistles.“Then why bend a perfectly good one?” asked Eeyore.

Друг Пуха на секунду перестал трясти головой (он пытался вытрясти колючки) и объяснил, что Тигры не любят чертополоха. -Тогда зачем было портить такой отличный экземпляр?

The translator specifying the pronoun “one” makes the narration more expressive suggesting the word “экземпляр”.

The next Differentiation is prompted by the inner logic of the narration.

E.g.: He sat down … then he fitted his paw into one of the Tracks.

To think logically, it is more comfortable to investigate the tracks “squatting down”. Thus, B. Zahoder translates it “он присел на корточки” instead of just “присел”.

And the third example shows that using this type of Lexical Substitution the translator does not merely avoids repeating words, but even renders the emotional state of Christopher Robin, who tries to understand the mystery of Eeyore’s house disappearance.

E.g.: It’s Pooh”, said Christopher Robin excitedly. “Possibly” said Eeyore. “And Piglet “said Christopher Robin excitedly.

-Это Пух,– радостно сказал Кристофер Робин. -Вероятно,– сказал Иа-Иа. -И еще Пятачок,- взволнованно сказал Кристофер Робин.

Sometimes context dictates the translator to use Differentiating.

E.g.: “Roo’s fallen in!” cried Rabbit.”

Ру упал в воду!

Russian variant will be impossible without the noun.

Generalization of the word means that the word from the ST is substituted by the word with generic meaning in the TT. For instance,He comes over and visits me practically every weekend. - Он часто ко мне ездит, почти каждую неделю. As the matter of fact B. Zahoder does not often use this kind of Lexical Substitution.

E.g.: Stoutness Exercises.

Утренняя зарядка

Further in the context the translator interprets the idea: Надо вам сказать, что Вини-Пух очень хотел похудеть и потому старательно занимался гимнастикой.

Substitution based on cause-effect relations (when cause is substituted by effect or vice versa).

E.g.: Balancing on three legs he began to bring his leg very cautiously up to his ear.

С трудом держась на ногах, Иа стал осторожно поднимать четвертую ногу к уху.

To balance means “to put your body or something else into a position where it is steady and does not fall: How long can you balance on one leg?” So, in the Zahoder’s translation cause is substituted by effect. He writes “с трудом держась” because the effect of balancing is rather a complicated action therefore it is being done with certain difficulty. Perhaps, using this type of substitution Zahoder wants to emphasize that Eeyore in spite the difficult balancing on his three legs is eager to hear once again that he is going to receive his birthday present. If the translator had opted for the word “балансировать” he would have lost much. First, this word is not an authentically Russian one. Second, the Eeyore’s attitude would not have been rendered.

Antonymous Translation

Taking into account that the term “antonym” is usually used when speaking about the words with opposite meanings in one and the same language 11 we shall say that antonymous translation is a complex Lexico-Grammatical Substitution of the negative construction by the positive one or vice versa 12. B. Zahoder uses Antonymous Translation very often.

E.g.: Piglet scratched his ear in a nice sort of way and said that he had nothing to do until Friday.

Пятачок мужественно почесал за ухом и сказал, что до пятницы он совершенно свободен. (the negative construction is substituted by a positive one).

We also can give one more example:

You’ll be quite safe with him.

С ним тебя никто не тронет.

If the translator had given a positive construction like “с ним ты будешь в безопасности” it will be too formal and not altogether appropriate for the colloquial speech.


It is used when some elements in the ST do not have their equivalents in the TT. In order to compensate this semantic loss the translator conveys the information applying some other means of his language. Very often Compensation serves to render stylistically marked words to convey the register of the whole passage. Like in this one, where Piglet’s curiosity is rendered.

E.g.: he felt thathe must see what a Heffulump was like.

нужно хоть одним глазом взглянуть на Слонопатама.

When Compensation is applied, the equivalence of the translation is not provided on the level of separate elements but of the whole text translated.

E.g.: …and Pooh’s jar of honey at the bottom was something mysterious, a shape and no more.

…а горшок с мёдом, стоявший на дне, был призрачным, словно тень.


As Barhudarov noticed, Addition in translation is necessary when the semantic components of lexical unit are not formally expressed13 . He writes that this phenomenon is quite typical of English. These semantic elements which are meant but not formally expressed Z. Harris calls “appropriate words”. He writes that the appropriate word is “the main word to occur with particular other words in the given culture or subject mutter" 14 . As an example he gives “violin prodigy” (where the missing element which is not formally expressed is “playing”) and “violin merchant” where the corresponding appropriate word is “selling”. Barhudarov gives another example where the phrase “I began the book” should be clarified with the help of the appropriate word (either to read or to write). It depends. But not “buy” which is not an appropriate word for this sentence.

If we try to analyze the following example from Zahoder’s translation we will see that he has to add the adverbial modifier of time in order to render the grammatical meaning (prior action) of the Past Perfect.

E.g.: It rained and rained and rained. Hehad had a tiring day.

Накануне он очень устал.

Though, it could be interpreted as Grammatical Substitution, where grammatical meaning of a word in the ST is rendered semantically (see p. 41).



Omission is opposite to Addition. It means that translator omits superfluous elements. They are elements denoting the meaning which is already expressed in the text.

“The most common elements – objects of omission– are pair-synonyms, which are characteristic of English stylistics”, writes L. Barhudarov. A propos of B. Zahoder translation, we, unfortunately, did not come across such phenomenon. However, we found another one, quite interesting as well.

E.g.: “Well”, said Christopher Robin, putting on his shoes. “I shall go and look at it. Come on.”

- Ну, – сказал Кристофер Робин, надевая ботинки, – я должен на него посмотреть. Пошли.

So, as you see no word “go” in Russian translation is used, because in the Russian variant it sounds rather superfluous. Logically, if one wants to look at something or somebody which is quite far away he certainly needs to go. Therefore Zahoder omits this very “go”.



16. Translator is a mediator of intercultural communication

Anyone who has ever attempted to translate a text knows that knowledge of the languages alone does not guarantee success. Peter Newmark notes sharply but aptly that: "any old fool can learn a language […] but it takes an intelligent person to become a translator". Paluszliewicz-Misiaczek (2005) reports Bell (1991) that: apart from an excellent knowledge of both the source and the target language,which comprises vocabulary and word formation, grammar, spelling and pronunciation, the translator also has to possess so-called socio-linguistic competence, which helps him to understand the text within its context, to determine its functions and predict who is going to receive it. Venuti defines the act of translation as "a process by which the chain of signifiers that constitutes the source-language text is replaced by a chain of signifiers in the target language which the translator provides on the strength of an interpretation". Then he describes the aim of translation as something that is indispensable of cultural consideration.

In Venuti's view the aim of translation is: To bring back a cultural other as the same, the recognizable, even the familiar; and this aim always risks a wholesale domestication of the foreign text, often in highly self-conscious projects, where translation serves an appropriation of foreign cultures for domestic agendas, cultural, economic, and political. In Venuti's view, the viability of a translation is established by its relationship to the cultural and social conditions under which the translation is produced and read. So far what is clearly common in the majority of translation scholar is being not ignored of the cultural consideration in translation process. According to Nida and Taber, cultural translation is "a translation in which the content of the message is changed to conform to the receptor culture in some way, and/or in which information is introduced which is not linguistically implicit in the original"

Toury states that "translation is a kind of activity which inevitably involves at least two languages and two cultural traditions, i.e., at least two sets of norm-systems on each level". Also Armstrong is among those who believed that just a bilingual and bicultural translator is able to carry out a complete translation.

As it was mentioned above translation and culture move in the same path in parallel to each other. House's statement about translation confirms these findings. She remarks that:

Translation is not only a linguistic act, it is also a cultural one, an act of communication across cultures. Translation always involves both language and culture simply because the two cannot really be separated. Language is culturally embedded: it both expresses and shapes cultural reality, and the meanings of linguistic items, be they words or larger segments of text, can only be understood when considered together with the cultural context in which these linguistic items are used.

She then sum up with this statement that "in the process of translation, therefore, not only the two languages but also the two cultures come into contact. In this sense, translating is a form of intercultural communication".



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