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Sara Mariji

Cognitive Linguistics and Translation


Assignment 1
7 November 2015

Translating is a difficult, complex profession. In addition to having a good grasp of both


their mother tongue and their working languages, translators must be aware of and familiar with
the various aspects of the cultures behind those languages: knowledge, customs, beliefs, laws,
morals, art, etc. This is why translation studies has such an important role it is an
interdisciplinary field which helps us understand, deal with and juggle all the factors relevant in
translation: texts, processes, people, cultures and tools. Different translation theories, such as
equivalence theory, Skopos theory, polysystem theory, etc., lay emphasis on different elements of
translation.
In the modern world of globalization, translators are practically indispensable. Famous
Italian journalist and writer Italo Calvino explained this perfectly: Without translation I would
be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my most important ally. He
introduces me to the world. Serving such a vital function, translators bear a huge responsibility.
Nowhere is this so pronounced than in translating official (or legal or administrative) texts, such
as birth certificates, wills, academic transcripts, company statutes, judicial sentences and so on.
Official or sworn translators have to pass exams and be appointed by a court; they take on the
role of a public authenticator and protector from biased interpretation of fact; their honesty and
competence should be presumed. They should be familiar with legal terminology, target-language
writing style, norms and conventions, the intricacies of foreign legal, political, educational and
other systems, etc. Moreover, an important factor in translating an official document is the target
text receiver and the purpose: these types of documents may be intended for the government of a
country or community speaking a foreign language, often in order to certify allegations in a legal
or administrative process and usually as evidence in a court case. This is where Skopos theory
comes to mind. It also means that the translator should be well acquainted with cultural
specificities, making the cultural aspect quite important in this type of translation.

Translating non-administrative texts presents a different type of challenge. Manuals, for


example, are quite similar to administrative (official) documents: they should be translated in a
clear and unambiguous way, without using figures of speech or other type of non-standard
language forms, and taking into account terminology, the target culture, deadlines, etc. Not to say
that there are no differences, but I believe that they are more obvious when comparing official
documents and fiction. A prime example would be novels, which are often abundant in idioms,
and translating them allows for much more creativity and ingenuity. Depending on the stylistic
effect we want or need to produce in the target text, there are several procedures we can use to
translate idioms: compensation, literal translation, omission, translation by paraphrase, using an
idiom with similar form and content and using an idiom with similar content but dissimilar form.
Target culture-orientedness can be as big a factor in this type of translation as in translating
official documents, but, given the fact that fidelity, loyalty and transparency, along with highly
controlled language, are imperative when translating official documents, being creative is rarely,
if ever, an option for sworn translators.
The practical part of this assignment consisted of translating a svjedoba, a short official
document issued by a secondary school at the end of a school year that details a students
academic record. Svjedodbas are usually translated in order for a student to apply for the
recognition or validation of merits acquired in a foreign country when he/she wishes to enroll at a
foreign institution of higher education. These types of documents teem with culture-specific
items (CSIs). As cultures can overlap in some segments and differ in others, we are sometimes
faced with linguistic non-correspondences that reflect a lack of extralinguistic common ground
for communication. The translators job is to bridge the gap between cultures, i.e. create that
common ground, by using a procedure he/she considers most appropriate, based on the function
of the CSI, its status in both the source culture and the target culture, the translation tradition of
the target culture, the possible consequences of using a particular procedure, etc. Some
commonly used procedures are borrowing, literal translation, lexical creation, substitution (using
a cultural equivalent), explanation, omission and addition. The choice of procedure depends on a
particular translation situation, but a prevalence of certain types of procedure can be an indicator
of a dominant strategy or orientation. Translation theoretician Lawrence Venuti identifies two
main strategies: domestication or target-orientedness and foreignization or source-orientedness.

Taking into account the function or purpose of translating a svjedodba, I decided on using
domestication.
The first example I would like to discuss is dipl. iur. (diplomirani pravnik), the title of my
former principal. The abbreviation stands for an undergraduate degree in law or a first
professional degree in law, depending on the jurisdiction. I would describe the degree as a
concept belonging to the frame, domain, idealized cognitive model or cultural model of academic
titles, within the larger domain of higher education. Searching for possible English equivalents of
this concept, I found the following: LLB (Bachelor of Laws), LLM (Master of Laws) and JD
(Juris Doctor). I had to google the term because, while I am generally familiar, as a student, with
the domain of academic titles and most other subdomains of the domain of higher education,
simply seeing the abbreviation was not enough to understand which concept the term, in fact,
designates. As Charles Fillmore points out, the knowledge that is called on for explaining how
text meanings are developed is not limited to linguistic knowledge, and in order to understand the
meanings of words in a domain we need to understand the social institutions or the structures of
experience which they presuppose. He continues to argue that in some cases the area of
experience on which a linguistic frame imposes order is a prototype and that often the frame
against which a word is understood involves a schematized prototype of what some part of the
world is like. How does this apply to this particular translation situation? Well, the schematized
prototype would in my experience be a masters degree, since this type of degree is usually
earned by completing law school in Croatia (following the end of the Bologna Process). Further
research showed that dipl iur. does not correspond completely to any of the possible solutions, but
its closest equivalent is LLB, i.e. the two concepts share some salient elements of meaning. I also
found an instruction issued by the Judges Web and the Ministry of Foreign and European affairs,
according to which titles should not be translated due to the differences in the requirements and
duration of study necessary to be awarded the title of dipl. iur. However, having assessed the
function of the CSI, I concluded that it is not a crucial issue in this particular translation. It is a
piece of information of minor significance any teacher could have become the principal, e.g.
the biology teacher or music teacher, regardless of the field in which they were awarded their
degree. Thus, I have opted for LLB, using substitution. I also believe that this example clearly
illustrates that while some ICMs are really mental models, others are models constructed in the
world in terms of social institutions and/or practices.

The second issue I would like to address is the subject tjelesni i zdravstveni odgoj. It is
also a concept within the Croatian educational system, belonging to the domain of curricula
within the larger domain of secondary education. The first translation solutions I considered
(based on my general cultural knowledge and a Google search, just in case) were physical
education, health (education) and gym. However, none of them proved to be adequate. In order to
explain why, I must refer back to Fillmore and mention some other concepts. Fillmores idea of
frames as drawing on background prototypes is basically what George Lakoff called idealized
cognitive models (ICMs). There are five types of ICMs, including taxonomic propositional ICMs,
which consist of hierarchically structured classical categories, where a higher-order category is a
whole, and the immediately lower categories are the part of which it is composed, with no
overlap of the categories at each level. Lakoff implies that image schemas (as defined by Mark
Johnson) can be the major structuring elements of certain ICMs by virtue of the fact that each
represents a simplified (idealized) abstraction of some pattern in our bodily experience which we
use as a model for conceptualizing other (more abstract) aspects of our lives. In my example,
secondary education would be the highest member of the hierarchy, followed by curricula, then
tjelesni i zdravstveni odgoj, with the lowest being physical education, health (education) and
gym. That is, the three possible translation solutions correspond, respectively, to a specific
element of the meaning of tjelesni i zdravstveni odgoj, which makes them subordinate categories
in relation to tjelesni i zdravstveni odgoj. At the same time, tjelesni i zdravstveni odgoj is the
pattern in my bodily experience which enables me to conceptualize the differences in the scope of
meaning of these concepts and their inadequacy as acceptable translation solutions. Therefore, I
chose literal translation, physical and health education, which I realize is a foreignizing
procedure (making it stand out against the global strategy of domestication I used in the
translation), but I believe it is the only option that covers all the relevant aspects of the meaning
of tjelesni i zdravstveni odgoj. This example is similar to the first one I discussed, but it differs in
the sense that it involves a piece of information which is rather more important than the previous
one.
Frames, domains, ICMs and cultural models all derive from an approach to human
language as a system of communication that reflects the world as it is construed by humans. They
guide and structure our use of language, but we use them also to conceptualize what is going on.
Knowing that a text is a svjedoba, will, contract, manual, journal article, novel, etc., we employ

specific structures of expectations which help lead to a full interpretation of the meaning of that
type of text. In a specific translation situation, this helps us to decide on a translation procedure or
strategy, whether using CAT tools would be helpful, how to find reliable terminology sources (in
dealing with administrative documents), how to emulate the stylistic effect of the text in the target
language, which register to use (in non-administrative texts) and so on. Many concepts
presuppose several different domains or, from a frame semantics point of view, the same facts
can frequently be presented within different framings, framings which make them out as different
facts. Frames, domains, ICMs and cultural models provide a way of carving out the scope of
concepts relevant for characterizing the meaning of linguistic units and because they are
cognitive constructs, their scope is going to be determined in any instance by contextual factors,
as well as the subjective nature of construal. Therefore, both our experience (including
perception, reasoning, the nature of the body, emotions, memory, social structures, sensorimotor
and cognitive development) and specific contextual knowledge enable us to access the most
pertinent aspect of a translation situation and to understand the differences in translating text A
vs. translating text B. In terms of ICMs, if we find ourselves in a situation in which several salient
elements evoke a known ICM, that model can provide a framework for filling in potentially
relevant detail. That is, we can use simplified or idealized abstractions of some pattern in our
bodily experience as a model for conceptualizing other aspects of our lives, e.g. using the
memory of how we learned English to help us find an easier way, or some tricks, for learning a
new foreign language.
To sum up, translating these types of texts (or any type of text, actually) involves both
linguistic and extralinguistic (conceptual) knowledge, which are highly dependent on our bodily
experience, context and culture. As frames, domains, ICMs and cultural models are different
names for roughly the same things, choosing the most suitable one to organize and explain that
knowledge is contingent on those three factors. Given that each of us has different experiences
and grasps of culture and context, it is no wonder that we all approach translation in a different
way.

Bibliography
Cienki, Alan. 2007. Frames, Idealized Cognitive Models and Domains. In Dirk Geeraerts and
Hubert Cuyckens, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Oxford University
Press, 170-187.
Mayoral Asensio, Roberto. Translating Official Documents. Manchester, UK: St. Jerome
Publishing, 2003.
Pavlovi, Nataa. Uvod u teorije prevoenja. Zagreb: Leykam international d.o.o., 2015.
Stanojevi, Mateusz-Milan. Konceptualna metafora: temeljni pojmovi, teorijski pristupi i
metode.
Zagreb: Srednja Europa, 2013.