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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Interpreting  »  Cultural Translation: An Option or a Sin?

Cultural Translation: An Option or a Sin?

By Marcia Pinheiro | Published  03/11/2014 | Interpreting | Recommendation:
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Marcia Pinheiro
English to Portuguese translator
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When we see the expression close the account and we are from another background (not Australian, for instance), we tend to think that what is meant is that a bank account will be terminated.

Account in Portuguese is conta and, unfortunately, conta is the name Brazilians, for instance, give to both the restaurant bill and the bank account.

In this case, we should not translate/interpret both in the logical way, we believe.

Imagine that we are interpreting for a person who is opening an account with a certain electricity company. The employee of the company, and let’s call them ,i>X to simplify, then says, Since you want direct debit, sir, can you please give me the details of your account?

We then say, Uma vez que o senhor quer ter débito automático, pode me passar os detalhes da sua conta?

The details are provided.

X then says, To start your account with us, sir, you need to say yes.

We could then interpret this in a literal way and say, Para começar a sua conta conosco, senhor, o senhor tem que dizer sim.

The client could then think that they would be starting a bank account with the electricity company, since this is the usual for their original Country, assuming their original Country is Brazil.

That could easily generate confusion.

If we use our intelligence, however, and think of the cultural contexts involved, we can say, Para se tornar o nosso cliente, senhor, o senhor tem que dizer sim.

The purists may not like this choice, since their recommendation seems to be never omitting, adding, or changing the discourse.

Notwithstanding, if we do things in a literal/logical way (the logical way could be literal, but could also include logical adaptations), then we get confusion and difficulties in communication that we would not have otherwise.

Another example would be overdue.

When we use this sigmatoid (our term) in English, we want to imply that a person has not paid the bill in due time, that is, before or on the due date.

If we were to convey its meaning as it is in Portuguese, we would be in trouble because this is a gap case: Whilst, in English, we would say, Your bill is now overdue, in Portuguese, we would say, Você está inadimplente.

The subject (bill becomes you) of the sentence changes, for instance.

If we tried to translate this sentence in a literal way, we would not succeed, for it is a gap case.

If we tried to translate it in a logical way, we would have to use way too many words: A sua conta está aqui sem pagamento por muito tempo agora or A sua conta é devida agora por muito tempo. From 5 words, we got 11 or 9.

We still had to add words to explain the meaning of the word that has no match in the Portuguese language (overdue).

We are then not following the recommendation of the purists (anyway).

When we used a cultural match and said, Você está inadimplente instead, we went from 5 to 3 words.

Inadimplente is a word that Brazilians are used to, despite it looking so difficult. The word makes them understand immediately what the situation is about.

My system is playing up with me is another case.

If we try to do things in a literal way, we get this: Meu sistema está me irritando or Meu sistema está imprevisível.

If we do things in a logical way, we get this: O sistema está brincando comigo or O sistema está tirando sarro com a minha cara.

If we do things in a cultural way, we get this: O computador está me deixando na mão.

One could then say that if the last message were the one intended by the speaker, they would have said, The computer is letting me down instead.

Notwithstanding, any of the other choices will make the speaker sound unprofessional in the Brazilian culture.

In the Australian culture, however, My system is playing up does not imply absence of professionalism.

It may be that separating things in groups be an impossible task and the blurred regions be never-ending, but it seems that it is worth investing a bit in trying to do that.

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