Lexical problems of translation

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Due to the semantic features of language the meanings of words, their usage, ability to combine with other words, associations awakened by them, the place they hold in the lexical system of a language do not concur for the most part. All the same «ideas» expressed by words coincide in most cases, though the means of expression differ.


Lexical substitution. 8
Supplementation. 9
Omission. 10

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Lexical problems of translation

Due to the semantic features of language the meanings of words, their usage, ability to combine with other words, associations awakened by them, the place they hold in the lexical system of a language do not concur for the most part. All the same «ideas» expressed by words coincide in most cases, though the means of expression differ.

As it is impossible to embrace all the cases of semantic differences between two languages, we shall restrict this course to the most typical features.

The principal types of lexical correspondences between two languages are as follows:

I. Complete correspondences.

II. Partial correspondences.

III. The absence of correspondences.

Complete lexical correspondences

Complete correspondence of lexical units of two languages can rarely be found. As a rule they belong to the following lexical groups:

Proper names and geographical denominations;

Scientific and technical terms;

The months and days of the week, numerals.


Partial lexical correspondences

While translating the lexical units partial correspondences mostly occur. That happens when a word in the language of the original to several equivalents in the language it is translated into. The reasons of these facts are the following:

1. Most words in a language are polysemantic, and the system of word – meaning in one language does not concur with the same system in another language completely. That’s why the selection of a word in the process of translating is determined by the context.

2. The specification of synonymous order which pertain the selection of words. However, it is necessary to allow for the nature of the semantic signs which an order of synonyms is based on. Consequently, it is advisable to account for the concurring meanings of members of synonymic orders, the difference in lexical and stylistic meanings, and the ability of individual components of orders of synonyms to combine: e.g. dismiss, discharge (bookish), sack, fire (colloquial); the edge of the table – the rim of the moon.

3. Each word affects the meaning of an object it designates. Not infrequently languages «select» different properties and signs to describe the same denotations. The way, each language creates its own «picture of the world», is known as «various principles if dividing reality into parts». Despite the difference of signs, both languages reflect one and the same phenomenon adequately and to the same extent, which must be taken into account when translating words of this kind, as equivalence is not identical to having the same meaning: e.g. compare:

Hot milk with skin on it.

Қаймақ тұтқан ыстық сүт.

Горячее молоко с пенкой.



4. The difference of semantic content of the equivalent words in two languages. These words can be divided into three sub-groups:

a) Words with a differentiated (undifferentiated) meaning: e.g. In English: to swim (of a human being), to sail (of a ship), to float (of an inanimate object); 

b) Words with a «broad» sense: verbs of state (to be), perception and brainwork (to see, to understand), verbs of action and speech (to go, to say), partially desemantisized words (thing, case).

c) «Adverbial verbs» with a composite structure, which have a semantic content, expressing action and nature at the same time: e.g.

The train whistled out of the station.

Поезд ысқырып, станциядан жөнеп кетті.

Дав свисток, поезд отошел от станции.

5. Most difficulties are encountered when translating the so called pseudo-international words, i.e. words which are similar in form in both languages, but differ in meaning or use. The regular correspondence of such words in spelling and sometimes in articulation (in compliance with the regularities of each language), coupled with the structure of word-building in both languages may lead to a false identification: e.g.

In English: moment.

In Kazakh: кез, сәт, мезгіл.

In Russian: момент, важность, значительность.

6. Each language has its own typical rules of combinability. The latter is limited by the system of the language. A language has generally established traditional combinations which do not concur with corresponding ones in another language.


Adjectives offer considerable difficulties in the process of translation, which is explained by the specific ability of English adjectives to combine. It does not always coincide with their combinability in the Kazakh or Russian languages on account of differences in their semantic structure and valence. Frequently one and the same adjective in English combines with a number of nouns, while in Kazakh and Russian different adjectives are used in combinations of this kind. For this reason it is not easy to translate English adjectives which are more capable of combining than their Kazakh and Russian equivalents: e.g.

A bad headache, a bad mistake.

Қатты бас ауруы, жаман қателік.

Сильная головная боль, грубая ошибка.

A specific feature of the combinability of English nouns is that some of them can function as the subject of a sentence, indicating one who acts, though they do not belong to a lexico-semantic category Nomina Agentis. This tends to the «predicate – adverbial modifier» construction being replaced by that of the «subject - predicate»: e.g.

The strike closed most of the schools in New- York.

Көтеріліс нәтижесінде Нью-Йорктегі мектептердің көбісі жабылды.

В результате забастовки большинство  школ Нью-Йорка было закрыто.

Of no less significance is the habitual use of a word, which is bound up with the history of the language and the formation and development of its lexical system. This gave shape to clichés peculiar to each language, which are used for describing particular situations: e.g.

In English: Wet paint!

In Kazakh: Мұқият болыңыз, боялған!

In Russian: Осторожно, окрашено! 

Types of lexical transformations

In order to attain equivalence, despite the difference in formal and semantic system of two languages, the translation is obliged to do various linguistic transformations. Their aims are: to ensure that the text imparts all the knowledge inferred in the original text, without violating the rules of the language it is translated into.

The following three elementary types are deemed most suitable for describing all kinds of lexical transformations:

Lexical substitution;



 Lexical substitution.

1) In substitutions of lexical units words and stable word combinations are replaced by others which are not their equivalents. More often three cases are met with:

a) A concrete definition – replacing a word with a broad sense by one of a narrower meaning: e.g.

He is at school.

Ол мектепте оқиды.

Он учится в школе.

b) Generalization – replacing a word with a narrow meaning by one with a broader sense:

A Navajo blanket

Жүн көрпесі.

Индейское одеяло.

c) An integral transformation:

How do you do!



2) Antonymous translation is a complex lexico-grammatical substitution of a positive construction for a negative one (and vice versa), which is coupled with a replacement of a word by its antonym when translated:

Keep of grass.

Шөптің үстінен жүрмеңіз.

Не ходите по траве.

3) Compensation is used when certain elements in the original text cannot be expressed in terms of the language it is translated into. In cases of this kind the same information is communicated by other means or in another place so as to make up the semantic deficiency:

He was ashamed of his parents, because they said «he don’t» and «she don’t».

Ол өзінің ата-аналарынан ұялды, өйткені олар «ол істемеді» деудің орнына «ол етпеді» деді.

Он стеснялся своих родителей, потому что они говорили «хочут»  и «хочете».


A formal inexpressibility of semantic components is the reason most met with for using supplementation as a way of lexical transformation. A formal inexpressibility of certain semantic components is especially of English word combinations N + N and Adj + N:

Pay claim.

Жұмыс ақысын көтеру талабы.

Требование повысить заработную плату.


In the process of lexical transformation of omission generally words with a surplus meaning are omitted (e.g. components of typically English pair – synonyms, possessive pronouns and exact measures) in order to give a more concrete expression:

To raise one’s eyebrows.

Қасын көтеру.(Жалт етіп қарау.)

Поднять брови.



 Absence of lexical correspondences

Realiae words are denoting objects, phenomena and so on, which are typical of a people. In order to render correctly the designation of objects referred to in the original and image associated with them it is necessary to know the tenor of life epoch and specific features of the country depicted in the original work.

The following groups of words can be regarded as having no equivalents:

realiae of everyday life – words denoting objects, phenomena etc., which typical of a people;

proper names and geographical denominations;

addresses and greetings;

the titles of journals, magazines and newspapers;

weights, linear measures etc. 

When dealing with realiae it is necessary to take special account of the pragmatic aspect of the translation, because the «knowledge gained by experience» of the participants of the communicative act turns out to be different. As a result, much of which is easily understood by an Englishman is in comprehensible to a Kazakh or Russian readers or exerts the opposite influence upon them. It is particularly important to allow for the pragmatic factor when translating fiction, foreign political propaganda material and advertisements of articles for export.

Below are three principal ways of translating words denoting specific realize:

1) Transliteration (complete or partial), i.e, the direct use of a word denoting realiae or its root in the spelling or in combination with suffixes of the mother tongue (cab – пәуеске арба, такси);

2) Creation of new single or complex word for denoting an object on the basis of elements and morphological relationship in the mother tongue (skyscraper – небоскреб);

3) Use of a word denoting something close to realiae of another language. It represents an approximate translation specified by the context, which is sometimes on the verge of description (peddlar – тарқатушы, разносчик, торговец).



Lexical difficulties of translation

Every word in a language carries some concrete notion. The semantics of a word reflects different signs of the subject and the relation of its meanings to other objects it denotes. The semantics of a word includes word perception characteristic to the studied language, being more precise to the bearers of the studied language. When studying the reality of some object we can identify that its name reveals its functions which finds the reflection in the semantics of the word. Let’s take as an example the word glasses – көзәйнек, көзілдірік, очки. In English it reveals the substance of which the object is made and in Russian firstly it reveals its function – second eyes – очи. Despite distinguishing all kinds of differences we should say that, both languages sufficiently reflect one and the same perception of reality. Therefore the difficulty stylistic devices represents to a translator is based on word play, if in corresponding words of both languages are featured different signs.

The second reason, causing lexical difficulties to translation of political literature is the difference in the semantic volume of a word. In every language a word exists in a close connection with the lexical-semantic system of a given language. It may have various kinds of lexical meanings (lexical-semantic) variants; it may widen or narrow its meaning and make it more abstract or concrete.

The third reason presenting lexical difficulties in translation the difference in combinability. Words in languages have some definite relation characteristic only to the given language. It should be mentioned that word combinability is possible if words point to similar objects they denote. This difference of word combinability in various languages is very important; therefore some types of combinability are easily accepted in one of language and are completely unacceptable in other languages.

Last but not the least is the accepted usage of words in a language. It is, of course related to the development of a given languages and formation of its lexical 
system. Every language worked out its own clichés and some set expressions used 
by speakers, nevertheless those word expressions are not phraseological units but they possess complete form, which, in comparison with the phraseological units, are never broken by adding some introductory words or substitution of some of its elements.

Translation studies showed that there are cases when due to the distinguished signs a word acquires wider semantic volume and can not be covered by corresponding equivalent in the target language. Let us take teenager for example: etymologically it is related to the numerals from thirteen till nineteen. The Russian подросток does not semantically cover its meaning in complete volume for it is narrower in its meaning. Therefore the word teenager is usually translated by different words – жеткіншек, жасөспірім, ұлан; подросток, юноша, and in plural as молодёжь.

Difference in the semantic structure of a word represents one of the main reason causing lexical difficulties in translation. These differences are related to peculiar features of separate words or word groups. And it is quite natural that this matter covers a wide range of examples. Practically, even identical words in different languages are not always equal in their meaning, they never correspond completely. Most often is the correspondence of first lexical-semantic variants of such words - their primary meaning, and then we have various lexical-semantic variants for the course of development of these words was of different nature.  
This is characterized by different functioning of a word in language, different in usage and combinability but even the primary meaning of an English word maybe wider of the corresponding one in Russian.

The semantic structure of a word predefines the possibility of its contextual use and the translation of contextual meaning presents a hard task to translators.  
Contextual meaning of a word in many instances depends on the character of 
semantic context, on the semantics of the words combining with it. Occasional 
meanings, suddenly originated in the context are not always arbitrary - it is based into the semantic structure of the word. In contextual usage of a word in poetry or 
prose - often point to the author's penetration into the depth of the word's semantic structure. For paradigmatic and semantic relations are characteristic to any words and the lexical potential of words can be revealed in both cases. But revealing these potentials of words is closely connected with the specificity of lexical-semantic aspects of every language and here forth we may observe the difficulty of translation of contextual meaning of words. What is possible in one language maybe impossible in another because of its difference in semantic structure and its usage?

In an atomic war women and children will be the first hostages.

The word hostage according to different dictionaries has got only one meaning – in Kazakh - құрбан, in Russian- заложник. But in the given instance the hostage acquired the meaning - жертва. Its contextual meaning probably exists in its paradigmatic meaning; any hostage may get killed therefore while translating this example we have to use the word жертва since заложник is not used in the given contextual meaning.

Атом соғысында бірінші құрбанға  алынатындар, әйел адамдар мен балалар  болады.

Первыми жертвами в атомной войне будут женщины и дети.

A very interesting contextual meaning of exploitation will be given in the following example:

Britain's worldwide exploitation was shaken to the roots by Colonial Liberation Movements.

The contextual meaning of the word originated metonymically - any colonial system lives on exploitation, which comprises basis of colonial power.

The corresponding Russian эксплуатация can not be used in this contextual meaning, the contextual surroundings of exploitation (worldwide, shaken to the roots) also prevents it. The only possible variant of translation is by means of metonymic transposition - substitution:

Англияның колониялық үстемділігі барлық колонияда ұлт-азаттық қозғалыспен сілкінді.

Колониальное могущество Англии было подорвано (потрясено до основания) национально-освободительным движением  во всех колониях.

Contextual meaning of a word is always effective semantically and stylistically owing to its unexpectedness as well. It often used in stylistic purposes and therefore a translator runs into two obstacles: he should avoid and at the same time not to break the norms of translation. The most difficulty presents the translation of emotional coloring that demands lexical changes. There is a wide range of words in a language that besides their logical meaning have emotional meanings or co-meaning. One should not mix emotional co-meaning with the multiple meaning words. Emotional meaning of words usually presents in paradigmatic meanings of words, that is it is objective and but subjective, like in the words: hate, love, friendship. But it is not an exception when emotional meaning originates from contextual usage. Emotional meaning, based in the word is usually created by association - positive or negative - which a word causes and the associations that exist in it despite the context of perception.

A peculiar group of words demanding transformation in translation are the words that possess different volume of meaning in Kazakh and English languages. To this group belong international words, some words of human perception, mental activity.

But we should mention that the words that belong to these groups are of different semantic structure. International words and the words of human perception, mental activity represents polysemantic words in English.

International words are words that are used in a wide range of languages in one or several forms. These words express scientific and social-politic notions. The volume meaning of these words does not usually coincide (except term-words). Though it is well-known that they comprise the false-friends of translators and the mistakes in their translation are frequent. These mistakes are caused not only by difference in their semantic structure but by the difference of their usage as well 
which demand lexical changes:

We are told that television this autumn will give a massive coverage to the General Election.

Күзде теледидардағы хабарламалар парламенттік таңдауларды кең жарықтайтының  хабарлаймыз.

Сообщаем, что нынешней осенью передачи по телевидению будут широко освещать парламентские выборы.

The word massive along with the meaning массивный has other meanings like in Kazakh – бұқаралық, жаппай, алып, өте үлкен, кең; in Russian - массовый, грандиозный, огромный, широкий and so on. For example: massive success - огромный успех, massive problems - важные проблемы.  
Since international words possess wider meaning volume they are more used in English if comparing to Kazakh (or to English):

Never before in the history of the world have there been so many persons engaged in the translation of both secular and religious materials.

Әлі ешқашан адам тарихында осынша көп адамдар аудармамен, зайырлы және діни әдебиетпен айналысқан емес.

Ещё никогда в истории человечества столько людей не занимались переводом  как светской, так и духовной литературы.

Russian words религиозные материалы are absolutely unacceptable in this case because of their different usage. In this instance the usage plays the main role though their meaning is identical in both languages.

Lexical transformations are also caused by necessity to concretize a word while translating. It is characteristic to English language the availability of words with wide spread meaning. They can be nouns, adjectives and verbs, for example: thing, point, stiff; nice, fine, bad; to say, to go, to come, to get. 
Translation of these words depends on the context, which helps to identify their concrete meaning. Usually they are translated by various Russian words that have concrete meaning (importance). Practically it refers to verbs - to verbs of speech and verbs of movement. Concrete lexical meaning (importance), this or that the lexical-semantic variant of a verb depends on structure and lexical meaning of words that distribute them.

At the by-election victory went to the Labor candidate.

Қосымша таңдауда (немесе дауыс беруде), жеңіс лейбористтердікі болды.

На дополнительных выборах победа досталась лейбористам (победу одержал  кандидат от лейбористской партии).

Among nouns of wide meaning a special group comprises abstract nouns that frequently demand concrete definitions in translation. So, for example, despite the presence of a word президенттік in Kazakh, президентство in Russian - English word presidency usually refers to the words a президенттің орны or президенттік билік, пост президента or президентская всласть.

An ageing Speaker cannot take on the burdens of the presidency.

Қартайған спикер президенттік биліктің ауыртпалығын өзіне ала алмайды.

Престарелый спикер не может взять  на себя бремя президентской власти (в случае смерти президента).

The use of words of abstract meaning strongly differs in various languages. Therefore follows the necessity of concrete definition in translating.

The Saigon regime used every form of pressure and violence to compel a reluctant electorate to go to the polls.

Сайгондық режім, зауықсыз сайлаушыларды  таңдауға қатыстыруға мәжбүрлеу  үшін, қысымның және зорлықтың барлық түрлерін қолданды.

Сайгонский режим прибегал ко всем видам давления и насилия, чтобы  заставить упрямых избирателей  принять участие в выборах.

Sometimes it is necessary to concretize some word due to different qualitative distinction (value) the generalizing words have in languages. The following words belong to them: meal and трапеза that usually illustrate the phenomenon and the words limbs and члены, from which limbs is widely common, and Russian word the члены has much narrower usage. 
In the given translation, besides concrete definition of руки and ноги, we also had to use fixed word phrase.

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