Cultural Transposition in German Translation

One of the most important aspects of a translation for a German translator to consider before beginning work is the concept of cultural transposition. Names and terms, various idioms, and cultural references that work well in the source language might cause confusion in the target language if translated directly, or have unintended effects that the author of the source material did not foresee or intend. Translators must be sure to consider the different ways in which to handle this type of situation, and the effects that each method will have on the target text and its audience. When dealing with cultural transposition, it is important for a German translator to evaluate these variables and decide how to approach the translation based on the option that will create the most favorable outcome for the target text while remaining true to the source material.

Target Language

One of the possible solutions to a cultural transposition problem is the use of cultural transliteration, or the application of target language conventions or standards to source language material. For example, in the case of a German to English translation, one might see the Anglicized name Vienna appear, a name for a city that is known as Wien in German. Sometimes, these transliterations are based on long established conventions, while at other times it becomes necessary to invent new adaptations of source material in the target language. In the case of a previously established target language equivalent to the term, phrase, or subtext that the translator wishes to convey, he or she may simply choose the established target language word, unless the translator wishes to draw attention to the foreign nature of the source text within the final product. Solving problems involving cultural transposition can produce a number of different effects on the target text.

Subtle Nuances

Translators must carefully consider the effects that their manner of dealing with cultural transposition issues will have on a target text. The more extreme solutions favor one mode entirely over the other, be it the source culture or the target culture. If parts of the source text are left as they originally appeared within the target text, following the source language conventions, the translation will emphasize the foreign-ness of the source material, making it seem exotic to target language readers. On the other hand, if the source material is completely rewritten into the target language and all possible cultural adjustments are made, a practice known as cultural transplantation, the target text may produce an entirely different meaning than the source author originally intended.

Tricks of the Trade

Solutions to cultural transposition issues that are used most often are compromises between the source and target cultures. For instance, a translator might use a calque, which takes the form and grammar of the target language, but which imitates the literal meaning of its source. Another possibility is to use words, phrases, or idioms that are borrowed from the source culture that already exist within the target culture. Finally, it is also possible to produce a communicative translation, in which the translator seeks a culturally equivalent phrase in the target language that matches one in the source language. A German translator must take these options into consideration in order to produce a target text that is true to the intentions of the original within the target culture.

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