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«When Idioti (Idiotic) Becomes “Fluffy”: Translation Students and the Avoidance of Target- language Cognates Brenda Malkiel Meta : journal des ...»

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"When Idioti (Idiotic) Becomes “Fluffy”: Translation Students and the Avoidance of Target-

language Cognates"

Brenda Malkiel

Meta : journal des traducteurs / Meta: Translators' Journal, vol. 54, n° 2, 2009, p. 309-325.

Pour citer cette note, utiliser l'information suivante :

URI: http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/037683ar

DOI: 10.7202/037683ar

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ÉTUDES ET PROSPECTIVES

When Idioti (Idiotic) Becomes “Fluffy”:

Translation Students and the Avoidance of Target-language Cognates brenda malkiel Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel brendamalkiel@gmail.com RÉSUMÉ La traduction des vrais et des faux amis n’est ni simple ni évidente. Un mot paraissant être un vrai ami pouvant se révéler un faux ami et le rapport existant entre un vrai et un faux ami étant parfois flou, les traducteurs et les étudiants en traduction tentent de limiter les risques et recherchent des solutions de traductions sans avoir recours aux vrais amis, même lorsque leur usage va de soi. La présente étude cherche, d’une part, à confirmer que les étudiants évitent l’emploi de vrais amis même lorsqu’ils seraient judi- cieux et appropriés et, d’autre part, à explorer la possibilité que ce phénomène serait lié à la crainte de l’utilisation de faux amis. Les résultats confirment que les étudiants tendent à éviter les vrais amis et que le degré de pertinence quant à l’utilisation des vrais amis est corrélé à celui qui est observé dans le cas des faux amis.

ABSTRACT

Cognate translation is neither a simple nor a straightforward matter. Given the risk that a word that appears to be a true cognate may actually be a false cognate, and given the sometimes fuzzy boundary between true and false cognates, translators and translation students have been shown to “play it safe” by casting around for noncognate translations for true cognates, rather than choose the obvious cognate translation. Here we ask whether translation students avoid cognate translations even when the target-language cognate is both accurate and appropriate and whether this phenomenon is related to fear of false friends. The findings indicate that translation students do seek out noncognate translations and that performance on true cognates correlates with performance on false cognates.

MOTS- CLÉS/KEY WORDS vrais amis, faux amis, étudiants en traduction true cognates, false cognates, translation students

1. Introduction The transition from amateur to professional translation entails numerous changes in both process and product. As a rule, beginning translators will adopt a linguistically rather than a communicatively oriented strategy (Tirkkonen-Condit 1996: 252);

cleave to the wording of the source text (Bastin 2000: 239); experience difficulty with lexicalization (Shlesinger 1992); and create texts with a source-based distribution of

Meta LIV, 2, 2009310 Meta, LIV, 2, 2009

explicit cohesive markers (Blum-Kulka 1986: 20). With experience, changes occur in

these areas as well as, inter alia, the degree of control over interference (Presas 2000:

27); sensitivity to the target audience (Fraser 1993: 330); and the use of reference works (Jääskeläinen 1989a; Jensen 1999: 113).

With growing professionalism, some aspects of the translation process become automatized (Börsch 1986: 207; Toury 1992: 69), and therefore require less effort; this, however, is counterbalanced by a heightened sensitivity to potential translational problems (Jääskeläinen and Tirkkonen-Condit 1991: 105) and ever-higher standards (Gerloff 1988: ix-x). As they make their way through their studies, translation students adopt a new attitude towards the act of translation itself, characterized by a growing appreciation of the complexity of the translation process (Krouglov 1996: 84).

One area in which this new attitude is expressed is the translation of cognates.1 In the laboratory, bilinguals translate cognates more quickly than noncognates (Murray 1986; de Groot et al. 1994; Kroll and Stewart 1994), and more accurately as well (Sánchez-Casas et al. 1992; Hancin-Bhatt and Nagy 1994; de Groot and Poot 1997). Professional translators, however, attest to the difficulty attendant in translating cognates, and research in Translation Studies has shown that translation students and professional translators do not automatically translate a cognate with a cognate.





2. The translation of cognates Crystal (1997: 67) defines “cognate” as “a language or linguistic form which is historically derived from the same source as another language/form.” While some linguists espouse the traditional etymologically based definition of a cognate, Carroll (1992: 102) maintains that from the psycholinguistic perspective, the shared history of cognates is irrelevant: “Words do not wear their historical origins on their sleeves.

Etymological information is not part of the information normally encoded in the (linguistic) lexical entry of a word.” Cognates are thought to fall into two categories – true cognates, which share both sound and meaning, and false cognates, which share sound but not meaning.

The distinction between true and false cognates is, however, often blurred. According to Browne (1982: 5), cognates really fall along a continuum, from “vrais amis,” which have almost complete overlap, to “faux amis” with none.

The translation of false cognates is a “traditionally notorious aspect of translation” (Sabaté-Carrové and Chesňevar 1998: 58). There is a risk that the translator will mistake a false cognate for a true one, and thus make a serious (and embarrassing) error. Although especially beguiling to novice translators (Bastin 2000: 236; Presas 2000: 26), false cognates can be problematic for anyone (Topalova 1996: 215). False cognates are not limited to any particular field, and even occur in technical language (Newmark 1996: 57).

Given the risk that a word that appears to be a true cognate may actually be a false cognate, and given the sometimes fuzzy boundary between true and false cognates, translators have been shown to “play it safe” by casting around for noncognate translations for true cognates, rather than choose the obvious cognate translation (Kussmaul 1995: 17-18; Kussmaul and Tirkkonen-Condit 1995: 187; Gile 1995: 218).

Interpreters as well are often leery of cognates (Gernsbacher and Shlesinger 1997: 137;

de Bot 2000: 77-8; Shlesinger 2000: 115).

311 when idioti (idiotic) becomes “fluffy” The underlying assumption in these studies is that the source language (SL) cognate has a ready-made translation solution in the target language (TL). When translators or interpreters encounter a cognate, the first option to come to mind is the ready-made solution, the TL cognate; should it be found lacking, for whatever reason, they will then search for other options. Put differently, the obvious translation is the cognate; the noncognate solution is selected only after the cognate has been considered and rejected.

Apart from the risk of mistaking a false cognate for a true cognate, there can be compelling reasons for not choosing to translate a cognate with a cognate. Two languages rarely have exact lexical matches (Seleskovitch 1978: 338; de Groot and Comijs 1995: 470), so rarely that Rabadán (1991: 39) maintains that “the chances of finding perfectly symmetrical correspondents depend on sheer coincidence.” Even seemingly reliable translation equivalents – cognates being a case in point – can have a much more complicated relationship than meets the eye (Partington 1995: 102).

According to Rabassa (1989: 4), the translator working from Spanish into English “must know that tigre can mean ‘tiger’ in English only when the creature is a denizen of the Old World. When a tigre turns up in Venezuela, it must perforce be rendered as ‘jaguar’.” Viaggio (1991: 176) argues that when “To be or not to be, that is the question” is translated into Spanish, the translator should preferably spurn the obvious choice, the cognate cuestión, in favor of another English-Spanish cognate, dilema.

Rabassa (1989) is concerned that the referent of the original Spanish text be accurately rendered in the English translation, and Viaggio (1991) is interested in reproducing the semantics and rhythm of the original. The translation of cognates is complicated by other considerations as well, including differences in frequency (Nagy et al. 1992: 2; Meara 1993: 284), varying degrees of polysemy (Viberg 1999), register differences (Alter 2002: 11), dissimilar metaphorical extensions (Chamizo Domínguez and Nerlich 2002: 1839), syntactical restrictions (Fusco 1990: 93), gridding differences (Aitchison 1996: 18; Séguinot 1997: 115), and the wealth of associations evoked by the SL or TL cognate (Wallerstein 1996: 114-115; Santos Maldonado 1997: 94).

The translation of ST cognates borrowed from the target language is particularly fraught. Loan words lend a certain sophistication or prestige to the text (Baker 1992: 25; Barbe 1997: 147), and this quality is, of course, lost when the loan word is translated back into the lending language. Eco (2001: 47) speaks for the professional translator when he writes: “I feel that in a translation from French it is necessary to avoid using Gallicisms, just as it is necessary to avoid Anglicisms in a translation from English.” In short, the translation of cognates is neither simple not straightforward. While sometimes the translator might spurn the TL cognate out of fear of false cognates, other times the decision to search for a noncognate synonym is based on bona fide differences between the source and target languages. Two studies which address cognate translation – Gerloff (1988) and Séguinot (1990) – indicate that translation students and translators do not adopt a thought-through policy towards cognates, but instead operate on a case-by-case basis.

Gerloff (1988) compares the approach of language students, bilinguals, and professionals to three cognates in her French text. While three of the four translators and two of the four bilinguals translated diversifiée with the cognate “diversified,” 312 Meta, LIV, 2, 2009 only one of the students did. The situation was very different regarding fausses, where “false” was chosen by three of the four students but none of the bilinguals or translators. A third cognate generated more variation than either diversifiée or fausses.

Séguinot (1990: 72) found that translation of cognates was subject to change over time, and not necessarily for the better. Regarding one subject, she remarks: “The Anglophone student translates words like particulier and bistro appropriately in first year, but translates incorrectly, clearly influenced by the words in the source text in her last year.” While the texts administered by Gerloff and Séguinot contained cognates, cognate translation is a secondary concern for these scholars. The present study is

unusual in that the translation of cognates is its primary focus. We ask two questions:

Do translation students seek out noncognate solutions for ST cognates? Is there a relationship between the indirect translation of true cognates and awareness of false cognates?

3. Method

3.1. Subjects The subjects (N=15) were translation students at Beit Berl College in Israel. Beit Berl offers a two-year translation program, with 10 academic hours of instruction per week and 27 weeks of classes per year. At the time of administration, the students were midway through the program, having completed one year (270 hours) of studies.

When they were accepted to the program, most of the subjects held a B.A. and some an M.A.; the others were high-school graduates with some higher education but no university degree. The subjects ranged in age from their mid-twenties to their mid-sixties. Eleven were female and four male. All were native English speakers, here translating from Hebrew into their mother tongue. The students did not receive course credit or any financial remuneration for their participation.

3.2. Materials Once we jettison the etymological definition of a cognate in favor of a psycholinguistic one, we must then determine which words we consider to be cognates, a complicated task in its own right.2 Although researchers are divided as to how closely two words must resemble each another in order to be considered cognate (Dijkstra et al.

1999: 500), the general consensus is that cognates “share aspects of both form and meaning across languages” (Kroll and de Groot 1977: 173).

With regard to Hebrew and English, the languages of this study, so many Hebrew-English cognates began life in English that Gollan et al. (1997: 1123) maintain they should more accurately be called loan words. Although the new Hebrew word has a distinct similarity to its English cognate, it will have typical Hebrew phonology, morphology, and orthography, e.g. the English “television/s” becomes the Hebrew televizya/ot and the English “modern” becomes the Hebrew moderni/t/im/ot.

We have employed the criterion of phonological similarity in determining cognate status.

313 when idioti (idiotic) becomes “fluffy” This experiment is based on a 340-word Hebrew text containing 44 true and 12 false cognates. However, since one of the true cognates appears twice, once in the first paragraph and once in the last, for purposes of data analysis we considered the text to have 45 true cognates. Because the vast majority of Hebrew-English cognates are nouns and adjectives, the cognates in the text are all either nouns or adjectives.



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