It is true that history of translation is centuries old but the problems faced by translators have also risen, especially because new kinds of words are being regularly added to dictionaries. To translate English to Arabic documents, translators often come across special terms and phrases, better known as idioms and culturally bound expressions. Idioms and culturally bound expressions are particularly difficult to handle for an English to Arabic translator because Arabic and English are very different languages both from the perspective of culture and the language itself.
Idioms are forms of speech or an expression. There are many definitions of an idiom. Collin English Dictionary defines idiom as "a group of words whose meaning cannot be predicted from the meanings of the constituent words, as for example (It was raining) cats and dogs". Longman Idioms Dictionary (1998) defines idioms as "a sequence of words which has a different meaning as a group from the meaning it would have if you understand each word separately."
Baker considers idioms as "frozen patterns of language which allow little or no variation in form, and carry meanings which cannot be deduced from their individual components." She also adds that "constraints of idiom usage include the inability to change word order or structure and the inability to delete, substitute or add words."
Regarding the translation of an idiom Baker states that "Idioms and fixed expressions which contain culture-specific items are not necessarily untranslatable. It is not the specific items an expression contains but rather the meaning it conveys and its association with culture-specific context which can make it untranslatable or difficult to translate."
There are two main reasons why translation of idioms, especially from English to Arabic, is regarded as difficult. Firstly as Baker points out above, idioms are commonly related to specific cultures and thus the translated version of the idiom might not express the same meaning, as was intended in the source text.
Secondly, it is possible that there is a similar translation of the idiom available in target language, however the situation in which both the idioms are used can vary largely. For example, there is an idiom in English language "to sing a different tune" which means, "to change the way one talks about something: to have a different opinion about something." Arabic language also has a similar idiom, 'yuGanni 'la laylah' which literally translates to "sing to his own layla", however refers to situations when a person just cares about their own benefit.
Abu Ssaydeh mentions few strategies to deal with translation of idioms from English to Arabic. These are:
He further mentions that the choice of strategy will depend on the closeness between the two languages, the translator's experience, the adequacy of dictionaries and the nature of the idiom in question. Here are few examples of translation of idioms from Arabic to English. The Arabic idiom with literal translation in English "Put your hand in cold water" does not imply the correct meaning. A better English translation is "Do not worry or be certain". Another example of Arabic idiom is "cut off from a tree" which means "he has no relatives".
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