Linguistic and Cultural Problems

The Linguistic and Cultural issues that arose while doing this translation project include the unusual language style, culturally specific terms and Spanish words with multiple translations

Culturally specific terms and Place names

One of the first translation issues encountered came up when writing the first translation draft. There are many cultural and geographical specific terms in the text that David McMahon, our prime target user would be unfamiliar with, which require additional context in order to be understood. As the text is aimed at Spanish speakers either from the Basque Country or the surrounding regions, a certain prior knowledge is assumed by our author. Examples of these terms include  etxekoandre (pg.73), Lamietxea (pg.69) and many place names e.g Orzko (pg. 70), which without any geographical placement would mean nothing to David McMahon and his family.

To solve this, I used the translation strategy of explication which means expressing something in the target language that is implicit in the context of the source language (Vázquez Ayora 1977: 349) and culture, in this case being Spanish or Basque. Explication could also mean the introduction of details that are not expressed in the source language because they would be known by the ST’s target audience. E.g more information, translator’s notes, or explicative paraphrasing. In order to make sure the aforementioned terms would be understood I decided to add explanations in brackets after the terms, for example, ‘ etxekoandre’ (Basque term for the Mother of the house) and ‘lamiaetxea’ (The Lamia’s house). In these examples I decide to borrow the Basque words from the ST, as they are  specific cultural terms that do not have a direct equivalents in English.


Vizcaya, a province of the Basque Country came up often in the text and I wasn’t sure whether to translate or leave it in the Basque (Biskaia) or Spanish (Vizkaya) form. But when I googled the English name for it, I found that Biscay is used quite frequently by English travel magazines so I decided to use Biscay as it has a recognised English equivalent and would perhaps be more familiar to the target user. 

Another term that caused an issue was la Sima de Leziaga. When I first translated the term it came up as a chasm or pothole however both sounded strange.  Upon googling the Sima de Leziaga I found that it was actually a type of cave or cavern in Leziaga (a Basque town). With this in mind, I chose to leave the name as the Sima of Leziaga as it is a known location that many people visit and the original target audience would be familar with it. 

However, I actually added a picture of the Sima under the target text for further context. Our Target user David wouldn’t know what it is and so the picture would clarify things. The text already had many images that complemented the places it talks about so it fitted in well with the text. 
I also used explication again here and put cave in brackets after the word Sima. 

Other Translation Strategies

On a more local level, I found myself making many more translation shifts to ensure the text would flow and read well to the target user.  I used the translation techniques of both reduction and expansion a few times. For example I reduced the sentence ‘Los dedos de los pies unidos por una membrana como los de los ánades to a simpler Webbed like those of a duck. I then used expansion to enable the target user to get a clearer idea of what was happening.

Pero le dijeron que no debía mirar hacia atrás

was expanded to

but they warned her that she shouldn’t look back towards them as she went home

because when reading the first translation draft of the story it sounded off to me. It was not completely clear what the Lamia was referring to and so I decided to added some words to make it more comprehensible to the target user.

Language Style

Some of the wording and syntax still sounded unusual once translated, but I thought that it was in keeping with the language of folkloric tales and this ‘older style of language’ so I left some as it to keep the spirit of the source text. For example the sentence:

Never again will this house lack linen (pg. 73)

The syntax is unusual and nowadays we would probably say ‘this house will never lack linen again’ but I left the syntax as it was to remain faithful to the Spanish original which sounds almost like a spell or curse.  

This was similar to the translation issue I had to face with the curses used by the Lamia of Elantxobe on page 67. She uses the curse:

!Gallo rojo nacido en Marzo! […] ! El raposo malo te pierda tu ojo izquierdo!

At first I began to look for Irish equivalents of such curses and came upon possibilities such as ‘bad cess to you!’ (cess being a celtic word for luck) or The Crow’s curse on you! to be more familiar to the target user. However after further reflection and speaking to my lecturer I came to the conclusion that perhaps I was more focused on the target user’s comprehension, than staying faithful to the source text.

I asked a Spanish friend, who confirmed my suspicion that these phrases are not used in modern day Spanish or Euskera and so simple translating them word for word in this context could be acceptable. The phrase is supposed to sound archaic and folkloric. It is a curse. This ‘witchy’ language is also very common in Irish mythology and so I left the back translation exist in the target text in order to maintain the ‘witchiness’.

Words with many Translations

The spanish word ‘caserio’ (pg.71) also caused a translation issue, in that I was not sure of which translation to use out of homestead, farm, hamlet or country house (linguee, spanishdict). Each one was similar however they all separately had different connotations. Hamlet however, was suggestive of a small nuclear group of houses and homestead sounded like something from the Wild West to me. I decided to use farm in the end because of the context. Caserio was precedented by a surname and I figured that the location could be a family farm. It sounded more natural to me, as an irish reader. I don’t hear the term ‘country house’ very often and so considering the user profile I went with farm.  

Another example of a Spanish word with many meaning is doncella which could be translated to maiden, virgin, girl, damsel, or dame depending on context. In keeping with the old style of text, I chose maiden as I thought it went went with the rest of the story. 

Phrases in Basque

On page 73 and 75 of the source text we can see that there are phrases left in the Basque language, with a translation into Spanish in brackets after:

Munagurengo atso bandera, ekarri egidana nire ondra izara’  (Vieja osada de Munaguren, devuéleme mi sábana honrada)


pg.73

‘Zatoz, maitea, zatoz’  (Ven, querido, ven)


pg. 75

The Spanish author thought it was important to keep the original phrases because leaving them in Basque was done for a reason, and so I decided to follow suit. I simply replaced the Spanish translation with one in English. The target audience won’t understand the original phrase but it will give the words a sense of mystery and magic while also having the English translation after. Basque was apparently the language of the Lamia and by keeping their language in the text, the tales seems more genuine.