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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translator Education  »  Culture Gap: Examples of English into Indonesian vice versa

Culture Gap: Examples of English into Indonesian vice versa

By Harry Hermawan | Published  11/30/2005 | Translator Education | Recommendation:
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Harry Hermawan
inglés a indonesio translator
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In my ten years, since 1995, as a professional translator, I find that among fellow translators when faced with translators’ block the common utterance is “tidak ada padanan bahasa Indonesianya” which translates to ‘there is no equivalence in Indonesian’ or other excuse such as “Bahasa Indonesia is poor” that can degrade the self-respect of a translator in translating in general.

If this behaviour continues relentlessly it seems that there’ll be no one or individual ever becoming a professional translator, a trade at present which seems to be a moonlighting job for language teachers, lawyers, engineers, doctors or others profession beside a ‘translator’ in Indonesia.

In spite of the ups and downs of enthusiasm in translators I see this issue of finding the right choice of words at least for certain lexicon as a willingness to drive oneself. This mentality issue in the minds of translators to explore on one particular lexicon or bombarding the mind with plausible possibilities instead of declining to experiment is a phase that every good translator shall encounter or travels. Staying focus and experimenting on plausible alternatives is one component of becoming a seasoned, par excellence, professional translator.

In every case I find, I come to a conclusion at least for the moment, that this attitude is a result of one particular subject i.e. of culture. Culture, for Newmark (Peter Newmark, 1988, A Textbook of Translation, Prentice Hall) is ‘the way of life and its manifestation that are peculiar to a community that uses a particular language as its means of expression.’

If we see translators translating translation of one lexicon owing to the apparent culture of the source language into another i.e. the target language then we should also make clear that no culture is identical in its uniqueness and therefore should take into consideration focusing and also putting in front of us several substitutes as a way to explore deeper into certain arena of discourse in the issue at hand. In simple term don’t translate literally translate culturally and prepare several translation instead of just one.

In English, we know of bench, chair, and stool. Indonesianized, there’s one only: ‘kursi’– /kursi panjang/, /kursi/, /kursi tak-bersandaran/. Another example: sofa, divan, couch –/dipan/, /dipan/, /dipan/. Then, there are ladders, stairs and steps –rendered into Indonesian as ‘tangga, tangga, and tangga’.

Now, we shall see the translated result of these translated lexicon or words derived as a result of culture from Indonesian to English: /gado-gado/, /karedok/, /pecel/, which in the non-Indonesian word literally means, “Vegetable salad mixed in crushed peanut sauce”.

Without a doubt, for some people of different ethnic groups in Java Indonesia the four lexicon or products of culture is somewhat different even though they consist of vegetables immersed in peanut sauce. As for /gado-gado/ and /karedok/ for one thing these appetizers of superbly fresh taste are from West Java, one crucial element in differentiating the two is that /gado-gado/ is cooked vegetables—the vital point in question— and in /karedok/ it is “raw”.

Let’s look and consider the words /padi/, /gabah/, /beras/, /nasi/ in Indonesian, when translated in English it is just /rice/ in every instances. Retrospectively, we may conclude for the time being that these words are indeed culture word-products.

Another example is in English there is “door prize” so what is this then in Bahasa Indonesia? Culturally, in Indonesia especially to the best of my knowledge civil servant when attending a function organised by their institution must be “carrotted” or stimulated into coming by being presented with an “amplop” or envelope, in it there is a hand sum of cash ready to be distributed evenly. Here we have relevance in the sense that it’s close to the source language unit in question, but the context is a bit different in the form of a “hadiah” or prize instead of cash. So maybe with this approach /door prize/ can be translated into “hadiah kedatangan” rather than in the sense of “amplop”.

If other Indonesian translators may come up with other examples, if this is the case, let’s network and meet together via ‘darat’ or cyberspace to exchange the ideas on this issues with the examples along with other ideas on this industry that we have come to love.

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