Overcoming the colloquialism and slang challenge in translation

Category: Translation          Written by: Daqeeq          Date: 27 Oct 2021
Daqeeq says….


Overcoming the colloquialism and slang challenge in translation

Both colloquialism and slang are informal, mostly spoken, forms of language, with the latter being more informal and related to a specific group and social context.


And both aspects of language are challenging to translators and interpreters. They require a deep understanding on the part of the translator into the local culture of the region where natives speak a certain dialect and have their own lexicon of language.


The golden rule, according to some experts, is to choose between a free style in translating colloquial/slang terms or to translate literally, but this rule is questionable because literal translation will appear ridiculous unless the context is explained in the foot notes. In general, it depends on how necessary it is to translate literally, especially in literature.


One example of the free-style translation is the Arabic expression شلونك؟ (shlawnak), which literally “What is your color?”, an expression used in Bedouin communities in parts of the Levant, Iraq and Arabia, which simply means: How are you? Literal translation is not necessary at all here.


Let’s put in context. Suppose there is a dialogue between two people in a literary text and the other person replies: Brown, as a joke, which happens. Here it is necessary to translate the expression as is and explain in parenthesis or in the footnotes.


Translation experts and linguists have suggested some tips and tricks to play around colloquialism making sure the equivalents used are the most suitable options. One technique is softening offensive terms that might not be accepted in the culture of the target language. The equivalent used should as close as possible to the original term, without excessive resort to this technique, in a way that takes the original text to a different level and cause a loss of its original spirit.


Stylistic compensation is the academic term for the free translation of culturally bound terms, and is the opposite of literal translation. As explained above, it is the process of finding a phrase or term in the target language that has a similar meaning to the one in the source language, especially swear expressions and extremely difficult terms. Naturally, this requires good research in the original term’s meaning and uses in context and in the culture related to the target language to select the closest word to the original one.


As a translator, always ask yourself: What word would leave the same effect of the source language term on my client, who will read it in the target language? This means that you need to know your clients to make sure the final product they will read will not sound awkward. Awkwardness includes changing the register of the words and phrases from informal to formal. We need to be careful about that, and make sure that the text in the target language reads natural and smooth.


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