An Analysis of the Arabic-English Translation of Culture-Specific Items in Al Shehhi 'Uncle Sam & Myself'

1. Introduction

Literature is the product of human experience, knowledge, values, and ideology through which writers express their views in an artistic form. Literary translation may be defined as "an original subjective activity at the centre of a complex network of social and cultural practices" (Bush, 1998: 127). Many societies privilege and mandate literary translations over other types of translation and text typologies. An obvious difficulty results in the translation of literary texts from cultural differences. The cultural items embedded in a specific literary work cannot easily be recognized because people view phenomena from different perspectives. Consequently, what is evident for one culture could be unclear and ambiguous for another. Thus, translators find it difficult to apply appropriate translation procedures to transfer such items from the source text to the target language because of these differences.

The classification of Culture-specific items (CSIs) is multifarious; among other aspects, it includes proper names, geographical locations and tags, historical events, food items, and religious concepts. However, Newmark (1988: 95–102) distinguished five main categories of CSIs: “(1) ecology, (2) material culture, (3) social culture, (4) organizations, customs, activities, procedures, and concepts, and (5) gestures and habits”. These groupings were also subdivided into sub-categories.

Such CSI variations pose difficulties in translating literary works from one language to another because of potential misinterpretations. Danytė (2006: 203) stated that “translators face not only the problem of correctly interpreting such evocations but also transmitting them in a meaningful way to readers.” Newmark (1988) proposed several translation procedures for the translation of CSIs, which will be listed later in this paper.

Emirati author and publisher Al Shehhi (2016) wrote أنا و العم سام /?na: wa l؟am sa:m/, a literary work in the genre of travel literature that was translated by Renaissance Translation and Businessmen Services as Uncle Sam & Myself (2017). The book reveals the writer’s journey to study in the US and encompasses 28 short chapters amounting to 235 small-sized pages. Every chapter narrates a different but related story. The author summarizes his ten-year journey (1994–2004) as a student in the US.

The author of this literary work employs numerous Islamic, Arabic, and local Emirati CSIs that reflect the society and environment to which he belongs and indicate his childhood surroundings. The present study involves three main questions. First, what CSIs does the aforementioned book contain according to Newmark’s (1988) classifications? Second, which of Newmark’s proposed translation procedures are used to translate these CSIs into English? Third, to what extent did the translators succeed in translating Arabic CSIs into English? The study takes a comparative approach in seeking to answer the above questions. In so doing, it compares the Arabic source text (ST) and English target text (TT) to examine how CSIs are rendered using Newmark’s proposed procedures. The present investigation thus aims to:

  1. Introduce travel literature elements through Al Shehhi’s أنا و العم سام /?na: wa l؟am sa:m/.
  2. Identify the CSIs appearing in Al Shehhi’s أنا و العم سام /?na: wa l؟am sa:m/.
  3. Pinpoint Newmark’s (1988) translation procedures employed in transferring CSIs into English in Uncle Sam & Myself
  4. Analyze the translation of CSIs by comparing the ST with the TT
  5. Suggest alternative translations whenever a mismatch is found.

2. Literature Review

This review elucidates several issues concerning the translation of CSIs in travel literature by examining Al Shehhi’s (2016) أنا و العم سام /?na: wa l؟am sa:m/ translation into Uncle Sam & Myself in light of the theoretical framework of Newmark’s (1988) classification of cultural items and his proposed translation procedures.

2.1. Translation of CSIs

The translation of cultural and literary expressions denotes a valuable area of investigation for translation researchers. Numerous studies have investigated and analyzed translations and identified the translation procedures utilized in them. In the present context, Dweik (2013) conducted a study on translating cultural and literary expressions from English to Arabic, in which he employed different perspectives to examine culture and translation. Dweik’s study was conducted at the Middle East University in Jordan and investigated problems confronting some graduate and undergraduate English majors in translating cultural and lexical expressions into Arabic, for instance, idioms, collocations, metaphors, proverbs, and some proper nouns. An aggregate of 20 students was selected to accomplish a translation test. Participants were asked to convert some culture-bound items within a given time. The test aimed to collect precise data on difficulties faced in translating cultural and lexical expressions. Dweik (2013) tabulated the ST items and noted their translations in the TT to analyze the data and evaluate the performance of the participating students. He also interviewed some participants to explore their problems during the translation process. Dweik (2013) discovered that the students performed poorly in translating cultural and lexical expressions and attributed their deficiencies to the paucity of their knowledge of the target language and target language culture.

Farahani and Mokhtari (2016) investigated CSIs in the English Translation of Hedayat’s Blind Owl. Their study began by defining translation and discussing its transformation from a linguistic-oriented operation to a more culturally oriented task. Farahani and Mokhtari (2016) employed theories and examples to highlight the importance of culture in translation and its relationship to language, subsequently introducing their methodology by overviewing the selected corpus, Sadegh Hedayat’s Blind Owl, and discussing the literary significance of this text. They collected data by listing the CSIs and identifying the utilized translation techniques. They analyzed the data using tables and pie charts to categorize and analyze every CSI example they discovered in the book. Farahani and Mokhtari (2016) reported that “the translator restored extensively to domestication as the major strategy in dealing with translating CSIs.”

Aldawood (2017) studied the translation of CSIs in literary texts, examining how translators represent the target language culture in their translations, specifically Arabic into English, and noting the stereotypes with which Westerners associate Arabs. She examined a book rich with CSIs, Saudi author Yousef Al-Mohaimeed’s فخاخ الرائحة /fixa:xu rra:?iɦa/(translated by Anthony Calderbank as Wolves of the Crescent Moon) as a case study. Aldawood (2017) collected data by selecting 20 CSI examples from the original Arabic text, compared the examples to the translated version, and discussed the translation strategies that were used. Aldawood (2017) found that literal translation and transliteration were widely used strategies and that foreignization was favoured over domestication. She also discovered that the translator used a glossary to explain CSIs that the TT reader might not understand and to afford such readers more insight into Saudi culture.

2.2. Travel Literature

People have travelled throughout history for numerous and varied reasons, such as tourism (curiosity), immigration, exile, trade, diplomacy, and educational purposes. Travel writing eventually became a form of literature through which people documented their journeys for others. Travel literature has a long history and has been read through the ages. For instance, “travellers’ tales were probably the most popular form of reading in seventeenth-century France” (Warwick, 2009: 53). Anjum (2014) asserted that travel writing was a very broad domain and described it as “fluid and versatile” stating that its complexity made its definition difficult. Anjum (2014) also mentioned the different forms of travel writing, including guidebooks, itineraries, routes, maps, accounts of journeys accomplished via land or water, and mere descriptions of experiences (Al Shehhi’s Uncle Sam & Myself is a good example of this type). Anjum (2014) further explained that travel writing could be inscribed as prose or poetry and encompass historical or (auto-) biographical works. Anjum (2014) and Borm (2004) disagreed on the notion that travel writing should be non-fictional, with Anjum (2014, p. 193) claiming that travel writing is “a collective term for a variety of texts both predominantly fictional and non-fictional whose main theme is travel.” Venu (2018: 67) defined travel writing as “one of the interesting mediums to translate culture, as the writer travels, makes observations and translates the observation based on real experience verbally through the travelogue.” Travel writing essentially involves writing about one’s own country or traveling to other lands to document foreign cultural practices such as religions, food habits, traditions, politics, and customary practices. Travel writing also concerns translating the identity of a foreign culture for another society by transferring a culture’s ideas and its linguistic and lexical terms to another. Travel writing can additionally incorporate precise illustrations, descriptions, and historical contexts through means such as maps. Venu (2018: 67) stated that “the traveler uses the work as a mouthpiece to take the readers to new destinations and exposes the culture of that place in a detailed manner through vivid descriptions.” She (2018: 72) added that “it is appropriate to state that travel writers record their expeditions for someone else to relive and recapitulate the moments that they have experienced.” Hence, travel writers experience different cultures and customs for the sake of the reader’s enjoyment and attempt their best to deliver their experienced realities to their readers.

2.2.1. Al Shehhi’s أنا والعم سام /?na : wa l؟am sa:m/ ( Uncle Sam & Myself )

Jamal Ibrahim Al Shehhi is a notable publishing and writing personality in the United Arab Emirates. He founded the Kuttab Publishing House in 2010 and served as the Executive Director of the Arab Children's Programme at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Knowledge Foundation. He is also Secretary General of the Emirates Award for Fiction. In addition to founding the Kuttab Café, a cultural café-cum-bookshop in Dubai, Al Shehhi has published several texts, including the book Uncle Sam & My Self and a children's story series titled The Dairy of Moshagheb, which was also featured in newspapers such as Al Etihad and Gulf News. Al Shehhi holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Sciences from a university in the United States and also earned his master's degree from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in the US.

Emirati author and publisher Jamal Al Shehhi (2016) wrote أنا و العم سام /? na: wa l؟am sa:m/, which was translated as Uncle Sam & Myself by Renaissance Translation & Businessmen Services in 2017 (no specific translator(s) is named). This autobiographical account comprises short stories and may be defined as travel literature combined with Al Shehhi’s amusing writing and narrative skills. In this book, Al Shehhi recounts his journeys as a foreign student in the land of Uncle Sam (US), where he was confronted with numerous obstacles as a scholarship student because of expensive lifestyles, unusual weather, and new friendships. Therefore, he moved from one state to another until he found an affordable and convenient place to live and study. The author narrates his daily life in the US, the celebrations, visits to different states, the nostalgia from which he suffered, and scholarship students who struggle to stay in the US and strive not to return to their homelands empty-handed. Al Shehhi also conveys the mixed feelings of many scholarship students experience, recounting stories about his friends and their emotional relationships.

2.3. Newmark’s Classification of Cultural Items

Culture is an immensely complex term that combines varied phenomena within its meaning. It manifests in diverse forms and may be distinctively described from one region to another. Newmark (1988, p. 94) defined culture as “the way of life and its manifestations that are peculiar to a community that uses a particular language as its means of expression.” Newmark (1988) asserted that culture was a focal facet of the ways of life of a people, influencing how they communicate within their communities, including their use of language to express themselves based on their cultural practices. Culture is, therefore, a significant factor in shaping one’s way of life. Newmark (1988, p. 94) distinguished between the universal, cultural, and personal use of language. Universal words such as sun and moon in English cause no problems in translation. They are translated into Arabic as الشمس /aʃams/ and القمر /alqamar/. Most universal words are usually translatable, but they can connote different meanings depending on their SL and TL cultures and how specific cultures define and use them. Cultural terms cause some translation problems if a difficult-to-bridge cultural gap exists between the SL and TL. For example, translation problems occur in the process of converting certain culturally related religious concepts to target readers belonging to a different religion with different expectations and taboos. Newmark (1988) described personal language as an idiolect that normally leads to translation problems because of a personal usage of a certain word to express or refer to something. Newmark (1988) argued that translation problems occur when language becomes increasingly specific and, therefore, more culturally focused. In such instances, literal translations affect the meaning, and a descriptive-functional equivalent must be included in the translation. According to Newmark (1988), there are four general considerations governing the translation of cultural terminology:

Newmark (1988) classified cultural items as

2.4. Newmark’s Classification of Cultural Items

  1. [The] ultimate consideration should be recognition of the cultural achievements referred to in the SL text and respect for all foreign countries and their cultures…
  2. Translation procedures which are at opposite ends of the scale are normally available; transference, which, usually in literary texts, offers local colour and atmosphere, and in specialist, texts enables the readership … to identify the referent in other texts … without difficulty… (p. 96).
  3. Componential analysis, the most accurate translation procedure, which excludes the culture and highlights the message…
  4. The translator of a cultural word … has to bear in mind both the motivation and cultural specialist … and linguistic level of the readership.
  5. Ecology: Animals, plants, local winds, mountains, plains, ice, etc.
  6. Material culture (artifacts): Food, clothes, housing, transport, and communications
  7. Social culture: Work and leisure
  8. Organizations, customs, and ideas: Political, social, legal, religious, and artistic
  9. Gestures and habits: Often described in non-cultural language
  1. Newmark’s (1988) Proposed Translation Procedures

The paragraphs that follow present translation procedures posited by Newmark (1988), along with English–Arabic or Arabic–English examples that exhibit how such procedures are used in English/Arabic translations.

2.2.1. Literal Translation

As a technique, literal translation has always been controversial because it is sometimes viewed as a necessary and valid method but can often cause funny and unacceptable conversions. Newmark (1988: 68–69) stated that “the prevailing orthodoxy is leading to the rejection of literal translation as a legitimate translation procedure… However,… literal translation is correct and must not be avoided if it secures referential and pragmatic equivalence to the original.”

Consider the following example and its Arabic translation in which every English content word except powdered has an Arabic lexical counterpart:

Troops went by the house and down the road, and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty, and the leaves fell early that year.

و كانت القوات المسلحة تمر بالمنزل ثم تهبط الطريق، وكان الغبار الذي تثيره يغطي أوراق الأشجار. و كانت جذوع الأشجار مغبرة أيضاً و قد تساقطت أوراقها باكراً، ذلك العام.

/wa ka:nati lquwa:tu lmusallaɦatu tamurru bilmanzili Ɵumma tahbițu țțari:q wa ka:na lɣuba:ru juɣați ?awra:qa l?ʃɜa:r wa ka:nat ɜuðu:؟u l?ʃɜa:r muɣbaratun ?ajḍan wa qad tasa:qațat ?awra:quha ba:kiran ðalika l؟a:m/

The adoption of literal translation in the abovementioned example proves that this method is sometimes valid and that it represents an important technique. According to Newmark (1988), literal translation can be tested using the back-translation test in which the TL sentence is translated back into the SL. If the translation was satisfactory, it would pass the back-translation test. For example, a black frame is translated into الإطار الأسود /al?ița:ru l?aswad/ in Arabic. The back translation in English is correct. However, it should be noted that this test does not work with languages that display lexical gaps (Newmark, 1988).

2.2.2. Transference

Transference involves borrowing and is “the process of transferring an SL word to a TL text” (Newmark, 1988: 81). It is generally employed in the conveyance of proper names, names of countries, or untranslated titles of literary works such as plays, films, and other types (Newmark, 1988: 82). For instance, Arabic has borrowed many English words and phrases like cricket كريكت /krikit/ Likewise, English has borrowed numerous Arabic words such as Intifada إنتفاضة / ?intifa:ḍa/

2.2.3. Naturalization

This process “adapts the SL word first to the normal pronunciation, then to the normal morphology … of the TL” (Newmark, 1988: 82). Taking Arabic into consideration, Ghazala (1995: 193) defined naturalization as “the attempt to adopt the English terms to the morphology of Arabic word structure and can be seen as the evolution of the transcription method.” For example, Alexander the Great is translated as الاسكندر الأكبر /aliskandaru l? akbar/ in Arabic.

2.2.4. Cultural Equivalent

A cultural equivalent is utilized when an SL cultural word or phrase is translated through a TL cultural word or phrase (Newmark, 1988: 83). The cultural differences between English and Arabic require cultural equivalents to be widely used in the translation of non-literal expressions between the two languages as in the conversion of it rains cats and dogs to إنها تمطر كأفواه القرب /? innaha: tumțiru ka? fwa:hi lqirab/

2.2.5. Functional Equivalent

Newmark (1988: 83) defined functional equivalence as a procedure that “requires the use of [a] culture-free word.” A translator may employ a TL word or phrase that discharges the same function as the SL word or phrase, even if the literal meaning differs. السلام عليكم /assala: mu ؟alajkum/in Arabic is translated into Hello in English despite the difference in the literal meanings of the two terms because both discharge the same function and serve the same purpose.

2.2.6. Descriptive Equivalent

The descriptive equivalent paraphrases the SL term in the TL without the presence of the SL word (Ghazala, 1995: 204). Kremlin in the SL is translated using descriptive equivalent as مجلس النواب الروسي /maɜlisu nuwa:bi rru:si:/ in Arabic.

2.2.7. Synonymy

This technique utilizes “a near TL equivalent to an SL word in the context, where a precise equivalent may or may not exist” (Newmark, 1988: 84). This procedure is often used when the translator cannot find a one-to-one substitute in the TL. The English term sword is a synonymy for many words in Arabic, including سيف /sajf/, مهند /muhannad/, حسام /ɦusa:m/.

2.2.8. Through-Translation

Through-translation “is the literal translation of common collocations, names of organisations, the components of compounds… and perhaps phrases” (Newmark, 1988: 84). It is also called calque or loan translation (Newmark, 1988). يلعب دورا /jal؟abu dawran/ in Arabic is a through-translation for playing a role in English.

2.2.9. Shift or Transposition

Newmark (1988: 85) defined shift or transposition as “a translation procedure involving a change in the grammar from SL to TL.” Some examples in which a grammatical change is necessary are inscribed below:

  • Singular to Plural: Book publishing نشر الكتب /naʃru lkutub/.
  • Simple present to present perfect: He has finished his homework أنهى واجبه المنزلي /?anha: wa:ɜibahu lmanzili:/.
  • Verb to Noun: Girls like to play together تحب الفتيات اللعب معا /tuɦibbu lfatajatu lla؟iba ma؟an/.
  • Indefinite to definite: Women like shopping تحب النساء التسوق / tuɦibbu nnisa:?u ttasawuq/.

2.2.10. Modulation

Modulation may be defined as translation through a “change in the viewpoint, of perspective… and very often of [the] category of thought” (Newmark, 1988: 88). The following examples illustrate such modifications:

  • Active for Passive: The killer was punished نال المجرم عقابه /na:la lmuɜrimu ؟iqa:bah/.
  • Positive for Double negative: The apple was not unclean كانت التفاحة نظيفة /ka:nati ttufa:ɦatu naḍi:fa/.
  • Negative for Positive: The novel was subjective كانت الرواية غير موضوعية /kanati rriwa:jatu ɣajra mawḍu:؟ija/.
  • Part for Whole: The village came to visit her جاء سكان القرية لزيارتها /ɜa:?a sukka:nu lqarjati lizija:ratiha:/.
  • Change of verb: I like that hat تعجبني تلك القبعة /tu؟ɜibuni: tilka lquba؟a/

2.2.11. Recognized Translation

The process of recognized translation is employed to “normally use the official or the generally accepted translation of any institutional term” (Newmark, 1988: 89). However, Newmark suggests that if a translator is skeptical of the official translation of a certain word, they should gloss it to register disagreement with the official version. For example, the term environment-friendly bags is officially translated into the Arabic حقائب صديقة للبيئة /ɦaqa:?ibu ṣadi:qatun lilbi:?a/ even though it is inapt. It would be impossible to translate the phrase into a more acceptable term because this translation is generally accepted and widely used in Arabic. However, a translator could gloss it to register disagreement with such a rendering.

2.2.12. Compensation

This process occurs “when loss of meaning, sound-effect, metaphor or pragmatic effect in one part of a sentence is compensated in another part or contiguous sentence” (Newmark, 1988: 90). This technique is used to make up for the loss of a certain ST effect by creating a similar effect in the TL. For example, the English pun Try a blue moon in a blue moon is a Beer ad that employed a pun (once every blue moon) to advertise a product. This phrase is used to express something rare and extraordinary (every blue moon). An Arabic translation could be جرب المستحيل دائما /ɜarribi lmustaɦi:la da:?iman/. The compensation here is within the meaning of the pun.

2.2.13. Componential Analysis

Newmark (1988: 90) described the componential analysis as “the splitting up of a lexical unit into its sense components, often one-to-two, three or four translations.” A comparison is performed between “an SL word with a TL word which has a similar meaning, but is not an obvious one-to-one equivalent, by demonstrating first their common and then their differing sense components.” (Newmark, 1988: 114). Unfortunately, no clear example is found in English–Arabic translations.

2.2.14. Reduction and Expansion

Newmark (1988: 90) defined reduction and expansion as “imprecise translation procedures” that were usually used in translating poorly written texts when the translator was required to adjust the TT. Reduction occurs when translating a phrase using fewer words; for example, غير رسمي /ɣajur rasmi:/ in Arabic is translated to Informal in English by reducing the number of words to produce a more suitable translation. Expansion is the complete opposite; BBC is translated into قناة البي بي سي البريطانية /qana:tu lbi: bi: si: lbirița:nija/ in Arabic adding قناة /qana:tu/ and البريطانية /albirița:nija/ in the interests of clarification.

2.2.15. Paraphrasing

A paraphrase “involves providing additional information to help readers recognize the referents of the source words in the absence of direct equivalents.” (Mughazy, 2016: 38). For example, etymology is paraphrased in Arabic into علم دراسة أصول الكلمات /؟ilmu dirasati ?uṣuli lkalima:t/.

2.2.16. Translation Label

This process involves “the provisional translation, usually of a new institutional term, which should be made in inverted commas, which can later be discreetly withdrawn. It could be done through literal translation” (Newmark, 1988: 90). For example, Kremlin is translated into الكريملين: مجلس النواب الروسي /alkrimlin majlisu nnuwa:bi rru:si:/.

2.2.17. Equivalence and Adaptation

Vinay and Darbelnet (1958/1995) postulated other procedural possibilities, including equivalence which is “an unfortunately named term implying approximate equivalence, accounting for the same situation in different terms.” (Newmark, 1988: 90). It concerns the similarity between two words from two different languages. For example, the word Apple in English is translated into its direct equivalent, تفاحة /tuffa:ɦa/, in Arabic. Adaptation is the “use of recognised equivalent between two situations. This is a matter of cultural equivalence” (Newmark, 1988: 91). For example, the English saying as rich as Croesus is translated into يملك مال قارون /jamliku ma:la qa:ru:n/ in Arabic.

2.2.18. Couplet

A translator may combine two or more translation procedures to tackle a single problem. This technique is particularly common for the translation of cultural words (Newmark, 1988: 91) when two different procedures are combined in one translation (couplets) or three or four processes are applied to a single translation (triplets/quadruplets). For example, the popular American dessert apple pie is translated into الابل باي فطيرة التفاح /al?abil ba:j fați:ratu ttufa:ɦ/ using two translation procedures: borrowing and literal translation.

2.2.19. Notes, Additions, and Glosses

These translation procedures allow translators to provide additional information within a text, at the bottom of a page, end of a chapter, or in a glossary at the end of a book (Newmark, 1988: 91–92). They are usually used to bolster the translation with more information for clarification. The additional information offered by a translator is primarily cultural and seeks to bridge the gap between the SL and TL. Such information can also be technical and/or linguistic. For example, the Arabic Islamic cultural term المسحراتي /almusaɦara:ti/ is translated into the Musahharati, and the translator describes the term at the bottom of the page as a man walking the streets at night during the holy month of Ramadan singing and drumming to arouse people for their late-night meal in preparation for fasting.

3. Research Methodology and Data Collection

Williams and Chesterman (2002: 6) stated that “the analysis of translated texts involves the textual comparison of a translation with its original.” Of course, every possible aspect of a translation cannot be compared to the original text. Therefore, the comparison between the Arabic ST and the English TT was limited in this study to the CSIs found in the selected corpus. The data collection for the present study entailed collecting the CSIs in the original Arabic text, compiling their counterparts in the translated English text, and identifying the translation procedures posited by Newmark (1988). Other classifications of CSIs exist (c.f. Katan, 2004; and Zagood et al., 2022), and other scholars have postulated other translation procedures (c.f. Vinay and Darbelnet, 1958/1995; and Giaber, 2019); however, this study employed Newmark’s (1988) classification of CSIs and utilized the translation procedures he proposed.

The current study used both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. The quantitative approach was applied to determine the number and percentage of acceptable and unacceptable translations of CSIs and to ascertain the number and percentage of Newmark’s (1988) translation procedures applied in translating Arabic CSIs found in Al Shehhi’sأنا و العم سام /? na: wa l؟am sa:m/ into English. The qualitative approach was utilized to discover how Arabic CSIs were transferred into English and to identify the extent to which Newmark’s (1988) proposed procedures were used.

أنا و العم سام /?na: wa l؟am sa:m/ was selected for this study because of the abundance of CSIs in the book, which thus represents a valuable data source. A sample of 20 exemplars of varied cultural categories was selected because of time and space constraints, and the study purposed to examine how they were translated into English and to identify Newmark’s (1988) translation procedures deployed during their translation. Williams and Chesterman (2002: 48–57) asserted the existence of three research models: comparative, process, and casual. The present study adopted the comparative model, which is product-oriented and concerns the relationship between the ST and the TT. In so doing, it compared the ST and TT to analyze how CSIs were translated and to identify the applied translation procedures and implemented the following procedure to evaluate the selected examples:

  1. Reading the ST to identify CSIs (inscribed in bold text in Tables 1–20). Resident Emiratis were queried in some instances about the exact meanings of some local sayings (e.g., examples 10 and 14).
  2. Reading the TT to detect how the identified CSIs were translated (inscribed in bold text in Tables 1–20).
  3. Classifying the identified CSIs in the ST according to Newmark’s (1988) CSI categories.
  4. Tabulating the selected CSIs (ST) and their translations (TT).
  5. Commenting on the translation procedures used and suggesting alternative translations (whenever a mismatch was found).

4. Qualitative Data Analysis

The analysis that follows evinces the application of the abovementioned analytical procedure on the data collected from the selected corpus. The analysis is accomplished by tabulating both the ST and TT and a subsequent commentary on the used translation procedures. Alternative translations are suggested as required with due justification after a thorough scrutiny of the translator’s decisions.

ST (Arabic) لا أريد أن أشرب تلك القهوة المزيفة مرة ثانية من محطة الوقود بجانب بيتي، ولا خبز "البراتا" و"الكرك" كل يوم. (136P.)/la: ?uri:du ?an ?aʃraba lqahwata lmuzajjafata marratan Ɵa:nijatan min maɦațat lwaqu:di biɜa:nib bajti: wa la: xubza lbara:ta: wa lkarak kulla jawm/
TT (English) I don’t want to drink that fake coffee from the petrol station next to my house again, nor eat “berretta” and “Karak bread each day. (P.105)
Table 1.Example One (Material Culture: Food)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translation procedure of transference is applied in this case. Transference does not deliver the exact message to the TT readers. The use of transference along with expansion or paraphrasing would be more appropriate and would convey the intended meaning to TT readers. Therefore, an alternative translation could read berretta’ (an Indian bread people in the Gulf used to eat for a long time) and ‘Karak’ (a mixture of black tea, milk, saffron, and other ingredients).

ST (Arabic) بعدها تنفست الصعداء، و شعرت أنني سلطان زماني، فأنشرح صدري و أنا ”أمزمز البيبسى“مع شرائح البطاطا (P.53)/fa؟daha: janaffastu ṣṣu؟ada:? wa ʃa؟artu ?anani: ṣulța:nu zama:ni fa?nʃaraɦa ṣadri: wa ?ana: ?umazmizu lbibsi: ma؟a ʃara:?iɦi lbața:ța:/
TT (English) I ate what remained of the chicken burger and breathed a sigh of relief, and felt like the Sultan of my era. I felt good while sipping my Pepsi” and eating my fries. (P.45)
Table 2.Example Two (Material Culture: Food)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator used literal translation as sipping conveys the action and not the feeling intended in the ST. Therefore, it would be more apt to translate أمزز /? umazmiz/ as enjoying, which conveys both the action and feeling.

ST (Arabic) علاجنا نحن الطلبة كان طبخ قدر "مكبوس دجاج او لحم بعد صلاة الجمعة (P.100) /؟ila:ɜuna: naɦnu țțalabatu ka:na țabxu qidra makbu:si daɜa:ɜin ?aw laɦmin ba؟da ṣala:ti lɜumu؟a/
TT (English) The students’ treatment for this was to cook chicken or meat,Makboos,after Friday prayers. (P.79)
Table 3.Example Three (Material Culture: Food)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator used transference, which does not transmit the intended meaning. Therefore, paraphrasing the term Makboos or adding a note explaining the dish would render a more appropriate translation, as the TT readers would not be able to understand the term if it is merely transliterated. Accordingly, an alternative translation might be …Makboos (a traditional Arab rice dish that can be served with either meat or poultry, e.g., chicken).

ST (Arabic) …وهو جالس على الأريكة بالإزار والفانيلة يشرح لي القصة P. 115))/wa hwa ɜa:lisun ؟ala l?ari:kati bil?iza:ri w alfa:nillati jaʃraɦu lija lqiṣṣa/
TT (English) …while he sat on the couch in his izar (traditional cloth worn around the hips) and undershirt explaining his story. (P. 90)
Table 4.Example Four (Material Culture: Clothes)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator used a couplet: transference along with a note. This translation is acceptable because the use of the couplet (transference and note) conveys the intended meaning, and TT readers can understand the meaning of izar.

ST (Arabic) لكن عندما تزينت المدينة، وارتدت حلتها السندسية، ونهضت بإهابها السني البهي، وظهرت للرائي كما العروس ليلة جلوتها. (P. 233)./lakin ؟indama: tazajjanati lmadi:na wa rtadat ɦullataha ssundusija wa nahațat bi?iha:biha lbahi: wa ẓaharat llirra:?i: kama l؟aru:si lajlata ɜulwataha/
TT (English) However, when the city blossomed with gorgeous beauty and seemed like a bride on her wedding night to onlookers. (P.177)
Table 5.Example Five (Material Culture: Clothes)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator used a functional equivalent, which is effective because the intended meaning is conveyed.

ST (Arabic) أنت فأر التجارب في هذا التخصص والأمل الوحيد لجميع الطلبة الأجانب من بعدك. (P.191)/?anta fa?tu ttaɜa:ribi fi: haða ttaxaṣṣuṣi wa l?amalu lwaɦi:du liɜami:؟i țțalabati l?aɜa:nibi min ba؟dik/
TT (English) You are the guinea pig of this specialization and the only hope for all foreign students after you. (P. 146)
Table 6.Example Six (Ecology: Animal)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator effectively used a cultural equivalent that conveys the intended meaning.

ST (Arabic) هل سمعت من قبل بحيوان المرموط؟/hal sami؟ta min qablu biɦajawa:ni lmarmu:ț/إذا لم تسمع بهذا الحيوان، فأهلاً بك يا صاحبي بنادي المعلومات!/?iða: lam tasma؟ bihaða: lɦajawa:n fahlan bika ja: ṣa:ɦibi: bina:di: lma؟lu:mat/للعلم هناك حيوان بهذا الاسم. (P. 209)/lil؟ilm huna:ka ɦajawa:nun bihaða: lism/
TT (English) Have you heard of the marmot before? If you have not heard of it before, then welcome my friend to the information club! For your information, there is a rodent under this name. (P. 159)
Table 7.Example Seven (Ecology: Animal)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator used transference, borrowing the term المرموط /almarmu:ț/ from Arabic. Synonymy would be preferable in this instance because a direct one-to-one equivalent exists between the two languages. Hence, المرموط /almarmu:ț/ could alternatively be translated into a groundhog.

ST (Arabic) ... تعزف على سر التشويق و الإثارة بإقاعات ماتعة، يتمازج فيها السحر و الخرافة أو الأسطورة، و الإنس مع المردة و الجان في إيطار منظومات قيمية (P. 8)/ta؟zifu ؟ala sirri ttaʃwi:qi wa l?iƟa:ra bi?iq:؟a:tin mati؟a jatama:zaɜu fi:ha siɦru wa lxura:fatu ?awi l?usțura wa l?insu ma؟a lmaradatu wa lɜa:nu fi: ?ița:ri manẓumatin qajima/
TT (English) … played with such great creativity that fiddles the secret of thrill and excitement with delightful rhythms blended with magic, myth, and legends, and a mix of creatures, giants, and goblins in the context of treasured groups (Pp. 9-10)
Table 8.Example Eight (Social Culture)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator employed a couplet comprising paraphrase and reduction. However, the omission of the creature names and their compensation with a generic term (mix of creatures) does not adequately transmit the intended meaning. Therefore, synonymy is suggested in this case because one-to-one equivalents exist between the two languages. Synonymy would render a more accurate translation and would maintain the original collocation. Thus, this statement could be alternatively translated as …with delightful rhythms blended with magic, myth and legends, humans, genies and jins, in the context of treasured groups.

ST (Arabic) نعم أعترف، الان ليس لدي أم تودعني عند الفجر قبل سفري، و تدعو لي بالتوفيق، و ترجو الله أن يبعد عني كل ”بنات الحرام.“ (P.16)/na؟m ?a؟tarif al?ana lajsa ladajja ?umun tuwaddi؟uni ؟inda lfaɜri qabla safari: wa tad؟u: li: bittawfi:q wa tarɜu: llaha ?an jub؟ida ؟ani: kullu bana:ti lɦara:m/
TT (English) Yes, I confess, now I no longer have a mother to bid me farewell at dawn before my travel and pray for my success and pray to God to keep bad people away from me. (P. 16)
Table 9.Example Nine (Social Culture)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator used synonymy, translating بنات الحرام / bana: ti lɦara: m/ as bad people. This generalization includes both males and females. The ST expression alludes only to girls who tempt. Therefore, paraphrasing is suggested to maintain the cultural ethos, and بنات الحرام /bana: ti lɦara:m/ could be translated as girls with ill intentions.

ST (Arabic) يا للعجب من الإنسان، الذي تصدق به مقولة جدتي، حينما كانت تردد في سياق حكاياتها عن ناكر المعروف، بأنه ”لو كان في القلب حاحا لذرفت من العين دموع“.(P. 13)/ja: lil؟aɜabi mina l?insa:nu llaði: taṣduqu bihi maqu:latu ɜaddati: ɦi:nma: ka:nat turadidu fi: sija:qi ɦika:ja:tiha: ؟an na:kiri lma؟ru:f bi?annahu law ka:na fi: lqalbi ɦa:ɦa: laðarafat mina l؟ajni dumu:؟/
TT (English) Humans are very strange as my grandmother used to say when telling stories of people who are unthankful"لو كان في القلب حاحا لذرفت من العين دموع". (P. 15)
Table 10.Example Ten (Social Culture)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator used transference (notably, this phrase is borrowed verbatim from Arabic; it is not even transliterated or written in English). However, it is strange to encounter an Arabic iteration in an English text. Paraphrasing would be more appropriate to achieve the closest equivalent that could convey the intended meaning of the saying. An alternative suggestion for the translation would be … who are unthankful, “the eyes would have teared if the heart was aching.”

ST (Arabic) قال لي بلكنة غريبة:/qa:la li: bilaknatin ɣari:ba/تتكلم عربي؟/titkallam ؟arabi:/قلت لنفسي: ”طلعت عربي يا لكلب“. (P. 48)/qultu linafsi: țala؟t ؟arabi: ja: kalb/
TT (English) He said in a strange accent: Do you speak Arabic? And I said to myself: you turned out to be an Arab.”(P. 42)
Table 11.Example Eleven (Material Culture: Food)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator used a couplet comprising literal translation and reduction. Notably, the term ‘كلب’ /kalb/ in the ST shows that the speaker is angry with himself, but a literal translation cannot convey the same meaning. The word ‘dog’ does not connote identical signification in both cultures. Therefore, the word ‘jerk’ is suggested to convey the speaker’s anger as transmitted by the word ‘كلب /kalb/ in the ST.

ST (Arabic) نظرت إلى جسمي وقلت لنفسي: "كم أنت أنيق مسيو جمال". (P. 175)/naẓartu ?ila: ɜismi: wa qultu linafsi: kam ?anta ?ani:q misju: ɜama:l/
TT (English) I looked at my body and said to myself: “How elegant you are Mr. beautiful.” (P. 135)
Table 12.Example Twelve (Social Culture)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator usedliteral translation to convert the proper name جمال /ɜama:l/ into beautiful. This translation is unacceptable because proper names should be transferred as is, i.e., borrowed and transliterated. Therefore, مسيو جمال /misju: ɜama:l/ should have been translated as Mr. Jamal or Monsieur Jamal.

ST (Arabic) بينما كنت أقود الشاحنة بتريث وحذر، ولسان حالي يقول: "العجلة ندامة، وبالتأني السلامة.” (416P.)/bajnama: kuntu ?aqu:du ʃʃa:ɦinatu bitarajjuƟin wa ɦaðin wa lisa:nu ɦa:li: jaqu:l al؟aɜalatu nada:ma wa bitta?ani: ssalama/
TT (English) While driving the van carefully and cautiously, and saying to myself: Where there is haste, there is regret, and where there is caution, there is safety.” (P. 126)
Table 13.Example Thirteen (Social Culture)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator employed literal translation, which is inaccurate and does not convey the intended meaning. Therefore, the use of a cultural equivalent would be more appropriate in transmitting the meaning of this saying. Thus, this statement could alternatively be translated to haste makes waste\ better safe than sorry.

ST (Arabic) هذا بالإضافة إلى إهتمامهم بالتعليم وثراء بعضهم وشغف الجنس الناعم بالترف والرفاهية... ويمكنني أن اختصر بالمثل المحلي، الذي يقول: "عنزة الفريج تحب التيس الغريب.” (117P. )/haða: bil?iḍafati ?ila ?ihtima:mihim bitta؟li:mi wa Ɵara:?i ba؟ḍihim wa ʃaɣafi lɜinsi nna:؟imi bittarafi wa rrafa:hija wa jumkinuni: ?an ixtaṣira bilmaƟali lmaɦali: llaði: jaqu:l ؟anzatu lfir:ɜ tuɦibbu tajsa lɣari:b/
TT (English) Add to this their interest in education and wealth and women’s passion for luxury and extravagance. I can summarize all this with a local quote that says: the neighborhood goat loves the strange buck.” (P. 92)
Table 14.Example Fourteen (Social Culture)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator used an inaccurate and unacceptable literal translation in translating a local (Emirati) saying that needs more attention to effectively transmit its meaning. It would be better to find an English cultural expression or, at the very least, to paraphrase the saying to convey its meaning. An alternative suggestion for translation would be women prefer strange menor people are not convinced of/ appreciate what they have.

ST (Arabic) -ربما لديك رغبة جموحة لمعرفة كل شيء في هذه الدنيا، ولكن الرغبة لا تكفي "يا أبو العريف" (P. 189) /rubbama: ladajka raɣbatan ɜamu:ɦatan lima؟rifati kulla ʃaj?in fi: haðihi ddunja: wa lakinna rraɣbata la: takfi: ja: ?abu l؟irrif/
TT (English) -Maybe you have an ardent desire to know everything in the world, but the desire is not sufficient. (P. 145)
Table 15.Example Fifteen (Social Culture)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator utilized the technique of reduction, deleting the expression يا أبو العريف/ja: ?abu l؟irrif/. The reductionis acceptable in this instance, but it eliminates the ST’s intended sense of humor and sarcasm. Therefore, it would be more effective to use a cultural equivalent that could convey the intended meaning and sense of humor. For example, this expression could be translated as Mr. Know-it-all.

ST (Arabic) فلسان حال أهل المدينة يقول: "دع الخلق للخالق.”(P. 80) /falisa:nu ɦa:li ?ahlu lmadi:nati jaqu:l da؟i lxalqa lilxa:liq/
TT (English) the residents of the city say: leave all creatures to their creator.” (P.65)
Table 16.Example Sixteen (Social Culture)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: This translation is literal. This SL phrase is widely used in casual Arab conversations, but the TL phrase does not convey this sense of informality. Rather, the tone resembles a cleric’s utterance. Therefore, it would be more accurate to paraphrase or seek a cultural equivalent that represents such a casual expression. Hence, an alternative translation could be, as it is not my business to judge people.

ST (Arabic) أعرف أنني لو فعلت ما فعلت بمدينتي، وسمعني أحد الجيران، لكانوا حوقلوا وتقلقلوا وأكثروا من المعوذات والمستنكرات المتأخرات والمتقدمات. (P.167) /?a؟rifu ?annani: law fa؟altu ma: fa؟altu bimadi:nati: wa sami؟ani: ?aɦadu lɜi:ra:nil aka:nu: ɦawqalu: wa taqalqalu: wa ?akƟaru: mina lmu؟awiða:ti wa lmustaðkirati lmuta?axirati wa lmutaqadimat/
TT (English) I know if I had done what I just did in my hometown and the neighbors had heard me, I would have caused a commotion, and they would have started praying and repeating verses from Quran. (P. 128)
Table 17.Example Seventeen (Religious Culture)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator employed a couplet technique combining reduction and a functional equivalent. These two procedures are appropriately utilized, producing a good translation that conveys the intended meaning.

ST (Arabic) فكان علي أن أختار الآن ما بين تأنيب الضمير و مشكلة الحلال و الحرام. (P. 53)/faka:na ؟alajja ?an ?axta:ra l?an ma: bajna ja?ni:bi ḍḍami:ri wa muʃkilati lɦala:li walɦara:m/
TT (English) I now had to choose between guilt, the dilemma of allowed and not allowed “halal and haram.”(P. 45)
Table 18.Example Eighteen (Religious Culture)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator used a couplet technique comprising transference and paraphrasing. The translation is effective, but the two phrases should have been flipped because halal and haram are cultural terms that form the focal and keywords of the phrase. Thus, they should have been introduced before the explanation (paraphrase). The statement could be rephrased as I now had to choose between guilt and the dilemma of halal and haram “allowed and not allowed.”

ST (Arabic) أحياناً أود أن أصرخ بوجه هؤلاء: "خلاص أتركوني في حالي"، ولكن قبل أن اصرخ فيهم يجب أولاً أن أتركهم بحالهم.(P.197)/?aɦja:nan ?awddu ?an ?ṣruxa biwaɜhi ha?ula:? xalaṣ ?utruku:ni: fi: ɦa:li: wa lakin qabla ?an ?ṣrux fi:him jaɜibu ?awalan ?an ?atrukahum fi: ɦa:lihim/
TT (English) Sometimes I want to shout in those people’s faces saying: Stop, leave me alone, but before I shout at them, I must first leave them alone. (P. 151)
Table 19.Example Nineteen (Gestures and Habits)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator used a functional equivalent, generating a competent translation that transmits the intended meaning.

ST (Arabic) لم يكمل جدي قصته، وعاد لصمته، وأخذ يطقطق بحبات سبحته. (P. 203)/lam jukmil ɜadi: qiṣṣatahu wa ؟a:da li ṣamtihi wa ?axaða juțaqțiqu biɦabbati sibɦatih/
TT (English) My grandfather didn’t complete his story and returned to his silence while clicking the beads of his rosary. (P. 156)
Table 20.Example Twenty (Social Culture)Source: (Al Shehhi, 2016)

Commentary: The translator effectively employed literal translation in this instance, conveying the intended meaning.

5. Quantitative Data Analysis

The quantitative analysis that followed the evaluation of the 20 Arabic CSIs and their English counterparts revealed that some CSIs were acceptably translated while others were not. Table 21 displays the number and percentage of acceptable and unacceptable translations:

Number of Examples Acceptable Translations/ No Alternative Translations Suggested % Unacceptable Translations/ Alternative Translations Suggested %
20 6 30 14 70
Table 21.The number of acceptable and unacceptable translationsSource: Author's own work.

The quantitative analysis also disclosed that the translator(s) adopted some of Newmark’s (1988) translation procedures and ignored others. Table 22 presents the frequency of Newmark’s (1988) translation procedures deployed in the translation of CSIs identified in Al Shehhi’s أنا و العم سام/?na: wa l؟am sa:m/ and it's English translation Uncle Sam & Myself:

No. Translation Procedure Frequency Percentage
1 Literal Translation 5 25%
2 Transference 4 20%
3 Naturalization 0 0%
4 Cultural Equivalent 1 5%
5 Functional Equivalent 3 15%
6 Descriptive Equivalent 0 0%
7 Synonymy 1 5%
8 Through-translation 0 0%
9 Shifts or Transposition 0 0%
10 Modulation 0 0%
11 Recognized Translation 0 0%
12 Translation Label 0 0%
13 Compensation 0 0%
14 Componential Analysis 0 0%
15 Reduction and Expansion 1 5%
16 Paraphrasing 0 0%
17 Other Procedures (Equivalence and Adaptation) 0 0%
18 Couplets 5 25%
19 Notes, Additions, Glosses 0 0%
Table 22.The frequency of Newmark’s (1988) translation proceduresSource: Author's own work.

6. Conclusion

This study aimed to analyze the translation of the CSIs found in Al Shehhi’s أنا و العم سام /?na: wa l؟am sa:m/ and the English translation of the novel, Uncle Sam & Myself. To accomplish its objective, the study adopted Newmark’s (1988) classification of cultural items and his proposed translation procedures. The corpus selected for the study belongs to the genre of travel literature because the narrative entails the author’s journeys in the US as a student. The evaluation procedure comprised first identifying CSIs according to Newmark’s classification before pinpointing the employed translation procedures. Subsequently, alternative translations were offered whenever the translations were deemed ineffective or inaccurate. Due comments were provided on the original translations, and translation procedures and/or justifications were recorded for the suggested alternative translations. Data for the study were collected and tabulated according to Newmark’s categorization of cultural items. Each table marked 1–20 concerns a specific cultural category, as previously shown in the qualitative analysis. Each of these tables (1–20) contains a CSI example from the ST, its translation in the TT, the translation procedure used by the translator(s), a suggested alternative translation (if needed), and a comment on the accomplished translation or a justification for the suggested alternative translation. The justification elucidates why the original translation is inappropriate and offers reasons for the alternative suggestion. This study, however, does not attempt an overall critique of the translation of the book; rather, it focuses only on the translation of CSIs.

The study’s findings revealed that some CSIs were correctly translated while others were not (Table 21). Some lexical, syntactic, and textual level mismatches were found between the ST and its translation. The results of the study also demonstrated difficulties confronting the translator(s) in converting Arabic CSIs into English. These complexities are attributed to several issues, including the overuse of literal translation in some instances (used 25%), even when the technique is untenable, and the cultural differences between Arabic (Emirati) and English societies that make the conversion of the CSIs difficult in attempting to aptly convey the author’s intended sense. Additionally, the study found that the couplet technique (used 25%) was appropriately deployed in some cases (examples 4 and 17) and inappropriately applied in some other instances (examples 11 and 18). In some examples, one procedure of a couplet is correctly deployed, but the other is not (example 11). The current study also discovered that some of Newmark’s (1988) proposed translation procedures remained unused (see table 22 earlier).

This investigation disclosed distinctly that the translation of CSIs poses certain difficulties. To overcome such difficulties, special attention is mandated in translating literary texts from one language to another. It is recommended that translators should identify the CSIs in the ST, seek their counterparts in the target culture, and translate the terminology using appropriate translation procedures to convey their intended meanings to target readers.