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Background To Al Tayeb Salih English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2785 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The current research addresses the dilemma of translating cultural terms especially in literary works. It aims at shedding some light on the problems that translators, particularly between Arabic and English, face with dealing with cultural terms and on the decisions made by these translators to overcome these problems. The Wedding of Zein, written by the Sudanese distinguished novelist Al-Tayeb Salih and translated into English by the well-known translator Denys Johnson-Davies, has been chosen as a study case to be analysed. The data collected will be categorised according to the procedures proposed by Vladimir Ivir (1997) and by the scale of domestication (translator's visibility) and foreignsation (translator's invisibility) proposed by Lawrence Venuti (1995/1998).

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The current study, however, consists of four main sections. In the first section, the background of the novel, the writer, and the translator is highlighted. Moreover, the aims of the study and the methodology are stated. The second section reviews the techniques and procedures put forwarded by different translation theorists, with special focus on Ivir's work (1997). The work of Venuti (1995/1998) is discussed in section two. The data collected from the source text and the translated text will be analysed in section three. Finally, section four contains the conclusion and the findings.

1.1 Background to Al-Tayeb Salih and The Wedding of Zein

Al-Tayeb Salih (full name: Al-Tayeb Mohammed Salih Ahmed) 1929-2009. He was a well-known Sudanese novelist and short-story writer. He was born in a small village called 'Karmakoul' in northern Sudan and died in London. Buried in Sudan, his funeral was attended by the Sudanese president. His father was Sufi and named his son after a famous Sufism sheikh. He had spent his childhood in his small village before he moved to Khartoum to get a degree in Science. Later, he moved to England and attended the University of London to get a degree in the International Political Affairs.

Al-Tayeb started his career life as a headmaster for a short time before he moved to work in the Arabic section in the BBC and, later, headed the drama section in it. Then, he came back to work in the Sudanese radio before he moved to Qatar and worked as a supervisor in the Ministry of Information. He ended up the last ten years in his career life with UNESCO in Paris and Gulf Area. It is worthy mentioning here that during his work in the BBC, Al-Tayeb used to write, for more than ten years, a weekly column for a London-

based Arabic magazine called 'al Majalla' in which he explored various literary issues.

Moving from one country to another and from one city to another spurs Al-Tayeb to highlight the conflict between the Western and Eastern cultures and the differences between the Arab world and the Western world in his writings. In an interview (MBC 1994), Al-Tayeb mentions that he starts his literary life as a poet and that:

'نحن ØلسودØنيون نحب Øلشعر Ùˆ ننشده Ùˆ Øلسبب هو ØÙ†Ù†Ø Ù…Ø·Øلبون Ø¯ÙˆÙ…Ø Ø¨ØثبØت ØÙ†Ù†Ø Ø¬Ø²Ø¡ من ØلعØلم Øلعربي'

My translation:

'We, the Sudaneses, love and recite poetry because we always need to proof our affiliation to the Arab World.'

Al-Tayeb, who is entitled 'the genius of the Arabic novel' in the literary circles, belongs to the modern Arabic Realistic School which includes big names like Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) and Taha Hussein (1889- 1973) and many others. He wrote three novels and some short stories. His novels which gained a world-wide reputation and translated into many languages are: موسم Øلهجرة Øلى ØلشمØÙ„ The season of migration to the north (1966), عرس Øلزين The wedding of Zein (1969) and بندرشØÙ‡Bandarshah in two parts (1971/1979). Some critics claim that these novels form a trilogy similar to Naguib Mahfouz's famous trilogy (1956-1957). The season of migration to the north is translated into thirty languages and chosen among the best 100 novels in the world and in 2001 it is declared the best Arabic novel in the twentieth century by the Arab Literary Academy. His novel The Wedding of Zein was made into a drama in Libya and into a film by the Kuwaiti filmmaker Khalid Siddiq who won an award in the Cannes Festival in the late 1970s. In 2005, Newsweek magazine chose Al-Tayeb among the most 43 influential characters in the Arab World and despite that he did not win Noble Prize, he was always one of the strongest candidates for it. In recognition of his contribution to the Arabic literature, a film, produced by Al- Jazeera Documentary, highlighting the different stages of Al-Tayeb's life has been released in his first death anniversary in February 2010. In his second death anniversary, an award named 'Al-Tayeb Salih International Award for Creative Writing' has been launched.

عرس Øلزين , or The Wedding of Zein, is Al-Tayeb's second successful novel in which he mixes reality with myth to form what is called ØلوØقعية Øلسحرية 'Magic Realism'. The novel is about a young villager called 'Zein'. He is odd in appearance and behaviour. Sometimes he is naïve or Darwish and sometimes you find him chasing the girls of the village from one place to another. What is funny that Zein has made a reputation for himself as the man who falls in love over and over with girls who promptly marry other men; to the point where mothers seek him out in hopes that he will draw the eye of suitors to their daughters. One aspect of Zein's strangeness is that:

' يولد ØلأطفØÙ„ فسيتقبلون ØلحيØØ© بØلصريخ، ولكن يروى أن Øلزين ÙˆØلعهدة على أمه ÙˆØلنسØØ¡ ØللØئي حضرن ولØدتهØØŒ أول Ù…Ø Ù…Ø³ Øلأرض، Øنفجر ضØحكØ. وظل Ù‡ÙƒØ°Ø Ø·ÙˆÙ„ حيØته.' (صØلح، Øلطيب 7:1986)

'as is well known, children meet life with screams. With Zein, however, it is recounted- and the authorities for this are his mother and the women who attended his birth- that no sooner did he come into this world than he burst out laughing. And so it was throughout his life.' (Salih, Al-Tayeb 1969: 33).

The two main characters of the novel, beside Zein, are Al-Haneen, the Sufi Sheikh, who has a good relationship with Zein and represents the mythic side of the novel and Ni'ma, Zein's beautiful rich cousin, who is the only girl that Zein respects and cannot flirt her and she represents the realistic aspect of the novel. The main event of the novel is the marriage of Zein and Ni'ma which shocked all people in the village because it is unusual for ugliness and poverty (Zein) to unite with beauty and richness (Ni'ma). The events of the novel take place in a week; from the spreading of the marriage news to the wedding party which ends up the novel.

A Western critic comments on The Wedding of Zein:

' Ùˆ Øكثر Ù…Ø ÙŠØ¬Ø°Ø¨Ù†ÙŠ Øلى طريقة Øلطيب صØلح في ØلكتØبة هو موقفه حيØÙ„ Øلقرويين Øلذين يكتب عنهم. Øنه يرØهم بنظرة مرحة، Ùˆ يدعو ØلقØرئ Øلى Øلضحك منهم [1] ØŒ ØÙˆ على ØÙ„Øقل Øلى ØÙ„ØبتسØÙ… [2] . غير ØÙ† Ù‡Ø°Ø Øلموقف ينطوي ØسØØ³Ø Ø¹Ù„Ù‰ ØلتعØطف. فحتى Ø¹Ù†Ø¯Ù…Ø Ù†Ø¬Ø¯Ù‡Ù… مضحكين للغØية، فØÙ† جميع ØلشخصيØت تحتفظ بكرØمتهØØŒ Ùˆ Øني Ù„Øجد في Ù‡Ø°Ø Ù†ÙØ­Ø© منعشة بعد مطØلعØتي للعديد من ØلروØÙŠØت ØÙ„Øنكليزية Ùˆ ØÙ„Øميريكية، Øلتي يبدو ÙÙŠÙ‡Ø ÙƒÙ„ ØنسØÙ† عديم Øلقيمة، حتى ليتسØءل ØلقØرئ Ø¹Ù…Ø Ø­Ø¯Ø Ø¨Øلمؤلف Øلى ØلكتØبة عن مثل هذه ØلشخصيØت ØلتØفهة. '(محمدية Ùˆ آخرون 1981: 201-202)

My translation

What attracted me in Al-Tayeb Salih's way of writing is his attitude to the villagers. He sees them in a funny way and invites readers to laugh at them or, at least, smile. However, behind this attitude is a feeling of sympathy. Despite that we find these characters funny, but all of them keep their dignity. I find a refreshing whiff in this. After reading many American and English novels, readers may ask about the reason of writing about some inane characters in these novels.

1.2 A word on the translator of The Wedding of Zein

Denys Johnson-Davies (1922- ), a renowned English translator of the Arabic literature, was born in Vancouver, Canada. He had spent his first years in Sudan, Egypt, Uganda, and Kenya, before he was sent to England at age 12. In 1930s, he attended Cambridge University and studied oriental languages. He started his career life with the BBC between 1941 and 1945. In the same year, he moved to Egypt to work in the British Council in Cairo as a translator and then started a journey of more than sixty years with the Arabic literature. In Cairo, he met the pioneers of the modern Arabic literature and made friendships with some many of them. In an interview, Denys states that 'when I arrived to Egypt in 1945, I was the only translator into English at that time… I was dictator in my field at that time and I enjoyed this.' (AUC 2011).He also expresses his attitude towards translation as a profession: 'Translation is real hard work. It's also not appreciated. If you get your name anywhere on the book at all, you're very lucky. I would've preferred to have been a writer.'(ibid.). In 2006, he published his memoirs under the title: A life between the lines of Arabic literature. In 2007, he was awarded the Sheikh Zayed Book Award as the 'Culture Personality of the Year'.

Referred to as 'the leading Arabic-English translator of our time' by Edward Said, there is no translator in the West who conveyed the Arabic literature to the occidental reader than Denys did. His translations are not limited to one literary genre; he translated short stories, novels, plays, and poems or as he states that 'when I enjoy reading something, I decide to translate it' (ibid.). He is also interested in Islamic studies and is co-translator of three volumes of Prophetic Hadith. Al-Tayeb Salih, however, has a special place for Denys who translated Al-Tayeb's all three novels. When asked about his favorite writer to translate, Denys unhesitatingly answered 'Al-Tayeb Salih… I feel that his work is very simple, very direct, and that there's nothing pretentious at all about it… I enjoy Al-Tayeb Salih works more than any other Arabic writers… I am a great fan of AL-Tayeb Salih.' (ibid.).

1.3 Literary Translation

Literary text, as an "expressive" text type by Reiss (1977/1989), has a set of typical features. Jones (2009:152) summarises a wide range of viewpoints about the features attributed to literary texts:

They have a written base-form, though they may also be spoken; they enjoy canonicity (high

social prestige); they fulfil an affective/aesthetic rather than transactional or informational

function, aiming to provoke emotions and/or entertain rather than influence or inform; they have no real-world truth-value - i.e. they are judged as fictional, whether fact-based or not; they

feature words, images, etc., with ambiguous and/or indeterminable meanings; they are

characterized by 'poetic' language use (where language form is important in its own right, as

with word-play or rhyme) and heteroglossia (i.e. they contain more than one 'voice'); and they may draw on minoritized styles - styles outside the dominant standard, for example slang or archaism.

Depending on the above features of literary works, literary translation is unique in some aspects:

First, literary texts, as opposed to non-literary texts, are characterized by rhetorical and aesthetic value, which is the essence expected to be captured and maintained in a literary translation. Literary works are created artistically by increasing the difficulty and length of perception, which leads to defamiliarization (Shklovsky, 1917, quoted in Pilkington, 2000: 18). Once the defamiliarization is comprehended by the translators or readers, a unique sensation is created. To reproduce the rhetorical and aesthetic value is one of the main tasks for literary translators.

Second, literary translators' choices of wording are highly dependent on the target language (TL) and culture. Literary texts are solidly rooted in the source language (SL) and culture, yet due to linguistic or cultural differences, literal translations might fail to gain acceptability. How to cope with the linguistic and cultural differences is a crucial question for literary translators.

Third, a consideration of the target audiences is another important issue in literary translation. Literary translation always has a readership which is likely to be quite different from the one the writer originally had in mind. A good translation of any text from any period will, most often, only be good in the context of a particular audience at a particular time and place. A good English translation of Salih's The Wedding of Zein, for example, for people in England in 1960 might not be a good translation for people in Australia in 2010.

Finally, literary translation is a complicated act, and to this effect, there is no

definite correct translation; yet there is an appropriate translation according to

certain criteria. Stylistic approaches to translation studies supply a theoretical perspective, which identify the style as the essence of literary translations.

1.4 Aims of the study

The ultimate aim of the current research is to investigate the extent to which Denys Johnson-Davies is successful in dealing with cultural terms in his translation of The Wedding of Zein. This overall goal can be achieved through a set of research questions:

1. What are the different techniques utilised by the translator to convey Arabic cultural terms into his English translation?

2. Does the translator domesticate or foreignise his translation?

3. Does the translator's overall strategy to domesticate or foreignise his translation affect his decision to use some certain techniques rather than others in conveying cultural items?

1.5 Methodology: An Integrated Approach

In this research, two approaches will be combined to form the theoretical frame of my dissertation. These two approaches will work together in an attempt to answer the research questions. The first approach is Ivir's (1987) seven procedures to translate cultural items. Although many researchers have proposed different procedures and techniques to translate cultural references, Ivir's procedures have been chosen for their comprehensiveness, clearness, and directness. The other part of this integrated approach is Venuti's (1995/1998) work on domestication (translator's visibility) and foreignsation (translator's invisibility).

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Ivir's procedures to translate cultural items form the lower layer of this integrated approach. They represent the tools used by the translator to reflect his overall strategy towards the text being translated. The overall strategy is the upper layer which is represented by Venuti's domestication or foreignsation. In other words, any translator who is dealing with cultural terms has to make two interrelated decisions. Firstly, he needs to decide whether, depending on some certain considerations such as the reader, the place, and the time, he will domesticate or foreignise his translated text. This is a text-level decision. Secondly, and accordingly, he has to decide which specific procedure to choose to deal with every single cultural term in the text. This is a cultural term-level decision.

In order to realise the mechanism of this approach, let us consider this simple example. If a translator into English decides to adopt domestication as his overall strategy (text-level decision) to translate a text from Arabic, he may convey, for example, صلØØ© Øلمغرب into English by defining it (cultural term-level decision) as: Maghrib Prayer, the fourth daily prayer for Muslims prayed just after the sunset. On the contrary, if he adopts foreignsation as a text-level strategy, he simply translates صلØØ© Øلمغرب as Maghrib Prayer.


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