Medical Translation: A Linguistic Form Slavery or Cultural Labyrinth?

John Paul Warambo, Erick Omondi Odero


The objective of this paper was to establish the applicability of Communicative and Semantic Approaches to finding cultural equivalences in translation of texts in the medical field. There are a number of contending approaches around the practice of translation. Translation of medical documents from English to Kiswahili face many challenges. The translatability of a text is dependent on a number of issues including linguistic and cultural features. Even though we recognize that there has been a shift over the years from a philological approach to a more pragmatic approach in translation, we do appreciate that a well translated text is the one that reflects as much as possible the Source Text (ST henceforth). There are several approaches to translation. In trying to understand whether translation is linguistic form slavery where a translator enslaves him/herself to the target text (TT henceforth) or a cultural labyrinth where a translator finds him/herself in cultural confusion, this study employed a translation approach proposed by Newmark (1981). We used secondary data which includes translation excerpts from content translated by ‘Translators Without Borders’ (TWB) which is an organization whose primary mandate is to translate medical texts from English to Standard Kiswahili. The analyzed data indicate that the communicative and the semantic approaches are not stand alone, but rather, are complimentary approaches in finding cultural equivalents in the translation of medical texts. Medical translations were viewed to violate off record and indirect strategies of keeping politeness in the text. This study was particularly important in trying find out the extent to which a translator can deviate from linguistic form while keeping cultural appropriateness. The study recommends a complementary usage of both the communicative and semantic approaches in medical translation. Moreover, the study further recommends that translators handling medical texts should not be enslaved to the linguistic forms of the ST since their audience is different from that of the ST. We opine that future research in the area of translation should focus on the aspect of politeness as a communicative aspect in many cultures and how it can be an impediment in the process of translation itself.

Keywords: Translation, Source text (ST) and source language (SL), Target text (TT) and target language (TL), Communicative and Semantic Translation (CST), standard Kiswahili (Formal Kiswahili used in schools and official contexts in East Africa), Kiswahili is a bantu language and is the lingua franca used in East and Central Africa. Back translation and blind back translation.

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ISSN (Paper)2224-5766 ISSN (Online)2225-0484

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