Language and culture in community translation: An exploratory validation study of health information pamphlets

Sin, Kim Fun
Holt, Ron
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Master of Arts in Applied Language Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

The present study evolved from the threefold context of: the rising importance of the relatively neglected area of ‘community translation’; the vital importance of healthcare information for immigrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds; and the salience of the Chinese-speaking community (in the generic sense) within the Auckland demographic context. The study focuses specifically on the accuracy and appropriateness of a sample of thirteen healthcare information pamphlets translated from English into Chinese. Generally, no significant deviations were found in the corpus register comparison, although adjustments in grammatical aspects were evident. About two-fifths of the modal auxiliaries used in the English texts were omitted in the translated Chinese versions, effecting a more certain tone and a more authoritative tenor. 50 per cent of English passive structures of the English original pamphlets were translated into active structures and 29 per cent were replaced with ‘syntactically active yet semantically passive’ constructions in Chinese. Within the domain of semantic deviations, although most of the information was conveyed into Chinese by most of the translators, some meanings and messages of the original pamphlets were changed in individual translations. Cultural differences seemed to be a major consideration in this regard. However, there were also semantic changes which seemed to have no logical explanations. For comparative purposes, a follow-up, brief study of six pamphlets originally written in Chinese and collected in Hong Kong was also undertaken. It aimed to see if there was any difference between the same text-type in different languages and cultures and to what extent the translated Chinese pamphlets were influenced by Chinese text-type conventions. Findings revealed that the tone and style of the Chinese translated versions followed their English original texts closely. Nevertheless, the translations tended to be more formal and impersonal, which seemed to be influenced by the Chinese conventions. It is to be hoped that this study may improve our understanding of the nature of health information received by members of the Chinese community in Auckland. Furthermore, results are intended to provide useful feedback to the pamphlets’ sources or commissioners in respect of their general adequacy. Finally, they are also thought to be of general theoretical interest to practitioners of community translation.

Translating and interpreting -- Health , Language and culture
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