The Role of the Register Analysis for Achieving Sociocultural Equivalence in the Arabic Translation of Charles Dickens's "Oliver Twist" : A Case Study | July 2016 | Translation Journal

July 2016 Issue

Read, Comment and Enjoy!

Join Translation Journal

To receive regular updates,
fill in your details below.
You will also receive a PDF listing
8 Ways to Ignite your Translation Career.
Join now. 

The Role of the Register Analysis for Achieving Sociocultural Equivalence in the Arabic Translation of Charles Dickens's "Oliver Twist" : A Case Study


According to the systemic functional linguistic approach, sociocultural context leads to different meanings that a text can convey. Therefore, meaning is a very important part that should be transferred from the source text to the target text. Since no identical context exists between ST and TT, different translation strategies should be made. This paper analytically and critically investigates the importance of sociocultural context translation and it takes register analysis as a model that leads to achieve an equivalent translation. In addition, it examines how register analysis could be a sufficient way to reconstruct or modify the sociocultual aspect of SL and TL. This study investigates the register analysis that come into play in the translation of Charles Dickens's famous novels, OliverTwist. the novel was written in 1839, and it has been translated to more than ten languages.


One of the characteristics of a text is that every text utilizes different genres, therefore, it utilizes different characteristic discourses and a particular text type. But we may wonder. As Bell did (1991:202), "how is it given that each text is unique, that some texts are treated as the save?"

Discourse analysis came to permanence translation studies in 1990s. In this respect, many attempts have been made to set up a typology of texts for translating. However, while text analysis focuses on describing on the way in which texts are organized (sentence structuring, cohesion, etc), discourse analysis looks at the way language communicates meaning with sociocultural relations (Mundy,2003). Thus, the genres of text type that used for a specific communicative function, for example: a military context is conditioned by the sociocultural constrained and itself determines other elements in the systemic framework. Since translation is defined as the replacement of a text from the source language by equivalent at semantic and pragmatic level into the target language. The equivalent may also be taken as the essential base for translation quality (Zenner,1971. cited on House 1977). Therefore, an adequate translation is equivalent at pragmatic and semantic level (House, 1977). Halliday (1970) distinguishes three metafunctions : the ideational, the interpersonal, and the textual function of language. The first of the register which comprises the above different elements: field, what is being written about, e.g. medical, historical, literary. Tenor: who is the addresser and to the public. Mode is the form of communication, e.g. spoken, written and acting. Each register is related to a specific meaning. This specific meanings, which together form the discourse semantics of a text. According to Halliday (1970), these metafunations are realized by the lexicogrammar, i.e. the choice of words and syntactical structure. Sociocultural relationships are often determine the style that adapted between speakers in discourse, for instance , between the translator and TL's reader in the case of translation( Megrab, 2003). "Different languages develop different fields of discourse in different ways" (Hatim and Mason, 1990:48), for example, the Arabic field of law is based on a certain sociocultural constrains related to ALsharia (Islamic legislations), is different from English field whish, sometimes, based on Christianity. Tenor, on the other hand, can be expressed through the interpersonal metafunction that introduces the process of social interaction, especially the relationship between the reader/hearer or the speaker/writer. There are four interpersonal contexts of tenor can be distinguished : politeness, formality, impersonality and accessibility. Formality can be marked syntactically. The translator should modify text in order to be more formal. Care should be taken not to overuse in less formal text.


May I see you today? ھل بأمكانى رؤیتك الیوم؟ This will reflect the sociocultural relations between the speaker and hearer. On the other hand, politeness has many ways to express in Arabic e.g. 'you' can be translated in different ways into Arabic حضرت or سیادتك .، Both English and Arabic highly use impersonality, on the other hand, the reader or writer's presence is made explicitly in the text or whether the first or the second person is used. The fourth level is the tenor marked in accessibility. All languages make use of inferences, a fact which may be used as common bases for translation. However, languages differ in the use they make of these inferences. The problems for the translator is how to transfer texts implicitly or explicitly into another language that may use different linguistic and nonlinguistic devices to convey the same meaning. These registers: field, tenor and mode are interdependent. Hatim (1997) argues that tenor perhaps, the more determining factor of translator/receiver, relationship, overlaps with both field resulting in formality and technicality. On the other facet, tenor overlaps with mode giving rise to functional tenor(Megrab 2003). Also mode is marked by textual metafunctions which make the text coherent. This textual metafunction affect the textual coherence of a text as well. It relates both the organization interpersonal and the ideational text. The mode of discourse, however, is concerned with the role language plays in interactive process (Halliday 1978), for example: 're' is appropriate in a business letter but is rarely, if ever, used in spoken English (Baker 1992). Likewise, 'Atahlil' an Arabic acronym stands for Islamic' Thiker 'recitation' ,'La ellah Ela Allah' "no God but Allah". Munday (2003) argues that mode must be seen as functioning together not only through the contextual parameters: field, mode and tenor, but also with different textual and structural mechanisms. In this mode, the register analysis is an attempt to explicate how linguistic structures function to create a text that is coherent and cohesive with its context. The content structure of a text can be analyzed according to text's linguistic patterns, focusing on its textual metafunction. Beaugrande and Dressler (1981) recognize the importance of coherence and cohesion as it establishes continuity relationship that corresponds to cognitive process. Bell (1991) notes, though not the same, share the common features of building the text together by creating sequences of meaning. Cohesion serves to connect the surface components of text while coherence requires the sequencing of concepts and relations of the textual word (ibid). It should be noted, however, that cohesion and coherence are not always manifested in the same way cross-linguistically and analytically, the translator should be well aware of this fact (Megrab 2003), for instance, cohesion is usually language specific; thus, the translator should examine the equivalence of connectivity in the TT. Coherence relations such as the cause/effect relations, should remain, whenever possible, constant in translation from ST to TT because of the shift of emphasis or meaning their alteration may cause (ibid). Different languages use different cohesive devices e.g. thematic structure, conjunctions and syntactical structure. The translator, therefore, must make some adjustments from the ST to the TT. Also the translator should take into account the rhetorical purpose and control interpretation of a text. Without adjustment, changes may affect either the ST or TT. For the stylistic purpose in the Arabic language, for example, repetition is used. Take , for instance, the following example: اللھم فاشھد أنى قد بلغت، اللھم فاشھد أنى قد بلغت ، اللھم فاشھد أنى قد بلغت (As Allah is my witness, I have conveyed the message)

The repetition in Arabic texts is an important device for emphasis the message. In its counterpart the TL, became unnatural text because repetition is avoided in English (Megrab, 1998). House (1997) suggests comparison between texts by analyzing the three registers: field, tenor and mode in terms of lexical, syntactical, and textual mismatches. As cultural errors, they refer to the failure to represent the embedded culture meaning of the ST into the TT. Difficulty in translating the cultural embedding often increases when the text is of what she (1977:188) calls the covert type. She distinguishes between covert and overt translation. In addition, she qualitative judgment of a translation. House's model also includes a statement of correlating of the ideational and interpersonal components of the textual function. She follows Halliday' model of register analysis. House suggests that in order to be equivalent to the ST, the TT should have function (including of an ideation and an interpersonal functional components that equivalent to the TT. Consequently, the TT should employ equivalent pragmatic means for achieving that function(House, 1977). In the term of text's purpose, Reiss( cited on Munday, 2003) identifies functional characteristics of text type and links to translation method. In formal texts, the translator should transfer all referential content of the ST, for instance, a hostess to passengers. In expressive texts which should convey the aesthetic and artistic form of the ST mode as the TT, for instance, the translator must allow the author' rhyme and flattery speech as in a prose and plays. The TT should includes an equivalent effect as on the first language readers. According to the Skopos theory, translation is determined by its purpose, in terms of strategies and methods that could be chosen to produce adequate function.

In certain cases, the intended meaning that a translator must transfer to the TT is subjected to socioculture variations, i.e. a translation may be faithful in translating the denotative meaning, but failing to transfer the collocative and connotative extracts of the ST to TT. The notion of equivalence is not confined to linguistic and semantic level, but it is also pragmatics. Pragmatics is the study of the relationship between language and its context of utterance. Therefore, the translator should be aware of intensions of the SL, and the translator must be in a position to identify the effect of the translation on the TL(Hatim and Mason 1990). Translator makes linguistic choices that are subjected by the pragmatic action of discourse, for instance: when tackling politeness, the translator must take into account any differences that can exist socioculturally in translating concepts like 'requesting' or ordering (Yule, 1996). In English, for example, the usage of imperative to request something in a shop may be views as unnatural translation for the TL readers if the translator ignores the socioculture dimension.

Translation the meaning from one society to another involves a sociocultural dimension which manages our understanding of the way culture acts in terms of communicative, pragmatics and semiotic dimensions are interdependent (ibid). translation is not a mere transferring information from one language to another, but also from culture to another. The semiotic dimension is related to culture context. Culture is a complete collection of experiences which govern daily the communicative ; it includes sociocultural customs, traditions, religions and beliefs. Culture context involves the fact that there are words related to the way of thinking and behaving within a particular language community, and words which may be cultural such as 'kuffiah' an Arabic head-dress, or universal such as 'coffee' or 'tea' denoting a specific material culture subject (Newmark, 1995). According to House (1977) cultural filter needs to be applied by the translator; modifying cultural elements in order to give the impression that the TT is original. This includes changes at different levels of language and register. Therefore, the translator should be able to stimulate the different societies. An equivalent translation should concern mainly with sociocultural considerations. The sociocultural context includes beliefs, values system, religions, conventions that control individuals' behavior and their relationships with others. Awareness of both languages will guide the translator to transmit an equivalent and effective translation. Some beliefs or conventions may be considered as universal, while some culture-specific, especially those that guide utterances, non-verbal communications and other form of social behavior may be interpreted meaningfully, for example: (1a) thank heaven upon knee, dear lady, cried the girl. (OliverTwist, p:289) ثم صاحت الفتاة" اشكري السماء وأنت على ركبتیك . (الولیفرتویس ص289( The notion of God (Allah) in English is totally different from Arabic or Muslim in general. Some people worship sun, moon, cow or trinity, therefore, because translation involves communicating ideas and concepts adequately and accurately and it is not just simply word for translation. The name of god in every language must correctly describe his character so as not to upset religious sensitivity.

Knowledge of sociocultural rule of behavior bring up ideas for the translator to transfer in suitable and appropriate context. (2) Jacob's inland stands in the Theme, near one of the poorest and dirtiest quarter of London (oliver Twist, p:385) تقع جزیرة یعقوب في التایمز، بالقرب من إحدى أفقر ضواحي لندن وأكثرھا قذارة (الولیفر توست،ص:385( There is no explicit cohesive relation in the above Arabic extract which tells us whether 'Thame' is river of a suburb, except ,perhaps, the use of definite article in 'أل .' there is no pronominal reference or direct repetition. The continuity of sense between the two extracts are, of course, perfectly accessible to any British reader as well as to anyone is familiar with famous suburb or river. In translating sentence like this, one cannot take it for granted that the target reader will have the necessary background knowledge to interpret it. The concept of equivalence is still controversial issue in which scholars disagree on its validity. Nida (1964) differentiates between formal and dynamic equivalence where the former focuses on the message and content, the latter focuses on receptor's linguistic need and culture. However, Newmark rejects Nida's view about equivalent where he views it as unrealistic. The translator should motivate a deviant configuration at any language level (e.g. phonological, lexical syntactical and textual), otherwise it may block a participant's access to the conversational meaning of the word and structure used and affect the coherence of a text. For example: (3) 'there" replied the man, glaring at the opposite wall. The shadow! I saw the shadow of a woman in a cloak and bonnet, pass along the wall like a breath ( Oliver Twist ,p.217)

رد الرجل وھو یحدق بغضب إلى الحائط المقابل. ھناك!الظل! لقد رأیت ظل أمراءه، ترتدي عباءة وقبعة، تمر بسرعة عبر الحائط (اولیفر تویست،ص. 218( Any disturbance to the form of the organizational pattern of a language must, therefore, be motivated, otherwise the reader will not be able to make sense of it. Collocation such as 'like breath' appears in Arabic translation as coherent and not deviant. The same thing happen here, the gap between what is said and what is meant in English text is wider than Arabic text, the adverbial phrase in Arabic بمفردك لست make the reference more explicit as: (4) 'not me' my dear, nor unprotected either, said Mr Bumble, in voice trembling with fear, I am here, my dear. (Oliver Twist p,261) قال الید بامبل بصوت یرجف خوفا" لست بمفردك یاعزیزى" (الیفر تویست ص،261( Grice (1975) argues that the meaning of metaphors has to be tackled regardless of the linguistic surface of the metaphorical utterance. He (ibid) views metaphor via violation the maxim of quality. Consider the following metaphorical utterance:

(5) ' as weak as water' replied Mr. Sikes. Here lend me hand help me to get off his bed (Oliver Twist, p.273) رد السید سایكس" واھن كلماء" ھنا! اعطني یدك وساعدنى على النھوض من ھذا السریر (اولیفر تویست ص274( (5) you are fool. Said Mr. Bamble in reply, nad had better hold your tongue. (Oliver Twist, p.261) قال السیدخ بامبل مجیبة، انت احمق، ومن الافضل ان تمسك بالسانك (اولیفر تویست،صز 260( At the literal level, utterance (5) seems odd since it contradicts our background information and sociocultural context. The above rendering account for the metaphorical meaning of the source utterances. Since it deals with a literal work where of the metaphor is usually creatively used, translation should reserve the metaphorical image which is found in the source sentence, thus a more appropriate rendering of the above utterance could be as Arabic metaphor لسانك علیك امسك this rendering is to some degree acceptable provided that the metaphor above is meant to be decorative rather than creative. Thus, it should be kept in translation to reflect its particular quality and maintain the same effect on the TL reader. In translation, culture presupposition is the culture knowledge of the source text that a target reader assumed to have by the translator. E.g. (6) it chanced one Moring that Mr. Gmafildl, a chimney sweeper, went his way down the high street, deeply thinking of how to pay certain rents he owed to his landlord (Oliver Twist,p. 21) حدث ذات یوم أن السید غامفیلد، منظف المداخن كان یسلك طریق عبر الھاى سترىت، وھو یفكر بعمق فى كیفیة دفع بعض الإیجارات التى یدین بھا للمالك (اولیفر تویست،ص.20( In the above sentence, the writer presupposes the knowledge that High Street in this context refers to famous street in the city. But this would not make any sense for Arabic readers. Consequently, the translator must add some information for this nominal phrase like شارع , or translate the word instead of transliterate it. The source language words may express a concept which is unknown, or or known in the target culture but simply not lexicalized that is not allocated a target language word to express. Here another example which the source language world has nonequivalent in the TL culture, and they may make deviant for the reader of the TL. (7) and the place, the miserable room where wretched woman give birth to children for the parish. (Oliver Twist,p. 251) والمكان كان الغرفھ التعیسھ حیث تلد النساء التعیسات الاطفال للابرشیھ (اولیفر تویست،ص.250( The word parish a little equivalence, since the parish is unknown for most muslim Arabic reader.


This paper has set out to pinpoint the register analysis for achieving an equivalent sociocultural translation in the Arabic translation of Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. It has been shown that some problems arise as a result of sociocultural factors neglected by the translator. Since the characters in the novel behave like ordinary human beings regarding the use of sociocultural context, and types of inferences. The translator looses a very crucial source of meaning that he should take into account. Furthermore, some translational problems are related to interpersonal, and linguistic context. This paper does not tackle all problems in translation of the novel under study. Other possible areas of that can be studied for translation includes the institutional, interpersonal and situational context. About the Author Ashraf Saleh Hamed, MA in translation( Academy of Postgraduate Studies, BenghaziLibya), has been teaching translation at Tobruk University-Libya since 2012. Address: Dept of English, fuclty of Arts, tobruk-libya. Email: Phone number: 00218925497286


Baker, M (1992) In Other Word, A Course Book on Translation. London and New york: Routeledge.

Beagugrande, de R. and Dresseler, W (1981) Introduction to Text Linguistic, London: Routeledge.

Bell, R.T(1991) Translation and Translating: theory and practice, London: Longman.

Dickens, C (1837) Oliver Twist, translated by Dar Alhilah, Beirut: Dar Alhilal.

Grice, H ,P (1975) Logic and Conversation, morgan, syntax and semantics. London: Longman.

Halliday, M and Hassan, R(1976) Cohesion in English. London: Longman.

Hatim, B and Mason, I (1990) Discourse and Translator, London: Longman.

Hatim, B (1997) Communication Across Cultures, Translation Theory and Contrastive Text Linguistic. Devon : University of Exeter Press.

House, J (1997) Translation Quality Assessment, Germany: Gunts Narr Verlag Tabingen.

____________ (1977) A Model for Translation Quality Assessment, Germany: Gunts Narr Verlag Tabingen.

Leech, E. A (1982) Pragmatics, Cambridge, University Press. Megrab, R.( 2003) Translation Methodology, Course book, Benghazi: University of Garuinis.

____________(1997) Standard of Textuality and the Translation of Hadith, in simms, K (ed), translating sensitive Text: Linguistic Aspects, Amesterdam: Rodopi.

Mundya, J (2001) Introducing Translation studies: Theories and Application. London: Routeledge.

_____________ (2003) Introducing Translation studies: Theories and Application. London: Routeledge.

_____________ (2007) Introducing Translation studies: Theories and Application. London: Routeledge.

______________ (2007) Introducing Translation studies: Theories and Application. London: Routeledge.

Newmark, P (1995) A Text Book of Translation, Hemol Hempotead: Prentice Hall.

______________(1981) Approach to Translation, Oxford, Pragan: Press Ltd. Nida, E, A (1964) Toward A Science of Translating, Leiden: EJ. Brill.

Yule, B (1996) Pragmatics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Log in

Log in