Volume 15, No. 4 
October 2011

  Morges Selmani


Front Page


Index 1997-2011

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

Fifteen Years of Service
by Gabe Bokor

  Translator Profiles
My Life in Translation
by Rina Ne’eman

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Good Proofreader / Bad Proofreader
by Pham Hoa Hiep, Ed.D.
We are Still of Two Minds about It
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini
The Financial Crisis and Translator's Math
by Fotini Vallianatou

Translators Around the World
The Role of Translation Movements in the Cultural Maintenance of Iran from the Era of Cyrus the Great up to the Constitutional Revolution
by Hossein Bahri

Cultural Aspects of Translation
When American Culture Floats Adrift: A case study of two versions of Brown's "The Da Vinci Code"
by Orges Selmani

Medical Translation
Tradução de palavras compostas de Alemão para português—o caso dos textos médicos
Katrin Herget e Teresa Alegre

  Translators and Computers
Building Blocks
by Jost Zetzsche, Ph.D.

  Translators' Education
To Use or not to Use Translation in Language Teaching
by Mogahed M. Mogahed, Ph.D.

Strategies for the Enhancement of Mandarin Chinese Proficiency: A Case Study of Trainee Interpreters in Taiwan
by Riccardo Moratto

  Book Reviews
An Empirical Study for Translation Studies—A Multifaceted Perspective
Reviewed by Xiangjun Liu, Ph.D.
Textología contrastiva, derecho comparado y traducción jurídica: Las sentencias de divorcio alemanas y españolas
Reseñado por Concepción Mira Rueda
Bridging Worlds Through Language and Translation
Baris Bilgen, Ph.D. Candidate

Isso vai dar merda: implicações do conhecimento do significado de expressões idiomáticas na tradução de uma entrevista do ex-presidente Lula
Ana Karla Pereira de Miranda e Dra Elizabete Aparecida Marques

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Cultural Aspects of Translation

When American Culture Floats Adrift

A case study of two versions of Brown's "The Da Vinci Code"

by Orges Selmani


hen we translate, we communicate. What we communicate is not confined to words and thoughts alone. As translators we have to think in terms of the language and also the culture in which it operates and whose images it reflects. Different theories of translation have come to the conclusion that cultural structures are more problematic than linguistic patterns, especially when considering the translation process as a gap-filler between two distant languages such as English and Albanian.

  1. Theoretical background on cultural implications for translation

    Cultural structures are more problematic than linguistic patterns, especially when considering the translation process as a gap-filler between two distant languages.
    According to Toury "Translation is a kind of activity which inevitably involves at least two languages and two cultural traditions." (Toury 1978,) Therefore, as this statement clearly puts it, one of the most challenging tasks for all translators is how to deal with the culture-bound elements of the source text and to decide on the most appropriate method of rendering them into a target language. Indeed, not much attention has been paid to this problem by translation theories, and different translation theoreticians perceive the notion of culture in two opposing ways according to whether or not pertains language. From Newmark's point of view, culture is seen 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: 94). He further states that, operationally, he does not consider language as a component of culture. Whereas Vermeer stands on quite an opposing stance: "language is part of a culture" (Vermeer 1989).

    Despite the opposing views while treating the notions of culture and language in different translation theories, it is an undeniable fact that they are inseparable. While considering the problems of language and culture, Nida gives equal importance to both linguistic and cultural differences between target language and source language in that "differences between cultures may cause more severe complications for the translator than do differences in language structure" (Nida 1964). Therefore, the translator should be equally concerned about lexical and cultural problems.

    The way people speak, construct their sentences, choose their vocabulary (according to the formal/informal situation they are in, to their geographical origin and so on) reveals much about their culture.

    Should the translation be adapted to the readers' cultural epoch and environment or should it bring the epoch and environment of the source text to the readers?

    When considering Translation Studies (TS) and Intercultural Communication Studies (ICS) as two independent and interdependent disciplines, it is worth mentioning that both share the concepts of culture, language and communication. As such, translation is perceived as the process of mediated communication across cultures, whereas intercultural communication is the natural process of communication. In facilitating communication, one of the most challenging tasks for all translators is how to render culture-bound elements into a foreign language. As culture is reflected in language, language is used in communication, and communication is the concept both disciplines share, there are certain procedures and strategies that might come in handy if one wants to make sense whatsoever of the material in the target language. When it comes to analyzing the source text and the target one, it is a universally acknowledged truth that they function in somewhat different communicative contexts. As Schaeffner points out "... they are received by their respective addresses in different situations, at different places and times, with the addresses belonging to different cultures and speaking different languages."(Schaeffner 2003: 79--107)

    When considering solutions to the cultural obstacles encountered during the translation's process, Newmark proposes two somewhat opposing methods: transference and componential analysis. Transference would maintain the local colors in its preservation of local names and concepts, while componential analysis would ignore the "problematic" cultural issue and would place the emphasis on the message.

    Nida's definitions of formal and dynamic equivalence (see Nida, 1964:129) may also be applied when considering cultural implications of translation. According to Nida, a "gloss translation" mostly typifies formal equivalence where form and content are reproduced as faithfully as possible and the TL reader is able to "understand as much as he can of the customs, manner of thought, and means of expression" of the SL context (Nida, 1964:129). Contrasting with this idea, dynamic equivalence "tries to relate the receptor to modes of behavior relevant within the context of his own culture" without insisting that he "understand the cultural patterns of the source-language context" (idem).

    The world we live in is characterized by globalization. It is felt, fought against, approved, and discussed everywhere. As borders are going down, we are all striving to maintain and preserve our cultural identity. In "The Da Vinci Code," the second book of Dan Brown, but the first to be highly acclaimed, we find pieces of time and space correlated and coordinated in the amazing pattern we call existence. As readers, we go back and forth in time as the story is revealed to us. It is interesting how this book brings together important pieces of this age-old puzzle. As translators, the more we struggle, the more we savor.

    Although Brown's choice of the main character doesn't fall far from his motherland, the US, his book/story unravels a myriad of characters of different nationalities, a multitude of elements from all over the world, which in turn bring their own flavors to the story.

    We embark on our journey through the dark recesses of our world and as Chapter 5 presents us with a detailed description of 243 Lexington Avenue, New York City, USA; throughout the book we are taken in a "joy-riding" experience round and about Paris. Then, we closely follow bishop Aringarosa, as he takes Alitalia flight 1618 and lands at Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport in Rome to reach Castel Gandolfo in chapter 47. Although Spain is a little bit off "the trodden path," still Langdon takes good care in mentioning cultural symbols as in Chapter 6 with the Ku Klux Klan headpiece; and Manuel Aringarosa is identified as a missionary from Spain by his use of Spanish (the third most-spoken language in the world) in the book, along with English and French. Egypt is not be forgotten in the listing of great past civilizations, as the ruins of the ancient temple of the Egyptian goddess Iris, serves as foundation to the iconic Church of Saint-Sulpice; or as in the case of Amon, the Egyptian god of fertility. The same applies to Greece. An ancient civilization, such as the Greek one, cannot be overlooked; therefore the reference to the four-year cycle of the Olympic Games.

    Then the reader find himself exposed to Christian knowledge, Paganism, some Kabbala, and then the Tarots, the Cubist Movement, and the Priory of Sion, the 'koyanisquatsi'--"life out of balance" of the Hopi Native Americans, and the Masaai warriors sleeping habits.

    The story is set mainly in and around Paris, moves to Britain, and as we travel and follow the storyline, as our minds wander through the streets of two European countries, at each step we are "taken back" to the American world. This article will take into consideration how much of this enters and is rendered into two Albanian versions of Da Vinci's Code. The 2003 version is published by DUDAJ Publishing House, which owns the copyright and is translated by Mr. Amik Kasoruho, whereas the second one came one year later, translated by Mr. Perikli Jorgoni from "Bota Shqiptare" Publishing House. (All examples provided by 2003 version will hereafter be presented in bold type, whereas the ones from 2004 version in italic and underlined.) These were of course two major endeavors representing great solutions but also crucial unresolved problems in the translation process of cultural elements.

    The focus of my presentation is Langdon, the main character, who embodies the features of a typical American. His nationality, background, life experience, and lifestyle are all elements that are not just mentioned casually. Brown's choice of character is not to be considered as purely accidental. This fact is obvious to the reader in the original. What happens to the readership in the target language? More specifically, since the book is supposed to communicate, and in fact it does, how much does it communicate culturally speaking? The Americanisms are striking when it comes to Langdon. You sense it from the way he talks, the clothes he wears, the way he relates everything to his Harvard experience, the way he fights and chooses coffee over British tea. To his eyes "the long thoroughfare of Champs-Elyseé" becomes "the Fifth Avenue of Paris"; the disks of marble are measured against the size of a doughnut; the length of the Grand Gallery against that of the Washington Monument, and the DCPJ (Direction Centrale Police Judiciaire) is the rough equivalent of the U.S. FBI.

    Therefore, the problems can be divided into two groups. The first one is related to the cultural words that denote specific elements of American culture, whereas the second includes whole situations that are brought forward set in an American context. The first group can be divided into several subgroups as Newmark's definition of culture enables us to.

  2. Culture-bound problems

    2.1 Cultural Words

    2.1.1 Names of places

    More specifically, in this category we shall include the names of places, the names of magazines and newspapers and units of measurements. When it comes to places, there are usually two strategies proposed, that is, either maintaining the original phonetic structure and then explaining it in parenthesis, or transscribing it according to the Albanian phonetic rules. This is what happens in the versions:


    Murray Hill Place (p.43) Mërrej Hill Plejs (p.30) Murrej Hill Pleis (p.27)  
    Lexington Avenue New York City (p.43) shëtitore "Leksington" në Nju Jork Siti Leksington Avenjy

    Names of urban centers:

    New York City Nju Jork Siti no mention  
    Hollywood Hollivud no mention  
    The US SH.B SH.B  
    Harvard Harvard Harvard  
    Essex County Eseks Kaunti Eseks Kaunti  

    As the examples show, the translators in both cases do not follow a single trend, that is to say, that "Avenue" is translated and then the administrative divisions "County" and "City" are not. The abbreviation "the US" is very frequently used in English, but that is not the case with the Albanian language, which makes use of the whole abbreviation "SH.B.A" which is in turn the functional equivalent of "the U.S.A." While "Hollywood" and "Harvard" do not pose any difficulties in understanding for the Albanian readership, "Henley" surely does:

    ".....In which year did a Harvard sculler last outrow an Oxford man at Henley?" "Në ç'vit një barkë e Harvardit e ka kaluar për here të fundit ekuipazhin e Oksfordit në Henli?" "Në ç'vit një ekuipazh i Oksfordit ka kapërcyer për herë të fundit Henlejn?"

    The first version is the one closer to the original in meaning-- "In which year did a Harvard boat last outrow an Oxford crew on Henley?," whereas the second--"In which year did an Oxford crew last pass Henley?." What is of good use to this presentation is the fact that "Henley," which is the main clue of the question, is left unexplained and the translators are both satisfied by just transferring it. It could have been worth mentioning in a footnote what it stands for, so then the readers can infer the reason Sir Teabing, an avid Englishman, ponders this question upon Prof. Langdon, "the wily American" in his own words.

    In chapter 42, Sophie and Langdon enter the premises of the Depository Bank of Zurich. Langdon shows thousand times that he is so keen on details when he sees metal and rivets everywhere in a place where "... most banks were content with the usual polished marble and granite." He immediately ironically poses himself a question: "Who's their decorator? Allied Steel?"

    To all American readers Allied Steel is definitely the New Jersey-based leading supplier of steel buildings and pre-engineered metal buildings worldwide. To Albanian readers, versions such as: "Uzinat e bashkuara të çelikut"--(United Steel Factories) - and "Shoqëria e Çelikshkrirësve" --(Association of Steel Foundries). Both Albanian versions have given two quite generic and logically wrong equivalents as the translators lexically speaking have replaced a specific term with a general one, and culturally speaking have taken away another American element to the original.

    2.1.2 Measurements

    When considering units of measurement and currency, the choice Brown has made use of is still striking. In spite of the fact that the story is not told in the first person singular, that the story does not take place in the US but in Paris, that the majority of the characters are non-Americans, every time Langdon tries to describe a scene or situation, or compares and measures, his American way starts coming up in the surface. With the vast experience he has in and outside the US, he can be referred to as a citizen of the world, but it is in these situations that his inner "confinements" take on.

    The exact length, if Langdon recalled correctly, was around fifteen hundred feet, the length of three Washington Monuments laid end to end--Gjatësia e saktë, në rast se nuk e gënjente kujtesa, ishte rreth katërqind e pesëdhjetë metra. - ...që mund të lejonte kalimin njëherësh të dy trenave....(p.32)

    Both translators made use of the Albanian way of measuring, as the first one uses the metric system and the second seemingly deliberately chooses not to use the Washington Monument, a Langdon-invented measuring system, but one that would enable the Albanian readers (who may not be familiar with the Washington Monument, let alone its size) to better visualize the hall by comparing the volume to allow for "two trains to freely pass." These are not to be considered translation flaws; on the contrary. They successfully bring the hall close to the imagination of the Albanian readership.

    In Chapter 47, Langdon describes what he sees inside the crypt in this way: "Five doughnut-sized disks of marble that had been stacked and affixed to one another within a delicate brass framework." In the description, it is very easy to detect the American in Langdon as he compares the disks to the snack particularly distinguished for its emblematic image, the doughnut. Both Albanian versions opted for Newmark's componential analysis inasmuch they convert the size of disks in two centimeters in their own way: "Pesë disqe mermeri, të gjera nja dy centimetra...."--"Pesë disqe mermeri, të larta nja dy centimetra..." .

    "Five doughnut-sized disks of marble..." "Pesë disqe mermeri, të gjera nja dy centimetra...." "Pesë disqe mermeri, të larta nja dy centimetra..."

    In Chapter 26, again through Langdon's eyes we are presented with the portrait of Mona Lisa. It goes without saying and it is quite expected at this time that "... Despite her monumental reputation, the Mona Lisa was a mere thirty-one inches by twenty-one inches--smaller even than the posters of her sold in the Louvre gift shop."

    The accurate American measurement was translated as:

    "... Despite her monumental reputation, the Mona Lisa was a mere thirty-one inches by twenty-one inches, smaller even than the posters of her sold in the Louvre gift shop." Edhe pse kishte gjithë atë nam, Mona Lisa ishte një kuadër i thjeshtë pesëdhjetë e pesë me tetëdhjetë centimetra, më i vogël se riprodhimet e tij që shiteshin në dyqanin e kujtimeve të Luvrit.
    "Megjithë famën jashtëzakonisht të madhe, Monna Lisa, ishte një kuadër i thjeshtë 55 me 80 cm, më i vogël sesa posterat që e riprodhonin dhe që ishin në shitje në dyqanet e suvenirëve në brendësi të Luvrit.  

    In both versions, the translators rightfully considered it important to give the equivalent measures in the Albanian context. Therefore 'inches' in both versions become 'centimeters.'


    "... the two-mile stretch of posh storefronts..." "... tre kilometra të mbushur me vitrina" "... tre kilometrat e vitrinave elegante..."


    Chapter 30 reveals to us a closer and more "tactile" look at the Mona Lisa canvas. It is Grouard, the security warden, who upon aiming his gun at Sophie realizes that the canvas she is pushing her knee into is ".... utterly impenetrable--a six-million-dollar piece of body armor." This is one of the rarest examples when despite of Langdon's silence and just witness-kind of behavior, the American way takes prevalence. In both Albanian versions, the dollars are exchanged in Euros applying the exchange rates of that year:

    ".... utterly impenetrable--a six-million-dollar piece of body armor."

    "... krejtësisht e padepërtueshme. Kishte një mbrojtje prej gjashtë milionë eurosh"

    "...por krejtësisht e padepërtueshme. Një koracë 6 milionë eurosh."  

    In Chapter 35, there is another example when "...Sophie took out their newly purchased train tickets and tore them up. Langdon sighed. Seventy dollars well spent." In order to have a larger picture of the scene, it should be mentioned that the train was going to Lille, a city in northern France, definitely using French rails and French tickets purchased with French/European currency. This is another moment when Langdon makes use of his own currency exchange rate converting the sum of money spent on train tickets into American dollars. In the Albanian versions this conversion is very well preserved:

    "Langdon sighed. Seventy dollars well spent." Langdon psherëtiu. "Shtatëdhjetë dollarë të shpenzuara me vend!" Langdon psherëtiu. "Shtatëdhjetë dollarë të shpenzuara mire!"

    In this case, the American way made its way into the Albanian way.

    2.2 Culture-bound situations

    2.2.1 The American way of life

    " - My good man, I daresay you are still on Harvard Standard Time."

    This is how Sir Teabing, describes Langdon in chapter 52. And in fact everything of and in him is American. Maybe the choice of Langdon, the American, as the main character, is merely accidental, but then most of the irony and American-British (Langdon-Teabing) and American-French (Langdon-Fache) war-like situations would fall apart.

    In Chapter 20, we are all presented, through Langdon moving back in time and space, with a "Symbolism in Art" Harvard Class. As an Albanian reader or any other reader, there is little to be observed and go puzzled, but when you go slowly over the details and the scene depicted, it is quite strikingly very American. His (Langdon's) audience is made up among others of:

    • a long-legged math major
    • a young woman bio major
    • a couple of football players

    A university class in Albania can never gather such a variety of students. The Albanian university context is that of a class attended by students coming from mostly the same educational background. That is to say, the Translation class at Master's levels is attended by students coming from the three-year program of the Faculty of Foreign Languages. Nevertheless, both versions depict the same scene showing loyalty to the original, as too little/much localizing would only do harm in such a case. If translators had transferred the whole scene into an Albanian context, Langdon would not have taught Harvard students.

    In Chapter 32, as Sophie and Langdon are in her SmartCar escaping the police, Langdon is somehow taking us to see the sights in Paris. This is the way he describes Champs-Elysées, although it is Sophie, whose : "... eyes remained fixed ahead down the long thoroughfare of Champs-Elysées, the two-mile stretch of posh storefronts that was often called the Fifth Avenue of Paris." In this sentence, there is a clear combination of French and American nuances, but the reader should first be familiar with what the Fifth Avenue in New York represents in order to make his/her own associations.

    "... the Fifth Avenue of Paris" "Rruga e Pestë e Parisit"
      "Rruga e Pestë e Parisit"

    Both Albanian versions provide the readers with a word-for-word translated version of the original and the association gets lost along the way.

    In Chapter 16, we observe as "Langdon looked perplexed.... was interested in the topic and thought it would be fun to meet for drinks after the talk." This is a typical American way of dealing with business or important matters over coffee, drinks or lunch. This element is overlooked by the translators in both versions, as there is no mentioning of this fact while they simply put it as "talking after the conference":

    quot;Langdon looked perplexed.... He was interested in the topic and thought it would be fun to meet for drinks after the talk." Langdoni s'dinte të thoshte asgjë... mund t'i interesonte tema dhe donte të shkëmbente me mua ndonjë mendim mbas konferencës. (p.107) pas konferencës. (p.70)
      Langdoni ishte sinqerisht i lëkundur ... do t'i interesonte argumenti dhe se donte të shkëmbente ndonjë koment pas konferencës. (p.70)  

    There is definitely a single accessory which constantly accompanies Langdon in his exploring journey. It is his wristwatch, a vintage, collector's--edition of Mickey Mouse. Throughout the book, he keeps pulling back the sleeve and checking the watch. Mickey Mouse, the famous Walt Disney cartoon, is translated either as Miush (p.188, p.328, p.431) or as Topolino (p. 125, p.219, p.287), thus making the cultural element denoting a cultural background obsolete.

    As Langdon drives away from a bleeding Vernet in chapter 51, there is the dangling front bumper of the armored truck that grates against the road spraying sparks everywhere. How could Langdon but not call it (the bumper) a "Fourth of July sparkler"? In Albanian we have: "rrota me fishekzjarre në festën e 4 korrikut"--"yll rrotullues i 4 korrikut." Both versions have preserved the cultural element by implanting it into the Target Text taking it for granted that the Target Readership knows what "4th of July" stands for. In this case, translators preserved the American nuance, but in this case it makes sense only to them and to a carefully observant connoisseur of American culture.

    In chapter 6, as Langdon is looking at the body of the dead man, the curator, on the floor, he makes this observation: "His arms and legs were sprawled outward in a wide spread eagle, like those of a child making a snow angel." The "snow angel" is an American children's game and such a description could only come out of an American. This game is quite unknown to the Albanian readers. Therefore the translators opted for something more concrete and familiar for them--("...with spread-out arms and legs, as if on water, playing the dead") :

    "His arms and legs were sprawled outward in a wide spread eagle, like those of a child making a snow angel."/TD> "Krahët i ishte nderë dhe këmbët i kishte hapur sikur të pluskonte në det, duke ndenjur në qëndrimin "si i vdekur"

    sikur të lundronte në ujin e detit duke bërë të vdekurin.


    "Telling someone what a symbol "means" is like telling them how a song should make them feel--it is different for each person. A white Ku Klux Klan headpiece conjures up images of hatred and racism in the US, and yet the same costume carries a meaning of religious faith in Spain." (Brown 2003: 32)

    In the Albanian context, the cultural elements are seen as an unspoken language. They get lost in translation, as they do not speak to us, the audience. And if they do not speak, they do not communicate the message they intend to. As the versions highlighted in the different examples, the Americanisms for one reason or the other, get lost, go adrift, do nothing but come either transformed into Albanian-based elements or even when preserved in their original form, this is not done for stylistic purposes.

    Observing cultures and getting to know them is only half of the job for the translators. As culture is reflected in language, language is used in communication, and communication is the concept both disciplines share, there are certain procedures and strategies that might come in handy if one wants to make a sense whatsoever of the material in the target language. There is a dire need to do so especially when considering the fact that the writer of the source text may have purposefully added local colors to it. As we (as translators) ponder in the limbo between the source and the target text, the target readership has the right to be exposed to cultural diversity, something that translation should seek to render.


    1. Brown, D. 2003. "Da Vinci's Code." Anch Books, A division of Random House, Inc, New York.
    2. Brown, D. 2003 "Kodi i Da Vinçit." Dudaj Publishing House.
    3. Brown, D. 2004 "Kodi Da Vinçi." "Bota Shqiptare" Publishing House.
    4. Goodenough, Ward H. 1964. "Cultural Anthropology in Linguistics" in D. Hymes ed. Language in Culture and Society. A Reader in Linguistics and Anthropology, Harper & Row: New York.
    5. Newmark, Peter.1988. About Translation. Multilingual Matters: Clevedon, 1991. Approaches to Translation. Pergamon Press; Oxford. A Textbook of Translation. 1981. Pergamon Press: Oxford. Paragraph on Translation. 1993. Multilingual Matters; Clevedon.
    6. Nida, E. 1964. "Principles of Correspondence." In Venuti, L. The Translation Studies Reader. London: Routledge.
    7. Nida, Eugene, and Taber, Charles. 1982. The Theory and Practice of Translation. E.J. Brill: Leiden.
    8. The American Heritage Dictionary. Houghton & Mifflin
    9. Toury, G. 1978, revised 1995. "The Nature and Role of Norms in Translation" In Venuti, L. The Translation Studies Reader. London: Routledge.
    10. Schaeffner, C. 2003, "Translation and Intercultural Communication: Similarities and Differences," Studies in Communication Sciences, p.79--107.
    11. Vermeer, H. 1989. "Skopos and Commission in Translational Activity." In Venuti, L. The Translation Studies Reader. Lo