Каталог статей из сборников научных конференций и научных журналов- The pre-translation analysis of the text: extracting the non-verbalized cultural information

VII международная научно-практическая конференция
Иностранный язык в системе среднего и высшего образования

The pre-translation analysis of the text: extracting the non-verbalized cultural information

L. A. Novoseltseva  Candidate of Philological Sciences, assistant professor,

Institute of Philology, Yelets State University named after I. A. Bunin,

Yelets, Russia


In the second half of the XX century the science of Translation studies was successfully developed in the works of scholars from many countries. A lot of those theories were based on the universal principles of translation and found their enthusiastic supporters, who tried to give them further development, corrected and specified in some ways. These concepts prove their significance in the process of translation and are supposed to be taken into consideration: the Skopos theory (H. Vermeer and K. Reiss), the theory of Instrumental approach (C. Nord), the method of keeping the Dynamic equivalence (E. Nida), the tactics of searching a Balance between forenization and domestication (L. Venuti), the scheme of Hierarchical strategy: Methods → Tactics →Rules ↔ Plans (W. Lorscher) and a lot of others.


None of those scholars repudiated an important role of the pre-translation analysis of the text which we are going to dwell on in this article. To be more exact, it will be one of the main aspects of the problem raised here – the culturological filtration of the discourse information in the process of pre-translation analysis (further PTA). It is connected with the task of the translator to introduce new cultural information to the reader and his attempt to keep its original form and contents. Everyone knows that a wish to render all the peculiarities of the original in the translation could sometimes lead to opposite results, but not to seek for it would be at least strange. 

We are planning to consider the PTA of the English belles-lettres discourse as a pattern for those who are trying to master this skill for their future profession. A short story by R. Kipling is to serve a good material for this task aimed at demonstrating the ways of getting various details of country-studies and cultural particulars from the text.

The information of the discourse is traditionally split into contextual, situational and encyclopedic. These data are of various importance and they represent such kinds of messages as key, additional, specifying, repeating or even zero information. It is a two-staged work that starts by collecting the outer information about the text and its author and could be based on one of the traditional schemes, for example that of I. S. Alexeeva [1] complemented by our own points. It envisages two stages – the outer and the inner PTA, and we are not going to stay for long on the former one as it is quite a traditional piece of fiction typical for its genre. The main points of it are marked below in italics.

A short story “Lispeth” by R. Kipling [2], the English author (1865-1936), was first published in the “Civil and Military Gazette” in 1886. The language of the story could be defined as dramatic or emotive prose. А recipient is supposed to be the English mass-reader. The information of the discourse bears some cognitive, emotional and aesthetic character. The coefficient of its density is rather high as the author gives a lot of factual information about the life in India – an outland British colony, its history, geography and the way its people live. Despite the abundance of information in the text the conventionality of the discourse language is nearing the absolute index.

While reading this piece of emotive prose for the first time we can get a lot of factual information that lies on the surface. As its primary recipients we are trying to extract as profound data from the discourse it is possible. At this stage of PTA it is important not to miss any essential elements of meaning of objects, phenomena or actions that could bear some significant cultural information. So each of these elements of the discourse should be scrupulously found, marked, studied and given explanation or commentaries. They might be historical monuments, facts or dates, proper names and toponyms, English units of measure, tokens and events of social, political and cultural life of the country.  

It is not difficult to comprehend the title of the story as R. Kipling explains its meaning at the end of the first paragraph of the text. There is also an epigraph between them but it is better to postpone its immediate interpretation, as epigraphs usually bear some special functional load of carrying the general message of the story. The initial acquaintance with the plot gives us an opportunity to arrange the information of the discourse in topical hubs – some of them will demand special studies to get the appropriate non-verbalized contextual information. We have made seven topical units based on the text.

1. Though there is not any exact indexation of the time of action the author gives us two allusions, correlated to the chronological period described in the story: “This was after the reign of the Moravian missionaries”…  [and a later mentioning]… “in those days, when the P. & O. fleet was young and small”. Searching for these data we can find out that it is somewhere around the end of the 1820s. If we dig a little deeper we shall discover a lot of information about the missionary activity of the Anglican Church on the territory of present Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, not missing out of our mind the fact that the latter used to be a British colony for about two centuries (1757–1947).

2. The next step is connected with the defining of the place of action. It becomes clear from the first paragraph of the story as the author gives us the name of the area where that little drama is unfolding – the Sutlej Valley on the Kotgarth side near Dehra Dun. Very few European people could know that place or show it on the map, though later, in the years of World War I, there was a British military camp for war prisoners (P.O.W. Camp).

There are a lot of toponyms in the text: Simla,  Narkunda, the Himalayas, Assam, etc., each bearing the additional information to the plot. Some of them are the names of Indian States, and the town of Simla is a capital of one of the northern states that used to be a summer residence of the British government of India in 1864. The town is about 50 miles (55 miles, in fact) from Kotgarth, where the action takes place. The distance between the city and the settlement could be covered only over bad ground by those inquisitive travellers or inhabitants of Simla who were eager to have a look at the exquisite beauty of Lispeth, as the rumor about the “Mistress of Northern Hills” even reached Simla.

3. Some special kind of information is carried by foreign words and local dialecticisms, smaller local toponyms in indigenous languages: Lispeth, pahari, memsahib, coolies, Bagi Road, Khud, Narkunda, Muttiani path. First of all it is necessary to learn what the word “pahari’ means. Pahari (Pahar – ‘ hill’ in the local dialect) is referred to one of the Himalayan regions on the borderline between India, Nepal and Pakistan where the Paharis live. The Pahari languages (or the Himalayan Languages) are based on Persio-Arabic scripts and they belong to a group of Indo-Aryan languages spoken in the parts of the above mentioned countries. The word coolie is used as a term implying an indentured laborer from  Asia or China. Indian people use the word sahib, (/sɑːb/  or /'sɑːɪb/) addressing a senior by his status person, and a corrupted English word ma’am is added to this Hindi root to make it of the feminine gender – memsahib /`memsɑːb/  – that was how the locals defined the status of Lispeth.

4. The objects and the phenomena reflecting local nature: mountains, cliffs,  butterflies, maize, poppy, fern, bears, failure of crops. From this list of words we can make the conclusion what kind of flora and fauna, the conditions of labor and everyday life the paharis used to have.

5. The particulars of family and private life of the paharis, their customs, traditions and beliefs, manners and habits of life: heathen, savage, Tarka Devi/Tara (Devi) goddess, barbarous; ’verted to her mother’s gods; (ironic) uncivilized Eastern instincts of falling in love at first sight. A lot of inclusive information is easily derived from the plot of the text by way of simple observation. The paharis are the people whose labor is mainly concentrated on farming and wood-cutting, they are plantig maize and poppy. Growing the latter, as we know is connected with collecting the poppy-seeds, which serve the raw for making opium. This theme does not find any further development in the story and we cannot suppose if that kind of the paharis’ activity bore any criminal character.

We got to know that they lived in a mountainous region with bad non-paved roads. Sometimes epidemics came to the region and killed a lot of people. The beliefs of the Paharis were connected with the gods of Hinduism. One of them, the godess Tarka (Tara) Devi is mentioned by Lispeth.

The farmers had good and bad seasons for their harvest and when they faced the problem of famine they had to become Christians to get some assistance from the Mission. It was a forced step of dismay and very often they later reconverted to their mothers’ gods especially so with the girls as they become mature.

Sometimes the orphans of the locals were taken care of by the Mission, that was the case of the main character of the story. Lispeth was extremely robust and strong, and when she was seventeen she could make very long walks from twenty to thirty miles in the mountains and carry heavy loads. The girl was making her way “about and about” which means that she was going up a serpentine mountain path leading to Narkunda. Being open-hearted by nature like all her congeners, she took no trouble to hide her feelings. The skin of pahari people was rather dark, they were not tall. So the ivory color of Lispeth’s face was rather striking for her compatriots as well as her extreme stature. Being brought up in this mountainous region those people had no idea of space distance, steamboats or the nature of the sea. The girl believed every word of her English mentors as she thought them to be closer to gods. Lispeth was given the nickname of the ‘Mistress of the Northern Hills’ by her own people.

The Paharis hated those of the countryman who copied the manners and the way of life of the English. A few of them could speak a corrupted type of English. Some literate and attractive local women could get a “genteel” job in Simla. Pahari women did not wash every day and they wore a national dress. There is a hint that those people sometimes drank alcohol did not take much care of their hygiene or of washing their clothes: Lispeth came to the Mission in an “infamously dirty” dress.  The women used to wear the nose and ear rings, their hair was braided into long pig-tails, helped out with black thread. Pahari husbands used to beat their wives.  

6. British (and European) culture, habits of life, moral notions, beliefs, manners, units of measure: Greek face; Roman Diana; Sunday school; P. & O; 5 foot 10; 50 miles. We should find out how tall Lispeth was in terms of meters and centimeters – it is about 178 cm. The distance of 50 miles between Simla and Kotgarth turns out to be about 80 km.

The girl’s beauty was referred to as a Greek type, so it would be appropriate to describe the most characteristic features of the Greek face and explain what kind of goddess the Roman Diana (mentioned in the text) is. In my teaching experience I have once heard the translation of ‘the original Diana of the Romans going out to slay’ as ‘настоящая римская Диана вышедшая убивать’ because the student did not know she was a goddess of hunting, flora and fauna, feminity and fertility. Such translation mistakes are of misinformation character and come from the ignorance of European culture, which could lead to the distortion of the text.

The writer shows that the English thought themselves to be creatures of superior clay. Rare English travellers and naturalists used to hunt for exotic plants and butterflies in that area with coolies carrying their loads. Sometimes those load-bearers could rob their masters. We learn from the text in what manner an ordinary English lady used to walk – it was usually “a mile and a half out and riding back again”. The author points out such a distinguishing feature of the English character as preferring to settle the conflicts without “fuss and scandal”. Love at first sight seems to them a “barbarous and most indelicate folly” peculiar to savages. People of the Mission believed that most of the aboriginal Christians were infidel at heart and they had a lot of vagaries.

The Mission Sunday school is a Christian education institution of primary education. It originally appeared in Britain in the 1780s for the children of poor families who used to work 6 days a week and studied on Sundays. P & O is the “Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company” (or Line) – a British shipping and logistics company dating from the early 19th century and stretching to oriental and Pacific lands in the 1840s.

7. The notions connected with the Christian religion and the Anglican Church: Gods; cold Christ; tangled Trinities; the Convert; to baptize, to christen; chaplain; infidel; pilgrimage; the Church of England; Moravian missionaries. The encyclopedic dictionary identifies the Moravian brethren as the representatives of the Evangelical Church and refers them to the Protestant wing of Christianity. The Church of England is the state Anglican Church or Protestant Church of Britain (1534). We also find that a chaplain (here) is a cleric in charge of a Christian Mission abroad in non-Christian lands. His duties included preaching God's Word and converting heathens to Christians, baptizing them and helping to overcome some moral and material hardships of life. The Mission in Kotgarth did not take any care of the esthetic impression of the clothes they were sharing between the locals as they dressed aboriginal girls into the “abominable print-cloths”.

With this last point we are finishing our PTA not touching the plot of the story. Such a kind of approach provides us a solid basis for comprehending the factual contents of the text, which gives us some guarantee against violating the truth of the contents. To find out and to interpret the non-verbal elements of the discourse information is one of the most important stages of the PPA of the text [3]. It presumes that the translator should possess at least the same level of cultural and background knowledge like an average native speaker of English does, and he could strain it properly. Only then we expect the authentic perception and understanding of the communicative potential of the discourse by the interpreter.

There exists a peculiar problem connected with this very short story as the writer is trying to carry the phenomena of strange and unknown culture to his own compatriots. R. Kipling is concerned about how the British would understand the psychology and behavior of Indian people and is trying to make laugh at their prejudices in his ironic way. To tune in this line with the author of “Lispeth” and to carry to the Russian readers his own variant of the discourse is the task of the translator. He is supposed to be familiar with the concept of ‘gloss translation’ (by E. Nida), which means to transform the recipient of the information into the culture of those people who this original was made for. As the translator faces a dilemma of carrying to the Russian reader the phenomena of two different cultures, he has to look for a lingvo-pragmatic approach to the translation making it as much comprehensible as possible, but the analysis of this process is beyond our task.


  1. Алексеева И.С. Профессиональный тренинг переводчика. [Alexeeva I.S. The professional traning of the Translator]. – СПб., 2008.
  2. Kipling R.J. Lispeth. // Plain Tales from the Hills by R.J. Kipling. Penguin Classics, 2011, p. 4-10.
  3. Урумашвили Е.В. Прагматические аспекты анализа художественного текста [Urumashvily  Eu.V. The Pragmatic aspects of the belles-letters text analysis]. - Журнал “Известия Волгоградского педагогического университета”. Языкознание.  Волгоград, ВГОУ ВПО «ВАГС» 2007, с.112-115. – URL https://cyberleninka.ru/ article/n/pragmaticheskie-aspekty-analiza-hudozhestvennogo-teksta (дата обращения: 22.08.2017).
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