Cultural Anomalies – Part II

In the analogous but unlikely event of a King/Queen or Pope naming themselves the First in an uncanny burst of forethought or a film being tagged Part 1 before a sequel has even been conceived of, as regards the two most recent posts on this blog, there was a reason for giving the previous post the ‘Part I’ tag as the idea for Part II had already been planned.

Such is the abundance of new words filtering into the Polish language and being coined that this need seems obvious. The words that are being looked at this time include:

układ,    szara sieć,   IV RP (czwarta Rzeczpospolita),   oświadczenie lustracyjne,   irasiad

Such is the charm difficulty of translating the word uklad that the author of a recent Economist article did not even bother to translate it. In fact, the same can be said of lustracja (mentioned in a previous post) which is translated in the same article literally as “lustration”. Uklad can mean several things including ‘deal’, ‘system’ and ‘agreement’ and this explains the difficulty had by most translators. It refers to the old-boy network formed by former communists who now control all there is to control. Perhaps, rendering it into the ‘old system’, ‘mafia’ or ‘network’ might be more helpful in a more explanatory way.

Szara sieć is an interesting phrase which literally means ‘grey net(work)’ and conjures up images of a complicated network of mafia-like structures spanning the whole country. It makes references to the grey market and network and could perhaps be rendered using the same equivalents for uklad.

IV RP (or literally), the ‘Fourth Republic’ is not difficult to translate however, the context is somewhat confusing. Polish history describes three Republics and not a fourth. However, the ruling coalition often uses this self-styled tag so translations of it may require the addition of ‘so-called’.

Oświadczenie lustracyjne does not pose too may problems and may be rendered ‘vetting declaration’ or ‘vetting statement’ depending on context.

The final word Irasiad has become an ironic and at the same time political slogan denouncing the rule of the Kaczynski brothers. It was coined after Kaczynski, on hearing a dog trainer tell his dog Ira to sit (pol. Ira, siad!), referred to the dog as Irasiad – ‘Fidosit’ or perhaps ‘Dogshit’ ‘Dogsit’. The possibilities are endless…

41 Responses to “Cultural Anomalies – Part II”

  1. Dave39 Says:

    All these oswiadczenia do make life complicated. I tend to translate it as settlements.

  2. Forming Collocations « transubstantiation Says:

    […] seem like minor differences but they make the native speaker sound native. Previous posts (click here and here) have shown the importance of collocations and the intrinsic link between culture and […]

  3. m Says:

    you know, someone who is not following what is going on in Poland would certanily have difficulties to translate our neologisms , but it is the same when we look at British: their neologisms are hardly ever understandable for a non-native…

  4. agata Says:

    They can at least make an effort to find a definition for a word (neologism) given in a text..as some things are impossible to translate, it’s better to give a polish word and they can find it on their own..as we do🙂

  5. Luiza Jasińska Says:

    In my opinion, the author of an article in Economist made mistake by leaving ‘układ’ without translation. I think that even if some word or phrase is a cultutre bound item that is difficult to translate it should still be translated, but in order to make it more clear for a reader, an author/translator can provide some short explanation.

  6. Michael Farris Says:

    I really don’t like vetting for lustracja (you usually vet someone _before_ they get a position and the process is carried out on behalf of the person or persons who will name someone to the position in question). Neither of these is true in the Polish context, so I think lustration is the best option.

    For Americans, I would leave układ but clarified it with something like ‘rumored old-boy network of former communist officials’ in parenthesis after the first reference. I don’t know if that would work for the UK though.

    For Irasiad …. at first I thought maybe Down, boy! into Downboy could work (no one names a dog Fido anymore, but calling dogs ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ is very, very common, especially in commands).
    The usual command is ‘sit!’ but ‘down’ as a dog command means ‘lie down’.

    Now, I think that maybe simpler is better. “Ira, sit!” to Irasit. Unless Ira is a common dog name in Poland (which I rather doubt).

  7. transubstantiation Says:

    Interesting comments. The problem, mentioned before, is that lustration sounds like voivodship – a bizarre construct made especially for Poland.

  8. Pawel Suwara Says:

    My favourite part of that post is the last paragraph. I forgot about what Kaczynski said sometime ago, but when I read it, I laughed again. Not, straight to the business. Do we really have to translate this “Irasiad” term to “Dogsit”…I am asking for “Dogsit” looks a bit like the crossed out term…

  9. michael farris Says:

    “lustration sounds like … a bizarre construct made especially for Poland”

    But that’s just what lustracja is!

    I think the best option might be lustration with a quick explanation at the earliest possible reference (since lustration doesn’t mean anything to most English speakers).
    The problem is how to clarify it in an unbiased manner. My goal with such clarifications is to try to find something that people on both sides would agree is accurate, which is of course easier said than done.
    Maybe: “retroactive (political) screening (for involvement with communist secret police)” with either element in parentheses but not both.
    One good thing about this is that the word retroactive won’t bother supporters of lustration (at least they can’t argue it isn’t) and brings out why many people (at least me) don’t like lustration laws – retroactive legislation is widely frowned upon.

    I probably wouldn’t even try to translate oświadczenie lustracyjne but paraphrase instead: (her) declaration of non-involvement with the communist secret police. That’s a little awkward but it’s an awkward topic.

  10. transubstantiation Says:

    Translation is communication. Once we start using parentheses and explanations. However, I do like the idea of “retroactive screening”.

  11. Ela Says:

    Very interesting and informative article.

    I think that of those 5 terms szara siec and Irasiad will pose many problems for a translator.To make the terms more claer for the reaaders we have to provide more detailed explanation.

  12. michael farris Says:

    I myself am not fond of too many parenthetical explanations, especially when they don’t add anything.

    It also occurs to me that often lustracja doesn’t necessarily need to be translated at all at the word level. I can imagine specific texts about specific lustration cases where the word itself need not appear at all.

    For szara sieć, I’m thinking that something with underground might work. Or better yet, something with shadow, the shadow network. Ecovative and vaguely menacing in a way that ‘grey network’ isn’t.

  13. transubstantiation Says:

    Hmm… underground, it isn’t. Not in the strict sense, anyway…

  14. Kasia Styczyńska Says:

    I think that it was brilliant to be able to convey the sense of humour and the situational joke concerning Irasiad. We can explain in in English, as it was said: Dogsit…Dogshit hehehe. And in that situation, the Pole and a foreigner is able to understand the joke.

  15. transubstantiation Says:

    Two very different jokes, however.

  16. Kate Says:

    🙂 I didn’t know about this Irasiad, ironic but funny.
    Anyway I think that slogans and neologisms are difficult to translate, as this is a cultural matter and very often untranslatable and not understandable for other societies.

  17. transubstantiation Says:

    Irasiad is more sad than anything.

  18. Milena Chremeta Says:

    If it comes to “układ” I guess any translation would do. I am a proponent of leaving terms without translating them (just providing some footnote explanation), but I believe “układ” is a word which means nothing in English and it would only confuse a reader. In order to grasp the meaning one would have to either know Polish or pick it up from the context, which I think in not the best way of conveying the message.

    If it comes to “Ira siad”… It is so amusing… not ironic😉 I like “Ira sit” – natural… nice🙂

  19. Łukasz Says:

    The journalist of the Economist made a huge mistake not translating the term “układ”, without any doubt. Even if the translation were not perfect it should be done so that at least a small part of the concept would be understood by the TR… As far as the English equivalent is conecerned my first thought was “the old guard”. It seems that the only disadvantage of the term is that it doesn’t indicate the idea of corruption. However, we can get around this quite easily by e.g. adding the word “corrupt” (“corrupt old guard”).

  20. Agata S. Says:

    I must agree with what Luiza wrote. I think that these terms should be rendered. To make them clearer and more understandable a translator should equip a reader with an explanation. Why am I for translating these terms? Because Polish words left in English text may spoil the flow of the article.

  21. transubstantiation Says:

    Most certainly. As mentioned before, translation is communication and losing the message (by not translating the word) is a fault in the text.

  22. Małgorzata Olszak Says:

    I can’t understand why the Polish term ‘układ’ wasn’t translated in the Economist. I think that leaving it may cause more misunderstandings than translating it in some way… (tha author of the text could, for instance, translate it according to the context of the article and give an explanation).

  23. Madzia Says:

    As we all know there are many translations of one words, depending on the meaning. So the examples given in the text are perfect to illustrate how easy we can understand something concerning the word translation. Always check the context and variety of meanings!!

  24. margola Says:

    The Economist leaves a notion of uklad but how is the poor American/British/Spanish reader to know what uklad means in Polish. Fairly lazy… Irasiad is untranslatable (or translatable with an asterisk and a whole story of Kaczynski and his hearing impairment).

  25. Emma O Says:

    Interesting… though I have never heard of “szara sieć” or “irasiad” and these terms don’t mean anything to me… Anyway, I actually like what the author of the article in the Economist did with the word “układ”: “Law and Justice had called an early election hoping to consolidate the gains made during the past two years, when the party—at times governing alone, otherwise with small coalition allies—has been on a rumbustious crusade to rid Poland of the uklad, a sinister conspiracy of ex-spooks, former communists, corrupt officials and well-connected businessmen.” Neat and clear.

  26. transubstantiation Says:

    Yes, it is nice and clear – a good example of exotic translation where elements of the original are left to give the idea of foreignness.

  27. Patrycja F. Says:

    As this ‘irasiad’ is concerned i liked the translation ‘Irasit’ – I think it is quite clear what the mistake was without any complicated and long explanations

  28. Monika K. Says:

    If the meaning of the word which translator decides to leave untranslated is not clear from the context, then the translator shoud give explanation of this word (or term) for the reader. Everyone should be able to understand the translated text – this is the role of translator. S/he also has to be aware of the situation both in the SL and TL country.

  29. Milena M Says:

    I agree with Patrycja that “Irasit” for “Irasiad” would be enough, however without a context is still unclear. When it comes to “układ” I would provide a description of the term and give the Polish word “układ” in parentheses (for more curious readers).

  30. Alicja Piotrowska Says:

    “The problem, mentioned before, is that lustration sounds like voivodship – a bizarre construct made especially for Poland.”
    Well, if we can have strange English words, why not putting strange Polish words in an English text? However, I agree that the word is of no meaning to TR that is why is should be explained.
    As for Irasiad I think the most natural is Irasit and it suits the context. Ira is the name of the dog so why should we bother translating it. I think the easiest ways are the best.

  31. Iwona Wisniewska Says:

    I didn’t like the fact that the author used the omission technique when translating ‘układ’. I really believe that there must have been a way to translate that word.

  32. Marta Says:

    In my opinion cultural terms should be translated. I share the opinion of some people that have already commented on that post that cultural terms should be explained by giving a short definition.

  33. Kamil Says:

    It’s better to leave those words and not use them.

  34. Monika Says:

    There are sometimes cultural terms that do not have their equivalents in a foreign language. An example of such a word/phrase can be ‘matura’ or ‘egzamin dojrzałości’. I heard it not translated a few times…

  35. transubstantiation Says:

    Absolutely. Although ‘matriculation’ is a possibility.

    • Marzena Says:

      Sometimes it is difficult to find equivalents of some expressions when translating. A good idea is to describe the meaning of an expression instead of one or two words. Moreover, in order to translate IV Rzeczpospolita correctly you have to know historical and cultural context.

  36. Blaine Dalit Says:

    Interesting article. Were did you got all the information from…?


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