Dialectal Differences

All languages possess dialects, this includes sign language where we have ‘standard’ versions such as British Sign Language or American Sign Language as well as off-shoots or mutations of these.

The translation of dialects, however, is not a common enterprise and one which is fraught with countless problems, endless discussion and never-ending controversy. A dialect is a regional variety of a language and is therefore particular to a specific area.

When translating a dialect, the translator is not only transplanting one culture into another but also transplanting the culture of a specific area into the other culture. If the text is translated into the target culture using a dialect of the target language then the translator has made a conscious decision to include the cultural baggage of that dialect – a risky task.

Sometimes, however, regionalisms are not culturally loaded and the lexical variants are simply regional synonyms. An example of such a non-loaded regionalism might be the Polish:


Would it be enough to translate all of these as slippers? Or should the translate attempt to transfer the fact that this is a regionalism?


16 thoughts on “Dialectal Differences

  1. And what do you do when the word in question doesn’t even have a colloquial equivalent in the target language? Can you think of an English colloquialism for ‘slippers’? I can’t. If such a thing exists, it’s probably so incredibly regional that almost no other English speaker wd recognise it for what it is. I think in such cases we have to acknowledge that the regional flavour of the text must be conveyed by other means, use of pseudo-dialect spelling, liberal sprinklings of ‘ooh arr’ and so on. 🙂

  2. Precisely. The slippers example is a useful one as it succinctly highlights this very problem. Translation, as we know, is about balance (how much is gained vs. how much is lost) and what we can do to re-dress the linguistic and cultural balance.

  3. I just would like to remind you of the fact that there is also such regional Polish word as ‘laczki’ that could be thrown into the bag with the inscription titled slippers…

  4. Agreed. You can end up with great masses of footnotes and parentheses which detract from (and sometimes completely destroy) any literary value the text may have had. Norman Davies, among others, keeps saying that a lot of the classics of Polish literature (especially from the Partition period) are untranslatable for that very reason – too much explanation wd be required for non-Polish readers. By the way, has anyone ever seen an English translation of ‘Nienasycenie’? 🙂

  5. It is interesting and very important to make an effort and try to convey the cultural background while translating something. It is iportnat, especially, when there is a text , which includes many of unknown words from certain culture. It is also important in films to translate certain things in such a way that everybody can understand it. For example many American movies have some words or passages containing words or names, which are not popular in other country, so we have to make it clear, and change it into something popular here…
    About those – kapcie, papcie…hmm maybe there are some neologisms calling slippers in many different ways…research 😉

  6. I know another name for ‘kapcie’ and that is ‘bambosze’.I think that many names for ‘kapcie’ depends on dialect and the area where we are. But in my opinion while translating we should leave slippers, and just add some explanation.

  7. I think we should leave everything as “slippers”. Of cours it depends on the contex… If it’s not important that we used a regionalism so leave slippers. If it’s important – seek for equivalent. (but still I can’t came up with the context for bambosze:))

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