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Patterns of Thinking Across Languages
Posted on Wednesday, September 26 @ 23:34:52 EDT
Topic: Lingustics

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Introduction

This article investigates how the rhetorical patterns of thought give rise to certain communicative as well as textual problems in the translation of Arabic texts. It attempts to disambiguate some of the rhetorical devices by making translators aware of the fact that cultures have different rhetorical devices, and each culture expresses these devices differently.

To demonstrate this, samples are taken from different Arabic newspapers with different political views and perspectives to show how these devices function across cultures. The samples that have been subjected to the analysis were selected from ‘Al-Watan’, a Kuwati newspaper and ‘Al-Ra’iy’, a Jordanian one.  These samples were analysed to show how Arabic writers, particularly in journalistic texts, generally use these rhetorical devices for aesthetic purposes.



Before we show how these devices manifest themselves in Arabic newspapers, it should be pointed out that one significant fact about translation is that it attempts to account for all the potentialities of meaning. Meaning here involves the totality of the information conveyed in a particular message (Shiyab 1990); it necessitates references to linguistic characteristics such as lexical, grammatical and phonological meaning; it also necessitates references to non-linguistic characteristics such as the use of language, thought, situation, intentions, and knowledge.

Of equal importance is the fact that translation also accounts for the stylistic feature of texts, i.e. situational uses of language and elements, studied as structure or style, in writing (See Shiyab & Lynch (2005) forthcoming). . It also attempts to account for the choices made by a person or social group in their use of language. Here comes the essence of my present paper in which an attempt will be made to investigate a significant rhetorical device, i.e. paragraphing or subdividing the text into separate ideas.

Before we demonstrate how literal paragraphing raises problems for the English reader, an attempt will be made to clarify what is involved in the process of writing.  This will be presented in the following section.


Pattern of thought in writing

There is almost a general consensus that conveying a message from one language to another does not only arise from the mere use of different words and symbols, nor from the arrangement of words together in a sentence, but rather how words, sentences and paragraphs are presented to the foreign reader.

Also, it is universally well-acknowledged that languages have distinct realities in which each shapes and moulds its own. As a result, the culture of one language is bound to vary from another as speakers of a particular language have their own ways of thinking. How a writer thinks, therefore, determines how he writes. These are the views of Sapir (1951; 1956) and Nida (1964). They argue that in different cultures, approaches to making a paragraph tend to be different and these approaches are culturally influenced by patterns of thinking. None of which is better than the other. Such a rhetorical device has its real effect when translating a text from  one language to another across two different cultures, where the rhetorical form of the source language does not conform fully with the rhetorical form of the target language.


How paragraphs are made?
Paragraphs are segments in a text; they are blocks that have distinct units of meanings. The way in which the text is put into paragraphs is known as paragraphing.  There is no need to go into what constitutes a paragraph as there is so much literature on its main constituents  (see Seale 1979). However, one agrees that a paragraph has to have unity and coherence and how paragraphs are presented across cultures is more likely to vary. Here are some examples that demonstrate what I mean. The division between paragraphs is indicated by the double (double) spacing.



Example
Translation (1)

Translation of the Arabic Text 

It must be understood that the national administration of this country must go in line with the armed forces because both of them aim at protecting the country and maintaining its security and stability.

Along this kind of understanding, His Highness, Jabir  Al-Ahmad, clearly spelt out the importance of strengthening the armed forces, and re-examining the capabilities of these forces in such a way that they become the protecting armour of Kuwait,

and at the same time, affirming Kuwait’s commitment toward its (sister) Arab countries.

However, these matters are only a small part of Kuwait’s worries, which include third world countries, the non-aligned states, the Islamic and Arab countries and Palestine at the centre of all this.

Translation (2)

Proposed Translation of the same text

It must be understood that the national administration of this country must go in line with the armed forces because both of them aim at protecting the country and maintaining its security and stability.

Along this kind of understanding, His Highness, Jabir Al-Ahmad, clearly spelt out the importance of strengthening the armed forces, and re-examining the capabilities of these forces in such a way that they become the protecting armour of Kuwait, and, at the same time, affirming Kuwait’s commitment toward its (sister) Arab countries.

However, these matters are only a small part of Kuwait’s worries, which include third world countries, the non-aligned states, the Islamic and Arab countries and Palestine at the centre of all this.

Analysis

The comparison I want to make does not show, in any way, that the stylistic or rhetorical device of  paragraphing in Arabic is better than English or vice versa, but it only shows how languages adhere to their own particular pattern of thought. A cursory look at Translation (1) above will show that the text is more in line with most Arabic paragraphing, i.e. there are four paragraphs in the text with only three themes. The second and third paragraphs should actually be joined together, as they are complementary to each other. As a result of this illogical division, the reader gets confused while reading the text, simply because there is no specific unit or theme expressed in each paragraph. Therefore, the text-producer forces the reader to supply his own visual signals. On the other hand, Translation (2) goes more in line with English paragraphing.  Each paragraph expresses one single theme and the three paragraphs express one specific unit. Here, the text-producer tells the reader when moving from one point to another; in other words, he supplies visual signals for paragraphing, and this kind type  of signaling requires less concentration than that in Translation (1). According to Seale (1979), Translation (1) interrupts, whereas Translation (2) flows. Here is a representation of the two translations:

Translation (1)Translation (2)
------------------------------
--------
-----------------------------
-------------------------
----------------------------
-------------------------------
      ------------------
-----------------------
-----------------------
-----------------------
-----------------------
------------------
Figure (1)

Two types of paragraphing according to Seale (1979: 5)

To this effect, writers whose language does not use the rhetorical device of paragraphing consistently face problems with English. Seal comments on this by saying:

“Nothing is more distracting for a native speaker than to have the eyes misguided by written lines that don’t begin where they should or end where they should.”(Seal, 1979: 4)

Based on what has preceded, the rhetorical device of paragraphing is an important graphlogical device which is sometimes used by most Arab newspapers idiosyncratically. It is not used as a division of thought. Duff (1981) argues that a paragraph is more likely to be an independent unit of meaning because it contains a complete body of thought. 

Similarly, Brooks & Warren (1952; 1970), commenting on the paragraph as a ‘convenience to the reader’, argue that the paragraph is a division of composition which signals to the reader that the division which is set off constitutes a unit of thought; it also makes the divisions of the writer’s thoughts visible. Brooks & Warren go further in saying that this division, for the reader, is a convenience.

On the psychological reality of the paragraph, Koen, Becker, and Young (1969) compare the paragraph with the sentence; they argue that if the importance of grasping the underlying structure of the sentence contributes to its understanding, then the perception of the paragraph performs a similar function. Also, Kieras (1978) suggests that the role of the paragraph is to minimize memory load: the text - reader does not have to burden his memory by the different kinds of information presented in the text. Kieras goes on to say that the function of the paragraph is to make it easy for the reader to digest the contents of the text.  Therefore, common sense dictates – that the lack of paragraphing of this type in Arabic texts, particularly in journalistic texts, is a genuine problem for the English reader as well as for the translator, as this graphological device is sometimes used in Arabic for aesthetic reasons. Here is another example that shows what I mean. The text I have selected will translated and left in its original form.


Example 2

Translation (1)

Translation of the Arabic Text 

The short working visit which Prime Minister Zaid Al-Rifa’iy paid to Baghdad yesterday was in accord with the strong fraternal relations existing between Jordan and Iraq during which he was received

by President Saddam Hussein and held constructive talks with Mr. Taha Yaseen Ramadan…

As shown above, the layout of the above text has been made exactly like the layout of the original. Also, the above translation has been made to conform with the original text-form to show how confusing the division of paragraphs in Arabic is. However, the translator has to choose the best way of translating this text; he has to evaluate his translation as to which one suits, as well as matches, the meaning of the original text. One can realize that the above translation is the translator’s worst choice as the two paragraphs have the same unit of meaning; therefore they should not be split up.

While there are some Arabic newspapers that occasionally have the paragraph as a division of thought, they are still inconsistent in using this device. This causes uncertainty to the foreign reader as to when or where one uses this device. The solution to this problem is that the translator has to stick to the paragraph as a division of thought, since this matches the expectations of the English reader.

Whether the above text has one or two paragraphs, the most important point here is that a paragraph has to contain a complete unit of meaning. If one considers the above text as consisting of one unit of meaning, which I personally do, then it would be translated as follows:

Translation (2)

Proposed Translation of the same text

The short working visit which Prime Minister Zaid Al-Rifa’iy paid to Baghdad yesterday was in accord with the strong fraternal relations existing between Jordan and Iraq during which he was received by President Saddam Hussein and held constructive talks with Mr. Taha Yaseen Ramadan…

If one considers the text as having two units of meaning, then it would be translated as follows:

The short working visit which Prime Minister Zaid Al-Rifa’iy paid to Baghdad yesterday was in accord with the strong fraternal relations existing between Jordan and Iraq during which he was received by President Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Al-Rifa’iy held constructive talks with Mr. Taha Yaseen Ramadan and…

Recommendations
As was pointed out earlier, the rhetorical device of paragraphing should help the reader perceive that each paragraph expresses a different theme or sub-theme.  These motivated divisions, which native speakers  of English expect to find in all written texts, are significant ones for the reader, writer, and translator. The way such things are perceived has a great bearing on the message conveyed to a target language. The important thing, for the translator, therefore, is to be aware of the rhetorical patterns, which can help the translator to become more proficient in approximating the patterns of thought that are indigenous to the translator.


References
Brooks, C. and R. Warren. 1952. Fundamentals of Good Writing. London: Dennis Dobson.
Brooks, C. and R. Warren. 1970. Modern Rhetoric. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Duff, A. 1981. “Race, riots and the press.” Gazette 43. 229-253.
Kieras, D. 1978. “Good and Bad Structure in Simple Paragraphs: Effects on apparent Theme, Reading Time, and Recall.” Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour 17. 13-28.
Koen, F., A. Becker, and R. Young. 1969. “The Psychological Reality of the Paragraph.” Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour 8. 49-53
Nida, E. 1964. Toward a Science of Translating. The Netherlands: E.J. Brill.
Sapir, E. 1951. Language. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.
Sapir, E. 1956. Culture, Language and Personality. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Seale, B. 1979. Writing Efficiently. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.


By Dr. Said Shiyab,
Translation Studies Department, Head
United Arab Emirates University,
UAE




Said Shiyab is a Professor of Linguistics & Translation and the Head of the Translation Studies Department at the United Arab Emirates University, UAE. Prior to this, he was working in the English Department at the University of Southern Indiana (USA) where he taught different courses of English and Linguistics. Dr. Shiyab has been teaching English, linguistics, translation, and rhetoric and composition for over 20 years.
Dr. Shiyab received his Ph. D. in Linguistics & Translation from Heriot-Watt University-Edinburgh, (UK), an M.A in English Literature from the University of Evansville, Indiana (USA) and a B.A in English Language & Literature from Yarmouk University, Irbid-Jordan.





 
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