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Translation is Affected by High Context and Low Context Cultures

This is a guest post by Sharon Wilson. Enjoy, and please share!

There are two different cultures when it comes to language. One is high-context culture which is how much of the communication in a society takes place using context specific cues which aren’t necessarily the spoken word. This could include the tone of the voice and body language. The other culture is what is called low-context culture, where communication takes place through language with very specific linguistic rules.

Translation services need to be aware of the role of culture in translation so that when decoding a language the culture of the speakers is taken into consideration.

Most of the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America are considered to be high-context culture countries. In these particular countries, the language is not necessarily specific and may be flowery in nature. A story related by a Japanese business leader to his counterpart, who was American, complained that, “When we say 1 word, we understand 10, but you have to say 10 in order to understand 1.”

In the low context cultures, as in Western Europe and North America, they value getting straight to the point, where precise words with precise meanings are valued and used.

When presented with a translation job it’s important to know the role of culture in translation and whether the language speakers are low or high context in order to ensure the right emphasis is created in the translation.

Typically, translations across cultures involve a lot more than translating individual words. These are the constraints of machine translations but aren’t applicable to human translators.

One of the most important effects of the cultural context in writing is how much detail is required in order to convey a point. Those writing in a high-context culture assume that everyone already understands both the meanings and the contexts so any details that someone from outside may require in order to help them to gain an understanding of the foundation of an argument are not included. A low context culture typically assumes that everyone interprets writing literally so they tend to say exactly what they mean without taking into consideration cultural variation.

If in doubt of the role of culture in translation conduct some research on the culture which is to be the recipient of the translated document.

Aussie Translations

About the Author

Sharon Wilson
Guest Blogger

A Blogger from Aussie Translations, Sharon Wilson has specialized in writing blog posts and has worked with entrepreneurs, executives, industry experts and many other professionals in writing and publishing, blogs, newspaper articles, SEO web content, and more.

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Comments (1)

tarnum Tarnum
China
Posted 6 days ago.

Hello, I am new here. I can't help it but want to put an inappropriate, self-deprecating, embarrassing comment here. It'll be just "one guy's opinion" but when it comes to my native language, the Chinese language (at least the contemporary version of it), forget about "Culture". It is entirely a question of high/low arbitrary(-iness) and a question of high/low authority and the answers to both questions are "high". It is an incomplete language. There are many things "indescribable" in it. How many characters are there in total? Well I searched for it just now and found that 1,000 most common characters cover 92% of the written material; 2,000 cover 98% and 3,000 cover 99%. And what a character/word means often depends on the (authoritative) person says what it means. For example, the "upstairs" are very fond of using words as "Five -Nizations" (informationization, modernization, etc.) and they are not the only ones that do such a thing. In my experience, the "comic/anime" circle also like creating their own characters and attach meaning as they want. They also say, "these wording becomes not strong enough now; let's change it into something stronger". As a translator, I found myself hurt in such phenomena. Yes, I have six years of hurtful translation experience, obedient/compliant to the others' command of "meanings", deep beneath (or within) a manipulated language. That is why I changed my years of experience to "zero" years in my profile page since I joined the tm-town earlier today. I consider this place the international arena, and a whole new beginning, and those old years of crooked experience do not count... All in all, can somebody give me a job?

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