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Nature and cultural heritage in translation

Culture intertwines with nature. Yet, most culture and language studies concentrate on artefacts created by refined city dwellers, who often view nature as a disposable object  to toy with and throw away after use. In contrast, I invite students to adopt a unique approach to language, culture and translation via discovering what hides behind scientific and folk concepts of the natural world.

The same fragment of reality is cut up differently by phytosociologists, foresters, peat specialists, etc. What is more, within each of these groups there are contending schools, which offer alternative divisions, followed by alternative concepts and terms to denote them. Across language boundaries lay people and scientists come up with still new divisions of the reality around. The resultant multitude of labels may be confusing but what a fascinating challenge it is to detect what is what within our native tongue and in relation to a foreign language!

Well, one can say that in my classes we play sleuths who solve translation puzzles. We do it by matching the realities encapsulated  in words and words themselves. A lot depends on the context. For instance, turzycowiskomay be rendered as tall sedge swamp or sedge fen in English. The wrong choice in the translated documentation may imply the refusal of legal protection for a particular site. Inevitably, lexical labels reflect attitudes towards landscape, whose components allow us to get to know about the nation’s culture – agriculture, sylviculture, horticulture, patterns of entrepreneurship, social relations, wealth, favourite pastime pursuits, beliefs and so forth.

Playing detectives is accompanied by perfecting language skills. Translations are texts, which must be coherent and clear, devoid of unjustified lexical and structural calques. I shepherd students through the rough and tumble of translatorial text creation by giving good and bad examples of translation decisions as well as providing detailed feedback on their assignments.

On the theoretical plane, I look into such matters as categorization (cognitivist versus objectivist approaches), imagery in the Langackerian sense, a linguistic view of the world as understood by Polish ethnolinguists, the translation of culture-specific items and dialects. As I believe that theory plays a subservient role towards practice, I do my best to integrate practical and theoretical aspects in order to meet the expectations of trainee translators.