Internet and Cultural Concepts from a Translation Perspective

 In the past 14 years Romania has witnessed a constant technological boom that has had an impact on a variety of domains, such as industry, economy, education, mass media, politics and other important systems. A case in point is the personal computer, which has become an irreplaceable tool involved in almost all activity areas, among which educational and mass media systems are continuously benefiting. Consequently, new concepts, such as the well-known multimedia technology, user-friendly systems, Internet, Web technologiescyberspace communities and virtual reality, have been introduced to Romanian culture. Therefore, I will try to develop the first part of the paper into a contrastive cultural analysis between some of the American behavioral patterns, beliefs, values and symbols that are encountered when thinking about the Internet; what this means and how it functions; and the traditional eastern patterns and their development under the influence of such a powerful technology. Along with the sharing of a net culture within contemporary world-wide generations, I will also base my study on a contrastive translation theory, because cultural implications for translation, as we shall see, point out important and difficult linguistic gaps to overcome. Hence, translators are permanently faced with the problem of how to treat the cultural aspects implicit in a source text (ST) and of finding the most appropriate technique for successfully conveying these aspects in the target language (TL). These problems may vary in scope depending on the cultural and linguistic gap between the two (or more) languages concerned.1

mice do not represent anything nice or friendly in the [Romanian] culture; they are but tiny, dangerous animals that destroy people’s crops and furniture.

The cultural implications for translation may take several forms, ranging from lexical content and syntax to ideologies and ways of life in a given culture. The translator also has to decide on the importance given to certain cultural features and to what extent it is necessary or desirable to translate them into the TL. The aims of the ST, as well as the intended readership for both the ST and the target text (TT), will also have implications for the translation.

I shall start by considering the cultural implications when translating computer terminology from the source language (SL) into the TL, recognizing all of these problems and taking into account several possibilities before deciding on the solution that appears most appropriate in each specific case.

1. The Concept of Interconnection and the Awareness of Large Spaces

To start with, the Internet was first developed in military bases under its initial name of ARPANET,2 and, then fully developed as an educational means of interconnection (1) in universities and research centers. The constant interaction between students and their teachers represents an outstanding priority for the American educational system, which was not our case/culture before 1989. This concept of interconnection implies that each and every computer user can interact through a medium other than ordinary face-to-face instruction; for instance, by using multimedia technology, which is considered an enabling teaching method. It presents computer-based information through various communicative means, such as text, graphics and sound employed by video and audio technology as it follows: floppies and compact disks, software utilities (Flash or PowerPoint presentations) or online communication. From my point of view, the status of being connected online represents an opportunity to learn about others and get experience from others at a distance. Distance learning and distance education3 are fairly new concepts, imported by our educational system under the Romanian acronym IDD or Open Distance Education, and under the influence of rapid technological change and shifting market conditions. Thus, the Romanian educational system is challenged with providing increased educational opportunities with, unfortunately, reduced budgets. Many educational institutions are answering this challenge by developing distance education programs, such as the well-known CODECS,4 a program of management education for working managers in the emerging free-market economy. The key words for such an educational enterprise are those that describe the way Americans express themselves as a large but insular nation that needs to be open and accessible to a continent of diverse cultures. Thus, the Internet is conceived as being open and accessible and—why not—more secure in a way to every cybernaut, because of the lower costs of accessing the information needed. It is much cheaper and even safer to get connected via cables, phone lines or satellites rather than flying over the ocean. More than that, the linguistic repository of the Internet itself comprises an indication of the way the system works. Terms like go tobackforwardsearchhelp, home are easy to understand and give the user confidence and assurance of not losing him or herself in overwhelming data. The perfect model of keeping users captive in a constant desire to be connected was an imitation of a spider’s web because it is considered an ideal model of creation. The key word for the Internet is unlimited information transmitted via telecommunication lines, which for users signifies ‘food for knowledge’ as the spider’s prey represents its main sustenance. On the one hand, the expression keep on surfing through the Internet seems overambitious to the native of a small country like Romania, who would have difficulty in reaching the top of the Black Sea waves on a surfboard, but on the other hand, it rightfully connotes a nation’s perfect awareness of large spaces (2), symbolizing, in fact, the vast territory of the USA. But in order to comprehend any new technology, people regularly describe it in terms already familiar to them. This happens when scientists try to explain what the Internet is and bring into focus the relation of similarity with an electronic space controlled by humans.To consider all these from a translation perspective, say, trying to provide a suitable translation for the lexical item Internet or Web represents a very difficult task as both terms are non-lexicalized concepts in the TL, which in my case is Romanian. This means that the two terms exist and circulate among the users but there are no equivalents for them in our language. As far as I know, they stay the same in other languages, like Spanish, German, French and Portuguese, as well.

Considering the links and nodes between computers and users, we may convey the source language meaning by retea (network). However, Internet and Web are not synonyms, because the former stands for a huge network of telecommunication lines, while the latter corresponds to billions of pages created according to a specific protocol, which are accessible at high speed via the Internet; the key word here is hypertext. Consequently, the target-language term retea de hipertext or better yet, retea Paianjen (Spider network) are appropriate. Two processes are involved when translating the term: the blending of the technical term, retea,which stands for the common name plasa (net), and the conservation of the source-language proper name in the target language because it no longer symbolizes the ordinary insect, coming as it does with new connotations, special and vast. Retea Internet is employed for the second item. We also have to consider that there exists Intranet5 which is employed as retea interna de calculatoare. However, the fact that both terms are often used interchangeably represents a cultural mismatch, i.e., the impossibility of finding the target-languageword for both concepts. Hence, for the time being they should stay as they are in the target language, in spite of the fact that Newmark strongly suggests that “a technical translator has no right to create neologisms.6 Reteaua de hipertext is my own suggestion for the SL computer term, because ordinary text has been transformed into a labyrinth of nodes serially connected across an unlimited space.

The fact that not only the Americans but also the Europeans have felt the need to exchange information rapidly—almost instantly—is attested to by the invention of the Web by the English inventor Tim Berners Lee in Geneva (Switzerland). As the father of the Web7 himself puts it best, this technology is not only a powerful attraction full of meaningful information for users because of its openness, but it is the users’ creativity and contributions to its development that makes the Web so challenging and fascinating. As a consequence, it was immediately introduced in American universities and largely tapped by Netscape Navigator and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. To conclude, the Web represents a new cultural bridge spanning the Atlantic Ocean and the whole world.
2. Mascots, Games and User-friendly Systems

The first term to be analyzed here emphasizes fundamental differences that occur within people’s cultural background and the way cultural concepts, beliefs and ideas and, especially, preserving them, have more or less impact on other cultures. For instance, no target-language user ever thought that a small, tiny animal like a mouse or a gopher8 would become so important in the latest human technological creation, the computer and the whole world it has generated and interconnected. Whoever thought that the TL pop?ndau (gopher) would change its semantic equivalence from (+living) (+animate) (physical) to an upper level of conceptualization, like being virtual? In the source language, “Gopher is a system that predates the Web for organizing and displaying files on Internet servers.”9 The computer word represents a cultural gap between the source language and the target language not because it was developed at the University of Minnesota but because it was named after the school’s mascot. Generally speaking, mascots(3) do not play the same significant role in our culture as they do in the source-languageeducational system, whose entertainment activities, like sports events, festivals and holidays, are mostly based on various cultural symbols that nicely and elegantly wear their metaphorical veil.The same happens with the computer term mousewhich I think was invented to remind us of the ordinary mouse, which has become such a playful and joyful character in the world of Disney. Generally speaking, computers and their software have been designed to be user-friendly to make it easier for novices to use them. In the computer world, the term user-friendly represents an important concept, which is the basis of all graphical user interfaces, on-line help systems, menu-driven programs, etc. Within this educational context, the concept of user-friendly (4) has become a cliché in the American way of life.

In contrast, mice do not represent anything nice or friendly in the TLculture; they are but tiny, dangerous animals that destroy people’s crops and furniture. At the time when Americans invented this device, they had Jerry the mouse, while the target-language culture had mousetraps at home. Therefore, it would be difficult to presume that, within the near future, Romanian computer users will refer to the device as soricel—which they now feel constrained to use—instead of the English word mouse, because the latter would make them think of a small computer device rather than of a harmful rodent.For that reason, I would say that mouseis not only culturally-bound, but is at the same time also a non-lexicalized concept in the TLthat has been naturalized, because most Romanian users say ‘Foloseste /mausul/‘ or ‘Clic pe /maus/.’ However, a translator’s main job is to find, where possible, appropriate equivalents of source-language words in the target languagein order to convey the meaning of what is to be said, and “never just repeat what is said.”10 Probably, a literal translation would not fit the target-language context because of what I have demonstrated above. Consequently, I think that an appropriate translation for mousewould be cursor mecanic (mechanical cursor)as it renders both the function of the device, which is to point on a screen, and the user’s manual activity in handling it. One might say that during the translation process the cultural coloring and nuances of the source-language word mouse are lost in the target languageBut, as I have demonstrated, this computer item cannot trigger the same nuances in the deep structure of our culture as it does in the source language. Hence, it is not considered a lexical item that has suffered any connotative losses in the target language.

The TL culture needs time to deposit meanings over layers of meanings and their continuous changing of lexical usage, since the target-languageusers seem confident and determined in favor of a single lexical item. To conclude, I want to state that the language of computers is too new for our culture to immediately come up with the adequate target-language terminology, say, mousebrowsersite, spider,etc. Ten years from now, target-language users will be able to maneuver target-language terms for the source-language concepts that are in use right now; but at the same time, they will be unable to find appropriate equivalents for other terms that are continuously being created because the new hyperculture represents a cultural state of perpetual motion.

Despite the fact that there are many theories disputing the existence of any kind of geometry on the Net, I think that spatial metaphors are very useful in hypertext systems. But if users are concerned with connectivity and bandwidth constraints rather than with accessibility and land values, and if Webbers are disembodied and fragmented subjects who exist as mere collections of pseudonyms and agents, what then can be the use of their interaction within cyberspace? What then is the use of so many openings, entries, exits and returns to the initial points like home?! Moreover, these comprehensible features make Web culture consistent and, as a consequence, make the system more efficient.

3. Semiotics and the Concept of Interactivity

Starting from the fact that a sign is anything that can be interpreted, and must be physically and mentally perceptible, I may say that an important issue to be analyzed here is the phatic function of language in relation to cultural aspects of a source language. And, again, I will exemplify with another important educational aspect of the American system, that is, the concept of interactivity (5). As related to a computer environment, this does not only imply a verbal type of communication but a mixture between verbalized and non-verbalized signs, thus combining two main language functions, the phatic and the aesthetic. The former refers once again to maintaining friendly contact, viz., computer-user, and the latter to both the enchanting of the users’ senses and the offer of some fun through the use of different types of iconsemoticons and smileys, which are used to show various emotions on the Internet.

From a lexical point of view, I should first say that emoticon is a hypernym for smileys and the like, since its denotative meanings are diverse: for instance, to indicate one is joking, winking, bored, sad, frowning, etc. Second, smileywas the first term to be coined among the Webbers, generally denoting positive thinking and feelings. It has undergone a process of linguistic development, an extension of meaning. As a result, it has turned into emoticon and acquired diverse sub-meanings included in the broader classification. This means that it has acquired new connotative meanings—different from the one it had when initially coined. Nowadays, it includes icons symbolizing technologyseasonsschoolentertainment, etc. The user can insert them into his or her e-mail or private chat to make a reference to whatever s/he wants. If we agree that icon has a TL equivalent that can be rendered as pictograma, semantically marked for (+GUI), and if we agree on the lexical overlap between the two terms, then, emoticoncould be translated pictograma as well, with the semantic marker (+Internet).

This sequence of events, which implicitly opens an Internet cultural umbrella over the continental and insular populations of the globe, can only lead the future of humanity into a new era that has already exceeded the one of Information and reached a superior level of High-Speed Information and Commerce. This umbrella, shared by all virtual communities that exchange information and experience over the Internet, will actually determine the way the wired population perceives, interprets, thinks, judges and feels about this almost perfectly democratic medium distributed via an apparently lingua franca and a ‘standardized’ computer semiotics.

4. Final remarks

The need for a systematic study of an SPL (Special Purpose Language) translation arises directly from the problems encountered during the actual translation process. Hence, it is essential for those working in the field to bring their practical experience to theoretical discussions. As we have seen so far, the translator’s role is to facilitate the transfer of the message, meaning and cultural elements from one language into another and to create an equivalent response from the target audience. However, the study of computer terminology and the process of interpreting and translating it into the target language is far from having reached an end-point. With regard to the theoretical analysis submitted above, it becomes evident that several conclusions about the translator’s main aims can be drawn:

1. The translator has to possess adequate language competence and cultural background in both SL and TL.

2. As a consequence, he can aim at producing an impact on the target audience as close as possible to that produced on the readers of the original.

3. A variety of different approaches have been examined in relation to the cultural implications of translation. Assertions have been made in the paper that in order to preserve specific cultural references, certain additions need to be brought to the TT. Therefore, the translator has to, if not adopt, then adapt, and even modernize where possible, the TL cultural background.

4. Much attention has to be paid to neologisms and newly coined computer terms such as emoticon, because this SPL is growing fast.

5. Unless the translator breaks the rules above, he will meet his target readers’ expectations in terms of clarity and optimal communication, that is, understanding and truth relevance.