Translating flowery Arabic prose to English
Some Arabic writers resort to writing flowery prose for multiple reasons, one of which could be to show off mastery of language or in an attempt to appeal to their readers.
However, this kind of language puts Arabic-English translators in a very difficult situation. First and foremost, not every elaborate or literary Arabic word has an immediate equivalent in English, i.e it is not a matter of easy rendering word for word from the source Arabic to the target English.
Some translators, especially novice ones with no deep knowledge or expertise, would opt for a literal translation, which in many cases is a very bad choice.
Let’s illustrate with an example:
تمخض الجبل فولد فأرا
This is an Arabic proverb the literal translation of which would be something like:
The mountain was in labour and gave birth to a rat.
Obviously, an English language sentence like this – especially in a serious context – would be frowned upon by native English speakers.
For an experienced translator, the closest rendition of this Arabic idiom into English would be: much fuss about nothing.
Let’s take another example:
يعمل من الحبة قبة
A literal translation of this Arabic expression would be something like:
Makes a dome from a little bit
Makes a dome from a seed
Again, only a seasoned translator would offer the appropriate translation of this Arabic idiom as:
Makes a mountain out of a molehill
As can be understood from the two examples above, the use of flowery prose in Arabic can lead to inadequate and completely unclear translations in English, if the translator is not qualified and competent enough and has mastery and a full grasp of both languages: Arabic and English.
One way followed by professional Arabic to English translators to handle a pompously embellished sentence or phrase in Arabic is what can be described as abridging.
Briefly, it is a way of saying something in a shorter way without losing sense of the original.
Let’s clarify with an example:
القى الزعيم خطابا كالزلزال القوي والريح العاتية هز به ارجاء المعمورة شمالا وجنوبا وشرقا وغربا
A literal translation in English would be something like:
The leader delivered a speech like the strong quake and the strong wind and rocked with it the parts of the earth in the north, south, east and west.
While the meaning may be gleaned by reading this English sentence, a native English speaker would certainly feel – at least – it is too literal and sloppy and not proper idiomatic English.
OK, let’s what a professional English rendition of this Arabic sentence will look like – if handled by an expert Arabic English translator:
The leader delivered a forceful speech that resounded across the globe.
Obviously, this second translation is far more idiomatic, clear and tight, and definitely reads natural for a native English speaker.
In conclusion, translating flowery Arabic prose to English is not an easy job, certainly not a job for beginners. It is a job that requires real skill and knowledge and a full command and understanding of both languages: the source Arabic and the target English.
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