Web Translation Projects/Grammatical gender and its influence on translation

Grammatical gender and its influence on translation


IntroductionEdit

This page is created for a Web Translation Project course held by the Institute of British and American Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland.

The purpose of the page is to examine the concept of grammatical genders and its influence of translation. The author wants to show the difficulty connected with the decision-making process as well as the way in which noun genders change the perception of a given story and characters appearing in it in L1 and L2. The main interest of the article is to show the difficulty of the task that the translator has as well as how his/her decisions impact the reader’s perception.


Theory - grammatical genderEdit

Building an utterance starts from the idea of the speaker and ends in stream of speech that is ordered in a linear manner. However, a sentence is not just a string of individual words. The speaker needs to have in mind the syntactic relationships between words, for example how the subject determines the grammatical number of a verb or how the corresponding noun influences the grammatical gender of an adjective. In some languages it is easier to build a correct sentence, because the preverbal message includes all the information that is needed for agreement. Hovewer, in some languages the speakers must inflect verbs, adjectives or even nouns. In order to know how to do it correctly more information, like the grammatical gender, is needed. [1]



DefinitionsEdit

We can find several definitions of grammatical gender. One of them, that gives the best understanding of the topic, is inserted below:

"In linguistics, grammatical gender is a specific form of noun class system in which the division of noun classes forms an agreement system with another aspect of the language, such as adjectives, articles, pronouns, or verbs. Whereas some authors use the term "grammatical gender" as a synonym of "noun class", others use different definitions for each; many authors prefer "noun classes" when none of the inflections in a language relate to sex." [2]


What is worth remembering is the fact that the grammatical gender is a lexical-syntactic property - lexical because it is an unchanging feature of a word, and syntactic because it navigates the agreement processes and provides us with all information needed for a proper sentence structure. [3]

For more in depth information about the grammatical genders click on the link below:
Wikipedia article on grammatical gender

Different systems and its meaning for translationEdit

According to Corbett who investigated 256 languages, 145 of them do not use any system of gender distinction. Those languages that have gender distinction use either two genders (50) or more than five (24). [4]

For example, in English pronouns must agree with a gender of a noun - woman - she, man - he. Other languages have more complicated systems and more lexical elements have to agree with each other - in German or French we have gender-marked determiners, adjectives and verbs: e.g., German - die Frau (the (fem.) woman) vs. der Mann (the (mas.) man); or French - la fille (the (fem.) girl) vs. le garçon (the (mas.) boy)), adjectives (e.g., German - eine kluge Frau (a smart (fem.) woman) vs. ein kluger Mann (a smart (mas.) man)), or verbs (e.g., Russian - матьчитала (mother read (fem.)) vs. отецчитал (father read (mas.))." [5]

Such a vast number of systems and differences implies a major difficulty for translators. According to Stroińska et al.: "Taking into account this level of variation with respect to grammatical gender, misalignment between the source language and the target language in the context of translation is the norm rather than an exception." [6] That is why awareness of the topic and the knowledge of gender markers in different languages is vital for translators so as they can avoid mistakes and misunderstandings.

Grammatical gender in Germanic languages: EnglishEdit

English has little gender marking in comparison to other languages. It does not have gender marking in nouns. However, it has gendered singular pronouns 'she' and 'he'. What is more, English pronoun 'they' allows to avoid defining a person's gender and to generalise a group to one gender.

"They is therefore gender-neutral or non-binary. They takes the normal plural forms, even when it refers to a singular person, e.g. “Anyone can apply, whether they are young or old”. So while English does have gendered pronouns, it also has gender-neutral or non-binary alternatives." [7]

Grammatical gender in Slavic languages: PolishEdit

On the other hand, in the Polish language the gender marking is crucial for the proper inflection and syntax. Gender is most often implied by the ending of a noun, however there are many rules concerning the gender ascription.
For more in depth information about gender marking in the Polish language click on the link below:
Wikipedia article on nouns in the Polish grammar

Examples of differences of gender nouns in different languagesEdit

The aim of this section is to show that sometimes there are some similarities in noun genders between different languages. Even though there are some rules governing the attribution of noun genders inside a given language family (in this case the Czech and the Polish languages - the Slavic languages) there still are some exceptions about which the translators should be aware of.

German, Czech and EnglishEdit

The table below shows gender-congruent examples of words in the German language and the Czech language. The individual letters (m, f, n) between each word in German and Czech have a crucial meaning, they show the grammatical gender of the word: m - masculine, f - feminine, n - neuter. The table is retrieved from - the publication by Denisa Bordag ans Thomas Pechmann linked here. [8]

Gender-congruent examples
German Czech English
m Ball m míˇc ball
m Hund m pes dog
m Zug m vlak train
m Baum m strom tree
m Brief m dopis letter
m Zahn m zub tooth
m Teller m talíˇr plate
m Teppich m koberec carpet
f Maus f myˇs mouse
f Hand f ruka hand
f Kerze f svíˇcka candle
f Karte f mapa map
f Dusche f sprcha shower
f Katze f koˇcka cat
f Tafel f tabule blackboard
f Krone f koruna crown
n Herz n srdce heart
n Feld n pole field
n Ei n vejce egg
n Ohr n ucho ear
n Fenster n okno window
n Meer n moˇre sea



The second table that is inserted below shows gender-incongruent examples of words in the German language and the Czech language.

Gender-incongruent examples
German Czech English
m Fuss f noha foot
m Stuhl f zˇidle chair
m Kopf f hlava head
m Wein n vino wine
m Fisch f ryba fish
m Schrank f skˇríˇn wardrobe
m Sessel n kˇreslo arm-chair
m Spiegel n zrcadlo mirror
f Burg m hrad castle
f Stadt n mˇesto town
f Nase m nos nose
f Sonne n slunce sun
f Brücke m most bridge
f Kirche m kostel church
f Butter n máslo blutter
f Tomate n rajˇce tomato
n Schiff f lod’ ship
n Bett f postel bed
n Pferd m k˚uˇn horse
n Dorf f vesnice village
n Eis f zmrzlina ice-cream
n Geschenk m dárek present


The examples show that some words have the same grammatical genders whereas others do not. There is no evidence of a rule that explains these similarities and differences.

Czech and PolishEdit

There are certain similarities within the Slavic languages:

"The Slavic languages mostly continue the Proto-Indo-European system of three genders, masculine, feminine and neuter. Gender correlates largely with noun endings (masculine nouns typically end in a consonant, feminine in -a and neuter in -o or -e) but there are many exceptions, particularly in the case of nouns whose stems end in a soft consonant." [9]

In order for the reader to see the theory in practice, the two tables from above are transformed (the German language is replaced by the Polish language) and inserted below.

Polish-Czech examples, from the Gender-congruent table
Polish Czech English
f piłka m míˇc ball
m pies m pes dog
m pociąg m vlak train
n drzewo m strom tree
m list m dopis letter
m ząb m zub tooth
m talerz m talíˇr plate
m dywan m koberec carpet
f mysz f myˇs mouse
f ręka f ruka hand
f świeca f svíˇcka candle
f mapa f mapa map
m prysznic f sprcha shower
m kot f koˇcka cat
f tablica f tabule blackboard
f korona f koruna crown
n serce n srdce heart
n pole n pole field
n jajko n vejce egg
n ucho n ucho ear
n okno n okno window
n morze n moˇre sea


As we can see, even though most of the examples are congruent, there are several exceptions. Below, there is the Gender-congruent table, where the German language was replaced by the Polish language.

Polish-Czech examples, from the Gender-incongruent table examples
Polish Czech English
f stopa f noha foot
n krzesło f zˇidle chair
f głowa f hlava head
n wino n vino wine
f ryba f ryba fish
f szafa f skˇríˇn wardrobe
m fotel n kˇreslo arm-chair
n lustro n zrcadlo mirror
m zamek m hrad castle
n miasto n mˇesto town
m nos m nos nose
n słońce n slunce sun
m most m most bridge
m kościół m kostel church
n masło n máslo blutter
m pomidor n rajˇce tomato
f łódź f lod’ ship
n łóżko f postel bed
m koń m k˚uˇn horse
f wioska f vesnice village
m lód f zmrzlina ice-cream
m prezent m dárek present



Most examples prove, that there are many similarities between the two languages and that the rule saying that masculine nouns usually end in a consonant, feminine in -a and neuter in -o or -e is true. Nevertheless, we should not forget that there are many exceptions that may form a difficulty for the translator.

TranslationEdit

Linguistic aspectsEdit

In most languages that mark grammatical gender, the natural gender of the referent of an animate noun is connected with its grammatical marking. Nevertheless, there are languages that associate gender to abstract and/or inanimate nouns. Sometimes, the grammatical gender is reflected in the personification of the word. As explained before, gender association differs between languages, e.g. "death" is feminine in Polish but masculine in English. The following section explains the difficulties that it poses for translators and is written on the basis of an article written by Magdalena Stroińska, Grażyna Drzazga and Katarzyna Kurowska titled "Translating grammatical gender - current challenges". [10]

The speaker self-referenceEdit

Some literary texts create its plot and introduce tension to the story by adding an element of a mystery and concealing the gender of a narrator or a given speaker/character. Nevertheless, in some languages the author/translator is obliged to reveal the gender of the speaker due to the gender marking. A great example is a novel titled "Heartstop" written by Joy Fielding. The story is created in a form of a journal written by a murderer. The ambiguous English pronoun - I - allowed the author to play with the story and used words suggest the reader a different gender of the killer multiple times throughout the whole book. [11]
The first chapter of the novel presents us with a sentence "Ultimately, I killed her with a single bullet to the head". The English language allows the author to conceal the identity of the killer. However, using the literal Polish translation of the world "killed" would demand using a gender marked word "zabiłam" which implies that the killer is a woman or "zabiłem" that implies that the murderer is a man. What Joy Fielding intended to do is he wanted to reveal the identity of the killer in the very last chapter. Because of that, the Polish translator of the book - Anna Zielińska - changed the subject of the sentence. She chose to made the victim, whose gender was known, the subject of the sentence - "Na koniec zginęła od jednego strzału w głowę" (Ultimately, she died from a single bullet to the head). The technique is called "changing subjects" and is one of several tactics that can be used by translators. [12]

Significant cultural conceptsEdit

According to Roman Jakobson, the grammatical gender ascribed to an inanimate noun has an impact on the perception of the referents of the nouns. [13] For example, in the Slavic languages "death" is a noun of a feminine grammatical gender and, by reason of that, in Slavic cultures death is shown as a female entity (Polish - śmierć). Contrarily, the Germanic languages tend to assign the masculine gender (German - der Tod) to the same noun and "death" in these cultures is portrayed as a male figure. In English "death" is a neuter noun but the grammatical gender in this language is related to the referent's sex. Hence death, if its personification is gendered, is usually based on the Germanic Grim Reaper and is male. [14]
These different ways of portrayal are a great challenge for translators. In Terry Prachett's series titled "Discworld" death is presented as a male character. Knowing that this noun is feminine in the Polish language and is culturally-grounded as a female, how should a translator complete the translation act bearing in mind that the original (English) character is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who is a man? Piotr W. Cholewa, the Polish translator, translated "death" literally as "śmierć". What he changed though is the referent's gender (from feminine to masculine). [15]
The following fragment:
" Death put down the timer, and then picked it up again. The sands of time were already pouring through. He turned it over experimentally, just in case. The sand went on pouring only now it was going upward: He hadn't really expected anything else [16]."
was translated as:
"Śmierć (feminine) odstawił (masculine) klepsydrę, ale po chwili wziął (masculine) ją znowu. Piasek czasu się przesypywał. Śmierć (feminine) na próbę odwrócił (masculine) życiomierz - dla sprawdzenia. Piasek sypał się dalej, tyle że teraz z dołu do góry. Śmierć (feminine) właściwie nie oczekiwał (masculine) niczego innego." [17]
Such strategy may be difficult in realization and the translated text may later occur as weird for a reader.
There are many other examples of culturally important concepts that can be challenging in translation: "war" masculine in English and in German (der Krieg) but feminine in Polish "wojna", "time" feminine in English in German (die Zeit) but masculine in Polish "czas" or "sin" being feminine in German (die Sünde) and masculine in Polish "grzech". [18] "

MisalignmentsEdit

Even though one may think that problems with the grammatical gender alignment may be only connected to literary translation, sometimes such misalignment may cause a huge misunderstanding in real life. A situation described by Stroińska et. al. is a perfect example: "While such gender misalignment may produce problems for translators, it may also cause confusion for target language listeners, with potentially serious consequences. In a recent case before the Ontario Criminal Court in Canada, a German speaker was telling the judge about a cash register that was left open in the employee room, which, in the defendant's view was the reason why he had taken some money out of it. However, he kept referring to the cash register as "she" because in German it is the feminine noun "die Kasse." The judge was confused about who the woman was that the man kept talking about and what her role was in the alleged theft. The defendant, on the other hand, did not understand why the judge kept asking him about a woman when he kept denying that any female was there. Since the matter was dealt with by the Mental Health Court, the confusion contributed to a picture of the accused as an unstable person, possibly influencing the outcome of the proceedings. In such a situation, it is the role of the court interpreter to explain to the English-speaking court officials that the confusion is caused by linguistic differences and not by the actions or the mental state of the non-native speaker, but negative first impressions are difficult to erase." [19]

Social changesEdit

This section focuses on the challenges that are connected with the recent changes in societies: new names of professions and titles, literature written for the LGBT community and political correctness.[20] The following section explains the difficulties that it poses for translators and is also written on the basis of an article written by Magdalena Stroińska, Grażyna Drzazga and Katarzyna Kurowska titled "Translating grammatical gender - current challenges".

New names of professions and titlesEdit

There are many reasons because of which languages constantly change. One of them are social changes and changing position of woman who seek equality. One way of confronting the already established patriarchal structures is offering feminine correspondents to the nouns of masculine gender. Such situation happens in Poland in case of names of occupations - feminine nouns are supposed to fight stereotypes and sexism through language and thus many hope for changes in the society. From the translator's point of view such concept hides more problems that it may seem at first. There is a question of translating words such as "chirurżka" (surgeon) or "psycholożka" (psychologist) into languages that do not use gender distinction. Such nouns are at least partially untranslatable and it is impossible to render the full sense without adding an additional word, for example adjective, e.g. "female surgeon". An additional problem is connected with its extralinguistic connotations and the necessity of using footnotes to explain the full context.

LGBTEdit

As the LGBT community challenges the natural gender (sex), the LGBT literature constitutes another challenge for the translators. Even though in some languages, like English, there are pronouns that are gender-neutral (they), many languages (e.g. Polish) do not have one. Inventing new pronouns when translating is unfortunately a bad idea as it may confuse the reader and cause more misunderstandings. According to Stroinska et. al. the best strategy is to abstain from the gender marking in translation, e.g. in Polish that would mean using only the present tense and writing the story from the "I" perspective.

Further readingEdit

For further reading about the topic click on the links below:
"Gender in Translation: Cultural Identity and the Politics of Transmission" by Sherry Simon
Losing meaning
Does grammatical gender influence perception?

Questions for the readersEdit

1. How do you understand the grammatical gender?
2. Do you remember the basic rule that governs the grammatical gender assignment in the Slavic languages?
3. What do you think are the biggest challenges for a translator when translating a Polish text into English and an English text into Polish?
4. Does your native language use grammatical genders of nouns? If yes, how many genders are there? Are there any rules governing the gender association? If no, how are the genders distinguished (e.g. usage of pronouns)?
5. Can you think of other challenges connected with the grammatical gender of nouns in translation?

SourcesEdit

  1. https://repository.ubn.ru.nl/bitstream/handle/2066/56466/56466.pdf?sequence=1
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_gender
  3. https://repository.ubn.ru.nl/bitstream/handle/2066/56466/56466.pdf?sequence=1
  4. Greville G. Corbett. 2013. Number of Genders. In: Dryer, Matthew S. & Haspelmath, Martin (eds.) The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. (Available online at http://wals.info/chapter/30, Accessed on 2021-04-20.)
  5. https://repository.ubn.ru.nl/bitstream/handle/2066/56466/56466.pdf?sequence=1
  6. Stroińska, M., Drzazga, G., & Kurowska, K. (2013). (PDF) Translating Grammatical Gender: Current Challenges. In M. Ganczar & P. Wilczek (Eds.), Tłumacz i przekład - wyzwania współczesności (pp. 195–210). Śląsk. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334330487_Translating_Grammatical_Gender_Current_Challenges
  7. https://www.cambridge.org/elt/blog/2020/09/24/gender-and-personality-stereotypes-language-data/
  8. https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00570741/file/PEER_stage2_10.1177%252F0267658307086299.pdf
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_gender
  10. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334330487_Translating_Grammatical_Gender_Current_Challenges
  11. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334330487_Translating_Grammatical_Gender_Current_Challenges
  12. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334330487_Translating_Grammatical_Gender_Current_Challenges
  13. R.W. Jakobson. 1959/2000. On linguistic aspects of translation. In: L. Venuti: The Translation Studies Reader. London/New York: Routledge.
  14. Stroińska, M., Drzazga, G., & Kurowska, K. (2013). (PDF) Translating Grammatical Gender: Current Challenges. In M. Ganczar & P. Wilczek (Eds.), Tłumacz i przekład - wyzwania współczesności (pp. 195–210). Śląsk. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334330487_Translating_Grammatical_Gender_Current_Challenges
  15. Stroińska, M., Drzazga, G., & Kurowska, K. (2013). (PDF) Translating Grammatical Gender: Current Challenges. In M. Ganczar & P. Wilczek (Eds.), Tłumacz i przekład - wyzwania współczesności (pp. 195–210). Śląsk. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334330487_Translating_Grammatical_Gender_Current_Challenges
  16. T. Prachett. 1992. Reaper Man. London: Corgi Books (p. 8)
  17. T. Prachett. Trans. P.W. Cholewa. 2012. Kosiarz. Warszawa: Prószyński i S-ka (p. 4)
  18. Stroińska, M., Drzazga, G., & Kurowska, K. (2013). (PDF) Translating Grammatical Gender: Current Challenges. In M. Ganczar & P. Wilczek (Eds.), Tłumacz i przekład - wyzwania współczesności (pp. 195–210). Śląsk. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334330487_Translating_Grammatical_Gender_Current_Challenges
  19. Stroińska, M., Drzazga, G., & Kurowska, K. (2013). (PDF) Translating Grammatical Gender: Current Challenges. In M. Ganczar & P. Wilczek (Eds.), Tłumacz i przekład - wyzwania współczesności (pp. 195–210). Śląsk. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334330487_Translating_Grammatical_Gender_Current_Challenges
  20. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334330487_Translating_Grammatical_Gender_Current_Challenges