What tools of translation for culture-specific idioms from English to Arabic?
Case study: Algiers University Master I Translation students

Boumerdes University


Idioms have received a considerable attention at the present time from linguists, lexicographs and translators. Phraseological semantics is keen to study these units which are “stable linguistic constructions of two or more words associated to communicative context and characterized by several factors, such as repetition, fixedness, idiomaticity and anomaly”. (Kunin 1986: 104). Translating such ready-made expressions, which are located above the world level, is one of the most attracting issues in translation studies. One asks how to translate those cultural specific units into a target language, knowing that attempts to decode them literally from one’s native tongue usually lead to senseless and confusing expressions. What is worse is that the use of automatic devices as a translation tool is excluded from the beginning, the results in almost all languages and cultures would definitely be funny and meaningless too.

This piece of work aims at exploring the nature of the tools used to translate cultural based idioms by asking what is used to translate idiomatic expressions from English to Arabic? What tool(s) is (are) most used? And which one (s) is (are) most adequate? The main purpose of the question is the examination of the way idioms are translated among the students of the Institute of Translation (Université d’Alger 2). Our main hypothesis assumed that most of learners encounter many difficulties in understanding and translating idioms which may be caused by the unfamiliarity with the English culture as well as the absence of tools to translate them into Arabic.

Our research is built on two research instruments which are the questionnaire and the interview; both are addressed to 20 participants. The selection of a small group obeys to the nature of our research methodology which is exploratory and qualitative. The questionnaire aims at revealing the tools exploited to reach the translation from English to Arabic, whereas the interview bases on the way idioms are perceived then translated. The data collected from the questionnaires and the interviews are analysed by using a software program in order to calculate the answers frequency and their percentages accurately.

The overall findings of this research revealed that most of students don’t find the majority of idioms in bilingual dictionaries and in other cases, the way to look for the idiom is fuzzy. This is why they use monolingual dictionaries to avoid misinterpreting the misleading idioms which seems transparent on the surface. Subsequently, they try to find an equivalent to the culture-specific idiom in the target language whenever the world is perceived differently. If not, the recognizable idioms are paraphrased in Arabic as a strategy of translation.

KEYWORDS: idiom- translation- tool- English- Arabic-