A Study of Idiomatic Expressions and Cultural Concepts in Literary Translation of Simin Daneshvar's 'Savushun'

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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translation Techniques  »  A Study of Idiomatic Expressions and Cultural Concepts in Literary Translation of Simin Daneshvar's 'Savushun'

A Study of Idiomatic Expressions and Cultural Concepts in Literary Translation of Simin Daneshvar's 'Savushun'

By Aziz Abdolshahnejad | Published  06/7/2009 | Translation Techniques | Recommendation:
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Quicklink: http://arm.proz.com/doc/2423
Aziz Abdolshahnejad
անգլերենից ֆարսի translator

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1. Introduction
This paper is a discussion of a case study of translating 'Savushun' form Persian into English by Roxane Zand in 1992. The author of 'Savushun' is Simin Daneshvar.
Simin Dāneshvar (Persian: سیمین دانشور) (born on April 28, 1921 in Shiraz, Iran) is an Iranian academic, renowned novelist, fiction writer and translator of literary works from English, German, Italian and Russian into Persian. Daneshvar has a number of "firsts" to her credit. In 1948, her collection of Persian short stories was the first by an Iranian woman to be published. The first novel by an Iranian woman was her Savushun ("Mourners of Siyāvosh," 1969), which has become Iran's bestselling novel ever. Daneshvar's Playhouse, a collection of five stories and two autobiographical pieces, is the first volume of translated stories by an Iranian woman author. ("Simin Daneshvar", n.d)
As an author and translator, Daneshvar writes sensitively about the Iranian woman and her life. Daneshvar's most successful work Savushun, a novel about settled and tribal life in and around her home-town of Shiraz, was published in 1969. A best-seller of all Persian novels, it has undergone at least sixteen reprints. ("Simin Daneshvar", n.d)
There are two famous translations of this novel in English, Mohammad Reza Ghanoonparvar's Savushun that was published in 1990 in the United States of America , and Roxane Zand's A Persian Requiem that was published in 1992 . The focus of this paper is on the translation of first chapter by Roxane Zand who changes Savushun (the original name of novel) to A Persian Requiem.
Roxane Zand is from Iran originally but now she lives in England. She is Persian so she is good in Persian idiomatic expressions and cultural concepts which are our focus in this paper.
The good point in this story is detailed descriptions. The detailed descriptions are crystal clear. Because of these details, it seems that the translation into target language isn't a difficult task.
The choice of narrator is important for understanding the literary work by the reader. Narrator is third person limited through the eyes of Zari who is the first character in this story. The author as a narrator described the details; however the translator translated the details with some changes such as deletion and substitution.
There are two important issues in this translation: idiomatic expressions and cultural concepts that they are described in the following.

2. Idiomatic Expressions
First important issue in translation of Savushun is idiomatic expressions. An expression whose meanings cannot be inferred from the meanings of the words that make it up, but which seems perfectly natural to native speakers of the language. The sentiments central to these expressions usually exist in some form in every language, but the individual expressions are untranslatable ("Idiomatic expression," n.d). In the following, there is an idiomatic sentence that the translator translated it in an understandable way:

Persian sentence:
(خط روي نان با خشخاش پر شده بود: "تقديمي صنف نانوا به حكمران عدالت گستر".)

Translated text:
A poppy-seed inscription reads: presented the bakers' guild to our honorable Governor.

Savushun's language consists of two parts: quotations and narrator's descriptions that in following it's showed the language of this novel is both idiomatic and formal.

2.1. Quotations
One of important parts of Savushun is characters' quotations. Characters' quotations in this story are more or less colloquial and idiomatic. The translation of these parts should be colloquial and idiomatic too and the translator should be familiar with idiomatic expressions in source language to transfer them acceptable in target language. For example:

Persian sentence:
(يوسف تا چشمش به نان افتاد گفت: "گوساله ها، چطور دست مير غضبشان را مي بوسند! چه نعمتي حرام شده و آن هم در چه موقعي ...)"

Translated text:
The minute Yusef set eyes on it, he blurted out loud: "those fools! Licking the boots that kick them! And to waste so much at a time like this …"
The translator tried to translate this quotation according to source language without any change.

2.2. Narrator's Description
Other important part of Savushun is narrator description. The language of the narrator is not informal and colloquial, so the translator translated this part formally.
For example:
Persian sentence:
(مهمانهايي كه نزديك زن و شوهر بودند و شنيدند يوسف چه گفت اول از كنارشان عقب نشستند و بعد از اطاق عقدكنان بيرون رفتند.)
Translated text:
The guests nearby who overhead Yusef first edged away and then left the room.

The translator tried to translate this narrator description according to Persian sentence; just she changed 'the couple' to the name of man: Yusef.
According to above parts, Savushun's language is idiomatic in quotations and formal in narrator descriptions.

3. Cultural Concepts
Language is the principle means whereby we conduct our social lives. When it is used in contexts of communication, it is bounded up with culture in multiple and complex ways. To begin with, the words people utter refer to common experience. They express facts, ideas or events that are communicable because they refer to stock of knowledge about the world that other people share. Words also reflect their authors' attitudes and beliefs, their point of view that are also those of others. (Kramsch, 1998, p.3)
One way of thinking about culture is to contrast it with nature. Nature refers to what is born and grows organically (from the Latin nascere: to be born); culture refers to what has been grown and groomed (from the Latin colere: to cultivate). (Kramsch, 1998, p.4)
In translation, the translator should be familiar with the original and target languages and cultures. Some translators have problems in language and some in culture, but both are necessary to have a good translation.
Savushun's translator is Persian so she is familiar with Persian language and she tried to translate cultural concepts correctly. She had problems in these parts and sometimes she couldn't find correct sentences to some cultural concepts and she omitted them, for example:

Persian sentence:
(چطور به آنها كه حرفهاي يوسف را شنيده اند التماس كنم كه شتر ديدي نديدي)

Translated text:
How on earth do I cover up for what Yusef has just said?
The underlined cultural concept in Persian sentence is omitted.

Newmark (1981) suggests two kinds of translations for literary translation: semantic translation and communicative translation.
Communicative translation attempts to produce on its readers an effect as close as possible to that obtained on the readers of the original. Semantic translation attempts to render, as closely as the semantic and syntactic structures of the second language allow, the exact contextual meaning of the original. (p.39)
The translator of Savushun translated cultural concepts with communicative translation, because the translator wanted to produce the same effect on target reader as the source reader and this kind of effect doesn't obtain with word for word translation. In communicative translation, the translator should be familiar with target language and culture, so the translator tried to render cultural concepts into target language and culture. However the first language of translator isn't English, she changed in some parts with the deletion, cultural substitution and sometimes definition for some special words. In the following, there are some examples for these changes:

3.1. Deletion:
Omission means dropping a word or words from the SLT while translating. This procedure can be the outcome of the cultural clashes that exist between the SL and the TL (Marouane Zakhir, n.d). The following sentence is an example for this matter:

Persian sentence:
چانه اش را به چه بزرگي برداشته اند؟

The translator omits this sentence because it doesn't have equivalent in the TT.

3.2. Cultural Substitution:
Cultural substitution refers to the case where the translator uses equivalent words that are ready-made in the TL, and serve the same goal as those of the SL. In other words, the translator substitutes cultural words of the SL by cultural words of the TL (Marouane Zakhir, n.d). The main substitution is the name of novel from Savushun to A Persian Requiem. The second example as we can mention is:

The Persian sentence:
دندانهايي كه روزي روزگاري از سفيدي برق مي زد و حالا ديگر از دود قليان سياه شده بود.

Translated text:
Teeth which had once sparkled, but were now yellow from pipe-smoking.
The translator substituted the underlined Persian phrase by expressions which are culturally specific in the English.

3.3. Definition:
A definition is defining the meaning of a word or phrase in the source language, because there isn't the exact equivalent word in target language. In this translation, there are some definitions instead of a word such as:
The Persian sentence:
خم شد و سفره قلمكار را كنار زد

Translated text:
Bending over, she lifted the hand-printed calico tablecloth.
If the communicative translation is used, there isn't need to translate cultural concepts literally. The translator tried to use definition of Persian word.

4. Conclusion
It is a great challenge dealing with a language that has different idiomatic and cultural concepts. The translator couldn't translate the idiomatic expressions and cultural concepts literally. The language of novel is both colloquial in quotation and formal in narrator description. Being familiar with different idiomatic expressions and cultural concepts is very important in translation process that the translator might be encountered in literary translation especially from Persian in English, so s/he might use the deletion, substitution and definition procedures. At last, it's concluded that the translator didn't find any exact equivalence in target language, and she omitted or changed the idiomatic expressions and cultural concepts in the translation.


Daneshvar, S. (1992). A Persian Requiem, translated by R. Zand. New York: G. Braziller.

Daneshvar, S. (1969). Savushun. Tehran: Kharazmi.

Idiomatic expression. (n.d). Retrieved June 2009, from http://web.viu.ca/atkinsona/241-idiomatic_expression.htm

Kramsch, C. (1998). Language and Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Newmark, P. (1981). Approaches to Translation. Oxford and New York: Pergamon.

Simin Daneshvar. (n.d). Retrieved June 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simin_Daneshvar

Zakhir, M. (n.d). Translation Procedures (October 2008). Retrieved June 2009, from http://www.translationdirectory.com/articles/article1704.php

By Aziz Abdolshahnejad & Zahra Beheshtirooi,
Azad University,
Shahreza Branch,
Esfahan, Iran
[email protected]
[email protected]

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