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June 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 3

ISSN 1755-9715

How To Translate Culturemes: A Case Study For The Bilateral Cuba-Canada “Global Perspective Annual Project

Tania Morales (MSc) Graduated in 1991 as  Bachelor in  Education, specializing in English. Assistant Professor, Master in Education. She has 28 years of experience in teacher training, and currently works at the Language Center in the University Camilo Cienfuegos in Matanzas, Cuba. She  belongs to the Chair of Reading and Writing and the project Teaching-learning Languages ​​and Literature. He has participated in international events such as Humanistic, XI International Symposium Education and Culture and Pedagogy 2016. She has published articles in the indexed magazine Athens. Email:

Ana Iris Medina Uribe (MSc) graduated in 1993 as  Bachelor in  Education, specializing in English. Full  Professor, Master in Education. She has 26 years of experience in teacher training. Works at the Language Center in the University Camilo Cienfuegos in Matanzas , Cuba. She  belongs to the Chair of Reading and writing and the project Teaching _ learning languages ​​and literature. She has participated in international events such as Humanistic, XI International Symposium Education and Culture and Pedagogy 2016, She has published articles in the indexed magazine Athens.  Email:

Maritza Nunez Arévalos is teacher at Camilo Cienfuegos University, in Matanzas, Cuba. She is interested in speaking and reading skills. She has written many articles about reading comprehension, communicative approach, conceptual maps, motivation, etc. . She has co-written about reading comprehension, motivation, communicative approach, etc. She is interested on everything related with ELT. She has 28 years of experiences working as a professor. E-mail:



This  paper focuses on the translation of culture-specific items related with the translation of the lectures offered in the bilateral Cuba-Canada annual project by Cuban specialists of different topics, demonstrating how these items call for specific translation treatment. The material for analysis has been sourced directly from the bilateral Cuba-Canada    ¨Global Perspective¨ annual project stock of  lectures. In the present study, we will review the literature concerning cultural aspects within the framework of translation studies. Then, we will examine the procedures for translating culture-specific items in Cuba source texts and their corresponding English versions. The paper concludes with some remarks about the role of the translator in the field of cultural promotion.



In the increasingly cross-cultural world we live in, translators and interpreters are seen as mediators between cultures. In this mediation task, they are likely to come across words that have a specific meaning in each culture so that biculturalism is an important asset for translators (Nord, 1991). Culture is one of the most important aspects of  Cuba  and a sector which is, by nature, multicultural. As cultural  texts are concerned, the mediator’s task involves awareness of cultural differences in order to reach the cultural potential of the island emphasizing in  the mediation role of translators too there for; it is declared as objective of this paper : To register  a set of culturemes used in the lectures taught in the Cuba-Canada  ¨Global Perspective¨ annual program.

The translation as “a mediation tool:”Tourism is an activity which involves the direct contact between cultures and all that this includes (folklore, customs, gastronomy, etc.) and therefore, Culture in general. Language is considered here as a joint element between two cultures and the author believes that the mediator’s task involves a great deal of linguistic and cultural challenges. Emphasizing the informative and persuasive functions of cultural texts,  underlines that translation in this case must be oriented beyond the needs of the target audience. (Isabel Cómitre Narváez, 2014)

Cultural terms  have as an essential function: to characterize the subject dealt with, be a city, a region or a country. Moreover, they contribute to transference of information and to an exact description. (José María Valverde Zambrana, 2014)

For a better understanding of the translation of cultural aspects in cultural promotion , we will first review the literature concerning cultural aspects in translation.


Cultural aspects in translation studies

Cultural  aspects have received different denominations in Translation Studies. Nida (1945) speaks about “cultural foreign words.” The concept of “cultureme” originally introduced by Oksaar (1988), retaken by Reiss and Vermeer (1984/1996), Nord (1997) and revisited by Katan (2009).Newmark (1991) prefers “cultural terms.” In 1970, Vlakhov and Floríncoined the term realia. In 1981, Nida and Reyburn, introduced a wider concept that they call “presuppositions.” Baker (1992, 1995) labels them“culture-specific concepts.” Foreman (1992) uses the term “cultural references” which does not limit itself to the lexicon marked culturally, but it allows the inclusion of symbols, icons, gestures, etc. Scholars keep on extending the diversity of denominations introducing “cultural bumps” (Leppihalme 1995), “culturally marked segments” (Mayoral and Muñoz 1997), “culture-bound references,” “culture-specific items” (Franco Aixelà 1996), (Nedergaard-Larsen 2003), Ceramella (2008) and Valdéon García(2009)

Translating contracts as culturemes the contracting parties thus have to agree upon the governing law, as well as on the language(s) in which the contract will be drafted. Drafting one or more language versions of an international contract thus always involves some extent of translation. Hence, a targeted approach to the translation of contracts has to take into account their linguistic and extra-linguistic dimensions, i.e. combine the stances of contrastive legal linguistics, comparative law and those translation theories which particularly suit legal translation.


Translation model

The translation model proposed in this paper combines different translation approaches with the findings of comparative law regarding the differences between legal systems and their impacts on legal languages and underpins them with the results of a corpus study of  a set of conferences taught by Cuban Specialists to Canadian students. In these set of conferences there are a number of skopos that the translators must be aware of.

According to Reib and Vermeer (1984)  Skopos are considered  as the decisive factor determining the type of translation to be produced. Moreover, by taking into account the cultural embeddedness of services, it views them as culturemes, i.e. formalized, socially and juridically embedded phenomena, existing in a particular form and function in a given culture (cf. Oksaar 1988: 26-27; Vermeer1983: 8; Nord 1997: 34). It furthermore proposes to view the cultureme split into several levels where culture-specific features can be identified. According to Chesterman (1997: 7) they have the status of memes: units of cultural transfer encapsulating ideas, concepts, cultural practices, etc., which can only be transmitted verbally across cultures through translation. The text as cultureme is thus observed in its extra-linguistic (the extent and contents of the contract as required by or customary in the relevant legislation) and linguistic (i.e. lexical, syntactic, pragmatic, stylistic) memetic levels.


Establishing the skopos of the translation

In the initial phase the translator uses the data contained in the translation brief, gathers the necessary additional information from the employer  and/or evaluates the circumstances of the communicative situation for which the translation is needed to define the skopos of the target text (TT). Some of the possible functions of the TT are:

  • drafting one of the bi-/multilingual versions having equal legal force within an international legal transaction, where one legal system will be binding, i.e. defined as the governing law.
  • the TT will be produced for one of the parties to the contract, but will not have the status of authentic text.
  • the source text (ST) will be used as a basis for a new contract in the target legal system and will thus have to be adapted by transferring and mutating memes on different text levels;.
  • the TT will be produced for receivers in the target legal system who do not speak the source language to enable them to study the characteristics of the source legal system and language;
  • the TT will be produced for a party external to the contract, e.g. a financial institution/bank as proof of a future income (e.g. for the granting of a loan);
  • parts of the TT will be used in the target environment for publication, e.g. a newspaper article.


Defining the type of translation in accordance with the skopos

At this stage, the translator will determine the type of translation which will best suit the prospective use of the TT. According to Cao (2007: 10-12), legal translation can be produced for normative, informative and/or general legal or  judicial purposes.

Translation for normative purposes implies producing translations of legal instruments in bilingual and multilingual jurisdictions, where the ST and the TT have equal legal force. In the case of contracts this kind of translation is necessary within bilingual/multilingual legislations.

Translation for informative purposes has connotative or descriptive functions and includes translations of different categories of legal texts, produced in order to provide information to target culture receivers. It only has informative value and no legal force. In the case of contracts, this category applies to contracts made by parties pertaining to different legal settings in different language versions, of which one is defined as the authentic text. The author declares that this is the type of translation used in the program mentioned before. It is necessary to point out that experienced translators will usually be able to establish the skopos and the kind of translation best suiting it, while the relevant information may also be supplied in the translation brief which can contribute considerably to the quality and functionality of the translation.  


Establishing the legal systems involved in the translation and their hierarchy

When translating contracts it needs to be considered that although the translation involves two different legal languages and usually two legal cultures, not all legal systems involved will directly be considered. When translating within an international or supranational legal system, such as the law of the UN or the EU or within a multilingual jurisdiction  ,  only one legal system will be involved and thus binding. In

contracts regulating the relationships between parties from different countries, where the contracting parties usually agree upon one legal system as the governing law, there will be two or more legal systems involved, but only one binding and thus hierarchically superior. Hence, this binding legal system will underlie both the ST and the TT.

There is the possibility that in accordance with the skopos the ST will have to be translated from the source legal language and thus from the legal system underlying it into the target legal language and target legal system. In this case it will have to be culturally transferred into the target legal system, which in this case shall apply as binding and hierarchically superior. To embed the TT into the target legal culture, adaptations will have to be carried out on all memetic levels. In such situations, two legal systems will be involved and the level of translatability of the text will depend on the extent of their relatedness.


Establishing the level of relatedness of the legal systems involved

 At this stage, the translator should identify the legal families to which the legal systems involved in translation belong and establish their degree of relatedness. Hence, a translator should be well acquainted with the major legal families, their differences and common traits and thus be able to anticipate the potential pitfalls resulting from the (un)relatedness of legal systems.

Due to these differences the translator may anticipate more translation problems  .When recognizing one of the above presented scenarios, the translator will be able to foresee equivalence-related problems, as in the case of typical lexical memes of Anglo-American concepts, such as consideration or estoppel, or concepts referring to the Law of Obligations in the case of continental contracts.


Analysing the ST cultureme – Identifying memes on different levels

At this stage, the translator will have to identify the memes which on the extralinguistic and linguistic level form the cultureme of the source contract text. To this purpose he/she will need considerable knowledge of the text conventions applying to contracts in different legal cultures, and thus recognize the universal, as well as legal culture prototypical features of contract texts. On the macrostructural level of the text extra-linguistic factors (the legal system) determine the extent and content elements  


Cubanisms and the program

 In the analyses made to the set of lectures taught to the participants of the Cuba-Canada  ¨Global Perspective¨ annual program; the authors of this research could determine a series of culturemes and Cubanisms that have been used in the lectures and have originated a deep study of this issue .

According to an agreement with what was expressed by the Cuban intellectual  Fernando Ortiz, in "The human factors of Cubanness", conference addressed to the students of the Iota-Eta fraternity, of the University of Havana, on November 28, 1939, " [...] Cubanism, in the strict sense, is the turn or way of speaking proper of Cubans ".1

Although many Cubans have been incorporated into the Dictionary of the Spanish language, there are many more to be included in this important lexicon. That does not mean that we cannot use them; On the contrary, as I have said and repeated ad nauseam, words enter the dictionary when they have been sanctified by use. In an essay entitled "A turns with Americanisms: presence of the Cuban colloquial lexicon in the Drae", by the professor at the University of Tarragona, Spain, Esther Forgas, a thorough analysis of this phenomenon is carried out and many of these are listed Cubanisms not yet collected in the Dictionary of the Spanish language (2014). Anapist, anirist, cederista and federada are still absent, terms of curious origin the first three, as they are derived from the acronym Anap (National Association of Small Farmers), Anir (National Association of Innovators and Rationalizers) and CDR (Committee for the Defense of Revolution), which is not a usual procedure for the formation of words in our language. However, there they are, in the use of today's Cuban. These almendrones do not appear, an inescapable part of the urban landscape; nor our delicious and typical tachinos and ladybugs; nor that Cuban point that is part of our most popular music. Neither appear characters that qualify our reality as the casaola, the worm, the mayimbe, the mechado, the tracatán,  ... And as far as the phraseology is concerned, some common colloquialisms such as singing the manisero, casting a palan skate, speak husks, have guara, sell the box, among many that emerged during the british occupation of Havana  for example: La hora de los mameyes, Vidrio Inglés , de a Pepe and others that give color to the Cuban variant of Spanish. Also some economic terms such as : Cooperativa no agropecuaria, period especial, trapiche, CUCetcs. In the religion we have: Guije, ceiba, Yoruba, In the music: el tres, los bongos, conga, son, danson.

However, I reiterate that this does not mean that these words or phrases are incorrect. Some of them appear in other dictionaries, for example, mariquita, "thin green banana wheel", appears in the Basic School Dictionary, of the Center for Applied Linguistics, in Santiago, and speak husks, such as "saying something inconvenient or inopportune" , appears in the exemplified dictionary of the Spanish of Cuba, of the deceased Cuban linguists Antonia MaríaTristá and Gisela Cárdenas, title of recent appearance. However, even if they do not appear in any lexicon, they are part of the Cuban variant of Spanish and are completely valid. (, 2018)

One of the most expected activity is the ¨Langauge Festival¨ in which the Canadian participants are expose to use Spanish and as teenagers they are more likely to use slangs and popular Cuban phrases. In this course we use this article taken from the Posthumous Edition of the New Catauro of Cubanismos.Gladys Alonso, Publisher. 2018. We submit a list of the 10 funniest and more used Cuban expressions that we used in the program.

With the knowledge and regret of having left out hundreds of expressions, these are in our opinion some of the funniest phrases of Cuban slang today:

  1. Asere Qué Bolá?  What is it flying? [Acere Ke Boola] means: What's up, buddy? How are you? The word "asere" was settled due to African influence, was the greeting given by African slaves, specifically the Carabali, at the beginning of the Abakuá rituals.
  2. Ando a la my love [Ando a la machado] means: A synonym of being relaxed, without worries. It also means being naked. In this case, the obvious influence of English stands out.
  3. Coger Botella : Ask for a lift (hitchhiking). This phrase had its greatest peak in the 90s, when the Cuban state created the post of "the yellows" (transport agents with uniform of the same color, responsible for stopping the state cars to facilitate public transport), although also refers to the general way of asking for a lift.
  4. Irse pa´l Yuma )Leaving pa'l yuma: Its literal meaning is to travel to the US, but recently it has been used as a synonym of traveling abroad, whatever the country. The word yuma is also used as an appreciation of the American.
  5. ¨Sirvió Rodríguez¨(Rodriguez served! ): It is a jocular mixture of the affirmation "served" with the name of the famous Cuban troubadour Silvio Rodríguez. It is used to show enthusiasm for a plan engineered to perfection or by arranging an appointment with friends and can be replaced by "played."
  6. Tirar la soga( throw the rope) : It is not to throw a cigar lighted on someone, but on the contrary, this expression has a meaning as simple as helping others. You can throw a rope at your friend in the move, in an exam or taking care of the children. If you are in Cuba and a tire breaks down, you can go to the first Cuban who passes by and say: "Partner, do me the favor and throw me a ¨rope¨ with the car."
  7. Eres un punto (You are a point) : It is a derogatory phrase. It is called in Cuba to the very innocent person, who "they pass him cat for hare" and does not realize, also for cases in which someone is a victim of infidelity or to refer to extremely noble people.
  8. 8.  Las tengo a pululu (I have them to pululu): It refers to the man who shows joy about the good state of "mood" of women towards him. He is the youngest of these mentioned Cubanisms and comes from the popular Cuban humor show "Vivir del cuento". It is the "Ruperto" character and has come to stay within popular speech, due to the typical mischievousness of Cuban man in terms of relationships.
  9. Completo  Camagüey (Complete Camagüey): Refers that everything is over, or the end of a task. This phrase has its origin in the revolutionary process. When at the beginning of the Revolution all the reforms were being made and nationalizing foreign companies, a lightning campaign was carried out in the province of Camagüey, and at the end of the revolution, the phrase began to roll from mouth to mouth, in the sense of the "finished task" " in the province.
  10. ¨ arriba de la bola"... UP FROM THE BALL!": Be aware of everything, updated. To be the maximum. This phrase was popularized in the 90s by the singer "Manolín, the doctor of salsa" with his song "Arriba de la bola"


Direct translation techniques used in the program

They are used when structural and conceptual elements of the source language can be transposed into the target language:

Borrowing: taking words straight into another language, also known as ‘transfer’ (eg using baguette, Schadenfreude or glasnost in an English text)

Calque: borrowing a phrase from another language and translating it literally word-forword (eg translating the French marché aux puces as ‘flea market’ in English or the English skyscraper as ‘gratte-ciel’ in French)

Literal translation: a word-for-word translation


Indirect  translation techniques used in the program

They are used when the structural or conceptual elements of the source language cannot be directly translated without altering meaning or upsetting the grammatical and stylistic elements of the target language: (, 2019)

Transposition: changing the sequence of parts of speech (for example, rendering a French noun with an English verb, such as après sa mort ‘after she died’)

Modulation: using a phrase that is different in the source and target languages to convey the same idea (for example, German uses Lebensgefahr [literally, ‘danger to life’] where English uses ‘danger of death’ or a French speaker will refer to the dernier étage of a building where an English speaker will refer to the ‘top floor’)

Reformulation or equivalence: expressing something in a completely different way, as is common, for example, when translating idioms or proverbs that do not have direct equivalents in other languages

Adaptation: expressing something specific to the source language culture in a totally different way that is more familiar in or appropriate to the target language culture (a good example would be paraphrasing expressions in English deriving from cricket, such as ‘being on a sticky wicket’, ‘having had a good innings’ or ‘bowling a googly’)

Compensation: expressing somewhere else in the target text something that cannot be translated and whose meaning would be lost in the immediate translation.


Some advises to better the role of translators and interpreters of the program

Translators do not wake up one day capable of translating any and every text. Like any other skill, translation requires motivation, cultivation, and time to perfect. What’s more, translation relies heavily on tacit knowledge, or knowledge that cannot simply be transferred to someone else by verbalizing it or writing it down. If translation simply involved a 1:1 relationship between words and concepts, computers would have replaced us long ago. Good translators have internalized years (if not decades) of linguistic, cultural, and field-specific knowledge to become the professionals that they are. How do they keep their knowledge up to snuff? The best translators work hard to ensure that they keep internalizing new knowledge to hone their translation skills. Here are just a few of the ways they do it.

 (, 2019)


Read, read, read

All good translators are prolific readers. They spend a good amount of time reading good writing, whether it be prose or poetry, fiction or non-fiction. They also read in all of the languages in which they work. Reading good writing allows translators to internalize good grammar and more varied vocabulary. Ever find yourself using a great word you recently read? The more great words translators read, the greater their own words will be, too.


Write, write, and write some more

Regardless of the intended audience, good translators also practice writing. While translators write day in and day out for their work, they are not usually writing with their own voice. Finding one’s own words and committing them to paper is an excellent way to practice formulating cogent phrases, which will make for better writing and better translation. More powerful still is editing one’s own writing and thinking critically about how it is written.


Keep up with industry trends and terminology

It is critically important for translators to keep abreast of the trends and ever-evolving terminology in their fields. One good way to do this is to regularly read news and trade journal articles related to their areas of expertise. Another, more challenging option, is to attend industry conferences. If you do not have the means to attend trade conferences halfway across the globe, you can largely make up for it by being motivated to read what comes out of them.


Maintain source (and target) language proficiency

Many people think it’s impossible to lose your native language. As anyone who has lived abroad for any length of time (I myself lived abroad for six years from 2005 until 2011) will tell you, the longer you are immersed in another language, the more foreign your native language will start to feel. Some people who move abroad may decide to give up their mother tongue altogether. It is critical for translators to practice their languages outside of their translation work. If you live abroad, this means regularly traveling back to your home country (and/or cultivating a community of native speakers to interact with if going back to your target language country is difficult or unsafe). If you live in a country where your native language is spoken, sufficient exposure to your source language(s) also needs to be a priority. Corinne McKay and Eve Bodeux made a great podcast earlier this year on how to do just that that everyone should listen to.


Continuing education

Continuing education is yet another way that good translators ensure that their knowledge about their industries, latest technologies available, and best practices in their field is up to date. Most translator certifications require continuing education credits in order to maintain certification (for good reason!), but good translations, even if they are not certified, still attend continuing education seminars every couple of months. It is now easier than ever to attend remotely, too.


Challenge your translation skills

Yoyo Ma never would have become the musician he is today if he had only mastered Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and had been content to play that one song for the rest of his life. Translators, like all other skilled professionals, get better through practice. One of the best ways to practice is to challenge yourself with more complex and more difficult translations. You have an ethical responsibility to your clients not to practice on texts that you are being paid to complete, so you should set aside time to work on ever-harder texts to continue learning how to work through more complex translation problems.


Critical feedback

Finally, good translators seek constructive feedback. Egos aside, it’s hard to know how good your work is without a critical evaluation from someone else. Have your work read by someone with more experience than you who is able to provide a truly objective opinion. Use that person’s feedback to identify areas for improvement and conscientiously work to address them. Learning, especially for translators, is a lifelong process. And while perfect is a word that hardly ever applies to translation, practice is indispensable for translators to continuously improve. Good translators actively work at sharpening their skills and are never satisfied with what they already know. Be curious, be creative, and have fun becoming a better translator!



A variety of different approaches have been examined in relation to the cultural implications for translation. It is necessary to examine these approaches bearing in mind the inevitability of translation loss when the text is, as here, culture bound. Considering the nature of the text and the similarities between the ideal ST and TT reader, an important aspect is to determine how much missing background information should be provided by the translator using these methods. It has been recognised that in order to preserve specific cultural references certain additions need to be brought to the TT. This implies that formal equivalence should not be sought as this is not justified when considering the expectations of the ideal TT reader. At the other end of Nida's scale, complete dynamic equivalence does not seem totally desirable either as cultural elements have been kept in order to preserve the original aim of the text.

Thus the cultural implications for translation of this kind of ST do not justify using either of these two extremes and tend to correspond to the definition of communicative translation, attempting to ensure that content and language present in the SL context is fully acceptable and comprehensible to the TL readership.  (Newmark, 2018)


References (2018). (2019). (2019). (2019).

Isabel Cómitre Narváez, U. o. (2014). How to translate a cultural specific item.

José María Valverde Zambrana. (2014). University of Málaga.

Newmark. (2018).

Nord, C. (1991). Text Analysis in Translation. Theory, Methodology, and Didactic Application of a Model for Translation-Oriented Text Analysis.


Please check the British Life, Language and Culture course at Pilgrims website.

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