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this is my article about 22 pages i wanna make summary for that about 10 pages

Translation: Some Lexical and Syntactic Problems
& Suggested Solutions
By: Saudi Sadiq
This paper deals with some lexical and syntactic problems of translation and offers modest solutions to
each. Among the lexical problems offered are the absence of direct TL counterparts, the different
function of the TL counterpart, words with opposite meanings, eponyms, acronyms, abbreviations and
proper names. The syntactic problems include: tense, word order and syntactic ambiguity.
Translation is the process consisting in “reproducing in the receptor language the closest
natural equivalent of the source-language message, first in meaning and secondly in style”
(Nida & Taber, 1969, p. 12). Since it is a process of constant search for the transfer of a
message from the Source Language (SL) into the Target Language (TL), translation is often
accompanied by many problems that may be a result of the differences in both languages or
differences in the cultures represented by them. Thus, translation problems may be linguistic
and/or cultural.
This paper is concerned with some of the linguistic problems, mainly lexical and
syntactic, and attempting to offer some solutions to them. First, the problem is decided upon,
many examples from different texts in general and the Glorious Qur’ân in particular are
given, and the solution is finally suggested. The Glorious Qur’ân examples necessitate
offering different translations of their meanings. The translations utilized are those attempted
by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, ‘Abdullâh Yûsuf ‘Alî, and Muhammad Mahmûd
1. Lexical Problems
1.1. The Absence of Direct TL Counterparts
The first lexical problem any translator faces is to have many vocabularies in the SL with no
direct counterparts in the TL. In this case, the SL word meaning can be conveyed relying on
another TL word having the same function. For example, in languages where snow is not a
known phenomenon, translating the phrase “white as snow” poses a problem. But this
problem can be solved depending on another expression having the same function like “white
as cotton”, provided that cotton is known to express the meaning of whiteness in these
languages (Nida, 1959, pp. 29-30). Other times, however, the SL word has neither a direct
counterpart nor another word of a similar function in the TL. Then, the translator can rely on
paraphrase. For instance, in translating ‫عع ُحورٍع يِو ع‬hûrin ‘eenin
included in the Qur’ânic
ٍ ‫اه ْم ِِبُوٍر ِع‬
َ ِ‫ َك َذل‬
ُ َ‫ك َوَزَّو ْجن‬
Kaţhâlika wa zawwajnâhum bi-hûrin ‘eenin / so it will be. We shall wed them to maidens
with large, dark eyes (44:54) 3 into English, a paraphrase like “extremely beautiful females of
bright complexion and lovely eyes” can do. If there is no possibility to paraphrase, then
transliteration is the last resort; and this is what happened in Arabic with many inventions
such as telephone (transliterated as ‫)تل فرن‬, radio (transliterated as ‫ )ٍادير‬and television
(transliterated as‫)تل فزيرنع‬.
1.2. The Different Function of the TL Counterpart
A direct TL counterpart for an SL word may exist, but with a different function. This may
also cause a problem for the inexperienced translator, who may be misled and then misleads
his/her receptors. As Nida suggests, heart in Greek should be translated as abdomen in
Conob, a Mayan language of Guatemala, and as liver in the Kabba-Laka language of
Equatorial Africa (1959, p. 30). This does not mean that Conob and Kabba-Laka have no
See Appendix 1 showing a table of the Arabic sounds and their phonetic values in English.‫ع‬
‫عع‬2 These brackets  are used to quote Qur’ânic verses.
For more clarification, the translations of the Qur’ânic verses are cited from M. A. S. Abdel Haleem’s The
Qur’an. However, this does not mean that the researcher totally agrees with them.‫ع‬
similar words for the Greek heart. Rather, it means that the function of the Greek heart is
carried out by abdomen in Conob and by liver in Kabba-Laka.
1.3. Words With Opposite Meanings
Words with opposite meanings pose a problem in translation, especially when translated from
or into Arabic. For instance, anyone aiming at translating the Qur’ânic verse:
‫ص َن ِِبَنْ ُف ِس ِه ّن ثَالَثَةَ قُ ُرَوٍء‬
ُ ‫ َوال ُْمطَلّ َق‬
ْ ّ‫ات يَتَ َرب‬
Wal-muţallaqâtu yatarabbaşna bi‫ع‬anfusihinna thalâthata qurû’in/ Divorced women must
wait for three monthly periods before remarrying (2:228) may find himself/herself in a
serious problem to know that ‫عقوء‬qur’ may mean purity or menstrual period (Ibn Katheer,
1970, Vol. 1, p. 477; Al-Fayrûz’abâdî, 1406 A. H.). He/she will not be able to convey both
meanings; as they are opposites and, if included together in the translation, would distort the
meaning of the whole verse. As a solution, the translator can choose only the closest meaning
to the context and leave the other.
1.4. Eponyms
Eponyms can cause a lexical problem in translation. An eponym is “any word that is identical
with or derived from a proper name which gives it a related sense” (Newmark, 1995, p. 198).
Sometimes, the proper name is no longer felt as in, for instance, diesel and boycott. Nobody
is concerned now with the people who were behind the invention of the diesel engine or
initiating the policy of boycotting goods; and so many people are unaware of the
etymological origins of these words. In this case, the eponymy is not taken into consideration
in translation. It is not important to be explained either. Boycott, for example, may be
translated into Arabic asٌ‫ مقاطعو عٌعاقتصوادي ع‬muqâţa‘atun iqtişâdîyatun, without any mention of
Charles Boycott (1832-1897), who was the first man to adopt the policy of refusing to buy a
product or taking part in any activity as a way of expressing disapproval.
1.4.1. Eponyms Derived From Persons’ Names
In case the proper name is related to the eponym, problems arise in translation. In transferring
eponyms derived from persons’ names, the problem is whether the transferred word will be
understood (Newmark, 1995, p. 199). In fact, this depends on the TL receptors’ awareness of
the eponym and its origins. If the eponym is known, the transferred eponym is greatly likely
to be understood. For example, translating the Arabic phrase ‫ الءسوال عُعالمحمديو عُع‬ar-risâlatu alMuhammadîyatu as the Muhammadan message is likely to be understood by nearly all
English-speaking receptors since most of them read or at least heard about Prophet
In case the TL receptors are unaware of the origin of the eponym, they are unlikely to
understand it when it is transferred in their language. For example, the Arabic phrase ‫القوءاٍا عُع‬
ُ‫ العنتءيو ع‬al-qararâtu al-‘Anttarîyatu is ambiguous for most Arabs. They are unlikely to
understand it, maybe because of their ignorance of its derivation. In fact, most Arabs do not
know that ‫‘ ِنتءيو‬Anttarîya here refers to the Pre-Islamic poet ،Anttara Ibn Shaddâd (525- 615
A. D.), who was extremely brave and whose bravery often made him reckless and quick in
taking risky decisions. Moreover, nearly all English-speaking people know very little about
and his recklessness. Therefore, translating‫ُُ ع‬
‫ القووءاٍا عُعالعنتءي و‬al-qararâtu al-
‘Anttarîyatu as ،Antteric decisions will be undoubtedly vague for English-speaking receptors.
Here, only the sense behind ‫‘ ِنتءيو‬Anttarîya or a similar eponym of the same (or at least
similar) features can be understood in English. Hence, ‫عالقووءاٍا عُعالعنتءي و عُع‬al-qararâtu al‘Anttarîyatu can be translated as reckless decisions. In addition, ‫‘ ِنتءيو‬Anttarîya can be
translated as an eponym as Don Quixotic; since Don Quixote was similar to ،Anttara in being
1.4.2. Geographical Terms Used as Eponyms
Geographical terms can be used as eponyms when they have apparent connotations
(Newmark, 1995, p. 200). The Pentagon, for instance, has clear connotations to the US
military headquarters, where all American defense affairs are run. Translating the
geographical eponym also depends on the TL receptors’ awareness. If they are aware of it, it
can be transferred. Since most Arabs know that The Pentagon is the headquarters of the
American Department of Defense, it can be transferred into Arabic as ‫ البنتوان‬Al-Pintagan. In
case the TL receptors are not aware of the geographical eponym, it can be transferred and
explained in a footnote, or its sense can be directly translated regardless of the eponym
altogether. Supposing that The Pentagon is not well known in the Arab world, it can be
translated‫ع‬as ‫الدفاعيعاألمءيك عيع‬
‫ وزاٍ عة ُع‬Wazâratu Ad-Difâ‘i Al-Amrikîyati.
1.4.3. Objects Used as Eponyms
The same procedure can be applied to objects used as eponyms. In most cases, these objects
are trademarks. When the object is well known to the TL receptors, it can be transferred.
Otherwise, it can be translated by a short explanatory term, which is often a hard task to carry
out (Newmark, 1995, p. 200). For example, Walkman is well known in many parts of the
Arab world as a small cassette player and, thus, can be transferred into Arabic as
wukman. But Hoover is hardly known to some Arabs as a vacuum cleaner. Therefore, it
cannot be transferred into Arabic. Instead, in order for it to be understood, it should be
translated by a descriptive term such as ‫عمكنس عٌعكهءبائ عٌع‬maknasatun kahrubâ’îyatun.
1.5. Acronyms
Acronyms pose another lexical problem in translation. Newmark defines acronyms as “the
initial letters of words that form a group of words used (vertiginously) for denoting an object,
institution or procedure” (1995, p. 200). Generally, they are created for brevity. AIDS, for
instance, stands for “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” (Cambridge International
Dictionary of English, 1995) and MENA stands for Middle East News Agency. The difficulty
resulting from the acronyms lies in the fact that some acronyms are not common and
sometimes are invented, as what happens in academic papers. Moreover, some acronyms are
not precise, including one letter for many words or including a preposition. Therefore, they
are difficult to be guessed. UNSCOM, for example, stands for United Nations Special
Committee of Mass Destruction Weapons. O in the acronym stands for the preposition of and
M stands for not only one word, Mass, but for three ones: Mass Destruction Weapons. Such
acronyms are very difficult for any translator not completely aware of them. Therefore, a
translator should not depend on his/her guessing in translating acronyms; this may lead to
serious mistakes. Instead, he/she should consult specialized dictionaries to get the precise
In translation, the acronym may be transferred if it is well known in the TL. So, AIDS
could be transferred into Arabic as ‫ أيودز‬eidz; it is well known by many Arabic-speaking
people. An acronym can also be translated if there is a standard equivalent in the TL. So,
AIDS can be translated into Arabic as ‫ مءضعُعنقصعيعالمناِ يععالمكتسبعيع‬maradu naqşi al-manâ‘ati almuktasabi; this is the standard equivalent in Arabic. But if the acronym is not common in the
TL, it can be explicated (Massoud, 1988, p. 23). Thus, MENA can be explicated in Arabic as
‫ وكالو عُعأنبوا عيعالشوء عيعاألوسوطعيع‬Wakâlatu ’Anbâ’i Ash-Sharqi Al-’Awsaţi; it cannot be transferred as
‫ م نا‬since there is no standard equivalent for it in Arabic.
In translating acronyms for international institutions and companies, it is better, as
Newmark suggests, to transfer them, especially when they get internationalisms (1995, p.
148). Therefore, UNESCO and FAO, for example, are always transferred into Arabic as
‫ ال رنسوكر‬Al-Yunisko and ‫ الفواو‬Al-Fâw respectively. However, if the TL receptors are expected to
be less educated, these acronyms should be explicated. UNESCO (United Nations
Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) should be translated as ‫منظمو عُعاألمو عيعالمتحودةعيع‬
‫ للتءب و يععوالعلور يععوالثقافو عي‬Munathamatu Al-’Umami Al-Mutahidati lit-Tarbiyati wa Al-‘Ulûmi wa
Ath-Thaqâfati and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) should be translated as ‫منظمو عُع‬
‫ األغذي عيعوالزٍاِ يع‬Munathamatu Al-Aghţhiyati wa Az-Zirâ‘ai.
1.6. Abbreviations
Abbreviations are shortened forms of words, terms or expressions, usually employing their
initial letters. For example, Wash stands for the American State Washington, B. B. C. stands
for the British Broadcasting Corporation and R. S. V. P. stands for réspondez s’il vous plait.
An abbreviation may be written in capital or small letters, thus leading to different meanings.
For example, bk stands for bank, while BK stands for the chemical substance berkelium (AlBa‘labkî, 2000, p. 1195). Similarly, pl stands for plural, while PL stands for partial loss or
private line (Al-Ba‘labkî, 2000, p. 1106). Sometimes, the same abbreviation may express
various meanings. For instance, N.B.A. may stand for National Basketball Association or
National Boxing Association (Al-Ba‘labkî, 2000, p. 1104).
Abbreviations are so common and cause no problems in most European languages.
Sometimes, they are borrowed without being translated. But when translated into Arabic,
they lead to many problems. Therefore, a translator should be familiar with these
abbreviations, relying all the time on the specialized dictionaries and manuals concerned,
especially those of the international organizations such as the Arabic manuals of the United
Nations. These tools are of great importance; since they provide him/her with the
acknowledged meaning of the abbreviations and their standard translations which should be
followed, even if they are not completely precise. For instance, the abbreviation ICCPR
standing for International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is translated in the United
Nations as ‫ععالخاصععبالحقر عيعالمدن عيعوالس اسو عيع‬
‫ العهدعُعالدولي‬Al-‘Ahdu Ad-Dawlîu Al-Khâşu bil Huqûqi
Al-Madanîyati wa As-Syâsîyati (Enani, 2000, p. 35). Though it can be translated in a different
way such as ‫ الم ثووا عُعالوودوليععللحقوور عيعالمدن و عيعوالس اسو عيع‬Al-Meethâqu Ad-Dawlîu lil Huqûqi AlMadanîyati wa As-Syâsîyati, the standard translation should be followed. Moreover, a
translator must not depend on his/her guessing in getting the meaning of an abbreviation; this
may lead to serious mistakes. One day, a translator incorrectly thought that the abbreviation
ICJ stood for International Committee of Jurists and, thus, translated it as ‫اللجن عُعالدولع عُعللحقرق َع‬
Al-Lajnatu Ad-Dawlîyatu lil Huqûqiyeena (Enani, 2000, p. 36), while it refers to The
International Court of Justice and should be translated as ‫ محكمو عُعالعود عيعالدول و عيع‬Mahkamatu Al‘Adli Ad-Dawlîyati.
1.7. Proper Names
Sometimes, proper names are a source of lexical problems in translation. They may refer to
people’s names, names of objects or geographical names.
1.7.1. People’s Names
Unless people’s names have accepted translations, they should be transferred (Newmark,
1981, p. 70). So, an Arabic name like ‫ حسوا‬should be transferred in English as Husâm; and the
rules of transference/transliteration should be strictly followed. Therefore, ‫ حسو‬should be
transferred as Hasan, not as Hassan, which is nearer to ‫ حسوان‬Hassân. However, names of
historical figures, together with their titles, often have standard translations (Newmark, 1981,
p. 70). So, ‫ صوح عُعالودي عيعاأليوربيعيع‬Şalâhu Ad-Deeni Al-’Ayûbî, the Muslim leader of the Heţţeen
Battle in 1187, should be translated into English as Saladin. Aristotle and Ptolemy I,
moreover, should be translated into Arabic as ‫’ أٍسوور‬Arisţu and ‫ بول مور عاألو‬Baţlaymûs Al’Awwal respectively.
However, in works of literature such as plays, novels, short stories, children’s stories,
etc., people’s names may have connotations and undertones. If so, they should be translated
into TL names reproducing their connotations in the SL. For instance, in William Congreve’s
The Way of the World, a Restoration comedy, all characters’ names are full of connotations.
Each character’s name expresses its role and traits in the play. Lady Wishfort, for instance, is
a woman aspiring to impose her control over everybody. Therefore, Wishfort can be
translated into Arabic as ‫ حءب‬Harbîya or ٍ‫ انتصا‬Intşâr. Similarly, Waitwell, who always waits
for something to come, can be translated into Arabic as ‫ صوابء‬Şâbir or ‫ صوبء‬Şabry. However,
when people’s names express national qualities, they should be kept unchanged (Newmark,
1995, p. 200). So, ‫ السوندباد‬As-Sindbâd was translated into English as Sinbad since it expresses
a national quality by its reference to ‫ بحدعالسند‬Bilâd As-Sind (India).
As to people’s names used in a historical religious context such as Biblical or
Qur’ânic names, they should be translated, especially when they have standard translations.
Biblical names, including the names of apostles and saints, have standard translations into
most languages. Peter, Paul and Mathew, for example, are always translated into Arabic as
‫ بووء‬Buţrus,
‫ بورل‬Bulas and ّ‫ متو‬Matta respectively. Moreover, Qur’ânic names, including
the names of Messengers, Prophets and other important figures, have standard translations
into some languages. For instance, ‫ إبءاه‬Ibrâheem, ِ‫ إسوما‬Ismâ‘eel, and ‫ سول مان‬Sulaymân can
be translated into English as Abraham, Ishmael and Solomon respectively. Nevertheless,
some of the Glorious Qur’ân translators insist on transferring Qur’ânic names with their
Arabic pronunciation, attempting not to imitate the Biblical language. Thus, as a solution,
these names can be translated, while the transference can be glossed in footnotes, where the
connotations of a name can be explained too.
ِ‫إسوما‬, for example, can be translated as
Ishmael and transferred in a footnote as Ismâ،eel. It can also be explained in the footnote that
ِ‫ إسما‬Ismâ،eel is a Hebrew name meaning “’Allâh hears” (Ghâlî, 2003, p. 16).
1.7.2. Names of Objects
Names of objects as proper names are trademarks or brand names (Newmark, 1981, p. 72).
These names should be transferred in the TL. If they are unlikely to be understood, a
classifier should be added to explain or describe the function of the proper name (Newmark,
1995, p. 216). For instance, when Antinal 1 is transferred into Arabic as ‫أنت نوا‬, it is unlikely to
be understood. So, a descriptive phrase as ‫موهوءعمعور عٌعلعوح عيعاإلسوها عيع‬
muţahirun ma‘awîun
li‘ilâji al-ishâli should be added to clarify the meaning.
Antinal is a broad spectrum intestinal antiseptic manufactured by Amon Pharmaceutical Co. under license from
Lab, Roques, France. ‫ع‬
1.7.3. Geographical Names
Geographical names are those of regions, countries, cities, towns, provinces, governorates,
mountains, hills, oceans, seas, rivers, streets, etc. Sometimes, there is a standard translation of
a given geographical name. ‫ القواهءة‬Al-Qâhira, for example, is Cairo in any atlas. Though
Cairo may be not a precise translation, it should be followed as long as it is a standard one. If
the standard translation is unlikely to be understood by less educated TL receptors, a
classifier can be added to explicate more and more. The standard translation for Thames into
Arabic, for instance, is ‫ التوايمز‬At-Taymz. When it is not expected to be understood, a classifier
such as ‫ نهء‬Nahr should be attached, making it‫نهوءعالتوايمزع‬
‫ ع ُع‬Nahru At-Taymz. In case there is not
a standard translation of a given geographical name, exact transference should be followed.
But classifiers can be easily translated, not transferred. Therefore, ‫ شواٍععُعالمنصورٍي عيع‬can be
rendered as Al-Manşûrîya Street, not Shâri،u Al-Manşûrîyati.
It is usually thought that most geographical names are arbitrary. In fact, this view is
totally untrue. Many geographical names have implied connotations related to their origins.
Standard translations are often far away from implying these connotations. The Palestinian
‫ القود‬Al-Quds, for instance, is always translated in any English atlas as Jerusalem. This
translation‫ع‬does not do justice to the various connotations implied in
‫ القود‬Al-Quds referring
to holiness and blessing. In case an authoritative text contains a geographical name having a
standard translation and implied connotations at the same time, the standard translation can
be included in the text while the connotations can be explicated in a footnote. If ‫ القواهءة‬AlQâhira, for instance, occurs in an authoritative text, it can be translated as Cairo inside the
text and explicated in a footnote as follows: ‫ القواهءة‬/Al-Qâhira, which literally means ‘the
defeating city’, is the capital of Egypt. It was called according to the wish of its founder, AlMu‘iz Lideen-Ellâh Al-Fâţimî, who wanted it to defeat and beat all other cities and kingdoms.
A translator should be aware that some geographical names change with the passage
of time. For example, the names of many South African cities were changed after the end of
Western Colonialism. Also, Zaire has recently become Congo. So, a translator is advised to
keep in touch with the latest updates, regularly consulting the latest atlases and
As noted above, lexical problems may lead to the difficulty of conveying a message
from the SL into the TL. However, the modest solutions suggested here can contribute to
solving them. Nevertheless, what are more serious and likely to lead to the unintelligibility of
the message when translated are the syntactic problems that face any translator on
restructuring the SL message into the TL.
2. Syntactic Problems
The various differences among languages cause many syntactic problems when translating
the message of a given language into another. The number of these problems increases or
decreases according to the degree of relatedness between the SL and the TL. The more
related they are, the less syntactic difficulties there are in translating from one into the other.
In case they belong to the same language family as, for example, are in the cases of English
and German (belonging to the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family) or Arabic and
Hebrew (belonging to the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family), less syntactic problems
are likely to be encountered. But when the SL and the TL belong to different language
families, as is in the case of Arabic and English, more syntactic problems are likely to be met.
By nature, the ways of arranging signs in languages tend to be different. So, having
the words correctly translated is not enough. They, moreover, should be arranged in a way
corresponding to the proper syntactic and idiomatic usage of the TL. Otherwise, they are
unlikely to be grasped by the TL receptors and, hence, unlikely to be effective. Among the
syntactic problems often encountered in translation are tense, word order and syntactic
2.1. Tense
Tense, as Comrice puts it, can be defined as the “grammatical realisation of location in time”
(as cited in El- Shourbagy, 2005, p. 27); that is, how location in time can be expressed in
language. The ways of expressing location in time differ from one language to another.
Therefore, the number of tenses and the aspects in which they are molded differ from a
language to another as well. These differences in tenses and their aspects cause many
problems in translation.
The past tense in Arabic poses many problems in translation. This is owing to the fact
that it is used to express past actions as in ‫سوافءععأحمودُععإلو عالقواهءةعيعأمو عَع‬
Sâfara Ahmadu ilâ Alَ
Qâhirati amsa/ Ahmad left for Cairo yesterday; present actions as in ‫ أقسوم ُععبواهعيع‬Aqsamtu
biLlâhi / I swear by Allâh; and futuristic actions as in ‫ صحبتكَععالسحم عُع‬Şahibatiuka as-salâmatu/
May you arrive safely. Thus, the past tense in Arabic is used to denote more than one time;
and this overlap makes it difficult for any translator to grasp the intended meaning behind it
and accurately convey it in the TL.
For example, on translating the Qur’ânic verse:
ِ ْ َ‫وَكا َن ف‬
ِ َ ‫اَّلل َعلَي‬
ْ َّ ‫ض ُل‬
ً ‫ك َعظ‬
Wa kâna fadlu Allâhi ‘alayka ‘atheeman/ God’s bounty to you is great indeed. (4:113), a
translator should think over ‫ كان‬kâna.‫ عكانع‬Kâna is the past form of the verb ‫ يكرن‬yakûn (to be).
Here, it does not refer to the end of the great favor Allâh confers upon men. Rather, it states a
general fact; that is, the favor Allâh gives to men is always great. So, the past form ‫ كوان‬kâna
expresses a general fact, not something that occurred in the past. To be translated in a way
expressing the sought meaning, the whole Qur’ânic verse can be translated as and Allâh’s
favor to you is (always) great .
Similarly, the Qur’ânic verses that read:
َّ ‫إِذَا‬
ْ ‫الس َماءُ انْ َفطََر‬
Iţha as-samâ’u infaţarat/ When the sky is torn apart (82:1) and
ْ ‫َّر‬
ْ ‫َّم‬
ْ ‫ َعلِ َم‬
َ ‫س َما قَد‬
َ ‫ت َوأَخ‬
ٌ ‫ت نَ ْف‬
‘Alimat nafsun mâ qaddamat wa akhkharat/ each soul will know what it has done and what
it has left undone (82:5) pose another problem in translation. These verses refer to one of
the signs of the Doomsday. Hence, they express futuristic actions, though the verbs used are
َ َ‫ ا ْنف‬infaţarat and ‫‘ ع َِ يل َم ْع‬alimat. This owes to the fact that the past forms of these
past ones: ‫و َء ْع‬
verbs “do not indicate a tense, but an action. So, expressing the future by the past form carries
the meaning that the action will undoubtedly happen, not that it happened in the past tense”
(El- Shourabgy, 2005, p. 34). When translating the Qur’ânic verse:
َّ ‫إِذَا‬
ْ ‫الس َماءُ انْ َفطََر‬
Iţha as-samâ’u infaţarat (82:1), it should be kept in mind that it is a time clause. Therefore,
it can be translated as When the heaven rents asunder *, not When the heaven will be rent
asunder as Ghâlî renders it (2005, p. 587). This is owing to the fact that a time clause cannot
include a future verb form (Thomson & Martinet, 1997, p. 301). The suggested time clause
When the heaven rents asunder, employing a present verb form (rents), expresses a future
action. In the other verse:
ْ ‫َّر‬
ْ ‫َّم‬
ْ ‫ َعلِ َم‬
َ ‫س َما قَد‬
َ ‫ت َوأَخ‬
ٌ ‫ت نَ ْف‬
* This sign is used to indicate a translation suggested by the researcher.
‘Alimat nafsun mâ qaddamat wa akhkharat (82:5), the past form verb ‫‘ َِ يل َم ْع‬alimat indicates
a fact that will happen in the Doomsday. Therefore, it can be translated as Then, each self
will know what it did and what it left undone *.
As noted above, the past tense in Arabic may cause many problems in translating
Arabic texts into English. The only solution to this problem is not being concerned with the
past tense form. Rather, the semantic function carried out by it is to be given priority. This
function is the factor that can decide which tense in English can carry out a similar function.
2.2. Word Order
Word order poses a big problem in translation. Each language has a special word order, an
order in which words are arranged into sentences. Some languages have so rigid word orders
that they are too difficult to be changed. However, many other languages, especially
inflectional languages such as Arabic, have very flexible word orders. The various word
orders in these languages may have subtle meanings and connotations. So, it is a serious
mistake on the part of any translator to try to impose the SL word order on the TL word
order. Translation should be done according to the TL word order, thus making it idiomatic
and natural. In order to get acquainted with the natural word order of the TL, a translator can
analyze a great deal of TL different texts. This, besides, can make him/her familiar with when
and why the TL word order changes in addition to getting acquainted with the parts of speech
(nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, determiners, conjunctions and
interjections) and how they are used. Only then can the translator change the SL word order,
when necessary, so as to conform to the TL word order.
Arabic and English are two completely different languages. Arabic is a synthetic
language of a greatly flexible word order. In fact, “Arabic … is such a densely rich language
in grammatical rules and sentence forms. It shows great variations regarding verb forms,
articles, demonstratives, word orders, noun cases, etc.” (Bedeir, 2000. p. 55). On the contrary,
English is an analytic language with a less flexible word order; and English grammar is not as
complicated as that of Arabic.
Arabic has two main sentence patterns: the nominative sentence and the verbal one.
The word order of the nominative sentence is subject + predicate (, which may be a
complement or a transitive or intransitive verb) as in ٌ ‫يعمجتهو عد‬
‫‘ ِلو ٌع‬Alîun Mujtahidun (‘Ali is
diligent); ‫يععزاٍناعير عالجمع عالماض ع‬
ٌ ‫‘ِل‬Alîun zârana yawma Al-Jum‘a al-madiyati (‘Ali visited us
last Friday); or ‫ععحضوءعالودٍ عَُع‬
ٌ ‫‘ ِلو‬Alîun hadara ad-darsa (‘Alî attended the class). The main
word order of the verbal sentence, in contrast, is verb + subject + (object) as in ‫يعع‬
ٌ ‫عحضوءعِلو‬
‫ الدٍو َععَُع‬Hadara ‘Alîun ad-durusa (Attended ‘Alî the classes) or verb +object + subject as in ‫ع‬
‫يععَُ َُع‬
Hadara ad-durusa Alîun (Attended the classes ‘Alî). It should be known
ٌ ‫حضوءعالودٍو َعععِلو‬
for any translator that the preferred word order in Arabic is the verbal sentence. English, on
the contrary, has only one sentence pattern, the nominative sentence that has the same word
order of the Arabic nominative sentence: subject + predicate.
In translating a nominative sentence from Arabic into English or vice versa, there is
no problem. Both English and Arabic employ nominative sentences of the same word orders.
So, the focus of the sentence does not change. In the English sentence ‘Alî came yesterday,
for example, the focus is on ‘Alî. Translating this sentence into an equivalent Arabic
nominative sentence as َ‫يعنوا َ عأمو ع‬
‫‘ ِلو ٌع‬Alîun jâ’a ams, the focus is still on the subject ‫يع‬
ٌ ‫ِلو‬
In translating an Arabic verbal sentence into English, some problems arise. Since
English does not have an equivalent verbal sentence, any Arabic verbal sentence is directly
translated into English as a nominative one. So, for instance, ٍ‫ُعلحبتبوا‬
‫ اسْوتعدععأحمود‬Ista‘adda
Ahmadu lil-ikhtibâri can be translated only as a nominative sentence in English such as
Ahmad has prepared for the test. Though the translation into English carries the same
message, it changes the focus of the original sentence. While the focus in the Arabic verbal
sentence is on the action carried out by the verb‫عاسْوتعدع‬ista‘adda (prepared), the focus in the
English nominative sentence is on the subject ‫ أحمد‬Ahmad.
The nominative sentence, however, should be kept in English since trying to impose
the SL word order on the TL word order may distort the message. This is indicative of the
absence of compromise between form and content. If so, content should be given priority
over form, especially if “the form in which a message is expressed is an essential element of
its significance, there is a very distinct limitation in communicating this significance from
one language into another” (Nida & Taber, 1969, p. 5).
The problem of word order is always there in translating the Qur’ân. For instance, the
‫الس ْج َن فَ تَ يَان‬
ّ ُ‫ َو َدخ َل َم َعه‬
Wa dakhala ma‘ahu as-sijna fatayâni / Two young men went into prison alongside him
(12:36) is a verbal sentence, beginning with the verb ‫ َُ عدَبو َعع‬dakhala. The focus here is on the
action of Prophet Joseph’s (Yûsuf’s) being imprisoned expressed by the verb ‫ عدَبو َعع‬dakhala at
the very beginning of the sentence. It is not directed towards the servants who were
imprisoned with him. While Yûsuf ‘Alî translates this verse as Now with him there came
into prison two young men (1403 A. H., p. 563), Pickthall renders it as And two young men
went to prison with him (1981, p. 307). ‘Alî’s translation, trying to follow the SL word order,
seems to focus on the verb ‫ عدَبو ع‬dakhala more than the subject fatayâni ‫عفَت َ َوان‬. In attempting
that, ‘Alî produces an awkward less communicative sentence. On the contrary, Pickthall,
trying to conform to the TL word order by focusing on the subject ‫ فَت َ َوان‬fatayâni rather than
the verb ‫ عدَبو َعع‬dakhala, produces a more idiomatic nominative sentence in English. Looking
closely at the two rendered sentences shows that Pickthall’s translation is more likely to be
grasped by English-speaking receptors and, thus, more likely to be effective.
Therefore, any translator is advised to pay much attention to word order. He/she is not
to impose the SL word order on the TL one since this may lead to syntactic ambiguity, which
poses another syntactic problem in translation.
2.3. Syntactic Ambiguity
Syntactic ambiguity refers to arranging the parts of speech in a sentence in an ambiguous
way, thus leading to making the sentence express more than one meaning or a meaning far
away from the intended one (Crystal, 1991, p. 17). For instance, Visiting speakers can be
awful is an ambiguous sentence; it may mean It is awful to visit speakers or Speakers who
visit are awful. A translator should write in a clear way and be far away from syntactic
In their The Theory and Practice of Translation, Nida and Taber maintain the
viewpoint that the same syntactic construction may represent a number of different
relationships, thus leading to different meanings (1969, p. 35). They see that the grammatical
construction consisting of two nouns or pronouns connected by of is one of the most
ambiguous constructions in English since it expresses various relations. They also set some
translated Biblical examples such as God of peace and the Holy Spirit of Promise. The
relation between God (A) and peace (B) is that God (A) causes peace (B). Moreover, the
relation between the Holy Spirit (A) and Promise (B) is that the Holy Spirit (A) is the goal of
Promise (B). Nida and Taber think that these constructions are not clear. So, they suggest
restructuring them in an easier way as follows: God causes/ produces peace instead of God of
peace and God promised the Holy Spirit instead of the Holy Spirit of Promise (1969, p. 35).
As noted here, employing the verbs causes/produces and promised in place of nouns leads to
clarifying these constructions in a more intelligible way.
The same procedure can be applied to Arabic that employs the same function
expressed in English by of by adjoining ( ‫ عاإلضواف‬al-idâfa), which is relating a noun to another
noun. Examples include: ‫ صر ُ ععالما يع‬şautu al-mâ’i/ the sound of water (‫ الما يع‬al-mâ’i (B) causes
‫ عصور ع‬şautu (A)); ‫ بنواةُعاألهوءا عي‬bunâtu Al-Ahrâmi/ the builders of the pyramids (‫ بنواةُع‬bunâtu (A)
causes ‫عاألهوءا ع‬Al-Ahrâmi (B)); َ‫ نوزا ُ عالظوالم ع‬jazâ’u ath-thâlimeena/ the punishment of the
unjust (‫عنوزا ُ ع‬jazâ’u (A) is the goal of ‫ الظوالم ع‬ath-thâlimeena (B)); ‫ كتواُُ عِلويعي‬kitâbu ‘Alîin/ the
book of ‘Alî (Alîin‫(عِلويع‬B) owns ‫ كتواُع‬kitâbu (A)); ‫مقوءعالمحكمو عي‬
ُ maqru al-mahkamati/ the place
of the court (‫مقوءع‬
ُ maqru (A) is the place of ‫ المحكمو ع‬al-mahkamati (B)); and ‫ِصوءعاللصورص يُع‬
‘aşru al-luşûşi/ the age of thieves (‫ِصءع‬
aşru (A) is the time of‫اللصرص يُُع‬
‫ عع‬al-luşûşi (B)).
Adjoining is common in the Qur’ân such as:
ِ ‫اَّلل م‬
 ‫وه ُن َك ْي ِد الْ َكافِ ِرين‬
ُ َّ ‫ ذَل ُك ْم َوأَ ّن‬
Ţhâlikum wa’anna Allâha mûhinu kaydi al-kâfireena / ‘That is what you get’ — and God will
weaken the disbelievers’ designs [underlining added] (8:18);
ِ َ‫ إِّّنَا يَتَ َذّكر أ ُْولُواْ األلْب‬
 ‫اب‬
Innamâ yataţhakkaru ’ulû al-’albâbi / Only those with understanding will take it to heart
[underlining added] (13:19). In translation, the relation between the two nouns A and B
should be clear so that the TL receptor can understand the relation well and grasp the whole
message. In case ‫ بنواةُعاألهوءا‬bunâtu Al-Ahrâmi is translated into English as the builders of the
pyramids and this translation is unlikely to be understood, the relation between A and B
should be made clear such as those who built the pyramids. In translating the Qur’ânic verse:
ِ َ‫ إِّّنَا يَتَ َذّكر أ ُْولُواْ األلْب‬
 ‫اب‬
Innamâ yataţhakkaru ’ulû al-’albâbi (13:19) [underlining added], Pickthall renders it as
But only men of understanding heed [italics added] (1981, p. 323). The relation between
ْ ‫ ع‬al-’albâbi (B) is that (A) owns (B). Pickthall’s translation does not
ْ‫’ أ ُ ْولُورعا‬ulû (A) and ُ
‫األل َبوا يع‬
ْ al-’albâbi (B) directly, but it shows its function; that is, understanding. The
state ‫ُع‬
‫األلبَوا ي‬
relation between men (A) and understanding (B) in Pickthall’s translation is that (A) causes
(B). If it is likely to be misunderstood, it can be made clearer by expanding it as people
endowed with minds *.
It is clear here that there are many lexical and syntactic problems of translation, which should
be tackled with a high awareness of the features of both the SL and the TL along with a vast
background about the readership. The lexical problems offered can be met by beginning
translators in rendering a large number of texts. The inexperienced translators may be
accustomed to solving them easily. However, the syntactic problems offered can be met by
both beginning and experienced translators. Mistranslating a tense and syntactic ambiguity
can be noticed in many translations done by experienced translators. So, the solutions
proposed here, it seems, can be of much benefit to overcome these problems.
Appendix 1
Transliteration of Arabic Sounds in English

ُ‫عععع‬Damma ‫ع‬
u or o
‫ع‬Long ‫آ‬
as in
‫ع َع‬âba
‫ع‬Long ّ‫ي‬
as in
û , ou or oo
as in
‫ ع‬Accentuated ‫يّع‬
as in
Adapted from Ghâlî’s English Grammar (2001, p. 45)
English References:
Abdel Haleem, M. A. S. (2004). (Trans.) The Qur’an. Oxford: Oxford UP.
Al-Ba‘labkî, M. (2000). (Ed.). Al-mawrid: A modern English-Arabic dictionary. Beirut: Dar
El-Ilm Lil-Malayēn.
‘Alî, A. Y. (1403 A. H.). (Trans.). The holy Qur’ân: Translation and commentary. Damascus:
Ouloom Al-Qur’ân Est. for Publishing and Distribution. (Original work published
Bedeir, R. Sh. (2000). A comparative study of four English translations of sûrat Yûsuf.
Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Department of English, Al-Azhar University,
Cambridge international dictionary of English. (1995). London: Cambridge UP.
Congreve, W. (2006). The way of the world. Retrieved Feb. 22, 2008, from http://www.
gutenberg. org/Dirs/etext198/wwrld10.txt
El-Shourbagy, M. (2005). The pastness of the past: Interpretation of the past form in the holy
Qur’ân. The Journal of Languages and Translation, (2)1, 25-46.
Ghâlî, M. M. (2001) English grammar. Cairo: Dâr An-Nashr Liljâmi‘ât.
Ghâlî, M. M. (2003). Synonyms in the ever-glorious Qur’ân: Arabic-English (2nd ed.). Cairo:
Dâr An-Nashr Liljâmi‘ât.
Ghâlî, M. M. (2005). (Trans.) Towards understanding the ever-glorious Qur’ân (4th ed.).
Cairo: Dâr An-Nashr Liljâmi‘ât.
Massoud, M. M. (1988). Translate to communicate: A guide for translators. Illinois: David
C. Cook Foundation Elgin.
Newmark, P. (1981). Approaches to translation. New York: Prentice Hall.
Newmark, P. (1995). A textbook of translation. New York: Phoenix.
Nida, E. A. (1959). Principles of translation as exemplified by Bible translation. In R. A.
Brower (Ed.), On translation (pp. 11-31). Cambridge: Harvard UP.
Nida, E. A. & Taber, C. R. (1969). The theory and practice of translation. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Pickthall, M. M. (Trans.). (1981). The meaning of the glorious Qur’ân. Beirut: Dâr Al-Kitâb
Allubnânî. (Original work published 1930)
Thomson, A. J. & Martinet, A.V. (1997). A practical English grammar (4th ed.). Oxford:
Oxford UP.
:‫مراجع عربية‬
‫ع‬.‫عمجلودا )ع‬4(‫عالقامر عالمح طعوالقابر عالرس طعلمواعذهوبعمو عكوح عالعوءُعشومام طع‬.)ّ‫عه‬1406(‫ع‬. ‫ع‬. ‫ع‬،‫الف ءوزعآباد ع‬
‫عع‬. ‫عداٍعالعل عللمحي‬: ‫ب ءو‬
‫عع‬.‫عداٍعالفكء‬: ‫ععب ءو‬.) ‫عمجلدا‬6(‫عتفس ءعالقءآنعالعظ ع‬.‫)ع‬1970(‫ع‬.‫عإ‬.‫عف‬.‫ب عكث ءعع‬
‫ع‬.‫عالشءك عالمصءي عالعالم عللنشءع–علرنجمانع‬:‫القاهءةع‬. ) ‫عف عالتءنم ع (الوبع عالخامس‬.‫)ع‬2000(‫ع‬. ‫ع‬. ‫ع‬،‫ِنان ع‬

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