Uploaded by Khole Delos Reyes


Words as "Bundles" of Meaning
As discussed in the previous chapters, the aim of the translator is to
communicate clearly the meaning of the source text in the translation. In
chapter 1, characteristics of language which affect how a translator does
this are listed. The first characteristic mentioned was that meaning
components are combined into lexical items but that they are "packaged"
differently in one language than in another. A word is a “bundle” of
meaning components. The translator needs to be able to analyze the
lexical items (words) of the source text in order to translate them. This
means being able to unpack words in order to show the meaning that is
represented by the lexical form. Dictionaries "unpack" the meanings of
words. That is why a good translator will use all the dictionaries and
lexicons available in his study of the source language text. He wants to be
sure he knows the meaning of each word. Since languages combine
meanings differently, there will be many words which will not have an
exact one-word equivalent in the receptor language.
In chapter 3, where the structure of meaning was discussed, it was
pointed out that meaning components and concepts are classified semantically
defined as all animate beings and all inanimate entities. EVENTS include
all actions, processes, and experiences. ATTRIBUTES include all
attributes of quality and quantity ascribed to THINGS or EVENTS. And
RELATIONS include all those relations posited between any two semantic
Concept is used in this text to refer; not to the form (word) but only to the
meaning content. A concept is a recognizable unit of meaning in any
given language. These concepts may be broken down into a number of
meaning components (bits of information). For example, the concept ram
can be broken down into SHEEP, MALE, and ADULT. A concept is a
bundle of components of meaning. Since each language has its own unique
inventory of concepts, how can concepts be identified? Concerning this,
Barnwell (1980:141) says:
In a given language, the concept unit usually, but by no means
always, is represented by a word; it may also be represented by a
morpheme, or by an idiomatic expression, or by tone, or by word
order. Concepts are identified in a given language on the principle
of contrast and comparison within the system of that language.
Each concept is associated with a particular area of meaning which is
distinct from that of other concepts in the language; its function is
to refer to some specific area of meaning.
In chapter 8, the matter of contrast and comparison will be discussed and
exemplified. As mentioned above, all languages have concepts but not the
same concepts. There will be words in the source language and receptor
language which are very similar in content (contain the same meaning
components), but not all will match by any means. Not all language
communities have the same ideas. Reality is conceptualized differently in
different communities. The phenomena of reality around us are
"bundled" together differently by different communities and labeled
(given a name, i.e. lexicalized). As will be pointed out in chapters 7 and 8,
even physical phenomena are classified and "bundled" differently. Social
phenomena are themselves diverse in different communities and so give rise
to diverse labels (words). (For more information on concepts see Nida
and Taber 1969:37-55; Barnwell 1980:141-43; and Beekman, Callow, and
Kopesec 1981:16-17.)
The first step, then, in the; analysis of words is to determine whether the
word is referring primarily to a THING concept, an EVENT concept, an
ATTRIBUTE concept, or a RELATION concept. What is the central
concept of the word? Many words are easily classified. For example,
stone is a THING, eat is an ACTION, green is an ATTRIBUTE, and on is
a RELATION. However, many words are not that easily classified. They
are more difficult to classify because there is a skewing between the
semantic classification and the grammatical classification. Some words are
made up of more than one concept.
When we define such a word, we make explicit the concepts which are
combined together in that word. For example, we might define runner by
saying a person who runs. We have made explicit the fact that runner is
used to refer to a PERSON, and that that person runs. Runner is a word in
the English language. The central concept is PERSON and the concept
RUNS serves to define more concisely (to restrict) PERSON. The word
runner is talking about a THING, that is a PERSON, but it is also talking
about an EVENT, RUN.
The combining of a number of meanings into a single word reflects the
principle of language economy. In surface structure lexicons, several
concepts may be represented by a single lexical item. Common THINGS
and EVENTS are usually identified by a single word, even though they
may consist of a number of concepts. For example, most languages have
the words for see, hear, and smell. The concept perceive is restricted by
other concepts— with eyes, with ears, and with nose, so that in each case
English has a single word carrying the complex meaning. However, in
Kabba-kaka of Chad there is a basic root meaning perceive and HEAR
and SEE can only be distinguished by adding eyes and ears (Nida
For pastoral cultures, it is not uncommon to have a single word
meaning taking care of at night, where the ACTIVITY of taking care of
and the TIME, night, are both included as the meaning of a single word. For
example, in Quiche, the concepts taking care of and at night have been
lexicalized in one form or word, kwrax. The word for take care of, without
the concept of night is kutstsxix. Otomi of Mexico does not have a word for
island. What meaning is packaged in the English word island? An island is
a THING. It is land surrounded by water. The central concept is land, but
this is further restricted by surrounded (encircled) by water.
The Quiche word kwrax would need to be "unpacked" to translate
into English. English does not combine take care of and at night into a
single word. The English word island would have to be unpacked to
translate into Otomi.
Translating concepts
A translator will often find that there is no exact equivalent between the
words of one language and the words of another. There will be words which
have some of the meaning components combined in them matching a word
which has these components with some additional ones. There will be
overlap, but there is seldom a complete match between languages. Because of
this, it is often necessary to translate one word of the source language by
several words in the receptor language in order to give the same meaning.
Sometimes the opposite will also be true. Several words in the source
language may be translated by a single word. For example, the Trique
word ó would be translated into English by the sentence "We are shelling
corn." The Aguaruna word dakumjukmaukait would be translated by the
sentence "Is it a picture of me?" in English. On the other hand, the
English word sad can only be translated into Aguaruna with the phrase
stomach being-broken feeling.
In order to analyze the meaning of a word in preparation for
translation, one must first think of what the central concept is and what
way this is limited. It may then be possible to translate with a word in the
receptor language which is equivalent to the central concept and use a phrase
to add the further definition. Note the following examples from Aguaruna:
wilderness - aents
people where-they-are-not-place
(a place where there are no people)
theater -jega muun jegamkamunum aents
house big
that-built-place people diverting
(a big house where people gather for diversion)
Skewing of classifications
The same form may also be used as two different parts of speech. For
example, notice the use of blue in the phrases blue sky and sky blue. In the
first, blue is used as an adjective to describe the sky, and in the second,
sky is used as an adjective to describe blue. In the first, there is no skewing
because blue is an ATTRIBJJTE used as an adjective and sky is a THING
used as a noun. In the second, however, a THING, the sky is used as an
adjective to modify blue which is an ATTRIBUTE used as a noun.
Whenever there is skewing of this kind, there is likely to have to be some
kind of adjustment in translation. The skewing between the grammar and
the semantic categories must be taken into consideration in finding the
underlying meaning. Translators must be aware of this skewing in the
source language. Once the meaning is clear, they can think about how to
reconstruct the meaning in the receptor language.
The translator must guard against trying to match parts of speech from
language to language, since each language has its own system for
arranging concepts into different parts of speech. There is little guarantee
that what is a noun in one language is best translated by a noun in
another language. It is interesting, however, that in contrasting languages
one often notes a fairly consistent correlation between two different parts of
speech. Where one language is using the verb with some degree of
frequency, another language may be expressing the very same meanings
by means of the verbal noun. Such observations about the natural
differences between languages can be very useful to the translator.
Translating from a language which uses many verbs into a language which uses
many verbs will be easier than from a language which uses many nouns
into a language which uses mostly verbs.
The skewing between semantic classes and parts of speech occurs
frequently. Many languages have special forms which make it possible to
use an EVENT concept as a noun in the grammar. For example, in
English, knowledge is a noun based on the EVENT concept know. Ability is
a noun based on the concept to be able and full report is a noun phrase
based on the concept to report fully. In some languages, there are forms
which modify nouns that refer to EVENT concepts, as, for example,
falling in falling star. Since falling refers to an EVENT concept, the
semantic structure would be a star which is falling. In the phrase starry
eyes the adjective starry refers to THINGS, stars, and so the semantic
structure would be eyes which look like stars. There is skewing between
the grammar and the semantic structure.
There are various reasons why nominalizing, for example, occurs.
One of the main reasons in English, and some other languages, is so that
the topic under discussion can be introduced by a noun. If the topic is an
EVENT, then a noun form, often called an abstract noun, will be
discussed. For example, the noun salvation may be used to talk about the
EVENT to save or the noun height may be used to talk about the
ATTRIBUTE high or the noun the reason may be used to talk about the
RELATION reason-result if it is the topic of the sentence. Skewing of
this kind is used for pointing out the topic of the sentence or paragraph.
If there were no skewing, the text would sound very monotonous and
uninteresting. Skewing by nominalization, verbalization, and
adjectivization adds dynamics and "life" to the text. They are part of the
style which makes a given text a work of art. But if translated literally
into a second language, they will sound strange and not accomplish the
purpose which they had in the source text.
A translator will find it helpful to analyze the source language by
comparing the part of speech with the semantic classification! In the
following examples, the words are labeled on top as to their grammatical
classification and underneath by their semantic classification. Notice the
1. Pronoun
2. Noun
The death
3. Noun
A carpenter
the dancer
In order to restate a noun in semantic structure, it may be necessary
to unpack the words and at the same time eliminate the skewing of
classification by using verbs for EVENTS and nouns for THINGS. When this
is done, the restatement will be closer to semantic structure. The above
examples could be unpacked and rewritten as follows:
1. We love him. He rules us.
2. The person who danced died.
3. He is a person who works with wood and who lives in Abidjan.
Notice that sometimes a word represents several concepts and it may
even represent a proposition, as in the examples above.
A translator who is having difficulty analyzing the source text which
he wants to translate may be greatly benefited by rewriting the material in
semantic structure before beginning to think about how to translate it in
the receptor language. In the following example, the paragraph is first
given as it occurred in English. Below that is a restatement which
reflects more exactly the semantic structure because the skewing between
the grammar and the semantics has been eliminated. That is, THINGS
are represented by nouns, EVENTS by verbs, ATTRIBUTES by
adjectives or adverbs, and RELATIONS by relationals.
Word and reading games can sometimes be used for motivation
and reading readiness. Some of these are also useful for
additional drills when more normal instruction begins. They may
actually teach the pupil his first words while he thinks he is only
playing. They make good relief from concentrated study. (From
Gudschinsky 1957:13.)
Playing games in which the pupils use words and read can
sometimes motivate them and prepare them to read. Persons who
teach may also use some of these games to drill the pupils more
when they are later instructing them in regular classes. The games
actually teach the pupil his first words while he thinks he is only
playing. They relieve/relax pupils who have been concentrating as
they study.
A restatement of this kind is usually not good English style, but it helps the
translator identify the meaning and matches the grammatical categories with
the semantic categories, thus eliminating most of the skewing and making
it easier to translate into a more verbal language.
The process of "unpacking" the semantic structure of a word is
sometimes called restatement. Restatement, used in a technical way,
to say the same thing in another way. In this kind of restating,
there should be no change in the semantic components; that is,
there be no additions; or deletions, but the same meaning should be
by the restatement as much as possible. The idea is simply to restate
by means of semantic concepts and/or propositions. Restating in this
way through a restatement draws to the attention of the translator all
meanings of the source language. As he eliminates the skewing
between grammar and the semantics, he will need to make each
concept explicit and in this way all of the meaning is brought out.
Notice the following restatements. These are literal English
equivalents of the translation of phrases occurring in Mafias Talks
About Government 1969) which are taken from the translation into
Gahuku (Deibler I Taylor 1977:1061).
hum of an engine
the thing that hummed put its sound
the long wait
that he kept waiting a long time
happy meeting
they met and were happy
we will say-cut (decide)
keep a diary of
you will burn a carving about people saying,
"we want to see the Administrator man"
many requests
the people are continually requesting
Deibler and Taylor state:
It should be noted that whereas in the highlands of Papua New Guinea
it is often impossible to render verbal nouns literally, it is possible to do
so in the Austronesian type languages. But here again it has been
found that changing them to verbs in translation greatly increases the
intelligibility of the translation.
One of the concomitant difficulties arising from the necessity to
render verbal nouns as verbs in Papua New Guinea is that a
decision must be made as to how the resultant clause relates to the
context; i.e. exactly what logical or temporal relationship to use as a
connector. Often the translator succeeds in removing the noun and
substituting a verb, only to use the wrong conjunction to relate the
clause to the rest of the sentence.
(These matters of relationship will be discussed in later chapters.)
When a word is restated to indicate its full meaning, it is important to be
aware of which concept in the restatement is central component. In the
example of island given above, the paraphrase given was
surrounded by water. Land is the central or nuclear component of
meaning and surrounded by water delimits or defines more clearly which
land. It distinguishes it from other land which may take the form of a
desert, plain, or mountain.
Notice that the English word teacher includes both a THING, that is,
the person, and an EVENT, that is, the action teach. A teacher is a
person who teaches. A single word may consist of both a THING and an
EVENT. Person is the nuclear concept in teacher and who teaches
describes the person. In the same way help may be restated as someone who
can help for the sentence Help is coming. Help includes both a THING,
someone, and an EVENT, the action help.
Some words represent a nuclear concept plus additional concepts and
some words represent whole semantic propositions. Words are generally
semantically complex and consist of a number of concepts which may
further be divided into semantic components. The classification of the nuclear
component, that is deciding whether it is a THING, EVENT, ATTRIBUTE,
or RELATION, determines the semantic class or classes included in the
As we noted in chapter 3, the smallest unit of meaning is the meaning
component. Meaning components unite to form concepts and concepts
form propositions. Often a word represents a single concept which is
made up of meaning components but more often a word represents a concept
cluster; that is, a number of concepts, or even a proposition, as we have
noted above. In restating, it is not always important to analyze down to the
smallest meaning component. However, when there is more than done
concept included in the word, the restatement will make explicit each
concept of the concept cluster or of the proposition which is
represented by the word.
For example, a word like centurion may be restated by a concept
cluster—a man who commands one hundred soldiers. Words in this
restatement like "soldiers" could again be broken down into meaning
components, but it is not to the advantage of the translator to try to break
down every word into basic structure of meaning components. It is,
however, very helpful to restate words by indicating all of the concepts
which are included. Analysis by paraphrase should be done only to eliminate
the skewing between grammar and semantics and to clarify the concepts in
complex words. Concepts peculiar to one culture will have a word in that
language, but may only be translatable by unpacking, i.e. by a restatement
using several words.
EXERCISES -Words as "Bundles" of Meaning
A. The following English lexical items are semantically complex. What
components are found in each lexical item? Which is central?
Rewrite in such a way that semantic and grammatical classes match
and only relevant components are included.
human being who is killed because he refuses
to renounce what he believes
The central component is human being
distributor (of a book)
to whiten
to ensnare
to dive
to stone
to justify (a person)
to tree
running (water)
falling (star)
B. Rewrite the following so that there is no skewing between the
semantic and grammatical classes:
Example: It took a lot of judgment to find a solution.
Someone judged well and solved something.
1. I cried when they told me of the death of my
2. The love of our country is very important.
3. Envy is not good.
4. Did you like your grandfather's gift?
5. He is a liar.
6. Nobody respects a cheat.
7. Success spoiled him.
8. Dishonesty is bad.
9. The wealthy live here.
10. He's here on a visit.
C. Rewrite the following paragraph so that there is no skewing between
the semantic and the grammatical classes. You do not need to break
lexical items down into meaning components unless this is necessary
to match the semantic and grammatical classes (i.e. hunter could be a
man who was hunting, without giving the components of human and
being since by separating man and hunting we now have a THING,
man, as a noun, and an EVENT, was hunting, as a verb, and there is,
therefore, no skewing.)
The hunter saw a snow white swan gliding along in the
rushing brook. The beauty of the bird stopped him from
shooting. He watched its disappearance around the next bend
and then continued his hunt.
D. In each of the following, the forms of several languages are given
with a literal translation into English of this form. What would the
idiomatic English equivalent be for each set?
1. Aguaruna (Peru): kajar pujawai - my-sleep it-exists
Spanish: tengo sueno - I-have sleepiness
Another language you speak:
2. Maxakali (Brazil): ukura yum ka'ak - heart sits firmly in
Aguaruna (Peru): "dekaskeapi," tawai - "it-is-surely-true,"
Spanish: lo cree - it he-believes
Apinaye (Brazil): kot amaxper - thinks with
Another language:
3. Maxakali (Brazil): kam aktux rex - put away words
Aguaruna (Peru): "dutikatajai," tiu - I-will-do-thus he-said
Spanish: dio su promesa - gave his promise
English: Another
4. Munduruku (Brazil):
iguycug ikereat kug puye he-is-sad
because he-has-ugliness (sin)
Aguaruna (Peru): anentai yapajiawai - his-heart changes
Canela (Brazil): ihken ma hikra - lets-go-of his sin English:
Another language:
E. In each of the following translations into English the italicized words
have been translated literally and may or may not be idiomatic or
Evaluate the italicized words as translations.
an exercise, change the part of speech of the word (or main word, if
more than one word is involved) in the italicized construction to
some other part of speech to see whether you can improve upon the
translation of the sentence as a whole. Do not change the meaning of the
sentences, but substitute words and, if necessary, change grammatical
1. Before departure, I gave them some instructions.
2. If costs change in any way prior to delivery of the equipment,
the rent will likewise be changed in equal proportion.
3. It is common knowledge that the U.S. share in the foreign
trade has shown a tendency toward reduction in recent years.
4. A complete elimination of the general decline in economic
activity seems almost impossible.
5. The government is taking all necessary steps for a defense of
the borders.
6. The United States is committed to a ceaseless striving for the
attainment of a genuine disarmament.
1. He could not incite his men to mutiny. That would be a crime.
8. He rises early.
9. With my knowledge of Hungary's past, I can review the past it
has traversed and assess its present development.
10. Today leaders and rank and file laborers are more united than at any
time in the past.