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Taboos, Sexuality and Translation Norms: A Comparative Study


Taboos, Sexuality and Translation Norms: A Comparative Study

By Lara Doumit*

List of Abbreviations

BT ……………………………………………Back Translation

K ……………………………………………..Kept

PA……………………………………………Propositional Analysis

PO……………………………………………Partially Omitted

ST……………………………………………..Source Text

TO ……………………………………………Totally Omitted

TT ……………………………………………Target Text


The translational act becomes a more problematic process when cultural taboos dictate specific translation norms, namely concerning tabooed issues such as the description of sexuality in literature. In this article, I argue that the taboos governing the open discussion of sexual issues in the Arab culture play a substantial role in guiding the translator’s decision-making. This study compares reference to male genitalia extracted from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov with their translation into Arabic to detect possible changes done for the sake of domesticating sexuality aiming at a wider target audience acceptance in the Arab culture. This study also compares the sexual reference with other propositions that hold no sexual meaning for the sake of observing how the translator’s decision-making differs when the text describes explicit sexuality versus when the text includes no sexual reference.

Keywords: literary translation, culture, domestication, sexuality, norms, semantics, propositional content.


To recount examples of the discussion of the sexual theme in literature, there  are countless options. Numerous are the literary renegades who rebel against censorship and social taboos boldly treading into the realm of the forbidden. However, some authors run the risk of putting their works at the forefront of the struggle between hallowed social norms and taboos, on one side, and literary freedom, on the other.

Within this context, social taboos do not appear to be a firm deterrent for sexual literature. Literary history is strewn with a plenitude of works discussing outright sexuality. Nevertheless, the description of lust and desire remains an issue of great contention. According to Lubey (2012), the problem with texts that treat the sexual theme is the requirement of the author’s great narrative effort when describing sexual acts and the requirement of the reader who has to decode the allusions, feel their impact and understand their significance.

While looking into the nature of taboos, one realizes that they are a relative issue. What a said culture finds offensive and norm-breaking may not be perceived as such in another. It is at this point that the role of a translator, as mediator between cultures, comes into perspective. Literary translation is “a very social, culturally-bound process where the translator plays a key role in a complex series of interactions” (Bush, 2005, p. 129). Another challenge laid upon the translator’s shoulders is the difference in the attitudes of each individual culture regarding _____________________

* Post-Graduate Student at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK).

certain subject matters as well as “different thresholds of acceptability” that each culture possesses (Martín Ruano, 2018, p. 403).

The most important player in this dynamic of culture is language. It is noted that language is the main tool in the “collective knowledge reservoir” that is passed from a generation to another; it is a means of “categorizing the cultural experience, the thought and behavior for speakers” (House, 2016, p. 43).

This state of affairs becomes even more complex when one adds a culture that has a peculiar stance towards the discussion and description of sexuality, both on the social and literary levels like the Arab culture. Socially, the Arabs have a general discomfort with the open discussion of sex (El Feki, 2013). Generally, Arabs learn to veer off the path of major taboos, of which sex is one. “Anything else is ‘ayb (shameful), illit adab (impolite), haram (forbidden)—a seemingly endless lexicon of reproof” (El Feki, 2013, p. 23).  Even the discussion of the sexual rights of individuals is considered as something belonging to a Western agenda that undermines the traditional values of the Arab culture (El Feki, 2013).

On the literary scene, the Arabs, paradoxically, have a long history of sexual literature that is bold enough to compete with the most lascivious of Western writing (el Feki, 2013). Sexuality is deeply rooted in the rich literary history of the Arab culture (Massad, 2008). Nowadays, however, when Arabs think of their past, they look only for whatever is decent (El Feki, 2013).

As far as the Arabic novel is concerned, the theme of sex is not only present but rather recurrent. Works by famous Arab novelists such as Naguib Mahfuz, appeared during the late 1940s discussing sexual themes (Massad, 2008). Other works by Yusuf Idris, Sunallah Ibrahim, Ghadah Al Samman  entered the literary scene with resounding literary impact resulting from the ways in which they used and represented sex and desire in literature (Massad, 2008).

In the same context, the description of sexuality in literature varies in terms of the provocation it might stir. When it comes to the translation of expressions describing genitalia, allusive as they may be, the provocative sexual images they might stir in the Arab reader’s mind put the translator between a rock and a hard place. The sexual description is bound to be problematic for the Arab target audience simply because it treads into the realm of the indecent.

In this article, I present a comparative analysis of reference to male genitalia extracted from Nabokov’s Lolita, a text with a sexual theme, and the corresponding translations extracted from an Arabic translation by Suheil Idriss published in the year 1988. A thorough analysis of the Arabic text has revealed a visible tendency on the part of the translator for change, either partial or total, in the propositional content of expressions describing male genitalia. The aim of this study is to observe whether this tendency is done randomly or presents a trend, on the part of the translator, to omit the said expressions, possibly tabooed in the target culture, for the sake of abiding by the prevailing literary norms of the time of publication and, therefore, achieving a wider target audience acceptance. The sexual expressions are later compared with non-sexual expressions to verify whether or not the changes are guided by an adherence to the norms of the Arab target culture regarding avoiding the open discussion of sexual matters and achieving a wider acceptability.

Due to the interconnection of the content of the novel with social and cultural factors that might have affected the translator’s decisions, the analysis of the expressions extracted from the Arabic translation is approached in the light of Toury’s Concept of Norms, as well as textual analysis concepts to identify changes that are done purposefully in the aim of domestication. The Concept of Norms opens the door to the understanding of the manner in which social taboos have shaped and guided the translator’s decisions as a “person-in-the-culture” (Toury, 2012, p. 21), driving them to render a more target-oriented text.

Theoretical Framework

The main reason affecting the choice of Toury’s Concept of Norms as designated approach for this work is that the Concept of Norms is a part of the Polysystem Theory, which shows that translated literature is not studied anymore as an isolated work but as part of a larger literary system. So literature, including translated literature, is perceived as part of a wider framework involving cultural, social, historical and literary elements. The application of the Concept of Norms enables the observation of the manner in which the socio-cultural influences have shaped the work of the translator within the socio-cultural framework and helps the identification of the manner in which the application of target culture norms has affected the expressions referring to male genitalia.

The Polysystem Theory and the Concept of Norms emphasize the idea of examining all issues related to translation from historic, social and cultural perspectives based upon the “conditions which operate in the receiving culture at any point of time” (Baker, 2005, p. 163). Toury’s Concept of Norms does not attempt to evaluate translation, but rather focuses on the “evaluative yardstick” used to formulate statements about a translated work in a socio-cultural context (Baker, 2005).

Negotiations taking place between groups of people regarding modes of behavior lead to the birth of “conventions” (Toury, 2012). Throughout time, these “conventions” develop into “behavioral routines” that guide people in a specific community; these routines become a kind of a “second nature” for these people. Their vagueness leads them to being specific or binding to be able to serve as a guide for social behavior (Toury, 2012). This gap created by conventions is filled by the notion of norms. Norms are: “the translation of general values or ideas shared by a community – as to what would count as right or wrong, adequate or inadequate into performance ‘instructions’ appropriate for and applicable to concrete situations” (Toury, 2012, p.63).

Whenever there is a distinction between what is culturally appropriate and inappropriate in a certain community, there will always be a need for these “instructions” which serve as a guide for the “persons-in-the-culture” (Toury, 2012, p.21). In a “socially-significant translation,” “no act is or can be performed outside a particular context which serves to frame and condition it” (Toury, 2012, p. 67). Translation is an act that is conditioned and governed by norms. The main value of translation, following the socio-cultural paradigm, is shown as “the production of a text in a particular culture/language which is designed to occupy a certain position, or fill a certain slot, in the host culture” (Toury, 2012, p. 69).This is done while “constituting a representation in that language/culture of a text already existing in some other language, belonging to a different culture and occupying a defined position within it” (Toury, 2012, p. 69).

These two main principles, which form the “initial norms” of translation, are termed by Toury (2012) as “acceptability” versus “adequacy.” The translation’s “acceptability” is secured by adhering to the norms of the target culture while “adequacy” is maintained by the adherence to the source norms that govern the production of the source text. Many cultures may show many points of similarity  coming as a result of pure coincidence or as the outcome of a previous contact between the source and the target cultures (Toury, 2012).

As a result, translations can never be strictly “adequate” or “acceptable;” they are always a compromise between both. Any trial to distance the text from either of these signifies getting closer to the other (Toury, 2012). It is the “compromise” between adequacy and acceptability that reflects how influential norms are. When adequacy is deemed feasible and is adopted, the translation will try to come as close as possible to the source text and the norms that are embodied in it, and through these norms certain features of the source language and in certain instances, the source culture itself. This practice will result in discrepancies with the cultural practices governing the target culture (Toury, 2012).

When acceptability is deemed feasible and is thus adopted, target culture norms will govern the process thus “relegating the source text and its unique web of relations based on SL features to a secondary position as a source of constraints” (Toury, 2012, p. 79).

Another term used in this study is domestication. Introduced by Venuti, domestication refers to a translation strategy that is used to limit the strangeness of foreign texts to the target language readers (Shuttleworth & Cowie, 2014). As far as this study is concerned, this term is used to refer to the strategy adopted by the translator to change reference to male genitals for the sake of target audience acceptance (Shuttleworth & Cowie, 2014).

In conclusion, the need to adopt Toury’s Concept of Norms as a guiding approach comes as a result of the insight it provides into the issue under study. It is especially important in highlighting how the socio-cultural domain governs the translator’s decision as a “person-in-the-culture” (Toury, 2012, p.21).


          Guided by the emphasis laid by Toury (2012) on the influence of the socio-cultural factor on the translator’s decision-making, this comparative study focuses on comparing the translator’s decision-making when the text is sexual and when it is not. Therefore, this study is divided into two sections: (1) analysis of sexual propositions (reference to male genitalia) and the (2) analysis of non-sexual propositions.

          First, the sexual expressions referring to male genitalia are explained in context. The contextual explanation aids the understanding of the propositional content of references to male genitals that are mostly-allusive. When the ST and TT expressions are compared, I look for change in the meaning between the two that is mainly done for the sake of domesticating the sexual expressions considered tabooed in the target culture. Shifts from the ST are pointed out in order to detect a possible tendency for adequacy or acceptability in the translation of expressions considered as possibly sexually-suggestive.

          Second, after detecting the number of changes, whether partial or total, I resort to analyzing the propositional content of expressions considered not sexually suggestive; that is carrying no explicit sexual meaning. These expressions are chosen following Systematic Random Sampling .The number of possible changes is detected and compared to the changes observable in the sexual expressions. The translator’s preference for adequacy or acceptability is analyzed based on the number of changes observed in the form of percentages. This provides a clear understanding of the possible difference detected in the translator’s decision – making when the text is sexually-suggestive and when the context does not include sexual reference.

          Systematic random sampling is used to avoid any bias as far as the choice of non-sexual propositions is concerned. Systematic random sampling involves picking systematically in a way that is representative of the population (Hayes, 2019). The chosen propositions are the first sentences of the second paragraph of every other chapter (odd-numbered chapters). There are only two exceptions: one in chapter 7 where there is no second paragraph as the chapter spreads over one whole paragraph while the other exception is in chapter 9 where the first sentence of the second paragraph includes a sexual expression and is not used.

Analysis of Propositions with Sexual Reference

The analysis is carried out on reference to male genitalia extracted from the ST. The analysis compares the propositional content of these references with their corresponding translation in Arabic. The aim is to detect changes done for the sake of the domestication of the sexual expressions in the aim of avoiding sexual taboos and abiding by the prevailing norms of the target culture regarding the open discussion and description of sexuality. The following are 8 of the most representative cases of the 31 references to male genitals extracted from Part I of Lolita.

Case 1

ST: I gave her to hold in her awkward fist the scepter of my passion (p.9).

TT: كنت أودع يدها المفتقرة الى الحذق صولجان عاطفتي (ص. 18).

BT: I gave her to hold in her awkward hand the scepter of my affection.

PA: The expression is used by the protagonist-narrator to describe his erect manhood in an erotic encounter with his childhood love. “Passion” refers to sexual desire. It is translated into عاطفتي . The Arabic equivalent does not carry the same denotative meaning. The referring expression “passion” forms part of the allusion to the phallus. The removal of the Arabic equivalent of “passion” renders the allusion obsolete and, its referent, unclear.

Case 2

ST: You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins… (p.11).

TT: إن على الإنسان أن يكون فناناً مزدوجاً بمجنون، أو يكون أحد هذه الكائنات الشديدة الكآبة، ذات الأكباد التي ترشح بسمّ دقيق (ص. 21).

BT: A person has to be an artist and a madman, or one of those extremely-depressed creatures with livers that ooze of acute poison.

PA: “Loins” refers to sexual organs. This is not the same as أكباد (i.e. livers). The adjective “hot” refers to the intensity and heat of sexual desire and goes along with the sexual reference in “loins.” The denotative meaning of “hot” is omitted, since دقيق (i.e. acute) does not carry the same meaning as the ST adjective.

Case 3

ST: … and that was the nymphic echo, the chill of delight, the leap in my loins – a childish something mingling with the professional fretillement of her small agile rump … (p.15).

TT: …بحيوية صبيانية كانت تناقض الاهتزاز المهني في ردفيها الدقيقين وثمة كان الصدى الجني ويا لرعشة النشوة و طفرة الأحشاء! ( ص. 27).

BT: … with a boyish liveliness that contrasted with the professional wiggling in her tight buttocks: there was a nymphic echo, the chill of ecstasy and the jump in my entrails.

PA: “Loins” is rendered into أحشاء (i.e. entrails) that does not refer to sexual organs. “Leap” (i.e. jump) refers to male sexual arousal. It is translated intoطفرة , also signifying “leap.”  However, removing “loins” renders the expression unclear, blurring the sexual meaning.

Case 4

ST: Here are some brides of ten compelled to seat themselves on the fascinum, the virile ivory in the temples of classical scholarship (p.13).

TT: وأنظر الى هذه الزوجات الصغيرات ذوات الأعوام العشرة اللواتي أجلسوهن قسراً على منبر العاج الذكوري الذي كان ينصب في معابد دراساتنا الكلاسيكية (ص. 25).

BT: Look at those little ten-year-old wives who were forced to sit on the virile ivory platforms in the temples of our classical studies.

PA:  The sexual expression refers allusively to the phallic shape. “The fascinum” is taken from erotic practices of the ancient Roman period and is used by the protagonist-narrator in his defense of his perverted sexual interests. The expression is translated into   .منبر العاج الذكوري “Fascinum,” which clarifies the phallic shape of the object, is omitted. Translating “fascinum” into منبر (i.e. platform) creates confusion regarding the phallic shape rendered unclear in Arabic.

Case 5

ST: … in fact, it had become quite a habit with me of not being too attentive to women lest they come toppling, bloodripe, into my cold lap (p.19).

TT:… والحقّ أني كنت قد درّبت نفسي على ألّا أظهر لهن مزيداً من الإستمالة، خشية أن يسقطن ناضجات فوق صدري البارد (ص. 33).

BT: … the truth is I had trained myself not to show them more interest for fear they might fall right on my cold chest.

PA: The referring expression “lap” is an allusion, in context, to the phallus in a state of arousal. The proposition is translated into  صدري البارد. “Lap” refers to the lower body part of a seated person where the sexual organs are located, unlike صدري (i.e. chest) that refers to the upper part of the body.

Case 6

ST: Her legs twitched a little as they lay across my live lap; I stroked them … (p.53).

TT: وكانت ساقاها الممدودتان عبر حجري عرضاَ ترتعشان بين فترة و فترة، فكنت أداعبهما بلطف… (ص. 76).

BT: Her legs were stretched across my lap; they shivered from time to time and I gently caressed them.

PA: “My live lap” is translated into حجري. The adjective “live,” referring to male sexual arousal, namely when combined with “lap,” is omitted. The sexual propositional content of the expression becomes unclear when “live” is omitted.

Case 7

ST: Pathetic – because despite the insatiable fire of my venereal appetite, I intended, with the most fervent force and foresight, to protect the purity of that twelve-year-old child (p.77).

TT: “مؤثر” هي الصفة المناسبة. مؤثر لأنني كنت أعد لنفسي بإرادة قوية مستبصرة، بالرغم من أتون مطمحي الجسديّ الذي لم يروَ، أن أحافظ على طهارة هذه الغلامة ذات الإثني عشر عاماً (ص. 80).

BT: “Touching” is the right description. Touching because I had prepared myself with an insightful strong will and that despite the unquenchable fire of my physical ambition, I had intended to protect the purity of that twelve-year-old girl.

PA: The expression is translated into أتون مطمحي الجسديّ. The adjective “venereal” describes sexual desire because it refers to sexual organs. This is not the same as جسدي, which does not refer to the sexual parts of the body, but to the body as a whole. “Appetite” refers to intense sexual cravings, unlike مطمح (i.e. aspiration).

Case 8

ST: There would have been those luminous globules of gonadal glow that travel up the opalescent sides of juke boxes (p.148).

TT: وكنت سأرسم تلك الكرويّات الملتهبة التي نراها تصعد على جدران الالآت الثلجية (ص. 174).

BT: I would have painted those burning globules that we see climbing up the walls of ice machines.

PA: The literary metaphor alludes to male sexual organs, in the reference to gonads, while “luminous globules” is a reference to the flow of semen traveling up “the opalescent sides of juke boxes” (p.148). The reference to “juke boxes” is a subtle yet expressive allusion symbolizing Lolita’s world (Sykes, 1989, 38:53). Naiman (2010) offered the same interpretation of “luminous globules” suggesting that it is a reference to “sexual release” (p. 159). The removal of the reference to “gonads” renders the expression unclear, blurring the sexual meaning.

Analysis of Non-Sexual Propositions

          This section analyzes non-sexual propositions that are picked out following Systematic random sampling. The aim is to observe the translator’s decision-making when the text does not involves any sexual description.

Case 1

ST: She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock (p.3).

TT: كانت “لو” في الصباح، “لو” بكل بساطة، طولها مترٌ و ثمانية وأربعون، و الجوربان في قدميها، واقفة على رجل واحدة (ص.11).

BT: She was Lo in the morning, simply Lo, her height was one meter and forty, with socks on her feet, standing on one foot.

PA: The only noticeable change on the level of the propositional content is the rendering of “in one sock” into الجوربان في قدميها. While the ST proposes that the girl has one sock on one of her feet, the TT proposes that both socks are worn by the girl. No substantial changes are visible in the remainder of the proposition.

Case 2

ST: Let me therefore primly limit myself, in describing Annabel, to saying she was a lovely child a few months my junior (p.6).

TT: فليسمح لي إذن أن أقول بكلّ بساطة، وأنا أصف أنابيل، إنها كانت فتاة رائعة تصغرني بعدة أشهر (ص. 15).

BT: Let me, therefore, simply say, or describe Annabel as a lovely girl a few months younger than I.

PA: No substantial change in propositional content is observable in this case.

Case 3

ST: A paper of mine entitled “The Proustian theme in a letter from Keats to Benjamin Bailey” was chuckled over by the six or seven scholars who read it (p.10).

TT: وقد كتبت يومأ دراسة بعنوان: “الفكرة البروستية في رسالة من “كيتس” الى “بنجامين بيلي” فحيّاها نقيق ستة مثقفين أو سبعة قرأوها (ص.20)

BT: I had written a study entitled: “The Proustian Idea in a letter from Keats to Benjamin Bailey” that was saluted by six or seven croaking scholars.

PA: The only noticeable change in propositional content is observable in the translation of the predicator “chuckle over,” signifying “to laugh at.” In the TT, the predicator is translated into “salute.” This signifies that the paper written received praise, whereas the ST proposes that the paper was ridiculed.

Case 4

ST: Robust outdoor life seemed to promise me some relief (p.27).

TT :  وقد بدا لي أن إقامة في الهواء الطلق ستعود عليّ ببعض العزاء (ص. 42).

BT:  It occurred to me that outdoor life will bring me some consolation.

PA: No substantial change in propositional content is observable in this case.

Case 5

ST: I remember the thing so exactly because I wrote it really twice (p.34).

TT: و الحق أني إذا كنت أتذكر هذه المفكرة بمثل هذه الدقة فلأني كتبتها مرتين (ص. 52).

BT: Truly I say that I remember this diary with that precision because I wrote it twice.

PA: No substantial changes in propositional content can be observed in this case.

Case 6

ST: There had been another row (p.51).

TT: كان هناك شي جديد (ص. 73).

BT: There was something new.

PA: The propositional content of the ST and TT is totally different. The ST speaks of a row or an argument that had taken place. In the TT, the proposition is totally different for it states that something new is happening. The translation of “row” into “something new” has totally omitted the content of the proposition.

Case 7

ST: On Wednesday I managed to waylay Lo for a few seconds (p.59).

TT:ونجحت يوم الأربعاء في أن أخطف “لو” بضع دقائق (ص. 83).

BT: On Wednesday, I had succeeded to kidnap “Lo” for a few minutes.

PA: No substantial change in propositional content is observable in this case.

Case 8

ST: After a while I destroyed the letter and went to my room and ruminated and rumpled my hair, and modeled my purple robe, and moaned through clenched teeth and suddenly …)p.59).

TT: بعد فترة قليلة، أتلفت الرسالة وعدت الى غرفتي وأنا أجتر أفكاري وأخلل أصابعي في شعري، وأختال في روب دي شامبري الليلكي، وأئن بين أسناني الكازة و فجأة (ص. 89-90).

BT: After a while, I destroyed the letter and went to my room ruminated my thoughts and passed my fingers through my hair and pranced in my cashmere robe and moaned through my clenched teeth, and suddenly…

PA: No substantial change in propositional content is observable in this case.

Findings and Discussion

In the cases displayed above, one notices that the translator’s decisions reflect a visible tendency towards the domestication of the propositions referring to male genitals. The above 8 cases show a total change in propositional content. In the group of 31sexual expressions referring to male genitals collected earlier from the same TT, I observe that the sexual propositional content of 13 units is totally omitted, 3 partially omitted and 15 are not changed.

The following are references to male genitalia collected from the analysis of part I of the ST.

           ST                  TT  
light of my life (p. 3) يا نور حياتي K
fire of my loins (p. 3) نار صدري TO
the scepter of my passion (p. 9) صولجان عاطفتي TO
a bubble of hot poison in your loins (p.11) ذات الأكباد التي ترشح بسمّ دقيق TO
a hell furnace of localized lust (p.11) موقد شهوة جهنمية PO
a lad’s perineum (p.13) عجان الراعيات الصغيرات TO
the Fascinum, the virile ivory (p.13) منبر العاج الذكوري TO
the leap in my loins (p.15) طفرة الأحشاء TO
my cold lap (p.19) صدري البارد TO
set my manhood astir (p.36) ما أثار رجولتي TO
Priap (p.36) برياب K
my masked lust (p.52) رغبتي المقنّعة PO
the hidden tumor of an unspeakable passion (p.53) الدمل الخفي لعاطفة لا توصف PO
my live lap (p.53) حجري TO
gagged, bursting beast (p.53) الوحش المكموم الممدود حتى ليكاد يتحطّم K
my tense, tortured, surreptitiously laboring lap (p.54) حجري المحموم المعذّب الذي كان يشتغل خفية K
corpuscles of Krause (p.54) خلايا كرواس K
my muscular thumb (p.55) إبهامي الجذل K
the insatiable fire of my venereal appetite (p.57) أتون مطمحي الجسديّ TO
my viler side (p.124) جانبي الأسوأ K
my burning life (p.124) حياتي الملتهبة K
my ravenous bulk (p.124) كتلة جسمي النهمة K
my life (p.128) حياتي K
a kid’s life (p.128) أبعاد صبّي TO
an insensate gadget(p.128) آلة لا تحسّ K
a choking snake (p.128) حيّة تختنق K
the flayed trunk of a shoat (p.128) خنزيراً صغيراً حيّاً K
climb a column of onyx (p.128) أن تمتطي عموداً من العقيق K
luminous globules of gonadal glow (p.128) الكرويّات الملتهبة TO
thrusts himself up to the hilt(p.129) يلج في زوجته الشابة الى أبعد الحدود K
exhibit himself (p.131) يتنزّه TO

It is observed, from the collected data, that 51% of references to male genitalia have their propositional content either partially or totally omitted. To illustrate using other cases, “exhibit himself,” for instance, is translated into يتنزه  signifying to “to take ride.” The proposition that signifies exposing ones genitals is domesticated. “My live lap,” for instance, an allusive reference to male sexual arousal has its propositional content totally omitted. The adjective “live,” referring to the arousal of the protagonist-narrator’s manhood, is also domesticated with the removal of the adjective “live,” rendering the allusive reference unclear.

When the non-sexual propositions are observed, one notices that 5 out of the 8 cases displayed collected following Systematic random sampling reflect no substantial change in propositional content. 63% of the propositions show no substantial change as far as their content is concerned compared to 51% domestication (change) for sexual propositions. The translator’s decision- making has significantly differed when the propositions are not sexual.

All in all, resorting to the domestication of the sexual propositions describing male genitalia presents a tendency on the part of the translator. This tendency is not observable when it comes to the translation of non-sexual propositions. The preferred choice for the translator is to domesticate the sexual reference to male genitals. This gives an idea of the translator’s tendency towards abiding by the norms of the Arab culture of the time. This reflects the potency of the target culture norms when it comes to the description of sexuality in literature. The obvious choice the translator opted for is to domesticate most of the propositions that refer to male genitalia. A visible tendency towards acceptability is observable in the translator’s decision-making.

If the results are to be observed from a “norms perspective,” one can find three possible explanations for this heavy leaning on acceptability rather than adequacy in the translator’s decision-making when it comes to reference to male genitals. The first explanation finds its roots in the nature of norms. The application of norms involves sanctions that can sometimes be punitive, according to Toury (2012). If the translator has to avoid possible sanctions on their work, it is imperative that the end product abides by the prevailing norms of the target culture. The open discussion of tabooed sexual issues is not something that was particularly welcome in the Arab culture of the time.

The second explanation lies in the role played by the individuals involved in the translational event (not only the translational act). If one supposes that the translation product was non-normative, publishers and editors, involved in the translational event, might shun the product at hand or request from the translator more normative behavior, therefore requesting more acceptability or domestication of tabooed sexual reference.

Last but not least, one cannot disregard the factor of auto-censorship applied by the translator on their own work with the translator being a “person-in-the-culture” (Toury, 2012). The influence of the socio-cultural dimension on the individual is not something to be dismissed. When one grows up in a said culture, these influences and the norms of the culture often become a second nature.


One can induce that despite the occasional shifting between adequacy and acceptability in the translator’s decision-making, there is a discernible overall tendency towards acceptability (an adherence to the norms of the target culture) if all 31 propositions are considered. The explanation for the translator’s decisions is most likely a combination between the above-mentioned explanations. The punitive nature of norms combined with the role of editors and publishers and topped with auto-censorship applied by the translator will have shaped the final translation product. Socio-cultural traces are visible in the translator’s decision-making when sexuality was present. When the propositions are not sexual, domestication is observable to a much lesser extent.  The translator of the target text worked in the interest of the target culture of the 1980s, rendering his work more target-oriented.

The study of translation from a “norms perspective” can reveal a lot about the cultural praxis and beliefs regarding the open discussion of sexuality at the time the translational act took place. It also highlights the role of the translator as a “person-in-the-culture” and the potency of the norms applied in the target culture and the manner in which they have affected the translator’s decision-making. The application of norms and the translator’s behavior vis-à-vis these norms also highlight the importance of the descriptive trend in translation (versus prescriptive) that works on describing how the translational act is in a social and cultural context rather than how it should be.


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