Posted in Religion

Lost in Translation

Well, facing the language which is totally different from our culture is a tough job for us. It is kinda hard especially when you are living in the foreign country with totally different in language and culture. *well I hope I can improve my skill in this field in several languages*

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If you give someone or a group of people some information, there is a possibility that they didn’t receive your message clearly. Sometimes it causes misunderstanding which triggers conflicts. And you don’t feel ease when you are in a middle of a conflict. It is irritating. I really mean it.

Globalization, in fact, as the internet has been used widely, made people easily shared any information. Perhaps a good one. But, again, in fact, it is not. Arguably, in Indonesia, this type of problem (phenomenon?) is spreading like diseases.

We are drowning in information, without knowledge to transform it into our benefits.

It can’t be helped, though. Translating information from any media is just like translating foreign literature. We should measure its information with a certain parameter so that the information can be received flawlessly. It is a tough job for a translator who delivered their translation beautifully without losing its meaning and root of its culture.

The problem whenever you translate some words or sentences is its equivalency. The concept of equivalence is believed to be a central issue in translation although its definition, relevance, and applicability within the field of translation theory still causing controversies (Kashgary, 2011). This notion has always been used in a fuzzy sense. Language is influenced by the culture and its political history. Ancient language ceased to extinction mainly because of politics.

English and Arabic belong to two different cultures and hence, provide evidence for translating what is sometimes referred to as “untranslatable” due to lack of equivalence. In one way or another, Arabic is rich in culture-specific terms,mainly influenced by Islam and also concepts that have no equivalents in English.

“We will often find that there is no exact equivalence between the words of one language and the words of another” (Larson 1984:57). Lack of equivalence among languages at lexical, textual, grammatical or pragmatic level is a common fact and a problem which is always encountered by translators (Raof, 2001).

To translate a sacred text, one must consider many things. For the Qur’an, a translator doesn’t only need a sound linguistic competence in both Arabic and English, but also an advanced knowledge in its syntax and rhetoric in order to appreciate the complex linguistic and rhetorical patterns of Qur’anic structures as a proof for the beauty and majestic in its message.

Although Qur’an using Arabic as a basic language, its usage differs from a casual conversation among Arabic people. However, aside from the linguistic competence, for a sacred and highly sensitive text like the Qur’an, the translation cannot escape the trap of exegetical inaccuracies. A translated Qur’an will have new structural, textural and rhetorical features ad hoc to the target language.

As a message to humanity, the process of Qur’anic translation is one of major positive contribution and a magnificent promotion to cross-cultural understanding. Because sometimes, even you are in Muslim countries, the message tends to bias. It is mainly because we fail to share the message of Qur’an. We fail to provide the beauty and the majestic nuance in it.

When we fail to deliver its message, ﷲ in the Qur’an said,

قَالَ فَإِنَّهَا مُحَرَّمَةٌ عَلَيْهِمْ ۛأَرْبَعِينَ سَنَةً ۛ يَتِيهُونَ فِي الْأَرْضِ ۚ فَلَا تَأْسَ عَلَى الْقَوْمِالْفَاسِقِينَ

He (ﷲ) said, “Then indeed, it is forbidden to them for forty years [in which] they will wander throughout the land. So do not grieve over the defiantly disobedient people.” [QS 5:26]

When we fail, it is just as the people Israelites wandering in the middle of the desert for forty years. It is just like a group of people getting lost in a place without knowing any direction or even any translation of the language they are facing. Those people described in above Qur’anic ayah is failing. They fail to translate the message from their Prophet. Is it our problem nowadays? Lost in translation?

قُلْمَا أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ مِنْ أَجْرٍ وَمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُتَكَلِّفِينَ

Say, [OMuhammad], “I do not ask you for the Qur’an any payment, and I am not of the pretentious [QS 38:86]

إِنْهُوَ إِلَّا ذِكْرٌ لِّلْعَالَمِينَ

It is but a reminder to the worlds. [QS 38:87]

وَلَتَعْلَمُنَّنَبَأَهُ بَعْدَ حِينٍ

And you will surely know [the truth of] its information after a time.” [QS 38:88]


Kashgary, A. D. (2011). The paradox of translating the untranslatable: Equivalence vs. non-equivalence in translating from Arabic to English. Journal of King Saud University – Languages and Translation, 46-57.

Raof, H. A. (2001). Qur’an Translation: Discourse, Texture, and Exegesis. Leeds, W Yorkshire: Curzon Press.



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