Translation as an instrument of cultural integration

Below we present the article written by Nella Shutova for Multilingualism in the Educational Space. Issue VI, published by Udmurt State University, Russia, 2014.


Udmurt State University

(based on the experience of translating the website  ‘Polen voor Nederlanders’)

This paper presents the work of translation as a vehicle for the mediation and
integration of people and their countries.  Ways of solving problems relating to translation and mediation are illustrated through examples from the website ‘Polen voor Nederlanders’. This site examines certain historical and cultural aspects of Poland as they relate to the Netherlands.The author of this essay dwells not only on the strategies required to deal with culture-bound information contained in definite lexical units – realia, but accentuates the need to assess those value orientations, judgments and peculiarities of mentality which are characteristic of different nations. The specifics of perception, and the transmission of certain notions, phenomena and facts of history, are well illustrated through examples on the website. The website creators did their best to not only present important information about their countries, but to also express their personal attitudes to the facts and events described; all these aspects should be reflected in the Russian translation as well. It is only through the dedication of creators and translators of websites like this (devoted to the history, cultural development and relations between certain countries), that we may have important cultural data presented in different languages, along with the opportunity to receive feedback from the creators themselves. This interactive model for cultural exchange will, no doubt, play a significant role in bringing nations together.

website, intercultural communication, culture-bound information, cultural integration, cultural activities, realia, pragmatic adequacy

Integration processes are a characteristic feature of the modern world; they take place in the sphere of economics, science, education and inevitably occur in the cultural area. On the one hand, integration (from the Latin word “integration” – “replenishment”, “recovery”) means the state of inner integrity of a certain formation or a system. On the other hand, when it comes to culture, integration cannot be perceived so directly.  It is not accidental that cultural integration is interpreted by different researchers in different ways; and it is possible to allocate various aspects of cultural activities as the leading point. For example, E.E. Belyaeva, in her study devoted to cultural integration as the main strategy of the European Union, notes that there appeared new forms of peoples’ and states’ coexistence within the European Union. She claims that these forms are based not on the civil society principles in its classical sense, but rather on the revival of a common historical memory of Europe’s past, the memory, enriched with the achievements of the last centuries. In the author’s opinion, cultural integration on the conceptual level is a desire to enable the working parties get involved in a certain logic relationship and join their efforts for solving common problems and achieving a common goal [1]. M.M. Bakhtin believed that culture existed only there where at least two cultures were present, and cultural self-consciousness was a form of bordering existence. Each culture reveals its concealed multiple meanings only being involved into some dialogue [2, 85].

Modern information technologies have greatly expanded communication possibilities, websites are being created, Internet blogs come into being, and people from different countries have a real opportunity to communicate directly. In 2013 students of the Institute of Foreign Languages and Literature studying the theory and practice of translation (the English language) got an opportunity not only to test in practice their linguistic skills in the field of translation, but to also solve the actual challenges of intercultural communication when translating the website “Polen voor Nederlanders” (“Poland for the Dutch”). Renata Glushek (Poland) and Han Tiggelaar (the Netherlands), the creators of this website, had carried out an interesting project. They created a website, initially addressed to the residents of the Netherlands and Poland, but in the long run, it turned out to be very informative for people from many other countries due to the English translation.

The translation of the website materials from English into Russian helped to increase the number of its visitors, but it turned out to be a complex and multifaceted task for the students – translators to be. It was very important to save the pragmatic orientation of the website, as it was initially aimed at drawing attention to Poland and the development of its tourism, including individual tourism. This website covers many aspects of Polish life, both its present and past life. To make their translation adequate the students had to study in advance many events and crucial moments in the history of Poland. The website’s materials contain not only specific historical and cultural information, but also reflect the changes in the assessment of life realities in Poland in the past and in the present. The change of basic values in society after the collapse of the socialist camp is also described here. The translators had to pay special attention to the axiological basis of description, the connotative and emotional information contained in the texts.

Inherently translation always presents an act of both international and intercultural communication, in which different types of national communicative conscience interact. According to I.A. Sternin, communicative conscience is a set of mental communication categories defining socially accepted norms and rules of communication [3, 87]. Translation initially presupposes interaction of different mentalities, different traditions and attitudes, different value systems, and the cultural context is a sort of macrocontext in which all the linguistic problems of translation can be solved.

Only two students out of seven translators, who translated the materials of the website, had visited Poland. Other students were very poorly informed about the country. However, they all were sure that, as Poles belonged to the Slavic culture, the process of understanding their lives’ features would be easier for Russian speakers. They even thought that it would be possible to collect some information from the original text in Polish. It should be noted that Renata Gluszek had sought to give the most objective information about her country’s life in its different periods. Many of the facts she cited were little known to Russian readers (for example, the information about the Silesian Uprisings in 1920–1921, the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, the Polish government-in-exile in 1939–1990 and so on). On the one hand, Renata wrote quite openly about the religious wars, the undue (from the point of view of some Poles) influence of the church on the secular society’s life, on the other hand, she discussed the changing attitude of young people to the religious values. The translators considered that information as somewhat contradicting to the traditional conception of Poland as a Catholic country with universal adherence to certain religious values.

Realia are universally recognized linguistic carriers of cultural information. We can divide all the realia occurring in the texts under study into several groups: 1) onomastic realia (personal names, place-names, the names of commercial establishments and cultural centers); 2) ethnographic realia (the names of folk dances, national dishes, household items); 3) political realia (names of ruling authorities and power holders, social and civil movements); 4) military realia (military ranks, names of weapons’ types).

It is known that onomastic realia can be transmitted in translation mainly with the help of transcription and transliteration. However, it was necessary to translate into Russian the names which had been already transformed by means of the English language. The translators had to turn to the original Polish names to make them sound in Russian closer to the original Polish sounding, besides, it was necessary to look for the already existing variants in the Russian language. Some examples may be provided here: Jędrzychowice (Polish-German border crossing), in Russian – «Енджиховице»; Zgorzelec (town), in Russian – «Згожелец», Budomierz (village), in Russian –  «Будомеж», Połowce (village), in Russian – «Половцы», Pieszczatka (check point on the border of Poland and Belarus), in Russian – «Песчатка», etc.

The translators often preserved the names of the Polish national cuisine in the English text (followed by a descriptive translation): kapuśniak (“sauerkraut soup with some meat” – “kapustnyak”; pomidorowa (“tomato soup usually served with noodle, potato or rice”) – “tomato soup”; grochówka (“made from peas, lentils and potato with addition of a sausage, thick and nutritious; often served in the army”) – “pea soup”.  As we see, the translator used transcription to transmit the first realia, the Internet-search confirmed the existence of such a naming for the soup of sauerkraut in Russian. In other cases the translators made use of descriptive translation.

Sometimes a Polish realia cited in the English text could mislead the translator, being a “false friend”, for example, the word pierogi (sounds like Russian «пироги» – “pies”) actually means “dumplings” («вареники» in Russian). Some Russian translations of the names of Polish cuisine dishes can be only approximate. For example, Polish barszcz (“beetroot soup, typically served with beans or “uszka” (ears) – ravioli-type pastries stuffed with meat or mushrooms) significantly differs from the Russian recipe of «борщ».


Prof. Nella Shutova and her students

Some interest present religious realia, which we also refer to ethnographic ones. We may provide an example here:

To this day one of the customs which survived is the celebration of the Easter Palm at Palm Sunday. Formerly it was believed that Palms are to protect people, animals and farms against witchcrafts and evils. There is rivalry about who produced the highest and the most beautiful palm.”

The initial variant of the Russian translation was:

«Один из старых обычаев, который сохранился до сегодняшнего дня, – это празднование пасхальной пальмы в Вербное воскресенье. Ранее считалось, что пальмовые листья должны предохранять людей, животных и дома от колдовства и воздействия злых сил. Люди соревнуются в том, чья «пальма» получится самой высокой и красивой».

In fact, the analogue for Palm Sunday in the Russian language is «Вербное воскресенье» (Sunday of the week before Easter), but introduction of the Russian realia in this context is unacceptable. It is necessary to resort to descriptive translation “the celebration of Easter Palm a week before Easter” or make a footnote.

Only Russian people of the older generation remember and know quite well one of the best ensembles of folk dance and song in the world – “Mazovia.” There already exists in Russian an accepted equivalent – «Мазовше».

Ethnographic realia also include the names of national holidays. In the English version of the text devoted to the celebration of the 1-st of May (Labor Day) in Poland there is a remark that it is also a Catholic holiday:

May 1st is also a church celebration, so on this day special masses are held for Joseph the Worker.”

The Internet-search shows that Joseph the Worker stands for Joseph the Carpenter (a betrothed husband of the Virgin Mary); it is possible to offer the following translation into Russian:

«1 Мая также является религиозным праздником, поэтому в этот день в костелах проходят специальные мессы в честь Иосифа Плотника (мужа Богородицы)».

Political realia are present both in the texts describing the distant past of Poland and in the texts describing relatively recent political events. Some of them are ambiguous, for example, the Polish political term Rzeczpospolita has several meanings and relates to the four most important periods in the history of Poland:

  • I Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (the middle of the 15th century – 1795) – the code name of association of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania;
  • II Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (November 1918 – July 5, 1945) – begins with the proclamation of Poland as an independent Republic at the end of the Second World War and ends with the refusal of the UK and the USA to recognize the Polish government in exile;
  • Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa – The Polish People’s Republic (July 5, 1945 – June 4, 1989, there is no figure in the title, because the socialist government did not want to have anything to do with the old capitalist state);
  • Rzeczpospolita Polska (the official name) – III Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (June 4, 1989) – This name refers to the present-day Poland.

There is also an informal term “IV Rzeczpospolita”, which refers to the 2005–2007 years, when the Polish state was ruled by the Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who was a staunch opponent of III Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The term “IV Rzeczpospolita” designated his political programme, which denied the achievements of III Rzeczpospolita, in particular, the agreement of the Round Table [4].

Military realia are widely used in the website’s sections dedicated to the history of Poland. The translators had to bring to the Russian readers the specific features of the Polish Army organization at certain historical periods. The descriptions of the war events in the 16th –17th centuries include “Polish hussars” in Russian – «польские гусары». It may seem that the word «гусар» (hussar) is well known to the Russian people, but only few people know that the hussars first appeared exactly in Poland. Polish Hussars were also called “winged hussars”, the first Polish hussars were Serbians. “Winged hussars” were an elite cavalry of the Commonwealth, they were considered invincible for the whole century. In Russia we come across references to hussar “rotas” as the army of a new (alien) system only in 1634. In one of the English texts from the website an Uhlan is equated to a Cossack – “a Polish lancer or a Cossack” [actually it is a misunderstanding by Nella which originates in an unproper translation from Polish into English – Uhlan and Cossack are not the same! – note by RG]. Of course, the translators had a question concerning the identity of those warriors. It turned out that the Uhlans first appeared in Poland, although the word “Uhlan” is of Turkish origin and means “a young man”. Those Polish riders were armed with pikes and sabers, and a tall rectangular headgear was their uniform’s distinctive attribute. Uhlans belonged to light cavalry, along with the hussars, but, as it had already been noted, hussars were more privileged – an elite cavalry. It is interesting that uhlan regiments appeared in Russia only in the XIX-th century. Cossacks did not belong to the regular army; therefore, there could not be any equality between Cossacks and Uhlans. It was found out in the process of translating the website that the differences in the Polish cavalry detachments had even been the subject of the Internet forum discussion [5].

As it was mentioned above, transmission of culturally marked realia was not the main task of this website’s translators. The most important thing was to stir the Russian visitors’ interest in Poland and in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, in recent years the contacts between Russia and Poland have been decreasing, and contemporary young people, unlike the older generation, know very little about this country. When the website translation was finished Renata Glushek suggested that the students should answer some questions. The translators’ responses to the questionnaire showed that the work on the website translation had contributed to the development of interest in Poland and motivated a desire to visit the country, as well as the Netherlands, to see with their own eyes the sights described on the website and to know more about the life of people in Poland and the Netherlands. When the creators of the website started their work on it they themselves were sure that Poland and the Netherlands historically had had only very limited contacts, but in the work process it became clear that those two countries had been quite closely related.

The contacts between Poland and Russia had always been even closer, though Russia often performed the role of a conqueror, which later told on the Polish-Russian relations. We hope that the website’s materials translated by the students will help young people in Russia to better understand the causes of currently existing differences between our countries, and will probably arouse a desire to try to find the ways of improving them. To make it a reality we should deeply comprehend the entire process of the historical development of our countries and understand the origin of our national characters, of our national identity. Creating a common cultural environment is an essential component of peaceful and friendly relations between the countries. It is necessary to study those cultural and historical factors which do not separate but unite peoples. National cultures must interact and mutually enrich each other; it is the only way to achieve mutual understanding. Modern information technologies offer great opportunities for cultural contacts. Websites like “Polen voor Nederlanders”, which vividly and with a personal position provide information about the countries of their creators and directly appeal to people who want to visit this or that country, can play a very important role in bringing peoples together.


  1. Belyaeva E.E. Cultural integration as the main strategy of the European Union cultural policy. M., 2011 [electronic resource]. Access: http: // the European Union –kulturnoi-politiki-evropeiskogo-soyuza (date of access 06.20.2014).
  2. Bakhtin M.M. Aesthetics of verbal creativity. M., 1979, P. 334–335.
  3. Sternin I.A. On the national communicative conscience. Linguistic Gazette. – Vol. 4. – Izhevsk, 2002. – P. 87–94.
  4. Polen voor Nederlanders, History – II Republic 1918-1945 [electronic resource]. Access: (accessed date 06.02.2014).
  5. [electronic resource]. Access mode: (date of access 06.20.2014).

Translated from Russian into English by Yekaterina Rukhlina:

Read also: PvN reflecting two cultures

Renata and Han express special thanks to Ms. Nella Maksimovna Shutova, the head of Department of Translation and Applied Linguistics of the Udmurt State University, who makes possible to translate materials from the “Polen voor Nederlanders”, as well as “Holandia bez tajemnic” websites into Russian language and always is helpful in correcting our unperfect English.


Prof. Nella Shutova