Differences between two cultures can easily be recognized in their languages. Translators should pay special attention to all kind of pointers that can help them recognize words and expressions that contain important cultural references. In translation of these words she/he must keep in mind that the most cultural components included are probably unknown for the readers in the target language.
Here is a list of 10 possible solutions for translating words with cultural references.
1. Transcription – Translator can simply form a new word copying the pronunciation of a specific word in a source language. This procedure is frequently used in translation of toponyms. Transcription can be either phonetic or orthographic, depending on the language pair.
2. Transliteration - A word can also be translated to another language using letter-by-letter conversion from one script to another. This method is used only if onomatopoeic effect of the source word is important to stylistic value of the text.
3. Adaptation – As a translation equivalent of a “problematic” lexeme translator can use borrowed word that already exists (is already adapted) in a source language.
4. Substitution – Translator can replace source word with a common expression with similar meaning in target language. The target expression must not be borrowed from another language.
5. Literal (directed) translation - The results of this process are usually unsatisfying, but sporadically literal translation can come very handy (e.g. translation of literary characters’ symbolic names).
6. Calque – Translator can transfer word’s semantic elements into a new word or a phrase in order to keep cultural components. That newly formed expression must not be already adapted in that particular form in any language. The final goal is to create a completely new lexeme called “calque” (e.g. "translation" etymologically means "bringing across". It is formed from Latin word translatio that derived from transferr" < trans ("across") + ferre ("to bring")).
7. Definition – Instead of choosing word with similar meaning, translator can use a definition of that source word in a target language.
8. Neutralization – Source word can be replaced with neutral translation equivalent from target language. In this situation connotative value of the word’s cultural elements is inevitably lost.
9. Omission – Translator can omit words only if she/he is sure that any other translation solution would confuse readers or significantly change meaning of translated text. This is always the least desirable solution.
10. Neologism – Translator can combine existing words in target language in order to make a new one. He can also form a new word (“neologism”) by adding unusual prefix or suffix to the existing word (e.g. web + log > blog).
Obvious conclusion is that there are a lot of different choices from keeping almost all cultural references in a word and neutralizing most of the additional information to simply omitting the whole word. What method translator will choose depends only on the type of translated text and its narrative tone.
Can you suggest any other translation solution for words that contain significant cultural references?