Euphemism vs explicitness: A corpus-based analysis of translated taboo words from English to Zimbabwean Ndebele

Published in: South African Journal of African Languages
Volume 37, issue 2, 2017 , pages: 235–243
DOI: 10.1080/02572117.2017.1378278
Author(s): Ketiwe NdhlovuDepartment of African Languages, South Africa, Rudolph BothaDepartment of African Languages, South Africa


This article examines the governing initial norms, namely explicitness and euphemism in English source texts and Ndebele translations, focusing on how these norms influenced the strategies chosen by the Ndebele translators in the translation of taboo terms. In the article, a corpus-based approach is used to identify head words and their translations. Interviews were carried out to determine public views on the translation of taboo terms in HIV texts in Ndebele. The majority of interviewed participants criticised the use of explicit terms in the texts they were given to read, arguing that the use of explicit terms contravenes their culture. This finding endorses the argument that selected strategies have the capacity to influence the linguistic and cultural acceptability and/or non-acceptability of translated texts. Most Ndebele translators selected strategies that promoted the target norm of euphemism, namely cultural substitution, using a general word, using a neutral or less expressive word, and paraphrasing; only a few translators opted for the source norm of explicitness. The study recommends that translators should always take the needs of their target culture readers into consideration because a transparent text that shocks sensitive readers is not linguistically effective if it is not culturally accepted.

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