Recreating relevance: translated Arabic idioms through a relevance theory lens

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This study uses relevance theory as an insightful heuristic model for translation quality assessment. As translation inherently involves communicating across contextual boundaries, the notion of relevance optimization continues to be a fruitful approach for research and practice. This investigation illuminates idioms as culturally embedded linguistic conventions, semantically abstruse, yet structurally crystallized. Idioms accrue fixed meanings within a speech community rather than by compositing constituent denotations. Classical Arabic poetry extensively harnesses idioms, not as ornamental substitutes for literal statements, but as intensive versions thereof. Losing idioms risks muting tonal intensity. By examining an Arabic verse exemplifying two idioms, and assessing thirteen English and French translations, this study reveals that an effective idiom translation requires looking beyond lexical equivalence. Rather, contextually unraveling connotative lexicons and reconstituting the idiom to achieve equivalent effects and optimal relevance is key. Thereby, successful idiom translation is defined not by formal correspondence, but by conveying implicated meanings and intended impacts. This work elucidates idiom translatability through an interdisciplinary relevance prism, advancing theory and equipping practitioners to navigate the interlingual labyrinth.

Original languageEnglish
Article number459
JournalHumanities and Social Sciences Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Idiom translation
  • relevance theory
  • Translation quality assessment TQA
  • Mu'allaqāt
  • pre-Islamic poetry
  • Cultural translation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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