In Conceptual Transfer in the Bilingual Mental Lexicon, Sherif Okasha provides a weighty look into the science of translation. He explores the idea of a “mental lexicon”: how reality is processed through words in the mind. Okasha focuses specifically on the translation of concepts between the languages of English and Arabic.
How concepts are digested, categorized, stored and retrieved is relevant to both the process and product of translation. If something is always gained or lost in translation, there should be an empirical way, according to Okasha, to measure this shift.
In order to do this, he gives great attention to developing a theoretical framework for this study. Word classification is also emphasized. For example, given a concept such as “medicine”, “pediatrics” would be considered a type because it relates to the concept as a whole. However, “ophthalmology” and “cardiology” would be considered extensions of this concept because they relate to one of the objects of “medicine.”
Late in the book, the reader sees how this research could apply in any real life situation. In a study conducted on 20 subjects of similar age, Okasha found that it took longer to elicit the type of a concept than an extension. He found this to be true of both monolingual as well as bilingual subjects. He also looked at translation in contextualized and de-contextualized situations. Not surprisingly, translation time is longer for contextualized pieces.
The specificity and technical nature of this examination make it a difficult read for the general linguist. More attention to real-world application would have been useful. The book’s many oversights in copyediting further complicate the dense subject matter. Okasha, however, raises some interesting points regarding empirical research on abstract concepts and his work might be best suited for an academic journal for professional translators.
Also available as an ebook.