Translation and body-part terms:The case of cheshm ‘eye’ in Persian

Document Type : Research Paper


School of Languages, Cultures, and Linguistics, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia


Translating body-part terms from one language to another presents a significant challenge due to the fact that such terms are usually associated with cultural conceptualisations, such as those of emotions and mental activities, which in many cases vary across languages. A literal translation of a body-part term from SL to TL, therefore, may alter the conceptual basis of the term, which may have significant semantic or pragmatic implications. This paper focuses on the case of cheshm ‘eye’ in Persian, a body-part term that is predominantly associated with emotions, including love, envy, and greed, as well as character traits such as naivety or wilfulness. The analysis of some Persian expressions that are associated with the body-part term ‘eye’ reveal significant differences with the connotation of ‘eye’ in English. For example, the conceptualisation of understanding is seeing, is not a dominant conceptualisation in everyday use of language by Persian speakers. There are, however, some words which do refer to the process of visual perception and which are mainly used in association with thinking. These expressions seem to be reminiscent of a historical cultural conceptualisation that can be traced back to the Pahlavi language, the major form of Middle Persian. The observations made in this paper call for a cultural-conceptual level of analysis, as a step in the general process of translating from one language to another.