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Lexical selection and archaisms in three English translations of the S?rat Y?suf (the Chapter of Joseph): A comparative linguistic and empirical investigation

Musleh, Bushra


Bushra Musleh


The overarching aim of this thesis is to investigate readers’ perceptions of the understandability of three translations of the Qur’an. Despite a long debate among translation theorists as to whether translations should be word-for-word or sense-for-sense, it is generally recommended that translators stick closely to the letter of the original texts when translating sacred or canonical texts. However, the translated texts need to be understandable to the reader. Functional approaches (Reiss and Vermeer’s (1984) skopos theory) highlight this aspect of translation.
The present research study focuses on the extent to which translations of the Qur’an are perceived as understandable by different groups of readers (people from the UK, people from India and Jordan, Muslim, and non-Muslim). No previous study has identified exactly what makes the translated text understandable in an explicitly linguistic way. The thesis is original in focusing particularly on lexical selection and archaisms, and was conducted in two phases. In the first phase of this study, the three translations were compared and analysed. The comparison was based on the lexical stylistic choices made in the three translations of the Chapter of Joseph. In the second phase of this study, an essentially quantitative method was used. The study breaks new ground by taking a questionnaire approach, eliciting reactions from readers of the Qur’an and identifying the effects of different English lexical choices and archaisms on their understanding of the translations.
The following key research questions articulate the main purpose of this study: RQ1. To what extent does the stylistic variation in different English translations of a word in an Arabic verse affect the perceived understandability of the word and/or the translated text of the Qur’an?
RQ2. To what extent are archaic expressions, such as verily or behold preferred by different readers of English (people from the UK, people from India and Jordan, Muslim, and non-Muslim) in the translations of the Qur’an?
RQ3. Which of the different lexical styles – e.g. archaic, formal, literary, old-fashioned - associated with particular words contributes to a more positive perception of the understandability of the translated texts of the Qur’an?
RQ4. Are there differences in the perception of understandability across the four groups; people from the UK, India and Jordan, Muslims, and non-Muslims?
The main contributions to knowledge of this study are firstly, by adopting a reader-response questionnaire approach as a main method in translation studies to investigate the understandability of translated texts from a linguistic perspective; secondly this study contributes to knowledge by highlighting the skopos, i.e. the purpose of religious translations from the perspective of skopos theory. That is to say that religious translated texts need to be perceived as understandable by the target readers.
The findings of this study revealed that different stylistic choices of words have different effects on the way translated texts are perceived as understandable, and low-frequency words were perceived as less understandable than high-frequency words by the participants. It was also found out that the perceived understandability of low frequency words, words from different lexical styles, and archaic terms differs among different readers (people from the UK, people from India and Jordan, Muslim) and also that these different groups have different stylistic preferences.
Based on the study, reader-response theory and skopos theory can put forward a new perspective for religious translation, and provide a modern account around the language of religious translations. They can also inform the choice of words which contribute to a positive perception of understandability. These choices can be used as a reference for future religious translations (see section 5.3 and chapter 6).


Musleh, B. Lexical selection and archaisms in three English translations of the S?rat Y?suf (the Chapter of Joseph): A comparative linguistic and empirical investigation. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 18, 2019
Publicly Available Date Feb 18, 2019
Keywords understandability, lexical selection, and archaisms
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