The term "victim" and approximation of meaning in Romance languages

Reference & EducationLanguage

  • Author Ifrim Angela
  • Published June 3, 2024
  • Word count 1,460

The term "victim" is increasingly present in our lives. Unfortunately, there are more and more victims, whether we refer to people, animals or inanimate objects. The existence of a victim is a consequence of violence. The types of violence are numerous, such as: verbal, psychological, social, physical, economic, spiritual, sexual, or even cybernetic. Although it seems like a transparent term, the word "victim" presents numerous possible definitions, depending on the nature of the underlying conflict. Thus, the following meanings can be listed:

1 Being (animal or man) offered, by sacrifice, to a deity - to ancient peoples and some primitive tribes;

2 Person assaulted, tortured, killed or sentenced (to death) - unjustly;

3 Animal that endures physical torment, is under threat of death or is killed - under various circumstances;

4 Person who suffers from a bad event (illness, accident, robbery, murder, etc.);

5 Person killed in a violent confrontation;

6 Person or human community who (unjustly) endures hostile manifestations from someone or something;

7 Person who suffers for love;

8 Person who suffers moral or physical damage as a result of a wrongful act committed by someone – legal science;

9 Person who suffers (morally) because of his own actions, habits, character traits, feelings;

10 Person dominated by a habit, by a strong feeling.

(According )

Having a significant number of possible meanings, in a process of intercomprehension, difficulties in decoding the meaning may arise. In order to facilitate the understanding of the term used in different languages, the process of approximation of meaning intervenes. It indicates an equivalence depending on the context with the help of explicit linguistic means and not only. Linguists Silvia Adler and Maria Asnes offer an experiment in which they combined in every possible way the notions of precision/imprecision and accuracy/inaccuracy. As a result, approximation is a deviation from a true or permissible value, but it is a necessary deviation in many cases. Romance languages have many common characteristics due to the Latin factor (in varying proportions), but also differences that support the dynamics of the language (Berbinski, 2019).

In order to highlight the flexibility of the term 'victim' and to mark the need for an approximation of meaning in Romance languages, the following case study is presented. The case study was conducted online, through the submission of questionnaires. The 10 definitions were made available to 50 people of different nationalities (10 Romanians, 10 Italians, 10 Spaniards, 10 Portuguese and 10 French). The profile of the participants is undergraduate students, philology field. In the first stage, the subjects scored from 1 to 10 the best known and most used meanings for them from those listed above. Following that in the second stage they will be exposed to specific contexts. The hypotheses were as follows:

H1 Most study participants will tend towards the easiest definition, namely the definition with the number (4);

H2 For all study participants, context is a decisive factor in correctly approximating the meaning of the term.

In the case of the first questionnaire aimed at ranking the most known and used meanings of the term "victim", the 50 people participating in the study chose as follows:

  1. Definition number 1 – 0 answers;

  2. Definition number 2 – 3 answers;

  3. Definition number 3 – 2 answers;

  4. Definition number 4 – 14 answers;

  5. Definition number 5 – 6 answers;

  6. Definition number 6 – 10 answers;

  7. Definition number 7 – 4 answers;

  8. Definition number 8 – 6 answers;

  9. Definition number 9 – 3 answers;

  10. Definition number 10 – 2 answers.

The most used and well-known meaning of the term seems to be that of person suffering from a bad event, followed by that which indicates a person or collective that endures hostile manifestations. At the opposite pole, equally, with two answers, are the definitions that mention the idea of an animal that endures physical torment, is under threat and a person dominated by a habit, a strong feeling or other possible things. In last place, with zero votes, is the definition dating back to Antiquity.

The most used and well-known meaning of the term seems to be that of person suffering from a bad event, followed, equally, by the definition referring to molested animals and the one indicating a person or collective in adverse circumstances.

The Italians who answered the question seem to oscillate between the definition of a person who suffers from a bad event and that of a person or human community that bears (unjustly) hostile manifestations from someone or something.

For the answers from the Spaniards, it seems that the definition on the first position is a person who suffers from a bad event, then there are the definitions of a person killed in a violent confrontation, but also a person who suffers from love.

In this case, the most used and common definitions are those used in legal sciences (person suffering moral or physical harm as a result of a wrongful act committed by someone), or those showing a person killed in a violent confrontation, but also those referring to people suffering for love.

The French seem to emphasize the notion of collectivity, the first definition being that of a person or human collectivity that bears (unjustly) hostile manifestations from someone or something, followed by that of a person who suffers from a bad event (illness, accident, robbery, murder, etc.).

The second stage was the integration of meanings in specific contexts, in the languages of the study participants (Romanian, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese), to which English was added to expand the perspective. Therefore, the term victim in Romanian, victims in French, vittima in Italian, victim in Spanish, vitima in Portuguese, victim in English, is analyzed depending on the context, the existing expressions in the targeted language, the channel of transmission of information, but also by the participants in the process, in order to change the meaning.

The first context includes the phrase "making the victim." The contexts being as follows:

• „Ai avut şi tu o parte din vină. Nu o mai face pe victima.” – Romanian;

• „ Vous étiez en partie à blâmer. Cessez de jouer la victime” – French;

• „Eri in parte da biasimare. Smettila di essere una vittima” – Italian;

• „En parte tenías la culpa. Deja de ser una victima” – Spanish;

• „Você foi parcialmente culpado. Pare de ser uma vítima” – Portuguese;

• „You were partly to blame. Stop being a victim” – English.

In this case, regardless of language, the structure has the same meaning. However, the verbs differ from that in Romanian. In French we use the verb "to play", in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and English we have the verb "to be".

Another series of examples are:

• „Au făcut din el o victimă a sistemului” – Romanian;

• „Ils ont fait de lui une victime du système” – French;

• „Lo hanno reso una vittima del sistema” – Italian;

• „Lo hicieron víctima del sistema” – Spanish;

• „Ele se tornou uma vítima do sistema” – Portuguese;

• „They made him a victim of the system” – English.

In this case, context is very important. In some languages the verb "to make" in Romanian language will be replaced by "to become".

The vague context in the following examples offers the possibility of multiple interpretations for the term "victim", regardless of the language in which the subject is expressed:

• „În incidentul de azi? Au fost doar două victime.” – Romanian;

• „Dans l'incident d'aujourd'hui ? Il n'y a eu que deux victimes.” – French;

• „Nell'incidente di oggi? Ci sono state solo due vittime.” – Italian;

  1. „En el accidente de hoy? Solo hubo dos víctimas.” – Spanish;

• „No acidente de hoje? Houve apenas duas vítimas.” – Portuguese;

• „In today's accident? There were only two victims.” – English.

In the case of literary translations, context is important, but even with a clear context, there can be confusion of transferring meaning from one language to another. For example:

• „Vezi fata de acolo? Urmează să facă o victimă.” – Romanian;

• „Vous voyez la fille là-bas ? Elle fasse une victime.” – French;

• „Vedi la ragazza lì? Creerà una vittima.” – Italian;

• „Ves a la chica ahí? Ella va a crear una víctima.” – Spanish;

• „Você vê a garota aí? Ela vai criar uma vítima.” – Portuguese;

• „Do you see the girl there? She's going to make a victim.”– English.

The meaning in Romanian will not coincide with the meaning in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, the verb being different from "to create" from "to make".

In conclusion, the meaning of the term "victim" is decided by the context, by the expressions existing in the targeted languages, by the channel of transmission but also by the participants. The initial assumptions have been verified and confirmed, but context as a decisive factor is not valid in all situations (especially in the case of literal translations of colloquial expressions specific to one of the languages).


Berbinski, S., 2019, De l’approximation. De « à peu près » à « cam aşa ceva », Berlin : Peter Lang.

Badea, Butoi, T., 2019, Victimologie. Curs universitar. Perspective juridica, socio-psihologica si medico-legala asupra cuplului penal victima-aggressor, Bucureşti : Pro Universitaria.

Webgraphies accessed on 2024-04-24 accessed on 2024-04-24

My name is Angela Ifrim, I am a French teacher at the International Theoretical High School of Computer Science, Bucharest and a PhD student in the 3rd year at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Bucharest, specializing in Languages and Cultural Identities.

Article source:
This article has been viewed 111 times.

Rate article

This article has a 5 rating with 1 vote.

Article comments

There are no posted comments.

Related articles