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31 - Torop and translatability - part 1

In the previous units, we examined some points of view on translatability extrapolated from the thought of linguists, philosophers, semioticians, and culturologists. From their often diverging opinions it is difficult to synthesize a common position to consider a temporary conclusion in translation studies on the "translatability" concept.

  The only element emerging clearly from all quoted essays is maybe that the "translation" notion is indefinite. There are many views on the language/culture, language/thought relations. We have seen that, in Lotman's view, the teeming life in the semiosphere is a swarm of translations. In this view, translatability is a sort of chlorophyll for the photosynthesis of cultural life, without which culture would come to an end.

  The moment a person understands a notion, within the dynamic standpoint of linguistic-textual-cultural communication we can consider such act a radical translation phenomenon. But if, on one hand, everyone can understand (translate) a phenomenon in her own way, giving a personal, original contribution to semiosphere, on the other hand there is a sort of "standard perception", a standard, undefined mode in which a text is read (interpreted), in which some of its cultural and textual connotations are perceived 1.

  Beyond the possibility to freely interpret any cultural object, which may reach the extreme of what Eco calls "aberrant decoding", there also is

culture as education, memory, and perception by the reader of any new text depending on the cultural experience of the perceiver, to the point that in a sense any text in a reader's hands has already been read; in other words, it is immediately subjected to customary rules, peculiarities are neutralized, novelties lost. While, at the opposite extreme, there is encompassed within the text itself, an image of the audience, that is, the possibility of a given optimal perception 2.

  In Torop's opinion, as there cannot be a single approach to translatability, it is possible to isolate three distinct aspects:

  • translatability as a cultural-linguistic and poetic aspect of the text: the approach inducing one to view the translatability/untranslatability spectrum along the axis of texts, of their intrinsic features, independent of the interaction between a text and a single reader, i.e. from the single fruition;
  • translatability of the perceptive or conceptual unit of the text: the same view as in the previous point, but here the text is thought of in the form of a fragment, not as a whole;
  • translatability as pre-definability of the reception of a text in a given culture; in this case, the relation is emphasized between a given text and a given culture, and the potential interactions are analyzed.

Translators can choose one of these aspects considering them different dominants in the approach toward the text to be translated.

Beyond this group of possible dominants, referring to text, the prototext, the translator, or the receiving culture may also be translation dominants.

In the first case, the original itself dictates its optimal translatability. In the second case the translator, as a creative personality, realizes herself through the choice of the translation method, and the translation method indicates the definition of the level of translatability. In the third case, the translator founds her strategy on the possible reader of the metatext, or on the cultural (social, political) norms; in other words, she defines the degree of translatability based on the conditions of perception. They are three general types of translatability 3.

  Moreover, Torop isolates five translatability parameters, each matching a different translation strategy. Let us look at the table showing the description of the single parameters in the left column and, in the right column, the corresponding translation strategies 4:


Translatability parameters Translation strategies
grammar categories
conversational etiquette
world image

nationalization (naturalization)
of the events

perceptive concretization:
gender signals
chronotopic levels
narrator and narration
expressive aura of the character
author lexicon and syntax
expression media system

preservation/non-preservation of the structure (element and level hierarchy)
preservation/non-preservation of cohesion
metatext complementarity
readers reaction

readers version
intratextual clarification
interlinear commentaries
special commentaries at the end
general systematic commentaries
metatextual compensation
Socio-political manipulation:
norms and taboos (editio purificata)
translation tendentiousness

(tendentious) purification of the texts
text orientation

In the next unit, we will examine, one by one, each parameter and its corresponding strategies.


Bibliographical references

ECO U. Interpretation and Overinterpretation. Umberto Eco with Richard Rorty, Jonathan Culler, Christine Brooke-Rose; edited by Stefan Collini. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992. ISBN 0521402271 (hard) 0521425549 (pbk.).

TOROP P. La traduzione totale. Ed. by B. Osimo. Modena, Guaraldi Logos, 2000. ISBN 88-8049-195-4. Or. ed. Total´nyj perevod. Tartu, Tartu Ülikooli Kirjastus [Tartu University Press], 1995. ISBN 9985-56-122-8.

1 Torop 2000, p. 141.
2 Eco 1995, p. 82. Torop 2000, p. 141.
3 Torop 2000, p. 142-143.
4 Torop 2000, p. 157.