Logos Multilingual Portal

33 - Torop and translatability - part 3

  The text parameter takes a look at poetic and literary technique. The first aspect taken into account is that concerning the genre codes. When some expressions reflect a typical formulation of a given literary genre (for example, "Once upon a time" recalls to the mind the beginning of a fairy tale) in a text, it is important for the translator to grasp the signal and, if possible, to reconstruct it. The translatability problems concern, above all, those literary genres that are absent from the metatext culture.

  Chronotopes 1. The translator must distinguish the problems related to the plot chronotope (narration or narrator language), to the psychological chronotope, concerning the expressive aura of characters, and to the metaphysical chronotope, regarding the peculiar author's lexicon. The main translatability problems are related to complex linguistic or poetic structures, to peculiar narrative modes of the characters, as in many Leskov's tales 2. In particular, in the tale quoted below, the inner narrator orally tells a story to people around him. There are many overlapping narration layers. We have a spoken speech in writing, as we can note from the repetitions ("but") and verbal tense incongruences. Please note that the oral speech is not only in quotes, but also in the inner narrator's voice:

But Lukà didn't have even a minute to talk, he doesn't answer grandpa, but quickly pushes the icon out to the Englishman through the peephole. But he pushes it back as fast as he has taken it.
"But how come" he says "there's no seal?"
Lukà says:
"What do you mean, no seal?"
"But there's no seal" 3

It is called "expressive aura of the character" the perceptive coherence with which a character is described. This implies a descriptive coherence first by the author, then by the translator too. Otherwise, the metatext reader will not be able to individuate the character with the same clearness of the prototext reader. Sometimes the editing without the consultation of the translator - for example when the publisher wants a lexical renewal of an old translation, as is often the case with the reprinting of classic works - break the coherence in the perception of a character because the intervention is not agreed upon with the translator. If such "renewals" remove the dated aspect of a translation, they remove a fundamental affirmative trait too.

  Torop rightly observes that the expressive aura of a character sometimes begins with the name of the character, when it is meaningful: Dostoevskij's idiot is called Myshkin, deriving from the name mýshka, "little mouse".

  Translatability problems arise from the peculiar lexical use by an author. There can be favorite words, images, particular world views. There are lexical peculiarities linked to literary currents, which must be recognizable.

  The system of expressive means has to do with the rhythm of the text, the repetition of elements, motives, metaphors, and connotations. Even in this case, it is fundamental for the translator to be able to manage a like system of intratextual links.

  The work parameter has to do with the creation of the metatext as a book, as a published volume, sometimes with critical apparatuses, notes, afterword, chronologies, etc. This parameter influences the perception of the work by the audience. The translation text in itself, as interpretation of the prototext, can aim at reinforcing the idea the audience already has of that work or, on the contrary, try and create a new one, elicit a different reaction in the reader.

  The presence of a metatext (extratextual apparatus) is, in some cases, necessary. In the editions of classical works for the mass audience, the absence of a commentary is a real belittling of the reader, in Gasparov's view 4. Moreover, the translations of Greek and Latin classics must be published with didascalic general metatexts:

Offering such a system is the main task of the contemporary commentary that fully plays its cultural role; and this implies not word-for-word, not interlinear, but coherent, essay-like explanations, of a type that has not yet been elaborated 5.

If someone holds that metatexts limit the reader's freedom, readers often do not have the necessary information to understand a text polysemy, its mechanisms, and its dominants.

  The socio-political determinacy parameter concerns the forms of censure and ideological manipulation of a translation. There are two possible cases: censure by the translation buyers (in this case, the translator is a victim of the censure, and editing has the purpose to create an editio purificata. Otherwise, the translator can abuse her role and have the metatext express what effectively it does not.

  Torop's parameters describing translatability/untranslatability are complementary and not mutually exclusive. The categories have been chosen in order to be applicable not only to interlingual translation, but to intersemiotic translation, as well.

  In the next unit, we will examine a problem related to translatability: translation loss.


Bibliographical references

GASPAROV M. O perevodimom, perevodah i kommentarijah [On what is translated, on translations, and on commentaries]. Literaturnoe obozrenie, n. 6, 1988, p. 45-48.

OSIMO B. Introduzione. In L'angelo sigillato. L'ebreo in Russia, by N. S. Leskóv. Milano, Mondadori, 1999, p. vxxxi.

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«Chronotope», literally, means "timespace". In other words it expresses a text coordinates, from which it is possible to calculate a diachronic (historical) and diatopic (space) distance between a text and the culture onto which it is projected. The topographic chronotope concerns the plot spacetime. The psychological chronotope concerns the characters, their world view. The metaphysical chronotope concerns the author's view. Torop 1984, p. 139-142.
2 Osimo 1999, p. xviii-xx.
3 Leskov, The Sealed Angel
4 Gasparov 1988, p. 48.
5 Gasparov 1988, p. 47.