Logos Multilingual Portal

26 - The analysis of the text to be translated - first part

"There are days when everything I see seems to
me charged with meaning: messages it would be
difficult for me to communicate to others, define,
translate into words [...]"1.

Christiane Nord has published a interesting study on the main subject of this part of the course: we will draw on this essay to trace a methodology applicable by translators to the analysis of the text to be translated2.
  The first distinction concerns textual and extratextual elements. The latter are factors external to the linguistic text and concern the context of the communication act. They can be systematized into who transmits, to whom, with what intention, by which medium, where, when, and why.
  The sender must be distinguished from the producer, above all in some types of non literary texts. In a company, for example, diffusion of messages can be delegated to a person having the role of communication manager. In this case, the company is the sender, but the person in the producer of the text.
  The translator, in Nord's opinion, has a role comparable to that of the producer of the text.
  As regards the sender, the most important to the translator is the information that can shed light on the sender's intentions, no matter if they are personal data or referring to the role or status of the sender in her culture, on the model reader addressed in the original culture, or protoculture, and on the prototext chronotope, as well as any information that can help foresee the linguistic features of the text (idiolect, dialect, sociolect, implicit culture etc.).
  Some information on the sender is obtainable from the document itself, from the metatextual apparatus it contains or from the fact that the author is known for publishing other texts or having a role in public events. In this phase of search for information on the sender, the translator must ask the question of cultural specificity of such information. If the sender is the Philips, if the author is Salman Rushdie, they probably are well know names even in the receiving culture, or metaculture. When on the other hand it is a person or an agency known only in a narrow context in the protoculture, in the transposition it is necessary to take it into account: this involves that some information that the writer of the protoculture tales for granted and leaves as implicit are not so for the translated text readers.
  When the sender is contemporary to the translator, it is also possible to directly contact the author to get the information useful to situate the text into the protocultural context to project it then onto the metacultural context.
  Some indirect clues can also be obtained by data strictly related to the text: if a specialized publisher publishes it in a scientific review, the author is probably an expert addressing colleagues. If it is published in a generic newspaper or in any collection of a generic publisher, then it is more probable for the text to address a larger audience.
  Some concrete elements present in the text provide information on the time and kind of culture in which the text was generated. A mobile phone narrows the historical framing to the past ten years; a religious ritual of circumcision narrows the context to the Hebrew and Islamic cultures.
  Fundamental channels for obtaining such information available only since the publication of Christiane Nord's book are the search engines on the internet. Sometimes the insertion of a name or some key words in such internet software is enough to get thousands of pages of information that can be further investigated by narrowing or widening or in any way editing the search criteria. One must know that the level of reliability of internet sources is not always controllable. The easy way in which anyone can publish her own website also enormously multiplies the chances of spreading inexact information. If for ex-ample a person in his website inadvertently indicates a birth and death date of an author based on incorrect information, the datum can be spread very easily producing a sort of epidemic. For that reason the internet sources - as all sources, by the way - must be accepted cum grano salis, with a pinch of discernment - the proverbial grain of salt.
  When one investigates the author's intentions for publishing a text, in Nord's opinion it is necessary to distinguish between intention, function and effect. The difference between intention and effect is easily understandable: an author can have a communication goal different from its actual effect. Such a discrepancy can be traced to incorrect projections by the author, based on a model reader different from the concrete readers actually receiving the text, or to the fact that a receiver can decide to manipulate the text and receive it in her way, without reckoning the supposed author's intentions.
  The function of a text does not always coincide with the intention, or intended function, of the author. Such a discrepancy is especially relevant when chronotopic distance between metatext and prototext is great. As to the differences between intention and function, the former has to do mostly with the author, while the latter mostly with the reader.
  Nord holds that of these three factors intention is most important for translation-oriented analysis because a translation should integrally preserve the sender's intention, while function and effect can be subject to change once the text is projected on the metaculture. In this view, intention determines "the structuring of the text with regard to content ['] and form [...]"3. You will notice analogies between this view, in which the intention or skopós of the sender is prevailing, and the view based on the analysis of the dominants. We could say that, in Nord's theory of skopós, the salient aspect is that the dominant is always the author's intention.
  The potential intentions mentioned by Nord are five. The first, called "zero-intention", concerns those who write to relieve their feelings or put their ideas in order and is considered inexistent as far as translation are concerned (to produce a text destined to someone else one is supposed to go beyond such autistic phase of communication.) The second one is purely informative or referential or descriptive (without personal considerations, i.e. an oxymoron: a subjective and objective intentions). Third is the expressive inten-tion, in which the sender expresses her opinion on the subject. The fourth one, operative or argumentative, has the purpose to get people to think or act in the way proposed by the author and, at last, the phatic intention has the aim of maintaining the contact with the receiver.
  To determine which of these intentions are accomplished, actualized in the analyzed text, one should investigate the method of distribution of the text and if that can suggest a more or less intense involvement of the author. If the text expresses a particularly personal opinion, as in the case of political comments or editorials4, the type of text usually is not suggestive of the author's intentions, so the information on the subjectivity of the expressed opinions must be searched above all in the position of the text. For example, in a newspaper, the area set aside for comments and editorials is usually easy to locate; the texts it contains can therefore be identified as individual's opinions or commentaries even before reading them.


Bibliographical references

CALVINO I. If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, London, Random House, 1998, ISBN 0-749-39923-6.

NORD C. Text Analysis in Translation. Theory, Methodology, and Didactic Application of a Model for Translation-Oriented Text Analysis, translated from the German by C. Nord e P. Sparrow, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1991, ISBN 90-5183-311-3.

1 Calvino 1979, p. 55.
2 Nord 1989, p. 35-140.
3 Nord 1989, p. 48.
4 Nord 1989, p. 50.