Logos Multilingual Portal

27 - The analysis of the text to be translated - second part

"They are announcements or presages that
concern me and the world at once [...]"1.

Another essential set of information to be obtained from the prototext concerns the recipient, the model reader of the metatext. As we peruse this argument we continue following the precious work of Christiane Nord on the analysis of the prototext
  Assuming that it is possible to deal with translation in a purely abstract and theoretical way, staking out limits and setting universal rules, this is possible only on condition that one excludes from consideration the role of the recipient. As soon as the existence of the recipient is considered, as one recognizes that there may exist many different kinds of recipients, and that the communication act is conceived with a strong attention for the appropriate strategies for communicating with that kind of model reader, one reaches the heart of communication as a pragmatic, not abstract, fact.
  The useful elements of the recipient to know are her communication role, her expectations, her cultural background - and the aspects of reality that are taken for granted, that are considered as implicit - her social location and her position as regards the subject. The kind of text and the kind of recipient can be related, but not necessarily. For example, a popularscience text may address many kinds of recipients: in essence, all kinds of readers except those scientists working in that same field, per whom the text would be purely redundant. Among potential readers we, therefore, would find scientists of every other field, adults not working with science, men and women of many age levels, people with education levels spanning from the minimum indispensable literacy for reading to high education levels.
  In dealing with interlingual translation, a first potential conflict concerns the model reader of the prototext and that of the metatext. Usually, when one thinks of a translation in simple rather than sophisticated terms, one thinks of the metatext reader simply as a man able to read in another language; strategies are therefore activated in order to allow the reading of that text by readers of more languages. But the metatext reader often belongs to another cultural community too, consequently a purely linguistic transposition might not always be understandable.
  Let us suppose, for example, that a sentence in British English is translated containing an allusion to the tabloid newspapers. To the British model reader, as to the model reader of any culture, the denotative meaning of the word "tabloid" is a reduced format of the newspaper, as big as one half of a traditional newspaper. The additional connotative meaning tabloid has to a British reader is that of "sensationalist newspaper, with many images, little text, addressed to a model reader of a low education level". To an Italian, for example, the tabloid format does not have such a connotation. Many famous Italian newspapers, like la Repubblica, are in that format but they do not conform to the British connotation of the word.
  A second distinction concerning the recipient proposed by Nord is implicitness/explicitness of the recipients. With the prototext in mind, Nord makes the example of an interview with a politician: his answers are apparently only addressed to the interviewer while they are actually addressed to potential voters that read the interview in the newspaper or watch it on TV.
  For the translator a similar situation can exist. Apparently, the translator addresses the model reader of the metatext (explicit recipient) but since a translation is not only a means to spread a text in a culture, but also, for the translator, a means to make known her professional capabilities to other translators, prospective clients, critics, reviewers, publishers, some of her choices can be dictated by such a situation of feeling observed. Choices appropriate for the implicit reader are not always appropriate for the explicit reader, and vice versa. An exaggerated consciousness - supposed or proven - of the opposition of such needs can, in a worstcase scenario, inhibit translation capabilities.
  The cultural coordinates of the metatext's model reader that the translator must consider are age, sex, education level, social background, geographic origin, social status, and role in relation to the sender2. They are the same as those of the author preparing an (intersemiotic) translation of a cultural intent into a text. Let us suppose, for example, that a communications expert is asked to write a text on drugs addressed to teenagers. The intent of the communication commissioned from him is to inform teenagers on drugs and discourage their use. The text created from such an intention states that all drugs are equally dangerous, have only negative effects, and don't give any pleasant sensations.
  In this case, the translation is poorly done. The teenager who has tried marijuana without apparent negative consequences, reading that all drugs are equally dangerous, may be induced to try heroine since, according to the text, it cannot be more dangerous than marijuana. Someone who had good feelings after the use of hard drugs, moreover, could think that the text contains too much false information and does not believe in its general content.
  An exact knowledge of the cultural background of a reader has a strong influence on the author. Efficiency in communication is based mainly on the placement in a good balance between redundancy and incompleteness. The exaggerated insistence on aspects already known to the reader can only discourage and make heavy reading while, on the other hand, neglecting to explain unfamiliar elements makes understanding difficult. In order to achieve such a balance it is necessary to have exact information on the reader's cultural background.
  A university course, for example, addresses a number of students with a not always homogeneous cultural background. In order to be able to understand what the model target of the course is like, it is necessary to know the kind and level of excellence of the average student's high school education. Such information must be often updated: the contemporary education given by a high school does not necessarily coincide with the one provided by that school twenty or forty years ago.
  A reader (or a course's student) distinguishing herself neatly from the group's standards because her preparation in some respects is much more/less deep than the colleagues' has greater probability of not finding the kind of communication addressed to her appropriate. On the other hand the communicator, the translator, must try to satisfy the needs of the greatest possible number of recipients (model reader), necessarily sacrificing the needs of those individuals far-ther from the group standard.
  Information about the model reader of the prototext can be obtained from the origins of the text itself (dedications, notes, title3, subtitles, flaps for books, presentations, medium, time, place etc.).
  As regards the text functions, it is possible to distinguish intended functions and functions produced unwillingly. In a text for children, for example, a patronizing tone can be appreciated by children of a given age bracket but can be very annoying for bigger kids who may feel mocked or degraded. Or, like Nord states, the translation of a restaurant menu, whose intended function is to inform, can end up having a comic function too if the translation contains a number of words not usually used in that collocation. Of course, unwilling functions of a text are not necessarily to be considered counter-productive.


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 1998, p. 55.
2 Nord 1991, p. 53.
3 Nord 1991, p. 55.