Logos Multilingual Portal

28 - The analysis of the text to be translated - third part

"Has she just arrived at this moment, or did she
hear the beginning?"1

Another fundamental element in the translation-oriented analysis of a text is that concerning what in communications theory is called the "channel" of the message, the means, the medium through which the message is conveyed. What is interesting for us, of course, are not the technical aspects, but the impact the communication medium has on the perception of the message, on the quantity of information conveyed and on the potential of the medium in terms of interactivity.
  The first fundamental distinction is between written and spoken texts. The balance between redundancy and repetition is achieved, we said, also considering elements that, albeit not present in the message, are present in the implied context, and can therefore be taken as if explicit. In direct oral communication - meaning a communication occurring with the receiver present and not, for example, on the telephone or by radio - the elements to be taken for granted also encompass all the geographic context of the place where communication occurs.
  The geography of the direct communication context is somehow unsophisticated because it implies - through deictics - the sharing of the knowledge about the context with the interlocutor. Deictics are mostly time and place expressions not indicating the absolute cronotopical coordinates (for example: "September 29, 2001, in Modena") but state them in relative terms ("Yesterday there", "Before someone came here", "This time I made it").
  In the former case (absolute coordinates) anyone is able to recognize the time and place that are explicitly expressed in conventional terms. In the latter case (relative coordinates, deictic expressions) anyone who is not conscious of the time and place of the speech and of other data - in the last example it is necessary to know what other time is implied and what the speaker was then able to do - is not able to reconstruct it from the speech act alone.
  "Deixis", from the old Greek de√≠knymi, meaning "I show, I indicate", means "indication", and deixis is effectively comparable to the gestures sometimes accompanying speech acts. In some languages there are hand gestures indicating "come here" or "go away", for example. Deictic words are expressions always taken as understood where and/or when communication occurs. If the place where the sender is does not coincide with the place where the receiver is, deixis implies also being aware of the two different places (for example: "I'll be there in a hour").
  Readers will remember what we said concerning the own world/alien world dialectics investigated especially by YUrij Lotman. In these terms, deixis is a kind of communication within one's own world taking for granted that the interlocutor belongs to that same world and ignoring the existence of alien worlds. In this sense it is ingenuous communication or, if we wish, local, provincial communication.
  Another feature of "live" communication, other than deixis, are its suprasegmental traits. By this very technical and nearly incomprehensible term we mean communication features that fall outside of transcribable words, among which we find tone, intonation, accent, inflexion, vocal timbre, intensity (all often fundamental features for understanding the poetics of a work that we are deprived of when we watch dubbed films) and duration, i.e. pauses as well.
  Just think, for example, about the difference in the exclamation "That's good!" if placed in the context of the scene of a freshly shot film, as pronounced by the director, or in the context of a fight, as a response to an interlocutor's comment considered absurd. The simple out-of-context transcription does not transmit the difference.
  Let us not think, however, that the mere distinction between written and oral is enough to get us out of trouble. There are oral texts born to be written, like dictation texts2 and, more interesting for translators, oral texts born to be written, or born written as in the case of reported speech within literary works.
  In these latest instances, a further distinction concerns the implicitness/explicitness of the presence of oral expression within written discourse. In the cases of greater explicitness, the oral text can be demarcated by quotation marks or other graphic devices isolating it by the written, narrating text around it. Elsewhere the oral register can enter the narration without solution of continuity; the presence of oral communication is perceivable only though style analysis and often because of the presence of deictical words.
  The information the translator must, in Nord's opinion, obtain about the medium of the text to be translated concern above all the type of medium: brochure, handbook, leaflet, encyclopedia, book, periodical. Within these generic distinctions, it is important to make subtler ones, for example between a newspaper and a monthly, between specialized and popular periodical etc.
  The dimensions in terms of readership of the medium are also fundamental. Given the same type of medium, having more or less readers has an influence on the heterogeneity of the kinds of readers it addresses. Of course, these data are not to be considered in absolute terms, but in relation to the total number of potential readers in a given language. For example, a newspaper in English has a much larger potential audience than a newspaper in Estonian, so that a number of copies sold of 500.000, that would be an astonishingly high number for the Estonian edition, for English-reading readers would be dramatically less meaningful.
  If the total of potential readers is the same, a text reproduced in one million copies, as compared to another one with ten thousand, addresses a more heterogeneous audience, i.e. must be less specialized, more popular, less local, and less specific. Speaking of books, a pocket paperback of a classic work sold also at grocery store news stands can reach many more readers than a numbered edition of the same work with deluxe trims and expensive binding and acid free paper, or than an obscure book by a not widely diffused in the receiving culture author.
  It is not always possible through a given medium to reconstruct the intended communication, but often the kind of medium chosen is also a very important indicator. It is possible for a serious widely diffused newspaper to publish a comic or scandal piece contrasting with what a reader would expect from the stern tone usually used by the paper, but in this case, just owing to the anomaly of the event, such a piece would result as highly marked. When a medium is categorized, it is indispensable to decide if its features are culture-specific, specific to a given group of cultures, or universal: It is clear that this has a bearing for the translation of its texts into a different culture, where the role of a medium can be completely different.
  Since, in the practice of translation we often cone across xeroxes, excerpts, internet messages, archive or computer files, and other forms of incomplete transmissions of texts, or, better, of transmission of a complete text without its graphic context - for example cover, apparati, other texts printed near it etc. - it is essential for the translator to try and gather all the omitted components from the source in order to reconstruct the features of the medium the text is taken from.


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 and P. Sparrow, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1991, ISBN 90-5183-311-3.

1 Calvino 1998, p. 69.
2 Nord 1991, p. 57.