Logos Multilingual Portal

29 - The analysis of the text to be translated - fourth part

"[...] there is a thing that is there, a thing made
of writing, a solid, material object, which cannot be
changed [...]"1

The space-time coordinates of the speech act are fundamental items for the analysis of the prototext for interlingual translation.
  Regarding space, the geographic element of the prototext is significant when it says more than just the language used to write it, which, in some cases, is already indicative of the place where the prototext was created. Speaking of the geographic coordinates of the prototext makes sense when it implicitly contains features of the language used in a sub-area of all the territory in which that language is spoken. For languages spoken in more than one nation, like German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, French etc, a text can be connoted as a product of one specific sub-area (for example Brazilian Portuguese, Tunisian French, Austrian German etc.). More specifically, within the same nation considered linguistically homogeneous (one official national language, many variants) both standard language and local variants can be used, or even a word can be used with a particular meaning or with a particular collocation that is characteristic of a given area.
  We must be conscious that different usage within the same code can be much more evident at close range than from afar2, as happens in a perspective view. To a foreigner who knows the Italian language, the whole of the dialects spoken in Veneto might appear as a homogeneous whole, while to a native of Verona the differences between her dialect and Venetia's are enormous and insurmountable.
  It is important to know if the social conditions of the place of origin of a text allow to write freely or if a political or moral censorship exists there. In the latter case, as Nord says, authors write between the lines, so one has to make an effort to grasp the implied meaning that eluded the censors in order to reproduce it. When it is not explicitly said that the translator has a wider role than that of interlingual translation, a role leading her take the role of mediator in the most complete sense of the word, the interpretation of the 'ciphered message' is not commissioned from the translator, who must allow the metatext reader to decipher it with means similar to the ones provided to the prototext reader.
  Another important given concerns the city or the exact place in which a text is set for the correct deciphering of the place deictics. Some presuppositions can be implied by sentences that, when translated into another language, risk leading the reader astray. For example, references to parks, buildings, churches in interlingual translation can be misleading if one does not know what precisely we are talking about. A building called "skyscraper" in one language can be called "tower" in another, a language's "park" can become a "wood" in the other, and the same happens with "dome" and "cathedral". Translating, for example, from any language into French a passage where the Bois de Boulogne is cited, it would be misleading if such place were referred to as "Parc de Boulogne". Variations on the norm such as: "Cattedrale di Milano", "Empire State Tower" etc. would bear a similar effect.
  Christiane Nord proposes an example referred to deictics: in an article, after indicating place and time, we find the sentence "Now everything is quiet around here again". Nord holds that "In a translation, too, the dimension of place has to be specified either externally (e.g. in an introduction) or internally (e.g. "Now everything is quiet around the town of X again")»3.
  Implicit in this aspect of Nord's normative approach is a broadening of the translator's function to that of all-purpose communications mediator. The prototext's reader, in the reported example, is considered better able to understand than the metatext's reader: while in the former case, after reading that the article was written in the town X, the reader understands that "here" refers to X, the purpose in the latter case seems to be less to explain to the metatext's reader that "here" stands for "in the city X", but rather to pretend that in the original something was written that actually was not.
  Taking this view to the extreme of its possible consequences, when translating we should transform all direct speech into indirect speech, and edit the text every time the use of deictics presupposes the location of the action in relation to external space coordinates. "Come here" could become, for example, "He told him to move nearer to him". On this point we cannot take Nord's approach. The metatext's reader sense of direction is as good as the prototext reader's, and anyone having had a normal psychic development knows how to use deictics and how to behave when decoding them. When the non-Russian reader of L. N. Tolstoy's War and Peace reads, at the beginning of book one, «Non, je vous préviens que si vous ne me dites pas que nous avons la guerre, si vous vous permettez encore de pallier toutes les infamies, toutes les atrocités de cet Antichrist (ma parole, j'y crois), je ne vous connais plus, vous n'êtes plus mon ami», she understands that we are not necessarily speaking of an action set in the place (or in the time) in which we are reading. The hyper-mediating intervention by the translator is not therefore implied by her duties, otherwise we would transform the pure interlingual translation process into a simplification and adaptation process usually non required of a translator.
  A very similar view is expressed by Nord as regards time deictics. The German author is amazed because she read in a Madras newspaper "there was a train crash this afternoon", stating that, in Germany, the author would have written "yesterday afternoon". The point is more complex than it might appear, because there might also be the case in which, owing to a surplus of understanding anxiety, sender and receiver end up invading each other's interpretive space, getting to what is called "Fort Worth reasoning".
  It seems that in the town of Fort Worth, USA, someone accustomed to receiving the newspaper at home left his newspaper boy the following message:

Don't leave a paper today. Of course, when I say today I mean tomorrow, because I am writing this yesterday4.

The client's excessive zeal must have generated only confusion in the receiver, the paperboy, because a time mediation passage that would have been so easy for him has become complex owing to the sender's desire to help the receiver.
  Just as the prototext reader realizes the cronotopical coordinates of the speech act through the tools provided by the author (text) and the publisher (metatext), the same applies to the reader of the translated text. An excess of zeal can only generate misunderstanding and clash with the author's communicative intent, with her narrative strategy, in which often the degree of implicitness/explicitness is a fundamental element.


Bibliographical references

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

COHEN G. CUNNINGHAM D. H. Creating Technical Manuals. A step-by-step approach to writing user-friendly instructions. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1984, ISBN 0-07-011584-2.

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. 72.
2 Nord 1991, p. 61.
3 Nord 1991, p. 62.
4 Cohen Cunningham 1984, p. 18.