Logos Multilingual Portal

32 - Content analysis

"[...] the silent voice that speaks to her through
books, this ghost with a thousand faces and faceless,
all the more elusive since for Ludmilla authors are
never incarnated in individuals of flesh and blood,
they exist for her only in published pages [...]"1.

Having examined the extratextual factors of analysis, let us pass to the inner elements of the text, to the content in particular. Among the elements outlined by Nord, the one we would like to stress is the dialectics between cultural competence of the translator reader during translation-oriented analysis and linguistic competence. Here is the joke quoted by Nord as an example:

Meisl comes to Vienna on business for the first time in his life, and in the evening he wants to see a play at the famous Burg Theatre. So he asks the lady in the booking office: "What is on tonight?" And she answers: "Twelfth Night or What You Will". "Oh well", says Meisl, "I would prefer 'The Blue Danube'"2.

In this case, the receiver has enough linguistic competence, but not enough cultural competence to understand that "Twelfth Night or What You Will" is the title of a Shakespeare play.
  Another possible obstacle to translation consists in the notions taken for granted in the text sentences. The main difficulty in analysis lies in the location of such implicit notions, because sometimes such implications are obvious to the translator, even if they are not necessarily so the model reader of the metatext, whom the translator addresses. Nord recommends to first make a simplified paraphrase, from which it is usually evident which elements are omitted. Such a paraphrase, far from functioning as a first translation, has the simple aim of underlining the implicit elements.
  Nord's translation technique makes abundant use of compensation. Such procedure implies that, whenever it is not possible or comfortable to translate an element of the prototext, the loss is compensated by expressing the same concept in another part of the text. According to the supporters of compensation, it is possible to precisely define, within certain limits, what a given textual element expresses, and the aim of the translation process consists in providing the metatext reader with a text consisting in a sort of "algebraic sum" of the meanings of the original.
  From this presupposition, Nord illustrates the problem of the setting of a text by Cortázar, a setting that is not explicit. On the basis of that description, it is possible to decide if the story is set in a commonplace or in a luxurious context, and, generally, in which cultural context the scene is set. The aim is a better understanding of the register in which to express the sentence "tomamos café con leche": "we drink our morning coffee" in case of neutral register, "we have our coffee with milk" in case of not specified strangeness, "we have café au lait" in case of setting in France or a high-brow hotel, and "we have our ham and eggs" in case of adaptation to the metatext reader's culture, that in this case is British.
  Given that it is possible to understand the kind of cultural context from the description, we do not think it reasonable to stress the author's intentions insisting in that direction even in other parts of the text not marked in that way. The mentioned examples can, nonetheless, be interesting for the discussion, seen more in depth in the third part of the course, on the analytic (adequate) approach or synthetic (acceptable) approach of a translation and on the many ways in which a text can be considered "acceptable".
  As to phenomena and objects typical of the culture (realia) to which the prototext belongs, Nord quotes a very interesting example by Balcerzan, who translated Neruda into Polish:

Quand Neruda écrit: "las mariposas de Muzo", il faut préciser "les bleus papillons Muzo"; lorsqu'il écrit: "jacarandá", il faut ajouter "arbre violet de jacarandá". Car pour le poète qui voit tous les jours (donc connaît par l'examen immédiat du monde réel) le bleu éclatant et l'arbre de "jacarandá" couvert de fleurs violettes, cette couleur est renfermée dans le nom même; nous, nous devons l'expliquer à notre lecteur3.

The didactic explicitating approach used by Balcerzan is useful, rather than as a translation, as a guide to the reading of Neruda. The Polish reader of Balcerzan's version could hardly understand the formal aspects of Neruda's poems, but he will have a clear idea of their real references (natural, in this case). On the other hand, it often happens that the translators take on a much higher mediating than that demanded of her by culture.
  If the reader meets the word jacarandá and does not know what it is, he has nonetheless the word's sound - an important element in a poem - and, if he wants to reconstruct the objective contextualization, he can do so beyond the reading of the poem. On the contrary, the reader who comes across meeting the explicating translation looses the pleasure of what was intentionally written between the lines, and is no longer able to reconstruct it.
  Among the cultural presuppositions of a text Nord indicates many possible categories: author's biography, aesthetic theories, literary genres, ideology, religion, philosophy, mythology, socio-political conditions, education4. And it is often clear that the translation or explicitation of these realia, albeit intended for an easier communication, creates misunderstandings. Here is an example:

  The Allens eat kosher.

The explicitating translation of this sentence could be:

The Allens eat only proper foods.

  In the first case the reader not knowing the word "kosher" can look it up on the dictionary, after which he understands that it is a Jewish religious norm. In the second case, contextualization is much harder, and someone could be mistakenly lead to think that, according to the author's point of view, all food that is not kosher is unfit, even if it was a simple neutral description.
  The cultural difference between prototext and metatext can also create problems of semantic redundancy (linguistic redundancy is not implied, it is the phenomenon by which, for example, in French the sentence «je ne sais pas» contains a double negation, that is nonetheless provided for by grammatical rules). If for example an English text quotes the sentence "He drank a glass of Lambrusco, a red light sparkling wine", its Italian linguistic translation would be redundant, because the Italian model reader is supposed to know what Lambrusco is. It is also possible the opposite hypothesis:
Every morning she bathed in Bordeaux.
Translated into a culture where French wine is not known, this sentence could inform too little. Communication must always find a balance between redundancy and informativity, and, according to some researchers, Nord among them, the translator must deal with this problem by generalizing or specifying sentences according to the cultural difference. In this stage of the course we do well to simply acknowledge the existence of the question, but we will deal with it more in depth in the third part, devoted to the production of the text.


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. 159.
2 Nord 1991, p. 88.
3 Nord 1991, p. 96.
4 Nord 1991, p. 97.