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31 - The top-down approach to shift relationships

«Ese ojo sin visión era físicamente perfecto, sólo que no estaba conectado con el cerebro, y así no registraba ninguna imagen»1.

"The visionless eye was physically perfect but was not connected to the brain and registered no images"2.

The Leuven-Zwart model seen in the previous unit considers a text's features a priori and, eventually, tries to outline the general consequences. Torop's chronotopical model, on the other hand, starts from a translation-oriented analysis of the specific text and, once the main features of single elements in a systemic view (with reference to the specific text-system) have been identified, checks the changes in the poetics of the text caused by the shifts. It is, therefore, a top-down approach, analyzing details only once their systemic importance has been identified.

In chronotopical analysis, one of the main difficulties consists in tracking a shift to linguistic elements and the resulting structural consequences. A translation-oriented analysis must, therefore, identify the dominant and the subdominants of a given text and outline their expression on the linguistic plane. Here are some of the main categories:


Conceptual words. This is the simplest category. For example, if a text's dominant is an argumentation for peace, words like "peace", "war", "arms", "disarmament" etc. are obviously important, not for their form, but because, conceptually, cover fields contiguous to the theme.

These words are important not for their expressivity, not because they link distant elements of the text structure, but because their meanings directly express systemically important concepts for the text. The manipulation of these words impacts the text's contents.

Functional expressions. Functional expressions can also be defined bridge words or allusive details, because they are words in themselves altogether unimportant, that, however, are strategically spread throughout the text in order to physically link, through their recurring appearance, distant text zones, in order to create Leitmotiv, sort of "inner rhymes" (attention: rhymes not of sound, but of meaning) functioning as intra-textual references. For example, a political article on Denmark, let us imagine, begins with the sentence "Once upon a time in Denmark" and at the end it finishes with the sentence "In Denmark, once, upon a time". The repetition of the sentence (in altered or non altered form; not a very meaningful sentence in itself) is not aimed at expressing a notion, but at creating an internal reference, at giving cohesion to the text. The manipulation of these expressions impacts the text's structure.

Expressive fields. Another category encompasses expressive fields constituted by repetitions of words, idioms, phrases, grammatical forms, repetitions whose meaningfulness is detectable both statistically and, by a careful reader, for the way in which it is perceivable during a normal reading. Compared to the previous category, the difference lies in the absence of internal references; they are typical of an author's expressiveness, they are idiomorphic features of the style of the model author. The manipulation of these expressions impacts the text's poetics.

Deictics. (From the Greek deiktikós, derived from deíksis «indication», deriving from deíknumi «I show».) These are linguistic elements referring to (or, better, taking for granted) the physical circumstances of the speech act in absolute, non relative, terms, for example, personal pronouns, demonstrative adjectives, some adverbs: here, now, after, before, there, over, under, this, that, come, leave etc. Deictics reflect an "ingenuous physics of space and time"3, ingenuous because it takes for granted that some concepts expressed by deictics, relative by definition, can be understood by the addressee (reader or hearer), although they are implicit, in absolute terms. It is as ingenuous as a child that, when asked by telephone "where are you?", answers "I am here", taking for granted that the other person necessarily knows the space-time (chronotopical) coordinates of the child. Since they reflect an individual relationship of the model author or character toward a given situation, the alteration of deictics has repercussions on the depicted relationship between individuals, on the individual psychology of a character or of the author.

Intertextuality and realia. Both intertextual references and realia are elements characterizing the relationships of a text (and of a culture) to other cultures. Consequently, the manipulation of such expressions impacts the relationship between cultural systems, i.e. on the group psychology of elements of the text's culture.

These five fundamental categories of chronotopical analysis can be placed along the self versus other continuum, where by "own" one means "typical of the prototext", i.e. we are on the extreme of the author and the source culture, while by "other" one means "typical of the metatext", i.e. we are on the pole of the translator and the receiving culture. The placeability along the self versus other axis of these categories is a symptom of the fact that they are chronotopical, i.e. inserted within the framework of the specific analysis of a text (and of its actualizations).

It is important to understand, rather, that of the categories listed in the previous unit, Leuven-Zwart's, are not placeable along the self versus other continuum because they are not chronotopical. In the shift from "fruit" to "orange", there is neither necessarily appropriation nor acknowledgement, there is, however, specification, independent of the co-text and context.

Both approaches have their advantages. The advantages of the former consist, for example, in the fact that it is possible to also consider the parts of the text that don't have strategic importance, but that, however, exist. This concerns:

  • aspects of the paradigmatic axis, of the lexicon (words not included in the five categories indicated for the latter model);
  • all syntagmatic and paradigmatic aspects having to do with differences between prose and poetry, and
  • all aspects of syntax in prose, that can be more or less marked.

The advantages of the latter approach, the top-down approach, consist in shedding immediate light on the main elements, distinguishing them from those in the background. Lacking a chronotopical analysis, the decision concerning translation shifts would address one element or another indifferently, regardless of their systemic value, neglecting the dominant and the subdominants.

In the next unit we'll see if it is possible to postulate a single model, that considers both views (bottom-up and top-down) and incorporates the types of possible prototext-metatext shifts.


Bibliographical references

APRESJAN JU. D. Dejksis v leksike i grammatike i naivnaja model´ mira, in Integral´noe opisanie jazyka i sistemnaja leksikografija, Moskvà, JAzyki russkoj kul´tury, 1995, ISBN 5-88766-045-7.

LEFEVERE A. Translating Poetry. Seven Strategies and a Blueprint. Amsterdam, Van Gorcum, 1975, ISBN 90-232-1263-0.

LEUVEN ZWART K. van Translation and original. Similarities and dissimilarities. In Target, n. 1:2 (1989) e n. 2:1 (1990).

MARÍAS J. Negra espalda del tiempo, Punto de lectura, 2000 (original edition 1998), ISBN 84-663-0007-7.

MARÍAS J. Dark Back of Time, New York, New Directions, 2001 (translated by Esther Allen), ISBN 0-8112-1466-4.

TOROP P. La traduzione totale, edited by Bruno Osimo, Modena, Guaraldi Logos, 2000, ISBN 88-8049-195-4.

1 Marías 2000, p. 189.
2 Marías 2001, p. 153.
3 Apresjan 1995, p. 630.