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10 - Compensation and explicitation

"I did nurture a deep resentment toward my mother, and it vanished only years later, after his death, when she herself began teaching me German"1.

In the first part of this course (unit 17) I have already hinted at the existence of a metatext meant not as a text containing the textual translation of an original in another language, but as a set of critical apparati, of supplemental texts, accompanying the existence of their corresponding main text. The existence of the metatext is motivated by Torop’s total translation strategy that foresees a preventive analysis in order to establish what the communicative loss deriving from a given translation act might be and how to cope with such a loss.

This does not mean that the translator always enacts a strategy that considers the principles of total translation in this sense. In some cases, a translator does not bother with the problem of the translation loss, either because she is not aware of it, or because, resigned to the inevitability of such a loss, she has no intention to engage in a strategy to cope with the problem.

Translation science literature usually deals with a problem similar to metatextual rendering separately under two entries: compensation and explicitation.

"Compensation" here means "the technique of making up for the translation loss of important ST features by approximating their effects in the TT through means other than those used in the ST" (Hervey and Higgins 1992: 248). By «explicitation» we mean "the process of introducing information into the target language which is present only implicitly in the source language, but which can be derived from the context or the situation" (Vinay and Darbelnet 1958: 8).

One can easily see that these two categories do not precisely define which translation shifts encompass these entries and which do not. Moreover, it is not specified if compensation and explicitation must necessarily occur within the translated text, or if one can also consider paratextual rendering.

What clearly unites the two categories to Torop’s metatextual translation is the starting point: they are strategies enacted as a consequence of the acknowledgement of a loss at the basis every translation act. Harvey writes: "Given that the transfer of meanings from one language to another continually involves some degree of loss, the translator must decide if and when compensation is warranted" (38). Even Barhudàrov explicitly refers to the loss implied in the communication act in order to explain the conditions under which compensation is called for:

This device is used in cases when given elements of the emitting language text for one reason or another do not have equivalents [sic] in the receiving language and cannot be transmitted through its means; in these cases, in order to compensate for the semantic loss determined by the fact that a given unit in the emitting language remained untranslated or was translated incompletely (not for the whole spectrum of its meaning), the translator transmits the same information through another means, not necessarily in the same position within the target text as it was found in the original (218-219).

Please note that the above definition is still anchored to the old view of the purely linguistic concept of translation: the impossibility of finding an "equivalent" – granted – is considered a rare occurrence, the exception confirming the rule; moreover, translation is still viewed as a (complete) transfer of single lexical units. The notion of "text" as a semiotic whole having a different (and greater) meaning as compared to the sum of its components, and the notion of "implicit cultural information" and the consequences of the cultural differences in terms of translatability are not accounted for. However, it is important to stress that compensation is viewed as a device that can shift the placement in the translated text where an element thereof can compensate the loss incurred in another part of the original text. Such a shift, in principle, can therefore even occur outside the text, in a critical apparatus for example.

Crisafulli, probably realizing how difficult it is to base scientific definitions on vague and arguable notions like the so called "effect of the text on the reader", gives us a more stable version of the notion of "compensation":

The notion of compensation seems to imply two basic facts: first, the equivalence relationship as an ideal pursued by translators, and second, the assumption that one can subject to analysis the relationship between source-text and target-text features in order to establish whether the latter are really compensatory. Thus, the ‘loss’ in translation which necessitates compensation must concern some concrete, tangible property of the source text and not some elusive quality, and the same remark applies to the compensatory devices in the translation (260).

Some authors include explicitation among the translation shifts in the "additions" category (for example Barhudàrov, 221-226), to be used only when there is a mismatching of the lexical units of the two texts (i.e. always, one might add today). For other authors, however, explicitation is an intrinsic feature of translation: a higher level of explicitation in the translated text

it might be the case that explicitation is a universal strategy inherent in the process of language mediation, as practiced by language learners, non-professional translators and professional translators alike (Blum-Kulka 1986: 21).

According to this view, that has gone down in the annals of history as "explicitation hypothesis", consciousness of the translational/communicational loss is a common, general feature, even if it is probably an aconscious phenomenon. This lack of awareness can explain the wide use of explicitation and the need to apply linguistic and statistical research to sensitize oneself to its use. Blum-Kulka holds that, for this reason, translated texts are characterized by redundancy:

The process of interpretations performed by the translator on the source text might lead to a [meta]text which is more redundant than the [proto]text. This redundancy can be expressed by a rise in the level of cohesive explicitness in the [meta]text. This argument may be stated as "the explicitation hypothesis", which postulates an observed cohesive explicitness from [proto]text to [meta]texts regardless of the increase traceable to differences between the two linguistic and textual systems involved. It follows that explicitation is viewed here as inherent in the process of translation (1986: 19).

Here, Blum-Kulka probably wants to stress that the tendency to explicitate does not always arise from objective needs of the two languages; it is, on the contrary, a spontaneous, irrational, uncontrolled constant, that is however popular in all processes of linguistic mediation. In the next unit I will show why the explicitation as a spontaneous tendency lies outside the problem of the loss.


Bibliographical references

BARHUDAROV L. S. JAzyk i perevod. Voprosy obščej i častnoj teorii perevoda, Moskvà, Meždunarodnye otnošenija, 1975.

BLUM-KULKA SHOSHANA Shifts of Cohesion and Coherence in Translation, in Interlingual and Intercultural Communication: Discourse and Cognition in Translation and Second Language Acquisition Studies, a cura di Juliane House e Shosgana Blum-Kulka, Tübingen, Narr, 1986, p. 17-35.

CANETTI ELIAS Die gerettete Zunge. - Die Fackel im Ohr. - Das Augenspiel, München, Carl Hanser Verlag, 1995, ISBN 3-446-18062-1.

CANETTI ELIAS The Tongue Set Free. Remembrance of a European Childhood, translated by Joachim Neugroschel, in The Memoirs of Elias Canetti, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999, ISBN 0-374-19950-7, p. 1-286.

CRISAFULLI E. Dante’s Puns and the question of compensation, in Wordplay and Translation, edited by Dirk Delabastita, Manchester, St. Jerome Publishing, 1996, ISBN 1-900650-01-0, p. 259-276.

HARVEY K. Compensation, in Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, edited by M. Baker, London, Routledge, 1998, ISBN 0-415-09380-5, p. 37-40.

HERVEY SÁNDOR and HIGGINS IAN Thinking Translation: A Course in Translation Method: French to English, London, Routledge, 1992.

KLAUDY KINGA Explicitation, in Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies edited by M. Baker, London, Routledge, 1998, ISBN 0-415-09380-5, p. 80-84.

KOMISSAROV V. N. Teoriya perevoda (lingvisticheskie aspekty), Moskvà, Vysshaya shkola, 1990, ISBN 5-06-001057-0.

PYM ANTHONY Epistemological Problems in Translation and its Teaching. A Seminar for Thinking Students, Calaceit (Teruel), Caminade, 1993.

VINAY J.-P. e DARBELNET J. Stylistique comparée du français et de l’anglais. Méthode de traduction, Paris, Didier, 1958.

1 Canetti 1999: 28.