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11 - Metatextual rendering

"Whenever I found a newspaper anywhere in the house, he allowed me to read him the headlines, and now and then, if it wasn’t too difficult, he explained what they meant"1.

At the end of the previous unit, the question of explicitation as a spontaneous, aconscious mental process emerged; it would be typical, in Blum-Kulka’s opinion, of every act of linguistic mediation. The kind of explicitation that interests me here, having to deal with the management of the translational loss, is, however, the one that is not characterized by redundancy. If translations are more redundant than their originals, this is an aspect beyond the question of the loss management. What is interesting here is the outcome of the parts of the prototext that do not have redundant translatants and, on the contrary, involve communication deficiencies.

I would like to warn against the methodological risk of considering differently the explicitation due to differences between the linguistic systems and explicitation due to differences between extra lingual cultural systems. In my opinion, from the semiotic point of view, both kinds of explicitation have a cultural origin. Pym stresses implicit cultural information as a triggering cause for explicitation:

when you’re crossing a cultural wall, you encounter particular places requiring textual expansion. The most difficult terms tend to require some paraphrase or explanation, usually justifiable as the explicitation of implicit cultural information (1993: 123).

I therefore propose to speak more generally of explicitation due to cultural differences, implying obviously also the subspecies of linguistic differences. Linguistic formal differences considered by some researchers – closed in the old view of linguistics as a world isolated from cultural influences – as the main cause of explicitation and compensation (any word in the original having no equivalents", "elements of sense lost by translating a unit of source language of the prototext» (Komissarov 1990: 185) are, in my view, much more productive if included in the wider category of cultural implicitness.

If one accepts Whorf’s hypothesis – about the reciprocal influence of language and extra-linguistic culture – I couldn’t help but include the linguistic, stylistic and textual differences in the wider world of cultural features.

But how can a translator’s note, an afterword, a chronology, a caption, an added bibliography, a review be considered on the same plane as explicitating and compensatory acts? No author speaks in these terms, because such elements do not belong to the text; they belong to the critical paratextual apparatus or, according to Torop’s terms, to the metatext.

First of all we should ask ourselves if such elements are expression of explicitation or compensation.

An afterword is always compensatory, i.e. it is added in the publication of a translated text in order to improve the fruition by the metatext’s readers. If an afterword were not compensatory, there wouldn’t be any reason to publish it. Is it explicitating, as well? I would say so, except for the cases of very deep authors who create apparati that, more than an accompaniment to the main text, are poetic works of their own.

A translator’s note is always explicitating, rather, it originates with the primary aim to explicitate something that can be difficult to understand owing to cultural differences. Is it compensatory, too? Of course it is. If there is no need to compensate an expressive deficiency in the text, a publisher hardly would allow the publication of a translator’s note, that in the publishing field is considered – wrongly, probably – as the sign of a defeat, of a translator’s inadequacy, instead as a sign of the translator’s awareness of the differences in the information implicit in the two cultures, the eventual risk of loss and her willfulness to limit it.

Even a chronology, a map, a caption are, at the same time, explicitating and compensatory. I think we therefore ought to draw some temporary conclusions about the application of the principles of total translation to that branch of studies directly interested in the notions of explicitation and compensation.

The first conclusion concerns the desirability to unify all the compensatory, explicitating or explicative devices situated not within, but in the margin of the translated text under the notion of "metatextual rendering". Neglecting the question of the spontaneous tendency of linguistic mediators to make explicit, and dwelling only on the aspects of explicitation deriving from the (conscious or aconscious) awareness of a translational loss, I propose to unify such "motivated" explicitation to compensation, which was always considered a non-spontaneous but rational process, under the concept of "metatextual rendering". Here is a graphic representation:

place of the shift

within the translated text (metatext 1)

outside the translated text

(metatext 2)

traditional category





translator’s notes

afterwords etc.

kind of mental process





category according to total translation

intratextual compensation and explicitation

explicitation hypothesis

metatextual rendering

This new systematization of translation shifts has the advantage of unifying all those having bearing on the recovery of losses, i.e. that are within the competence of "metatextual rendering". I therefore think that this representation is much more productive for a semiotic approach to translation.


Bibliographical references

BARHUDAROV L. S. JAzyk i perevod. Voprosy obšcej i castnoj 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, edited by Juliane House and 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: 64.