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27 - Journalistic translation

"He knew only the Hebrew alphabet in which Ladino was written, and the only newspapers he read were in that language. They had Spanish names like El Tiempo and La Voz de la Verdad. They were printed in Hebrew letters and appeared, I believe, only once a week"1

Translation for newspapers has some peculiarity that distinguish it from generic non-fiction translation. At first sight, one could think that a newspaper text, since it expresses facts, communicates information, is a purely denotative text, therefore relatively easy to translate as far as construction and style are concerned, with a few difficulties of lexical order at the most.

Actually, in a newspapers texts are heterogeneous. Let us leave aside semiannual, monthly or weekly periodicals that may contain texts that are not very journalistic, i.e. texts that could be easily found even in non-periodical publications. Let us focus our attention exclusively on daily newspapers.

Chronicle. Sections devoted to news reports are those usually having the highest denotative content. Reporting events of international, national or local nature, sometimes simply paraphrasing press releases, usually the personal or political comment of the journalist is minimal, so connotative aspects are likewise. In this kind of translation the difficulties are mainly connected to the standard form in which news is communicated in different cultures. In English, for example, in a news chronicle the verb is usually at the end of the main clause, especially the verbs like "say", for example:

The shot was heard in the area of half a mile, Mr Homer reported.

When translating texts like that into other languages that don't systematically see the main clause in a final position, if a translator wants to avoid a construction calque, the sentence must be reconstructed inserting the main verb in a standard position.

Political commentaries. These can create serious problems to translators. Politicians very readily create new words and terms. Just think, for example of road map, New Deal, Manifest Destiny, trickle-down economics, detente, affirmative action. They are words that in a political speech can be very many; they are an obstacle for the translator to decode and then, to recode into the target culture. Of course, one must distinguish the translation of a political news story to be published in a newspaper of another country from the translation of a political news story to be published in a different context in the target culture.

In the latter case it is not difficult creating translator's notes and give a metatextual rendering of the inevitable translation residue. But in case of translations for newspapers, where footnotes are not possible and the reader must be able to "consume" the product even in unfavorable contextual conditions (on a bus, in the lunch break, half asleep in the morning), the problem is very trying. The practice of glossing is professionally despicable in general, and translation for dailies is no exception. Attributing explanations or other translator's comments to this or other author would be a serious problem (note that sometimes the authors of political stories are politicians themselves). The translator therefore can only open a square bracket, rapidly explain what she cannot translate and insert a "translator's note" acronym, and close the bracket and go on.

Peres declared that the road map [a plan by European Union and United States to find a solution to the Near-East conflict. Translator's. note] is still a feasible strategy.

Of course such clarifications are necessary only when an expression has not yet been used widely. In the example, in a paper such a clarification would not be necessary a few weeks after the introduction of the term.

Contextual references. The very fact that papers by their nature and use have few clarifications, and take a lot for granted, creates a major translation problem. Newspaper text contains a huge ratio of culture-specific implicit. This because they are published every day. The high frequency of their publications implies that one of the chronotope dimensions is taken for granted: time. This dawns on you when you stay abroad for a month and then, on your return, you have trouble in understanding your habitual newspaper. To understand today's newspaper, you must know yesterday's, and so on. The whole historical series of papers constitutes a huge hypertext to which today's newspaper makes free reference.

Another chronotope coordinate element that newspapers always take for granted is place. When news don't report any information on place, the town where the paper is made is implied (and in this case a street named or the place where an event took place, without specifying the town). If news is about national policy and no place is stated, the government seat is implied. When talking about local policy and no place is stated, the local government seat is implied. And so on.

Often even cultural coordinates are implied, because a newspaper's reader, implicitly, belongs to an identifiable culture, extending over a necessary time and place (of course an exception is represented by readers of newspapers in an archive, perusing stories written in an earlier time frame). That's why, for example, the name of a soccer player or a TV broadcast can be inserted as intertextual translation as metaphors of something else and the reader - even the one who doesn't watch TV or follow soccer - must be able to understand at least the connotative value in order to read efficiently.

Local lexicon. Another feature of newspapers is the use of local lexicon. In some cities newspapers, stories in dialect can be published. Often, but in explicitly international papers like for example International Herald Tribune, the local variant of the language in question prevails, even if proper dialect is not used.

For example, in the Sacramento Bee you will find an account of events on J Street while USA Today will specify near Capital Park. And the Bee would say Davis, Galt or Rancho Cordova while USA Today would read "near Sacramento" hopefully specifying the direction outside the city. Then there are questions of local or editorial preference in phraseology and/or slang.

Editorials and "third page". In the newspaper there are the so called "culture page" articles, a term referring to essay-like stories and/or opinions often not devoted to the current day's events, that could be published as much as a month earlier or later. These are real essays, and for their translation I invite you to read next unit.


Bibliographical references

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.

1 Canetti 1999: 94.