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User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all

By Irene Tor-Carroggio & Pilar Orero (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain)

Abstract & Keywords


Defining disability is not an easy task due to its multidimensionality. This paper begins with a revision of some of the most common models to define disability. The second part of the article examines end user profiling in articles, European funded projects and PhD thesis’ related to one of the media accessibility modalities: audio description. The objective is to understand the approach taken by researchers. The final part of the article will propose a new approach in the study of end users in experimental research in Translation Studies, Audiovisual Translation, and Media Accessibility. This new approach gives a response to the International Telecommunication Union’s suggestion of leaving the biomedical approaches behind. Our suggestion is based on Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach, which has not yet been applied to user profiling in media accessibility studies. The article finishes by illustrating how this approach can be applied when profiling users in media accessibility questionnaires.

Keywords: media accessibility, capabilities, models of disability, audio description

©inTRAlinea & Irene Tor-Carroggio & Pilar Orero (2019).
"User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2410

1. Introduction

Defining disability is a daunting task given its connotations when applied to human conditions: physical, cognitive and social. Disability holds a human element in regards to a medical condition, associated with social and financial backgrounds that cannot be measured or simplified by one single definition or theoretical model (Albrecht et al. 2001). Theoretical models are useful and necessary, although it is important not to overlook the fact that they are simplistic and imperfect (Albrecht et al. 2001). Yet, models and definitions facilitate the task of researchers, as they offer a theoretical background and a methodology to work with. There are several models disability can be framed by, the medical one being among the earliest. Nonetheless, since studies into Disability began in 1994 at Syracuse University, there has been a radical, academic departure from it. This change of mindset has facilitated the emergence of other models that see disability as the result of a plethora of factors that have little or nothing to do with the person’s impairment.

This paper is divided into five sections. First, it will present some of the most popular models of disability. Second, it will look at research performed using these models. Third, it will describe a new approach from which to investigate disability within Media Accessibility (MA) studies. Fourth, some examples on how to apply this new model will be provided. Finally, some conclusions are drawn.

1.1. Models of disability

Fisher and Goodley (2007) explain the medical approach to disability:

A growing preoccupation with ‘normality’ meant that illness and disability became separated from everyday life and were constructed as forms of individual pathology. In this process the medical profession came to exert almost complete jurisdiction over the definitions of normality and abnormality (Fisher and Goodley 2007: 66).

The Medical Model is still dominating research in general. This is reinforced by our following of its linguistic composition, with the prefix “dis” changing the meaning of the word “ability”. In line with this, the lack or limitation on the capability of a person is classified by their condition. The Medical Model focuses on a biological reality being the cause of the impairment and it sees impairments as a personal condition that needs to be prevented, rehabilitated, or taken care of (Marks 1997). Despite its popularity, this model has been criticized on different grounds by activists and academics, for its failure “to acknowledge the defects in the environment” (Marks 1997: 87).

In contrast, the Social Model shifts the focus from health to society. It was mainly developed by Michael Oliver, who “sees disability, by contrast with impairment, as something imposed on disabled people by oppressive and discriminating social and institutional structures” (Terzi 2005: 201). This model has at least nine different versions (Mitra 2006) and deals with human diversity (Edler 2009). Disability is not the result of having a physical impairment, but the failure of society to consider individual differences (Bøttcher and Dammeyer 2016). Therefore, disability is not an attribute of the individual, but an environmental, social creation (Mitra 2006). However this model is not exempt from drawbacks. On one hand, and according to Shakespeare, “the simplicity which is the hallmark of the social model is also its fatal flaw” (Shakespeare 2010: 271). This author claims that the denial of impairment is an important factor in many disabled people’s lives and that the unrealistic concept of a barrier-free utopia, in which all barriers are removed are among the weaknesses of this model. On the other hand, Terzi (2005) considers there to be an aspect of over-socialization of sources and causes of disability, as well as the model overlooking the complex dimensions of impairment.

Even though these two models are paradigmatic, there are others worth mentioning. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was initially drafted as a human rights convention that aimed to substitute the Medical Model for the Social Model. Yet, according to Degeners (2016), the drafters went beyond the Social Model and wrote a treaty based on a new approach: the Human Rights Model of Disability, to be implemented by the CRPD. It encircles many human rights: political, civil, economic, social and cultural. It goes beyond the anti-discrimination rights of disabled persons (Degeners 2016). Regarding its weaknesses, Berghs et al. (2016) underline that lack of enforcement has been issue and in turn, the lack of defined penalties. This is true for some world regions, but is not the case for the US, Australia or Europe, where laws have been enforced through heavy penalties applied by the CRPD. The Netflix caption lawsuit is a good example. In June 2011, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) filed suit against Netflix for their lack of closed captioning for video streaming as a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The judge ruled in favor of the NAD and Netflix was ordered to provide captions in its video streaming library in 2014, and to continue captioning content published from that moment on, along with having to pay a hefty sum for legal fees and damages.

The Nagi Model (Nagi 1991) has a dynamic approach based on the differences between four different but interrelated concepts: active pathology, impairment, functional limitation, and disability. Disability is an “inability or limitation in performing socially defined roles and tasks expected of an individual within a sociocultural and physical environment” (Nagi 1991: 315). These roles and tasks are organized into spheres of life activities, such as work, education, family, etc. For instance, think of a 10-year-old girl with a severe hearing impairment who does not attend school but stays at the farm where she lives with her parents helping with farming chores. If she lives in a society where young girls are not expected to go to school, then she cannot be labelled as “disabled” under this model. Conversely, she will be labelled ‘disabled’ if she lives in a place where girls her age go to school, as she is therefore not performing her socially expected role.

The Biopsychosocial Model is a response to the over-medicalisation of the International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH). The UN World Health Organisation in 2001 published the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). The ICF was intended to complement its sister classification system, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) (Brown and Lent 2008). The ICF Model sees disability as the result of a combination of individual, institutional and societal factors that define the environment of a person with an impairment (Dubois and Trani 2009). It is set in motion by the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule II (WHODAS II), and covers all types of disabilities in various countries, languages and contexts, which makes it suitable for cross-cultural use. Dubois and Trani (2009) consider the ICF to be limited in its scope and use, since its primary purpose is classification. They believe the complexity of disability requires a wider and more comprehensive analytical view. Ellis (2016) also raised this issue, highlighting the difference between disability and impairment.

In 2017, the UN agency International Telecommunication Union (ITU) released a report addressing access to telecommunication/ICT services by persons with disabilities and with specific needs that stated the following:

Besides the more commonly used “medical model of disability”, which considers disability “a physical, mental, or psychological condition that limits a person’s activities”, there is a more recent “social model of disability,” which has emerged and is considered a more effective or empowering conceptual framework for promoting the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in society. Within this social model, a disability results when a person (a) has difficulties reading and writing; (b) attempts to communicate, yet does not understand or speak the national or local language, and (c) has never before operated a phone or computer attempts to use one – with no success. In all cases, disability has occurred, because the person was not able to interact with his or her environment. (ITU 2017: 2)

Contextualised within the realm of research in MA; this implies that simply knowing whether or not the person has a hearing or a visual impairment is of little to no use. The ITU is calling for a new approach that analyses different aspects of each individual that might have an influence on what researchers are testing. This has already been found relevant in previous studies (Romero-Fresco 2015). Romero-Fresco (2015) pointed out that reading subtitles was related to a person’s educational background rather than to their hearing impairment. This is the point from which we depart. How to approach the question of demography among persons with disabilities when the objective of the study is not to restore their sensory impairment.

2. Approaches followed by previous researchers on audio description (AD)

User profiling is often carried out through questionnaires which gather demographic information. How to formulate questions is very often related to the model of disability adopted (Berghs et al. 2016). The following 14 publications, which focus on user-centred research in AD, have been analysed: Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015; Szarkowska 2011; Szarkowska and Jankowska 2012; Walczak 2010; Romero-Fresco and Fryer 2013; Fresno et al. 2014; Fryer and Freeman 2012; Fryer and Freeman 2014; Szarkowska and Wasylczyk 2014; Udo and Fels 2009; Walczak and Fryer 2017; Walczak and Fryer 2018; Walczak and Rubaj 2014; Chmiel and Mazur 2012a. Three experimental PhD dissertations were also included in the analysis (Fryer 2013; Cabeza-Cáceres 2013; and Walczak 2017 (framed within the EU-funded project HBB4ALL), as well as other research results from major/extensive/wide-scale projects such as DTV4ALL,[1] ADLAB,[2] the Pear Tree Project (Chmiel and Mazur 2012b), OpenArt (Szarkowska et al. 2016), and AD-Verba (Chmiel and Mazur 2012).

The studies in question show different approaches to the profiling of users with disabilities as part of the demographic questionnaire prior to any test. There are two questions common to all: gender and age. When asking about gender, there is always a choice between “male”/”female” but the option of not answering the question or selecting another option is never offered. In relation to age, it is often asked by offering intervals; although in some cases it can also be an open question where a figure has to be entered.

Most questionnaires also query level of education. This is presented in various forms: items can be very detailed (Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015), with a choice of three options (primary education, secondary education, and higher education) (Szarkowska 2011) or contain a moderately detailed list (primary, vocational, secondary, college/university student, university degree) (ADLAB project).

As for the occupation of the participants, it is not generally asked for but with the exception of one study (Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015).

With regards to the language participants generally use, the majority of questionnaires do not refer to it. The exceptions are the questionnaires in DTV4ALL and the Pear Tree project.

Technology and AD exposure of participants were asked in most questionnaires. The objective of such questions was to corroborate whether the participants were familiar with a given technology and service, how well they knew it, and how frequently they used it. Information about participant habits regarding consumption of audiovisual content was also a point in common for all questionnaires, by means of closed or multiple-choice questions.

Regarding how disability is profiled, researchers take two approaches: self-reporting (Szarkowska ahd Jankowska 2012, Walczak and Fryer 2017) or responding to a question regarding physical condition (Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015; Fresno and Soler-Vilageliu 2014). How the condition is classified also has three different approaches:

  1. Using WHO binary classification: blind and low sighted (Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015; Fresno and Soler-Vilageliu 2014, Szarkowska and Jankowska 2012).
  2. Adopting RNIB classification (Szarkowska 2011, TV3 in the DTV4ALL project, and the AD-Verba Project):[3] “Which of these best describes your sight with glasses or contact lenses if you normally use them but without any low vision aid? Imagine you are in a room with good lighting and answer yes, no or uncertain to each part, please. Can you see well enough to: Tell by the light where the windows are?/ See the shapes of the furniture in the room?/ Recognise a friend across a road?/ Recognise a friend across a room?/ Recognise a friend if he or she is at arm’s length?/ Recognize a friend if you get close to his or her face?/ Read a newspaper headline?/ Read a large print book?/ Read ordinary newspaper print? (Possible answers: ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘uncertain’)”.
  3. Beyond WHO and RNIB, Walczak and Fryer (2017) included:
    • self-reported sight loss (mild, considerable, complete) and visual acuity specification;
    • age when registered as visually impaired;
    • and the medical name of the visual condition.

Also, all researchers requested information regarding the origin of the condition. In most cases the question of whether the sight loss is congenital or acquired was included, sometimes by giving two options (congenital/acquired), and other times (less often) by giving more options, such as intervals (e.g. from birth/for between 1 and 10 years, etc.).

After analysing the most recent experimental research with end users in the field of AD, it can be said that all demographic questions follow the medical approach when profiling. Although other sociological oriented questions are also present, still the ultimate matching of disability and technology proficiency is performed by an inductive inference by the researcher.

3. The Capabilities Approach

Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate economist, developed the Capability Approach, which has been used as a framework to analyse different concepts in welfare economics (Mitra 2006). It was later complemented by philosopher Martha Nussbaum (Terzi 2005). This approach can be useful in other disciplines, such as Disability Studies (Mitra 2006). The Capabilities Approach revolves around two main concepts:

  1. “capabilities”, which are seen as a person’s “practical opportunities”, such as having the chance to eat something if you feel hungry, and
  2. “functionings”, viewed as “actual achievements”, such as actually eating. In Sen’s words:
Functionings represent parts of the state of a person–in particular the various things that he or she manages to do or be in leading a life. The capability of a person reflects the alternative combinations of functionings the person can achieve, and from which he or she can choose one collection. (Sen 1993: 31)

Sen (1993) claims the interaction between these concepts can have an impact on peoples lives. This author illustrates his point through an example, contrasting the two terms: two women have the same functioning (not being well nourished) but very different capabilities. One has the capability, this is, the opportunity to be well nourished but decides to starve for her religious beliefs, whereas the other cannot afford to buy any food. It can, therefore, be seen that a person’s capabilities and functionings are influenced by external factors (in that particular example, religious beliefs), which can be grouped into three categories: commodities, personal characteristics and structural factors (see figure 1 for a simplified version of how the Capabilities Approach works).

Figure 1. A simplified version of Sen’s Capabilities Approach (Mitra 2006: 240)

Sen (1993) emphasized the plurality of purposes for which the capability approach can have relevance. Mitra (2006) suggests applying the Capabilities Approach to Disability Studies to define “disability” on a conceptual level:

Under Sen’s approach, capability does not constitute the presence of a physical or a mental ability; rather, it is understood as a practical opportunity. Functioning is the actual achievement of the individual, what he or she actually achieves through being or doing. Here, disability can be understood as a deprivation in terms of capabilities or functionings that results from the interaction of an individual’s (a) personal characteristics (e.g., age, impairment) and (b) basket of available goods (assets, income) and (c) environment (social, economic, political, cultural). (Mitra 2009: 236-237)

Mitra (2006) understands that disability may occur when there is a health impairment, but also other factors that result in a deprivation of capabilities or functionings. If a person is deprived of practical opportunities because of an impairment, Mitra believes we are talking about what she calls “potential disability”, whereas if the person’s functionings are restricted by the impairment we are talking about “actual disability”. The difference between these two types of disability can be seen through an example. If an 18-year-old visually impaired person wants to attend college but lacks the opportunity, they can be seen as a “potential” disabled person in comparison with someone who has a similar background. In this case it can be seen that health impairment reduces a person’s practical opportunities, and this can lead to disability. A person is actually disabled if they cannot do something they value doing or being, which, in this example, would be going to college.

The Capability Approach contributes to a new and useful insight on disability by differentiating between the two levels of the problem: the capability level and the functioning level. It proves to be a different approach because, for instance, unlike the Social and Medical Models, it provides a comprehensive account of the variety of factors that might lead to deprivation. In contrast to the Medical Model, the impairment is not always the cause of disability, and, unlike the Social Model, the environment is not always the reason for disability (Mitra 2006). The ICF, although initially thought of as an integration of the strengths of the two main models, it fails to achieve its objective and could benefit from becoming open-ended. It should also recognise that not all dimensions of life may be specified and classified, and thus the classification does not, and cannot be expected to offer an exhaustive account of the lived experience of health deprivations (Mitra 2018). It can therefore be concluded that this new disability approach conforms to what the ITU has recently required and can be applied to studies dealing with disability, such as those working on MA.

4. Applying the Capabilities Approach

The Capability Approach developed by Sen is a useful framework for defining disability and understanding its consequences (Mitra 2006). Its usefulness in defining disability and formulating disability policies was considered by Mitra (2006) but to date no applications regarding the methodological approach have been followed in MA studies. This is what this section will deal with.

The way to implement this model in any discipline is by drafting a list of capabilities and functionings that are relevant to the object of study:

The full range of the disability experience can then be covered, by shifting the focus away from the restricted view of identifying types of impairment. The fact that each individual is asked about the level of difficulty he/she experiences in functioning in the various dimensions of well-being makes it easier to assess the level of disability in a comprehensive manner. [...]However, specific information is required to assess and measure disability within this paradigm. Data are related to individuals’ potentialities, the possibilities that they can “be” what they wish to be, their aspirations and what they value. It also entails gathering information about vulnerability, which expresses the risk of suffering a reduction of the capability set, measured by the probability of falling to a lower state of well-being. Finally, it requires information about the opportunities offered by the environment. (Dubois and Trani 2009: 198).

Sen’s theoretical Capability Approach proposal is open. It does not offer an application model since it does not make a complete list of capabilities functionings, personal characteristics, commodities and environmental factors (Mitra 2006). Sen does not propose a prescriptive method to rank capability sets (Mitra 2006; Terzi 2005). This voluntary incompleteness makes the capability approach difficult to implement operationally, but in turn allows for adaptation to every scenario. For example, in the field of Media Accessibility, it should be adapted to the tested technology. The capabilities and functionings may vary according to relevant personal factors, resources, and structural factors. It will also vary depending on the object of study. Therefore, the demographics of the study should be adapted to the study characteristics.

In the field of MA, researchers could implement the following steps:

  1. Think of an access service that could prevent one or more groups of persons from being potentially or actually disabled whilst accessing audiovisual content. Measuring disability is perhaps an impossible task, but for research purposes, where the focus is not on how to restore medical conditions, selecting relevant capabilities or functionings to form an “evaluative space” is needed (Mitra 2006). What needs to be done is drafting a set of functionings (or capabilities) that our access service can provide.
  2. Carefully analyse the group or groups of persons that could benefit the most from this service. This should be achieved by not only taking into account their sensorial impairments, but also the personal, structural and environmental factors. For example, a person with sight loss may not be able to access a TV series because the menu EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) is not accessible and they cannot activate the AD function. The same situation can occur for someone with reduced motor skills such as dexterity, or a person with learning disabilities who finds it challenging to interact with the TV remote control. The final result is that neither the person with sight loss, learning disability nor dexterity can enjoy a TV programme.
  3. Carry out, for example, some focus groups in which all the target groups are represented to confirm which particular service could amplify their capability set and, therefore, avoid disability from occurring or from being a possibility. These occasions should also be used to elicit more information regarding what features the service requires in order to offer a better and more enhanced experience. Listing relevant functionings and capabilities should be a user-centered activity. However, members of groups may be so deprived in specific dimensions that they lack self-critical distance. A good example is the addition of subtitles in some opera theatres (Oncins 2015). While sighted people enjoy subtitles, people with sight loss may have an audio description but not audio subtitles. Blind and partially sighted audience members may not be aware of the existence of subtitles and subsequently do not request the service.
  4. Develop the service according to what the target groups have requested.
  5. Test the service to ensure that what has been developed complies with what users require so that they are no longer disabled in that particular field or occasion. Obviously, the users taking part in the tests should come from all the various target groups that were considered initially.

It is precisely in this last stage that questionnaires should reflect the variety of users taking part in the tests and, therefore, the need to mainstream accessibility. This can only be done by expanding the section that contains the demographic questions. Were this to be done, the plethora of factors leading to disability could be better observed. As we have seen, MA research tends to include questions regarding physical impairments but does not always consider other factors that could cause or are already causing a person to be disabled. This is precisely what needs to be solved but, again, we cannot provide a one-fits-all solution because the questions depend on the object of study, i.e., on the particularities of the technology or service tested.

Questions asked in focus groups or questionnaires should not mix health issues with impairments, functionings and capabilities because they would reduce the empirical relations between the different concepts of the Capabilities Approach. The question “are you limited to the number of movies you can watch due to a visual impairment?” would be an example of the type of question that should be avoided. Also, in MA studies, there is no reason beyond statistic to ask for gender-related information, unless a capability falls under a cultural or religious category. Regarding age, most studies request age as with gender, in order to have a statistically comparable representative group. In some cases, requesting age was associated to the origin of the condition, for the researcher to assume some impact on the object of study. According to Sen’s model, requesting age will have a direct implication on questions such as: “do you consume AD?”.

The EU-funded EasyTV project (https://easytvproject.eu/) aims at easing the access of audiovisual content and the media to the functionally diverse and to the growing ageing population of Europe. This will be achieved by developing new access services, such as customised subtitles, subtitles for colour-blind users and a crowdsourcing platform with which videos in sign language can be uploaded and shared. These access services are expected to grant an equal and better access to audio-visual content in terms of both choice and quality. The project was started off by discussing with users precisely what capabilities they would like to have when consuming audiovisual content. For the initial focus groups, “super end users” were recruited. Not all of them suffered from a physical impairment. In addition to being regular users, they had some knowledge on the technologies that would be tested. This knowledge was deemed crucial since they were requested to advance their expectations to match the innovation. It would have made no sense to consult end users with no prior knowledge or experience of functional diversity or technological background because at that stage what we required was not their acceptance of the final service, but issues related to technology development. This allowed us to apply Sen’s theory to a concrete case. During the focus groups carried out at that stage, the following list of questions were drafted:

  1. How is your current experience using TV?
    “It is not easy to access the TV”.
    “It is very difficult to use the remote control”.
  1. Which modalities do you use to interact with the TV?
    “Using the remote control is very difficult without audio feedback”.

The response to the difficulty to access TV elicited possible technologies and the following opinions.

  1. For image magnification two important issues emerged:
    - “It would be useful to magnify a specific portion of the screen (for example objects that need to be recognized) or overlaying text that is not clear, so I can read it better”.
    - “It is important to stop playing the image to let me magnify the screen or a portion of it”.
  1. For audio narratives the following features are considered crucial for blind and low vision persons:
    -“It is useful to have this service available both automatically (without user interaction) and manually (using the remote control or speech commands) to manage the volume of available audio tracks”.
    - “For example, when listening to opera I am only interested in the music, so I should be able to lower the volume of the audio description”.
    - “During live programs, it is very useful to know what is happening and what the TV is showing during silent time. When I am with my family they tell me what is going on, but when alone, nothing can be done”.
  1. Regarding the speech interface to control TV functionalities, blind people consider voice control and audio feedback to be very important when using the remote control. It is also very important to export content (audio and video) into a mobile device.

The above are all practical opportunities (capabilities) that end users would like to have and should be taken into account by developers. The beneficiary of these solutions is not isolated to the collective of persons with disabilities, since these solutions will be of great help also to the ageing population, people with reading issues, and by default to all. This universal approach has already been accepted with subtitles, which are no longer for the deaf and hard of hearing community, but also for the 80 per cent of people who watch media content in public spaces with the volume turned off.[4]

Testing in Easy TV has profiled the user requirements of people with sensorial disabilities: deaf and hard of hearing and visually impaired. Yet, results from tests do not correspond to sensorial disabilities. An example is the use of Smart TV functionalities and access to set up controls. Expectations and needs defined by user interaction with Smart TV are in fact related to age or behaviour, rather than disability. This real example extracted from test results in the EasyTV project show the need to adopt the Capability Approach. If it were to be implemented, in future stages, for each capability detected, a list of demographic factors surrounding it should be drafted. Another good example suggested while testing object-based audio (OBA) was to develop audio description on 360º video. It was found that OBA will benefit audio description since layers of information are added regarding sound directionality (Orero, Ray and Hughes forthcoming). Since OBA can be mixed by the audience, it turned out that people with hearing loss enjoyed OBA as mixing the dialogue track with the sound track allowed for a better dialogue intelligibility, producing a clean audio effect. This goes to show that a technology developed for one group was also beneficial for another group, something that would have never been tested if users were selected on the basis of their disability. 

5. Conclusions

MA research has been using the medical model to profile end users for their experimental research. This is probably due to research being framed within the UN CRPD, where accessibility is considered a tool towards achieving a human right (Greco 2016). The UN convention CRPD motto “nothing about us without us” has also conditioned participants for accessibility tests. After a decade following this research approach, results point towards the need to consider a wider audience for testing. Ellis (2016) has already clarified the difference between impairment and disability. Research data gathered from visually impaired persons apply to society in general. By applying the Capability Approach, research will not consider disability/health conditions as individual attributes. Focusing on impairments resources, structural and personal factors should yield data closer to the research objective than to a medical solution of health restoration. Failure to use an interactional model may generate an unnecessary focus on prevention/rehabilitation through the Medical Model or social oppression through the Social Model (Mitra 2018). The Capability Approach can be used by MA researchers and technology developers, since they need to find out what capabilities and functionings users would like to have. They also need to verify whether the technology they develop provides opportunities the target groups that are currently missing. This approach is also interesting for them as they can start recruiting users with a more varied profile and not just people with physical impairments. MA academic researchers are also within the stakeholders, since they are often the ones in charge of testing access services within projects or PhD thesis’ and need to be aware of the fact that sometimes the results yielded are due to the informants’ personal or environmental factors rather than them being partially sighted.

The Capability Approach will also work towards solving a negative feature in most existing research: the low number of participants. Profiling beyond medical prognosis opens participation to a wider audience and a higher potential participation. This Capability Model will also do away with the user representativeness required for statistical validity. For example, the number of blind people in a country will no longer have to be taken into consideration to determine the number of users needed in the tests. Mainstreaming accessibility will have an impact not only in research but also in its application to industrial sectors working within investment frameworks. MA services are valid to society and especially to persons with disabilities. This reduced sector should be the gatekeeper for quality, since in some cases access marks the threshold to deprivation.


This paper was funded by the EasyTV project (GA761999), RAD (PGC2018-096566-B-100), and ImAc (GA 761974). Both researchers are members of the research group TransMedia Catalonia (2017SGR113).


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About the author(s)

Irene Tor-Carroggio is a Ph.D student in Translation and Intercultural Studies at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and is also a member of the research group TransMedia Catalonia (2017SGR113). She holds a B.A. in Translation and Interpretation from the UAB (2013) and also an M.A. in International Business from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (2017). She is part of the EU-funded project EasyTV, http://easytvproject.eu.

Dr. Pilar Orero, (http://gent.uab.cat/pilarorero), PhD (UMIST, UK), teaches at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain). Member of TransMedia Catalonia research group (2017SGR113). Recent publications: Anna Maszerowska, Anna Matamala and Pilar Orero (eds) (2014) Audio Description. New perspectives illustrated. Amsterdam. John Benjamins. Anna Matamala and Pilar Orero (eds) (2016) Researching Audio Description. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Leader of numerous research projects funded by the Spanish and Catalan Gov. Participates in the UN ITU agency IRG AVA http://www.itu.int/en/irg/ava/Pages/default.aspx Membe.r of the working group ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 35. Member of the Spanish UNE working group on accessibility. Led the EU project HBB4ALL http://pagines.uab.cat/hbb4all/ Leads. the EU projects ACT http://pagines.uab.cat/act/ and UMAQ (Understanding Quality Media Accessibility) http://pagines.uab.cat/umaq/ She i.s the UAB leader at the 2 new H2020 projects EasyTV (interaction to accessible TV) http://easytvproject.eu and ImAc (Immersive Accessibility) http://www.imac-project.eu 2017-2021. She is an active external evaluator for many worldwide national agencies: South Africa, Australia, Lithuania, Belgium, Poland, Italy, US, and UK. Co-founder of the Media Accessibility Platform MAP http://www.mapaccess.org

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©inTRAlinea & Irene Tor-Carroggio & Pilar Orero (2019).
"User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2410

Discourse against Discourse: The Early Reception of Sartrean Existentialism in Iran

By Marzieh Malekshahi and Ali Khazaee Farid (Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran)

Abstract & Keywords


Marxist discourse and its leading propagandist in Iran, the Tudeh (Mass) Party, played such a leading role in the Pre-Revolutionary Iran that any account of the reception of other discourses in that period should include an analysis of its relation to it. Existentialism was the most important rival intellectual movement for Marxist discourse in Pre-Revolutionary Iran, both challenging Marxist discourse and being overwhelmed by it. However, the conflict between these two discourses, especially in the early stages of Existentialism’s reception, has never been fully investigated. The present paper aims to investigate, through related translations and indigenous writings, the early reception of existentialist discourse in Iran from 1941 to 1953 (from the fall of Reza Shah to the 1953 Coup), a period which coincides with the establishment of the Tudeh party, the zenith of its power and prestige and then its drastic repression. To this end, the article offers an account of the socio-political context of Iran from the 1940s (the beginning of the introduction of Existentialism in Iran) to the early 1950s with a focus on the role of the Tudeh party. An overview of the Persian translations of Sartre’s books and indigenous material on Existentialism in this period and translators’ and other agents’ profiles shows that Sartrean Existentialism, imported with different and sometimes contradictory purposes, was received mainly as an individualistic, nihilistic and pessimistic philosophy which posed a threat to the then dominant Marxist- Leninist ideology.

Keywords: Sartrean Existentialism, marxist discourse, Tudeh party, Iran, history

©inTRAlinea & Marzieh Malekshahi and Ali Khazaee Farid (2019).
"Discourse against Discourse: The Early Reception of Sartrean Existentialism in Iran", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2409

1. Introduction

Knowledge, discourses and theories are produced in different ways: whether they are constructed within the borders of a culture, or imported from a different culture through the channel of translation or other forms of rewriting (e.g. original writing on the imported discourse). When discourses are imported, the process is generally thought to be easy and unobstructed. However, as Edward Said (1983: 226) states, the transfer of knowledge and theory to the new environment is by no means easy and discourses undergo many transformations during the process. Said observes a recognizable and universal pattern in the transfer of theories and claims that each idea or theory goes through three or four stages in the process of its importation. First of all, there is a starting point, or what seems to be a starting point, a set of initial conditions in which an idea is born or enters into a discourse. The second stage is the distance which the theory or idea travels to find a new significance in its new environment. In the third stage, there are sets of conditions that are called reception or resistance conditions encountered by the immigrant idea or theory. In the fourth stage, an idea that is now completely or incompletely assimilated undergoes many transformations and finds new applications (Said, 1983: 226-227). Said’s report on the migration of theories, however, is taken to task by Susam-Sarajeva (2006) on account of the fact that it totally ignores the role played by the translations and translators, as if theory could be transferred without being translated. 

Venuti (2006: 106) also refers to the neglect of translation in philosophical research and states:

philosophy does not escape the embarrassment that faces contemporary academic disciplines when confronted with the problem of translation. In philosophical research widespread dependence on translated texts coincides with neglect of their translated status, a general failure to take into account the differences introduced by the fact of translation.

According to Venuti (2006: 106), philosophical thinking has long created concepts based on the native versions of foreign texts, but these native versions are generally considered to be transparent, and the influence of native culture and language on the created concepts has been ignored.

Despite the general neglect of translation in many fields of study, over the past few decades, migration of theories and discourses through translation has attracted many researchers from the field of Translation Studies. Some of these scholars have sought to propose new approaches to address the migration of discourses, while others have foreshadowed the pattern of transmission and reception of these discourses. Some others, like Susam-Sarajeva (2006) have tried to account for the migration of theories through conducting (multiple-) case studies within the framework of Descriptive Translation Studies. Since it is not possible to address all these studies in present paper, two examples will be provided.

Robbins (1994: 408-409) puts forward a model for the transmission and reception of discourses through translation, and believes that the target culture may adopt a different stance towards the discursive elements of the alien. In his view, if when confronting with a new discourse, the otherness is ignored, the target culture has an imperialist position. If otherness is acknowledged but transformed, the target culture or discourse has a defensive stance. If the target culture or discourse does not prevent the entrance of foreign discourses, the target culture is said to have a trans-discursive stand. And finally, if the target culture encourages the introduction of new discourses, it has a defective stance and is in the position of weakness.

Dangchao (2014) proposes an approach for studying the migration of theories, which he believes is new from three perspectives: first, unlike many studies on the transfer of theories which mainly focus on the moving theories, in this approach the reception of the theories in different times and places is emphasized. Second, in this new approach, in addition to discursive issues emphasized by the previous approaches, the relation between discursive conditions and material conditions is also explored, so that in addition to the study of translated texts, the interaction between discourse and practice is also studied. Finally, in this new approach, the complexities of power relations affecting the transfer or non-transfer of theories are also examined. According to Dangchao (2014), there are powers at work that facilitate the transfer of certain theories and prevent the transfer of some other theories.

Despite recent international focus on the role of translation in the migration of theories, in Iran modern discourses and theories are often discussed without any reference to the role of translation and translators in constructing them. In Iran, many modern discourses and theories are products of translation. This does not mean that some elements of these discourses have not been previously present in Persian literary and philosophical works, but it means that such discourses and theories as coherent sets of knowledge, philosophy and theory and with a specific purpose and worldview are products of translation and importation from different cultures. However, few studies have been carried out in this regard and even in those few studies the role of translation in introducing and constructing new discourses has been totally ignored. For example, in a book called Existentialism and Modern Persian literature (2013), which explores the introduction of existential discourse into modern Persian literature, there is no mention of translators and translations as a channel through which this discourse has been introduced and represented. To overcome this shortcoming, the present paper aims to study the early reception of Sartrean Existentialism in Iran with a focus on the role of translation.

Following Rundle’s distinction between historical and scientific methods in Historical Translation Studies (Rundle 2012), the present study aims to study the reception of Existentialism as a specific historical phenomenon and avoid yielding a general account of the role of translation and translators in the immigration of the theories by applying the pre-prepared theories and hypotheses which defy the purpose of history which is seeking the specific in any situation. Thus, as Rundle suggests the results may interest a wider range of audience, historians as well as Translation Studies scholars.

Existentialism is one of the major foreign discourses that dominated the intellectual life of Iran for decades. In Iran, Existentialism is mostly associated with the name of Sartre, so much so that from the very beginning of Sartre’s importation to Iran, he was hailed as the father of Existentialism. One of the first articles to introduce Existentialism was “Sartr va Falsafeh-ye Jadid” [Sartre and the New Philosophy] published in the journal Sokhan in 1946. As the title suggests, Sartre was introduced to Iranian readers as the founder of this philosophy. As Susam-Sarajeva (2006: 1) states, ‘‘theories do not travel on their own, but often under the name of well-known writers.’’ This was also the case with Existentialism when it reached Iran. Although in the years after the Existentialist boom in Iran, Iranian philosophers and theologians took an interest in other branches of this philosophic movement including Heideggerian and religious Existentialism, what dominated the minds of many Iranian writers and intellectuals was French and, in particular, Sartrean Existentialism. The purpose of this article is to explore the reception of this branch of Existentialism which proved to be an important intellectual movement in Iran for more than three decades.

In order to understand Existentialism in Iran, we must first understand the important role that Marxist discourse and its leading propagandist, the Tudeh party, played in pre-revolutionary Iran. The conflict between these two discourses in Iran, especially in the early stages of Existentialism’s reception, has never been fully investigated. This article aims to investigate the early reception of Existentialist discourse in Iran from 1941 to 1953 (from the fall of Reza Shah to the 1953 Coup), a period which coincides with the establishment of the Tudeh party, its rise to popularity with intellectuals and, finally, its severe repression.

2. The Socio-political Context of Iran from 1941 to 1953

The Importation of Sartrean Existentialism to Iran goes back to the second half of the 1940s, in the early years of Mohammad Reza Shah’s reign. Mohammad Reza came to power during World War II following his father, Reza Shah, who was dethroned by Anglo-Soviet forces. This period coincides with “the sudden rise to public prominence of French Existentialism as an intellectual movement in the 1940s” (Baert 2011: 619).

During the sixteen years of Reza Shah’s rule, power was exclusively in the hands of the king, but during the following twelve years, from the fall of Reza Shah in 1941 to the 1953 Coup, where Mohammad Reza Shah, in collaboration with the British and American governments, overthrew the democratically-elected Prime-minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, power was held by five pillars of the establishment, each with their own internal conflicts: the court, the parliament, the cabinet, foreign embassies and the public (Abrahamian 1982). During these 12 years, the country experienced many social changes and political crises.

As a result of the relative freedom of the period 1941-53, various parties were established and various periodicals emerged. Among the many parties that had been active in these years, only six continued to operate in the following years as national organizations. These parties included the Tudeh party, which mostly appealed to the intelligentsia and the urban working class; Hezb-e Hamrahan [the Comrades Party]; Hezb-e Iran [the Iran Party]; Hezb-e Adalat [the Justice Party]; Hezb-e Etthad- Melli [the National Union Party]; and Hezb-e Vatan, [the Fatherland Party] (Abrahamian 1982). Among these parties, the pro-Soviet Tudeh party soon became very influential by recruiting members transversally from different social classes and became the main political party in Iranian society challenging Mohammad Reza Shah’s government with its Marxist-Leninist ideology.

At the beginning, the Tudeh party was a democratic and popular front. Until 1946, the Party leadership was a combination of Marxist and Social-Democrat elements, with its Marxist members exerting much more influence. Since the party supported democratic and popular aspirations and since the popularity of the Soviet Union was increasing at that time, the party managed to recruit many young and educated people. But perhaps the most important attraction of the party for the young and educated was its capability for publishing new European ideas. The party was the focal point for those who were interested in these ideas (Katouzian 1992). The party recruited not only a relatively broad spectrum of white collar workers and craftsmen, but also many prominent intellectuals who enjoyed a high status in Iranian society (Abrahamian 2010). Ehsan Tabari (1948a: 3), a founding member and theoretician of the Tudeh party, said at the time:

Our party [...] not only sees itself as an initiator of a social, political, and economic resurrection, but also, and rightly so, as an initiator of a great spiritual resurrection. This spiritual and intellectual resurrection, like the social resurrection, is achieved only as a result of a serious struggle on all ideological fronts including philosophy, art and science. There should be no impartiality in this spiritual and intellectual struggle, as in the social, political, and economic struggle.[1]

Although, from the very beginning, Socialist Realism, the official literary and artistic school of the Soviet Union, attracted the Tudeh party members, it was not until 1947 that it dominated most of its literary productions. In the early years of the Tudeh party’s activity, the advocates of various literary and artistic schools were allowed to freely write about their favorite schools in its periodicals even when they were banned in the Soviet Union (Khosropanah 2010). According to Mir-Abedini (2001: 132), “in the early years of its activity, [the party] offered the pages of its publications to anyone willing to cooperate.” This meant that the publications of the party did not just host Russian socialist realism but other literary currents as well. In fact, it can be claimed that the Tudeh party, while using intellectual writers and translators to promote its ideology, also provided them with an opportunity to publish their own ideas. However, in the later years of its activity, the party’s publications were mainly focused on an ideology that served the interests of the Soviet Union.

The Tudeh party’s unconditional support for the Soviet Union in the later years, especially in the events of Azerbaijan, led to widespread dissatisfaction on the part of many intellectuals and writers. A crisis broke out when the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, Tudeh’s sister party, was suppressed by the central government of Iran following an attempt by the party to form an independent state in the north west of Iran. After the defeat of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party in 1945-46, a split occurred in the Tudeh party and a group of intellectuals led by Khalil Maleki left the party in 1948 and some of the party leaders had to move abroad (Behrooz 2001; Katouzian 1992).

The crisis that followed the suppression of the soviet-supported revolt in Azerbaijan and the reorganization of the party in 1946, which led to its severe ideologization, along with the greater restrictions imposed by the Soviet Communist Party on writers and artists from 1944 to 1948 undermined literary and artistic pluralism in the Tudeh party and strengthened socialist realism. Gradually the principles, criteria and foundations of socialist realism were accepted by a large number of party members, and eventually socialist realism not only became the artistic and literary ideology of the Tudeh party of Iran but, with some adjustments, it became the theoretical basis of literature and revolutionary and popular art in Iran for four decades (Khosropanah 2010). The political and cultural ideology of the Tudeh party and the Soviet literature it advocated, affected the literary production of many Iranian writers and poets such as Abdul-Hossein Noushin, Mahmoud Etemadzadeh (Behazin), and Siavash Kasrai. However, this impact was ambivalent; on the one hand, it supported and promoted a new type of literature, but, on the other, it prevented the development of a free literature due to its ideological nature (Akbariani 2010).

In 1948, the Tudeh party faced another crisis, which led to the dissolution of the party by the government. The Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was the victim of an assassination attempt during a ceremony at the University of Tehran that year. The government blamed the Tudeh party, which was dissolved and forced to go underground. Since many of its leaders were arrested and the party had little experience in underground activities, the crisis posed a serious threat to its survival. However, since the government was not strong enough at the time to impose a brutal repression, the party soon managed to reorganize by creating a number of front organizations and publications in order to compensate for its inability to function openly. After that, the Tudeh party became a full member of the International Communist Front. (Behrooz 2001; Katouzian 1992).

With the start of the Oil Nationalization Movement led by Mosaddegh, a prominent parliamentarian and prime minister from 1951-1953, the Tudeh party became one of the main actors in the political scene in Iran. The party’s opposition to some of Mosaddegh’s views played an important role in the movement. After public protests that led to the re-election of the prime minister Mosaddegh, who had resigned because the Shah had refused to give him the control of the Ministry of Defence, the party changed its course and supported Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh’s government was overthrown in the wake of the 1953 Coup believed to be plotted by Mohammad-Reza Shah in collaboration with the United Kingdom and the United States (Behrooz 2001). The Tudeh party failed to take effective action against the coup. In the aftermath of the coup, the government suppressed the party’s organizations, arresting, torturing and executing some of its members (Behrooz 2001). Consequently, many party leaders were forced to leave Iran. They fled to the Eastern bloc, many of them staying there until the Islamic Revolution in 1979 (Behrooz 2001; Katouzian 2004). According to Abrahamian (2010:224), “Mohammad Reza Shah praised the 1953 coup as a bloodless revolution by the courageous people of Iran in support of their king. The American President, Eisenhower, […] told Americans that the “people” of Iran had “saved their country” as a result of their “intense aversion to communism” and their “lasting and deep love for their king”.

As observed by Baqer Momeni (2012), a historian and former member of the Tudeh party, the impact of the Tudeh party on the political and cultural atmosphere of Iran was so great that even after seventy years, it is acknowledged by writers and scholars from various, even opposing, intellectual and social fronts. Momeni (2012) states:

one of the reformists and journalists of the Islamic Republic who believes that after seventy years the Tudeh party of Iran has turned into a “historic subject” and “is almost dead” writes, “but the Party continues to be the theme of our time because the mind and language of Iranian society are heavily influenced by Tudeh language and literature, and from 1940s to 1990s Tudeh intellectualism has dominated the intellectual discourse in Iran.” While he believes that “Marxism is more than foolish in its essence,” he acknowledges the history of the Tudeh party of Iran not only as “the intellectual history of the leftist discourse, but also the intellectual history of Iran”.

As already mentioned, the period described coincides with the boom of Existentialism in France after World War II. In this period, Sartre and Existentialism were introduced to Iranians both through translations and indigenous writing.

3. Sartre's Reception from 1941 to 1953

During these 12 years, five fictional works by Sartre were translated and published in Iran and a book entitled Makateb-e Falsafi: Existancializm [Philosophical Schools: Existentialism] was written in 1948 by Hossein Kasmaie. The number of articles published on Sartre and Existentialism was small. Table 1 provides a complete list of Sartre’s works translated in this period.



Date of publication
of the translation

Persian title

Date of publication
of the original

Original title

Sokhan Journal

Sadeq Hedayat




“Le Mur” in “Le Mur” collection

Mardom Journal

Abdul-Hossein Noushin


Ruspi-ye Bozorgavar


La putain respectueuse

Farhang-e Iran

Amir-naser Khodayar




“Érostrate” in “Le Mur” collection


Mustafa Farzaneh




Huis clos


Jalal Al-e Ahmad


Dastha-ye Aludeh


Les mains sales

Table 1: list of translations of Sartre’s works 1941-53

During this period, it seems that Sartre’s works were selected and translated in a rather unsystematic way. However, a closer look at the list of translators and publishers suggests that Sartre was imported with specific political and cultural agendas. Unlike later periods, in this period the translators of Sartre’s works were mostly intellectuals or writers with clear socio-political orientations. A study of the professional profile of the translators and other agents will clarify the motivations underlying the importation of Sartre’s ideas, and provide a better understanding of the conflict between Existentialist discourse and the Marxist-Leninist discourse propagated by the Tudeh party, a conflict which becomes clearer with the wider translation of Sartre’s works after the Coup. It also responds to the recent calls in Translation Studies to focus on translators, e.g. Pym 1998. In his book, Method in Translation History, Pym (1988: ix) argues that “the central object of historical knowledge” should be the translators not the texts of the translations or the contextual systems “since only humans have the kind of responsibility appropriate to social causation”.

Sadeq Hedayat (1903-1951) who is regarded by many as the father of modern Persian fiction, was the first to introduce Sartre to Iranian readers by translating one of his short stories called “le Mur”. Amenkhani (2013 ) sees the kinship of Hedayat’s thoughts with the writings of existentialist writers and the popularity of existentialist writers in European intellectual circles during Hedayat’s life as the main reasons underlying Hedayat’s attention to existentialist writers, including Sartre, and says: “So it should not be a surprise that the most modern author of our country isn’t indifferent to the works and writings of the most modern writers and philosopher of his time” (Amenkhani 2013:46).

The socio-political situation in which this translation was carried out as well as the professional profile of Hedayat and his association with the Tudeh party, leads us to attribute some other motives to him. There are various accounts of the relationship between Hedayat and the Tudeh party, but in almost all of these, there is agreement that despite his initial sympathy with the Tudeh party, Hedayat was never a member of the party, regularly criticizing its leaders and policies. In his book called Chehar Chehreh [Four Portraits], Khamei (1989: 167) says:

In those years, from 1941 to 1946, Hedayat was somewhat inclined to the Tudeh party and the Leftist Movement and was at the same time mistrustful of Fascism and Nazism, hence his celebration of the victory of the Allies in the war. In spite of huge pressure from the Tudeh party leaders to join the party, he did not do so. He did not join any party or group in all his life. He hated everything related to political parties and refused to compromise his individual freedom whatever the cost.

At a time when the hegemony of the Tudeh party attracted intellectuals from a variety of spheres, Hedayat was often considered to belong to an intellectual current that, although very small at that time, had a more philosophical and profound approach to social affairs, a current which was perhaps initiated by Hedayat himself through his translations of works by Kafka and Sartre. So, it is not unlikely that one of his intentions in introducing Sartre was to introduce ideas which could challenge the ruling ideology of the Tudeh party. As Ehsan Tabari[2] (n.d.) argues:

Hedayat was never a member of the Tudeh party of Iran. His philosophical vision was close to those of Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre. He was fond of Franz Kafka, the German speaking Czech writer. He was inherently pessimistic, calling life a kind of biological imposition of nature […] However, due to his hatred of the Pahlavi family, he was interested in our party as a party which was against the monarchy [...] after the failure of the democratic movement in Azerbaijan, some people provoked him strongly against the party, and succeeded in making him write an introduction to a translation of Kafka’s book by Hassan Qa’imian, explicitly reproaching socialism.

The story of Le Mur is full of existential themes such as despair, death and emptiness. Existentialist ideas such as the random nature of life and the absence of causal relationships in the world, as are evident in this story, are strongly opposed to the Marxist- Leninist ideas prevalent at that time.  Even if we doubt that Hedayat’s intention in introducing Sartre was to challenge the communist ideas of the party, his work ultimately came to perform this function. In an article written in the form of a dialogue between a disillusioned intellectual (intended to represent Hedayat) and a party member, entitled Guft-o- gu ba yek Roshanfekr-e Ma’ious [A Talk to a Disillusioned Intellectual], Ehsan Tabari attributes the melancholic thoughts of the disillusioned intellectual who has given up fighting to the pessimistic philosophy of Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre and says:

Your thoughts are a collection of those decadent thoughts which have flourished in the old world, the recent deteriorating world. The philosophy of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre […] and so on, all stem from one thing, and that is the belief that the current system of society has fallen into disrepair. Only those who have found the way to a better and superior system, to a better future are optimistic. All those who do not believe in another way and who remain in the prison of today, since they do not see anything except chaos and futility around them, believe in futility and chaos. These thoughts are not the truth, but a reflection of the state of the present time (Tabari 1978: 266-7).

In the article, the author refers to the classifications and changes of the human society based on definitive party formulas; a future which, according to Tabari (1357/1978), is not contemplated in the absurdist philosophies such as Existentialism, due to their excessive attention to the current disrupted state of society. In Tabari’s view, only a better and superior system, such as the Marxist-Leninist intellectual system, can help people out of the current situation. The party member speaking in the article then invites the disillusioned intellectual to abandon Existentialism and convert to Marxist-Leninist philosophy, and says:

Do not adhere to a philosophy which is the child of the same sentimental feelings that have nurtured the parasites of the society and has given birth to many betrayals and much mischief. Follow a philosophy that brings down the wall of despair and ignorance which has obstructed our path towards the future and which creates a truly lovely thing called justice. Let’s walk in this great temple of justice with faith and without any devilish doubt (Tabari 1978: 272).

Tabari was well aware of the challenge that the “pessimistic” philosophy of Existentialism, which he as an ideologue of the Tudeh party attributed to Hedayat, posed against partisan thinking. In fact, Tabari’s stance against Existentialism was the crystallization of a deep-rooted conflict between Marxism and Existentialism in general, the former enjoying a hegemonic status in Iran during that time and defining the latter in terms of its own formulas.

The publication of the translation of Le Mur in the journal Sokhan confirms the hypothesis that Existentialism was introduced as part of an effort to challenge the ideology propagated by the Tudeh party. The aim of the journal was to help promote the development of Persian literature, literary criticism, literary research, and to introduce foreign writers and poets through translation (Sadeqzadeh-Ardobadi 2013). Specifically, the journal Sokhan, which was published for 27 years, showed an increasing interest in Existentialist philosophers and thinkers as the modern writers of the era. Khanlari, a professor of Persian literature at the University of Tehran, established the journal in 1943. In contrast to the Tudeh party’s periodicals, which mostly promoted Russian socialist realist literature, Sokhan mainly promoted French literature. Khanlari seems to have been attracted to the Tudeh party until the events of Azerbaijan in 1946, but he was never a member of the party.

An examination of the content of this journal with its emphasis on French literature in a period in which Russian literature and the Soviet communist system were praised and promoted by many Iranian intellectuals reinforces the previously mentioned hypothesis that the introduction of existentialist writers in this period was also initiated in order to pose a challenge against the dominant ideology of the Tudeh party. In 1946, the journal published an article entitled “Sartre va Falsafe-ye Jadid” [Sartre and a New Philosophy]. Written by Fereydoun Hoveyda, the article was probably the first article on Sartre and Existentialism in Iran. The title of the article reflects the author’s attempt to introduce Sartre as the initiator of a new philosophy. Although the article is apparently not written to contest leftist discourse, it does challenge it. The article begins as follows:

In France, more than any other country, new literary and philosophical trends have always followed the great revolutions and social transformations. After the extinction of feudalism in the late 16th century, the classical style was popularized. After the 1789 revolution, romanticism flourished; realism arose in the aftermath of the war of 1870 and the Commune revolution, and after the 1918-1914 war, surrealism appeared. Now, in a period of peace, a new philosophical and literary style has appeared which the French call the philosophy of existence or Existentialism (Hoveyda 1946 :58).

From the very beginning, the author suggests that France has a great potential for the development of great intellectual schools when compared to other countries, and perhaps creates an opposition in the mind of the reader between France as a Western European country and the Soviet Union, which was a promised land to many intellectuals of that time. The emphasis on the emergence of these great schools after the great revolutions and transformations is also a reminder of the socio-political conditions in Iran at that time. Hoveyda (1946) speaks of the passion and emotion that Sartre had created in France and other countries, including the United States, Western and Asian countries, and adds “there has not been such a significant literary movement since the rise of Surrealism in the 1920s and philosophical discussions have not been so intense since Bergson’s ideas were first published” (Hoveyda 1946: 58). It can be argued that this article tends to promote rather than just introduce Sartre and his philosophy at a time when the Marxist-Leninist discourse was the dominant intellectual discourse in Iran.

La putain respectueuse was the second work by Sartre which was translated into Persian in 1946. The play was translated by Abdul-Hossein Noushin, a playwright, theater director and a leading member of the Tudeh party. He was one of the first to import Western theatrical works into Iran, and his translation of Sartre was part of this initiative.

However, considering the association of Noushin with the Tudeh party and the attitude of Party officials towards Existentialism and Sartre, the publication of this play in the official journal of the party may seem strange at first. An examination of the Party’s activities in the early years sheds some light on this issue. It seems that, in the early years of its activity, the party would resort to any conceivable means to promote its cause. Mirabedini (2001:132) speaks of the collaboration of certain people with the Party who previously were “proponents of Reza Shah’s Ideas”:

Of course, intellectuals are not alone in violating the principles, the party also, in the first years of its activity, offers the pages of its periodicals to anyone willing to cooperate.

Although the Tudeh party advocated socialist realism in literature and art from the outset, it did not boycott the poets and writers who followed other artistic currents, even writers such as Sartre and Kafka, who, at that time, were banned and considered decadent in the Soviet Union (Khosropanah 2010).

After the split in the Tudeh party in 1948, this literary pluralism was gradually abandoned, so much so that in 1948 Ehsan Tabari and his followers denounced the artistic and philosophical schools which they saw as capitalist and decadent. They did this through a series of aggressive essays published in Mahname-ye Mardom [People’s Monthly], the Tudeh party’s main literary and political journal. The titles of some of these essays are revealing enough: for example, Inqilab va Enhetat-e Honary (1948) [Revolution and Artistic Decline], Tozihati Chand Darbare-ye Maghale-ye Engheleb va Enhetat-e Honari (1948) [Some explanation on the essay “Revolution and Artistic Decline”], Jebhe-haye Inqilabi va Enhetati Honar (1948) [The Revolutionary and Decadent Fronts of Art]. In these essays, Sartre and his philosophy of Existentialism, which were previously introduced and advocated in the Tudeh party periodicals, were harshly criticized.

As was mentioned, in the early years of the party’s activities, the Tudeh publications, while placing emphasis on Russian literature and the Marxist-Leninist discourse, also embraced other discourses, though on a smaller scale. By doing this, the Party pursued two goals: to attract a variety of intellectuals from different fronts, and to co-opt other influential discourses to advance its goals. The latter seems to have been one of the reasons underlying the translation of La putain respectueuse by Noushin and its publication in the party’s periodical. The selection of this particular book for translation, and the translator’s preface suggest that the translator’s goal was not to promote Existentialism but to promote the political ideas of the Tudeh party. Unlike many of Sartre’s works which have a clearly philosophical theme, showing the general condition of mankind in the world, a theme which did not appeal to the Tudeh party, La putain respectueuse, has a very clear political theme: American racism. So, not only did the content of the play not challenge the anti-imperialist ideology of the Tudeh party, but it also helped to promote its cause. Nevertheless, Noushin (2537/ 1978) does not mention this in the preface of the translation; rather, by exploiting Marxist discourse, he claims that Sartre’s aim is to scorn bourgeois ethics, an ethics that is also heavily criticized by Marxism.

The third work by Sartre to be translated was a short story in the Le Mur collection entitled “Érostrate”. Amir-Nasser Khodayar (1923-2005), a translator, writer and journalist, translated it into Persian in 1948. Like many intellectuals of the time, Khodayar was initially interested in the Tudeh party, and worked closely with people like Abdul Hossein Noushin and Khalil Maleki. Later, due to further contact with Khalil Maleki, he joined Niro-ye Sevvom [Third Force], a group led by Maleki that broke away from the Tudeh party, and became a critic of the Tudeh party’s policies (Rasoulipour 1384/ 2005). The selection of a short story from the Le Mur collection previously introduced by Hedayat signals the significance of Hedayat as an initiator of a discourse on Sartre and Existentialism, a discourse which was gradually developed by other intellectuals of the time to both challenge and help define the dominant discourse of the Tudeh party.

The fourth work by Sartre to be translated into Persian was Huis clos in 1948, the same year as “Érostrate”. Unlike the other translators of Sartre, the translator of this work, Mustafa Farzaneh, was a young and novice translator who had the opportunity to meet and co-operate with Sadeq Hedayat. He later wrote a memoire of his friendship with Hedayat entitled Ashenaie ba Sadeq Hedayat (1988) [My Acquaintance with Sadeq Hedayat]. Being a disciple of someone who introduced Sartre into Iran encouraged Farzaneh, who translated short texts for different periodicals at the time, to translate a play by Sartre. According to Farzaneh (1988), Hedayat reviewed the translation and the translator’s preface. Although Hedayat only managed to translate one of Sartre’s works, by introducing Sartre to Iranians for the first time, he created a path for other translators to follow. The name of Hedayat and Sartre were linked so closely at the time that following Hedayat’s disputes with the Tudeh party, Ehsan Tabari attacked The Blind Owl - Hedayat’s most famous novel - and the French Existentialists. This attack clearly shows that at that time the Tudeh party identified Hedayat with the Existentialist movement, a movement which his student and close friend, Mustafa Farzaneh, also aligned himself with by translating Huis clos.

Farzane’s introduction to the translation can help us clarify the conflict between these two discourses. Like Hoveyda, Farzaneh (1948) identifies Existentialist philosophy with Sartre in his introduction, and from the very beginning tries to emphasize its novelty, which he sees as a privilege. By emphasizing the “newness”, “uniqueness” and “popularity” of Sartre’s philosophy he was challenging the dominant Marxist-Leninist intellectual discourse. Farzaneh goes on to say that Sartre does not believe in “Art for Art’s sake”, a remark which was intended both to guard against possible attack from the ruling discourse, which saw literature and art in the service of ideology, and to introduce another discourse favoring a committed from of literature. Farzaneh then introduces and interprets the play, raising a series of points that are clearly in opposition to the dominant Marxist-Leninist discourse.

The translator’s emphasis on the experiences of the individual, portraying him in a hostile society surrounded by other people who not only limit his freedom but also see each other as objects creating a hell-like situation from which there is no escape, was in sharp contrast to the historical materialism supported by the Tudeh party. Historical materialism has a different approach to the relationship between individual and society and sees mankind as an inherently social being. For Marxists, the individual is a kind of abstraction, and all human achievements are the result of collective action, and as a result of this collective effort society can reach its final stage after going through different temporary phases (Novack 1966). In his book entitled Darbare-ye Seresht va Sarnevesht-e Ensan [On the Nature and Fate of Man], Ehsan Tabari (n.d.)  refers to Existentialism as a pessimistic philosophy which depicts a tragic destiny for man and argues that, “Marxism dismisses these pessimistic views and believes that man is not an absurd, despicable, inferior creature with a tragic destiny, but […] the peak of the evolution of the organic world, possessing a huge capacity for growing and evolving to overcome difficulties, to pave the way for victory” Tabari (n.d.:18-19).

The fifth and the last work by Sartre to be translated into Persian before the 1953 coup was Les mains sales. This play was translated by Jalal Al-e-Ahmad, a writer, intellectual and a former member of the Tudeh party. Following the events of Azerbaijan and the split in the Tudeh party, Al-e-Ahmad also separated from the party in 1948 along with Maleki and became one of its severest critics. One of the reasons he left the Party was its support for the Soviet Union (Al-e-Ahmad 1978). According to Amenkhani (2013: 48) the reason for Al-e-Ahmad’s interest in Existentialist ideas was his frustration with the Tudeh party and – any kind of collective activity:  

One of the main characteristics of Existentialism is its emphasis on individualism. Though, the “other” is also considered, [...], it must be admitted that Existentialism, especially its French branch, begins with individualism, and if it pays attention to the other, it is for the sake of studying the individual. Al-e-Ahmad also turned to individualism after his frustration with the Tudeh party and collective activities. For this reason, after he left the party in 1947, he translated many works by Existentialist philosophers such as Camus and Sartre, and writers who deal with Existentialist ideas, such as Dostoevsky and Gide, because their individualism appealed to him. 

Despite what Amenkhani claims, after leaving the Tudeh party Al-e-Ahmad did not completely dismiss politics and collective activities, but he first joined Hezb-e Zahmatkeshan (the Party of the Hardworking) and then Hezb-e Zahmatkeshan-e Melat-e Iran (the Party of the Hardworking People of Iran).  It was after leaving this last party in 1953 that he withdrew from all political activity. So, in 1952, when he translated Les mains sales, he had not yet abandoned political activities and was active in a party opposed to the Tudeh party.

Les mains sales is one of Sartre’s political plays which explicitly criticizes and attacks left-wing parties, especially the pro-soviet Communist parties. Considering the political orientations of Al-Ahamad at the time it is reasonable to suppose that his decision to translate an anti-communist work by Sartre was at least in part motivated by a desire to challenge the dominant ideology of the Tudeh party.

As we have seen, the importation of Sartrean Existentialism into Iran can be interpreted in three ways: First, it can be considered part of the uninterrupted effort by Iranian intellectuals since the Constitutional Revolution to import the knowledge, philosophy and literature of the West into Iran (as it is true of almost all other Western writers). Second, it can be regarded as an attempt by non-leftist intellectuals to confront the dominant Tudeh discourse by introducing an assumed non-left-wing Western discourse (as in the case of Hedayat, Farzaneh, Khanlari and Al-e-Ahmad). Third, it can also be seen as an attempt by intellectuals and advocates of leftist discourse to advance their goals by appropriating another emerging discourse (as in the case of Noushin, and other Tudeh intellectuals).

4. The Role of Translations and Translators in Creating a Pessimistic Image of Existentialism in the 1940s in Iran

Susam-Sarajeva (2006) argues (and rightly so) that the selection of texts (not) to be translated, the timing of the translations, and the professional profiles of the translators are among the factors influencing the reception of foreign discourses and writers.

 The translations of Sartre published in this period, the professional profile of the translators and the indigenous material written on Sartre and his philosophy in Iran show that his reception was more focused on the social and political application of his thinking than on its philosophical implications. The arrival of Sartre’s works in Iran in the 1940s coincided with a phase in his development in which he was re-elaborating his original Existentialist ideas, under the influence of such nonmaterialist thinkers as Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, as a challenge to Marxism. It was in the late 1950s that Sartre changed his mind and embraced Marxism, declaring that Existentialism had become a subordinate branch of Marxism with the aspiration of enriching and renewing it (Novack 1966). From his early reception in Iran in the 1940s to his later popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, this paradoxical development of Sartrean Existentialism allowed intellectuals from different political currents to focus on those aspects of his philosophy which best suited their purpose. It could be argued that Sartre was a thinker who consistently provided Iranian intellectuals and literati with that which they had been seeking over the course of decades and in various social and political conditions: first, a philosopher who wrote stories; second, a novelist who was also a philosopher; third, a famous philosopher who was a critic of Marxism; fourth, a non-Marxist intellectual who had Marxist tendencies; fifth, a Marxist-affiliated  intellectual who had turned away from Marxism; sixth, a philosopher who supported revolutionaries. Each intellectual group illuminated and appropriated one aspect of Stare’s thinking, in line with their literary or socio-political agendas.

In the period under study, Existentialism was mainly understood as an individualistic, nihilistic and pessimistic philosophy. This image was created by the working together of different factors, the most important among which were the efforts of the Tudeh party. By reducing Existentialism to a pessimistic and disillusioning philosophy which merely sought to maintain the status quo and serve capitalism by addressing “subjective and unrealistic issues” and strengthening “anxiety, despair and defeat” in man (Tabari 1948b: 5), the Tudeh party tried to define its own identity in opposition to it. In rejecting Existentialism, the Tudeh party was merely echoing soviet and Western criticisms of Existentialism. This was mainly done by translating anti-Existentialist articles in Mahname-ye Mardom [people’s monthly], the main literary journal of the Tudeh party.  The anti-Existentialist ideas translated in this journal soon found their way into the indigenous material. One of the main translated articles published in the Mahname-ye Mardom in 1948 was entitled “Existancializm yek Falsafeh-e Zed-e Democracy” [Existentialism: An Anti-democratic Philosophy] which introduced Existentialism as merely a vogue which was nurtured by Imperialism and supported by the bourgeoisie, an idealist philosophy which led to ignorance, immorality, decadence and suicide, an anti-Marxist philosophy which deceitfully sought to replace Marxism and finally a populist philosophy which tried to align Marxism with Fascism (Angran, 1948). The ideas propagated in the article were immediately picked up by Iranian intellectuals and writers leading to the publication of a series of indigenous articles in the subsequent issues of the journal. The selection of anti-Existentialist articles for translation played both an indicative role, showing the local concerns and the prevailing attitudes towards Existentialism, and a formative role, shaping and transforming the images of Sartre and Existentialism. Translations of anti-Existentialist writings mainly by the Tudeh party created a strong narrative which was both adopted and criticized, in the following years, by variously affiliated intellectuals and writers, ranging from Marxists to Islamists. As was discussed earlier, during this period some largely unsuccessful efforts were made to change the reductionist narrative of the Tudeh party, efforts which were resumed in the later phases of Sartre’s reception in the post-coup period.

The image of Hedayat, the first translator of Sartre in Iran, as a “disappointed intellectual”, created mainly by the Tudeh party, and finally his much-discussed suicide had an undeniable effect on the reception of Existentialism as a nihilistic philosophy. As Susam-Sarajeva (2006) contends, “Translator’s identity and agenda can easily put a mark on the reception of the work(s) they translate – especially, in cases where they have a certain acclaim as writers, scholars, and critics other than being ‘just translators’.” This is exactly the case for most of Sartre’s translators in Iran, especially Hedayat, in the period under study. Hedayat’s translation of Sartre, though merely a short story from a collection of stories, linked his name to Sartre in the intellectual circles of the 1940s in Iran, when there was little information on Sartre and Existentialism.   For more than three decades “in Iran, both lay people and the specialists, have repeatedly considered Hedayat’s suicide to be the outcome of his Existentialist beliefs” (Katouzian 1993:176). Ehsan Tabari and many of the writers affiliated with the Tudeh party divided Hedayat’s life into three periods: hopelessness, hope and disappointment, and attributed his disappointment to his growing interest in “desperate” and “devious” writers such as Sartre. Undoubtedly, Hedayat was influenced by many writers whom he had studied or translated and Sartre is no exception, but a bio-bibliographical survey of Hedayat prevents us from adopting a narrative that attributes Hedayat’s despair, pessimism and suicide to his acquaintance with Existentialist philosophy. Nevertheless, the Tudeh party’s narrative of the influence of Existentialism on Hedayat, due to its undisputed domination in the intellectual arena of Iran in the 1940s, and relatively less in the following decades, became a repetitious narrative in the works of Iranian critics. Hedayat’s suicide after a period of severe depression helped strengthen the narrative. The Tudeh Party, which, following the Soviet Communist Party, described Sartre’s works as degenerate, absurd, and hopeless, found the best example of this degeneration and despair in Hedayat who, by translating Sartre for the first time, had opened the gates of the country wide to this “decadent” philosophy. This was how the Tudeh Party was able to first introduce and then condemn Hedayat as the ultimate product of the “pessimistic “ philosophy of Existentialism, a product that represented its alleged producer for more than a decade. It could be argued that it was Sartre’s image in Iran who, haunted by his first translator’s image, appeared more pessimistic to the Iranian intellectuals of the time (see Katouzian 1993; Tabari 1948b).

The pattern of books (not) translated in this period was another factor influencing the reception of Existentialism as a nihilistic and pessimistic philosophy. By 1953, Sartre had published almost 20 books (15 fictional, 4 philosophical and 1 critical book), 5 of which (all fictions) had been translated in Iran. Sartre’s reputation as a nihilist writer was, to a great extent, the result of his fictional works which mostly depicted melancholic characters. To defend himself against the charge of pessimism in his fictional works, Sartre wrote:

If people condemn our works of fiction, in which we describe characters […]as weak, cowardly and sometimes even […] evil, it is not […] because those characters are base, weak, cowardly or evil. […] the existentialist, when he portrays a coward shows him as responsible for his cowardice. (Sartre, 1960: 42-44)

The fact that the only works by Sartre translated in this period were his works of fiction can, to some extent, account for his reception as a pessimistic writer. This translation pattern, which created a pessimistic image of Existentialism strengthened the defensive attitude of its opponents, mostly Marxists, in Iran by supplying them with material which was clearly opposed to the socialist-realist ideas propagated by them.

Among the works not translated in this period, L’Existentialisme est un humanisme (1946), a book originally delivered as a lecture, could have contributed to defy the image of Existentialism as a pessimistic philosophy. In this book, Sartre (1960: 23) “offers a defense of Existentialism against different reproaches that have been laid against it”, one of them being that Existentialism invites people “to dwell in quietism of despair” and states:

[…] You have seen that it cannot be regarded as a philosophy of quietism, since it defines man by his action; nor as a pessimistic description of man, for no doctrine is more optimistic, the destiny of man is placed within himself. (Sartre, 1960: 42-44)

The non-selection of this book for translation in this period, a book which was later translated, retranslated and reprinted more than any other Sartre’s books in the 1960s and 1970s, had implications far beyond the translations. This book was first translated into Persian in 1344 (1965) with a time-lag of almost 19 years. It could be argued that this book was left untranslated in this period because its translation would defy the dominant image created partly by the achronological and highly selective translations of Sartre’s works.

5. Conclusion

It would seem, then, that discourses are not transferred and received as simply and as innocently as might appear. Discourses are not transferred to merely fill a gap in knowledge or produce something that the target language and culture lacks, but are often transferred to serve given purposes. By breaking off the prior intertextual relations and forming a network of new relations, discourses often find new meanings and intentions in their new destinations, which may contradict their original meanings and purposes. Translation, together with other forms of rewriting, plays a very important role in the transfer of discourses. As Susam-Sarajeva (2006: 1) points out, translation plays both an indicative and a formative role, that is, it both allows insights into the workings of a given system and influences the receiving system. The early reception of Sartrean Existentialism clearly shows this dual role of translation. Translator and translation patterns of Sartre’s works both revealed the forces at work in the receiving system and at the same time shaped and transformed the receiving system’s image of Sartre and Existentialism to serve political agendas.  

With the fall of Reza Shah’s dictatorship in 1941, a new chapter in the political and cultural life of Iran began which promised a better and freer future. During this period, many newspapers and periodicals were established and many parties and organizations were formed. The Marxist-Leninist discourse of the Tudeh party became the dominant intellectual discourse. However, the Party’s support for the Soviet Union soon led many intellectuals to leave it. It was during this period that Sartre and Existentialism were introduced for the first time.

The confrontation between Russian Marxism and Sartrean Existentialism, which was evident in the position of the Soviet Communist Party towards Existentialism and in the early works of Sartre, was used both by the Tudeh Party members (such as Noushin and Tabari) to promote Marxism and by anti-Marxist intellectuals and translators (such as Hedayat and Al-e-Ahmad) to challenge it. The symbiotic working together of the different factors (including the pattern of translations and the profile of the translators of Sartre and the attempts of the Tudeh Party to establish itself as an unrivaled discourse) constructed an image of Sartre and Existentialism which continued into the following Decades. In this Period, Sartrean Existentialism was mainly received as a nihilistic and imperialistic philosophy which posed a threat to the then dominant Marxist Ideology and its revolutionary ends. The images of Sartre and Existentilism constructed in this period served as a foundation for later receptions of Sartre.  Although Sartre had successfully defended his philosophy against the accusation of being nihilistic and had revealed his Marxist tendencies by the late 1940s, in the 1950s Iran, a nihilistic image of Existentialism and a narrative of the contrast between Marxism and Existentialism constructed in the 1940s were still holding sway. It was only in the 1960s that some efforts were made by the translators of Sartre’s works to both acquit Existentialism of the charge of being nihilistic and pessimistic and establish a more peaceful, yet complex relationship between Marxism and Existentialism to use Existentialism as a leftist political ideology to challenge the Shah’s regime.

The professional profile of the translators of Sartre and other agents in this period and the political ends they pursued prevents us from assigning the fragmented picture of Existentialism in 1940s and the contradictory purposes it served to its poor application in Iran. The translators of Sartre’s works in this period were mostly intellectuals or professional writers who actively engaged in the translation of Sartre’s works or works on Existentialism as a sort of political activism to challenge or endorse the dominant political ideology of the time, Marxism. In fact, Sartrean Existentialism was mainly discussed and translated for purposes other than its mere understanding and introduction.


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Mir-Abedini, Hasan (2001) Sad Sal Dastan-Nevisi dar Iran [ Hundred Years of Fiction Writing in Iran], Tehran, Nashre-e Cheshme.

Momeni, Baqer (2012) “Naqsh-e Hezb-e Tudeh dar Gostareshe-e Farhang va Honar [ The Role of Tudeh Party in the Development of Art and Culture]”, URL: http://www.bbc.com/persian/iran/2012/02/120131_l44_tudeh_party_culture_art (Accessed 12 May 2017)

Novack, George E. (1966) “Existentialism versus Marxism”, URL: https://www.marxists.org/archive/novack/works/history/ch12.htm (Accessed 18 March  2017).

Noushin, Abdul-Hossein (1978) “Translator’s preface”, in Jean-Paul Sartre, Ruspi-e Bozorgavar [La putain respectueuse], Tehran, Sahori.

Pym, Antony (1998) Method in Translation History, Manchester, St. Jerome.

Rasoulipour, Morteza (2005) “Yadboud-e Amir-Nasser Khodayar [Amir-Nasser Khodayar Memorial]”, Tarikh-e Moaser-e Iran, no.33: 337-338.

Robyns, Clem (1994) “Translation and Discursive Identity”. Poetics Today 15, no.3: 405-428.

Rundle, Christopher (2012) “Translation as an approach to history” Translation Studies 5, no.2: 232-240.

Sadeqzadeh-Ardobadi, Roxana (2013) “Naqsh-e Majaleh-e Sokhan dar Adabyat Moaser-e Farsi va Paziresh-e Adabyat-e Faranse dar Sal-haie 1322 ta 1357 [ The Role of Sokhan Journal in Modern Persian literature and the Reception of French Literature from 1943 to 1978]”, Bokhara, no. 94: 259-271.

Said, Edward. W. (1983) The world, the text, and the critic, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1960), Existentialism and Humanism, trans. P. Mariet, London, Metheun.

Susam-Sarajeva, Sebnem (2006), Theories on the move: Translation’s role in the travels of literary theories. Amsterdam, Rodopi.

Tabari, Ehsan (n.d.) Didar-ha va Guft-o-gu-haie Man ba Sadeq Hedayat [My Visits and Talks to Sadeq Hedayat], URL: https://www.rahetudeh.com/rahetude/Tabari/Maghaleh/html/hedayat.html (Accessed 5 March 2017).

Tabari, Ehsan (n.d.) Darbare-ye Seresht va Sarnevesht-e Ensan [On the Nature and Fate of Man], Tehran, Ketab-khane-ye be Su-ye Ayandeh (Hezb-e Tudeh), Bita.

Tabari, Ehsan (1327a/1948) “Tozihati Chand Darbare-ye Maghale-ye Engheleb va Enhetat-e Honari [Some explanation on the ‘Essay Revolution and Artistic Decline’]”, Name-ye Mardom 5, no. 11: 1-12.

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Tabari, Ehsan (1357/1978) “Guft-o-gu ba yek Roshanfekr-e Ma’ious [A Talk to a Disillusioned Intellectual]” in Jalal AL-e-Ahmad, Dar Khedmat va Khianat-e Roshanfekran [On the Service and Betrayal of Intellectuals], Tehran, Kharazmi: 262-273.

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[1] All translations from Persian are by the author unless otherwise stated.

[2] In Didar-ha va Guft-o-gu-haie Man ba Sadeq Hedayat [My Visits and Talks to Sadeq Hedayat]

About the author(s)

Marzieh Malekshahi received her BA in English Language Translation from Shahid Chamran University of Ahwaz in 2007 and her master’s degree in Translation Studies from Shahid Beheshti University of Tehran in 2009. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad. Her academic interests include literary Translation, Translation History, and the modern history of Iran.

Ali Khazaee Farid is associate professor of translation studies at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran. Dr. Khazaee Farid has been the founder and editor of the quarterly Motarjem (The Translator) published since 1993. His major interests are the practice and theory of literary translation.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Marzieh Malekshahi and Ali Khazaee Farid (2019).
"Discourse against Discourse: The Early Reception of Sartrean Existentialism in Iran", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2409

Humour et jeux de mots dans l’œuvre d’ Eugène Ionesco et ses traductions en grec

By Maria Constantinou (University of Cyprus, Cyprus)

Abstract & Keywords


This article aims to investigate how humour is translated in two theatrical plays by Eugene Ionesco (La Cantatrice chauve and Les Chaises) into Greek. The study explores three different Greek versions of the two theatrical plays. On the one hand, it seeks to consider humorous effects within the original plays, and on the other hand, it investigates the challenges involved in transposing verbal humour and the strategies used to translate or even reinforce humour in the translated texts.

If incongruity is an indispensable humour - provoking parameter, translators should also seek to mobilize the same cognitive mechanism in the translated texts. It is argued that even if a more literal translation is not always privileged or even possible, what is of importance is the humorous effect, otherwise the perlocutionary force of the translated humour on the target audience. However, the humorous effect in the translated text should be assessed through the lens of the author’s ethos and ideological positioning. In this context, an integrated approach to translation of humour is proposed, able to consider the linguistic realization of humour, the author’s ethos, the text genre, along with the cultural elements and shared knowledge within the target culture.


Cet article a pour objectif d’étudier la façon dont l’humour, dans deux pièces de théâtre d’Eugene Ionesco (La Cantatrice chauve et Les Chaises), se déploie en grec. En  prenant pour objet d’analyse trois versions de ces pièces de théâtre, notre contribution vise, d’une part, à étudier les effets humoristiques tels qu’ils se manifestent discursivement dans l’œuvre originale, et d’autre part, elle examine les défis et pièges inhérents à la transposition de l'humour verbal ainsi que les stratégies adoptées par les traducteurs pour rendre et parfois renforcer l'humour dans le texte cible.

L’incongruité étant un paramètre indispensable pour provoquer l'humour, les traducteurs sont censés mobiliser le même mécanisme cognitif lors de la traduction. En ce sens, nous avançons l’idée que même si la traduction sémantique n’est pas toujours possible ou privilégiée par les traducteurs, le plus important est la restitution de l’effet humoristique dans le texte traduit. En d’autres termes, le texte traduit doit avoir plus ou moins le même effet perlocutoire que le texte original sur le public cible. Cependant, la force perlocutoire de l’humour dans le texte traduit est à évaluer à la lumière de l’éthos de l’écrivain, et de sa position idéologique. Dans ce contexte, cette étude propose une approche intégrative de la traduction de l’humour prenant en compte, outre l’éthos de l’écrivain, le genre textuel, la réalisation linguistique de l’humour, ainsi que les éléments culturels et les savoirs partagés au sein de la culture cible.

Keywords: humour, wordplay, pragmatic equivalence, Ionesco, Greek, French, jeux de mots, équivalence pragmatique, français, grec

©inTRAlinea & Maria Constantinou (2019).
"Humour et jeux de mots dans l’œuvre d’ Eugène Ionesco et ses traductions en grec", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2406

L’humour, phénomène universel et inné à l’homme (Raskin 1985), s’avère néanmoins une pratique conditionnée par les langues voire plus largement par les cultures. En effet, comme les différents systèmes linguistiques ne présentent ni symétrie ni isomorphisme entre eux, l’humour paraît rétif à la traduction et demeure l’un des plus grands défis et pièges des traducteurs. Ainsi la complexité de l’humour a attiré l’attention de plusieurs chercheurs en traduction (Tymoczko 1987 ; Laurien 1989 ; Vandaele 1999, 2002, 2011 ; Zabalbeascoa 1994, 2001 ; Asimakoulas 2004 ; Kourdis 2009 ; Chiaro 2010 ; Zanettin 2010 ; Zeynaligargari et Alavi 2011 ; Tsai 2015 ; Constantinou 2018). La problématique de la traduction de l’humour, souvent liée à celle de la culture, s’explique par le fait que l’humoriste puise ses sujets dans des situations et des contextes qui présupposent la mise en œuvre des savoirs partagés, tels que l’histoire, la religion, l’actualité, les hommes politiques, les comportements d’un groupe ou bien la littérature. L’inscription de l’humour dans un contexte spatio-temporel implique donc une connaissance approfondie de la société et de la langue et plus largement de la culture, en vue d’appréhender la manière dont celles-ci interagissent pour créer de l’humour. En effet, l'humour verbal, et notamment celui qui repose sur des jeux de mots, résiste à la traduction, touchant ainsi les limites de l’intraduisible (Vandaele 2001) comme dans le cas de la poésie (Diot 1989 : 84). En dépit du pessimisme affiché par bien de traductologues, l’humour continue à être traduit ou du moins à être transposé d’une langue-culture à une autre pour faire rire, divertir ou même faire réfléchir. C’est par exemple le cas de la traduction de la caricature politique (Kourdis 2009 ; Constantinou 2018), de la bande dessinée (Zanettin 2010) des films (Mogorron Huerta 2010 ; Zabalbeascoa 2010 ) ou de la publicité (Quillard 2001).

Cette contribution qui s’inscrit dans le sillage de nos travaux sur la traduction de l’ironie du même auteur (Constantinou 2010) se propose d’élargir le corpus d’analyse, en focalisant l’attention sur l’humour verbal et notamment sur les jeux de mots et la répétition des éléments linguistiques ayant un effet humoristique. En effet, le corpus d’exploration est constitué de deux pièces de théâtre d’Eugène Ionesco : La Cantatrice chauve et Les Chaises. La première a été traduite par Errikos Belies (2007) et Giorgos Protopapas (1987) et la deuxième par Errikos Belies (2007) et Yiannis Thivaios  (2011). A ce corpus nous avons ajouté les adaptations radiophoniques réalisées par Kostas Stamatiou pour le compte de ERT   accessible sur YouTube . Ces versions proposent des techniques et stratégies différentes pour rendre l’humour ionescien. Compte tenu de la difficulté de transposer l’humour dans une autre langue, ce travail soulève une série de questions dont, entre autres:

  • Comment traduire l’humour et faire rire un public qui ne partage pas les mêmes savoirs, le même contexte socioculturel dont l’auteur et son public source sont imprégnés ?
  • Quelles stratégies et quels procédés les différents traducteurs mettent-ils en place lors de leur travail traductif  ?
  • Quels cadres théorique et méthodologique conviennent-ils pour aborder le problème épineux de la traduction de l’humour ? 

Dans le but de comprendre et d’expliquer l’humour ionescien et les différents procédés mis en place par les traducteurs, nous proposons une réflexion préalable sur l’humour et son inscription dans l’œuvre ionescien. Ceci nous permettra de cerner les enjeux de la traduction tels qu’ils se posent.

Humour ionescien : quelle approche théorique ?

L’humour ionescien, à la fois absurde et engagé, occupe une place importante dans la vie et l’œuvre du dramaturge. La formule « Où il n’y a pas d’humour, il n’y a pas d’humanité, où il n’y a pas d’humour, il y a le camp de concentration », témoigne que Ionesco accorde une attention particulière à l’humour qui occupe tous les compartiments de son œuvre comme une arme de résistance à l’injustice sociale, à l’absurdité politique et au fascisme. L’humour ionescien exprime l’absurde, l’anormal, l’illogique et l’inattendu ; il s’appuie sur la déformation, le renversement des rapports sémantiques des mots pour se moquer des valeurs socialement acceptables, dans le but d’ébranler le pouvoir. Son humour orienté idéologiquement vise un certain groupe de personnes, un ensemble d’idées et de situations qui sont considérées comme inférieures. Sous cet angle, la condition préalable à l’humour c’est l’existence d’une cible : le conformisme, toute forme de pouvoir, la petite bourgeoisie, les conventions sociales, le cliché. En effet, Ionesco, dans ses Notes et contre-notes souligne les effets abrutissants du cliché sur la mentalité de la “petite bourgeoise” :

[L]e petit bourgeois n’est pour moi que l’homme des slogans, ne pensant plus par lui-même, mais répétant les vérités toutes faites, et par cela mortes, que d’autres lui ont imposées. (Ionesco 1966 : 109)

A ses yeux, c’est cette mentalité conformiste qui a favorisé la montée des régimes totalitaires du XXe siècle (Sprenger 2004). D’un point de vue théorique, l’humour ionescien relèverait des théories psycho-sociales qui associent ce phénomène au sentiment de supériorité et d’agressivité (Gruner 1997). C’est en effet rire ou bien faire rire pour montrer du doigt (Chabanne 2002) et s’en détacher. Cependant, l’humour chez Ionesco a aussi un effet d’apaisement et de soulagement.  Ses propos en sont révélateurs :

Nous sommes comiques. C’est sous cet aspect que nous devrions nous voir. Rien que l’humour, rose ou noir ou cruel, mais seul l’humour peut nous rendre la sérénité. (Ionesco dans Journal en miettes, cité par Ioani 2002)

Par ailleurs, l’humour ionescien se pose comme une prise de conscience de l’aberration et de l’impasse de faire autre chose que de continuer à vivre dans un monde absurde (Ioani 2002). Pour Ionesco, membre du Collège de Pataphysique, le théâtre est le lieu de tous les possibles. Le non-sens, l’excentricité, les jeux de mots et de sonorités occupent une place très importante tout au long de son œuvre. D’un point de vue linguistique, et en particulier, dans la perspective de la Théorie Générale de l'Humour Linguistique[3] (Attardo et Raskin 1991 ; Attardo 1994, 2001) l’humour chez cet écrivain relèverait aussi de l’incongruité, vu qu’il est susceptible de mobiliser des règles cognitives impliquées dans la résolution de l’incongruité (Raskin 1985 ;  Attardo et Raskin 1991 ; Meyer 2000).  Selon cette approche théorique, à part l’existence d’une cible, ce qui conditionne l’humour c’est l’existence de deux scripts qui s’opposent ou sont incompatibles, mais qui finissent par se réconcilier selon un paradigme de base tel que vrai versus faux, normal versus anormal et possible versus impossible. A travers son œuvre, Ionesco tente de résoudre l’incongruité de la réalité qu’il perçoit comme absurde ou immorale, en mettant sur pied des idées opposées, inconciliables ou des mots qui se ressemblent phonétiquement mais s’éloignent sémantiquement (voir les exemples ci-dessous) pour attaquer une cible.

Nous appuyant sur une classification du comique (Bouquet et Riffault 2010), dans le théâtre ionescien, à part l’humour lié au comique de gestes dont l’actualisation dépend également du goût du metteur en scène, on peut distinguer : a) le comique de situation : tel que les coïncidences absurdes, les surprises, ou les rebondissements ; b) le comique de caractère (traits moraux propres aux protagonistes ionesciens, tels que leur attitude absurde, leurs vices, et leurs défauts) ; c) le comique de mœurs, dont l’effet est produit par les usages de la petite bourgeoisie ; d) le comique de mots : jeux de mots basés sur la polysémie ou l’homonymie de mots, grossièretés, prononciation de certaines unités lexicales ; e) le comique de répétitions : scènes, ou gestes répétées, répétition de mots, de syllabes, de morphèmes, de phonèmes et de graphèmes. Il convient de noter que les trois premiers ainsi qu’une partie du cinquième relèvent de l’humour référentiel. En revanche, les jeux de mots, la répétition de mots et d’autres éléments linguistiques appartiennent à l’humour verbal ou linguistique.

Tout comme l’ironie (Lievois 2006 : 84), l’humour verbal qui repose sur la répétition des éléments linguistiques et les jeux de mots paraît plus rétif à la traduction que l’humour exprimé sous des formes plus diffuses. Par conséquent, comme dans le cas de l’ironie, cette catégorie d’humour requiert une traduction plus libre qui reproduirait les effets humoristiques à travers des moyens similaires (Constantinou 2010).

Considérant les principes de la Théorie Générale de l'Humour Linguistique (Attardo 2001) nous avançons l’idée que tout énoncé humoristique à traduire dans une autre langue-culture n’est pas à réduire à sa microstructure, c’est à dire au niveau local de sa réalisation linguistique, mais il est à penser sur le plan de sa macrostructure, ce qui requiert la prise en compte du paratexte et des autres textes de l’auteur. Cette approche permet au traducteur de mieux appréhender les traits inhérents à l’humour ionescien, les moyens et les techniques mis en place pour mieux déjouer les pièges lors du processus de traduction. L’humour, comme le rire, étant l’expression et la production des codes collectifs (Mercier 2001 : 13), les éléments culturels sont à prendre en considération pour mieux transposer l’effet humoristique de l’original. Dans le cas de la traduction théâtrale, Morávková (1993 : 35) note que « chaque œuvre dramatique se situe par l’intermédiaire de sa traduction, à l’aide du médiateur - le traducteur - dans un contexte culturel nouveau.» Ce nouveau contexte permet de répondre aux attentes du public cible.

Partant de la thèse que l’humour ainsi que les jeux de mots sont traduisibles ou bien transposables dans d’autres langues-cultures (Henry 2003 ; Quillard 2001), nous plaidons pour une approche intégrative de la traduction de l’humour pouvant prendre en considération le processus cognitif de l’humour (Attardo et Raskin 1991), le genre, la finalité de la traduction (Vermeer et Reiss 1984), l’univers littéraire et l’ethos du dramaturge (Constantinou 2007 ; Constantinou 2010) ainsi que les particularités de la langue et de la culture cible. Nous proposons ainsi une analyse contrastive, en empruntant quelques outils développés au sein de la sémantique interprétative (Rastier 1987) et en nous appuyant sur la Théorie Générale de l'Humour Linguistique (Attardo et Raskin 1991 entre autres).  

Étudier comment les effets humoristiques chez Ionesco s’interprètent sous la plume de trois traducteurs différents implique par définition la problématique de l’adéquation de la traduction de l’humour en grec et donc la question de l’équivalence. L’équivalence, on le sait, est une notion qui est différemment définie selon les écoles en traductologie. Par exemple, alors que l’équivalence linguistique ou formelle présente une homogénéité sur le plan linguistique entre le texte original et sa traduction (Nida 1964), l’équivalence fonctionnelle désigne entre autres « le rapport optimal entre le texte traduit et le texte original » (Kufnerová 2009, cité in Raková 2013 : 57). L’équivalence stylistique a trait à une relation fonctionnelle entre les éléments stylistiques du texte de départ et du texte d’arrivée afin d’assurer une identité expressive ou affective entre l’original et sa traduction, sans altérer le sens de l’énoncé. L’équivalence sémantique se situe au niveau des mots et non du paragraphe ou du texte dans son ensemble. Elle suppose que le terme en langue source et son équivalent en langue cible partagent un champ sémantique identique. Cependant, pour rendre compte des effets humoristiques il faut considérer la force perlocutoire de l’énoncé. Dans ce cas, l’équivalence pragmatique ou perlocutoire (Hickey 1998) qui se rapproche de l’équivalence dynamique ou fonctionnelle (House 1997) semble opératoire pour cette étude. L’effet perlocutoire du texte traduit vise à produire chez le lecteur de la traduction les mêmes effets et les mêmes réactions (le rire) que le texte original produit chez son lecteur (Margot 1979). Or, comme le note Hickey (1998), le plus grand obstacle à surmonter dans l’obtention de l’équivalence pragmatique ou perlocutoire, provient du fait qu’il n’existe pas de relation directe entre le texte et l’effet qu’il produit. Cependant, l’équivalence perlocutoire semble opératoire, dans la mesure où nous étudions l’effet humoristique dans les textes traduits par rapport aux choix lexicaux, syntaxiques, stylistiques et pragmatiques faits par les trois traducteurs.  Nous nous focaliserons sur l’humour verbal et notamment sur la répétition de sons et de mots ou d’autres éléments morphologiques ainsi que sur des jeux de mots reposant sur la polysémie ou l’homonymie (Attardo 2001). Notre démarche consiste également à considérer l’humour verbal dans les traductions même si dans les textes originaux cela relèverait plutôt de l’humour référentiel que de celui basé sur la langue.

Analyse des exemples

L’un des procédés récurrents dans l’œuvre ionescien consiste à mettre en relation cotextuelle des signifiants proches phonétiquement mais avec un effet de contrariété sur le plan sémantique ou représentant des idées diamétralement opposées ou contradictoires ; par exemple, lors d’un dialogue vide et absurde entre le vieux et son épouse dans Les Chaises, l’assonance du phonème ([ɑ̃] dans présidents, marchands) ou la répétition des mêmes morphèmes (-aires dans prolétaires, fonctionnaires, militaires, révolutionnaires, -iers dans policiers, postiers, banquiers, chaudronniers, ou dans -istes, aubergistes, artistes, etc.) dans la dérivation des noms désignant des métiers ou des statuts différents crée à la fois une série d’allitérations et d’assonances et favorise l’absurdité du dialogue. Par ailleurs, l’interférence insolite des mots désignant des objets ou autres entités tels que bâtiments ou chromosomes intercalés entre les noms de métiers et de statuts crée une rupture d’hypéronymie et surprend l’esprit du spectateur dans une sorte de contrariété et de contraste, ce qui a pour effet de renforcer la connivence humoristique :

LA VIEILLE : Alors, c’est vraiment pour ce soir ? Au moins les as-tu tous convoqués, tous les personnages, tous les propriétaires et tous les savants ?
LE VIEUX  : Oui, tous les propriétaires et tous les savants.
LA VIEILLE : Les gardiens ? les évêques ? les chimistes ? les chaudronniers ? les violonistes ? les délégués ? les présidents? les policiers ? les marchands ? les bâtiments? les chromosomes  ?
LE VIEUX  :  Oui, oui, et les postiers, les aubergistes et les artistes, tous ceux qui sont un peu savants, un peu propriétaires !
LA VIEILLE : Et les banquiers ?
LE VIEUX :  Je les ai convoqués.
LA VIEILLE : Les prolétaires ? les fonctionnaires ? les militaires ? les révolutionnaires ? Les aliénistes et leurs aliénés ?
(Ionesco 1952/1991, Les Chaises, pp. 148-149)

L’humour se déploie dans le désaccord, l’incompatibilité entre les traits sémantiques distincts tels que /profession/ vs /statut/ou /qualité ou état/ (marchands vs savants, fonctionnaires vs révolutionnaires, aliénistes vs aliénés), /qualité matérielle/ vs /qualité non matérielle (propriétaires vs savants), /supériorité sociale/ vs /infériorité sociale/ (présidents vs marchands) ou bien / humain/, /animé/ vs /non humain ou /non animé (bâtiments, chromosomes), etc.  En ce qui concerne les textes grecs, Thivaios a recours à une traduction littérale de l’original, qui s’appuie essentiellement sur une équivalence formelle. Stamatiou[4], dans son adaptation radiophonique, omet de rendre la dernière phrase qui contribue à la création de l’humour ionescien. En revanche, Belies, agissant plutôt en tant que tradaptateur que traducteur met en avant la structure signifiante du texte cible. Il opte ainsi pour une traduction couverte (House 1997), tout en essayant de reproduire l’humour à l’aide des moyens linguistiques et stylistiques similaires à ceux de l’original. 

ΓΡΙΑ: Και τους κάλεσες όλους; Όλους τους σημαντικούς ανθρώπους; Τους σοφούς,  τους κουφούς, τους αδελφούς, τους ροφούς;
ΓΕΡΟΣ: Ναι όλους. Και όλους τους χαφιέδες, τους βαλέδες, τους κουραμπιέδες[5], τους μιναρέδες.
ΓΡΙΑ : Ωραία. Κάλεσες κι όλους τους ταξινόμους, τους αγρονόμους, αστυνόμους, τους παρανόμους;
Γέρος: Ναι.  Και όλους τους προλετάριους, τους βιβλιοθηκάριους, τους κομισάριους, τους ιμπρεσάριους.
Γριά: Ωραία. Και όλους τους ιδιοκτήτες, τους τραπεζίτες, τους μητροπολίτες, τους φρονιμίτες;
[…] Θα έρθουν όλοι. Έχω καλέσει κι όλους τους δικαστικούς, τους αναρχικούς, τους σπαστικούς, τους παρακρατικούς.
(Ionesco 1952, Les Chaises, traduit par Belies 2007, pp. 129- 130)

[Traduction inversée : LA VIEILLE : Et les as-tu tous convoqués ? Toutes les personnes importantes ? Les savants, les sourds, les frères, les mérous ?
LE VIEUX : Oui, tous.  Et tous les corbeaux, les valets, les gâteaux secs, les minarets.
LA VIEILLE : Bien. As-tu convoqué tous les classificateurs, les agronomes, les policiers, les clandestins ?
LE VIEUX : Oui. Et tous les prolétaires, les bibliothécaires, les commissaires, les imprésarios.
LA VIEILLE : Et tous les propriétaires, les banquiers/ dents molaires, les métropolites, les dents de sagesse ?
[...] Tout le monde viendra. J'ai appelé tous les juges, les anarchistes, les spastiques et les quasi gouvernementaux. ]

A y regarder de plus près, la traduction / adaptation proposée reproduit le jeu ionescien basé à la fois sur la ressemblance phonique et morphologique et l’incompatibilité sémantique des mots et des idées qu’ils expriment pour mettre en avant un effet de supériorité par rapport aux conventions sociales et au conformisme. En effet, l’interférence des séries des éléments incompatibles, comme procédé théâtral qui déclenche le rire et largement utilisée par Ionesco pour surprendre l’attention du spectateur, semble être reproduite avec brio par Belies. Ce traducteur, s’éloignant du contenu sémantique des unités lexicales utilisées par Ionesco, a recours à des séries de mots partageant les mêmes suffixes -άριους, -ίτες, -ικούς. S’inspirant de la technique ionescienne, Belies a recours à des mots incompatibles au niveau sémantique afin de mettre ensemble des idées totalement opposées ou inconciliables. Par exemple, dans la première série, « Les savants, les sourds, les frères, les mérous ? », l’emploi du signe « mérous » représente un type de poisson qui s’oppose sémantiquement aux autres unités lexicales désignant des êtres humains, ce qui renforce le non-sens et l’incompatibilité de la réplique.

Le même traducteur exploite l’homonymie des unités lexicales en grec et crée ses propres jeux de mots qui ne s’éloignent pas, à notre avis, de l’esprit ionescien. Par exemple, le jeu sur l’homonyme τραπεζίτες, qui signifie à la fois « banquiers » et « dents molaires », et la présence du mot φρονιμίτες « dents de sagesse » ayant également le même suffixe que les autres mots dans la même série, favorise la rupture et le non-sens voulu dans l’original. Le mot métropolites, élément culturel propre à la société grecque, désigne un certain titre de l’église orthodoxe, et réincarne la voix ionescienne contre l’hypocrisie et le pouvoir. Par ailleurs, comme nous le verrons dans les exemples suivants, des jeux de mots avec le mot pape sont aussi utilisés par Ionesco pour créer de l’humour. Dans les autres répliques, le traducteur joue sur les mêmes morphèmes dans l’intention de dénoncer toute forme de pouvoir : par exemple, le morphème nomos qui signifie en grec « loi » paraît dans une série de mots désignant des professions de nature différente, qui malgré l’apparente homosémie au niveau du morphème sont encore une fois inconciliables.

Cependant, l’incompatibilité sémantique voire morale qui retient le plus l’attention du public est l’opposition entre policiers (censés maintenir l’ordre) et « clandestins » ou « illégaux ». Elle sert de cadre pour mettre en balance la légalité et l’illégalité au sein de la société. Ce binôme légal vs illégal est renforcé dans la dernière réplique par l’emploi du nom de métier δικαστικούς, signifiant « juges » et d’autres mots se terminant en -ικούς, tels que αναρχικούς « anarchistes » ou παρακρατικούς « quasi gouvernementaux ». Bien que cette proposition de traduction s’éloigne sémantiquement du texte original, nous pensons qu’elle répond à l’intention générale de l’humour ionescien qui vise à se moquer du pouvoir. A travers ce procédé, le traducteur renforce la stratégie de déconstruction de toute forme de pouvoir car il place tous les métiers, qualités et défauts au même niveau, ce qui est d’ailleurs compatible avec l’absurdité ionescienne en particulier et le théâtre de l’absurde en général. Cependant, pour des raisons d’économie scénique, le même traducteur omet de traduire certaines phrases qui contribuent à renforcer l’effet humoristique. On peut citer en exemple le cas de « Les aliénistes et leurs aliénés ? » transposé plus ou moins fidèlement par Thivaios. Ce dernier, comme Stamatiou, opte pour une traduction plutôt sémantique que sonore. A notre avis, un tel choix réussit également à rendre les effets humoristiques du texte original et à répondre aux intentions de l’écrivain même s’il y a plus ou moins perte au niveau phonétique : 

Και τους προλετάριους, τους υπαλλήλους, τους στρατιωτικούς; Τους επαναστάτες; Τους αντιδραστικούς; Τους ψυχιάτρους και τους ψυχοπαθείς τους;
(Ionesco 1952, Les Chaises, traduit par Thivaios 2011, pp.  67-68)

[Traduction inversée : Et les prolétaires, les fonctionnaires, les militaires, les révolutionnaires, les réactionnaires ? Les psychiatres et leurs psychopathes ?]

Le jeu sur la répétition des sons continue dans la page suivante de la même pièce théâtrale, ce qui donne à la suite de mots une allitération et une assonance qui créent une rupture sur le plan sémantique et pragmatique, participant ainsi à intensifier l’absurde de l’œuvre ionescien :

Le Pape, les papillons et les papiers.
(Ionesco 1952/1991, Les Chaises, p. 149)

La coprésence des mots partageant les trois ou quatre premiers phonèmes est réalisée pour rendre ces idées compatibles dans leur succession par association sonore (Ioani 2002 : 97). En particulier, ces unités lexicales sont du point de vue sémantique incompatibles car elles contiennent des traits sémantiques distincts, tels que /+humain/, /-objet/ pour Pape, /-humain// ±animé/ ou / ±objet/ pour papillons et /+ objet/ (ou /-animé/) et /-humain/ pour papiers. En plus, l’unité lexicale Pape contient d’autres sèmes afférents tels que /+prestige/, /+statut/, /+pouvoir/ et sa présence dans une série de mots qui lui sont sémantiquement incompatibles semble participer à l’affaiblissement voire à la contestation du statut et du rôle du Pape dans la société. En ce qui concerne les traductions grecques, dans l’adaptation radiophonique de Stamatiou, ce jeu de mots est effacé, alors que Thivaios et Belies proposent des traductions similaires :

Θα έρθουν κι ο πάπας, η παπαδιά και το παπαδάκι.
(Ionesco 1952, Les Chaises, traduit par Belies, p. 130)
[Traduction inversée : Le pape, la femme du prêtre et son enfant]

Ο Πάπας, οι παπάδες και  οι παπαδιές;
(Ionesco 1952, Les Chaises, traduit par Thivaios, p. 68)
[Traduction inversée : Le Pape, les prêtres et leurs femmes]

Jouant sur la similarité sonore des mots qui appartiennent au champ sémantique de la religion, les deux traducteurs ne rendent pas de la même manière la rupture produite dans l’original. Cependant, une rupture est introduite au plan culturel dans la mesure où le Pape et les prêtres orthodoxes ne sont pas compatibles car ils n’appartiennent pas à la même église et ne partagent pas le même dogme. 

Il convient de noter ici que de tels choix expressifs ne sont pas aléatoires chez Ionesco. Une lecture intertextuelle de son œuvre permet de constater que les jeux de sonorité avec le mot pape se déploient également dans La Cantatrice chauve, ce qui reflète l’intention de l’écrivain de contester toute forme de pouvoir mais aussi de pointer le problème de la communication parmi les gens :

M. SMITH : Le paperape! Le pape n’a pas de soupape. La soupape a un pape.
(Ionesco 1950/ 1991, La Cantatrice chauve, p. 41)

ΚΥΡΙΟΣ ΣΜΙΘ: Ο πάπας ξεπατώθηκε! Του πάπα χρειάζεται τάπα. Η τάπα τι να τον κάνει τον πάπα.
[Traduction inversée : Le pape a été exténué ! Le pape a besoin d'un bouchon. Le bouchon n’a pas besoin du pape.]
(Ionesco 1950/ 1991, La Cantatrice chauve, traduit par Protopapas, 1987, p. 193)

Alors que ni Stamatiou ni Belies n’ont traduit ce passage absurde, Protopapas est le seul à reproduire ce jeu de sonorités, ainsi que les allusions intertextuelles dans l’ensemble de son œuvre. Ce procédé se retrouve également dans d’autres endroits de la même pièce théâtrale :

Madame Martin : Excusez-moi, monsieur le Capitaine, je n’ai pas très bien compris votre histoire. A la fin, quand on arrive à la grand-mère du prêtre, on s’empêtre.
Monsieur Smith : Toujours, on s’empêtre entre les pattes du prêtre.
(Ionesco 1950/1991, La Cantatrice chauve, p. 35)

Protopapas opère une traduction sonore en mettant en avant la rythmique du texte cible. Ainsi, entretient-il la répétition des mêmes mots de façon à ce qu’ils riment, ce qui permet de maintenir en partie la continuité du sens ou bien du non-sens du texte original :

ΚΥΡΙΑ ΜΑΡΤΙΝ: Να με συμπαθάτε κύριε Πυροσβέστη, αλλά δεν κατάλαβα μερικές λεπτομέρειες της ιστορίας σας. Στο τέλος όταν φτάσατε στη γιαγιά του παπά, μπέρδεψα και τα λοιπά, κι όταν είπατε για την δασκάλα, εμπέρδεψα και τ’ άλλα.
ΚΥΡΙΟΣ ΣΜΙΘ:  Πάντοτε μπερδεύεσαι παπά σαν ερωτεύεσαι και αν είναι και δασκάλα βάλ το αμέσως στην τρεχάλα.
(Ionesco 1950/1991, La Cantatrice chauve, traduit par  Protopapas 1987, p. 185)

[Traduction inversée : MADAME MARTIN: Excusez-moi, monsieur le Pompier, mais je n’ai pas compris certains détails de votre histoire. A la fin, lorsque vous êtes arrivé chez la grand-mère du prêtre, j’ai confondu les autres choses, et quand vous avez parlé de l'enseignante, j’ai confondu le reste. 
MONSIEUR SMITH : Tu confonds toujours tout, mon prêtre, lorsque tu tombes amoureux, et si c’est une institutrice, tu te mets tout de suite à courir.]

Belies, de son côté, fait passer la confusion des répliques des personnages fictifs et y ajoute un jeu de mots, en puisant une nouvelle fois dans la culture grecque et la polysémie de l’adjectif σκοτεινό. Εn effet, ce mot désigne quelque chose ou quelqu’un d’obscur, ou bien quelque chose qui manque de lumière. Il peut également actualiser selon le contexte la signification « noir », comme dans la collocation σκοτεινό δωμάτιο « chambre noire ». L’incongruité est créée par l’actualisation de deux significations de la même unité lexicale, mécanisme auquel le spectateur ne s’attend pas :

ΚΥΡΙΑ ΜΑΡΤΙΝ : Συγγνώμη, κύριε λοχαγέ, αλλά δεν κατάλαβα κάτι στο τέλος. Μπερδεύτηκα εκεί με τον αδελφό του παπά. Κάτι μου είναι σκοτεινό.
ΛΟΧΑΓΟΣ : Προφανώς τα ράσα του, που είναι μαύρα.
(Ionesco 1950/1991, La Cantatrice chauve, traduit par Belies, 2007, p. 53)

[Traduction inversée : MADAME MARTIN : désolée, monsieur le capitaine, mais je n’ai pas compris une chose, à la fin. J’ai été confuse avec le frère du prêtre. Il y a quelque chose d’obscur.
CAPITAINE : De toute évidence ce sont ses vêtements qui sont noirs.]

En effet, cette incongruité est due à l’emploi ambigu de l’adjectif, dont la signification courante est interdite dans la chute de ce dialogue absurde et humoristique. Comme le mot en question n’est jamais utilisé pour décrire la classe de vêtements (σκούρα ρούχα « vêtements foncés » et non * σκοτεινά ρούχα « vêtements obscurs »), cette transgression sémantique met en avant le non conformisme ionescien tout en renforçant les réseaux intertextuels visant le pouvoir de l’église. Il est également pertinent de noter que l’église orthodoxe, au sein de la communauté grecque, sert souvent de source d’inspiration pour les humoristes et les satiristes.

L’humour chez Ionesco repose également sur la « scalarité » des faits et des contenus sémantiques des mots. Dans le passage qui suit, le pompier dont le rêve est d’éteindre des incendies, parle d’un incendie qui va se produire dans un temps précis à l’autre bout de la ville. Cependant, en dialoguant avec le couple Smith, l’incendie finit par se transformer en un petit feu de cheminée et ensuite en une petite brûlure d’estomac :

LE POMPIER : Ecoutez, c’est vrai… tout ça c’est très subjectif…mais ça c’est ma conception du monde. Mon rêve. Mon idéal…et puis ça me rappelle que je dois partir. Puisque vous n’avez pas l’heure, moi, dans trois quarts d’heure et seize minutes exactement j’ai un incendie, à l’autre bout de la ville. Il faut que je me dépêche. Bien que ce ne soit pas grand-chose.
MADAME SMITH : Qu’est-ce que ce sera ? Un petit feu de cheminée ?
LE POMPIER : Oh même pas. Un feu de paille et une petite brûlure d’estomac.
(Ionesco 1950/ 1991, La Cantatrice chauve, p. 38)

Cette gradation descendante basée sur le contenu sémantique des mots crée une rupture de continuité et provoque le rire chez les spectateurs. Les traductions grecques interprètent et rendent différemment ce paradoxe. Protopapas propose une traduction plus ou moins fidèle et reproduit ainsi l’humour référentiel identifié dans le texte original :

ΠΥΡΟΣΒΕΣΤΗΣ: Συμφωνώ, δεν αποκλείεται να’ χετε δίκαιο… όλα αυτά είναι τελείως υποκειμενικά… Αλλά εγώ τον κόσμο, κάπως έτσι τον καταλαβαίνω. Το όνειρο μου… το ιδεώδες μου… και ύστερα μου θύμισαν ότι έχω κάποιο ραντεβού. Αφού εσείς δεν μπορείτε να μου πείτε τι ώρα είναι,  εμένα σε τρία τέταρτα  και δεκάξι δευτερόλεπτα ακριβώς με περιμένει μια πυρκαγιά στην άλλη άκρη της πόλεως. Πρέπει να βιαστώ, αν και  η πυρκαγιά είναι ανάξια λόγου
ΚΥΡΙΑ ΣΜΙΘ :  Άραγε τι θα’ ναι ; Η πυρκαγιά καμιάς φουφούς;
ΠΥΡΟΣΒΕΣΤΗΣ: Μακάρι, αλλά δεν νομίζω.  Ίσως κανένα αχυράκι θ’ αρπάξει φωτιά ή το πολύ καμιά καούρα στομαχιού. Είναι τρεις μέρες που με ειδοποίησαν.
(Ionesco 1950, La Cantatrice chauve, traduit par Protopapas, p. 188)

[Traduction inversée : LE POMPIER : Je suis d’accord, il n’est pas impossible que vous ayez raison… tout cela est tout à fait subjectif … mais moi le monde je le comprends plus ou moins comme ça. Mon rêve… mon idéal… et  puis on m’a rappelé que j’ai un rendez-vous. Puisque vous ne pouvez pas me dire quelle heure il est, moi, dans trois quarts d’heure et seize secondes exactement un incendie m’attend à l’autre bout de la ville. Je dois me dépêcher, même si le feu ne vaut pas la peine d’en parler…
MADAME SMITH : Qu’est-ce que ce sera ? L’incendie d’une chaufferette ?
LE POMPIER : je l’espère mais je ne le pense pas. Peut-être une petite paille qui prendra feu ou bien une petite brûlure d’estomac. Il y a trois jours qu’on m’a prévenu.]

Belies prend une nouvelle fois plus de liberté et joue non seulement sur la polysémie, en y ajoutant un jeu de mots inexistant dans le texte source mais il propose une nouvelle stratégie narrative, relatant l’histoire différemment pour intensifier la surprise chez le spectateur :

Μπορεί. Άλλωστε, όλα είναι υποκειμενικά. Βέβαια, εγώ τον κόσμο έτσι τον καταλαβαίνω. Να τι είναι  εμένα τ’ όνειρό μου, το ιδεώδες μου, η κοσμοθεωρία μου. Όμως, μια που είπα όνειρο, θυμήθηκα πως έχω δουλειά. Αφού εσείς δεν μπορείτε να μου πείτε τι ώρα είναι, σας λέω πως σε τρία τέταρτα και δεκαέξι δευτερόλεπτα ακριβώς πρέπει να βρίσκομαι στην άλλη άκρη της πόλης και να σώσω κάποιον από βέβαιο κάψιμο.
Δηλαδή, τι; Θα πιάσει φωτιά η σόμπα του;
Δεν ξέρω. Μπορεί να είναι κάτι πολύ απλό, ένα κάψιμο στο στομάχι του απ’ το πολύ φαΐ. Αλλά πρέπει να πάω, με έχει ειδοποιήσει πριν τρεις μέρες.
(Ionesco 1950, La Cantatrice chauve, traduit par Belies 2007, pp. 60-61) 

[Traduction inversée :
C’est possible. Après tout, tout est subjectif. Bien sûr, moi le monde je le comprends ainsi. Voici mon rêve, mon idéal, ma vision du monde.  Mais, comme j’ai dit rêve, je me suis souvenu d'avoir un travail. Puisque vous ne pouvez pas me dire quelle heure il est, je vous dis que dans trois quarts d’heure et seize secondes exactement je dois être de l'autre côté de la ville pour sauver quelqu'un d’une brûlure certaine.
C'est quoi alors ? Est-ce que son poêle va prendre feu ?
Je ne sais pas. C’est peut-être une chose très simple, une brûlure à l’estomac après avoir beaucoup mangé. Mais je dois y aller, il m'a prévenu il y a trois jours]

Plus précisément, ce choix traductif qui repose sur le mot polysémique κάψιμο signifiant « brûlure », « mise à feu », « feu » ou « grillage » élimine des éléments ‘ informatifs’ servant à ‘avertir’ le spectateur du texte original de la non gravité de l’incendie annoncé plus haut : c’est là où le pompier lui-même atténue le degré de l’urgence avec l’énoncé « Bien que ce ne soit pas grand-chose ». A notre sens, l’effet de surprise est renforcé tant par le choix de ne pas traduire cette formule que par l’insertion des jeux de mots ; outre le jeu de mot basé sur la polysémie du mot κάψιμο, le traducteur procède au défigement να σώσω κάποιον από βέβαιο κάψιμοpour sauver quelqu'un d’une brûlure certaine’ de l’expression figée σώζω κάποιον από βέβαιο θάνατο ‘sauver quelqu’un d’une mort certaine’.   

Cette technique qui consiste à explorer la polysémie des mots pour renforcer l’humour et déclencher le rire est très fréquente chez Belies. Dans l’exemple qui suit, l’humour dans l’original est référentiel, vu qu’il est lié à l’absurdité des gestes et des habitudes des personnages fictifs comme dans le cas où le frère du vieux lui rend visite pour lui laisser une puce :

LA VIEILLE : […] Tu t’es disputé avec tous tes amis, avec tous les directeurs, tous les maréchaux, avec ton frère.
LE VIEUX : C’est pas ma faute, Sémiramis ; tu sais bien ce qu’il a dit.
LA VIEILLE : Qu’est- ce qu’il a dit ?
LE VIEUX : Il a dit « Mes amis, j’ai une puce. Je vous rends visite dans l’espoir de laisser une puce chez vous
LA VIEILLE : Ça se dit, mon chéri. Tu n’aurais pas dû faire attention. Mais avec Carel, pourquoi t’es-tu fâché ? C’est sa faute aussi ?
(Ionesco 1952/1991, Les Chaises, p.147)

Contrairement à Stamatiou[6] et Thivaios qui rendent l’humour référentiel de Ionesco sans y ajouter de jeu de mots,  Belies explore la polysémie du mot ‘puce’ en grec, et crée un jeu de mots, renforçant davantage l’incongruité du texte notamment au niveau verbal :

Αλλά είχες τη συνήθεια να μαλώνεις με όλους! Μάλωσες με όλους τους φίλους σου, όλους τους διευθυντές, όλους τους δημοσιογράφους και με τον αδελφό σου.
Εκείνος έφταιγε, Σεμίραμις. Θυμάσαι τι είπε;
Όχι καλά.
Είπε «Έχω ψύλλους και ήρθα στο σπίτι σας ν’ αφήσω μερικούς».
Δηλαδή, για ψύλλου πήδημα μάλωσες με τον αδελφό σου. Καλά. Και με τον Καρέλ γιατί μάλωσες; Πάλι εκείνος έφταιγε;
(Ionesco 1952/1991, Les Chaises, traduit par Belies, p. 127)

[Traduction inversée : Mais tu avais l’habitude de te disputer avec tout le monde !  Tu t’es disputé avec tous tes amis, tous les directeurs, tous les journalistes et même avec ton frère.
C’était sa faute, Sémiramis. Tu te souviens de ce qu’il a dit ?
Pas très bien.
Il a dit “J’ai des puces et je suis venu chez vous pour en laisser quelques-unes.”
C’est-à-dire, pour un saut de puce / pour un rien que tu t’es disputé avec ton frère. Bon. Et avec Carel, pourquoi tu t’es disputé ? C’était encore sa faute ?]

C’est en effet au moment où Sémiramis, la femme du vieux, lui dit qu’il s’est disputé avec tous ses amis, les directeurs et même avec son frère ; c’est le moment choisi par le vieux pour raconter que son frère lui a rendu visite pour lui laisser une puce. Le même mot paraît en grec dans l’expression idiomatique για ψύλλου πήδημα (littéralement « pour le saut d’une puce »). Cette expression que l’on traduirait en français par « pour un rien », « pour des broutilles », sert à parler de quelqu’un qui se fâche ou se vexe facilement. Dans le texte, ce mot, tel qu’il est employé dans le contexte, subit une resémantisation et fait syllepse dans la réplique de la vieille car il actualise les deux sens : le sens littéral « pour le saut d’une puce » et le sens figuré « pour un rien ».

L’humour tout comme le comique chez Ionesco repose non seulement sur l’aberration des gestes et des usages des personnages (le fait de rendre visite à quelqu’un pour lui laisser une puce, par exemple) mais aussi sur l’« interdiction » des certains mots dits « inappropriés », qui ne sont pas prononcés mais suggérés, comme dans la dernière réplique de l’extrait suivant :

LA VIEILLE : Ça se dit, mon chéri. Tu n’aurais pas dû faire attention. Mais avec Carel, pourquoi t’es-tu fâché ? C’est sa faute aussi ?
LE VIEUX : Tu vas me mettre en colère, tu vas me mettre en colère. Na. Bien sûr, c’était sa faute. Il est venu un soir, il a dit : Je vous souhaite bonne chance. Je devrais vous dire le mot qui porte chance ; je ne le dis pas, je le pense. Et il riait comme un veau.
(Ionesco 1952/1991, Les Chaises, p. 147)

Il va de soi que le personnage fictif évite le mot scatologique ‘merde’ qui est utilisé en français pour souhaiter bonne chance. Par contact des langues, ce mot a fini par entrer dans la langue grecque et notamment dans le cercle théâtral pour souhaiter bonne chance. Il convient de noter que cet emprunt sémantique n’a pas encore été lexicalisé ; le recours aux dictionnaires grecs, comme ceux de Babiniotis (2008) et de Triandafillides[7] (1998)   n’attestent pas de cette acception. Comme les trois traductions ont été réalisées dans des périodes différentes, il est intéressant de voir comment cet extrait a été rendu :

ΓΕΡΟΣ: Θα... θα  με κάνεις να θυμώσω,  Σεμίραμις και θα με κάνεις να θυμώσω άσχημα. Και βέβαια αυτός έφταιγε. Ήρθε ένα βράδυ και μου είπε  «Ήρθα να σας χΑΙ:::::ρετίσω. Θα έπρεπε να πω το άλλο ρήμα, αλλά δεν το λέω το σκέφτομαι.»  και χαχάνιζε σαν να του καθαρίζανε αυγά.
ΓΡΙΑ: Ο άνθρωπος το είπε στ’ αστεία,  μωρό μου, για να γελάσουμε. Στη ζωή δεν πρέπει να είναι κανείς μη μου άπτου.
(Ionesco, Les Chaises traduit par Stamatiou)

 [Traduction inversée : LE VIEUX : Tu...tu me mettras en colère, Sémiramis et tu me mettras gravement en colère. Mais bien sûr, c’était sa faute. Il est venu une nuit et  il a dit: « Je suis venu vous SAAL:::::uer.  J'aurais dû dire l'autre verbe, mais je ne le dis pas, je le pense. » et il riait comme si on lui écaillait des œufs.
LA VIEILLE : L’homme a dit ça pour plaisanter, mon petit chou, pour rire. Dans la vie, on  ne doit pas se vexer facilement.]

Dans la traduction proposée par Stamatiou, le rire provient du jeu entre implicite et explicite. Le mot sous-entendu et à moitié prononcé est le verbe χέζω « chier » ; en effet, ces deux premiers phonèmes lors de l’adaptation radiophonique sont oralement prolongés pour permettre au public radiophonique d’établir l’association cognitive entre les deux verbes χέζω « chier » et χαιρετίζω « saluer ». Le traducteur, puisant dans le système de la langue grecque, exploite la ressemblance phonique de deux premiers phonèmes en vue d’établir une équivalence fonctionnelle pour une adaptation orale et non pas écrite de l’œuvre de Ionesco. Ce choix traductif serait moins opératoire pour une version écrite car le phonème E est écrite différemment dans les deux verbes.

La traduction de Thivaios prend en compte l’évolution sémantique du mot σκατά en grec grâce au contact de deux langues, ce qui lui permet d’effectuer une traduction littérale mais à la fois actuelle. Bien évidemment, cela n’aurait pas été possible dans la version antérieure de Stamatiou car ce mot n’avait jusqu’alors pas été utilisé dans un tel contexte.

Ο ΓΕΡΟΣ: Θα με νευριάσεις πάλι, και θα νευριάσω άσχημα. Και βέβαια έφταιγε αυτός.  Ήρθε ένα βράδυ και είπε: «Σας εύχομαι καλή τύχη. Άλλη λέξη έπρεπε να πω που φέρνει τύχη· αλλά δεν τη λέω, την έχω στο μυαλό.» Και γελούσε σαν βόδι.
Η ΓΡΙΑ : Αστεία το είπε, αγάπη μου. Στη ζωή δεν πρέπει να είμαστε μυγιάγγιχτοι.
Ο ΓΕΡΟΣ:  Αυτά τα αστεία εμένα δε μου αρέσουν.
(Ionesco 1952/1991, Les Chaises, 2011 traduit par Thivaios, pp. 65-66)

[Traduction inversée : LE VIEUX : tu vas m’énerver, et je serai très énervé. Mais bien sûr c’était sa faute. Un soir, il est venu et a dit : « Je vous souhaite bonne chance. Je devais dire un autre mot qui porte chance, mais je ne le dis pas, je l'ai dans ma tête ». Et il  riait comme un veau.
LA VIEILLE : Il a dit cela pour plaisanter, mon amour. Dans la vie, il ne faut pas être mauvais joueur.
LE VIEUX : Je n'aime pas ces blagues.]

Belies propose une autre narration, en ajoutant d’autres éléments sans pour autant s’éloigner de la thématique scatologique du texte original. Cependant, ce remaniement ne permet pas aux lecteurs de saisir l’allusion et le jeu implicite inhérents au texte original. Par ailleurs, ce choix semble participer de la transgression de la norme et des conventions sociales de la politesse, ce qui n’est pas le cas dans l’original. De ce fait, cette liberté du traducteur rend le texte plus discourtois et grossier aux yeux du public hellénophone :

ΓΕΡΟΣ: Θα με κάνεις να θυμώσω, Σεμίραμις, κι εγώ θυμώνω άσχημα! Φυσικά εκείνος έφταιγε! Είπε « Ήρθα και το στομάχι μου είναι γεμάτο αέρια».  Κι εγώ θυμήθηκα τον αδελφό μου και του  απάντησα «Και ήρθες στο σπίτι μας για να αφήσεις μερικές πορδές
Τον άρπαξες από τα μούτρα, καλέ μου. Γιατί παρεξηγιόσουνα με το παραμικρό; Αστείο έκανε ο άνθρωπος.
Ναι, αστείο έκανε. Δεν μ’ αρέσουνε τ’ αστεία!
(Ionesco 1952/1991, Les Chaises, traduit par Belies, p. 127)

[Traduction inversée : LE VIEUX : Tu vas me mettre en colère, Sémiramis, et je suis très en colère ! Bien sûr, c’était sa faute ! Il a dit “Je suis venu et mon estomac est plein de gaz. Et je me suis souvenu de mon frère et j'ai dit : « Es-tu venu chez nous pour nous lâcher quelques pets ?  »
LA VIEILLE : Tu l’as agressé, mon chou. Pourquoi tu prenais mal tout trop facilement ? Il a juste fait une blague.
LE VIEUX : Oui, il plaisantait. Je n'aime pas les blagues !]

L’analyse des exemples précédents met en évidence plusieurs procédés et stratégies qui consistent à rendre l’humour ionescien. Ainsi le traducteur peut procéder à une traduction sémantique, ce qui donne lieu à une perte des jeux de mots, basés sur la structure sonore des unités lexicales et des morphèmes (équivalence formelle sans équivalence stylistique ou rythmique). En revanche, selon notre corpus, le traducteur a aussi la possibilité d’opter pour une traduction sonore sans équivalence sémantique. Ce choix peut déboucher sur une équivalence pragmatique ou perlocutoire, susceptible de créer des réactions similaires auprès du public cible, notamment grâce à la mobilisation des éléments culturels propres à la culture cible. Plus rarement une traduction littérale, là où les langues-cultures le permettent, peut donner lieu à une équivalence à la fois linguistique et pragmatique comme dans le cas de la traduction implicite du mot merde suggérant « bonne chance » proposée par Thivaios. Dans d’autres cas, l’ajout des jeux de mots basés sur la polysémie ou l’homonymie peut renforcer l’effet humoristique (notamment les choix proposés par Belies). Le traducteur a également la possibilité de reproduire des jeux de mots susceptibles de mobiliser un effet similaire au niveau perlocutoire chez le public grec sans toutefois mettre en place les mêmes moyens linguistiques (par exemple le jeu basé sur l'homonyme τραπεζίτες signifiant « banquiers » et « dents molaires »). Cette option est susceptible d’affecter l’équivalence référentielle sans nécessairement nuire à l’adéquation de l’effet humoristique par rapport à l’ethos du dramaturge. Or les ajouts ou stratégies narratives susceptibles d’exagérer, trahir ou bien pervertir l’humour ionescien, comme le dernier exemple proposé par Belies, s’avèrent inutiles dans la mesure où elles ne répondent ni aux attentes du public cible ni à l’univers littéraire de l’auteur.


Tout au long de cette réflexion, nous avons essayé de montrer que si l’humour ionescien se propose de dénoncer l’absurde de son époque, le non-sens, l’absence de communication, qui se déploie différemment, donne lieu à plusieurs interprétations en grec. Les traducteurs peuvent mobiliser plusieurs moyens pour faire passer l’humour au public cible. Toutefois, la transposition de l’effet humoristique s’effectue par le biais de l’incongruité, l’illogique, le désaccord, du point de vue du contenu sémantique des mots, de leur structure sonore et de la situation à laquelle le texte se réfère. Par-delà le verbal, élément constitutif de l’humour, d’autres paramètres sont à prendre en considération dans toute opération de traduction ou tradaptation de l’humour. En effet, la contextualisation du corpus repose sur l’univers littéraire et l’éthos idéologique de l’écrivain, bref la dimension spatio-temporelle dans laquelle l’œuvre a été produite ainsi que la langue et la culture d’accueil, autrement dit les éléments culturels et linguistiques pouvant être mobilisés pour susciter l’humour chez le spectateur. Par ailleurs, les libertés que s’accordent les traducteurs par rapport au texte original doivent viser les mêmes réactions chez le public cible sans ignorer ou trahir l’idéologie, les valeurs régissant l’ensemble de l’œuvre du dramaturge. Une lecture intertextuelle et paratextuelle s’avère également utile voire nécessaire pour mieux comprendre la nature, l’intention et la cible de l’humour propre à l’auteur. Pour transposer l’humour, le plus important est l’efficacité communicative de sa traduction, car l’essence de l’énoncé humoristique, la raison de son existence, repose sur sa perception comme une blague (Attardo 2001, 32-33). Il en résulte ainsi que son interprétation par le destinataire doit s’accorder avec celle du destinateur.


Sources primaires

Ionesco, Eugène (1991) La Cantatrice chauve, in Théâtre complet d’Eugène Ionesco, E. Jacquart (éd.), 9-42, Paris, Gallimard. (Œuvre originale publiée en 1950 et 1952)

Ionesco, Eugène (1991) Les Chaises, in Théâtre complet d’Eugène Ionesco, E. Jacquart (éd.) 139-183, Paris, Gallimard. (Œuvre originale publiée en 1952)

Ionesco, Eugène (1987) Η πείνα και δίψα / Η Φαλακρή Τραγουδίστρια. Giorgos Protopapas. (Traduit en grec. Original français : La soif et la faim / La cantatrice chauve, 1950), Athènes, Editions  Dodoni.

Ionesco, Eugène (2007) Η Φαλακρή Τραγουδίστρια/ Το Μάθημα/ Οι Καρέκλες. Erikkos Belies (Traduit en grec. Originaux français : La Cantatrice chauve, 1950 ;  La leçon, 1970 ; Les chaises, 1973), Athènes, Editions Kedros.

Ionesco, Eugène (2011) Το μάθημα/ Οι καρέκλες, Yiannis Thivaios, (Traduit en grec, originaux français : La Leçon, 1970; Les Chaises, 1973) - Athènes, Editions Bilieto.

Adaptations radiophoniques, textes traduits par Kostas Stamatiou.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP4GYe-x3wE (La Cantatrice chauve, 1976) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BL_FRCBE1Qk (Les Chaises, 1971)

Sources secondaires

Asimakoulas, Dimitris (2004) “Towards a Model of Describing Humour Translation : A Case Study of the Greek Subtitled Versions of Airplane! and Naked Gun”, Meta 49, no.4: 822–842.

Attardo, Salvatore (1994) Linguistic Theories of Humor, Berlin/New York, Mouton de Gruyter.

Attardo, Salvatore (2001) Humorous Texts: A Semantic and Pragmatic Analysis. Humor Research Series, 6, Berlin/ New York, Mouton de Gruyter.

Attardo, Salvatore, et Victor Raskin (1991) “Script Theory Revis(it)ed: Joke Similarity and Joke Representation Model Author”, Humor 4, no. 3-4 : 293-347.

Bergson, Henri (1959) Le rire, essai sur la signification du comique, Paris, PUF.

Bouquet, Brigitte, et Jacques Riffault (2010) “L'humour dans les diverses formes du rire”, ERES, « Vie sociale » 2 : 13- 22.

Chabanne, Jean-Charles (2002) “Registre : Le Comique”, Chapitre extrait de Le comique, collection La Bibliothèque-Textes et dossiers « Registre », Gallimard.

Chiaro, Delia (éd.) (2010) Translation, Humour and The Media. Vol. 2, London, Continuum. 

Constantinou, Maria (2007) “Traduire l’ironie : L’exemple de l’oeuvre de N. Kazantzaki et ses traductions française et anglaise”, Linguistik Online 31, no.2 : 3–15.

Constantinou, Maria (2010) “Transposer l’ironie théâtrale dans la langue de l’Autre. Le cas de La Cantatrice chauve de Ionesco en grec”, in Katrien Lievois, et Pierre Schoentjes (éds. invités) Linguistica Antverpiensia, New Series - Translating Irony.  Belgium, University Press Antwerp: 151-171.

Constantinou, Maria (2018) “Charlie Hebdo’s controversial cartoons in question : stances, translational narratives and identity construction from a cross-linguistic perspective”, Social Semiotics: 1-30.

Diot, Roland (1989) “Humor for Intellectuals: Can it Be Exported and Translated? The Case of Gary Trudeau’s In Search of Reagan’s Brain”, Meta 34, no.1 : 84-87.

Henry, Jacqueline (2003) La traduction des jeux de mots, Paris, Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle.

Hickey, Leo (1998) “Perlocutionary equivalence: marking, exegesis and recontextualisation”, in Leo Hickey (éd.) The Pragmatics of Translation, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters: 217-232.

House, Juliane (1997) Translation quality assessment. A model revisited, Tubingen, Gunther Narr.

Gruner, Charles, R. (1997) The game of humor: A comprehensive theory of why we laugh. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Ionesco, Eugène (1966) Notes et contre-notes, Paris, Gallimard.

Ioani, Monica (2002) “Bergson et la thérapie du rire chez Ionesco”, Annales Universitatis Apulensis 2 : 95-102.

Kourdis, Evangelos (2009) “La sémiotique de la traduction de l’humour. Traduire la caricature de la presse française dans la presse grecque”, Signes, Discours et Sociétés 2: 1-10. 

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Meyer, John, C.  (2000) Humor as a double-edged sword: Four functions of humor in communication, Communication Theory 10: 310-331.

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Rastier, François (1987) Sémantique interprétative, Paris, PUF.

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Tsai, Claire (2015) “Reframing Humor in TV News Translation”, Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 23, no. 4 : 615–633.

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Zeynaligargari, Sevil, et Alavi, Farideh (2011) “L’art de la traduction de l’humour dans la littérature pour enfants : la traduction du Petit Nicolas en persan”, Traduire [En ligne], 224 | 2011, mis en ligne le 03 février 2014, consulté le 01 avril 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/traduire/243


[1] Il s’agit de la chaîne de télévision publique grecque.

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP4GYe-x3wE    (La Cantatrice chauve, 1976). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BL_FRCBE1Qk (Les Chaises, 1971).

[3] Selon cette théorie les autres paramètres sont le mécanisme logique, la situation, la stratégie narrative, la cible et la langue. Le paramètre de supériorité a été ultérieurement intégré et développé par Attardo (1996, voir aussi Asimakoulas 2004) dans le cadre de sa théorie.   

[4] Par commodité et pour faciliter la lecture par les non hellénophones, nous avons opté de ne pas inclure dans tous les exemples les trois versions et de nous limiter à leur description et / ou analyse.  

[5] Il est à noter que le mot κουραμπιές est polysémique ; il peut selon le contexte actualiser les sens suivants: a) gâteau sec produit en particulier à Noël, b) (péjoratif) soldat n’ayant jamais participé à une bataille de guerre c) (insulte) lâche, qui manque de courage. 

[6] Stamatiou fait une traduction plus explicite qui, à notre avis, provoque plus de rire que celle proposée par Thivaios. 

About the author(s)

Maria Constantinou received her Ph.D. in Language Sciences from the University of Franche-Comté in 2006. She taught foreign languages and communication-related courses in private academic institutions of Cyprus (2007-2012), and since January 2012, she has been teaching linguistics, (critical) discourse analysis, semiotics and translation (both theory and practice) at the University of Cyprus. She has also collaborated with the University of Nicosia within a master’s degree programme and has been working for the Law Office of the Republic of Cyprus as a freelance translator since 2008. She is particularly interested in issues related to metaphors, ideology, emotions, humour, discourse, society and identity construction. She has published on Kazantzakis and Ionesco, focussing mainly on the phenomena of intertextuality, metaphor, humour and ideology. Her recent research includes journalistic and political discourse, CMC (forums, blogs) and media and institutional translation and pays particular attention to the interplay between image and text. She has participated in various conferences and published articles and chapters on (and in) English, French and Greek mainly from a contrastive, cross-cultural and translational perspective in refereed and peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes.

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©inTRAlinea & Maria Constantinou (2019).
"Humour et jeux de mots dans l’œuvre d’ Eugène Ionesco et ses traductions en grec", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2406

A Translational Continuum

The Multiform Migration of the Iconic Song 'O sole mio

By Anna Fochi (Cardiff University, UK)

Abstract & Keywords


The manifold interface between music, migration and translation can foster challenging research, especially when translation is metaphorically approached as a continuous journey and migrating condition of people and forms. In this regard, the on-going translational evolution of a well-known popular song from Naples (‘O sole mio) is paradigmatic. By definition, a Neapolitan song (as ‘O sole mio is usually described) is rooted in multiple interconnections between heterogeneous materials and Naples itself has always given signs of being an open-air workshop on resistance and cultural hybridization. Moreover, this song has been crossing an unbelievable number of geographical, temporal and artistic boundaries, often intertwined with actual stories of Italian-American migration. The case study focuses on some relevant moments in this amazing journey, observing the successive layers of meaning created by its many incarnations.  Starting from its encounter with prestige opera audiences, thanks to great tenor Enrico Caruso (1916), the case-study follows the radical re-working and domestication that favour the full entrance of the song into the mainstream Anglo-American market (There’s no Tomorrow, 1949, sung by both Tony Martin and Dean Martin, and Elvis Presley’ hit It’s Now or Never, 1960), and finally focuses on the more recent return journeys to Naples and New York by Pino Daniele (2005) and Mario Bellavista (2011). By approaching this progress as a translational continuum, rather than a series of detached episodes of transformation, the analysis can highlight striking episodes of creative hybridization, which underscore positive feelings of transcultural intimacy and point to a “shared we”. The case study fully confirms that broader perspectives are crucial when studying the migration of popular songs. Monolithic notions, such as authenticity, cultural specificity or musical genre, as well as narrow distinctions between song translation proper, intralingua translation, non-translation and adaptation do not easily engage with this context. Thus, flexibility is the only viable answer. It is a stimulating field for both Music and Translation Studies, calling for more challenging approaches and greater contamination from both research areas.

Keywords: popular song, song translation, domestication, creative hybridization, ‘O sole mio, It’s Now or Never

©inTRAlinea & Anna Fochi (2019).
"A Translational Continuum The Multiform Migration of the Iconic Song 'O sole mio", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2401

Music as a migrating art

Music is a migrating form of art. Being a universal language (Minors 2013: 1), it can spread and migrate much more easily than people, thus establishing contacts and interacting with a variety of cultural influences. As Kapelj synthesizes  (in Proto Pisani 2011), music is a migrating art par excellence.

It comes as no surprise that stimulating contributions have recently appeared, showing that studies on music and migration can be promising allies (in particular, see Kapelj in 2009 and Kiwan and Meinhof 2011). Similarly, the articulate interface between music and translation has started to attract increasing academic attention, becoming the focus of a growing number of thought-provoking studies[1].

The intersection of translation and music can be a fascinating field to explore. It can enrich our understanding of what translation might entail, how far its boundaries can be extended and how it relates to other forms of expression. Research into this area can thus help us locate translation-related activities in a broader context, undermining more conservative notions of translation and mediation. (Susam-Saraeva 2008: 191)

Susam-Saraeva’s allusions to conservative notions evoke the last two decades of debates and dramatic change within Translation Studies. Since “the cultural turn has held sway in translation studies” (Munday 2001:127), contributing to the outlining of the “cultural translation paradigm” (Pym 2010: 144), challenging research has kept “undermining the more limiting conception of translation as meaning transfer” (Susam-Saraeva 2015: 7). The focus on translation has been shifted towards cultural processes, with increasing emphasis on new modes of mobility and transcultural sociability born across multiple borders and boundaries. Translation is seen as a continuous journey, a metaphor for the migrating condition of people and forms.

In our age of (the valorization of) migrancy, exile and diaspora, the world ‘translation’ seems to have come full circle and reverted from its figurative literary meaning of an interlingual transaction to its etymological physical meaning of local disrupture; translation seems to have been translated back to its origins. (Bassnett and Trivedi 1999: 13)

Given the fact that music can foster multidimensional and multidirectional cultural processes, the question is whether, and to what extent, it can also contribute to boosting the inner nature of translation, showing it as an “ongoing site of creativity”, rather than as a process imprisoned between the fixed oppositional poles of source and target (Glick Schiller and Meinhof 2011: 21). To approach translation as an “ongoing site of creativity” opens up fascinating perspectives for research. Thus, focussing on the relationship between music and translation and spotlighting popular song translation, this article chooses the multifaceted American journeys of an iconic song from Naples, Southern Italy: ‘O sole mio. Far from being images of straightforward translational transfer, the multiple single and return journeys of ‘O sole mio rather show how the song undergoes various transformations. After examining the 1916 classical performance of ‘O sole mio by a world-famous tenor, Enrico Caruso, the case-study then follows the full entrance of the song into the Anglophone musical market by means of a radical reworking in 1949, There’s no tomorrow, by both Tony Martin and Dean Martin. A few years later, Elvis Presley’s greatest hit, It’s Now or Never, turns it into an amazing commercial product, which fully complies with the Anglo-American mainstream musical market, thanks to a relevant process of domestication. Nonetheless, Elvis Presley’s hit has not stifled the migrating strength of the song. In fact, It’s Now or Never has been an exceptional sustaining force for ‘O sole mio. It has fostered its translational vitality: from its 1962 courageous encounter with the twist rhythm, in Franco Verna’s Facimel’a twist (‘O sole mio), to the rich cultural intimacy of two outstanding return journeys, Pino Daniele’s It’s Now or Never (2005) and Mario Bellavista’s jazz version of ‘O sole mio  (2011).

Each time some meaningful layers have been added, both problematizing and enriching the migration of this song. However, these steps can be better understood only if read as parts of a complex process still in progress, rather than a series of detached translational episodes. Therefore, the aim of the article is to offer a downside-up contribution to the debate on song translation through a paradigmatic case study. The analysis of a concrete example of a multifaceted translational process is a way to confirm and stress the relevance of more comprehensive and extended theoretical foundations within cultural translation studies.

Overcoming boundaries in the study of popular song translation

Translation Studies have often overlooked popular songs, especially their semiotic complexity. Yet, paradoxically, it is their very multidimensional nature that makes studying them so challenging and promising at the same time. This is confirmed by the growing attention devoted to songs within research on translation and music: from relevant contributions in both the 2008 special issue of The Translator (by Davies and Betahila, Öner, McMichael) and in Minors’ volume in 2013 (by Newmark, Low, Kaindl) to stimulating articles by Low (2013b) and Fernández (2015).

Undoubtedly, an element of its complexity is the fact that the genre called song is a verbal-musical hybrid (Low 2013b: 237). 

Words set to music are an instance of what Jacques Derrida called the supplement, an added element which is nonetheless integral to the whole  […] These supplements come in different forms, but they always present the paradox of belonging and being separate at the same time. (Chanan 2013)

However, this paradox is only one of the elements of complexity in songs. Kaindl describes popular song as “a semiotically complex form of aesthetic communication perceived as part of popular culture” (Kaindl 2005 and 2013: 151), or, more synthetically, a plurisemiotic artefact. Thus, still in Kaindl’s words, songs are “polyphonic texts”. The three main dimensions in song are music, voice and lyrics, but, of course, there are other components to be taken into consideration (Kaindl 2013: 151−2). As a matter of fact, songs are made up of both textual and extra-textual materials: linguistic and musical elements create a dialogue between themselves as well as with aural and visual materials (Fernández 2015 and Bosseaux 2013).

[Sung popular music] consists of linguistic, musical and visual elements which are transmitted by one person or a group, either by audio-visual or audio means, in the form of short narrative independent pieces. […] The visual presentation (live performances, music videos and album covers) is strongly connected to the dissemination and commodification of popular songs. The physique of the performers, their facial expression and gestures, their costumes, hair, and make-up, as well as dancers, lighting and possible props, merge into the song. (Kaindl 2013: 152−3)

The methodological complexities and challenges involved in the study of popular song translation are thus evident. The study of song recordings and videos should rely on a vast area of expertise. A combined competence, in Translation Studies, Music as well as Semiotics, is unfortunately not easy to find. However, even when moving on from mere criticism of single texts, researchers need to adopt new frameworks when studying music and translation (Susam-Saraeva 2008: 190). To start with, greater flexibility is crucial, since rigid distinctions could be misleading. In this regard, this article offers different perspectives, for example, from Low’s, who instead argues the need for clear definitions in song translation criticism. Since “definitions need boundaries (Latin fines)”, he deliberately urges “ a narrow view of what should be really called ‘song translation’” (2013b: 241, 243), to be distinguished from both “adaptation” and “replacement text”. The present author rather shares the view that distinctions are better seen as blurred in post-structuralist thought (Van Wyke 2014: 240). This opinion is even more appropriate in the case of translation of non-canonized music, such as popular song translation. Susam-Saraeva stresses that

[…] in non-canonized music, such as popular or folk songs, it is often impossible – and in my opinion, undesirable – to pinpoint where translation ends and adaptation begins […] such boundaries may become totally irrelevant. (Susam-Saraeva 2008: 189, highlighting added)

This case study will show how a long series of different transformations can receive greater significance if approached as a continual translational story. However, this approach inherently requires the overcoming of narrow definitions and boundaries between translation proper, adaptation and re-writing.

‘O sole mio and collective identity building

Scholars have stressed the crucial role played by popular music in helping people “define their relationship to local, everyday surroundings” (“narrativization of place”), as well as its part in articulating “notions of community and collective identity” (Bennet 2004: 2−3 and Fernández 2015: 271). Understandably, the impact of music and in particular of songs is even more intense on migrant communities (Susam-Sarajeva 2008: 188). All this is both confirmed and problematized by ‘O sole mio, the prime example of Neapolitan song culture becoming a global phenomenon.

Since its composition in 1898 (lyrics by Giovanni Capurro, music by Edoardo Di Capua, published by Edizioni Bideri, Naples), the song has spread rapidly and is still crossing an impressive, unbelievable number of geographical, temporal and artistic borders and boundaries. Del Bosco opens his monograph on ‘O sole mio by stating that the song is the best known song in the world, and if this were not enough, even in the whole universe (Del Bosco 2006: 5). At any rate, it cannot be denied that its popularity has been exceptional, and this is fully confirmed by the Neapolitan Song Sound Archives in Naples, a recent foundation by RadioRai (the Italian state radio) together with Naples Municipality and Campania Regional Council. For example, from the Archives we learn that ‘O sole mio has been extensively translated and interpreted by international opera singers, orchestras, artists and bands, as well as famous solo players. Equally striking is the variety of musical instruments used to interpret it, from violin, piano, trumpet, guitar, mandolin to electric guitars, Hammond organs, saxophones, and even the ukelin (a combination of the violin and the Hawaiian ukelete, made popular in the 1920’s in the USA).

Such worldwide circulation soon contributed to turn ‘O sole mio into a sort of Italian national anthem, thus starting to link it to narratives of national identity. Eloquent proof of this is that on August 14th 1920 in Antwerp, at the opening of the first Olympic Games after World War I, when the band conductor realized that no score of the Italian Royal March was available, he chose to play 'O sole mio, a tune that all his musicians could play by ear, and the song was greeted with great enthusiasm by all those present (Del Bosco 2006: 6). Even more surprisingly, since ‘O sole mio has deep local and regional roots, it is recorded that, at least in 1954, the song was regularly performed as the Italian National Anthem throughout the American continent, from Canada to Latin America (Del Bosco 2006: 23).

As already noted, ‘O sole mio is usually classified as a Neapolitan song. However, although Italy is a relatively young nation within Western Europe, since it was unified only in 1861, and internal regional differences are still great, in the world of song, what is usually referred to as Neapolitan has often been considered an emblem not only of “Neapolitanness” but even of “Italianness”.

[la canzone napoletana] è un’espressione musicale che metonimicamente “significa” e rappresenta una città, quando non l’intero Paese. (Pesc and Stazio 2013: 11)
[As a music form, Neapolitan song is a metonymy for a city, and sometimes even for the whole country.]

It is an eloquent example of narrativization of place. However, any claims to regard City and Country as monolithic entities remain suspect. We must acknowledge that urban cultures are by their very nature the result of multiple intersections and layers, and similarly local and national cultures are seldom so homogenous as to be conveyed by a single song, or music form, although they may serve as identity emblems. Naples is no exception, of course, though it has a few very distinctive traits. One of them is the persisting presence of a type of musical production with strong identifying factors since the 19th, which complicates and problematizes what has just been observed. On the other hand, an important issue to weigh in is that, paradoxically, this musical form is a sort of hybrid, and has been so since its very beginning.

What is usually labelled as Neapolitan song is very far from being a uniform musical genre. In fact, it is a much more complex and multifaceted cultural phenomenon than one might expect. “La canzone napoletana è praticamente indefinibile” [it is practically impossible to define Neopolitan song] (Del Bosco 2006: 9). The beginning of the classical season of Neapolitan art songs is identified with the closing decades of the 19th century, but the actual origins of this musical form are vague and should be traced back to the 14th century, and probably even earlier. Neapolitan polyphonic roundelays (with lute or calascione accompaniment[2]) had already become quite popular between the 14th and the 15th centuries; their matrix had been the villanelle alla napolitana, a very popular song genre in Neapolitan dialect especially between 1537 and 1652, which also attracted important composers, like Claudio Monteverdi.

 [...] per quanto riguarda la canzone napoletana sono accomunate sotto una stessa dizione forme espressive prodotte in momenti diversi e in modalità produttive differenti [...] affonda le radici in processi di interpenetrazione fra materiali eterogenei (canti contadini, frammenti operistici, estrapolazioni dalla letteratura di colportage, cultura musicale tradizionale cittadina, ecc. ) in cui trovavano espressione fenomeni come la ininterrotta immigrazione a Napoli da altre province del Regno e il continuo, quotidiano, pendolarismo dei cafoni fra la città e le campagne circostanti. Questo “laboratorio”, dunque, ha cominciato a funzionare molto tempo fa, e possiede una vitalità che pare inesauribile. (Pesc and Stazio 2013:11, 21)
 [Actually, Neapolitan song is an umbrella term for a number of expressive forms produced at different times and in diverse ways […] it is rooted in the interpenetration of heterogeneous materials, such as farmer folk songs, opera fragments, extrapolation from colportage literature, urban music traditions, etc. It also reflects complex phenomena, from the steady migration into Naples from other areas in the Realm, to the continual daily commuting of so-called cafoni, common louts, from the surrounding countryside. Thus, this “workshop” has been working for a long time, and still shows hard-won vitality.]

Naples and its multi-layered cultural background, therefore, can be seen as a vital crucible of multiple encounters and interfusions, a space for manifold “in-migration” and “out-migration “. This is the key to interpreting the transmuting life of ‘O sole mio. Its migration begins almost immediately, as portrayed in a well-known episode of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. It is the episode called "Séjour à Venise" (La fugitive, or Albertine disparue, posthumously published in 1925), where Marcel refuses to go to the train station with his mother and remains on the hotel terrace listening to a gondolier singing ‘O sole mio[3]. Although fiction is not to be taken as an accurate reflection of real life, this episode evokes a plausible dislocation of the song from Southern Italy to Venice, popular enough to be sung even by a gondolier. Venice and Naples had belonged to different states only a few decades before, in pre-Unification Italy. This means that important cultural and linguistic borders had still to be crossed within the Italian peninsula. We can presume that Proust’s gondolier singing ‘O sole mio would be likely to speak only the Venetian dialect, while ‘O sole mio is not even written in Italian. In point of fact, its lyrics, even nowadays, can be only partially understood by native Italian speakers not fully acquainted with the Neapolitan dialect. That is the reason why Del Bosco’s monograph, like most Italian webpages on the song, displays the lyrics alongside a literal translation into Italian (Del Bosco 2006: 119).

An eventful mistranslation

The evocative lyrics of ‘O sole mio are by a minor Neapolitan poet, Giovanni Capurro (1859-1920). Structurally and rhythmically, the text is characterized by regularity and constant alternation of rhymed stanzas and chorus. Repetition (words, phrases and whole lines) is the key figure throughout the poem. Moreover, each four-line stanza is framed by the recurrence of the same line. It’s a perfect introduction to the lyrical and melodic explosion of the chorus, which clearly carries the song’s impact and message.

‘O Sole Mio

Il sole mio

My own sun




Che bella cosa ‘na jurnata ‘e sole,
N’aria serena doppo na tempesta!
Pe’ ll’aria fresca pare già na festa
Che bella cosa ‘na jurnata ‘e sole

Che bella cosa una giornata di sole,
Un’aria serena dopo la tempesta!
Per l’aria fresca pare già una festa…
Che bella cosa una giornata di sole!

What a wonderful thing a sunny day
The cool air after a thunderstorm!
The fresh breezes banish the heavy air…
What a wonderful thing a sunny day.




Ma n’atu sole
cchiù bello, oi ne’.
‘O sole mio
sta ‘nfronte a te!
‘O sole, ‘o sole mio
Sta ‘nfronte a te
sta ‘nfronte a te!

Ma un altro sole
Più bello c’è, o ragazza
Il sole mio
Sta in fronte a te.
Il sole, il sole mio,
Sta in fronte a te
Sta in fronte a te.

But another sun,
That’s brighter still
It’s my own sun
That’s in your face!
The sun, my own sun
It’s in your face!
It’s in your face!




Lùcene ‘ellastre d’’a fenesta toia;
‘na lavannara canta e se ne vanta
E pe’ tramente torce, spanne e canta
Lùcene e ‘llastre d’’a fenesta toia.

Ma n’atu sole

Luccicano I vetri della tua finestra,
una lavandaia canta e si vanta
Mentre strizza, stende e canta.
Luccicano I vetri della tua finestra!

Ma un altro sole

Shining is the glass from your window;
A washwoman is singing and bragging
Wringing and hanging laundry and singing
Shining is the glass from your window.

But another sun,




Quando fa notte e o’ sole se ne scenne,
Me vene quase ‘na malincunia;
Sotto ‘a fenesta toia restarria
Quando fa notte e ‘o sole se ne scenne.

Ma n’atu sole

Quando fa sera e il sole se ne scende,
Mi viene quasi una malinconia…
Resterei sotto la tua finestra,
Quando fa sera ed il sole se ne scende.

Ma un altro sole

When night comes and the sun
Has gone down, I start feeling blue;
I’d stay below your window
When night comes and the sun has gone down.

But another sun,

In the whole poem, a text of only thirty-three lines, the word sole (sun) occurs sixteen times. Presumably this core image is what has helped it overcome linguistic barriers and reach native Italian speakers outside Naples. This is aided by the fact that, although ‘O sole mio is in the Neapolitan dialect, it employs a sort of moderate dialect, somehow diluted and tempered by both phrases and structures taken from standard Italian (Pesc and Stazio 2013: 417). On the other hand, the difficulty for a non-Neapolitan listener to fully understand the lyrics, is confirmed by a mistake in translation, often found in many webpages: the opening line of the chorus “Ma n’atu sole / ‘cchiù bello, oj ne’” means that, although the sun is so beautiful and delightful, there is an even brighter sun. However, to an Italian listener the last two words of the line, “oj ne’”, sound like “non c’è” (‘there isn’t’), which explains the recurrent misunderstanding in webpage literal translations into Italian “Un altro sole / più bello non c’è” (‘but no brighter sun there is’). Yet, with ’no brighter sun there is’ instead of ‘there is an even brighter sun’, the opposite message meaning is conveyed (Del Bosco 2006: 124).

Nonetheless, although it is not a minor mistake, this common mistranslation has paved the way of the migration of the song, at least at the beginning. With many of its colourful details being overshadowed, ‘O sole mio has soon entered the collective national imagination as a sort of irresistible hymn to the sun and to all that it is supposed to mean for those who live in a Mediterranean country. It has become a quintessential synthesis, or rather an epitome of Latin vitality and passionate feeling. The mistaken meaning has even become an important factor in collective identity construction. The statement “another, lovelier sun doesn’t exist” has the logical consequence that beautiful sunshine can be found only in Naples, and, by direct irradiation, in Italy as well. The implicit commonplace is the equation sunshine is Naples and Italy, with two direct corollaries:

  • By right, sunshine belongs to any Italian emigrant’s stock of home-longing feelings.
  • For the most part, sunshine does not exist outside Naples/Italy (Del Bosco 2006: 71).

Migrating Overseas

It is not clear if ‘O sole mio, is even partly indebted for its journey outside Naples to the so-called posteggiatori, since their activity was waning when the song was composed. They were singular figures, street musicians who, accompanied occasionally by a pianino (a portable musical box on a hand-cart), but mostly by a guitar, interpreted all types of popular song, travelling almost all over Europe[5].

What is certain is that the song’s main “leap outside” is connected to the interpretation of the great tenor Enrico Caruso, himself from Naples, and a migrant artist in his own way, too (Naples 1873-1921). Obviously, ‘O sole mio had already reached the USA thanks to Italian migrants. “My grandfather brought his songs from Naples and taught them to his children and they taught them to me”, reports a third-generation Italian migrant living in Massachusets (Tawa 1982: 37). Italians were migrating from different parts of Italy, carrying with them very different cultural backgrounds. However, as we have seen, ‘O sole mio, had quickly found its way across linguistic and cultural barriers within Italy, and this explains why in the early years of the Twentieth Century ‘O sole mio could contribute to the cementing of all Italian communities in North America (Tawa 1982: 19).

Nevertheless, it is thanks to Enrico Caruso that ‘O sole mio reached an unprecedented status and fame. Caruso was the most admired Italian opera tenor of the early Twentieth Century, and certainly the most celebrated and highest paid of his contemporaries worldwide. From November 23rd 1903 his name was associated with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, where he opened each season for eighteen consecutive years. When he decided to include ‘O sole mio in his interpretations, he was the first great singer to adopt the song. In 1916, when he was at the peak of his career, Caruso also recorded ‘O sole mio in one of the best studios in New Jersey, accompanied by an opera orchestra[6]. Undoubtedly, this recording itself could be seen as a meaningful form of transformation, through musical reconceptualization, arrangement, performance and singing style.

Caruso’s choice to include the song in his repertoire, together with other Neapolitan melodies, can be read as an implicit affirmation of national and regional identity. Certainly, Italian communities abroad looked up to him. He was a migrant like them, and thus they could idolize him as an emblem of collective Italian redemption. Similarly, thanks to Caruso, a popular song like ‘O sole mio could progress from minor to prominent locations. Opera and great theatres meant higher prestige and greater circulation abroad, well beyond Italian-speaking migrant communities. Its higher musical and social status is confirmed by both Caruso’s decision to record it and the prestigious format chosen. In the wake of the beginning of Western cultural industry, Caruso’s recording of ‘O sole mio meant an undisputable increase in its dissemination, targeting greater audiences and paving the way to its gradual turning into an amazing commercial product.

Most of the listeners in the USA were unlikely to understand the lyrics of ‘O sole mio at all, but the success of the song confirms that “it is after all quite possible to enjoy a sung performance without any knowledge of the language being used” (Davies 2008: 250)[7]. This way, ‘O sole mio gradually turns into a veritable “musicocentric” song, where music, melody and voice are valued more than words[8]. Apparently, this quality of the song was stressed even more by Caruso’s interpretation. His voice had already conquered American opera audiences for its atypical and unorthodox flavour, so “genuine” by comparison with the “spurious and studied” voices of illustrious American predecessors (Gara 1947: 139). In his interpretation of ‘O sole mio, the great tenor’s warm, ardent and vigorous voice amplifies the passionate strength of the melody and creates what is remembered as a legendary performance, with his recording remaining the benchmark by which all others are usually measured.

Surprisingly, however, Caruso’s rendering of ‘O sole mio, which has often been treated as the officially consecrated one, offers a shortened version of the song, completely omitting the second stanza. This way, greater emphasis is placed on the stanzas that are more focussed on the sunshine and easier to understand, being linguistically least dialectical. In the wake of Caruso’s interpretation, ‘O sole mio has been sung by a vast number of great opera singers, but it is Caruso’s shortened version that is mostly privileged. Yet, the fact that Caruso’s interpretation is already a form of transposition, from both a musical and textual point of view, easily tends to be missed. One telling example can suffice: without any explicative note or comment, the website Italamerica proposes the unabridged version of the lyrics to accompany Caruso’s shortened version of ‘O sole mio. In fact, although Caruso’s performance is often nostalgically looked back to as the epitomical model of the classic and pristine rendering of the song, we must acknowledge that it is not the “authentic” ‘O sole mio. Instead it proves how incongruous ideas of authentic interpretations can be.

Displacement and evolution: the encounter with the American market

As a consequence of its increasing success in the USA, ‘O sole mio soon begins to get translated into English. The first recorded version in English sung by American born Charles W. Harrison, My sunshine, dates back to 1915, and is soon followed by similar examples of fairly literal translations, or “singable translations”[9]. Surprisingly, in 1921 ‘O sole mio even evolves into a religious hymn, Down from His Glory, when William E. Booth-Clibborn replaces Capurro’s lyrics and writes a new text to Capua’s ‘O sole mio. However, although interesting, all these cases only affect the textual-linguistic level of the song. A more important departure is the totally new version of ‘O sole mio, musically and verbally re-reworked by Al Hoffman, Leo Corday and Leon Carr in 1949, with the title There’s no tomorrow. It was sung by the American singer Tony Martin as well as by the Italian American singer Dean Martin, who recorded it some years later. Easily perceivable effects of cultural displacement can be spotted in the disconnecting of lyrics and partly of music, too, from the Neapolitan song that had reached the USA. It is a radical rewriting, to start with the lyrics.

Love is a flower that blooms so tender
Each kiss a dew drop of sweet surrender,
Love is a moment of life enchanting,
Let's take that moment, that tonight is granting,
There's no tomorrow when love is new,
Now is forever when love is true,
So kiss me and hold me tight,
There's no tomorrow, there's just tonight[10].

In Tony Martin’s version, the passionate tune of the chorus is made to begin the song, turning the second stanza into little more than transitional reasoning[11]. What is more important, in both Tony Martin’s and Dean Martin’s versions any references to the sunshine have disappeared, thus overshadowing that once important element of national identification. It gives way to a more universal theme, Love, which Love becomes the absolute protagonist of the song. What is retained, however, is the captivating passionate melody of ‘O sole mio. Its warmth and unmistakably Mediterranean flavour are easily seen as the perfect match for a successful message of fervent and sensuous seduction. However, the rhythm is slowed down, more ostensibly so in Dean Martin’s singing. The shift from opera orchestras to variety show bands needs important musical reconceptualization, but voice still plays the main role. Tony Martin’s interpretation is more full-throated and passionate, whereas Dean Martin’s lower and baritone voice underlines sensuousness and intrigue, a characteristic he comically exaggerated in his vaudeville show with Jerry Lewis. In both cases, however, what remains pivotal is the successful match of passionate melody and warm voice.

In particular, Dean Martin stresses the bond between ‘O sole mio and There’s no tomorrow in a number of different interpretations, from parody, in the vaudeville show, to more traditional versions; for example, when he sings There’s no tomorrow as an unbroken introduction to ‘O sole mio, so as to honour the origin as well as the cultural progress of both song and singer (Hoffman 1949)[12]. Unlike Tony Martin, Dean Martin is a second generation Italian American and he accomplishes two objectives, when he sings ‘O sole mio after There’s no tomorrow as one song. On the one hand, he is adding a strong exotic Mediterranean flavour to his performance, thoroughly befitting a passionate seduction song, while, on the other hand, he is sending a strong signal to Italian communities in America. Despite his success in the American song market, he is not denying his origins and, even more important, the audience is invited not to forget that There’s no tomorrow does not only spring from ‘O sole mio, but is still deeply intertwined with it.

At any rate, in spite of the differences in interpretations between Tony Martin and Dean Martin, There’s no tomorrow is the result of an unmistakable process of unequal cultural power relations and domestication[13]. Both musically and textually the Neapolitan song is drastically changed through a translational approach, which minimizes its foreignness to the point of overshadowing it. However, this approach has certainly enforced distribution and the entrance of the song into the Anglophone musical market, since translation makes the song comply with the “conventions that seemed effective in popularizing a composition” (Tawa 2005:15).

A 20th-century concept, which rarely appeared in earlier song but did appear with some frequency from the thirties on, was the possibility of impermanent love. [...] Over the next four decades, the likelihood of loved not being eternal was raised in song. (Tawa 2005: 98)

Therefore, There’s no tomorrow is fully in line with mainstream popular songs of the first half of the Twentieth Century in the USA. It favours love as a theme, although romantic sentimentality gives way to seduction and passion, with a subtle trace of urban cynicism.

Elvis Presley’s It’s Now or Never

Reportedly, it is through Tony Martin’s There’s no tomorrow that Elvis Presley meets O’ sole mio, during his military service in Germany in 1959. He is won over by the song, especially for its melody that offers great potentiality for “beautiful singing”, the full-throated vocal style which is often roughly identified as bel canto. Elvis Presley commissions brand new lyrics, tailored especially to him, to two expert songwriters, Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold, who present him with It’s now or never, a version of the song in cha-cha-cha rhythm.

When I first saw you with your smile so tender
My heart was captured, my soul surrendered
I'd spend a lifetime waiting for the right time
Now that you’re near the time is here at last.

It's now or never, come hold me tight
Kiss me my darling, be mine tonight
Tomorrow will be too late,
it's now or never, my love won't wait.

Just like a willow, we would cry an ocean
If we lost true love and sweet devotion
Your lips excite me, let your arms invite me
For who knows when we’ll meet again this way.

It's now or never, come hold me tight
Kiss me my darling, be mine tonight
Tomorrow will be too late,
it's now or never, my love won't wait[14].

But Elvis Presley is not satisfied and insists on shifting back to a bolero-rock rhythm, and bolero is, incidentally, the rhythm originally chosen by Capurro for O’ sole mio (Del Bosco 2006: 43 and 83). Moreover, when Elvis Presley records it in 1960, he follows Tony Martin’s model, choosing to begin the song with the winning melody of the chorus[15]. It is immediately a roaring success. It becomes Elvis Presley’s greatest hit and literally takes the world by storm, selling millions of copies and becoming number one in countries worldwide. According to the Wikipedia list of best-selling singles, it is the eighth best-selling single of all time, while other sources exalt it as the best-selling single ever.

Presley’s joyful take showing off his baritone to tenor end range, made number 1 in the US and the UK. Arguably the best selling single of all time, it shifted 30 million copies worldwide (Julie Burns 2011)

Thematically It’s now or never is consistent with There’s no tomorrow, focussing on love and passion, and similarly inviting the beloved to surrender and take the chance. The key words are identical, “surrender”, “now”, “kiss”, “tomorrow”. Yet, although along the same line, Schroeder and Gold’s lyrics sound more emphatic than Hoffman, Corday and Carr’s. The incisive opposition “now or never”, followed by the strong statement “my love won’t wait”, are even a further departure from the sunny sentimentality of Capurro’s lyrics.

Structurally and musically, It’s now or never is a conventional song by early 1960s American standards, too. It consists basically of a 16-bar chorus and verse, both based on a familiar tune, and there is nothing unusual or striking about the melodic or harmonic structure of this song. In the 1960 recording of the song, It’s now or never opens with a brief instrumental introduction. Then Elvis Presley begins his singing with the chorus, in this keeping to Tony Martin’s There’s no tomorrow. As Saffle states, what is really unusual is the way Elvis sings this song, his strikingly handsome and heart-felt performance (Saffle 2009: 13). Elvis Presley was a stunning performer, and although he did not compose any of his music, the ways in which he performed the songs made them always sound new and unique. However, since his powerful stage presence had started to defy the values of more conservative audiences, who began to be suspicious of his glamorous bad-boy appeal and his culturally challenging music, in this song he deliberately adopted a more passionate and less defiant performing style (Saffle 2009: 2).

With It’s now or never, the process of domestication could not be more manifest in the migrating journey of O’ sole mio, showing the compliance of Elvis Presley’s version with American mainstream song norms.  However, market conventions also include the need to stress the Italian flavour as an essential element in a love song of seduction. First of all, Elvis Presley’s full-throated and heart-felt singing style is in line with bel canto. The use of a mandolin in the orchestra accompaniment, an instrument traditionally associated with Italian folk music, is clearly meant to provide local colour, too. However, those are rather superficial “exoticizing” clues, with the foreign being encapsulated, and diluted, in a stereotype. They are perfectly in line with the conventional image of Italy as the country of melody and sensual romance needed for the American market.

An on-going process of creative hybridization

If the American migration of ‘O sole mio’ were to be concluded here, It’s now or never could be mostly studied as one more eloquent example of unbalanced power relations in translational experiences in both literature and music.  

With the post-World War I decades European popular culture embraced America’s popular songs wholesale [...] The process continued for the rest of the century. […] in popular music and popular culture, America now “dictated the world”. (Tawa 2005: 27).

No doubt, the evolution of the Neapolitan song into It’s now or never supports those critical positions in Translation Studies that lament the predominance of domesticating strategies in Anglo-American translation practice and culture (in particular, Venuti 2008: 1-34). However, the case of Elvis Presley’s It’s now or never is more subtle and multifaceted, especially if better contextualized within a prolonged and complex process of translational growth. This American hit has been an exceptional sustaining force for ‘O sole mio, almost igniting its “second life” (Del Bosco 2006: 84). The overseas journey of Capurro and Di Capua’s song overlaps and interrelates with actual human migration. It lives and shares cultural translation experiences, which cannot be understood through a perspective that only allows for binary divisions and dialectical polarization, such as “domestication” vs. “foreignization”. When approached with an alternative optic, the American translational journey of  ‘O sole mio reveals a very interesting form of resistance, “a will to survival [that] presents a way out of the binary dilemmas” (Pym 2010: 145). Tony Martin’s and Dean Martin’s There’s no tomorrow, as well as Elvis Presley’s It’s now or never, are necessary crucial steps in this translational story, since they generate an on-going and complex articulation of difference and negotiation, resulting in multiple forms of hybridization.

What is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond narratives of originary and initial subjectivities and to focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences. These ‘in-between’ spaces provide terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood [...] that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration. (Bhabha 2004: 2)

As we have seen, both There’s no tomorrow and It’s now or never, although fully complying with American conventions and ostensibly rewriting Capurro’s and Di Capua’s song, still preserve the bond with ‘O sole mio, if only for its captivating melody and its “cultural appeal”. It does not matter if this “local flavour” is no longer genuine and sounds somewhat stereotypical and “cross-bred”. What is important is that the song lives on, modified and modifying at the same time. It travels well beyond Italian migrant communities and reaches once unimaginable audiences, who unavoidably receive it according to their specific historical and cultural backgrounds. Accelerated by Tony Martin’s, Dean Martin’s and Elvis Presley’s hits, the process of creative hybridization soon becomes multi-dimensional and multi-directional, challenging national and regional boundaries while also transgressing cultural and music genre categorizations.

Limiting the focus to the American progress of the song from the migrating point of view, namely “the minoritarian perspective”, to say it in Bhabha ‘s words (Bhabha 2004: XVII), an interesting case to be observed is the hybridized version launched by an Italian American singer Frank Verna in 1962, Facimel’a twist (‘O sole mio). It is a thorough rewriting of ‘O sole mio, a striking creolization of both music and language. Its rhythm is accelerated and the Mediterranean melody of ‘O sole mio, with the inevitable addition of mandolins, meet the African American dance craze of the moment, the twist. Not surprisingly, it is also a completely new text, written moreover in the pidgin English spoken by second/third generation Italian immigrants in the USA. “If you should ever go to sunny Italy/you find our paisans there/are singing Facimel’a twist/no tarantella più bella twist...”[16].

The lyrics are in English, but with important Italo-American invasions. First of all, paisans in the second line. As the Urban Dictionary online explains, paisan is a word used with Italians or Italian Americans when they are informally, but in a friendly manner, addressing one another. It means "brother" or "fellow countryman" and is shortened from paisano. In Verna’s song the plural form paisans is used, but it is an English plural form, by adding “s”, not an Italian one (the Italian form would have been paisani): a perfect example of creolization in one single word. The title and refrain, Facimel’a twist (let’s make it a twist), is another example. It is the imperative first person plural form from the Neapolitan language, but it is misspelled. It should be written, and pronounced, with double mm, facimmela, but the phonemic distinction between m and mm is often missed by English speakers. Moreover, as in the preceding example, a rule of English grammar is easily applied to a foreign word. In the refrain Facimel’a twist the Italian personal pronoun la, attached to the Neapolitan imperative verb facimme, is contracted to join the English article a

The song opens with the classic dream of any immigrant, the hope to visit one’s home country, taking up the idea that Italy and sunshine are the same. It is an indirect allusion to ‘O sole mio leading to the refrain with the well-known melody, unmistakable although arranged as a twist. At any rate, the reference could hardly be more evident in a 1962 music video of the song accessible in SonicHits webpage[17]. Here Verna’s Facimel’a twist (O sole mio) openly asserts its source. The video opens on a close-up of the cover of Verna’s 45 vinyl record, with Caruso’s ‘O sole mio as the soundtrack. Caruso’s singing goes on while Verna’s record is replaced by the image of a gramophone; then a hand comes into view pulling the record out of its cover and preparing it to be played by the gramophone. ‘O sole mio finally fades out and Facimel’a twist begins. Unlike Dean Martin, who sings ‘O sole mio as the conclusion of There’s no tomorrow, Verna’s courageous hybridization asserts the connection of Facimel’a twist to ‘O sole mio from the beginning of the video. At the same time, its distance from the source song is equally stressed. If Dean Martin performs There’s no tomorrow and ‘O sole mio as if they were two parts of the same song, although with different texts and in different languages, Verna prefers not to sing ‘O sole mio himself and gives way to Caruso’s 1916 classic recording (a musically and vocally very distant text). However, as we have seen, the American progression of ‘O sole mio between Caruso and Verna has not taken place in a vacuum, but has evolved through important translational episodes. New layers have been added. Such an articulate story of domestication, negotiation and difference is at this point intrinsically part of the substratum of the song and necessarily takes part in its ongoing migration. Thus, alongside Caruso’s ‘O sole mio, other intertextual presences can be detected in Facimel’a twist. It is the case of the stereotypical reference to tarantella as an Italian national feature (Di Capua’s ‘O sole mio is definitely not a tarantella), or the use of mandolins and, above all, an easy-going invitation to enjoy love and not to miss the opportunity. They are all in line with the American translational progression of ‘O sole mio as shown by both There’s no tomorrow and It’s now or never.

Back to Naples and onwards

Many years later, the process of creative hybridization remains as strong as ever, opening unexpected and innovative sites of negotiation and collaboration. In his 2005 album Iguana cafè – Latin Blues e Melodie, Neapolitan singer and songwriter Pino Daniele introduces his very personal cover of It’s now or never. Strictly speaking, Pino Daniele is no emigrant and is always aware of his deep personal links with his hometown, Naples. Yet his whole artistic quest is in a certain sense a never-ending migration, until his premature death in January 2015. Since his first album in 1977, Pino Daniele has been a transnational artist, endlessly experimenting and exploring differences in music genres and rhythms, while always preserving its Neapolitan roots, or rather its South Mediterranean nature. His privileged attention is to American music, music of Afro-American origins, rock, jazz, funky and above all blues. This helps him create a personal and innovative musical genre, which he eloquently names tarumbo or taramblù, a creolization of tarantella and blues, chosen as cultural epitomes. However, his artistic migration includes also Caribbean and African music, with an immense number of artistic collaborations, fully confirming that “music might enhance our sense of sociality and community, because of its great potential for providing shared experiences that are corporeal, emotional and full of potential meaning for the participants” (Hesmondagh 2012, quoted by Susam-Saraeva 2015: 37). The transcultural nature of Pino Daniele’s music is already evident in the CD he made before the album Iguana cafè containing his cover of It’s now or never. The CD Medina in 2001, with the contribution of Mali singer Salif Keita and Turkish musician Omar Farouk, stresses how the very concept of “Neapolitanness” can remain meaningful only if understood as part of a continuous cultural evolution. It is quintessentially a multifaceted and transcultural progression, linking and fusing together migrating voices and stories of marginalization from the multifaceted “South of the World”: Naples as the South of Italy, Italy and the Mediterranean countries as the South of Europe as well as of richer Western Countries like North America, and finally, black Africa as the South of all Western Countries, this time including the South of Italy as well.

This gives a unique undertone to Pino Daniele’s It’s now or never. The credits on the CD are worth noticing: “It’s now or never − written by Schroeder, Di Capua, Gold”. If Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold are the obvious credits for Presley’s hit, Di Capua is the lyricist of ‘O sole mio. It makes one wonder why the Neapolitan poet is credited in between the adapters of  Presley’s It’s now or never. The opening is still Elvis Presley’s song. Even its lyrics are not translated. Thus, by “transporting himself into the Other’s language” and lyrics, Pino Daniele leads his listeners to a different place and time. The decision of not translating and singing in “the Other’s language”, is always a meaningful choice for a singer, as thoroughly explored by Susam Saraeva (2015: 39-62). Also Dean Martin had performed in another language, when singing ‘O sole mio as the mirror image of There’s no Tomorrow, but we have seen that his position and objectives were different. In Pino Daniele’s It’s now or never, although the lyrics are not changed, Elvis Presley’s song is subtly worked on: different rhythm, instruments, arrangement, and, above all, an entirely different approach to performing and singing. The admixture is easily perceivable in a 2006 music video[18]. Pino Daniele is sitting and playing a guitar, accompanied by an assorted group of classic and ethnic instruments and musicians. The economic use of instruments and a sober stage design create a deliberately less glamorous atmosphere. Pino sings the first part of It’s now or never, with his singular voice, warm and soft. He then shifts to the opening lyrics and language of Capua’s ‘O sole mio, to finally go back to It’s now or never for the concluding chorus. He thus offers a unique song, which is both homage to Elvis Presley and American blues as well as a powerful response and expression of resistance to Anglo-American mainstream music from this side of the Ocean. A “simultaneous identification and distancing mechanism” is at work, resulting in an interesting case of intimate distance, as the ethnomusicologist Bigenho describes similar  “ways of feeling simultaneously oh so close to and yet still so far from an Other”(Bigenho 2012: 25, quoted in Susam-Saraeva 2015: 51). If code switching in a song is already a meaningful organizational and aesthetic device meant to achieve both localization and globalization (Davies 2013: 248), in this song there is much more, from text and linguistic switching to cultural hybridization and artful music contamination. It is a brilliant example of a culturally heterogeneous song, and a positive testimony to Pino Daniele’s continual efforts in establishing multiple bridges which, however, are never meant to erase all peculiarities, reaching “ultimate sameness or unity” (Susam-Saraeva 2015: 52).

A positive gesture of transcultural intimacy

The concept of transcultural intimacy, a collective intimacy beyond and across nations (a main notion in Susam-Saraeva 2015), opens new perspectives in this research. Pino Daniele’s song clearly contributes to the building of a shared “we”. By bringing together languages, lyrics, rhythms, as well as assorted instruments and musicians, Pino Daniele’s It’s now or never points to a diversified and multifaceted “we”, so as to include people from Naples and the South-Mediterranean as well as Afro-Americans and Anglo-Americans. It opens the way to further development in the same direction of transcultural intimacy, as shown by the following polysemiotic hybridization of ‘O sole mio.

Understandably enough, ‘O sole mio has been co-opted by innumerable jazz singers all over the world. Among them, Mario Bellavista, a jazz pianist from Palermo, should be noted. Bellavista, who is a lawyer by profession, has recently recorded an album entitled O sole mio, which is also one of its eight tracks. The CD was completely recorded in New York on November 30th 2011, with a jazz ensemble of Italian and American artists, Mario Bellavista New York Quintet: Jerry Weldon, tenor sax; Eric Miller, trombone; Mario Bellavista, piano; Harvie S, acoustic bass; Mimmo Cafiero, drums[19]. The album cover is embellished with suggestive paintings by Beatrice Feo Filangeri, images that pictorially evoke the renewed and happy encounter of ‘O sole mio with New York (Jazzy Records 2012). Mario Bellavista’s idea of bringing back the Neapolitan song to New York, involving American artists in the experience, is a conscious step towards a shared we.

Siamo abituati a lasciarci chiaramente influenzare dalle sonorità jazz americane [...] io al contrario volevo importare delle suggestioni tipiche della tradizione italiana, e farle assimilare da musicisti americani [we are used to let us get influenced by American jazz sound […] instead my wish was to import suggestive features from Italian music and get American musicians to absorb them] (Unsigned article 2013).

In a video interview accessible online, Bellavista points out that the three American artists warmly welcomed his proposal and even actively contributed to the arrangements[20]. Naturally enough, all of them are present in the music video dedicated to this jazz version of ‘O sole mio[21]. It is a striking video, following Bellavista’s wanderings through the heart of New York, guided by the melodic jazz version of ‘O sole mio. Bellavista moves around New York by car but he does not do the driving. So he can better observe and enjoy. Although he is often in the video, it is mostly his privileged perspective that guides the camera, which contributes to making these images so personal and incisive.

In this sophisticated music video, ‘O sole mio goes back to New York once again. New York was the port of arrival in the USA for so many Italian migrants and as such it certainly has an important symbolic value in the video. By bringing  ‘O sole mio back to New York, Bellavista inevitably evokes the past migration of his fellow countrymen. However, this jazz version looks back and forwards at the same time. Bellavista’s music video no longer expresses a typical experience of migration. The ‘O sole mio inherited by Bellavista is a popular song that has been through a complex journey to Northern America and through American culture. Thanks to Pino Daniele’s It’s now or never, it has even experienced a return to the home country, which, however, it would be reductive to define as all the way. Along the journey the song has taken on many more layers, opening to Afro-American rhythms and developing transcultural dimensions. Therefore, Bellavista’s musical, visual and symbolic journey through the streets of New York is the result of a process of hybridization that tends to become more complex and intimate at the same time. Through all these layers, however, what has been preserved is the inner soul of ‘O sole mio and the power of popular music to strengthen people’s sense of sociality and community, as shown by the video in its distinctive insistence on street music scenes and innumerable smiling faces. Bigenho observes that “there is something intimate about playing music with others” (2012: 176), which is fully confirmed by Bellavista’s own words:

L’altra parte del mondo a volte è più vicina di quanto non si possa immaginare. Ciò che sembra lontano a volte è molto vicino o addirittura dentro di noi. Grazie a Harvie, Jerry and Eric, che mi hanno fatto sentire più italiano. Grazie a Mimmo che mi ha fatto sentire più americano. [The other side of the world is sometimes closer than you could imagine. What we think to be very far, is very close to us, or even inside us at times. Thanks to Harvie, Jerry and Eric, who have helped me feel more Italian. Thanks to Mimmo, who has helped me feel more American] (Bellavista 2011b: CD cover).

It is an important admission of transcultural intimacy and an implicit acknowlegment of the creative value of translational hybridization.


The opening question of this article, whether music can foster complex processes of cultural translation, finds a compellingly positive answer in the long migration of ‘O sole mio. After all, it is its captivating passionate melody that has mostly driven the translational journey of the song, favouring the multifaceted encounters that mark out its exceptional progress. This opens broader contexts for research in popular song translation, while calling for more challenge-based approaches. To start with, flexibility is paramount. Narrow distinctions between “song translation proper”, intralingua translation, non-translation and adaptation become irrelevant in the articulated transformation of this popular song. And in this regard the article could not agree more with Susam-Saraeva’s statements.

Such a flexible view of translation and music might be unacceptable for many scholars […] [Yet] A broader approach to translation and music might reveal precisely what makes the topic such a fascinating area of research for other scholars (Susam-Saraeva  2008:189).

Focussing on the migrating progress undergone by ‘O sole mio, and the successive layers of meaning created by its many incarnations, the analysis stresses how the vital connection to the Neapolitan song is always preserved, even in its more radical metamorphoses. This leads to a view of the journey as an ongoing process of translational development. Studying this progress as a translational continuum, rather than as a series of detached episodes of transformation, the article highlights the transcultural value gradually acquired by this popular song. The adage that music is a migrant art par excellence is fully confirmed, in all its implications, starting from its hybridizing potentialities and openness to the provocative and inspirational acts of cultural translation we have studied here.

Moreover, the case study offers also a bottom-up endorsement of  core theoretical notions within Cultural Translation Studies. As we have seen, the so-called Neapolitan songs have vague origins and Naples itself has always given signs of being an open-air workshop on resistance and cultural hybridization (Pesc and Stazio 2013: 20). All this convincingly demonstrates that it is crucial “to think beyond narratives of originary and initial subjectivities” (Bhabha 2004: 2). Researchers in popular song translation should be aware that monolithic notions such as authenticity and cultural specificity as well as musical genre do not easily engage with their research, as this exemplary story of popular song migration amply confirms. Moreover, the translational evolution of ‘O sole mio problematizes the very idea of migration, first of all by blurring the boundaries between internal and external migration, but also by including what we could call return migrations, leading to further forms of hybridization and transcultural evolution.

Music and Cultural Translation Studies can be precious allies. It is a “fascinating area of research”, but at present it is, for the most part, still uncharted. Stronger contributions and greater contaminations from both study areas can be a way to go beyond traditional research-field boundaries, providing terrain for perspectives and innovative studies. However, we should be aware that high-level expertise and integrated competences in both Music and Cultural Translation Studies are highly desirable, but hard to find. Pioneering collaboration among scholars from the two different fields is therefore to be hoped for as one possible solution. Therefore, the concluding remark of the present article would like to be a deliberate open call for joint efforts in that direction.


All translations are by the author unless otherwise indicated.


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[1] Research includes important articles and dedicated chapters, as well as of international conferences inside and  outside Europe (among them, “Theme: Image, Music, Text…? Translating Multimodalities”, Portsmouth University 6 November 2010; “Cultural Translation in Popular Music”, Tennessee University 12-13 April 2013; “Translation in Music”, Cardiff University 25-26 June 2014; “How is Music Translated Today? Intersemiotic, Intralingual and Intersensorial Transfers across Musical Genres”, Europe House, London July 5 2015; “Traduction, Rythme, Musique/Music, Rhythm, Translation”, Université de Lausanne 28-9 April 2016; “Musicult’17”, Istanbul 9-10 June 2017). Important monographs and special issues have also been published on the topic: The Translator, special issue on music and translation (14:2, 2008); Maia – Music & Arts in Action, special issue on music and migration (3:3, 2011); JoSTrans – The Journal of Specialized Translation, special issue on the translation of multimodal texts (19, 2013); finally, Minors’ monograph, Music, Text and Translation (London 2013),  Susam-Saraeva’s Translation and Popular Music – Transcultural Intimacy in Turkish-Greek Relations (Oxford 2015) and Low’s Translating Songs. Lyrics and Texts (London/New York 2017).

[2] Calascione is a guitar or lute with two or three strings, which was used especially in Southern Italy.

[3] On ‘O sole mio in Proust, see Miller 1997.

[4] Capurro’s lyrics, as well as the literary translations into Italian and English, are from Del Bosco 2006: 17, 119 and 125.

[5] The most famous posteggiatore was Giuseppe Di Francesco, nicknamed ‘O zingariello (the little Gipsy), who Richard Wagner brought to Bayreuth in 1879 and for some years to follow.

[6] It was recorded on Victor 87243 (HMV, 5 February 1916) - accessible at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_ybjI6KIcs.

[7] For an exhaustive discussion of the issue of the absence of linguistic mediation in the migration of popular music, see Susam-Saraeva 2015: 39-62.

[8] For a debate on “logocentric” and “musicocentric” songs, see Gorlée 1997 and Low 2013: 72.

[9] On “singable translation”, a form of translation intended to enable an existing vocal text to be performed in a different language, often tarnished by translators’ narrow conception of their task as essentially a linguistic one, see Low 2013a: 73.

[10] Lyrics to There’s No Tomorrow are taken from Del Bosco 2015: 82. 

[11] Videos of Tony Martin’s interpretation can be accessed on line. See in particular https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5KxsUoG83o (last accessed 29 March 2019).

[12] Videos of Dean Martin’s interpretations can be accessed on line. See in particular https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmUwQPM9Ojo (last accessed 29 March 2019), and for the vaudeville show with Jerry Lewis, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkqcZDd1oLI (last accessed 29 March 2019).

[13]For a discussion of domestication in Translation Studies, see in particular Venuti 2008 and Munday 2001.

[14] Lyrics to It’s Now or Never are taken from Del Bosco 2015: 83−4.

[15] There are several Youtube footages and videos of It’s Now or Never by Elvis Presley that can be accessed on line. Among others, for his 1960 recording of the song, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhA1SuNUIZw. For other interpretations where Presley rather follows Schroeder and Gold’s lyrics, without opening the song with the chorus, see the 1976 live footage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqV2BYr_r4E .

[16] Frank Verna’s Facimel’a Twist (‘O sole mio) is accessible on line at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39_ivFf54Ng.

[19] The album is accessible online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2t6d51MqkU0.

[20] The interview (Palermo, February 14th 2013), is accessible online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8Du1J5GFg8.

[21] The music video is accessible at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSFZvrlFKDw.

About the author(s)

Anna Fochi, BA at the University of Pisa, Italy; Ph. D.in Translation Studies, University of Glasgow, UK. She is currently co-operating with Cardiff University, School of European Studies, as an Honorary Research Fellow. Main field of interest: translation criticism with special focus on intersemiotic translation (cinema and literature, painting and literature) and poetry translation.  Other fields of interest: English and Italian literatures. Publications: articles in “Translation Studies”, “InTRAlinea” “New Readings”, “Westerly”, “Studi di filologia e letteratura”, “Italianistica”, “Critica letteraria”, “Contesti”, “Lingua e letteratura”, “Educazione permanente”, “Iter”, “Lend”. Editor and translator of an anthology of John Keats’s letters (Oscar Mondadori: Milan).

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©inTRAlinea & Anna Fochi (2019).
"A Translational Continuum The Multiform Migration of the Iconic Song 'O sole mio", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2401

Oleksandr Finkel’ on the Problem of Self-Translation

By Oleksandr Kalnychenko & Natalia Kamovnikova (Karazin National University of Kharkiv, Ukraine; St. Petersburg University of Management Technologies and Economics, Russia)

Abstract & Keywords


The aim of this study is to draw attention to the almost forgotten pioneer works on self-translation by Ukrainian scholar Oleksandr Finkel’. The case-study proves the importance of the spread of knowledge and construction of a unified translation history in order to ensure objectivity of research and fair judgement. The development of a unified translation reflection history can become an important contribution to the field of translation studies and create a common ground for the joint effort of researchers in the development of the discipline.

Keywords: self-translation, literary translation, translation theory, Oleksandr Finkel’, Hryhory Kvitka-Osnovyanenko

©inTRAlinea & Oleksandr Kalnychenko & Natalia Kamovnikova (2019).
"Oleksandr Finkel’ on the Problem of Self-Translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2349

1. Introduction

Recent scholarship in Translation Studies has challenged the traditional Eurocentric focus of the field with wider research into alternative translation traditions in Asia and Africa, whereas the countries of Eastern Europe, which have much to offer in this respect, have remained largely ignored in the scholarly literature (see Baer 2011:1; Baer and Olshanskaya 2013a: iii), with numerous key texts in translation studies from that region remaining untranslated into Western European languages. This is the more surprising given the repeated calls by James Holmes, one of the founders of Translation Studies in the West, that scholarship on translation from Eastern Europe should be made more widely available to an international readership. Thus, in his paper “The Future of Translation Theory: A Handful of Theses” presented at the International Symposium on Achievements in the Theory of Translation held in Moscow and Yerevan, 23-30 October 1978, Holmes stated:

Since I do not know Russian, I have read only that small tip of the vast Soviet translation-theory iceberg that juts above the surface of Western thinking by having been translated. Far too little has been translated, far too much has not, and hence the work of a great many theorists, from Čukovskij via Revzin and Rozencveig to Koptilov and Kommisarov (to mention but a few), remains for me little more than hearsay. (1988:99)

At the Tenth FIT Congress in 1984 in his paper “The State of Two Arts: Literary Translation and Translation Studies in the West Today” in memory of Slovak scholar Anton Popovič, Holmes (1988) expressed the regret that so much Eastern European scholarship remained untranslated and so inaccessible. As recently as 2015 Anthony Pym, a major figure in Translation Studies in the West, wrote of his discovery of the work of Russian translation theorists of the 1950s, exclaiming,’could we really have ignored the Russians so completely?’ (Pym & Ayvazyan 2015: 322). ‘[A]nd what applied to Russian, went for other Slavonic languages too’, Mary Snell-Hornby added in 2006 in the hope that with the fall of the Iron Curtain there would be no more barriers to communication with Eastern Europe (2006: 45). Italian scholar Lorenzo Costantino made a similar point:

Ignoring translation theory as it developed in these countries[of Central and Eastern Europe] is also difficult to reconcile with the fact that interest in the field actually arose earlier there than in the West. If an early attempt to address key issues in literary translation could be considered Korney Chukovsky’s Printsipy khudozhestvennogo perevoda (Principles of Artistic Translation, 1919), the first, usually forgotten, book-length study in which the expression “translation theory” appeared in the title was published in Ukrainian as early as 1929 by Oleksandr Finkel’ (also the author of one of the earliest studies of self-translation, in 1962). (2015: 245).

All the above mentioned remains true today, despite the fact that recently we have observed a certain growth in international interest in the legacy of Eastern European translation studies and thefresh look it offers at the prevailing theoretical approaches and translation traditions overlooked in “Western” TIS discourse.We are finally seeing some recognition of the extensive research in the field of translation theories in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe from the first half of the 20th century,which were more than those in the West well into the 1950s. This growth can be attested by a series of large-scale conferences (Itineraries in Translation History (Tallinn 2010, 2011; Tartu 2014, 2018); Transferring Translation Studies (Antwerp 2013); Czech, Slovak and Polish Structuralist Traditions in the Translation Studies Paradigm Today (Prague 2013); Translation Theories in the Slavic Countries (Bologna 2014); Going East: Discovering New and Alternative Traditions in Translation (Studies) (Vienna 2014); Some Holmes and Popovič in all of us? ( Nitra 2015)), some collective monographs (Ceccherelli, Costantino and Diddi 2015; Schippel and Zwischenberger 2017), thematic issues in journals of TIS (e.g., Mutatis Mutandis:Revista Latinoamericana de Traducción, 2016/2), and one anthology in English (Baer and Olshanskaya 2013).

Eastern European traditions in translation scholarship and research are not well-known because they have not been translated into the dominant language(s) of international scholarship. To fill this gap we need to make the seminal texts of Central and Eastern European thought on translation available to today’s international readership. Some of the key translation theorists from Eastern Europe have begun, in the last decade, to draw the attention of scholars from across Europe and beyond, as evidenced by a very welcome, though belated, publication of a full-length English translation of Jiří Levy’s Art of Translation (2011), Italian translations of Anton Popovič’s Teória umeleckého prekladu [Theory of Translation] (La scienza della traduzione, 2006), and of  Peeter Torop’s Total’nyi perevod [Total Translation](La traduzione totale),published in 2000 (1st edition) and 2010 (2nd edition).

Meanwhile the scholars of Eastern and Central Europe have produced extensive archival work. Detailed anthologies have been published on the history of translation theory in Czechia (Levý 1957),Russia (Levin, Fedorov and Kuzmichov 1960), Poland (Bukowski and Heydel 2013),Ukraine of the 1920s-1930s (Kalnychenko and Poliakova 2011), and Slovenia (writings on translation from 1550 to 1945) (Stanovnik 2013).Works of Czech and Slovak translation scholars have also become part of anthologies on literary translation (Hrdlička and Gromová 2004) and professional translation (Hrdlička, Gromová and Vilímek 2007).The list is far from being complete. There have also been published collected works of individual translation theorists, such as the Slovak František Miko (2011), Ukrainians Oleksandr Finkel (Chernovatyi et al 2007), Hryhoriy Kochur (2008, in 2 volumes),and Hryhoriy Maifet (2015; 2017).Then there are the monographs on translation studies history in Hungary (Klaudy, Lambert and Sohar1996), in Ukraine (Shmiher 2009), and in Slovakia (Vajdová et al. 2014), as well as bibliographies, such as the on-line Czech and Slovak bibliography of writings on translation and interpreting, a separate Slovak bibliography (Cejkova & Kusa 2010), a printed bibliography of Ukrainian translation studies of the twentieth century (Shmiher 2013), and the online bibliography of Ukrainian translation studies focusing on literary translation between 1877 and2012 (Poliakova 2013) (to mention just few). One of the first bibliographies of translation studies compiled by E. Khaitina and B. Khaves was printed in the first volume of an influential Soviet series dedicated to the theory and practice of translation Masterstvo perevoda [The Craft of Translation] as early as 1959. The bibliography contained both writings on translation from the Soviet republics and those from abroad. Kyiv-based bibliographer Mykola Nazarevskyi (Nazarevskiy 1963) supplemented that list and added references to current publications to the second volume. Since then, he has updated the bibliography annually, which is now up to its eighth edition.

Moreover, knowledge of Eastern and Central European translation theories in the West is incomplete, being mostly limited to the “Russian” and/or “Czechoslovakian Schools,” thus excluding, for instance, the existence of “local” traditions, e.g., within the Soviet Union, such as those to be found, for example, in Ukraine (promoted by scholars like Derzhavyn, Finkel’, Ryl’sky, and Koptilov, whose works were published mostly in Ukrainian), or Estonia, or Georgia.In his essay Sostoyanie teoreticheskoy mysli v oblasti perevoda [The State of Theoretical Thought in the Sphere of Translation], Jiří Levý (1970) rightly stated that ‘Soviet translation theory may have a unitary prism of outlook but it has different research directions coexisting within its frame’.The Ukrainian tradition of Translation Studies is still unknown to the majority in the West; however, there is a swing towards re-discovering its theoretical achievements, as we can see from recent publications about Ukrainian thinking on translation in English (Chernetsky 2011; Kal’nychenko 2011; Šmiger 2015; Kalnychenko 2015; Kalnychenko 2017; Odrekhivska 2017).

2. Oleksandr Finkel’s works on self-translation

2.1 Oleksandr Finkel’: Memories Recaptured

The history of translation thought is a good example of the general validity of Goethe’s often-cited dictum from Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre that all intelligent thoughts have already been thought and what is necessary is only try to think them again (Goethe 1829). In other words, the main facts about the nature of translation have long been recognized by many of our predecessors; our task is to rediscover them in the light of our own understanding of things and our present-day challenges and commitments. In this way, translation studies history is able to cast a new light onto the field and safeguard it from exaggerated claims of novelty, originality, breakthrough, and revolution in our (re)discoveries and, thus, lead to a less polemic discourse, a moderation in translation theory.

In his cursory review of the ‘several large uncultivated fields we can expect to plough in the near future’, a decade ago Julio-César Santoyo (2006: 13) wrote that there still remain ‘vast unknown territories’ in translation history, ‘territories which concern not only places and times but also whole fields of inquiry and research’. One of those “blank spots” is ‘an area of translation studies almost forgotten’(Santoyo 2006: 22), ‘defined thirty years ago by Anton Popovič as “the translation of an original work into another language by the author himself”‘ (Popovič 1976: 19).Santoyo argues vigorously that self-translation is a much more widespread phenomenon than one might think; it has a very long history and is today one of the most frequent and significant cultural, linguistic and literary phenomena in our global village and as such deserves much greater attention. ‘Once thought to be a marginal phenomenon [as documented in Santoyo 2005], it has of late received considerable attention in the more culturally inclined provinces of translation studies’, states Rainier Grutman in his entry “Self-translation” in the second edition of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies (Grutman 2008: 257). This indication of the interest of Translation Studies towards the phenomenon of self-translation is a fairly recent development and was not noted in Grutman’s entry on this practice (“Auto-translation”) in the first edition of the Encyclopedia dated 1998 (Grutman 1998: 17). Like Santoyo and many other researchers of self-translation, Chiara Montini, the author of the entry “Self-translation in the Benjamins Handbook of Translation Studies, starts it with the words ‘Popovič gives a basic definition of self-translation as …’ (Montini 2010: 306) and quotes part of the definition by Anton Popovič from his Dictionary for the Analysis of Literary Translation mimeographed and published by the University of Alberta Department of Comparative Literature in 1976. The Dictionary (translated into English by Uri Margolin) is a synopsis of the most important terms coined by Anton Popovič himself and some other scholars (J. Lotman, E. Balcerzan, E. Etkind, F. Miko, A. Ljudskanov, S. Sabouk, J. Holmes, J. Čermák etc.) ( Špirk, 2009). The term auto-translation and its definition in this dictionary belongs to Oleksandr Finkel’ whose 1962 paper Popovič knew and referred to.

Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek in his 1995 article which presents revisions of the taxonomical work of Popovič offers the definition of self-translation from that taxonomy as

[t]he translation of an original work into another language by the producer of the text to be translated (by the author himself). Due to its modelling relation to the text to be translated, auto-translation cannot be regarded as a variant of the text to be translated, but as a true translation. This follows from a change of the axiological as well as stylistic and linguistic field into which the text to be translated enters (Finkel). (Tötösy de Zepetnek 1995: 438)

In fact, this reference to Finkel’ was actually the last mention of his name in English translation studies literature in connection with the problem of self-translation (in later publications of his taxonomy, Tötösy de Zepetnek omitted the reference).

 This is a reference to the name of Oleksandr Moiseyovych Finkel’ (3.10.1899 – 8.10.1968), a professor of Kharkiv University, a Ukrainian linguist and translation studies scholar and the author of the first book-length study in translation theory in the then Soviet Union (published in Ukrainian in 1929); the first scholar who directed attention to the problem of self-translation as early as 1929 (not 1962 as Costantino writes in the citation in the Introduction). Incidentally, Popovič shares the thoughts of Oleksandr Finkel (whose works the Slovak scholar also refers to in Teória umeleckého prekladu [19, 59 – reference in accordance with the Russian translation]) about the specific character of auto-translation. The close interest shown by Popovič in Finkel’s findings is also testified by the marks he made in his personal copy of Finkel’s article (see Figure 1).[1]

Figure 1

The theory and practice of translation are conditioned by the tasks to be resolved, i.e., various assignments give rise to various theoretical constructions. When we come across the theories from the past we are bound to ask ourselves which particular problems these theories were intended to solve. The first post-revolutionary years in Ukraine (1917–1932) saw immense enthusiasm and a surge in translation activities (in spite of the severe political censorship that was in force), the publication of multivolume collected works of translated authors, and a boost in the development of translation theory (Kal’nychenko 2011; Kolomiiets 2013). Mykola Zerov, Hryhoriy Maifet, Ivan Kulyk, Volodymyr Derzhavyn, and Oleksandr Finkel’, the pioneers of translation studies in Ukraine, sought to elaborate a coherent and systematic approach to translation, taking into consideration the reviews by numerous critics who in the mid-1920’s were making the effort to give some rational direction to the translational boom caused by the expansion of the spectrum of published books. As a consequence, the theoretical principles of translation methods and criticism were the topic of the day. Moreover, the new era brought about a revision of the Ukrainian literary heritage and the rewriting of the history of literature. Of vital significance for the emergence of the theory of translation were the works on literature history that viewed translation as an important and formative part of the literary system.

Ukrainian literature of the 1800’s and early 1900’s includes plentiful cases of self-translation. Among the translators of their own works were prominent Ukrainian writers, namely, Hryhoriy Kvitka-Osnovyanenko (Ukrainian – Russian), Panteleimon Kulish (Ukrainian – Russian), Marko Vovchok (Ukrainian, Russian, French), Ivan Franko (Ukrainian, German, Polish), Olha Kobylianska (Ukrainian, German), Lesia Ukrainka (Ukrainian, Russian, German), Marko Vorony (Ukrainian – Russsian)(the list is far from complete). It is not surprising, then, that Finkel’ addressed the issue of auto-translation placing the self-translator in his specific historical milieu, bringing social and political contexts to Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s bilingual text. Moreover, the choice of the topic is partly explained by the fact that Taras Shevchenko Institute (a literary research institution) in Kharkiv was preparing a scholarly collection to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Hryhory Kvitka-Osnovyanenko and young Finkel’ was invited to contribute.

2.2 Hryhory Kvitka-Osnovyanenko as a Self-Translator

Hence, for practical study and analysis of self-translation, Finkel’ selected the novellas and short stories by Hryhory Kvitka-Osnovyanenko (1778–1843), a Ukrainian writer, journalist, and playwright, a classic of Ukrainian literature, and one of the earliest proponents of vernacular Ukrainian as a literary language.

By the end of the eighteenth century the Ukrainian lands had been transformed into Russian provinces. Under these circumstances, Ukrainian national identity came to mean devotedness to the land and its people, which led Ukrainian letterati to place a special emphasis on linguistic, cultural, and ethnographic characteristics.

The local written standard, the so-called knyzhna mova (book language) consistently grew farther away from the spoken vernacular. It also suffered a decline due to the Russification of the Ukrainian nobility and higher clergy; this decline was enhanced by the Russufication of education and tsarist bans on printing books in the Ukrainian literary language. According to Mykola Zerov (1924), this situation, on the one hand, left ample room for the Russian language to establish itself, and, on the other, prompted the desire to use a phonetically purified and stylistically improved vernacular. But the prescriptive classicist doctrine of the Russian Empire of the second half of the eighteenth century demanded the vernacular to be used only in satirical, humorous, or lyrical writings.

Therefore, the history of the modern standard Ukrainian language and modern vernacular Ukrainian literature began with a travesty: a high styled heroic epic written in the rural language of the peasant. Such was the travestied translation of Virgil’s Aeneid (first edition, St. Petersburg, 1798) by Ivan Kotliarevs’kyi (1769 – 1838) with the title Malorossiiskaia Eneida (Little Russian Aeneid) “dressed” in the Ukrainian language (Eneida na malorossiiskii iazykperelitsiovannaia). Immensely popular, Eneida ushered in the vernacular style, the so-called “kotliarevshchyna,” and, according to Vitaly Chernetsky (2011: 37),

[s]ome unintended consequences, as many educated readers, both in Ukraine and abroad, came to believe that while Ukrainian vernacular literature was well suited to comedic narratives, it lacked the means to address lofty and serious topics.

Hryhoriy Kvitka Osnovyanenko, the initiator of the Ukrainian short story, sought to dispute this common assumption by extending the use of vernacular to ‘serious’ prose. Like most of his contemporaries in the Ukrainian literary scene, he also wrote in Russian. His Ukrainian language works were mostly burlesque-realistic and satirical in nature, however, he also wrote serious prose, such as the sentimental novella Marusia, which he did, in his own words, to prove to a disbeliever that something sentimental and moving could be written in Ukrainian. This was a well-considered, responsible and, in a way, daring decision, as Kvitka-Osnovyanenko became a Ukrainian writer precisely at a time when anything Ukrainian was either the object of mockery or, at best, a condescending ethnographic vogue.

H.F. Kvitka-Osnovyanenko himself translated eight of his Ukrainian novellas into Russian. These were Marusia, Mertvetskyy Velikden (Dead Man’s Easter), Dobre roby, dobre y bude (Do Well and Be Well), Konotops’ka vidma (The Witch of Konotop ), Serdeshna Oksana (Hapless Oksana), Shchyra liubov (True Love), Bozhi dity (God’s Children), and Saldats’kyi patret (A Soldier’s Portrait) (Finkel’ 2006: 402-4). For the sake of comparison, Finkel’ also addressed the Russian translation of Saldatskyi patret made by the renowned Russian language lexicographer Vladimir Dahl (alternatively transliterated as Dal) (1801 –1872), published in 1837 (Finkel’ 1929: 108 [2006: 402]). It is also important to note that Finkel’ and Popovic applied the term “auto-translation” (“avtopereklad” in Ukrainian and “avtoperevod” – in Russian).

2.3 Oleksandr Finkel’ on Auto-Translation

What follows is an analysis of the ideas of Oleksandr Finkel’ on self-translation. In his 1929 seminal article “H.F. Kvitka as the translator of his own works”, written in August,1928, in Ukrainian, Finkel argues that the topic has been unjustifiably neglected and that it is a ‘simplification of the matter’ to suggest that ‘there is no difference between the author-translator and the ordinary translator at all’ (Finkel’ 1929: 107). He explains that

[t]here is no uniform compulsory translation norm [notably, this precise term was used as far back as 1929] (as far as literary translation is concerned) and attentive observation proves that norms fluctuate depending on the general literary views of a certain period. Moreover, within the same period and, more often than not, within the same literary school, one can find varying approaches towards the theory of translation. There is no objective criterion for differentiating between a translation and an artistic adaptation […], there is no objective criterion for determining quality […], and what is sometimes claimed to be this very criterion is a mere declaration of the theorizer’s subjective preference, which cannot be considered to have either an objective or categorizing value. What echoes the many theoretical positions is the diversity of translators’ practical solutions. Does this not account for numerous translators who translate the same works? Owing to all these circumstances […] the solutions an author finds for translation problems unexpectedly acquire a particularly acute interest and significance. (Finkel’ 1929: 107-8 [2006: 400-1])[2]

Oleksandr Finkel’ turned his attention to the problem of self-translation from time to time throughout his life. In 1939, he wrote his thesis entitled “H. F. Kvitka-Osnovyanenko as the translator of his own works” (Finkel’ 1939), the complete version of which ironically only survives in Finkel’s self-translation into Russian. In it, Finkel’ explores the features of H.F. Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s translation method, his perception of the task, and the importance of self-translation for translation theory.

In his 1962 Russian article “Ob avtoperevode: Znacheniye avtoperevoda dlia teorii perevoda” [On Autotranslation: The Importance of Auto-translation for the Theory of Translation], Finkel’ writes:

It may seem that there is no significant difference between the author-translator and a regular translator and that, regardless of their personal relation to the translated work, it is only the result that matters, i.e., the degree of perfection and the means by which the problems presented by the translation have been solved. In fact, this is not true, and such reasoning simplifies the matter. While a regular translator and the author-translator are seemingly faced with the same problems and difficulties, with auto-translation, unlike the translation proper, their resolution acquires a somewhat different character, a different direction, and a different sense. First of all, it is the nature of conceptualization of a literary work which is strongly deformed. If the translator is not the author then she/he conceptualises the work in translation by emphasizing some elements and “muffling” others: firstly, because in ideological, aesthetic, ethical, and suchlike terms he/she will differ from  the author, and secondly, because the literary work will be transferred into new conditions (and presented to a different readership);but with an author-translator, then the first set of considerations obviously don’t apply. (Finkel’ 2007b: 300)

However, the second set of considerations does still apply, so reconceptualization does occur, but in a slightly different way: becoming reconsideration, so to speak, not for oneself, but for the others.

As a result, there appear more or less significant changes which the author-translator introduces, perhaps, as if committing an act of violence over his authorial intention: for a different language and cultural milieu may compel him to make such changes which he would not have allowed in the original, forcing him to re-make his work to some extent, thus splitting his/her personality. This “re-make” cannot but affect the language and style of the translation. (Finkel’ 2007b: 300-1)

As is known, a number of theorists and practitioners of translation have repeatedly claimed that the translator should write in the same way as the original author would have written has she/he been writing in the target language (Finkel’ mentions in his 1929 article such names as Vasily Zhukovsky, Aleksey K. Tolstoy, Innokentiy Annensky, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff) (Finkel 1929: 116 [2006: 407])). In self-translation, this requirement is fully met:

Hence, auto-translation would seem to provide for the optimum results, because who else can know better what the author considers to be the most significant features in the structure of the work, what should prevail what, or what should be emphasized? But does this personality split enable the author-translator to exercise his right? And does the amalgamation of the author and the translator in one person make that ideal which any translator should see his mind’s eye? The study of self-translation can shed light upon this matter as well. (Finkel’ 2007b: 301)

On the other hand, the changes that the author-translator forcibly introduces into his/her translation can lead to significant discrepancies with the original. In a regular translation, this can be considered a drawback, because it risks turning the translation into more of an adaptation or imitation. ‘But are the very same correlations between a translation and an adaptation operative for the author-translator?’ – asks Finkel’. (Finkel’ 2007b: 301) According to him, these are the key questions that self-translation raises in addition to general translation issues.

Apart from these, Finkel’ tackles the concept of self-translation in two other works (in which self-translation is not the subject of the study but a mere example to prove other ideas). He does so in his book Teoriya i praktyka perekladu[The Theory and Practice of Translation] (Finkel [1929] 2007c) published in 1929, and, later, in his 1939 Russian-language article “O nekotorykh voprpsakh teorii perevoda” [“Some Problems in the Theory of Translation”] (Finkel [1939] 2007a), the latter dealing with the fundamental problem of translatability and where, in Andrey Fedorov’s opinion, ‘the methodological failure of the idea of untranslatability is proven thoroughly and convincingly’. (Fedorov 1982: 9)

Finkel’ realizes that he is the first researcher to take an interest in the problem of self-translation: ‘Among the problems associated with the issues of translation, the problem of auto-translation [...] has never been addressed’ (Finkel’ 1929: 108 [2006: 401]).Although he claims (erroneously in our opinion) that ‘a bilingual writer who is the translator of his own works is a phenomenon so rare, if not exceptional, that it cannot have much significance in the formation of translational skills and principles’, nevertheless, ‘the temptation to ignore them completely is easy to fall into but hardly justifiable’. (Finkel’ 1929: 108 [2006: 401]) In his later article, Finkel’ insists that ‘auto-translation provides a very interesting and instructive material for the theory (and history) of translation’. (Finkel 2007b: 299)

While realizing that the analysis of a single author’s translations can hardly give a convincing answer to all the issues in question, Finkel’ still believed that the study of H.F. Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s self-translations could help ‘reveal many interesting facts and chart the course for the further study of translation theory’. (Finkel’ 2007b: 301)

Finkel’s ideas changed with the social and political changes which took place in the Soviet Union. When comparing the Ukrainian article of 1929 and the Russian article of 1962, one can notice that the earlier one provides more detail on Kvitka’s biography, his publishers, and his translator; it also pays closer attention to theoretical issues, including references to Wilhelm von Humboldt, Oscar Weise, and Andrey Fedorov. While attempting to systematize the material collected in his Russian article in 1962, Finkel’ quite clearly avoids discussion of any socially provocative issues, such as questions of ethnic bilingualism, which he addresses in part V of the 1929 version, and avoids in 1962, problems of language disparity (part IX and X in 1929), or issues of censorship (part IX in 1929). The political situation in the country made Finkel’ exercise caution in order to eliminate the possibility of conflict. Therefore, the better known and wider cited article of 1962, despite its clear structure, is devoid of Finkel’s social and philosophical observations. This considerable loss makes the 1962 article more descriptive and its conclusions less significant.

2.4 Finkel’ on the Reasons for Self-Translating

In his 1962 article, Finkel’ lists the reasons that induced Kvitka-Osnovyanenko to translate his own works. He finds that the motivation of a regular translator is different from that of a self-translator.

[T]here must be some very important reasons and considerations for the writer to resort to translating his own works, and these reasons and considerations can be so varied and so personal that their convergence with different authors is a matter of pure coincidence. To some extent, they always include an aesthetic component, which may result from dissatisfaction with the translations by others, but this is certainly not the main, sole, or decisive reason. Nor was it the main reason for Kvitka, though other people’s translations did not always satisfy him. (Finkel 2007b: 302)

Finkel’ cites Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s letters to Pyotr Pletnyov, who, after Pushkin’s death in 1837, edited the literary journal Sovremennik: ‘Praising my writings, the locals got round to translating them into Russian, but everything was a failure [...]’. (26.04.1839) (Finkel 2007b: 302). In another letter to Pletnyov, Kvitka writes:

Soldier’s portrait [...] is splendidly rendered by the respected V.I. Dahl, but, if I may say so, there are phrases that interpret the idea wrongly and change the very notion of what was intended. All these stem from an ignorance of the locality and local customs. (Finkel 1929: 110 [2006: 404]).

Evidently, every author wants to see his works in perfect translation, so Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s complaints are quite natural. However, it was not personal motivation that made Kvitka turn to self-translating. There were reasons that were much more important to him than perfection or Dahl’s clumsiness in the translation of Soldier’s portrait.

These were the topical issue of whether it was possible to create worthy literary works in Ukrainian, part of the dispute over the potency of the Ukrainian language and the right to exist of “provincial” literature (Finkel 2007b: 302). For, there was a wide-spread opinion among the Russian literati of the early XIX century that Ukrainian literature was something unheard of and that the Ukrainian language was simply not suitable for refined belles-lettres. To illustrate this point, Oleksandr Finkel’ cites, for instance, the newspaper Severnaya pchela, which was notorious for its reactionary views, and which claimed: ‘Why should one bother with creating literature in a nation which has lost its national identity, and a face of its own?’ (Severnaya pchela, 1 November 1834) (Finkel 2007b: 302). Similarly, Nikolai Polevoy, a controversial Russian editor, writer, translator, and historian, wrote:

…we find it a completely useless whim to write something in the format of a full-size book in Malorossian [Little Russian][...] Why and for what? And [...] is not it better for the highly-respected Grytsko [i.e., Kvitka-Osnovyanenko] and his other gifted compatriots to write in the rich, beautiful, and melodious Russian language, rather than in a marred and ugly vernacular? (Finkel’ 2007b: 303).

Not many disagreed with this position, and only a few writers recognized the right of Ukrainian literature to independent existence (Dahl, Shevyrev). It was against the background of these prejudices that Kvitka-Osnovyanenko began translating his own works, particularly, Marusia, for reasons outlined very clearly in his letter to Pyotr Pletnyov (15 March 1839):

 I once had a dispute with a writer in the Malorossian idiom. I asked him to write something serious and touching. He tried to persuade me that the language was clumsy and utterly unfit for such a task. Yet, knowing its characteristics, I wrote Marusia and proved that the Malorossian language can move you to tears…The success of my tales encouraged locals to translate some into Russian, entirely into Russian, just as you would like. Now, we were listening to [the translation]: and what? We, Little Russians, do not recognize our own countrymen, and Russians [...] they yawn and find it a masquerade; the expressions do not tally with the customs, the exposition does not tally with the nationality, the action does not tally with the characters, who have their own way of thinking; and so it [the reading] was stopped, although, to tell the truth, the translation was polished and well-done. I offered my translation [...] and it was found to be satisfactory, yet – alas! – failing to convey the beauty of Malorossian turns of speech [...]
[...] And besides, dear Pyotr Aleksandrovich, will you be so kind as to take a closer look at the noticeable differences between our languages, well, that is, the Russian and the Malorossian languages; what in one language will be vigorous, melodious, and eloquent, in the other will not produce any effect at all; it will be bleary and dull [...] Here is an example for you: Feast of the Dead.[3] It is a legend, a local tale. [...] Told in our idiom, the way it is traditionally related, it is enjoyable, and is read and reread, and quoted by readers. Once rendered into Russian, it has proved a half-and-halfer; a butt for ridicule by a journalist, which was exactly what I expected upon reading it in your journal. (Finkel 2006: 405)

Pyotr Pletnyov himself highly appreciated the novella Marusia, the Russian self-translation of which was published in his journal Sovremennik (1838): ‘We would wish not only all Russia but also Europe to relish this treasure’ (Siundiukov 2003). Incidentally, the French translation of Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s Hapless Oksana, made from the Russian self-translation, came out in Paris in 1854.

Thus, according to Finkel’, Kvitka-Osnovyanenko, pursued a dual purpose. Firstly, he wanted to prove the authority and viability of the Ukrainian language, and show that is was fully suitable for belles-lettres. Secondly, Kvitka wanted to create the best possible translations of his works to prove that even the most exact and meticulous translation could not replace the original. He also meant to present his works in the most favourable light not only as his personal writings but also as achievements of Ukrainian literature. This intent shaped Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s attitude not only to other’s translations, but also the requirements he set himself as a translator (Finkel’ 2006: 406).

2.5 Finkel’ on the Prerequisites of Self-Translation

Far from being aware of all the controversial problems of translation, Kvitka groped for the solutions relying on his experience as a writer. According to Finkel’, the affinity of the Ukrainian and Russian languages became the essential background for Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s work, leaving an impact on all his self-translations (Finkel 2007b: 305). The greatest challenge here was bilingual homonymy and polysemy, which greatly affected Kvitka’s translations, in particular due to his bilingual environment: Kvitka-Osnovyanenko himself did not always distinguish Russian phrases from Ukrainian (Finkel’ 2007b: 305).

This bilingualism of Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s is clearly discernible in his self-translations. Besides, his chosen translation method pushed him towards inaccuracies in his self-translations. ‘I offered my translation, a literal one, not allowing myself to shift a word’, he wrote in his letters to Pletnyov (Finkel’ 2007a: 231). These words unequivocally account for Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s intentions: he believed that literal translation secured the best results. Thus, Kvitka’s practice as a self-translator was conditioned by the relations between the Russian and Ukrainian languages as an external factor; by his bilingualism as a subjective factor (and of which he was insufficiently aware); and by the word-for-word principle which he considered (at least in theory) the most appropriate for proving the wealth of the Ukrainian language (Finkel’ 2007b: 305-6).

2.6 Finkel’ on the Reproduction of Local Colour in Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s Self-translations

The self-translations by Kvitka are notable for their ethnographic colouring. Being aware of the similarity of the Ukrainian and Russian languages, Kvitka, at times, preferred transcription to Russian equivalents. However common these words might have seemed in the originals, they looked strikingly foreign in the Russian translations and required a lot of effort to understand. Transcriptions were widely employed in a range of contexts. Firstly, they were used in rendering words and expressions denoting realia of Ukrainian culture which did not have equivalents in the Russian language, and, therefore, had to be introduced in the translations in their original forms. This preservation of local Ukrainian colour was a natural strategy for Kvitka who repeatedly criticized his Russian translators for their ignorance of Ukrainian culture. His self-translations emphasize the originality of Ukrainian culture by preserving the names of Ukrainian holidays, types of activities, and garments.

Secondly – and most unexpectedly – Kvitka transcribe many words and expressions other than cultural realia, which had equivalents in the Russian language. Finkel’ argues that it is hard to find any consistency in Kvitka’s choices: ‘It is impossible to explain why Kvitka chose to transcribe these particular words without even trying to translate them’ (Finkel’ 2007b: 311). So Finkel’ makes the assumption that Kvitka was pursuing a stylistic purpose:

Apparently, the choice between translation and transcription was of little, if any, importance to Kvitka. But even though there are no linguistic, cultural, or historic grounds, the stylistic function of such transcriptions is very expressive: they are intended to create a particular Ukrainian atmosphere for the Russian reader, and they do so, however purposely mocking […] this way of rendering might seem. (Finkel’ 2007b: 311)

Whatever the case, Kvitka seeks to introduce ethnographic elements to render the particular national style of his works that he found unjustly ignored by the Russian translators. Kvitka is adamant in observing this principle, even though the use of transcriptions does not always achieve the intended effect and is, at times, misleading for the reader.

2.7 Kvitka’s Translations of Idioms

Finkel’ provides a careful analysis of Kvitka’s translations of idiomatic expressions to find out that Kvitka’s desire to render the original expressivity of the Ukrainian language made him experiment with idioms and apply varying strategies. Finkel’ states that the idiomatic diversity of Kvitka’s style posed particular difficulties in translation and he provides a list of such difficulties. Firstly, he notes, idioms reveal a particular semantics of their own, as the meaning of an idiomatic expression is not equal to the sum of the meanings of its constituents. Secondly, idioms present a lexical problem, as their wording can differ from a non-idiomatic use. Thirdly, the composition of an idiom has to be paid a particular attention to as idioms can have a distinct syntactic structure or phonetic features difficult to render in translation. Yet, the biggest difficulty, insists Finkel’, is rooted in the cultural specifics of the given idiom and its marked cultural slant. The translation of idioms may distort the bonds between an idiom and its original culture; the necessity to convey the implied meanings and associations limits the translator’s choices. This is why what may sound clear and natural in the original can look exotic or artificial in the translation (Finkel’ 2007b: 312-3).

Kvitka applies several techniques in rendering idioms in his self-translations, and, as in the case of rendering local colour he is able to relate the reader to the Ukrainian language and culture, but fails to achieve consistency in his translation methodology. He uses literal translations and idiomatic loan translations to render the same idiom in different contexts, at times introducing Ukrainian words.

Therefore, idiomatic equivalents in his translations prove incomprehensible in some cases, and literal translations are sometimes misleading or far from being expressive, which contradicts the purpose of Kvitka’s self-translations which was to introduce the reader to the unique Ukrainian language and style. (Finkel’ 2007b: 314)

Finkel’ makes an assumption that Kvitka intentionally avoided Russian idiomatic equivalents when translating Ukrainian idioms in order to counter the stereotypical idea that the Ukrainian and Russian languages are equivalent. In a way, experimenting with idioms was a method to demonstrate the originality of Ukrainian phraseology (Finkel 2007b: 315).

The same approach permeated Kvitka’s syntax as he introduced Ukrainian elements into his Russian self-translation. The Ukrainian grammatical elements brought into the Russian translations repeatedly produce a different and unpredictable effect which is quite different to the original, since, in the two languages, these elements can belong to different functional styles, social dialects, or historical periods. ‘In this regard, Kvitka’s self-translations appear to intentionally avoid complete conformity to the Russian grammatical rules’. (Finkel’ 2007b: 316-9)

2.8 Finkel’ on Changes and Additions in Kvitka’s Self-Translations

Towards the end of his article, Finkel’ discusses melioration – the improvement of content and style – as a tendency manifested by Kvitka in his self-translations. Despite his claims of having made a word-for-word translation of his works, Kvitka, in fact, rewrites long passages of the texts introducing substantial changes and additions. According to Finkel’s observations, a comparison of Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s self-translations with VladimirDahl’s translation shows that Dahl deviates from the original extremely rarely whereas Kvitka-Osnovyanenko resorts to considerable alterations. Finkel shows that all deviations from the original in Dahl’s translation of Soldier’s Portrait do not exceed ten explanatory words and an insignificant number of omissions; which means that Dahl can hardly be accused of rewriting the original. Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s self-translation of the same novella contains about a hundred explanations and omissions. And this is quite natural, since Kvitka-Osnovyanenko could afford any deviation from the original without any fear of criticism, while even the smallest variation by Dahl provoked criticism (mainly by Kvitka-Osnovyanenko himself).

Importantly, Finkel’ concludes that a greater independence from the original constitutes the main difference between the author-translator and the regular translator. In a way, the authorial translation can be viewed as not a translation, but rather an independent work (Finkel’ 2006: 436). All in all, in the eight stories self-translated by Kvitka-Osnovyanenko, one can find over 200 rewritings, which is proof enough that the author specifically made the effort to edit his works and modulate their tone (Finkel’ 2007b: 322).

An important factor in Kvitka’s alterations in his self-translations was his self-censorship; and changes for aesthetic reasons are also important. Aware of the social situation in Russia and the specifics of the Russian readership, Kvitka resorts to omissions and reductions, insertions and additions, alterations and rehashes. There are hundreds of such cases (Finkel’ 2007b: 322). Finkel’ explains that

[A]ll these changes […] are of the same nature: Kvitka systematically moderates his Russian translations on the grounds of the stylistic dissimilarity between the Russian and Ukrainian languages and socially different readerships. (Finkel 2007a: 232)

Indeed, Ukrainian and Russian readers in those days belonged to different social strata: whereas the average Russian reader of his novellas came from gentry, his Ukrainian readers, in his own words, were ‘their servants’ (2007b: 214). Kvitka was well aware that preservation of some features of the original could distort the perception of the translation by the Russian readers, which might result in their misjudging Ukrainian literature and culture, in general (Finkel 2007b: 320).

2.9 Finkel’’s Conclusions

The close study of Kvitka-Osnovyanenko’s self-translations enables Finkel to describe the process of self-translation as “amalgamation of the author and translator in one person” (Finkel’ 2007b: 324). This combination is not, in Finkel’s view, an advantage in terms of ensuring translation adequacy. Being of a different nature from a regular translation, the reconceptualisation of one’s own work can lead to substantial discrepancies with the original, either enhancing the quality of the work, or lowering it. However undesirable the discrepancies with the original might be, argues Finkel, reconceptualisation in translation is unavoidable, as the translator of the literary piece is also the author who addresses his work to a new readership. The split identity of the author therefore “prevents the author from becoming the best translator of his works” (Finkel 2007b: 324).  Indeed, authorial translation blurs the boundary between translation and adaptation, the latter, in Finkel’s opinion, much more typical for self-translation, if not inherent. The degree of liberty the author is able to take with his own work is incomparably higher than that of a regular translator (Finkel’ 2007b: 325). With these considerations in mind, Finkel’ was confident that the further research on self-translation would make a substantial contribution into the translation theory.

3. In conclusion

Whereas Finkel’s 1929 Ukrainian article did not attract any attention, his 1962 Russian article (which was, to a large extent, his self-translated 1929 article) did. In the 1960-80s, the phenomenon of self-translation was repeatedly discussed by translation scholars in Central and Eastern Europe, namely, Viktor Koptilov of Ukraine, Viačasłaŭ Rahojša of Belarus, Rurik Minyar-Beloruchev of Russia, Sider Florin and Sergeĭ Vlakhov of Bulgaria, Çingiz Hüseynov of Azerbaijan, Anton Popovič of Slovakia and others. It was Anton Popovič who linked Eastern European traditions in translation research with the Translation Studies emerging in the West. Specifically, by means of his Dictionary for the Analysis of Literary Translation, containing the entry on auto-translation, he introduced the concept in English-speaking countries. Unfortunately, these pioneer works on the study of self-translation as well as a wealth of other works published in Eastern Europe are largely unknown in the West. Moreover, they are not included in the Bibliography on self-translation edited recently by Eva Gentes (Gentes 2018).

As self-translation has become an increasingly common practice in our globalized world, more research is carried out in this area. Nevertheless, there are two areas adjacent to the issue of self-translation, which are still not clearly understood. One of them is the case where a self-translation is carried out from a “non-recorded” mother tongue source text. For instance, in his analysis of Gogol’s style against the background of the contemporary Russian language Professor Iosif Mandelstam (1902) of Helsingfors arrives at the conclusion that Gogol’s ‘idiom of the soul’ was in fact Ukrainian and that Gogol translated collocations and concepts to himself trying to adapt to the then Russian language. Another area is represented by translations made by the author in collaboration with the translator.

The History of Science, as Volodymyr Vernadsky maintained, is bound to be critically rewritten according to the imperatives of the present by each generation of investigators, and not only because our store of knowledge of the past has changed, or some new documents have been found, or some new methods of reinterpreting the past have been worked out.

It is necessary to approach the history of science anew, to immerse oneself in the past time and again, considering that due to the development of contemporary knowledge one thing in the past has become important and something else has lost its importance. Each generation of researchers seeks and finds in the history of their science the reflections of recent scientific trends. By making progress science does more than merely create something new; it also inevitably reappraises its past, its previous experience. (Vernadsky, 1912: 126–127)

In this light, the internationalization of the discipline seeks to rediscover new types of primary sources, new regions as well as additional languages and cultural traditions, which require the writing of new histories (Fernandez Sanchez2015, 104).

Mainstream Translation Studies (which often means English language Translation Studies) are currently facing a situation which calls for a new balance and moderation in the claims of novelty and originality. The knowledge of other translation traditions, practices, and contexts is able to shed a new light onto the discipline and make researchers in the field aware of the achievements of their predecessors in different countries across the world. Engagement with the literature on translation in the “peripheral” cultures that have centuries of experience in translation, as well as sound and solid reflections on its practice, ‘could be much more rewarding for translation studies than the assumption that the most recent debates and developments in the field are revolutionary, original and uniquely innovative’ (Nasi 2014: 138). Moreover, a greater familiarity with the contribution that “peripheral” cultures have made to translation studies could save time and effort in the common enterprise of trying to define translation. The development of unified translation studies history can become an important contribution to the field of Translation Studies and create a common ground for a joint effort development of the discipline.


We are indebted to Edita Gromová (Constantine the Philosopher University, Nitra) for sharing her private archive with us and to Luc van Doorslaer (KU Leuven/University of Tartu), Ton Naaijkens (University of Utrecht), and Christopher Rundle (University of Bologna) for their comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.


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Vajdová, Libuša et al (2014) Myslenie o preklade na Slovensku [Thinking on Translation in Slovakia].Bratislava: Ústav svetovej literatúry SAV, Kalligram.

Vernadsky Vladimir (1912)”Iz istorii idey [From the History of Ideas]”, Russkaia mysl’, 10: 123–138.

Zerov, Mykola (1924 [2002]) Nove ukrayins’ke pus’mentstvo [New Ukrainian Literature], Kyiv, Osnovy


[1]The photo of Finkel’s article was kindly shared with us by Professor Edita Gromová from Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra.Gromová’s father, Professor Ján Kopál, a close co-worker of Popovič, received the volume with Finkel’s article from Popovič himself. This volume with Popovič’s marks in Finkel’s article is now a part of Gromová’s private library.

[2]All translations from Ukranian and Russian are by the authors unless otherwise indicated.

[3]In Finkel’s Russian self-translation the title was changed from Mertvetskyy Velikden (Dead Man’s Easter) into Prazdnik mertvetsov (Feast of the Dead)

About the author(s)

Oleksandr Kalnychenko is Associate Professor of Mykola Lukash Translation Studies Department at V.N. Karazin National University of Kharkiv. He lectures in Translation Studies and Translation History and is Editor-in-Chief of Protey annual translators’ miscellany and Khyst i Hluzd translators’ miscellany, author of 40 books of literary translations from English into Ukrainian and Russian, and over 130 scholarly publications.

Natalia Kamovnikova is Associate Professor of the Department of Psychology, Pedagogy, and Translation Studies of St. Petersburg University of Management Technologies and Economics, St. Petersburg, Russia. She lectures in Translation Studies and Linguistics and teaches practical courses of interpreting, English, and German. She is also a practicing conference interpreter.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Oleksandr Kalnychenko & Natalia Kamovnikova (2019).
"Oleksandr Finkel’ on the Problem of Self-Translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2349

Despotism and Translation in Iran

The Case of Naseri House of Translation as the First State Translation Institution

By Somaye Delzendehrooy, Ali Khazaee Farid and Masood Khoshsaligheh (Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran)

Abstract & Keywords


The Dar al-Tarjome Naseri [Naseri House of Translation] was the first state translation institution established at the time of Naser al-Din Shah, the fourth king of Qajar in Iran. This institution was managed by Mohammad Hassan Khan Etemad al-Saltane, the Shah’s special translator and interpreter and later his minister of Press and Publishing. He was the second key figure after the Shah, whose decisions influenced the publishing of translations in Iran. Known for being a despotic ruler, Naser al-Din Shah would not allow the translation and publication of any material at the Dar al-Tarjome Naseri without his approval. This situation led to a translation movement outside the court and even outside Iran which pursued objectives that were different from and even opposed to those of the state translation institution. The aim of this study is twofold: to describe the role translation played in and outside the Naseri House of Translation, which resulted in two translation movements, and to show how translation led to Naser al-Din Shah’s “new” form of despotism. To this end, the authors have examined the related sources including the books translated in and outside this institution and the translators' prefaces as well as Etemad al-Saltane's personal diary. The study intends to show that, not only did the Dar al-Tarjome Naseri feed Naser al-Din Shah’s despotism, but it also acted as a reference for translators outside the Dar al-Tarjome to select and translate books which then paved the way for the Constitutional Revolution in 1905.

Keywords: history of translation, publshing, Iran, Dar al-Tarjome Naseri, Naseri House of Translation, Naser al-Din Shah, Qajar dynasty

©inTRAlinea & Somaye Delzendehrooy, Ali Khazaee Farid and Masood Khoshsaligheh (2019).
"Despotism and Translation in Iran The Case of Naseri House of Translation as the First State Translation Institution", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2367

My subjects and the people of this country should know nothing but that which concerns Iran and their own preoccupations and that, for example, if they hear the word Paris or Brussels, they should not know whether these are something to eat or to wear. (Naser al-Din Shah, quoted in Amin al-Dowleh 1962: 123)

1. Introduction

“Oriental despots” is a phrase used by the 19th century Europeans to describe the Qajar dynasty Kings in Iran (Abrahamian, 2008: 8). The reign of Naser al-Din Shah, the forth King of Qajar is seen as a transition from the traditional reign to the modern state (Amanat, 1997: 7). The idea of “oriental despotism” is widely discussed in Western literature on Eastern governments and was of great interest to Western philosophers. The discussion is said to date back as far as Aristotle (384–322 BC), who proposed the “theoretical foundation” of ‘despotism’ in his book Politics (Minutir, 2012: 2-3).  Aristotle makes a distinction between despotic monarchy and tyranny, stating that the latter, unlike the former, is exercised against people’s will (Aristotle, 2007: 2018). Through the 16th to the 19th centuries, philosophers such as Machiavelli, Hume, Montesquieu and Hegel distinguished two principal kinds of government: the Eastern and the Western, the main difference being that the former enjoyed no limitation in exerting authority (Abrahamian, 1974: 3-4). Montesquieu particularly dealt with the concept of “oriental despotism” in his Lettres Persanes (1721) and later in Des Sprit des Lois (1748). The concept was also discussed in France stressing the similarities between Louis XIV (1638–1715)[1] and the oriental despots such as the Ottoman Sultans (Minutir, 2012: 15).  It is noteworthy that these two books were not translated into Persian until 1945 in the Pahlavi era, the Qajar’s successors.

Each thinker discussing “oriental despotism” gave different reasons for the phenomenon. While Montesquieu regarded “fear of the ruler” to be the prime reason, Hegel considered a lack of social “classes” to be the decisive factor (Abrahamian, 1974: 4). Accepting Hegel’s view, Marx and Engels went further to insist on the “socio-economic” factors influencing the “cultural and institutional variations in history” around the world. They believed that the difference in socio-economic structure of East and West lied in the “absence of private property” in Asia (Abrahaminan, 1974: 5). They provided two reasons for this, one being “large bureaucracy administering public works”, (mostly emphasized by Engels) and the other being “fragmented society”, which could not challenge the central government (mostly emphasized by Marx) (Abrahamian, 1974: 6).

Abrahamian maintains that Iranian monarchs at the time of Achaemenians, Sassanids and Safavids had a large bureaucracy. However, Abrahamian argues, that while the Qajar monarchy was a clear example of oriental despotism, it does not fit into Engels’ theory. Abrahamian believes that the Qajar kings, especially at the time of Naser al-Din Shah, governed the country by taking advantage of the social fragmentation in Iran (Marx’s theory) as the population were scattered in villages, towns and tribes, with little or no communication between them. Linguistic and religious diversity would also add to the distance between people. As a result, people of the same habit or rank would not find the opportunity to get together and shape a social class which could at last challenge the central state (Abrahamian, 1974: 31; See also Amanat, 1997: 43-52).    

As an oriental despot, Naser al-Din Shah established a ‘new’ kind of monarchy incorporating certain elements form Western governments. It was in his era that, for the first time, Iranians visited Europe and Western books were translated. Also, Naser al-Din Shah is generally considered the most literate Iranian king. His legacy, therefore, is a mixed one; while he established Dar al-Tarjome Naseri [Naseri House of Translation] (henceforth DTN), the first large state translation institution for translating Western books and magazines, he stunted its development as a fully-fledged translation institution which could cater to the intellectual needs of a rising nation.

Based on the archival sources related to the DTN, its founders and its translations, the purpose of this study is to consider how despotism and translation were intertwined during Naser al-Din Shah’s reign. We hope to show that the DTN played a role both as a manifestation of a despotic government and at the same time one of the main factors fostering translation outside itself, which later contributed to the Constitutional Revolution of 1905. Although the authors have made every effort to access all available primary sources, this study suffers from the general lack of historical archives in Iran which makes all research on Iranian history very difficult (cf. Abrahamian, 1974). The only sources available were the diaries of Naser al Din Shah and some other courtiers. The most important of which was Etemad al-Saltane’s Ruzname-ye Khaterat [Journal of Memories] in which he provides valuable information about the DTN. This diary is significant because it is written by a person who, from the time he was 25 years old, met the Shah almost every day of his life. Iraj Afshar,[2] asserts that this diary is one of the most important historical documents of the Naseri Era (Etemad al-Saltane, 1967, Introduction, p. 4). What makes the diary specially significant is that, as  Etemad al-Saltane asserts, nobody except him and his wife knew he was writing a diary and that, in his own words, “I write whatever I do not dare to utter” (1967: 41). He may at times be prejudiced in his judgments but the information he provides about the Naseri era is first-hand and invaluable. As far as possible, we have cross-checked the information in the diary with other sources to avoid over-reliance on a single source. Besides, the state yearbooks, also prepared by Etemad al-Saltane by order of Naser al-Din Shah for the first time in Iran, were of great value to us since they provided a record of DTN members. Since this institution had not been studied in any detail before, the information available from other secondary sources was rather limited and in some cases clearly false.

Readers should be aware, therefore, that this study provides a rather partial reconstruction; but also that this is the only one possible with the sources currently available.

This paper will first provide an overview of the socio-cultural context of Iran at the time of Naser al-Din Shah. A brief account of Naser al-Din Shah’s background will be followed by an introduction to the DTN, the translators that worked there and their translation activity. We will then look at the censorship policies which were in place and the way they reflected the Shah’s increasing suspicious. The emergence of an opposing translation movement outside the DTN is then discussed: we try to show how the DTN and translation played a role in Naser al Din Shah’s adopting a ‘new’ mode of despotism originating from the West and how his model of censorship was followed by the successive dynasties. The concluding section shows how despotism and translation are intertwined and how Naser al-Din Shah’s policy towards translation set a trend in Iranian publishing. 

2. Historical background

Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the ruling system in Iran was that of a kingship. Thirty five dynasties ruled Iran from its ancient origins up to the contemporary era. The Qajar dynasty, the focus of this study, was the penultimate, the 34th. This dynasty ruled Iran for 130 years (1796-1925), coming to power a few years after the French Revolution in the late 18th century. It was also contemporaneous with the industrial revolution in the 19th century as well as the World War I in the first two decades of the 20th century and the Russian Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 (Azarang 2016: 217). There were Seven Qajar kings, and of these Naser al-Din Shah reigned the longest, 48 years (1848-1896).

The Qajar dynasty was established by Aqa Muhammad Khan Qajar in 1785, who brought unity and peace to Iran after five decades of upheaval. From the beginning of the dynasty up to the so-called Constitutional Revolution in 1905, Iran underwent a series of transformations as it gradually adapted to the changes taking place both within its borders and in the outside world. As Amanat (1997:7-8) puts it, the Constitutional Revolution was “an attempt to develop democratic institutions based on the rule of law, conscious nationalism, and secular reforms”. Naser-al-Din Shah played a key role in this process because of his intellectual character and the socio-historical conditions of his long reign.

When Naser al-Din Shah ascended to the throne in 1848, almost 20 years had passed since Iran’s defeat at the hands of Russia, a defeat which resulted in a significant loss of territory to Russia under the Gulestan and Turkamanchai Treaties, in 1813 and 1828 respectively. As Abrahamian (2008: 36-37) argues, this defeat led to Russia making advances in the north of Iran (Russia was interested in Enzeli Port and its road to Tehran) and the British Empire, Russia’s rival, advancing from the south (Britain was interested in the Persian Gulf and its roads to Shiraz, Isfahan, Yazd and Kerman). Britain’s presence in Iran also forced the Qajars to hand over Herat and to accept the Paris Treaty in 1857. The country was effectively divided between Britain and Russia and whenever these imperial powers were not satisfied with the advantages they were obtaining from Iran they would publish articles in newspapers and magazines criticizing Naser-al-Din Shah’s government severely (Etemad al-Saltane 1967: 118, 119, 183). This led to a gradual hostility towards foreign powers and explains Naser al-din Shah’s “paranoid style of politics” (Abrahamian 2008: 37)[3]. Thus while Europe was making advances in science and technology, the Iranian economy was critically weak and the Iranian people were discontent with the “political and clerical repression” that had its roots in traditional values and practices (Amanat 1997:2).

At the start of Naser-al-Din Shah’s reign, around the middle of the 19th century, the population of Iran barely reached six million, 80% of which lived in rural areas (Amanat 1997: 49). By the end of Naser al-Din Shah’s reign, in the early 20th century, the population had doubled: 60% now lived in rural areas, 10-15% in urban areas and 25-30% were members of nomadic tribes. The literacy rate by the beginning of the 20th century was about 5%, most of whom were graduates of religious/Koranic centres and missionary establishments (Abrahmian 2008: 2).

The decrease in the rural population was partly due to the policy that Naser al-Din Shah adopted in order to limit the influence of Russia and Britain, which was later called “defensive modernization” (Abrahamian, 2008: 38). Although the policy was a failure overall because of the severe financial crisis that the country was trapped in at the time, it did enjoy some success, such as the establishment of modern schools the most important of which was Dar al-Fonun [House of Skills], the first modern college in Iran. The college was founded to train the sons of the nobility and it would give scholarships to the best students so that they could continue their education in Europe, mainly in France and Belgium, but not in Russia and Britain. In the late 19th century, four other secondary schools and five other colleges affiliated to Dar al-Fonun plus two military schools, and two agriculture and foreign language schools were also established (Abrhamian 2008: 40). Amanat (1997: 7), describes the Qajar period as a transition from “tradition to modernity”; the Qajar kings, especially Naser al-Din Shah, were constantly confronting the dilemma of adhering to local traditions while also moving with the times and adapting to the modern trends of life and models of government that were arriving from the West.

3. Naser al-Din Shah’s background and its relation to translation

Naser al-Din Shah, whose reign spanned almost the whole of the second half of the 19th century, ascended the throne at the age of 17 in 1848. What makes his reign different from those of other Qajar Kings, apart from its being the longest, is his unique personality. His childhood had a great impact on his personality as a future king. This period of his life is so significant that Abbas Amanat, an Iranian historian, has devoted a whole book to the way Naser al-Din Shah’s character was shaped during his childhood. According to Amanat, Naser al-Din Shah had a bitter and lonely childhood, mainly due to the quarrelsome relationship between his mother, Mahd-e Olya, and his father, Mohammad Shah (1834-1848). They both had very different personalities, the mother being an extrovert and the father an introvert. However, the source of the conflict were the rumors that his mother was not faithful to her husband. The rumors were so intense that Naser al-Din was thought to be an illegitimate child. His father therefore felt little affection for him and instead paid much more attention to Naser al-Din’s half-brother who was younger than him. This caused Naser al-Din to grow up in solitude and fear with no support and love from his father (Amanat 1997:23-42). He was, according to Amanat, an “insecure crown prince” who was “seldom admitted to his father’s presence” (1997: 42). Thus his “troubled upbringing” and his “political insecurities”, caused him to be paranoid throughout his 48-year rule (1997: xvi). Despite the difficult period from his childhood to his becoming the legitimate crown prince, Naser al-Din Shah overcame the odds and became the King of Iran with the help of his mother and his father’s premier Mirza Aqasi (1997: 47-55).

Naser al-Din Shah had a great enthusiasm for reading books and learning new languages; he was especially fond of the French language as well as history and geography. His love for reading was the legacy of Naser al-Din Shah’s grandfather Abbas Mirza, who had a key role in initiating important reforms at this time (Amanat 1997: 27-28). Thus under the pro-literacy policies that Abbas Mirza had initiated, Naser al-Din Shah became a highly literate man, devoting most of his time to reading and writing. He had a library in his court which had 170 translated books in it by the time of his death (Etemad al-Saltane 1967: 1185). Even during lunch he ordered foreign newspapers to be read to him. Some Iranian newspapers, including Ettella’ [information] and Iran, were also established at this time. They were strictly monitored to ensure that they did not publish anything he disapproved of. Naser al-Din Shah was the first Iranian king to visit Europe; he made three trips there during his rule. He was a great writer both in terms of quality and quantity. Iraj Afshar (2000), a Qajar historian, maintains that he would write at least 200 lines a day and that all the writings of all the kings of Iran put together would be like a drop in the ocean compared to what Naser al-Din Shah had written.

Naser al-Din Shah was also interested in drawing portraits and landscapes and had a liking for topography. He enjoyed the theatre and would often watch Molière’s plays in translation. He was also interested in music and photography, keeping an eye on the development of these two art forms at Dar al-Fonun. Collecting old coins was one of his hobbies. He had a small museum built in his court containing old works of art and coins (Afshar 2000: 9-12).

It should therefore come as no surprise that he established a centre for translation. All the translators already working at the Foreign Ministry, plus those interpreters in his service since he took the throne, were told to join this centre. The centre was called Dar al-Tarjome Homayooni [His Majesty’s Translation House] which was mostly known after the Shah’s name Naser, Naseri Dar al-Tarjome. The centre will be discussed at greater length below.

Therefore Naser-al-Din Shah’s troubled childhood and “political insecurities” along with his love for reading made him obsessive with knowing what the Western governments thought of him and his rule. This resulted in his strict monitoring every single book translated at the DTN and even being sensitive about the translation method adopted by the translators, his desired method being word for word translation. As it will be discussed in the following sections, he went so far as to establish the first state censorship bureau which is still one of the major filters in Iran’s publication industry.

4. The Naseri House of Translation

The DTN is the only state translation institution created in Iran, along with the Jondi Shahpoor centre of knowledge which was founded during the Sassanid era (244-651 AD). The active period of the DTN may be divided into three phases. The initial phase, which lasted 12 years, started with the appointment by the Shah in 1871 of Etemad al-Saltane as manager of the DTN (Ahmadi 1992: 16). The appointment was announced on 22 October 1871 in the official government newspaper, Iran. The announcement stated that the office would start by employing Iranians who had been educated abroad and foreigners who resided in Iran.

The second phase, which lasted 13 years, started with the Shah’s order in 1882 to expand the DTN into “a comprehensive and organized translation centre”. The Shah dedicated a special place near Marmar Palace for the DTN; it was inaugurated on 22 October, 1883 by the Shah and his Grand Vizier, Amin-al-Dowleh. In another development, on 14 November, 1882, four bureaus were included in the newly founded Ministry of the Press and Publishing with Etemad al-Saltane as the minister (Etemad al-Saltane 1967:225). The four bureaus were the DTN, the Court Printing House, Bureau of Encyclopaedia, and Newspapers Bureau. By order of the Shah, the translators already working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were asked to work at the DTN (Etemad al-Saltane 1967: 226). The translators were either selected by Etemad al-Saltane based on the quality of their work or recommended by the Shah. As the Minister of the Press and Publishing, Etemad al-Saltane appointed Mohammad Hossein Foroughi (later given the title Zaka al-Molk [the sun of the country]) as the head of the DTN. Zaka-al-Molk was a highly literate man and an excellent editor and translator from French and Arabic. The second phase ends with the death of both Naser al-Din Shah and Etemad al-Saltane in 1896.

The third phase in the history of the DTN is the 11-year period after the death of Naser al-Din Shah and Etemad al-Saltane in 1896 up to the Constitutional Revolution in 1905. In this period Muzaffar al-Din Shah, Naser al-Din Shah’s son, ascended to the throne and Mohammad Baqer Khan (Etemad al-Saltane’s nephew), whose mismanagement brought ruin to the DTN, was appointed the Minister of Publication and Translation. With the victory of the Constitutional Revolution, the Ministry of Publication and Translation was disbanded (Mahboubi Ardakani 1989: 719). In this study we only focus on the first and second phases, in both of which the Shah and Etemad al-Saltaneh were the main translation agents.

4.1 Translators and number of translated books

As a comprehensive state institution, the DTN employed translators, editors, and Monshis, people well-versed in Persian whose job was to control the final draft of the translation in terms of language fluency and accuracy before it was presented to the Shah. These people received wages and had two days off a week (Etemad al-Saltne 1967: 291, 162; See also Iran newspaper No. 48, 22 October 1871). All in all, based on the Year Books (1873-1896) provided by Etemad al-Saltane (Qasemi, 2011) as well as his diary, plus the prefaces of translators to the books translated, there were 41 translators working at the DTN translating from different languages (French, Russian, Germany, English, Arabic, Ottoman Turkish and Indian).

There were also other translators in the court, such as princes, who translated either because of their interest in the job, or because they wanted to show their loyalty to the Shah; and there were translators outside the court, including the students and graduates of Dar al-Fonun, who normally translated textbooks, and the reformist intellectuals most of whom were against the monarchy and lived in exile. This study is limited to the salaried translators working in and around the court.

During these 25 years, according to the sources consulted,[4] overall 200 books and booklets were translated, along with 151 newspapers. Of the 200 books, 61 were on history (including biographies), 65 were travelogues (including both the trips to Iran and to other parts of the world), 11 were on geography, 20 were novels and short stories, and 43 were on different subjects such as science, politics, law and medicine (see table 1). The few number of books translated on politics (4) and law (1) mainly belonged to the second phase of DTN activity.



History books


Geography books

Novels & short stories











Table 1: The number of books and newspapers translated at the DTN from 1871 to 1896

It should be mentioned that these books were presented to the Shah, who was the first to read the book as illuminated manuscripts[5], handwritten in an elegant calligraphy. The announcements for the publication of the books were published in the Iran newspaper (cf. for example, Nos. 218 (16 May 1874), 312 (1 March 1877), 339 (6 December 1877). Moreover, some books, such as Robinson Crusoe (no. 133-216 (17 December 1872- 24 April 1874), Captain Hatteras Travel to the North Pole[6] [no. 1-132 (2 April 1871- 11 November 1872)], were first printed in instalments in newspapers.

4.2 The process of selecting books for translation

The books for translation were selected by three different authorities. First, the Shah himself. In the FANKHA index (The Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts), which is compiled by Mostafa Derayati by the Iran National Library publications, there is an entry for Naser al-Din Shah, according to which 411 books were written or translated by order of or for the Shah (Derayati, 2011 Vol. 38: 745-56). An examination of the books translated at the DTN shows that at least 25 books were translated by the direct order of the Shah as stated in the prefaces. The second selecting authority was Etemad al-Saltane; he would either directly order books from France (Etemad al-Saltane 1967: 540, 149), or buy them through Iran’s ambassador or the foreign translators coming back from France (Etemad al-Saltane 1967: 410, 332, 326, 309, 343). The third group were translators themselves; they would start translating a book if they found it to be worthy of translation. They normally stated this in the prefaces of their translations, justifying their selections by resorting to very general reasons such as “educational benefits”. For instance, Mohammad Aref, a translator at the DTN, explained his purpose in choosing Iraq Geography for translation as follows: “[…] It can be said that the main task of translators is the translation of scientific, technical and political books and theses of which both the state and the nation will be beneficiary” (Aref, 1884: 1).

However, translators rarely chose books for translation, because each and every book had to be approved by the Shah or it would be banned even if the translation had already been printed and distributed to bookshops. An example is Etemad al-Saltane’s translation of The Biography of Mademoiselle de Montpensier in seven volumes, two of which were devoted to the biography of Louis XIV. The book was banned by the Shah, even though 705 copies of the book had been sent to bookshops (Etemad al-Saltane 1967:1191). “I wonder”, Etemad al-Saltane stated in a letter of complaint to the Shah on the ban of his book, “which part of this book was harmful to the government?” (1191).

5. The Censorship Bureau

As stated in the previous section, no book or booklet could be translated at the DTN unless approved by Naser al-Din Shah.  An examination of the translators’ prefaces shows that in the first phase of DTN activity, Naser al-Din Shah insisted that the translations be done in a taht al-lafzi [word-for-word] manner, so that the writer’s meaning was not distorted. This fact is reported frequently in the translators’ prefaces. Issa Garoosi, one of the translators at the DTN, goes so far as to use the phrase “word-for-word translation” in the title of one his translations: Tarjomey-e That al-lafz-e Safarnameye Doctor Larte [Word-for-Word Translation of Dr Larte’s Travelogue] (1879). Mirza Rahim Khan, another translator at the DTN, in the margin of his preface to the translation of Tarikh-e Selsele-ye Jalile-ye Qajarieh [The History of Iran and the Grand Qajar Dynasty], writes as follows: (Rahim Khan, 1884: 2-3):

[The translator] does not deviate from the word-for-word translation method and does not try to use flowery language; he neither reduces anything from the author’s words […] nor adds to the text […].

Etemad-al-Saltaneh, as often mentioned in his diary, would first present the books to be translated to the Shah and after his approval send them for translation (Etemad-al-Saltane, 1967: 309, 400, 835). While the Shah could exert strict control over anything published at the DTN, he had no control over translations or articles published outside the court or even outside Iran. On one occasion, a book of satire, criticizing Naser al-din Shah, written by an Iranian in India, Sheikh Hashem Shirazi, was published and sent to Iran. When he read the book the shah was furious and he ordered that all available copies be destroyed. This incident led Etemad al-Saltane to suggest that a censorship bureau should be established. The Shah “liked the suggestion very much and approved it”, appointing Etemad al-Saltane manager of the bureau (1967: 381). When the new censorship bureau was presented as a bill in the parliament, it faced objections from other ministers but, with the support from the Shah, it was finally approved in 1885, two years after the expansion of the DTN. In reply to the ministers who opposed the censor bill, Etemad al-Saltane said: “what I do is for the benefit of the nation and state” (1967: 384). Qasemi (2000: 6) argues that the justification for this statement was that, if Etemad al-Saltaneh had not proposed the censorship bureau, the Shah would have put a ban on the whole publishing industry. After the approval of the bill, no books, newspapers, printed announcements or any other printed material anything written was allowed to get published in any printing house all over Iran, unless it was approved and signed by the manager of “Censorship Bureau”. Etemad al-Saltaneh had a stamp made on which it was written “Molaheze shod” [approved] with an image of a lying lion and a sun[7] (Etemad al-Saltane, 1995:162).

6. Naser al-Din Shah’s gradual increase of suspicion

As stated earlier, Naser al-Din Shah’s “troubled upbringing” meant that he lived in fear and suspicion of everyone. This fear intensified with the political unrest during his rule (Amanat, 1997: xvi). Moreover, with the increase of translation in and outside Iran and the growing number of Iranians going abroad for education, Naser al-Din Shah developed an aversion to learning and knowledge and towards the West, despite the fact that he spent  “60,000 Toman a year” [8] for the people to learn foreign sciences (Etemad al-Saltane, 1967: 597). His suspiscion of people who acquired knowledge increased to the extent that he once confessed to Etemad al-Saltane that he preferred people to stay ignorant (Etemad al-Saltane, 1967: 597).

Mohammad Ali Foroughi, one of the translators at the DTN, whose father worked the longest at the DTN as translator, editor and manager, asserts that Naser al-din Shah became hostile towards educated people towards the end of his rule; he banned people from going abroad, for he believed this could open their eyes to the importance of law. Foroughi goes on to say that even uttering the word “law” could have consequences such as “imprisonment and exile” (Foroughi, 1960: 64). Amin al-Dowleh, Naser al-Din Shah’s director of the Post and Telegraph Bureau, points to the same attitude of the Shah in his diary, Mirza Ali Khan Amin al-Dowleh’s Political Memories (1962: 26): “[…] the Shah had more trust in illiterate people than those who knew how to read and write […].” Elsewhere he mentions that the Shah often expressed the conviction that the people of Iran “should know of nothing but Iran and their own preoccupations, and for instance if they hear the word Paris or Brussels, they should not know whether these are something to eat or to wear” (223).

The Shah’s obsession with possible threats to his throne also explains his interest in history books, in particular those that could reassure him about the survival of the monarchy. An example of his attitude is the note he left at the beginning of volume one of The history of Bismarck in the war of 1870 and 1871[9], translated into Persian by Baron de Norman in 1880. The note reads: “I read it all, but it is utter nonsense. It is neither a history nor a story nor even a newspaper account. The person who wrote this book must have been drunk. Finished.” He left a similar note on volume 2 of the book: “I read this second volume too. It is all nonsense.”

 It is worth noting that this fear and suspiscion grew at the peak of the DTN’s activity, during the second phase. Consequently, the number of translations completed in the second phase dropped from a peak of 174 publications (translated books and newspapers) in the years 1882-88, to just 29 in the years 1889-96).  In fact the number of books and newspapers translated at the DTN decreased remarkably after the establishment of the censorship bureau. Being unable to control the materials printed outside Iran or outside the court, Naser al-Din Shah decided to check every single international parcel before it was delivered in Iran or sent abroad, fearing that they might contain something harmful to his throne. This was five years after the establishment of the bureau of censor in 1891 (Etemad al-Saltane, 1967: 218, 225).

7. Translators in and outside the DTN

The Constitutional Revolution that took place in 1905-1911 during the reign of Muzaffar al-Din Shah, Naser al-Din Shah’s son, is said to have had its roots in Naser al-Din Shah’s period, when the first generation of Monavvar al-fekran [enlightened thinkers], as they would call themselves, was formed as a result of the encounter between Iran and the West. This encounter happened when the first group of Iranian students, mostly sons of the nobility and the royal families, were sent to Europe to complete their education (Abrahamian 2008: 34-35; see also Adamiat 1978:14-17). This group of young intellectuals was formed against the old conservative establishment who abided by the traditions and fought jealously to keep the status quo. (Amanat 1997: 360-365; Adamiat, 1978: 13-17).

The intellectuals themselves can be divided into two groups: compliant and dissident, to use Chomsky’s terms (Gryspolakis 2016). Compliant intellectuals, like Etemad al-Saltane or Amin al-Dowleh (Naser al-Din Shah’s head of the post office) were those who worked within the government system and had an official position. Azarang (2016: 278) refers to the two groups of intellectuals as the “well-wishers of the government” and the “Degar-Andish”, literally “politically other”.

The two groups had two things in common: first, all except Amir Kabir were translators, either working within the court and/or the DTN or outside the court and/or Iran. The second was that both groups pursued a common goal: to introduce reforms in the political, economic and educational spheres which would result in the greater well-being and awareness of the people (Amanat 1997: 362-67; Abrahamian 2008: 34-35; Zahedi & Heidarpour 2008: 127).

 The difference between the two groups was in the way in which they tried to reach their goal: the compliant group indirectly pursued their goal by influencing the mind of the Shah, through translations for example, and did not aim for fundamental changes, while the dissident group stated clearly that fundamental changes needed to  be made.

Thus the compliant group did not directly oppose the Shah and did not express their reforming ideas explicitly. Instead, they tried to indirectly make the Shah aware of the consequences of the policies he adopted. Their survival depended on the survival of the government (See Sassani 1960: 181). In other words, even while insisting on reforms, the compliant group never wanted to change the identity of the kingdom or overthrow the Shah. For example Naser al-Din Shah’s first Premier and supposedly first compliant intellectual, Mirza Taqi Khan Amir Kabir, without whose help and insight, Naser al-Din might not have been able to safely rise to the throne, and who was known for his reforming ideas, did not mean to reduce the “despotic power” inherent in the kingdom (Amanat, 1997: 131-132). He even once discouraged Naser al-Din Shah from ordering a translation of Malcolm's A History of Persia, because Malcom had predicted the fall of Qajar dynasty at the end of his second volume and Amir Kabir believed that reading such a book would be “fatally poisonous” to Iranians (Amanat, 1997: 130). Even so, Naser al-Din Shah did not hesitate to order his execution lest his plans for reform might restrain his power and authority (Amanat, 1997: 160). 

It seems that the intimidation caused by Amir Kabir’s execution, cowed the compliant intellectuals into following their policy of “influencing” the Shah rather than opposing him directly. For instance, Mirza Mohammad Hossein Foroughi, translator and manager at the DTN, confided to his son Mohammad Ali after Naser al-Din Shah’s death, that by writing an article in his newspaper Tarbiat [Discipline] – the first non-governmental newspaper – he was trying to “imply that the country needed law” (Foroughi, 1960: 66).  Mohammad Hossein Froughi was once the victim of the Shah’s intimidation and was forced into hiding for a week;  he was suspected of having written an article on a banned topic. But after a thorough inspection of all his works he was pardoned by the Shah (Etemad al-Saltane 1967: 856-62).

Etemad al-Saltane, was another compliant intellectual. He did not explicitly suggest any fundamental changes in the government because he was not immune from Naser al-Din Shah’s wrath either; as mentioned before, his seven-volume translation of French history was banned even after distribution (Etemad al-Saltane, 1967: 1191). Etemad al-Saltane strove to keep a balance between what the Shah approved and what he thought was good for the country. Since the Shah showed an interest in history books and biographies of kings, Etemad al-Saltaneh went out of his way to appease the Shah by translating a great number of history books. In addition to the books that were actually translated and published, he read 36 books to the Shah in the course of 14 years from 1881 to 1894. Of these, 34 books were on history, and 2 on science. On four occasions in his diary, Etemad al-Saltane explicitly states that he chose the books with the intention of opening the Shah’s eyes to the reality of the way he ruled (Etemad al-Saltane, 1967: 507, 773, 794, 411). On one occasion, in the entry dated 7 June, 1885, after four hours of reading Fredrick’s History to the Shah, he writes: “I spend more than 400 Tomans a year on books that are full of pieces of advice and admonition [for the Shah] but, alas, he does seem not to care at all” (1967: 411). However, based on his diary, it seems there were some cases where Etemad al-Saltaneh succeeded in influencing the Shah. For example in the entry dated 26 July, 1886, he writes: “Today I read A Graphic History of France to the Shah. The parts on Louis XV’s unrestrained revelry and invectives seemed to be a bit of admonition and a lesson to the Shah” (1967: 507). Four years later, in the entry dated 18 April, 1890, he writes: “I took the trouble to translate Madam Du Barry to admonish His majesty and make him understand what causes the fall of a monarchy; but, alas, it caused the opposite effect. The Shah approved of Louis XV’s wrongful deeds” (794).

The dissident group of intellectuals, on the other hand, wrote essays or letters to the Shah criticizing the conditions in Iran and offering solutions. Typically, they would make a comparison between the situation of Iran and that of the neighbouring countries such as Ottoman Turkey that had implemented a great project of reforms called “Tenzimat” (Adamiat 1978:26; See also Amin al-Dowleh 1962: 28; Sassani 1960: 181). They were mostly oppressed by Naser al-Din Shah, and had to live in exile, like Mirza Malkam Khan,[10] or were put into jail and tortured like Mustashar al-Dowleh. Other dissident intellectuals such as Mirza Abd al-Rahim Talebov, Mirza Habib Esfahani, Mirza Jaafar Qarachedaqi, Mirza Abd al-Hossein Aqa Khan Kermani and Zein al-Abedin Maraghei were all influential in mobilizing public opinion and the movement towards Constitutional Revolution (Azarang, 2015: 277-278; Azarang, 2016: 107-110). To give an idea of the way the dissident intellectuals acted, we will briefly look at two key figures: Malkam Khan and Mustashar al-Dowleh.

Malkam Khan was competent in English, French and Italian; formerly he was the Shah’s translator and interpreter and a professor and translator at Dar al-Fonun. After establishing the Freemasonry Society, he was deported from Iran but was pardoned by the Shah a year later and was appointed Iran’s consul in Egypt. Having lived in the Ottoman Empire for ten years, Malkam Khan became familiar with the reforms carried out there. Also, having lived in England for 16 years as minister plenipotentiary meant that he was acquainted with the parliamentary system and the ideas of political philosophers. He established a newspaper called Qanun [Law] which was also sent to Iran until it was banned by the order of Naser al-Din Shah (Azarang, 2015: 279). Malkam translated and wrote many books on politics including John Stewart Mill’s On Freedom, Ketabche-ye Politika-ye Dowlati [A booklet on State Politics], which is a translation of extracts from different European  books. He also wrote a book on reforms based on what he had learnt from the Tenzimat movement in the Ottoman Empire. 

Among the dissident intellectuals who were punished by the Shah for their translation activities, Mirza Yousef Khan Mustashar al Dowleh paid the highest price. He both wrote and translated; he knew several languages; he worked for the Foreign Ministry and was sent to Paris on a diplomatic mission. In Paris, he came into contact with new ideas and the result was the translation of a book called Yek Kalameh [One Word], first published in 1870, and reprinted in 1887 and 1907. The book was a partial adaptation of the French Constitution mixed with a translation of some chapters of the Napoleonic code. He had also incorporated certain Islamic laws in anticipation of possible objections put forth by the clergy. Yek Kalameh contains an introduction, 21 chapters and two announcements. The writer tries to analyze the reasons of Iran’s backwardness and to suggest ways of rejecting despotism and fighting against underdevelopment. He states that the secret for Iran’s development lies in one word: law. According to Vatandoost (2005: 349), he is believed to have got the idea of a “separation of powers” from Montesquieu whose books were not allowed to be translated at the DTN. Some time after the publication of the book, Mustashar al-Dowleh was arrested and put into jail. It is said that he was beaten about the head with his own book until he lost his sight; and since he had lost all his positions he died in poverty (Azarang, 2015: 281; See also Vatandoost, 2005; Haqiqat, 2008). However, this book is said to have had a great impact on the formation of the Constitutional Revolution and was used as a political guide in the secret meetings of the Constitutionalists. It was also used in the writing of the Constitution and later, in the Pahlavi era, it was a constant inspiration for the new judiciary system (Azarang, 2015: 281-282).

Since every step taken needed to be approved by the Shah, the reformists’ biggest obstacle was the Shah himself. When a new plan of reform was proposed to the Shah, he first showed an interest but then he would change his mind under the influence of the conservatives, who either opposed the whole plan or accepted  it with changes that would render it ineffective in the long run (Sassani, 1960: 181). Adamiat describes this initial phase of consensus and a later phase of drawback as “the struggling of the two opposing forces of reformists and conservatives” (1978: 13).

8. Discussion

Naser al-Din Shah’s reign was unique in various respects. He was the last traditional king and the first Iranian king to have to deal with international affairs. He was the first Iranian king to visit Europe. He was the most literate king of Iran. He also established many of other firsts: the first state ministries, the first official censorship bureau as well as other bureaus, the first telegraph, the first railway, the first factories, and the first comprehensive state translation institute (DTN); all thanks to contact with the West (See Etemad al-Saltane1995: 126-127). Thus his rule served as a bridge between traditional Persian rule and, to use Amanat’s term, the “monarchical absolutism in the modern sense” (1997: xiii-xiv).

Naser al-Din Shah’s despotism, in fact, found an additional impetus from outside, i.e. “Enlightened Absolutism”, also called “benevolent despotism”. It is, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica,

a form of government in the 18th century in which absolute monarchs pursued legal, social, and educational reforms inspired by the Enlightenment. […] They typically instituted administrative reform, religious toleration, and economic development but did not propose reforms that would undermine their sovereignty or disrupt the social order. (Britannica Encyclopedia)

The Enlightened Absolutists reached their aims by “implementing laws for the benefit of their people, funding education, and even encouraging production of arts and sciences. The idea was to benefit their subjects, but it was often done so according to the ruler’s belief and the ruler’s belief alone.” (Albert, 2016). Two key figures in the Enlightened Absolutism movement are Frederick the Great of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia. Frederick the Great was a true lover of French thought and philosophy, and did a great deal to modernize the Prussian state and improve the living conditions of his subjects. Catherine the Great of Russia also shared a deep belief in Enlightened Absolutism, but

[while] she was a patron of literature and a promoter of Russian culture she herself wrote, established literary reviews, encouraged the sciences, and founded schools, […] it cannot be denied that she was also egotistical, pretentious, and extremely domineering, above all a woman of action, capable of being ruthless when her own interest or that of the state was at stake. (Kuiper 2010: 125)

What was the lesson of enlightened absolutism for a king ruling not in Europe but in Iran? A king who frequently read, or was read to (he had 170 translated books in his library), the biographies of Fredrick the Great and Catherine the Great besides Peter the Great, Napoleon, Bismarck, and Charles XII, (See Etemad al-Saltane 1967: 411, 442, 1008). Naser al-Din Shah knew from his readings and travels abroad that he was ruling in an era that was quite different from that of his predecessors. As Amanat maintains, Naser al-Din Shah’s reign was “the beginning of monarchical absolutism in modern sense” (1997: 2-3). The reasons Amanat gives for this claim is the Shah’s “shrewd diplomacy” in “playing off rival European powers against each other” besides carrying out some “selective reforms”. To further increase his power, Amanat goes on to say, the Shah contained ministerial power by “shrewd weakening of traditional checks and balances” (1997: xiv).

While Iran and Europe were poles apart in terms of scientific, cultural, religious, economic and historical matters, (for example, the authority of a king with absolute power ordained by God was hardly challenged at the time in Iran [cf. Amanat 1997: xiii, xiv]), enlightened absolutism still had lessons for Naser al-Din Shah to learn. A biography of Naser al-Din Shah shows that he learned two important lessons from these two “great” rulers: how to project an image of benevolence by doing things in the interest of the people that could be done without jeopardizing the monarchical rule; and how to be ruthless in matters that involved the survival of the monarchical rule.

A study of the Shah’s reforms in various economic, scientific, social, religious and cultural spheres during his long reign shows how he adapted the policies of his favourite Prussian emperor and Russian empress to the context of Iran.[11] He did not copy the European model of despotism but borrowed the elements he thought would be useful to keep his throne and mixed those elements with what the traditional Persian kingdom had left him; that is, a God-like authority over his subjects. According to Scott (2002: 7), a significant element in enlightened absolutism was the “the acceptance by the monarch of a social contract, imposing obligations in return for the obedience and support derived from the population at large”. This was not crucial to Naser al-din Shah, for he already had people’s unconditional obedience as a legacy from oriental despotism without having to go under any contract.  

This made his kingdom an amalgam of paradoxes. Doing and undoing the reforms had become a feature of his rule. Both the national and international contexts plus the efforts of both compliant and dissident intellectuals made him first give in to some reforms and later give up those same reforms. For instance, while a government faced with social unrest due to food shortages may be expected to carry out some reforms, Naser al-Din Shah avoided any reform capable of empowering people (Amanat, 1997: 503; 516-517). Nonetheless, pressure from the West seemed to work better than internal unrests, forcing the Shah to introduce “laws”, a reform which eventually failed.

In a context where merely uttering the word “law” had serious consequences, the king’s order to introduce laws can seem paradoxical. However, under the pressure of Western governments (especially Britain and France) who had started “casting aspersions” on the Shah in their newspapers – something the Shah was very sensitive about – Naser al-Din Shah ordered his statesmen to write a set of laws in 1885, a year after he had established the bureau of censorship (Etemad al-Saltane, 1967: 118). This seemed to be a lesson he had learned from the enlightened absolutism, a gesture to show that he too cared for reform. But even Etemad al-Saltane regarded this as just a gesture for the Shah to enhamce his reputation and to show off as a fruit of his trip to Europe (Etemad al-Saltane, 1967: 771). This order of the Shah evidently had no practical results since four years later in 1889, when he came back from his third trip to Europe, he decided once again to have a set of laws written. It is noteworthy that this time too, European newspapers (mostly German and Russian) had “cast aspersions” on the Shah’s Premier Amin al-Sultan. At last, when a book of law was prepared by Amin al-Dowleh, it was never enforced, for the conservatives, including Amin al-Sultan himself, were not happy with the project. (Etemad al-Saltane, 1967: 769-773; see also Amanat, 1997:466, 480). The pressure from the conservatives was so intense that Abbas Mirza Molk Ara, who was in charge of writing the new laws on the model of the laws of European countries, gave up the task, saying that he could not write a book of laws in a situation where every single line had to be deleted upon the request of one of the conservative courtiers (Malekzadeh, 1984: 94; See also Amin al-Dowleh, 1962: 143).

It was the king’s habit to first welcome any reform and then oppose it once he realized it would threaten his throne. The DTN too faced a similar destiny. Two years after he ordered the institution to expand, Naser al-Din Shah realized the significance of translation and the threat it could pose to his throne. Before the establishment of the censorship bureau, the Shah himself filtered every translation, but now the bureau of censorship monitored all translated material. This resulted in a sharp decrease in the number of translations (see section 7 above). As the Shah became increasingly paranoid, he imposed stricter restrictions on the translated material. Naser al-Din Shah also became increasingly reluctant to cover the costs of the DTN.  In reply to Etemad al-Saltane’s request for funds for the DTN in 1885 (the same year the censorship bureau was established), the Shad replied that his (infrequent) tips to the translators would suffice: “Last year I gave some tips, why should I pay the costs as well?” (Etemad al-Saltane, 1967: 395). It seems that in the years that followed, Naser al-Din Shah continued to only give tips to the translators, for Etemad al-Saltane, eight years later mentions in his diary that each year he spends 1000 Tomans out of his own pocket to keep the DTN going (1967: 963).

In the cultural sphere, the establishment of the DTN may be regarded as a means of propaganda, an act that would help create the image of a learned Shah. In reality, there is no evidence to show that Naser al-Din Shah was interested in or motivated by enlightened ideas such as rationalism, reliance on science rather than religion, freedom, tolerance, progress, liberal governance, etc. This can be shown by the books that were not translated at the DTN and the ones translated outside the DTN: the ideas of revolutionary thinkers such as Voltaire, Descartes, Montesquieu, Spinoza that had swept through Europe at the time, were not translated during the reign of Naser al-Din Shah at the DTN (Delzendehrooy & Khazaeefar, 2017: 37-38). This was while Japan and Turkey had already brought western knowledge into their countries through a systematic translation project (See Saito 2015: 2; Berk 2006: 20; Tahir 2008: 68; Czygan 2008: 43).

An examination of the books translated outside the DTN shows that the concepts and topics that had no chance of being translated at the DTN, were translated either anonymously by DTN translators or by translators (dissident intellectuals) outside the DTN. Some examples are Etemad al-Saltane’s translation of Sophie Ségur’s Mémoires d'un Âne, which he adapted to the Iranian context to indirectly criticize the Shah’s Premiere, Amin al-Sultan. The book was published anonymously in 1887 and was banned on the Shah’s order when he found out that it was a criticism of his Premiere (Minavi, 2003: 46). This was the same year in which Naser al-Din Shah confided to Etemad al-Saltane that he preferred the Iranian people to stay ignorant (1967: 597). Etemad al-Saltane also wrote a story named Khalse/Khabname [Ecstasy/ Dream Letter] in which he recounts his dream in a state of wakefulness and sleep where he had criticized and judged eleven main characters of the Qajar. Malkam Khan also wrote/translated about 13 essays and books outside court discussing topics such as law, freedom, democracy, despotism and its effects on the emigration of intellectuals.[12] The same concepts were also translated and written about by Abd al-Rahim Talebov inspired by Jean Jacques Rousseau. Talebov’s book Ahmad, published in three volumes in Istanbul in 1893, was influential on the movements that culminated in the Constitutional Revolution (Azarang, 2015: 281; see also Nabavi Razavi, 2012: 333).

8.1. The effects of Naser al-Din Shah’s legacy on translation and publication 

What Naser al-Din Shah did with regard to translation and publishing industry and the way the intellectuals reacted against his deeds had long-lasting effects on translation and publishing in Iran. The same pattern seems to have been repeated in the era of the successors to the Qajars. Reza Khan Pahlavi (who reigned 1894–1921), after ascending the throne, passed a law in 1921 called “Code for Monitoring Publications” and also “The Penal Code for Propagandists against Independence and Security of the State” in 1931, whereby he censored and monitored whatever he felt to be a threat to his throne. Along the same lines, Reza Shah required the “Intelligence Office” to monitor books which were published in Iran or sent to Iran from abroad (Rajabi, 2009: 41). Reza Shah’s strict policies led to a low rate of translation. The few books that were translated in this era were popular literature that had a clear entertainment purpose. (Azarang, 2012: 152). At the time of Pahlavi II (who reigned 1941-1979), all printing houses were required to submit their manuscripts to “The Bureau of Composition” before publication. This was a department in the Ministry of Culture whose duty was to read any manuscript and issue a letter of approval for publication  (Rajabi, 2009: 47; see also Karimi-Hakkak, 1985: 191-192). To exert a stricter control over the printed material, Mohammad Reza Shah, passed a bill in 1963 which required the “Domestic Security and Intelligence Service” (SAVAK) to censor books (Rajabi, 2009: 48). This new policy resulted in a dramatic decline of the publication rate with a long black list of banned books. SAVAK was particularly sensitive about Russian literature and anyone having, for example, Maxim Gorki’s Mother would end up in jail. Moreover, the works of authors such as Jack London, Bertolt Brecht and, especially, Jean Paul Sartre were banned. Mohammad Reza Shah is quoted to have said: “Tell Mr Sartre to mind his own business […]” (Delannoy, 1992: 139-140). However this did not hinder the secret distribution of such books.

9. Conclusion

From our description of the DTN, it follows that translation and despotism were strongly connected in Iran; the growth of one fostered or hindered the other. As we observed above, as Naser al-Din Shah became more and more despotic, fewer and fewer translations were authorized and published at the DTN, but the publication of translations outside the DTN increased. Naser al-Din Shah’s  government, being despotic in nature, was not expected to establish a comprehensive state translation institution;  however, being familiar with the strategies used by certain European kings,  he applied a new kind of despotism which borrowed some elements from oriental despotism such the God-like authority and some elements from  the “enlightened absolutism”, such as advocating art and literature

In the same way that the DTN and the Censorship Bureau at the time of Naser al-Din Shah paved the way for the translation of books containing enlightening ideas, and thus leading to the Constitutional Revolution, during the Pahlavi era the Intelligence Office as well as the Bureau of Composition and finally SAVAK inadvertently fostered the clandestine translation and publication of banned books leading to the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Since the Islamic Revolution, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has been responsible “for restricting access to any media that violates Islamic ethics or promotes values alien to the Iranian Revolution”. Any book to be translated and published must apply for approval from this ministry.

The relationship between translation and despotism is a complicated one. It should not be taken for granted that stricter controls on the part of a despotic government will necessarily have the desired effect. The DTN has provided a case in point. The despotic Naser al-Din Shah hindered translation but paradoxically fostered the clandestine publication of translated books thus contributing to the circumstances which brought about the Constitutional Revolution.


This paper has benefited enormously from the insightful comments of the anonymous reviewers and of Prof. Christopher Rundle.


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Garoosi, Issa (trns.) (1879) [Introduction] Tarjomey-e That al-lafz-e Safarnameye Doctor Larte [Word-for-Word Translation of Dr Larte’s Travelogue]. Tehran: Naseri House of Translation.

Haqiqat, Abd al-Rafi’ (2008) “Yousef Khan Mustashar al-Dowleh Nastooh-e Azadikhah” [Yousef Khan Mustashar al-Dowleh, The Tireless Liberalist], Gozaresh, 17 (201): 57.

Heidarpour, Mohammad, and Mohammad Javad Zahedi (2008) “Jame’e shenasi-ye enzevaye roshanfekran: naqd-e koneshhaye roshanfekran asr-e mashroote ta payan-e saltante-e Pahlavi aval” [The sociology of the Intellectuals’ retreat: A criticism of the reaction of intellectuals from the Constitutional era up to the Pahlavi the first], Iranian Journal of Sociology 9, no. 1-2: 127-164.

Karimi‐Hakkak, Ahmad (1985) “Protest and Perish: a history of the writers' association of Iran”, Iranian Studies, 18:2-4, 189-229, DOI: 10.1080/00210868508701657

Kuiper, Kathleen (ed.) (2010) The 100 Most Influential Women of All Time, New York, NY: Britannica Educational Publishing.

Mahboubi Ardakani, Hossein, and Iraj Afshar (eds) (1989) Chehel Sal Tarikh-e Iran dar Dore-ye Padshahi Naser al-Din Shah, Vol.2 Al-Ma’ser va Al-‘Asar [Fourty Years History of Iran at the time of Naser al-Din Shah’s Rule], Tehran, Asatir.

Malekzadeh, Mehdi (1984) Tarikh-e Enqelab-e Mashrootiat [The History of Constitutional Revolution], Tehran; Elmi.

Maraghei, Zein al-Abedin (1986) Siahatname Ibrahim Beyk [Ibrahim Beyk’s Travelogue], ed. Mohammad Ali Sepanlou, Tehran, Asfar.

Minavi, Mojtaba (2005) Kharnameh: Sargozashte Khar [The Fate of a Donkey], Tehran: Panjareh.

Minutir, Rolando (2012) “Oriental Despotism, in: European History Online (EGO)”, published by the Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG), Mainz 2012-05-03. URL: http://www.ieg-ego.eu/minutir-2012-en URN: urn:nbn:de:0159-2012050313 [2018-10-14].

Nabavi Razavi, Seyed Meqdad (2012) Tarikh-e Maktoom [The Concealed History], Tehran: Pardis Danesh.

Norman, Baron de (trns.) (1881) Tarikhe Bismark dar jang-e beyn-e 1870 va 1871 [The history of Bismarck in the war of 1870 and 1871], Tehran: Naseri Dar al-Tarjome.

Qasemi, Farid (2000) Mashahir-e Matbouat-e Iran: Mohammad Hasan Etemad al-Saltane [Iran’s Celebrated Men of Press: Mohammad Hasan Etemad al-Saltane]. Tehran: Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance Publishing Organization.

Qasemi, Farid (2011) Chekide va matn-e kamel-e salnameha-ye Iran 1290-1321 GH. [Abstract and complete versions of Iran yearbooks 1290-1321 A.H], Tehran, Iran History Studies Institute.

Rahim Khan, Mirza (trns.) (1884) [Introduction] Tarikh-e Selsele-ye Jalile-ye Qajarieh [The History of Iran and the Grand Qajar Dynasty], Tehran: Naseri House of Translation.

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Saito, Mino (2015) “The power of translated literature in Japan: The introduction of new expressions through translation in the Meiji Era (1868– 1912)”, Perspectives: 417-430.

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Mashroote-ye Iran” [The Political Thought of Mirza Yousef Khan Mustashar al-Dowleh and the Constitutional of Iran], in Sanjari Azarmeh Majmooeh Maqalat-e Hmayesh Barrasi Mbani Fekri va Ejtemaei Mashrootiat Iran: Bozorgdasht-e Ayat allah Mohammad Kazem Khorasani [Researches on the Ideological and Social Fundamentals of Constitution in Iran: A Commemoration of e Ayat allah Mohammad Kazem Khorasani], pp.333-352. Tehran: The Research and development of Humanities Institution.


[1] Both Tarikh-e- Louie 14 [The History of Louis XIV] and Sharh-e Hal-e Louie 14 [The Biography of Louis XIV] were read by Naser al-Din Shah (Etemad al-Saltane, 1967: 824-867, 636).

[2]  Iranian historian, thanks to whose efforts Etemad al-Saltane’s diary as well as many other historical documents have been published and studied in Iran.

[3]Naser al-Din Shah’s anger and hostility towards the West went so far as to wish them death. On October 4, 1891, as Etemad al-Saltane noted in his diary, the Shah and Etemad al-Saltane were sitting together talking. The Shah showed a picture he had drawn of a mountain to Etemad al-Saltane saying in jest: “I am going to build a high wall in this mountain; when the European heads come to visit this wall I make each pay a lot of money. But since the mountain is hard to climb, hopefully, they will all fall down and die. This way I will take both the money and lives of the most important of them”. Etemad al-Saltane (1967: 886)

[4] National Library official site; Library, Museum and Document Centre of Iran Parliament Library site; Persian manuscript Catalogue (Fankha) 42 volumes; Iran Manuscripts (Dena); The Catalogue of Farsi Manuscripts; Catalogue of Persianized Printed Books from the beginning up to 1992 by Naji Nasr-Abadi.

[5] A manuscript in which the text is supplemented with such decoration as initials, borders (marginalia) and miniature illustrations. In the strictest definition, the term refers only to manuscripts decorated with gold or silver.

[6] The original book is Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras by Jules Verne

[7] This, along with a sword, was the emblem of Iran’s flag at the time

[8] 1 Toman was almost equal to 2$ at that time.

[9] The scanned version of this book is available at Iran National Library (http://www.nlai.ir)

[10] After Naser al-Din Shah’s death, Malkam Khan was removed from the Shah’s blacklist and appointed Iran’s ambassador to Italy. 

[11] In the fourth section of Al-Ma’ser va Al-‘Asar, Etemad al-Salatne describes the reforming acts of Naser al-Din Shah in his 40 year rule, such as establishing ministries, bureaus, telegraph, railways telephone and electricity, different factories, etc., which he considered to be the result of relations with foreign countries (Etemad al-Saltane 1989: 126-27). However some of these reforms, especially the establishment of different ministries and councils, were largely ineffective due the despotic nature of the government. One of these councils was Dar al-Showra-ye Kobra [The Grand House of Council] which consisted of six ministers whose task was to consult with each other the important issues of the government. They were supposed to act independently of the government but since whatever decisions they took, had to be approved by the Shah, they tended to only make decisions that they thought would be approved by the Shah (Mahboubi Ardakani 1989 712-13). This was a clear example of enlightened absolutism. Therefore the establishment of all these ministries and bureaus, including Naseri House of Translation, was justified as long as they caused limited reforms within the framework of the government helping its survival.

[12] Some of these books and essays are: Freedom (a translation of Mirabeau’s ideas), The Secret Booklet (on law), The Military Order and the Reform Parliament, A handbook of Law, The Benefits of Freedom (Mill’s translation), A Call for Justice.

About the author(s)

Somaye Delzendehrooy got her BA in English translation from Shahid Bahonar University of Kerman, Iran in 2004 and her MA in the same field from Esfahan University, Iran in 2006. She has been working as a faculty member at the Department of Linguistics and Translation Studies, Vali-e-Asr University of Rafsanjan since 2007. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad. Her academic interests include translation history and practice.
Ali Khazaee Farid is associate professor of translation studies at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran. Dr. Khazaee Farid has been the founder and editor of the quarterly Motarjem (The Translator) published since 1993. His major interests are the practice and theory of literary translation.

Masood Khoshsaligheh is associate professor in translation studies and head of Department of English at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad. He is also chief editor of the Iranian journal, Language and Translation Studies, and director of English Center at FUM College.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Somaye Delzendehrooy, Ali Khazaee Farid and Masood Khoshsaligheh (2019).
"Despotism and Translation in Iran The Case of Naseri House of Translation as the First State Translation Institution", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2367

How to deal with intertextuality in AD?

Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In: a case study

By Raquel Sanz-Moreno (University of Valencia, Spain)

Abstract & Keywords


In 1997, Navarrete, one of the first professional Spanish audio describers, defined audio description (AD) as ‘the art of translating images into words’. Since then, the academic, social and professional interest that this service has steadily increased. The Spanish regulation Audiodescripción para personas con discapacidad visual. Requisitos para la audiodescripción y la elaboración de audioguías (AENOR 2005) establishes the guidelines for the AD of theatre, cinema and museum guides in Spain. The guidelines state that the aim of every AD is that the receptor should perceive the audiovisual content ‘in as similar a way as possible to that perceived by a person who sees’[1] (2005: 4). In other words, the goal is to eliminate the barriers imposed by sensory impairment when enjoying an audiovisual product and to place the person with a visual impairment as close as possible to a normal viewer, having the same information and also enjoying the film in the same way. The role of the describer is both essential and complex because they have to decide which elements they want to describe, taking into consideration the time restrictions imposed by the film itself, and also determine the adequate wording to use. In this sense, the intertextual elements of a film constitute an interesting challenge for the describer. The aim of this article is to analyse the AD of the film The Skin I Live In (2011) by the La Mancha director Pedro Almodóvar, paying special attention to intertextuality. We will identify the audio described elements (and those which have been omitted in the AD) and we will determine the translation strategies used by the describer, in order to consider whether, in fact, the analysed AD puts the visually impaired receptor in a better position to understand the film, than the average viewer.

Keywords: audiovisual translation, audio description ad, intertextuality, accessibility, receptor

©inTRAlinea & Raquel Sanz-Moreno (2019).
"How to deal with intertextuality in AD? Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In: a case study", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2348

1. Audio description

1.1. Definition and Goals

Orero (2007) recounts that AD first began in Spain after the Spanish civil war when, according to the radio and TV journalist Jorge Arandes, the journalist Gerardo Esteban transmitted audio descriptions of films directly from the cinema via Radio Barcelona. AD was first professionalized in the 1990s, with the Audesc system launched by the Spanish Organization for the Blind (ONCE). Since then, the interest in this new discipline has considerably increased. The Spanish regulation Norma UNE 153020: Audiodescripción para personas con discapacidad visual. Requisitos para la audiodescripción y elaboración de audioguías (Audio description for people with visual impairment: requirements for audio description and development of audio guides) (AENOR 2005), defines AD as a

communication support service consisting of a set of techniques and skills applied in order to compensate for the lack of understanding of the visual part contained in any type of message, providing adequate oral information that translates or explains it, so that the potentially visually impaired receptor perceives that message as a harmonic whole and in as similar a way as possible as that perceived by a person who sees (AENOR 2005: 4).

The aim of AD is to facilitate the comprehension of sensory impaired persons, offering the necessary information to make the audiovisual product accessible and, therefore, make them aware of what happens on the screen. The Spanish norm tries to equal, if possible, the normal viewers’ and visually impaired viewers’ perceptions so that the latter can understand and enjoy the audiovisual product in the same place and at the same time.

AD exists because of, and for, a visually impaired audience. The receptors are the rationale of an AD; consequently, the describer should have a complete understanding of the describer does not madetheir audience’s needs and expectations, as well as the causes and different types of blindness. We cannot forget that blind and low vision people form a heterogeneous group: a completely blind person does not perceive like a person who has low vision; in the same vein, a person who suffered blindness from childhood ‘sees’ differently from a person who has progressively lost their vision as an adult. There are people who rely heavily on AD whereas others just use it as guidance or support. In any case, an understanding of the target audience will help the describer know which strategies to use and avoid being condescending towards the spectator by providing either too much information or not enough (Díaz Cintas 2007: 53). When confronted with intertextuality, the describer has to maintain a tricky balance between, on the one hand, trusting the cultural background of the audience and their capacity to infer the hidden connections of the film, but, on the other hand, being ready to fill gaps in their cultural knowledge and be a guidance for the understanding and enjoyment of the film.  

The role of the describer is to become a bridge, a guide for the spectator, describing the relevant elements of the film in order for the visually impaired audience to build up a concrete idea of the characters, the settings, the actions etc. The Spanish norm states that the information provided by the image must be respected, without censuring or cutting presumed excesses nor complementing supposed lack of information (AENOR 2005: 8). The regulation raises a complex issue: the amount of information which has to be provided by the describer when confronted with an image and, above all, how to determine when any supposed addition or (il)legitimate or (un)justified omission of information is needed, as we should not forget that there is time constraint in AD which has to be taken into account by the describer. In this sense, the Guidance on Standards for Audio Description (ITC 2000), which regulates AD in the United Kingdom, establishes that the describer must spot the visual clues left by the film’s director and describe them without revealing the plot prematurely. It stresses the need to provide the information contained in the images, but on some occasions, some extra information is welcomed, if it can help the audience understand better.

Describers in the US are not encouraged to add anything or offer any information that is not apparent on the screen at that moment. Rather than saying a character is angry, they describe the action as they see it and let the visually impaired viewer decide what that action implies. British research seems to indicate that additional help is appreciated, as long as it is not condescending or interpretative (ITC 2000: 15).

The line between adding information to provide insight and a patronising attitude towards the visually impaired audience (so-called ‘spoon feeding’), is difficult to define, due to the heterogeneity of the receptors, who have their own tastes, preferences and expectations. Dealing with filmic intertextuality offers numerous challenges for the describer, who should consider its relevance in the film, but also the audience’s knowledge or familiarity with it, in order to determine whether to reveal it (or not) and how to do so. 

1.2. AD and intertextuality

The increase in audio described hours on Spanish television (Centro Español del Subtitulado y la Audiodescripción 2015), as well as the organisation of international and national conferences, meetings and congresses on accessibility,[2] show that AD now plays a fundamental role in Translation Studies Research. Nevertheless, intertextuality in AD has not been studied in any depth yet. One of the first studies to tackle this topic was written by Valero Gisbert (2012), who presents an analysis of the intertextual references in Italian in the AD of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Burton 2005). Gisbert insists on the need to carry out reception studies, both with normal viewers and with the visually impaired, in order to determine whether the decisions of the describer meet the expectations of the target audience. Taylor (2014) also analyses intertextuality in the film Inglorious Basterds (Tarantino 2009) as the film presents numerous references to other films, books, historic characters, music and so on. Taylor once again raises the delicate question faced by the describer when producing an AD script: “There is a fine line between beneficial intervention and superfluous over assistance and it is the line that the audio describer has to tread” (2014: 37). He suggests an interesting strategy to solve the question of intertextuality in AD, which consists of including these references in an audio introduction, following the previous studies of Fryer and Romero Fresco (2013, 2014), a very useful strategy considering the time constraints of AD. Moreover, Taylor proposes a useful checklist for AD script writing when having to deal with intertextual references in a film (2015: 44):

  • Decide whether you [the audio describer] want to preserve your target audience’s intellectual pleasure in detecting the reference: enhance only the marker;
  • Decide whether you want to give priority to rendering meaning more explicit: link marker and marked;
  • Decide whether you want to reckon with the didactic function of AD: link marker and marked.

Szarkowska and Jankowska (2015), following in the wake of Valero Gisbert, carry out an interesting reception study with a visually impaired audience on the AD of foreign films in Poland, and tackle the challenges set by intertextuality in those films (among other items). They propose some strategies for the different intertextual elements in the film Midnight in Paris (Allen 2011), analysing their meanings and considering the time at their disposal, as well as the presumed familiarity of the target audience with the intertextual reference. They decided to include an explanation in the audio introduction to the film of a camera shot that is clearly intended to remind us of Monet’s Les Nymphéas, as well as a brief description of one of Picasso’s paintings (2015: 260), in order to help the audience establish the connections behind the images.

In this article, we have classified the intertextual references following the taxonomy proposed by Szarkowska and Jankowska when dealing with culture-specific items in audio description (2015): “naming, description without naming, description and naming” or a combination of strategies, in order to analyse the references in the film by Pedro Almodóvar, The Skin I Live In. But we have also adopted different strategies which were, for example, not described by the mentioned authors, like addition and generalisation. From a descriptive perspective, we will explain the strategies used by the describer to deal with intertextual references, taking into consideration what a viewer with no visual impairment would see.  

2. AD of intertextuality in The Skin I Live In.

2.1. The Skin I Live In., a film by Pedro Almodóvar

Nowadays, an increasing number of films are launched on the market with AD, both in cinemas and on DVD or Blu-ray. Many communication companies ensure accessibility services (AD, Subtitling for the deaf, and Sign language) through different apps in smartphones or tablets. AD is no longer an exception, as many audiovisual producers have decided that their products must be launched with accessibility features. Pedro Almodóvar’s films are a good example. Volver (2006), Broken Embraces (2009), The Skin I Live In. (2011), I’m So Excited (2013) and Juliet (2016) were released and marketed with AD in Spain.

In this article, we will focus on The Skin I Live In., a film which aroused the curiosity of critics and public, as Antonio Banderas was acting in an Almodóvar film again, more than 20 years after their last collaboration in the film Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990).[3] The cast also included acclaimed actors like José Luis Gómez, Marisa Paredes, and young stars of the Spanish cinema like Blanca Suárez, Jan Cornet or Elena Anaya.

The Skin I Live In. is different from other Almodóvar’s films because it is based on the book Mygale (1984) by Thierry Jonquet. This is a novelty, as the Spanish director usually writes his own scripts, and does not adapt novels for the big screen. Nevertheless, Almodóvar narrates the story in his own style, leaving his mark on the characters, the action, and the setting.

The AD script of The Skin I Live In was written by the Spanish audio describer Iñaki Arrubla within the Accessible Cinema Project (Proyecto Cine Accesible) launched by the companies Fundación Orange and Navarra de Cine. The film was marketed in DVD and Blu-ray with this AD in Spain. In order to analyse it, we have transcribed the AD script provided with the film, focusing on the AD of intertextual references, as can be seen below.        

2.2. Synopsis of the film

Robert Ledgard is a well-known plastic surgeon who has participated in several face-transplant surgeries, rebuilding scarred and burned faces for years, as his wife suffered terrible burns in a fatal car accident. Ledgard is doing research on transgenesis and wants to carry out some experiments with a human guinea pig. He will count on Marilia, a maid who has taken care of him since his childhood, to carry out his plan.

Ledgard is invited to a wedding, and he goes with his daughter, Norma, who has just come out of a psychiatric hospital and is still on therapy and medication because of the death of her mother. That night, Norma meets Vicente and they decide to leave the wedding party and go for a walk. Robert looks for her in the garden, and he sees a young man riding out of the estate on a motorcycle. Retracing the path that the motorcycle came from, he finds Norma lying on the ground, unconscious. He thinks that Vicente is responsible and decides to seek revenge, kidnapping him and carrying out all kinds of experiments on him. The relationship between them will evolve towards unimaginable limits, as Vicente will undergo a gender reassignment surgery against his will, and consequently will be transformed in a woman, Vera, who will become Ledgard’s prisoner and lover.

2.3. Descriptive analysis of the intertextual references in The Skin I Live In.

The Skin I Live In. is basically a story of revenge. In the director’s words, ‘I only knew that the narration had to be austere and sober, without visual rhetoric […]. There has been too much bloodshed in the past, even if these scenes have not been shown in the film’ (Almodóvar 2011). Almodóvar starts with the story written by Jonquet, but makes some remarkable changes in the plot, the characters and the places.  and avoids showing the explicit violence and brutality of the original written story In any case, there is a considerable number of intertextual references in the film, something which is quite common in Pedro Almodóvar’s films, as we shall see in this article.

2.3.1. Paintings

Robert lives in El Cigarral, a real fortress in which Vera has been imprisoned. The mansion is majestic, although it is cut off from the world by a fence. The walls of the house and of Robert’s room are covered by enormous paintings. In particular, there are two paintings with big pink flowers and two other Renaissance canvasses, where we see a naked woman lying in bed and looking seductively at the viewer. There are Titian’s paintings Venus With an Organist and Cupid (1550) and Venus of Urbino (1538). The presence of the latter has awoken the describer’s interest, as the AD script says:

(00:07:14) Shortly after, again wearing a suit and tie, he goes up a wooden staircase to the first floor. There are big paintings on the walls. Among them, there is Venus of Urbino, by the Renaissance painter Titian.

The describer has not missed this detail and has used explicitation, introducing the title of the painting and the painter, and adding the period in which the artist lived. This is what Swarkowska and Jankowska (2015) call “naming”,[4] combined with another translation technique, addition. As mentioned by Almodóvar himself (2011), the presence of this painting was to show that ‘before, in this house, beauty was admired.’ It is worth stressing the size of the canvases, but also the sensuality of both Venuses, lying naked on unmade beds, something very revolutionary for the time. Titian did not portray Venus as a goddess: these are real women, conscious of their beauty and their nudity, breaking away from the idealism that was characteristic of the renaissance. Both paintings are a reflection of Vera who is beautiful and seductive, even if she has been transformed against her will. Both beauty and seduction will be the weapons that will help her to flee from her kidnapper. It is expected that viewers will be able to establish this connection.

In the next scene, Almodóvar introduces a shot of Vera lying in bed, naked, although this time Vera has her back to the camera, in order to emphasize the similarities between Vera and Venus. The image is equally sensual. The AD script refers again to Titian’s painting, this time in order to explicitly establish the parallel between the postures of Vera and Venus:

(00:07:47) [Robert] Turns on the large plasma screen hung on a wall. He observes Vera, who is sleeping naked in the room adjacent to his bedroom. It is the image of a camera which monitors the young woman in real time. Vera is on her back and her image is similar to that of Titian’s painting seen in the corridor. Robert contemplates the screen, looking at the perfect anatomy of the young woman. 

As we can see, the describer has named the painter and has also revealed the relationship between the painting and the female character. The audio describer could have decided to describe the painting and its size, the main character, the colours, but he has not.. His decisions raise interesting questions: What does a normal viewer see when Robert is going up this staircase? What attracts their attention? Would they know that the author of the painting is Titian? Would they recognise the Renaissance elements in the painting? Would they be able to perceive the visual relationship between the painting and the female character of the film?[5] If not, it seems that the receptor who is enjoying the film with AD would have more information than the normal viewer. We should not forget that in the corridor there is another painting by Titian and another two enormous paintings with flowers which are not named in the AD. Their titles are Pigalle, Rosemary Rose and Spek’s Yellow by Jorge Galindo. The AD refers to them with a generalization, “There are big paintings”, but there is no description and no historical information about them is provided. It is probable that the describer considered the paintings to be too unfamiliar to the target audience to be worth specifying. According to Almodóvar, the paintings represent Robert’s admiration for beauty. 

Later, in Robert’s room, we find another colourful painting in which two faceless figures are in natural surroundings: a woman reclining and a man standing over her. It is the canvas Artist Creating a Work of Art (2008) by the Spanish painter Guillermo Pérez Villalta, the former collaborator of Almodóvar in previous films like Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980), Labyrinth of Passions (1982) and Law of Desire (1987). In this case, the describer does not make any allusion to the presence of this painting, although it also has a special meaning because it alludes to the relationship between the artist (Ledgard) and the work of art he is creating (Vera): like the figures in the painting they are both faceless, and it is difficult to perceive their feelings or emotions. In spite of its significance, however, the describer chooses to omit the painting. The AD does mention the picture of Norma, Ledgard’s daughter, when she was 10 years old, and which is on his bedside table. Norma’s character has not been introduced yet, so the AD script is advancing some information and explaining that Robert has a daughter, something a normal viewer does not know at that moment.

(00:07:42) On the bedside table, there is a picture of his daughter who is 10 years old. 

These are not the only paintings in the film. There are many other canvasses which could go unnoticed by a normal viewer. In Ledgard’s room, we see Naranjas y Limones (1927) by Julio Romero de Torres and Memories of olives by Alberto Vargas. We also see both Perdidos en Candem by Juan Uslé and Ciencias Naturales by Juan Gatti in Ledgard’s room. They all have a symbolic meaning, recalling traits of the main character. Pedro Almodóvar ordered a series of paintings on human anatomy from Gatti for the decoration of Ledgard’s office (Navarrete Galiano 2012: 81). They present a human body, skinless, in the middle of nature (flowers, butterflies, and a parakeet). The body constitutes, again, a symbol of Vera, who has lost her skin, and keeps looking for her place in nature and in the world that surrounds her.[6]

Almodóvar has included paintings in all his films either for aesthetic purposes or to add semantic content (Navarrete Galiano 2012: 75). We consider this to be the case with The Skin I Live In, where all the paintings play a significant role in the portrayal of the character’s personality. Nevertheless, as we have seen, the AD only describes one painting, the one which is the most important in terms of the plot because of its size, its main character, and its subject. We consider that a lack of time does not justify this exclusion, as there are numerous silent gaps in the film which could have been exploited. In our opinion, an audio introduction, as proposed by Fryer and Romero Fresco (2013), would be an interesting and feasible alternative to explore, and further research should be carried out on this.

2.3.2. The sculptures

At the beginning of the film, Vera has her back to camera, cutting out pieces of fabric and pasting them onto a bust. On the table, there is an art book, on the cover of which we can see the name of Louise Bourgeois thanks to a close-up. The AD is much more detailed:

(00:01:59) Vera moulds small busts of faceless heads inspired by the work of the sculptor and painter Louise Bourgeois, artist specialised in surrealistic and avant-garde works related to the unconscious.

 As we can see, the AD presents a detailed description that goes further than the images: it names the artist and it explains that she is a painter and a sculptor. The AD relates Bourgeois’ work to the artistic movement to which she belongs and to the unconscious, using an amplification of information which cannot be deduced from the images on screen. The presence of Bourgeois in the film has a special meaning. In fact, it is not the only reference to the famous French artist. Further on in the film, Vera watches a television documentary on Bourgeois. In a short clip, we can see the work Seven in bed (2007) but no audio information is provided, so a normal viewer must identify it (or not) on the basis of the images alone, and establish the parallels between the sculpture moulded by Vera and Bourgeois’ work on the TV screen. In this example, the audio describer has combined  different AD strategies (naming the title of the documentary + addition).

(01:28:29) Days after. She watches the TV channel Arte. It is the documentary The spider, the lover and the mandarin about the life and work of the sculptor and painter of French origin. There are surrealistic and avant-garde works, mostly related to the unconscious. Vera watches them attentively.

The audio describer refers to the French origin of the artist, to enable the audience to establish the link with Bourgeois, and therefore, with the sculptures.  

Later, Vera replicates Bourgeois’ work, using a catalogue of her artwork. Almodóvar shows us again a close-up of the cover in which the name of the artist can be clearly read and two pages with sculptures by Bourgeois: a cut head in a glass cube and a blue ball with head. In this case, the describer has chosen generalisation.

(01:30:06) In the locked room, Vera looks up an art book.

The references to Bourgeois are abundant, although not all of them are explicit. The close-up where Vera is practising yoga, is a clear reference to Bourgeois’ Arch of Hysteria (1992). The drawings on the wall are an imitation of Bourgeois’ women-house and hold great symbolic meaning in the film.[7] Nevertheless, in this example, the describer has also used generalisation to describe the drawings on Vera’s bedroom walls:

(01:31:58) And she keeps writing. I know I am breathing. I know I am breathing. She repeats the sentence hundreds of times. The walls are full of inscriptions, dates and some drawings. They cover the wall to the socket.

Later, she sees the busts on her bedside table:

(01:33:05) On the bedside table there are her busts inspired by Louise Bourgeois.

One of the sentences written by Vera on the wall is the sentence that Bourgeois wrote in her work Precious Liquid (1992): ‘Art is a guarantee of sanity’. But this sentence is not reproduced in the AD script, although it is an essential reference for Vera and allows us to understand that sculpture has provided Vera with a means of escape during her long years of imprisonment. In fact, Pedro Almodóvar thanks the sculptor explicitly at the end of the film: ‘Thanks to Louise Bourgeois whose work has not only moved me but has also contributed to Vera’s salvation. – Pedro Almodóvar.’

The presence of Bourgeois is essential in the film, and has, therefore, been described in the AD. The describer has not reproduced all the intertextual references which appear on the screen. But he has included the name of the artist, the artistic movement to which she belongs (Surrealism) and the relationship between her work and the unconscious on two occasions. Nevertheless, we think that the description of the drawings on the wall of Vera’s bedroom or other elements inspired by Bourgeois (Vera practising yoga, the balls lined with fabric, the flesh tone bodysuit) are relevant to the plot and should have been included in the AD script. It is clear that Bourgeois’ work has a close parallelism with Vera, and this has also been conveyed by the AD script. It seems that the describer has chosen to describe some elements referring to Bourgeois and has dismissed others according to time constraints. The person who listens to the AD will know that Bourgeois’ work is present in the film and can therefore establish the link to Vera (or not), even if its presence is not marked every time it appears on the screen.

However, since many intertextual references are only visual, it is probable that a normal viewer would not be able to identify these elements without any other help, because the work of the French artist is not well-known by the Spanish target audience. Thus, by explicitly naming and adding information, it seems that the visually-impaired have more information about this intertextual reference than the normal viewer, whose understanding of the plot could be therefore better than that of a normal viewer, unless these normal viewers manage to deduce the meanings of the paintings just by seeing and identifying them. A preliminary study carried out on the perception of intertextuality in 46 normal viewers showed that only 4 were able to identify the artist Bourgeois when confronted with her work. No one could name the title of any of her sculptures, except for Maman (1999), a 9 meter tall sculpture that is on display in the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum (Sanz-Moreno in press). These first results may suggest that normal viewers cannot easily recognize the artistic references present in this film, and therefore that the blind or visually impaired have, in fact, more detailed information.  

2.3.3. The books

Books are fundamental in the settings of Almodóvar’s films. They define the characters who read them, they tell us about their destinies, their fears, their hopes, their dreams, their desires and aspirations. The characters have a fetishist relationship with books, they are objects of desire, which identify them and build up their personalities. It is not by chance that Marco Zuluaga in Talk to Her (2002) has the book The Hours by Michael Cunnigham (1998) on his bedside table, while he waits for Benigno, played by Javier Cámara, who is in prison;[8] or that Esteban (Eloy Azorín) asks her mother (Cecilia Roth) for Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons (1980) as a birthday present in All About My Mother (1999).[9]

The Skin I Live In is no different and books appear five times in the film. The first time, at the beginning of the film, Marilia is preparing Vera’s breakfast. She puts the breakfast tray and some books in a dumbwaiter to be sent up to her. One of the books is Runaway, by the Canadian writer Alice Munro (2004). The describer has retained this detail and has described it, even if the title of the book  cannot be read, unless the image on the screen is frozen. A normal viewer could not manage to read the title or the name of its author. And besides, nothing in the dialogue or the plot allows the audience to guess this information. Nevertheless, the AD insists on the presence of the book three times in 30 seconds:

(00:02:12) She takes the tray with breakfast and the book Runaway by the writer Alice Munro. She goes to the living room. Another two assistants are cleaning. She puts the tray and some more books on the dumbwaiter. Another door of the dumbwaiter. Vera approaches and opens it. She retrieves the breakfast tray, Alice Munro’s book and another flesh tone bodysuit. She puts everything on the sofa and approaches the intercom.

Pedro Almodóvar declared that Alice Munro is one of the best contemporary English writers (2013).[10] Runaway presents some short-stories in which the main character is a woman facing a change in her life, something that also happens to Vera. Apart from that, the title of the book reflects Vera’s only intrinsic goal in her life: to escape from Ledgard.

Later, Robert goes into Vera’s room and realizes that she has tried to kill herself, cutting her veins with the pages of a book, The Orchard Keeper (1965) by Cormac McCarthy. Next to it we can see Blood Meridian (1985) and Cities of the Plain (1998) by the same author. The AD script says:

(00:08:20) [Robert] introduces the key and opens the door. (00:08:26) He looks at the naked young woman on the bed, but she is unconscious. She has cut the veins on her wrists and she also has wounds on her breasts. 

As we can see, the AD script does not mention that Vera has used the book as an instrument with which to end her life. The images show the bloodstained edges of the pages. Books are presented as a double-edged sword as they can be a means of escape for Vera, but also can lead to her death, as she becomes more conscious of the distressing situation in which she is living.

Later, when Doctor Robert Ledgard is in his bedroom and spots Vera on the plasma screen, there is an open book on his table, The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976).[11] The AD script does not mention the book, despite a close-up of the cover. In that moment, Vera is back on camera and appears to be sleeping. Robert opens a cupboard and takes a small box “as large as a book” (as mentioned by the AD script) and goes out of the bedroom. The describer compares the size of the box with a book, and we know that the box contains opium balls and a pipe. Is the describer suggesting the opium-book is a means of escape, and consequently, Vera’s salvation?

As we have seen, the AD only reveals the presence of one of these books, despite the fact that in many cases their titles are clearly visible. Why has the describer decided to name Munro’s book whilst omitting any reference to the books by Dawkins or McCarthy? We could argue that the titles are not legible, and that the describer has therefore decided to use generalization or even omission legitimately. These two strategies make the perception of both blind or visually- impaired and normal viewers equal, as the viewers cannot read the books’ titles. Nevertheless, the audio describer has decided to name the title of Munro’s book, even if it cannot be easily read. We cannot forget that the describer has carried out an evident documentation task when describing paintings or sculptures, and in those cases, he has not hesitated to considerably amplify the information on the screen that the normal viewer has probably not received.   

2.3.4. The silicon mask

While Vicente is still recovering from numerous surgical operations on his body, he wears a silicon mask on his face in a clear reference to the film Les yeux sans visage by the French director Franju (1963). The parallels between the story of the surgeon Genessier and his daughter Christiane with Vera and Ledgard are obvious, especially because of the mask both women have to wear on their faces. The AD chooses to describe the material it is made of, as well as the parts of the face which can still be seen: 

(01:19:53) Vicente’s face in close-up becomes a new face covered by a latex postoperative mask which only allows us to see his lips and eyes.

(01:21:00) The new woman, covered by the latex mask, sits down and puts on the bodysuit.

(01:24:22) Robert’s hands slowly take the latex mask off her face. Robert looks carefully at the new and beautiful woman’s face. Both look at each other. 

It does not seem as though the viewers could easily establish the connection with the French film. Nevertheless, the intertextual reference is there and the description of the mask can help to imagine a more faithful image of what is been shown on the screen and provides a sufficient clue to relate it to Franju’s film... 

3. Conclusions

As we have seen in this article, the intertextuality in The Skin I Live In presents numerous difficulties when producing an AD. The references to paintings, books, and sculptures make up the settings that characterise the characters who live there, and no one can neglect their symbolic meaning. Decoding the meanings of the intertextual elements allows for a deeper comprehension of the film, which presents numerous layers in which Almodóvar has left clues in order for the viewer to understand the characters’ behaviour. Nevertheless, these clues are mostly visual and, therefore, the AD is essential for a visually impaired audience. The describer not only reveals the clues, he explains them, giving information that cannot be deduced from the images and making them easier to understand for a viewer who cannot access the images because of the visual impairment. In this sense, we do not doubt that the AD consumer is going to enjoy it. But, it is not likely that the normal viewer would have a comparable understanding to the one by the visually impaired audience, as we do not consider that the target audience of The Skin I Live In  is familiar enough with the work of Louise Bourgeois or of Alice Munro, to name but a few. Giving more information to the visually-impaired audience than is actually available from the image contradicts the Spanish regulation on AD which states that “the data provided by the image must be respected, without censuring or cutting off presumed excesses nor complementing presumed deficiencies” (AENOR 2005: 8), even if it can contribute to enrich the experience of this audience and compensates for the lack of vision (Sanz-Moreno 2017). If receptors prefer this detailed AD, then a revision of the Spanish regulations on AD should be undertaken.

Moreover, the audio describer has adopted explicitation and addition to describe one painting (Venus Of Urbino) and one book (Runaway); but the other artistic elements have been ignored or referred to using a generalization. Explicitation is not necessarily the most suitable strategy for a blind audience, as it “can become patronising and risks giving away too much information” (Taylor 2015: 52). We cannot know whether this choice is the result of a conscious decision or whether it is arbitrary, as there are some fundamental artistic references that have not been audio described. But, as stated by Neves “the amount of information to be given is decided on the basis of narrative relevance and the time available” (2015: 69) and apparently it is what the audio describer has considered.   

Reception studies carried out in normal viewers and in the blind and visually impaired would allow us to compare both perceptions and confirm this hypothesis: the user of the AD of The Skin I Live In has much more information about intertextual references than an average normal viewer. And this could lead us to analyse another vital issue: the quantity and quality of the information that must be provided to visually impaired audiences, something that still represents a great concern in Audio Description Research. Reception studies will help us achieve the desired balance between providing too much information (therefore making the receptor feel over-protected and overwhelmed) and providing too little data, whereby the receptor would feel neglected.  


AENOR (2005) Norma UNE 153020. Audiodescripción para personas con discapacidad visual. Requisitos para la audiodescripción y elaboración de audioguías. Madrid, AENOR.

Almodóvar, Pedro (2011) La piel que habito (Official website) URL: http://www.lapielquehabito.com/ (accessed 26 march 2017)

Almodóvar, Pedro (2013) Personal blog. El Deseo. URL: http://www.eldeseo.es/londresel-libro/ (accessed 26 march 2017)

Benecke, Bernd (2004) “Audio Description”, Meta. Journal des Traducteurs, vol. 49, nº 1, 2004: 78-80.

CESYA, (Centro Español de Subtitulado y Audiodescripción) (2015): Informe de Seguimiento del Subtitulado y la Audiodescripción en la TDT. Año 2014. Madrid, Real Patronato sobre Discapacidad. URL: http://www.cesya.es/sites/default/files/documentos/InformeAccesibilidadTDT2014.pdf (acce.ssed 16 january 2018)

Delgado, María (2011) “El artista de la carne”, Argentina: Página 12. Radar, 23 October 2011.

http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/suplementos/radar/subnotas/7418-1533-2011-10-23.htm (accessed 26 march 2017)

Díaz Cintas, Jorge (2007) “Por una preparación de calidad en accesibilidad audiovisual”, TRANS Núm II, 2007: 45-59.

Fryer, Louise (2016) An Introduction to Audio Description. A Practical Guide, London, Routledge.

Fryer Louise, and Romero Fresco, Pablo (2013) “Could Audio Described Films benefit from Audio Introductions? A Reception Study with AD Users”, Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 107(4): 287–95.

---- (2014) “Audiointroductions”, in Audio Description. New Perspectives Illustrated. Maszerowska, Anna, Matamala, Anna, and Orero, Pilar. (Eds.) Amsterdam/ Filadelfia, Benjamins: 11-28.

The Independent Television Commission (2000) ITC Guidance on Standards for Audio Description. URL: http://static.ofcom.org.uk/static/archive/itc/itc_publications/codes_guidance/audio_description/index.asp.html  (accessed 26 march 2017)

Jonquet, Thierry (1984) Mygale. Paris, Gallimard (Série noire)

Navarrete, Fernando (1997) “Sistema AUDESC: el arte de hablar en imágenes”, Integración, 23: 70-75.

Navarrete-Galiano, Ramón (2012) “La piel que habito: nueva creación literaria, pictórica y escultórica de Almodóvar”, in Crespo Fajardo, J. L. (coord.). Arte y cultura digital. Planteamientos para una nueva era, Málaga, Grupo de investigación Eumed.net: 74-86.

Neves, Josélia (2015) “Descriptive guides: Access to museums, cultural venues and heritage sites” in Remael, Aline, Reviers, Nina and Vercauteren, Gert (eds.) Pictures painted in words. ADLAB Audio Description Guidelines. Trieste, Edizioni Università di Trieste: 68-71.

Orero, Pilar (2007) “Pioneering Audio Description: Jorge Arandes”, JosTrans, 7: 179-189.  http://www.jostrans.org/issue07/art_arandes.php   (accessed 26 march 2017)

Parés Pulido, María (2014) “Intertextualidad en La piel que habito: pintura, escultura y dibujo”, Fotocinema. Revista científica de cine y fotografía, 9: 325-361. URL: http://www.revistafotocinema.com/index.php?journal=fotocinema (accessed 26 march 2017)

Sanz-Moreno, Raquel (2017) “Audiodescripción de referentes culturales: Estudio descriptivo-comparativo y de recepción”. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Universitat de València.

Sanz-Moreno, Raquel (in press) Competencia cultural del receptor normovidente y audiodescripción.

Szarkowska, Anna and Jankowska, Anna (2015) “Audio describing foreign films”, The Journal of Specialised Translation (23), January 2015: 243-269.

Taylor, Christopher (2014) “Intertextuality”, in Maszerowska, Anna, Matamala, Anna and y Orero, Pilar (eds.) Audio Description. New Perspectives Illustrated. Amsterdam/ Filadelfia, Benjamins: 29-40.

Taylor, Christopher (2015) “Intertextual references”, in Remael, Aline, Reviers, Nina and Vercauteren, Gert (eds.) Pictures painted in words. ADLAB Audio Description Guidelines. Trieste, Edizioni Università di Trieste: 42-46.

Thibaudeau, Pascale  (2013) “El  cuerpo,  la  piel  y  la  pantalla:  los  territorios habitados  por  Pedro  Almodóvar”, Fotocinema. Revista científica de cine y fotografía, Núm. 7: 192-208. URL:http://www.revistafotocinema.com/index.php?journal=fotocinema&page=article&op=viewFile&path%5B%5D=198&path%5B%5D=133  (accessed 26 march 2017)

Valero Gisbert, María (2012) “La intertextualidad fílmica en la audiodescripción (AD)”,  inTRAlinea Vol. 14.  URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/1889   (accessed 26 march 2017)


[1] The translations of the Spanish AD regulation UNE 153020 (AENOR, 2005), as well as of Almodóvar’s statements and of the AD script of The Skin I Live In are ours.

[2] For example: Media for all, whose eighth edition will be held in Stockholm in June 2019; ARSAD, Advanced Research Seminar on Audio Description, at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, held in March 2017; AMADIS (Congreso de Accesibilidad a los Medios Audiovisuales para Personas con Discapacidad), whose eighth edition was held in October 2016.

[3] Banderas was known in the 1980s and the 1990s as “chico Almodóvar”, thanks to the films shot with the Spanish director Laberynth of Passions (1982), Matador (1986), Law of Desire (1987), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990).

[4] In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011), the painting La Baigneuse by Picasso hangs on the wall. Swarkowska and Jankowska consider that the most suitable strategy to audio describe it would be to name the title of the painting as well as the painter and describe the painting itself. But, taking into account the time constraints, they decide to offer a description of the painting, respecting the humour of the scene (2015: 260).

[5] We have just begun research on the reception with both viewers and a blind or visually- impaired audience to confirm this issue.

[6] For a detailed explanation of the use of pictorial works in Almodóvar’s films, see Navarrete Galiano (2012), and in particular for The Skin I Live In, Parés Pulido (2014) and Thibaudeau (2013).

[7] The women-house has been interpreted in different ways: the work consists of bodies of women in which the heads have been replaced by houses: the house as a shelter but also as a prison, as asphyxiation, the women absorbed by home, like Bourgeois (and Vera) were by their memories.

[8] Marco encourages Benigno, who is in prison, not give up, and believes in his innocence. Despite Marco’s efforts and support, Benigno will finally kill himself, just like Virginia Wolf did, and Leonard, her husband, could do nothing to prevent it. Like in The HoursTalk to Her is a story of solitude and existential distress.

[9] Esteban’s mother, played by Cecilia Roth, reads out loud the Preface of Music for Chameleons, which will finally be premonitory: “I started writing when I was eight- out of the blue, uninspired by any example (…). Then one day I started writing, not knowing that I had chained myself for life to a noble but merciless master. When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip; and the whip is intended solely for self-flagellation”. With his death, Esteban, like a chameleon, will contribute to the change and adaptation to the new circumstances of his mother and of all the other characters of the film.

[10] In 2013, Almodóvar asked himself in his personal blog: “Is there anyone who does not know that Munro is the best English short-story writer?” In fact, some years later, the director adapted Juliet (2016) based on three short-stories from Runaway (Chance, Soon and Silence).

[11] It’s a work of scientific dissemination about evolution, whose main line of research is that organisms are survival machines for genes.

About the author(s)

As a part-time lecturer, Raquel Sanz Moreno has been teaching Interpreting Techniques and Practice (French- Spanish) at the University of Valencia since 2012. She is also in charge of the courses Documentation for Translators and Information and Communication Technology for Translators. She holds an undergraduate degree in Translation and Interpretation and a PhD in Audiodescription and cultural references from the University of Valencia (Spain). Her research interests include audiovisual translation, intersemiotic translation and accessibility, among others. She works as a specialized translator and interpreter.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Raquel Sanz-Moreno (2019).
"How to deal with intertextuality in AD? Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In: a case study", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2348

Professional development as a vehicle on the road towards professionalism

The AUSIT experience

By Erika Gonzalez (RMIT University, Australia)

Abstract & Keywords


The profession of Translation & Interpreting (T&I) includes practitioners from a diverse range of professional and educational backgrounds. Compulsory education and training is more an exception than a norm in many countries around the world and therefore, many practice this profession without the necessary skills, abilities and knowledge. Aware of this situation, the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) conducted a national survey in order to compile data regarding the background, professional profile and professional development (PD) needs of T&I practitioners across Australia. The results of this survey showed an enormous gap regarding professional background, education needs and type of work carried out by the respondents. With the information gathered through the survey, AUSIT crafted an ambitious PD program to address the professional gaps existing among Australian translators and interpreters. This article demonstrates the important role professional associations can play in the education and training of T&I professionals, as well as in the professionalisation of the discipline.

Keywords: professional development, professionalism, education, training, translation & interpreting, certification

©inTRAlinea & Erika Gonzalez (2019).
"Professional development as a vehicle on the road towards professionalism The AUSIT experience", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2347

1. Introduction

AUSIT is the national professional association for translators and interpreters in Australia. It was founded in 1987 with the financial support of the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI), the national organisation in charge of granting professional credentials for the T&I profession in Australia. AUSIT´s aims focus on promoting the profession, improving the profile of translators & interpreters in the community and raising professional standards through professional development and the adoption of the AUSIT code of ethics. AUSIT is governed by a National Council which consists of elected national office bearers and branch delegates from the branches of each Australian State and Territory (AUSIT 2018; McGilvray 2012). 

The management of the organisation changed dramatically when a renowned academic in the T&I field, Professor Sandra Hale, was appointed its 16th President in 2014. Under Hale´s direction AUSIT not only grew in membership (from 621 members at the end of 2014 to 970 members at the end 2017), but it also attracted the main universities and vocational colleges teaching T&I in Australia as affiliate members of the association. These changes became the fertile soil upon which the solid PD program evolved and strengthened.

The changes within the organisation happened in line with the changes the profession was experiencing in terms of credentialing and accreditation. In order to work as a translator and/or interpreter in Australia, practitioners are required to gain an accreditation from NAATI, which up until now could be obtained by passing a T&I exam administered by NAATI or by completing and passing a course at an approved university or Technical And Further Education (TAFE) centre. From July 2012, NAATI made compulsory the revalidation of T&I credentials with an expiry date. This meant that those translators and interpreters who obtained their accreditation after 2007 had to provide evidence of continuing work practice and professional development for a three-year period. Also, as a result of the INT project (Improvements to NAATI Testing), in 2018, NAATI transitioned from an accreditation to a certification system (the new nomenclature seemed more in line with other T&I professional credentials around the globe). Such transition was the culmination of a five-year project that began in 2012. Apart from the changes in the testing methods, now more realistic regarding the real practice and demands of the T&I profession, the new system meant that new practitioners entering the market would have to fulfill some pre-requisites by passing a language competency test, as well as an intercultural and ethics knowledge test, and complete compulsory training modules before sitting their exams. For those whose accreditations were granted before 2007, and who were credentialed for life (this meant that they did not have to revalidate their credentials every three years), the transition into the certification system was made optional and hence, the need to show continuous practice and completion of PD. However, the industry and stakeholders clearly expressed their preference for practitioners who commit to recertify and show currency as well as evidence of PD. On 1 January 2018, the Australian Government, through its Department of Social Services published an official notification stating that ‘NAATI Government Owners preferred approach is that language service providers and other consumers requiring translation and interpreting services engage practitioners who hold a NAATI credential conferred according to the certification system’ (Department of Social Services 2018).

AUSIT considered it paramount to offer a broad range of quality PD opportunities for its members and the broader T&I community in order to cover their PD needs and to provide them with plenty of opportunities to fulfil their recertification requirements. In 2015 AUSIT created a new position for a National PD co-ordinator. Although the association is run by volunteers, this was a remunerated position (7 to 10 hours a week), as the National Council felt that the work to plan and manage the new PD program was well beyond a volunteer´s realm. The new PD co-ordinator would chair the PD Committee which consists of the Chair, 2 experts in T&I pedagogy and 6 State/Territory PD coordinators. The National PD coordinator reports to and is supported by the Vice-President for PD and events.

2. Professionalism in T&I

In order to understand the importance of PD, it is paramount that we explore the concept of professionalism first and what such term entails for the T&I profession. As Orlando states (2016: 24), “one of the main concerns of the profession in terms of status is that it is an unregulated profession and nearly anyone can call himself/herself a translator. Orlando bases his statement on a study conducted by Pym et al (2012), whose investigation showed that in no country they surveyed were academic qualifications compulsory to practice the profession of translation. The same could be stated about interpreting (Abril-Martí 2006: 289;  Gonzalez 2013: 201). Although there is no universal consensus regarding what a profession really is, ‘the most distinguished features that define a particular activity as a profession are special skills and knowledge and training” (Mulayim & Lai 2017: 30) and the adherence to a code of ethics (Gonzalez 2013).

This leads us to the conclusion that the professional status of T&I does not match that of other professions, where theoretical knowledge, training and the adhesion to a code of ethics are essential elements the professional has to comply with.

It is important to understand that the full professionalisation of a discipline is not always immediate. Even fully-fledged professions such as medicine developed and evolved ‘from handicraft to surgery as a science’ (Himmelmann 2007). This meant that in the Middle-Ages barbers would be in charge of performing haircuts, but also, limb-amputations. Thus, it can be said that professionalism is achieved by embarking on a journey (professionalisation) that consists of different developmental stages. Some theories consider occupations as precursors of professions. Tseng (1992, as cited in Mikkelson 1999) looked into different theories that examine the process whereby an occupation develops into a profession. According to the ‘Trait Theory’, an occupation becomes a profession when the occupation acquires some characteristics such as the adherence to a code of ethics, a body of theoretical knowledge, licensure or registration and loyalty to colleagues. In order to verify the level of professionalisation achieved by the occupation, the proponents of this theory developed a checklist with professional attributes that can be ticked off. On the other hand, the ‘Theory of Control’ is related to occupations that exert internal control (over the knowledge requirements, as well as training and ethical behaviour expected from the practitioners) and external control (working conditions and relations with clients). The legal profession is an example of a control profession. As Mikkelson states, “a profession that succeeds in mystifying its expertise is able to control the market by prohibiting interlopers from practicing the profession”. Although the control theory seems more useful at the time of defining how an occupation becomes a profession, ‘it fails to provide guidelines for an occupation that aspires to achieve that objective” (Tseng 1992, as cited in Mikkelson 1999). Tseng developed his own model to explain the professionalisation of conference interpreting in Taiwan (as cited in Gonzalez 2013; Mikkelson 1999; Pöchhacker 2016). This theory could be applicable to community interpreting and translation as well. In the T&I field it can be observed that there are differences in the level of professionalism depending on the setting where these professional activities happen. Usually, the T&I activity that happens within community settings does not enjoy the same status as the one which happens in conference or international and commercial settings (especially when it comes to remuneration and working conditions), as they are ‘profession driven’ fields, as opposed to community T&I, which are ‘institution-driven’ fields (Ozolins 2000: 21), and hence, they depend on the stance institutions and authorities take regarding the delivery of T&I services. This might vary from the denial of the “existence of multilingual communications issues, to reliance on ad hoc services to generic language services, to fully comprehensive responses” (Ozolins 200: 21). Tseng (1992) describes four phases in the journey of professionalisation (as cited in Gonzalez 2013: 24; Mikkelson 1999; Pöchhacker 2016: 79-80) that go from ‘Market disorder’ to ‘professional autonomy’ (see Figure 1, and also Pöchhacker 2016: 80):

  1. Market disorder. Initial stage where service recipients do not understand the service professionals deliver and price is a more important factor than quality over the choice of the professional engaged to deliver the service. Practitioners in this phase cannot avoid ‘interlopers’ from entering the profession. In this phase there is little incentive for specialised training. As Mikkelson states (1999), Tseng views training as “a source of cohesion and disturbance of the market”’. Good practitioners who have been trained start being dissatisfied with the situation of the market.
  2. Consolidation of the profession and consensus about aspirations. This phase supports the creation of professional associations as a vehicle to increase the prestige of the graduates.
  3. Formulation of ethical standards by professional associations and enforcement of such standards. This phase is also characterised by an augmented control over the admission to the profession. The public realisation efforts made by the association will bring legislative recognition and licensure. The achievement of the aforementioned will lead to the fourth phase:
  4. Protection and autonomy

Figure 1 Tseng´s model of professionalisation process

Figure 1. Tseng´s model of professionalisation process

In terms of the level of professionalism displayed by practitioners, professional recognition and how the profession is perceived by others, the T&I discipline finds itself in a vicious circle (Figure 2): institutions will not be willing to increase their rates for T&I services, while there are practitioners who lack professional standards and in the most extreme cases, do not even show competence in one of their working languages (Ozolins 2004; Gonzalez 2013). When good professional outcomes are achieved, there is professional acknowledgement not only within the professional group, but in circles that expand to other professions, which translates into a better understanding of the profession. This at the same time might contribute to the improvement of the professional status and remumeration of the practitioners, as the system and other professions perceive the value and quality of the job performed by these professionals (see Figure 2). This would bring the protection and autonomy that Tseng (1992) described as the culmination of the professional journey or the fourth phase of his model.

Figure 2 Circle of professionalism

Figure 2. Circle of professionalism

Bradburn and Staley (2012: 499) in a paper about medical professionalism, quoted Justice Potter Stuart when he addressed pornography ‘I know what it is when I see it’, and they argue that ‘professionalism is defined by many in the same way’. The T&I profession has still a while to walk until all the practitioners consider themselves fully-fledged professionals who take pride in the work they do and the way they present themselves before other professionals. In the results presented by Conte & Aliano (2017) regarding a series of court observations, the lack of professional decorum by some interpreters was highlighted. Decorum does not have a direct impact over the technical competence or quality, but when one arrives to a court proceeding late with no excuse, or turns up with grocery shopping bags and talking on the phone to interpret for a distraught migrant whose visa has been cancelled, it is an image of poor professionalism that we are projecting before other professionals and our clients. Despite translators not interacting with clients directly most of the time, they may project lack of professionalism by pushing prices down in an attempt to get the assignment or as Aliano & Conte (2017) mentioned in their study about the challenges and dilemmas of translators in Australia, by accepting work that it is beyond their capacity. These attitudes and behaviour leave the process of professionalisation stuck in phases one and two of Tseng’s model.

2.1 The Australian context

As stated before, up until 2018 those wanting to enter the T&I profession and work in Australia had to pass an exam administered by NAATI or obtain qualifications from an endorsed tertiary educational institution. Academics have long criticised this system (Campbell 1986; Ozolins 1995; Hale 2007; Gonzalez 2013) as it does not resemble any other profession in terms of prior training and education requirements: ‘[…] the NAATI testing system appears to compromise the profession even more, would say, speech therapists agree to a system where professional accreditation can be gained from either a two-hour test or a three-year course?’ (Campbell 1986: 67). It is most likely that nobody would entrust their health to a doctor who passed a 75 minute exam and was instantly granted an accreditation to practise medicine. In an attempt to improve the testing methods and therefore, control the level of minimum competence, knowledge and skills required to enter the T&I profession in Australia, NAATI commissioned the INT project to a group of national academics led by Professor Sandra Hale. The recommendations that emerged from the project (Hale et al 2012) have been paramount at the time of paving the future road towards the full professionalisation of the T&I discipline in Australia. The implementation of recommendations like the ones listed below ensure that steps are taken in the right direction and their implementation will make it possible to give a step forward towards the transition from the third to the fourth phase described in Tseng´s model (1992):

  1. That all candidates complete compulsory education and training (Recommendation 1) (Hale et al 2012: 85).
  2. That NAATI continue to approve tertiary programs and encourage formal path to accreditation where such is available for the relevant language combinations (Recommendation 17) (Hale et al 2012: 89).

2.2 The role of PD in the professionalisation process

PD is understood as the development of competences, skills and expertise that have been previously acquired (Gewirtz et al 2009). Recommendations such as the ones presented above form the foundations upon which those competences, skills and knowledge stand. The model developed by Gonzalez in 2013 (Figure 3) to define professionalism in the field of community interpreting compares such concept with the construction of a dwelling. Despite the fact that this theory relates to community interpreting, it could be easily transferred to the fields of conference interpreting and translation, with the relevant adaptations regarding the technical competence required for these fields. In order for the construction to be perdurable, the foundations have to be solidly set (this would be the equivalent to basic, but solid training and education in T&I). Once the foundations are established, the pillars that sustain the whole building will have to be raised. These structural pillars consist of:

  1. knowledge and implementation of the code of ethics;
  2. knowledge of the interpreter´s role and its limitations;
  3. knowledge of the area of expertise and protocols of the field where the interpretation takes place;
  4. technical expertise of the interpreter, which comprises linguistic, interpreting and coordination competence (Hale & Gonzalez 2017)

If any of the four essential pillars are not solidly raised, the building will be compromised. If the construction is led by an architect who is duly qualified and experienced (the educator/s), the work by the construction team (the class/students) will be more efficient and precise. If the construction work is undertaken by a sole builder, the structure will take more time to be built, and the pillars might not be as solidly set as if the person had received assistance from other builders who shared their expertise and experiences as a team (the classroom or cohort of students). Also, with time, it is likely that the building will require maintenance against erosion and thus, the pillars will need coats of paint, concrete patches or further improvements (PD in the case of T&I). The interior decoration of the dwelling will be important, although not essential and hence, it will depend on the taste of the owner (PD such as business skills; effective administration skills; computer literacy, accounting for freelancers and so on.). As mentioned before, those who decide to engage in the construction work alone, with no expert guidance and assistance from peers, might face quality issues with the foundations and/or pillars and may require patches and repairs sooner than expected (continuous PD).

Figure 3 Gonzalez´s model of professionalism

Figure 3. Gonzalez´s model of professionalism

T&I in Australia is a profession where many practitioners lack the necessary foundations to perform at professional level. Until January 2018, compulsory pre-service education and training was not a requirement to enter the T&I profession and many practitioners built their structures with weak and flimsy bases. Therefore, the role of quality PD became paramount at the time of sustaining the professional structure of many practitioners, and AUSIT, as the national professional association, acquired the compromise to be the material provider for such continuous training and education, abiding strongly by the eighth principle of its code of ethics, which is based on the commitment regarding professional development: “Interpreters and translators continue to develop their professional knowledge and skills”(AUSIT 2012).

3. The Survey

Bearing in mind the reality explained above, AUSIT considered it paramount to conduct a survey where specific information could be gathered regarding the profile, education background, areas of expertise and PD needs of T&I practitioners in Australia. As the Chair of the PD Committee at the time the survey was administered (2015-2016), the author of the paper was commissioned with the administration of the survey and analysis of the results. The aim of the survey was to compile the information explained above in order to develop and provide a comprehensive PD program that would suit the needs of a diverse range of practitioners, located in different States and Territories across Australia and whose professional structures were built with a broad range of materials and foundations.

The online survey (see Annex 1) included close as well as open-ended questions that provided quantitative as well as qualitative data. The survey was administered between the 4 November 2015 and 5 February 2016. The survey consisted of 10 simple and easy questions which offered pre-determined response categories mainly, plus a comment section. The respondents were asked about their language combination, location, qualifications, accreditation level, fields where they worked, professional membership and PD needs and preferences. The survey was designed, administered and analysed using an online survey tool (Survey Gizmo). It was distributed through an e-flash or mail distribution system and sent to all the practitioners in the AUSIT mailing list, which includes members as well as non-members (the correspondence was distributed to approximately 2,600 practitioners). It was sent to around 40 private and public agencies that employ translators and interpreters in Australia as well. It is not possible to have an accurate figure regarding the exact number of practitioners who received the survey, as many of those in the mailing list are registered with several private and public agencies too.

3.1 The Results

Nearly 800 responses were received (793) with a response rate of approximately 30.5 per cent. AUSIT had conducted 18 surveys previously and the highest response rate achieved was around 10 per cent. The high response rate of this survey was evidence of the interest and needs that the whole recertification system had created among Australian practitioners. The tables, graphs and explanations offered below represent the results of the data-sets compiled through the survey. The results formed the foundations for the developments and improvements implemented in the next couple of years (as described below) in terms of the PD events offered by AUSIT and strategies developed in order to cover the gaps identified in the survey.

3.1.1 Characteristics of the survey respondents

The respondents worked with 103 languages other than English. Arabic (93), Farsi (92), Chinese Mandarin (64), Spanish (47) and Dari (38) were the five most popular working languages other than English among the respondents.







Chinese Mandarin
















Table 1. Most popular LOTEs among respondents

Arabic, Chinese Mandarin and Spanish continue to be ‘long-term’ languages in Australia, as identified by Campbell´s community language classification (1986). In the 1980s these languages were related to recent migration patterns and hence, it was forseen that these languages would offer long-term employment prospects for translators and interpreters. Farsi and Dari (these are two varieties of the same language, but tests are available for each variation in the NAATI testing system) have demonstrated to be ‘long-term’ languages as well. Australia has been the recipient of many displaced men, women and children from Afghanistan and Iran since the late 1970s and thus, it is not surprising that the languages spoken in these two countries have also become ‘long-term’ languages with important career prospects for T&I practitioners in Australia. As the response rate in the survey was not representative of the whole pool of practitioners, we compared these data with statistics regarding applications received from NAATI for the transition into the new certification system (NAATI 2018b). Mandarin was the most popular language among those who sought transition, followed by Arabic and Farsi. Spanish was also one of the main languages, but it was outnumbered by applications in other languages such as Vietnamese, Auslan or Greek and Italian in some States and Territories. Italian, Auslan and Vietnamese were among the ten most popular languages in AUSIT´s survey, too. These statistics show the will and commitment of some T&I groups, such as Auslan interpreters, who despite being outnumbered by many other community languages in terms of certified practitioners, they were one of the most active groups in terms of submissions for transition applications in every Australian State and Territory.

Languages such as Azari, Bari, Falam, Ga, Kakua, Kuku, Hmong, Hokkien, Ilongo, Lingala, Mundari, Nuer, Nyagwara, Pojulu, Sindhi, Telugu, Turkmen, Twi and Zomi (with one to four respondents) showed that there is an influx of new and emerging languages in Australia. These languages were labelled as ‘small scale languages’ by Campbell and are those for which the demand is small and sometimes, short-termed. However, the education and training of the translators and interpreters working in those languages is still necessary. For the time being there are no NAATI credentials available in those languages and hence, this explains the statistics below regarding the high percentage of practitioners who still work without credentials. Until new languages are included in the certification scheme, it is paramount that alternative education and PD is available for those working in the aforementioned languages. This item of the survey also showed that there are interpreters who work with ‘tail-end languages’ (Campbell 1986) or languages spoken in countries which do not export migrants to Australia on a considerable scale (these languages had one to three respondents). It is the case of many Eastern European languages (Albanian, Czech, Estonian, Lithuanian, Romanian), and European Nordic languages (Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish). The results showed that many of these practitioners combine T&I with other professional activities. However, if they want to keep up with their T&I credentials, they have to abide by the same recertification criteria as other practitioners. This statement can be backed up by the comments of ten of these participants, who mentioned that their workload in their language pair is very limited and hence, the cost of completing PD and recertifying is a problem for them.

More than half of the respondents (63.3 per cent) worked as interpreters (all of them community interpreters except for 5 who worked as conference interpreters); 24.3 per cent worked as both translators and interpreters and 11.4 per cent worked solely as translators (see Figure 4).

Figure 4 Distribution of practitioners by discipline

Figure 4. Distribution of practitioners by discipline

Most of the respondents were based in the states of Victoria (32.8 per cent) and New South Wales (30.3 per cent), followed by Queensland (16.1 per cent), South Australia and Western Australia (7.1 per cent respectively), Tasmania (2.9 per cent) and the Australian Capital Territory (2.6 per cent). There were no respondents from the Northern Territory (a large proportion of the interpreters in this Territory work with Indigenous languages and are employed by the Aboriginal Interpreter Service, which provides continuous education and training for their interpreters). In terms of the main areas of expertise, more than half highlighted the medical field (78 per cent), followed by the area of social services (67.8 per cent), the legal field (57.6 per cent), immigration (56.6 per cent), education (47.8 per cent) and others (20.1 per cent) (Figure 5). The latest Australian Census (2016) shows that nearly one million people are not fluent in English (819,922 out of a population of 23,401,907) and these figures justify the high rate of interpreters and translators working in community settings in our survey. It is only that smaller 20.1 per cent, made up of translators and conference interpreters, whose work expands to other areas or fields of specialization. It was interesting to see how some community interpreters expanded their responses under ‘Other’ and mentioned that their area of expertise was ‘telephone interpreting’ or ‘x Agency’. This showed an important lack of knowledge in regards to interpreting modes, techniques and discipline-specific metalanguage.

Figure 5 Main fields

Figure 5. Main fields

In terms of qualifications, 62.5 per cent of the respondents held formal qualifications in T&I. Among those, 18.8 per cent held a University degree and the rest held TAFE qualifications (Figure 6). We have to be cautious about this figure, as it is not an accurate reflection of the educational profile of the T&I practitioners in Australia. Previous studies have shown that the research participation rate of those with formal qualifications is always higher (Gonzalez 2013; Hale 2007; Hale 2011a). However, and despite the number of non-qualified practitioners being much lower than that of qualified ones (62.5 per cent Vs. 37.5 per cent), the participation rate of this cohort has improved exponentially over the years (Gonzalez 2013; Hale 2007; 2011a).

As many as 140 respondents mentioned that they hold ‘NAATI qualifications’. These respondents confused credentials with formal qualifications. Some other respondents mentioned different types of PD or prior knowledge as qualifications: ‘short courses of interpreting’, ‘qualified in medical terminology’, ‘short courses on interpreting’, which again shows the lack of knowledge some practitioners have about their own profession.

Figure 6 Qualifications in T&I

Figure 6. Qualifications in T&I

As Figure 7 shows, most of the respondents held paraprofessional interpreter credentials (category known as provisionally certified in the new system) (41 per cent), followed by professional interpreters (32.1 per cent); professional translators (31.1 per cent); recognised interpreters (8.1 per cent) -the recognition is a credential for those whose languages are not tested by NAATI, but who have evidenced competence-; paraprofessional translators (3.3 per cent); recognised translators (1.2 per cent), advanced translators (1.2 per cent) and conference interpreters (0.6 per cent). It was alarming to see that 10.9 per cent worked without a valid credential. This can be partly justified by the need to provide T&I services in those ‘small-scales languages’ mentioned above, and for which there are no credentials available yet. As it was the case in a previous survey conducted by Ozolins regarding interpreting practitioners in the State of Victoria, those with no accreditation fall under two categories: ‘a) those whose languages are not offered by NAATI and b) those whose languages are offered by NAATI, but for whatever reason, were not accredited and are still practising the profession’ (Ozolins 2004: 16). This raises concerns regarding the employment of unaccredited interpreters due to availability issues and high demand of unaccredited interpreters with given characteristics, such as females in languages which are overrepresented by male accredited interpreters (Ozolins 2004: 15).

Figure 7 NAATI credentials

Figure 7. NAATI credentials

The PD interests of the respondents are aligned with the results regarding the field of expertise. The table below shows the main PD activities the respondents were interested in:





Translation skills


Note-taking & Memory enhancement





Legal interpreting

19.1 %






CAT Tools



Medical interpreting




Simultaneous & chuchotage


Table 2. PD needs & preferences

Respondents also showed interest in completing PD regarding business skills (25.4 per cent), website development (21.5 per cent) and enhancement of the English language (21.2 per cent).

The survey also gathered information regarding AUSIT membership, as the Association represents a vehicle to access PD at discounted rates and be informed regarding PD opportunities. More than half of the respondents (59.3 per cent) stated that they were not members of AUSIT. Among the reasons for not joining the association the fees (four respondents) and lack of incentives to join  (64 respondents) were highlighted as the major reasons.

In the last item of the questionnaire, where respondents were given the opportunity to make comments, 23 mentioned that the lack of PD in smaller states prevents them from attending and completing PD on a regular basis. This makes it difficult for them to upgrade their skills and accrue the required points for the recertification. 35 respondents highlighted the need for more specialised PD in the legal and medical fields, T&I ethics and the use of various CAT tools.  Nine respondents expressed their discontent and disatisfaction with the new recertification scheme. The main arguments against the new system were the cost of PD and recertification, and lack of PD opportunities in their states. One of the respondents captured the sentiment expressed by many with the following statement: “earning little and having to pay heftily to stay qualified do not go together”.

4. Actions from the survey

4.1 Disparity of professional levels

The results derived from the survey gave AUSIT a good understanding of the professional profile, needs and issues faced by the T&I practitioners in Australia regarding PD. As the statistics show, more than half of the respondents were community interpreters, many accredited only at paraprofessional or provisionally certified level. Over a third of them lacked formal education in T&I. Formal qualifications at tertiary level in Australia cover the five most popular languages in the survey, although not in every state. Hale (2004: 15), referring to Martin (1978) and Ozolins (1991), explained how the ‘Australian Community Interpreter was born out of necessity during post-war immigration in the 1950s’. Several publications show the advances community interpreting has made in the last decade in Australia in terms of policies, certification, ethics, training and education (Gonzalez 2013; Hale 2011a; Hale 2011b; Hale et al 2012; Hale 2013; Hale & Ozolins 2011; Hale & Gonzalez 2017; Hale & Napier 2016; Ozolins 2014). However, the impact of world events such as wars and conflicts make it difficult for the system to be prepared to certify and train newly arrived migrants and refugees who speak new and emerging languages or the so called ‘small-scale languages’ in a timely manner. Typically, then, these interpreters are ‘born out of necessity’ and, hence, cover the lingustic needs of their communities without much education in the T&I field. On the other side of the spectrum we have highly trained and skilled translators and interpreters (such as the five conference interpreters within this group) who hold relevant qualifications in T&I and professional and/or advanced credentials. The level of fluency in English observed in the responses to the open questions revealed a concerning issue that has been identified by other researchers in past surveys as well (Gonzalez 2013; Ozolins 2004):

This is not to laugh at sometimes poor English (we should not judge interpreters by their written expression, and we will see some examples of this from accredited practitioners as well) but it raises questions about their ability to understand information and opinions about interpreting they may get from any source. At a deeper level still, it may raise questions about interpreting performance. One respondent, for example, on the question of areas of interpreting they preferred not to work in, cited Court and Mental Health - a not unusual preference as we will see. And we may be pleased that an unaccredited interpreter knows their limits. However, the reason they gave for this preference was ‘Because very hard for me to translating the word.’ And we are immediately left to wonder about performance level in the areas from which they do not limit themselves (Ozolins 2004: 19).

The situation outlined above meant that AUSIT would have to cater for the needs of those who did not have strong professional foundations, but also for those who were highly qualified and specialised. In order to cover the needs of this diverse community, in the 2017 Strategic Plan, AUSIT established three levels for the PD to be delivered in the future: a) Beginner level; b) Intermediate level and c) Advanced level.

4.2 Specialised and field-relevant PD

More than 60 per cent of the respondents worked in community settings as interpreters. Also, community interpreting was the area where the biggest gaps were in terms of credentialing and qualifications, with an important demand for PD in legal interpreting, followed by medical interpreting. Ethics was another area of high demand for both translators and interpreters. Bearing in mind the results shown in Table 2, AUSIT delivered the following PD in the Australian financial year 2016-2017 (June to June):


Topics covered in PD

of events



CAT tools
Literary translation
Translation theory
Specialised translation





Accuracy in legal interpreting
Court interpreting
The interpreter as an expert witness
Interpreting in police settings
Interpreting in domestic violence




Ethics for translators & interpreters
Induction to the profession
Specialisation workshops (medical field)
Tax matters


Table 3. Face to face PD delivered in 2017

In order to cover the demand of those living in remote areas or the smaller states with less PD opportunities, AUSIT launched a series of webinars that included mental health interpreting, telephone interpreting, ethical decision making and police interviewing. The seminars covering various medical specialisations were held face to face, but also streamed live. The webinars and streamed events are recorded and can also be purchased in the AUSIT website and viewed at a later stage. AUSIT also launched an equity scholarship program in April 2018, in order to cover course fees for practitioners from new and emerging languages as well as for those with any language combination living in remote areas or cities where there are no formal programs or courses.

At the same time, AUSIT considered it important to keep the membership informed regarding PD events offered by other institutions and providers such as Monash University, where they also offer a solid PD program, NAATI or public entities like the Australian Taxation Office, which delivers free webinars and workshops nationwide on tax matters and business skills.

Apart from the PD activities outlined above, for the Annual General Meetings held in each State and Territory (six in total), guest speakers were invited to deliver lectures on various topics related to the discipline. AUSIT holds an annual mini-conference and a biennal major conference on top of the regular PD events.

4.3 Cost and motivation

The Survey results demonstrate that there is a large cohort of practitioners (community interpreters and translators working with languages of smaller difusion) who find it difficult to cover PD costs due to a) the poorly paid wages and/or b) low-demand of their language combinations. AUSIT made it a priority to deliver PD at affordable rates. This was achieved thanks to a strong collaboration between AUSIT and the affiliate universities and TAFEs. Most of these educational institutions offer PD venues at no cost and in return, students and academics in those institutions attend the AUSIT PD sessions held in the premises for free. Many of the academics based at the aforementioned institutions deliver regular PD pro-bono. PD delivery counts towards their own recertification and thus, this symbiotic relationship between AUSIT and the affiliate institutions is beneficial for the practitioners, the institutions and AUSIT itself. Also, by liaising with educational affiliate institutions, AUSIT advertises T&I-related lectures held at these organisations as part of their research seminar-series or promotional events.

In order to make the membership of the professional association more attractive, AUSIT reduced significantly the PD registration fees for members and boosted its social agenda. These social events attract PD points too. While many have argued in the internal AUSIT forum that a social gathering should not be considered a PD per se, NAATI included such events within the recertification catalogue. Although the events are not purely pedagogical in nature, some of them are organised as informative sessions on topics that concern the profession. As opposed to other professions where teams work in shared spaces and offices, most T&I practitioners work on a freelance basis and thus, these events provide cohesion and a sense of professional belonging. In 2016-2017 AUSIT organised two multicultural events, 26 social gatherings including dinner parties, coffee mornings and picnics, one movie screening and one welcome event.

In order to attract more members, and make it possible for more practitioners to access affordable and quality PD, AUSIT decided to streamline the membership application process, which many respondents found cumbersome. The new online application system was implemented in 2018.

5. Conclusions

Although the survey results are not representative of the whole T&I practitioner community in Australia, they provided AUSIT with invaluable information about the profile and PD needs of many practitioners. The new recertification system has caused much resentment among some of the practitioners whose credentials were granted before 2007, as they considered it unnecessary to accrue PD points, arguing that their experience was more than enough (Gonzalez 2013). If T&I is to become a fully-fledged profession and transition from the third to the fourth phase described in Tseng´s professionalisation model (1992), it is paramount for practitioners to keep upgrading their skills and holding their professional structure in a solid manner (as seen in Figure 3), and for the credentialing authority to ‘impose’ the continuous upgrading of the professional structure. Despite debate and resentment among many practitioners regarding the new system, as of 31 October 2018, 9,262 transition applications were received by NAATI (NAATI 2018b). For many of those who are already certified, but never received specific education in T&I, PD remains the only manner to acquire the skills, knowledge and abilities they did not gain through formal education and training.

If we look at the professional model presented in Figure 3, AUSIT delivered PD events that covered the 4 major pillars of the professional structure:

a) Technical Competence: CAT tools; specialised translation; literary translation; localisation.
b) and c) Ethics and role: professionalism; ethical decision making framework for translators and interpreters; accuracy in interpreting and translation; the interpreter as an expert witness.
d) Contextual Knowledge: interpreting in domestic violence settings; medical specialisations.

Some of the PD events covered several pillars at the same time, as it was the case of court interpreting, police interviewing and mental health interpreting (technical competence, ethics, role and contextual knowledge). Most of these PD were delivered at beginner and intermediate level, as the most urgent needs were observed in the group of paraprofessionals or provisionally certified interpreters. One of the issues which needs to be addressed in future PD agendas is the delivery of more advanced PD for senior and experienced professionals.

Many practitioners have voiced their concern regarding the cost of recertification and the fact that the industry will not necessarily remunerate better those who abide by the recertification scheme. That still remains a major challenge. In this regard, AUSIT cooperates with the professional union which represents translators & interpreters in Australia (Professionals Australia) in order to fight for better working conditions and remuneration. One of the major achievements that reflect the work done by the Union in this regard, was the pay rise and improved working conditions gained by interpreters working in the state of Victoria in 2018 (Minister for Multicultural affairs 2018; NAATI 2018c):

  • Guaranteed minimum rates for remuneration for contracted and casually employed interpreters providing services to the Victorian Government
  • Average payment increases of 30% 
  • Improved travel allowances

In December 2018, AUSIT also launched an Industry Development Fund of $AU250,000 per annum. One of its priorities is capability and within this category, the development of PD projects is one of the areas that will benefit from such funding (NAATI 2018a).

AUSIT´s role in the new system will consist of delivering as many materials as possible for T&I practitioners, so that they can keep up with the maintenance, upgrading and in some cases, repairs of the structural gaps of their ‘professional dwellings’ (as explained in Figure 3). The delivery of such materials will require a coordinated approach at State/Territory and National level, as well as continuous communication with several stakeholders including NAATI, the industry, affiliate educational institutions and other associations such as ASLIA (Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association).

In lieu of the lack of regulations and standardisation around the world in the T&I industry, professional associations like AUSIT, through continuous education and PD could play an important role in the professionalisation of the discipline (as explained in Figure 1).


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NAATI (2018c) “New Govt  Reforms for Victorian Interpreters-increases to pay rates & conditions” NAATI News 22URL: https://www.naati.com.au/news-events (accessed 09/01/2019)

Ozolins, Uldis (1991) Interpreting, Translating and Language Policy: Report to the National Languages Institute of Australia, Melbourne, National Languages Institute of Australia.

Ozolins, Uldis (1995) Research Project: Interpreting and Translating in Australia: An International Model for Response to Communication Needs in Multilingual Settings. Melbourne, Centre for Research & Development in Interpreting/Translating, Deakin University.

Ozolins, Uldis (2000) “Communication Needs and Interpreting in Multilingual Settings: the International Spectrum of Response in The Critical Link 2: Interpreters in the Community, Roda P. Roberts, Silvana E. Carr, Diana Abraham and Aideen Dufour (eds), Amsterdam & Philadelphia, John Benjamins: 21-33.

Ozolins, Uldis (2004) Survey of Interpreting Practitioners, Melbourne, VITS LanguageLink.

Ozolins, Uldis (2014) “Rewritting the AUSIT Code of Ethics-Principles, Practice, Dispute”, Babel 60, no.3: 347-70.

Orlando, Marc (2016) Training 21st Century Translators and Interpreters: At the Crossroads of Practice, Research and Pedagogy, Frank & Timme, Berlin.

Pöchhacker, Franz (2016) Introducing Interpreting Studies, London & New York, Routledge.

Professionals Australia. URL: http://www.professionalsaustralia.org.au

Pym, Anthony, Françoise Grin, Claudio Sfreddo, and Andy L.J. Chan (2012) The status of the Translation Profession in the European Union, European Union, Luxembourg.

Tseng, Joseph (1992) Interpreting as an Emerging Profession in Taiwan. A Sociological Model, Master´s diss., Fu Jen Catholic University, Taiwan.

Annex 1

The Survey


Dear colleagues,

We are conducting a survey on your preferences regarding PD courses.

It is important that you complete the survey, so that we can design and organise PD events that cover the training needs of our members and colleagues. It will only take a few minutes to complete.

Thanks in advance for your time and assistance and we look forward to seeing you in future courses and seminars!

To complete the survey click in the link below:

Best regards,

PD committee


1. Your working language(s) other than English:


2. You work as a:

☐ Translator

☐  Interpreter

☐ Translator & Interpreter

☐ Other (Please specify)…………..

3. You are based in:

☐ NT
☐ SA
☐ WA
☐ Overseas

4. Main field(s) where you work:

            ☐ Medical
            ☐ Legal
            ☐ Social Services
            ☐ Immigration
            ☐ Education
            ☐ Other (please specify)……………...

5. Do you hold formal qualifications in Translating and/or interpreting?

            ☐ No
            ☐ Yes (specify)……………………….

6. Your NAATI accreditation level:

☐ Professional Interpreter
☐ Professional Translator
☐ Paraprofessional interpreter
☐ Paraprofessional Translator
☐ Recognised Translator
☐ Advanced Translator
☐ Conference Interpreter
☐ Not accredited/not recognised

7. What PD courses are you interested in?:

☐ Translation Skills and strategies
☐ Note-taking and memory enhancement
☐ Ethical decision-making for interpreters
☐ Ethical decision-making for translators
☐ Simultaneous interpreting and chuchotage
☐ Business skills for freelancers
☐ Website development
☐ Enhancement of English-language
☐ Transcription
☐ Editing
☐ Legal Interpreting
☐ NAATI Test Preparation
☐ CAT Tools
☐ Translation & interpreting theory
☐ Other (please specify)…………………………

8. Are you a member of AUSIT?:

☐ Yes
☐ No

9. If no, can you tell us why?.....................


About the author(s)

Erika Gonzalez is a senior lecturer in Translating & Interpreting at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University. She has taught translation and interpreting at postgraduate and undergraduate level for 15 years. She was the Chair of the PD committee and the national PD co-ordinator at AUSIT until she was elected Vice-President for events and PD in November 2017. Erika is an active conference interpreter and translator, too.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Erika Gonzalez (2019).
"Professional development as a vehicle on the road towards professionalism The AUSIT experience", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2347

Montalbano e la voce dell’interprete

By Gabriele Mack (University of Bologna, Italy)

Abstract & Keywords


One of the last novels by Andrea Camilleri starring inspector Montalbano (L'altro capo del filo 2016), set in the context of the landings of migrants in Sicily, features two Tunisians, a physician and a young woman who act as lay interpreters. This paper sheds light on these two figures within the narrative structure of the novel and its place in the reality of contemporary Italy. Salient traits of the two characters are analysed from different points of view, using also conversation analysis, and compared with characteristics of the interpreter role perceived by groups of real-life users. In particular, reference is made to some recent studies by the author, including one on interpretation for Italian soldiers deployed in Lebanon and one on interpretation for children and adolescents in criminal justice settings carried out as part of a European research project. The comparison reveals surprising similarities in the representation of the interpreters in literary fiction and their perception in real contexts.


Uno degli ultimi romanzi del ciclo di Montalbano (L'altro capo del filo 2016) vede tra i protagonisti un medico e una giovane donna tunisini che, nel contesto degli sbarchi di migranti in Sicilia, fungono da interpreti per il commissario. Il contributo svolge un'analisi di queste due figure all'interno della struttura narrativa del romanzo e della sua collocazione nella realtà dell'Italia contemporanea. I tratti salienti dei due personaggi di Camilleri vengono analizzati da diversi punti di vista, ricorrendo anche all’analisi della conversazione, e messi a confronto con caratteristiche della figura dell'interprete percepite da gruppi di utenti reali di servizi di interpretazione. In particolare si farà riferimento ad alcuni studi recenti seguiti dall’autrice, tra cui uno sull'interpretazione per il contingente italiano stanziato in Libano e uno sull'interpretazione per bambini e adolescenti condotto all'interno di una serie di progetto di ricerca europea sull'interpretazione in ambito penale. Il confronto rivela sorprendenti analogie nella rappresentazione dell'interprete nella finzione letteraria e la sua percezione in contesti reali.

Keywords: commissario Montalbano, interprete, ruolo, ingaggio, agentività, emozioni, inspector Montalbano, interpreter role, recruitment, agency, emotions

©inTRAlinea & Gabriele Mack (2019).
"Montalbano e la voce dell’interprete", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2346

1. Introduzione

Le opere letterarie e cinematografiche che vedono tra i loro personaggi traduttori e interpreti[1] - innumerevoli e appartenenti a tutti i generi, dal romanzo storico al giallo alla graphic novel (Kaindl 2014) - hanno visto un forte aumento dal 1960 e una vera e propria esplosione dall’inizio del nuovo millennio (Delabastita e Grutman 2005). La ricerca in questo campo costituisce un filone ormai nutrito degli studi sull'interpretazione e la traduzione (Cronin 2009, Kaindl e Spitzl 2014). Gli autori italiani interessati sono tuttavia sorprendentemente pochi (ad esempio Arrojo 1995, Nadiani 2014) in confronto ad altre lingue, come ad esempio il giapponese (Wakabayashi 2005).

In molte opere i personaggi che esercitano uno dei mestieri del tradurre consentono all’autore di riflettere sulla natura stessa della traduzione; in altre assurgono a emblema della condizione umana tout court, delle contraddizioni della nostra epoca e della modernità 'liquida', oppure diventano occasione di sofisticate operazioni di metafiction (Delabastita 2009). In altri casi – di certo la maggioranza – la rappresentazione di situazioni di contatto linguistico riflette invece più semplicemente vicende contraddistinte da esperienze liminari e complesse, spesso connesse ad appartenenze plurime o esperienze di migrazione, e mette in evidenza convenzioni e valori socioculturali del mondo contemporaneo, ma anche il sentire comune condiviso da una comunità su che cosa fa (o dovrebbe fare) un traduttore/interprete:

Fictional depictions […] provide insights into ideas, clichés and stereotypes of translating and interpreting that exist in a given society and can therefore be used as a source for the study of folk theories concerning translation and interpreting (Kaindl 2014: 14)

In quest’ultima ottica sono rivelatrici anche e soprattutto figure 'minori' la cui attività di interprete non serve a significare 'altro' nell'economia della narrazione. La loro descrizione costituisce una finestra per capire come questa figura venga percepita nella società di cui la scrittura è espressione. È questo che tenta di fare anche il presente studio, che confronta l’immagine di due interpreti tratteggiata da Andrea Camilleri in uno dei suoi ultimi romanzi e le percezioni da parte di italiani che con interpreti si trovano a collaborare, così come sono emerse nelle ricerche dell’autrice, e in particolare in un progetto sull’interpretazione per la polizia del 2012 (cfr. ImPLI 2012; Amato e Mack 2015a, 2015b), in due studi sull’interpretazione per i minori in ambito giuridico-giudiziario (Amato e Mack 2015c, 2017) e in alcune interviste con militari del contingente italiano in Libano (Prati 2017).

2. Interpretare (per) Montalbano

Anche il commissario Montalbano, pur essendo dotato di capacità comunicative e interpretative fuori dal comune, può avere bisogno di aiuto per ‘agire con le parole’ e conseguire i suoi obiettivi conversazionali. Così, quando vuole far arrivare un certo messaggio a un interlocutore che non può raggiungere direttamente, spesso si serve di un suo ‘interprete’ di fiducia, l'amico giornalista Niccolò Zito (cfr. Giovannetti 2015).

Capita però anche di dovere parlare con persone che non capiscono né il siciliano né l'italiano, e allora Montalbano ricorre in genere all’aiuto di individui bilingui che fanno al caso suo, benché nella loro vita ‘reale’ svolgano tutt’altro mestiere. Accade in Il ladro di merendine (1996), dove una donna araba viene sentita con l'aiuto di un carabiniere fortuitamente bilingue, o in La vampa d'agosto (2006), dove una telefonata a un avvocato tedesco è affidata a un riluttante agente Galluzzo che ha alle spalle un soggiorno in Germania, presumibilmente come figlio di emigrati. Un’altra emigrata - anche se sui generis come l’amica svedese Ingrid Sjöström - si improvvisa invece interprete per la troupe cinematografica che ha scelto Montelusa per il set di una fiction in La rete di protezione (2017). L'altro capo del filo (2016), il romanzo che qui analizzeremo, è però - per quanto ne sappiamo - l’unico romanzo di Camilleri in cui delle figure di interpreti diventano personaggi importanti e ben delineati.

Per Montalbano la necessità di ricorrere a un interprete sembra costituire sempre una seconda scelta, una necessità sgradita imposta da una condizione (umana, più che personale) ‘imperfetta’. Così in L'altro capo del filo il commissario, mentre ascolta l’interprete parlare ai naufraghi stipati sulla nave di soccorso, ha l’impressione di capire certe parole e ricorda, in siciliano, che un tempo le popolazioni del Mediterraneo condividevano una lingua veicolare (cfr. Cifoletti 2004, Eco 1993) (L'altro capo del filo cap. 3: 48):

Mentri che ascutava s'arricordò che 'na vota tutti i piscatori del Mediterraneo parlavano 'na lingua comuni, il «sabir». Va a sapiri com'era nasciuta e va a sapiri come aviva fatto a moriri, ora che sarebbi stata accussì utili per tutti.

Sempre in questo romanzo, l’uomo con il flauto (cap. 3: 50-52) invece di un soggetto armato e pericoloso si rivela essere un celebre musicista, ma parla l’italiano e non ha bisogno di un interprete per raccontare la sua vicenda e dare voce alla sua disperazione. Analogamente, “dato che parlava taliàno”, Fazio può interrogare direttamente una donna che era stata fermata (cap. 16: 257).

Un breve scambio tra Montalbano e Fazio a proposito della necessità di procurarsi un interprete fa trapelare anche qualche dubbio sulla recente politica linguistica italiana (cap. 5: 74):

«Ma come? L’ha chiamata?».
«'Nca certu! Io l'arabo non lo parlo. Per caso tu te lo studiasti a scola?».
«Nonsi dottore! Studiai l'inglisi, capace però che l'arabo mi sarebbi sirvuto chiossà».

Anche in altri romanzi Camilleri mostra di preferire soluzioni in cui si può fare a meno dell’interprete. Ne troviamo un esempio in Un giro di boa (2003) dove Montalbano scopre un ragazzino oggetto di traffico di esseri umani appena sbarcato che si era dileguato. I due comunicano tra loro solo tramite sguardi e gesti, ma l’incapacità di parlarsi esprime anche tutta l’impotenza del commissario di fronte al tragico destino di quel bambino.

2.1. Osman e Meriam

Ciò che distingue le figure di interpreti nei romanzi precedenti di Camilleri da quelle oggetto del nostro studio è innanzitutto lo spessore dei personaggi e lo spazio dedicato loro nell’economia del romanzo. La loro attività serve prima di tutto a rafforzare l'ancoraggio del racconto nell'attualità degli sbarchi di migranti in Sicilia, con tanto di indicazione dell’anno, il 2016, quello di pubblicazione del romanzo (cap. 1: 19). Gli interpreti del commissario questa volta sono due tunisini, e anche loro sono volontari che nella vita quotidiana fanno tutt’altro.

Osman, o meglio “il dottor Osman”, viene introdotto dal punto di vista di Livia, che lo ha incontrato in uno dei “comitati di volontari che raccolgono generi di prima necessità, preparano pasti caldi, forniscono abiti, scarpe, coperte” gestito dall’amica Beba, dov’era andata per ‘dare una mano’ (cap. 1: 18):

«Ho incontrato un signore sessantenne, alto, magro, elegantissimo, con gli occhiali. Pare che qui a Vigàta sia amico di tutti. Parlava in italiano perfetto e in arabo, immagino, altrettanto perfetto, con tutti i migranti. Lo chiamano dottore, dottor Osman. Tu lo conosci?».

In effetti, anche Montalbano conosce bene questo “dottore dei migranti” (cap. 11: 170): è il suo dentista, una persona speciale e molto discreta; oltre a essere un medico bravissimo, laureato a Londra, è un esperto d'arte, già consulente del Museo del Bardo. Venuto a Vigàta per una donna, vi si è fermato perché “innamorato della Sicilia e soprattutto di questo mare che lambisce anche la sua terra” (cap. 1: 19); “sono diverse estati, ma purtroppo ormai anche inverni, che il dottor Osman si sveglia di notte e va al porto per aiutare i migranti, sia come interprete che come medico[2]”. Un altro tocco al ritratto di Osman, Montalbano lo dà in risposta a uno dei consueti storpiamenti di nomi operati da Catarella che lo accoglie in commissariato (cap. 3: 44):

«Ah dottori! Ci sarebbi che c'è il dottori Cosma che l'aspetta nella cammara d'aspittanza».
«E Damiano unn'è?» fici Montalbano.
Catarella strammò.
«Aspittava macari a lui? Ancora non è apparuto, appena che appari l'avverto».
«Va bene. Arricordati, Catarè, che Cosma e Damiano caminano sempri 'nzemmula» arrispunnì il commissario.
In effetti, Catarella non aviva sbagliato il nomi cchiù di tanto. 'N funno 'n funno, il dottor Osman qualichi cosa di santo ce l'aviva.

Le prime parole pronunciate nel romanzo dal medico in risposta all’esternazione di gratitudine del commissario sono: «Allah è Clemente e Misericordioso (…) e anch'io, goccia nel mare, cerco di seguirne l'esempio» (cap. 3: 44), e dopo lo sbarco promette a Montalbano: «Ci sarò sempre, inch'Allah, quando ne ha bisogno” (cap. 3: 53). Osman è dunque caratterizzato fin dal principio come colto e agiato, disponibile e altruista, una figura quasi ieratica.

Per introdurre il personaggio di Meriam, Camilleri procede in maniera analoga, con pennellate successive. Chiamato per assistere all’ennesimo sbarco, Osman malato propone di farsi sostituire da una giovane donna che “parla quattro lingue perfettamente”; le ha già detto “come dovrà comportarsi coi migranti” e si fa garante per lei (cap. 4: 58-59). Il commissario riconosce nella donna la lavorante incontrata in una sartoria che poco dopo diventerà la scena di un omicidio. Viene descritta come “'na trintina sottili, bruna di pelli con i capilli raccogliuti sutta a un velo bianco, dù occhi nìvuri profunni e un sorriso cordiali” il cui “taliàno era pirfetto ma tradiva ‘n‘inflessioni straniera” (cap. 2: 29). Montalbano accetta la sostituzione nonostante le perplessità manifestate da Fazio sul fatto che è una donna, in uno scambio tutto incentrato sulla fiducia[3] (cap. 4: 59):

Gli dissi la novità, Fazio sturcì la vucca.
«Non ti sta bene?».
«Nonsi dottore, a mia mi sta bene. Ma starà bene macari ai migranti? Dottore, facemo ad accapirinni, è 'na fimmina...».
«Io mi fido del dottor Osman. Ma se hai dei dubbi ti fazzo 'na proposta: invertiamo i turni: stasira ci vaio io».
Fazio si risintì.
«Dottore, volivo sulamenti esporre 'na possibili complicazioni. Se si fida del dottor Osman, si fidassi chiossà di mia».

Come Osman, Meriam (che Catarella chiamerà Marianna Ucrìa[4]; cap. 6: 89) è dunque una persona istruita e disponibile a lavorare come volontaria, anche se vive in condizioni sociali ben diverse da quelle del medico, come suggerisce la sua risposta alla telefonata di Montalbano che di sera tardi le chiede se può venire in commissariato per fargli da interprete (cap. 5: 74):

«Certo, le bambine dormono già profondamente nel letto matrimoniale. Il tempo di preparare una caffettiera e un po' di macco per mio marito[5] e arrivo».
Al solo pinsero a Montalbano ci vinni 'na speci di mappazza alla vucca dello stommaco. Macco e cafè? Alle setti di matina?

3. Gli interpreti di Montalbano tra finzione e realtà

Analizziamo ora l’agire di questi due personaggi nel romanzo, mettendolo a confronto con le caratteristiche dell'interprete percepite come tipiche o attese da gruppi di utenti di servizi di interpretazione reali emerse negli studi menzionati sopra (cfr. fine paragrafo 1).

3.1. Selezione e ingaggio

3.1.1. Selezione e ingaggio nel romanzo

La prima scena in cui uno dei due interpreti entra in azione è quella del primo grande sbarco, che abbraccia metà del secondo e l’intero terzo capitolo del romanzo. Montalbano viene informato dal collega Silleci, responsabile della squadra per l’emergenza sbarchi, dell’imminente arrivo di due navi cariche di naufraghi raccolti in mare. Insieme riflettono su come disciplinare lo sbarco per evitare altri episodi come quello della recente scomparsa di una persona, che aveva allarmato il questore. Il commissario ha un piano, ma per realizzarlo gli serve l’aiuto di una persona che parla arabo e che sia “disponibili a darinni 'na mano d'aiuto”. Il dottor Osman, interpellato telefonicamente, si mette a completa disposizione (cap. 2: 39-40).

La richiesta di intervento di un interprete da parte della polizia in tutto il romanzo non è mai un fatto di routine, inevitabile quanto prevedibile, ma costituisce sempre un problema da risolvere ad hoc, usando i propri mezzi e le proprie conoscenze.

L’attività serrata del commissariato sotto la pressione dei continui sbarchi non lascia tempo neppure a un’alternanza regolare nei turni di lavoro dei poliziotti, tanto meno in quelli delle figure di puro supporto. La procedura di selezione, reclutamento e ingaggio dell’interprete è dunque rapida ed essenziale: il commissario identifica una persona a lui già nota che ha le caratteristiche richieste: parla arabo, è seria e affidabile, disponibile a ‘dare una mano’ e – particolare non trascurabile, anche se non viene mai esplicitato – come remunerazione verosimilmente si accontenterà di assicurazioni di stima e gratitudine espresse a titolo del tutto personale. L’interprete ci deve essere quando serve, costi quello che costi… (per lo più, capacità di persuasione da una parte e buona volontà dall’altra). L’intervento umanitario e gratuito di Osman risparmia così al commissariato anche tutta una serie di noiose incombenze burocratiche per esborsi da richiedere, autorizzare e saldare.

3.1.2. Selezione e ingaggio nell’esperienza reale

Nella realtà le cose ovviamente non vanno sempre così, anche perché l’intervento di un interprete dentro o fuori il commissariato è un’esigenza tutt’altro che rara[6]. Quando non è disponibile uno dei funzionari linguistici dipendenti del Ministero degli Interni addetto a queste mansioni, l’ingaggio di un ‘esterno’ va gestito, spesso sotto la pressione dell’urgenza, garantendo almeno il livello delle conoscenze dell’italiano e della lingua straniera e l’affidabilità. In casi particolari – ad esempio quelli di minori, specie se vittime di abusi, anche il genere dell’interprete può diventa un criterio di selezione, pur non essendo mai menzionato nelle disposizioni ufficiali (cfr. ImPLI 2012: 14, 29 e 88)[7].

In Italia le procedure di selezione non sono però disciplinate in modo omogeneo; ogni struttura si muove a propria discrezione, non essendoci né un albo o registro centralizzato di interpreti ‘accreditati’, né delle norme minime per la selezione di chi dovrà fungere da interprete. Non solo per le lingue poco o per nulla insegnate in Italia, si ricorre dunque spesso a chi è semplicemente ‘a portata di mano’, previa verifica della fedina penale, applicando come criterio principale quello della conoscenza personale e della disponibilità in tempi brevi o brevissimi. Eppure la qualificazione elevata dell’interprete è una priorità ribadita di frequente, ad esempio in un focus group del febbraio 2017 (Amato e Mack forthcoming) al quale sono intervenuti magistrati, poliziotti, psicologi, assistenti sociali e interpreti impegnati in interviste con dei minori. Un altro fattore dall’impatto dirompente sul reclutamento è la remunerazione scandalosamente bassa prevista per questi incarichi[8], denunciata da decenni (Beekhuizen 1995, Cavestri 2010) ma ancora invariata (Samperisi 2017), che scoraggia gli interpreti più qualificati, specie se gli ingaggi sono gestiti, come accade sempre più spesso, da agenzie private aggiudicatarie di grandi appalti ministeriali[9]. La situazione diventa particolarmente delicata quando ci si muove in ambito penale. Nel romanzo ciò non è il caso per la scena dello sbarco, ma lo sarà quando si parlerà di violenza a una bambina. Riferimento fondamentale è qui il recepimento italiano della direttiva europea n. 64 del 2010 sul diritto all'interpretazione e alla traduzione nei procedimenti penali, avvenuto mediante due decreti legislativi[10] (cfr. Amato e Mack 2015a). Il decreto del 2016 ha anche disposto l’istituzione di un elenco nazionale degli interpreti e traduttori sulla base delle liste di iscritti nell'albo dei periti di ciascun tribunale, ma manca a tutt’oggi il decreto attuativo del Ministero della Giustizia.

3.2. La collaborazione con l’interprete: una questione di fiducia

3.2.1. Sapere per (fare) capire

Prima di recarsi al porto, Montalbano convoca Osman in commissariato e gli spiega il suo piano per disciplinare gli sbarchi previsti nella notte (cap. 3: 45):

«Ho pensato che sarebbe meglio se salissimo sulle navi prima del loro attracco. In modo che lei possa fare un preciso discorso a questa gente e persuaderli che uno sbarco ordinato e composto renderà più facile e celere il trasporto presso il centro d'accoglienza».
«Mi dica secondo lei cosa devo dire».
«Dovrebbe spiegare che le regole sono cambiate e chi non rispetta gli ordini della polizia verrà immediatamente arrestato, dichiarato indesiderabile, clandestino, e quindi rispedito in patria».
«Ma davvero!?» fici stupito Osman.
«No, dottore, non è vero. Però è una bugia necessaria».
«Va bene. Mi fido di lei».
Il commissario gli spiegò 'n'autra poco di cose che doviva diri e quindi si misiro 'n machina e s'avviaro verso il porto.

Siamo di fronte a una vera e propria seduta di briefing in cui l’utente spiega all’interprete l’andamento previsto dell’incontro, l’obiettivo da conseguire con la comunicazione mediata e il messaggio che deve passare: i due saliranno sulle navi prima che attracchino per parlare ai passeggeri e ottenere così il risultato auspicato. Montalbano sembra ben consapevole dell’importanza di queste istruzioni preliminari, fornite in un colloquio diretto, tant’è che in altre occasioni raccomanda questa prassi anche ai suoi collaboratori Fazio (cap. 4: 61) e Augello (cap. 5: 86).

Più avanti, tra un interrogatorio e l’altro dei sospettati di stupro, ci sarà addirittura un briefing supplementare in corso d’opera, contenente anche una raccomandazione che suonerebbe superflua con un interprete di professione, ma evidentemente non lo è per un volontario, per quanto affidabile (cap. 5: 79):

Nell'aspittanza avvirti Meriam che avrebbi cambiato completamenti tattica e che perciò traducissi paro paro ogni cosa che diciva.

3.2.2. Le informazioni preliminari nell’esperienza reale

Pure per ciò che concerne le comunicazioni preliminari tra utente e interprete e la condivisione di informazioni – siano esse riservate o generiche - le cose nella realtà non vanno sempre come nella finzione letteraria, dove Camilleri prefigura una vera e propria buona prassi. In un questionario online sottoposto a interpreti e utenti nell’ambito della giustizia minorile[11], su 26 interpreti italiani rispondenti a una domanda sulla presenza o meno di briefing, il 42% ha risposto che non lo riceve mai, il 39% che lo riceve sempre o spesso e il 4% solo talvolta; tra gli 82 altri professionisti, invece, il 92% dei rispondenti dicevano di fornire un briefing all’interprete sempre o spesso, il 6% talvolta e solo il 2% mai. Una discrepanza simile è emersa anche nel focus group menzionato sopra, dove gli interlocutori istituzionali si dicevano tutti convinti della necessità di lavorare con interpreti informati in modo preventivo almeno su certi aspetti dell’incontro da tradurre, mentre le interpreti lamentavano grosse difficoltà a ottenere la benché minima indicazione preliminare sull’incarico da affrontare. Consono con la prassi romanzata risulta invece quanto riferito da alcuni militari italiani della missione in Libano che giudicano importante “trovare il tempo per un briefing preparatorio prima della missione, volto a chiarire «i ruoli […] i tempi […] gli argomenti che andremo a trattare […] come vuoi che la conversazione venga condotta / quali sono […] gli elementi e le risposte che tu ti attendi dall'altro» perché «magari tu puoi anche sbagliare la domanda […] però se lui [= l’interprete, n.d.a.] ha chiaro qual è il tuo obiettivo in quel senso lui può aiutarti»”. Inoltre, “«quando ci sono delle terminologie abbastanza complesse o specifiche di un ambito [… è necessario metterne] a conoscenza l'interprete prima»” (Prati 2017: 84).

3.2.3. Lavorare insieme nel romanzo

Osman accoglie le istruzioni di Montalbano esprimendo stupore - non sappiamo se vero o finto: qualcosa ‘non gli torna’ nell’affermazione che chi non rispetta gli ordini sarà immediatamente arrestato ed espulso. Il commissario allora ammette che è una bugia, ma è necessaria, una ‘farfanteria’ che alla prova dei fatti in effetti funzionerà ‘alla pirfezione’ (cap. 3: 50)[12]. La reazione del medico, come anche la sua battuta precedente («Mi dica secondo lei cosa devo dire»; evidenziazione mia) rivelano però che, pur avendo ribadito al commissario la sua totale disponibilità, il medico non si accinge a raccogliere ed eseguire passivamente una consegna, ma si pone come soggetto attivo che vaglia quanto gli viene detto alla luce della sua esperienza ed esprime il suo parere in merito. Dal punto di vista del commissario questa mossa può essere letta in due modi opposti: lo induce a rivelare più di quanto forse avrebbe voluto del suo piano, ma gli permette anche di saggiare la lealtà dell’interprete, rivelata proprio dal suo comportamento di fronte a un’affermazione errata o deliberatamente falsa. La questione non viene approfondita ulteriormente, ma la reazione di Osman riporta il discorso sul tema della fiducia reciproca che, come abbiamo già visto, costituisce l’asse portante del rapporto tra i due.

Gli accordi preventivi con l’interprete che poi lavorerà per così dire in autonomia sono menzionati anche nella collaborazione con altri funzionari di polizia. Quando Montalbano giunge al porto durante uno degli sbarchi successivi apprende dal dottore che «Naturalmente (…) siamo d'accordo che scendono prima i feriti, poi i migranti e alla fine facciamo recuperare i morti» (cap. 7: 105).

3.2.4. Lavorare insieme nell’esperienza reale

Anche per gli utenti reali incontrati nelle nostre ricerche, la fiducia, l’affidabilità e la collaborazione sono elementi essenziali del rapporto con l'interprete. Il concetto è stato ribadito nel focus group già menzionato (Amato e Mack forthcoming) da tutti i partecipanti, i quali tornano spesso sul fatto che l’interprete è un collaboratore selezionato e ingaggiato proprio su questa base. Un interprete affidabile non prenderà mai iniziative autonomamente e si muoverà sempre d’intesa con il suo utente istituzionale. Uno dei militari italiani in Libano menziona a questo proposito esplicitamente il processo di selezione degli interpreti locali da parte dell’ONU, indicandolo come uno degli elementi su cui fondare la propria fiducia. Anche in quell’indagine è emerso che “Il rapporto di fiducia si costruisce nel tempo e dipende essenzialmente dalla quantità di tempo condiviso dal militare e dall'interprete” (Prati 2017: 90), e che il grado di fiducia accordato può variare da persona a persona, ma non è mai totale: l'interprete civile reclutato in loco ha pur sempre “un legame con il territorio che implica l'impossibilità della costruzione di un rapporto di fiducia senza riserve” (Prati 2017: 91). È interessante vedere come, specularmente, uno degli interpreti arabi del contingente italiano osservi che “mentre è possibile instaurare un pieno rapporto di fiducia a livello umano con la persona, sarà impossibile instaurare una fiducia totale a livello lavorativo con il militare” (Prati 2017: 92). Anche nei questionari sull’interpretazione per i minorenni[13] i concetti di fiducia e collaborazione emergono spesso, sia per indicare una delle difficoltà maggiori che si possano incontrare nell’instaurare un rapporto con il bambino o ragazzo (“Il minore è intimorito e non si fida di nessuno”; è difficile “conquistarsi la sua fiducia”), sia per suggerire come migliorare la qualità degli incontri mediati da interpreti nel loro complesso: “Poi bisognerebbe formare il personale di polizia […] a confidare nelle capacità dell'interprete e, eventualmente, a cercare un comune approccio al minore al fine di trasmettergli sicurezza” e “Mi sembra opportuna la continuità dell'intervento ad opera dello stesso interprete, per evitare che il turnarsi di diversi operatori inibisca la relazione di fiducia, indispensabile in ambienti delicati (quali il penale) […] in un’ottica di lavoro di équipe a cui il mediatore è chiamato a partecipare.”

3.3. L’agentività dell’interprete

3.3.1. Il concetto di agency nella letteratura sull’interpretazione

Vista alla luce dell’analisi della conversazione condotta sulle interazioni interpretate (cfr. Davidson 2002), la scena sulla nave descritta nel paragrafo che segue (3.3.2.) non si configura come un’interazione interpretata: manca qualsiasi traccia di discorso da parte del parlante principale che l’interprete sostituisce interamente, libero di scegliere autonomamente le proprie parole - a condizione però che venga raggiunto l’obiettivo comunicativo specificato in precedenza dal suo utente. Nelle parole di Goffman (1974), l’interprete è animatore e autore, ma non mandante del discorso che viene fatto. Pur tenendo conto del fatto che l’alternanza tra enunciati del parlante primario e la loro restituzione da parte dell’interprete avrebbe un impatto pesante sul ritmo della narrazione (oltre a implicare l’introduzione di una lingua ignota almeno a parte dei lettori – altrimenti a cosa servirebbe l’interprete? – e, almeno in teoria, una totale ridondanza semantica dei due enunciati), Camilleri scarta decisamente lo stereotipo dell’interprete ‘ripetitore di parole’ o condotto inerte che ‘trasloca’ con le parole il contenuto di un discorso (Reddy 1979, Roy 1993). Pur dovendosi qui cimentare in un intervento squisitamente monologico e unidirezionale, l’interprete svolge una pluralità di funzioni, esattamente come descritto dalla ricerca sull’interpretazione in ambito sociale (Ozolins 2016). Osman incarna così perfettamente il concetto di agency inteso come capacità di e disponibilità ad agire autonomamente nel contesto comunicativo (Kinnunen e Koskinen 2010: 7). La scena dipinta da Camilleri costituisce forse un estremo, ma una prassi simile emerge anche nella già citata ricerca sull’interpretazione per la missione in Libano, dove viene menzionato il fatto che l’interprete locale, ”dopo aver ricevuto un briefing riguardante gli obiettivi della missione, può decidere lui come formulare la domanda posta dal militare italiano nella maniera più efficace in arabo, in modo da ottenere la risposta attesa” (Prati 2017: 84). Analogamente, in un video didattico su un’indagine di polizia interpretato da protagonisti ‘veri’ (Amato e Mack 2012), nel passaggio iniziale il commissario formula solo contenuto e senso di quanto vuole che venga tradotto, lasciando all’interprete la scelta di come dirlo (Amato e Mack 2015: 23-24).

3.3.2. L’agentività degli interpreti di Montalbano

L’arrivo della prima nave che ha raccolto i naufraghi provoca un forte impatto emotivo in Montalbano, che vive quest’esperienza con un misto di insicurezza e disagio (cap. 3: 47-48): teme una figuraccia salendo la scaletta di corda, si strappa i pantaloni impigliandosi in un gancio, abbassa gli occhi davanti agli sguardi disperati che lo accolgono sulla nave. A parte il saluto al comandante, non sembra profferire parola per tutto il tempo che è a bordo; fa tutto Osman, che parla in arabo, ma (cap. 3: 48)

Montalbano fu sicuro che il dottore stava arripitenno priciso 'ntifico quello che lui gli aviva addimannato. A malgrado che non sapiva l'arabo gli pariva di capiri certi parole.

Il discorso del medico-interprete si conclude con una domanda (si direbbe di verifica della comprensione, altro esempio di buona pratica …) alla quale i migranti sulla nave rispondono con un coro di voci - confermando così che a loro volta si fidano di quanto è stato loro detto - che viene tradotto da Osman in «Sono d’accordo […] possiamo scendere». In effetti, l’obiettivo formulato ore prima da Montalbano è stato centrato, e lo sbarco si concluderà senza incidenti. L’interprete interverrà ancora due volte per dare ordini in arabo, apparentemente in piena autonomia; è però evidente che anche i destinatari del suo discorso hanno percepito Montalbano come mandante del messaggio, ed è a lui che rivolgono le loro manifestazioni di gratitudine, benché non abbia fatto nulla per manifestare la sua autorialità (e autorità) (cap. 3: 49).

Gli sbarchi non conoscono sosta e, come abbiamo menzionato sopra, la squadra di Montalbano deve reclutare come interprete volontaria anche una donna, Meriam. Ma già al suo primo incarico le cose non vanno lisce al pari delle altre volte, come Sileci spiega a Montalbano appena giunto al porto (cap. 4: 63-64):

«Il casino […] è cominciato proprio mentre stavo dando l'ordine di partire. Dal pullman è scesa urlando, gridando e piangendo una ragazzina che i suoi genitori cercavano di trattenere. Allora è intervenuta quella donna... come si chiama?».
«Meriam» dissi Fazio.
«Allora, questa Meriam ha cominciato a parlare con la ragazzina. Ci è voluto un po' perché la calmasse. Si sono appartate e poi Meriam è venuta da me spiegandomi che durante la traversata era successo qualcosa di tremendo e che la ragazzina non voleva risalire sul pullman».
«E che cosa è successo?».
«No, Meriam non ha voluto dircelo. Ma Salvo, cosa vuoi che sia potuto succedere?» arrispunnì Sileci.

Come Osman, anche Meriam si dimostra tutt’altro che una portavoce passiva, e la sua agentività spiazza gli agenti di turno tanto da richiedere l’intervento di Montalbano. Parla lei con la ragazzina che ha impedito la partenza del pullman, ma non riferisce ai poliziotti, bensì al solo commissario il motivo di questo comportamento: la ragazzina, che si chiama Leena, le ha detto di essere stata violentata durante la traversata da due uomini che sono ora sul pullman, e Meriam ha ottenuto dai genitori ignari il permesso di tenerla un po’ con sé. Montalbano accorda la massima fiducia a queste affermazioni dell’interprete: nonostante le resistenze degli agenti, provati e stanchi, identifica tra i passeggeri del bus cinque possibili autori dello stupro e li fa portare in camera di sicurezza. Al rientro dal porto, Fazio riferisce a Montalbano un’ulteriore iniziativa autonoma dell’interprete (cap. 4: 66-67):

«Dottore, Meriam dici che ora come ora la picciliddra non è in grado di arrispunniri alle dimanne. Dici che sarebbi meglio se se la porta prima a la sò casa, le duna qualichi cosa di càvudo, la lava, la cangia visto che c'è con lei 'na nipoteddra squasi della stissa età e po' verranno 'n commissariato».

Pure questa volta Montalbano non discute la proposta di Meriam. Se sotto il profilo procedurale già le prime azioni dell’interprete paiono azzardate e la reazione del commissario discutibile, data la rilevanza penale del fatto (ma non è il caso approfondire il discorso in questa sede), con quanto segue si entra decisamente nel campo dell’inverosimile: l’interprete tiene la bambina con sé, di sua iniziativa interpella una ginecologa e le porta la bambina per una visita (seppure accompagnata dall’agente Fazio), convince il medico a non fare ricoverare Leena e infine la riconduce a casa propria. È qui che Montalbano rivede la piccola e tenta di porle delle domande, ma la sua prima preoccupazione è quella di “rendere l’interrogatorio meno gravoso possibile” per la bambina. L’interesse superiore del bambino è in effetti il primo imperativo sancito da tutte le normative internazionali e nazionali in materia di minori, ribadito sempre anche da tutti i professionisti del settore. Il commissario chiede dunque a Meriam di riferirgli prima a quattr’occhi quello che Leena le ha già detto su quanto era avvenuto sul barcone. Nel racconto che segue torna puntualmente un riferimento al rapporto di fiducia con l’interprete che si deve instaurare - questa volta con una bambina - per consentire la comunicazione (cap. 4: 69):

«[…] Dopo l'hanno presa come un fagotto e riportata accanto alla madre, non prima di averla minacciata di buttare lei e i genitori in mare se avesse detto qualcosa. Ci ho messo un po' anche io per farla parlare ma poi, non ce la faceva più a trattenere tutto dentro di sé, e si è finalmente confidata...».

Montalbano si accinge ancora una volta a parlare direttamente con la piccola ed enuncia le regole di base secondo cui si dovrà svolgere il colloquio – anche questo un accenno a una buona prassi (cfr. CO-Minor-IN/QUEST, s.d.) (cap. 4: 70-71):

«Procediamo così» dissi Montalbano «io faccio le domande, lei Meriam, le traduce e mi riferisce la risposta».
«Le può chiedere se ha avuto modo di vedere in faccia i due uomini?».
Meriam non aviva finuto la dimanna che Leena si fici sciddricari fino a sutta al linzolo. La sò testa e le sò spalli scomparero alla vista dei prisenti.
Meriam le dissi qualichi cosa. La risposta fu che dù manuzze niscero fora dalla coperta e ne agguantaro il bordo, non per sollivarla, ma per tinirla cchiù stritta, per ristari macari cchiù 'ncuponata.

Leena, con un linguaggio non verbale quanto mai eloquente, si sottrae dunque al colloquio, e Montalbano, sotto pressione perché senza elementi circostanziati non ci può essere una convalida dei fermi, deve affidarsi ancora una volta all’interprete. Meriam prende di nuovo in mano la situazione e la risolve, fornendo poi al commissario degli elementi per identificare i colpevoli. A dimostrazione della piena intesa tra utente e interprete, si noti qui la ripresa esatta delle parole del commissario da parte della donna, come anche il suo uso del pronome inclusivo in prima persona plurale (cap. 4: 71-72, corsivi miei):

«Forse e meglio se tornate in salotto» fici Meriam «provo a parlarci da sola».
«Commissario, credo che Leena non ce la faccia a parlare con voi, ho capito cosa lei voleva sapere e mi sono permessa di rivolgerle io alcune domande».
«Ha fatto benissimo» dissi Montalbano. «Cosa le ha detto?».
«Non è riuscita assolutamente a vederli. Ma io le ho chiesto se questi due avessero qualcosa di particolare per poterci aiutare a identificarli».
«E allora?».
«E allora Leena mi ha detto che al primo dei due è riuscita a mordere un dito con tutta la forza che aveva. Il secondo invece si è difeso, ma si ricorda che mentre la stringeva indossava un piumino morbido. Altro non è in grado di dire».

L’agentività degli interpreti di Montalbano nella comunicazione con i migranti emerge chiaramente anche nella gestione dei momenti di tensione e conflitto. Anche qui Camilleri prevede un loro intervento risolutivo, che si suppone ancora una volta piuttosto autonomo. In uno degli sbarchi si trovano a bordo anche alcuni morti, e i loro parenti, giunti a terra, vogliono restare accanto alle salme invece di salire sui pullman. Come Fazio riferisce poi a Montalbano, il funzionario di polizia responsabile non è d’accordo “e accussì finì a sciarriatina” prima che “finalmenti il dottor Osman arriniscì a mittiri paci” (cap. 7: 119-120).

Senza aprire qui la questione di che cosa si debba intendere esattamente per mediazione culturale, la necessità imprescindibile che un interprete non conosca solo le parole di una lingua ma anche sistemi di valori e convenzioni sociali della comunità che la parla viene riconosciuta ampiamente per tutti i contesti, siano essi dialogici o monologici. Anche nelle situazioni di emergenza in cui agisce Montalbano si parla sempre di interprete, mai di mediatore (qualificato da qualsivoglia aggettivo). Analogamente, per uno dei militari italiani in Libano è l’interprete che aiuta a “evitare gaffe o misunderstanding” e a “risolvere determinate situazioni che potrebbero […] sfociare in altri tipi di situazioni più pericolose” (Prati 2017: 76). La capacità dell’interprete di provare empatia per chi deve muoversi in un contesto istituzionale ‘straniero’, specie se si tratta di un minore, viene ritenuta preziosa anche da psicologi e poliziotti del focus group sull’interpretazione per i minori in ambito giuridico, in particolare all’inizio dell’incontro, quando si tratta di mettere la persona a proprio agio. E nel già menzionato questionario online, sia gli interpreti che i loro utenti concordano a grande maggioranza (dell’85 e 78% rispettivamente) che l’interprete dovrebbe prendere l’iniziativa per spiegare eventuali differenze socio-culturali che potrebbero inficiare la comunicazione con un minore (cfr. Amato e Mack 2017).

3.4. Gestire le emozioni

3.4.1. Montalbano e i suoi collaboratori di fronte al trauma

Abbiamo già accennato al fortissimo impatto emotivo di alcune situazioni che possono coinvolgere un interprete e vista la reazione del commissario sulla nave (cfr. paragrafo 3.3.2.), mentre nulla veniva detto di quella di Osman. Analogamente Meriam, nella vicenda della bambina abusata, mostra il massimo sangue freddo di fronte a una situazione che scatena invece nell’ispettore Fazio una reazione molto forte. Il suo superiore se ne accorge e gli dà così modo di sfogarsi (cap. 4: 71):

Quanno foro nel salotto, Montalbano s'addunò che Fazio era giarno come a un morto.
«Sei stanco?».
«Ti senti male?».
«Che hai? Dimmelo! È un ordine!».
«Dottore, aio 'na gana spavintosa e tirribili di scuglionari a pedate a tutti e cinco, colpevoli e 'nnuccenti».
Montalbano allucchì, mai aviva sintuto a 'na frasi accussì violenta supra alla vucca di Fazio, il quali però, mentri che parlava, era arrinisciuto evidentementi a controllarisi.

Lo stesso Montalbano accusa il colpo, ma ha delle strategie personali per gestire la sua emotività: quando non gli basta occupare la mente firmando carte o fare una passeggiata al porto cerca il silenzio, si lascia condurre altrove dalla musica, e poi si ristora con «'Na bumma con la crema e un cafè doppio» (cap. 5: 82-83).

Anche l’animo semplice di Catarella è messo a dura prova dagli sbarchi, e Montalbano provvede a sollevarlo dal compito di assistervi, lasciandolo a presidiare il commissariato. Colpisce dunque che il commissario non rifletta neppure per un attimo sulle eventuali reazioni emotive dei suoi interpreti, pur essendo sempre attento a ‘risparmiarli’ il più possibile: quando si tratta di individuare tra i fermati i presunti autori dello stupro, Montalbano evita di convocare Osman malato (cap. 5: 73), e dopo l’interrogatorio offre a Meriam di avvertire la sartoria che ha bisogno di una giornata di riposo dopo avere lavorato per tutta la notte (cap. 5: 81).

3.4.2. Lo spettro del disturbo post-traumatico da stress

Il problema dell’impatto emotivo di esperienze traumatizzanti incontrate nelle relazioni d’aiuto è ben noto da tempo e designato come trauma del soccorritore o traumatizzazione vicaria. Per dirla con le parole di un etnopsichiatra[14], il trauma è contagioso e, se subìto per un numero sufficiente di volte, provoca inevitabilmente un disturbo post-traumatico da stress (PTSD) (Gnolfo e Santone 2009) anche in chi non è vittima in prima persona. È ben noto che anche gli interpreti vi sono esposti (Baistow 2000; cfr. anche Amato e Mack 2015a: 100-102), e le attività in ambiti che comportano tale rischio vengono accomunate sotto il termine trauma informed interpreting. La tematica è stata studiata per l’interpretazione in ambito medico (Bontempo e Malcolm 2012), psicoterapeutico (Tribe e Raval 2003, Costa 2017) e più di recente nelle aree di conflitto (Kelly e Baker 2013, Valero Garcés 2014) e nei tribunali penali internazionali (Cattaneo 2015). Della necessità di supervisione anche per gli interpreti si parla almeno dagli anni ottanta (Earwood 1983) e, in senso clinico, dagli anni novanta (Sande 1998). Anche il questionario CO-Minor-IN/QUEST, già menzionato più volte, conteneva delle domande sull’uso del debriefing e sul supporto psicologico dopo incontri interpretati con risvolti potenzialmente traumatizzanti. Come per il briefing (vedi paragrafo 3.2.1.), le risposte sono state divergenti: mentre il 20% dei 74 utenti italiani rispondenti asseriva di offrire all’interprete questo supporto sempre o spesso, solo il 12% dei 25 interpreti rispondenti condivideva questa opzione. In entrambi i gruppi la percentuale più elevata era però quella di chi non offre/riceve mai offerte di sostegno, con rispettivamente il 65% degli altri professionisti e addirittura l’84% degli interpreti. Questi risultati, come anche le risposte libere raccolte, suggeriscono che in Italia questo problema è ancora drammaticamente sottovalutato sia dagli utenti che dagli interpreti stessi (Amato e Mack 2017).

4. Alla ricerca dei colpevoli – tre interrogatori interpretati

La scena forse più interessante dell’intero romanzo per la nostra analisi è quella degli interrogatori dei tre uomini ritenuti da Montalbano i personaggi chiave nella sua indagine sullo stupro della bambina. Analizzandola con l’approccio dell’analisi conversazionale, vi si ritrovano quasi tutti gli elementi discussi in precedenza come ricorrenti anche nel mondo reale[15], motivo per cui abbiamo ritenuto di non disgregare la sequenza come fatto finora ma di usarla come banco di prova per far emergere tutta la sostanziale verosimiglianza delle figure di interpreti tratteggiate da Camilleri. In questo paragrafo i riferimenti all’interpretazione nel mondo reale sono dunque inseriti nel testo corrente.

Come ha fatto con Osman, anche nel colloquio preparatorio con Meriam il commissario Montalbano scopre alcune delle sue carte, spiegandole chi sono i tre uomini fermati: due sono i presunti scafisti, il terzo un probabile testimone. Non precisa invece, almeno in un primo momento, quale sarà la tecnica che intende usare negli interrogatori.

Tocca per primo a un ragazzo, che viene accolto con una messa in scena intimidatoria: il commissario posa una pistola sulla scrivania e fa ammanettare il giovane; poi si rivolge a Meriam ed espone che cosa desidera che venga detto all’uomo, formulando contro di lui l’accusa di essere lo scafista e uno degli stupratori e annunciando che sarà rimpatriato (cap. 5: 77):

«Per favore» fici arrivolto a Meriam «gli dica che è stato riconosciuto da una bambina violentata durante la navigazione come uno dei due stupratori. Non solo, la bambina ci ha detto che lui è uno degli scafisti. Perciò si trova in stato d'arresto e domani stesso sarà immediatamente rimpatriato e incarcerato».

Ma Meriam, invece di tradurre reagisce:

«Commissario, mi pare che stia esagerando!» fici Meriam scantata di quello che stava videnno e sintenno.

Come aveva fatto già Osman - sebbene in un colloquio privato e non davanti alla persona interrogata – l’interprete di Montalbano prende posizione, discute quello che le viene detto di fare, e prima che inizi il suo turno traduttivo si svolge una conversazione muta tra i due:

Allura il commissario la taliò e le parlò con l'occhi, e dalla facci che fici Meriam ebbi la cirtizza che la fìmmina aviva accaputo che stava facenno tiatro. 'Nfatti, con 'na voci duci ma ferma, si misi a traduciri le paroli di Montalbano.

La donna comprendere il linguaggio non-verbale di Montalbano, a dimostrazione di un’intesa basata sulla fiducia reciproca. È interessante notare come in tutti e tre gli interrogatori che seguono, espressioni e sguardi dei protagonisti giocheranno un ruolo importante ai fini della comunicazione, e poco più avanti la stessa Meriam tradurrà in parole (“È disperato”) la reazione angosciata di chi si sente accusato ingiustamente.

La ricerca sull’interpretazione in contesti istituzionali ha dimostrato ampiamente che anche nella prassi quotidiana gli scambi non (destinati a essere) tradotti sono più frequenti di quanto si potrebbe immaginare (tra le tante, cfr. Amato 2012 per le interazioni in campo medico). In ambito giuridico e giudiziario la presenza di turni non traduttivi è particolarmente delicata in quanto uno degli interlocutori principali resta almeno formalmente escluso dalla comunicazione tripolare. Può così affacciarsi il rischio che un indagato che ha celato le sue reali conoscenze linguistiche abbia accesso a informazioni che gli dovevano restare precluse, o che l’interlocutore istituzionale rimanga all’oscuro di una parte di quanto detto dalla controparte. Un esempio interessante di come ciò possa essere evitato è offerto a varie riprese dal commissario protagonista del video ImPLI già menzionato in precedenza (cfr. paragrafo 3.3.1.), che anche in presenza di turni ‘anomali’ mantiene il pieno controllo sull’intervista avviando un repair ogni qualvolta una sequenza non gli risulta comprensibile (cfr. Amato e Mack 2015a: 116-117). Ed è esattamente quello che fa anche Montalbano di fronte alla violenta reazione del giovane alle sue parole tradotte dall’interprete (cap. 5: 77, corsivi miei):

Alla fini della so parlata, il picciotteddro sciddricò dalla seggia, si misi agginucchiuni, si portò le mano ammanettate davanti alla testa e sbattennosille con forza contra la fronti accomenzò a fari voci. Le lagrime gli scorrivano oramà a sciumi supra alla facci.
«Che dice?» spiò il commissario.
«Dice che è innocente, che lui non c'entra niente. È disperato, commissario» fici Meriam.

Montalbano ha realizzato il suo primo obiettivo, quello di superare la resistenza del testimone, ma ora deve farlo parlare (cap. 5: 78, corsivi miei):

«E allora ci dica se ha assistito alla violenza e chi sono gli stupratori».
La risposta del picciotto fu letteralmenti un torrenti di paroli e alla fini s'accasciò raggomitolato 'n terra. Montalbano taliò 'ntirrogativo a Meriam.
«Ha detto che se parla lo uccidono. Che di sicuro se va al centro d'accoglienza con i suoi compagni di cella, verrà ammazzato. Giura e spergiura che è innocente ma non se la sente di rischiare ancora una volta la pelle».

Lo scopo comunicativo di Montalbano in questa interazione è chiaro: vuole sapere dal testimone se le proprie ipotesi sono fondate, nient’altro. Le parole esatte delle risposte in arabo non lo interessano, e la sua domanda non è neppure rivolta direttamente al ragazzo, ma formulata in forma indiretta[16]. Anche Meriam nella sua traduzione ricorre sistematicamente al discorso riportato con verbo citante, presumibilmente riassumendo e rendendo più coerente il ‘torrente di parole’ in arabo.

La questione dell’uso dei pronomi da parte dell’interprete è stata ampiamente dibattuta in letteratura ed è troppo complessa per essere approfondita qui. La diffusa convenzione di usare nella traduzione la prima persona al pari del parlante è riconducibile al ruolo ancillare dell’interprete come non-persona che idealmente dovrebbe essere invisibile e non interferire in alcun modo nell’interazione, anche se ciò è di fatto impossibile – un concetto efficacemente sintetizzato nei ruoli alternativi di ghost e intruder (Kopczynski 1998). Soprattutto nell’interazione dialogica, che per sua natura costituisce un pas de trois comunicativo (Wadensjö 1998: 10), di frequente questa convenzione non viene rispettata, e anche dove lo è in linea di principio, ci possono essere dei momenti in cui l’interprete sente il bisogno di marcare la distinzione tra la sua identità e quella del parlante primario, introducendo quelli che si chiamano dei cambiamenti di footing (cfr. ad es. Amato e Mack 2015a: 59).

Avendo ottenuto dal testimone la conferma che cercava, il commissario cambia repentinamente atteggiamento. Gli fa portare dell’acqua e non pretende da lui una testimonianza messa a verbale che potrebbe costargli la vita; basta che risponda a tre domande, che saranno rivolte a tutti i fermati, con un semplice cenno che rende superflua anche la traduzione (cap. 5: 78):

 Po' il commissario fici:
«La prima domanda è questa: lui ha visto chi ha commesso lo stupro?».
Il picciotto fici 'nzinga di sì con la testa.
«La seconda domanda è: uno dei due indossava un piumino rosso?».
Il picciotto arripitì il gesto affirmativo.
«La terza e ultima domanda: gli stupratori sono gli stessi scafisti?».
Con l'ultima calata di testa il picciotto si rimisi a chiangiri dispirato.

Gli interrogatori dei presunti scafisti si svolgono in tutt’altro modo. Il primo viene sentito anche lui da solo, ma l’atteggiamento del commissario ora è ben diverso: lo accoglie con un sorriso e gli stringe la mano, ottenendo così una prima conferma ai suoi sospetti (cap. 5: 79, corsivi miei):

[Montalbano s]i susì, annò ‘ncontro all’omo, gli pruì la mano e gliela stringì vigorosamenti. L'omo non potti trattiniri 'na smorfia di dolori.
«Mi scusi, le ho fatto male?».
Meriam 'mmidiatamenti traducì. L'omo arrispunnì.
«Dice di no, solo che ha una ferita che si è fatto durante la traversata».
«Oh, mi scusi! Mi faccia vedere» fici Montalbano riacchiappannogli la mano.
Tra il pollici e l'innici aviva ancora stampati i denti della picciotta.

Fin dall’inizio, i turni di parola seguono perfettamente lo schema ideale dell’interazione mediata: a ogni intervento dei due interlocutori principali segue infatti un intervento traduttivo, anche se solo marcato per quanto detto da Montalbano (“Meriam traducì”); fanno eccezione solo la menzione delle generalità, sebbene ci sia Fazio che funge da ufficiale verbalizzante, e quindi un altro utente dell’interpretazione che dovrà rendere conto per iscritto anche di quanto viene detto originariamente in arabo, e la domanda con cui si conclude il primo interrogatorio (“Lei ha intenzione di chiedere asilo politico?”), che l’interlocutore evidentemente è in grado di capire senza che gli venga tradotta. Mentre Montalbano, che passa a un registro decisamente formale e a tratti burocratico, ora si rivolge direttamente alle persone interrogate usando la forma di cortesia, Meriam continua a riformulare quanto viene detto in arabo in forma indiretta, ricorrendo alla terza persona singolare e a un verbo citante, quando la risposta non consiste in un semplice cenno che non richiede traduzione (cap. 5: 79-80, corsivi miei):

«Si accomodi» dissi Montalbano «e declini le sue generalità».
Mentri I'omo le diciva, Fazio ne pigliò nota. Montalbano gli arrivolgì 'na sula dimanna:
«Durante la traversata lei ha notato qualcosa di strano avvenuta a bordo?».
L'omo fici 'nzinga di no con la testa.
«Lei ha intenzione di chiedere asilo politico?». L'omo arripitì il gesto nigativo e aggiungì qualichi cosa.
Meriam traducì:
«lo no. Io vengo solo per lavoro».
Per Montalbano la risposta vinni a significare che quell'omo spirava ardentementi di essiri rispiduto 'n patria. Sulo accussì avrebbi potuto continuari a fari il sò sporco misteri.
«Mi basta» fici Montalbano.

Il secondo presunto scafista viene invece sentito assieme agli altri due uomini fermati quella notte, e nella sua prima parte l’interrogatorio ricalca esattamente quello precedente. E anche qui c’è un passaggio in cui gli stranieri interrogati non hanno bisogno dell’interprete (cap. 5: 81):

«Avete intenzione di chiedere asilo politico?».
La risposta dei dù che si sorriggivano uno con l'autro fu 'mmidiata e in taliano:
Evidentementi sapivano chi viniva a significari «asilo politico».

Torna insomma il tema di una lingua comune vagheggiato da Montalbano nelle prime pagine del romanzo (cfr. paragrafo 1), ma in un contesto mutato e con un evidente riferimento a un diritto umano sancito dalla Dichiarazione universale dei diritti umani[17].

5. Conclusione

Agli occhi del ricercatore, la lucida concisione con cui Camilleri coglie ed esprime nei suoi personaggi i molteplici aspetti della figura dell’interprete appare stupefacente, così come colpisce la perfetta sovrapposizione del suo sguardo sull'interprete con l’immagine che ne danno degli utenti reali. Forse l’autore ha preso spunto da esperienze personali concrete, probabilmente si è giovato dell’esperienza di una terra di passaggio e incontro come la Sicilia, e di certo ha messo in campo tutta la sapienza di chi per una vita ha lavorato sull’interpretazione della parola altrui per farla arrivare ai suoi ascoltatori - in teatro, in televisione e alla radio.

A Camilleri in ultima analisi non interessa però che cosa faccia esattamente l’interprete e come lavori; lo scrittore tematizza la necessità del parlarsi e capirsi a dispetto delle barriere linguistiche, e postula ottimisticamente la possibile riuscita di questa comunicazione. Non sappiamo se questa sua visione dell’interprete coincida con quella della maggioranza degli italiani che non hanno mai avuto modo di vederne lavorare uno. La trasposizione filmica di L'altro capo del filo costituirà in questo senso una sfida particolare, visto l’impatto che i mezzi visivi hanno sull’immaginario collettivo. Ma questo è materia per un altro lavoro (cf. Mack 2019).

Bibliografia primaria

Camilleri, Andrea (1996) Il ladro di merendine, Palermo, Sellerio.

Camilleri, Andrea (2003) Un giro di boa, Palermo, Sellerio.

Camilleri, Andrea (2006) La vampa d'agosto, Palermo, Sellerio.

Camilleri, Andrea (2016) L'altro capo del filo, Palermo, Sellerio.

Camilleri, Andrea (2017) La rete di protezione, Palermo, Sellerio.

Testi normativi

Dichiarazione universale dei diritti umani (1948), G.A. Res. 217A, 10.12.1948, URL: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/itn.pdf (ultimo accesso 17.12.2018).

Direttiva 2010/64/UE del Parlamento Europeo e del Consiglio del 20 ottobre 2010 sul diritto all’interpretazione e alla traduzione nei procedimenti penali, URL: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2010:280:0001:0007:IT:PDF (ultimo accesso 16.2.2018).

Legge 7 aprile 2017, n. 47 Disposizioni in materia di misure di protezione dei minori stranieri non accompagnati, URL: http://www.gazzettaufficiale.it/eli/id/2017/04/21/17G00062/sg (ultimo accesso 16.2.2018).

Dlgs. 4 marzo 2014, n. 32 Attuazione della direttiva 2010/64/UE sul diritto all'interpretazione e alla traduzione nei procedimenti penali, URL: http://www.gazzettaufficiale.it/eli/id/2014/03/18/14G00041/sg/pdf (ultimo accesso 16.2.2018).

Dlgs. 23 giugno 2016, n. 129 Disposizioni integrative e correttive del dlgs 4 marzo 2014 n. 32, recante attuazione della direttiva 2010/64/UE sul diritto all’interpretazione e alla traduzione nei procedimenti penali, URL: http://www.gazzettaufficiale.it/eli/gu/2016/07/14/163/sg/pdf (ultimo accesso 16.2.2018).

Riferimenti bibliografici

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Amato, Amalia e Gabriele Mack (2012) “Interpretare per le indagini di polizia richiede ben più che una semplice traduzione - Police interviews: it takes more than ‘just interpreting’”, video prodotto nell'ambito del progetto di ricerca europeo ImPLI (Improving Police and Legal Interpreting - Migliorare l’interpretazione in ambito legale e di polizia), JUST/2010/JPEN/1562/AG, URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwHqPegGqhI&list=PLx15JSWFqoqCm5ycG6CKzxAQHE-YfrgIj&index=5 (ultimo accesso 16.2.2018).

Amato, Amalia e Gabriele Mack (2015a) Comunicare tramite interprete nelle indagini di polizia. Implicazioni didattiche di un’analisi linguistica, Bologna, Bononia University Press.

Amato, Amalia e Gabriele Mack (2015b) “The ImPLI project, pre-trial interpreting in Italy and the transposition of directive 2010/64 EU”, Trans 19:1, 43-56, URL: http://www.trans.uma.es/Trans_19-1/Trans19-1_043-056.pdf (ultimo accesso 16.2.2018).

Amato, Amalia e Gabriele Mack (2015c) “Briefing, debriefing and support”, in Katalin Balogh, Heidi Salaets (eds.) Children and justice: overcoming language barriers. Cooperation in interpreter-mediated questioning of minors, Intersentia, Antwerp et al., 247-280, URL: https://www.arts.kuleuven.be/tolkwetenschap/projecten/co_minor_in_quest/children-and-justice (ultimo accesso 16.2.2018).

Amato, Amalia e Gabriele Mack (2017) “Interpreters working with children in Italy. Profile, role and expectations”, inTRAlinea, Vol. 19, URL: http://www.intralinea.org/current/article/interpreters_working_with_children_in_italy (ultimo accesso 16.2.2018).

Amato, Amalia e Gabriele Mack (forthcoming) “Pursuing the best interest of the child in interpreter-mediated legal interviews with minors”. Contributo a Language rights: issues and good practices. SIGTIPS workshop, University of Warsaw, Poland, 21 September 2018.

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Baistow, Karen (2000) Dealing with other people's tragedies: the psychological and emotional impact of community interpreting. Department of Social Work, Brunel University.

Balogh, Katalin e Heidi Salaets (eds) (2015) Children and justice: overcoming language barriers. Cooperation in interpreter-mediated questioning of minors, Cambridge et al., Intersentia, URL: https://www.arts.kuleuven.be/tolkwetenschap/projecten/co_minor_in_quest/children-and-justice (ultimo accesso 16.2.2018).

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CO-Minor-IN/QUEST (s.d.) Cooperazione nelle interviste con minori mediate da interpreti (JUST/2011/JPEN/AG/2961) Raccomandazioni per le interviste con minori mediate da interpreti (opuscolo informativo, URL: http://www.arts.kuleuven.be/english/rg_interpreting_studies/research-projects/co_minor_in_quest/FINALProspCMIQ_IT.pdf (ultimo accesso 16.2.2018).

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[1] Per agevolare la lettura, i due termini saranno utilizzati nel seguito in forma inclusiva per designare sia la forma femminile che quella maschile.

[2] La caratterizzazione dell’attività di interprete come attività di aiuto (helper philosophy) si incontra in numerose situazioni di interpretazione informale, come quella per i sordi effettuata da congiunti udenti (Humphrey e Alcorn 1994), quella di minori migranti per i propri familiari (cfr. Ahamer 2014) o in genere in ambito sociale (Niska 2007).

[3] Anche analisi molto più generali riconoscono la fiducia tra gli interlocutori come uno degli elementi cruciali nella rappresentazione del contatto linguistico mediato nelle opere letterarie (Delabastita e Grutman 2005: 23).

[4] Si noti invece in questo caso l’accostamento dei contrari – una parla quattro lingue, l’altra è sordomuta – e gli aspetti comuni di sensibilità ed emancipazione di queste due donne.

[5] Altrove ci viene detto che il marito di Meriam fa il guardiano notturno (Cap. 4: 69).

[6] Per la documentazione della ricerca sul campo per l’Italia da cui sono tratte le notizie riferite qui e nel seguito cfr. ImPLI 2012: 5-16 e 90-94; ImPLI Annex 2012: 27-66; per il progetto ricerca europeo CO-Minor-IN/QUEST II, e in particolare il focus group italiano cfr. Amato e Mack (forthcoming).

[7] È interessante notare che anche Camilleri faccia gestire il caso della bambina da personaggi femminili (Meriam, la ginecologa)

[8] “Una vacazione è composta da 2 ore di lavoro effettive e la tariffa prevista per i periti e consulenti del Tribunale è pari a 14,68 euro per la PRIMA VACAZIONE (ovvero le prime 2 ore di lavoro) e 8,15 euro per la SECONDA VACAZIONE (ovvero le successive ore di lavoro)” (AITI 2018).

[9] Per un’analisi istruttiva della gestione del servizio di interpretazione in ambito giuridico e giudiziario nel Regno Unito si veda De Luna (2016).

[10] DLgsl. 4 marzo 2014, n. 32 e DLgsl. 23 giugno 2016, n. 129.

[11] Per la documentazione della ricerca sul campo per l’Italia cfr. Amato e Mack (2017), per l’intero campione Balogh e Salaets (2015), in  particolare Amato e Mack (2015c).

[12] Appare interessante a questo proposito quanto riferito da un magistrato che si occupa di minori vittime di tratta: i trafficanti usano esattamente la medesima strategia con le loro vittime, avvertendole che saranno rimpatriate immediatamente se scoperte minorenni (mentre al contrario ciò le farebbe beneficiare delle misure di protezione previste dalla recente legge 47/2017) (comunicazione personale).

[13] Risposte al questionario CO-Minor-IN/QUEST; cfr. Amato e Mack (2017).

[14] G. Santone, comunicazione personale.

[15] Per motivi di riservatezza l’accesso a registrazioni e trascrizioni di interrogatori di polizia è estremamente difficoltoso e pertanto si fa qui riferimento anche a quanto riportato in letteratura su altri ambiti, come quello medico.

[16] Grammaticalmente l’espressione usata da Montalbano (“allora ci dica”) potrebbe essere anche una forma di cortesia, ma considerando il contesto propendiamo per l’interpretazione data nel testo.

[17] Articolo 14: Ogni individuo ha il diritto di cercare e di godere in altri paesi asilo dalle persecuzioni.

About the author(s)

The author is associate professor of German language and translation at the Department of Interpreting and Translation of Bologna University (Forlì campus), where she teaches interpreting between German and Italian. She has been working as a free-lance conference interpreter and translator for many years. Her main research interests focus on interpreter training, analysis of interpreting processes and outcomes as well as conference, media and public service interpreting.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Gabriele Mack (2019).
"Montalbano e la voce dell’interprete", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2346

Translators’ Identities within Approaches to Translation Sociology:

A Comparative Study of Trainee Translators

By Farzaneh Farahzad & Hamid Varmazyari (Allameh Tabataba'i University, Iran)

Abstract & Keywords


Undoubtedly, individuals contribute to the construction of social identities and society in turn is influential in forming personal identities. This impact also holds true of translators and can be particularly substantiated within Bourdieu’s sociology and strengthened by Actor-network Theory (ANT). Bourdieu’s habitus, for instance, can associate the notions of identity and agency, which have obvious bearings on translator training. Further, ANT’s network-based conception of social phenomena defines interrelationships and power distribution, hence identity and agency, differently than Bourdieu’s and it can present a rather novel picture of the training setting through its key notions, despite the fact that the idea of constructivism in this theory has already informed translation pedagogy. Looking at the notion of trainee translators’ identities from a sociological perspective, the present study attempts to compare pertinent parameters from Bourdieu’s sociology and ANT to see their correspondence with a West-East distinction. Then, to validate our theoretical discussions regarding the social differences interpretable through sociological insight, and to illuminate how trainee translators’ personal, social, and professional identities are interrelated and how these identities are probably influenced by and influencing translation teaching practices, we carry out a comparative survey of Iranian and Italian students, the results of which indicate that the Iranian students tend to have a more socially-oriented identity, while Italians show a stronger personally-oriented identity. Moreover, with respect to their professional identity, the Italian students’ mean identity score was relatively higher and the microanalysis of three age/gender groups revealed, except for one age group of Italian students, that professional identity correlated positively with personal and social identities of both groups of students. All in all, the findings suggest that it could be fruitful to adopt translator training methods which take into consideration aspects of the student’s identity.

Keywords: identity, agency, Bourdieu, sociology, Actor-network Theory, trainee translators

©inTRAlinea & Farzaneh Farahzad & Hamid Varmazyari (2018).
"Translators’ Identities within Approaches to Translation Sociology: A Comparative Study of Trainee Translators", inTRAlinea Vol. 20.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2289

[M]y discovering my own identity doesn’t mean that I work it out in isolation,
but that I negotiate it through dialogue, partly overt, partly internal, with others
Charles Taylor, 1992

1. Introduction

Translation sociology has already become one of the in-vogue research interests and areas in both Translation and Interpreting Studies (TS) and Sociology, giving way to understanding and interpreting both old issues in innovative ways and new ones arising from the nature of the diverse sociopolitical and cultural world today. The interdisciplinary nature of research in this area has the potential to encourage scholars to carry out investigations into, inter alia, the interface between self, groups, and society with respect to translational issues, concerns and practices. Analyzing sociological approaches to translation can shed light on how they perceive identities, and by extension trainee translators’ identities, because within each approach translators and translatorial agents can be positioned in specific social roles, which gives them certain social functions that in turn contributes to the construction of their identities.

As the roles translators play vary based on contextual factors, translators can and do have multiple identities including personal, social, and professional identities. In addition, identity is an essential concept in education and by extension in translator training because [i]dentities are the traits and characteristics, social relations, roles, and social group memberships that define who one is’ (Oyserman, Elmore and Smith 2012: 69), a definition of the term which indicates the roles of both self and society in the formation of identities. Basically, a reciprocal interaction exists between self and society through a power and identity dynamic where ‘people contrast themselves with others’ and where they also ‘include others in their self-judgments’ (Oyserman, Elmore and Smith 2012: 83).

It goes without saying that sociology, and specifically identity, which has been mostly neglected in translator training, can provide important insights if we reflect on the myriad interfaces between training, trainers, trainees, translators and society from diverse standpoints. Clearly, the recent sociological turn in TS has encouraged both scholars and practitioners to explore the relationship between the agents involved in the translation process, product and function and to acknowledge the complexities and subtleties of these relationships, which in turn, has the potential to influence the production and reception of translations. The same applies to translator training as it includes process, product, and function and can be looked at from the viewpoint of one or more of these elements.

Chesterman (2006: 12) aptly divides the sociology of translation into three subdivisions: ‘the sociology of translations as products’, ‘the sociology of translators’ and ‘the sociology of translating, i.e., the translation process.’ The present study puts an emphasis on the second of these categories, namely, the sociology of translators with respect to the sociological views of Pierre Bourdieu, and Latour and others’ Actor-network Theory. The sociology of translators and the sociology of translating appear to be tightly interrelated since, translators, as hands-on agents with their own beliefs, interests, and individualities, play a fundamental part in the translation process, which, together with the feedback they receive from translation users, affect and shape their concept of themselves. It follows, then, that sociological and psychological aspects of translation are closely associated: the social interaction and status of translators impacts their mental make-up, their very selves, and vice versa.

Furthermore, from a Bourdiusian perspective, translators are always in a sway between their own habitus, comprising dispositions and mental structures resulting from their past experiences, and the norms and structures present in the field of translation and other fields encompassing it. This said, translators are agents and subjects within different social spheres, one of which is that of translation. Bourdieu presents a full definition of habitus as a:

System of lasting, transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and actions and makes possible the achievement of infinitely diversified tasks, thanks to analogical transfers of schemes permitting the solution of similarly shape problems, and thanks to the unceasing corrections of the results obtained dialectically produced by those results. (Bourdieu 1977: 82-83)

Habitus can also be simply defined as the internal tendencies on the part of agents, acquired over since from childhood, ‘through the experience of social interactions by process of imitation, repetition, role-play and game participation’ (Swartz 2002: 63), that act on their actions and reactions, behaviors and attitudes. Translators’ internal/external struggles as described above draw on the crux of Bourdieu’s sociology, the dualism of agency-structure, for which Bourdieu offers a solution, i.e., dismissing the deterministic and at the same time the arbitrary nature of actions through his notion of habitus.

Thus, starting with Bourdieu’s inter-related theoretical concepts that have obvious bearings on the notion of identity, we will then see how Actor-network Theory (ANT) locates identity-related implications and how the two are different and where they possibly meet. Finally, we will present and analyze the results of a survey conducted on Iranian and Italian undergraduate trainee translators to see how different aspects of their identities are correlated. Since habitus is ‘the performative dimension of identity’ (Schneider and Lang 2014: 92), the survey results will also help to reveal the habitus of Iranian and Italian students at large. Furthermore, there are items in the questionnaire that concern participants’ dispositions, roles, capital, and acts that are all related in one way or another to Bourdieu’s sociology and/or to ANT. Bottero’s (2010) Bourdieu-based components of identity, which will be explained in 1.2, also signify some overlap and relation between this study’s theoretical ground and its empirical part. We are hopeful that the findings of this study will have implications, inter alia, for training translators because identity is a key concept in teaching and learning and in enhancing their quality.

 Hoyle et al. (1999: 47, as cited in Snel Trampus 2002: 42) hold that Westerners tend to develop self-dependent characteristics, whereas Easterners incline towards interdependence and we can see to what extent this view holds true for the identity aspects of the population of the empirical part of the present study, i.e., Iranian and Italian trainee translators. This general distinction, arising from socialization practices, between Western individualistic societies and Eastern collectivist societies has also been documented by other scholars such as Singelis (1994), Johnson (1993), Bengston et al. (2000), and Schaller (2009).

1.1 Research Questions and Hypotheses

This research project sought to find adequate answers to the following questions:

Q1: How similar/different are Bourdieu’s sociology and ANT when it comes to the issues of agency and identity?
Q2: To what extent are trainee translators’ personal and social identities related to their professional identities? And how do Iranian and Italian trainee translators differ in terms of their identity?

These questions led us to put forward the following hypotheses:

H1: There is a significant relationship between personal/social aspects of identity and those of professional identity.
H2: Iranian undergraduate trainee translators tend to have well-developed interdependent identities whereas Italian undergraduates tend to have well-developed self-dependent identities.
H3: Iranian and Italian trainee translators differ in terms of their sense of their own identity.  

1.2 Identity Definition and Types

We shall begin by defining different types of identity. Personal, individual, group, collective, gender, national, linguistic, cultural, and professional are probably the most established terms with which we refer to identity. Simply put, identity can be defined as what makes an individual/group distinct from others when looked at from a shared dimension such as personality, gender, nationality, culture, etc. Interestingly, this way of defining identity closely resembles the definition of culture, foregrounding the proximity of the two concepts. Both culture and identity find realization in what they are not (referring to); in excluding and in contrast with others.

Identity has both individual and collective manifestations. In other words, individuals have their own identity, which distinguishes them from other individuals while individuals are members of social groups which are different from other groups. Common to both manifestations is the dichotomy between ‘self’ and ‘other’. The distinction becomes more significant when we note that societies vary in the degree to which they are more individualist or collectivist. It follows that educational practices should take these differences into consideration. Camilleri and Malewska-Peyre (1997: 43) present a narrow sense of culture, ‘as the configuration of cultural elements that specify human groups and distinguish one group from the other (Brown, 1965; Bronfenbrenner, 1969; Danziger, 1970; Malewska-Peyre & Tap, 1991).’

Translators’ identities can be seen as forming through their belonging to, among others, institutions, translators’ groups and training spaces as well as in the roles they play individually in their social interactions and in the cultural constructions and representations the act of translation may entail. In other words, translators’ selves are functions of their social identity and at the same time, they give identity, through their actions, decisions, and beings, to the communities to which they belong. The approaches to sociology that attempt to study the self, according to Stets and Bruke (2003), are differentiated in the social or societal contexts in which individuals’ actions give rise to social structures and concurrently individuals are provided with ‘feedback’ that has a transformative effect on them. This process is similar to seeing one’s self in the eyes of others, giving self a shared meaning combined from self-reflection and others’ observations.

Self carries various identities depending on the given situation where certain social roles are performed. A translator, for example, can be identified as professional in their community, an expert by academics, a family member at home, a man/woman of culture by authorities and so forth (Tan 2012). This implies that in social interactions, only parts of an individual's identity are involved in any given situation (Stets and Burke 2003: 8). An immediate implication of this view of translator training as a series of social situations is that trainee translators construct their identities in the educational situations they experience.

As mentioned previously, a feature that makes research into identity fascinating yet demanding is the fact that this concept lies at the interface of sociology and psychology, two huge and influential sciences. It is also a reason why teaching is such a complex endeavor. Similarly, translation is both a social and a psychological endeavor.

The three types of identities explored in this study need to be defined here. Personal identity can be explained simply as how we define ourselves. Social identity, according to Tajfel (cited in Ashmore, Jussim and Wilder 2001: 6) is ‘that part of an individual’s self-concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership in a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership.’ Finally, professional identity in general is someone’s way of looking at themselves in terms of the values of the profession they are trained in or are members of. ‘Professional identity is often dictated by rigid professional codes of ethics’ (Rudvin 2006: 182).

Although Bourdieu himself does not seem to have explicitly defined identity, scholars have investigated this concept based on his theories. For example, Bottero (2010) argues that three components of identity, the reflexive, collective, and dispositional, can be conceived based on Bourdieu’s theory of practice, which points to the emergence of identity from three sources: ‘the interrelations between habitus and field’, ‘the intersubjective relationship between agents’ (Bottero 2010: 6), and one’s dispositions. The dispositional, collective, and reflexive components represent personal, social, and professional identities. The first two are self-explanatory but the third can be explained as the way one’s habitus is related to one’s performance in the social field – for example in the field of translator training. Similarly, as Cressman (2009) points out, the interactions between actors in networks define their identity and because actors can at the same time belong to different networks and depending on the way these interact, their identities can vary. Therefore, in both theories we can consider multiple identities for translators and trainee translators.

2. Literature Review

A group of researchers has investigated the role and the impact of a certain type of identity on translation products and translators’ performance. This group includes Qun Li (2014), who looked at the ‘influence of translators’ cultural identity on the translation of Lun Yu’, which is ‘a book of quotations which mainly records the words and deeds of Confucius and his disciples.’ This research concludes that components comprising a translator’s identity influence his/her translation. A similar study was carried out by Dionysios Kapsaskis (2011). As an example of how the professional identity of translators is influenced by industrial changes, Kapaskis (2011: 163) focuses on the way in which subtitling quality has decreased in recent years, particularly because of ‘outsourcing and the introduction of template subtitling files.’ Kapaskis reflects on how such changes should be considered in translator training. On the other hand, there are studies that have gone the other way round, namely, they have probed the influence of translation on communities, norms, and identities of different types. However, such studies are beyond the scope and the primary aims of the present article.

Among the studies carried out using either Bourdieu’s or ANT theories or both, the following are particularly relevant to the issue of identity:

The first is Simeoni’s (1998) pioneering study, considered ‘the locus classicus in translation studies for any work pertaining to translatorial habitus’ (M. Vorderobermeier 2014: 12), in which he investigated ‘the intellectual biography and norms of translators under the “who?” question, or Lefevere’s concept of patronage in revealing the social context, enabling (or discouraging) translations under the “with whose help” question’ (Tahir Gürçağlar 2013: 138). Williams (2013: 104) points out that Simeoni believes that ‘a range of social and professional norms’ influence translators’ decisions but that translators are not passively subject to norms. Contrary to Hermans’ view, Simeoni also doubts that translation can be considered a field (Williams 2013: 104). 

Moira Inghilleri (2003; 2005) has also drawn on Bourdieu’s concepts of field and habitus to ‘model the habitus of interpreters in UK asylum proceedings’, locating interpreters in ‘“zones of uncertainty” in complying with fluid translational norms’ (Pöchhacker 2013:64).  

Buzelin’s article ‘Translations “in the making”’ (2007), on the other hand, draws on ANT, and argues for a process-oriented view of translation. She merges ANT with ethnography in order to trace each stage in the translation process of a number of case-studies of literary works. One major conclusion she makes is that ‘Latour’s thinking’ can have two interpretations: a ‘strong form’ and ‘a weaker one’. This weaker interpretation can be applied to TS as ‘a research methodology’ to analyze translation as ‘a production process’ (2007: 165). Latour’s network analysis, Buzelin concludes, helps us to understand the reasons for translations as they are, where the features of translation as a product and the way it is dispersed connect with how ‘linguistic/stylistic decisions’ are studied (Buzelin 2007:165).

Chesterman (2006: 13) cites a number of other studies that have employed Bourdieu’s concepts in analyzing translation-oriented research. These include Jean-Marc Gouanvic’s (2002) application of ‘Bourdieu’s model’ to study ‘the emergence of science fiction as a new genre in France after World War II, under the influence of translation’ where he focuses on ‘economic factors, key translators and publishers, marketing practices and book clubs’ which ‘gave rise to a new literary genre in France, not on the actual translating process itself.’ Likewise, Gouanvic (2005) applies Bourdieu’s sociology to analyze the influence of judicial fields on American and French literary fields in which American literature was translated in France during the 19th and 20th centuries. Chesterman also discusses Heilbron’s (2000) study in which he analyzes ‘the international flows of translated books between core and peripheral cultures, as part of a broader globalization process’ using Bourdieu’s sociology (Chesterman 2006: 13).

In his admirable work, Willem Schinkel (2007) compares Bourdieu’s relational sociology with Latour’s relationist sociology to see how their perceptions of sociology vary. Schinkel concludes that Bourdieu and Latour should not be seen as belonging to two different paradigms of sociology; rather they are two ‘distinct positions within a discourse on the relational’:

For Bourdieu, realism takes the real to be relational. The notion of the relational is so central to Bourdieu that he preferred to speak not of his ‘theory’ but rather of a ‘system of relational concepts’ (Schinkel 2007: 712).

This relationality is, for instance, visible in the relations between the different types of capital that Bourdieu speaks of, as well as in the interconnectedness of his concepts of habitus, capital, doxa, and illusio. 

Szu-Wen Cindy Kung (2009) adopts ANT and Bourdieu’s concept of capital to explore the agency of translation actors and networks with respect to translations of contemporary Taiwanese novels in the United States after the 1980s. A major argument of her research is that

the subvention network, formed by agents who are in both the source and target cultures and who have individual social power, can be effective in translating and exporting a lesser-known literature, particularly with respect to text selection and the possibility of publication. (Kung 2009: 134)

Finally, Farahzad and Varmazyari (2017) have applied Bourdieu’s sociology, particularly his concepts of habitus and capital, to translator training. They emphasize the role of socialization in the construction of habitus, which together with the capital trainee translators can gain, are both part of, and influential in, their specialization in the field of translator training.

2.1 Bourdieu’s Sociology

Unquestionably, Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology has been applied in TS more extensively than other sociological theories. His structuralist orientation, reflected in his practice theory and related concepts of agency, field, habitus, capital, doxa and illusio, leaves little doubt of the relevance of his ideas to the sociological analysis of identity, given that, as social agents, individuals work to create social structures which construct their identity in return. It is quite similar to the relationship between the structures of any given field and the agents within that field, while the habitus of agents in the field are ‘structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structure’ (Bourdieu 1997: 72).

Habitus is structured based on one’s past experiences and it structures one’s present and future; it is structuring. Based on this structure, habitus creates beliefs, practices, and feelings and it is structured by existing conditions (Grenfell 2008: 51). Habitus, as mentioned above, operates along with other factors. For what we know as practice, Bourdieu presents an equation as follows: [(habitus) (capital)] + field = practice (Grenfell 2008: 51).

This equation conveys the interconnectedness of Bourdieu’s three key concepts. The interaction between habitus (‘one’s dispositions’), capital (which determines ‘one’s position in a field’) and the ‘current status’ of the intended ‘social arena’ (which is the field) results in ‘practice’ (Grenfell 2008: 51). Habitus helps us shape our perspective towards the social world in a rather revolutionary way. It intends to resolve essential questions of belonging to regular social practices and the feeling of freedom which contradicts our decision-making based on the prediction of others’ behavior and attitudes. This is Bourdieu’s starting point when he asked: when behavior is the product of obeying others, how can it be controlled (Bourdieu 1990: 56)? This is to ask how can there be a reconciliation between ‘social structure and individual agency’ (Grenfell 2008: 50). By the same token, Stets and Burke (2003: 9) write:

[…] examining the nature of interaction between identities means addressing both social structure and agency. We must go back and forth and understand how social structure is the accomplishment of actors, but also how actors always act within the social structure they create.

Bourdieu’s habitus, as interpreted by Grenfell (2008), employs an analogy of a ‘competitive game’, or ‘field of struggles’, resembling each social field of practice. In this game, individuals, groups and institutions compete for better positions. Social agents learn the rules of the game gradually. They are only equipped with their own points of view. The choices of actions here are, according to Bourdieu, not conscious or rational, unlike the accounts in ‘rational choice theory.’ Rather, they are made out of a ‘feel for the game’, i.e., Bourdieu’s notion of illusio. They take time to develop and they are never perfect. Their feel for the game is, in fact, their understanding the social field’s regularities (Grenfell 2008: 54).

As Grenfell (2008: 61) points out, the essential element of Habitus is relation. Unlike other approaches to sociology, Bourdieu’s habitus maintains the relation between dualisms instead of reducing them. It has other advantages over similar concepts attempting to integrate dualisms like agency-structure, for which the notion of ‘structuration’ has been proposed by Giddens. Whereas habitus allows both individual and social dimensions in the agency-structure dualism and the relation between them, structuration ‘brings together structure and agency but at the cost of their analytical integrity, disabling the capacity to capture either’ (Grenfell 2008: 61)

2.2 Actor-network Theory  

Actor-network Theory (ANT) was developed by Bruno Latour, Michel Callon and John Law in the 1980s, and has aroused considerable interest among researchers in different fields. ANT has undergone some modifications: originally it aimed at studying ‘technological innovation and scientific progress, as part of the sociology of science’ (Chesterman 2006: 21), but it has increasingly been applied to other sociological fields, including studies of identity. ANT takes a constructivist approach and in this respect, it shows some resemblance to the social constructivism in TS, initiated by Király (2000) in translator training.

The main tenet of the social constructivism paradigm is the construction of knowledge through social interactions, including those in classrooms, hence the significance of collaboration and group work. Thus, it can be argued that social constructivism, and by extension ANT, favors a collective approach to identity and its construction due to its concepts of network and translation.

Chesterman’s (2006: 22) description of ANT is the most useful, especially because he adopts the theory to translation, if only as an initial attempt:

The central notion of an actor (or agent or actant) is understood to include both human and nonhuman agents: people interact with machines, computers, books etc., and all these form part of the socio-technical network in which science is done, or in which some new engineering project is undertaken. The network has no centre, all the elements are interdependent. Important roles are played by knowledge systems and by economic factors, as well as by people and by technical aids. Causality is not unidirectional: any node in the network can affect any other node. The theory distinguishes various kinds of relation between the nodes of a network […].

This explanation highlights some of the features of ANT that distinguish it from Bourdieu’s approach: especially the fact that it is non-structuralist as there is no center that keeps the agents in place. Rather, actants covering both human and non-humans (unlike Bourdieu’s focus on human agents) interact within networks whose nodes have bidirectional relations. The interaction between agents or actants is called translation, a concept which ANT borrows from Michel Serres, as Barry (2013: 414) has pointed out. ‘“[T]ranslation” is the way social actors interact so that some can later speak “on behalf of” others (so that translation is at the core of all politics)’ (Windle and Pym 2011: 9). Latour (2005: 57-58) considers agency with a focus on mediators and intermediaries, a dichotomy ANT uses to describe actants. Intermediaries do not affect the forces and meanings they are to transfer but mediators can modify them (Latour, 2005). Thus, the identity of actants is dependent on their roles as mediator or intermediary, which can also change into each other.

2.3 Bourdieu and ANT’s Convergences and Divergences

Most theories are developed by theorists through the evaluation of previous theories and approaches. Latour is no exception for he looked critically at Bourdieu’s sociology and developed his notions of generalized symmetry and the vanishing of boundaries, both of which have influenced the conception of agency and identity within ANT. Generalized symmetry refers to an ‘equal treatment of humans vs. non-humans’ (Luck 2013: 228). In addition, the interconnected nature of networks, where no boundaries can be distinguished, is in contrast to Bourdieu’s sociology that highlights the role of boundaries including capitals, positions, etc. all denoting differentiation. Latour’s sociology reduces society to a network and replaces the agent with an actant. What Latour claims is that ‘in “modern” sociology, society is both too weak and too strong over against objects that are either too strong or too arbitrary’ (Schinkel 2007: 716). In contrast to what Latour calls modern sociology, he describes Bourdieu’s sociology as classic.

There have been other evaluations of Bourdieu’s theories, both in relation to translation and not, such as that by Kung who writes:

Bourdieusian approaches tend to reduce the agent to the translator, and only consider agency from the individualistic perspective (Buzelin 2005:215). When more mediators are included in the research, Bourdieu’s theory lacks the clear link required to connect people together, and it does not have the strength to examine an agency consisting of multiple different kinds of actor. This missing link can be supported by Latour’s Actor-Network Theory. (Kung 2009: 126)

As noted by Inghilleri (2005) and Kung (2009), ANT can play a supportive role for Bourdieu’s sociology. Kung (2009: 126) underlines the distinction between Bourdieu and Latour vis-à-vis the issue of agency of several actors mentioned above:

In ANT, the “actors” can be both people (such as the translator, the editor, the publisher) and artifacts (e.g. the source text and the translation). The existing actors “recruit” or “introduce” new actors into the network; the more powerful actors can recruit more actors.

As Schinkel (2007: 714) points out, non-human actors are always taken into consideration in Latour’s works. Thus, as in Bourdieu's theories, power relations are at work in ANT’s actors and in the notion of translation that entails the exercise of power represented in the modification that takes place. But, as we stated above, while Bourdieu’s ‘field’ denotes a center/periphery, ANT’s network has no center.

3. Method

This study aims to look at translators’ identities from a sociological perspective. Starting from a general assumption of the existence of distinctions between Western and Eastern identities, we conducted an identity survey of Iranian and Italian undergraduate trainee translators, to test our hypotheses and to see to what extent the findings would fall within Bourdieu and ANT theories. Additionally, the correlation between personal, social and professional identities among students was briefly examined.    

3.1 Participants

A total of 189 trainee translators participated in our survey: 85 Iranians and 104 Italians. The students were from four Iranian and four Italian universities: Arak University, Allameh Tabataba’i University, Imam Khomeini International University, and University of Kashan in Iran; and Forli Campus of the University of Bologna, University of Macerata, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, and University of Trento in Italy. In line with each country’s curricular program, Iranian junior and senior students and Italian second and third year students were asked to take part. The age and gender distribution of the two groups of students are given in Tables 1 and 2 below.




19 or younger












Table 1. Age distribution of participants











Prefer not to say



Table 2. Gender distribution of participants

3.2 Questionnaire

The questionnaire developed for this study was for the most part adopted from Cheek and Briggs’ (2013) AIQ-IV. However, the items concerning students’ professional identity were chiefly developed by ourselves (see the Appendix below for a copy of the questionnaire).

AIQ-IV is a questionnaire that measures identity orientation in the four aspects of personal, relational, social and collective identities. Our abridged questionnaire comprised 28 items, plus 4 introductory items requesting students’ personal information, and was administered online. For identity items, we used a five-level Likert scale with answers ranging from “Not important to my sense of who I am” to “Extremely important to my sense of who I am.” Out of the 28 items concerning aspects of identity, 16 were aimed at assessing students’ professional identity, 7 dealt with their personal identities, while 5 were concerned with analyzing the social aspect of their identity. In the original AIQ-IV questionnaire, there are 10 special items that are not scored on scales, two of which were included in our modified questionnaire.

3.3 Data Collection and Analysis Procedure

The research population was provided with the online questionnaire with an extended time period within which to respond and the responses were recorded both separately for each respondent and in a summary of all responses. To help our analysis, the responses of Iranian and Italian students were recorded separately. The data analysis was conducted by calculating the mean identity scores (1≤score≤5) for both groups of students regarding different aspects of their identity. Then, the total mean scores were compared and interpreted. Additionally, based on the total scores of the responses to each item, items that showed marked distinctions among the two groups of students were singled out as potential indicators of a number of meaningful and enlightening contrasts.

Comparing the mean values for all items, the items whose mean scores showed a certain variation were identified and marked for this purpose. The procedure was as follows: first, in each identity aspect, the differences between the mean scores (in personal, social and professional identity aspects) and the score for each single item were calculated for both datasets, then the average score of the lowest difference and the highest difference among the whole items of each identity aspect was obtained, and finally, any item whose inter-group difference score was higher than the value of the average score was marked. The resultant criterion values were .39, .55, and .33 for personal, social, and professional identity aspects respectively. Finally, a microanalysis of identity scores based on three age groups of 19 or younger, 20-23 (male), and 24-29 years old was carried out in order to find out more about the correlation of the identity aspects. Because the majority of students in both datasets were female and belonged to the age group 20-23, it was highly likely that their identity aspects were in line with the overall identity scores, so we decided that analyzing the male students’ identities alone could prove instructive enough.

4. Results of Empirical Data and Discussion

Figure 1 compares Iranian and Italian undergraduate translator trainees in three aspects of their identities.


Figure 1. A Comparison of trainee translators' three identity aspects based on mean Likert scale values

As Figure 1 shows, the Iranian and Italian students surveyed in this study, show a contrast in terms of their personal and social identities where the former tend to have a stronger social identity and the latter a more marked sense of personal identity. This implies that Italian students are more inclined towards individualism and self-dependence while Iranian students prefer interdependence; a difference that may reflect overall differences between Iranian and Italian, or Eastern and Western, societies. As for the correlation between personal and social identities with professional identity, no meaningful correlation was observed, indicating that either there are more factors that have to be taken into account or some complementary data is required.

4.1 Items with Marked Divergence

We stated above that a special analysis was carried out of those items which produced significantly different based on the overall scores between Iranians and Italians. The following items were selected for further interpretation in each aspect of identity.

4.1.1 Personal Identity

The following two items were detected as having marked distinction between the two groups:

Item 1: My personal values and moral standards
Item 7: Places where I live or where I was raised


Figure 2. A comparison of personal identity marked items using mean Liker scale values

The Iranian students' score was significantly higher than their Italian counterparts in Item 1 but lower in Item 7, which might indicate that although Iranian students display a somewhat more social and less personal identity orientation, they might care more their values and morality issues. On the other hand Italian students felt more intensely and emotionally about their living environments.

4.1.2 Social Identity

Only one item was identified as marked regarding the social identity aspect:

Item 2: My popularity with other people 


  Figure 3. A comparison of social identity marked items using mean Likert scale values

The results shown in Figure 3 imply that Italians are less concerned about their social popularity. Popularity, as social capital, is a way to earn symbolic capital, which in turn can be arguably converted into other types of capital, particularly cultural capital.   

4.1.3 Professional Identity


There were two items identified as marked with respect to professional identity, which are listed below:

Item 23: Being considered a reliable and organized co-worker
Item 24: My (future) job despite its difficulties and low income


Figure 4. A comparison of professional identity marked items using mean Likert scale values

Although Italian students showed a higher propensity for individual work, they seem to value professional qualities when working with other people to a higher extent, which is indicated in Item 23; they consider it more important to be valuable co-workers through being reliable and organized. Being reliable is a highly interpersonal attribute while being organized tends to be a personal characteristic yet with palpable outcomes for the people around us. Furthermore, in reference to Item 24, Italian students seemed to consider their future job much more important than Iranian students, a result which could imply two things: first, they see their job as a main contributor to their identity; second, they would prefer to have (and probably see better prospects in) a translation-related job. Overall, in the majority of the professional identity items, the Italian students demonstrated a stronger orientation, which may indicate that they generally have a better image of their field-related abilities and prospects for developing their careers in translation.

4.2 Correlations between Identity Aspects

As a final step in this survey, we explored the correlation between personal and social identity aspects on the one hand with professional identity on the other. To this end, three age groups of trainee translators were compared in terms of their mean identity scores. Figure 5 and Figure 6 display the findings, indicating a chiefly positive correlation between the three identity aspects in the age groups analyzed – except for Italian students of 19 years or younger. Interestingly, professional identity scores were inversely proportional to the students’ age. Another finding was that because the comparison of the mean scores of personal and social identities in these three age groups did not differ significantly across the two national groups, we can conclude that the excluded age group, female students aged 20-23, had a significant influence on the overall identity variation between Iranian and Italian students. 


Figure 5. Correlations between Iranian students’ identity aspects in different age groups


Figure 6. Correlations between Italian students’ identity aspects in different age groups


5. Conclusions

The study has sought to shed light on translators’ identities from the perspective of two sociological theories: Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice and Actor Network Theory. We also carried out a survey in which aspects of trainee translators’ identities were explored on the basis of a comparison between Iranian and Italian students. The different items of the questionnaire, as well as the identity aspects it addressed, were related to the concepts discussed in the sociological theories.

The results of our empirical analysis point to a stronger social identity and habitus for Iranian students and a stronger personal and professional identity orientation and habitus on the part of the Italian students; a result which suggests that social activities in translator training may be particularly suitable in an Iranian context, while personal activities maybe more suitable when training translators in an Italian context. In addition, we found a predominantly positive correlation between personal and social identities with professional identity among the age groups we decided to study for the purpose of correlation analysis.

With reference to our research questions, we are now in a position to draw some conclusions:  

  1. Bourdieu’s sociology tends to be applicable, based on Chesterman's classification, to the sociology of translators and translations but ANT lends itself to be used in the sociology of translating, as it chiefly concerns the translation process. Considering the orientation to process, product, and function that are significant when looking at both translation and translator training, we may consider ANT to be essentially process-oriented, whereas Bourdieu’s concepts tend to be suitable for analyzing process, product, and function. Furthermore, the issue of power is visible and inherent in both theories: in Bourdieu, it is the capital that allows agents to move up to better positions and in ANT, powerful actors can recruit more actors whether humans or non-humans. More powerful agents, thus, have a stronger role, in determining the identity of the subordinate agents or the identity of fields and networks on a larger scale. That ANT gives agency to non-humans can reflect the significance of translation tools and teaching tools in translating and translator training respectively. Moreover, in ANT, agency results from the interactions between actancts, while Bourdieusian agency is determined by a number of factors such as position in the field as well as habitus and field structures. Bourdieusian identity thus tends to be more individual, personal and competitive whereas Latourian identity, as reflected, for instance, in its tenet of social constructivism embodied in its key concepts of network, mediator and intermediary, has a propensity for being social and cooperative. This allows us to tentatively suggest that ANT fits the Eastern interdependent sense of identity more closely, while Bourdieusian sociology tends to be more applicable to the Western independent sense of identity, despite the fact that the concepts in both theories are equally useful in analyzing social developments and phenomena. It can be inferred that when translators move from one society to another, with visible personal and interpersonal distinctions, they are likely to encounter identity problems – at least initially.   
  2. Based on the survey conducted as part of this research, our first hypothesis was partially confirmed. There was some positive correlation between the professional identity and personal and social identities of trainee translators. Our second and third hypotheses were fully confirmed: Iranian and Italian trainee translators tended to have interdependent and independent identities respectively. This confirms the view of Hoyle et al. (1999) and corresponds to Latourian and Bourdieusian sociologies. Furthermore, Italian and Iranian students differed more or less in the three personal, social, and professional aspects of identity investigated. Nonetheless, a general pattern of similarity in the two groups’ responses to the same questionnaire items was observed.

An implication of this study in translator training might be that once we understand that different societies have different conceptions of identity as well as various identities and identity construction patterns – for example, the general distinction between individualistic Western and the social Eastern identity – then our training priorities will differ, with implications for our translation curricula, pedagogies and teaching methods. Furthermore, Bourdieu’s sociology and ANT can help us to define identity parameters in the formation of trainee translators.

Additionally, the types of power distribution observed in the two theories have clear implications for the description of educational practices, including translator training. While a Bourdieusian perspective may inspire a competitive nature on the part of students’ class activities, ANT promotes completive and cooperative work. Thus, in the former, trainees’ personal identity is in focus, while the latter places attention on their social identity. Introducing the two sociologies into the classroom allows learners to experience different identity constructions, which is recommended today.


We would like to extend our deep gratitude to Prof. Marcello Soffritti and Prof. Christopher Rundle for their invaluable help with the project this study was part of. We would also like to thank Prof. Silvia Bernardini for her constructive comments on a draft of this manuscript. Our heartfelt thanks also go to all the Italian and Iranian colleagues who helped with the distribution of our survey as well as the survey participants.


AIQ-IV Modified Questionnaire

Personal Information

1. How old are you? * Mark only one oval.

19 or younger

over 40

2. To what gender identity do you most identify? * Mark only one oval.

Prefer not to say

3. Where were you born/are a citizen? * Mark only one oval.


4. I study at (name of university). *

Identity Aspects

These items describe different aspects of identity. Please read each item carefully and consider how it applies to you. The full scale is:

1= Not important to my sense of who I am
2= Slightly important to my sense of who I am
3= Somewhat important to my sense of who I am 
4= Very important to my sense of who I am
5= Extremely important to my sense of who I am

Mark only one oval.

1. My personal values and moral standards *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

2. My popularity with other people *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

3. My dreams and imagination *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

4. The ways in which other people react to what I say and do *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

5. My personal goals and hopes for the future *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

6. My emotions and feelings *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

7. Places where I live or where I was raised *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

8. My thoughts and ideas * Mark only one oval.
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

9. The ways I deal with my fears and anxieties *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

10. My social behavior, such as the way I act when meeting people *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

11. My feeling of being a unique person, being distinct from others *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

12. My self-knowledge, my ideas about what kind of person I really am *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

13. My personal self-evaluation, the private opinion I have of myself *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

14. My academic ability and performance, such as the grades I earn and comments I get
from teachers *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

15. My role of being a student in college *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

16. My being/becoming a professional translator *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

17. My being/becoming a professional interpreter *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

18. My being/becoming a professional audiovisual translator *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

19. My collaboration with co-workers or my team activity *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

20. My ability to continue my academic studies in translation-related fields *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

21. My employment opportunities as an in-house translator/interpreter *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

22. My professional prospects and progress *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

23. Being considered a reliable and organized co-worker *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

24. My (future) job despite its difficulties and low income *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

25. Being recognized as a well-known specialist *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

26. Working under others’ supervision *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

27. Caring about ethical and moral issues in my job *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

28. Reflecting on my professional translating/interpreting practice
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

29. Thinking of myself as a life-long learner *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am

30. My academic achievements *
Not important to my sense of who I am 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely important to my sense of who I am


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About the author(s)

Farzaneh Farahzad is Professor in Translation Studies at the Department of English Translation Studies of Allameh Tabataba’i University, Iran.

Hamid Varmazyari is a PhD candidate of Translation Studies at the Department of English Translation Studies of Allameh Tabataba’i University, Iran. After completing his MA in Translation Studies at Shahid Beheshti University, he started his translator training career in 2009 and has ever since taught undergraduate translation courses mainly at Arak University, where he got his BA in English Translation in 2005. He attended the University of Bologna once as a PhD student in 2013, and another time as a doctoral visiting student in 2016.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Farzaneh Farahzad & Hamid Varmazyari (2018).
"Translators’ Identities within Approaches to Translation Sociology: A Comparative Study of Trainee Translators", inTRAlinea Vol. 20.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2289

Kulturspezifik in Recht und Technik und Konsequenzen für die Übersetzung

By Eva Wiesmann (University of Bologna, Italy)

Abstract & Keywords


Starting from the definitions of culture, law, technology as well as legal and technical culture respectively, the aim of this paper is to point out the different degrees of cultural specificity in law and technology and in legal and technical language and texts. The paper will also show to what extend the differences within the various dimensions of cultural specificity lead to differences in methods and procedures of translation.


Ausgehend von den Definitionen von Kultur, Recht und Technik einerseits sowie von Rechts- und Technikkultur andererseits wird in diesem Beitrag der unterschiedliche Grad von Kulturspezifik in Recht und Technik und in ihren sprachlich-textuellen Manifestationen herausgearbeitet. Darüber hinaus wird aufgezeigt, inwieweit die Unterschiede in den verschiedenen Dimensionen der Kulturspezifik unterschiedliche Übersetzungsmethoden und -verfahren erforderlich machen.

Keywords: Kulturspezifik, Rechtssprache, technische Sprache, cultural specificity, legal language, technical language

©inTRAlinea & Eva Wiesmann (2018).
"Kulturspezifik in Recht und Technik und Konsequenzen für die Übersetzung", inTRAlinea Vol. 20.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2286

1. Gegenstand und Zielsetzung

Der Beitrag setzt sich mit den Unterschieden auseinander, die hinsichtlich der Kulturspezifik zwischen Recht und Technik bestehen, und fragt danach, inwieweit sich daraus Konsequenzen für die Übersetzung der betreffenden Texte ergeben. Dies erfordert zunächst einmal eine differenziertere Betrachtung der Begriffe ,Kultur‘, ,Recht‘ und ,Technik‘ sowie einen Vergleich der Begriffe ,Rechtskultur‘ und ,Technikkultur‘, in denen sich die kulturspezifischen Unterschiede bereits andeuten. Ziel des Beitrags ist es zum einen, den unterschiedlichen Grad der Kulturspezifik in Recht und Technik und ihren sprachlich-textuellen Manifestationen herauszuarbeiten. Zum anderen sollen ausgehend von den Unterschieden in den verschiedenen Dimensionen der Kulturspezifik die Differenzen im Umgang mit Kulturspezifik bei der Übersetzung und in Bezug auf die Übersetzungsmethoden und -verfahren aufgezeigt werden.

2. Begriffsklärung und Begriffsvergleich

2.1. Kultur

Der Begriff ,Kultur‘ wird heute in beinahe allen Bereichen verwendet, in denen der Mensch tätig ist oder in die er eingreift. Davon zeugt die geradezu inflationäre Verwendung von Komposita mit ,Kultur‘, wie z.B. Esskultur, Genderkultur, Subkultur, Kulturlandschaft, Kulturpessimismus und eben auch Rechts- und Technikkultur.

Ebenso vielfältig wie die Verwendungsweisen sind die wissenschaftlichen Definitionen des Kulturbegriffs (Nünning 2009). Nicht nur in den unterschiedlichen Disziplinen, sondern auch innerhalb einzelner Disziplinen und in unterschiedlichen Gesellschaften und sozialen Gruppen kann das Verständnis von Kultur ein anderes sein, wie  die Begriffsbestimmungen und die begrifflichen Unterscheidungen in der Enzyklopädie vielsprachiger Kulturwissenschaften (Institut zur Erforschung und Förderung österreichischer und internationaler Literaturprozesse 2000) eindrücklich belegen.

,Kultur‘ im weitesten Sinne meint

die vom Menschen durch die Bearbeitung der Natur mithilfe von planmäßigen Techniken selbst geschaffene Welt der geistigen Güter, materiellen Kunstprodukte und sozialen Einrichtungen. Dieser weite Begriff der Kultur umfasst die Gesamtheit der vom Menschen selbst hervorgebrachten und im Zuge der Sozialisation erworbenen Voraussetzungen sozialen Handelns, d.h. die typischen Arbeits- und Lebensformen, Denk- und Handlungsweisen, Wertvorstellungen und geistigen Lebensäußerungen einer Gemeinschaft. (Nünning 2009)

Für die Übersetzung relevant ist, dass Texte Manifestationen von Kultur sind und als solche kulturspezifische Merkmale als Ausprägungen ihrer „Kulturalität“ (Kalverkämper 2004: 39) enthalten, die unterschiedliche sprachliche und textuelle Aspekte betreffen können und je nach Zugehörigkeit des Texts zu Textsorten, aber auch zu Fächern unterschiedlich ausgeprägt sind. Kultur kann dabei „auf recht unterschiedlichen Abstraktionsebenen angesiedelt sein“ (Göhring 1999: 112) und sich sowohl auf als auch ober- bzw. unterhalb der nationalen Ebene bewegen.

2.2. Recht und Kultur

Für den Begriff des Rechts gilt Ähnliches wie für den Begriff der Kultur. Es ist „so vielschichtig und umfassend, daß er sich nicht mehr einheitlich bestimmen lässt, vielmehr jede Bestimmung nur einen einzelnen Aspekt erfassen kann.“ (Tilch und Arloth 2001: 3445)

Zu unterscheiden ist insbesondere zwischen dem objektiven und dem subjektiven, dem positiven und dem überpositiven, dem inländischen und dem ausländischen Recht sowie dem Gemeinschaftsrecht einer Staatengemeinschaft. Im Territorialstaat der Gegenwart gilt objektives Recht als vom Menschen geschaffener „Komplex von Einzelregeln von normativem Geltungsanspruch“ (Tilch und Arloth 2001: 3445) grundsätzlich in einem abgegrenzten geographischen Bereich. Dem auf die Bundesrepublik Deutschland bezogenen bundesdeutschen Recht beispielsweise steht das auf die Republik Österreich bezogene österreichische gegenüber, während das europäische Gemeinschaftsrecht für alle Staaten der Staatengemeinschaft Europäische Union und somit für Deutschland und Österreich gleichermaßen gilt.

Als vom Menschen geschaffener Regelkomplex ist Recht ein Teil der Kultur und steht gleichzeitig – wie alle gesellschaftlichen Phänomene – zu ihr insofern in einem dialektischen Verhältnis, als es sie beeinflusst und von ihr beeinflusst wird (Marschelke 2012: 73). Rechtliche Regeln werden, wie von Marschelke (2012: 76–7) herausgestellt und an Beispielen verdeutlicht wird, aus gesellschaftlichen Gründen geschaffen und auch wieder abgeschafft, die andernorts nicht wahrgenommen oder nicht für ausschlaggebend gehalten werden. In Deutschland beispielsweise wurde die bis weit in die zweite Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts bestehende Strafbarkeit von Ehebruch und Homosexualität infolge des sich wandelnden Werteverständnisses zunehmend nicht mehr konsequent durchgesetzt. Es gab also gültige Gesetze, daran hielten sich aber zunehmend weniger Bürger auf der einen und Richter und Staatsanwälte auf der anderen Seite. Sie befanden diese Regeln – im Einklang mit einem wachsenden Teil der Gesellschaft – für inhaltlich nicht akzeptabel und für moralisch falsch, weshalb die gültigen Normen zuerst de facto unwirksam und schließlich de jure abgeschafft wurden.

Recht ändert sich, genauso wie Kultur sich ändert, und es divergiert, genauso wie Kultur divergiert (Marschelke 2012: 82). Es gibt unterschiedliche Rechtsordnungen oder Rechtssysteme, die meist auf Staaten (Deutschland, Österreich, usw.) bezogen sind, aber auch auf Staatengemeinschaften (wie die Europäische Union) bezogen sein können.

2.3. Technik und Kultur

So wie sich verschiedene Rechtsverständnisse unterscheiden lassen, können auch verschiedene Technikverständnisse unterschieden werden, nämlich, wie von Banse und Hauser (2010: 19–21) herausgearbeitet wird, das gegenständliche Technikkonzept, das Konzept des Mensch-Maschine-Systems, das Konzept des sozio-technischen Systems und ein Technikkonzept, das man als kulturdeterminiertes bezeichnen könnte.

Während das gegenständliche Technikkonzept das Arte-Faktische von Technik in den Mittelpunkt rückt und sich v.a. im Rahmen des „Naturgesetzlich-Mögliche[n], ergänzt durch das Technologisch-Realisierbare und das Ökonomisch-Machbare“ bewegt, wird mit dem Konzept des Mensch-Maschine-Systems nach den „Verwendungs- bzw. Nutzungszusammenhängen auf der Ebene des Individuums“ (Banse und Hauser 2010: 20) gefragt, das zu eben dieser Verwendung bzw. Nutzung einerseits bestimmte Voraussetzungen mitbringen muss, dessen Erfordernissen aber andererseits auch bei der Gestaltung der Technik Rechnung zu tragen ist. Beim Konzept des sozio-technischen Systems werden darüber hinaus „soziale (vor allem sozio-ökonomische) Zusammenhänge sowohl der Entstehung wie der Verwendung bzw. Nutzung technischer Sachsysteme einbezogen“ (Banse und Hauser 2010: 20); es bewegt sich im Rahmen des „Gesellschaftlich-Wünschenswerte[n] bzw. -Durchsetzbare[n] (,Akzeptable[n]‘), […] Ökologisch-Sinnvolle[n] sowie […] Human-Vertretbare[n]“ (Banse und Hauser 2010: 21). Das kulturdeterminierte Technikkonzept schließlich betrachtet Technik als Kulturprodukt in dem Sinne, dass es „einerseits die ,alltägliche Technik‘ (,Technik des Alltags‘ […]), d.h. nicht nur die Produktionstechnik, andererseits kulturelle Zusammenhänge sowohl hinsichtlich der Hervorbringung wie der Verwendung technischer Sachsysteme berücksichtigt“, wobei die „Kultur über die sie ,tragenden‘ Menschen die Implementierung und Diffusion technischer Lösungen erheblich beeinflusst […].“(Banse und Hauser 2010: 21)

Als vom Menschen ,Gemachtes‘, ,Hervorgebrachtes‘, ,Erzeugtes‘, in menschliche Handlungsvollzüge Eingebundenes, in sozialen, v.a. sozio-ökonomischen, Zusammenhängen Entstehendes und Verwendetes und in ihrem Einsatz und alltäglichen Gebrauch kollektiven Interpretationen und Deutungen Unterliegendes ist auch die Technik ein Teil der Kultur; und wie das Recht steht sie zur Kultur in einem dialektischen Verhältnis: Von jeher haben „die technischen Hervorbringungen […] die Kultur und die kulturellen Muster und Praxen […] die Technik beeinflusst, deren Hervorbringung, Veränderung, Verbreitung wie Verwendung“ (Banse und Hauser 2010: 17), und in jüngerer Zeit bedingen Globalisierungstendenzen, wie z.B. der Techniktransfer, einen Gesellschafts- und Kulturwandel (Banse und Hauser 2010: 18).

Trotz dieser Gemeinsamkeit im Verhältnis zur Kultur bestehen zwischen Recht und Technik doch erhebliche Unterschiede im Grad der Kulturspezifik, die sich in den charakteristischen Merkmalen der Rechts- im Vergleich zur Technikkultur bereits andeuten.

2.4. Rechtskultur vs. Technikkultur

Während der Begriff ,Rechtskultur‘ als der „empirisch erforschbare […] Inbegriff der in einer Gesellschaft bestehenden, auf das Recht bezogenen Wertvorstellungen, Normen, Institutionen, Verfahrensregeln und Verhaltensweisen“ (Raiser 2009: 328) definiert wird, lehnt sich der Begriff ,Technikkultur‘ „an den Begriff ,Kultur als Totalität der menschlichen Hervorbringungen‘ innerhalb eines bestimmten Raumes und in einer bestimmten Zeit an.“ (König 2010: 82) Anders als Technikkultur, die „auf regionale und – in hochindustrialisierten Ländern mit ihrem nivellierten technischen Niveau – auf nationale oder sogar übernationale Charakteristika [zielt]“ (König 2010: 82), ist Rechtskultur primär eine nationale, bei Staatengemeinschaften auch eine supranationale Kultur. Nur wenn, wie bei dem Begriff ,civil law-Kultur‘, die Gemeinsamkeiten nationaler Rechtskulturen herausgestellt oder, wie bei dem Begriff ,römische Rechtskultur‘, der gemeinsame Ursprung betont werden soll, rückt der nationale oder supranationale Charakter in den Hintergrund.

Recht und die damit verbundene Kultur sind m.a.W. meist auf einen mit einem Nationalstaat zusammenfallenden geographischen Raum beschränkt. Technik dagegen ist zwar soziokulturell eingebunden, aber nur bedingt an Nationen geknüpft und bei der Technikkultur kommt es offensichtlich stärker auf den Entwicklungsstand der Technik an, der, wie von König (2010: 84) herausgestellt wird, im Zeitalter der Globalisierung eine schnellere Angleichung erfährt.

Dies bestätigt auch ein kleines, automatisch mit BootCat zusammengestelltes Korpus von knapp 100 Webseiten (Types: 16.635, Tokens: 74.247) zu den Begriffen ,Rechtskultur‘ und ,Technikkultur‘. Die rein quantitative Analyse der beiden Termini ergibt zunächst, dass letzterer zwar 15-mal im Singular, nicht aber im Plural belegt ist, ersterer dagegen 110-mal im Plural und 97-mal im Singular vorkommt. Bei qualitativer Betrachtung stellt sich dann heraus, dass Technikkultur im Korpus nur mit den Termini Stiftung und Verein verbunden ist. Rechtskultur dagegen wird dort im Singular überwiegend mit Adjektiven oder Substantiven kombiniert, die auf einen geographischen Raum verweisen (britische, chinesische, deutsche, europäische, italienische, österreichische Rechtskultur; Rechtskultur des Common Law, Deutschlands, Europas, Österreichs, Russlands, Spaniens), die Prägung oder Ausrichtung der Rechtskultur herausstellen (byzantinisch-orthodoxe, demokratische, okzidental-lateinische, patriarchalische, Scharia-Rechtskultur) oder sie zeitlich verankern (Rechtskultur des 19. Jhs.). Bei der Verwendung im Plural kommt die Betonung der Unterschiede (andere, fremde, unterschiedliche, verschiedene Rechtskulturen; Dissonanzen, Konflikte, Gräben, Unterschiede zwischen den Rechtskulturen) und der Wichtigkeit des Vergleichs sowie der Vermittlung und Begegnung hinzu, die angesichts dessen erforderlich sind. Darüber wird die Bedeutung der Rechtskulturen für die Gesellschaft herausgestellt, wenn beispielsweise von den Errungenschaften der Rechtskulturen der Moderne die Rede ist.

Dies alles lässt eine Reihe von kulturspezifischen Unterschieden zwischen Recht und Technik und ihren sprachlich-textuellen Manifestationen erwarten, die im Folgenden ausgehend von zwei Fragen herausgearbeitet werden sollen: 1. Welche kulturspezifischen Unterschiede bestehen zwischen Recht und Technik auf der sprachlichen und der textuellen Ebene? 2. Welche Unterschiede zwischen Recht und Technik wirken sich in besonderer Weise auf die kulturspezifischen Unterschiede aus?

3. Kulturspezifische Unterschiede zwischen Recht und Technik auf der sprachlichen und der textuellen Ebene

Die kulturspezifisch relevanten Unterschiede zwischen Recht und Technik sind zum einen durch die Bindung der Rechtssprache (insbesondere, aber nicht nur der Begriffe) an meist nationale Rechtsordnungen und zum anderen durch die grundlegende Sprachlichkeit des Rechts bedingt, denen in der Technik die starke materielle Gegenständlichkeit und sprachlich v.a. die tendenzielle Internationalität der Begriffe gegenübersteht. Dies hat – auch unabhängig von der in 4. zu behandelnden Frage der Übersetzung – eine ganze Reihe von Implikationen, zunächst einmal die, dass die Sprache des Rechts, anders als die der Technik, unter den Fachsprachen gewissermaßen eine Sonderstellung einnimmt, was auf der lexikalisch-terminologischen und der begrifflichen wie auf der textuellen Ebene zu Unterschieden führt.

3.1. Fachsprache des Rechts vs. Fachsprache der Technik

Mit Hoffmann (1987: 53) wird Fachsprache als „die Gesamtheit aller sprachlichen Mittel“ verstanden, „die in einem fachlich begrenzbaren Kommunikationsbereich verwendet werden, um die Verständigung zwischen den in diesem Bereich tätigen Menschen zu gewährleisten“. Was auf die Fachsprache der Technik zutrifft, bedarf jedoch in Bezug auf die Rechtssprache einer Reihe von Präzisierungen:

  1. Der fachlich begrenzbare Kommunikationsbereich ist bei der Rechtssprache nicht primär das Recht als Fach, sondern das Recht als institutioneller Rahmen.
  2. Die Verständigung und damit die Kommunikation betrifft nicht primär ein Sprechen über das Recht als Fach, sondern ein Sprechen, das gleichzeitig ein rechtlich-fachliches Handeln ist.
  3. Verständigung zwischen Fachleuten gewährleisten und damit Kommunikation ermöglichen heißt in Bezug auf die Rechtssprache primär, rechtliches Handeln der Juristen möglich machen. (Wiesmann 2004: 14)

Rechtssprache ist in erster Linie eine Institutionensprache (Busse 1999: 1382–4). Ihre Besonderheiten ergeben sich aus den Besonderheiten des institutionellen, stets an eine Rechtsordnung gebundenen rechtlich-sprachlichen Handelns der Juristen, für das die Anwendung von Rechtsvorschriften auf Lebenssachverhalte zentral ist. Diese erfordert eine doppelte rechtlich-sprachliche Abstraktion. A priori müssen rechtliche Tatbestände in den Rechtsvorschriften abstrakt versprachlicht werden, damit diese auf eine unbestimmte Vielzahl potentieller Lebenssachverhalte angewendet werden können und die gleichfalls in den Rechtsvorschriften vorgesehenen Rechtsfolgen zum Tragen kommen. Im konkreten Anwendungsfall müssen aber auch die jeweiligen Lebenssachverhalte rechtlich strukturiert versprachlicht werden, damit die konkreten mit den abstrakten Tatbeständen im Rahmen der rechtlichen Bewertung in Einklang gebracht werden können.

Auf der lexikalisch-terminologischen Ebene zeichnet sich die Rechtssprache dabei durch eine begrifflich eng an die jeweilige Rechtsordnung gebundene, nahe an der jeweiligen Gemeinsprache stehende Lexik mit einer besonderen, das rechtlich-sprachliche Handeln der Juristen ermöglichenden Semantik aus. Dadurch dass die Rechtssprache grundsätzlich die „auf den ersten Blick widersprüchlichen Ziele der konkreten Offenhaltung von (Be)deutungsspielräumen bei gleichzeitiger grundsätzlicher Festlegung innerhalb bestimmter Grenzen zugleich [verwirklicht]“ (Busse 1999: 1384), macht sie die Weiterentwicklung des Rechts und seine Anpassung an die sich in Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft, Politik, Wissenschaft und natürlich auch Technik vollziehenden Veränderungen möglich. Auf der Textebene dagegen liegen ihre Besonderheiten in der tief in der Tradition der Rechtsordnungen wurzelnden formalen Prägung, der besonderen Auswahl aus den lexikalischen und morphosyntaktischen Mitteln der Gemeinsprache, den sich aus der Institutionalität des juristischen Handlungsbereichs ergebenden Konventionen der Vertextung und den rechtsordnungsspezifischen Textsorten.

Gemeinsamkeiten mit der Sprache der Technik ergeben sich insbesondere im Rückgriff auf die lexikalischen Mittel der Gemeinsprache und in der besonderen Auswahl aus deren morphosyntaktischen Mitteln sowie in der Tatsache, dass auch die Texte der Technik Vertextungskonventionen unterliegen und sich die Inhaltsbestandteile bzw. ihre Anordnung sowie die Textgestaltungsgepflogenheiten von Kultur zu Kultur unterscheiden können. Die Unterschiede liegen, wie noch zu sehen sein wird, im Grad der Kulturspezifik, der in der Rechtssprache um ein Vielfaches höher als in der Sprache der Technik ist.

3.2. Begriffliche Unterschiede vs. begriffliche Gemeinsamkeiten

Aus der Tatsache, dass Rechtssprachen immer an meist nationale Rechtsordnungen gebunden sind, ergeben sich mehr oder weniger große Unterschiede zwischen den Rechtssprachen verschiedener Rechtordnungen, die bei der Zugehörigkeit zu unterschiedlichen Rechtskreisen (Beisp.: Civil Law- vs. Common Law-Rechtsordnungen) besonders ausgeprägt sind, aber auch mit den Rechtsgebieten zusammenhängen, die mehr oder weniger stark national geprägt sein können (Beisp.: Prozessrecht vs. Handelsrecht).

Nur in mehrsprachigen nationalen Rechtsordnungen (Beisp.: Schweizer Recht) und in supranationalen Rechtsordnungen (Beisp.: europäisches Gemeinschaftsrecht) wird ein und derselbe Begriff durch verschiedensprachige Benennungen zum Ausdruck gebracht (Beisp.: ,Verordnung‘ = ,regulation‘ = ,regolamento‘ = ,règlement‘ = usw. im europäischen Gemeinschaftsrecht), ansonsten unterscheiden sich nicht nur die Benennungen, sondern auch die Begriffe und bei gleicher Gemeinsprache als Nationalsprache kann ein und dieselbe Benennung auch auf unterschiedliche Begriffe verweisen (Beisp.: ,Besitz‘ in Deutschland ± ,Besitz‘ in Österreich).

In der Technik dagegen sind es tendenziell ein und dieselben Begriffe, die durch unterschiedliche Benennungen zum Ausdruck gebracht werden. Eine ,Tischsäge‘ beispielsweise wird im Englischen ,table saw‘ genannt und eine ,Motorhacke‘ auf Italienisch ,motozappa‘. Allerdings können sich (Schmitt 2016: 26–32) die prototypischen Vertreter des materiellen (oder auch immateriellen) Gegenstands unterscheiden, wie die Beispiele ,Hammer‘, ,Netzstecker‘ und ,Fahrzyklus‘ zeigen. So entspricht der deutsche Begriff ,Hammer‘ zwar dem englischen Begriff ,hammer‘, aber der prototypische deutsche Hammer ist der Schlosserhammer, der prototypische englische Hammer dagegen der Klauenhammer. Ähnlich verhält es sich mit den Begriffen ,Netzstecker‘ und ,power plug‘. Während Deutsche beim ,Netzstecker‘ an den IEC-Steckertyp F, den sog. Schukostecker, denken, ist ,power plug‘ für die Briten der IEC-Steckertyp G, d.h. der dreipolige Stecker mit eckigen Kontaktstiften, für die Amerikaner dagegen der IEC-Steckertyp A oder B, d.h. der zwei- bzw. dreipolige Stecker (vgl. http://www.iec.ch/worldplugs/). Und der ,Fahrzyklus‘ entspricht zwar begrifflich dem ,driving cycle‘, aber die Fahrzyklusvarianten und Messmethoden sind kulturspezifisch verschieden.

Angesichts dessen verwundert es nicht, dass Begriffssystemen, die bekanntlich mit dem Anspruch der vollständigen Wissensordnung auftreten, im Recht insofern größere Grenzen als in der Technik gesetzt sind, als das Recht in seiner Funktionsweise komplexer ist und Kompromisse zwischen a) Vollständigkeit, b) Übersichtlichkeit und c) (mit der sprachlichen Verdeutlichung der Begriffsrelationen zusammenhängender) Verständlichkeit erfordert: je vollständiger, desto unübersichtlicher, je weniger sprachlich verdeutlicht, desto weniger verständlich.

Bei der Entwicklung der technischen Terminologien gibt es jedoch, wie von Arntz (2001: 87) herausgestellt wird, nicht nur das Phänomen der Konvergenz, sondern auch das der Divergenz. „Auf der einen Seite“, so schreibt er

führt die internationale Kooperation, bei der vielfach eine Sprachgemeinschaft eine dominierende Rolle spielt, dazu, dass in großer Zahl Entlehnungen und Lehnübersetzungen in viele Sprachen Eingang finden, wobei vielfach zugleich die gesamte begriffliche Systematik der Ausgangssprache übernommen wird. Auf der anderen Seite entwickeln sich die einzelnen Sprachen – auch die technischen Fachsprachen – in nicht unerheblichem Maße weiterhin spontan nach ihren eigenen Gesetzen, was nicht nur Unterschiede auf der Benennungsebene, sondern – was viel problematischer ist – auch auf der Begriffsebene zur Folge hat.

Bei der Übersetzung führt dies, wie in 4. zu sehen sein wird, dann zu ähnlichen Problemen wie sie sich bei den Rechtsterminologien stellen, nur dass diese Probleme im Recht die Regel, in der Technik dagegen die Ausnahme sind.

Zur Benennungsseite ist hinzuzufügen, dass die Veränderungen, die sich in der Technik, aber auch im Recht vollziehen, zu einer Benennungsvielfalt führen, der durch Festsetzung Einhalt geboten werden kann. Im Recht ist dafür in erster Linie der Gesetzgeber zuständig. In der Technik sind es neben dem Gesetzgeber die Normungsinstitutionen oder andere Organisationen, die branchenspezifische Standards festlegen, wobei manche terminologische Festsetzungen durch Verbindlicherklärung der entsprechenden Normen Gesetzeskraft erlangen können. Von den Benennungen ,personenbezogene Daten‘, ,personenbezogene Informationen‘, ,Individualdaten‘, ,Individualinformationen‘, ,persönliche Daten‘ und ,private Daten‘ beispielsweise wurde im Gesetz der Benennung ,personenbezogene Daten‘ der Vorzug gegeben (Arntz, Picht und Mayer 2009: 128). Die vielfältigen Benennungen der Keil- und Federarten dagegen wurden durch Normung reduziert, wie Wüster (1931) in seiner Übersicht über die Benennungen einiger Keil- und Federarten zeigt (Tabelle 1).

Nach der Normung

Vor der Normung







Versenkter Keil






















Tabelle 1. Reduzierung der Benennungsvielfalt durch Normung in der Technik.

Dennoch gibt es auch in der Technik Bereiche, in denen die Terminologie nicht systematisch genormt ist, so die Kfz-Technik (Arntz 2001: 177). Als Gründe für die Vielzahl der Synonyme nennen Le-Hong und Schmitt (1998: 1160) u.a. die Verwendung herstellerspezifischer Ausdrucksvarianten und sprachökonomischer Simplizia und Komposita.

3.3. Sprachlichkeit vs. materielle Gegenständlichkeit

Während sich die Technik durch einen großen Anteil an materiellen Gegenständen auszeichnet, auf die sprachlich – oder auch mit nonverbalen Mitteln – Bezug genommen wird und zu denen es Begriffe gibt (Beisp.: ,Hammer‘ als Gegenstand, als Benennung und als Begriff), sind für das Recht die immateriellen Gegenstände der rechtlichen Wirklichkeit prägend, auf die gleichfalls sprachlich Bezug genommen wird, die aber, wie alle immateriellen Gegenstände, kaum von den Begriffen zu trennen sind (Tabelle 2; Wiesmann 2004: 202).


Tabelle 2. Ideelle Trennung von Sprache, Denken
und außersprachlicher Wirklichkeit bei immateriellen Gegenständen.

Was im deutschen Recht beispielsweise ,Besitz‘ im Vergleich zu ,Eigentum‘ rechtlich gesehen ist, kann immer nur sprachlich vermittelt werden, es ist in Bezug auf die Definition eine menschliche Leistung, die insbesondere durch das Erfordernis der Rechtsanwendung bedingt ist, und es lässt sich insofern immer nur gedanklich fassen und sprachlich zum Ausdruck bringen, als es nicht materiell gegeben, sondern ein Produkt der geistigen Tätigkeit des Menschen ist. Von den immateriellen Gegenständen der rechtlichen Wirklichkeit (abstrakte Tatbestände), sind die immateriellen oder materiellen Gegenstände der tatsächlichen Wirklichkeit (konkrete Tatbestände) zu unterscheiden, auf die im Rahmen der Rechtsanwendung Rechtsvorschriften angewendet werden.

3.4. Begriffs- bzw. Real- vs. Nominaldefinitionen

Abgesehen davon, dass sich immaterielle Gegenstände und die damit verbundenen Begriffe nur über Definitionen fassen und verständlich machen lassen, materielle Gegenstände dagegen auch über Bilder und andere nonverbale Mittel, die die mit den Gegenständen verbundenen Begriffe veranschaulichen, lassen sich zwischen Recht und Technik auch Unterschiede in der Definierbarkeit und in der Art der Definition feststellen.

Zu den Grenzen der Definition und der Definierbarkeit lässt sich sagen, dass es im Recht Termini gibt, die funktionsbedingt unbestimmt bleiben müssen und folglich gar nicht grundsätzlich und a priori definiert werden dürfen. Und es gibt Rechtstermini, bei denen die Definierbarkeit auf subjektive oder objektive Grenzen stößt. Erstere ergeben sich für den Rechtsanwender und den Rechtswissenschaftler aus dem Vorrang der gesetzgeberischen Definition und aus der eingeschränkten Definitionsmacht, die ihnen im Falle des Fehlens einer gesetzgeberischen Definition zusteht. Letztere sind durch den Zweck der Definition bedingt, wenn sie nur in Bezug auf eine bestimmte Regelung oder in Bezug auf einen bestimmten Einzelfall erfolgt, sie werden jedoch auch durch das Definiendum selbst gesetzt und resultieren insbesondere aus der Komplexität des Referenten, was v.a. in der Rechtswissenschaft unterschiedliche Definitionen nach sich ziehen kann (Wiesmann 2004: 39–40).

In der Technik sind Definitionen grundsätzlich Begriffsdefinitionen, in Bezug auf die insbesondere zwischen Inhalts-, Umfangs- und Bestandsdefinitionen differenziert wird. Bei der Inhaltsdefinition setzt sich das Definiens aus dem Oberbegriff und den einschränkenden Merkmalen zusammen, bei der Umfangsdefinition werden alle Unterbegriffe auf derselben Unterscheidungsstufe aufgezählt und bei der Bestandsdefinition werden alle individuellen Gegenstände genannt. Weitere terminologisch relevante Definitionsarten, die in der Technik vorkommen, sind die genetische Definition, mit der Vorgänge oder Ergebnisse von Vorgängen definiert werden, und die partitive Definition, in der die Bestandteile eines Ganzen aufgeführt sind (Arntz, Picht und Mayer 2009: 60–6).

Begriffsdefinitionen treten jedoch, ebenso wie Realdefinitionen mit dem Anspruch auf, das Wesentliche über den Gegenstand bzw. den Begriff auszusagen. Wenn aber einerseits die Komplexität des Gegenstands die Voraussetzung für dessen Definierbarkeit ist, weil sich grundlegende Eigenschaften nicht definieren lassen (Pozzi 2001: 274), so nimmt der Grad der Definierbarkeit doch offensichtlich andererseits in dem Maße ab, in dem der Grad der Komplexität des Gegenstands zunimmt, und es liegt auf der Hand, dass die Schwierigkeiten der Definition bei immateriellen Gegenständen größer als bei materiellen sind. In juristischen Auseinandersetzungen über Definitionen im Recht wird daher vielfach von einer besseren Eignung von Nominaldefinitionen ausgegangen, die einerseits Vereinbarungs- und andererseits lexikalische Definitionen sein können, Definitionen also, die den Sprachgebrauch entweder festsetzen oder aber feststellen (Wiesmann 2004: 42–7).

Definitionen sind dabei nicht nur ein Recht-, sondern auch ein Technik-Thema, was anhand der nationalen und internationalen Normung sichtbar wird (z.B. DIN 2342, ÖNORM A 2704:2015, ISO 15188:2001). Auch gibt es zahlreiche Terminologieportale mit genormter Technik-Terminologie (z.B. DIN-TERM, DKE-IEV, Termium Plus)[1], was ebenfalls die Bedeutung der Definition technischer Begriffe herausstreicht.

3.5. Unterschiede in der Kulturspezifik von Texten, Inhaltsbausteinen, Textgestaltungsgepflogenheiten und Textsortenkonventionen

Im Recht ist es, v.a. in den stark national geprägten Rechtsgebieten, keine Seltenheit, dass Texte in einer Rechtskultur vorhanden sind, in der anderen dagegen nicht. So gibt es beispielsweise von den das Ermittlungs- und das Zwischenverfahren des italienischen Strafprozesses kennzeichnenden neun Textsorten nur drei, die eine Entsprechung in den vergleichbaren Abschnitten des deutschen Strafprozesses haben:

1) la richiesta di rinvio a giudizio che ha il suo ,corrispondente’ nell’Anklageschrift; 2) il decreto penale di condanna, il cui ,omologo‘ tedesco è lo Strafbefehl; 3) la citazione di testi, cui corrisponde la Ladung von Zeugen. (Vecchione 2011: 85; Hervorhebung im Original)

Im italienischen Zivilprozess entspricht der ,atto di citazione‘ zwar in wesentlichen Teilen der deutschen ,Klageschrift‘, enthält aber auch die ,Ladung‘, die im deutschen Recht eine eigene Textsorte darstellt (Wiesmann 1999).

Darüber hinaus kann es im Recht – in weitaus geringerem Maße aber auch in der Technik – Unterschiede in den Inhaltsbestandteilen bzw. in ihrer Anordnung geben, die sprachliche Unterschiede zur Folge haben können. In deutschen und in österreichischen höchstrichterlichen Urteilen steht der Urteilsspruch vor der Begründung, in italienischen verhält es sich genau umgekehrt (Burchini 2014: 60), was für die Begründung bedeutet, dass sie in Deutschland und Österreich durch kausale Relationen, in Italien durch konsekutive Relationen geprägt ist. Die Unterschiede zwischen amerikanischen und deutschen Bedienungsanleitungen bestehen demgegenüber darin, dass in ersteren aufgrund der vergleichsweise stärkeren Verbreitung von Automatikgetrieben die Anweisungen dazu an erster Stelle stehen, in letzteren dagegen die zum Schaltgetriebe (Schmitt 1999: 255).

Neben der sprachlichen können sich auch die graphische Gestaltung von Texten und in der Technik darüber hinaus der Einsatz von nonverbalen Mitteln unterscheiden.[2] Dies gilt einerseits z.B. für die – im Deutschen weniger übliche – Verwendung von Versalien in englischen Sicherheitshinweisen (Reinart 2009: 84) und die in Europa und den USA unterschiedlichen Projektionsarten von technischen Zeichnungen (Reinart 2009: 110–1), andererseits z.B. für die Gliederungskonventionen in deutschen im Vergleich zu italienischen Gesetzestexten (Tabelle 3).

Deutsche Gesetzestexte

Italienische Gesetzestexte[3]


Libro (Buch)


titolo (Titel)


capo (Abschnitt)

ggf. Untertitel

ggf. sezione (Teil)

ggf. Kapitel

ggf. § (§)


articolo (Artikel)

Tabelle 3. Gliederungskonventionen in deutschen und italienischen Gesetzestexten.

Die Unterschiede in den Textsortenkonventionen sind im Recht infolge der bereits genannten textuellen Unterschiede wesentlich deutlicher ausgeprägt als in der Technik (Beisp.: ,atto di citazione‘ vs. ,Klageschrift‘ und ,Ladung‘), aber auch dort zu finden. Als Beispiel kann die Formulierung von Handlungsanweisungen in englischen, deutschen und russischen Werkstatthandbüchern dienen:

Während dem Imperativ im Englischen die zentrale Rolle bei der Formulierung von Anweisungen zukommt, wird er im Deutschen und Russischen überhaupt nicht verwendet. An seine Stelle treten meist Infinitivkonstruktionen im Deutschen und deontische Hinweise, also Äußerungsformen, die Notwendigkeiten oder für den Adressaten bestehende Verpflichtungen zum Ausdruck bringen (Hindelang 1978: 157) im Russischen. Die Präferenzen für bestimmte sprachliche Muster sind im Russischen allerdings weit weniger deutlich als im Englischen und Deutschen. (Reinart 2009: 219)

Anders als in Werkstatthandbüchern verhält es sich im Deutschen in Bedienungsanleitungen, wo Handlungsanweisungen entweder durch Infinitivkonstruktionen oder aber durch den Imperativ zum Ausdruck gebracht werden.

Insgesamt betrachtet ist der Grad der Kulturspezifik in Rechtstexten wesentlich höher als in technischen Texten. Am deutlichsten manifestiert sich dies darin, dass Textsorten einer Rechtskultur in der anderen völlig fehlen können und dass in stark national geprägten Rechtsgebieten wie dem Prozessrecht nur sehr partielle Übereinstimmungen zwischen den Textsorten zweier unterschiedlicher Rechtskulturen bestehen. Bei den technischen Texten können sich zwar kulturspezifische Unterschiede in den Inhaltsbestandteilen bzw. ihrer Anordnung ergeben, davon abgesehen betrifft die Kulturspezifik jedoch eher die Ebene der Gestaltung und der Textsortenkonventionen.

4. Kulturspezifik und Übersetzung

Jede Übersetzung ist durch die jeweilige Übersetzungssituation determiniert, d.h. durch die Gesamtheit der Faktoren, die auf sie im konkreten Fall einen Einfluss haben. Zu den für jede Übersetzung, und so auch für die Übersetzung von technischen Texten, maßgeblichen Faktoren Text, Autor, Empfänger und Zweck kommen bei der Rechtsübersetzung noch die involvierten Rechtsordnungen, das anwendbare Recht und der rechtliche Status der Übersetzung (Abbildung 1; Wiesmann 2004: 83). Zu beachten ist dabei, dass Rechtstexte auch Teil technischer Texte sein können, man denke hier nur an Passagen über Gewährleistung und Garantie.


Abbildung 1. Einflussfaktoren der Rechtsübersetzung.

Maßgeblich kommt es bei der Rechtsübersetzung v.a. darauf an, ob die Übersetzung für einen Empfänger aus derselben nationalen (Beisp.: Schweizer Recht) oder supranationalen Rechtsordnung (Beisp.: europäisches Gemeinschaftsrecht) oder aber (wie beispielsweise bei der Übersetzung eines an die italienische Rechtsordnung gebundenen Textes für einen bundesdeutschen Juristen) für einen Empfänger aus einer anderen Rechtsordnung anzufertigen ist. Ist nur eine (nationale oder supranationale) Rechtsordnung involviert, wird die Übersetzung dadurch erleichtert, dass es für ein und denselben Begriff verschiedensprachige Benennungen gibt (vgl. 3.2.) und dass auch Entsprechungen auf der textuellen Ebene bestehen. Sind die involvierten Rechtsordnungen hingegen zwei, stellt sich bei den Begriffen das Problem der bestenfalls approximativen Äquivalenz (de Groot 1999: 206), während die Texte, ihre Inhaltsbausteine, ihre Gestaltung sowie die Textsortenkonventionen (vgl. 3.5.) einen hohen Grad an Kulturspezifik aufweisen.

Bei der Involvierung zweier Rechtsordnungen sind begriffliche Unterschiede im Recht die Regel (Abbildung 2; Arntz 1995: 140–1).


Abbildung 2. Unterschiede in der Definition von ,Verbrechen‘ und ,Vergehen‘ im Vergleich zu ,delitto‘ und ,contravvenzione‘ bei scheinbar deckungsgleicher Unterteilung von ,Straftat‘ und ,reato‘.

Im Fall von unterschiedlichen Einteilungen der Welt (Abbildung 3; Arntz 2010: 84) oder der anderen Entwicklung in einer Kultur im Vergleich zu einer anderen (terminologische Lücke) können begriffliche Unterschiede aber auch in der Technik gegeben sein.


Abbildung 3. ,Souder‘ und seine deutschen und englischen Entsprechungen.

,Schweißen‘ unterscheidet sich von ,löten‘ im Wesentlichen dadurch, dass die Verbindung metallischer Werkstoffe beim Löten immer mithilfe eines geschmolzenen Zusatzmetalls erfolgt, beim Schweißen dagegen Wärme und/oder Kraft mit oder ohne Schweißzusatz angewendet werden. Während das Französische genau diese Unterscheidung nicht trifft, wird im Englischen beim Löten noch weiter zwischen ,brazing‘ (Hartlöten) und ,soldering‘ (Weichlöten) unterschieden, wohingegen ,welding‘ weitgehend dem Schweißen entspricht (Arntz 2010: 84).

Bei der Übersetzung können diese begrifflichen Unterschiede entweder durch die Ermittlung des Gemeinten überwunden werden oder aber den Einsatz besonderer verfremdender Übersetzungsverfahren erfordern, insbesondere die der Entlehnung, der Umschreibung und der Neologismusbildung.

Während aber beispielsweise ,souder‘ immer dann mit ,schweißen‘ übersetzt werden kann, wenn Letzteres und nicht ,löten‘ oder beides gemeint ist, muss bei der Übersetzung von ,delitto‘ mit ,Verbrechen‘ auch danach gefragt werden, ob die konkret gemeinten Straftatbestände in der Ausgangs- und der Zielrechtsordnung in ihrer Einordnung zu einer gegebenen Zeit vergleichbar sind. Bis zu seiner Abschaffung im Januar 2016 war beispielsweise ,ingiuria‘ ein Straftatbestand, der in Italien als ,delitto‘ galt. Sein deutsches Pendant, die ,Beleidigung‘, dagegen, ist nach wie vor ein Straftatbestand, fällt aber unter ,Vergehen‘ und nicht unter ,Verbrechen‘. Wenn also in einem vor Januar 2016 entstandenen italienischen Text von dem ,delitto dell’ingiuria‘ die Rede war, konnten die betreffenden Termini nicht so ohne Weiteres mit ,Verbrechen der Beleidung‘ ins Deutsche übersetzt werden und Gleiches ist sowohl vor als auch nach Januar 2016 für die Übersetzung von ,Vergehen der Beleidigung‘ mit ,contravvenzione dell’ingiuria‘ ins Italienische der Fall. Zumindest war bzw. ist bei Gleichsetzung in der Übersetzung eine Erklärung der rechtlichen Unterschiede erforderlich.

Die Erklärung kann ansonsten auch zusätzlich zu den Verfahren der Entlehnung und der Neologismusbildung angebracht sein, die im Recht, neben dem eine Erklärung implizierenden Verfahren der Umschreibung, v.a. dann die Regel sind, wenn einem Begriff der Ausgangskultur in der Zielkultur kein oder ein mit ihm begrifflich nicht ausreichend übereinstimmender Begriff gegenübersteht und die Übersetzungsmethode aufgrund der spezifischen Übersetzungssituation tendenziell die der Verfremdung ist. Bei der Involvierung zweier Rechtsordnungen ist Letzteres fast immer der Fall, da hier ein inländischer Text, der rechtlich der einzig maßgebliche ist und bleibt, einem ausländischen Empfänger durch die Übersetzung in Inhalt, Form, Intention und Wirkung vermittelt werden soll. Eine Ausnahme bildet lediglich der seltene Fall der Anwendung ziel- statt ausgangskulturellen Rechts bei der Übersetzung von Verträgen, der eine tendenziell einbürgernde Übersetzung erfordert (Wiesmann 2012: 204–7).

Ein Beispiel für die Entlehnung ist die Beibehaltung des italienischen Terminus ,Decreto Legislativo‘ im deutschen Text, ein Beispiel für die Umschreibung die Wiedergabe mit ,aufgrund einer parlamentarischen Ermächtigungsnorm ergangener Rechtsakt der Regierung‘, ein Beispiel für die Neologismusbildung schließlich die Übersetzung mit ,Gesetzesverordnung‘. Welches Verfahren bei Nicht- oder nicht ausreichender Teiläquivalenz zu wählen ist, hängt insbesondere von Faktoren wie Wissensvoraussetzungen des Empfängers, Ko- und Kontext ab. Ob eine ausreichende Teiläquivalenz oder sogar eine approximative Äquivalenz vorliegt, muss nach Šarčević (1997: 242–7) anhand von drei Kriterien überprüft werden, nämlich begriffliche Einordnung (structure/classification), Anwendungsbereich (scope of application) und Rechtsfolgen (legal effects). Eine wichtige Rolle spielen in diesem Zusammenhang Definitionen (vgl. 3.4.). Diese sind allerdings einerseits nicht zu jedem Terminus oder Begriff vorhanden. Andererseits sind sie nicht immer so verfasst, dass sie – man denke hier an die Einträge zu unbestimmten Rechtsbegriffen in Rechtsenzyklopädien – nicht nur rechtlichen, sondern auch übersetzerischen Anforderungen genügen. Ist der Zugang zu rechtlichen Begriffen schon dadurch erschwert, dass sie aufgrund des immateriellen Charakters der meisten Gegenstände des Rechts (vgl. 3.3.) nur ausnahmsweise durch eigene Anschauung oder Bilder erfasst werden können, so kommt als zusätzliches Erschwernis das Fehlen von Definitionen oder das Vorhandensein von für die Übersetzung nicht ausreichenden Definitionen hinzu.

Nicht nur begriffliche Unterschiede, sondern auch begriffliche Gemeinsamkeiten, die in der Technik die Regel sind, können bei der Übersetzung eine Herausforderung darstellen, nämlich dann, wenn sich die Kulturspezifik in der Benennungsbildung manifestiert. Dies ist, wie von Reinart (2009: 128–37) herausgearbeitet wird, in der Technik bei metaphorischen Bildungen wie ,Lagerstern‘ im Vergleich zu ,bearing spider‘ sowie bei onymischen Wortbestandteilen und Bildungsdurchsichtigkeit wie ,Argand diagram‘ im Vergleich zu ,Gaußsche Zahlenebene‘ und ,Allen screw‘ im Vergleich zu ,Innensechskantschraube‘ der Fall.

Wie der Umgang mit der Kulturspezifik von Begriffen, so hängt auch der Umgang mit der Kulturspezifik von Texten von der jeweiligen Übersetzungssituation und der sich daraus ergebenden Übersetzungsmethode ab. Bei der Einbürgerung, die in der Technik die Regel und im Recht bei Involvierung zweier Rechtsordnungen zumindest als vorrangige Übersetzungsmethode die Ausnahme ist, findet im Zuge der Übersetzung eine zielkulturelle Anpassung statt. Diese kann in der Technik auch die Inhaltsbestandteile bzw. ihre Anordnung betreffen. Ausgehend davon, dass in den USA Automatikgetriebe üblicher sind als in Deutschland, empfiehlt sich bei der Übersetzung von Bedienungsanleitungen beispielsweise eine kulturspezifische Umstellung der Anweisungen betreffend die Betätigung der entsprechenden Hebel (Schmitt 1999: 255):

Apply the parking brake firmly. Shift the automatic transaxle to Park (or manual transaxle to Neutral).

Handbremse fest anziehen. Schalthebel in Leerlaufstellung bringen (bei Automatikgetriebe Wählhebel in Stellung P bringen).

Im Recht ist es dagegen undenkbar, die Reihenfolge von Urteilsspruch und Urteilsbegründung in deutschen bzw. österreichischen höchstrichterlichen Urteilen bei der Übersetzung ins Italienische zwecks zielkultureller Anpassung zu vertauschen. Die Übersetzungsmethode ist bei der Involvierung zweier Rechtsordnungen vorrangig die Verfremdung, d.h. zielkulturelle Anpassungen betreffen allenfalls die Mikro- und nicht die Makroebene. Nur wenn die Übersetzung zwischen den Sprachen einer einzigen Rechtsordnung erfolgt, können sich stärker voneinander abweichende zweisprachige Textmuster, wie Wiesmann (2004: 126) unter Bezugnahme auf Mayer (1999: 68) mit Blick auf Südtiroler zivilprozessrechtliche Formularbuchtexte feststellt, konventionell verfestigen. Da Ausgangs- und Zielkultur hier allerdings zusammenfallen, kann allenfalls von einer Anpassung an Sprachtraditionen die Rede sein.

Die Involvierung einer einzigen Rechtsordnung stellt bei der Übersetzung von Rechtstexten aber nicht nur eine Erleichterung dar. Haben die verschiedenen Rechtssprachen einer Rechtsordnung, wie beispielsweise in der Schweiz, denselben sprachlichen Rang und die in diesen Sprachen verfassten Texte denselben rechtlichen Status, so ergibt sich bei Texten mit normativer Regelungsfunktion das Erfordernis, dass die Rechtstexte aller beteiligten Sprachen eine einheitliche Auslegung und Anwendung ermöglichen sollen. In Bezug auf die mehrsprachigen normativen Texte des europäischen Gemeinschaftsrechts und deren Auslegung durch den Europäischen Gerichtshof ergeben sich daraus Probleme, die erstmals von Braselmann (1992) auf den Punkt gebracht wurden.

Die sich hier manifestierenden Besonderheiten der Rechtssprache als Fachsprache (vgl. 3.1.) führen wieder zum höheren Grad der Kulturspezifik des Rechts, seiner Sprache und seiner Texte im Vergleich zur Technik, ihrer Sprache und ihrer Texte zurück. Dieser ergibt sich insbesondere daraus, dass Recht und seine Kultur meist auf mit Nationalstaaten zusammenfallende geographische Räume beschränkt sind, während Technik bei aller soziokulturellen Einbindung nur bedingt an Nationen gebunden ist und Technikkultur im Zeitalter der Globalisierung eine schnellere Angleichung erfährt.

5. Schlussbemerkung

Die unterschiedliche Kulturspezifik von Recht und Technik manifestiert sich in den zu übersetzenden Texten nicht nur auf der Ebene der lexikalischen Einheiten, der makrostrukturellen und der semiotischen Konventionen (Kalverkämper 2004: 56), in der die Kulturalität im Allgemeinen zum Ausdruck kommt. Sie zeigt sich vielmehr auch darin, dass sich die Kommunikation im Recht im Vergleich zur Kommunikation in der Technik aufgrund der Spezifik des Kommunikationsrahmens kulturabhängig so unterschiedlich konkretisieren kann, dass Textsorten als konventionalisierte Ausdrucksformen dieser Kommunikation in einer Kultur vorhanden sind, in der anderen dagegen fehlen. Während der Umgang mit der Kulturspezifik maßgeblich von der Übersetzungssituation abhängt, hilft das Wissen um die in Recht und Technik je anderen Kommunikationsformen, hinter denen spezifische fachliche Denkmuster und Handlungsformen stehen, dem Übersetzer, die Texte in ihrer kulturellen Prägung und ihrer kulturellen Verschiedenheit zu begreifen und damit die Grundlage für eine der Übersetzungssituation angemessene Übersetzung zu schaffen.


Für die Durchsicht des Manuskripts, die Nennung einschlägiger Quellen und die wertvollen Hinweise auf Aspekte der technikbezogenen Kulturspezifik auf der terminologischen, der definitorischen und der textuellen Ebene bedanke ich mich bei Herrn FH-Prof. Mag. Dr. Georg Löckinger, Professor im Bachelorstudiengang Produktdesign und Technische Kommunikation an der Fachhochschule Oberösterreich. Der Beitrag basiert auf einem Vortrag, den ich dort am 11.05.2016 im Rahmen des Erasmus-Austauschprogramms mit dem Masterstudiengang Specialised Translation an der Universität Bologna gehalten habe.


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[1] Eine Übersicht über die verschiedenen Datenbanken bietet die Webseite Terminologiedatenbanken des Bachelorstudiengangs Produktdesign und Technische Kommunikation der Fachhochschule Oberösterreich (goo.gl/yzWcY0).

[2] Während nonverbale Mittel (v.a. Bilder und audiovisuelle Materialien) in der Technik generell eine wichtige Rolle spielen (Arntz 2001: 78–9), erlangen sie im Recht in dem Maße Bedeutung, in dem der Gegenstand der rechtlichen Regelung ein technischer ist (vgl. z.B. die österreichische Verordnung zur Sicherheits- und Gesundheitsschutzkennzeichnung; goo.gl/Zg3CYU).

[3] Die deutschen Übersetzungen in Klammern, die in der für den Gebrauch in Deutschland bestimmten Übersetzung von Patti (2011) übernommen wurden, stammen aus der für den Gebrauch in Südtirol bestimmten Übersetzung von Bauer et al. (Italienisches Zivilgesetzbuch. Codice Civile 2010).

About the author(s)

Eva Wiesmann is Associate professor in specialised translation from Italian into German at the Dept of Interpreting and Translation of the university of Bologna (Forlì campus). She holds a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures (Italian) from the University of Mainz, Faculty for Translation Studies, Linguistics and Cultural Studies. Her doctoral dissertation (entitled Rechtsübersetzung und Hilfsmittel zur Translation. Wissenschaftliche Grundlagen und computergestützte Umsetzung eines lexikographischen Konzepts) was published by Narr in 2004 and focused on legal translation and resources of legal translators. Her other research areas include legal language, notably notarial language, didactics of specialised translation, terminography and lexicography. Eva Wiesmann also works als a freelance legal translator and lexicographer.

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©inTRAlinea & Eva Wiesmann (2018).
"Kulturspezifik in Recht und Technik und Konsequenzen für die Übersetzung", inTRAlinea Vol. 20.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2286

Modeling van Dijk’s Ideological Square in Translation Studies:

Investigating Manipulation in Political Discourse Translation

By Ali Jalalian Daghigh, Mohammad Saleh Sanatifar, Rokiah Awang (Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia)

Abstract & Keywords


Political opinion articles as an ideologically-loaded type of political discourse are largely produced to serve the society to which they belong. When translated, they could be manipulated to meet the socio-political needs of the target society. Translation Studies scholars have adopted a variety of critical approaches and methodologies to account for such manipulations, inspired by the principles of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and under the critical translation movement. Though van Dijk’s sociocognitive notion of CDA is widely employed, his ideological square has rarely been looked into as an analytical framework. The present paper aims to investigate how van Dijk’s ideological square can be used to explain manipulation, and accordingly, be proposed as a model. To achieve this objective, a collection of 31 English opinion articles, along with their corresponding Persian translations, are analyzed. The analysis of the articles confirms the adequacy of van Dijk’s ideological square to account for manipulation in (political) discourse translation at a sociocognitive level. At the textual level, however, some modifications are suggested.

Keywords: Critical Discourse Analysis, CDA, ideological square, manipulation, news translation, political discourse, opinion articles

©inTRAlinea & Ali Jalalian Daghigh, Mohammad Saleh Sanatifar, Rokiah Awang (2018).
"Modeling van Dijk’s Ideological Square in Translation Studies: Investigating Manipulation in Political Discourse Translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 20.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2290

1 Introduction

The influence of political factors and, more specifically, ideology, has widely attracted the attention of scholars researching (news) translation in situations of conflict (among them Ku and Nakamura 2005; Orengo 2005; Holland 2006; Darwish 2006; Baker 2006; 2010a; b; Kang 2007; Valdeón 2007; 2008; Munday 2007; Chen 2009; Loupaki 2010; Gumul 2010; Alhejin 2012). Regardless of their methodology, all the scholars have unanimously agreed that the political context in which the target text (TT) is produced leads the trans-editor(s)[1] to manipulate the TT.

Manipulation is a term originally concerned with literary translation and was first used by the scholars of the Manipulation School (e.g., Hermans 1985 and Lefevere 1992).

Generally, there are two views on manipulation in journalistic/political translation. Some scholars consider it as translation acts by means of which linguistic and cultural barriers are transcended and communication is facilitated (e.g., Schäffner 2005; Bassnett 2005; Bielsa and Bassnett 2009). However, in the political context of translation, manipulation is generally perceived as political/ideological manipulation, because political translation implies a degree of manipulation of the source text (ST) for a certain purpose, to bring the target text in line with a model and a notion of correctness, and in so doing, ensures socio-political acceptance. Therefore, manipulation has also been considered a filter through which a specific representation of ST is promoted (e.g., Orengo 2005; Tsai 2005; Kuo and Nakamura 2005; Holland 2006; Darwish 2006; Kang 2007; Valdeón 2007; Gumul 2010; Loupaki 2010). The current study considers manipulation from the latter perspective.

The question is, which analytical framework can serve to investigate manipulation in translation from this perspective? We believe that Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) can be the answer. However, very few studies (for example, Kwong Leung 2006; Ietcu-Fairclough 2008; Schäffner 2004, 2012; Alhejin 2012) have made an attempt to link translation studies and CDA either theoretically or methodologically. This could be the reason why Schäffner (2004; 2012) refers to the lack of, and necessity for, a ‘critical translation analysis’ subfield within Translation Studies.

In this article, van Dijk’s ideological square, as a component of his sociocognitive approach to CDA, is employed as the analytical framework to investigate manipulation in the translation of political news opinion articles. First, the appropriateness of the framework will be argued. Then, we will show how the framework links with Translation Studies and serves as a model for investigating manipulation in political discourse translation through the analysis of 31 Persian translations of English opinion articles. 

2 CDA and political discourse translation

Since the ideological turn in Translation Studies, ideological and political factors have drawn the attention of translation scholars to the study of translation context. Schäffner (2004; 2010a; 2012), Kwong Leung (2006) and Ietcu-Fairclough (2008) argue that translation is no longer concerned with the traditional notion of equivalence, but has turned towards the socio-cultural and political context of the translation in which the translators work. They call on researchers to use the concepts of CDA in their studies, as CDA and TS have a common ground. That is, CDA and TS share the idea that textual features should not be interpreted without considering the ideological context of text production and reception. Ietcu-Fairclough (2008) points out that translators work under certain socio-political conventions and restrictions which serve the wider values and ideologies of power holders in society. Thus, the strategies employed by translators are aimed at the production of a text in line with set values. This is even more significant when it comes to political discourse translation, in general, and opinion articles, in particular.  Political opinion articles, as opposed to hard news articles, are believed to be significantly loaded with ideologies (Bell 1991; van Dijk 1995). As van Dijk (1995: 15) argues, opinion articles are ‘rather institutional than personal, shared among several editors and other social groups they belong to’. That is, they are consistent with the beliefs and values of the dominant socio-political frameworks of the institutions themselves and the wider society to which they belong (Hodge and Kress, 1993).  Schäffner (2012) argues that the translational activities which mediate such discursive events, as editorials of newspapers and news websites, are much more complex than translation proper. The discursive events are recontextualized and mediated by translators or, in her words, ‘agents’ or ‘political actors’ (Schäffner 2012: 104), in accordance with the constraints and conventions of the news agency. Likewise, Vuorinen (1995) and Darwish (2010) maintain that translation in news agencies is influenced by institutional policies and ideologies to justify and control actions and their outcomes. Therefore, translators are not the only people who decide on the translation; their work is edited by others such as senior translators, editors and the chief editor (Hursti 2001; Bielsa 2010).

Over the past few years, translation scholars have attempted to apply CDA in their studies to look at the influence of such conditions on (news) translation (e.g., Júnior 2004; Kuo and Nakamura 2005; Tsai 2005; Orengo 2005; Holland 2006; Munday 2007; Kang 2007; Valdeón 2007; 2008; Chen 2009; Al-Hejin 2012). It should be noted that these studies are flawed for two reasons. First, studies such as Júnior (2004), Tsai (2005), Darwish (2006), Chen (2009) are limited to the investigation of manipulation on a lexical level.  Second, others are case studies which analyse a single article (e.g., Darwish 2006; Holland 2006; Munday 2007; Alhejin 2012; Jalalian Daghigh and Awang 2014); thus, they do not lead to broader conclusions about, and a better understanding of, ideological manipulation in political discourse translation due to the limited breadth of their data. Therefore, there is a need for a study with a broader set of data which goes beyond mere lexical analysis.

The portrayal of the conflicts between Iran and the Western world have also been among the points of interest in investigating the influence of ideology on the news language.  Khanjan et al. (2013) draw on van Dijk’s sociocognitive approach to investigate certain ideological aspects of news headlining in an English-Persian transla­tion context. They sug­gest that the polarization of Us and Them is influenced by the target news producers’ (dis)approval of the ideological content of the source headlines and is represented through preserving, manipulating or excluding original head­lines in the target news stories. They argue that the translation strategies used are realized through the purposeful application of linguistic expressions (both at lexical and grammatical level) or non-linguistic elements (such as images, photos, and graphic drawings). Jalalian Daghigh (2015), drawing on van Dijk’s approach to CDA, studies the manipulation procedures involved in news translation. Sanatifar and Jalalian Daghigh (2018), investigate, from a socionarrative perspective, how the Iranian media, through translation, directed the public perception of the social and political realities about its nuclear program through reframing as it was already framed in the Western media. Unlike Khanjan et al. (2013), Jalalian (2015), and Sanatifar and Jalalian Daghigh (2018), other researchers have conducted monolingual studies by comparing the news texts produced by different English language presses. For example, Atai and Mozaheb (2013) study the portrayal of Iran’s nuclear program in some British news media by focusing on editorials in the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Times, the Independent and BBC. Shojaei, Youssefi, and Hosseini (2013) examine the portrayal of three conflicting points between Iran, the West, and the USA by looking at some British and American newspapers such as Independent, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. Drawing on van Dijk’s ideological square, they conclude that the Western media were biased, as they had attempted to represent Iran and its allies negatively, and the West positively.

Other studies have compared Western news texts in English with Iranian-Persian texts covering the same topic. Applying Fairclough’s CDA model and guided by van Dijk’s ideological square, Behnam and Moshtaghi Zenous (2008) compare the coverage of the Iranian nuclear program in two Iranian newspapers, i.e., Iran Daily and Kayhan, as well as in two British newspapers, i.e., The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian. The results of their study show that the British media delegitimized the Iranian nuclear program, whereas the Iranian media portrayed it positively. Their study highlights a few points. First, they have gone beyond mere analysis of lexical choices by taking transitivity procedures, namely nominalization, and passivization, into account. Second, by looking at the domestic media, which support government policies, and by comparing it with the Western media, they shed light on socio-political factors, which based on CDA, explain different uses of language by the media. Nevertheless, without denying the merit of these studies, it is noticeable that by merely looking at parallel texts produced in two different contexts, it is not possible to uncover manipulations carried out by news trans-editors.

3 Method

3.1 van Dijk’s CDA and ideological square

Van Dijk’s (1993a; 2001; 2005) sociocognitive approach to CDA consists of three components: society, cognition, and discourse. At the macro level is the society which is concerned with power relationships at the level of local interlocutors and global societal structures. In his approach, social power is understood as a means of controlling the mind and action of groups and people. At the micro level is discourse, which refers to various discourse structures (language) encapsulating ideologies. The main point that makes van Dijk’s framework different from Wodak’s historical (2001) and Fairclough’s socio-cultural notions of CDA (2001) is the mediating layer of cognition (ideology), which, as illustrated in Figure 1, lies between society and discourse. Van Dijk (1998) points out that the meaning of the text is embedded in the discourse by language producers, and as such, it exists and is represented in their minds. Therefore, the cognitive properties of participants’ discourse, as part of the contextual analysis, is emphasized in his framework. Accordingly, van Dijk (1993b; 2002) conceptualizes ‘ideological square’ as a framework through which discourse comprehension and production can be analyzed and linked to the context (society).  


Figure 1 The researchers’ illustration of van Dijk’s (1998) model

In the current study, van Dijk’s (1998) ideological square (cognition) is employed as the main analytical framework. He characterizes it as a polarization of Us and Them through which the positive and negative features of in-group (Us) and out-group (Them) are (de)emphasized by applying 24 discourse structures. That is, the polarization between Us and Them is manifested via all linguistic dimensions of a text, which are interpreted as one of the following overall strategies:

a) Positive-Self Representation: representing the in-groups’ members (Us) positively, via discourse, by de-emphasizing their negative and emphasizing their positive features;
b) Negative-Other Representation: representing the out-groups’ members (Them) negatively, via discourse, by de-emphasizing their positive and emphasizing their negative features.

Besides the 24 discourse structures identified by van Dijk (1998), ideology may be represented in the text via syntactic features of language as well. Since van Dijk has not included these features in his framework, the linguistic toolkits which are set forth by Hodge and Kress (1993), and Fowler (1991) and Fairclough (1991), i.e., passivation, nominalization, modality, and theme/rheme change, are employed in this study as well. In the following, a background of Iranian media policies and what forms the ideological Us and Them in the country is provided.

3.2 Us and Them in Iran

In 1979, with the Islamic revolution in Iran, a referendum was held and the Islamic Republic of Iran as the socio-political system of the country was officially recognized. Accordingly, in the same year, a new constitution was ratified to adjust the rules and norms to the newly-established system.  Since then, the foreign policy of Iran has been influenced by its conflicts with the USA, the UK, and Israel. As for the USA, the American government has set a long-term policy to change the regime of Iran (Laker 2008). In addition, having the support of the European powers, specifically the UK, the USA has attempted to stop the country from being a nuclear power in the region (Hastedt 2017). Between 2013 to 2014, the conflict between Iran and the "EU 3 + 3"[2] over Iran’s nuclear program increased to its highest level. Concerning Israel, it is argued by the Iranian government that the Israeli occupation of Palestine must end as it has imposed a heavy humanitarian burden on the Palestinian people (Mearsheimer & Walt 2006). The foreign policy of Iran is also reflected in its constitution. On the one hand, Article 56 of Chapter 8 of the Iranian constitution categorizes a number of countries, mainly the U.S.A and Israel, as hostile governments. On the other hand, countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, due to the political interest they share with Iran, fall within the scope of ‘ally governments’. In Article 56, the role of the media towards the first category has been stated as ‘[…] to disclose the hostile nature and position of these governments; the hegemonic policies, and the economic and military polarizations which contribute to these policies […]’ (our translation).  These points have also been stressed in Iranian media law. Chapter 4 of the law bans several cases, among which are those that noticeably

1) promote ideas that negatively affect the Islamic Republic of Iran;
2) insult the officials of the country, specifically the Supreme Leader; and
3) violate political, social, economic, and cultural policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Chapter 2 of the law states the missions of the media. Among the missions described in this chapter are those that

1) promote the goals stated in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran;
2)disclose the hostile nature and position of the Western governments, including their hegemonic policies; and
3) promote the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran worldwide.

3.3 The corpus and procedure

The data collection began by looking at the target text published on the Iranian news website Diplomacy-e-Irani (Iranian Diplomacy). A total of 31 Persian news opinion articles, which were all translated from English into Persian, were obtained from the archive of the news website within a period of 3 months, dated from April 1, 2013, to June 30, 2013. All the articles discuss the controversies between Iran and the West over Iran’s nuclear program. This period was preferred for data collection because the researchers believe that conflicts and tensions between the Iranian government and the Western powers over Iran’s nuclear activities had reached its highest level up to that time. In fact, more and more ideologically-loaded articles were then being published. Then, their corresponding English source texts were obtained from 18 news agencies and websites including Reuters, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Times, Aljazeera, Los Angeles Times, The Telegraph, Foreign Policy, Haaretz, The National Interest, The Christian Science Monitor, Project Syndicate, The Diplomat, Inter Press Service, Bloomberg View, Policy.Mic, Executive Magazine, and The Atlantic.

To carry out the analysis, initially, the English opinion articles (ST) are analyzed based on van Dijk’s (1998) ideological square framework. After identifying the ideological significance of the source texts (see Figure 2), through comparing the source (ST) and target text (TT), the ideological mismatches are described, categorized and evaluated.

 4 Data Analysis

Analysis of the source text per se suggests that the ST representations can be categorized into four major patterns as follows:

  1. the language of the ST represents Iran and its allies (in-group) negatively; hereafter called undesirable negative representation (UNR)
  2. the language of the ST represents Iran and its allies (in-group) positively; hereafter called desirable positive representation (DPR)
  3. the language of the ST represents mainly Westerns countries and Israel (out-groups) negatively; hereafter called desirable negative representation (DNR)
  4. the language of the ST represents mainly Westerns countries and Israel (out-groups) positively; hereafter called undesirable positive representation (UPR)

In the following section, the results obtained from comparing the ST and the TT are presented. The given examples reflect the manipulation patterns in Persian translation of the opinion articles which are based on various procedures. Since the inclusion of all procedures falls beyond the scope of the study, the complete list of the procedures is separately provided in Appendix A (Jalalian 2015)

a) Manipulation of UNR in TT

ST1: […] the P5+1 must demonstrate the same type of steadfastness that guardians of the Islamic Republic have shown. The best means of disarming Iran is to insist on a simple and basic redline […] (Takeyh, 2013.)  

TT1 (Eftekhari 2013a):  

گروه 1+5 برای مذاکره با ایران باید همان میزان پایمردی را از خود نشان دهد که ایرانی ها در این سالها در
مواجهه با غرب خرج کردند. بهترین راه برای متوقف کردن برنامه های هسته ای ایران تعیین یک خط قرمز مشخص است.

TRL:goruhe 5+1 barāye mozākere bā irān bāyad hamānmizān pāymardi rā azxodneŝāndahad ke irāniha dar in sālhā dar movājehe bā qarb xarj kardand behtarin rāh barāye motevaqef kardan barnāmehāye hastei irān taeine yek xate qermez mosŝaxas ast

BT (of TT1): the group 5+1 to negotiate with Iran should demonstrate the same fortitude that Iranians within these years have spent in facing the West. The best way to stop Iran’s nuclear program is to determine a red line.

The above statement is taken from an opinion article in which the author criticizes Iran’s nuclear program while proposing what should be done (norm expression) to make a deal with Iran. The expressions ‘guardians of the Islamic Republic’ and ‘disarming Iran’ in the ST show the negative opinion of the author toward Iran and its nuclear program.  Comparison of the ST and the TT shows some mismatches, which could be explained in terms of ideological manipulations. First, ‘guardians of the Islamic Republic’ refer to the officials of the political system who look after the benefits of the regime (Persian-English Dictionary of Politics and Journalism, 2005). This is translated into ایرانی ها irāniha [Iranians].  In fact, by categorizing a particular group who favor the Islamic Republic (the political regime), the ST author refers to a minority who supports the nuclear program, but this is generalized to Iranians, as a case of creating populism in the TT. Thus, a TT reader may interpret that a big population is on the side of Iran’s nuclear program. Secondly, ‘disarming Iran’ is translated into متوقف کردن برنامه های هسته ا ی motevaqef kardan barrnāme hāyehastei. [to stop Iran’s nuclear program] while, according to Progressive Aryanpour Dictionary (2010) and Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2015), the word ‘disarming’ refers to taking away someone’s weapons. This is a change of perspective which not only filters a negative depiction of Iran, but also, may represent the West negatively; thus, a target reader may interpret this as stopping a program which could be the right of a nation.  Therefore, in all the cases discussed above, there is an attempt by the trans-editor (s) to block the negative representations of the in-group (US) in the TT. The procedures of blocking are listed and explained in Appendix A.  

ST2: It would have to agree to completely open all Iranian nuclear facilities to regular inspections by the IAEA (which has thus far refused to do so) (Purzycki, 2013).

TT2 (Taslimi 2013a):

نخست ایران باید مجوز ورود بازرسان به تمامی سایت های هسته ای اش را بدهد.

TRL: noxost irān bāyad mojavez vorud bāzresān be tamāmi sāythāye hasteiaŝ rā bedahad

BT (of TT2): First Iran would give permission to the inspectors to enter all its nuclear sites.

Some information may remain implicit, as it may be shared knowledge with the recipients and inferred from context. However, there are other reasons for implicitation. For example, for cultural purposes such as politeness, an unacceptable expression might become implicit. In addition, political motivations may lead an author to leave an expression implicit (van Dijk, 2005). While negative features of an in-group may remain implicit or mitigated through euphemism, the negative features of an out-group may be explicated (van Dijk, 2005). The ST clearly states that Iran has so far refused to allow the IAEA inspectors to inspect its nuclear facilities. However, this is omitted in the TT. As such, implicitation is used to demote the negative representation of the in-group in the TT. The procedures of ‘demotion’ are explained in Appendix A.

b) Manipulation of UPR in the TT

ST3: At the last round of talks, in February in Kazakhstan, the United States and five otherworld powers offered Tehran modest concessions, including softening limits on trade using gold and other precious metals, and easing some restrictions on petrochemicalexports, if the Iranians agreed to halt production of medium-enriched uranium. The Iranians did not accept the offer (Ritcher 2013). 

TT3: (Taslimi 2013b): Edited out

Disclaimer is a combination of positive self-representation and negative other-representation and saves face by emphasizing the positive features of an in-group and representing an out-group negatively by focusing on their negative features. In the above example, both positive representations of the out-group and negative representation of the in-group are expressed via disclaimer. In fact, the ST depicts the out-group positively by stating that a good offer from the United States is turned down by the in-group. However, it is blocked from entering the TT by complete omission. In fact, the negative representation of the in-group, as well as the positive representation of the out-group are both manipulated in the TT.

ST4: […] we believe we have put forward a good, comprehensive, fair, and balanced approach; a confidence building measure that we think is a good start (Peterson, 2013).  

TT4: (Hooshmand 2013a):

گروه 1+5 می گویدآنها بسته پیشنهادی خوبی را به ایران ارائه داده […]

TRL:  goruhe 5 + 1 miguyad baste pisnahādi xubi be irān erāe dāde

BT (of TT4):  5+1 group says they have offered a good proposal package to Iran

Groups and individuals might be addressed by neutral terms. However, ideologically and politically motivated discourses are influenced by power holders’ attitudes towards certain people or groups. Thus, a polarized term used to refer to an in-group (positively) and an out-group (negatively) is a marker of the ideology of a group towards its in-groups and out-groups (van Dijk, 2005). In the above example, the author quotes what Ashton, the leader of the Western powers in negotiations, states on the proposal which has been given by the West. As can be seen in the ST, this part of the text is a positive representation of the West and their proposal. Besides that, the use of the first-person pronoun ‘we’ in three cases shows Ashton has polarized the Western powers in a positive way. However, comparison of the ST and the TT shows that ‘we’ is translated into آنها dey [they], which alludes to the third person plural pronoun. This reveals that the trans-editors consider themselves to be members of the target society. As a result, they have attempted to change the perspective by stating that “they say […]”, rather than expressing it from the ST point of view. In addition, except for the word ‘good’, which is translated correctly into خوب xub [good], the other positive features are omitted in the TT. As such, the positive representation of the Westerners is demoted by omitting some information. The procedures of ‘demoting’ are explained in Appendix A. 

c) Manipulation of DPR in the TT

ST5: Based on my personal experience, Rowhani is a polite and open character (Fischer 2013).

TT5: (Asgari 2013):

تجربه شخصی من نشان می دهد که روحانی مردی مودب و با شخصیتی است

TRL: tajrobeye ŝaxsiye man neŝān midahad ke rowhāni mardi moadab va bā ŝaxsiati bāz ast

BT (of TT5): Based on my personal experience, Rowhani is a polite man with open character.

In discourse, an actor can be described as a manifestation of a group ideology towards what they consider as in-group and out-group. The above source text reflects the author’s positive stand on the election of the new president of Iran (Rowhani), who brought positive changes to the nuclear standoff between Iran and the world powers. The author’s positive attitude is encapsulated through the words ‘politeگ and ‘open character’ in the ST. The reference to the aforementioned words is made by مودب moadab [polite] and شخصیت باز ŝaxsiati bāz [open character] (Hezareh Persian-English           Dictionary, 2010), in the TT. Comparison of the ST and the TT shows no ideological manipulation. As a result, the positive representation of the in-group is preserved in the TT. 

ST6: Unlike outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he surrounds himself with very skilful and experienced diplomats (Fischer 2013).

TT6 (Asgari 2013):

برخلاف محمود احمدی نزاد رئیس جمهور کنونی ایران که تا یک ماه دیگر ساختمان ریاست جمهوری رهترک می کند روحانی اطراف خود را با دیپلمات های ماهر و کار آزموده و با تجربه پر کرده است. همچنین
سیاستهای متعادل گرانه ایشان در پست های گذشته اش نشانگر این است که مرد فرهیخته ای  است.

TRL: bar xalāfe mahmud ahmadinejād ra’ise jomhure konuni irān ke ta yek māhe digar sāxtemāne riyāsat jomhuri rā tark mikonad rowhāni atrāfe xod rā bā diplomāthāye māher va kārāzmude va bā tajrobe porkarde ast. Hamcenin siāsāthāye moteādelgārāneye yeeshān dar gozasteash neshān in ast ke marde farhijtei ast

BT (of TT6): unlike Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the current president of Iran who will leave the presidential building one month from now, Rowhani has surrounded himself with very skilful and experienced diplomats.  His ongoing balanced policies in past posts indicate that he is a sophisticated person

This example, also, reflects the ST’s author positive point of view on the election of the new president of Iran. In the ST, Rowhani is compared with the former president, Ahmadinejad, and described positively through the words ‘skilful’ and ‘experienced’. The trans-editor(s) has rendered the above words to کارآزموده kārāzmude [skilled] and باتجربه bātajrobe [experienced] (Hezareh Persian-English Dictionary, 2010), respectively. These translations are both in line with the meaning of the ST words. However, the addition of some positive representation in the TT, which does not exist in the ST, intensifies the already positive representation of Rowhani in the ST. Like the previous examples, this example represents the way DPR is manipulated. By applying certain procedures, the ST positive representation of the in-group is promoted in the TT. The procedures of promotion are explained in Appendix A. 

d) Manipulation of DNR in TT

ST7: if Washington recognized Iran’s right to enrich, a nuclear deal with Tehran could be reached in matter of weeks (Leverett & Man Leverett 2013).    

TT7: (Hooshamand 2013b):

اگر واشنگتن حق غنی سازی ایران را به رسمیت بشناسد امکان دستیابی به توافق بر سر پرونده هسته ای ظرف چند هفته ممکن خواهد شد.

TRL: agar wāŝington haqe qanisāziye irān rā berasmiyat beŝnāsad emkān dastyabi barsare parvande hasteei zarfe ĉand hafte emkānpazir xāhad bud

BT (of TT7): If Washington recognizes Iran’s right to enrich, the possibility of achieving an agreement on the nuclear issue would be possible within a few weeks.

The discourse of counterfactuals warns about something that would happen as the result of the problem created by another group. The ST’s author assumes a positive outcome leading to a nuclear agreement, if ‘Washington recognized Iran’s right with regards to its nuclear programme’. In other words, the author represents the USA negatively by criticizing the policy of the American government as well as the Western powers toward Iran’s nuclear program. Comparison of the ST and the TT suggests that the negative representation of the out-group is transferred from the ST to the TT without any manipulation. Therefore, the negative representation of the out-group is preserved in the TT.  

ST8: And Obama’s decision last week to send small arms to the rebels in Syria is hardly a step likely to make Iran feel better about Washington’s regional objectives (M. Walt 2013).

TT8: (Eftekhari 2013b): 

برای مثال تصمیم هفته گذشته اوباما به منظور ارسال سلاح برای معترضان سوری قطعا بدبینی  بیشتری را در نگاه ایران نسبت به اهداف منطقه ای واشنگتن حاکم کند.

TRL: barāye mesāl tasmime hafteye gozaŝte obāmā be manzure ersāle selāh barāye motarezāne suri mitavānad badbini biŝtari ra dar negāhe irān nesbatbe ahdāfe mantaqeei wāŝington hakem konad

BT (of TT8): for example, the last week decision by Obama to send arms for Syria rebels absolutely sheds more pessimism on Iran’s view toward Washington’s regional objectives. 

In the above example, the author blames Obama for sending arms to Syria for the problem it may cause in the path toward a probable deal between Iran and the USA. Comparison between the ST and the TT suggests that this depiction is transferred to the TT. However, it is worth mentioning the few ideological manipulations. Firstly, the adjective ‘small’ in the ST phrase ‘small arms’ shows that the author has specified the type of arms to be sent. This is translated into سلاح selāh [arm] (Progressive Aryanpour Dictionary, 2010). The omission of this adjective (generalization) may alter the TT reader’s interpretation of the act of the out-group. That is, the reader may imagine that the USA has sent heavy arms rather than small arms.  Moreover, the modals ‘hardly’ and ‘likely’ show that the author’s degree of certainty toward the obstacle that may be brought by this issue is not necessarily high. These two modals are replaced by قطعا [absolutely] in the TT. In this view, a higher degree of assurance is represented toward the expressed burden being caused by Obama’s decision. Finally, the replacement of ‘to make Iran feel better’ in the ST withحاکم کند  بدبینی بیشتری را درنگاه ایران badbini biŝtari ra dar negāhe irān hakem konad [dominates more pessimism in Iran’s view] in the TT expresses a stronger sense of negativity of the out-group act and the negative impact it may have on a probable deal. As such, the negative representation of Obama and his policies are promoted in the TT.  

5 Results

As stated earlier, the ST analysis suggests four patterns of representation. Table 1 displays the percentage of the four UNR, UPR, DPR, and DNR patterns.

ST Representation Patterns















Table 1. The percentage of the four identified ST representation patterns

As the table displays, UNR is the most frequent (about 70%) and DPR is the least frequent pattern (about 3%) of the representations as observed in the ST. This suggests that the ST is heavily loaded with negative representations of Iran and its allies (UNR). Moreover, the ST also includes undesirable positive representations of the other groups (UPR).  In total, 82 percent of the ST representations are in conflict with the cases which are stipulated in the Iranian media law. As a result, it is far from expectation that the translators simply transfer the undesired representations to the TT intact.  Table 2 summarizes the ST representations as manipulated in the TT. As the table displays, the undesired representations have been treated differently from the desired representations.



















































Table2. The four identified strategies of manipulation and their percentages in translations

The first category is the undesired negative representation of the in-group. In total, 97% of this category’s representations have gone through manipulations, out of which 53% of the cases are blocked and 44 % are demoted. The second category is an undesirable positive representation of the out-group. In total, 86% of all the ST representations are manipulated, out of which 57 % of the cases are blocked and 29% are demoted.

The third category is a desirable negative representation of the out-group. Overall, 51 % of all the ST representations are promoted. Besides, by an intact transfer of the discourse to the TT, without applying any manipulative procedures, the remaining ST representations are preserved in the TT, which includes 49% of the cases. The last category is a desirable positive representation of the in-group. Totally, 59% of all the ST representations have gone through promotion. Furthermore, by rendering the ST discourse to the TT without applying any manipulative procedures, the ST representations are preserved in the TT, which includes 41% of the cases. As the table reveals, while preserving does not exist in the first two groups, it is dominantly used in the last two groups (DNR and DPR). This suggests that the trans-editors have preserved the positive representations of the in-groups and negative representations of the out-groups. One may argue that preserving may not be a manipulative pattern. However, by comparing its use among the four categories of the ST representations, it can be concluded that preserving has been applied deliberately to highlight the desired representations.

6 The proposed model, conclusion and implications

This paper was an attempt to exploit common ground between manipulation in political discourse translation and van Dijk’s sociocognitive approach to CDA. As stated earlier, translation is an act of recontextualization. When a text is recontextualized, it is influenced by the contextual factors of the target society. Even though some transformations are unavoidable in the process of translation due to linguistic and cultural factors, the ones which are evident in this study cannot be interpreted as a result of constraints imposed by such related aspects. In fact, the data analysis suggests that the political discourse translators working at Iranian Diplomacy seem to have been restricted, among many, by the ideological factors governing the institution they work for. The institution per se is part of the society in which certain values are shared. The state ideology of the Iranian government is a good example of such conditions. The Islamic revolution has resulted in forming a polarized categorization which has been reflected in both the constitution and the media law. This leads the trans-editors to appeal to manipulations which can be explained in light of van Dijk’s sociocognitive approach to CDA.

According to van Dijk’s (1998; 2005) monolingual notion of CDA, to sustain power, the power holders of society share their values and beliefs with the members to shape their mind. This takes place through text producers who shape the discourse to meet the expectations of the institution they work for. As stated earlier, cognition, or the ideological square as the mediating layer, plays the key role in van Dijk’s notion of CDA. In fact, text producers, being aware of the commission they have and guided by the factors underlying ideological square, produce a text which reflects the ideology of the powerholders through their discursive practices. By adapting van Dijk’s ideological square to the analysis of translated political discourse, the proposed model explains the political context which leads the trans-editor(s) to manipulate the TT as unanimously agreed upon by the TS scholars, though with some modifications.

Analysis of the data shows that the ST consists of representations which conflict with the stance of the Iranian government toward the in-group (Us) and the out group (Them). Through the manipulative procedures, the undesired and desired representations are formed into representations which recreate a new discourse for the target text audience. The purpose of this appears to ensure that the target text is in accordance with the values and ideology of the target society. Figure 2 illustrates the application of van Dijk’s ideological square to illustrate these manipulations.


Figure 2. The proposed CDA-based model for the analysis of manipulation in political discourse translation

The model which is developed through modifications to the originally monolingual CDA of van Dijk tends to focus on the ideological square in the context of the target society. The ideology of the target society power holders, which has roots in their stance toward the conflicts with foreign countries, is reflected in the TT discourse through manipulation strategies. It appears that the square can accommodate manipulation in the bilingual context of political discourse translation. According to van Dijk, discourse understood/produced in a society is, in fact, a representation of what goes on in the minds of the members. However, applying this to translation needs some modification. While in van Dijk’s model, discourse is a representation of what goes on the mind of the society members, the authors and the audience, in translation the author is the translator. In this study, therefore, the trans-editors’ decisions seem to have been influenced by the target society’s ideological square as reflected in the polarization of Us and Them. As such, it is concluded that the trans-editors tend to manipulate the ST representations based on Figure 3 illustration.


Figure 3.  Illustration of the four identified strategies to investigate manipulation in political discourse translation

Figure 3 illustrates van Dijk’s ideological square as applied to translation. As the figure reveals, trans-editors tend to positively represent their own group (Us) and negatively represent the other group (Them). However, as it is shown in the Figure, ‘de-emphasizing’ and ‘emphasizing’ the representations of the square need to be complemented by including the subcategories of ‘preserving’, ‘blocking’, ‘demoting’, and ‘promoting’. Therefore, the study proposes four strategies to investigate manipulation in political discourse translation in light of van Dijk’s ideological square. The strategies, except for preserving, are implemented through applying some manipulative procedures which are explained in Appendix A. The linguistic toolkits provided by van Dijk and the ones provided and shared among other CDA models, including Fairclough, Hodge and Kress, and Fowler, seem to be not enough in explaining all the manipulation procedures, most probably due to their monolingual nature of analysis. Therefore, by taking a descriptive-explanatory approach, the study has attempted to investigate the ones which are not explained by CDA (see Appendix A).

The proposed model conceptualizes the important topic of manipulation in mediation of ideology as performed by political discourse translators. By being aware of the proposed model, translation critiques would be better able to make informed criticism of manipulation in translation. It would also help translation teachers and material developers to better explain and illustrate manipulations to their translator trainees, specifically in courses which deal with journalistic and political text translation. In addition, it facilitates the path of future researchers as it provides them with an analytical framework to uncover the manipulated discourses in translation. The current study investigated manipulation in translation by focusing on 31 opinion articles translated form English to Persian.  Further studies on other genres of political discourse in other societies with different language pairs could be enlightening in developing the proposed model.

Appendix A: Ideological Manipulation Procedures

Blocking Undesired Representations of ST in TT

Manipulation Techniques


Complete Omission

To completely remove an undesired representation of ST in TT

Change of Perspective

To represent an undesired representation of ST from a different perspective in TT so that the trace of the ST representation is removed


To replace an undesired negative representation of ST with an item in TT which nullifies the representation

Creating Ambiguity

To nullify an undesired negative representation of ST with a vague expression in TT, by not providing the details of the ST representation in TT, which leads to nullifying the representation.

Creating Populism

To minimize an undesired negative representation of ST by attributing the interests of a person or a specific group (high ranking officials) to many (people). 


To replace an undesired negative representation of ST with a positively-loaded item in TT so as to censor the representation.


Demoting Undesired Representations of ST in TT


Manipulation Techniques


Partial Omission

To partially remove an undesired representation of ST in TT so that the degree of representation is minimized.


To lower the loading of an undesired representation of ST in TT by nominalizing, by which the details of subject and object are removed.


To lower an undesired negative/positive representation of ST in TT by implying the meaning.

Change of Modality

To lower an undesired representation of ST in TT by replacing the probability/obligation of an event/action by using a modal, which expresses a lower possibility/probability.


To particularize an undesired negative representation of ST in TT as opposed to the generality of a ST representation so as to lower the load of negativity.


To omit the subject of an undesired negative representation of ST in TT as opposed to an active structure so as to remove the responsibility of the actor(s).


Promoting Desired Representation of ST in TT

Manipulation Techniques



To add an item which intensifies a desired positive representation of ST in TT


To make a desired positive/negative representation of TT more explicit as opposed to that of ST.


To generalize desired positive/negative representations of ST in TT as opposed to the specificity of the ST representation. 

Change of Modality

To intensify a desired positive/negative representation of ST in TT by replacing the probability/obligation of something by using a modal which expresses a higher possibility.


To add subject to a desired positive/negative representation of ST in TT to intensify the representation.


To intensify a desired negative representation of ST by either replacing it with a more negatively-loaded item or adding an extra negatively-loaded item.


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[1] The term trans-editor is preferred and used by some scholars researching news translation (for example, Hursti 2001; Bielsa 2010). This is because in the context of news translation, the translator is not the only person who decides on translation, but his/her work is edited by other people such as the senior translators, editors and the chief editor to meet the policies of the news institutions.

[2] "EU 3 + 3" refers to a grouping which includes the EU-3, three European countries including France, the United Kingdom, and Germany as well as three other non-European permanent members of the United Nations Security Council  including China, Russia, and the United States. In the United States and Russia, it is more commonly known as P5+1, which refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.


About the author(s)

Ali Jalalian Daghigh has a doctoral degree in Applied Linguistics/Translation Studies from Universiti Sains Malaysia. He has a number of publications and has presented in several international conferences. His main research areas are (Critical) Discourse Studies, Journalistic/News Translation, Cross-cultural studies and Language Pedagogy. 

Mohammad Saleh Sanatifar has a doctoral degree in Translation Studies from Universiti Sains Malaysia. The author has published numerous articles in specialized journals and has presented widely in international conferences. His main research interests are: translation theory, pragmatic aspects of translation as well as critical discourse translations.

Rokiah Awang is a senior lecturer in Translation Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia. She is the author and co-author of a number of journal papers and has presented in several international conferences.  Her main research areas are Translation, journalism, News discourse and editing.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Ali Jalalian Daghigh, Mohammad Saleh Sanatifar, Rokiah Awang (2018).
"Modeling van Dijk’s Ideological Square in Translation Studies: Investigating Manipulation in Political Discourse Translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 20.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2290

Trainee Translators’ Positioning in Discussing Translation Decisions

A Diachronic Case Study

By Nermeen Al Nafra (University of Birmingham, UK)

Abstract & Keywords


Taking into consideration the calls for different translation training approaches in order to equip translators with the theoretical knowledge necessary to empower them in their role as cultural mediators, this study will investigate how following a training programme at postgraduate level affects trainee translators’ social competence. This study examines the effect of following a translation training programme at postgraduate level on the way trainee translators justify the strategies applied to solve translation problems, in particular, the positions they adopt while discussing their translation decisions. The Translation Studies programme at the University of Birmingham is used as a case study. The trainee translators completed a translation task which involved commenting on translation problems and translation strategies according to a pre-prepared form while translating a text. This task, preceded by a questionnaire, was repeated at three stages throughout the academic year (2012-13). This paper reports on a part of the findings resulting from the data analysis. It suggests that trainee translators become more assertive in the justification of their solutions to translation problems as a consequence of following a translation training programme. This study also indicates that the students seem to be less willing to engage with alternative viewpoints by the end of the programme.

Keywords: translator training, translation problems, translation strategies, decision-making in translation, justification

©inTRAlinea & Nermeen Al Nafra (2018).
"Trainee Translators’ Positioning in Discussing Translation Decisions A Diachronic Case Study", inTRAlinea Vol. 20.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2332

1. Introduction

Many approaches to translator training, such as the Social Constructivist (Kiraly 2000), Holistic (Robinson 2003) and Task-Based (González Davies 2004) approaches, emphasise the importance of developing the trainee translator’s social competence, including the ‘ability to work with other professionals involved in translation processes’ (Kelly 2007: 134), and the degree to which student involvement in the teaching/learning process can help to prepare autonomous and lifelong learners. These approaches tend to emphasize the translator’s social active role and also stress the importance of combining theoretical knowledge with vocational training in order to develop the trainee translators’ social competence. Rico argues that, at European universities,

[the] new pedagogical trend runs parallel to recent developments in translator training, such as social constructivism (Kiraly 2000) or task-based learning (González Davies 2004), which also revolve around the student as the centre of the learning process. (Rico 2010: 89)

In his view, this was due to the new development in translation training programmes after the Bologna process which started in 1999 and aimed at establishing a common system of learning and teaching in universities across Europe and which is based on student-centred pedagogical principles and student-teacher interaction (Rico 2010: 89). Since translator training at university level is still considered a recent phenomenon and insufficiently researched in Translation Studies (Pym 2009: 1), this study will provide empirical evidence concerning the effect of following an academic translator training programme on the trainee translators’ social competence, in particular, the degree of assertiveness with which trainee translators justify their translation decisions while following a programme that combines both theory and practice. This article starts with providing a description of the general design of the study and the research methods employed. This is followed by an overview of the procedures used to analyse the data. The findings of the study are then presented.

2. The Case Study

It was decided to use a case study because this research method allows us to investigate the ‘phenomenon in depth and within its real-life context’ (Yin 2009: 18) and also ‘make contributions to knowledge beyond the particular’ (Saldanha & O’Brien 2013: 209). Therefore, the case study focused exclusively on the one-year Master’s degree in Translation Studies at the University of Birmingham in order to obtain information regarding formal translation training at an academic level. It should be noted that the author/researcher is completing her studies at the same university. Although this may raise concerns about a possible bias, being familiar with the programme can also be seen as an advantage when it comes to interpreting the results of the study. Even though it is difficult to generalize on the basis of one case study, hopefully this research offers data which will be of interest to the wider translation training community.

Universities in the UK offer different types of degrees in Translation Studies at different levels: Diploma, MSc, MA, and PhD. Concerning masters-level programmes, universities either focus on translation alongside other types of studies (comparative literature, interpreting, subtitling, TESOL, linguistics and intercultural communication), such as the MA in Translation and Linguistics at the University of Westminster, or offer programmes in specific language pairs (MA in Chinese – English Translation at The University of Bristol) or contexts (MA in Translation in a European Context at Aston University). Training in MA-Translation Studies programmes, such as the MA in Translation Studies at the Universities of Aston, Birmingham and Durham in the UK are based on a combination of practice and theory. Although these generalist programmes may differ in terms of the way the modules are organized throughout the academic year and their focus, they share many characteristics. Employing the MA in Translation Studies at the University of Birmingham as a case study can be particularly useful for translation training programmes sharing the same characteristics or aspects of this programme. For example, these programmes follow the UK higher education system; include national, European and overseas students; allow students to work with a variety of languages; and give the students the opportunity to work on research and translation projects to complete the programme. Lecturers in such programmes are of different nationalities and have professional translation experience. These programmes also offer students core and optional modules which aim at developing a range of translation-oriented skills, such as linguistic, intercultural, instrumental and social skills.

3. Research Methods

A variety of research methods were employed in the present study. A questionnaire was initially used in order to collect background information about the trainee translators attending the Translation Studies programme at the University of Birmingham, to define the context of the study and the variables affecting translator training. A set of open and closed questions were employed to gather background information concerning the participants’ age, gender, linguistic, educational and professional experience which was used to construct the participants’ profiles.

This preliminary approach was then followed by a translation task. The students were required to perform a translation task which included translating a text and simultaneously commenting on the translation according to a pre-prepared form. The source text was an excerpt from a tourist information brochure. The choice of a tourist brochure was meant to address the respondents’ cultural diversity through texts that are interesting, and which contain some cultural specific references that tend to present problems in translation while having limited syntactic complexity since they are meant to be read by a general audience, including speakers of English as a second language. The text was also short to encourage students to participate in the study as the task can be time consuming. The text was written in contemporary English, since English is one of the trainee translators’ working languages in this programme (either the trainees’ first, second or third language). Students were required to translate the text into another language as they speak different native languages. They were asked to assume that the target audience was similar to that of the source text. Students were informed that they were free to use dictionaries or reference material and discuss their translation with whoever they wish and no time frame was given.

The trainees were asked to complete a form whilst translating. This provided them with a systematic way of recording all information related to their decision-making processes whilst completing the task. The form included six sections which allowed the participants to record: the translation problems identified, the types of these problems, the information sources used, the solutions, the strategies applied and justification for these strategies. Literature on translation problems indicates that there is no agreement on a clear definition of what a translation problem is (see Toury 2012: 38-46). Therefore, no specific definition of translation problems was given to the students in order to examine the way they perceive these problems. They were not provided with any specific classification of translation problems, information sources or strategies to avoid offering a list of predefined categories that would force them either to select a category, which may not reflect their actual response, or skip filling in sections of the form because they could not find an appropriate answer. However, in order to direct the respondents to what they were expected to do, as it was essential that they understood the concepts used in the study in the same way as the researcher, the participants were provided with definitions of the terms ‘information resources’ and ‘translation strategies’. The information resources were defined as hard copy documents (such as dictionaries), electronic sources or human sources (for example, a fellow student) (Gile 2009: 131). Since the focus of the present study is on how trainee translators justify the translation strategies used in the formulation of a translated text, and the forms were designed with this purpose in mind, Chesterman’s (2000: 87-116) definition of strategies was adopted because he focuses on textual strategies, rather than on the cognitive procedures occurring in the human mind while encountering translation problems (see Molina & Hurtado Albir 2002). Thus, the definition of strategies was: ‘the way you manipulate the linguistic material in the text in order to produce an appropriate target text, such as literal translation, paraphrase or information change, etc.’

The data for this case study was collected at three stages during the academic year (in the Autumn, Spring and Summer terms) and the analysis involved a comparison of data between the three periods. During the three stages of the data collection process, the participants were provided with texts of a similar genre (tourist texts) and length to translate (no more than 200 words). The purpose of replicating the data collection process was to examine and explain the trainee translators’ progress throughout the programme. This longitudinal type of research is useful to ‘describe patterns of change, and to explain causal relationships’ (Dörnyei 2007: 79) and can be used to examine dynamic processes in human learning or development in relation to different types of variables (Menard 2002: 2).

4. Data Analysis  

The data produced by the study was analysed using the appraisal system developed by Martin and White (2005), within the framework of Functional Grammar (Halliday and Matthiessen 2004), for exploring interpersonal meanings by explaining and describing the way language users evaluate arguments, adopt textual stances and negotiate positioning and relationships (White 2002). It served to examine the language employed by the students in discussing their translation decisions in order to investigate the way they positioned themselves in their arguments.

According to Martin and White (2005: 35), the appraisal system consists of three interacting domains:

  1. Attitude indicates the way feelings and emotional reactions are expressed, behaviours are judged and phenomena are evaluated.
  2. Engagement deals with ‘the linguistic resources by which speakers/ writers adopt a stance towards to the value positions being referenced by the text and with respect to those they address.’ (Martin and White 2005: 92)
  3. Graduation values ‘construe greater or lesser degrees of positivity or negativity’ and ‘scale for the degree of the speaker/writer’s intensity, or the degree of their investment in the utterance.’ (Martin and White 2005: 135-136)

Since the focus in the present study is on the stance adopted by trainee translators while discussing their translation decisions, the data provided by the students was analysed and discussed according to the Engagement domain of the appraisal system.

4.1 Engagement in the Appraisal Theory

According to the system of engagement, utterances can be classified into:

  1. Monoglossic or ‘bare assertions’ when speakers/writers make no reference to other voices and viewpoints (for example, the banks have been greedy). In this example, the writer/speaker excludes other opinions by producing the proposition as a statement with a positive finite.
  2. Heteroglossic when they allow for alternative viewpoints and responses (for example, you do not need to give up potatoes to lose weight). In this example, the writer/speaker refers to other possible opinions while challenging them through the use of negation which allowed her/him to limit the scope of the argument and refuse alternative viewpoints. Martin and White explain the case presented in clause 1, as opposed to clause 2, as follows:

Bare assertions obviously contrast with these heteroglossic options in not overtly referencing other voices or recognising alternative positions. As a consequence, the communicative context is construed as single voiced ... By this, the speaker/writer presents the current proposition as one which has no dialogistic alternatives which need to be recognised, or engaged with, in the current communicative context – as dialogistically inert and hence capable of being declared categorically. (Martin and White 2005: 99)

Examining the system of engagement as used by the students will allow us to investigate the way they positioned their voices in respect to other voices in the communicative context construed while discussing their translation decisions. According to the system of engagement, heteroglossic clauses can be divided into: a) dialogic contractive or b) dialogic expansive, depending on the degree to which an utterance makes allowances for alternative positions and voices. In dialogic contractive, speakers or writers can either:

  1. Proclaim or limit the scope of dialogistic alternatives by endorsing, pronouncing or concurring different opinions. Speakers and writers can endorse and construe that alternative authorial voice as correct and valid by using verbs, such as ‘show’ and ‘prove’. Pronouncement involves authorial emphases and authorial interventions which can be realized through the use of locutions, such as ‘I contend’ and ‘the facts of the matter are’. Speakers and writers can also concur and agree with the alternative voice by using locutions, such as ‘naturally’ and ‘of course’.
  2. Or disclaim and reject contrary positions by either using counter expectancy conjunctions or connectives (for example, although, yet, and still) or denial (negation).

In dialogic expansion, speakers/writers allow for alternative viewpoints. They indicate that their proposition is one of a wide range of possible positions by either:

  1. Attributing their propositions to other resources showing where the authorial voice stands with respect to the proposition by either acknowledging other stands (for example, X believes) or distancing their voices from the attributable propositions (for example, X claimed).
  2. Or entertaining and invoking other opinions by indicating the subjectivity of other opinions (for example, the report suggests). They can also entertain other opinions through the use of expressions of modality (for example, may and probable), discussed by Halliday and Matthiessen (2004).      

Thus, in the present study, monoglossia or ‘bare assertions’ will be interpreted as indicating assertiveness, and heteroglossia will be considered as signalling tentativeness.

5. Procedures of Data Analysis  

The unit of analysis in functional terms is the clause complex: a combination of two or more clauses into a larger unit (Thompson 2004: 48). Thus, in order to carry out an interpersonal analysis of the students’ answers in the forms, the data provided by the students was divided into clauses. One of the problems with applying appraisal theory to the language used by the students is that many clauses included more than one token of evaluation which posed difficulty in classifying these clauses, as was the case in example 1:

  • Example 1: You cannot just say “fire fountain” in German because it is figurative (clause 1). But it does not have this figurative equivalence in German (clause 2).

In example 1, the student described the problem encountered with translating into German the phrase ‘which is fired every day during the main season’ in the following sentence:

but in 1937 a fire broke out, and today it is a beautiful ruin, set in spectacular gardens, with an amazing and fully restored Perseus and Andromeda fountain which is fired every day during the main season.

The student used ‘cannot’ to challenge other points of views and the connective ‘just’ to counter alternative expectations. In the second clause, the student used a counter expectancy connective ‘but’ and negation ‘not’ in the same clause which was coded as an instance of both counter-expectancy and denial. Therefore, although in Functional Grammar the unit of analysis is the clause complex, it was more effective in the present study to consider both the clause complex and tokens of evaluation as units of analysis, and discuss the data accordingly. Based on this, in example 1, we have two attitudinal clauses and four attitudinal tokens in the two clauses, each including instances of both denial and counter-expectancy.

Because this was a small-scale study, data provided in the questionnaire was analysed manually. Raw frequencies and percentages were used to quantify the data. Percentage difference across the three stages was calculated using an online calculator[1] in order to examine whether there was a difference in the percentages of the raw frequencies in the data collected. In the analysis, we focused on the most prominent patterns which reflected a change in the data collected throughout the academic year. A test of statistical significance was also performed in order to test whether there was a significant difference in the data provided by the students across the three stages. It has to be acknowledged that this methodology, coupled with the small sample size and the fact that a number of participants opted to leave the study before it was concluded, creates the possibility of several types of bias: specifically, attrition bias on the part of subjects and detection bias on the part of the researcher. In order for the conclusions made in this study to validated, the observations would need to be repeated with a new group and a clear hypothesis established before the start of data collection. However, using this test helped us to determine how high or low the probability that the decrease or increase in the data throughout the three stages was due to chance. We used the chi-square test[2] since it is more sensitive than other tests, such as t-test and Wilcoxon’s rank sum test, and does not assume that the data is normally distributed which is not a feature of linguistic data (McEnery and Wilson 2001: 70). The chi-square test ‘allows an estimation of whether the frequencies in a table differ significantly from each other. It allows the comparison of frequencies found experimentally with those expected on the basis of some theoretical model’ (Oakes 1998: 24). The chi-square test compares the values of the data proportionally where probability values (P) of 0.05 or less are assumed to be significant whereas those greater than 0.05 are not. Thus, the null hypothesis (H0) in the present study is that any difference between the data presented by the students at each stage is due to chance, and therefore not significant. If the calculated value of the chi-square is less than or equal to the probability value of 0.05 and the difference is significant, the alternative hypothesis (H1) is supported, which indicates that there is some reason other than chance behind the difference, which in the case of this study is most probably the training followed by the students in the Translation Studies programme at the University of Birmingham.

6. The Students’ Profiles

There was a drop-off of 37.5 per cent from the first to the second stage and one of 62.5 per cent from the first to the third stage. The data of the students who dropped out of the study was removed and therefore only the data of the twelve students (four males and eight females) who took part in all three stages of the study was included. It seems that the participants had many common characteristics: they had little/no translation experience, were of approximately the same age (21-29 years), and were educated to BA level. On the other hand, these participants came from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The respondents who took part in all the three stages of the study were given codes according to their gender (M for male and F for female), in addition to a numeric value added to each of these codes. The two letter code system of languages (ISO 639-1) was also used to indicate the language of the target text. Most of the participants translated the text from English into their first language (Chinese: ZH, Spanish: ES, Greek: EL, Arabic: AR and German: DE) as English was their second language. Only three of the students were native English speakers and therefore translated the text into their second language (French: FR, Portuguese: PT and Spanish: ES).  The decision to use English as the source language in this study may have affected the translators' levels of confidence, as students translating into their native language might present different levels of self-assertion than students translating into their second language. However, this was alleviated by choosing a text with a certain level of syntactical difficulty that is meant to pose the same level of difficulty for both native English speakers and speakers of English as a second language, as previously mentioned. In addition, the interest in this study was in the way the translators perceived translation problems and justified their decisions rather than in how they approached these specific texts.

7. Engagement in the Language Used by the Trainee Translators 

Clauses used by the students in the forms were categorised as monoglossic when they did not include any tokens of engagement, and heteroglossic when they did. Thus they were classified according to whether the students negotiated their decisions by making a reference to alternative voices and viewpoints or presented their justifications objectively, as is clear in example 2:

  • Example 2: F8FR: It is the name of the institute (clause 1). So a direct translation would not be appropriate (clause 2). Explanation provides additional information.

In this example, student F8FR justified including an explanation of her translation of the title of the text into French, using monoglossic and heteroglossic clauses. Clauses 1 and 3 are monoglossic since student F8FR excludes other opinions by using a positive finite ‘is/provides’. However, clause 2 is heteroglossic since student F8FR makes reference to other opinions by challenging them through the use of negation ‘not’. 

In some cases, an elliptical subject and finite were assumed. Since these cases are less clear cut than those where the subject and finite are explicit, and they involve an extra layer of interpretation on the part of the researcher, these clauses were considered separately from the explicit ones, so as to offer a more transparent view of the analysis. Table 1 gives an overview of results.


1st stage

2nd stage

3rd stage








Total number of monoglossic clauses







Total number of monoglossic clauses with assumed subject and verb







Total number of explicit monoglossic clauses







Total number of heteroglossic clauses







Total number of clauses




Total number of heteroglossic tokens













Total number of words




Table 1: The FR and Percentage of the Monoglossic and Heteroglossic Clauses Used by the Students

By looking at Table 1, we can notice that the students used more monoglossic clauses than heteroglossic clauses while discussing translation problems, which is expected. A diachronic comparison shows that the number of monoglossic clauses increased by 2.11 percentage points (3.13 per cent) during the second stage when compared with the beginning of the programme. This number further increased by 1.66 percentage points (2.38 per cent) during the third stage in comparison with the second stage, leading to a decrease in the number of heteroglossic clauses. However, the chi-square test indicates that this development is not statistically significant {x2 = 0.89, df = 2, P = 0.6408}, which means that the H1 cannot be supported, and as a result this distribution could be attributed to chance. This suggests that students showed a stable preference towards monoglossic clauses throughout the programme.

Concerning the number of heteroglossic tokens, the comparison of the three stages of data analysis indicates that the number of heteroglossic tokens used in the language offered by the students decreased by 0.92 percentage points (14 per cent) in the middle of the year, only to further decrease by 1.69 percentage point (29.91 per cent) by the end of the year in comparison with the second stage. The chi-square test indicates that the change in the number of the heteroglossic tokens used by the students across the three stages is statistically significant {x2 = 15.25, df = 2, P = 0.0005}. This supports the H1, and suggests that the decrease in the number of heteroglossic tokens by the end of the year is not due to chance. As explained above, monoglossia is typical of more assertive positions, where the speaker/writer does not feel the need to refer to alternative viewpoints and opinions, and heteroglossia suggests an awareness of multiple viewpoints and a less categorical attitude. Thus, despite the fact that no significant changes were observed in the number of heteroglossic clauses, the decrease in the number of heteroglossic tokens towards the end of the year is significant and the changes in the percentages of heteroglossic clauses and tokens are parallel and consistent with one another, as Figure 1 shows. This could allow us to tentatively hypothesise that trainee translators become more assertive after following a translation training programme.


Figure 1: Heteroglossic tokens and clauses in the language used by the students

7.1 The Types of Heteroglossic Tokens Used by the Trainee Translators 

The heteroglossic tokens provided by the students in the forms were classified into contractive and expansive tokens. This classification was based on whether the students included or excluded alternative viewpoints while discussing their translation decisions. When students included alternative viewpoints, they used expansive tokens of the type employed in example 3:

  • Example 3: M3ZH: In Chinese, meaning of words tend to be more concrete (clause 1). Literal translation may sound strange here (clause 2).

Here student M3ZH (example 3, clause 1) uses an expansive clause by employing the verb ‘tend to’ to hedge and tone down his description of the problem he encountered while translating the sentence ‘there is so much to see and do’ into Chinese. Similarly, he uses the modal finite of probability ‘may’ in his description of the problem (example 3, clause 2) to signal that his proposition is open for negotiation.

When students excluded alternative viewpoints, they used contractive tokens, similar to the one employed by student M2DE in example 4 below. In example 4, student M2DE justifies explaining the title ‘Cadbury World’ into German, rejecting other textual opinions by negating clause 1 in order to counter the expectations of alternative voices through the use of the token ‘however’ in clause 2.

  • Example 4: M2DE: In German, the name of the brand/firm remains untranslated (clause 1). However, there was a need of translation in regards to the next sentence describing this world (clause 2).

Both contractive and expansive tokens were employed by the trainee translators in their discussion of translation decisions. Comparing the number of contractive and expansive tokens out of the total number of heteroglossic tokens indicates that most of the tokens used by the students were contractive (see example 4 above), challenging other textual voices, rather than expansive, through which they allowed alternative opinions to take part in the argument during the three stages, as in example 3 (see Figure 2).  


Figure 2: The percentage for the contractive and expansive tokens used by the students


1st stage

2nd stage

3rd stage

Tokens of Engagement







Total number of contractive tokens







Total number of expansive tokens







Total number of Words




Table 2: The RF and Percentage of the Contractive and Expansive Tokens Used by the Students

The comparison of the percentages of expansive tokens across the three stages indicates that they remained stable, as Table 2 shows. Concerning the trainees’ development in relation to contractive tokens, comparing the percentages of contractive tokens out of the total number of words across the three stages indicates that they decreased by 12.46 percentage points (27.36 per cent) during the second stage, only to remain stable towards the end of the year in comparison with the second stage. Despite the minimal change in the percentages, the chi-square test indicates that the difference in the number of contractive tokens used by the students out of the total number of words across the three stages is statistically significant {x2 = 11.36, df = 2, P = 0.0034}, supporting the H1. This indicates that the change in the number of contractive tokens is not due to chance. This suggests that translation training affects the way students present their discussion of translation problems, making them less concerned about excluding alternative opinions and viewpoints while following a translation training programme.

7.2 Types of Expansive and Contractive Tokens Used by the Trainee Translators

The expansive tokens used by the students in the forms were of an entertaining type, where the students showed their subjectivity while opening their arguments for discussion, as is evident in example 5 below. In this example, student M3ZH uses the grammatical interpersonal metaphor ‘I think’ adjusted to the main clause to frame his justification of explaining certain names (for example, Reredo, Pulpit, pew) in Chinese. The use of this interpersonal metaphor indicates the subjectivity of student M3ZH’s opinion, and that he can be persuaded otherwise:

  • Example 5: M3ZH: I think the translation is clear

Concerning the types of contractive token used, the students first proclaimed and limited the scope of their arguments by either pronouncing or concurring with different opinions, as is evident in examples 6 and 7:

  • Example 6: F8FR: The literal translation leads to an awkward phrase (clause 1). “Open to public” is much more common (clause 2).
  • Example 7: F4EL: Indeed I used the word “έπαυλη” (mansion) for the word court.

In example 6, student F8FR uses a monoglossic clause (clause 1), followed by a heteroglossic clause (clause 2), in which she uses ‘much more’ to emphasise the popularity of the strategy she used, that is changing the phrase ‘shop open to non-visitors’ into ‘open to public’ in French. In example 7, student F4EL employs the locution ‘indeed’ to limit the scope of her argument while showing agreement with alternative viewpoints when describing the solution used to solve the problem encountered in translating the title ‘Whitley Court’ into Greek.

The students also disclaimed and rejected contrary positions by either using counter expectancy conjunctions or negation, as is clear in example 8. In this example, student F9ES explains why she translated the two verbs ‘discover’ and ‘uncover’ into one word in Portuguese by negating her proposition (clause 1) to challenge other viewpoints which might indicate that Portuguese had two separate words for these two verbs. Student F9ES also limits the scope of her argument by using the connective ‘just’ to counter the expectancy of any alternative textual voices in clause 2.

  • Example 8: F9ES: They do not have a separate word for these two (clause 1). They just use the same word just one (clause 2).

By classifying the contractive tokens employed by the students into disclaim and proclaim, we will examine whether the students excluded alternative opinions and closed down their arguments by challenging alternative textual voices, using tokens of disclaim, or by endorsing different opinions through the employment of tokens of proclaim. This will help us investigate in more depth the changes in the manner in which trainee translators justified their decisions while following the translation training programme. The comparison of the percentages of disclaim and proclaim tokens used by the students out of the total number of contractive tokens indicates the overall prominence of disclaim tokens throughout the three stages, as Figure 3 shows.


Figure 3: The percentage for the types of contractive tokens used by the students


1st stage

2nd stage

3rd stage

Contractive tokens



















































Total number of Words




Table 3: The RF and Percentage of the Types of Contractive Tokens Used by the Students

Table 3 indicates that the percentages of tokens of proclaim remained stable across the three stages. By comparing the percentages of contractive tokens of disclaim out of the total number of words, we find that the number of tokens where the students disclaimed alternative opinions decreased by 1.23 percentage points (33.42 per cent) during the second stage in comparison with the first stage, only to remain stable during the third stage in comparison with the second stage. The chi-square test indicates that this development across the three stages out of the total number of words is statistically significant {x2 = 6.87, df = 2, P = 0.0322}. This result supports the H1 and suggests that this is not due to chance and could be related to translation training. The decrease in the number of tokens of disclaim reflects the decrease in the total number of contractive tokens. This also suggests that the students become less willing to engage with alternative viewpoints after following a translation training programme.

8. Conclusion

Through the presentation of these findings, the purpose of this paper was to examine the language employed by the students in order to investigate the effect of following a translation training programme at postgraduate level on trainee translators’ social competence; in particular, the way they negotiate their positions and adopt stances while discussing their translation decisions, using the appraisal system developed by Martin and White (2005). Despite the small sample size and the small number of frequencies, it is possible to draw some tentative conclusions concerning the students’ manner in which they describe translation problems and justify their decisions when solving translation problems.

This study of the engagement system in the data provided by the students indicates a decrease in the number of heteroglossic tokens by the end of the academic year in comparison with the beginning of the year. This finding may indicate that trainee translators adopt a more assertive positioning in their discussion of translation problems after following a translation training programme. This assertiveness was reflected in the decrease in the number of contractive tokens, more specifically tokens of disclaim, towards the end of the year. This suggests that this assertive positioning on the part of trainee translators is signalled by fewer cases of heteroglossia used to challenge alternative opinions. Thus the students seemed to be less willing to engage with alternative viewpoints, which could be interpreted as an increased confidence in their own judgement. This could show that following a translation training programme at academic level can enhance trainee translators’ confidence and eventually their self-esteem, and consequently raise their professional standards. However, it also suggests that trainee translators become less considerate of alternative viewpoints and opinions and thus, arguably, become less critical. This might necessitate a reconsideration of translation training approaches followed in such translation training programmes. It might also become important to reconsider priorities in translation training programmes in a way that helps the trainee translators to increase their ability to justify their decisions and claim their rights as active participants in the translation process.

These findings make future research in this area necessary in order to investigate the effect of translation training programmes at academic level on developing the trainee translators’ social skills. In this respect, the context of this study can be extended to include more than one translation training programme. It is advisable to use a more homogenous sample of trainees within specific language pairs which would allow the researcher to also analyze the translated texts and examine the effect of following the translating training programme on their skills in translation. It could also include a comparison between the effects of different theories in translation on the trainee translators’ decisions whilst translating to define the type of theories that tend to inform their translation decisions more and the way they discuss them. Furthermore, future research could also involve a study of the attitude and graduation domains of the appraisal theory in relation to the students’ discussion of translation decisions while following a translation training programme.


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[1] The percentage difference calculator is available at: http://www.calculatorsoup.com/calculators/algebra/percent-change-calculator.php (last accessed on 13/4/2015)

[2] The chi-square test is available online at: http://vassarstats.net/newcs.html (last accessed on 20/4/2015)


About the author(s)

I hold a PhD in Translation Studies from the University of Birmingham and an MA in Translation Studies from the same university. I am currently a tutor and a second marker for the specialized translation projects at the University of Birmingham. My research interests are translation training and translation of news.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Nermeen Al Nafra (2018).
"Trainee Translators’ Positioning in Discussing Translation Decisions A Diachronic Case Study", inTRAlinea Vol. 20.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2332

Impostazione e struttura di un corso intensivo avanzato di tecnologie per la traduzione

By Adrià Martín-Mor (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain)

Abstract & Keywords


Technologies are used in all phases of any translation process, from the reception of the source texts until the delivery of the translated texts. The use of translation technologies has been steadily increasing since their appearance in the field of professional translation, resulting in the birth of a wide variety of tools and resources. Ever since, the very same technologies have generated the need to translate a range of formats that can only be translated using digital tools (websites, smart-phone apps, TV apps, ecc.). This, in recent years, has sparked debate in educational institutions about which contents related to technologies should be included in translators’ training programmes. The main purpose of this paper is to present a training course in translation technologies based on the author’s experience as a Visiting Professor at the University of Cagliari. This course is based on the following premises: the course must provide an overview of translation technologies, it must be concentrated in a few hours and must be carried out at no cost (without any investment in software and hardware). After a look at the translators’ training programmes in the universities of the Italian and the Spanish States and a brief literature review on the educational use of translation technologies, the contents, the materials and the teaching methodology of the course will be described. Finally, we present some proposals to complete and further expand its contents.


Ciascuna delle fasi di un qualsiasi processo di traduzione, dalla ricezione dei testi sorgente fino alla consegna della traduzione, prevede l’uso delle tecnologie. L’incremento dell’uso delle tecnologie per la traduzione, grazie anche alla loro comparsa nell’ambito della traduzione professionale, ha dato luogo alla nascita di un’ampia varietà di nuovi strumenti e risorse. Lo stesso sviluppo delle tecnologie ha creato la necessità di tradurre tutta una gamma di formati che possono essere tradotti soltanto tramite strumenti digitali (siti web, applicazioni per smartphone, tv, ecc.). Negli ultimi anni, nelle istituzioni formative, si sono accesi numerosi dibattiti a proposito di quali contenuti relativi alla tecnologia devono essere inclusi nella formazione dei tra­duttori. L’obiettivo dell’articolo è quello di presentare un’ipotesi di percorso formativo sulle tecnologie per la traduzione in base a un’esperienza dell’autore come Visiting Professor presso l’Università degli Studi di Cagliari. Quest’ipotesi è fondata sulle seguenti premesse: il corso verte su una panoramica delle tecnologie per la traduzione, è concentrato in un numero ridotto di ore e non prevede investimenti per l’acquisto di software e hardware. Dopo una panoramica della formazione in tecnologie per la traduzione negli stati italiano e spagnolo e una breve ricognizione bibliografica sulla didattica delle tecnologie per la traduzione, si descrivono i contenuti, i materiali e la metodologia didattica di un corso realizzato ad-hoc. Infine si presentano delle proposte che completano e ampliano ulteriormente il corso.

Keywords: tecnologie per la traduzione, informatica applicata alla traduzione, formazione traduttori, traduzione assistita, localizzazione, cat tools, translation technologies, informatics applied to translation, translator training, computer-assisted translation

©inTRAlinea & Adrià Martín-Mor (2018).
"Impostazione e struttura di un corso intensivo avanzato di tecnologie per la traduzione", inTRAlinea Vol. 20.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2285

‘In an ideal world, fully completed empirical research should tell us what we need to teach,
and then we start teaching. In the real world, we have to teach right now.’ Pym (2012)



Le tecnologie per la traduzione sono, ogni giorno di più, parte integrante dei programmi di formazione dei traduttori. A causa della loro natura mutevole, però, non è facile stabilire quali contenuti debbano essere inclusi nel piano di studi dei traduttori e, ancor meno, stabilirne una classifica in base al livello formativo degli studenti. Ovviamente, il numero di ore a disposizione è determinante nell’elaborazione di una proposta. Questo articolo propone un percorso formativo che fornisce una panoramica sulle tecnologie per la traduzione in poche sessioni e senza necessità di alcun investimento economico per l’acquisizione di hardware o software.

La sezione 1 descrive in che modo, attualmente, le materie relative alle tecnologie per la traduzione vengono incluse all’interno dei percorsi formativi di traduzione degli stati italiano e spagnolo. La sezione 2 include una breve ricognizione bibliografica delle ricerche sulla didattica delle tecnologie per la traduzione e sulle competenze strumentali. L’impostazione del corso proposto viene descritta in dettaglio nella sezione 3, partendo dagli obiettivi e dalla metodologia fino alla programmazione delle sessioni e ai materiali di docenza. La sezione 4, infine, raccoglie le considerazioni conclusive e cerca di suggerire un possibile schema di contenuti basato sul corso proposto che lo completi e lo amplii.

1. La formazione in tecnologie per la traduzione nei curriculum acca­demici degli Stati italiano e spagnolo

La formazione in traduzione è inclusa in varie lauree magistrali italiane: programmi universitari di secondo livello a cui si accede dopo una laurea triennale, solitamente in lingue o discipline affini. Nello Stato spagnolo, la formazione in traduzione è offerta all’interno di percorsi sia di laurea[1] sia di master. Secondo lo studio di Colominas e Piqué (2013), 22 università offrono programmi di traduzione a livello di laurea. Gli autori dello studio si propongono di individuare quali sono le caratteristiche dei corsi di tecnologie per la traduzione all’interno di queste università, intesi come corsi in cui si propongono ‘conoscenze e abilità dell’informatica applicate alla traduzione, la documentazione e la terminologia’ (2013: 299).[2] Sempre secondo gli stessi autori, nei corsi di traduzione delle università dello Stato spagnolo, alle materie di tecnologie per la traduzione sono dedicati una media di 11 crediti[3] (su 240), e la maggior parte delle università (il 75% circa) offre un minimo di due corsi all’interno del percorso di laurea.

Da una ricerca effettuata sul web risulta che i programmi di formazione in traduzione in Italia sono 18,[4] di cui quasi la totalità è nei curricula di lauree magistrali. Per quanto riguarda la formazione specialistica in traduzione, va sottolineato che non tutti i corsi di laurea a cui si riferiscono le informazioni riportate includono corsi di tecnologie per la traduzione. La media dei crediti dedicati a queste materie nelle lauree magistrali è di 9,65.[5]

2.I contenuti dei corsi in tecnologie per la traduzione

Vari ricercatori si sono occupati di quali debbano essere i contenuti dei corsi di tecnologie per la traduzione. Certamente, come premesso, la natura mutevole dell’oggetto d’insegnamento (le tecnologie) non facilita l’elaborazione di tali proposte. Jiménez-Crespo (2014: 176), ad esempio, suddivide le competenze strumentali/tecnologiche in due gruppi principali, le subcompetenze tecnologiche (in cui rientrano da abilità basilari, quali la gestione di file, fino ad abilità più complesse come la postedizione) e le abilità di ricerca e documentazione (‘research-documentation skills’), collegate alla ricerca di informazioni in opere di riferimento (dizionari, testi paralleli, ecc.). La proposta di Pym (2012), invece, tratta aspetti metodologici della docenza della traduzione e usa il concetto di insieme di abilità (‘skill sets’) per far riferimento a ‘cose che vanno imparate in un certo momento lungo il processo’ —tra cui include imparare a imparare, imparare a distinguere dati attendibili da quelli non attendibili, e imparare a fare revisioni delle traduzioni in quanto testi— in relazione alla didattica delle tecnologie. Sottolineiamo che, secondo Pym, in qualsiasi proposta pedagogica ‘le tecnologie vanno usate ovunque’, e non solo in corsi specifici di tecnologia, in degli spazi docenti appropriati e a stretto contatto con esperti. Si noti che Pym (2012: 9) considera fondamentale, come parte dell’imparare a imparare, motivare l’autonomia dello studente nell’imparare contenuti legati alla tecnologia:

[Gli studenti] devono essere lasciati a se stessi […] in modo che possano sperimentare e diventino abili nell’imparare nuovi strumenti velocemente, affidandosi alla propria intuizione, all’appoggio dei compagni, a gruppi di supporto in linea, tutoriali, manuali d’istruzioni e occasionalmente a un formatore umano che li tenga per mano qualora entrino nel panico.[6]

A livello di master, gli esperti dello European Master’s in Translation Board (EMT Board 2017) ritengono che la padronanza degli strumenti (la competenza tecnologica) corrisponda ai seguenti aspetti:

  • Usare le applicazioni tecnologiche più rilevanti, compresa l’intera gamma di software di produttività personale, e sapersi adattare velocemente a nuovi strumenti e risorse tecnologiche.
  • Usare in maniera efficace motori di ricerca, strumenti basati su corpora, strumenti per l’analisi dei testi e strumenti CAT.
  • Pre-processare, processare e gestire file e altri contenuti multimediali in quanto parte della traduzione, ad esempio file di video e multimedia, gestire tecnologie web.
  • Dominare le basi della traduzione automatica e il suo effetto nel processo di traduzione.
  • Valutare la rilevanza dei sistemi di traduzione automatica in un flusso di lavoro di traduzione e implementare il sistema appropriato, se necessario.
  • Applicare altri strumenti di supporto delle tecnologie della lingua e per la traduzione, come software per la gestione dei flussi di lavoro.[7]

Colominas e Piqué (2013: 309) elaborano una tabella riassuntiva dei contenuti dei corsi di tecnologie per la traduzione nelle università dello Stato spagnolo in base alla loro presenza nei programmi dei corsi, suddivisi in contenuti introduttivi e contenuti avanzati.

Contenuti introduttivi Contenuti avanzati

Elaboratori di testi

Fondamenti dell’informatica

Traduzione assistita

Fogli di calcolo

Gestione di progetti

Edizione collaborativa

Gestione terminologica

Standard XML, TMX, XLIFF


Elaboratori di presentazioni

Traduzione assistita

Gestione terminologica

Localizzazione web

Gestione di progetti

Gestione di corpora

Localizzazione di software

Standard XML, TMX, XLIFF

Traduzione automatica


Controllo di qualità

Tabella 1: Contenuti dei corsi di tecnologie per la traduzione (adattato da Colominas e Piqué 2013)

Come si può notare nella Tabella 1, i contenuti esclusivi dei corsi introduttivi sono so­prattutto quelli collegati al software di produttività personale (elaboratori di testi, fogli di calcolo, elaboratori di presentazioni, database) e concetti teorici dell’informatica, mentre la localizzazione, la gestione di corpora, la traduzione automatica (TA), la sotto­titolazione e il controllo di qualità compaiono soltanto tra i contenuti avanzati. I conte­nuti che compaiono sia tra i corsi introduttivi sia tra quelli avanzati includono la Tradu­zione Assistita dal Computer (TAC, in inglese CAT), la gestione terminologica, la gestione di progetti, e gli standard (XML, TMX, XLIFF, ecc.).[8] Nelle sezioni successive si definiranno i contenuti di un corso avanzato intensivo in tecnologie per la traduzione elaborato secondo i criteri descritti in introduzione.

3. Impostazione di un corso intensivo avanzato sulle tecnologie della traduzione

In base a quanto esposto nelle sezioni precedenti, in questa sezione vengono descritti i dettagli di un corso avanzato realizzato in base a criteri di ampiezza (nella scelta dei contenuti), di concentrazione (in numero di ore) e di costi zero per l’acquisizione di hardware e software. Si descrivono gli obiettivi e la metodologia del corso, con particolare attenzione alle necessità tecnologiche hardware e software. Successivamente è descritta la messa in pratica del corso, con i dettagli dei contenuti e degli strumenti.

3.1. Obiettivi e metodologia

L’obiettivo principale del corso è quello di fornire allo studente una panoramica dei processi più comuni e degli strumenti per la traduzione nell’ambito della traduzione professionale. Quanto agli obiettivi secondari, si eviden