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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)


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

Education as Translation: Toward a Social Philosophy of Translation

By Salah Basalamah (University of Ottawa, Canada)


Translation has been considered an equivalent to intercultural communication as long as it has been contemplated within the confines of linguistic and cultural paradigms. However, because culture is considered the broadest of these two paradigms, it has rightfully been defined in multiple ways and at multiple levels in order to fit more elaborate and wider frameworks. For instance, as dichotomous structural boundaries have faded away in favor of hybridity and métissage, it has been argued in anthropology and in cultural and postcolonial studies (around the notion of cultural translation most notably) that culture is in and of itself a translational phenomenon. This means that the framework of education is itself a place where culture as an intellectual practice and process can be transmitted. Culture considered as education, and education as a space of predilection for the transmission/translation of culture.

The goal of this paper is to reflect on issues involved in what could be termed as educational translation, studied both retrospectively and prospectively. Raising the issue of education not only as a space of communication but also as a sort of transformation of the human mind (both its values and its principal orientations) is inevitably an attempt to determine which social blueprint is expected at the end of the educational process in translational terms. The cases of the German Romantics, Joseph Jacotot and Henri Le Saux will be the main illustrations to our reflection.


©inTRAlinea & Salah Basalamah (2020).
"Education as Translation: Toward a Social Philosophy of Translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2524


Translation has been considered as an equivalent to intercultural communication as long as it was contemplated within the confines of the linguistic and the cultural paradigms. However, if culture would be the broadest framework of the latter, it has rightfully been defined in multiple ways and at multiple levels in order to fit more elaborate and wider paradigms. For instance, it has been argued in anthropology, in cultural and postcolonial studies—around the notion of cultural translation notably—that culture is in and of itself a translational phenomenon as dichotomous structural boundaries have faded away in favor of hybridity and métissage (Wolf 2002; Bachmann-Medick 2006; Buden and Nowotny 2009). This means that the framework of education is itself a place where culture as an intellectual practice and process can be actually transmitted. Culture, then, is considered as education, and education as a space of predilection for the transmission/translation of culture.

Now in the vein of the enlargement of the cultural paradigm, there have been several instances in various disciplines where translation as a metaphor has been used to represent genetic decoding (molecular biology), transfer, exchange and implementation of knowledge (medical research), change of internet protocol address (networking), TV or radio retransmission (broadcasting), property transfer or legal transplantation (law), and political regime change (political science). Even in casual conversations, translation is used as a figure of speech to express the transformation of an idea into something concrete. Hence, one can say that translation is moving toward a paradigm that would be encompassing enough to consider translation not only as an object of study beyond language and culture but, more importantly, as a paradigm itself (Ricœur 1996; 2006) in order to serve as a lens to look through and study various transformative phenomena, one of which would be education.

This paper reflects on questions and examples involving what could be termed as educational translation, considered both retrospectively and prospectively. To raise the issue of education not only as a space of transmission but also as a means of transformation for the human mind (both its values and principal orientations) is inevitably an endeavor to discover which social blueprint is expected at the end of the educational process. Intercultural communication—hereinafter translation—is not simply a competence to articulate cultures and mediate them, it is the very process by which education is actually handled and experienced at the same time.

After a short overview of the evolution of the concepts of translation and culture in the interdisciplinary contexts of the humanities and social sciences, this paper will first articulate the broad lines of translation as a philosophical paradigm and then illustrate the latter with three cases of education as an (inter)culturally transformative phenomenon in a global context.

What do we mean by translation?

Given the context of globalization and the resulting de facto interconnectivity among multiple sources and destinations, the relativity of points of view regarding the topics exchanged—as well as the heterogeneity of the perspectives, understandings, and interpretations—become unavoidable. In other words, since this multiplicity of languages, narratives, and perceptions takes place in a globalized world; since the semiotic space provides the means of achieving the greatest impact on the masses today; and since people cannot coexist without acting together for the good of themselves and the greatest number, what type of foundational undertaking, one that is both multiple and combined, could be promoted to the rank of concerted global action in the realm of education? The short answer proposed in this reflection is translation, but it is necessary to start by understanding the object of study and the breadth of its scope.

What is understood as translation here depends on the goals assigned to it. If a conceptual instrument is necessary to understand the intricacies of a mediated education process, it is just as important to ensure that the concept that designates it applies appropriately to its referent. We usually face a problem when a notion used outside of its principal meaning consists in the non-obvious character of its figurative usage: the literal meaning is generally qualified as ‘primary’, being the one that most immediately comes to mind, whatever the context. The figurative usage is considered secondary because it is both less frequent and less direct, i.e., it requires the detour of a displacement of meaning between two different conceptual domains: the (more concrete) source and the (more abstract) target. This is the very definition of a “conceptual metaphor” (Kövecses 2002: 6). It is this paradox of the secondary nature of the figurative (compared to the literal) meaning combined with the recurrence of the metaphor that determines the unique characteristic of translation. On the one hand, the translating action is located “downstream” from what is commonly known as the “original creation” and is therefore secondary. On the other hand, it not only participates in the actual development of our conceptual system, but also the word “translation” is linked etymologically to metaphor (analogic/comparative process linking/assimilating two objects): One of the terms from which translation comes in ancient Greek is metapherein. Translation is therefore, and as a starting point, metaphorical by definition.

A number of disciplines are turning to the concept of translation as metaphor because of its heuristic power to represent and clarify the phenomena of transmission and transformation beyond the linguistic domain. Relying on the knowledge and experience gathered in linguistics, fields such as anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, marketing, cultural studies, and postcolonial studies are using the concept of translation to describe the processes of interpretation, adaptation, and displacement of cultures, powers, or even people. So the study of the translation concept in the metaphorical sense consists in considering distinct objects—whose meanings are perceived from different perspectives or fields of knowledge. But it also consists in transforming them from reciprocal points of view and observing the types and degrees of changes brought about as well as probable modifications in content and form as a result of the translational action.

Translation metaphors are multiple and cover several aspects of the translational process that can be organized into three main and complimentary categories. The first is communicative, which is made up of two interdependent sections. On the one hand, as in the hermeneutical tradition in philosophy, translation is equivalent to the act of understanding, interpreting, and grasping. On the other hand, it is the corresponding process which consists of making understood, expressing, (re)formulating, or clarifying signs and meanings through the use of other signs and symbols. Thus, in the hermeneutic tradition from Heidegger to Gadamer and Derrida to Ricœur and Steiner, translation has represented both aspects of the communicative process:

Translation is formally and pragmatically implicit in every act of communication, in the emission and reception of each and every mode of meaning, be it in the widest semiotic sense or in more specifically verbal exchanges. To understand is to decipher. To hear significance is to translate. (Steiner 1998: xii, emphasis added)

This means that translation occurs at the stage of the very expression of our thoughts and their transformation into sounds, phonemes and signs, as well as at their meaningful integration into others’ minds, understandings.

The second category is transformative, referring to the process of progressive or sudden change that occurs between two distinct states of the same object or individual. To illustrate this, one could point to the idea of translation as political reform, which conceives of the alternation of political regimes, ideologies and their respective discourses as instances of political transformations of one and the same political jurisdiction (Cain et al. 2003). Likewise, this kind of political philosophy can be linked to the idea of mutually translating the causes of different groups toward a common struggle, which is substantially inspired by the works of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. The latter considers that socio-political movements cannot deal with the hegemony of liberal globalization without forming “chains of equivalence” (Mouffe 2000; 2005; Mouffe and Laclau 2001), i.e. translations of various democratic struggles against a common adversary. Through articulating disparate political forces, the formation of the chain consists in agreeing on the smallest common denominators in ideology and strategy in order to effect a transformation and thereby form an “agonistic” opposition (not ‘antagonistic’ as considered by Carl Schmidt 1996) in view of fighting the designated political enemy democratically (Basalamah 2008).

The third and last category is both transactional and recursive. Translation is transactional inasmuch as it plays a role in managing difference, in negotiating between poles of meaning that, in a last phase of the transformation, must reduce tension and find a balance. Translating therefore consists in making at least two shapes, objects, or individuals converge and negotiate their coexistence. To do so, one cannot be satisfied with only unidirectional movement in the process of searching for stability but should instead seek a succession of convergences originating from all parties. Thus, after the first transactional movement, the next one will follow and so on recursively until the point of equilibrium and rapprochement between the parties involved is found. This is, for example, Habermas’s logic of “communicative action” (1985) or Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons” (2004), in which recursive translation represents the ever-renewed process of looking for common understanding or consensus.

Through its three complementary and overlapping facets, translation conceived of as a philosophical paradigm takes on considerable social and political functions that are finally being recognized beyond the traditional linguistic and cultural frameworks (Basalamah 2010; 2012). But what do we mean here by paradigm? Although definitions could be found in many different sources, one that was privileged for the purposes of this paper comes opportunely from the field of education:

A paradigm is the fundamental lens through which we view our environment. The paradigm that governs our thinking about a given system is the theory that determines the invariant features that shape the system and defines how to succeed within the system. Usually a paradigm is so ingrained, so rooted in our familiar sense of the way things are, that we hold it unconsciously, without either choice or deliberation. (Tagg 2003: xiii)

In fact, similar to the etymological meaning of ‘theory’ (theoria is to observe, to perceive), a paradigm enables us to literally see new objects and interpret them according to the new framework of reference.

The historian of science Thomas Kuhn has even gone further in describing the change of scientific paradigm and its effects: “Rather than being an interpreter, the scientist who embraces a new paradigm is like the man wearing inverting lenses.” (1970: 121-122) For Kuhn, until the said paradigm becomes the accepted worldview among scientists, the field has to undergo a “crisis” that pits competing paradigms against each other (1970: 153-154;158) to such an extent that they are deemed “incommensurable” (102). Although it is not suggested that this is the case in translation studies or in any discipline of the humanities and social science, the fact is by including the social and political dimensions of the transformative process of translation in the purview of the proposed translational paradigm—instead of being confined to a linguistic-cultural-based one—we are drawn into a primarily relational conception of translation. A conception that is at the heart of the discursive formation of the new political identity of the postmodern subject and constituted by the logic of equivalence (Laclau and Mouffe 2001: 130-131). And one that would be also illustrative to Salman Rushdie’s famous quote:

The word “translation” comes, etymologically, from the Latin for “bearing across.” Having been borne across the world, we are translated men. It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately, to the notion that something can also be gained. (Rushdie 1991: 16)

Rushdie hence illustrates the fluid nature of the translational identity as the very fabric of our being, which seems to be woven and supplemented by its continuous decentering and overcoming beyond oneself.

Translation understood this way as well could be of paramount usefulness to perceive and conceptualize many transformational phenomena where the objects of translation are actual social and/or political players. The interaction between teachers and learners is a case in point.

Education as translation

Education as formation

If we consider the Western history of translation as predating the actual discipline of translation studies, stretching from Cicero to the wake of the end of WWII, there is one particular historical period that has shed a great deal of light on the notion of translation as I would like to present it in this paper: eighteenth and nineteenth-century German Romanticism. As a matter of fact, authors such as Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Schlegel, and Hegel have defined the concept of Bildung as both the German counterpart of Kultur and the degree of formation of an artwork, that is “the way in which the culture interprets its mode of unfolding” (emphasis in original). Berman (1992) has attempted to show how “translation (as a mode of relation to the foreign) is structurally inscribed in Bildung” being both a process and a result (43). Moreover, through Bildung more broadly “an individual, a people, a nation, but also a language, a literature, a work of art in general are formed and thus acquire a form, a Bild” (43-44). As it is a temporal process punctuating moments and stages in history, “Bildung is a process of self-formation concerned with a ‘same’ unfolding itself to attain its full dimension […] the movement of the ‘same’ which, changing, finds itself to be ‘other’” (44, emphasis in original). A Hegelian experience in the broadest meaning of the term.

The way German Romantics conceived of Bildung as formation is a pervasive organic metaphor. In effect, similar to the creation and evolution of an artwork, “Bildung is always a movement toward a form, one’s form—which is to say that, in the beginning, every being is deprived of its form” (Berman 1992: 44). Moreover, using organic images such as the virgin that becomes a women, the child that becomes an adult, and the bud that becomes a flower are all metaphors indicating that Bildung “deals with a necessary process” (44), although paradoxically entailing freedom at the same time. In this sense, the concept is understood as a temporal process encompassing the various stages of gaining experience and knowledge, much like in education. To go through a formative development can be likened to a translational elaboration from one’s initial state of being/knowledge to a further enlarged one. Although the state of innocence (or virginity) may be considered as an ideal, the fruitful expansion that can derive from the relation to the foreign/unknown is even more desired (Berman 1992: chapter 2).

It is Berman (1992) who links the preliminary understanding of Bildung as translation to the concept of the novel as the primary literary form that has symbolized the mediating characteristic of translation:

Goethe's Wilhelm Meister is the story of the education of the young hero, a formation which passes through a series of mediations and mediators, one of whom is significantly called the "Foreigner." Because the foreign has a mediating function, translation can become one of the agents of Bildung—a function it shares with a series of other "trans-lations" which constitute as many critical relations to the self and the foreign. (Berman, 1992: 46)

Thus, translation epitomizes the educational formation process through which “agents of Bildung” undertake the journey toward their maturation and self-fulfillment. When undertaking the decentering step of going out toward otherness in general, cultures like their proponents undergo a translation process leading to their growth and “expansion,” according to Herder (Berman 1992: chapter 2).

Education as mutual transformation

Similar to the movement of Bildung, the formal education process unfolds into a transformational experience whereby learners and instructors translate themselves from one state to another. According to Cook-Sather (2001), a science education researcher who relies heavily on the translation metaphor, preservice teachers search for their own voices by listening to the voice of the students in order to redefine themselves and acquire their identity as teachers (186):

These embodiments of translation of text and self, like the range of definitions of translation, are particularly appropriate for capturing the constant re-conceptualizations and re-renderings that constitute the active process of becoming a teacher. When one becomes a teacher, one changes one’s condition; one makes a new version of one’s self; one makes oneself comprehensible to others in a new sphere; one is, in some ways, transformed. (Cook-Sather 2001: 181-182)

Not only does the preservice teacher learn to become an actual teacher and to cope with her new identity and voice, both the experienced teacher and the learner undergo a translation process literally and metaphorically at the same time:

In the literal sense, when one undertakes a formal educational experience, one must learn to recognize a new vocabulary, think in new ways, speak and write using these ways of thinking and these new words. If one engages in the process fully, one translates oneself in a more metaphorical sense: A learner who genuinely engages in well-designed formal education changes her condition, makes herself comprehensible to others in a new sphere, makes a new version of herself, is transformed. (Cook-Sather 2006: 333)

In fact, as long as the instructor is practicing education, she is engaged in an inescapable transformative process that cannot be separated from that of the learner.

A dialectics further illustrated in the example of Jacotot, a French teacher who taught in Holland in the 1830s and “caused quite a scandal […] by proclaiming that uneducated people could learn on their own, without a teacher explaining things to them, and that teachers, for their part, could teach what they themselves were ignorant of.” (Rancière 2010: 1) This radical view of education, where equality becomes a condition for the emancipation of the learner from her dependence on the instructor’s explanation, is actually founding its tenets on the translation paradigm:

Thought is not told in truth it is expressed in veracity. It is divided, it is told, it is translated for someone else, who will make of it another tale, another translation, on one condition: the will to communicate, the will to figure out what the other is thinking, and this under no guarantee beyond his narration, no universal dictionary to dictate what must be understood. Will figures out will. (Rancière 1991: 62)

According to Rancière, teachers do not transfer knowledge to their students; they help them emancipate themselves from the power relation and inequality of the “knowledge-to-come” or the ‘explanation’ worldview considered as an illusion to a relation of interdependent equality. It is a transformation process that teachers and students undergo together through the mutual translation of their respective thoughts and understandings. The drive of the self to understand the other and the desire of both to reformulate their respective appropriation of the object of knowledge is a translational movement that is similar to the concept of “adaptation” in the field of intercultural competence, i.e. a process of “interdependence and alteration of behavior in episodes of interaction, such that the actions of one interactant influence the actions of the other interactant(s) in the context” (Spitzberg and Chagnon 2009: 6) and vice versa.

This reciprocal disposition to transform through a mutual willingness to understand is translational in the very words of Jacotot, The Ignorant Schoolmaster (Rancière 1991):

Understanding is never more than translating, that is, giving the equivalent of a text, but in no way its reason. There is nothing behind the written page, no false bottom that necessitates the work of another intelligence, that of the explicator…Learning and understanding are two ways of expressing the same act of translation. There is nothing beyond texts except the will to express, that is, to translate. (Rancière 1991: 9-10)

In the era of post-metaphysics and the axiom of equality, the hidden meaning that used to be mediated by the prophets of knowledge is now the transactional and open property of both the learner and the trainer. Hence, the very process of communication between the agents of education, i.e. both teachers and students, is not achieved through transfer, but rather through mutual transformation.

The challenge that Jacotot is proposing to take up is that of any hypothetical intercultural situation where representatives of different cultures and languages (like him and his Dutch students trying to read Fénélon in French) would be willing to communicate but are prevented by what is commonly seen as the “language barrier.” But his thesis is that impediments to communication are the very motivation for people to be striving to translate each other by using their remoteness to a shared space of understanding:

But what, brings people together, what unites them, is non-aggregation…People are united because they are people, that is to say, distant beings. Language doesn’t unite them. On the contrary, it is the arbitrariness of language that makes them try to communicate by forcing them to translate—but also puts them in a community of intelligence (Rancière 1991: 58).

This is almost exactly what philosophical hermeneutics—mainly Gadamer (2004)—have been saying using the metaphor of translation to explain the recursive process of mutual understanding in a conversation. Similar to translation, the action of comprehending is always incomplete, resistant and irreducible as there is no way to fully grasp the other’s utterance in its dematerialized cognitive state but through the deciphering process represented by discourse in communication.  As a matter of fact, Gadamer presents the other as Anstoss, i.e. obstacle/clash and impulse/impetus at the same time (2004: chapter 5), which means that the interaction with the other is impossible. At the same time however, it is the necessary prompt for all the different parties to converge around the search for intercomprehension.

Conversion as educational translation

In terms of transformational learning, the French Christian monk Henri Le Saux of the early 20th century was another case in point (Baumer-Despeigne 1983). After leaving his monastery in Northwestern France for India, he endeavored to deepen his Christian spiritual experience in the caves of Arunachala and the Himalayas. In 1948, along with Benedictine priest Fr Jules Monchanin, who invited him to

form the first nucleus of a monastery (or rather a laura, a grouping of neighboring anchorites like the ancient Laura of Saint Sabas in Palestine) which buttresses the Rule of Saint Benedict—a primitive, sober, discrete rule. Only one purpose: to seek God. And the monastery will be Indian style. We would like to crystallize and transubstantiate the search of the Hindu sannyāsī [renunciation]. Advaita [non-duality] and the praise of the Trinity are our only aim. This means we must grasp the authentic Hindu search for God in order to Christianize it, starting with ourselves first of all, from within. (As cited in Oldmeadow 2008: 8)

As any missionary type of undertaking, the spiritual translation was initially conceived of as predominantly unidirectional—i.e. to Christianize Hinduism—despite the openness to the compelling call of Indian spirituality (Baumer-Despeigne 1983).

Then the determining encounter with Sri Ramana Maharshi, one of the most influential saints of his time, occurred in 1949 at Arunchala, the cave of the holly mountain of Lord Shiva. The impact was powerful and his meeting with the Sage had such an impact that Le Saux became himself a swami (a religious teacher of the Advaita Vedanta). In fact, Le Saux “was no longer primarily motivated by the ideal of a monastic Christian witness in India but was now seized by the ideal of sannyāsa as an end in itself.” (Oldmeadow 2008: 11) And as a result of this sojourn in presence of Ramana, instead of converting/translating Hinduism to Christianity, Le Saux was himself translated into Swami Abhishiktananda (his Hindu name).

At the same time, he admittedly never renounced Christianity either, which has given him the benefit of both spiritual traditions, but only after overcoming the tensions of his dual belonging.

Abhishiktananda, with heroic audacity, chose to live out his life on that very frontier, neither forsaking Christianity nor repudiating the spiritual treasures which he had found in such abundance in India. . . .It was a position which was to cause him much distress and loneliness, and a good many difficulties with some of his fellow Christians, be they ecclesiastical authorities, priests and scholars, or acquaintances. (Oldmeadow 2008: 16)

To be torn apart between two worlds is exactly the fate of most translators and multicultural beings, to the extent that one of the most commonly spread metaphors of translation is that of the bridge to which Le Saux has also identified:

It is precisely the fact of being a bridge that makes this uncomfortable situation worthwhile. The world, at every level, needs such bridges. The danger of this life as “bridge” is that we run the risk of not belonging to either side; whereas, however harrowing it may be, our duty is to belong wholly to both sides. This is only possible in the mystery of God (Le Saux as quoted in Baümer 2004 by Oldmeadow 2008: 16-17).

Although apparently static, this image of the bridge nonetheless reminds us of the Hegelian experience of the Romantics when considered more dynamically through more spiritual and plastic representations of the inner world where the spatiality of the path linking the two sides of a gulf becomes the temporally lived reality between two states of consciousness.

For Abhishiktananda advaita, in the first place, is not a recondite doc- trine but an immediate experience of a mystery—the mystery of God, the world, and man himself. It is an “experience” like no other certainly, and one most difficult to conceptualize or communicate. . . .It is an “inner” awareness of the Real (Self/Ātman-Brahman/God/Divine Presence) in which all dualities disappear, including that of “experience” and “expe- riencer,” of subject and object. It is quite beyond the reach of either the senses or the mind. It can only be described symbolically and metaphorically: it is a “blazing discovery,” a “consuming fire,” an endless “pillar of fire,” “a cataclysmic transformation of being,” “a shattering” of all one’s previous understandings, a fathomless abyss, “an interior lightning flash.” (Quoted in Stephens 1984: by Oldmeadow, 2008: 137)

The “cataclysmic transformation of being” is then this deep revolution that is similar to the one experienced by the cultural learner when discovering the other’s unusual perspective and finally understanding its beauty or validity—with the difference though that it may be a significantly longer process than that of the mystic.

The mystical experience, as described by countless saints and sages through the ages, results in absolute certitude about the supra-sensorial Reality to which the experience gives access. It is almost always associated with luminosity and with bliss. The mystical experience-proper triggers a radical and spontaneous self-transformation which ineradicably changes the trajectory of the life in question. (Oldmeadow 2008: 147)

In accordance to Herder’s theory of translation (Berman 1992: chapter 2), the contact of the foreign necessarily leads to one’s development and expansion—sometimes even against one’s own conscious or premeditated resolve. In that sense, the paradox of Le Saux’s example reveals that the deliberate translation of oneself would entail the result of eventually becoming translated.


Despite all the postcolonial suspicions that portrayed translation as an unequivocal accomplice of the colonial powers (Bassnett and Trivedi 1999: 3), these examples show that, on the contrary, it can be considered an instrument of liberation from inequalities and subjugations that could be found not only in politics, but in the inevitable servitudes of the realm of (spiritual) education as well.

If the German Romantics taught the world that translation is a source-oriented activity where the passage through the experience of the foreign is the condition of possibility of any progress, they have however not overlooked the fact that translation is by definition ethnocentric (Berman 1999) and is primarily meant to develop the self. Despite the ethical translation tradition initiated by Berman (1992) and Venuti (1998), then spread by philosophers like Ricœur (2006) and Jervolino (2008), the development of one’s own cultural or spiritual identity and knowledge—what we would like to brand as educational translation—is nothing of an egocentric undertaking. On the contrary, especially if we think of the formation of a local scholarly language:

Je suis convaincu qu’on ne peut enseigner la science que dans la langue nationale, c’est-à-dire dans la langue que les gens utilisent dans leur vie quotidienne, la langue vivante de la société. [I’m convinced that we cannot but teach science in the national language, that is in the language that people use in their daily lives, the living language of society.] (Rashed 2004: xxvii, my translation)

To actually build one’s own scientific knowledge and culture requires educating and acquiring knowledge in the familiar environment of one’s own dominant language, i.e. by translating science and putting into practice intercultural competence in a way that would integrate it and appropriate it to the degree that it eventually becomes homegrown.

The claim of any invention or novelty starts with the appropriation of another’s initial idea retranslated in one’s own terms, language and context. Because translating entails recognizing that all original production is made, in the terms of Bernard of Chartres, by “dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants” (Saresberiensis 1955: 167)—i.e. on the basis of previous transmissions—education becomes the conduit of novelty every time it occurs at the light of its new conditions of production. To educate is to translate newness at each communicative occurrence.


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About the author(s)

Salah Basalamah’s research focuses on Translation Studies (including the philosophy of translation, translation rights, ethnographic translation and translation as metaphor), Postcolonial, Cultural and Religious Studies, as well as the study of Western Islam and Muslims. He is now working on a forthcoming book on the philosophy translation and its applications in the fields of the human, social and natural sciences.

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

©inTRAlinea & Salah Basalamah (2020).
"Education as Translation: Toward a Social Philosophy of Translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2524

Dubbing of Sound in the Samurai Movie Love and Honor

A Comparison of Japanese and English Language Versions

By Reito Adachi (Kurashiki City College, Japan)


This paper aims to examine how the acoustic nonverbal elements in a particular Japanese live-action film are dubbed in the US English version. The focus is on the aural modification of sound effects, background music, and paralanguages in Yoji Yamada’s samurai movie Bushi no Ichibun (Love and Honor). The two versions are compared to examine the dubbing process in terms of deletion, addition, amplification, and reduction. Although the dialogue and visual images in the English version are generally faithful to the original Japanese version, sound elements have shown a notable tendency to undergo changes, including omissions, as a strategy of dubbing a film from a high-context culture to a low-context culture. These findings indicate the importance of studying audiovisual translation not only from the verbal and visual perspectives but also from the acoustic perspective.

Keywords: dubbing, sound, audiovisual translation, Japanese film, Love and Honor

©inTRAlinea & Reito Adachi (2020).
"Dubbing of Sound in the Samurai Movie Love and Honor", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2522

1. Introduction

The present paper intends to contribute to the advancement of audiovisual translation (AVT) studies by casting a new light on the aural aspects of dubbing between what Edward T. Hall (1976) calls high-context and low-context cultures. He states that “a high-context (HC) communication is one in which most of the information is already in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicitly transmitted part of the message. A low-context (LC) communication is just the opposite; i.e., the mass of the information is vested in the explicit code” (p. 91). Countries like Japan, Italy, France, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have high-context culture while countries where low-context culture is dominant include the United States of America, Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia.[1] This paper is designed to investigate how acoustic elements in the Japanese samurai movie Bushi no Ichibun (Love and Honor)[2] are adapted in the process of dubbing into English in the USA. The acoustic elements studied here include background music, sound effects, and paralanguages such as sighs, laughter and silence.[3] AVT deals with multimodal information, which is broadly classified into screen images and sounds. Audiovisual text can be further classified into four basic elements: visual verbal (e.g. subtitles), visual nonverbal (e.g. images), acoustic verbal (e.g. dialogue), and acoustic nonverbal (e.g. background music and sound effects) (Delabastita 1989; Zabalbeascoa 2008: 24). Dubbing is the act of maintaining a balance between adequacy and acceptability of what Oittinen (1993: 85) calls the “whole situation”.

Acoustic nonverbal elements are generally considered to play a peripheral or, at most, supporting role to the other three elements, which mainly convey and represent information and ideas to the audience. Background music and sound effects work most effectively when they act in harmony with visual and verbal information. However, acoustic nonverbal elements have distinctive characteristics that can create an atmosphere without relying on words or even visual images, appealing strongly to the emotions of the audience. Moreover, according to Hall (1976), while high-context cultures tend to concentrate more on nonverbal elements, the latter are less important in low-context cultures where most contextual elements require explanation. This can cause confusion or misunderstanding to people who are unfamiliar to the unspoken rules of a given culture. Thus, the effects of acoustic nonverbal elements on a context should not be overlooked in AVT studies.

2. Previous Studies

According to Chaume (1997), nonverbal elements were strongly disregarded in the field of Translation Studies, “as if translation of verbal utterances took into account every single paralinguistic, kinetic or semiotic sign which cohesively complements verbal signs” (315). However, the 21st century has seen a growing number of studies on acoustic nonverbal elements in AVT, such as voice quality, vocalization, and vocal qualifiers (e.g. Braun and Oba 2007; Palencia Villa 2002; Pennock-Speck and Del Saz-Rubio 2009). More recent studies include Sánchez-Mompeán (2020) which carried out a comprehensive examination of prosaic features of dubbed dialogue from the perspective of both theory and practice, as well as Bosseaux (2019) who pointed out the importance of appropriately choosing of voice actors in the French dubbing context. More obviously relevant to later discussion in the present paper are investigations that deal with background music, sound effects and paralanguages, such as silence. Building on the studies by, for example, Susam-Sarajeva (2008), Bosseaux (2008) and Minors (2013), De los Reyes Lozano (2017) focused on how translation plays a variety of roles within a musical context and analyzed translation strategies and techniques adopted in the process of dubbing animated films. Other insightful views include Dastjerdi and Jazini (2011) and Ranzato (2011; 2013) who examined how acoustic elements, such as off-camera sound effects and live laughter, are eliminated or manipulated in subtitles and dubbing.

In Japanese movies, including samurai dramas, communication via indirect or implicit messages has provided topics in film studies and other fields, such as cultural studies (e.g. Došen 2017). According to some research, a good example of Japanese communication style is the use of silence (Nakane 2007) and real-life Japanese speakers insert pauses and silences into dialogue more frequently than American speakers (Yamada 1997: 77). Pauses and silences could, therefore, provide an interesting standpoint to discuss the use of acoustic nonverbal elements in Japanese films. Jin (2004) argues that silence and sound, for example, in Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese movie Kumonosujo [Spider Web Castle] (the English title is Throne of Blood), which is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, are as eloquent as Shakespeare’s introspective speeches that convey dramatic power. These nonverbal elements communicate effectively “through the manipulation of silence and the interaction between silence, natural sound, and noh music” (2).

Furthermore, after comparing between the original Japanese versions and English-dubbed versions of Japanese animated movies imported by the USA in the late 20th century, Adachi (2013) concludes that “in the pre-2000 English-translated versions, examples of high-context communication, such as fragmented dialogue and pauses and silences, are one of the obvious targets for serious modification” (171-2). In spite of temporal and contextual limitations, the pre-2000 translations are based on word-specific communication, which is why great importance is placed on making the textual message as explicit as possible so that it can remove verbal ambiguity and enhance its autonomy.[4] Moreover, by examining the treatment of silence in the translation of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away released in the USA in 2003, Adachi (2016) clarifies that the US English version of the animated fantasy movie removes multiple instances of silence not by interpolating words but by “inserting fillers and by adding or amplifying sound effects” (153).[5]

3. Materials and Methods

3.1 Characteristics of Love and Honor

The Japanese film Bushi no Ichibun, which literally means “the honor of the samurai warrior,” is based on Japanese novelist Shuhei Fujisawa’s short story “Momoku Ken: Kodama-gaeshi” [blind blade: echo return] published in 1981 in his collection of historical stories Kakushi Ken: Shofusho [hidden blade: autumn breeze]. The short story was made into a movie with the title Bushi no Ichibun in 2006 by the director Yoji Yamada. Bushi no Ichibun is the third film of Yamada’s samurai trilogy, following Tasogare Seibei (The Twilight Samurai, 2002) and Kakushi Ken: Oni no Tsume (The Hidden Blade, 2004). The hero of Bushi no Ichibun is a low-ranking, blind samurai named Shinnojo Mimura (henceforth, Shinnojo). He serves as a food taster for poison for a local lord of Unasaka-han (present-day Shonai region) fiefdom in the Tohoku district around the end of the Edo period (1603-1868 AD). The movie involves many things particular to Japan, including the natural environment of the northeast region, periodical sense of feudal Japan, and social status as a samurai. Bushi no Ichibun achieved both popular and critical acclaim in Japan. It was the sixth-biggest box-office hit among the Japanese movies released in Japan in 2006. More importantly, it was so highly acclaimed for its excellent aural elements that it was nominated for the Japan Academy Film Prizes for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Recording and Outstanding Achievement in Music on 16 February 2007.

 Director Yoji Yamada (2006) discusses sounds in the movie as follows:

The novel’s descriptions of how the scenery changes delicately every morning and evening in the four seasons are very beautiful. The fact is that I considered a lot about how to express rain, mist, and wind in the movie. I guess, in the old days, people led a quiet life in the Edo period and Shonai region. I imagine that because nothing made a large noise around them, people heard sounds like street vendors’ voices, bird’s notes, chirping of insects, and the murmuring of a stream very well. (Translation by the author)

It is evident that Yamada has carefully considered the sensitivity of sound aspects of this film such as meticulously recording and reproducing a variety of sounds of nature and daily life, as well as street noises. Examples include wind, rain, thunder, bird song, insect sounds, dog howls, noises in the kitchen, rustles of clothing, the opening and closing of the fusuma (sliding door), whooshing sound of swords and street vendors’ cries. Furthermore, Bushi no Ichibun is unique in its theme and background music played by traditional Japanese instruments such as a Japanese bamboo flute called shakuhachi, a Japanese lute called biwa, and a Japanese wind instrument called sho, accompanied by newly created or modified sounds of a modern synthesizer. It is interesting to add that the rare sound of hibashi or metal chopsticks for handing hot charcoals is also used as a musical instrument in this film (Myochin n.d.). Throughout the movie, these sound effects and music are used almost without a break, giving a vivid and convincing impression of scenery, sentiment, and characterization in the work.

In Bushi no Ichibun, acoustic elements are worthy of attention not only for the audience but also for the main character, Shinnojo. For the audience, the sound serves as a means to enhance the effect of the dramatic presentation. For Shinnojo, sound is a vital source of information about the surroundings in which the blind hero lives. He always keeps his ears open, which is emphasized in the original short story that ends with the sentence: “Samazama na oto o kikinagara Shinnojo wa cha o susutte iru” [Listening to various sounds, Shinnojo is sipping tea] (Fujisawa 2004: 382). Shinnojo’s trust in his finely honed sense of hearing is especially obvious in the duel scene, where it helps him to avenge his wife’s dishonor by defeating Toya Shimada, the chief duty officer and master swordsman. Simultaneously, however, he gets into predicaments when he cannot take advantage of this outstanding listening ability. In the duel scene mentioned above, the rumbling roar of fierce gusts that are blowing intermittently drowns out all other noises, including the subtle sounds of Shimada’s footsteps and breathing. The original short story does not mention any sound of the wind; it is unique to the movie. In addition to the wind, many other sound effects in the movie are not described in the original short story, including birds’ cries, temple bells, and thunderclaps. It can be assumed that the extensive use of sound effects relates to director Yamada’s remarks quoted above, providing strong evidence of the great importance he places on the acoustic aspects of the film.

3.2 Production of the US English Version

Love and Honor, the US English version of Bushi no Ichibun, was released in 2007. It was dubbed and distributed by Funimation Entertainment, which produces merchandise and releases entertainment properties in the USA and international markets. Funimation was founded as an entertainment company predominantly focused on licensing Japanese anime. It is known for producing re-dubbed versions of Japanese anime that were so heavily Americanized by other production companies that they garnered significant criticism from anime fans. In contrast to those first dubbed versions, Funimation attempted to translate anime fairly faithfully to the original Japanese versions (Adachi 2012: 194-5). These animated works include popular titles such as One Piece, Dragonball, Pokémon, Naruto and Yu-Gi-Oh! Funimation then expanded into distributing live-action movies from Asia. Love and Honor was one of the first live-action films that Funimation brought into the USA. According to the CEO of Funimation, Gen Fukunaga who is a Japanese-born American entrepreneur, there are three reasons why Funimation picked up Bushi no Ichibun: (1) it is artistically excellent; (2) it was expected to cultivate new audiences by winning over fans of samurai movies, including those of Akira Kurosawa, and (3) the first film of director Yamada’s samurai trilogy, The Twilight Samurai, was so critically acclaimed in the USA that it was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Foreign Language Film at the 76th Academy Awards (Interview 2008). Love and Honor was expected to have similar recognition.

3.3 Study Methods

To begin with, the author extracted the sound data from the Japanese film Bushi no Ichibun and the US English film Love and Honor in the AC-3 file format from the DVDs released in Japan and the USA, respectively. The sound pressure levels of each dataset were adjusted with the loudness-matching function of the audio editing software Adobe Audition® in order to standardize the audio levels between the two files. Next, silences in the Japanese and American versions were measured in terms of number, duration, and location and analyzed from a quantitative angle in the Results section. Silence is defined here as a period during which sounds are lower than –40 decibels relative to full scale (dBFS) for longer than 10 seconds.[6] Algorithms to measure audio program loudness and true-peak audio levels are based on ITU BS1770-2, an international loudness-measurement standard defined by the International Telecommunication Union. Then the two sound data were listened to and compared with the change in silence as a clue, and major adaptations of acoustic elements, such as sound effects, background music and paralanguage, were classified into reduction, deletion, amplification, and addition in Results. Finally, a descriptive analysis of concrete cases was conducted, considering how and why acoustic modifications were made in the process of dubbing of Love and Honor.

4. Results

4.1 Visual Nonverbal and Acoustic Verbal Elements

Before examining the adaptation of acoustic nonverbal elements, it is helpful to look at the state of visual nonverbal and acoustic verbal elements in the translation of Bushi no Ichibun. In visual images, there are no differences between the original Japanese version and the English version. Furthermore, the spoken dialogue is generally faithfully translated with few, if any, minor additions or deletions.[7] In fact, the translation of dialogue is so consistently faithful to the original version that even culture-specific words, which may seem too foreign for most American audiences to understand, are used as loanwords in the English-dubbed version, borrowed directly from Japanese without translation. Culture-specific Japanese words that appear in Love and Honor include Japanese honorific suffixes like -sama, -tono (-dono), -san, -han, and -sensei. In Japanese, the use of such honorifics functions effectively as an indicator of differences in the relationships between the speaker and the person being addressed or referred to. However, it is doubtful whether they make sense in this way to an audience who are unfamiliar with Japanese language and culture. In fact, in the subtitles, almost all such honorific suffixes (with the exception of one use of -sensei) are deleted or replaced with English equivalents and alternatives such as lord, counselor, and squire. Many other Japanese words are taken as loanwords from the original Japanese version, such as koku (a unit of volume of rice), dojo (a hall for the practice of martial arts), tsubugai (Japanese whelk), fugu (blow fish), katana (sword), and hakama (traditional Japanese trousers). As a result, some lines in Love and Honor contain multiple Japanese words that are probably unknown or unfamiliar to most of the American audience. The following are two random examples: answering a question about the food he is tasting, Shinnojo says succinctly, “Some red tsubugai sashimi” (01:12:14); and Shimada boasts that he practiced at a prestigious Japanese fencing school, saying, “I am Shimada Toya who trained at Naganuma Dojo in Koishikawa” (01:37:05).

4.2 Acoustic Nonverbal Elements

With those points in mind, we can now consider how acoustic nonverbal elements are dealt with in Love and Honor. As Adachi (2010) shows, there is a strong tendency to decrease the instances of silence in Japanese movies in the process of translation into English. However, Love and Honor is an interesting exception to this tendency: The English version has more instances of silence than the original Japanese version, which is summarized in Table 1 in the Appendix. There is an increase of 38% in the total instances of silence, from 13 in the Japanese version to 18 in the English-dubbed version.

Moreover, comparisons of acoustic elements between the Japanese and English versions reveal that, in contrast to the faithful translational attitude toward the spoken dialogue, the English version has various adaptations, including deletion, reduction, amplification and addition of sound. The main examples are listed in Table 2 in the Appendix. It is important to point out that regarding sound effects, deletion and reduction far exceeded addition and amplification both in number and time length. There is no doubt that the tendency toward subdued sound effects resulted in the overall increase in the instances of silence in the English version.

5. Discussion

5.1 Amplification and Reduction of Sound

Adrian Cook, a mixing editor for Love and Honor, has provided basic information for the present study.[8] According to him, sound adaptation is strictly limited not only due to temporal and contextual limitations of AVT but also out of the contractual obligations as well as respect for the director of the original version. He examined the audio archive for the dubbing and found that this holds true for Love and Honor. Cook states that no audio elements are added to or deleted from the original source sent directly from the studio. However, he admits the possibility that an unsatisfactory mixing environment at the time resulted in the production of an English-dubbed version in which the sound intensity of the background music and sound effects is weaker than in the Japanese version (Cook, personal communication, 30 August 2018; 8 September 2018). He also mentions that it is common practice in the process of sound mixing to change the sound pressure levels under the director’s preference in order to convey more emotion for American audiences, for example, by widening the dynamic range that can be defined as the ratio between the strongest and the weakest sound intensity (Cook, personal communication, 28 August 2018).

Regarding changes in sound pressure, the swells of the background music are noticeably used to highlight the emotions of the characters. This manipulation of background music in the movie helps to enhance expressive lyricism in key points that move the story towards the climax. Examples include the following scenes: Kayo transfers a liquid medicine from her mouth to that of unconscious Shinnojo (#19 in Table 2; the same applies hereafter); Kayo stares at Shinnojo without being able to tell him that his eyes are incurable (#20); he grows suspicious about Kayo’s infidelity (#16); he cares for his sword the night before the duel (#21); he wins the duel (#22); he burns the birdcage alone in the evening twilight (#23); and Kayo comes home at the end (#24).

As the mixing editor suggests, the pressure of the sound effects in the English version is generally kept far lower than in the Japanese version. This is evident in many parts of the film, including the last 20 minutes from the duel scene to the happy denouement where the young couple is reunited. These parts have minimum dialogue, causing the audience to pay attention to its visual and nonverbal aspects. In the supper scene, Kayo is so quiet that Shinnojo asks her jokingly if she has lost her tongue; she expresses her fear, sadness, and joy eloquently using gestures and facial expressions as well as sobbing a few lines. The background sound effects for the last 20 minutes are various, such as the cawing of crows and barking of dogs, but the most impressive is the gusts of wind that rage during the duel and shake Shinnojo’s house until he forgives and receives Kayo back. During the supper scene at home, the winds outside are clearly heard in the Japanese version. They produce the effect of an uneasy and threatening atmosphere in which Shinnojo and Kayo find themselves. However, that atmosphere is barely audible in the English version (#2–#6, #12–#15). The English version lowers the deafening sound of the winds in the duel scene, which becomes especially noticeable while Shinnojo and Shimada are speaking: a sudden hush falls over them as if the storm has calmed down for a while (e.g. 01:45:15–01:46:25 and 01:47:49–01:48:00). Obviously, these frequent fluctuations in sound pressure are made deliberately so that dialogues can sound clearer for the audiences. As a result, the silent aspect of the film becomes more obvious in the English version.

5.2 Deletion and Addition of Sound

As Table 2 shows, the English-dubbed version has a lot of acoustic deletions and a few sound additions. This is an important point that the mixing editor did not mention because there is a significant difference between reduction and deletion as well as amplification and addition. These differences are not just a matter of degree but also a matter of intrinsic quality. Reduction and amplification of aural elements are applied to the sounds that are deemed acceptable and desirable enough to be adjusted to the taste and expectations of American audiences. However, sound deletion is performed on the aural elements that are judged to be unacceptable or inappropriate for the English version and added sounds are quite new to the original version, reflecting deliberate consideration of the characteristics of the target language and culture. The question of why some of the sound effects, background music, paralanguage, and even dialogue are deleted or sometimes, very rarely though, added in the process of dubbing Love and Honor will be discussed from the three viewpoints: (1) heterogeneous sounds, (2) lip-synchronization, (3) consistency between image and sound.

5.2.1 Heterogeneous Sounds

In the scene where the feudal lord receives Shinnojo in the audience, the English version erases the cries of a bird of prey called tobi, a black kite. The shrieks ring out unexpectedly when the lord comes in and immediately leaves, saying a curt “good work” to Shinnojo who sacrificed his sight to save his life (#8). The same sound of a black kite is also deleted in several scenes, including the duel scene (#13, #14). The screams of black kites were removed in the English-dubbed version simply because these birds do not inhabit North America and their unique cry could be unfamiliar and confusing to American audiences. In addition, Japanese temple bell tones are also deleted from a couple of scenes in the English version (#10, #11). In the Japanese version, the sound floats from the distance when Kayo confesses in tears to her old servant Tokuhei that she has provided sexual favors for Shimada in exchange of continuing Shinnojo’s samurai stipend. The sacred bell sound strongly implies Kayo’s profound penitence and repentance for her indiscretion. In the English version, however, the toll of the temple bells is erased while other sound effects, including the chirping of insects and the cawing of crows, are left unchanged. It is clear that the peal of the temple bells was intentionally eliminated to avoid the risk of misinforming American audiences, who might be unfamiliar with the low, lingering sound coming from nowhere. A negative effect of acoustic elements is that sounds familiar to the audience in one country can be unfamiliar to the audience in a different country. In this case, the acoustic elements used in a movie are likely to be an obstacle to intercultural communication, which prevents the audience from enjoying or even fully understanding the translated version.         

5.2.2 Synchronization

Synchronization, including lip-synchrony, kinetic synchrony, and isochrony, is an important characteristic of AVT, especially in the context of dubbing (Chaume 2004). Conversely, paralanguages, such as sounds of laughter and moans, tend not to be included in the English version when not accompanied by obvious lip movements (#25, #26, #28, #30). Following the same logic, a conversation made by off-screen characters is cut out (#27). In contrast, the English version sometimes dubs even the subtle background utterance by characters in the distance as long as their lip movements are apparent to the audiences (#31–#37). In the temple scene (#32), for example, Tokuhei at the front is watching Kayo and the monk from behind a tree. They are out of hearing distance and it is almost impossible to catch their words in the Japanese version. However, their conversation is clearly audible in the English version. Then the sound pressure of their chatting drops suddenly when Tokuhei starts grumbling. These audio manipulations may be considered unnatural but they conform to the governing principle of sound mixing that gives high priority to synchronization.

Another interesting example of synchronization effects can be seen in the scene where Shinnojo is informed about Kayo’s sexual relations with Shimada. He is too shocked to speak initially, remaining silent so that Kayo does not notice that he already knows about what she did. In the Japanese version, while Kayo is away in the kitchen, Shinnojo moves his lips with a distressed look, trying in vain to say something to his wife. He never pronounces the words, but his lip movement in close-up is so distinct that what he is trying to say is understandable to Japanese speakers: the phrase “aho ga” [how foolish] (#36), which he uses frequently. By contrast, these unuttered words are vocalized into his agonized sigh in the English version. Note that the word aho could have been translated directly into foolish or stupid in the same way that the word is dubbed literally in other parts of the film. It would have also been possible to keep the monologue unspoken, as in the original version. However, the English version chooses to replace the silent lip movement with the paralanguage, so that the adaptation makes it possible not only to express Shinnojo’s emotional dilemma audibly but also to comply with the general principles of lip-synchronization.

5.2.3 Message Coherence Between Image and Sound

For reasons other than synchronization, the English version tends to seek consistency in message delivery between image and sound by manipulating acoustic elements. In order to avoid causing disharmony in message with the onscreen image, sound effects and background music are occasionally edited out. The development of computer technology makes it easier to select and edit only particular parts of sound effects or background music. The sound of thunder, for example, is cut off from the scene in which poison tasters, including Shinnojo, are performing their duty (#7). During this scene, the rumbling of thunder is heard frequently, which functions as an omen of the tragedy that is about to strike Shinnojo. Visually, however, this scene involves a relaxed atmosphere with comical characters. While the poison tasters on duty are chatting about the food in a relaxed manner, their elderly superior starts snoring in front of them; he then tries to stand up, slips and nearly falls down on the tatami mat. These farcical acts do not fit with the use of thunder as a sinister symbol. The discrepancy between the visual and audio messages may enrich the multilayered structure of the original film, stimulating the audiences’ interest in the contrast displayed. Simultaneously, however, the dissonance of the contradicting visual and audio messages can make the action of the film vague and ambiguous. It may safely be assumed that the US English version eliminates the audio message that is not in harmony with its visual counterpart and prioritizes the distinct delivery of the visual message.

The same is true for another part of the film: the chirping of a pair of little birds, which Shinnojo and Kayo keep in a cage at home, is erased from the approximately 15-second shot of Shinnojo sitting alone on the veranda of his house (#9). The birds cannot be seen, but their twitter is heard clearly and constantly in the Japanese version. There is no doubt that these birds’ songs in the English version have been deliberately removed because the other sounds in the background, including smaller ones, such as an attendant’s footsteps and drawing of water, can be heard as well as in the Japanese version. In this scene, Shinnojo has a flower in his hand, around which a white butterfly is floating, but he does not notice it. Likewise, he is still unaware of Kayo’s infidelity. The butterfly here serves as a symbol of fragility and fleetingness of Shinnojo’s life. Just like the lull before the storm, this 15-second shot is one of the most static and quiet periods of time in the film. Perhaps one of the reasons why the birds’ songs from off-screen are deleted is simply that the sharp and high-pitched twitter of the birds can seem incompatible with the image of the silent butterfly. By cutting off the birds’ twitter that can distract the audience from the tableau-like shot, the English version emphasizes the quietness and tranquility of the butterfly scene more than the Japanese version.[9]

When a written media is translated from a high-context culture to a low-context culture, it is possible to add more words in order to convey an explicit verbal message in a plain and easily understandable manner, incorporating explanations and comments as necessary into the original text. In AVT, however, dubbing is subject to severe constraints of time and synchronism with visual signs such as lip movement, gestures and camera blocking. Moreover, as Japanese animated works started to gain recognition in America as their fansubs and fandubs (subtitles and dubs created by fans) were circulating among eager anime fans, if not the general public, during the 1990s (Díaz Cintas and Muñoz Sánchez 2006), the tendency toward a faithful translation strengthened and became practically predominant in the 2000s (Adachi 2012: 194-231). This tendency is observable in the translation of verbal and visual elements in Love and Honor. However, as far as acoustic elements are concerned, its dubbing strategy’s noticeable characteristic is that a lot of acoustic non-verbal elements have been deleted because not only dialogue but also sounds can be a major cause of frustration and confusion in intercultural communication.[10] In spite of the loss of information, the removal of sound is the simplest way to make a translated film accessible to a target-culture audience, avoiding the potential dissonance and irrelevancy of audio messages to visual and verbal messages to the audience.

6. Conclusion

On the basis of these findings, it is suggested that, of the three codes of audiovisual texts that fall within the scope of this article, the acoustic verbal and visual nonverbal codes proved faithful to the original Japanese version of Love and Honor. In contrast, the observations of specific cases showed that the acoustic nonverbal code such as background music, and sound effects, as well as paralanguages as a form of acoustic nonverbal code, had a marked tendency to undergo adaptation, most interestingly, by the means of omission in the US English version of the samurai movie. It demonstrated high value and positive attitude toward words and images at the cost of simplifying the rich layers of meaning and implication provided by nonverbal sounds even though the original version of the film was highly acclaimed among Japanese critics for its sound elements. The mixing editor of Love and Honor may have been correct when he said that new sound was not added to nor substituted from the original source that was sent directly from the studio. However, as this study revealed, the method of auditory deletion was used as a strategy for dubbing a film in a high-context culture to suit the needs and preferences of audiences in a low-context culture. Therefore, it seems reasonable to suppose that acoustic elements are not just a major component of a film, but are an equally rich and diverse object of AVT study.

There are some limitations in this present study. First of all, this research is intended to be exploratory with a case study of the English translation of a Japanese film. Future studies can explore some of the issues identified in this paper using a larger and more representative sample of Japanese films that were translated into English. Second, in order to do so, it is necessary to establish methods that enable us to accumulate acoustic data more efficiently and analyze them from more diverse angles. The present study deals with an aspect of the acoustic elements focusing on silence so it may be too early to generalize from these results. Lastly, a more empirical approach to clarifying the process of decision-making in sound operation should be pursued. The mixing editor for Love and Honor provided useful firsthand information, but professional dubbing projects follow a complex and multifaceted process.[11] To investigate the process as a whole is beyond the scope of this brief paper and remains as a matter to be discussed further. Therefore, the findings of this present study need to be carefully interpreted with these limitations in mind.

Despite its preliminary character, however, this research contributes to a growing literature that suggests the importance of examining sound elements to obtain a better understanding of AVT between high-context culture and low-context culture. A further direction of this study will be to provide more evidence for these results.


This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 15K02374.


Table 1


US English

Starting time


Starting time


























































































Table 1. The instances of silence in the Japanese and US English versions of Love and Honor.

Table 2

Audio elements




Starting time

Ending time

sound effects








Sound of the chief poison tester opening the front of his kimono.


Chirping of birds


Household sounds

Barking of a dog























Thunder during Shinnojo’s tasting for poison

Sounds of a black kite

Chirping of birds while the butterfly flits around Shinnojo

Temple bell during Kayo’s visit to the temple

Temple bell during Kayo’s confession

Cawing of crows

Sound of a black kite

Sound of a black kite

Cawing of crows





















Chirping of insects while Shinnojo’s doubt about Kayo’s fidelity is growing.



background music




Sound of the Japanese drum

Sound of the Japanese drum












Main theme (Kayo nursing Shinnojo.)

Main theme (Chat about fireflies between Shinnojo & Kayo)

Main theme (Night before the duel)

Main theme (Shinnojo’s victory)

Main theme (Shinnojo alone in the evening twilight)

Main theme (Kayo’s homecoming)













dialogue, paralanguage









The chief poison tester’s sigh before committing hara-kiri (suicide)

Shinnojo and Kayo’s sighs

Kayo’s off-screen voice and laughter

Children’s laughter in the background

Reverberation of Shinnojo’s roar in the duel

Shinnojo’s sigh




















Off-screen dialogue between Kayo and Tokuhei

Distant dialogue between Kayo and the monk

Shinnojo’s moan in the duel

Shimada’s groan after the duel













The vassal’s whisper to the lord in the distance

Shinnojo’s silent lip movement

Shinnojo’s moan in the duel







Table 2. Major adaptations of audio elements in the dubbing of Love and Honor


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[1] However, overgeneralization and stereotyping should be avoided. According to Krizan et al. (2007: 36), for example, although American culture is considered a low- context culture, communications among family members tend to be high-context.

[2] The official English titles of Japanese movies are shown in italics in the text or in parentheses, and word-for-word translations of original Japanese into English are provided within parentheses.

[3] Paralanguage, including silence, is considered here as the non-speech sound to modify, limit or enhance the meaning of speech.

[4] Adachi (2013: 170) points out that the pre-2000 translations often displayed a tendency to swing between excessive interpolation (e.g. large and extreme modifications to fill in pauses and silences in The Castle of Cagliostro) and excessive deletion (e.g. more than twenty-one minutes of footage cut from the original Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in its first US English version Warriors of the Wind).

[5] In contrast, according to Adachi (2013, p. 83), the translation of American movies into Japanese is relatively faithful to the original text as a whole.

[6] In Adobe Audition®, the maximum possible amplitude is 0 dBFS; all lower amplitudes are expressed as negative numbers. A sound intensity level of 0 dB is the maximum amplitude possible; –20 dBFS is the reference level to which broadcast engineers in North America usually adjust their audio equipment (a status known as “broadcast safe”). The loudness level of spoken dialogue in a movie is required to be a minimum of –31 dBFS, according to the dialnorm parameter, an indication of the average volume of normal speech within an audio program (Williams et al. 2007: 1324). The term “dialnorm” is an abbreviation of dialogue normalization. It is a parameter within the Dolby Digital (AC-3) system that identifies the area of normal speech in an audio program.

[7] Although visual verbal elements, such as subtitles, do not come within the scope of this paper, it may be worth pointing out in passing that the subtitles were generally faithful to the source Japanese lines. One notable exception, however, is the title of the movie: Love and Honor. The original Japanese title, Bushi no Ichibun, literally means the honor of the samurai. In comparison with the Japanese title, the English version adds and emphasizes matrimonial love.

[8] Adrian Cook, who is known for his work on many Japanese anime and live-action films, worked with all the sound elements of Love and Honor, especially the final theatrical sound mix for the US English version.

[9] It is interesting to point out that Funimation produced a fairly free translation on rare occasions where it emphasized fidelity to the source Japanese culture. In the Japanese anime Dragonball, for example, the hero, Son Goku, practices the martial art of kung fu in the original version, but it is replaced with karate in the American version simply because Goku is Japanese (Okuhara 2009: 204). In this respect, it is difficult to escape the criticism that cultural stereotypes have been reinforced in the process of translating Dragonball. In a similar vein, there is a possibility that the sound manipulation of Love and Honor could align with the stereotypical image of silent Japanese.

[10] This view is supported by the difference in the treatment of sound effects that can be found in website design for the global marketplace. For example, based on the analysis of the fast-food company McDonald’s websites in countries belonging to high-context and low-context cultures such as Japan and the US, some researches show that the company’s websites in high-context culture have more sound, including the “I’m lovin’ it” jingle and background beat, than those in low-context cultures (Würtz 2006). Compared with the website design in a high-context culture, the website design in low-context culture tends to prefer using verbal elements, both in speech and writing, to relying on aural elements.

[11] The needs, demands and expectations associated with each step are fulfilled by individuals with various skills, including translators, adapters (dialogue writers), synchronizers, dubbing directors, producers, voice actors, dubbing companies (automatic dialogue replacement productions), distributors, and the producers of the original version (Chaume 2004; 2012: 29–39; Martinez 2004).


About the author(s)

Reito Adachi is President and Professor of English language and literature at Kurashiki City College, Japan.  He holds M.A. from Hollins University in the USA and received his PhD degree from Okayama University in Japan. His current research interests include audio-visual translation studies and translation of children’s literature.

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©inTRAlinea & Reito Adachi (2020).
"Dubbing of Sound in the Samurai Movie Love and Honor", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2522

La evolución de las tecnologías en la confluencia de la interacción y el cine

El doblaje en una aventura gráfica

By Laura Mejías-Climent (Universitat Jaume I, Spain)

Abstract & Keywords


Nowadays, the development of new technologies and the different multimedia products that they have brought about evidence the intersection between the field of Audiovisual Translation (AVT) and the professional practice of localization, although the boundaries between them are still vague. The aim of this article is not to close this ongoing debate, but rather to shed some light on the convergences and differences between AVT and localization by analyzing a product situated in between cinematographic conventions and those of video games: a graphic adventure. More specifically, this study focuses on dubbing and its synchronies to compare and contrast their characteristics in the graphic adventure Detroit: Become Human, the dubbing of non-interactive movies and that of some action-adventure video games analyzed in previous studies. The results will show that some game situations bear stronger similarities with cinematographic dubbing, while those game situations implying a greater level of interaction reflect broader differences.


Actualmente, el desarrollo de las nuevas tecnologías y la variedad de productos multimedia que con ellas han traído han hecho evidente la intersección entre el ámbito de la Traducción Audiovisual (TAV) y la práctica de la localización, aunque los límites entre ambas áreas aún permanecen difusos. No será objetivo de este artículo ofrecer una respuesta tajante a este debate, sino, más bien, arrojar algo de luz sobre las convergencias y diferencias que pueden darse entre TAV y localización, tomando como objeto de estudio un producto multimodal a caballo entre el ámbito cinematográfico y los videojuegos: una aventura gráfica. En concreto, nos centraremos en la modalidad del doblaje y sus sincronías para valorar hasta qué punto confluyen y se diferencian sus características en la aventura gráfica Detroit: Become Human, en películas no interactivas y en algunos videojuegos de acción-aventura analizados en estudios previos. Los resultados reflejan que algunas situaciones de juego muestran grandes similitudes con el doblaje cinematográfico, mientras que aquellas situaciones con un mayor nivel de interacción amplían las diferencias.

Keywords: traducción audiovisual, localización, videojuegos, doblaje, aventura gráfica, audiovisual translation, localization, video games, dubbing, graphic adventure

©inTRAlinea & Laura Mejías-Climent (2020).
"La evolución de las tecnologías en la confluencia de la interacción y el cine El doblaje en una aventura gráfica", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2509

1. Traducción Audiovisual y localización en el actual entorno tecnológico

Actualmente parece darse un consenso sobre el término localización, entendida como la adaptación de un producto a un determinado mercado local (Bernal Merino 2015: 35). Siempre desde la perspectiva de la Traducción Audiovisual (TAV), este será el ámbito en el que se centrará la atención en estas páginas: el concepto de localización surgió bien como referencia a una idea más amplia de TAV (Bernal Merino 2015) o bien, como referencia a un ámbito profesional diferenciado en el que se adaptan software, sitios web y videojuegos a una cultura distinta de la original (Cadieux y Esselink 2004).

Desde sus comienzos hasta el presente, la TAV ha contribuido a la creación de un panorama cambiante donde la equivalencia puede adoptar un nuevo sentido en referencia a la creación de un producto que está relacionado de alguna manera con el original, pero no necesariamente en términos de equivalencia formal o dinámica (Chaume 2018). Así, los límites entre TAV y localización no son claros, si es que alguna vez lo fueron, y el uso de distintas modalidades de TAV puede apreciarse en cualquier producto multimedia moderno. Por lo tanto, la inclusión de la localización dentro de la TAV o viceversa, o la concepción de ambos conceptos como campos totalmente diferenciados es una cuestión que permanece abierta (O’Hagan y Mangiron 2013).

Tampoco aquí se pretende dar una respuesta contundente a este debate, sino, más bien, se busca arrojar cierta luz sobre las convergencias entre la TAV y la localización desde la perspectiva concreta del doblaje en un producto multimedia que, a su vez, es de difícil clasificación: una aventura gráfica como Detroit: Become Human. En las siguientes páginas se expondrán el análisis y los resultados de un estudio de caso, en comparación con los resultados de la investigación previa de Mejías-Climent (2019), con la intención de trazar similitudes y también algunas diferencias entre las versiones dobladas de videojuegos y películas, es decir, entre productos audiovisuales interactivos y aquellos que no lo son.

Desde sus orígenes, la Traducción Audiovisual ha evolucionado a la par de las nuevas tecnologías y continúa haciéndolo. Se trata de una actividad que se ocupa de productos multimedia en los que la transmisión del sentido tiene lugar a través de, al menos, dos canales: el acústico y el visual. A ellos, puede añadirse el canal táctil (principalmente en videojuegos), que vehicula códigos hápticos al darse interacción con el usuario (Mejías-Climent, 2017). Los distintos códigos semióticos (Bernal-Merino 2016) transmitidos a través de cada uno de estos canales se entrelazan y configuran el sentido del texto audiovisual en su conjunto (Chaume 2004). Es aquí donde la TAV encuentra su función, en la recreación de ese complejo mensaje en la versión meta de un determinado producto.

Tanto en el panorama actual de los Estudios de Traducción (ET) como en la práctica profesional, la TAV se identifica como un término de gran amplitud que abarca modalidades de traducción muy variadas. Estas dependen tanto de la naturaleza del texto de partida y del traducido (Hurtado Albir 2001/2011) como de los métodos técnicos empleados para el trasvase del mensaje lingüístico de un texto audiovisual original a uno meta (Chaume 2004: 31). Asimismo, buscan satisfacer plenamente las expectativas de consumo de los usuarios, aspecto básico también para la práctica localizadora (O’Hagan, 2018). Chaume (2012) recopila las principales modalidades de TAV recogidas en los dos grandes bloques de revoicing y captioning.

La variedad creciente de modalidades de TAV pretende ajustarse a las necesidades de consumo modernas. La oferta audiovisual se ha multiplicado en los últimos años con la expansión de cada vez más plataformas de vídeo bajo demanda. También se ha disparado el desarrollo de dispositivos que facilitan el consumo de productos audiovisuales. Las tecnologías han traído consigo nuevas modalidades de transferencia audiovisual o nuevas combinaciones de las ya existentes (Chaume 2018: 41).

Con el crecimiento exponencial en la producción audiovisual, el concepto de TAV se ha enfrentado al reto de tratar con muy variados tipos de productos y modos de transmisión, y también con formas de consumo tanto pasivas como activas, dada la aparición del componente interactivo. Todo ello ha dado lugar a la emergencia de otros términos que coexisten con el de TAV, en ocasiones refiriéndose al mismo concepto; en otras, evidenciando de manera más específica la actual y cambiante realidad tecnológica. En todos ellos, no obstante, traducción es la idea que subyace y que da cuenta del acceso, por parte de una audiencia meta, a cualquier producto audiovisual.

En el presente y cambiante panorama tecnológico, Chaume (2018) señala algunas de las características de la TAV que están ampliando los límites del concepto mismo de traducción: además de la transferencia inter e intralingüística, también se produce una transferencia intersemiótica en el caso, por ejemplo, de audioguías para museos o la audiodescripción. La transadaptación (Neves 2005; Gambier 2003) podría incluso abarcar todas las modalidades de TAV conocidas hasta la fecha (Chaume 2018) y, para Pruys (2009), consiste en dos variaciones del mismo tema. La transcreación implica una gran creatividad para inclinar la balanza hacia la audiencia meta (Muñoz Sánchez 2017) y puede entenderse como otra forma de adaptación semiótica. Las narrativas transmedia (Pujol 2015), rewritings (Chaume 2018) y las adaptaciones como los remakes son prácticas habituales actualmente. Por último, la localización, como señalábamos, ha traído consigo nuevas formas de entender la traducción en general y los límites de la TAV en particular. Veremos algunos de los puntos de encuentro entre TAV y localización centrándonos en una modalidad de TAV de gran arraigo en España: el doblaje.

2. Perspectivas de la localización

La TAV incluye una amplia lista de modalidades de traducción (Chaume 2004: 31; Hurtado Albir 2001/2011: 69-70), lo cual pone en cuestión el concepto tradicional de traducción en el sentido más estricto de ‘transferencia lingüística’. La creciente variedad de productos multimedia requiere de prácticas de traducción adaptadas a sus particularidades, que han de acomodarse a los continuos cambios de la configuración tecnológica de los productos y la forma en la que estos se consumen. De hecho, en el presente, el término localización puede abarcar tanto procesos ya consolidados como aquellas prácticas más innovadoras de TAV interlingüística, intralingüística e intersemiótica (Chaume 2018), refiriéndose la localización al proceso industrial completo de adaptación de un producto multimedia (como la localización de un software interactivo) y la traducción, a la transferencia del código lingüístico en un entorno audiovisual determinado, como una de las facetas de la localización (Yuste Frías 2014).

Originalmente, el término localización surgió a finales de los 70 y comenzó a expandirse durante los 80, cuando quienes desarrollaban software en Norteamérica detectaron la necesidad de adaptar sus productos para poder conquistar nuevos mercados (Jiménez-Crespo 2013; O’Hagan y Mangiron 2013: 87). Con el rápido desarrollo de la industria del videojuego, especialmente a partir de los 90, el término localización se estableció en el ámbito profesional y se entiende generalmente como un complejo proceso de adaptación, más allá de un mero trasvase lingüístico (Bernal Merino 2006). Dicho autor insiste en que este término, sin embargo, no hace referencia a nada novedoso que el concepto mismo de traducción no incluyera ya. Dado su arraigo en la industria, resulta necesario aceptarlo también en el ámbito de los ET, pero siempre seguido del adjetivo lingüística, para diferenciarlo del proceso industrial y de adaptación completo descrito por profesionales como Esselink (2000) o Maxwell-Chandler y Deming (2012).

El debate continúa en torno al nexo entre localización y TAV. Según Vázquez Rodríguez (2018: 9-23), algunos sectores profesionales defienden que la localización representa un ámbito diferenciado, pues conciben la traducción desde una perspectiva meramente lingüística y reduccionista (Cadieux y Esselink, 2004). También hay profesionales e investigadores que prefieren separar la idea de localización de cualquier otra modalidad de traducción, en este caso, dado el amplio abanico de procesos de adaptación que ella implica, las particularidades en la práctica profesional y el tipo de producto que se traduce (Pym 2014; Méndez González 2015; Jiménez-Crespo 2013; Mata Pastor 2005).

Por otra parte, la idea de localización no suma nada novedoso al concepto de traducción que defienden investigadores/as como Bernal Merino (2006, 2015) y O’Hagan y Mangiron (2013). La misma postura adopta Vázquez Rodríguez, reconociendo que el término localización se emplea ampliamente en las esferas profesionales y, como tal, puede adoptarse también en la investigación, como manera de identificar la práctica de la traducción que se ocupa específicamente de videojuegos, software y contenido web.

En definitiva, ¿la localización es otra modalidad más, dentro del ámbito de la TAV, o, por el contrario, es un área completamente diferenciada y con entidad propia? En ambos casos, se trata de la traducción de un producto multimedia con características compartidas, a excepción de la dimensión interactiva, presente en unos y no en otros. Bien es cierto que la localización de videojuegos puede asemejarse a la TAV en el sentido de abarcar a su vez otras modalidades, como el doblaje o la subtitulación, además de otras prácticas en el campo de los contenidos legales, técnicos o material externo al juego, y algunas modalidades de accesibilidad, además de la fuerte presencia de contenido paratextual que «rodea, envuelve, acompaña, prolonga, introduce y presenta al texto» (Yuste Frías 2015: 67).

Sin embargo y como se ha expuesto, la TAV es un ámbito de gran alcance en donde cualquier texto multimedia puede encontrar su modalidad de traducción. Al fin y al cabo, ambas prácticas se centran en la adaptación de productos multimodales, incluso de aquellos que sumen un canal interactivo. Parece por tanto que todo dependa de la perspectiva desde la que se consideren ambos procesos.

Como práctica profesional, la localización de videojuegos puede entenderse como el hiperónimo bajo el que reunir diferentes modalidades de traducción. La localización busca reconocimiento y entidad propios en la industria, en estrecha relación con el concepto de transcreación (O’Hagan y Mangiron 2013), aunque, por el momento, no parece contarse con una definición establecida basada en estudios empíricos que valide este término (Bernal Merino 2015).

En el ámbito académico, la TAV se entiende como el proceso de adaptación de cualquier producto multimedia y multimodal, entre los que se incluyen los videojuegos. Según señalan O’Hagan y Mangiron (2013: 106), el surgimiento de nuevos productos multimedia resultantes de la convergencia entre distintas tecnologías da lugar a que los dominios de la localización y la TAV, que previamente se mantenían separados, se unan ahora para ocuparse de los nuevos productos que necesitan de una preparación para el mundo globalizado. Que la TAV se incluya en la localización o viceversa es una cuestión no resuelta, aunque en el presente es evidente que la TAV se está afianzando dentro de los ET.

Dada la dificultad de situar un ámbito o práctica dentro del otro, en estas páginas seguimos el enfoque de Vázquez Rodríguez, quien propone adaptar las prácticas investigadoras de la TAV para incluir la dimensión interactiva y la jugabilidad en un estudio empírico, con la intención de determinar la repercusión que ambas cuestiones pueden tener en los procesos de traducción de productos audiovisuales interactivos. Por lo tanto, no parece necesario establecer un paradigma completamente diferenciado para la localización. Al menos, en lo que a investigación se refiere (O’Hagan, 2018).

Únicamente, al emprender el análisis de un videojuego, ha de tenerse en cuenta el canal semiótico y pragmático (Bernal-Merino 2016) adicional de la interacción en la configuración del producto estudiado (Mejías-Climent 2017). Así, mediante análisis descriptivos, se podrán detectar algunas diferencias en la traducción de películas y videojuegos. Según se mostrará a continuación, existen divergencias evidentes en el conjunto del producto. Pero, en ciertas áreas, las similitudes son más marcadas que las diferencias, en especial, en el caso de los videojuegos del género de la aventura gráfica, como Detroit: Become Human, pues, en gran parte, se percibe como una película que añade opciones interactivas.

3. TAV y localización: el doblaje

3.1. Doblaje en medios interactivos y no interactivos

«El doblaje consiste en la traducción y ajuste de un guion de un texto audiovisual y la posterior interpretación de esta traducción por parte de los actores, bajo la dirección del director de doblaje y los consejos del asesor lingüístico, cuando esta figura existe» (Chaume 2004: 32). Esta modalidad de traducción se practica en la localización de videojuegos triple A, es decir, aquellos con un elevado presupuesto cuya desarrolladora puede permitirse una localización plena, de todos los componentes del videojuego.

Aunque la definición es compartida, sí existen ciertas diferencias en el doblaje de un videojuego frente al de una película tradicional. En particular, pueden mencionarse los siguientes aspectos (Mejías-Climent 2019): No existe un guion lineal único, sino texto repartido en cadenas (strings), generalmente en hojas de cálculo, que podrán agruparse según quién sea el personaje que las emite y otros criterios; por tanto, no existe división en takes, como sí es práctica habitual en países como España o Italia, para facilitar la tarea de los actores de doblaje en sala; no se emplean los tradicionales símbolos, aunque el director de doblaje sí puede introducirlos posteriormente en las cadenas de diálogo agrupadas para entrar en sala; no se emplean códigos de tiempo (TCR), pues no existe un desarrollo lineal de los hechos en un videojuego; por último, en la mayoría de los casos no se dispone de imágenes para doblar en sala. En ocasiones, se emplean las ondas de audio originales, a las que se procura adaptar las ondas ya dobladas lo máximo posible. En cualquier caso, quienes traducen nunca tendrán acceso a imágenes que apoyen los diálogos.

Aparte de estas diferencias, los resultados en el doblaje de un videojuego moderno y el de una película parecen ser bastante próximos, con algunas llamativas pero raras excepciones, como es el caso de los doblajes al español peninsular de Arizona Sunshine (Vertigo Games, Jaywalkers Interactive, 2016) o Age of Pirates (Akella, 2006).

El doblaje es una práctica históricamente extendida en países como España, en donde los productos doblados se adhieren a una serie de estándares de calidad para que los espectadores los consuman satisfactoriamente (Chaume 2007). Entre ellos, la sincronía es una de las características más prominentes.

3.2. Los tres ajustes del cine y las cinco restricciones de los videojuegos

Las sincronías en doblaje representan la coherencia entre lo que se oye (una banda sonora con diálogos doblados) y lo que se aprecia en pantalla. En la traducción han de respetarse los movimientos articulatorios de la boca (sincronía fonética/labial), del cuerpo (sincronía cinésica) y la misma duración de enunciados traducidos y originales (isocronía). Todo ello «constituye uno de los pilares básicos de un doblaje que pretenda ser verosímil y gustar al espectador» (Chaume 2005: 7).

En el caso del doblaje al español peninsular, ente otros aspectos (géneros y convenciones históricas), la implementación de las tres sincronías depende de la configuración audiovisual del producto. En especial, los códigos paralingüísticos, los de colocación del sonido (canal acústico) y los códigos fotográficos, kinésicos y de planificación (canal visual) determinan en gran medida el nivel de precisión con el que se haya de aplicar cada uno de los tres tipos de ajuste (Chaume 2004).

Esto sucede en productos audiovisuales lineales, en los que los canales acústico y visual están configurados de forma fija de antemano. En un videojuego, por el contrario, la interacción abre la configuración audiovisual a un mayor número de opciones y, por tanto, el ajuste no necesariamente funciona de la misma manera. Las sincronías desempeñan un importante papel también en el doblaje de videojuegos (Mejías-Climent 2019). Se trata del producto audiovisual y multimodal moderno más complejo (Maietti 2004). Pero, como productos audiovisuales, comparten notables similitudes con una película en muchos aspectos, en especial, en lo que a escenas cinemáticas se refiere.

Sin embargo, los materiales de los que se dispone durante el proceso de traducción no son los mismos: ni se cuenta con un guion lineal ni con los vídeos correspondientes. Por tanto, el proceso se da de manera diferente y las sincronías, más bien, han de entenderse como una serie de restricciones (Pujol 2015: 197) que se indican a los traductores mediante un número máximo de caracteres o palabras. También pueden marcarse según el tipo de cadena: los diálogos y el contenido sonoro serán más restrictivos (la traducción deberá asemejarse mucho más a la duración del original), mientras que los diálogos in-game tienden a ser más flexibles.

Muchos otros factores operan al determinar las restricciones en el doblaje de un videojuego: cada empresa de localización trabaja diferente, como se desprende del trabajo de Mejías-Climent (2019). Además, los distintos agentes que participan en la traducción para doblaje de un videojuego tienen diferentes responsabilidades al aplicar restricciones (es decir, sincronías) al texto traducido.

Es en el estudio cuando se pueden identificar hasta cinco tipos de sincronías aplicadas a las cadenas de texto traducidas para doblaje en un videojuego, a diferencia de las tres sincronías descritas para cine y televisión. Los actores y directores de doblaje aplicarían las tres sincronías tradicionales si dispusieran de los vídeos correspondientes a las locuciones. Sin embargo, este no suele ser el caso y solamente reciben, en la mayoría de los proyectos, las ondas de audio para los títulos triple A. Por tanto, tienden a imitar las ondas de audio originales lo máximo posible, a fin de asegurar un diálogo doblado bien ajustado. En este punto, hasta cinco niveles de restricción pueden aplicarse, dependiendo del tipo de cadena que se doble. Los técnicos de sonido buscan que las ondas de audio dobladas se asemejen lo máximo posible a las originales, de acuerdo con los cinco niveles de restricción que se corresponden con las cinco sincronías del doblaje de videojuegos (Mejías-Climent 2017: 105; O’Hagan y Mangiron 2013):

  • Libre (VO): sin restricción (voces en off).
  • Temporal (TC): las cadenas traducidas deben tener aproximadamente la misma longitud que las originales, con un 10%-20% de margen.
  • Temporal exacto (STC): las cadenas traducidas deben tener exactamente la misma longitud que las originales, sin respetar pausas o cualquier tipo de entonación.
  • Sonora (SS): las cadenas traducidas deben tener exactamente la misma longitud que las originales, reproduciendo también pausas y entonación.
  • Labial: las cadenas traducidas deben tener exactamente la misma longitud que las originales, reproduciendo también pausas, entonación y articulación labial.

Estas cinco sincronías pueden asociarse con distintas situaciones de juego (Mejías-Climent 2019: 90). Las situaciones de juego son momentos que se van alternando continuamente a lo largo de cualquier videojuego (Pujol 2015: 150). Son consecuencia directa de la inclusión de la dimensión interactiva e implican diferentes condiciones para la interacción, dependiendo no solamente del género, sino también de cada videojuego particular. Generalmente, en videojuegos de acción-aventura, las cinemáticas detienen la interacción completamente, puesto que se trata de videoclips cerrados que emplean la configuración cinematográfica; la acción de juego implica interacción plena, es decir, el momento plenamente dinámico durante el cual el jugador hace que el videojuego se desarrolle; los diálogos representan intercambios dialécticos con otros personajes y pueden considerarse una situación a caballo entre las cinemáticas y la acción: pueden detener la interacción parcialmente, de forma que la actividad del jugador se limite a unos pocos movimientos de cámara, por ejemplo; o no interferir en absoluto en la acción. Finalmente, las tareas son instrucciones para quien juega y pueden darse durante la interacción plena o, por el contrario, detenerla completamente, dependiendo de cada videojuego.

En Mejías-Climent (2019) se estableció una relación entre las situaciones de juego y las sincronías del doblaje empleando un corpus de tres videojuegos del subgénero de acción-aventura (pertenecientes al género interactivo de videojuegos de aventura). Según tal análisis empírico, en estos tres videojuegos, las tareas siempre se doblaron sin restricción (libre), puesto que se transmitían mediante voces en off; la acción de juego es una situación relativamente flexible, puesto que la interacción plena no siempre permite el máximo nivel de visibilidad de los personajes. Por tanto, se emplea frecuentemente el ajuste temporal, con algunos casos de ajuste libre, si hay voces en off; los diálogos son una situación híbrida en términos de interacción, puesto que varían notablemente de un videojuego a otro. El resultado es que las cinco sincronías pueden detectarse en los diálogos, aunque el ajuste temporal parece ser ligeramente más frecuente. Por último, las cinemáticas tienden a imitar las películas lo máximo posible. Esto es evidente también en el tipo de sincronía empleado con más frecuencia: el ajuste labial. También el libre se emplea siempre que haya voces en off.

4. El caso de una aventura gráfica

El videojuego Detroit: Become Human (Quantic Dream, 2018) salió a la venta en 2018 para PlayStation 4. Su director, David Cage, también es fundador del estudio en donde se desarrolló esta aventura gráfica, Quantic Dream, especializado en la narración interactiva. La obra de Cage genera cierta polémica entre los jugadores más puristas, dado el elevado nivel de narrativa que todos sus juegos contienen, en detrimento de una experiencia absolutamente interactiva. El contenido narrativo parece ser más importante que una mecánica de juego basada en reacciones rápidas por parte de un jugador (Altozano 2017). Con sus videojuegos, Cage insta al jugador a «jugar la historia», combinando continuamente cinemáticas con diálogos interactivos y quick time events (secuencias de acciones con opciones pero ineludibles). A pesar de las fuertes críticas de algunos sectores, Cage insiste en que lo que su obra persigue es una inmersión plena y realista, más que una mera exposición narrativa (Altozano 2017).

Los quick time events (QTE) son uno de los rasgos más identificativos en la obra de Cage. Un QTE representa una acción que se completa automáticamente tras pulsar un determinado botón en un periodo de tiempo limitado (Yova Turnes 2020). Suelen darse durante las cinemáticas. Si se pulsa correctamente el botón indicado, la escena continúa exitosamente (Altozano 2017: 131). Los QTE son una herramienta útil para hacer avanzar la historia combinando acción y cinemáticas. Por una parte, un QTE es como ver una película, con la salvedad de que al espectador se le pide pulsar determinados botones si quiere que la historia prosiga. Por otro lado, los sectores más puristas lo ven como una interrupción de la auténtica jugabilidad (Altozano 2017: 132). En cualquier caso, lo cierto es que los QTE son una herramienta recurrente que Cage emplea en sus juegos para permitir que la historia avance convirtiendo al jugador en protagonista de una forma impredecible pero limitada.

Este videojuego, como cualquier otro de Cage y Quantic Dream, busca hacer al jugador partícipe de la historia mediante una mecánica sencilla basada en movimientos simples, diálogos continuos, numerosas cinemáticas y QTE dialógicos (que a veces contienen diálogos que han de doblarse; los QTE basados en mera acción, sin texto, no se contabilizarán para el análisis). La historia gira en torno a una Detroit distópica, donde los androides comienzan a experimentar sentimientos, más allá de lo que se espera de una máquina, lo cual motiva que algunos divergentes se rebelen contra los humanos y luchen por sus derechos. El jugador controlará tres personajes alternativamente. La historia se divide en secuencias. Tras cada una, un diagrama de árbol mudo muestra las diferentes posibilidades que quien juega podría haber seguido con sus elecciones.

5. Metodología del estudio

En este estudio de caso, se ha analizado Detroit: Become Human (DBH), del género de aventura y subgénero de aventuras gráficas, con intención de determinar si la relación entre situaciones de juego y tipos de sincronía también se da en un género interactivo que parece guardar aún mayor relación con la configuración audiovisual de una película. Se discutirá en especial el doblaje de las escenas cinemáticas en términos de sincronías, para identificar si se da una clara diferenciación entre el doblaje de una película y el de las cinemáticas de un producto audiovisual que añade interacción.

Se llevó a cabo un estudio empírico y cuantitativo, siguiendo la metodología empleada en Mejías-Climent (2019, 2017), en el marco de los Estudios Descriptivos en Traducción. El fenómeno en cuestión en el que nos centramos son las sincronías del doblaje en cada situación de juego detectada durante el desarrollo del videojuego, primero, doblado al español peninsular. A continuación, se siguió la misma ruta en inglés, en busca de los tipos de ajuste aplicados en los segmentos originales y traducidos. Se jugó durante 10 horas en cada lengua. Se analizó así un total de 20 horas de juego. El análisis se basó en recoger, en una hoja de cálculo, cada situación de juego que se iba sucediendo en ambas versiones junto con su tipo de ajuste.

Además de las tareas, la acción de juego, los diálogos y las cinemáticas, hemos mencionado los QTE como particularidad en la obra de Cage. Aunque no representan una situación de juego diferenciada, en este caso están en estrecha relación con los diálogos, pues permiten que el jugador decida qué diálogo mantener. Por lo tanto, en este trabajo, los QTE se consideran diálogos como situación de juego: habitualmente introducen una pregunta o respuesta que el jugador ha de elegir con un plazo limitado de tiempo, como parte de un diálogo más extenso. Los QTE puros, basados solo en acción (sin diálogo), no se dan tan frecuentemente en DBH ni tampoco se considerarán una situación de juego que haya de analizarse, ya que no requieren ningún tipo de doblaje. Por ejemplo, durante una pelea, debe pulsarse X, △ o ○ para golpear al enemigo o para cubrirse, pero no se muestra ningún contenido lingüístico relacionado con el QTE. En tales casos, los QTE no se han contabilizado. A continuación, se ofrece una muestra del comienzo del análisis:

Tabla 1: Ficha comparativa de las 5 sincronías en DBH

6. Análisis en Detroit

6.1. Las situaciones de juego y su ajuste

Según se describía, el juego analizado se jugó durante 10 horas en cada lengua, hasta completar la trama, siguiendo elecciones idénticas siempre que fue posible. Se obtuvieron 696 registros en la ficha de análisis (Tabla 1), distribuidos en 35 secuencias (Tabla 2).

Tabla 2: Situaciones en 10 horas de juego de DBH

La situación que más se repite son las escenas cinemáticas, seguidas de los QTE dialógicos, la acción y, por último, las tareas. Estos datos ilustran la naturaleza del juego: una aventura gráfica se centra en el componente narrativo. La historia es el pilar del juego y todas aquellas situaciones que impliquen un mayor peso narrativo serán más frecuentes que la acción plena. Además, los datos contrastan con el número de situaciones de juego obtenido en los citados estudios previos (Mejías-Climent, 2019 y 2917), en los cuales, se analizaron juegos de acción-aventura y, en ellos, la acción de juego era la situación más repetitiva.

Con respecto a los tipos de ajuste detectados en cada situación de juego, se obtuvieron los siguientes datos:

  • Las tareas se transmiten exclusivamente mediante texto in-game. Por tanto, su traducción nunca requiere del doblaje, sino de texto escrito en pantalla, con una única excepción, durante una secuencia introductoria del menú principal, en la que una androide guía al jugador para configurar el juego. Es la única tarea que presenta un claro ajuste labial.
  • La mayor parte de la acción de juego se dobla empleando ajuste libre (24 casos en español e inglés). También son frecuentes el temporal exacto y el temporal (en la versión en español, 31 y 22 casos, respectivamente; 31 y 21 en inglés). El ajuste labial solamente se emplea en dos casos en español, pero en 6 ocasiones en inglés. Hay 80 momentos de acción de juego durante los cuales no se escuchan diálogos (por tanto, no se da ningún tipo de ajuste).
  • Con algunas excepciones, la mayoría de los QTE dialógicos se doblan empleando ajuste labial. Así, se asemejan considerablemente al doblaje empleado en las películas. Solamente se da un caso de ajuste temporal, cuatro de ajuste temporal exacto y dos de ajuste sonoro, tanto en español como en inglés. Hay cinco momentos en los que intervienen voces en off, dobladas con ajuste libre.
  • Las cinemáticas, al igual que los QTE dialógicos, se doblan empleando casi exclusivamente el ajuste labial (221 casos en español y 222 en inglés). Únicamente se han detectado un ejemplo de ajuste libre, de temporal y de temporal exacto, así como cinco de ajuste sonoro, todo ello en español; en inglés, también se han detectado un ejemplo de ajuste libre, de temporal y de temporal exacto, y cuatro casos de ajuste sonoro.

Estos resultados encajan con la naturaleza del subgénero interactivo de una aventura gráfica, al menos, en el caso de DBH: los diálogos mediante QTE y las escenas cinemáticas son la situación de juego más frecuente en un producto cuyo objetivo es recrear una atmósfera cinematográfica, sin suprimir el componente interactivo, es decir, sin dejar de recordar al jugador de que es suya la responsabilidad de tomar todas las decisiones que hacen que la historia avance. Además, el uso del ajuste labial como la sincronía más frecuente refleja la similitud en la configuración audiovisual entre una aventura gráfica y una película tradicional, en términos del doblaje y de su ajuste.

6.2. Las sincronías del cine en videojuegos

El mayor nivel de restricción, el ajuste labial, es el aplicado más frecuentemente en el doblaje de la aventura gráfica DBH. Este es también el tipo de ajuste más complejo de aplicar en una película, dado que la reproducción de los movimientos articulatorios en el texto traducido no siempre es completamente compatible con una traducción precisa y natural, y tiende a reservarse casi exclusivamente para los primeros y primerísimos planos, y los planos detalle (Chaume 2012).

En DBH, la forma de ajuste más restrictiva se aprecia en casi todas las cinemáticas y los QTE dialógicos. En ellos, una similitud evidente con el doblaje de cualquier película no interactiva es que para los labios de los personajes en DBH se han empleado técnicas de animación que reproducen la articulación labial de los actores en la versión original en inglés. En una película, participan actores de carne y hueso cuyas locuciones se sustituyen en el doblaje por las locuciones traducidas de los actores en la lengua meta. En videojuegos, se discute la validez del concepto de versión original (Méndez González 2015: 106), dado que todo videojuego necesita de actores reales que presten su voz a los personajes animados, por tanto, cualquiera de las versiones podría ser la original.

No obstante, en videojuegos modernos catalogados como triple A, el movimiento de los personajes e incluso la articulación labial se recrean mediante la técnica de animación conocida como motion capture o captura de movimiento (Turnes 2020), para la cual se emplean sensores sobre el cuerpo humano que captan el movimiento de la persona para recrearlo en un modelo digital de animación del personaje virtual (Kines 2000). De tal forma, los labios de los personajes en DBH reproducen con precisión los movimientos originales de las bocas de los actores en inglés. Por ello, las leves diferencias entre la articulación labial exacta de la versión original y la versión doblada en español aplicando un ajuste labial se pueden apreciar por igual en una película y en el doblaje de DBH.

Con respecto al nivel de precisión del ajuste labial, debe señalarse, como se ha explicado, que en la mayoría de los casos los actores no disponen de las imágenes que apoyen las locuciones que doblan. Ello podría redundar en un ajuste labial ligeramente menos preciso que el de una película no interactiva que, sin embargo, prácticamente no aprecia la mayoría de los usuarios. En el caso concreto de DBH, el ajuste labial resulta considerablemente preciso, a pesar de que se detectan algunos ejemplos en los que algunas vocales abiertas y consonantes labiales y labiodentales no coinciden con absoluta exactitud con el inglés.

En los siguientes ejemplos se aplica el ajuste labial. El símbolo (G), habitual en los guiones de doblaje al español, indica los elementos paralingüísticos (toses, carraspeos, onomatopeyas…). Las pausas se señalan con una barra / y, siempre que el jugador deba optar por una elección de diálogo en un determinado tiempo, se ha insertado la sigla [QTE].

Anderson: (G) ¡Sumo! ¡Ataca! / Buen perro. / ¡Ataca! // ¡Mierda! Creo que voy a vomitar… [QTE] [QTE] (G) ¡Déjame en paz, capullo! No voy a ninguna parte… [QTE] ¿Qué coño estás haciendo? […]

Connor: Es por su propio bien.

Anderson: (G) / (GG) ¡Ciérralo, ciérralo! (GG) (GG) / ¿Qué coño estás haciendo aquí?

Connor: Hace 43 minutos denunciaron un homicidio. Como no lo encontré en el bar de Jimmy, he venido a su casa.

Anderson: (G) Dios... seguro que soy el único poli del mundo al que le asalta en su propia casa su puto androide.

Anderson: (G) Sumo! Attack! / Good dog. / Attack! // Fuck! I think I'm gonna be sick... [QTE] [QTE] Ah, leave me alone, you asshole! I'm not going anywhere... [QTE] What the hell are
you doing? […]

Connor: It's for your own good.

Anderson: (G) (GG) Turn it off! Turn it off! (GG) (GG) / What the fuck are you doing here?

Connor: A homicide was reported 43 minutes ago. I couldn't find you at Jimmy's bar, so I came to see if you here at home.

Anderson: (G) Jesus, I must be the only cop in the world that gets assaulted in his own house by his own fuckin' android...

Ejemplo 1: Escena cinemática (registro n.º 298)

Connor: Lo entiendo… Tampoco creo que tuviera mucho interés… Han encontrado el cadáver de un hombre en un burdel del centro… Ya resolverán el caso sin nosotros…

Anderson: Oye, no me vendrá mal tomar un poco el aire. En el armario de la habitación hay ropa.

Connor: Iré a por ella.

Connor: I understand… It probably
wasn't interesting anyway… A man found dead in a sex club downtown… Guess they'll have to solve the case without us…

Anderson: You know, probably wouldn't do me any harm to get some air… There're some clothes in the bedroom there.

Connor: I'll go get them.

Ejemplo 2: QTE-Diálogo (registro n.º 302)

En estos ejemplos, todos los elementos que deben aplicarse en un ajuste labial se han respetado con precisión: la longitud de las oraciones originales y traducidas es exactamente la misma; la entonación, las pausas y los elementos paralingüísticos también se reproducen en ambas lenguas. Los símbolos reflejan que estos aspectos paralingüísticos son prácticamente idénticos en ambas versiones. Asimismo, las vocales abiertas y la mayoría de las consonantes labiales y labiodentales se replican en la medida de lo posible (señalado en negrita).

Este doblaje consigue asemejar en gran medida el máximo nivel de restricción en videojuegos al ajuste que se aplicaría en un producto audiovisual no interactivo, a pesar de que los traductores y, muy probablemente, los agentes en sala de doblaje no dispusieron de los vídeos para doblar. En la mayoría de videojuegos triple A localizados mediante el modelo outsourcing o externo (se encarga la localización a un proveedor de servicios de traducción especializado), los vídeos ni siquiera se han producido cuando se lleva a cabo el doblaje en sala, puesto que el mismo videojuego está aún en desarrollo, a la vez que se va localizando, para conseguir el lanzamiento simultáneo en varias lenguas o sim-ship (O’Hagan y Mangiron 2013). No obstante, las condiciones de localización de este videojuego no han podido corroborarse por ahora.

El uso del máximo nivel de restricción en el texto traducido para doblaje de un videojuego implica que todos los niveles previos también se han tenido en cuenta: la longitud de las oraciones (TC y STC) y la reproducción de la entonación y las pausas (SS). Así pues, la isocronía se aplica tal y como se haría en una película no interactiva, siendo este, aparentemente, el estándar de calidad más valorado entre la audiencia española (Chaume 2007).

También se han detectado algunos ejemplos de sincronía cinésica en el doblaje de DBH. Muy probablemente no se trata de una sincronía que se aplique intencionadamente, puesto que no se dispone de los vídeos. Pero algunas construcciones deícticas se omiten (véase el ejemplo 2) o se reproducen de forma literal, exactamente en el mismo lugar de la oración original, para conseguir una correspondencia con la imagen idéntica a la versión en inglés.

En el ejemplo 2, There're some clothes in the bedroom there se ha traducido como ‘En el armario de la habitación hay ropa’. El adverbio there se ha omitido, pero la referencia a «la habitación» ha de ser suficiente para hacer que cualquier posible indicación corporal del personaje resulte coherente con una referencia a ella, sea cual sea su ubicación en la casa (el personaje, de hecho, señala con el dedo hacia el lugar donde se encuentra su dormitorio).

7. Conclusiones

El objetivo principal de este artículo ha sido ofrecer una revisión de las similitudes y diferencias más señaladas entre el doblaje cinematográfico y el de un videojuego del subgénero de la aventura gráfica, dentro del género interactivo de los videojuegos de aventura. Los videojuegos representan el ejemplo actual más complejo de texto multimedia y, como tales, comparten muchas de las características de un producto audiovisual no interactivo. La particularidad de la dimensión interactiva añadida en los videojuegos los convierte en un caso específico que requiere de un complejo proceso de localización cuando estos productos se exportan a otra cultura, más allá de una mera traducción lingüística, en su sentido más estricto.

En la industria, los sectores profesionales defienden la idea de que la localización representa un ámbito independiente y diferenciado de la TAV, puesto que requiere de otros procesos de adaptación que incluyen un enfoque aún más creativo por parte de los traductores y la modificación de contenidos tanto lingüísticos como no lingüísticos del producto localizado. En el ámbito académico, no obstante, parece no haber indicios evidentes que justifiquen la necesidad de separar la localización de la TAV. Ambos campos se ocupan de la traducción de productos multimedia y abarcan una serie de modalidades de traducción tales como el doblaje o la subtitulación, entre muchos otros.

Aún se necesita más investigación sobre los aspectos comunes y diferentes del proceso de doblaje de una película y de un videojuego, y en el ámbito de la localización y de las distintas modalidades de TAV en general. Así, el objetivo de estas páginas es tan solo recoger algunas convergencias llamativas en el resultado del doblaje de una aventura gráfica y las películas tradicionales, no interactivas, en lo que a las sincronías se refiere.

En doblaje fílmico se emplean tradicionalmente tres tipos de ajuste (Chaume 2012, 2007, 2004). En el doblaje de videojuegos de acción-aventura, se ha identificado la necesidad de establecer una nueva taxonomía que dé cuenta de las distintas restricciones que se aplican en el texto traducido (Mejías-Climent, 2019, 2017). Sin embargo, en el caso específico de las escenas cinemáticas y los diálogos en forma de QTE de una aventura gráfica como Detroit: Become Human, se ha descrito cómo el tipo de ajuste más restrictivo en videojuegos, el ajuste labial, abarca también las tres sincronías del doblaje tradicional exitosamente. Debe matizarse, evidentemente, que un estudio de caso en absoluto es suficiente para identificar tendencias de traducción (Toury 1995), ni tampoco para cerrar el debate sobre el nexo entre TAV y localización. Aun así, este estudio pretende únicamente servir como punto de partida para futuros trabajos en los que se amplíe el corpus de análisis de videojuegos de aventura. También habrán de explorarse otros géneros interactivos de videojuegos para buscar tendencias en el uso de las sincronías del doblaje, así como para determinar las situaciones de juego más frecuentes en cada género.


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About the author(s)

Laura Mejías-Climent holds a PhD in Translation from the Universitat Jaume I (UJI) and a Bachelor’s degree in Translation and Interpreting from the Universidad Pablo de Olavide (UPO). She works as a lecturer and researcher at the UJI and she is a member of the research group TRAMA. She has worked as a lecturer at UPO, and ISTRAD, and teaches at Universidad Europea (Valencia). Furthermore, she has worked as a translation project manager and professional translator. She has also taught in the USA thanks to a Fulbright scholarship. She holds a Master’s Degree in AVT from the Universidad de Cádiz/ISTRAD and a Master’s Degree in Translation and New Technologies from the UIMP/ISTRAD. Moreover, she completed the Master’s Degree in Secondary Education and Languages at the Universidad de Sevilla. Her lines of research focus on Descriptive Translation Studies, specifically, on translation for dubbing and video game localization.

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

©inTRAlinea & Laura Mejías-Climent (2020).
"La evolución de las tecnologías en la confluencia de la interacción y el cine El doblaje en una aventura gráfica", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2509

Shifts in Transadapting Western Socio-cultural References for Dubbing into Arabic. A Case Study of The Simpsons and Al-Shamshoon

By Rashid Yahiaoui & Ashraf Fattah (Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar)


Each culture has its specificities that are governed by its socio-cultural norms. Cultures that share the same values and worldviews tend to facilitate the task of translators to transfer specific socio-cultural references to their own audience with minimal intervention. However, translators of distant cultures may find themselves at the mercy of many unsurmountable constraints and need to mitigate transmitting foreign content by resorting to either creative ways or even through blatant manipulation.

This paper investigates the transadaptation of Western socio-cultural references of an audiovisual corpus dubbed for Arab audiences. The study looks at how, and to what degree, the Arabic translator managed to render these elements, and what intrinsic or extrinsic factors were behind any shifts in the process.

The corpus examined was selected from The Simpsons: Seasons 1, 2 and 3; which was dubbed into Egyptian vernacular in 2005. The series addresses many sensitive issues with candour rarely seen in animated programmes. Because it is animated, it is generally assumed that The Simpsons targets children and teenagers; however, because of its satirical character and some of the themes that it tackles, it is looked at with suspicion and vigilance in the Arab World.

Drawing on notions such as culture, ideology, manipulation, while leaning on the Descriptive Translation Studies framework and using Discourse Analysis as a tool to unveil any shifts in translation, the results demonstrate clear manipulation of the source text by the translator which seems to be attributed to his own agenda or the influence of patronage.

Keywords: The Simpsons, dubbing, manipulation, ideology, culture, Discourse Analysis

©inTRAlinea & Rashid Yahiaoui & Ashraf Fattah (2020).
"Shifts in Transadapting Western Socio-cultural References for Dubbing into Arabic. A Case Study of The Simpsons and Al-Shamshoon", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2521

1. Introduction

Translation has a paramount effect on shaping cultural and national identities and enhancing or undermining entities (Bassnett, 1996; Fawcett, 1998; Lefèvere, 1992). Translation is far from being a mere transfer of ideas above suspicion; research shows how, in the process of translation, ideas, notions and, at times, complete ways of life can be censored and manipulated. The process even embeds codes to undermine the target culture or change perceptions. Bassnett (1996: 22) states that, ‘[o]nce considered a subservient, transparent filter through which a text could and should pass without adulteration, the translation can now be seen as a process in which intervention is crucial’.

The translator’s intervention, ideologically motivated or otherwise, can have far reaching implications on the target audience. Alvarez and Vidal argue that the translator’s choice to select, add or omit any words, or even place them in a given order in the text is an indication that ‘there is a voluntary act that reveals his history and the socio-political milieu that surrounds him; in other words, his own culture and ideology’ (1996: 5).

This intervention is arguably more prevalent in Audiovisual Translation (AVT) modality of dubbing, in which the source verbal-text is completely removed and replaced by that of the target language (Chaume, 2012), leaving the door wide open for manipulation.

2. Case study and research focus

One of the main reasons that researchers in Translation Studies are so intrigued by culture and its various sub-cultures, like popular culture, is its ability to reveal and foreground public consciousness as well as the role it plays in creating solidarity and cohesion between same-culture masses and a schism between various classes. It is exactly this important role culture plays in the manifestation of social consciousness that this study aims to investigate; how Western cultural elements in The Simpsons were reproduced or not in its Arabic counterpart Al Shamshoon. It is important to state that, despite the fact that a considerable number of Arabs are non-Muslims and represent a religious mosaic in the Middle East and North Africa, they still share homogenous socio-cultural values almost as if they were one ethnic and religious unit. It is on the basis of this understanding that we use ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ in this study.

Twenty-six episodes of the famous American animated sitcom The Simpsons, which were dubbed into the Egyptian vernacular and broadcast on MBC channel in 2005, were selected as a case study. It is worth noting that only four seasons of the sitcom have ever been dubbed into Arabic. This selection stems from two main observations a) the rich content in the show and its representation of the Western culture and b) the mammoth challenges this content presents to the Arabic translator.

The episodes in question were transcribed, then the instances selected from the original and their dubbed counterparts were contrasted and analysed. A back-translation was provided for non-Arabic speakers.

3. Theoretical framework

This study draws on various notions such as of culture, ideology, and manipulation and leans in its analysis on the Descriptive Translation Studies (DTS) framework, as it is very helpful for the study of AVT, as argued by Díaz Cintas (2004), mainly because it includes no presumptions of premeditated manipulation. In fact, although it takes into account the source text, this paradigm shifts the main focus towards the function of translated text in the target socio-cultural context. This flexibility in the paradigm renders it helpful in the study of newer forms of translation.

The use of the DTS paradigm also resolves the issue of whether or not dubbing is considered a form of translation due to the intrinsic equivalence problems involved. Toury (1995) argues that equivalence is always assumed, and the only thing that needs to be done is to establish the form that this equivalence takes.

Lambert and Van Gorp (1985) bring to our attention the many relationships, other than the most obvious one between source text and target text, which deserve the attention of translation scholars, such as that between the target text and original texts in the target language. Despite the fact that the relationship between the target text and the reader is significant in the discussion of acceptability, the relationship between the source text and the target text remains the focal point of Toury’s (1995) model of analysis. This can be seen through the use of ‘coupled pairs’. These constitute ‘solution + problem’ units (Toury, 1995: 38), which are recognised and taken from the source text/target text pairs under study.

Although Toury (1995) regards translations as facts of the target culture, and all his analyses begin with the translation and not the source text, it is vital to contrast both the source and the target texts. This is because, the former contains the various elements under study, and the latter demonstrates how these elements were conveyed into Arabic, which is the prime objective of this research. Nonetheless, the emphasis is on the translated version and how it is manipulated and/or subverted in order to fit within the socio-cultural and religious norms of the target culture.

4. Culture and translation

Since the cultural turn, Translation Studies scholars have started to examine various thorny translation issues from their diverse cultural perspectives. Snell-Hornby (1988) advocates a culture-oriented translation theory and succinctly argues for translation as a cross-cultural communication process. Concepts like history, function, rewriting and manipulation were introduced in translation studies by Bassnett and Lefèvere (1990), who claim that the process of translation should function as per the cultural requirements of the target audience. In order to uncover and analyse limitations on the apparatus of translation and various norms that translators abide by, Lefèvere (1990) introduces the theory of patronage, poetics and ideology, which probes the process of translation by placing literary systems into social and cultural contexts.

Thanks to many scholars such as Bassnett, Calzada-Pérez, Lefèvere, Schäffner, Toury, Tymoczko and Venuti, the focal point shifted towards the role of agency or what has become known as the power turn, as suggested by Tymockzo and Gentzler (2002), where it is ideology in its various aspects that determines the outcome of translation. Ideology and translation are inextricably linked — a text to be translated is determined by agents’ interests and aims, and ideological markers are embedded within the text itself both at lexical and grammatical levels (e.g. selection of particular words and expressions, and the use of passive voice etc.).

Critical discourse analysis (CDA) can help in understanding these processes when it is used ‘to expose the ideological forces that underlie communicative exchanges (like translating)’ (Calzada-Pérez, 2003: 2). CDA theorists argue that language use as a whole is ideological; hence translation is a major site for ideological encounters. In support of this point, Schäffner (2003a: 23) suggests that ‘the choice of a source text and the use to which the subsequent target text is put are determined by the interests, aims and objectives of social agents’. This implies that translation is a process that manipulates, rewrites and produces new texts that comply with target language and socio-cultural norms. Translations, as Lefèvere (1992a) claims, ‘whatever their intention, reflect a certain ideology and poetics and as such manipulate literature to function in a given society in a given way. Rewriting is manipulation undertaken in the service of power’ (ibid: vii).

If we accept the assumption that every aspect of human life is governed by one form of ideology or another, then the exercise of translation becomes a prime suspect every time it is practised. If, on the other hand, one agrees that the ‘original is impossible to find’, this opens the door of ‘permissibility’ wide open (ibid), freeing the translator from the shackles of the source text, to take complete control over the manner in which they render it. All they need is an ideological cover.

So how does ideology manifest itself in translation? According to Tymoczko (2003), ideology in translation is a melange of the source text content and the various acts represented that are relevant to the source context, as well as the content and its relevance to the target audience and the variety of the speech acts utilised in the process of translation addressing the target context and the various differences between the two processes. In addition, there is the position and the voice of the translator and its intent; the translator as an interpreter of the source text and the producer of the target text seems to possess considerable power to mould the outcome and steer it in the desired direction. True as this assumption might be, the translator is not the only mastermind of this operation; rather, many external actors interject their own views and visions and, in many cases, impose them on the translator.

It is important to state that since it is quite difficult for the Arab audience, especially those with little exposure to Western culture, to make a connection between various source socio-cultural references, we decided to analyse only the translation of elements specific to the American (US) culture, excluding references to other cultures. It is also equally important to note that the manipulative treatment of audiovisual material dubbed into Arabic is by no means exclusive to The Simpsons. The phenomenon is entrenched in Arab governments’ censorial policies which have a debilitating effect on the industry’s practice itself. Gamal (2009: 3) asserts that the industry in Egypt is under constant monitoring by the Censorship Office and is required to adhere to its rules: “no explicit sexual language, no blasphemous reference to the Almighty, prophets or revealed Books, and no swear words were allowed”. A good case in point is the “the moral face lifting” Sex and the City received in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where it was stripped of its sex scenes and then was never broadcast (Al-Adwan & Yahiaoui, 2018: 85). In Saudi Arabia, the most conservative Arab country, a fatwa was issued to kill the owners of MBC (the Dubai-based private broadcaster) for ‘airing religiously immoral matters’ following the broadcast of the Syrian dubbed Turkish series Gumus in 2008 (Elouardaoui, 2013: 35).

Despite the prominence of Latin America Telenovelas and Turkish series on both terrestrial and satellite channels in the Arab World, only those that conform to Arab and Muslim socio-cultural norms are selected. Those that pass the initial filtering are usually subjected to further editing of love scenes, sexual situations or excessive violence. In this vein, Elouardaoui (2013: 96) states that the Moroccan TV channel 2M, which airs Telenovelas, constantly censors ‘culturally inappropriate dialogue’ and thus words such as ‘whore’ have been replaced by ‘immoral’ or ‘debased’ and ‘have sex with’ by ‘have a relationship with’. Contracted translators working on The Devil Knows Best series were ‘given strict orders’ to ‘drastically diverge from the original script’ when necessary (ibid: 97). 2M even cancelled Ugly Betty when it discovered that it dealt with issues of transsexuality (ibid: 102).

Although, it could be argued that the Turkish series have more socio-cultural proximity with the Arabs than Western programmes, as they conform more closely to the socio-cultural norms of the Arab society, with their ‘modern’ perception of religious and cultural values and the bold way they tackle various ‘taboo’ issues such as cohabitation, having children out of wedlock, consumption of alcohol etc., these series were subjected to significant manipulation in order to be approved by Arab censorship boards (cf. Buccianti 2010; Kraidy 2012).

It is worth noting, however, that MBC introduced a ‘pay to watch’ service channel (MB+) to broadcast uncensored Turkish Soap Operas. This move came in response to the popularity of the ‘uncut’ series on the Internet. This shift in the conventional broadcasting reflects the increasing rift between the conservatives and the modernists in the Arab society and the impact of the World Wide Web on reconstructing socio-cultural norms.

In what follows, we look beyond the conventional approach of addressing linguistic transfer issues and focus on the analysis, in greater detail, of the choices made by the Arabic translator in the process of transferring socio-cultural references in order to point to “the need to understand and acknowledge one’s cultural predispositions and biases” as well as “a translator’s engagement with the culture of the self as well as the cultures of others” (Tymoczko, 2007: 254)

5, Western socio-cultural references

Socio-cultural references are culturally exclusive elements of a given culture which are foreign to the TT audience. Ergo, they tend to pose a significant challenge to translators. Given the intricate notion of the concepts of culture and religion, we perceive religious references to constitute a significant part of culture and are used as such in this paper. Many scholars such as Nedergaard-Larsen (1993); Romero Fresco (2006); Pedersen (2007); Dore (2009); Zanotti (2012); Gottlieb (2014); Ranzato and Zanotti (2018), to name a few, have studied the issues governing the translation of cultural references in AVT. Whitman Linsen (1992) argues that translating culture-specific content is very intricate. In addition to dealing with patrons and censorship issues, the translator needs to make well-informed decisions in order to make culturally foreign, and at times completely alien, material clear to the target audience. Things that are taken for granted by the source language audience belonging to homogenous linguistic and cultural communities, which in turn shape their moral values, political affiliation, identity and aesthetic tastes, all have to be carefully analysed and adequately rendered to conform to the target audience’s own expectations. This is because, as Whitman Linsen suggests, when the target audience is exposed to a foreign film ‘the threads interwoven in the particular socio-cultural skein have to be rewound for those coming from different backgrounds’ (1992: 125).

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Barney: Hi, Estelle? Will you go to the prom with me (7F12)

أهلاً سامية، تتمشى ف الجنينة معايا؟

Hi Samia, care to walk with me in the garden?

2. Grampa: We never danced the hootchy-koo either (7F11)

وهو احنا عمرنا رقصنا بلدى يعنى.عايز تقول ايه؟

We have never tried the folk dance. What do you mean?

3. Marge: Homer, is this some kind of stag-party? (7G10)

عمر، دى حفلة توديع العزوبية؟

Omar, is this a celibacy-farewell party?

4. Homer: Oh, I went to thousands of heavy metal concerts ... and it never hurt me (8F21)

يا منى، ماانا رحت مليون حفلة موسيقى شبابية و ماحصليش حاجة


Mona, I have been to a million of youth concerts and nothing happened to me.

5. Homer: Are you nuts? That’s the Super Bowl. How about the Sunday after that (8F12)

برعى انت عبيط؟دا نهائى الدورى.ايه رايك الحد اللى بعده؟

Burai, are you stupid? It’s the championship final. How about the Sunday after?

6. Kent: Thanks for your help. This reporter smells another Emmy (7F07)

شكراً على المساعدة يا رجالة. البرنامج بتاع النهارده كان حلو قوى

Thanks for the help guys. Today’s programme was fantastic.

7. Kids: Trick or treat, man. (8F02)

يا حلاوة يا شقاوة

Sweets or kicks

8. Dr. Hibbert: I won't show the horrors of our Three Stooges ward (7F06)

و مش حاحتاج أوريلك باقى الحالات المرعبة اللى عندنا

I need not show you the other horrible things we have.

9. Bart: Mom and Dad have been kissing (7F02)

ماما و بابا رجعوا يحبوا بعض تانى

Mum and dad love each other once again

10. Bart: He has a girlfriend.
Marge: Milhouse?
Bart: Yeah. All they do is kiss.
Marge: How cute. They don’t open their mouths, do they? (8F22)

أصله مصاحب بنت


أيوه..و طول الوقت باصين ف السقف

لطيف قوى. بيبصوا فى السقف؟


He befriended a girl


Yeah! And all the time they look at the ceiling

How nice! They look at the ceiling?

Table 1 Examples of Western socio-cultural references

The Simpsons has employed a wide range of socio-cultural references over the cast years, so much so that such references have become an essential component of humour and satire in the show..

Some of these references were relatively difficult to translate because they have no equivalent in the Arab society, such as ‘going to the prom’, ‘stag-party’, ‘the Emmy’, and the ‘Super Bowl’. The Arabic translator eliminated any reference to the Prom ball, as this indicates teenage courting, mixed partying and the dangers such practices are perceived to pose in Arab society. He simply referred to it as ‘تتمشى ف الجنينة معايا’ (walk with me in the garden). He translated ‘stag party’ as it is understood in Western culture ‘حفلة توديع العزوبية’ (celibacy-farewell party) although such an event does not officially exist in the Arab society; neither does ‘trick or treat’ ‘يا حلاوة يا شقاوة’ (sweets or kicks). As for the ‘Super Bowl’, he substituted it with ‘نهائى الدورى’ (the championship final) since American football is virtually unknown to Arab audiences.

While the ‘hootchy-koo’[1] dance was rendered as ‘رقص بلدى’ (belly dance), keeping the exoticness of the original; while ‘heavy metal concerts’ was rendered as with the much blander and less specific ‘حفلة موسيقى شبابية’ (youth concerts).

Probably the greatest challenge faced by the translator were the allusions to anything sexual. Kissing in public or in front of children, which is considered normal practice in Western societies, is generally seen as lewd conduct in the Arab world and something that only married people can do in the privacy of their bedrooms. Bart, dreading the loss of some of the quality time he usually has with his friend, tells his mother that Milhouse ‘has a girlfriend’, ‘مصاحب بنت’ (he befriended a girl), and that ‘all they do is kiss’ which is rendered in Arabic as: ‘طول الوقت باصين ف السقف’ (all the time they look at the ceiling). Marge, intrigued, says ‘they don’t open their mouths, do they?’, rendered in Arabic as ‘بيبصوا فى السقف؟’ (They look at the ceiling?). As we can see, the reference to kissing and the manner in which Milhouse and his girlfriend practise it has been changed, without any apparent logic, to gazing at the ceiling. This did not pose any contradiction with the visual narrative, since there were no scenes of the actual kissing.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Marge: Hello, everyone. You know, Halloween is a strange holiday. I don’t understand it.
Kids worshiping ghosts, pretending to be devils. Oooh! Things on TV that are completely inappropriate for younger viewers. (7F04)

أهلاً بيكم. عيد 'الأشباح المضحكه' دا غريب جداً.و أنا شخصياً مش فاهماه خالص. الأطفال بيحبوا الأشباح و بيعملوا نفسهم عفاريت و التليفزيون بيعرض حاجات مش مناسبه أبداً للصغيرين.


Hello! This ‘funny ghost holiday is very strange. Personally, I don’t understand it at all. Kids like ghosts and pretend to be demons! TV shows things that are not suitable for kids at all!


2. Gypsy: Chief Wiggum, I am merely a conduit for the spirits. Willie Nelson will astound his fans...by swimming the English Channel (8F03)

حضرة الظابط. اللى بييجى قدامى باقول عليه
)تشهق( ألفريد نوبل حيعمل جايزه كبيرة قوى للمخترعين

Officer, whatever comes before me I will tell (gasping) Alfred Nobel will offer a very big prize for inventors.

Table 2 Examples of references to certain Western traditions and beliefs

In these dubbed versions, Western traditions and customs have undergone a complete transformation. Example 1, from the ‘Tree-house of Horror’ (7F04), is full of references specific to Western culture. This episode, which draws on many other horror movies like Casper: the Friendly Ghost, Psycho, The Exorcist, and Adam’s Family, celebrates Halloween, an alien concept to the Arab audience. Although the translator tried to find something equivalent for Halloween in Arabic culture by using ‘عيد الأشباح المضحكه(Fiesta of the funny ghosts), such a fiesta is non-existent in the Arab World, although many people believe in the existence of ghosts. Expanding on the title, by explaining what the event is about, makes it easier for the audience to understand the theme of the episode.

The most problematic reference in this example, however, is ‘Kids worshiping ghosts, pretending to be devils’. Worshipping anything other than Allah is forbidden in Islam; it is considered shirk (polytheism), and any reference made to that effect is considered gross blasphemy and can provoke very serious consequences. The translator is well aware of this fact and hence rendered this as ‘الأطفال بيحبوا الأشباح وبيعملوا نفسهم عفاريت’ (Kids like ghosts and pretend to be demons). Eliminating the religious element from the text and substituting it with a much softer and more acceptable notion made the target text more credible, albeit the notion of demons is still not something Arab people discuss very freely.

Another issue that is considered taboo and looked upon as un-Islamic, is making any claim to be in contact with spirits, let alone being a conduit of spirits, (example 2). When Chief Wiggum, heading a police man-hunt mission in a desperate attempt to locate the body of the missing Principal Skinner, thought to be kidnapped and probably killed by the Mafia, resorts to a gypsy for assistance, he gives her a photograph of the principal and the following exchange takes place:

Gypsy: (roaming her hands over a picture of Skinner) ‘I see wedding bells for Vanna White and Teddy Kennedy.’
Wiggum: ‘Please, Princess Opal, if we could just stick to Principal Skinner.’
Gypsy: ‘Chief Wiggum, I am merely a conduit for the spirits.’


The medium is said to possess the ability to establish contact with spirits in the other world and acquire information about certain people or things. This practice is prohibited in Islam and anyone found guilty could face dire consequences. The South American Incan tradition uses the shamanic healing technique in a slightly different way; it claims the ability to communicate with a higher power to heal the luminous energy field of the sick person.

The translator rendered the sentence in quite a vague manner. By saying ‘اللى بييجى قدامى باقول عليه' (whatever comes before me, I will tell), the matter is open to interpretation. It is clear, however, that it is more of a clairvoyance reference than spirit channelling. Tarot, palm and cup readings are widely practised in certain countries of the Arab World, like Egypt and Morocco, and it is more tolerated than claims of contacting spirits or Jin.

6, Taboo language

The use of impolite language is generally more unacceptable in Arabic society, compared to the West. Although The Simpsons, like South Park, includes a considerable amount of impolite language, it was considered suitable to be watched by the whole family.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Barney: Teacher’s pet, apple polisher, butt kisser (7G05)

هز الديل، مسح الجوخ، تمشية حال


Tail wagging and shoe polishing is good for getting things done.

2. Box: Shut up! Shut up! Kiss my butt! Go to hell (8F12)

اكتم .اكتم.بوس رجلى اكتم.غور بعيد.غور بعيد

Shut up! Shut up! Kiss my foot, go away, go away!

3. Bart: My name is Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you? (7F01)

بدر شمشون. و انت تطلع مين؟


Badr Shamshoon, and who are you?

4. Bart: Now, sit! I said, sit! Take a walk. Sniff that other dogs butt. See? He does exactly what I say (7F14)

دلوقتى إقعد. قلت اقعد. آ. إمشى. شم أثر الكلب ده شفتى عمل كل اللى قلتله عليه


Now sit! I said sit! Go! Sniff this dog’s trail. You see, it has done all I asked.

5. Bart: I’ll say, Dad, you must really love us to sink so low. (7G08)

يظهر يا بابا، حبك لينا خلاك تهين كرامتك


Dad, it seems your love for us made you tarnish your dignity.

6. Bart: Good morning. This is your wake-up call.
Homer: Wake-up call? It’s 2 a.m.
Bart: Sorry, fatso. (8F01)

صبح الخير، دا معاد الصحيان

صحيان؟ الساعة اتنين الصبح

آسفين يا كابتن


Good morning. This is the wake-up call. Are you awake?

It’s 2 am.

Sorry captain.

7. Bart: Homer ‘The Human Punching Bag’ Simpson (7G06)

عمر، المأسوف على شبابه، شمشون

Omar, the not so young, Shamshoon

8. Bart: Know where this bastard lives (7F16)

و عندك فكرة الضايع دا حنلاقيه فين؟


Any idea where we can find this loser?

9. Emily: You son of a bitch! Good show! All right (7F14)

يا كلب يا عفريت. برافو

You dog! You devil! Bravo!

Table 3 Examples of impolite language

Sterle, Jr. (2011) argues that The Simpsons has become the embodiment of all the wrong values in American society: mockery, drinking, cursing, violence, laziness and so on. The language used in the show caused controversy right from the start, although the level of vulgarity was certainly amplified after few seasons. Sometimes, the rude jokes flow so quickly that only the focused viewer can follow them. Within the chaotic life of Springfield, bad habits and ignorance are the norm. Name-calling, swearing and disrespect of parents and elders are present in most episodes.

Understandably, the Arabic translator eliminated almost every profanity or instance of demeaning behaviour in order to conform to Arab sensitivities on these issues, as the first four examples in Table 3 demonstrate. Expressions like ‘butt kisser’, ‘kiss my butt’, ‘sniff that other dog’s butt’ and ‘who the hell are you’ were translated to ‘حال تمشية ’ ‘بوس رجلى’ ‘شم أثر الكلب ده' 'وانت تطلع مين؟(getting things done, kiss my foot, sniff this dogs trail, who are you.

As Islam calls for utmost respect and reverence of parents and elders, disrespect of parents is considered an act which could have grave ramifications on family and social ties. In this regard, the translator had no alternative but to observe these teachings in his rendering of ‘Dad, you must really love us to sink so low’, ‘sorry fatso’, ‘Homer, the human punching bag, Simpson’, with a softer tone ‘يا بابا، حبك لينا خلاك تهين كرامتك’, ‘آسفين يا كابتن’, ‘عمر، المأسوف على شبابه، شمشون(it seems your love for us made you tarnish your dignity. Sorry captain. Omar, the not so young, Shamshoon).

Another aspect the Arab society considers a result of a bad upbringing is name-calling. While Western expressions like ‘bastard’ and ‘son of a bitch’, in examples 8 and 9, have exact usable equivalents in Arabic (إبن زنا) and (إبن الكلبة) which, however, are much more insulting in colloquial Arabic, the translator translated ‘bastard’ to ‘الصايع(loser) and ‘son of a bitch’ to ‘يا كلب يا عفريت(you dog! You devil!), hence eliminating any serious insulting significance the expressions hold in the original.

It is worth mentioning that the impolite language of The Simpsons has been subject to censorship in many other societies across the world as well. In Japan, for instance, the episode ‘Thirty minutes over Tokyo’ was banned for showing Homer throwing the emperor into a pile of ladies’ underwear and declaring himself ‘Emperor Clobbersaurus’; a similar episode, ‘Goo Goo Gai Pan’, was banned in China for referring to Mao as ‘a little angel who killed 50 million people’; while the Ukrainian censoring body went so far as to ban The Simpsons altogether (Simpsonswiki.com).

7. Gender issues

Gender stereotypes are those negative or positive assumptions and generalisations people have about male and female differences, attributes and the presumed roles of each gender. By applying these assumptions, we perpetuate stereotypes.

Satirists use irony and exaggeration to make fun of societal shortcomings and foolishness to mend human behaviour (Applebee, 1997). To this effect, Mullin (1999) argues that The Simpsons ‘satirizes most aspects of ordinary life, from family, to TV, to religion, achieving the true essence of satire’. In satirical perspective of The Simpsons, women are portrayed as bored and boring housewives or superficial ‘bimbos’ always competing for the attention of men and worrying about their image. By the same token, the men are represented as a beer-loving, family-neglecting, foul-mouthed and ‘losers’ who are unhappy with their lives and take refuge from life’s hardships in Moe’s tavern.

Considerations of gender are significant markers which influence social interaction and translate directly into economic and power differentials in the overwhelming majority of Arab countries. While men dominate the external sphere of society, women’s status is high in the family, particularly in their roles as mothers, wives and sisters. However, long-standing gender stereotypes are very prevalent in Arab society, albeit to varying degrees; the further East one goes in the Arab World, the more fossilised the stereotypes are. Although a considerable number of women demonstrate high levels of success in many areas of society such as academia, business and literary production, their accomplishments tend to go unnoticed and they are excluded from most aspects of public life.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Ex. wife 1: He had some bimbo in Kansas City (7F05)

و بعدها يختى لقيته ماشى مع واحدة تافهة ف بلد تانيه

Then, I found him with another useless one in another town.

2. Homer: See, I’m trying to teach my son here about treating women as objects (7G10)

بص، أنا عايز اعلم ابنى ازاى يعامل الستات باحترام


Look, I want to teach my son how to treat women with respect.

3. Bart: What’s with the skirt? (8F22)

ايه، ليه جايب معاك بنت؟

What! Why did you bring a girl with you?

4. Homer: You express yourself in the home you keep and the food you serve (7F01)

ماانتى حتعبرى عن رأيك ف البيت اللى حتوضبيه و الآكل اللى حتقدميه

You will express your opinion through keeping the house and serving food!

5. Homer: As the pants-wearer of this house ... I get the first wish (8F02)

لا أنت ولا هىّ. بصفتى أكبر راس هنا. أول أمنية ليّا

Neither of you! As the boss here, the first wish is mine.

6. Mr Burns: A bit overly familiar, but I’ll allow it. I took in a movie. A piece of filth featuring a blonde harlot ... who spent half the film naked as a jaybird (8F04)

أيوه، أنت خدت عليا قوى، بس حاسمحلك. اتفرجت على فيلم. تافه ومايساويش بصلة. البطلة بتاعته كانت بنت شقرا فضلت نص الوقت عمالة تلف و تدوور زى الدره المشوى

Yes, overly familiar, but will forgive you. I watched a stupid and worthless movie. The heroine is a blonde who was tossing and turning like ‘toasted corn on a cub’.

7. Player: Check out the mature quail heading over (7F05)

يا جمال، شايف الفرخة العتاقى اللى جاية دى

Jamal, you see that mature hen coming our way?

8. Young Selma: Women cant be astronauts.

Young Marge: Why not?

Young Patty: They distract the men ... so they wouldn’t keep their minds on the road. (8F15)

الستات مينفعوش فى الفضاء
ليه لأ؟

حيشوشروا على رواد الفضاء ويخلوهم مايركذوش فى السواقة

Women won’t do in space

Why not?

They will distract the astronauts, so they won’t focus on driving!

Table 4 Examples of gender related references

Stereotypical views such as those expressed in examples 4 and 5: ‘you express yourself in the home you keep and the food you serve’ and ‘as the pants-wearer of this house ...’; are rendered in the same manner into Arabic, as these stereotypes are widely accepted within Arab societies, regardless of how liberal the man claims to be. By giving his wife the chance to express her opinion by being the ‘kitchen master’, (or mistress, to apply the stereotype), Homer undermines Marge’s opinion on important matters just for being a woman. The translator’s rendering ‘'ماانتى حتعبرى عن رأيك ف البيت اللى حتوضبيه والأكل اللى حتقدميه’ (You will express your opinion through keeping the house and serving food!) and ‘بصفتى أكبر راس هنا’ (As the oldest here) advocates the same male view of women.

Although the woman ought to be revered, as per the teachings of Islam, she is not treated as an equal in the Arab World. Ironically, as hypocritical as it may sound, men’s rhetoric calls for respecting and treating women as diamonds and pearls, an expression often used in religious sermons. The translator’s rendering of example 2 reflects this attitude by giving an opposite meaning of the original ‘I’m trying to teach my son here about treating women as objects’ ‘أنا عايز اعلم ابنى ازاى يعامل الستات باحترام’ (I want to teach my son how to treat women with respect).

Examples 1, 3, and 7 satirize the way women are perceived by men in the West; they are often referred to as chicks, ‘quails (الفرخة) and ‘skirts’ etc., and the ‘blonde’(شقرا) is thought of as dumb and a ‘bimbo(تافهة), good for nothing but fun. Hines (1994: 295) argues that: ‘There is a consistent, widespread, largely, unconscious and undocumented metaphor in English equating women as sex objects with desserts, manifested both in linguistic expressions (such as cheesecake, cookie, tart, etc.)’ (emphasis in original). The Arabic translator has toned down these expressions marginally.

As demonstrated in this section, universal gender stereotypes are just as widespread in Arab society as in any other, and women seem to bear most of the brunt of callous and insensitive attitudes and perceptions of men despite Islamic teachings and the frequently cited Arab saying ‘وراء كل رجل عظيم امرأة(behind the success of every great man there is a woman).

8, Racial issues

The Simpsons uses its characters to portray a range of stereotypes that exist within the American society, and race is prominent in every episode. The characters of the Mexican Bee, Willy, and Apu, for example, are used to represent Latino, Scottish and Asian/Middle Eastern stereotypes. While the Mexican Bee, the actor on a Spanish TV channel, is always droning around in his absurd bee outfit, Willy, the Scott, is perceived as the strong man always ready for digging and donkey work. Apu, the Indian Kwik-E-Mart convenience-store owner, on the other hand, sells products which have passed their use-by-dates at high prices, speaks with a strong accent and looks down on his customers. These portrayals satirize common assumptions in the US that Latinos cannot be taken seriously, the Scottish are only fit for physical work, and Asians are rude convenience-store and petrol-station owners. Although these racial stereotypes are largely communicated visually, there are ample incidents when characters express racial prejudices vocally, as the excerpts in Table 5 illustrate.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Marge: Hmm ... Hostage negotiations.
Homer: Listen, Tabbouleh, we’re ignoring all your demands. What do you say to that? (8F22)

آ، المفاوضات مع المجرمين

إسمع يا دهشورى، احنا رافضيين كل طلباتك. إيه رأيك بقى دلوقتى؟


Ah! Negotiations with criminals.

Listen Dahshury, we don’t accept your demands. Now, what do you think about that?

2. Mr Burns: Damnation! Find me some good players, living players. Scour the professional ranks, the American League, the National League ... the Negro leagues (8F13)

على بختى. طيب، شوفلى لعيبة كويسة. عايشين إقلب اتحاد الكوره، نقابة اللاعبين، جمعيات الزنوج


My bad luck! Ok, get me some good living players. Scour the football federation, players and Negros’ associations.

3. Troy: Our tour starts in your own room ... where Relaxo-vision offers you the latest Hollywood hits ... and after midnight ... the finest ‘R rated movies Europe has to offer. (8F14)

جولتنا تبتدى من حجراتكم الخاصة حيث متعة مشاهدة أحدث أفلام هولى وود. و بعد نص الليل مع أرقى الأفلام الثقافية اللى بتنتجها أوروبا.

Our tour starts in your own room where you can see the latest Hollywood movies and after mid night the best educational films produced in Europe.

Table 5 Examples of racially related references

When Lisa summarises an article she read in a magazine, which claims that one

can lose weight subliminally. An idea is subtly implanted in your head without your knowing it. You listen to tapes while you sleep. As you hear New Age music, a powerful message goes to your brain telling you to eat less,

Homer asks Marge’s opinion: ‘Lose weight and listen to New Age music? Wow! What do you think, Marge?’ To which she replies: ‘Oh, Homer, I love you just the way you are. Lisa, what’s that number?’

After calling the hotline number, Marge is presented with few tape options: ‘Would he like to lose weight, stop smoking, learn the state capitals, or master hostage negotiations?’ The operator said. After a few hesitating moments, Marge, mysteriously, decided on ‘hostage negotiations’. Homer, hearing his wife on the phone, started the negotiation process: ‘Listen, Tabbouleh, we’re ignoring all your demands. What do you say to that?’ The key word here is ‘Tabbouleh’, as it refers to a Middle Eastern appetiser. Thanks to the media, people from the Middle East are equated with violence and acts of terrorism, especially since 9/11, although this episode, (Bart’s friend falls in love), was aired in 1994. Homer used ‘Tabbouleh’ as a metaphor to refer to the terrorists and hostage takers he is dealing with. The translator, being an Arab, did not convey the racial stereotype as it is disparaging and self-incriminating, ‘إسمع يا دهشورى،احنا رافضيين كل طلباتك. إيه رأيك بقى دلوقتى؟(Listen Dahshury, we dont accept your demands. Now, what do you think about that?).

The second example typifies the prejudices some people have about black people. Mr Burns was challenged by his friend Ari, another power plant owner, to a one million dollar bet that his football team would crush Mr Burns’ old and slothful ‘bunch of bums’. When Smithers confirms that indeed the team stands no chance of winning, Mr Burns, seeking to revamp the squad, orders him: ‘Find me some good players, living players. Scour the professional ranks, the American League, the National League ... the Negro leagues.

The Negro league was established in the early 20th century by the leaders of what was known as ‘Organized Baseball’ to promote baseball by contracting black players known for their skills in the game. It was ‘probably the most lucrative black-dominated enterprise in the United States at that time’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica). However, the derogatory ‘Negro, black in Spanish, is associated with a long history of slavery, segregation and discrimination. Its use nowadays is considered politically incorrect and racist. Interestingly, the translator used the exact Arabic equivalent ‘الزنوج’, an old Arabic word that is hardly used in contemporary society.

Just as with a myriad of other stereotypes, Boni mores perpetuate certain perceptions of how society deals with matters of sex and erotica. The Western perception of the East in this regard is widely encoded in the orientalists’ documentation of their accounts in which they portray it as exotic, Harem-focused and where all women are incarnations of Shahrazad. According to similar stereotypes, many people perceive European woman as ‘sexually available and promiscuous’ (Bledowski, 2010), and Italian, French and Greek men as God-given ‘studs’ to women. Perhaps, such misconceptions are the result of the European adult entertainment industry promoted by many channels such as Kanal København, Pink TV, and Spice Channel, or cinematic films such as, Last Tango in Paris, Jamón… jamón, and El Sexo de Los Angeles.

Feeling stressed, Marge decides to take a break from her family and go on a vacation by herself, leaving frantic Homer behind to get a taste of what it means to be a housewife (husband). The tour operator announces that: ‘Our tour starts in your own room ... where Relaxo-vision offers you the latest Hollywood hits ... and after midnight ... the finest “R rated movies Europe has to offer.’ Movies classified as ‘R’ are not suitable for the under 18s, as they have adult content, which could be extreme violence, horror or explicit sexual activity. Being made in Europe, and, as the operator’s suggestive tone alludes, the movies in question are erotic. The translator renders the reference to “R” rated movies with educational materialو بعد نص الليل مع أرقى الأفلام الثقافية اللى بتنتجها أوروبا’ (and after mid night the best educational films produced in Europe); a solution which is ambiguous because in the Egyptian vernacular, this is usually understood to mean pornographic films, while most non-Egyptians would understand this literally to mean educational films.

Dealing with stereotypes is a complex process for translators. Although stereotypes are discouraged in the Arab World, mainly because of religious teachings, they are still widespread. However, due to the stringent guidelines imposed on the translator and the producer, as stated by both in a personal communication (2017), the transfer of Western labels in The Simpsons to Arab viewers is very limited. The owners of MBC, submitting to the comments from their religious advisors and the government censorial body, instructed the producer and the translator, despite the objection expressed by the latter, to sanitize the source text by eliminating any references and innuendos pertaining to sex, alcohol, and any religion other than Islam.

9, Nudity and sexual references

In its early years, The Simpsons was considered a family show with mild sexual overtones and violence. However, as the seasons progressed, the show steered away from its original agenda of being a family programme to becoming a more adult-oriented product. Sexual references became an integral part of the show; visually explicit scenes and sexual innuendos became a common occurrence. An example of a visually explicit scene is in the Homer of Saville episode (JABF18), in which Homer discovers he has a talent for opera singing, when a young and seductive woman proposes to be his fan club manager; however, her real intentions are to seduce him. With soft music playing, she stands in front of him suggestively, unzips her full body-hugging vinyl suit and exposes her naked body – which viewers can see from the back. Despite this scene, linguistic and acoustic references to sex and nudity are used in the show more than visual ones, and many characters are involved in generating various innuendoes. Table 6 illustrates this point.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Bart: Like strip poker (7G08)

بيلعبوا سيجة

They play Sija (Os and Xs game)

2. Bart: But never a girl. What if I want to strut around nude (8F22)

أيوه،مافهمش و لا بنت. احنا ولاد و نحب نلعب براحتنا

Yes, not a single girl. We are boys and we like to play at our leisure.

3. Mr Burns: A bit overly familiar, but I’ll allow it. I took in a movie. A piece of filth featuring a blonde harlot ... who spent half the film naked as a jaybird (8F04)

أيوه، أنت خدت عليا قوى، بس حاسمحلك. اتفرجت على فيلم. تافه و مايساويش بصلة. البطلة بتاعته كانت بنت شقرا فضلت نص الوقت عمالة تلف و تدوور زى الدرة المشوى

Yes, overly familiar, but will forgive you. I watched a stupid and worthless movie. The heroine is a blonde who was tossing and turning like ‘toasted corn on a cob’.

4. Otto: No time, Bart Dude. My girlfriend’s dancing topless at the airport bar (Y3 8F22)

آسف يا بدر البدور. ماينفعش لازم الحق اتفرج على الحلقة الأجنبية ف التليفزيون من اربعة و ربع لاربعة و تلت

I have to make it home in time to watch this foreign episode on TV from 4:15 to 4:20

5. Bart: Oh, fine. I’m tired of watching you two lip wrestle. There’s plenty of other ways to be grossed out (8F22)

حلو قوى. أنا زهقت م الفرجة عليكم فيه حاجات تانية ممكن تسلينى ف البلد دى غيركم

Great! I am bored of watching you. There are other things that could entertain me in this town.

6. Fat one: Your mother didn’t think so (7F12)

صاحبتك كانت عاجباها شقتى

Your friend liked my apartment.

7. Gloria: My name’s Gloria. I’m here because Johnny ... hasn’t been able to cut it, man wise, for some time. Not that I’d want his odour of sour defeat pressed against me (7F20)

أنا اسمى جلوريا. أنا جيت لأن جيمى مابيبطلش يتأمر عليا طول الوقت. و كمان بيزود ف الكلام و مابيعملش أى أحترام


My name is Gloria. I came because Jimmy keeps bothering me, he says bad things and doesn’t respect me.


8. Marge: He’s much happier at work. Just between us girls, he hasn’t been this frisky in years (7F02)

بقى مبسوط أكتر ف شغله. صراحة بينى و بينكم يا بنات أنا، ماشفتوش مرح كده من سنين

He’s much happier at work. Just between us girls, I haven’t seen him this happy for years.

Table 6 Examples of sexual/nudity references

Arab society is quite reserved and considers issues like sex strictly taboo; there is no sex education in schools and discussing the subject is deemed bad behaviour and immoral. The Simpsons’ scenes with visual sexual references were censored in the Arabic version and verbal ones (70 cases in total) were manipulated so much that any sexual innuendos were replaced with random expressions that fill the gap without ruining the flow of the story. The first four examples illustrate this point clearly; references to nudity, as in playing ‘strip poker’, ‘strutting around naked’ or ‘dancing topless’, were all either eliminated or replaced by something more culturally adequate like ‘بيلعبوا سيجة(playing Sija (Os and Xs game)), ‘نحب نلعب براحتنا(we like to play at our leisure) and ‘لازم الحق اتفرج على الحلقة الأجنبية ف التليفزيون(I have to make it home in time to watch the foreign episode on TV) respectively. Interestingly, the translator used an intriguing expression to render ‘a blonde harlot ... who spent half the film naked as a jaybird’, to ‘بنت شقرا فضلت نص الوقت عمالة تلف و تدوور زى الدرة المشوى(a blonde who was tossing and turning like toasted corn on a cob), leaving those with a vivid imagination to figure out the implied message.

References with stronger sexual connotations, such as examples 5 to 8, suffer the same fate. In fact, they were thoroughly censored and replaced with passive and simplistic linguistic formulas in order to comply with MBC’s gatekeepers. Bart’s outburst at Milhouse’s long kissing sessions with his newly found love: ‘I’m tired of watching you two lip wrestle’; Fat one’s implicit reference at being good in bed when his friend told him that he ‘sucks at it’, ‘Your mother didnt think so’; and Gloria and Marge’s mixed fortunes about their partners’ performance, the first complaining that ‘Johnny ... hasnt been able to cut it, man wise, for some time’ and the second unable to contain her satisfaction: ‘Just between us girls, he hasnt been this frisky in years’ were translated to ‘أنا زهقت م الفرجة عليكم(I am bored of watching you), ‘صاحبتك كانت عاجباها شقتى' (Your friend liked my apartment), ‘جيمى مابيبطلش يتأمر عليا طول الوقت و كمان بيزود ف الكلام و مابيعملش أى أحترام(Jimmy keeps bothering me. He says bad things and doesnt respect me) and ‘صراحة بينى و بينكم يا بنات أنا، ماشفتوش مرح كده من سنين’ (Just between us girls, I havent seen him this happy for years).

10, Conclusion

As O’Connell argues ‘the actual words we choose to convey meaning in fact shape that meaning’ (2000: 63); just as language is not always neutral, so translation is not always neutral. Conveying ideas between languages is bound to incur shifts, premeditated or otherwise. These ideas are subject to multileveled interpretation as well, depending on the receiving audience. Consequently, the process of translation operates under the constraints of particular agents and circumstances that force translators to be biased or subversive. The decisions taken by translators in this regard are not always idiosyncratic, but are, as O’Connell (2000) argues, often constrained by factors such as the languages involved, the text genre, the audience and its culture. 

The dubbing of The Simpsons into Arabic was subject to many constraints and norms, which influenced the choices made by the translator as well as the producer. However, such constraints are, at times, justifiable due to the significant differences between Arab and Western cultures, as well as MBC gate-keepers’ fear of a cultural shift among Arab audiences, who are heavily influenced by satellite TV and Internet. These tools free Arab youth in particular from the shackles of local socio-cultural values defined by their geographical space.

By applying censorship and strict guidelines on the production and dissemination of sensitive material targeting young audiences, the gatekeepers hope to minimise the extent of Western ideological and socio-cultural encroachment on local cultures. The outcome reveals that both intrinsic and extrinsic factors play a major role in the process of translating and conveying the intended message to a target audience with socio-cultural and ideological values which are different from those of the source audience. Indeed, religious beliefs, socio-cultural norms and personal views tend to leave an indelible mark on the dubbed product.

The gap between Western and Arab cultures makes the task of translation even more difficult, and culturally emotive expressions of the original text often lose their connotative meaning in the process of translation. As a result, they do not bring forth the same response from the target audience as they do from the source culture (Cf. Zitawi 2006; Yahiaoui 2016; Al-Adwan & Yahiaoui 2018). 

The fact that the Arabic dubbing of The Simpsons fails to be an honest broker could be attributed to various factors, but the most important is the role of censorship, be it imposed by external agents or induced by the translator’s own beliefs.

Appendix: The Simpsons episode guide


Season 1


Season 2










Bart the General

Moaning Lisa

Simpson’s Roasting on an Open Fire

Homer’s Night Out















Two Cars in Every Garage

Simpson and Delilah

Tree House of Horror

Dancin’ Homer

Bart Vs. Thanksgiving

Bart Gets Hit by a Car

One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish

The Way We Was

Bart’s Dog Gets an 'F'

Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou

Old Money

War of The Simpsons



Season 3






Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington

Tree House of Horror

Bart the Murderer

Homer Defined

Lisa the Greek







Homer at the Bat

Homer Alone

Separate Vocation

The Otto Show

Bart’s Friend Falls in Love



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[1] The Hoochie coochie, also spelt (hootchy kootchy), is a deliberately sensual form of belly dance, typically performed as part of a carnival. It is performed by women of (or presented as having) an Eastern European gypsy heritage (American Heritage Dictionary 4).

About the author(s)

Rashid Yahiaoui is currently an assistant professor in Audiovisual Translation and Translation Studies at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences of Hamad bin Khalifa University. He has a Ph.D. in Translation Studies from London Metropolitan University, UK, and a Master in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Salford, UK. He also has extensive experience as a professional interpreter, as he worked for the Home Office and National Health Service in the UK for over 10 years. Rashid’s main research interests are: Audiovisual Translation, Ideology, Critical Discourse Analysis and Media Texts; Political Discourse Analysis, and Translation Pedagogy and Curriculum Development.

Ashraf Abdel Fattah is currently an Assistant Professor at the Translation and Interpreting Institute (TII), College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha. He has a PhD in Translation Studies from the University of Manchester, with extensive 30-year experience in translation, interpreting, and journalism. Dr Abdel Fattah was the Middle East Bulletin Editor at the Associated Press Television News in London for 13 years. From 1989 to1997, he worked as the Arabic Language Editor at Amnesty International in London. He was also a visiting lecturer in Translation Studies at the University of Westminster for 17 years.  He also worked as a senior interpreter at Al Jazeera Arabic Channel in Doha. His current research interests include appraisal and ideological analysis of news discourse, media translation, contrastive linguistics and corpus-based descriptive translation studies.

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

©inTRAlinea & Rashid Yahiaoui & Ashraf Fattah (2020).
"Shifts in Transadapting Western Socio-cultural References for Dubbing into Arabic. A Case Study of The Simpsons and Al-Shamshoon", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2521

Der Kummer von Belgien (Hugo Claus)

Konstruktion und Dekonstruktion von Images in deutscher Literaturübersetzung

By Anja van de Pol-Tegge (Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Belgium)

Abstract & Keywords


Literary translations often seem to be reinterpreted due to certain cultural images of the translator, editor or other relevant decision makers. This case study therefore goes beyond the level of the text and illustrates the influence of the target culture on translation products. In two different German translations of the masterpiece by Belgian author Hugo Claus, underlying stereotypes are traced back through context and intertext.


Literaturübersetzungen scheinen oftmals neuinterpretiert zu werden aufgrund bestimmter kultureller Vorstellungen des Übersetzers, Lektors oder anderer relevanter Entscheidungsträger. Diese Fallstudie geht daher über die Ebene des Textes hinaus und verdeutlicht den Einfluss der Zielkultur auf das Übersetzungsprodukt. In zwei verschiedenen deutschen Übersetzungen des Meisterwerks des belgischen Autors Hugo Claus werden zugrundeliegende Stereotypen anhand von Kontext und Intertext zurückverfolgt.

Keywords: imagology, translation strategy, multilingualism, ethics in translation

©inTRAlinea & Anja van de Pol-Tegge (2020).
"Der Kummer von Belgien (Hugo Claus)", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2500

1. Einführung

Literaturübersetzungen werden für den deutschen Buchmarkt Jahr für Jahr in großer Zahl produziert. Ein kurzer Blick in die Buchhandlungen genügt, um sich einen Eindruck vom quantitativen Ausmaß zu verschaffen. Allein im Jahr 2017 wurden laut Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels rund 10.000 neue Titel ins Deutsche übertragen und veröffentlicht.[1] Die Leser betrachten es bei dieser Internationalisierung von Literatur in der Regel als selbstverständlich, dass sich aus jedem Original ohne Weiteres eine gleichwertige Übersetzung ergibt, was jedoch eine grundlegend falsche Annahme ist: Übersetzung findet immer in einem sozialen Raum statt (vgl. Wolf 2010), sodass am Übersetzungsprozess Beteiligte, wie Übersetzer, Lektor aber auch andere relevante Entscheidungsträger, unvermeidlich Einfluss auf das Produkt nehmen und entsprechend etwaige Vorurteile oder stereotype Vorstellungen bezüglich der Ausgangskultur einbringen, wobei auch kommerzielle Interessen ausschlaggebend sein können. Hierbei spielen vor allem traditionelle und nationale Bilder eine Rolle, sodass Literaturübersetzungen oftmals einen einseitigen oder unvollständigen Eindruck von der Ausgangskultur geben, die einem Text zugrunde liegt.

Insbesondere Literatur aus einem mehrsprachigen Land, wie beispielsweise Belgien, stellt für die Übersetzung eine Herausforderung dar, da sie nicht der traditionellen Vorstellung von Nationalliteratur im Sinne von Einsprachigkeit entspricht. In Anbetracht der zunehmenden Abgrenzung frankophoner und flämischer Kultur in Belgien auf allen Ebenen der Gesellschaft, die seit den 1980er-Jahren auch institutionell abgebildet ist, erscheint es geboten, von „Literaturen in Belgien“ zu sprechen und zwar sowohl in französischer als auch in niederländischer Sprache statt von „belgischer Literatur“ (vgl. De Geest & Meylaerts 2004). Der sich aus Mehrsprachigkeit und Einsprachigkeit ergebende Widerspruch macht deutlich, dass gute Literaturübersetzung eine umfassende Kenntnis der komplexen politischen, sozialen und kulturellen Strukturen der jeweiligen Ausgangskultur erfordert. Darüber hinaus kann sich auch die Erwartungshaltung des Lesepublikums in der Zielkultur ganz erheblich von derjenigen der Ausgangskultur unterscheiden. Aus dieser Problematik ergeben sich eine Reihe wichtiger Fragen: Inwieweit wird Literatur aus Belgien bei der Übersetzung ins Deutsche fehlinterpretiert? Wird in Übersetzungen sogar mit Absicht vom Originaltext abgewichen, um die Erwartungen des Zielpublikums zu erfüllen?

Gerade der Titel eines Romans wird im Zieltext oftmals geändert und kann somit bereits Hinweise auf bestimmte klischeehafte Bilder geben, die dem Übersetzungsprozesses zugrunde liegen. Ein Paradebeispiel hierfür liefern die beiden deutschen Übersetzungen des 1983 erschienen Romans Het verdriet van België, dem Meisterwerk des niederländischsprachigen belgischen Erfolgsautors Hugo Claus (1929-2008). Das komplexe autobiographisch geprägte Werk entspricht einer Familienchronik, die aus der Perspektive von Louis Seynaeve, einem sehr klug beobachtenden flämischen Jungen, beschrieben wird. Das Buch schildert die gesellschaftliche Situation in Belgien in den Jahren 1939 bis 1947. Schauplätze der Handlung sind eine katholische Klosterschule und die enge Gemeinschaft einer flämischen Provinzstadt. Das Werk ist einerseits ein Bildungsroman in Bezug auf seinen schriftstellerisch begabten Protagonisten und andererseits ein Schlüsselroman über die flämische Mittelschicht im betrachteten Zeitraum. Während es Louis gelingt, religiöse und soziale Zwänge zu überwinden und seiner Berufung als Autor zu folgen, verstrickt sich seine Familie immer mehr in die Kollaboration während des Zweiten Weltkriegs. Das Werk wurde erstmalig 1986 unter dem Titel Der Kummer von Flandern (Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart, 1986, 664 Seiten, in einer Übersetzung von Johannes Piron) auf Deutsch publiziert. 2008 wurde eine neue deutsche Übersetzung herausgegeben, die dem Original folgt und den Titel Der Kummer von Belgien (Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart, 2016 [2008], 821 Seiten, in einer Übersetzung von Waltraud Hüsmert)[2] verwendet. Es ist offensichtlich, dass den beiden Übersetzungen jeweils sehr unterschiedliche Strategien zugrunde liegen, die es zur Beantwortung der o.a. Fragen im Rahmen dieser Fallstudie zu untersuchen gilt. Hierfür wird auf das programmatische Modell der Imagologie (Dyserinck 1991; Beller & Leerssen 2007; van Doorslaer, Flynn & Leerssen 2016) zurückgegriffen, um den Einfluss der Zielkultur auf die Übersetzungen zu erfassen. 

2. Kontext und Intertext

Ein Text, der übersetzt wird, verlässt gezwungenermaßen seinen ursprünglichen Kontext und wird gewissermaßen ganz auf sich allein gestellt in einen anderen Kontext hineinkatapultiert. „Le fait que les textes circulent sans leur contexte“ führt daher unausweichlich zu Fehlinterpretationen (Bourdieu 2002: 4). Entsprechend nimmt der Verfasser eines Textes, der vielleicht eine Autorität im eigenen Land darstellt, diese kulturelle Stellung nicht automatisch mit in die Zielkultur, sondern kann sich dort eventuell mit einem Status weitgehender Unbekanntheit konfrontiert sehen. Dies gilt auch für den innovativen Hugo Claus, der in Belgien eine Art nationales Symbol der Literatur darstellt und als Kandidat für den Nobelpreis gehandelt wurde, im deutschen Sprachraum bis Mitte der 1980er-Jahre hingegen nur einen relativ geringen Bekanntheitsgrad genoss (vgl. Van Uffelen 1993: 452).

Was für den Autoren von Het verdriet van België im neuen Kontext gilt, trifft ebenfalls auf die Thematik des Werks zu. Das Buch ist im Grunde ein Spiegelbild der komplexen soziolinguistischen und historischen Realität in Belgien, trifft jedoch in den 1980er-Jahren im deutschen Sprachraum auf ein Publikum, dem diese Hintergründe zum großen Teil sehr fremd sind. Der Zielkultur fällt es schwer, mit dem Thema Mehrsprachigkeit umzugehen und sich in die Sprachenproblematik in Belgien hineinzudenken. Gerade in Deutschland als Ursprungsland des „Herder-Effekts“[3] (Casanova 1999: 156) ist die Vorstellung von einer auf Einsprachigkeit basierenden Kultur tief verankert, sodass Abweichungen hiervon als eher sonderbar wahrgenommen werden. Das Konzept „Belgien“, also eines mehrsprachigen Nationalstaats, ist vor diesem Hintergrund grundsätzlich schlecht vermittelbar. Das Konzept „Flandern“ hingegen entspricht eher den Erwartungen des Zielpublikums und bedient in Deutschland zudem ein historisch gewachsenes Image.

Die junge belgische Nation, die nach ihrer Gründung 1830 auf der Suche nach einer eigenen kulturellen Identität war, bemühte sich im 19. Jahrhundert insbesondere um eine Abgrenzung zu Frankreich und betonte daher ganz bewusst neben der romanischen ihre germanische kulturelle Komponente (vgl. Verschaffel 2007: 112). Dieses „auto-image“ wurde vor allem in der belgischen Literatur abgebildet, beispielsweise in den historischen Romanen von Hendrik Conscience (1812-1883) und insbesondere in seinem berühmten Buch De leeuw van Vlaanderen (Der Löwe von Flandern). Die deutschen Übersetzungen dieser Werke erfuhren während der Zeit der Romantik einen immensen Erfolg und trugen so zu einem „hetero-image“ bei, das Belgien eher mit Flandern assoziiert. Auch die auf Französisch schreibenden belgischen Symbolisten – beispielsweise der Nobelpreisträger Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949) ‒ betonten das flämische Element in ihrem Werk (vgl. Klinkenberg 1981: 43).

Im 20. Jahrhundert avancierten Felix Timmermans (1886-1947) und Stijn Streuvels (1871-1962) zu erfolgreichen flämischen Autoren in deutscher Übersetzung (vgl. de Vin 1987: 35-7; 45f.). Werke traditioneller flämischer Autoren wurden von den Nationalsozialisten systematisch für Propagandazwecke instrumentalisiert. Auch nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg blieben deutsche Leser naturalistischer flämischer Literatur treu (Van Uffelen 1993: 405ff.), die weiterhin aktiv durch den deutschen Übersetzer Georg Hermanowski (1918-1993) bis Ende der 1960er-Jahre vermittelt wurde (Van Uffelen 1993: 416ff.). Insgesamt betrachtet verfestigte sich beim deutschen Lesepublikum ein nachhaltiges und positiv besetztes, allerdings auch eher provinzielles „hetero-image“ von „Flandern“.

Vor diesem Hintergrund konnten innovative belgische Autoren niederländischer Sprache wie Hugo Claus erst relativ spät in Deutschland auf sich aufmerksam machen und blieben dort bis in die 1980er-Jahre weithin unbekannte Größen (vgl. Van Uffelen 1993: 449). Insgesamt befand sich die Übersetzung niederländischsprachiger Werke ins Deutsche zwischen 1970 und 1980 mit lediglich 35 übersetzten Titeln an einem Tiefpunkt (Salverda 1985: 21). Dies erklärt die Motivation des deutschen Verlags, das traditionelle und auf dem deutschen Buchmarkt in der Vergangenheit erfolgreiche Image von „Flandern“ in der Übersetzung von 1986 zu aktivieren:

Schließlich wurde auch auf die alte deutsche Zuneigung zu Flandern angespielt, indem das Buch nicht, wie es dem niederländischen Titel entsprochen hätte, den Titel Der Kummer von Belgien erhielt, sondern werbewirksamer zum Kummer von Flandern umgetauft wurde. (Van Uffelen 1993: 451)

Mit dem Titel Der Kummer von Flandern wurde der dem Publikum wenig bekannte Autor Claus mit einem vertrauten Image verknüpft, um die Absatzmöglichkeiten auf dem deutschen Buchmarkt zu steigern. Mit dem Image „Flandern“ konnte zudem der oben beschriebenen Erwartungshaltung des deutschen Publikums entsprochen und im Titel eine Deckungsgleichheit von Gesellschaft, Sprache und Literatur im Sinne einer traditionellen Vorstellung von Nationalliteratur hergestellt werden. Hierzu ist auch anzumerken, dass Belgien als nationaler Kulturraum auf dem internationalen Buchmarkt allgemein in keiner Weise in Erscheinung tritt und entsprechend eine Vermarktung des Konzepts „Belgien“ für Verlage grundsätzlich schwierig ist.

Im Jahre 2008, zur Zeit des Erscheinens der deutschen Neuübersetzung von Het verdriet van België, ergab sich für den Text wiederum ein neuer Kontext. Seit Gründung der Niederländischen Sprachunion (Nederlandse Taalunie) im Jahre 1980 war insbesondere die Übersetzung junger niederländischsprachiger Autoren ins Deutsche gefördert worden, wobei diese allgemein eine positive Rezeption erfahren hatten. Insbesondere auch die Gründung des Flämischen Literaturfonds (Vlaams Fonds voor de Letterkunde) im Jahre 2000 trug dazu bei, dass flämische Autoren auf dem deutschen Buchmarkt wesentlich stärker präsent waren. Dies führte dazu, dass sich das deutsche Publikum insgesamt erheblich aufgeschlossener für moderne niederländischsprachige Literatur zeigte und entsprechend auch weniger Berührungsängste mit dem Autoren Hugo Claus hatte. Traditionelle und als nicht mehr zeitgemäß wahrgenommene flämische Autoren spielten auf dem deutschen Buchmarkt inzwischen nur noch eine sehr untergeordnete Rolle, sodass sich über Intertexte der Literaturübersetzung beim deutschen Leser allgemein ein neues, allerdings nicht klar umrissenes Bild von Flandern entwickelt hatte.

Politische und wirtschaftliche Entwicklungen hatten 2008 ebenfalls zu einer Veränderung des Kontextes beigetragen. So hatte beispielsweise die enge Zusammenarbeit von Staaten innerhalb der Europäischen Union zu einer größeren Sichtbarkeit Belgiens geführt. Europäisierung und Globalisierung hatten insgesamt das Interesse an anderen Kulturen und damit auch an sprachlicher Diversität erhöht. In der Folge war allgemein von einer größeren Bereitschaft des deutschen Publikums auszugehen, sich mit Problematiken mehrsprachiger Staaten auseinanderzusetzen, wobei das Wissen über Belgien jedoch vage blieb. Auch nach dem Umbau Belgiens in einen Föderalstaat seit den 1970er-Jahren und zahlreichen damit verbundenen Verfassungsreformen erscheinen die Konzepte „Belgien“ und „Flandern“ für das deutsche Publikum bis heute widersprüchlich und erklärungsbedürftig (vgl. Bischoff, Jahr, Mrowka & Thiel 2018: 7-10).

Es ist davon auszugehen, dass das deutsche Zielpublikum im Jahre 2008 an näheren Informationen zu Belgien bzw. Flandern interessiert war, um die gesellschaftlichen Strukturen des Nachbarlands und Partners in Europa besser verstehen zu können, weshalb eine Neuübersetzung überhaupt wohl notwendig wurde. Eine weitere nicht zu unterschätzende Rahmenbedingung des neuen Kontextes bestand auch darin, dass die Neuübersetzung massiv mit Mitteln des Flämischen Literaturfonds gefördert wurde, wodurch Verlag und Übersetzer auch stärker an die Ausgangskultur gebunden und damit quasi verpflichtet wurden, den zugrunde liegenden Strukturen in Belgien sorgfältig nachzuspüren. Im Rahmen der Frankfurter Buchmesse 2016, auf der Flandern und die Niederlande mit dem Motto „Dies ist, was wir teilen“ nach 1993 zum zweiten Mal gemeinsam als Ehrengast auftraten, wurde die Übersetzung von 2008 mit einer veränderten Ausstattung des Buches neu präsentiert. Hierdurch stellte sich wiederum ein verwirrender kultureller Kontext dar, der beim Zielpublikum in Bezug auf den EU-Partner Belgien und seine Rolle in der „niederländischen Literatur“[4] eventuell aber auch Neugierde erzeugte.

3. Der Kummer im Wandel der Zeit

Aufgrund seines stark autobiographischen Charakters stellt Het verdriet van België ein wichtiges Zeitdokument dar, das allgemein als eine Aufzeichnung authentischer Beobachtungen und Erfahrungen des Autors Hugo Claus während des betrachteten Zeitraums verstanden werden muss. Claus hielt insbesondere Erlebnisse mit seiner Familie in Tagebüchern fest (vgl. Wildemeersch 2018), auf die er für sein Meisterwerk wahrscheinlich in hohem Maße zurückgriff. Der Protagonist Louis fungiert im Roman somit stellvertretend für Claus als Zeitzeuge, der zwar aus einer subjektiven Perspektive heraus erzählt, dessen Bericht aber dennoch repräsentative Aussagekraft für Belgien besitzt.


Durch die der ersten Übersetzung zugrunde liegenden Entscheidung, den Titel in Der Kummer von Flandern zu ändern, wird von Beginn an die Perspektive des Lesers von Belgien auf Flandern verengt, was noch weiter dadurch verstärkt wird, dass der Originaltitel Het verdriet van België im Roman als eine Art Motto fungiert und dem Leser an vielen Stellen wiederbegegnet. Durch die Verknüpfung der Schlüsselbegriffe „verdriet“ und „België“ wird ein durchgängiges Bedeutungsgewebe geschaffen, das bereits im Inhaltsverzeichnis des Buchs (Tabelle 1) zum Ausdruck kommt:

Original (1983)


Übersetzung 1986

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

Deel I: Het verdriet

Erster Teil: Der Kummer

Erster Teil: DER KUMMER

Deel II: van België

Zweiter Teil: Von Flandern

Zweiter Teil: VON BELGIEN

Tabelle 1: Inhaltsverzeichnis

Die Änderung des Titels in der ersten Übersetzung erzeugt somit auch ein neues Bedeutungsgewebe für das ganze Buch. Die Ersetzung von „Belgien“ durch „Flandern“ führt dazu, dass wesentliche Themen des Romans wie Besatzung und Kollaboration, die in ihrem Ausmaß tatsächlich das ganze Land betrafen, nur mit der nördlichen Hälfte Belgiens in Bezug gebracht werden und hierdurch eine andere Dimension erhalten. Während das NS-Regime den „germanischen Brüdern“ in Flandern wie im Buch beschrieben mit Wohlwollen begegnete, hatten die „romanischen Wallonen“ im Süden schwere Repressionen zu erleiden (vgl. Denis & Klinkenberg 2005: 195). Die Fokussierung auf Flandern in der ersten Übersetzung verhindert jedoch, dass die Gesamtsituation der Besatzung in Belgien beim Leser ins Bewusstsein rückt. Auch der Tatbestand der Kollaboration wird hierdurch verharmlost, da vor allem der Verrat an den Landsleuten im Süden Belgiens verdrängt wird. Ebenfalls wird auf diese Weise ausgeblendet, dass auch in der Wallonie einzelne Gruppierungen mit den Nationalsozialisten kollaborierten.

Die folgenden Textpassagen machen deutlich, wie notorisch der neue Titel Der Kummer von Flandern im Gesamttext der ersten Übersetzung als Motto umgesetzt wird (siehe Tabelle 2). In den meisten Fällen ist dies möglich, ohne beim Leser sprachliche Irritationen oder direkte Unstimmigkeiten im Sinnzusammenhang zu erzeugen:

Original 1983

(S. 225)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 214)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 248)

Het was schreien of kletsen geven in die tijd, en in die tijd kon ik niet schreien, het was lijk dat ik al het verdriet van België over mij liet komen.

Damals konnte ich einfach nicht weinen, und es war so, als müßte ich den ganzen Kummer von Flandern tragen.

Damals musste ich entweder weinen oder meine Kinder schlagen, und weinen konnte ich in der Zeit nicht, es war so, als hätte ich den ganzen Kummer von Belgien auf mich genommen.

 (S. 650)

(S. 608)

(S. 739)

’Want hier is toch alleen maar verdriet te verwachten,’ zei zij.

‘Het verdriet van België,’ zei Papa.

„Hier ist doch nur Kummer zu erwarten“, sagte sie.

„Der ganze Kummer von Flandern“, sagte Papa.

„Hier erwartet uns doch nur Kummer“, sagte sie.

„Der Kummer von Belgien“, sagte Papa.

Tabelle 2: Leitmotiv im Text.1

Vor allem in Textstellen am Ende des Romans offenbart sich jedoch, wie widersprüchlich und unangemessen diese Übersetzung tatsächlich ist (Tabelle 3):

Original 1983

(S. 698)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 649f.)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 794f.)

Het verdriet, door Louis Seynaeve, las de man met een basstem alsof hij een luisterspel aankondigde in de radio.


‘Het is een goed onderwerp. Het Belgische volk moet de feiten leren. Van de bron zelf.’

Der Kummer, von Louis Seynaeve, las der Mann mit einer Baßstimme, als kündigte er ein Hörspiel im Radio an.


„Das ist ein wichtiges Thema. Das belgische Volk muß die Tatsachen kennenlernen. Aus erster Quelle.“

Der Kummer, von Louis Seynaeve, las der Mann mit einer Bassstimme als kündigte er ein Hörspiel im Radio an.


„Ein wichtiges Thema. Das belgische Volk muss die Tatsachen erfahren. Aus erster Hand.“

Tabelle 3: Leitmotiv im Text.2

Die beiden Schlüsselbegriffe „verdriet“ und „België“ werden in dieser Passage erneut miteinander kombiniert, allerdings nicht direkt in einem Ausdruck, sondern im Rahmen eines Dialogs. Diesmal verzichtet die erste deutsche Übersetzung darauf, „belgisch“ durch „flämisch“ zu ersetzen, da durch den Sinnzusammenhang offensichtlich ist, dass nur das gesamte belgische Volk gemeint sein kann. Hierdurch wird jedoch die Kohäsion des Textes erheblich gestört angesichts des ansonsten allgemeinen Übergangs zu „Der Kummer von Flandern“. Dies wird insbesondere auch in der folgenden Textstelle (Tabelle 4) deutlich:

Original 1983

(S. 699)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 651)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 796)

Het verdriet, dat is een goeie titel. Aan de andere kant… Mankeert er iets aan. Het is… het is… zo kaal. Iedereen heeft verdriet. Waarom noemt ge het niet Verdriet om het Vaderland. […]’

[…] ‘Of gewoon simpelweg Het verdriet van België. Twee doffe e’s en twee ie’s. In het Engels: The sorrow of Belgium. […]’


Der Kummer, das ist ein guter Titel. Andererseits… Es fehlt da etwas. Es klingt … es klingt … ein bißchen nichtssagend. Jeder hat Kummer. Warum nennen Sie es nicht Der Kummer um mein Vaterland. […]“

[…] Oder einfach, ganz schlicht. Der Kummer von Flandern. Auf englisch: The Sorrow of Belgium. […]”


Der Kummer, das ist ein guter Titel. Andererseits … irgendwas fehlt. Es ist … es ist … so kahl. Jeder Mensch hat Kummer. Warum nennen Sie es nicht Kummer ums Vaterland. […]“


„Oder schlicht und einfach Der Kummer von Belgien. Auf Englisch: The sorrow of Belgium. […]”


Tabelle 4: Leitmotiv im Text.3

Im Original werden die Begriffe „verdriet“ und „België“ (=„vaderland“) eindeutig miteinander verknüpft, was vom Autoren durch Hinzufügen der englischen Übersetzung „The sorrow of Belgium“ nochmals ausdrücklich betont wird. In der ersten Übersetzung wird „België“ wieder notorisch durch „Flandern“ ersetzt; die Kombination von „Der Kummer von Flandern“ mit „The Sorrow of Belgium“ erscheint jedoch sehr eigenartig und ergibt keinen Sinn. Es zeigt sich hier, dass der Übersetzer für die Übertragung aus dem Niederländischen ins Deutsche einer vorgegebenen Strategie folgt, sich beim Englischen hieran aber offensichtlich nicht gebunden fühlt.

Insgesamt wird „Flandern“ (in der ersten Übersetzung das eigentliche „Vaterland“ der Flamen) durch die Kombination mit „Kummer“ in eine Opferrolle gebracht. Die flämische Bevölkerung wird in einer Art permanenter Leidenssituation dargestellt, aus der es sich zu befreien gilt. Im Sinne eines als legitim betrachteten flämischen Nationalismus werden in der ersten Übersetzung auch die folgenden Textpassagen (Tabelle 5) radikal uminterpretiert:

Original 1983

(S. 102)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 95)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 109)

“[…] Mijnheer Seynaeve, maar gij zijt meer een katholieke flamingant.”

‚[…] Herr Seynaeve, aber Sie sind mehr ein katholischer Flame.‘

‚[…] Mijnheer Seynaeve, aber Sie sind mehr ein katholischer Flamingant.‘

(S. 603)

(S. 564)

(S. 684)

Hij zei: Een hele hoop Flaminganten zijn nog niet in het gevang.

[…] er sagte, eine Menge Flamen säßen noch im Gefängnis.

Er hat gesagt: Ein ganzer Haufen Flaminganten sind noch nicht im Gefängnis.

Tabelle 5: Flaminganten.1

„Flaminganten“, also Mitglieder der Flämischen Bewegung, die im Ersten und Zweiten Weltkrieg zu einem Großteil mit der deutschen Besatzungsmacht kollaborierten, werden in der ersten Übersetzung zu unbescholtenen Flamen umgedeutet. Der Tatbestand der Kollaboration wird auf diese Weise einfach negiert. Im zweiten Beispiel werden Täter sogar bewusst zu Opfern gemacht, indem dem Leser der Eindruck vermittelt wird, flämische Bürger „säßen noch“ zu Unrecht im Gefängnis, während es im Original jedoch die kollaborierenden „Flaminganten“ sind, die „noch nicht“ im Gefängnis sind. Auch im folgenden Beispiel wird in der ersten Übersetzung „Flamingantismus“ verleugnet, indem eine ganze Textpassage (siehe Tabelle 6) weggelassen wird.

Original (1983)

(S. 699)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 651)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 796)

 ‘Levet Scone,’ zei Louis.

‘Uitgesloten. Dat is veel te flamingantisch. Het is werkelijk het moment niet voor iets middeleeuws. Gersaint van Koekelare, onze voorzitter, zou het niet eens willen inkijken. Niet dat hij de andere manuscripten inkijkt. Maar iets dat in de verste verte naar flaminganterie riekt, daar zou hij blindelings tegenstemmen. Niet dat hij dat anders zo goed ziet. Maar zijn stem kan in geval van een draw voor dubbel tellen.’

















 „Levet Scone“, sagte Louis.

„Ausgeschlossen. Viel zu flamingantisch. Das ist jetzt wirklich nicht der Zeitpunkt für so etwas Mittelalterliches. Gersaint van Koekelare, unser Chefredakteur, würde nicht mal reinblicken. Nicht, dass er in die anderen Manuskripte reinblickt. Aber wenn etwas auch nur im Entferntesten nach Flamingantismus riecht, würde er ohne nachzudenken dagegen stimmen. Nicht, dass er sonst besonders viel nachdenkt. Aber seine Stimme kann bei einem Unentschieden den Ausschlag geben.“

Tabelle 6: Flaminganten.2

Nation und Sprache

Schließlich sind in der deutschen Übersetzung auch stereotype Vorstellungen von einer Nation mit einer eigenen Nationalsprache abgebildet (Tabelle 7):

Original 1983

(S. 26)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 23)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 26)

Peter heeft een diploma van onderwijzer; jarenlang stond hij erop schoon Vlaams te spreken in alle omstandigheden […].

Der Pate hat ein Lehrerdiplom; jahrelang bestand er darauf, unter allen Umständen Hochflämisch zu sprechen […].

Er [der Pate] besitzt ein Lehrerdiplom; jahrelang bestand er darauf, in allen Lebenslagen Hochflämisch zu sprechen […].

Tabelle 7: „Hochflämisch“

In dieser Textpassage verwenden beide Übersetzungen „Hochflämisch“ als Äquivalent für „schoon Vlaams“. Flämisch existiert jedoch nicht als eine eigene Standardsprache, sondern setzt sich aus einer Reihe von Dialekten zusammen. „Schoon Vlaams“ ist daher als eine Form von Zwischensprache zu verstehen, die weitgehend von französischen Worten bereinigt ist und dem Standardniederländischen nahekommt. Beide Übersetzer entscheiden sich jedoch für eine Übersetzung in Analogie zu „Hochdeutsch“ und bringen damit Flandern mit einer eigenen Standardsprache in Verbindung. In der ersten Übersetzung werden auf diese Weise bewusst traditionelle Vorstellungen des Zielpublikums im Sinne des verwendeten Images bedient, in der zweiten Übersetzung ist diese Fehlinterpretation eventuell auf unvollständiges Wissen des Übersetzers zurückzuführen, wobei offensichtlich auch stereotype Vorstellungen einen Einfluss haben.

Wesentliche Unterschiede zwischen den beiden Übersetzungen lassen sich vor allem anhand der Umsetzung des mehrsprachigen Charakters des Originals beobachten. Claus spielt im Roman mit einer Art Hierarchie der Sprachen, in der das Flämische in seinen verschiedensten Ausprägungen - von Dialektniveau über die Zwischensprache „schoon Vlaams“ bis zur niederländischen Standardsprache in wiederum unterschiedlichen Registern und Stilen - der Prestigesprache Französisch gegenübersteht, die wiederum mit vielen Lehnwörtern insbesondere in den westflämischen Dialekt Eingang gefunden hat (vgl. Eickmans & van Doorslaer 1992: 362). Im zweiten Teil des Romans kommt zusätzlich Deutsch, die Sprache der Besatzungsmacht, ins Spiel. Es entstehen so unterschiedliche Formen der Sprachkombination.[5]

Bourgeoises Französisch

Claus verzichtet im Roman zumeist auf eine Kennzeichnung des Französischen durch Kursivschrift, wodurch er der latenten Dominanz des Französischen im Alltag der Flamen Ausdruck verleiht. In beiden Übersetzungen werden französische Begriffe im Allgemeinen für den Leser durch Kursivschrift manifest gemacht, wodurch die Vorgehensweise in beiden Übersetzungen auf den ersten Blick gleich erscheint (siehe Tabelle 8):

Original 1983

(S. 195)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 184)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 213)

‘[…] Waarom doet Armand zo lelijk tegen mij, nu dat ik hem zijn goesting heb laten doen bij mij?’

‘Violette, je t’en prie devant le garçon…’

‘De garçon,’ zei Louis geeuwend.

„[…]  Warum ist er so häßlich zu mir, wo ich ihm doch zu Willen gewesen bin?“

Violette, je t’en prie devant le garçon…

Le garçon“, sagte Louis gähnend. 

„[…] Warum ist Armand jetzt so schäbig zu mir, wo ich ihm doch alles erlaubt habe, was er von mir wollte?“

Violette, je t’en prie devant le garçon…

Le garçon“, sagte Louis gähnend.

Tabelle 8: Sprachwechsel mit bourgeoisem Französisch

Französisch im westflämischen Dialekt

Für den Umgang mit französischen Lehnworten im westflämischen Dialekt, der Alltagssprache, lassen sich jedoch für beide Übersetzungen ganz erhebliche Unterschiede im Text beobachten:

Original 1983

(S. 505)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 475)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 570)

‘Ah, wat zou ik willen dat er een van die Brusselse kiekefretters een tricolore drapeau uitstak, ge zoudt wat zien, onze mannen zullen niet in toom te houden zijn. […]’


‚Gott, wie sehr wünschte ich mir, daß einer dieser Brüsseler kiekefretter ein tricolore drapeau heraushängen würde, du würdest was erleben, unsere Mannen wären nicht zu zügeln. […]‘

„Ha, heute soll mal einer von diesen Brüsseler Hühnerfressern die belgische Trikolore aushängen, was meinst du, was dann los ist. Dann sind unsere Leute nicht zu halten. […]“

Tabelle 9: Sprachmischung im westflämischen Dialekt.1

Im obigen Beispiel (Tabelle 9) entsteht in der Übersetzung von 1986 eine Textstelle, die den mehrsprachigen Charakter der Alltagssprache aufgreift. Es scheint dem Übersetzer dabei nicht so sehr darauf anzukommen, ob das Zielpublikum alles richtig versteht. Vielmehr geht es wohl darum, dem Text mehr Authentizität zu verleihen und die Besonderheiten des flämischen Dialekts für den Leser erlebbar zu machen. Gleichzeitig wird auf diese Weise die Prestigesprache Französisch als eine Art Joch dargestellt, die die Volkssprache und den Alltag der Flamen in allen Lebensbereichen ständig unterwandert. Demgegenüber entsteht in der Neuübersetzung ein einsprachiger, problemlos verständlicher Text, der vor allem um Korrektheit bemüht ist. Die Spezifität der sprachlichen Situation wird dem Leser so aber nicht vermittelt, auch wird er die „belgische Trikolore“ nicht ohne Weiteres als Symbol für den ungeliebten Nationalstaat erkennen können.

In ähnlicher Weise lassen sich im Roman viele weitere Textstellen finden, in denen in der ersten Übersetzung französische Begriffe vom Original übernommen werden, während diese in der Neuübersetzung durch deutsche Begriffe oder Formulierungen ersetzt werden, wie die folgenden Beispiele (Tabelle 10) zeigen:

Original 1983

(S. 139)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 130f.)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 151f.)

De poudre-de-riz op haar wangen had natte plekken.


Op de vijfde rij stond een mollig mannetje met een lavallière en lange blond-grijze krullen te wuiven.

Der poudre de riz auf ihren Wangen hatte nasse Flecken.


In der fünften Reihe stand ein molliger kleiner Mann mit einer lavallière und langen blondgrauen Locken auf und winkte.

Der Puder auf ihren Wangen hatte nasse Flecken.


In der fünften Reihe erhob sich ein pummeliges Männchen mit einer Fliege und langen, blondgrauen Locken und winkte.

(S. 155)

(S. 146)

(S. 168f.)

“’t Is een echte infirmière,’ zei Byttebier. ‘Baekelandt, als ge nog eens een malheurke hebt […] kunt ge er onze infirmière bij halen.’ […]

‘De zingende infirmière,’ zei Byttebier. […]

‘Ge moet ermee naar de infirmerie.’

„Wir haben eine richtige infirmière“, sagte Byttebier. „Baekelandt, wenn Sie nochmal ein Malheurchen […] haben, können Sie unsere infirmière hinzuziehen.“ […]

„Die singende infirmière“, sagte Byttebier. […]

„Du musst damit zur infirmière“.

„Er ist ‘ne richtige Krankenschwester“, sagte Byttebier. „Baekelandt, wenn Sie nochmal Malessen […] haben, rufen Sie einfach die Krankenschwester.“ […]

„Die singende Krankenschwester“, sagte Byttebier. […]

„Du musst damit in die Infirmerie.“

(S. 181)

(S. 171)

(S. 197)

‘[…] Ik zou, geloof ik, onbeleefd worden en in mijn commerce kan ik mij dat niet permitteren.’


‚[…] Ich würde, glaube ich, unhöflich werden, und in meinem commerce kann ich mir das nicht permittieren.‘

„[…] Wahrscheinlich würde ich ausfallend werden, und das kann ich mir als Geschäftsmann nicht erlauben.“

Tabelle 10: Sprachmischung im westflämischen Dialekt.2

In der ersten Übersetzung ist für den Leser sehr gut nachvollziehbar, wie sehr die flämische Alltagssprache vom Französischen durchsetzt ist. In der Neuübersetzung hingegen werden durchgängig einsprachige Texte produziert. Auch ins Deutsche eingebürgerte Worte wie „Malheur“ oder „permittieren“ kommen in der Neuübersetzung nicht zur Anwendung, wodurch die Präsenz des Französischen im Text zusätzlich reduziert wird. In den obigen Beispielen ist einzig „Infirmerie“ als Wort französischen Ursprungs in der Neuübersetzung erhalten geblieben, ansonsten wurde die mehrsprachige Vorlage in einen rein deutschen Text umgewandelt. Eine ähnliche Vorgehensweise ist auch für die folgenden Beispiele (Tabelle 11) zu beobachten:

Original 1983

(S. 21f.)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 18f.)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 21f.)

‘Allee, jongen,’ zei Papa opgewekt. […]

‘Allee, jongen,’ zei Papa. […]

‘Allee, jongen,’ zei Papa.

‘Allee, Papa,’ zei Louis […].

Allez, mein Junge“, sagte Papa munter. […]

Allez, mein Junge“, sagte Papa. […]

Allez, mein Junge“, sagte Papa.

Allez, Papa“, sagte Louis […].

„Mach’s gut, mein Junge“, sagte Papa munter. […]

„Mach’s gut, mein Junge“, sagte Papa. […] „Mach’s gut, Junge“, sagte Papa. […] „Mach’s gut, Papa“, sagte Louis […].

(S. 180)

(S. 170)

(S. 196)

‘Enfin, gij zijt er. […]’

Enfin, du bist da. […]“

„Jedenfalls bist du jetzt hier. […].“

(S. 180)

(S. 202)

(S. 235)

‘Nondedju,’ riep Nonkel Armand. ‘Een hete?‘


‚Nondedju, nondedju.‘

Nom de Dieu“ rief Onkel Armand. „Eine Heißblütige?“


Nom de Dieu, nom de Dieu.“ 

„Donnerwetter“, rief Onkel Armand. „Ein heißes Weib?“


„Donnerwetter, Donnerwetter.“


Tabelle 11: Sprachmischung im westflämischen Dialekt.3

Im gesamten Originaltext fließen, wie im flämischen Alltag üblich, französische Ausrufe wie „allez“ oder „enfin“ spontan in die Sprache ein. In der Neuübersetzung werden hier wiederum einsprachige deutsche Texte erzeugt, während die erste Übersetzung abbildet, wie sehr das Flämische vom Französischen durchzogen ist. Das folgende Beispiel (Tabelle 12) zeigt, dass die erste Übersetzung sogar noch den Anteil französischer Ausrufe am Text erhöht, indem flämische Ausdrücke teilweise mit französischen Äquivalenten übersetzt werden; für die Neuübersetzung lässt sich hier wiederum feststellen, dass sie alles Französische meidet und so auch das Lehnwort „Misere“ nicht übernimmt:

Original 1983

(S. 108)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 100)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 115)

‘Potversnotjes! Het is waar. Met al de miserie de dag vandaag […].’

Parbleu! Das stimmt. Bei der ganzen Misere heutzutage […].“

„Verflixt und zugenäht! Stimmt ja auch. Bei dem ganzen Schlamassel heutzutage […].“

Tabelle 12: Sprachmischung im westflämischen Dialekt.4


Für den Umgang mit Dialektpassagen sind in beiden Übersetzungen ebenfalls unterschiedliche Strategien festzustellen (siehe Tabelle 13). Die erste Übersetzung setzt flämischen Dialekt in niederdeutsche Mundart um und trägt damit einer traditionellen Sichtweise im Sinne von Hoffmann von Fallersleben Rechnung, die das Niederländische grundsätzlich dem Niederdeutschen zuordnet und damit gleichzeitig einer Verbundenheit von Deutschen und Flamen Ausdruck verleiht. In der Neuübersetzung wird dagegen kein Bezug zum Niederdeutschen hergestellt, flämischer Dialekt wird mit einer Art Zwischensprache übersetzt, die nicht eindeutig einem deutschen Dialekt zugeordnet werden kann; das aus dem Französischen entlehnte Wort „perplex“ wird hier wiederum nicht übernommen:

Original 1983

(S. 26)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 24)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 27)

Hij ging naar haar toe […] en zei: “Ah wel, maske, komt er baa! Da zaain Sjaarels van ’t Vraai onderwaais. Mor geef maa ierst nen baiser.” Wij stonden perplex.

Er ging auf sie zu […] und sagte: ‚Ach Dern, kümm to mi! Dat sünd Stümper vom ‚frien Unnerricht‘. Blos giv mi ierst enen Söten.‘ Wir waren perplex.

Er ging auf sie zu […] und sagte: ‚Ach, mien Mädl. Kumm bi uns bi! Die Kerrls daa sin Pauker von de kathool’sche Schulen. Aawer eerrst ‘n Bützchen.‘ Wir waren platt.

Tabelle 13: Dialekt

Die traditionelle Zuordnung des Flämischen zum Niederdeutschen erklärt in der ersten Übersetzung auch das Weglassen zahlreicher Textpassagen, die sich insbesondere auf Sprachunsicherheiten der Flamen in Bezug auf Dialekt und niederländische Standardsprache beziehen (siehe Tabelle 14). Solche Weglassungen sind überall im Text zu finden; in einer Studie wurde festgestellt, dass die Übersetzung von 1986 allein auf den letzten 130 Seiten 55 Textstellen unterschlägt (Eickmans & van Doorslaer 1992: 368). Hierin drückt sich eine grundsätzliche Geringschätzung gegenüber der niederländischen Sprache, ihren Dialekten und ihren Dichtern aus. In der Neuübersetzung werden diese Passagen jedoch sorgfältig und sprachlich kreativ übersetzt:

Original 1983

(S. 17)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 14)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 16)

Peter zei: ‘Staf, gij met uw Frans altijd, zeg liever duimspijkers. En daarbij, gij zoudt die jongen beter een rekker rond zijn hoofd binden ’s nachts, dat zou minder zeer doen, hè, Louis?’ Waarop Pa verongelijkt maar (voor één keer) triomfantelijk zei: ’Rekker, rekker, dat is ook geen schoon Vlaams, Vader, ge moet zeggen: rubberband of gummiband.’ Waarop Peter zich afwendde, als een kat die een rat heeft gevangen in een kloostergang, en zei: ‘Wat goed genoeg is voor Guido Gezelle en Herman Teirlinck is goed genoeg voor hun leerling, Hubert Seynaeve, hier aanwezig.


Der Pate sagte: “Staf, du immer mit deinem Französisch, sag lieber: Reißzwecken. Und außerdem solltest du dem Jungen nachts lieber Gummilitze um den Kopf binden, das würde nicht so wehtun, nicht wahr, Louis?“ Worauf Pa beleidigt, aber (zum ersten Mal) triumphierend sagte: „Gummilitze, Gummilitze, das ist auch kein gutes Flämisch, Vater, es heißt: Gummiband.“ Worauf sich der Pate abwandte, wie eine Katze, die in einem Klostergang eine Ratte gefangen hat, und sagte: „Was für unsere Dichter Guido Gezelle und Herman Teirlinck gut genug ist, ist auch gut genug für meine Wenigkeit, ihren Schüler Hubert Seynaeve.“ 

Tabelle 14: Dialekt und Sprachunsicherheit


Ab dem zweiten Teil des Originaltextes, der sich auf die Zeit der deutschen Besatzung bezieht, werden im flämischen Alltag zunehmend deutsche Begriffe und Ausdrücke in die Sprache eingebaut, die Claus zumeist nicht kenntlich macht, um zu zeigen, wie selbstverständlich Deutsch in die Sprache eingeht. Für beide Übersetzungen sind hier wiederum unterschiedliche Vorgehensweisen zu beobachten, wie die folgenden Beispiele (Tabelle 15) zeigen:

Original 1983

(S. 520)

Übersetzung 1986

(S. 488)

Übersetzung 2016 [2008]

(S. 587)

‘Een arme boerin uit de streek, hoogedele heer Obergruppenführer.

‘O, gij, verdammte leugenkous!’

„Eine arme Bäuerin aus der Gegend, hochedler Herr Obergruppenführer.“

„O du verdammtes Lügenmaul!“

„Eine arme Bäuerin hier aus der Gegend, hochwohlgeborener Herr OBERGRUPPENFÜHRER.“

„Oh, du VERDAMMTER Lügenbold!“

(S. 523)

(S. 491)

(S. 591)

Is dat het wat Entartete doen, je meetrekken in hun beeld, vervormen naar hun beeld?

Ist es das, was Entartete tun: einen in ihr Bild hineinzuziehen, einen nach ihrem Bild zu verzerren?

Ist es das, was ENTARTETE tun, einen hineinziehen in ihr Bild, verformen nach ihrem Bild?

Tabelle 15: Deutsch

In der Neuübersetzung wird die Mehrsprachigkeit des Originals durch „Mehrschriftlichkeit“ (Schmitz-Emans 2015) deutlich gemacht, während in der ersten Übersetzung für den Leser in keiner Weise nachvollziehbar ist, dass deutsche Begriffe bereitwillig ins Flämische übernommen werden. In ähnlicher Weise werden in der Neuübersetzung Begriffe wie LEISTUNGSABZEICHEN (S. 409), SCHAFFEN (S. 443), TREUE (S. 463), SCHNAUZE (S.473), ÜBERMENSCH (S. 377), KRIEGSVERWENDUNGSFÄHIG (S. 513), UNTERMENSCH (S. 531) und eine Vielzahl weiterer Begriffe, die zumeist typischem Nazi-Jargon entsprechen, markiert. Diese gehen in der ersten Übersetzung hingegen in einem insgesamt eindeutig einsprachigen deutschen Text auf und fallen dem Leser somit nicht unmittelbar ins Auge.

In der Übersetzung von 1986 wird durchgängig ein traditionelles „hetero-image“ umgesetzt, das Flandern in Bezug auf Volk und Sprache in einen „germanischen“ Gesamtzusammenhang stellt. Die „Romanisierung“ durch die französische Prestigesprache und -kultur wird vor allem im ersten Teil des Romans durch mehrsprachigen Text bewusst im Detail beschrieben und als unheilvoll für die flämische Bevölkerung dargestellt. Hiermit wird auch die in der deutschen Romantik entstandene Vorstellung bedient, dass einer französischen kulturellen Hegemonie in Europa entgegenzuwirken sei. Ebenfalls einem Bild der Romantik entsprechend wird Flandern als eine Nation mit einer eigenen Nationalsprache qualifiziert, wobei die flämische bzw. niederländische Sprache jedoch hierarchisch dem Deutschen untergeordnet wird. Das Thema der Kollaboration wird insgesamt heruntergespielt und in Anbetracht des „Kummers von Flandern“ sogar legitimiert. Die Auswirkungen der deutschen Besatzung in Belgien werden durch den Wegfall des Deutschen als mehrsprachiges Element im Text unkritisch dargestellt. Mehrsprachigkeit wird in der Übersetzung eingesetzt, um auf Missstände hinzuweisen, Einsprachigkeit dient zur Beschreibung geordneter Verhältnisse.

Unter ethischen Gesichtspunkten erscheint die Übersetzung von 1986 höchst bedenklich, da der Inhalt durch Neuinterpretationen und Weglassungen substantiell verändert wird. Maßgeblich für die Manipulationen ist eine grundsätzlich ethnozentrische Übersetzungsstrategie, die es verhindert, dass der Leser vollständig mit der fremden Kultur konfrontiert wird, sodass dieser in weiten Teilen lediglich eine stark an die eigene Kultur angepasste Version erhält. Dennoch ist festzuhalten, dass im ersten Teil des Buches die sprachliche Situation in Flandern in Bezug auf die Prestigesprache Französisch durch die bewusst mehrsprachige Übersetzung authentisch abgebildet und so für den Leser erlebbar gemacht wird. Insgesamt betrachtet kann Claus‘ Buch in der ersten deutschen Übersetzung jedoch nicht als ein autobiographisches Zeitdokument gewertet werden aufgrund der einschneidenden Manipulationen und der sich daraus ergebenden verzerrenden und verfälschenden Auswirkungen auf den Inhalt.

Vor dem Hintergrund eines neuen Kontextes zielt die deutsche Neuübersetzung von 2008 dagegen darauf ab, über Belgien aufzuklären und adäquate Informationen für ein interessiertes Publikum zur Verfügung zu stellen. Die Übersetzung ist vor allem um Vollständigkeit und eine korrekte Darstellung der Verhältnisse in Belgien im betrachteten Zeitraum bemüht, um den Leser bewusst mit dem Fremden, d.h. den komplexen politischen, sozialen und kulturellen Rahmenbedingungen in Belgien, zu konfrontieren und so sein Wissen zu bereichern. Dabei meidet die Neuübersetzung das in der ersten Übersetzung verwendete traditionelle Image; durch diese ideologische Gegensteuerung entstehen jedoch gerade im ersten Teil des Buches ebenfalls Manipulationen. Wie oben festgestellt, werden Textteile, die im Original mehrsprachig sind und damit authentisch die sprachliche Realität in Flandern in Bezug auf die Prestigesprache Französisch wiedergeben, in der Neuübersetzung zu einem großen Teil in rein einsprachige Textteile umgeformt und zusätzlich noch konsequent von Lehnwörtern aus dem Französischen bereinigt. Vor allem Formen der Sprachmischung, die sich tiefgreifend auf die Struktur einer Sprache auswirken, werden auf diese Weise eliminiert. Flämisch und Französisch treten somit hauptsächlich nur noch in Formen des Sprachwechsels auf, wodurch die sprachliche Situation in Flandern geordneter und weniger schwierig für die Betroffenen erscheint. Im zweiten Teil des Buches hingegen wird durch Mehrschriftlichkeit die mehrsprachige Situation sehr gut wiedergegeben, wodurch der Leser zu einer kritischen Auseinandersetzung mit der deutschen Besatzung in Belgien und der NS-Vergangenheit im Allgemeinen aufgefordert wird. Auch für die Neuübersetzung kann generell festgestellt werden, dass Mehrsprachigkeit für nicht akzeptable gesellschaftliche Zustände steht (in diesem Fall die deutsche Besatzung), Einsprachigkeit wird hingegen mit gesellschaftlich akzeptablen Zuständen in Zusammenhang gebracht (die schwierige sprachliche Situation in Flandern in Bezug auf Französisch wird durch mehr einsprachigen Text in der Übersetzung abgemildert). Die Neuübersetzung bildet die Gesamtaussage des Buches im Großen und Ganzen äquivalent ab, kann das Original als autobiographisches Zeitdokument jedoch nicht vollständig ersetzen.

4. Fazit: Konstruktion und Dekonstruktion von Images

Manipulationen in Literaturübersetzungen sind in erster Linie auf eine von relevanten Entscheidungsträgern vorgegebene Übersetzungsstrategie zurückzuführen, wodurch der Übersetzer an ein bestimmtes Skopos gebunden wird. Die gewählte Strategie entspricht den im jeweils gegebenen Kontext vorherrschenden, mit bestimmten stereotypen Bildern verbundenen ideologischen Vorstellungen und ist vor allem mit dem Bestreben verbunden, Erwartungen des Zielpublikums zu erfüllen. Literaturübersetzungen scheinen sich damit eher an einem kommerziellen Erfolg zu orientieren statt der Ausgangskultur Respekt entgegenzubringen, was aus ethischer Sicht sehr problematisch erscheint. Zum einen wird so das eigentliche Ziel einer Übersetzung, den Leser mit dem Fremden zu konfrontieren, verfehlt, zum anderen kann sich hierdurch auch der Status von Texten ändern, sodass beispielsweise die Aussagekraft autobiographischer Romane erheblich eingeschränkt wird, was für den Leser jedoch nicht erkennbar ist. Im Fallbeispiel hat sich gezeigt, dass Übersetzungsstrategien in erheblichem Maße zur Konstruktion bzw. Dekonstruktion von „hetero-“ und „auto-images“ beitragen, wodurch in Anbetracht der großen Zahl von Literaturübersetzungen ggf. die Vermittlung einer anthropologischen Realität verhindert wird. Ideologische Manipulationen am Text scheinen nur in geringem Maße vom Übersetzer auszugehen, können dann aber oftmals auf stereotype Vorstellungen beispielsweise in Bezug auf Nation, Volk und Sprache zurückgeführt werden.

Im Fallbeispiel hat sich gezeigt, dass vor allem die Übersetzung von Mehrsprachigkeit im Text an ideologische Konzepte geknüpft ist. Im Prinzip dient Einsprachigkeit bzw. Mehrsprachigkeit in einem Zieltext als Mittel, um Akzeptanz bzw. Kritik in Bezug auf bestimmte gesellschaftliche Verhältnisse zum Ausdruck zu bringen. Demnach wird Einsprachigkeit in beiden Übersetzungen orientiert an einem traditionellen Nationenkonzept als Norm für eine geordnete Gesellschaft zugrunde gelegt, jedoch aufgrund der unterschiedlichen Kontexte jeweils auf andere Textteile angewendet. Entsprechend können mehrsprachige Ausgangstexte abhängig vom beabsichtigten Effekt in einsprachige oder mehrsprachige Zieltexte bzw. Zwischenformen hiervon überführt werden. Insgesamt lässt sich aus dem Fallbeispiel ableiten, dass sich Stereotypen anhand der Übersetzung mehrsprachiger Texte besonders gut nachvollziehen lassen.



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Eickmans, Heinz & van Doorslaer, Luc, „Verdriet om Vlaandrens taal en literatuur. Vertaalkritische opmerkingen bij Hugo Claus’ ‘Der Kummer von Flandern’”, in: Dietsche Warande en Belfort 137.3, 1992, 361-8

Klinkenberg, Jean-Marie, „La production littéraire en Belgique francophone: esquisse d’une sociologie historique“, in: Littérature, 1981, Vol. 44 Nr. 4, 33-50

Radaelli, Giulia, “Literarische Mehrsprachigkeit. Ein Beschreibungsmodell (und seine Grenzen) am Beispiel von Peter Waterhouses „Das Klangtal“”, in: Dembeck, Till & Mein, Georg (Hg.), Philologie und Mehrsprachigkeit, Heidelberg, Universitätsverlag Winter, 2014, 157-182

Salverda, Murk, Niederländische Literatur in deutscher Übersetzung, Bonn, Presse- und Kulturabteilung der niederländischen Botschaft, 1985

Schmitz-Emans, Monika, „‚Mehrschriftlichkeit‘. Zur Diversität der Schriftsysteme im Spiegel literarischer Texte“, in: Dembeck, Till & Mein, Georg (Hg.), Philologie und Mehrsprachigkeit, Heidelberg, Universitätsverlag Winter, 2014, 183-208

Van Uffelen, Herbert, Moderne Niederländische Literatur im Deutschen Sprachraum 1830-1990, Münster, LIT Verlag, 1993

Verschaffel, Tom, „Belgium“, in: Beller, Manfred & Leersen, Joep (Hg.), Imagology: The cultural construction and literary representation of national characters: a critical survey, New York, Rodopi, 2007, 108-13

de Vin, Daniel, Geschichtliche Aspekte deutscher Rezeption der neueren niederländischen Literatur, Brussel, Ufsal, 1987

Wildemeersch, Georges, Hugo Claus. Familiealbum, Antwerpen, Polis, 2018

Wolf, Michaela, „Sociology of translation“, in: Gambier, Yves & van Doorslaer, Luc (Hg.), Handbook of Translation Studies, Vol. 1, Amsterdam/ Philadelphia, Benjamins, 2010, 337-43


[1] Quelle: Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels; https://www.boersenverein.de/de/portal/Buchproduktion/1227836, abgerufen am 29. November 2018

[2] Die Ausgaben von „Der Kummer von Belgien“ von 2008 und 2016 sind textidentisch und unterscheiden sich lediglich in der Ausstattung der Bücher. Sie sind also gleichermaßen zitierbar.

[3] Nach Pascale Casanova hob Johann Gottfried Herder die strukturelle Bindung von Literatur und Nation erstmals explizit hervor und leitete hieraus seine Forderung nach einer Einheit von Nation, Literatur und Sprache ab.

[4] Die niederländischsprachige Literatur Flanderns und der Niederlande wird gemeinsam als „niederländische Literatur“ vermarktet.

[5] „Sprachwechsel und Sprachmischung sind die beiden […] im Grunde einzig möglichen Verfahren der Sprachkombination: Unterschiedliche Sprachen können entweder aufeinander folgend verwendet oder miteinander vermengt werden.“ (Radaelli 2014: 165) 

About the author(s)

Anja van de Pol-Tegge. Master in Translation at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in 2017. Doctoral student since 2017 on the basis of a joint PhD-agreement
between the VUB and the Heinrich-Heine-University in Düsseldorf. Thesis entitled: “Belgian Literatures in German Translation from 1949 until Today - Cultural
Transfer from a Multilingual Society”.

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

©inTRAlinea & Anja van de Pol-Tegge (2020).
"Der Kummer von Belgien (Hugo Claus)", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2500

Traduire la poétique du paysage de Siloé de Paul Gadenne au rythme des figures de répétition

By Pascale Janot (Università di Trieste, Italia)

Abstract & Keywords


In Paul Gadenne's debut novel, Siloé, the mountainous landscape is more than a mere backdrop or setting; it is, in fact, one of the characters, with which the protagonist, Simon Delambre, forms a fusional relationship. In order to transmit its rhythms, and the natural colours and sounds that surround Crêt d’Armenaz – the TB sanatorium where the young Simon is a patient – Gadenne uses figures of repetition, at the syntactic, lexical and phonetic levels. Following a discursive and perfomative approach, the present article seeks to analyse – both in the original French text, as well as the Italian translation currently in progress – the reticular textual dimension of figures of repetition, which due to their organisation in a network, function as signifiers and form-meaning (form-sens), while the descriptions of the mountains assume a real presence as natural phenomena.


Dans Siloé, le premier roman de Paul Gadenne, le paysage de la montagne est bien plus qu’un décor ; c’est véritablement un personnage avec lequel Simon Delambre, le héros, établit une relation fusionnelle. Pour donner à voir et à entendre ses rythmes, ses couleurs, ses sons de la nature qui entoure le Crêt d’Armenaz – le sanatorium où le jeune Simon doit séjourner car atteint de tuberculose –, Gadenne recourt aux figures de la répétition, au niveau syntaxique, lexical et phonique. Dans une optique discursive et performative, cet article se propose d’analyser, dans le texte en français et sa traduction en italien, la dimension textuelle réticulaire des figures de répétition, signifiants qui, par le biais de la reprise en réseau, deviennent des formes-sens et qui, dans le cadre de la description des paysages de la montagne, donnent corps aux phénomènes de la nature.

Keywords: Gadenne, paysage, figures de répétition, forme-sens

©inTRAlinea & Pascale Janot (2020).
"Traduire la poétique du paysage de Siloé de Paul Gadenne au rythme des figures de répétition", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2497


Paul Gadenne (1907-1956) confia un jour à l’écrivain Guy Le Clec’h : « On marche beaucoup dans mes romans on marche parce que je pense d’abord aux arbres je pense d’abord aux routes et puis les personnages viennent ensuite… »[1]. En disant cela, Gadenne pensait sûrement à Siloé[2], son tout premier roman publié en 1941, d’où l’on retient les paysages grandioses des montagnes d’Armenaz que sillonne et décrit Simon Delambre, le personnage principal.

Atteint de tuberculose, ce jeune homme dynamique et pressé préparant l’agrégation de lettres à la Sorbonne, qui s’interroge sur le sens à donner à une vie déjà toute tracée, doit soudainement quitter Paris et de brillantes études pour se rendre dans un sanatorium, le Crêt d’Armenaz[3]. Le titre du roman vient de l’Évangile selon Saint Jean : l’aveugle de naissance, après s’être lavé les yeux à la fontaine de Siloé, voit. La tuberculose va donc paradoxalement ouvrir les yeux à Simon Delambre sur la vraie vie et, dans le sanatorium, lieu apparemment clos, ses yeux s’ouvrent sur le monde (Sarrou, 2003: 11) : « La maladie, en l’immobilisant, lui avait rendu le monde visible. » (Gadenne, [1974] 2013: 333). Ce monde devenu visible est, dans Siloé, passé au filtre (ou philtre) de la nature qui est bien plus qu’un décor dans lequel évoluent les personnages. Elle est d’une certaine façon elle-même un personnage, un corps mouvant et changeant qui, au fil des saisons, rythme la vie du sanatorium, imprègne celle de ceux qui, comme Simon, entendent et répondent à son appel ; elle donne son souffle à la narration, détermine toute l’architecture du récit.

Ainsi la quête intérieure du jeune Simon, son initiation au monde, répond-elle à un mouvement ascensionnel vers la lumière et la pureté – « le monde supérieur » – dans l’espace qui se déploie autour du sanatorium : Simon séjournera dans la « Maison », le bâtiment principal du sanatorium, d’où il ne pourra initialement pas sortir ; son état de santé s’étant amélioré, il sera ensuite transféré au Mont-Cabut, dans un pavillon situé un peu plus haut, d’où il commencera à arpenter les sentiers par lesquels il accèdera aux plateaux et aux sommets des montagnes entourant le Crêt d’Armenaz. 

Ce cheminement à pied vers les hauteurs, guidé par Ariane, la jeune femme dont Simon s’éprend, le conduit à la découverte et à la connaissance profonde du monde de la nature, au contact duquel il vivra un an et qui fera de lui un créateur.

Mais le rapport de Simon à la nature s’établit également sur un plan horizontal, celui de la contemplation : au début de la convalescence, c’est un paysage menaçant, impénétrable, incolore qui est décrit des fenêtres du sanatorium :

[…] on ne pouvait presque rien voir. Le temps restait morne, bouché. La forêt, les rochers, privés de couleurs, se confondaient dans une grisaille uniforme qui semblait exsuder à la fois de cette terre gonflée d’eau, de ces prairies repues ; tandis que le ciel, comme une toile dont on ne peut retenir les plis, pendait tristement d’un bord à l’autre de la muraille circulaire qui opposait à tout désir d’évasion ses barrières proches. (p. 124-125)

La « cure silencieuse », cette « retraite magique » sur le balcon à laquelle Simon doit se soumettre chaque jour, puis l’installation au pavillon du Mont-Cabut, donnent accès au paysage. La nature qui est vue n’est alors plus synonyme d’obscurité, de grisaille et de tristesse, mais de lumière, de couleurs et de joie :

La prairie venait à lui, coulant comme une eau verte, intarissable, étoilée de points multicolores ; elle venait se mettre à son niveau, elle venait s’appliquer avec une sorte de douce frénésie contre les barreaux du balcon d’où elle le regardait, lui, l’hôte étrange de cette chambre, l’habitant de cette cabine, le passager aux exaltations solitaires. Et vraiment, il n’y avait plus qu’elle. Il la sentait vivre. Elle avait un rythme, une volonté. Simon se penchait sur elle avidement et comprenait qu’il ne lui échapperait plus : elle le voulait à elle, et lui-même n’avait d’autre désir ; elle avait balayé de son être toutes les cendres qui l’alourdissaient et une joie énorme, une joie pure montait en lui […] (p. 211-212)

P. Mertens dit à propos de Siloé : « Le bonheur d’exister se transmue ici en bonheur d’écriture » ([1973] 2013: 12). Ce bonheur, que la contemplation de la nature permet d’atteindre, se traduit en effet par un heureux foisonnement narratif fondé sur la figure de la répétition, qui parcourt toute l’œuvre et lui donne sa force dramatique et poétique. Tout concourt chez Gadenne, par le biais de ce procédé, à la restitution de ce que la nature a de plus vital – ses perspectives, son rythme, ses sons, ses chromatismes –, participant d’une montée en puissance de l’écriture. C’est ce trait particulier du style gadennien qui a donné naissance au projet de traduction du roman[4] et qui en constitue, notamment, l’« horizon traductif » (Berman, 1995: 16) mû par le désir d’en transposer en italien toute la prégnance. Dans une optique discursive et performative, après une brève présentation du cadre théorique dans lequel nous nous situons, nous analyserons la figure de la répétition dans des descriptions de paysages et leur traduction en italien.

1. Cadre théorique : la répétition, cette mal-aimée

1.1 Proscrite en traduction, et pourtant… et pourtant…

En traduction, la répétition (de mots, de syntagmes) a plutôt mauvaise réputation. Elle est d’ailleurs parfois purement et simplement éliminée. Rappelons Meschonnic critiquant virulemment la traduction de Celan par du Bouchet : « On s’étonne […] que des poètes, traduisant un poète, installent des omissions là où pas un mot n’est en trop » (1973: 390-391) ; ou bien, en prose cette fois, celle du début du roman de Calvino, Si par une nuit d’hiver un voyageur (Seuil, 1981), où le traducteur, là aussi, sape le texte de ses répétitions (1999: 218-219). Dans les deux cas, c’est tantôt le style et le jeu des sonorités, tantôt tout le mouvement du texte qui sont cassés par ces amputations. Kundera blâme quant à lui le « réflexe de synonymisation » (1993: 131-132) qui pousse les traducteurs à user d’un prétendu synonyme de l’équivalent répété dans la langue-cible, jugé trop lourd ou trop plat, faisant fi, selon le romancier, des deux fonctions fondamentales, sémantique et mélodique, de la répétition. Passant outre, par conséquent, au « savoir-faire » de ce procédé : « si on répète un mot c’est parce que celui-ci est important, parce qu’on veut faire retentir, dans l’espace d’un paragraphe, d’une page, sa sonorité ainsi que sa signification. » (Idem: 139).

La répétition semble, malgré tout, avoir meilleure presse en poésie où il est généralement admis qu’elle y « fait converger les dimensions sémantique, phonique, rythmique, et métrique de celui-ci, et se constitue en « figure » singulière liée à sa structure même. » (Lindenberg, Vegliante, 2011: 10-11), et qu’elle y est « le signe ou le signal de quelque chose : par elle le poète affirme sa différence et son écart par rapport à l’emploi conventionnel d’une langue. » (Idem: 16). La répétition est donc bien perçue comme un acte conscient et fondamental de l’auteur, y revêtant, peut-être plus qu’ailleurs, un caractère subversif (Lusetti, 2019: 112). Ce statut est moins évident en prose. Berman déplore d’ailleurs la discrimination dont cette dernière est victime par rapport à la poésie, « les déformations de la traduction » y étant mieux acceptées par les critiques de la traduction ou passant carrément inaperçues (1985: 68).

Dans ce cadre, les traducteurs semblent partagés entre le désir de suivre les choix de répétitions des auteurs et le devoir de suivre une norme qui considère la répétition comme un défaut d’écriture. Il suffit de lire les notes de traduction de Levi traduisant Kafka ou bien d’Eco traduisant de Nerval, (Raccanello 2006: 380-381). On peut aisément supposer que la prégnance de cette norme, en français et en italien du moins, pousse parfois le traducteur à ne pas reconnaître « à la reprise littérale une quelconque utilité sur le plan du sens qu’il se permet de l’ignorer. Répéter, ce serait ne rien dire de plus. » (Prak-Derrington, 2011: 294).

Et pourtant, la répétition est exploitée par bon nombre d’écrivains de langues différentes. Jay-Rayon pose d’ailleurs, sans la développer, la question d’une universalité et uniformité de cette figure, précisant qu’à défaut, « elle tient du littéraire en général, et donc de la mise en scène de la langue, de sa théâtralisation » (2014 : 149). Elle caractérise même, chez certains, l’écriture. Prak-Derrington montre que, chez T. Bernhard et H. Müller, il existe un « jusqu’au-boutisme de la répétition » fondé notamment des rimes intérieures, des assonances, des allitérations qui participent respectivement de la « virtuosité et la musicalité » et de la « quête d’une langue où les mots-objets doivent exister dans toute leur matérialité ». Ici, le son et le sens sont indissociables (2011 : 295). La réitération d’unités lexicales et de syntagmes également, restitue, chez ces auteurs, la cadence des gestes, une « iconicité » que les traductions françaises analysées tendent malheureusement à démolir, « par souci d’élégance et embarras face à un procédé considéré comme maladroit » (Idem : 299), alors que les mêmes figures de répétitions auraient pu être reproduites.

Certes, les répétitions de la langue-source ne sont pas toutes transposables dans la langue-cible. Au-delà des raisons susmentionnées qui poussent les traducteurs à bannir les répétitions, parfois, c’est la structure de la langue d’arrivée qui semble empêcher la reprise d’éléments, comme l’a montré Bramati (2013 ; 2017), dans des traductions italiennes d’écrivains français cette fois, chez qui la figure de répétition est récurrente. Cela peut se vérifier aux niveaux lexical (le sémantisme d’un mot répété ne peut être maintenu dans le contexte d’arrivée et exige une variation), grammatical (certains éléments comme les pronoms personnels, nécessaires en français mais facultatifs en italien, créent une insistance inexistante en français), stylistique (parfois, la répétition quantitativement identique d’un mot produit un effet cacophonique) (2013 : 505-507). Le traducteur peut renoncer à reproduire une répétition pour des raisons « euphoniques ». Sur ce point, s’interrogeant sur le degré d’acceptabilité des répétitions par le public, Bramati montre également que, dans une traduction en italien, l’acceptation ou le refus d’une répétition dépend de sa « structure ». Ainsi, si la relance syntaxique, l’épanaphore et l’anaphore sont régulièrement reproduites en italien, des répétitions comme l’épiphore et les répétitions symétriques par rapport au verbe posent de vrais problèmes d’euphonie (2017). La « distance » entre les éléments répétés est un autre critère qui influence l’acceptabilité d’une répétition : plus une répétition est distanciée d’une autre et plus elle a de chances d’être perçue comme acceptable (Ibid.).

1.2 Méthodologie et corpus

Du point de vue de l’analyse linguistique, la répétition a, là aussi, longtemps été victime d’idées reçues[5] que nous n’aborderons pas ici. Nous adhérerons, pour mener cette étude, à une définition large de cette notion, à celle proposée par Magri-Mourgues et Rabatel (2015a et b) qui l’ont remise au travail pour en observer les formes et les effets pragmatiques[6]. Ainsi peut-on « penser la répétition comme le retour à l’identique d’un même son, d’un même mot ou d’un même tour syntaxique » (2015c: 10). Ce qui est pour nous particulièrement important, c’est que la variation est à prendre en considération dans le cadre de la répétition :

[…] il parait coûteux d’éliminer de la problématique de la répétition les variations à ces trois niveaux, et, d’ailleurs, bien des travaux refusent cette amputation, notamment en rhétorique et en stylistique. En effet, au plan sonore, par exemple, il est difficile d’isoler la répétition stricte de phénomènes connexes qui jouent avec la récurrence de sonorités approchantes (c’est toute la constellation de la paronymie). De même, au plan lexical, il est difficile d’évacuer de la répétition les phénomènes de variations morphologiques (voir les polyptotes, homéoptotes). De même encore, si l’on s’intéresse aux répétitions syntaxiques. […] Cela ne concerne pas toutes les variations […] mais seulement celles qui n’émergent que dans un cadre (sonore, lexical, syntaxique) suffisamment prégnant pour que la variation ne fasse sens que comme modulation du même ou comme jeu distancié avec le même […]. (Idem: 10-11) (C’est nous qui soulignons)

Ce que confirme Prak-Derrington :

La répétition n’exclut pas la variation, et, bien souvent, répétition et reformulation se rejoignent pour former des formes hybrides, répétitions reformulantes ou reformulations répétitives. (2015b: 16)

Dans le cadre de l’analyse d’une écriture littéraire et poétique, la répétition en tant que figure, ou « figuralité » (Magri-Mourgues, Rabatel, 2015c: 14), est perçue comme un phénomène « volontaire et significatif, sinon toujours pour le locuteur (qui ne maîtrise pas totalement sa plume), du moins pour le lecteur », qui souligne « les relations sémantiques et les intentions pragmatiques d’un texte, interprétable selon une logique qui ne répond pas seulement à celle du fil du discours, mais s’ouvre à des organisations réticulaires […] » (Ibid.). Il se déploie chez Gadenne, une « dimension textuelle réticulaire des figures de répétition » (Idem:16 ; Prak-Derrington, 2015a: 40 : Bonhomme, 2005) à l’intérieur de laquelle l’amplification acquiert une dimension structurante de la dynamique textuelle (Magri-Mourgues 2015: 45). Nous avons parlé plus haut d’une montée en puissance de l’écriture au fur et à mesure que le personnage principal entreprend son ascension vers la connaissance profonde du « monde supérieur » de la nature, et de lui-même. Cela passe, par exemple, par la répétition, tout au long du roman, des conjonctions mais et et, de l’adverbe puis qui, invariablement, viennent ponctuer et rythmer l’action du récit ; de même peut-on relever les répétitions de locutions construites par dédoublement lexical et/ou paronymiques, telles que de loin en loin, petit à petit, tour à tour, çà et là, tout à coup, sur lesquelles repose la dynamique visuelle, corporelle, gestuelle du roman. Dans Siloé, les répétitions travaillent le texte, elles le cisellent pour lui donner une forme et un rythme, fonction particulièrement évidente dans les descriptions des paysages des montagnes d’Armenaz et qui constitue en cela un enjeu de traduction. Notre corpus est donc constitué d’une sélection d’extraits où la répétition est « au travail », en français et en italien.

Pour Prak-Derrington, les figures de la répétition, qui ne sauraient se limiter à l’anaphore rhétorique, forment un « continent » au sein des figures (de rhétorique) et « mettent en œuvre un mode de textualisation spécifique, qui n’est plus celui de la cohérence sémantique, ou de la pertinence pragmatique, mais celui des formes-sens de la répétition » (2015b: 12). C’est cette notion de forme-sens que nous entendons interroger ici – qui n’est pas sans rappeler la notion de « mot-objet » évoquée plus haut (Prak-Derrington, 2011: 295) :

[…] que l’on répète une voyelle ou une consonne, un morphème, un mot ou groupe de mots ou une phrase entière, il s’agit toujours d’une mise en œuvre de la matérialité sonore des signes. Le mode des formes-sens de la répétition est le mode de la corporéité des signes : vocale pour celui qui parle, auditive pour ceux qui l’écoutent. C’est de cette matérialité sonore que découlent les effets pragmatiques de la répétition. (Prak-Derrington, 2015b: 18)

Les procédés de répétition sont nombreux. Nous reprendrons les figures fournies par les études rhétoriques, notamment par Frédéric (1985), reprises et complétées par Prak-Derrington (2015b) : répétitions phoniques (allitérations, assonances, etc.) ; répétitions syntaxiques (anaphore, épiphore, anadiplose, etc.) ; répétitions lexicales, qui portent sur un mot (antanaclase, polysyndète, etc.). La liste des figures de répétition est « constitutivement ouverte » :

Dès lors que des signifiants (son, lettre, syllabe, morphème, affixe, mot, groupe de mots, phrase, paragraphe…) sont répétés, ils perdent leur transparence, ils sont opacifiés, ils deviennent des forme-sens. On arrive à ce constat extrême : toute répétition est susceptible, en contexte, de faire figure ! » (Idem: 18).

2. Analyse

2.1 Une matrice syntaxique aux formes variables

Dans Siloé, la nature est un corps qui se meut et se fait entendre. Pour donner à voir, à travers les yeux de son personnage, le mouvement qui anime la nature, Gadenne recourt à une sorte de matrice syntaxique (le plus souvent de prédication thème-rhème), ou « macro-figure » (Prak-Derringhton, 2015a: 40), s’articulant en réseau et fondée, notamment, sur la répétition de verbes d’activité (Mezzadri-Guedj, 2019: 31). Observons quelques exemples tirés du texte français :

1. Aux confins de la prairie, une route étroite s’en allait, se perdait derrière un buisson et réapparaissait plus loin, en train de grimper sur un tertre. (p. 212)
2. [Le torrent] passait entre les gros blocs de rochers en hurlant, puis se retournait d’un coup de reins et montrait son ventre. (p. 250)
3. De grands changements s’annonçaient au Crêt d’Armenaz. Les dernières chutes de neige passèrent en rapides giboulées, battirent les bois, la Maison, s’écrasèrent sur les vitres, cinglèrent les tôles, et un nouveau règne commença dans de grands souffles de vent et un grand tumulte de branches cassées. (p. 562)

Ce procédé – qui s’apparente à ce que Frédéric (1985: 158) appelle une distribution répétitive – consiste à reprendre, en des points quelconque de l’empan, le plus souvent trois fois (comme en 1 et 2), mais parfois quatre (3), voire cinq fois (en 4, ci-après), non pas le même signifiant, mais des signifiants différents, des verbes conjugués au même temps. Gadenne reproduit de cette manière le tempo de la nature, rythme scandé et renforcé au niveau sémantique par la variation lexicale, le choix des temps – l’imparfait donnant l’impression de l’inachevé, le passé simple délimitant des actions ponctuelles (Riegel et al., 2001: 303, 308) –, mais aussi, et surtout, par le jeu, particulièrement intéressant, de la répétition des morphèmes grammaticaux[7] : -ait ; -irent ; -èrent.

En italien, la matrice est bien sûr reproduisible, de même que l’effet de répétition par le biais des terminaisons en -eva ; -iva ; -ava ; -arono :

1a. Al limite della prateria, partiva una strada stretta, si perdeva dietro un cespuglio e riappariva più lontano, inerpicandosi su un poggio.
2a. [Il torrente] passava tra i grossi blocchi di roccia urlando, poi si rivoltava con un colpo di reni e mostrava la sua pancia.
3a. Grandi cambiamenti si annunciavano al Crêt d’Armenaz. Le ultime nevicate passarono in rapidi acquazzoni, batterono i boschi, la Maison, si schiacciarono sui vetri, sferzarono le lamiere, e un nuovo regno ebbe inizio con grandi aliti di vento e grande tumulto di rami spezzati.

En 3 et 3a, les allitérations en [s], [t], [kR] en français (passèrent ; battirent ; s’écrasèrent ; cinglèrent), en [s], [t], [sk], [sf] en italien (passarono ; batterono ; schiacciarono ; sferzarono) donnent non seulement à voir, mais également à entendre les bruits des phénomènes.

Dans l’exemple 4, on est frappé par la richesse produite par la matrice. L’effet d’uniformité que crée la répétition du morphème grammatical en -aient, rendu en italien en -avano, scande le mouvement des nuages, comparés à des béliers, qui s’abattent sur le sanatorium. Comme des petites touches sonores, la répétition du pronom réfléchi de certains verbes, se/s’ en français et si en italien, produit un léger effet d’ampleur du mouvement. L’absence du pronom avec rotolavano est compensée, au niveau des sonorités, par su se stesse :

4. Certains nuages couraient au ras de la prairie comme des béliers, se gonflaient tout en approchant, bousculaient les buissons, les arbres, se roulaient sur eux-mêmes, puis s’irruaient par toutes les trouées de la façade, venant lécher les corps, à petits coups, du haut de leurs langues glacées. D’autres au contraire s’abattaient du ciel, se déroulaient en écharpes, flottantes, perdaient un lambeau, en attrapaient un autre, supprimaient au passage un sapin, un bouquet de hêtres, puis bondissaient au-dessus de la maison. (p. 116-117)

4a. Certe nuvole correvano rasentando la prateria come arieti, si gonfiavano avvicinandosi, strattonavano i cespugli, gli alberi, rotolavano su se stesse, poi irrompevano attraverso tutti i varchi della facciata, arrivando dall’alto a lambire i corpi, con piccoli tocchi delle loro lingue ghiacciate. Altre, invece, si abbattevano dal cielo, si srotolavano come sciarpe, fluttuanti, perdevano un lembo, ne afferravano un altro, sopprimevano al passaggio un abete, un mazzo di faggi, poi balzavano sopra la casa.

En italien (4a), remarquons la présence de deux gérondifs utilisés pour rendre au ras de la prairie et tout en approchant, répétition qui n’existe pas dans le texte de départ.

Parfois, la répétition de mots grammaticaux monosyllabiques tels que puis/poi interrompt brièvement le rythme. Nous trouvons ce staccato en 2, et ici même, en 4, où le mot est répété deux fois, toujours pour créer une pause avant de terminer le mouvement par un verbe d’activité – … puis s’irruaient/… poi irrompevano… ; … puis bondissaient/… poi balzavano… . Enfin, nous attirons l’attention sur la présence de participes présents/gerundi, en 4 (… venant lécher les corps…/… arrivando dall’alto a lambire i corpi) mais aussi en 5 (… l’animant d’une vie monstrueuse… projetant…/… animandola di una vita mostruosaproiettando…), qui semblent provoquer un effet de ralentissement plus ou moins marqué du rythme, un adagio après la succession enlevée des actions exprimées précédemment :

5. […] la montagne, mystérieusement, s’éveillait : des ombres insolites se mettaient à la parcourir de bas en haut, creusaient ses flancs, ravinaient sa tête, l’animant d’une vie monstrueuse et projetant le long de ses pentes comme une autre image d’elle-même. (p. 151)

5a. […] la montagna, misteriosamente, si risvegliava: ombre insolite si mettevano a percorrerla dal basso in alto, scavavano i suoi fianchi, erodevano la sua testa, animandola di una vita mostruosa e proiettando lungo i suoi pendii quasi un’altra immagine di se stessa.

En 6, où la répétition se déploie d’abord au niveau rhématique, puis thématique, les composants verbaux de la matrice correspondent à des plus-que-parfaits véhiculant une idée d’antériorité et d’accomplissement (Riegel et al., 2001 : 310, 311). Il se crée ici une répétition de type anaphorique au niveau de l’auxiliaire (avaient et avait en 6) avec variation du verbe choisi :

6. Le torrent roulait dans ses eaux des pierres qui avaient appartenu à cette altière muraille et avaient fait partie de sa structure. Et avec elles il avait creusé ce sol qui, depuis si longtemps, appartenait à la forêt seule, et il avait léché les racines de tous ces arbres dont la nuit ne faisait plus qu’un seul être immense, auquel il se mêlait et prêtait sa vie. (p. 461)

6a. Il torrente faceva rotolare nelle sue acque pietre che erano appartenute a quella superba muraglia e avevano fatto parte della sua struttura. E con loro aveva scavato quel suolo che, da così tanto tempo, apparteneva solo alla foresta, e aveva lambito le radici di tutti quegli alberi la cui massa notturna non era ormai che un unico essere immenso, al quale si mescolava e prestava la sua vita.

Côté italien, la répétition n’est pas totalement reproduite au niveau formel car le premier verbe (erano appartenute) ne présente pas le même auxiliaire – c’est une des limites grammaticales à la répétition relevées par Bramati (2013: 504-505). Cependant, la rime en -ano est conservée et la proximité sonore de aveva et avevano, l’un étant contenu dans l’autre, permet malgré tout de respecter en italien une certaine uniformité sonore au sein de la répétition. Par rapport aux exemples observés précédemment, le rythme qui est construit ici n’est pas du même ordre. Ce n’est plus la nature dans ses manifestations les plus violentes qui est décrite, mais la permanence de ses éléments – le torrent, la muraille, la forêt – et leur pérenne fusionnement. La forme verbale composée, avec la répétition à l’identique du composant initial, provoque, en français et en italien, un allongement rythmique qui donne à percevoir cet état des « choses éternelles » (Sarrou, 2003: 12). Le jeu des répétitions à l’œuvre ici montre que le son et le sens sont indivisibles (Prak-Derrington, 2011: 295).

La démarche est comparable en 7, où il est question du grand arbre, que Simon monte voir tous les jours, où nous avons également la répétition à l’identique, cette fois, d’un plus-que-parfait (avait travaillé/aveva lavorato) suivi de deux autres avec variation du verbe (avait tissé… noué/aveva tessuto… stretto) :

7. [Le grand noyer] C’était un être immense et profond qui avait travaillé la terre, année par année, à pleines racines, et qui avait travaillé pareillement le ciel, et qui de cette terre et de ce ciel avait tissé cette substance inébranlable, et noué ces nœuds contre lesquels le fer eut été sans pouvoir. (p. 382-383)

7a. Era un essere immenso e profondo che aveva lavorato la terra, anno dopo anno, a piene radici, e che aveva lavorato ugualmente il cielo, e che da questa terra e da questo cielo aveva tessuto questa sostanza incrollabile, e stretto questi nodi contro i quali il ferro sarebbe stato senza potere.

Notons que la répétition est amorcée par le pronom relatif qui/che, répété trois fois dans l’empan, marqué par une intensité rythmique que provoque la double répétition de qui avait travaillé/che aveva lavorato, avec une variation lexicale après le troisième qui avait/che aveva, où il y a une disjonction des éléments de la relative (Frédéric, 1985: 162) – épanode –, une dilatation du segment, avec l’insertion d’une incise (de cette terre et de ce ciel/da questa terra e da questo cielo) et d’un COD (cette substance inébranlable/la sostanza incrollabile) qui entraînent un ralentissement du tempo, dû aussi à l’élision du pronom relatif et de l’auxiliaire devant noué/stretto. Comme s’il y avait création d’un effet d’atténuation, de chute graduelle. La répétition de qui avait travaillé/che aveva lavorato est là pour signifier que l’arbre est le point de conjonction entre la terre et le ciel. Dans ce passage très poétique, il faut bien sûr remarquer le réseau des répétitions qui s’agencent autour de celles que nous venons de relever : la terre/le ciel//la terra/il cielo ; de cette terre/de ce ciel/da questa terra/da questo cielo ; la profusion des démonstratifs (c’/cette/ce/cette/ces) qui créent des sonorités en [s] à travers lesquelles c’est la verticalité mouvante, la sinuosité de l’arbre qui est montrée, que nous avons respectée en italien (questa/questo/questa/questi), malgré l’extension majeure des formes. Enfin, la répétition de la conjonction et/e, le polysyndète, vient renforcer l’impression de stratification, d’accumulation au fil du temps.

2.2 Une matrice syntaxique aux formes identiques

2.2.1. Le jeu du rythme et des sonorités au niveau du verbe

En 8, Simon observe la prairie de son balcon. La répétition anaphorique, sur un rythme ternaire, d’un verbe à l’identique (toujours selon le schéma X… X… X…), venait/veniva, évoque très clairement la vision et l’effet optique de l’avancée de la prairie vers le héros. En français, la répétition semble s’étendre jusqu’au dernier elle (le regardait) – venait/elle venait/elle venait/elle… – comme pour parachever la chaine rythmique et sonore. En italien, la situation est reproduite – comme l’est le plus souvent l’anaphore (Bramati 2017: 3-4) – mais sans reprise possible du pronom personnel, du fait de l’absence de celui-ci (Bramati 2013  504) :

8. La prairie venait à lui, coulant comme une eau verte, intarissable, étoilée de points multicolores ; elle venait se mettre à son niveau, elle venait s’appliquer avec une sorte de douce frénésie contre les barreaux du balcon d’où elle le regardait, lui, l’hôte étrange de cette chambre, l’habitant de cette cabine, le passager aux exaltations solitaires. (p. 212)

8a. La prateria gli veniva incontro, scorrendo come un’acqua verde, inesauribile, costellata di punti multicolori; veniva a mettersi al suo livello, veniva ad applicarsi con una sorta di dolce frenesia contro la ringhiera del balcone da dove lo guardava, lui, lo strano ospite di questa camera, l’abitante di questa cabina, il passeggero dalle esaltazioni solitarie.

Nous avons vu jusqu’à présent comment Paul Gadenne restitue, par l’emploi des répétitions, la mobilité verticale, horizontale, saccadée du monde de la nature. Parfois, cependant, le point de vue se focalise aussi sur des aspects qu’offre le spectacle de la nature, comme les changements chromatiques du paysage. Ce focus s’exprime alors par la répétition du verbe être/essere. Les exemple 9 et 9a le montrent bien :

9. C’est ce pelage qui, tout à coup, était devenu roux. Et c’était cette rousseur qui se propageait peu à peu comme un incendie. Et au-dessus, il y avait la muraille brune et crevassée de la corniche. L’automne était une grande flamme qui léchait silencieusement la pierre. Par endroits, cette flamme se déchirait et laissait apparaître, dans un trou, les pointes noires des sapins. Mais elle se reformait au-dessus et montait, et montait, avec de grands coups de langue tout dorés, vers le bleu du ciel. (p. 273)

9a. Era questo pelo che, di colpo, era diventato rosso. Ed era questo rosso che si propagava a poco a poco come un incendio. E sopra c’era la muraglia bruna e crepata della balza. L’autunno era una grande fiamma che lambiva silenziosamente la pietra. A tratti, questa fiamma si strappava e lasciava apparire, in un buco, le punte nere degli abeti. Ma si riformava sopra e saliva, e saliva, con grandi colpi di lingua tutti dorati, verso l’azzurro del cielo.

En 9, la focalisation passe par la répétition de la structure de base de mise en relief introduite par le présentatif c’est avec proposition relative : c’estqui… ; la première apparition, c’est ce… qui… dirige le regard sur les cimes des arbres devenues rousses ; mais le champ visuel s’élargit graduellement à tout le paysage que l’automne est en train de colorer, d’abord avec être, dans le plus-que-parfait, était (devenu roux), puis, avec sa reprise dans la structure présentative de mise en relief c’était cette… qui, jusqu’à était une grande flamme. Nous remarquons là encore la fonction du polysyndète en et/e (Et c’était cette rousseur qui…/Ed era questo rosso che… ; Et au-dessus, il y a avait…/E sopra c’era…) qui vient marquer le mouvement du regard. Le mouvement des éléments n’en n’est pas pour autant délaissé, étant lui aussi marqué par un polysyndète en et dans l’anadiplose – répétition immédiate – de et montait, qui vient marquer et montrer le mouvement ascendant graduel de la variation chromatique. En 9a, la répétition, rendue à l’identique, présente une uniformité majeure par l’emploi de l’imparfait, era, dès le début, pour des raisons de concordance des temps ; d’autre part, par l’emploi de c’era, pour il y avait. Elle est donc mieux distribuée dans tout l’empan. La répétition de e saliva, e saliva, a été respectée, avec les mêmes intentions. Notons de plus la répétition créée en italien de rosso pour roux et rousseur.

Les répétions du verbe être/essere sont utilisées également pour évoquer le statisme des éléments de la nature. Cela se vérifie par exemple lorsque Simon observe le paysage nocturne, sous la lune :

10. Le jeune homme s’était levé. Il s’était approché du balcon sans bruit, retenant presque ses pas… Oui, tout était divinement pareil ! Ce n’était pas la nuit, ce n’était qu’un jour diminué. La lueur de la lune était posée à même le sol, comme un vêtement que sa finesse rend insaisissable, et des ombres calmes et bleues ruisselaient des sommets qui diffusaient au bas du ciel une sorte de clarté laiteuse. La lune même était cachée à Simon […]. Il y avait, dans le rayonnement de cette lumière sans chaleur, une douceur attirante et mystérieuse […]. (p. 331)

10a. Il ragazzo si era alzato. Si era avvicinato al balcone senza far rumore, quasi trattenendo i passi… Sì, tutto era divinamente uguale! Non era la notte, era soltanto un giorno ridotto. La luce della luna era poggiata direttamente sul suolo, come un vestito la cui finezza rende inafferrabile, e ombre tranquille e azzurre grondavano dalle cime che diffondevano nella parte bassa del cielo una sorta di chiarore lattescente. La luna stessa era nascosta a Simon […]. C’era, nell’irraggiamento di questa luce senza calore, una dolcezza attraente e misteriosa […].

Là aussi, il est intéressant de voir comment Gadenne prédispose le regard contemplatif de son personnage – Le jeune s’était levé. Il s’était approché du balcon –, à travers l’emploi de deux actions antérieures et accomplies exprimées par des verbes pronominaux au plus-que-parfait permettant la répétition de l’auxiliaire (s’était/si era). Était/era est ensuite répété, avec variation du thème et focalisation sur le paysage. Par la répétition de était/era, un plan horizontal est établi, Simon se trouvant au même niveau que ce qu’il observe. La forme négative – ce n’était pas – suivi de la forme restrictive – ce n’était que –, avec répétition du verbe être à l’identique, créent une sorte de parallélisme formel et, là encore, une focalisation sur un phénomène presque magique : la nuit sous le clair de lune se réduit à un jour moins lumineux. En 10a, ce parallélisme n’a pas été rendu pour éviter la lourdeur de deux formes trop proches (Non era la notte, non era che un giorno ridotto).  Nous avons opté pour une tournure plus explicative. D’autant que le réseau des répétitions de era s’enrichit d’une forme avec l’équivalent de il y avait. Nous constatons (ici, mais aussi en 4a, 9a) qu’en italien, des éléments peuvent s’ajouter au réseau des répétitions, pour des raisons liées à la langue, sans que cela alourdisse le résultat. Ce mouvement d’ajout s’oppose à celui de l’élimination (Bramati, 2013).

Enfin, la matrice peut engendrer, et jouer sur, la répétition d’une préposition, liée à un verbe précédent, et donner lieu, comme dans les exemples analysés jusqu’à présent, à une succession de verbes d’activité ou pas, le plus souvent sur un rythme ternaire. C’est ce que nous pouvons voir en 11 et 11a, où ce sont à nouveau les traits et les mouvements de la nature qui sont montrés :

11. Mais si l’on allait plus loin, on voyait que le paysage continuait à faire à travers la nuit de grands gestes pour lui seul, à inscrire çà et là des figures, à poser des signes. La nature forçait l’attention. La nuit même avait une façon à elle de s’étaler, de s’offrir, de se mettre à votre niveau, de descendre vers vous, avec ses bouquets de froides lueurs, si proches qu’il suffisait d’avancer la main pour les cueillir. (p. 463)

11a. Ma se si andava più lontano, si vedeva che il paesaggio continuava a fare nel corso della notte grandi gesti solo per sé, a inscrivere qua e là figure, a porre segni. La natura forzava l’attenzione. La notte stessa aveva un suo modo di estendersi, di offrirsi, di mettersi al vostro livello, di scendere verso di voi, con i suoi mazzi di luci fredde, così vicini che bastava tendere la mano per coglierli.

Ici, la préposition à générée par le verbe continuer, est répétée trois fois, introduisant à chaque fois une variation du verbe qui suit ; en 11, notons que l’assonance en [a] est renforcée par le à de à travers et la locution adverbiale çà et là. En 11a, l’effet est reproduit et l’absence de l’assonance en [a] au niveau de la locution adverbiale à travers/nel corso est compensée par le déploiement de l’assonance au niveau de tout l’empan : Ma/andava/vedeva/continuava/della, etc. Dans la deuxième partie du passage montrant l’arrivée de la nuit, c’est la préposition de, générée par avoir une façon, qui est répétée et qui introduit une succession de trois verbes pronominaux – s’étaler, s’offrir, se mettre – et un quatrième, descendre. L’effet produit de la répétition de de et des infinitifs est comparable à celui décrit en 8 et 8a, mais ici, les infinitifs rendent l’idée d’un mouvement lent et progressif. En 11a, l’effet a été maintenu avec toutefois des variations sonores dans la morphologie des verbes – -ersi/-irsi/-ersi –, différences que la position du pronom réfléchi en fin d’infinitif semble atténuer.

2.2.2 Le jeu du rythme et des sonorités au niveau des « petits mots » grammaticaux

La répétition chez Paul Gadenne se réalise également dans les plis de l’écriture, au niveau des petits mots grammaticaux, et le plus souvent de la stratification rhématique : les adjectifs démonstratifs ; les prépositions dans, sous, pour, par ; la négation ni, l’adverbe si ; etc. C’est en ces lieux, le plus souvent sur un rythme ternaire, que la répétition impulse de la richesse lexicale, (nominale et adjectivale), venant pointer cette fois la nature et les qualités des éléments décrits. En 12, Simon regarde les nuages qui, belliqueusement, descendent sur le paysage :  

12.  Depuis son arrivée en ce lieu sinistre, la nature ne lui avait offert pour tout spectacle que cette meute affairée, cette morne chevauchée, ces escadrons blafards qui semblaient décidés à tout balayer sur leur passage. À peine le paysage se découvrait-il après une charge qu’un autre bataillon se reformait plus loin ; la prairie, les bois, la maison disparaissaient sous ce cortège dément, dans cette procession en folie, ce sabbat dérisoire et glacial. Cela sortait à la fois du ciel, de la terre, des rochers même. (p. 116)

12a. Dal suo arrivo in questo luogo sinistro, la natura non gli aveva offerto altro come spettacolo che questo branco concitato, questa cupa cavalcata, questi squadroni lividi che parevano decisi a spazzare tutto al loro passaggio. Non appena si sgombrava il paesaggio dopo una carica, un altro battaglione si formava di nuovo più in là; la prateria, i boschi, la casa scomparivano sotto questo corteo insensato, in questa processione folle, in questo pandemonio derisorio e glaciale. Tutto ciò usciva sia dal cielo sia dalla terra, dalle rocce stesse.

Le foisonnement des déictiques (cette/cette/ces/ce/cette/ce/cela), qui introduisent à chaque fois une manière différente de désigner la masse des nuages (meute affairée/morne chevauchée/escadrons blafards//cortège dément/procession en folie/sabbat dérisoire et glacial), rend parfaitement l’idée d’emballement et de puissance du phénomène qui se déroule sous les yeux du héros, avec un rythme ternaire renforcé par l’énumération la prairie/les bois/la maison qui provoque une sorte de scansion visuelle donnant à voir le mouvement progressif des nuages sur les autres composants du paysage, procédé réitéré en fin d’empan avec du ciel/de la terre/des rochers. Pour rendre cette impression de fougue et de ferveur, nous avons jugé utile de reproduire la répétition des déictiques dans la version italienne. Pour des raisons rythmiques, nous avons même redoublé la préposition in pour dans, qui ne l’est pas en français. Dans la dernière phrase, nous avons renforcé ciò par tutto, pour des questions rythmiques, et avons recouru à la forme sia… sia, équivalent de à la fois, qui, toujours pour des raisons rythmiques, renforce et équilibre le rythme ternaire et les sonorités en [s] : sia dal cielo/sia dalla terra/dalle rocce stesse.

En 13, nous avons la triple répétition d’une même préposition et d’un même déictique – dans ces/dans ces/dans ces – introduisant par des désignations différentes, l’idée d’un mouvement circulaire – volutes/enlacements/tourbillons – dans le lequel la terre et le ciel sont engagés :

13. Les jours suivants, la terre et le ciel restèrent confondues dans ces volutes, dans ces enlacements, dans ces tourbillons ; ils ne formaient plus qu’une masse grise, sans commencement ni fin, sans bornes distinctes ; il n’y avait plus d’horizon. (p. 520)

13a. I giorni seguenti, la terra e il cielo rimasero confusi in quelle volute, quei viluppi, quei vortici; formavano ormai solo una massa grigia, senza inizio né fine, senza limiti distinti; non c’era più orizzonte.

Cet exemple est particulièrement intéressant car la répétition de dans ces, produit l’effet sonore [dɑ̃se] qui vient consolider l’idée de mouvement circulaire et nous fait toucher du doigt la « matérialité » des mots, par la répétition (Prak-Derrington 2011: 296). La double répétition de sanssans commencement/sans bornes –, en fin d’empan, vient quant à elle ajouter l’idée de « mouvement perpétuel » et a pour fonction de renforcer les sonorités en [s] et [ɑ̃] : dans ces/sans. La correspondance dans ces/danser n’a bien évidemment pas pu être rendue en italien. Cependant, nous avons compensé en jouant sur le sémantisme (« mouvement circulaire ») des trois désignations – volute/viluppi/vortici – et leurs allitérations en [v]/[o] et [[i]] et, pour diriger l’attention sur ces formes, tronqué la répétition de la préposition, afin d’obtenir : in quelle/quei/quei. La répétition de senza, équivalent de sans, s’intègre bien, au niveau sonore, dans le réseau des assonances en [a] environnant : formavano/una/massa/grigia/c’era et senza inizio/senza limiti restitue, au niveau sémantique, l’idée de mouvement perpétuel.

En 14, c’est la combinaison de la conjonction négative ni et de la préposition pour qui est répétée quatre fois : ni pour/ni pour/ni pour/ni pour générée par la tournure négative ce n’était :

14. Mais ce n’était ni pour ces crêtes, ni pour la vue plongeante sur la vallée, ni pour la couleur sourde du rocher, ni pour l’extrême solitude de ce lieu que Simon préférait la route des Hauts-Praz à toute autre. Il n’avait qu’une pensée, qu’un désir : car, à quelques pas plus haut, après le second tournant, il savait qu’il allait rejoindre l’arbre qu’il aimait. (p. 381)

14a. Ma non era né per questi spigoli, per la vista a strapiombo sulla vallata, per il colore sordo della roccia, né per l’estrema solitudine di quel luogo che Simon preferiva la strada di Hauts-Praz a qualsiasi altra. Non aveva che un solo pensiero, che un solo desiderio: perché, a qualche passo più su, dopo il secondo tornante, sapeva che avrebbe raggiunto l’albero che amava.

La répétition se construit ici sur un élément susceptible, à la base, d’être réitéré au moins une fois, selon le schéma suivant : ne… ni… ni. La structure est donc simplement dédoublée et donne lieu à un effet de profusion. La préposition introduit en fait un panorama et une succession de possibles paysages et un état, visibles de la route des Hauts-Praz : ces crêtes/la vue plongeante sur la vallée/la couleur sourde du rocher/l’extrême solitude de ce lieu. Ce procédé de répétition ne fait qu’intensifier l’effet de soustraction qui annonce l’arrivée de l’arbre exprimée plus loin, et l’émerveillement qu’en ressent Simon, renforcé par la structure restrictive, avec duplication de la conjonction que : il n’avait que… que… :

En 14a, pour maintenir la focalisation sur les éléments du paysage visibles de la route, nous avons répété à l’identique né per. Dans la deuxième partie du passage, la structure restrictive est rendue, non… che un, mais elle est renforcée par solo, répété ensuite, avec che un devant desiderio, pour des raisons rythmiques : Non aveva che un solo pensiero, che un solo desiderio… Là aussi, en italien, nous avons enrichi, pour le rythme (Bramati, 2013: 506), la chaine des répétitions.

En 15, notre attention s’est focalisée sur la répétition de l’adverbe si, répété trois fois – toujours pour respecter le rythme ternaire – et qui introduit trois adjectifs, humble/noble/nu, qualifiant l’apparence de la route : avec un air si humble, si noble, si nu…, un air étant repris ensuite, selon le schéma ABBA de l’antimétabole :

15. Ce n’était pas tellement l’objectif de cette route qui importait, c’était sa physionomie, ses accidents, ce n’était même que son départ, cette façon qu’elle avait de se lancer dans l’aventure, avec un air si humble, si noble et si nu, un air d’avoir pris son parti et de s’engager, oui ! (p. 212-213)

15a. Non era tanto la meta di questa strada che importava quanto la sua fisionomia, le sue asperità, anzi era il suo stesso inizio, questo suo modo di lanciarsi nell’avventura, con un’aria così umile, così nobile e così nuda, l’aria di chi ha fatto la sua scelta e di chi s’impegna, sì!

Il faut remarquer là aussi l’effet créé par la répétition de si suivi de formes adjectivales dont la longueur diminue graduellement. Le rapetissement de la forme adjectivale correspond à l’effet de perspective de la route, de sa montée que Simon observe et qu’il a à cœur puisqu’elle mène à l’arbre aimé. Le résultat obtenu en 15a, avec con un’aria così umile, così nobile, così nuda, l’aria di chi…. di chi…, pour rendre l’effet que nous venons d’évoquer, propose un rythme et une longueur graphique plus uniforme au niveau de così umile, così nobile et marque davantage l’idée d’élancement et de montée graduelle, mais inexorable, de la route, que de perspective visuelle, par la répétition de di chi… di chi…, référé à la route.


Au terme de cette brève étude, nous constatons que les figures de répétition, déployées en réseau, aux niveaux grammatical, lexical et phonique, au sein de matrices syntaxiques, huilent savamment les rouages de la dynamique textuelle de Siloé. Dans les descriptions des paysages, les éléments répétés constituent bien, en tout et pour tout, des formes-sens. À travers leur « corporéité » ou « matérialité » formelle, sémantique et sonore, réitérées, c’est le corps tantôt mouvant tantôt statique de la nature qui est donné à voir, le corps tantôt retentissant, tantôt silencieux qui est donné à entendre. Le lecteur, avec Simon Delambre, s’immerge, grâce aux jeux des répétitions, dans une sorte de poème symphonique où il lui est possible de percevoir le rythme, les sons, de discerner les coloris, de sentir l’espace et le souffle vital, qui guérira Simon, des montagnes d’Armenaz.

La figure de répétition, fondamentale dans la poétique gadennienne, nous a poussée, dans la traduction italienne, à reproduire les matrices syntaxiques et à respecter, en leur sein, les reprises phoniques, grammaticales et lexicales. Parfois même, nous n’avons pas hésité à ajouter au réseau des répétitions, pour les raisons liées à la structure de la langue ou stylistiques (4a, 9a, 12a, 14a, 15a), des éléments, sans que cela alourdisse le résultat. Ce mouvement d’ajout, qui s’oppose à celui de l’élimination, constitue, à notre sens, une catégorie intéressante à approfondir.


Berman, Antoine (1985) « La traduction et la lettre ou l’auberge du lointain », Les tours de Babel. Essais sur la traduction, Mauzerin, Trans-Europ-Repress.

Berman, Antoine (1995) Pour une critique des traductions : John Donne, Paris, Gallimard.

Bonhomme, Marc (2005) Pragmatique des figures du discours, Paris, Champion.

Bramati, Alberto (2013) « Les répétitions entre lexique, grammaire et stylistique : la traduction en italien d'Apprendre à finir de Laurent Mauvignier », Septet, 5 : 495-511.

Bramati, Alberto (2017) « “Structure” et “distance” des éléments répétés : deux critères qui influencent l’acceptabilité des répétitions dans les traductions du français à l’italien », Repères DoRiF, 13, URL : http://www.dorif.it/ezine/ezine_printarticle.php?id=356 (Consulté le 17 février 2020)

Druetta, Ruggero (eds) (2017) La répétition en langue, Repères DoRiF, 13, URL:http://www.dorif.it/ezine/show_issue.php?dorif_ezine=b0c11b80bb4b0a4a52cb6fa747263e11&iss_id=24 (consulté le 11 août 2019)

Frédéric, Madeleine (1985) La répétition : études linguistique et rhétorique, Tübingen, Niemeyer.

Gadenne, Paul [1974] (2013) Siloé, Saint-Amand-Montrond, Éditions du Seuil.

Jay-Rayon, Laurence (2014) « Les voies de la répétition de Hove, la voix de la traduction de Richard », Hermeneus, TI, 16 : 143-176, URL: https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=4918321 (consulté le 15 février 2020)

Kundera, Milan (1993) « Une phrase », in Les testaments trahis, Paris, Gallimard : 121-145.

Lindenberg, Judith, et Jean-Charles Vegliante (eds) (2011) La répétition à l’épreuve de la traduction, Paris, Éditions Chemins de tr@verse.

Lusetti, Chiara (2019) « La répétition comme facteur structurant le discours dans les deux versions de Au-delà du voile de Slimane Benaïssa » in La répétition en discours, Paissa, Paola et Ruggero Druetta, Au coeur des textes, 35, Louvain-la-Neuve, Academia-L’Harmattan : 111-124.

Magri-Mourgues, Véronique (2015) « L’anaphore rhétorique dans le discours politique. L’exemple de N. Sarkozy », Semen [En ligne], 38, URL : https://journals.openedition.org/semen/10319 (Consulté le 17 août 2019)

Magri-Mourgues, Véronique et Alain Rabatel (eds) (2015a) Pragmatique de la répétition, Semen [En ligne], 38, Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté. URL: https://journals.openedition.org/semen/10280 (consulté le 13 août 2019)

Magri-Mourgues, Véronique et Alain Rabatel (eds) (2015b) Répétitions et genres, Le discours et la langue, Vol. 7.2, Université de Bruxelles.

Magri-Mourgues, Véronique et Alain Rabatel (eds) (2015c) « Répétitions, figures de répétition et effets pragmatiques selon les genres » in Répétitions et genres, Magri-Mourgues, Véronique et Alain Rabatel (eds), Le discours et la langue, Vol. 7.2, Université de Bruxelles : 7-22.

Mertens, Pierre [1973] (2013) « Paul Gadenne absent de Paris » in Les Hauts-Quartiers, Paul Gadenne, Préface, Lonrai, Éditions du Seuil : 7-15.

Meschonnic, Henri (1973) Pour la poétique II. Épistémologie de l’écriture poétique de la traduction, Paris, Gallimard.

Meschonnic, Henri (1999) Poétique du traduire, Paris, Verdier.

Mezzadri-Guedj, Agathe (2019) « Redondances ou répétitions poétiques ? Les œuvres dévotes de Fénelon » in La répétition en discours, Druetta R. et Paissa P., Louvain-la Neuve, Academia-L’Harmattan, coll. « Au cœur des textes » : 29-54.

Paissa, Paola et Ruggero Druetta (eds) (2019) La répétition en discours, Au cœur des textes, 35, Louvain-la-Neuve, Academia-L’Harmattan.

Prak-Derrington, Emmanuelle (2011) « Traduire ou ne pas traduire les répétitions », Nouveaux Cahiers d’Allemand : Revue de linguistique et de didactique, 2011, 29 (3) : 293-305, URL : https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00631009 (consulté le 15 février 2020)

Prak-Derrington, Emmanuelle (2015a) « Les figures de syntaxe de la répétition revisitées » in Répétitions et genres, Magri-Mourgues, Véronique et Alain Rabatel (eds), Le discours et la langue, Vol. 7.2, Université de Bruxelles : 39-57.

Prak-Derrington, Emmanuelle (2015b) « Anaphore, épiphore & Co », Pratiques [En ligne], 165-166, mise en ligne le 01 octobre 2015, URL : http://journals.openedition.org/pratiques/2554 (consulté le 25 août 2019)

Raccanello, Manuela (2006) « Tradurre la ripetizione » in Studi in ricordo di Carmen Sànchez Montero », Trieste, Edizioni Università di Trieste : 379-400.

Riegel, Martin et al. [1994] (2001) Grammaire méthodique du français, Paris, PUF.

Sarrou, Didier (2003) Paul Gadenne, Rennes, La Part Commune.


[1] Paul Gadenne, Les Hauts-Quartiers, Le fond et la forme, Office national de radiodiffusion télévision française, 19 février 1973, https://www.ina.fr/video/CPF10005871/paul-gadenne-les-hauts-quartiers-video.html

[2] L’œuvre de Gadenne, méconnue et inclassable, a été peu traduite. Siloé (1941) ne le fut qu’en allemand, en 1952 (Die Augen würden ihm aufgetan, Dt. Verlag-Anst, trad. Wilhelm E. Süskind) ; en italien, seule la nouvelle Baleine a été traduite (La balena, Feltrinelli, trad. Laura Guarino, 1986).

[3] Récit en partie autobiographique, Gadenne était lui-même atteint de tuberculose ; il en mourra en 1956.

[4] Actuellement en cours de réalisation, elle est établie à partir de Gadenne [1974] (2013).

[5] Voir sur ce sujet Prak-Derrington (2015b : 7-12).

[6] Nous renvoyons également à de récentes études extrêmement complètes sur la notion de répétition, en langue et en discours, comme Druetta (2017) et Paissa et Druetta (2019).

[7] Il n’existe pas de terme pour désigner les répétitions de morphèmes lexicaux et grammaticaux, ce que déplore Prak-Derrington (2015b : 18).

About the author(s)

Pascale Janot teaches French in the Department of Legal Sciences, Language, Interpretation and Translation at the University of Trieste (Italy). Her main research interest is the analysis of discourse and translation. She is also a professional translator and co-director of po&psy; (éditions érès, Toulouse), a small publisher specialised in poetic translation.

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©inTRAlinea & Pascale Janot (2020).
"Traduire la poétique du paysage de Siloé de Paul Gadenne au rythme des figures de répétition", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2497

Lost in Translation: a Parallel Corpus-based Study of South Korean Government Translation

By Jinsil Choi (Keimyung University, South Korea)


This article introduces a systemic way to analyse translation products, based on a personally built sentence level tagged corpus, and it describes frequent translation change patterns, both qualitatively and quantitatively, with a case of spokesperson’s press briefings of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, South Korea. Drawing on institutional translation as self-translation and Fairclough’s critical discourse analysis, this article explores to what extent translation changes such as additions and omissions impinge on the original messages and the way changes reify and reinforce the institutional ideology. The corpus consists of approximately 200,000 tokens of 92 press briefings of Korean source texts and English translations, delivered in 2012. This study reveals that ‘battles’ (Fairclough 2010: 424) between a journalist and a spokesperson and journalists’ negative comments about the South Korean government have frequently been left out of the translations. It argues that these changes are the informed decisions, indicative of the institutional ideology.

Keywords: institutional translation, Korea, parallel corpus, press briefing

©inTRAlinea & Jinsil Choi (2020).
"Lost in Translation: a Parallel Corpus-based Study of South Korean Government Translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2496

1. Introduction

On 16 August 2011, certain translation errors in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between South Korea and the US became a delicate political issue in South Korea. The agreement was first written in English and then translated into Korean, with each version having an equal legal effect. The South Korean government had announced in June 2011 that 250 Korean items had to be corrected. Then 야당공동정책협의회 [the Policy Meeting of the Opposition Parties] announced at a press conference, also on 16 August, that the ratification motion still contained 225 translation errors and deletions (Kwon 2011). The amendment issue was drawn to the attention of the court at the end of the same year, after 민주사회를위한변호사모임 [the Lawyers for a Democratic Society] had sued the government for not publishing the information. The court ruled that the information should have been made public, saying that publication was in the public interest and that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) had announced the amendments of the FTA between South Korea and the European Union (EU) previously (Na 2011). On 25 May, 2012, the government finally announced the amendments to 296 items, including translation errors, additions and omissions (Kim J 2012). 

This situation led to attention being drawn to translation practices and products, as evidenced in a Policy Discussion in April 2015, held at the Korean National Assembly, which proposed the establishment of an independent government translation organisation (Choi 2018)[1]. Scholars, such as Lee S (2014) and Cheong and Lim (2014), among many others, suggested models for Korean government translation in regard to the management of terminologies and practices. However, the extent to which changes in translation, which cannot be described merely as stylistic, impinge on the original message and the way translation changes reify and reinforce institutional ideology, have largely been ignored. Because translation reflects both the political and diplomatic voice of an institution, it requires considered choices to be made not only regarding the selection of the texts and the language or languages they are translated into, but their content and the translators and editors who have been chosen for the task. In such institutional settings, translation is de facto self-translation, with the institution being the author-translator. In this context, as Schäffner, Tcaciuc and Tesseur (2014: 495) put it, “the standardised ‘voice’ of the institution is the one to be heard” and the choice of content, both retained and omitted, reflect the institutional ideology (Gagnon 2006).

Previous research on institutional translation has largely been carried out with a qualitative focus. In Europe and Canada, for example, some text-centred analyses of national and supra-national institutional translations have been undertaken, but most of these have focused on their qualitative aspects (Mossop 2006; Gagnon 2006; Koskinen 2008; Schäffner and Bassnett 2010). This is attributed to the nature of a close comparative examination of both the source text (ST) and the target text (TT); however, qualitative research alone cannot capture a significant amount of cross-linguistic and translational variation, which is why qualitative methods should be complemented by quantitative methods to allow for a more holistic view (Malamatidou 2018: 9). In addition, translation changes may involve drastic changes in “content, quantity, focus and layout” (Schäffner and Bassnett 2010: 19). Schäffner and Bassnett (2010: 19–20) offered a case in point by identifying drastic differences in the newspapers Le Figaro, Der Spiegel and Times Online, regarding an interview with Vladimir Putin, in which drastic omissions and rearrangements of information at sentence level had been made in translation. Using a qualitative approach, they analysed these differences manually. Such drastic translation changes, however, cannot be examined quantitatively, or filtered automatically, unless a corpus is specially designed to do so.

Against this backdrop, this article introduces a preliminary parallel corpus-based methodology aimed particularly at investigating frequent sentence level translation changes in Korean government text productions, both qualitatively and quantitatively, by suggesting a way to suit the textual analyses of drastic translation changes. By using the proposed parallel corpus, the kind of which has “so many potential uses and applications […] in the field of translation” for the study on translation strategies (Mikhailov and Cooper 2016: 1), this article explores both the extent to which translation changes influence the original messages, and how an institutional ideology and translation policy are reflected in these changes. The data for this study, incorporating about 200,000 running words of 92 briefings of Korean STs and English TTs[2], delivered in 2012, the last year of Lee Myung-bak’s presidency, include press briefings (PBs) by a spokesperson of the MOFA. The last year of presidency has often been considered to be a “lame duck” syndrome, featuring a weakened leadership and declining public support (Lee 2015: 117). Such a perception may influence many aspects of a spokesperson’s briefings as they reflect frequent battles between participants; consequently, the briefings delivered in this period were chosen specially for this study.

This research contributes to Corpus-based Translation Studies, by introducing a method of filtering sentential additions and omissions that will allow for both quantitative and qualitative analyses of translation products. This case study is also a meaningful contribution to an understanding of institutional translation, which is still, as Schäffner, Tcaciuc and Tesseur (2014: 494) put it, “rather underexplored”, requiring “detailed case studies of different institutional contexts” (Koskinen 2011: 60), since different institutions in different countries may operate differently.                                                       

In what follows, therefore, I first discuss, as a theoretical framework, institutional translation as self-translation and Fairclough’s critical discourse analysis (CDA). The data and methodology are introduced, which is followed by an analysis and a discussion. Finally I present a conclusion.

2. Theoretical framework

2.1. Institutional translation as self-translation

Considering the activity of translation as a social institution, the most abstract and broadest definition would be the tautology that “all translation is institutional”. However, for my research purpose, a narrower definition of institution is needed. As Gagnon (2010: 254) points out, there are cases in which institutions are also producers of the original texts, “giving them even tighter control of what and how texts are translated”. In this case, Gagnon uses the term, “self-translation” (ibid.).

The term, self-translation, was originally used in situations where the author of the original translates his or her own book into another language (Sorvari 2018). Likewise, when the institution produces both STs and TTs, it is a case of self-translation because the author of the originals and the translations is identical, the institution. According to Koller (1979/1992: 197), the difference between a general translation and self-translation or “autotranslation” can be related to the different degree of authority. Whilst an “ordinary” translator may find it difficult or may “hesitate” to change the original content, “the author-translator will feel justified in introducing changes into the text” (Koller 1979/1992: 197, cited from Montini 2010: 306). In the same vein, Perry (1981: 181) notes that the author-translator “can allow himself bold shifts from the source text which, had it been done by another translator, probably would not have passed as an adequate translation” (cited from Wanner 2018: 122, emphasis mine).

As Koskinen (2008: 21) points out, although translations are hardly ever performed outside any institutional settings, the degree of control exercised by institutions differs. Compared to the degree of regulation in the translations of official government documents, it is likely that the degree of regulation of literary translation, for example, is very different. This may largely result from the significance of the content to be translated. For the case of translations of official government documents, for example, what is to be translated has a considerable importance in itself strategically and diplomatically (Gagnon 2006; Mingxing 2012). Furthermore, without exception, the government institutions are always producers or initiators of the originals or translations while this is not the case for literary translations. When producers of the originals and distributors of the translated texts are the same or in the same institution, or when the initiator of a translation is within the originals’ institution, the degree of mediation in translation by the people concerned with the originals and of communication between producers of the STs and those of the TTs will be different from the opposite case in which none of the people concerned with the ST production is involved in any part of the TT production. In the former situations, “the voice that is to be heard is that of the translating institution” (Koskinen 2008: 22). In light of this, if changes are made in translations, especially when the producer of the originals and the translations is the same, the changes are “autotranslation” (Koskinen 2011: 57) by a given institution. As in the case of self-translation or autotranslation in literary genre, the institutional self-translation embeds the intention of the original, such as regimes, policies, and norms of the institution. In this setting, if changes are made, these are de facto reflections of the intention of the author-translator, the institution. 

2.2. Fairclough’s critical discourse analysis

For the analysis of translation changes in an institutional setting, this study adopts Fairclough’s CDA, which, as he states (2010: 131), is “suitable for” researching changes in discursive practices. Hatim and Mason (1997: 143) also state that a CDA approach is helpful to analyse “the way ideology shapes discourse and the way discourse practices help to maintain, reinforce or challenge ideologies” when combined with a corpus based approach. Shortcomings of CDA such as the selection of short texts, or text fragments (Stubbs 1997; Widdowson 1998) and its lack of robust methodology can be complemented by using corpus, or corpus supporting tools. Consequently, many studies on discourse and translation, such as Baker et al. (2008) and Kim (2017), have combined CDA and corpus based approaches in order “to criticise, connections between properties of texts and social processes and relations (ideologies, power relations)” to date (Fairclough 2010: 131). In Translation Studies, a CDA approach is particularly useful for investigating the impact of translation (Kim 2017: 35), for instance what is chosen for translation, who are involved in it, what their relationship to the material is, and what kind of discourse is intended for the target culture.

Based on Fairclough’s approaches, this study analyses how spokespersons and journalists employ certain discursive patterns to reinforce, or challenge, issues or institutional ideologies, how these aspects appear in translation as changes (Fairclough 2010), how participants negotiate their positions in order to control or manipulate the institutional identity and ideology, and how their positions are established by socially and institutionally situated translators. The study also demonstrates how language is used to control, or manipulate, institutional ideology through repeated discursive patterns, and conversely, how repeatedly omitted patterns in translation may have cumulatively reified institutional ideology; also, how such translation omissions can either manipulate or change the impact of translation, by what might have been written in translation (Mossop 2010: 95).

3. Data and Methodology

3.1. Data

In order to develop a corpus, the data for this study were chosen particularly in accordance with the following criteria: (i) to ease the corpus building process and copyright acquisition, the data available on institution’s websites were chosen, (ii) the translation direction from Korean into English was chosen because of its dominantly high ratio, 89.3 per cent of total Korean to X language combinations (Lee et al. 2001: 67–8), and (iii) the texts and their translations had to be of a genre that is regularly used in a particular context.

The MOFA delivers a variety of genres of news, from news of the Ministry to PBs[3]. Of the various PBs, its spokesperson’s is the most regularly delivered and translated; as such, it represents the institution. Usually it is delivered three to four times a week, which amounts to 63.3 per cent of all PBs produced by the MOFA; it also shows the highest translation rate at 98.1 per cent. A briefing is generally composed of two sections, the announcements of a speaker and the subsequent ‘questions and answers’ session with the press.

Several factors may inherently influence changes in PB translations: (i) the medium –while the original is oral, the translation is written, (ii) spontaneity – a PB is largely spontaneous, except for the spokesperson’s introductory statement, and (iii) the institution’s translation purpose, which is for reference[4]. While (i) and (ii) may involve stylistic changes in translation, such as the correction of false starts or slips of the tongue, which are typical features of oral discourse (Schäffner and Bassnett 2010), an alleged translation purpose may imply, or rationalise, errors or drastic changes in content and focus. This purpose of translation for reference could also be understood as a preference of productivity to “intrinsic quality of the translation output” (Svoboda 2018: 22). Considering that a PB translation mostly appears on the same day of the briefing, management may favour productivity to quality of translation. A weight on productivity by a managerial level is also identified in studies on institutional translation such as Svoboda’s research of the Czech Republic government institutions. Therefore, the spokesperson’s briefing translation receives due attention in this study, in order to investigate drastic changes, such as sentential additions and omissions in Korean government translation.

Most of the translations of general documents within the MOFA are done by in-house professional translators of a given department, although it is to a certain extent different depending on matters and documents. Four stages are involved in the translation process: drafting, revision, confirmation, and release. From the production of the original documents to the release of the translations, all processes of press briefings are controlled by in-house employees, Korean native speakers. Thus, it is a case of self-translation. Both translations and revisions are done by Koreans, most of whom had completed four years of regular education in one of the major English-speaking countries, and who are competent in the both languages. The translation process is hierarchical and linear. Not only are the drafting and revision stages of translation but also the people concerned in each stage of the originals and the translations clearly distinguished and separated, and translators are anonymous, according to my inquiry on 17 December 2013. Such translation process is certainly different from European Commission (Koskinen 2008) and the Language Services Division of the German Foreign Office (Schäffner, Tcaciuc and Tesseur 2014), in which cross-checks and communications between writers of the originals/clients/requesters and translators are active, and “translators are very much ‘visible’” (Schäffner, Tcaciuc and Tesseur 2014: 497).

3.2. Methodology

The process of corpus building consisted of three main stages, (i) data collection, (ii) categorisation and computerisation, and (iii) corpus construction (see Table 1).

Table 1. The process of corpus building

The decision whether to incorporate text samples or whole texts, and corpus size were important as they are in most studies employing electronic corpora (Mikhailov and Cooper 2016: 2). It was decided to use whole texts for this study, because the intention is not to describe general tendencies in terms of mean values of a certain linguistic item in several text samples, but to examine changes in translations, for which the scrutiny of the whole body of texts is pivotal.

The originals and their translations were collected from the institution’s websites. All raw data were converted to XML files and then sentence split and mark-up followed. The sentence alignment for the corpus was performed manually, because although it would have been possible to use an automatic aligner, such as the Translation Corpus Aligner 2 as in the Norwegian Spanish Parallel Corpus (Hareide and Hofland 2012: 90–4) or Hunalign[5], the pre-requisite process of listing anchor words requires considerable time and effort, because, in this study, each type of data exhibits different word usages. Hence, to make automatic alignment possible would be a big job, requiring the creation of a bilingual dictionary for word alignments and sets of rules and categories, as Lee (2010: 115) also points out. This is probably why no studies, in the Korean context, have suggested a systemic and automatic means of word alignment for corpus building, with the exception of Korean-Chinese word-pair extraction by No (2008).

The final stage consisted of annotation, the development of a supporting tool, and building the corpus engine. In order to categorise all data and make them sortable, it was necessary to attach unique titles and ids. Specifications of annotations are illustrated in Figure 1 and an annotation example of sentential additions and omissions are illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 1. An example of annotations

Figure 2. An annotation example of sentential omissions

Figure 1 shows an example of a PB text, which is divided into two broad categories, according to who is speaking: a spokesperson or a deputy spokesperson. From January to December 2012, two spokespersons (Cho Byung-jae until 31 July and Cho Tai-young afterwards) and one deputy spokesperson (Han Hye-jin) delivered PBs. Along with document information, title information was added in order to make the title visible in the corpus engine. Figure 2 shows an annotation of sentential omissions in translations. When there is no corresponding TT, one sentence in the ST composed one pair; in the same way, sentential additions were annotated.

Next, a corpus supporting tool was developed, which makes it possible to open, save and revise raw and annotated data, and to control and supervise data input processes consistently. For the purposes of this study, I decided to design both a free search engine, allowing users to input their own search words, and a guided search engine, listing all categories to enable users to select one of them, so that filtering of data according to genre, subgenre, document, and mapping information can be made, which will be necessary when analysing translation changes. Using Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 allowed for the interface of the corpus to be designed with choices of corpus (genre, subgenre, etc.) and a free search function. When a PB genre is selected, the corpus produces responses, such as those shown in Figure 3. Figure 3 shows a corpus view of sentential omissions when the “Only Korean” function was activated. A user can save the result as a txt file, as in Figure 4.

Figure 3. A snap shot of the corpus

Figure 4. A snap shot of omissions in the SB translation

Figure 4 shows the sentential omissions in the spokesperson’s briefing (SB) translation and it offers subgenre, document id, pair id, and language information[6].

The corpus also produces a basic statistics such as the number of words[7] and pairs by genre, subgenre, document, and speaker, as in Figure 5.

Figure 5. A snap shot of corpus statistics

4. Analysis

For analyses, the corpus mapping function is used to identify sentential additions and omissions in translations. From the point where such changes occur, stretches of text in context are scrutinised for a qualitative analysis. In addition, a keyword analysis is carried out by using WordSmith Tool 7.0 in order to examine the importance of repeatedly omitted or added discursive patterns in translation and the extent to which such cumulative changes reflect institutional aims, objectives, and ideologies.

4.1. Sentential omissions and additions in translations

The corpus exhibited the frequency and ratio of sentential omissions and additions in briefing translations, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2. The frequency and ratio of sentential omissions and additions in translations

Of SB, 11.18 per cent of pairs were omitted while 0.46 per cent was added, and the deputy spokesperson’s briefings (DSB) showed a rate of 9.42 per cent was omitted, and 0.46 per cent was added. In terms of tokens, 7.34 per cent of Korean words were left out of the translation, while 0.13 per cent of English words were added to the SB translation; the DSB showed 5.30 per cent omissions and 0.10 per cent additions. These results indicate that the anonymous translators or revisers in the MOFA exercise greater discretion with omissions than with additions. As evidenced in Baker (1997: 121), when translating someone in a position of high authority, a translator’s discretion may be severely restricted when it comes to an addition of what has not been said and done.

From a total of 92 briefings, 21 SBs and three DSBs contained sentential additions in the translations. While most additions consisted of greetings and opening and closing statements, which could be interpreted as changes of text formatting, some repetitive content tended to be added in the translation, particularly in the context of South Korean-Japanese relations and Chinese government related matters, as appear in Figure 6 below.

Figure 6. A snap shot of additions in the translation

The highlighted parts of document id 42 and 54 concern South Korean-Japanese relations while part of 51 concerns the detention of a Korean human rights activist, Kim Young-hwan, in China (for detailed information regarding document id, see Appendix). Given that the numbers of additions in the translation were limited (see Table 2) and that not all inter-national relations were chosen to be repeatedly articulated and added in the translation, this result arguably represents the MOFA’s interests, aims and objectives, which largely takes care of the South Korean government’s relations with Japan and China.

However, as Koskinen (2008: 136) notes, “the more numerous omissions are more dubious.”All briefings contained sentential omissions. While some omissions included changes for text formatting, such as the omission of “모두발언” [announcement] and confirmations of previous questions, many omitted briefings tended to involve North Korea’s nuclear experiment and missile issues (document id 7, 9, 13, 15, 16, 52, 79), China’s detention of Kim Young-hwan (47, 48, 51), Japanese government related issues (6, 18, 42, 48, 54), and MOFA and Korean government related issues (24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 35, 40). This phenomenon warrants further explanation.

The contextual analysis revealed that frequently and drastically omissions related to, in  Fairclough’s (2010: 424) words, “battles” between spokespersons and journalists, in relation to the content and timings of announcements[8]. These kinds of battles tended to appear in diplomatically sensitive issues relating to North Korea and China.

Extract 1

Source: 24 May 2012

<질문> 지난주와 달라진 게 없는 거군요? 그 사이에./

<답변> 예, 현재까지로는 특별히 보고 드릴만큼, 설명드릴만큼의 진전은 없습니다./

그리고 제가 외교부 외신담당을 통해서 북한이 기술적으로 핵실험 준비가 됐다는 보도에 대해서 확인을 부탁드렸을 때 아시는 바가 없다고 말씀하셨습니다./

오늘은 확인 가능한 내용이 있는지 여쭤보고 싶습니다. /


[journalist] <Q> Nothing is different since last week? Between?/

[spokesperson]<A> No, not much has been progressed for further explanation. /


[journalist] And when I asked you through the department of foreign press a confirmation about a report that North Korea is technically ready to conduct a nuclear experiment, you said that you know nothing. / I would like to ask if you can confirm any today. /

Extract 2

Source: 8 May 2012

어디에서 그런 것을 들으셨습니까? /출처를 확인해주십시오. /

<질문> 취재원 보호차원에서 말씀드리기 어렵습니다.


[spokesperson] Where did you hear that? /Please tell me the source. /

[journalist] <Q> It is difficult to tell you in order to protect the source./

Extract 3

Source: 13 December 2012

(동아일보 이정은 기자) 제가 이 질문을 드리는 이유는, 사실은 지금까지 과거에 문제가 되고, 핵실험을 하고 이랬을 때마다 나왔던 자료로 알고 있는데, 요청을 하면 말씀주시겠다고 하셨지만, 벌써 며칠 전부터 요청이 들어가 있던 사안입니다./ 그럼에도 불구하고, 가장 기본적인 이런 팩트나 수치조차 우리가 지금 확인을 못하고 있는 상황이라면, 기사를 쓰는데 좀 지장이 있다고 생각합니다./ 이것은 외교부 차원에서 시정을 해주셨으면 좋겠습니다./

<답변> 무슨 말씀인지 알겠습니다. /

<질문>(채널A 김정안 기자) 그러면 그 시점에 대한, 소위 말하는 우리들이 쓰는 마감시간에 대한 어느 정도의 염두는 두고 계시는지요./ 아니면 지금 협의가 언제까지 진행됐는지 조차도 모르는 상황이신 것인지요?/

<답변> 마감시간은 오늘 마감시간을 말씀하시는 것입니까?/


<Q> (Lee Jung-eun from Dongailbo)[9] The reason I asked this question is that [the material] was a problem in the past and has been publicised whenever [North Korea] has a nuclear experiment. [You] said that [you] would provide us [the material] and [[I]] requested it several days ago./ Nevertheless, [[I]] am still unable to check basic facts and numbers and [[I]] think that impedes [my] writing. /[[I]] want it to be rectified by the Ministry./

<A> [spokesperson] I understand what you are talking about./

<Q> (Kim Jung-eun from ChannelA) Then, about the time, do you consider the so-called deadline for our writing?/ Or, [you] don’t know until when the consultation was proceeded?/

<A> [spokesperson] By deadline, do you mean today’s deadline?/

In Extract 1, 2 and 3, the struggles between participants as to “what it is possible to say and do, what the various identities, social relations and forms of authority are, and the possibility and legitimacy of drawing conclusions or making decisions” (Fairclough 2010: 424) have been totally omitted from the translation, together with when it is possible to say and do. Extract 1 involves a question about any progress in consultation with the Chinese government, regarding the detention of Kim Young-hwan in China. Extract 1 also concerns the MOFA’s position on the National Defense Ministry’s statement that “North Korea appears technically ready to conduct a nuclear test at any time, citing commercial satellite images of the country’s nuclear sites” (official translation), and urges a confirmation by the MOFA regarding this matter. It can be inferred from the original briefing that there is disharmony between the Defense Ministry and the MOFA in regard to North Korea’s readiness for a nuclear test. The journalist appears to have asked the MOFA, before the Defense Ministry’s announcement, to check the matter. In fact, the press had started to report signs of North Korea’s imminent nuclear experiment a month before this briefing. On April 22, Kim S (2012), especially, reproached the President Office’s “미지근한” [tepid] response to these imminent signs not to announce potent sanctions, but seemingly to simply watch the situation, and to condone the Defense Ministry’s silence, as opposed to the active responses of the US and China. Considering the charged atmosphere then, the journalist may have urged a confirmation, or, at least, an announcement about the MOFA’s position, in addition to the Defense Ministry’s. In Extract 2, the struggle between the participants can be identified as the source of alleged military discussions with China, in addition to the MOFA’s announcement that “the discussions with Japan have been ongoing” (official translation). In the previous stretch of text, the journalist mentioned that (s)he was informed that the military discussion with China was also ongoing, and asked this to the spokesperson. Similarly, Extract 3 features the battle between the spokesperson and the journalists in regard to the timing of the announcement about North Korea’s nuclear experiments that appears, up to that point, to have been delayed. All these tensions and battles in the ST were entirely omitted in the TT.

This practice, however, was not limited to several lines, but was found across the entire corpus, often involving drastic changes in content i.e.the deletion of dozens of sentences in translation. Similar battles were identified in domestic issues, too, which mostly involve journalists’ negative comments about the government.The 10 January briefing, for example, featured, in 42 sentences, the battle over how the Ministry publicised the information, including a journalist’s critical comment, “브리핑을 하지 마시고 관보를 통해서 알려주세요” [[You] don’t do [press] briefings and make an announcement through the official gazette], and the spokesperson’s response, “저는 그런 코멘트는 도저히 수용을 못하겠습니다” [I cannot accept such comments], but this battle was completely omitted in the TT; hence, the target reader has no idea about the intense tension of the original exchange. Another drastic omission occurred in the 19 January briefing translation. In the ST, the announcement of the inspection result of CNK International, a diamond mining company, had involved a 31 sentence intensive battle. Kim Eun-suk, ambassador for Energy and Resources in the MOFA, was being prosecuted for selecting a “부실한” [weak] CNK International to receive governmental aid as part of “energy cooperation diplomacy” (Heo 2018). The head of CNK, Oh Deok-gyun, had been accused of allegedly “leading government officials to release false information about a diamond mine in Cameroon for which CNK International won the mining rights” and the acquisition overpriced CNK stocks (Lee H 2014). Although the issue was heavily debated in subsequent briefings on 26 and 31 January, none had been translated. Also in the 31 January briefing translation, the prosecution’s “전례없는” [unprecedented] search of the MOFA, and a journalist’s urge for the issue to be announced were entirely omitted. A policy of an institutionalised and collective voice results in such repetitive translation strategies, thereby ignoring both the battles between spokespersons and journalists, and any negative remarks about the MOFA and government.

Regarding Japan, what was salient was that the debates over individual opinions or their appropriateness tended to be omitted in the translations. In these cases, an emphasis on “the collective, institutionalised voice” featured not only in the TT but also in the ST.

Extract 4

Source: 29 May 2012

<답변> 제 개인의견을 물으시는 것입니까?/

<질문> 아닙니다./ 한국 국민들의 입장으로 그렇게 요청해도 된다고 생각하십니까?/                                                   


[spokesperson] <A> Are you asking my personal opinion?/

[journalist]<Q> No. / Do you think that the Korea nationals can demand that?/

Extract 5

Source : 29 March 2012

<질문> 대한민국의 주적이 어디입니까?/

<답변> 지금 무엇에 관한 질문을 하시는 것입니까?/

<질문> 북한이 우리의 주적입니까?/ 일본이 주적입니까?

<답변> 질문을...지난번에도 제가 말씀드렸습니다만, 이 질문을 한 분이 계속 이어가시고, 지정도 받지 않고 독점하시는 부분에 대해서는.../

<질문> 워낙 중요한 대외관계이고, 독도문제이기 때문에 계속 물어보는 것인데,/

<답변> 중요하고, 안 하고에 대한 것은 기자분이 일방적으로 판단하시는 것은 바람직하지 않다고 생각합니다./ 일단 조금 이따가 질문을 제가 나중에 다시 할 수 있는 기회를 드릴 테니까./

<질문> 한 마디만 얘기할게요./ 외교부가 지금 하고 있는 조치가 일본의 독도에 대한 침략 야욕에 대해서 제대로 정확히 대응하고 있느냐고 묻고 싶은 것이죠./


[journalist] <Q> Which country is South Korea’s main opponent?/

[spokesperson] <A> What is the question now?/

[journalist] <Q> Is North Korea our main opponent?/ Is Japan the main opponent?/

[spokesperson] <A> The question...as I mentioned before, about this matter that one person asks questions continuously and exclusively without interruption .../

[journalist] <Q> That is because [South Korea and Japan] is a very important international relation and this matter is related to Dokdo./

[spokesperson] <A> [[I]] think that it is not appropriate that a journalist decides whether the matter is important or not. / I will give you an opportunity to ask again. /

[journalist] <Q> Let me make one comment./ I wanted to ask if the Ministry is accurately taking action against Japan’s ambition to invade Dokdo. /

In Extract 4, the spokesperson and the journalist argue about what it is possible to report about a Korean Supreme Court judgement. A week earlier, the Court had included the statement that the right to demand compensation for illegal actions against humanity and the Japanese colonial administration was not included in the South Korea-Japan agreement on compensation signed in 1965 (Lee 2012). As a consequence, individuals who had suffered during the colonisation could now demand compensation in addition to the compensation received as a result of the 1965 agreement[10]. In the published translation, the definition used by the spokesperson regarding what “개인적으로” [individually] actually meant, and the journalist’s comments were deleted; thus the struggle between what the spokesperson was prepared to say in the name of institution or as his personal opinion, and what the journalist would like to have heard, was entirely omitted in the translation. Extract 5 features the similar battle, however in it, the spokesperson evades answering ‘which country South Korea’s main opponent is’ by changing the subject and criticising the journalist’s continued questioning. The issue here concerns Dokdo, described in Japanese textbooks, and also in a Japanese diplomatic white paper, as Japanese territory. The territorial dispute regarding Dokdo, known as Takeshima in Japan, but presently administered by South Korea, has been a long-simmering source of tension between the two countries. This is why discourses about Japanese related issues are particularly steeped in diplomatic overtones and are likely to spark debates regarding in whose names particular words are spoken. Choe (2012) states that this long history of tension “is rooted in good part in anger over Japan’s brutal dominance” of Korea some decades ago; however, Japan is now an ally of South Korea. In this context, the MOFA repeatedly asserts its aim is to develop its relations with Japan, while “squarely” facing up to the history (see Figure 6). The institutional objectives of MOFA, therefore, appear to be to distance the government in a wider sense from the critical perspectives of journalists, as in “일본의 독도에 대한 침략 야욕” [Japan’s ambition to invade Dokdo], which are omitted from the English translation. This is indeed indicative of the spokesperson’s briefing translation as “self-translation”, which encapsulates the intention and ideology of both the ST and the institution.

Bearing the foregoing in mind, there follows a keyword analysis in order to examine the extent to which frequently omitted patterns are considered key compared to a reference corpus, the entire corpus, since the numerous omissions appear to be dubious. Then, the parallel corpus will be used to scrutinise keywords in context together with their collocates.

4.2. A keyword analysis of omissions in translation

A keyword analysis is useful for the examination of significantly more or less frequent words in a research corpus than in a reference corpus (Mikhailov and Cooper 2016: 133). Table 3 shows 12 keywords of omissions in the translation.

Table 3. Keywords of omissions in the briefing translation

While the recurrent omission of 모두발언 and demonstratives could be construed as stylistic changes, Table 3 reveals a particularly interesting result that ‘we’ and the ‘inspection result’ of ‘the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea’ appear significantly more frequently than they do in the entire corpus, but are repeatedly omitted in the translation. Considering that in Korean, subjects are frequently omitted, the level of importance of 우리들이 [we] is high. The negative keywords in Table 3, such as 북한 [North Korea], 중국 [China], and 정부 [government], however, do not mean that the related issues are less important in the research corpus. The result could be attributed to its small size, compared to the reference corpus, as the related issues significantly appear in the previously discussed sentential omission analysis. This supports the need to integrate quantitative analyses with qualitative ones to allow for a more holistic view, as it does in this study.

The search word, 우리들이, in the corpus when the ‘only Korean’ function is activated, produces its collocates, as in Figure 7, such as 조치 [measures], 소통 [communication], 이 문제 [this issue], 연구하고 [studying], 시행하고 [reinforcing], 관보[official gazette], 조사 [investigation], CNK 보도자료 [CNK press release], 감사원 [the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea], 대응[responding], and 감사 [inspection], all of which indicate the MOFA’s positions, measures, and policies regarding certain diplomatic and political issues.

Figure 7. A snap shot of 우리들이 in the omission

The collocate of 우리들이 with the other keywords, 감사원 and 감사결과 [inspection result] interestingly reveals the MOFA’s reiterated emphasis on its position regarding the CNK International stock-rigging scandal that was harshly criticised by journalists, whereas it was most frequently omitted in the translation, thus undermining the markedly critical original voice.

4.3. Discussion

The analyses revealed that diplomatic and political issues concerning North Korea, Japan, and China, together with domestic issues, particularly containing negative comments about the MOFA, were frequently omitted in the translations, while reiterations tended to be added to the translation involving Japan and China. In particular, the battles between spokespersons and journalists regarding the content, timing and method of announcement were frequently omitted, when sensitive or provocative issues with North Korea, China, and the MOFA were the subejct. Particularly striking, in the case of Japan, was the MOFA’s recurrent discursive pattern of distancing itself from journalistic criticism by changing the subject or criticising the journalists by contesting in whose name certain words had been spoken. Also, all such tensions were invariably omitted in translations. All these results are indicative of the MOFA’s ideology that appreciate highly of those relations, and informed decisions in order to promote and maintain its positive image by emphasising significant changes in translation, thereby facilitating the receiving audience to have, in Mingxing’s words, “positive identification thereof” (2012: 2).

The MOFA’s “institutionalised and collective voice” policy results in repetitive translation strategies that are revealed in sentential translation changes and keyword analyses, which suggest that its institutional voice is of greater importance. In this respect, Koskinen’s and Schäffner et al.’s considerations regarding an ‘institutional voice’ apply to the MOFA. Such recurrent translation practices of ignoring negative comments about the institution, diplomatically sensitive tensions, and critical perspectives, as advanced by journalists, support Koskinen’s argument that “all institutions constrain and regulate behaviour” (2008:18). Such an argument also includes local translation strategies.

However, the data in this study do not seem to be strictly standardised in terms of terminologies and stylistics (Choi 2018), in contrast to the cases of the European Central Bank (Schäffner, Tcaciuc and Tesseur 2014: 16) and the Czech translation department, which, according to Svoboda (2018: 28), uses a machine translation service. The MOFA responded to my enquiry on 17 December in 2013 that “the translators do not use any computer-assisted tools for translation”. These examples show the importance of examining in detail case studies set in different institutions.

5. Conclusion

This article introduced an efficient parallel corpus methodology as a means of examining both qualitative and quantitative changes in the translations of spokesperson’s briefings. Both the analysis and result confirmed the MOFA’s translations to be self-translations, in that the MOFA deliberately reconstructed and framed them in accordance with its institutional aims and ideologies, through the omissions of negative comments about the government and diplomatically sensitive and provocative issues pertaining to Japan, China, and North Korea, thereby downgrading the marked voice in the English translation.

Due to space restrictions, however, it has not been possible to incorporate an analysis of textual variations of different speakers in the ST and TT. Nevertheless, this aspect is worth examining in order to reveal to what extent individual speakers’ speech styles and idiolects contribute to the collective voice of an institution, how differently each speaker corresponds to journalists’ sensitive and provocative questions, and how differently, or similarly, the struggles between the participants are presented in translation as regards to the changes made. Because the current corpus incorporated briefings of only three speakers, for such an in-depth investigation, much more data would be required.

Another possible research area includes examining whose voices, such as journalists and their affiliations, are most frequently omitted in the translations, in order to shed important light on the MOFA’s institutional ideology. In this regard, the current study could be extended by incorporating data from different administrations that have differing political affiliations – such as by comparing President Park Geun-hye’s right-wing administration (2013– 17) with President Moon Jae-in’s left-wing administration (2017 to present), in the corpus, because many aspects of governmental changes, from administrative policy to translation policy, will be observable (Choi 2014).

Given the MOFA’s selective choices of texts and content for translations, the change patterns identified in this study reflect what it considers to be expedient to cover. In summary, this study supports previous studies by revealing that institutional translations inculcate the intentions and ideologies of those institutions.

Appendix: The list of data in the parallel corpus[11]

A1. The list of data and monthly keywords


This article has been developed based on the author’s unpublished PhD thesis, ‘A Corpus Based Genre Analysis of Institutional Translation in Korea’, completed at the University of Leicester in 2014. The author would like to thank anonymous reviewers who provided insightful ideas for this current article.


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[1] However, at the time of writing October 2018, no independent government organisation for translation  has been established in South Korea.

[2] The current corpus size in total approximates to 450,000 tokens of three genres of Korean institutional translations, (i) PBs of the spokesperson at the MOFA, (ii) presidential speeches of Lee Myung-bak, and (iii) the web-magazine of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Because of limited space, this article will focus on an analysis of PBs delivered in 2012.

[3] The MOFA produced 668 PBs between January 2008 and June 2012, of which 463 were translated into English; this does not include press releases, press conferences, and speeches.

[4] The focus of translating PBs depends rather on capturing the content for reference purposes, as I was informed when I enquired on 22 May 2012[4]; presumably, therefore, it is acceptable to make rather large-scale alterations.

[5] For Hunalign : http://mokk.bme.hu/resources/hunalign/ (accessed 09 January 2019).

[6] Korean is coded as 0, while English is coded as 1.

[7] The corpus recognises words by blanks.

[8] All Korean and their corresponding English sources were extracted from the MOFA’s website. For Korean PBs: http://www.mofa.go.kr/www/brd/m_4078/list.do (accessed 27 October 2018)

and English: http://www.mofa.go.kr/eng/brd/m_5679/list.do (accessed 27 October 2018).

[9] From 15 November 2012, the MOFA reveals affiliations and names of journalists who ask in the briefings. Dongailbo is one of the right wing news outlets in South Korea, and Channel A belongs to the same company, DongA Media Group.

[10] The Agreement on the Settlement of Problem concerning Property and Claims and the Economic Cooperation between South Korea and Japan in 1965 was an agreement on compensation for the Japanese colonisation. However, the issues of comfort women and forced labor have long been controversial because the agreement was understood not to include the individual human right to demand compensation.

[11] CBJ : Cho Byung-jae, CTY : Cho Tai-young, HHJ : Han Hye-jin

About the author(s)

The author works as an assistant professor at Keimyung University, South Korea. Her research interests include a corpus-based translation discourse analysis, pre-modern Korea in translation, audiovisual translation, and English language teaching with translation. She has published the Korean translations of “Discourse and the Translator” by Basil Hatim and Ian Mason and “Linguistics and the Language of Translation” by Kirsten Malmkjær. Currently, she is working on a research monograph, “Government Translation in South Korea: A Corpus-based Study” (working title), to be published by Routledge in 2020.

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

©inTRAlinea & Jinsil Choi (2020).
"Lost in Translation: a Parallel Corpus-based Study of South Korean Government Translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2496

Analysing multilingualism in drama and comedy:

the Italian dubbing of Lion and Demain tout commence

By Micòl Beseghi (University of Parma, Italy)


In recent decades, cinema has increasingly included and depicted multilingual realities (Heiss 2014). Starting from a discussion of multilingualism and its main functions on screen, this paper focuses on two multilingual films of recent production and of different genres – the drama Lion (Gareth Davis 2016) and the comedy Demain tout commence (Hugo Gélin 2016) in order to analyse the transfer operations (Zabalbeascoa and Voellmer 2014) found in the Italian dubbed versions. The aim of the study is to investigate how multilingual discourse is dealt with in the translated versions and to consider the implications of different translation strategies in terms of character portrayal and film genre.

Keywords: multilingualism, linguistic diversity, multilingual films, audiovisual translation, dubbing

©inTRAlinea & Micòl Beseghi (2020).
"Analysing multilingualism in drama and comedy: the Italian dubbing of Lion and Demain tout commence", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2495


The coexistence of different languages, language varieties and accents on screen is observable in a growing number of American as well as European films, which have been variously referred to as ‘polyglot’ (Dwyer 2005; Whal 2005 and 2008), ‘multilingual’ (Bartoll 2006), ‘plurilingual’ (Heiss 2004) and heterolingual (Voellmer and Zabalbeascoa 2014). Indeed, scholars in the field of Film Studies as well as Audiovisual Translation Studies have acknowledged a ‘multilingual turn’ (Meylaerts 2006: 2) or ‘multilingual commitment’ (O’Sullivan 2007: 84) in recent cinema: films have increasingly shown ‘the pressure of polyglossia, of national languages jostling up against each other’ (Kozloff 2000: 80), featuring characters who speak languages ‘in the way they would be used in reality’ (Wahl 2005) and representing ‘the richness and complexity of real-life multilingual realities’ (Bleichenbacher 2008: 21). In the past, linguistic realism was apparently not of primary importance: indeed, ‘the film industry, and particularly the Hollywood machinery, seems to have been traditionally reluctant to give voice to languages other than English’ (Díaz Cintas 2011: 216). However, the last few decades have seen growing concern with the representation of multiple languages in audiovisual productions (Parini 2017: 38).

This study focuses on the translation of two recent films, Lion (Gareth Davis 2016) and Demain tout commence (Hugo Gélin 2016), an Australian and a European production respectively, both characterised by the presence of multilingual dialogues, with the aim of illustrating the ‘transfer options’ (Zabalbeascoa and Voellmer 2014) adopted for the transmission of multilingual discourse to an Italian audience. Particular attention will be paid to the functions of multilingualism in the original films as well as in the translated versions. The two films provide the opportunity to analyse the phenomenon of multilingualism on screen in two different cinematic genres: drama (Lion) and comedy (Demain tout commence), where linguistic polyphony plays different roles and functions, especially in terms of character portrayal (Díaz Cintas 2011; De Bonis 2014a).

Multilingual films: definition and functions

The concept of multilingualism in film can be categorised in different ways and a number of definitions have been proposed by scholars in different fields. Following Corrius and Zabalbeascoa (2011), in this paper a multilingual film is understood as a film where more than one language or language variety is spoken, in other words, a film which may contain not only interlingual variation but also intralingual variants, such as dialects, sociolects and different accents (see also Beseghi 2017; Delabastita 2002; 2009; Heiss 2004; Voellmer and Zabalbeascoa 2014). Although multilingual films may include a vast range of languages, one language besides the main one is sufficient for a film to be considered multilingual (Stewart 2016). As Heiss (2014: 3) puts it, ‘linguistic diversity’ may be used ‘to point out an entire spectrum of intra- and interlingual forms that […] are perceived as diverse forms of language in reality and which are rendered in films (depending on their genre) as more or less stylized’. Voellmer and Zabalbeascoa (2014: 233) point out that multilingualism in films ‘does not have to be as obvious as the presence of English, Japanese, German and French in Lost in Translation’ and that there are ‘films which include intralingual variation (dialects, sociolects and idiolects) that stand out from one or more standard varieties’.

De Bonis (2015: 52) highlights the fact that multilingual films ‘refer to a rather diversified set of films whose common feature is that multilingualism itself plays a relevant role in the story and in the discourse’. Multilingualism can indeed be found in all film genres: comedies as well as dramas can be multilingual, especially when they tell stories of immigration or multiculturalism. De Bonis (ibid.) thus considers multilingual films a ‘meta-genre’, which may potentially include all cinematic genres. What is relevant for the AVT scholar and the translator are the functions of multilingualism in a given film (Díaz Cintas 2011).

In fact, as highlighted by a number of recent studies, multilingualism in film can perform a variety of functions:

  • realistic function (Bleichenbacher 2008; De Bonis 2014a; 2014b; 2015; Díaz Cintas 2011; Wahl 2005): when a film aims to provide a lifelike representation of linguistic diversity, showing characters that speak the language that they would speak in reality;
  • ideological function (Delabastita 2002): for example, when languages are used to foreground an intercultural encounter, clash or ‘conflict’ (De Bonis 2015), and are thus given a symbolical value;
  • comic function (Chiaro 2007): when a film uses languages to create humorous effects or ‘confusion’ (De Bonis 2015), for example, in situations of misunderstanding or miscommunication.

These functions are obviously broadly related to the cinematic genre in which multilingualism appears: in a comedy, multilingual exchanges may be used in humorous situations or for comic effects, while dramas may use linguistic diversity to represent social, cultural or ethnic conflicts. One specific function may be predominant in a film or have a role in the plot; however, more than one function may be found within the same film to fit the requirements of a specific scene or context.

Translating multilingual films

Linguistic diversity on screen represents a challenge for AV translators, who are now faced with an increased volume of multilingual films (Baldo 2009; Beseghi 2017; Bleichenbacher 2008; De Bonis 2014a; 2014b; 2015, Díaz Cintas 2011; Dwyer 2005; Monti 2014; 2016; O’Sullivan 2011; Parini 2015; 2017; Wahl 2005; 2008). L3 theory (Corrius and Zabalbeascoa 2011; Voellmer and Zabalbeascoa 2014; Zabalbeascoa and Voellmer 2014) is currently one of the most useful approaches in the analysis of complex phenomena related to linguistic diversity in films and their translation. In this model, a distinction is made between L1 – the main source language, L2 – the main target language, and L3, which refers to any other language found in the source and target texts (Corrius and Zabalbeascoa 2011: 113). L3 is a concept defined as:

a deliberate use of expressive means (i.e., a language or language variety) that is distinguishable from most of the rest of the text, and this definition would include both foreign languages and dialects or other variations of a given language, including idiolects, sociolects and even special languages or varieties made up by the ST author. (Zabalbeascoa 2012b: 324)

AV translators often have to deal with texts that are not entirely monolingual or linguistically uniform, in that they contain some form of L3. Voellmer and Zabalbeascoa (2014) thus propose the term ‘intertextual translation’ rather than ‘interlingual translation’ to describe the translation of multilingual films where there is not one single SL to be translated into a single TL. The distinction between L1 and L3 is not always clear cut and, as Zabalbeascoa and Voellmer (2014: 36) state, has to be made by the translator and/or by the scholar. L1 in a multilingual film is generally quantitatively more present and it is usually the language of the country where the film is produced and/or shot, although this is not always the case. For instance, Call Me by Your Name by the Italian director Luca Guadagnino (2017) is set in Italy but it is an American production, and the L1 is English, while Italian, which is also quantitatively less present in the film, is L3. 

According to Corrius and Zabalbeascoa’s L3 theory (2011), the L3 segments of the ST can be rendered in various ways in the TT, yielding different results and effects in the translated version, such as standardisation, change of function or connotation and even L3 invisibility (ibid: 126). Zabalbeascoa and Voellmer (2014: 38-39) identify three main transfer options:

  • neutralisation, in which L3 disappears by being omitted or substituted by L2,
  • adaptation, in which L3TT differs from L3ST,
  • transfer unchanged, L3TT and L3ST coincide, although L3 connotations and/or functions may change in the target culture. Transfer unchanged may occur as ‘verbatim transcription’, in which the same L3 is maintained, or ‘conveyed accent’, in which a non-native accent is maintained (ibid: 39).

When L2 and L3ST coincide, the translator may apply a substitution with a different L3 - a different language or the same language but with a distinctive accent - or zero translation, in which case L3 becomes invisible in the translated text. In their study of the different translations of Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino 2009) Zabalbeascoa and Voellmer (2014) point out that the Italian dubbed version maintains all L3s (German and French) through transfer unchanged, except for L3 Italian, which is substituted by the Sicilian dialect in the translated version through adaptation (see also Parini 2015). Conversely, in the Italian dubbed version of Letters to Juliet (Gary Winick 2010), which portrays the story of an American girl in Verona, the Italian language spoken by the protagonist (L3ST), as well as L1 (English), is neutralised and rendered with standard Italian, thus making L3 invisible (De Bonis 2014a).

The translation of multilingual films is often problematic and thus considered a challenge (Diadori 2003; Heiss 2004), especially in countries where dubbing is popular (Parini 2015: 29). Italy is traditionally a dubbing country (Parini 2009; Ranzato 2015) and films are usually dubbed for general release. As noted by Parini (2015: 27), ‘the practice of dubbing has become so deeply rooted in Italian culture that it is difficult to imagine a radical change in the context of audiovisual translation in the near future.’ Recent studies on multilingual films have nonetheless highlighted changing trends in the audiovisual practices of dubbing countries such as Italy, Germany and Spain (Beseghi 2017; Díaz Cintas 2011; Heiss 2004; 2014; Parini 2015; 2017). Such practices include the integrated use of dubbing and subtitling, which means that at least some exchanges in L3 are preserved – i.e., the original soundtrack is maintained – and subtitles in L2 are added to provide a translation of such exchanges. Some exchanges may be left unchanged without adding subtitles in L2, which seems to be a widespread strategy when no subtitles in L1 are provided in the original version, or when the lines in L3 are not indispensable for the comprehension of the scene (Bartoll 2006). This tendency shows ‘an attempt to reduce the levelling of language differentiation’ (Parini 2015: 31) in countries where the multiple languages of multilingual films have nearly always all been dubbed into L2.

The analysis

The analysis in this paper draws mainly on the concepts and taxonomies of L3 theory as defined by the studies of Corrius and Zabalbeascoa (2011), Voellmer and Zabalbeascoa (2014) and Zabalbeascoa and Voellmer (2014). It focuses on two case studies of two recent films belonging to different cinematic genres – Lion (Gareth Davis 2016) and Demain tout commence (Hugo Gélin 2016), a biographical drama and a comedy respectively – in order to examine the transfer options used for L3 in the Italian dubbed version and, more specifically, to consider the implications and effects of these operations in the translated films. The qualitative analysis of the original and dubbed versions considers both interlingual and intralingual variants as well as the roles and functions which L1, L2 and L3 play in the fictional situation represented. Indeed, the choices made by the translators to deal with multilingualism - or ignore it - depend on the ‘functional value’ (Díaz Cintas 2011: 220) that linguistic plurality has in the films. The analysis also investigates the relations between the characters’ identities and the language(s) they speak, with the aim of tracing multilingualism in terms of its significance for character portrayal across different cinematic genres. Indeed, both films tell a multicultural story in which multilingualism plays an essential role and often has a diegetic function (Díaz Cintas 2011). As observed by de Higes-Andino (2014: 222), when translating multilingual scenes, the choice a translator has to make is whether to mark multilingualism or not, that is, to preserve or to obliterate the multilingual nature and connotations of the original film. If the translator chooses to mark multilingualism, then L3 will be present at least to some degree in the translated version.

While the analysis in this paper is principally focused on intertextual translation as defined by Voellmer and Zabalbeascoa (2014, see above), extra-diegetic and diegetic forms of translation within the original film (O’Sullivan 2007; 2011) are indisputably important elements to consider, since translation is usually an integral element of multilingual films. The most common form of extra-diegetic translation in multilingual films is ‘part-subtitling’, defined by O’Sullivan (2007: 81) as subtitles that are ‘appended to part of the dialogue only, […] planned from an early stage in the film’s production, and […] aimed at the film’s primary language audience.’ Interpreting, on the other hand, is a diegetic mode of translation, which occurs when a character in a film translates for (an)other character(s), thus providing the audience with a translation of L3 words or phrases. As claimed by Díaz Cintas (2011: 220), ‘whether or not other languages are subtitled in the original and in the translated version will also depend on the expectations of the average viewer’.

Dubbing multilingualism in drama: the case of Lion

This section will investigate the presence of multilingualism in Lion as well as in its Italian dubbed version. Lion (Gareth Davis, 2016, Italian title: Lion - La strada verso casa) is a biographical drama adapted from Saroo Brierley’s memoir A Long Way Home (2013). It tells the true story of a five-year-old Indian boy, Saroo, who gets lost in Kolkata, thousands of kilometres from home. He survives many misadventures before being adopted by a couple in Australia. 25 years later, he decides to look for his birth family in India. The action takes place in India and later shifts to the Australian island state of Tasmania, where Saroo starts his new life with his adoptive family. The film was well received internationally, winning many accolades and earning six Oscar nominations at the 89th Academy Awards.

Lion, without a doubt, can be considered a multilingual film. The first half, set in India, is mainly spoken in Hindi, with some exchanges in Bengali, while the second part, set mainly in Australia, is mostly spoken in English, which occasionally alternates with Hindi, for example when Saroo has memories of his Indian family or when he finally goes back to India to find his mother. The distinction between L1 and L3 in this film is not so easily definable: the very first language that the audience hear at the beginning of the film is Hindi, followed by some lines in Bengali when the location moves from Khandwa to Kolkata. Although the film is an Australian production and was first distributed in Anglophone countries (the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom), the very first word in English is actually uttered 45 minutes into the film. For quantitative reasons, one could argue that English and Hindi might be considered two distinct L1s. However, since the intended target audience is primarily Anglophone, it is more plausible to consider English the main language (L1) of the film, and Hindi and Bengali the secondary languages, or L3 (L3Hi, L3Be). Indeed, when L3Hi and L3Be are spoken, an extra-diegetic form of translation is generally provided and part-subtitles in L1 appear on the screen or, less frequently, a diegetic form of translation is provided (i.e., a character of the film acts as an interpreter). Lion presents a complex linguistic situation, including, in addition to interlingual variation, intralingual variants such as different varieties of English (e.g., Australian English, Indian English) and accented English (e.g., Indian accent), which together with L3, contribute to character portrayal and to reinforce socio-cultural issues represented in the film.

Lion revolves around the themes of family, roots, identity and home. In terms of functions, the presence of multilingualism unquestionably serves a realistic aim, specifically in relation to the geographical locations of the film; it would be unrealistic for the characters to speak English in an Indian village. Moreover, languages play a significant role on a symbolic level in the film. Saroo’s life journey, from his hometown to Kolkata, and then to Australia and finally back to his hometown is symbolically accompanied by language diversity. When little Saroo is lost in Kolkata, he cannot understand a word because everyone speaks Bengali and he can only speak Hindi. His sense of loss and isolation in a huge, unfamiliar city is intensified by the challenge of speaking and understanding only Hindi in a place where Bengali is the common language. After his adoption, Saroo learns English, which becomes his first and only language, erasing all memories of Hindi. Later, his struggle with conflicting loyalties to his adoptive country and to his country of origin is again symbolised through language. When Saroo is at college, he meets a group of Indian students, who speak English with a noticeable Indian accent, which is pitted against Saroo’s perfect English and Australian accent. This linguistic contrast and cultural clash, symbolising different lingua-cultural identities, is explained by Saroo Brierley himself in his biography (2016: 116):

They spoke English with me, but among themselves they spoke Hindi, the first I’d heard in years. My first language was almost completely forgotten – the Indians at high school had only spoken English too – and so initially I experienced a kind of reverse culture shock. In the company of the international students I was for the first time stripped of my Indianness – rather than being somewhat exotic, I was the Australian among the Indians.

After spending 25 years in Australia, Saroo goes back to his hometown to look for his lost family. Once again, he is in a place where everyone speaks Hindi, the language he learnt as a child and forgot when he started a new life in another country. The first woman he meets addresses him in Hindi, and Saroo instinctively replies in English. This incapacity to communicate emphasises the fact that Saroo feels lost all over again, a foreigner in his own country of origin. This sense of loss is again explained by Saroo in his memoir:

I look Indian, but my Western clothes are probably a little too new, my hair carefully styled – I'm obviously an outsider, a foreigner. To make matters worse, I can’t speak her language. So when she speaks to me, I can only guess that she’s asking me what I want here. (ibid: 2)

It seems a little thing, to not speak the language, but it carried an extra weight for a man making an emotional journey home after years of being lost. It was like being lost all over again, unable to understand what anyone said or to make people understand me. (ibid: 166)

As stated by Díaz Cintas (2011: 216), ‘language has the power to symbolise both understanding and misunderstanding’ and ‘to portray the different social, cultural and personal dimensions of the various characters’. It is clear that multilingualism in Lion suggests a sense of rupture, alienation and loss, as it follows the complicated journey of a conflicted character, divided between different ‘homes’. As observed by Cronin (2006: 45),

The condition of the migrant is the condition of the translated being. He or she moves from a source language and culture to a target language and culture so that translation takes place both in the physical sense of displacement and in the symbolic sense.

Interestingly, the film provides a more realistic representation in terms of language use than its literary source, which, apart from some instances of code-mixing, is mainly monolingual.

Again, according to Díaz Cintas (2011: 220), ‘if languages recur regularly they should be translated in such a way that the target viewer is aware of the language difference’. In the dubbed version of Lion, L2 (Italian) substitutes L1 (English), and the following transfer operations are applied:

  • transfer unchanged - verbatim transcription: L3Hi and L3Be are kept unchanged and part-subtitles in L2 are provided. Occasionally, part-subtitles in L2 are not provided (no translation);
  • transfer unchanged - conveyed accent: non-native English spoken by Indian characters is translated into Italian with a recognisable Indian accent, revoiced by an Italian dubbing actor who imitates an Indian accent;
  • neutralisation: L2 (standard Italian) substitutes L1 spoken with a foreign accent by Indian immigrants.

Clearly, multilingualism is mostly preserved in the Italian dubbed version of Lion, since all the lines in L3Hi and L3Be are maintained in the translated version through transfer unchanged, and part-subtitles in L2 are provided whenever they appear in the original version. Obviously, part-subtitles appear when it is essential that the audience understand the meaning of L3 exchanges. When no translation (extra-diegetic or diegetic) is provided, it is because it is not fundamental for the audience to understand the content of L3 lines, or because the filmmaker might not want the audience to understand, thus emphasising the alienating effect caused by the lack of understanding. In Lion, there are only two occasions when no translation is provided. The first is when Saroo arrives in Kolkata: he does not know where he is and everyone speaks a language he does not understand (Bengali). He calls for help but no one understands. All the voices he hears are meaningless noises: in this part of the film no subtitles in L1 or L2 appear on the screen, and the viewers can feel the same sense of alienation as the protagonist, until a worker at the train station invites Saroo to ‘speak Bengali’. From this moment on part-subtitles appear on the screen, and the viewers become aware that there has been a shift in language (i.e., from Hindi to Bengali).

The other occasion in which no translation is provided is when Saroo goes back to India after 25 years in Australia. When he speaks to the first woman he meets, she replies in Hindi. This multilingual exchange is not subtitled, so that the viewers can experience the same disorientation as the protagonist, until an Indian man who can actually speak English arrives and helps him to communicate.

In the dubbed version of Lion, transfer unchanged is used for L3Hi and L3Be, so interlingual variation, as well as the symbolic value of the original multilingualism, are preserved. Since the original soundtrack is left unchanged, the audience can hear the original voices of the actors. However, in the case of characters who use code-switching, a discrepancy arises in the dubbed version: ‘bilingual characters turn out to have different voices depending on the language they speak’ (De Bonis 2014: 259). An example of this is when an Indian character working at the orphanage, Mrs Sood, gives Saroo and two other orphans a last-minute English lesson before they are adopted by English-speaking families, and teaches them English words while they are sitting at a table set in western style (see example below). Mrs Sood’s continuous shift from L1 to L3Hi is maintained in the dubbed version, but while L3Hi is spoken by the original voice of the actress, the lines in L2 – which substitutes L1 – are spoken by the dubbing actress. Viewers may either notice and perhaps be annoyed by this incongruity, or they may accept it: after all, watching a dubbed film always requires a willing suspension of disbelief (Zabalbeascoa 2012a: 67). In any case, the audience has to accept another inconsistency in the dubbed version: the words taught to the Indian orphans are in Italian in the translated version, while it is clear that they will be adopted by Anglophone families (e.g., Australian). Again, the viewers will have to be aware that they are watching a dubbed film and that L2 is used to substitute L1 (Zabalbeascoa and Voellmer 2014).


MRS SOOD: [In Hindi with part-subtitles: What’s this called?]


MRS SOOD: Fork. Yes, good. [In Hindi with part-subtitles: And this?]


MRS SOOD: Knife. Nice no. Knife. Ok?





MRS SOOD: [In Hindi with part-subtitles: Come si chiama questa?]

ALL CHILDREN: Forchetta.

MRS SOOD: Forchetta. Sì, bravi. [In Hindi with part-subtitles: E questo?]

ORPHAN GIRL: Coltlello.

MRS SOOD: Coltello.

MRS SOOD: [In Hindi with part-subtitles: What’s this called?]


MRS SOOD: Fork. Yes, well done. [In Hindi with part-subtitles: And this?]

ORPHAN GIRL: Knife [mispronounced in Italian].

MRS SOOD: Knife.

The Italian dubbed version of Lion clearly marks multilingualism. Considering the significant quantity of L3 in this film, the approach appears to indicate a step forward in the Italian dubbing scenario, since until recently it was noted that ‘it is more common in Italian translations of multilingual films containing longer subtitled scenes to opt for monolingual dubbing’ (Heiss 2014: 14). However, with regard to intralingual variation, both transfer unchanged (conveyed accent) and neutralisation are found. This means that L1 spoken with foreign accents is not always carried over to the translated text, hence some linguistic diversity is lost. While L1 spoken by Indian characters is translated into Italian with a noticeable Indian accent through conveyed accent, L2 (standard Italian) substitutes L1 spoken by Indian immigrants. In terms of functional value, this operation has the effect of erasing the different lingua-cultural identities depicted in the film. The cultural clash represented by the different language usage of Saroo and his Indian college mates is obliterated in the dubbed version, and the role of multilingualism in character portrayal downplayed. While Saroo believes that he is perfectly integrated into Australian society, both linguistically and culturally, the other Indian immigrant characters are more conscious of their origins, and they display this cultural affiliation, as well as their immigrant condition, linguistically. It is after meeting and talking to these characters that Saroo starts remembering his origins and begins a symbolic as well as physical journey to find his home and identity. While in the original version viewers cannot fail to notice the linguistic conflict, in the Italian version Saroo and the Indian immigrant characters come across as native speakers, and the symbolic value of linguistic differentiation is lost. As pointed out by Heiss (2014: 21), the rendering of intralingual variation in translation is still a thorny issue, as ‘these differences cannot be completely transplanted into another language area’. However, in this case, the transfer option of conveyed accent could perhaps have been applied more consistently in the dubbed version in order to avoid standardisation of linguistic variety and flattening of the linguistic representation of characters.

Dubbing multilingualism in comedy: Demain tout commence

This section of the paper will investigate the use of multilingualism in the comedy Demain tout commence as well as in its Italian dubbed version. Demain tout commence (Hugo Gélin 2016, English title: Two is a family, Italian title: Famiglia all'improvviso - Istruzioni non incluse) is a French remake of the Mexican film Instructions Not Included (Eugenio Derbez 2013). The film is initially set in the south of France, where the protagonist, Samuel, lives a carefree life as a single man. Unexpectedly, an ex-girlfriend (Kristin) shows up with a baby girl she claims is his child. Kristin then leaves the child with Samuel, and disappears. Samuel goes to London to try and find Kristin, but he ends up raising his child (Gloria) by himself there, with the help of a French friend (Bernie). After eight years, Kristin shows up again, this time with her American boyfriend, and wants to take Gloria back, but Samuel fights to keep his daughter with him.

The film is clearly multilingual, with French and English continuously alternating throughout the movie. The English language is present to such an extent that it might seem reasonable to consider it an L1 together with French. However, as the film is originally aimed at a French audience, and the English words are fewer than the French dialogue lines, we can consider French the main language (L1) and English L3 (L3Eng). As in Lion, both diegetic translation (characters acting as interpreters) and extra-diegetic forms of translation (part-subtitles) from L3 into L1 are generally provided in the original film, since it is targeted at a French audience and the use of the two languages is often meaningful in terms of plot development. English is spoken in the film in different varieties: British, American and non-native (L3BrEn, L3AmEn, L3nnEn). Moreover, L1 French is also found in non-native varieties (L1nnFr).

In terms of functions, because the film is set in different countries (France and the United Kingdom), the languages first of all serve a realistic aim: the characters speak the language they are supposed to speak on the basis of their origins, their geographical location and their interlocutors. In Demain tout commence, multilingualism also has a diegetic function, in that the protagonist has to overcome a series of obstacles, including the language barrier. Furthermore, language gains a symbolic value when it is used to emphasise a specific situation in the plot: the protagonist suddenly finds himself having to take care of a baby girl, which is a totally new experience for him. His feelings of disorientation and fear are exacerbated by the fact that he is starting a new life in a country whose language he does not speak or understand very well, and where people do not understand him.

More importantly, multilingualism is used in this film to create comic effects resulting from misunderstandings between speakers of different languages or from mistakes in the foreign language (e.g., grammatical mistakes, poor pronunciation). When the French protagonist arrives in London, he finds it difficult to speak English and to understand other people, which often leads to confusion and comical situations. Many humorous scenes in the film are based on multilingual exchanges, and more specifically on misunderstandings deriving from multilingual conversations. Very often the comic effect is obtained through the contraposition between the protagonist’s non-native English and other characters’ native English. Furthermore, Samuel often uses a hybrid mixture of French and English, which constitutes a very peculiar kind of L3, a sort of multilingual idiolect, which obviously represents a challenge from the point of view of translation.

In the dubbed version of Demain tout commence, L2 (Italian) substitutes L1 (French) and the following transfer operations on L3Eng segments are applied:

  • transfer unchanged – verbatim transcription: L3Eng is kept unchanged and part-subtitles in L2 are either provided or not (no translation);
  • transfer unchanged – verbatim transcription with a different accent: some segments of L3Eng are revoiced by Italian actors who speak with a non-native accent;
  • neutralisation: L2 (standard Italian) substitutes L3Eng, thus erasing some multilingual exchanges (e.g., code-switching).

With regard to non-native L1 and L3, the following transfer operations are found:

  • transfer unchanged – verbatim transcription with a different accent: segments of L3nnEn and L1nnFr are revoiced by Italian actors who speak with a different non-native accent;
  • transfer unchanged – conveyed accent: segments of L3nnEn and L1nnFr are revoiced by Italian actors who speak with the same foreign accent, or fake it;
  • neutralisation: L2 (standard Italian) substitutes segments of L1nnFr, thus erasing the foreign accent.

As noted above, multilingualism in this film is primarily used as a vehicle for humour. It is interesting to note that in the original version of the film, no extra-diegetic translation is provided when the protagonist does not understand someone speaking English, as in the example reported below. In the dubbed version, L2 substitutes L1 and L3TT is the same as L3ST (English), and part-subtitles are not provided. In this way, in both versions, the viewers are given no assistance in interpreting the multilingual exchange. Moreover, the Italian translation uses the idiomatic expression ‘non capire un tubo’ (not understand a thing), thus creating a wordplay with ‘tube’ and reinforcing the humorous effect.



SAMUEL: Mister, do you know what to go to the tub?

MAN: Tub?


MAN: Ah, tube! Yeah. (speaking very fast) If you’re looking for the tube you should take that corridor over there, go right through customs, you continue straight ahead, you’ll see a sign just by the exit, you go down the stairs, hop on the line. It’s quite simple, actually.

SAMUEL (laughing): J’ai rien compris. Je suis désolé. Tu parles trop vite. [back translation: I don’t understand. You speak too fast.]

MAN: Fuck off.

SAMUEL: Ça j’ai compris. C’était plus lent. [back translation: I got this. You spoke more slowly.]


SAMUEL: Mister, do you know what to go to the tub?

MAN: Tub?


MAN: Ah, tube! Yeah. (speaking very fast) If you’re looking for the tube you should take that corridor over there, go right through customs, you continue straight ahead, you’ll see a sign just by the exit, you go down the stairs, hop on the line. It’s quite simple, actually.

SAMUEL (laughing): Non ho capito un tubo. Mi dispiace, parli troppo in fretta. [back translation: I don’t understand a thing. I’m sorry, you speak too fast.]

MAN: Fuck off.

SAMUEL: Ah, questo l’ho capito, era più lento. [back translation: I got this. You spoke more slowly.]

The absence of subtitles in L1 and thus in L2 is sometimes justified by the use of diegetic interpreting. Gloria, who is a bilingual character speaking English and French, often translates for her father, functioning as a mediator between the two languages and cultures. The example below shows the use of both diegetic and extra-diegetic forms of translation, when Gloria translates from L3Eng to L1/L2 for her father, and the presence of part-subtitles in L1/L2 when Gloria is not translating.



DIRECTOR: Get some rest mate, it’s gonna be a big day tomorrow.

SAMUEL: Qu’est-ce qu’il a dit là? Il parle trop vite. [back translation: What did he say? He speaks too fast.]

GLORIA: Il a dit qu’il fallait que tu te reposes ce soir. [back translation: He said you need to get some rest tonight.]

SAMUEL: Ah, yes!

DIRECTOR [with part-subtitles in L1]: I can’t believe you still don’t understand a word of English.

GLORIA [with part-subtitles in L1]: I’m here to translate.

DIRECTOR: Get some rest mate, it’s gonna be a big day tomorrow.

SAMUEL: Che ha detto? Va troppo veloce. [back translation: What did he say? He speaks too fast.]

GLORIA: Dice che devi riposare stasera. [back translation: He says you need to get some rest tonight.]

SAMUEL: Ah, yes!

DIRECTOR [with part-subtitles in L2]: I can’t believe you still don’t understand a word of English.

GLORIA [with part-subtitles in L2]: I’m here to translate.

Demain tout commence is strongly characterised by the use of code-switching. Gloria is not the only bilingual character in the film: her mother Kristin and Samuel’s friend Bernie are also proficient in two languages, and continuously shift from English to French according to the context and to their interlocutor. As mentioned above, the transfer options used in the dubbed version range from transfer unchanged (L3TT coincides with L3ST or L3ST segments are spoken by Italian dubbing actors) to neutralisation (L3ST is substituted by L2). As in Lion, when L3Eng is preserved and the original soundtrack is left unchanged, bilingual characters thus have two different voices in the dubbed film (i.e., the voice of the original actor/actress for L3 and the voice of the dubbing actor/actress for L2). In the example below, Bernie speaks with two different voices in L2 and L3.



BERNIE (talking on the phone) [with part-subtitles in L1]: No, I just want you to do your fucking job before I do mine, which is fire you! (he hangs up) Ça fait chier, merde! [back translation: Fuck! Shit!]

SAMUEL: Vous parlez français? [back translation: Do you speak French?]

BERNIE: Oui, ça m’arrive. [back translation: Yes, it happens.]

BERNIE (talking on the phone) [part-subtitles in L2]: No, I just want you to do your fucking job before I do mine, which is fire you! (he hangs up) Che palle, merda! [back translation: Fuck! Shit!]

SAMUEL: Posso chiederle una cosa? [back translation: Can I ask you something?]

BERNIE: Sì, diciamo di sì. [back translation: Yes, why not.]

When L3ST is substituted by L2, code-switching is not maintained in the dubbed version, and the connotations or functions associated with the language switch may be lost. The example below reports a multilingual dialogue between Samuel, Gloria and Kristin, where different operations are applied to L3 segments, bringing about different effects in the target text. In the original film, Gloria quotes a phrase from Shrek, and her American accent is unmistakable. In the Italian version, L3Eng is preserved but it is revoiced by an Italian dubbing actress with a non-native accent, and the character’s American accent is lost. This operation leads to an inconsistency in the dubbed version, since Kristin makes a meta-linguistic comment about Gloria’s American accent, which is actually absent.



SAMUEL: Eddie Murphy, ma chérie, il est dans Shrek. Tu te rapelles de l’âne? C’est lui. Enfin, c’est sa voix. [back translation: Eddie Murphy, my dear, he is in Shrek. Do you remember the donkey? It’s him. Well, it’s his voice.]

GLORIA: Ah oui! (in an American accent) [with part-subtitles in L1] You definitely need some tic tacs cause your breath stinks!

KRISTIN: Elle a un accent drolement américain pour une petite anglaise. [back translation: She has a funny American accent for a little British girl.]


SAMUEL: Eddie Murphy ha fatto Shrek, ti ricordi Ciuchino? Ecco, in originale era la sua voce. [back translation: Eddie Murphy was in Shrek. Do you remember Donkey? Well, it was his voice in the original.]

GLORIA: Ah sì! (in an Italian accent) [part-subtitles in L2] You definitely need some tic tacs cause your breath stinks!

KRISTIN: Ha un accento stranamente americano per una piccola inglese. [back translation: She has a funny American accent for a little British girl.]

Soon afterwards, Gloria and her mother start a conversation in English, thus deliberately excluding Samuel. The function of creating an out-group (Monti 2014) in the conversation, however, is not maintained in the Italian dubbed version, since L2 substitutes L3 (neutralisation) and erases the multilingual nature of the exchange. The language shift which symbolically represents the changing relationship between Gloria and her mother is lost in the dubbed version.

From the perspective of translation, the most challenging scenes are those in which non-native varieties are used (L3nnEn and L1nnFr). One of the most significant examples is Samuel’s idiolect, which is a mixture of English and French, characterised by a strong French accent. This non-native variety of English is rendered in the dubbed version with a mixture of English (L3) and Italian (L2), most of the time characterised by an Italian accent (verbatim transcription with different accent, see example below).



KRISTIN: Samuel doesn’t speak English.

SAMUEL: Si, si, si, bien sure. Attends. Si si si. He speak, he speak. Sometimes, a little. Sometimes, no. It depend, en fait. It depend. It depend mais he speak, bien sure.


KRISTIN: Samuel doesn’t speak English.

SAMUEL: Sì, sì sì, invece. Aspetta. Sì, sì, sì. He speak, he speak. Sometimes, a little. Sometimes, no. It depend, in realtà. It depend. It depend ma he speak, come no.

However, other transfer operations are found for the rendering of non-native varieties. As noted above, humorous scenes in the film are often based on non-native speakers’ grammatical mistakes and bad pronunciation in L1 and L3. In the film, the two non-native speakers Samuel and Loel tease one another because of their mistakes and incorrect pronunciation in English and French respectively. While in the dubbed version L1nnFr is substituted by non-native Italian, maintaining the English accent (conveyed accent), L3nnEn spoken by Samuel is rendered inconsistently. Sometimes he speaks English with an Italian accent, and at other times he speaks English with a French accent. In the second case, the conveyed accent actually leads to incongruity in the dubbed version, since the viewers would not expect an Italian-speaking character to speak English with a French accent. The example below shows how the Italian dubbed version retains Samuel’s French pronunciation of the phrase ‘the South’ (/zə ˈzaʊs/)[1]. However, the same humorous effect is not obtained in the Italian version, which on the contrary sounds quite unnatural.



SAMUEL: The Zous.

LOEL: The Zous?

SAMUEL: Si, the Zous, near the sea. You know.

LOEL: Oh, right, the South!

SAMUEL: C’est ce que je viens de dire, the Zous. [back translation: That is what I’ve just said, the Zous.]


SAMUEL: The Zous.

LOEL: The Zous?

SAMUEL: Sì, the Zous, near the sea. You know.

LOEL: Oh, right, the South!

SAMUEL: Ma è quello che ho detto, the Zous. [back translation: But that is what I said, the Zous.]


An example of neutralisation of L1nnFr is found when Samuel is casting some English women and looking for a substitute for Gloria’s mother. He requires an actress who can speak French as well as English, but all the women are clearly British and speak French with a strong, noticeable English accent, and often switch from French to English. The use of multilingualism here is both realistic and comic, as well as enhancing Samuel’s sense of frustration. Although it preserves the words in L3, the dubbed version neutralises L1nnFr, substituting it with L2 (standard Italian), thus reducing both the realist and the comic functions.

As discussed in detail above, the main functions of multilingualism in Demain tout commence are associated with realism and humour. Since the protagonist is a Frenchman who cannot speak English and refuses to learn it, his French origins are continuously emphasised in the film through meta-linguistic comments. These however disappear in the Italian version in order to maintain the illusion of credibility necessary in dubbing, as can be seen in the two examples below.



BERNIE [part-subtitles in L1]: I’m terribly sorry, sir. He’s from France.


BERNIE [part-subtitles in L2]: I’m terribly sorry, sir. He’s not English.




SAMUEL: Ah, donc tout le monde parle français à Londres, c’est ça le concept? [back translation: Oh, so everyone speaks French in London, don’t they?]


SAMUEL: Ma a Londra siamo tutti stranieri, come mai?

[back translation: So we’re all foreigners in London. How come?]


Nevertheless, not all the references to France are removed in the dubbed version, thus asking the viewers to suspend their disbelief. In the example below, the comic effect is obtained through the phonetic similarity between the name Loel (Kristin’s American boyfriend) and the French football team ‘l’OM’ (Olympique Marseille). Although Samuel’s French origins are normally hidden, this French cultural reference is maintained in the dubbed version.



LOEL: And you’re Samuel, right?

SAMUEL: Right.

LOEL: Loel.

SAMUEL: Loel, moi je préfère l’OM. Désolé. back translation: Loel, okay, I prefer O.M., I’m sorry.]

LOEL: What?

SAMUEL: Loel. L’OM. Team. Football.

LOEL: Ah, football!

SAMUEL: Voilà, ça. [back translation: There you go, yes.]

LOEL: And you’re Samuel, right?

SAMUEL: Right.

LOEL: Loel.

SAMUEL: Loel, ok, io preferisco l’OM. Mi dispiace. [back translation: Loel, okay, I prefer O.M., I’m sorry.]

LOEL: What?

SAMUEL: No. Loel. L’OM. Team. Football.

LOEL: Ah, football!

SAMUEL: Ecco, sì. [back translation: There you go, yes.]


From the analysis of the original and the translated versions, it can be concluded that the dubbing of Demain tout commence generally marks multilingualism. However, the range of operations applied to L3 segments are varied. The rendering of non-native varieties is especially problematic, and the transfer operations found in the dubbed film range from neutralisation to transfer unchanged, which may lead to a decreased level of humour. Another challenging area is the management of bilingual speakers in translation: although the language alternation or shift is mainly preserved, some incongruities arise, such as the presence of two different voices for the same character. This may be detrimental to the illusion of credibility that is part of filmmaking (Zabalbeascoa 2012a), or perhaps it is the price to pay to preserve multilingualism in a dubbed film. On the other hand, if L3 is revoiced by the dubbing actors, the original accent is inevitably modified and some inconsistencies may arise as well, for instance when meta-linguistic comments do not match the character’s actual speech.


This paper set out to examine multilingualism and its functions focusing on two case studies: Lion (Gareth Davis 2016) and Demain tout commence (Hugo Gélin 2016). These two recent films, an Australian and a European production, were selected because they provide the opportunity to analyse the functions of multilingualism in two different cinematic genres - drama and comedy.

Multilingualism in the two films is associated mainly to realism, symbolic/socio-cultural meanings and humour. Regardless of their genre, both films include multilingualism for realistic purposes: the characters speak the language or language variety they would speak in reality. In the biographical drama Lion, multilingualism also takes on symbolic meanings related to character portrayal and to cultural identity. In particular, the life journey of the protagonist, including the experiences of getting lost as a child, adoption and finding his roots again, is represented symbolically by the alternation of language(s) that he speaks, forgets and finally remembers. In the comedy Demain tout commence, multilingualism largely functions as a vehicle for humour, to create situations of misunderstanding and comic effects arising from non-native uses of L1 and L3. In particular, the multilingual idiolect spoken by the protagonist is a mixture of L1 and L3, with a distinctive accent, which indicates his resistance to the ‘other’ language and culture and which is in sharp contrast with the bilingual skills of the other characters.

The analysis of the dubbed versions, which draws on L3 theory (Corrius and Zabalbeascoa 2011) and on the analytical model defined by Voellmer and Zabalbeascoa (2014) and Zabalbeascoa and Voellmer (2014), has highlighted that the transfer operations applied in the translation of the two films generally preserve multilingualism, especially with regard to interlingual variation. In both translated versions, the overall strategy is to mark multilingualism, principally by maintaining the original soundtrack when L3 is spoken, with or without subtitles in L2. This tendency is particularly evident in the Italian version of Lion, where the first 45 minutes are entirely in L3 - Hindi and Bengali - accompanied by Italian subtitles on the screen. These qualitative findings are in line with the increasing propensity to preserve linguistic diversity in Italian dubbed films that has been observed in recent studies on multilingualism (Bonsignori and Bruti 2014; De Bonis 2014a; 2014b; 2015; Monti 2014; 2016; Parini 2015). Moreover, both films show the use of a combination of translation modalities (i.e., dubbing and subtitling), which has been indicated by Heiss (2004; 2014) as the most viable solution for dubbing countries. Indeed, Heiss (2014: 22) emphasises ‘the importance of a flexible, pragmatic, and theoretical translation approach’ to be applied to the increasingly complex scenario of audiovisual products. It is by employing flexible approaches that the multilingual reality of a film can be preserved, at least partially, even in dubbing (ibidem).

However, as far as the translation of intralingual variation is concerned, the dubbed versions of the films analysed do not apply a consistent set of operations. Ultimately, they do not display the same degree of linguistic realism, since intralingual variants and foreign accents are often neutralised or modified. By erasing part of the linguistic diversity, also part of the socio-cultural connotations or symbolic meanings of the original film are lost and the humorous effects can be lessened. Finally, it is interesting to note how the same transfer option can give rise to different effects depending on the film genre, where obviously multilingualism serves different functions. The qualitative analysis also highlighted some incongruities that characterise the translated films, such as the use of different voices spoken by the same character or meta-linguistic comments which do not match the characters’ actual speech.

Heiss (2014: 20) claims that ‘cinema viewers and film reviewers are strongly critical of dubbing that masks the multilingual elements of films that contain various languages’, so it is probably safe to say that if multilingualism is preserved in a dubbed film, Italian viewers may be ready to willingly suspend their disbelief after all and fully appreciate the linguistic diversity preserved in translation, despite the discrepancies that may arise. As pointed out by Zabalbeascoa and Voellmer (2014: 27), ‘the theoretical proposal for L3 still requires a large body of case studies and examples that can confirm and further refine the model.’ This study has applied the L3 model to two recent multilingual films, hoping that it will open up possible paths for future research that could explore the phenomenon of multilingualism and its translation across different genres (drama, comedy and others) on a larger scale in order to identify patterns, as well as investigating target audiences’ perception of multilingualism in dubbing.


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Zabalbeascoa, Patrick (2012a) “Translating Dialogues in Audiovisual Fiction” in The Translation of Fictive Dialogue, Brumme Jenny and Anna Espunya (eds), Amsterdam/New York, Rodopi: 63–78.

---- (2012b) “Translating Heterolingual Audiovisual Humor: Beyond the Blinkers of Traditional

Thinking” in The Limits of Literary Translation: Expanding Frontiers in Iberian Languages, Javier Muñoz-Basols, Catarina Fouto, Laura Soler-González, and Tyler Fisher (eds), Kassel, Reichenberger: 317–338.

Zabalbeascoa, Patrick and Elena Voellmer (2014) “Accounting for Multilingual Films in Translation Studies. Intratextual Translation in Dubbing” in Media and Translation: An Interdisciplinary Approach, Dror Abend-David (ed), New York & London, Bloomsbury: 25–51.


Ae Fond Kiss (Ken Loach, 2004, UK)

Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017, Italy; France; Brazil; USA)

Demain tout commence (Hugo Gélin, 2016, France, UK)

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009, USA; Germany)

Instructions Not Included (Eugenio Derbez, 2013, Mexico)

Letters to Juliet (Gary Winick, 2010, USA)

Lion (Garth Davis, 2016, Australia, USA, UK)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Joel Zwick, 2002, Canada, USA)


[1] The French language does not include the dental fricatives θ or ð, so French speakers often replace them with /s/ and /z/.

About the author(s)

Micòl Beseghi is Lecturer of English Language and Translation at the University of Parma and holds a PhD in Comparative Languages and Cultures from the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (2011). Her main research interests and publications are in the fields of audiovisual translation, the didactics of translation, and learner autonomy in foreign language education. She has published articles on audiovisual translation in national and international collections, focusing on multilingualism in films, the transposition of orality in subtitling, subtitling as a pedagogic tool in translation classes, the phenomenon of fansubbing, and re-translations. She recently published a monograph entitled Multilingual Films in Translation (2017, Oxford: Peter Lang). She also wrote and co-authored articles on autonomous foreign language learning in academic contexts and the use of corpora in translation teaching.

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

©inTRAlinea & Micòl Beseghi (2020).
"Analysing multilingualism in drama and comedy: the Italian dubbing of Lion and Demain tout commence", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2495

La oralidad fingida en La profezia dell'armadillo de Zerocalcare.

Reflexiones en torno a la traducción de la variación lingüística

By Rosa M. Rodríguez Abella (Università di Verona, Italy )

Abstract & Keywords


This study examines the graphic novel La profezia dell’armadillo (The Armadillo Prophecy, 2011) by Zerocalcare, an autobiographical comic -the author describes a personal journey from his early childhood years to the present day– which occupies a central position in his narrative career. This novel, moreover, provides an exceptional gateway into Zerocalcare’s storytelling and his media or transmedia ecosystem. The article is organized by first reviewing the concept of feigned orality. Thereafter, the notion of transmedia storytelling is presented and illustrates the author's biographical and creative trajectory. Based on the words of the author himself –“scrivo come parlo” (I write how I speak, 2015)– we identify the idiolect of the main characters, a mixture of standard Italian and expressions in Romanesco dialect, and analyse the Spanish translation. Finally, we draw some conclusions on the translation method used to render the Romanesco dialect, based on a comparison of some original and translated segments from the novel.


El presente trabajo se centra en la novela gráfica La profezia dell’armadillo (2011) de Zerocalcare, un cómic autobiográfico –el autor realiza un recorrido personal desde los primeros años de su infancia hasta la actualidad- que ocupa una posición central en su trayectoria narrativa. Una novela que se erige además en punto de acceso privilegiado a las narrativas de Zerocalcare y a su ecosistema mediático o transmedia. El artículo está organizado de la siguiente manera. En primer lugar, se revisa el concepto de oralidad fingida. A continuación, se presenta la noción de narrativa transmedia y se ilustra también la trayectoria biográfica y creativa del autor. Después, partiendo de las palabras del dibujante: “scrivo come parlo” (2015), se procede a identificar el idiolecto de los principales personajes –una mezcla de lengua estándar y expresiones en dialecto romanesco- y su translación al castellano. En último lugar, teniendo en cuenta la comparación entre los segmentos textuales originales y los traducidos, se extraen conclusiones sobre el método traductor seleccionado para trasladar el dialecto romano.

Keywords: feigned orality, dialect, Translation Studies, comics, transmedia storytelling, oralidad fingida, dialecto, traductología, cómic, narrativa transmedia

©inTRAlinea & Rosa M. Rodríguez Abella (2020).
"La oralidad fingida en La profezia dell'armadillo de Zerocalcare.", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2494

En los cómics […] las palabras se fusionan a la imagen y ya no sirven para describir,
sino para proporcionar sonido, diálogo y textos de apoyo.

Eisner (2007: 124)

1. Introducción

En este estudio, de manera simplificada, concebimos la ‘oralidad fingida’ u ‘oralidad construida’ como la manifestación de lo hablado en lo escrito (Oesterreicher 1996; Brumme 2008; Briz Gómez 2009).[1] Según Brumme (2008: 9), la oralidad fingida “crea la ficción o la ilusión de un habla auténtica que, en general, caracteriza la manera de hablar de una figura o protagonista imaginado, o sea, el habla inventada por alguien (novelista, guionista, dramaturgo, varios autores o adaptadores, etc.)”. Con todo, a nadie se le escapa que la denominación de oralidad fingida "no designa un único fenómeno homogéneo, sino que cubre más bien una multitud y gran variedad de manifestaciones de lo oral en lo escrito" (Brumme 2008: 7) dependiendo, por ejemplo, de los géneros textuales, medios de comunicación  de masa, etc.

Por lo que se refiere al cómic, la oralidad o discurso directo dispone de un propio espacio específico: el del globo o bocadillo.[2] Es más, en este medio “la parola è al contempo all’interno dell’immagine –«quando esce graficamente dalla bocca dei personaggi»- e distinta da essa” (Groensteen 2011: 117). De modo que, “la presenza visibile di personaggi in situazione di elocuzione nell’immagine conferisce alle parole inserite nelle nuvolette lo status di scambio orale” (ibid. 117), pues, como apunta Eisner (2007: 154), el diálogo de los bocadillos “está concebido para ser oído en la cabeza del lector”. Por tanto, aunque el soporte físico a través del cual se transmite el enunciado es el medio escrito, no cabe duda de que los recursos de los que se sirve el cómic permiten crear una verdadera ilusión de oralidad.[3] Ciertamente, de acuerdo con la terminología utilizada por Necioni (1976), se trata de un parlato scritto,[4] es decir, de una escritura oralizada que imita la técnica de elaboración propia del lenguaje oral espontáneo.[5]

Por lo demás, como es notorio, el cómic es un arte en el que se conjuga lo narrativo y lo visual, donde texto e imagen se alían, se funden.[6] En particular, por lo que se refiere a las funciones de la palabra en el cómic, la palabra proporciona informaciones que la imagen no da, entre otras, por ejemplo:

especifica un significado entre varios posibles (anclaje), orienta ideológicamente la interpretación del lector-espectador, da nombre a lo que la imagen no puede nombrar (espacio, tiempo, personajes), posibilita el estilo directo, al ponerse en boca de los personajes; tiene también efectos narrativos: contribuye a crear el mundo diegético, resume las acciones, con lo que actúa sobre el ritmo del relato, permite anticipar lo venidero vehiculado por la imagen y puede interrumpir el desarrollo del relato visual (Muro 2004: 97).

En la narración, los personajes no aparecen únicamente conformados por su concreción física  o su papel como sujetos en la trama, sino también por su discurso (Varillas 2009: 71), es decir “por sus propias palabras y por la variedad diafásica [...], diastrática [...] o diatópica [...] de su uso lingüístico” (ibid. 71). El lenguaje construye así a los personajes.

2. Narrativas transmedia y Zerocalcare

De forma sintética, podemos definir las narrativas transmedia (de ahora en adelante NT) como “un tipo de relato en el que la historia se despliega a través de múltiples medios y plataformas de comunicación, y en el cual una parte de los consumidores asume un rol activo en ese proceso de expansión” (Scolari 2013: 46).[7] En cuanto a la paternidad del concepto de NT, esta se suele atribuir a Henry Jenkins (2003)[8] aunque, en realidad, fue Marsha Kinder quien introdujo el término "transmedia" en los estudios sobre comunicación en 1991, cuando empleó el compuesto disyuntivo "transmedia intertextuality" para referirse sobre todo “a las relaciones que se producían entre televisión, cine, videojuegos y juguetes” (Tur-Viñes y Rodríguez Ferrándiz 2014: 116).[9]

Sea como fuere, lo novedoso de este fenómeno narrativo reside en el flujo de contenidos y audiencias a través de diversos formatos -digitales y tradicionales- con el objetivo de que el usuario viva siempre una experiencia satisfactoria por medio de cada relato y plataforma elegida, porque:

In the ideal form of transmedia storytelling, each medium does what it does best-so that a story might be introduced in a film, expanded through television, novels, and comics, and its world might be explored and experienced through game play. Each franchise entry needs to be self-contained enough to enable autonomous consumption. That is, you don’t need to have seen the film to enjoy the game and vice-versa. As Pokemon does so well, any given product is a point of entry into the franchise as a whole (Jenkins 2003).

Por tanto, los usuarios van delineando su experiencia de consumo según sus gustos y nivel de implicación en la narración. Es más, la participación del público en la expansión hace que sea imposible determinar dónde concluye un determinado universo narrativo transmedia porque “los mundos narrativos transmedia se sabe dónde comienzan... pero nunca dónde acaban” (Scolari 2014: 73).[10] Si partimos de las reflexiones de Jenkins sobre las diferentes exploraciones y contenidos de las NT en distintas partes del mundo, no cabe duda de que las narrativas de Zerocalcare, seudónimo de Michele Rech (Arezzo,1983),[11] se alejan claramente del modelo tradicional hollywoodiano en el que las NT sirven principalmente para estimular la adhesión a la “nave nodriza”. De hecho, el mundo de Michele Rech se encuadra más bien en una tipología o “modelo independiente en el que muchos medios, todos producidos con bajo presupuesto (Fig. 1), trabajan en combinación para crear una experiencia valiosa” (Jenkins 2013).[12] Presentada en el MAXXI (Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo) de Roma, la exposición Scavare fossati-nutrire coccodrilli es un ejemplo reciente que ilustra las narrativas y circulación de los contenidos realizados por Zerocalcare para diferentes soportes.[13]

Fig. 1. Página de inicio del blog www.zerocalcare.it; calendario ilustrado por Zerocalcare para la revista Internazionale (diciembre 2017); portada de la revista semanal L’espresso (14 de enero de 2018) y el mural 'Welcome to Rebibbia’ de 40 m² realizado por el dibujante en el exterior de la estación de la parada de metro de Rebibbia (Roma), entre el 2 y 3 de diciembre de 2014.

Centrándonos ahora en Zerocalcare, como el proprio dibujante cuenta, la decisión de dedicarse a hacer cómics fue una elección bastante tardía porque en realidad a lo que él aspiraba desde niño era a ser paleontólogo y estudiar los dinosaurios (Fig.2).

Fig. 2.  Zerocalcare, La profezia dell’armadillo, p.72.[14]

Efectivamente, en una larga entrevista con Laura Scarpa (2015: 5), el dibujante confiesa:

dopo i 17 anni mi sono reso conto che per farlo avrei dovuto studiare moltissimo, e quindi ho ripiegato sulla cosa più paracula: essendo io madrelingua francese mi sono iscritto a lingue pensando di fare il traduttore e che mi sarebbe stato più facile. Ma ho capito che anche essere madrelingua no è poi un gran vantaggio per tradurre, perché ci sono da fare comunque esami come glottologia, morfologia… e che non avevo voglia di fare nemmeno quello.

Así pues, visto que no tiene ganas de estudiar, empieza a trabajar y al mismo tiempo dibuja carteles para conciertos punk y otras manifestaciones culturales, pues Zerocalcare es un dibujante con alma underground, una persona muy implicada en los movimientos políticos y sociales en los que participa de forma activa (Scarpa 2015). En este sentido, es de sobra conocida su vinculación con los centros sociales romanos, ambiente que empieza a frecuentar a los 14 años.[15] Se trata de una experiencia que el autor considera determinante tanto en el terreno personal como en su formación profesional en el campo de la ilustración:

tutto quello che ho fatto e il motivo per cui l’ho fatto, delle mie prime produzioni era legato ai centri sociali e al politico. C’era sempre la necessità di dover comunicare una campagna, un messaggio ben preciso. L’idea era di rendere un volantino più accattivante e fruibile che se fosse stato composto di solo testo […]. La mia “scuola” è stata quella delle assemblee, dove 50 persone sono tutte attente a spaccare il capello in quattro su ogni cosa che si scrive, enuncia e disegna, e ognuno dà un valore a ogni dettaglio di un disegno […] (Scarpa 2015: 18).

No sorprende, pues, que en su primer cómic afronte los sucesos del G-8 de Génova en los que murió un joven activista,[16] aunque, como el propio autor señala, “non subito dopo, perché allora avevo 17 anni ed ero superscosso da quello che era successo” (Scarpa 2015: 10).[17] De hecho, la realización de la crónica sobre el G-8 coincide con su primer año en la Scuola Romana di Fumetto.

Posteriormente, entre el 2005 y el 2006 realiza sus primeros trabajos profesionales: portadas para la revista semanal Carta, ilustraciones para la página cultural de Liberazione, portadas o cómics para La Repubblica XL, etc. Actividades que, desde los 15 años, compagina con la publicación de dibujos y cómics en internet. Por ejemplo, para Zuda, subsello de la editorial DC Comics, realiza el webcómic de zombis Safe Inside. En realidad, Zerocalcare sobrevive haciendo un poco de todo: dando clases particulares de francés, traduciendo documentales de caza y pesca, realizando encuestas, etc., es decir, enlazando un trabajo con otro.

El cambio sustancial en su trayectoria profesional se produce, en buena medida, gracias al éxito del blog www.zerocalcare.it, espacio web fruto de la  insistencia de su mentor y amigo Marco Dambrosio (Makkox): “sono stato trascinato da Makkox (Fig. 3). E’ lui che ha registrato l’indirizzo, ha aperto il sito, ha caricato le prime storie. E ha avuto ragione” (Castelli 2012).

Fig. 3. Le avventure di @makkox e @zerocalcare # Gazebo #gazebosocialnews (30 septiembre de 2016).

En efecto, como el propio Calcare comenta a propósito del blog:

la cosa è piaciuta, la gente si era esaltata, io ero spronato da questo. L’unico modo che spinge a fare è ricevere una risposta dal pubblico, se tu disegni per te stesso a pagina 5 hai già smesso. Se non hai un feedback, “sì stai facendo bene”, come fai ad avere la forza di continuare? (Scarpa 2015: 54).

Por ello, el webcómic constituye un elemento clave en el éxito de este ilustrador. Desde el principio, el blog tiene muchas visitas y se comparte también mucho en las redes sociales. Así, en muy poco tiempo, el sitio web le proporciona un público inesperadamente grande.[18] Por consiguiente, Calcare no duda en reconocer que si tuviera que pensar en cómo reorganizar su vida, seguramente el blog ocuparía un lugar principal porque “è quello che rende possibile tutto. Tutta l’idea di fare dei libri e le altre cose discende dal blog” (Scarpa 2015: 57).[19]

Fig. 4. Blog www.zerocalcare.it (abril de 2017).

No obstante, claro está, cada medio hace lo que mejor sabe hacer (Jenkins 2007).[20] Por ejemplo, en el caso del blog www.zerocalcace.it (Fig. 4), los contenidos tienden a ser breves, se cuentan historias simples y cortas, porque, como apunta Calcare, “il blog è molto limitativo dal punto di vista del racconto, sono storie brevi che non hanno respiro ed è difficile anche solo immaginare un qualche filo conduttore, seppur labile” (Scarpa 2015: 58). Por ello, reconoce que en el blog relata lo que le “fa rosicare, nel senso che poi i temi sono proprio le cose che mi irritano, che mi urtano, oppure che trovo particolarmente buffe…” (Scarpa 2015: 63). No obstante, no cabe duda de que las historias del blog suponen un punto de acceso privilegiado a las narrativas del dibujante, un universo que, por supuesto, se desarrolla de manera más pormenorizada en las novelas gráficas pero también, por ejemplo, en el cine (Fig.5).[21]

Fig. 5. Post de Instagram de Zerocalcare con motivo
del estreno de la película La profezia dell’armadillo (30 de julio de 2018).

3. La profezia dell’armadillo

La profezia dell’armadillo se erige en el primer libro de Zerocalcare. Una obra que, siguiendo el consejo y ayuda de Makkox, el dibujante autoedita a finales de 2011. Sucesivamente, en 2012, el cómic es reimpreso en color por la BAO Publishing; ese mismo año obtiene en Lucca el premio Gran Guinigi como Miglior Storia Breve. Por lo que se refiere a esta obra, Zerocalcare subraya que es el primer cómic que dibuja solo por el puro placer de dibujarlo, libre de vínculos o compromisos políticos: “è la prima storia in cui ho tirato fuori qualcosa di personale, nata da un’esigenza di raccontare qualcosa di mio…” (Scarpa 2015: 65) y, en efecto, la escribe a raíz de la muerte de Camille (Fig. 6), una amiga de infancia de la que siempre estuvo enamorado. El dibujante confiesa que “sentía pavor de olvidarla” (Pérez 2016), por eso pensó que lo único que podía hacer para fijar su memoria y las emociones que él tenía cuando estaba viva era un cómic (Barranco 2016). [22] Por ello, el título de la obra alude a las esperanzas decepcionadas a lo largo de la vida:

mi amiga murió sin que yo le llegara a decir que la quería, que estaba enamorado de ella. Es un libro sobre las ocasiones perdidas y las expectativas traicionadas, que no son lo mismo, pero que de igual modo han estado presentes en mi vida. Con lo de la «profecía del armadillo» también me refiero a las decepciones de mi generación: teníamos unas esperanzas que finalmente no se cumplieron (Pérez 2016).[23]

La narración se nutre pues de las vivencias personales del dibujante, la autorreferencia se erige así en el elemento vertebrador de la historia narrada, porque, como admite el viñetista: “in realtà, il mio fumetto è fondamentalmente autobiografico, e i personaggi sono venuti molto spontaneamente, sono quelli della mia vita. E pensarli graficamente pure…” (Scarpa 2015: 49).[24]

Fig. 6. Zerocalcare, La profezia dell’armadillo, p.14.

A decir verdad, Calcare confiesa que el único personaje que le dio algún que otro quebradero de cabeza fue el suyo y en este sentido señala:

rappresentare se stessi nel fumetto è più difficile che rappresentare gente che conosci, per esempio, io eccedo in bamboccioneria quando mi rappresento. Roma non ti perdona mai se sei falso, se fai lo sborone, se millanti di essere cose che non sei, è una città in cui vieni messo alla berlina […]. Roma ha una vita di strada molto vera, molto genuina, se ti prendi dei meriti che non hai, qualcuno di sicuro prima o poi ti tira uno schiaffo per dimostrare che non sei il figo che hai millantato (Scarpa 2015: 49).

Por lo demás, este cómic se estructura a partir de episodios cortos donde, a raíz de la muerte de Camille, el dibujante en compañía del armadillo –su conciencia– evoca los momentos felices y también traumáticos de su adolescencia. El autor nos cuenta pues su día a día y al mismo tiempo va rememorando mediante flashbacks esa época juvenil marcada, entre otras cosas, por su incapacidad para comunicar sus sentimientos.[25]

4. La lengua de Zerocalcare

La profezia dell’armadillo transcurre en Roma, en el barrio popular de Rebbibia donde creció y aún hoy en día vive el dibujante, de ahí que el protagonista –el propio viñetista– y la mayoría de los personajes hablen en romanesco o bien en la variedad del italiano hablado en Roma. En cuanto al italiano de Roma, hay que puntualizar que:

a Roma (come a Firenze) lingua e dialetto non sono codici nettamente distinti (come invece a Milano e a Palermo, a Napoli e a Venezia), ma si dispongono lungo un continuum all’interno del quale è difficile tracciare una netta linea di separazione tra il dialetto e la varietà regionale bassa di italiano (D’Achille 2012: 9).

En efecto, como apunta D’Achille (2012: 9), “la risalita di tratti dialettali si ha spesso anche nel parlato informale delle persone cólte”,[26] de ahí que en Roma “non sembrano possibili enunciati totalmente in dialetto, ma forse neppure totalmente in italiano” (D’Achille 2012: 9). De modo que, en el panorama lingüístico italiano los límites entre italiano y dialecto romano son borrosos. Con todo, en líneas generales, “è possibile distinguere tra una varietà alta, una media e una bassa” (D’Achille 2011).[27]

Desde un punto de vista sociolingüístico, puede decirse que “quella romana è una situazione di diglossia senza bilinguismo in quanto non ci sono codici diversi che si spartiscano il repertorio verbale in base alla funzione (parlato/scritto; informale/formale) ma varietà di uno stesso codice usate in base al loro valore sociale” (Stefinlogo 2012: 32). Otro aspecto muy interesante y de especial relevancia para nuestro estudio es la tendencia, por parte de las generaciones más jóvenes, a reapropiarse del dialecto. Al respecto, Giovanardi (2006: 161) afirma que “il dialetto, in forme assai rinnovate rispetto al passato, ha trovato nuovi spazi nella comunicazione, in particolare giovanile, imprevedibile solo alcuni decenni or sono”.

Como veremos a continuación, la presencia del romanesco en este cómic es patente, ya que Zerocalcare recoge algunos de los rasgos fonéticos, morfológicos y sintácticos más característicos y consolidados del romanesco (v. Vignuzzi 1994; Trifone 2008 y D’Achille 2012). Por ejemplo, entre los fenómenos fonéticos destaca el del rotacismo, modificación que consiste en la transformación de un fonema en /r/. En particular, en el dialecto de Roma la /l/ preconsonántica pasa a realizarse como la vibrante simple /r/. Según D’Achille y Giovanardi (2001) este fenómeno es adscribible a la variedad media, en cambio, para Trifone (2008) el rotacismo se sitúa en el extremo más bajo del repertorio. Sea como fuere, como subraya Marotta, no obstante “la ridotta distanza strutturale esistente tra dialetto (da sempre percepito dai romani stessi come polo basso del continuum) e italiano romano (varietà alta, prossima allo standard)” se constata “tuttavia la stigmatizzazione consapevole di quei tratti di pronuncia sentiti come chiari marcatori socio- fonetici” (Marotta 2005: 2). En nuestro corpus hallamos numerosos ejemplos de vibrantización lateral (Fig.7, pp. 59, 15 y 45): quer mammut (en lugar de ‘quel mammut’), der ministero (‘del ministero’), ar centro (‘al centro’), quer cojone (‘quel coglione’), cor fiato (‘col fiato’), carcola (‘calcola’), etc.

Fig. 7. Zerocalcare, La profezia dell’armadillo, pp. 59, 15 y 45.

Además del rotacismo, forma socialmente marcada indicativa preferentemente de clase social baja, en las viñetas precedentes (Fig.7) se reflejan asimismo en el plano fónico otros fenómenos lingüísticos característicos del dialecto romano (cf. D’Achille 2011). En particular, en la primera viñeta de la imagen (Fig. 7, p. 59) se muestra la conservación de la e por i pretónica y postónica en los clíticos y en la preposición de, en concreto, en nun ce stanno i mammuth (‘non ci sono i mammuth’) y en de noi de Rebbibia (‘di noi di Rebbibia’).[28] En este mismo ejemplo (Fig. 7, p. 59), se recogen también gráficamente otros fenómenos propios del romanesco: la articulación de la /o/ como /u/ en la negación nun (‘non’); la sustitución del verbo essere no auxiliar con stare e igualmente un fenómeno dialectal de tipo fonético y morfológico: so’ donde se ha apocopado la sílaba final de la tercera persona de plural del presente del verbo essere (‘sono’). Muy recurrente también, como se puede apreciar en esta misma viñeta (Fig. 7, p. 59), el fenómeno de la aférisis: ‘nvidiosi!, que comporta la pérdida de la vocal átona inicial. Por último, en el plano léxico señalamos el uso de la forma dialectal rosicare, es decir, ‘provare invidia’.

En cambio, en la segunda viñeta (Fig. 7, p. 15), además de los casos ya señalados, hallamos también una marca sociolingüística ‘baja’ muy común en el romanesco, esto es, la transformación de la lateral palatal /ʎ/ en [j], en el caso de  coglione > cojone. En la tercera imagen (Fig. 7, p. 45), además de algunos rasgos ya enumerados, señalamos el uso del adverbio manco por ‘neanche’, expresión típica de la lengua oral que, como es sabido, ha dado lugar a unidades fraseológicas como: manco morto, manco per idea, manco per sogno, unidades con una alta frecuencia de uso en el italiano estándar y que ya aparecen recogidas en los repertorios lexicográficos. Hallamos además otro fenómeno muy característico del romaneso, esto es, la apócope de la silaba final en los infinitivos, es el caso de innaffia’, pero también de nebulizzaje, donde además se constata la transformación del pronombre personal átono en je. Por último, en la forma apelativa de base verbal acapito?!, que en este caso concreto actúa como marcador de control de contacto, cabe señalar la unión entre el auxiliar y el participio pasivo, además de la elisión de la h inicial.

Otro rasgo de oralidad digno de nota, sobre todo en el cómic, es la abundante presencia de interjecciones, una de las más comunes en el dialecto romano es ahò, voz que dependiendo de la situación comunicativa se presta a diferentes declinaciones (Fig. 8).[29]

Fig. 8, Zerocalcare, La profezia dell’armadillo, pp. 35, 47 y 50.

Nótese, por ejemplo, como, para marcar la crispación del protagonista, en la primera imagen (Fig. 8, p. 35) el autor explota tanto los recursos gráficos que le proporciona el medio: ojos fuera de las órbitas, apertura desmesurada de la boca, líneas cinéticas de color rojo, la forma del perigrama del bocadillo, etc.; como otros recursos orales: alargamiento de la vocal final de la interjección ahoo, uso de términos vulgares e introducción de la exclamación conclusiva mannagggiaarcazzo??! (‘mannaggia il cazzo’).[30]

Aparte de los rasgos que acabamos de citar, en nuestro corpus hemos hallado muchos otros elementos adscribibles al dialecto romano, aunque por obvias razones de espacio no podemos enumerarlos todos, entre los más destacados señalamos:

  1. Las formas verbales con la a- protética: aridaje (Zerocalcare 2016a: 24).[31]
  2. El uso de la partícula ci con el verbo avere: ce l’hanno chiuso (primera viñeta Fig.7), io nun c’ho capito (Fig.8, p. 35), io c’ho il sacco a pelo male che vada eh… (Zerocalcare 2016a: 13).
  3.  Formas verbales como: famo ‘na cosa veloce (‘facciamo una cosa veloce’) (Zerocalacre 2016a: 88).
  4.  La aféresis del artículo indeterminado tanto masculino como femenino: è ‘n’artro fuorisede (Zerocalcare 2016a: 117).
  5.  El uso del adverbio mo’ (‘ora, adesso’): vabbe’ s’è capito mo’ basta (Zerocalcare 2016a: 75), etc.

En definitiva, en la narración el romanesco se erige en el medio elegido por el autor para reflejar el bagaje sociocultural de los diferentes personajes y su pertenencia a un ambiente determinado: el barrio romano de Rebibbia.

5. Zerocalcare en español

La profezia dell’armadillo es la primera obra de Zerocalcare que se traduce al español. Carlos Mayor Ortega, traductor, periodista y profesor es el artífice de la versión que en mayo de 2016 publicó el sello editorial Reservoir Books.[32] En el texto meta (La profecía del armadillo 2016), comprobamos que se elide el prefacio de Makkox,[33] alterándose por tanto el paratexto original. En cambio, las otras formas constitutivas externas se mantienen, grosso modo, casi idénticas a las del texto origen (TO).[34]

Por lo demás, como ya hemos puesto de relieve en el apartado precedente, el TO se caracteriza por la presencia del romanesco. Sobre la finalidad y los usos textuales de los dialectos, coincidimos con Hurtado Albir (2004: 589) cuando afirma que “la función social del dialecto en el TO puede ser de muy diverso tipo (añadir color local, diferenciar socialmente, marcar procedencia geográfica, etc.)”. En el caso de Zerocalcare consideramos que el viñetista se sirve sobre todo del dialecto para construir la identidad de sus personajes, de manera que las marcas geográficas y diastráticas utilizadas por los protagonistas no solo concurren a hacerlos más creíbles, sino que facilitan también su caracterización desde el punto de vista social. Nos hallamos, por tanto, ante un texto que plantea un reto fascinante y complejo al traductor: encontrar en la legua meta (LM) la manera de restituir acertadamente esas inflexiones características que connotan la proveniencia sociolingüística de los diferentes personajes.

A propósito del trasvase de la variación lingüística, aunque este es uno de los aspectos más profusamente analizados dentro de los estudios de traducción (Catford 1965; Nida 1975; Newmark 1988; Hatim y Mason 1990; Rabadán 1991; Mayoral Asensio 1999; Hurtado Albir 2001; Samaniego y Fernández Fuertes 2002; Briguglia 2013), en realidad, es también uno de los problemas o retos más controvertidos. En líneas generales, como afirman Samaniego y Fernández Fuertes (2002: 325), los estudios de naturaleza esencialmente prescripiva “propugnan una reproducción equiparable de la variación origen en el sistema meta” mientras que los análisis de tipo descriptivo,

defienden una amplia gama de soluciones ad hoc dependientes fundamentalmente del destinatario último del texto y de los factores implicados en la situación comunicativa (por ejemplo, restricciones sistémicas como el género, el tipo textual, las convenciones, etc.) (Samaniego y Fernández Fuertes 2002: 325).

Con todo, algunos estudiosos han decidido focalizarse en los problemas específicos que plantea la traducción de la variedad geográfica o dialecto (Marco Borillo 2002; Briguglia 2009 y 2013). En efecto, conscientes de la dificultad que acarrea encontrar una equivalencia dialectal, proponen una serie de soluciones o estrategias que los traductores pueden adoptar ante un TO marcado dialectalmente (Fig. 9), entre otras, traducir:[35]

Fig. 9. Esquema tomado de Marco Borillo (2002: 81)

Con el objetivo determinar la actitud del traductor respecto al dialecto romano, en las líneas que siguen, cotejaremos las viñetas más significativas del TO con las correspondientes viñetas en español. La comparación entre el TO y el TM nos permitirá determinar cómo el traductor ha resuelto los problemas que plantea la traslación de la variación lingüística, sobre todo, por lo que concierne a los dialectos geográficos y sociales.

Fig. 10. Zerocalcare, TO (p.59) y TM (p.57).

Por ejemplo, en la primera viñeta del TO (Fig. 10, p.59), en el cartucho de texto, el narrador nos informa de que el personaje de la viñeta es Ermete, que “sta tutto il giorno sulla panchina del bar”.[36] La breve acotación del autor, la representación gráfica de Ermete y la transcripción de las palabras pronunciadas por el personaje en cuestión, donde abundan las marcas dialectales indicativas de clase social baja, consiguen trazar un retrato veraz del personaje: una persona socialmente marginada, un alcohólico que vive en una ciudad italiana específica. En cambio, en el TM (Fig. 10, p.57) el perfil sociocultural del personaje se difumina al optarse en la traducción al español por una caracterización lingüística estándar.

También en las siguientes viñetas del TM (tercera y cuarta de Fig. 11, pp. 13 y 43), como se puede comprobar, se estandarizan las marcas dialectales (rotacismo, la transformación de la lateral palatal > /j/, non > nun, etc.).

Fig. 11. Zerocalcare, TO (pp.15 y 45) y TM (pp.13 y 43).

En cuanto a la primera viñeta del TO (Fig. 11, p. 15), esta pertenece a uno de los  primeros episodios del libro (Risate) donde Calcare explica e ilustra gráficamente a lo largo de tres páginas una situación tragicómica: “tutte le volte che comunico una brutta notizia, specialmente un lutto, mi viene da ridere” (Zerocalcare 2016a: 15).[37] En este caso, el protagonista acaba de recibir un mensaje del padre de Camille en el que le comunica que su hija ha fallecido. El malestar y la angustia de Zero por su reacción ante situaciones parecidas en el pasado es el tema de este recuadro. En cambio, en la segunda viñeta del TO (Fig.11, p. 45) se recoge parte del diálogo que Calcare mantiene con un vendedor ambulante en un mercadillo, en este caso el vendedor presenta una serie de rasgos dialectales adscribibles preferentemente a la variedad baja del romanesco (rotacismo, non > nun, neanche > manco, hai capito > acapito, etc.). Comprobamos también que en la última viñeta del TM (Fig. 11, p. 43) se altera el tenor del original. En efecto, el TM (Fig. 11, p. 43) muestra un tono más formal que el TO (Fig. 11, p. 45), de ahí que se pierda el rasgo vernáculo de bajo nivel sociocultural.

En el cotejo de las siguientes viñetas del TM (Fig. 12, pp. 33, 45 y 48) con las correspondientes de TO (Fig. 8, pp. 35, 47 y 50) constatamos que en el TM (Fig. 12), en particular en la primera viñeta (Fig. 12 p. 33), se recoge acertadamente el registro presente en el TO (Fig. 8, p. 35). En cambio, en la segunda y tercera viñetas del TM (Fig. 12, pp. 45 y 48) no se mantiene el registro característico del original (Fig. 8, pp. 47 y 50), donde se utilizan numerosas marcas dialectales: damme ‘sta pianta, aho, er disaggiato, che deve fa’, daje ‘sta pianta, che ce ripensa, ao, s’è fatto er motorino, entre la cuales, como ya hemos señalado, se encuentran algunas propias de la variedad baja del romanesco.

Fig. 12. Zerocalcare, La profecía del armadillo, pp. 33, 45 y 48.

Así pues, la breve comparación hasta aquí realizada entre los segmentos textuales originales y los traducidos pone de manifiesto cuál ha sido la elección del traductor ante los muchos dilemas que plantea la traslación del romanesco y del dialecto social. Por lo que se refiere al romanesco, se corrobora que el traductor ha optado por una traducción no marcada, por un español estándar. En cuanto a las marcas de dialecto social, solo en contadas ocasiones no son trasladadas al TM (Zerocalacare 2016b: 57, 43, 45 y 48).

Sobre las razones que han llevado a Carlos Mayor Ortega a decantarse por trasladar el dialecto como variedad estándar, eludiendo la adscripción de los personajes a una determinada zona geográfica o clase social, hemos tenido la oportunidad de preguntárselo al propio traductor en conversación telefónica (18/02/2019).[38] Al respecto, Mayor Ortega nos ha explicado que al traducir parte siempre de un planteamiento general: ¿qué finalidad tiene la obra que va a traducir? En el caso que nos ocupa, se dio cuenta de que el humor era el elemento más destacado. De ahí su preocupación por reproducir ese mismo efecto en el lector. De modo que su principal preocupación y también su mayor reto a la hora de trasladar al español esta obra lo constituyó el tratar de conservar y transmitir el humor del original. Por ello, Mayor Ortega considera que, en este caso, no marcar el dialecto es ser más fiel en su versión en español a la finalidad que el autor ha tenido en su versión original en italiano, pues ha buscado conseguir los mismos efectos de humor.

Sobre cómo afrontar o trasladar el dialecto, el traductor nos ha comentado que no cree que haya formas de marcar el dialecto en castellano que funcionen. Opina que, como experimento, se pueden hacer muchas cosas, pero, en el caso de Calcare, pensado en el lector español, cree que intentar marcar el dialecto no aporta nada. Señala asimismo que desconoce la existencia de una solución que pueda funcionar. En conclusión, como ya hemos señalado, su principal objetivo era conseguir los mismos efectos de humor, de manera que el lector del TM recibiera lo mismo que el de la versión original, esto es, que “lo que hacía reír a unos haga reír a otros” (Mayor Ortega 2018).

6. A modo de conclusión

Como hemos puesto de relieve en las líneas precedentes, son muchos los autores (Nida 1975, Hatim y Mason 1990, Rabadán 1991, Mayoral Asensio 1999, Hurtado Albir 2001, Marco Borillo 2002, Briguglia 2009 y 2013) que en mayor o menor media se han ocupado de la traducción de la variación lingüística y de los problemas que plantea para la labor traductora, también son numerosos los procedimientos de traducción propuestos en función, por ejemplo, de los tipos de textos (Reiss 1983), de los objetivos del encargo de traducción (Hurtado Albir 2001), etc. Con todo, hoy en día existe consenso en reconocer que, a priori, no hay soluciones mejores o peores para afrontar la traslación de la variación lingüística, sino que mucho depende de la función de esta en el TO.

En el caso que nos ocupa, el traductor teniendo en cuenta la función de la traducción en la cultura meta y a los lectores que la van a recibir ha optado por la estandarización, tanto de los ragos dialectales típicos del romanesco como de algunos del dialecto social. Respecto al dialecto social, desde nuestro punto de vista, los actos de habla marcados como pertenecientes a la variedad baja del romanesco cumplen una clara función expresiva, dado que son utilizados no solo para reproducir la oralidad sino también para reflejar-retratar una específica cultura popular. Por tanto, creemos que, en estos casos, para mantener la caracterización social de los personajes y no restar expresividad a la lengua utilizada en el original, quizás se hubiera podido seleccionar en la lengua meta un registro lingüístico no estándar.

Por último, a partir del análisis realizado, queremos concluir destacando, por una lado, la capacidad de Zerocalcare de crear empatía al representar tanto su vida actual como épocas pasadas y, por otro lado, su talento para explotar los medios y las redes de reacción de los fans (Fig.13).

Fig. 13. Post de Zerocalcare publicado en Twitter (13 de enero de 2018)
y post publicado en Facebook (6 de noviembre de 2017).

De hecho, como ya hemos señalado, en las NT la historia se construye por la suma de relatos que aparecen en plataformas mediáticas diferentes (blog, Twitter, Facebook, prensa, cómics, etc.). La expansión de las narrativas de Zerocalcare a través de múltiples medios y formatos, con la consiguiente presencia de comunidades cada vez más diferenciadas e incluso en algunos casos muy participativas, será objeto de futuros estudios por nuestra parte.

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[1] Sobre las relaciones e interrelaciones entre oralidad y escrituralidad, véanse también, por ejemplo, Brown y Yule (1993), Crystal (1994), Cortés Rodríguez (1995), Bustos Tovar (2003) o López Serena (2007).

[2] También son marcas típicas de la oralidad las palabras expresivas y las onomatopeyas que, según los casos, pueden aparecer tanto dentro de los bocadillos como fuera de ellos.

[3] Además, dependiendo de la situación comunicativa, por ejemplo, los contornos lineales convencionales de los perigramas pueden modificarse para expresar distintos estados de ánimo. También el apéndice o delta puede ser usado de forma expresiva y, por supuesto, también la caligrafía de los textos insertos en los globos permite aportar valiosas connotaciones al sentido del texto. Por ejemplo, una de las convenciones más extendidas es la de utilizar el grosor de las letras para reflejar el volumen sonoro del enunciado.

[4] Nencioni afirma asimismo que el “vero parlato è «sporco», mentre che il parlato-scritto e «pulito»”, con esta distinción el lingüista y lexicógrafo alude a la espontaneidad e improvisación características del diálogo real que están ausentes en los diálogos prefabricados (Nencioni, 1976: 4).

[5] De hecho, en los diálogos escrito-dibujados de La profezia dell’armadillo encontramos una serie de recursos lingüísticos considerados típicamente orales: repeticiones, vacilaciones, reformulaciones, el empleo de vocativos, interjecciones, onomatopeyas y, por supuesto, la variación lingüística, sobre todo la diatópica y la diastrática. Esto es, una serie de procedimientos que permiten evocar la autenticidad y naturalidad del lenguaje hablado, recursos que Zerocalcare utiliza con el objetivo de caracterizar lingüísticamente a sus personajes, para dotarlos de credibilidad y reflejar también una aparente espontaneidad enunciativa.

[6] Aunque no es objeto de estas líneas establecer una definición del cómic –ya sea como lenguaje, ya sea como medio de comunicación de masas-, en este estudio partimos de la concepción del cómic como una forma de expresión completa, un arte que conjuga lo narrativo y lo visual, una modalidad comunicativa particular que se rige por una serie de códigos preestablecidos y aceptados por parte del lector (Eisner, 2007: 10). Así, de forma simplificada, podemos afirmar que el cómic consiste en una serie de “ilustraciones yuxtapuestas y otras imágenes en secuencia deliberadas, con el propósito de transmitir información y una respuesta estética del lector” (McCloud 2014: 20).   

[7] Para explicar este concepto, Scolari (2014: 72) recurre incluso a una fórmula, “IM + CPU = NT”, donde IM equivale a “industria de los medios”, CPU a “cultura participativa de los ususarios” y NT a “narrativas transmedia”.

[8] En efecto, en 2003 Jenkins publica en la Technology Review del MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) un artículo titulado “Transmedia Storytelling. Moving characters from books to films to video games can make them stronger and more compelling” donde afirma que: “hemos entrado en una nueva era de convergencia de medios que vuelve inevitable el flujo de contenidos a través de múltiples canales” (mi traducción). Véase el artículo completo en: < https://www.technologyreview.com/s/401760/transmedia-storytelling/ >.

[9] Sobre esta cuestión, véase Tur-Viñes y Rodríguez Ferrándiz (2014: 116).

[10] En las NT, los contenidos fluyen por múltiples canales mediáticos y, al mismo tiempo, atraviesan también distintos géneros, de manera que “hay narrativas transmedia en la ficción, en el periodismo, el documental o la publicidad” (Scolari 2014: 73). Por tanto, es posible crear relatos que van más allá del formato específico en el que han sido concebidos.

[11] El nombre artístico nace cuando con 17 años el dibujante tiene que escoger un apodo para inscribirse a un foro de internet y elige el nombre de un producto de limpieza antical que aparecía en ese momento en un anuncio televisivo: Zero Calcare, de ahí el seudónimo Zerocalcare y sus variantes: Calcare y Zero.

[12] Véase la entrevista completa realizada a Jenkins el 10 de octubre de 2013 en: < http://www.enorbita.tv/jenkins >.

[13] La exposición estuvo abierta desde el 10 de noviembre de 2018 al 10 de marzo de 2019.

[14] El Copyright de las diferentes imágenes corresponde al autor y editoriales pertinentes. Su uso es meramente informativo, con fines docentes y de investigación.

[15] En el ámbito de la cultura marginal punk, Zerocalcare se define Straight edge, es decir, miembro de “la branca bacchettona del punk, che non assume sostanze che creano dipendenza o alterano la coscienza. Sono così da tredici anni. Non faccio nemmeno il brindisi a capodanno, oppure non prendo il tiramisù perché dentro c’è il caffè” (Barison 2014).

[16] A propósito de este cómic, Zerocalcare puntualiza: “prima di questo l’unico fumetto che avessi mai fatto era una storia che avevo scritta e disegnata da ragazzino, a 14 anni: raccontava l’occupazione, da parte di paperino e dei Bassotti, del deposito di Zio Paperone per farne un centro sociale, con Basettoni che cercava di sgomberarli. Ovviamente ho disegnato solo le prime pagine, e temo proprio che ormai sia andata perduta” (Scarpa 2015: 11-12).

[17] Por lo que se refiere a los sucesos de Génova, Calcare comenta: “ho sentito che c'era un accanimento nei confronti di chi era stato a Genova, così mi è venuta la spinta a fare un fumetto che raccontasse la mia esperienza al G8. È nata "La nostra storia alla sbarra", che fu venduto per raccogliere fondi per aiutare l'iter processuale di 25 persone accusate di devastazione e saccheggi” (Rinaldi 2014).

[18] Sobre los pros y contras de internet y la relación que se establece con los lectores, el dibujante opina: “[…] il problema di internet è che è una cosa superfiga, se c’hai feedback. Però quando non riesci ad arrivare a quella visibilità e hai invece un vuoto, non ti segue o commenta nessuno, allora ti butta tantissimo giù non aver risposta in uno spazio che, per sua natura, te la potrebbe dare” (ibid. 2015: 54).

[19] No obstante, como el propio dibujante pone de manifiesto: “dal lato di autore, con tutte le virgolette del caso, il fumetto su internet è gratuito, nel senso che io non ricevo soldi direttamente per quello e quindi non posso lavorare un anno solo a una cosa che poi non mi dà da vivere…” (Scarpa, 2015: 58); así pues, el dibujante concluye: “in rete faccio storie brevi, sia per la lettura e per il tempo di attenzione al computer, sia perché ci metto meno tempo a farle, di base, quindi la roba che si sviluppa e che ha bisogno di più pagine per articolarsi deve essere su carta” (ibid. 2015: 58).

[20] Según Jenkins (2007), cada medio hace una contribución exclusiva, distintiva y valiosa a la construcción de la historia. Esto es, “cada medio vehicula un texto que ofrece algo nuevo narrativamente hablando; la narración se enriquece y se problematiza por ese aporte y la vecindad intertextual que ayuda a construir se hace más densa y compleja” (Tur-Viñes y Rodríguez Ferrándiz 2014: 116).

[21] La versión cinematográfica de La profezia dell’armadillo ha sido realizada por Emanuele Scaringi, la película se estrenó con gran éxito el 13 de septiembre de 2018.

[22] Calcare hace notar que al no pertenecer Camille a los grupos en los que él se movía, que tienen modos concretos de recordar a sus muertos, mediante, por ejemplo, manifiestos, conciertos, etc., le pareció que “el cómic era la manera más adecuada para recordarla” (Pérez 2016).

[23] Para una explicación detallada sobre en qué consiste la profecía del armadillo, véase Zerocalcare (2016: 65).

[24] En este sentido, el viñetista reconoce que: “mi trovo sempre a raccontare le cose che conosco, piuttosto che lavorare di fantasia” (Scarpa 2013: 35).

[25]Por lo que se refiere a su elección de narrar en primera persona, Calcare admite su deuda con algunos autores franceses, en particualr con Boulet e Manu Larcenet: “amo il loro modo di raccontare delle storie quotidiane apparentemente banali, ma che riescono a farci ridere e piangere. E’ leggendo questi due autori che  mi è venuta l’idea di raccontare delle storie autobiografiche. Prima disegnavo solo zombie e robot” (Spinelli 2012).

[26] Es decir, incluso en la variedad alta el habla se caracteriza por la presencia de rasgos típicos romanos, que se pensaban restringidos a las variedades más bajas.

[27]No obstante, como ya hemos puesto de relieve  más arriba, “esse formano qui un continuum non facilmente segmentabile e dai confini alquanto sfumati non solo all’interno (con conseguenti parziali sovrapposizioni tra la ➔ variazione diastratica e la ➔ variazione diafasica), ma anche all’esterno, rispetto sia all’➔italiano standard di base toscana sia al dialetto locale (D’Achille 2011).

[28] Se da también la conservación de la e por i en las formas del artículo derteminado er, véase tercera imagen de la (Fig. 8): Menegucci s’è fatto er motorino (Zerocalcare, 2016: 50).

[29] Como se recoge en Il Nuovo De Mauro, ahò es una “inter.1879; voce onom.
DI roman. per richiamare l’attenzione di qcn.: ahò , vieni qua! | per esprimere irritazione, stupore, sorpresa e sim.: ahò, m’hai proprio stufato! ahò, ma dove vai?”, véase: <http://dizionario.internazionale.it/parola/aho >.

[30] Como se señala en el Vocabolario Treccani, “mannàggia interiez. [dalla locuz. mal n’aggia «male ne abbia»; cfr. malannaggia], region. – Imprecazione (contro persona o avvenimento o cosa), diffusa in tutta l’Italia centro-meridionale, e che equivale a sia maledetto, ma con valore meno grave, e spesso come esclam. di sfogo o di disappunto (perciò usata anche da sola: mannaggia!): mla miseria!mla iella!ma te!”.

[31]Efectivamente, como subraya D’Achille (2012: 56): “l’origine romana di molte voci è riconoscibile grazie all’uso di particolari prefissi – come a- intensivo (specie davanti all’iterativo: arieccolo!)”.

[32] Carlos Mayor Ortega lleva traducidos más de 300 títulos, en 2017 ganó el prestigioso Premio de Traducción Esther Benítez. Compagina su labor de traductor con el periodismo y desde 2012 es también profesor del Máster en Traducción Literaria de la Universidad Pompeu Fabra.

[33] En el prefacio, Makkox, dibujante de cómics y también autor de una conocidísima transmisión televisiva (Gazebo), declara su admiración por la obra de Zerocalcare afirmando que Michele Rech al contar su vida crea unas viñetas que son “geniali nel segno, geniali nel racconto” (Zerocalcare 2016a: 4). Makkox, entre otras cosas, evidencia asimismo la naturalidad y originalidad de Zerocalcare para narrar la cotidianidad.

[34] El texto colocado en la edición italiana en la contraportada final, en la versión española es ampliado y se sitúa en la contraportada inicial. Mientras que en la contraportada final del TM encontramos un texto ad hoc redactado para los lectores hispanos.

[35] Sobre la traducción de la variación lingüística, cfr. Briguglia 2009 y 2013.

[36] A lo largo del libro se constata el uso de registros lingüísticos netamente diferenciados dependiendo de si los textos se localizan en los cartuchos, la voz del narrador (registro estándar), o bien en los globos, las transcripciones de las palabras pronunciadas por lo diferentes personajes (dialecto geográfico y diastrático).

[37] Véase el texto escritural del cartucho inicial del capítulo (Zerocalcare 2016: 15).

[38] Agradezco a Carlos Mayor Ortega su amabilidad y disponibilidad para responder a mis numerosas preguntas.

About the author(s)

Rosa María Rodríguez Abella is a researcher and assistant professor in Language and Translation at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at the University of Verona. Currently, her research centres on literary translation, on the marks of orality in the comic and on specialty languages, primarily on the language of tourism. She is a member of the research group Linguaturismo (University of Milan), and the international research projects Fraseologia Elettronica multilingüe (Heinrich Heine-Universität Düsseldorf & University of Milan) and The discourse of tourism: e-genres, corpus linguistics, discourse analysis, interpersonality and lexis (University of Valencia).

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

©inTRAlinea & Rosa M. Rodríguez Abella (2020).
"La oralidad fingida en La profezia dell'armadillo de Zerocalcare.", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2494

Pedagogical vs. Professional Translation: Reconsidering a Long-standing Differentiation

By Georgios Floros (University of Cyprus, Cyprus)


This paper discusses the differences between pedagogical and professional translation in light of new developments in language pedagogy. Language learning and teaching have long turned to communicative approaches in addition to placing emphasis on structure. At the same time, pedagogical translation seems to be unable to catch up with developments in language learning and teaching, at least in the way pedagogical translation is understood and defined in translation studies. Therefore, pedagogical translation still places emphasis on the literal mode as well as on lexis and syntax. In order to get in line with contemporary needs of language pedagogy, it is proposed that pedagogical translation attempt a revision of its focus and aspirations through the critical adoption of concepts and methodologies used in professional translation. Such adoption might ultimately prove fruitful for language pedagogy as well.

Keywords: pedagogical translation, professional translation, language pedagogy, communicative turn, controlled simulation

©inTRAlinea & Georgios Floros (2020).
"Pedagogical vs. Professional Translation: Reconsidering a Long-standing Differentiation", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2493

0. Introduction

Translation activities have—almost consistently—been highly appreciated as one of the most important tools for teaching language competence in the foreign language teaching classroom (L2). With the exception of the period that witnessed the emergence of the communicative turn and the adoption of the communicative approach to language teaching and learning, a period in which translation gradually lost importance, language learning has favored translation as a tool for its purposes. Within the optimistic framework of the recent rediscovery of translation by language pedagogy, the coexistence of two different types of translation within the field of translation studies, that is pedagogical translation as opposed to professional translation, is indicative of the fact that translation as a learning tool and professional translation are viewed as two quite different kinds of activity.

Despite this fact, an attempt will be made here to reconsider the strict differentiation between pedagogical and professional translation in light of the recent developments both in language pedagogy and translation studies, taking issue with what Carreres (2006; 2014) discusses. More specifically, a convergence of pedagogical and professional translation will be proposed, not with the aim to totally overcome such divide, but—rather—in an attempt to revise and enlarge the focus and aspirations of pedagogical translation by examining possible ways in which professional translation might inform the pedagogical type. This proposal stems from the fact that the directions into which language learning has turned display significant epistemological affinities to the general understanding of communication maintained by translation studies and professional translation today. It also needs to be clarified that the division between pedagogical and professional translation is looked at from the perspective of translation studies. This is to be seen as an attempt to strengthen the contribution of translation studies to the much desired epistemological traffic between the two disciplines, since for a very long time, it has been the concern of language pedagogy to turn to translation rather than the other way round.

1. Pedagogical and professional translation: Myths and realities

Before we embark on the proposed convergence, it is important to look back to the period when translation declined as a learning tool, so as to see the reasons for such skepticism and to lay the grounds for a reconsideration of pedagogical translation. This decline was mainly due to fallacious perceptions concerning the effectiveness of the use of L1 in L2 learning (through translation)[1] and the equally fallacious interpretations on the part of language pedagogy of the translation task as a mere attempt to find lexical and structural correspondences among L1 and L2 (see, for example, the Grammar translation method, cf. Richards and Rodgers 2001). The communicative approach to language learning, though, was stressing functional and pragmatic aspects of language learning without recourse to L1. Consequently, a contrastive comparison between L1 and L2 vocabulary and structures was not deemed sufficient to cater for the linguistic/cultural competence in various communicative situations of L2. At the same time, it was thought that the use of L1 through translation was only reinforcing interference (see Carreres 2006 for an extensive discussion). Therefore, language pedagogy placed emphasis on the direct use of L2 only and abandoned translation as a learning tool altogether.

The resurgent—in fact, the never really absent (cf. Carreres 2006)—interest in translation as a tool for language learning was soon reflected in the typology of translation within translation studies, leading to a differentiation between pedagogical and professional translation already in the last two decades of the previous century (see also Ladmiral 1979, Pym 1992, Gile 1995, Klaudy 2003, and Vermes 2010 on this differentiation, though some are using different terminology). The former type referred to a mode of translation ‘practiced as an exercise for the purpose of learning a foreign language’ (Delisle, Lee-Jahnke and Cormier 1999: 167), while the latter referred to the profession of ‘transferring ideas expressed in writing from one language to another in order to establish communication […]’ (ibid.: 189). As regards pedagogical translation, Delisle, Lee-Jahnke and Cormier (1999: 168) note (my emphasis):

In language pedagogy, these exercises are designed to enrich vocabulary, to promote the assimilation of new syntactic structure, to verify comprehension and to assess the acquisition of new vocabulary. […] Pedagogical translation is practiced both into the student’s dominant language and into the foreign language. The preferred translation strategy is literal translation of phrases out of context and of text fragments (sometimes fabricated texts), analyzed from a comparative point of view.

Professional translation, on the contrary, takes functional and communicative parameters into consideration, according to Delisle, Lee-Jahnke and Cormier (1999: 189):

Professional translation is generally practiced into the translator’s dominant language […]. The translation strategies applied to any given text depend on the text type and on the intentionality of the text being translated as well as on the envisaged target audience. Performance quality is judged according to communication parameters.

It was therefore to be expected that a communicative approach to language pedagogy would distance itself from a type of translation concerned with literal translation of lexemes and structures. The communicative turn in language pedagogy has affinities to professional translation, rather than to pedagogical translation.

Unfortunately, despite the apparent epistemological affinities between language pedagogy and translation studies as disciplines in their own right, the somewhat rigorous differentiation between pedagogical and professional translation is symptomatic of the fact that language learning and translation studies have long resisted the establishment of a serious and fruitful epistemological traffic between them. That is to say, the two disciplines have taken surprisingly long to inform each other effectively on the methodological level. Translation studies can be held responsible for this to a large extent, owing to an inadequate attempt on its part to examine ways of informing other domains of language-related activity in a manner similar to the way translation studies has consistently been informed by other disciplines. Nevertheless, as mentioned before, the situation seems to start being reversed lately (see Malmkjær 1998 and Bayram 2000 for the synergies emerging). The reasons for the resurgent interest of language pedagogy in translation seem to be that a) the balance between structural and communicative approaches has been redressed in language pedagogy, thus translation of vocabulary and syntactic structures is regaining ground within a new context, and b) language pedagogy seems to be discovering possible applications of the functional-communicative approaches to translation for its own purposes. Some of the latest additions confirming the resurgent interest of language learning in translation include Witte, Harden, and Ramos de Oliveira Harden (2009), Cook (2010), Leonardi (2010), Tsagari and Floros (2013), and Laviosa (2014). 

It could be argued that the above strict differentiation featuring in translation studies is rather a myth. As Stewart (2008) aptly points out, in practice, ‘[p]edagogical translation is much more widespread in language faculties than in translation faculties and translator training institutions, but it would be simplistic to argue that there is a hard and fast division in this sense’. The conceptual divide between pedagogical translation and professional translation is therefore not always sustained: ‘pedagogical translation is often adopted in more professionally-oriented environments for the consolidation of foreign language skills, while vocational translation is frequently present in language faculties’ (ibid., see also Ulrych 2005 and Klein-Braley 1996 for further discussion). Stewart (2008) provides a detailed account of the similarities between pedagogical translation and translation into L2 and concludes that there is an overlap between the two types. Stewart reintroduces the term vocational translation as the professionally-oriented translation in pedagogical settings, a concept lying somewhere between pedagogical and professional translation (ibid.). He stresses not only the conceptual overlaps between vocational translation and pedagogical translation (since they are both applied to learning settings), but also the view that ‘the divide between the teaching of translation as a language-learning tool and as a professional activity has been overemphasized’, as Carreres puts it (Carreres 2006, but see also the very interesting discussion in Carreres and Noriega-Sánchez 2011).

Teaching practices in pedagogical translation do not always differ from those applied to professional (or vocational) translation to the extent suggested by the definitions mentioned above. Especially as concerns phrases out of context, text fragments and, often, fabricated texts, research has shown that in language pedagogy settings, this is not necessarily the case (see, for example, contributions in Tsagari and Floros 2013, but also the discussion provided by Kobayashi and Rinnert 1992 on text production of various types), since fabricated texts are largely avoided, while instructors at least inform about the larger context when it comes to discussing text fragments. On the other hand, giving text fragments to student translators (vocational translation) also happens quite often, since the particular time constraints of translation courses impose such compromises time and again. As for the assumption that vocabulary and grammatical structures are traditionally associated with pedagogical translation only, this again seems to be a myth, since everyone who teaches student translators knows that these two areas are among the first that need to be tackled in the translation classroom as well. Despite the widespread assumption that student translators already possess the essential linguistic competence when starting a translation program, it soon becomes evident that such competence cannot be taken for granted. Interference is a phenomenon not only restricted to language learners and it is precisely for this reason that most translation courses start with the enhancement of linguistic skills and competences before they embark on other competences such as the cultural and the translational ones (on interference in translation see, among others, Mauranen 2004; Toury 2012). In order to combat interference[2], we need not refrain from contrasting L1 and L2 when teaching professional translation. However, what really matters in this respect is the conceptual means with which such contrasting is made. I am referring here to the notion of equivalence as opposed to the notion of correspondence. But this is a point that will be taken up again further down.

The point where a rigid distinction between pedagogical and professional translation still seems to hold is the envisaged target audience. Generally, according to Stewart (2008), in pedagogical translation,

[…] those factors which are so crucial in translation training proper, such as the target readership, the translation commissioner, the context and the ‘real-world’ purpose of the text, are given less priority, if any at all. The target readership of a pedagogical translation—though rarely expressed as such—is most commonly either an evaluator (teacher/examiner), the student her/himself (for example when checking versions against solutions in a self-study manual), or classmates (if a student’s version is submitted to the rest of the study group).

As a consequence, pedagogical translation favors the literal mode, while professional translation aims at functional-communicative renderings of texts. This might also be a reason why pedagogical translation is caught in a sort of vicious cycle, or in an oxymoron: the communicative approach to language pedagogy discarded translation practically because of the literal—and therefore not communicative—mode of translation. But although (professional) translation has moved beyond the appreciation of the rigidly literal mode and translation has regained ground in language pedagogy, the literal mode has remained a core characteristic of the classification still prominent in translation studies, thus perpetuating the divide instead of taking this shortcoming on board for a reconsideration of what pedagogical translation should be or should offer. After all, translation studies should wish to comply with the demands posed by contemporary functional approaches to language pedagogy, since such approaches form one of the most prominent paradigms in translation studies. The recent study by Pym et al. (2013: 37), prepared on behalf of the Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission with the aim to examine the use of translation in language learning and teaching, confirms that (my emphasis):

The contribution of translation would nevertheless appear to be less when:
– […]
– ‘translation’ is understood in a narrow word-for-word or sentence-for-sentence sense, which can interrupt fluency in L2;
– […].

While it is true that translation in a pedagogical setting will not reach an audience other than the teacher and the classmates, the demands regarding the preferred translation strategy could very well be attenuated, again on practical grounds. Even though language learners are not trained to become translators, one way or the other they will translate during learning as well as on many occasions in their life. Research has shown that L2 is always acquired through recourse to L1 and through processes largely resembling those of translation (see, for example, Titford and Hieke 1985 as well as Hurtado Albir 1999, both as quoted by Carreres 2006, but also research in second language acquisition, for example Vygotsky 1986 on inner speech, Kern 1994 on mental translation, Lengyel and Navracsics 1996 on translation as a latent component of language competence, Upton and Lee-Thompson 2001 on L2 comprehension).

Kern (1994: 442) defines mental translation as the ‘mental reprocessing of L2 words, phrases or sentences in L1 forms while reading L2 texts’. Titford (1985: 78) talks about students who ‘translate silently’ in the sense that they refer to their mother tongue while acquiring L2. The use of L1 is also confirmed when it comes to L2 text production (see, for example, Cumming 1989; Kobayashi and Rinnert 1992). Thus, since reliance on L1 through translation seems to be rather strong and an essential factor in L2 learning, it is important to assume some kind of translation in all L2 learners and for quite a long time, despite the unwanted interference, which decreases anyway as L2 acquisition grows higher (see, for example, Newmark 1966; Krashen 1981). Again, the study by Pym et al. (2013: 37) confirms that:

Our review of the empirical research has also shown not only that translation can make an effective contribution under some circumstances, but also that there is considerable evidence of ‘mental translation’ occurring when translation is not an explicit learning activity.

Therefore, the occurrence of mental translation confirmed by many researchers (for an extensive account of the relevant literature see Pym et al. 2013: 22f.) points to the conclusion that what is in fact researched in many experimental studies on writing modes is not a comparison between translation and the direct method, but a comparison between explicit and implicit (mental) translation (ibid.). The study by Pym et al. (2013) also proposes classroom activities involving translation, such as activities with audiovisual translation and interpretation, which will be discussed further down. One of the very interesting suggestions for future research is the investigation of the students’ perspective, both socially (classroom interaction and motivation) and cognitively (eye-tracking) (cf. ibid.: 136).

The empirical research by Källkvist (2013) provides some important insights into social aspects of the students’ perspective. Källkvist applies an ethnographic approach together with experimental methodology for action research on classroom student-teacher interaction and has found (2013: 130) that:

[S]tudents […] were particularly motivated to initiate and engage in communication in the L2 during teacher-led discussion that was based on a translation task. [T]his suggests that translation may have particular value as an ice-breaking activity in student groups where engendering communication involving many of the students present is a high priority.

On another note, especially if L2 learners aim to become teachers of the language they learn, translation becomes even more important to them, not only as an indispensable cognitive activity, but also as a methodological tool. As a result, it is rather restrictive to assume that pedagogical translation only aims at learning structures and vocabulary, as it will actually be used by L2 learners in a wider scope and as a useful cognitive tool even after the completion of the training period, in order to communicate in the real world and not simply within the limits of a pedagogical setting. It is therefore important to use pedagogical translation as a means to encourage L2 learners to also aspire to communicative parameters (besides ‘structural’ correctness) when it comes to output quality, in almost the same way professional translation is also judged on the basis of such parameters.

The above discussion makes obvious that the difference between pedagogical and professional translation cannot be sustained in the way it has been described so far on the theoretical level. The practical realities described above call for a reconsideration of the way in which pedagogical translation should be perceived. As mentioned earlier, such reconsideration could best be implemented through transferring some distinctive qualities of professional translation to pedagogical translation. The next section discusses possible ways of achieving such ‘convergence’.

2. Towards a reconsideration of pedagogical translation

As mentioned earlier, the reconsideration of pedagogical translation is made as an attempt to expand and enrich the concept so as to meet practical realities and follow new developments in language pedagogy and translation studies. It is not an attempt to marginalize this concept or prove the distinction between pedagogical and professional translation to be ineffective. In so doing, this paper will propose a convergence of the two types at the level of conceptualization, seen from a theoretical perspective as well as from a methodological one.

2.1 Theoretical considerations

Conceptually, perhaps the first aspect that should be touched upon concerns the reformulation of purpose for pedagogical translation. From merely learning a foreign language, the term pedagogical translation should rediscover the richness of the term pedagogy itself, in order to expand the scope of this type of translation in such a way as to refer to learning a foreign language and culture, as well as acquiring a modus operandi in the realm of this new language. Beyond training in the rules and in a more or less sufficient number of lexemes, language pedagogy implies education in and cultivation of socio-cultural aspects expressed through structural features and the vocabulary of a language. Such a socio-cultural comparative perspective seems to be the ultimate contribution of translation when it is deployed with the aim to teach a language.

An important part of this comparative perspective—that of comparing structures and vocabulary—has already been provided by comparative (or contrastive) linguistics. Therefore, pedagogical translation cannot merely become a ‘synonymic’ variant of a sub-discipline of linguistics, which already informs translation studies to a large extent. Pedagogical translation should feature itself as a necessary complement to comparative linguistics. Otherwise, translation will simply remain a tool for what a different discipline can already afford. After all, it is the specific way of thinking, retrieving meaning and negotiating it in order to move across cultures through language that the study and practice of translation can offer to social activities other than translation itself (such as language learning, teaching, mediating, writing and so on). This kind of thinking is of paramount importance to language learners; it is not by chance that most of them experience huge difficulties in finding the way to communicate and operate in a culturally appropriate and acceptable way in a different language setting, despite having reached impressive levels of structural knowledge of that language.

For acquiring such a modus operandi, that is a way to operate through a L2, language learners need to acquire skills comparable to those applied by professional translators. A significant conceptual means for contrasting L1 and L2 through translation is the notion of equivalence as opposed to the notion of correspondence. Without wishing to enter into the still ongoing essentialist debate on how equivalence is to be defined, it must be made clear that the above notions differ from each other considerably, despite being sometimes used interchangeably in the relevant literature of both translation studies and linguistics. Correspondence is a term from comparative linguistics and works at the langue level, while equivalence is the concept preferred by translation studies, since it works at the parole level. Comparative linguistics can inform about differences and similarities between languages, but translation is concerned with overcoming the instances where languages differ and translation problems emerge. Through the concept of equivalence, translation does not attempt to show which elements of one language are similar to elements of the other language, but to show which elements of one language might function similarly to elements of the other language, so as to overcome impasses (see also Beecroft 2013 for the benefits of Skopos-theory to language learning). Also, translation attempts to show that even in cases where there exists a correspondence at langue level, the linguistic material chosen might perhaps differ, in order to comply with (stylistic or other) constraints beyond syntax or lexis.

A very simple example is given by the English please and you’re welcome: while in some other languages there is a single correspondence to both, for example in German Bitte and in Greek παρακαλώ [parakaló], when translating from these languages (as L1) into English (as L2), a choice must be made according to situation. For a request, the English equivalent is please, while for replying to thank you, the English equivalent is you’re welcome. But even within the first case (request), there can be differences in the way languages formulate politeness. To give an example regarding the use of please, Skuggevik (cf. 2009: 201) stresses the fact that, in Norwegian, the denotative equivalents (correspondences) to please are often omitted in Norwegian subtitles not because of space and time constraints, but because these correspondences might often seem excessively polite and therefore evoke the connotation of irony or sarcasm. This holds true for Danish and Swedish as well, as the author notes. Thus, since the use of please tends to be less frequent in these languages, it is important for Norwegian, Danish and Swedish learners of English, but also for learners coming from many other language backgrounds, to learn to use please rather than omit it when intending a polite request through written or spoken discourse, as this is the way to produce an equivalent effect in English.

Last but not least, when translation is used in a language pedagogical setting, the communicative character and nature of professional translation cannot be taken for granted. What is self-evident in translation studies is not necessarily commonplace belief in language learning as well, since the translation output never reaches beyond the limits of the classroom. Therefore, it is not sufficient to know that translation is a communicative activity; it should also look communicative when used in language teaching. And since the audience of pedagogical translation is limited to the teacher and classmates, the best way to convince both teachers and students of the communicative benefits of translation is to turn them into imagined audiences of imagined translation situations, by simulating such translation situations and by using games involving translation, since games per se have a communicative character. This leads us to the methodological considerations to be discussed in the next section.

2.2 Methodological and practical considerations

Translation cannot prove effective in language learning if it is not promoted and deployed as a social activity. Therefore, the first concern of language teachers should be to integrate translation not only as individual exercise, but also as a group activity. Following Kiraly’s (2000) work on the social-constructivist approach to training translators, one can easily assume a parallel to training for language acquisition through translation exercises. If we accept that translation knowledge is constructed through thinking processes that an individual undertakes as well as through interpersonal activity, the same can be assumed for how knowledge is constructed within the language classroom. It is therefore essential for students of any level to keep interacting with their peers when translation tasks are given, especially since such tasks can be cognitively demanding for language learners.  Having said that, the general framework in which translation exercises can best be deployed requires that students be prompted to engage in interpersonal interaction both within the classroom and for take-home tasks.

Furthermore, as shown in previous sections, research suggests that the literal mode is not efficient in pedagogical translation, especially in primary classes. Nevertheless, there is a tendency in beginners to resort to the literal mode, since, as Pym et al. (2013) point out, the literal mode is the safest to resort to. But if pedagogical translation is to prove an efficient pedagogical tool in promoting communicative abilities, it needs to abandon the literal mode, especially in higher educational levels. One of the best ways to abandon the literal mode is to introduce translation exercises which foster the understanding of translation as a communicative activity, simulate real-life conditions and integrate new technologies. In this way, the (inter)cultural dimension of translation will be stressed and the need to avoid literal renderings will be recognized and highlighted. Pym et al. (2013: 127ff.) provide a range of different activities to achieve the above, including games, activities following the watching of videos, liaison interpreting and experimenting with machine translation systems (such as Google-translate).

The use of translation has proven fruitful through translation exercises that promote translation as a complex activity (Pym et al. 2013: 135) and through more professionally related exercises (ibid.: 19). This brings us to the question of genres and tools to be used in pedagogical translation. As to the genres, there is by now strong consensus that audiovisual translation, and especially the production of subtitles or dubbing, promotes learning through enhanced student participation and satisfaction (see, for example, Bogucki 2009; Danan 2010; Incalcaterra McLoughlin and Lertola 2014). Ibáñez Moreno and Vermeulen (2013) suggest that yet another form of audiovisual translation be used in the classroom, namely audio description, which is a form of oral narration of a film, originally intended for the visually impaired. Besides typical audiovisual material such as short films, documentaries, sitcoms and other shows, other genres which might prove helpful in the classroom include recipes and songs (particularly when accompanied by a video), comics and facebook posts, which can be from the students’ own facebook pages, so as to increase motivation and involvement. Perhaps one of the most promising genres is short theatrical plays, which the students might even wish to stage themselves after translating them. This is, however, an under-researched possibility that requires much more examination and careful pedagogical design, apart from the logistic problems which might arise. After all, all forms of translation have the potential to be pedagogical, since they all contribute to enhance language and intercultural competence.

As to the tools, it needs to be stressed that along with the literal mode, pedagogical practice has mainly favored dictionaries as research tools for translation tasks so far—a predictable shortcoming, since dictionaries are largely thought to be the only safe source for retrieving correspondences (or equivalences) in a different language and, therefore, are strongly associated with what translators do anyway. Even novice student translators are hard to convince that translations cannot be done merely with the help of bilingual dictionaries, on which they tend to rely heavily (see, for example, Fraser 1999). Beyond bilingual and monolingual dictionaries, language learners need to learn to work with parallel texts (texts in L1 or L2, similar to the source or target text in terms of genre or topic, see Floros 2004), an idea already suggested by Leonardi (2010: 88). Parallel texts are one of the most powerful tools for professional translators in their effort to retrieve equivalent terminology or expressions. But they also offer a wide source of information on how language is used in context, which is particularly useful to language learners, who tend to restrict themselves to the material contained in textbooks. Parallel texts will also contribute to the ability to recognize different genres and to the acquaintance with language particularities imposed by genre and text type. In so doing, the use of parallel texts—a tool widely used especially by professional translators working into the foreign language—will support language learners in a comprehensive way, while cultivating an explicit communicative-functional focus within pedagogical translation.

At the same time, there is a variety of other electronic tools and online resources for translators, which could prove very fruitful, but above all very fascinating for language learners; an example could be the use of corpora and machine-translated texts (see Zanettin 2014). Without wishing to exclude adult education, it is true that younger people are more familiar with—but also more eager to accept—new technologies and online tools, which without doubt characterize their age and learning style in general. Therefore, online and electronic tools are suggested here not only because of their obvious benefits, but because they come closer to the form of material (language) students are used to anyway and will possibly enhance motivation and learning altogether.

After all, as discussed above, if language students are already translating mentally for a range of activities taking place during their training and education, it seems meaningful to guide them in this implicit—if not indispensable—process in such a way that they can make the most out of it (for a very good example cf. Laviosa 2014). Methodologically speaking, the implementation of a kind of pedagogical translation that comes closer to the professional type through the genres and tools used, can only be effective if language course curricula integrate preparatory sessions. Such sessions should be devoted to alert students and language teachers to the particularities of translation, in order to highlight it as a challenging yet rewarding activity; an activity that is not simply a matter to be left to online translation software, but one that can become a lived, shared and fruitful comparative experience.  

2.3 Further issues

The argumentation presented in this paper points to the necessity of looking at pedagogical translation more in terms of a controlled simulation of professional translation, rather than in terms of a concept that is completely distinct and different from the professional type. Such controlled simulation also entails that the translation exercises deployed should have a sort of performative character. When a real audience, a situation and a translation brief are practically missing, teachers sometimes need to invent imaginary translation situations to enrich a task and make it more engaging, not least through role-play in the classroom. The practical differences between the two types notwithstanding, empirical research, albeit at early stages, lends support to the argument that pedagogical translation can prove effective only if it is informed by practices followed by the professional type. As a first step, the literal mode in pedagogical translation should be restricted to the extent accepted by professional translation as well. The concept of equivalence and the functional approaches need to gain more ground in pedagogical translation, since they serve the same purposes as modern language pedagogy. Finally, translation activities in language pedagogy need to attain a more communicative profile in accordance with results from experimental studies which suggest that translation exercises can contribute more to interaction, motivation and better learning results when they are more professionally-related.

However, the most important issue that opens up as a consequence of the above is the training of teachers. Pym et al. (2013: 40f.) also investigated the reasons teachers give for not using translation. These can be summarized in that a) they have never considered translation seriously and b) they feel unqualified to introduce translation exercises. Therefore, no reconsideration of pedagogical translation can be fruitful if not accompanied by a reconsideration of the kind of training teachers receive. This does not imply that teacher training is inappropriate altogether. It only implies that it needs to be complemented with training in the particularities and some of the best practices of professional translation, in order for language teachers to be able to a) understand what translation is in the first place, b) understand crucial concepts of contemporary translation studies, c) get acquainted with state-of-the-art research on the affordances of translation in the classroom, d) get acquainted with a selection of methodologies and methods followed by professional translators, and e) learn how to best use these methods disguised as activities within the classroom, in other words ‘translate’ translation practice into language learning techniques.

As concerns new technologies, teacher training has incorporated computer literacy as an indispensable part of the training objectives, which should facilitate the exposure to translation-related electronic tools and technologies. In a nutshell, the reason why pedagogical translation resists moving towards professional translation seems to be more a matter of misconceptions and lack of suitable tools to prepare language teachers for handling translation in the classroom than a matter of theoretical conceptualization. It also seems, though, that translation studies as a discipline has reached a sufficient level of confidence to be able to provide such training to language teachers. As implied above, it is the long overdue systematic and empirically supported epistemological traffic between translation studies and language pedagogy that could cater for such convergence between pedagogical and professional translation. Along with the need to inform teachers about how to best use translation in the classroom, another important aspect is to inform them about using translation in assessment. Although some work has already been done in this area, this is a topic that goes well beyond the scope of this paper.

3. Conclusion

Practical realities concerning a) the way pedagogical translation is conducted and b) the fact that pedagogical and professional translation are not as distant as they are presented through their respective definitions in translation studies, as well as the importance of pedagogical translation itself as a tool in language pedagogy have been taken as the basis for a reconsideration of the way pedagogical translation could be redefined. The functional-communicative focus is a distinctive characteristic of professional translation which could well be applied to pedagogical translation as well, since contemporary needs of language pedagogy impose a more functionally-oriented concept of translation to be applied for language learning purposes. Beyond this, pedagogical translation could also benefit from distancing itself from the literal mode of translation by moving towards other strategies and methodologies which have long been thought to pertain to professional translation only. Finally, an attempt was made to also consider forms of translation beyond written translation proper in terms of their didactic value in language pedagogy.

The functional-communicative focus, the distancing from the literal mode and the examination of the pedagogical potential of new forms of translation, such as audiovisual translation, will hopefully open up new ways for language pedagogy to integrate translation in schools and higher education institutions. Given today’s large scale and worldwide migration, a phenomenon that poses many practical challenges to schools as well as theoretical challenges regarding the pedagogical approaches to be adopted in response to the new situation (cf., for example, translanguaging), an updated conceptualization of pedagogical translation seems to be able to offer not simply a powerful didactic tool, but an effective apparatus to complement other pedagogical approaches that also favor multilingualism (instead of monolingualism) in education.


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[1] This clarification is made here because ‘use of L1 in L2’ learning does not necessarily imply translation.

[2] Interference is meant here only in its ‘negative’ sense, as a problem to be tackled, and not exactly in the sense Toury (2012) confers upon this notion, that is as having either a positive or a negative face.

About the author(s)

Georgios Floros currently holds a position as Associate Professor of Translation Studies at the University of Cyprus, Department of English Studies. He received a BA in German Studies with a major in Translation from the University of Athens in 1996, and a PhD in Translation Theory from Saarland University, Germany, in 2001. He teaches translation theory and translation methodology, text linguistics and theory of interpreting. His research areas also include translation ethics, pragmatics, translation didactics and terminology. He is the author of the monograph Kulturelle Konstellationen in Texten (Narr, 2002), and of several journal articles, a. o. “Legal Translation in a Postcolonial Setting: The Political Implications of Translating Cypriot Legislation into Greek” (The Translator 20(2), 2014), and “‘Ethics-less’ Theories and ‘Ethical’ Practices: On Ethical Relativity in Translation” (ITT 5(1), 2011), as well as co-editor of a volume on Translation in Language Teaching and Assessment (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013).

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©inTRAlinea & Georgios Floros (2020).
"Pedagogical vs. Professional Translation: Reconsidering a Long-standing Differentiation", inTRAlinea Vol. 22.
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/archive/article/2493

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

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


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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[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)

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Laurian, Anne-Marie (1989) “Humour et traduction au contact des cultures”, Meta 34, no.  1 : 5–14.

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Margot, Jean-Claude (1979) Traduire et trahir. La théorie de la traduction et son application aux textes bibliques,  L’Age d’Homme.

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[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)


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