The Cyrus Cylinder: A Journey through Translation

By Zeinab Amiri & Farzaneh Farahzad (Allameh Tabataba’i University, Iran)


Since its discovery and translation in the late 19th century, the Cyrus Cylinder has made a tangible impact on not only Iranian, but also global historical awareness concerning the ancient Near Eastern politics. Apart from yielding illuminating insight on the past, the Cyrus Cylinder has been appropriated for present political and cultural exploitations, through being imbued with shades of meanings and narratives (Van de Ven, 2017). It has gone beyond a mere archaeological relic and has gained world-wide reputation due to its symbolic significance among different national and ethnic communities. Despite its role in both the composition of the Cyrus Cylinder in the ancient era and the politicization of it in the modern era, translation, in its intralingual, interlingual and cultural senses, has been largely ignored by current scholarship. This study endeavors to show, first, how the composition of this Cylinder might be seen as a translational practice, and, second, how the Cyrus Cylinder was exploited through translation for different legitimation narratives, both in ancient and modern periods.

Keywords: Cyrus Cylinder, Achaemenid dynasty, legitimation narratives, Cyrus the Great, Babylon, Persia

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"The Cyrus Cylinder: A Journey through Translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 25.

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1. Introduction

The use of translation in the field of historiography, i.e., “the history of the practices of history-writing” (D’hulst 2010: 397) has been, at best, considered as “natural” among both historians and translation scholars (Foz 2006: 131). Gertrudis Payàs (2004: 544), who is one exception, holds that “historians and anthropologists sometimes need to translate or to use translations in order to have access to sources written in other languages.” The importance of translation in the field of historiography is particularly pronounced when it comes to writing the ancient history of a nation, since its language, writing system and culture are all dead and its memory is revived only through material relics and translations of their written records into modern living languages; there is no Greek Cycladic, Neo-Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian or Old Persian civilizations, neither their languages nor their cultures exist anymore.

The Cyrus Cylinder, or the Edict of Cyrus, and in Persian as manshoor-e Kourosh, e.g., Cyrus Charter, is both a written document and an archaeological relic which was ordered by Cyrus II (ca. 600-530 BCE), known as Cyrus the great, in Persian Kurush-e kabir, the founder of the Persian Achaemenid empire (550-530 BCE). It belongs to the ancient past of the Iranians, or the Persians in the western parlance. As one of the best-known cuneiform inscriptions in the world, the Cylinder was discovered in 1879 by Hormuzd Rassam, an Assyrian archaeologist affiliated with the British Museum, and was first translated into English by Sir Henry Rawlinson, the renowned British archaeologist who also deciphered and translated the trilingual Bisotun inscription of Darius I in 1846 (for a detailed discussion of Cylinder, see Irving Finkel 2013).

There are a number of studies which have analyzed the textual and literary properties of the Cyrus Cylinder (e.g., Harmatta 1971a; Stolper 2013; Razmjou 2020). However, scant scholarly attention has so far been given to its translation despite its importance to the history of this document. The present study seeks to unfold the traces of translation in the history of the Cylinder, from the time it was composed in the late sixth century BCE up to the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In precise terms, this study explores:

  • The translationality of the Cyrus Cylinder among the Neo-Babylonian royal literature,
  • The translation of the Cylinder in the biblical historical literature,
  • The (re)translations of the Cylinder in the modern historical literature.

To this end, the text of the Cylinder was first juxtaposed with a sample of royal inscriptions belonging to both Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian kings such as Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, Ashurbanipal, Nebuchadnezzar, and Nabonidus. The final sample amounted to roughly 67 thousand words[1]. An attempt was made to show how its rhetorical, structural, and phraseological patterns might be a translation or rewriting of the preceding Mesopotamian royal inscriptions. Second, the Cylinder was compared with some biblical passages, including the books of Isaiah and Ezra. Finally, the modern translations of the Cylinder were reviewed to see how it has been interpreted.

2. Why was the Cyrus Cylinder Composed?

The Cyrus Cylinder is a barrel-shaped clay piece of 45 lines which is written in the Late Babylonian cuneiform script. As conceded by many scholars (e.g., see Kuhrt 2007: 110; Stolper 2013: 40; Finkel 2013: 18; van der Spek 2014: 234; Razmjou 2020: 29), the Cylinder is one of the latest examples of a Mesopotamian royal tradition of foundation or deposit inscriptions which date back to the late third millennium BCE. Since then, such inscriptions were used to consecrate important buildings (e.g., sanctuaries, palaces, urban buildings, etc.) and commemorate the king who built it and were then buried under the building (Grayson 1987: 3; Finkel 2013: 18).[2] In a similar vein, the Cylinder was a deposit inscription which was made shortly after the capture of Babylon in 539/8 and was buried in the foundations of the Esagila, the temple of Marduk, the chief god of the Babylonian pantheon (Wiesehöfer 2001: 2; Kuhrt 2007: 109). The main message of this cylinder, which was part of a much wider policy of gaining legitimation for the new ruler, was to make a sharp contrast between the purportedly impious Nabonidus, the last native king of the Neo-Babylonian empire (ca. 612-539 BCE), and the pious Cyrus as the upright Babylonian king, appointed by Marduk (see Briant 2002: 43; Curtis and Razmjou 2005: 59; Kuhrt 2007: 119; Van der Spek 2014: 3). As a new foreign claimant to the Babylonian throne, Cyrus tried to present himself like the preceding Babylonian monarchs by respecting their temples and building urban constructions, as claimed in the Cylinder (see Kuhrt 2007; Finkel 2013). Indeed, by so doing, Cyrus sought to show that “while a person from beyond the eastern border, he knew how to behave like a Babylonian in matters of religion, administration and tradition in general.” (Finkel 2013: 11). Cyrus’ attempts at winning political legitimation can be metaphorically seen as endeavoring to translate himself into the Babylonian culture.

3. The Cyrus Cylinder’s Translational Properties

In this part, the Cyrus Cylinder is examined in different sections, each followed by a summary and its textual juxtaposition with the Mesopotamian royal inscriptions which were written in either Assyrian or Babylonian languages. These are the two main dialects of old Akkadian language, an Eastern Semitic language, which were spoken in southern and northern Mesopotamia (largely modern Iraq), respectively, since the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE (Luukko and Van Buylaere 2017). However, they were so different in grammar and vocabulary that they were considered separate languages by the ancients themselves (George 2007: 31). It is modern Assyriologists who treat them as variant forms of Akkadian (Luukko and Van Buylaere 2017: 314). Furthermore, both Assyrian and Babylonian languages went through stages of historical development; from Old Babylonian/ Assyrian in ca. 2000 BCE to Neo-Babylonian/ Assyrian in ca. 1000 BCE and eventually to the Late Babylonian in ca. 500 BCE (George 2007: 36). During this time-span of nearly 1500 years, both languages underwent remarkable syntactic and lexical transformations, so much so that understanding royal inscriptions written in Old/middle Babylonian/Assyrian languages entailed diachronic intralingual/interlingual translation.

3.1 Cyrus Cylinder: Lines 1-19: Prologue

This introductory section is narrated in the third person singular and reflects the perspective of Marduk (Finkel 2013: 9) and a eulogy of this god (Harmatta 1971a). It is an apologia which sets the scene for Cyrus’ capture of Babylonia. It relates Marduk’s wrath at Nabonidus’ cultic misdeeds, his summoning up of Cyrus as “the upright king” to rule over Babylonia and his assistance to Cyrus to enter Babylon without a battle[3]  (for a detailed summary of the whole Cylinder, see Kuhrt, 1983, 2007; Wiesehöfer 2001: 38-55). Table 1 provides some examples of the identified parallel rhetorical themes in the Mesopotamian royal inscriptions and the Cyrus Cylinder.


Examples in Mesopotamian royal inscriptions

 Examples in Cyrus Cylinder

Divine abandonment

1. [At that] time, the great lord, the god Marduk, had turned away in divine wrath from the land of Akkad[4]… (Marduk-apla-iddina II[5] 01 )


2. […] Mar]duk-apla-iddina (II) […] who did not fear the words of the grea]t [god]s [... had put his tr]ust [in the sea and (its) s]ur[ging waves]. (Sargon II 002)[6]


3. … his (Sennacherib’s) [the Neo-Assyrian king] heart thought about sin... He approached Babylon with evil intent, laid waste to its sanctuaries, …, destroyed (its) rituals, ... The prince, the god Marduk, did not assuage his divine wrath (and) for twenty-one years he took up residence inside Baltil (Aššur)…. (Nabonidus 03)[7]

He [Nabonidus] ma[de] a counterfeit of Esagil, [and] … for Ur[8] and the rest of the cult-cities.


Rites inappropriate to them, [impure] fo[od-offerings] disrespectful […] were daily gabbled, and, as an insult,


He brought the daily offerings to a halt; he inter[fered with the rites and] instituted […] within the sanctuaries. In his mind, reverential fear of Marduk, king of the gods, came to an end.


He did yet more evil to his city every day; … his [people], he brought ruin on them all by a yoke without relief.


Enlil-of-the-gods[9] became extremely angry at their complaints, and […] their territory. The gods who lived within them left their shrines,

Divine selection

1.The one [Nabonidus] whose name the god Marduk — the Enlil of the godssteadfastly called for kingship to provision the cult centers and renew (their) sanctuaries… (Nabonidus cylinder 15)


2. In a favorable month,…, in accordance with their sublime command, I joyfully entered the House of Succession... (Esarhaddon 001)


3. He [Marduk] duly chose me, Sargon, the reverent king, from among all rulers and exalted me. He made my [weapon]s prevail [in order] to bar the e[v]il enemy Chaldeans from the territory of the land of Sumer and Akkad… (Sargon II)


4. He (the god Marduk) looked (with favor) upon Marduk-apla-iddina (II), […] prince who reveres him, to whom he (the god Marduk) stretched out his hand …(Marduk-apla iddina II 1)


5. The king of the gods, the god Asari, duly named him [to] the shepherdship of the land of Sumer and Akkad (and) personally [sa]id: “This is indeed the shepherd who will gather the scattered (people) Marduk-apla iddina II 1)

… He [Marduk] inspected and checked all the countries,


seeking for the upright king of his choice. He took the hand of Cyrus, king of the city of Anshan[10], and called him by his name, proclaiming him aloud for the kingship over all of everything.

Divine assistance

1.Through the strength of the gods Aššur, Sîn, Šamaš, Nabû, Marduk, Ištar of Nineveh, (and) Ištar of Arbela, I conquered all of (my) arrogant enemies.  (Esarhaddon 01)


2.[For the god Enlil], king of the gods, valiant, who drives out the enemies in battle, [...] the sublime, who walks at the side of the king, he one who conquers the enemies ...] (Esarhaddon 130)


3…[With the support of the gods Aššur, Bēl 3.(Marduk), and Nabû, the] great [god]s, my lords [who march at my [ide,] … (Ashurbanipal 03)


4. [With] the power of the great lord, the god Marduk, … he defeated the widespread army of Subartu and shattered their weapons… (Marduk-apla iddina II 1)

He made the land of Guti and all the Median troops prostrate themselves at his feet, while he shepherded in justice and righteousness the black-headed people


… whom he had put under his care. Marduk, the great lord, who nurtures his people, saw with pleasure his fine deeds and true heart,


… and ordered that he should go to Babylon. He had him take the road to Tintir (Babylon), and, like a friend and companion, he walked at his side.

Joyous reception

Happily, I entered Babylon, the city of the Enlil of the gods (Marduk); I prayed to the gods who dwelt in Esagil (and) Ezida, (and) offered pure voluntary offerings before them (Sargon 001).

He had him enter without fighting or battle right into Shuanna; he saved his city Babylon from hardship. He handed over to him Nabonidus, the king who did not fear him.


All the people of Tintir, of all Sumer and Akkad, nobles and governors, bowed down before him and kissed his feet, rejoicing over his kingship and their faces shone.

Table 1: Common rhetorical themes between the Mesopotamian royal inscriptions and Cyrus Cylinder

The first prevailing rhetorical theme of this section is what Cogan (1974) calls ‘divine abandonment’, according to which, the deities of an enemy leave their city due to their anger at the misdeeds of the king or the inhabitants. This theme was invoked by the new conqueror to justify his ravages and imperial expansions (Van der Spek 2014: 10). This theme is both observed in the Cyrus Cylinder and some of the royal inscriptions (see Table 1). The second rhetorical theme in the Cylinder is divine selection, according to which the new aspirant to power was proclaimed as king by the god of the conquered land. Divine abandonment and selection are then followed by divine assistance; that is, the new conqueror is not only chosen by gods, but he is also assisted by them in his military expeditions. This is why Cyrus is claimed to have been assisted by Marduk in his military campaigns. This theme can be discerned, among others, in the royal inscriptions of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal (see Table 1).

This section ends with Cyrus’ peaceful capture of Babylon and his joyous reception by the Babylonians. There is no translation (in the sense of translating of nonverbal events into verbal accounts) of the Opis battle which Cyrus’ army fought against the Nabonidus army. Interestingly, very few parallel examples of joyous reception were found among the preceding royal inscriptions. One exception is seen in the Annals of Sargon II, the Neo-Assyrian king, when he seized Babylon, although it does not represent the invasion of Babylon as a peaceful act and merely writes that, “Happily, I entered Babylon…” (see Table 1, row 4). This is understandable given Cyrus’ need for political legitimation among his Babylonian subjects.

3.2 Lines 20-22: Royal Protocol

From the line 20 of the text of the Cylinder onwards, Cyrus himself becomes the narrator. This shift of point of view was, as far as the analyzed sample showed, unique to the Cylinder. This structural device is understandable given that Cyrus was a foreign conqueror of Babylon and was in need of legitimation; the scene had to be made ready from a third-person point of view to convince the audience of Cyrus’ role as a divinely-chosen savior for his Babylonian subjects, not as a usurper. However, the way Cyrus presents himself and his genealogy, has countless parallel examples in the Mesopotamian royal inscriptions. Table 2 provides some examples of royal protocol in the Mesopotamian royal inscriptions and the Cylinder.


Mesopotamian royal inscriptions

Cyrus Cylinder

Royal protocol

1. Sargon (II), appointee of the god Enlil, … great king, strong king, king of the world, king of Assyria, king of the four quarters (of the world), favorite of the great gods];… (Sargon II 001)


2. I, Ashurbanipal, great king, strong king, king of the world, king of Assyria, king of the four quarters (of the world), creation of the hands of (the god) Aššur  (and) the goddess Mullisu; … son of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria(grand)son of Sennacherib, king of the world, king of Assyria; descendant of Sargon (II), king of the world, king of Assyria, governor of Babylon, king of [the land of Sumer and] Akkad,… (Ashurbanipal )


3. Nebuchadnezzar (II), king of Babylon, pious prince, selected by the steadfast heart of the god Marduk, true shepherd who ensures that the sanctuaries of the god Nabû are looked after correctly, …, am I. (Nebuchadnezzar II 012).


4. Nabonidus, king of Babylon, the one nominated by the gods Nabû and Marduk, heir of Nabû-balāssu-iqbi, wise prince, am I. (Nabonidus 001)

I, Cyrus (II), king of the world, great king, strong king, king of Babylon, king of the land of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters (of the world), son of Cambyses (I) — great king, king of Anšan — grandson of Cyrus (I) — great king, kin[g of] Anšan — descendant of Teispes — great king, king of Anšan — the eternal seed of kingship, whose reign the gods Bēl (Marduk) and Nabû love and whose k[ingshi]p they desired to their heart’s content. When I peacefully entered i[n]to Babylon, amidst joy and happiness, I took up (my) lordly residence in the palace of the ruler.[11]

Table 2: Royal protocol in Mesopotamian royal inscriptions and Cyrus Cylinder

This section of the Cylinder describes Cyrus’ autonyms (i.e., royal epithets) and his genealogy, going back to his great-grandfather (for a discussion of this royal self-presentation, see Stolper 2013). Upon close reading and comparison of this part with the preceding royal inscriptions, it was found that it bears more similarities with the Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions than with the Neo-Babylonian ones. As seen in Table 2, the royal titles of “king of the world”, “strong king”, “great king”, “king of the four quarters (or rims) of the world” and “king of Sumer and Akkad” which are all used in the Cylinder, have their prototypes in the royal inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian kings, e.g., Sargon II and Ashurbanipal. They were not discerned in the Neo-Babylonian royal inscriptions, even in those of Nebuchadnezzar II who was the most powerful Neo- Babylonian king. This finding is in line with Harmatta (1971a) who argued that this similar royal protocol stems from the fact that Cyrus, like Ashurbanipal, the great Neo-Assyrian king, claimed world domination. It’s noteworthy that these expressions for royal self-presentation were not, however, initiated by Ashurbanipal; rather they were in use since at least the late 3rd millennium, when the great Akkadian empire (ca. 2300-2100 BCE) was founded by Sargon of Akkad (ca. 2334-2279 BCE) (de Blois and Van der Spek 1983/2019: 19). This implies that these Neo-Assyrian royal protocols were themselves translated from the Old Babylonian language.

3.3 Lines 22-43: Positive Assessment of Cyrus and Restoration Policy

This section which makes up the main body of the Cylinder, first presents Cyrus’ peaceful capture of Babylon and then enumerates Cyrus’ benevolent cultic restorations and building projects in Babylon. As seen in Table 3, representation of building projects and cultic restorations has also its prototypes in both the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian royal inscriptions.


Mesopotamian royal inscriptions

Cyrus Cylinder

Cultic and building restoration

1.He directed his attention [to] renovating the abandoned cult centers and sanctuaries of all the gods of the land Akkad… (With regard to) the outer enclosure wall of Eanna in the lower courtyard, he tore down its parapet and laid bare its foundation. (Sargon II 3)


2. The one who (re)constructed the temple of the god Aššur, (re)built Esagil and Babylon, returned [the] plundered [god]s of the lands to their (proper) place, and … the one who completed the rites, (re)confirmed sattukku offerings, … ; (40) ... [all of the people] who live in them; the one who repaid their losses; who gathered the [scattered] people of [Babylon] (and) (re)settled (them) in peaceful dwellings; (Esarhaddon 048)


3…. he [Marduk-apla-iddina II] directed his attention to performing the rites, to administering correctly the rituals, and to renovating the cult centers and the sanctuaries of the divine residences of the great gods of the land of Akkad.


4. I provided Esagil with silver, gold, precious (and) valuable stone(s), copper, musukkannu-wood, …. I put Imgur-Enlil and Nēmetti-Enlil, the great walls of Babylon, (back) in order, …(Nebuchadnezzar II 012)

25 I sought the safety of the city of Babylon and all its sanctuaries. As for the population of Babylon […, w]ho as if without div[ine intention] had endured a yoke not decreed for them,


26 I soothed their weariness; I freed them from their bonds (?). …


32 I collected together all of their people and returned them to their settlements,


34 I returned them [gods] unharmed to their cells, in the sanctuaries that make them happy.


38 I strove to strengthen the defences of the wall Imgur-Enlil, the great wall of Babylon,

Table 3: Cultic and building restoration in Mesopotamian royal inscriptions and Cyrus Cylinder

3.4 Lines 44-45: Concluding Prayers

In the final section, Cyrus asks for a long life and secure throne and full age from Marduk for himself. Likewise, all the Mesopotamian royal inscriptions end with such prayers.


Mesopotamian royal inscriptions

Cyrus Cylinder

Concluding prayer

O Marduk, great lord,… Give me as a gift a life of long days, the attainment of very old age, a stable dynasty, a firmly secured throne, the cutting down of the enemy, (and) the attainment of the heart’s desire…. (Nebuchadnezzar II C213 // C200).

in its place. May Marduk, the great lord, present to me as a gift a long life and the fullness of age,


45 [a secure throne and an enduring rei]gn, [and may I …… in] your heart forever.

Table 4: Concluding prayer in the Mesopotamian royal inscriptions and Cyrus Cylinder

Besides all the rhetorical similarities mentioned above, there are also phraseological similarities. For example, the term ‘shepherd,’ (line 13) was amply used as a royal epithet in the Mesopotamian inscriptions; it can be discerned even in the well-known Code of Hammurabi, composed around 1755-1750 BC in Old Babylonian; “Hammurabi, the shepherd, called by Enlil, am I.” Phrases like ‘from the upper sea to the lower sea’, ‘kissing the feet’ of the new conqueror and ‘bringing tributes’ for him by other kings are also typical of the Mesopotamian inscriptions (e.g., in Ashurbanipal 003, prism B; Nebuchadnezzar II 011, prism). Phrases such as to ‘take the hand of’ [Cyrus], ‘to call him [king] by name’, ‘to proclaim him aloud for kingship’ (line 12), ‘like a friend and companion’, ‘walk at his side’, ‘hand over to him’ [Nabonidus], (lines 15 and 17) all have their precedent examples in the Mesopotamian royal inscriptions.

Far from being an accurate reproduction of its preceding Mesopotamian royal inscriptions, the Cylinder also possesses some unique thematic and narrative novelties which fit its own cultural and political context. The first one is the shift in point of view explained earlier. Second, in line 35 of the Cylinder, Cyrus asks for Marduk’s mercy for both himself and his son, Cambyses. Although asking for gods’ mercy was highly typical in the royal inscriptions, none of them refer to their succeeding heirs to the throne though. These differences might be textual innovations emanating from the Persian literary tradition.

Drawing on these similarities and differences, the Cylinder, without a doubt, stands in a translational relationship with the preceding Mesopotamian royal inscriptions on the following grounds:

  • The very act of borrowing cylinder writing on the part of Cyrus can be assumed as a cultural translation.
  • As an edict issued by Cyrus to his Babylonian subjects, the Cylinder is written in the Neo-Babylonian language, not in Cyrus’ own language. Indeed, it is Cyrus who translates himself in Babylonian terms.
  • The text of the Cylinder bears more rhetorical, textual and phraseological similarities with the Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions than with the Neo-Babylonian ones. This implies that the Babylonian scribes were not merely copyists, but expert translators who were well-versed in the preceding Neo-Assyrian royal literature. Simply put, writing the text of the cylinder entailed interlingual transfer.
  • The textual similarities with the Neo-Babylonian inscriptions can also be considered as signs of intralingual translations.
  • The Cylinder is a ‘metatext’ which is a translation of not a single text, but of a repertoire of Mesopotamian royal ‘prototexts’. The idea of translation as an intertextual practice not as equivalence, as defined by Author2 (2009), is more pronounced in historiography, since the historical ‘metatext’ is in intertextual dialogue with a plurality of ‘prototexts’ not a single one. This further attests to the fragile idea of originality.

3.5 The Cyrus Cylinder: A Journey through Translation

In this part, the translation of Cylinder into other cultural traditions is explored.

3.5.1 Biblical Tradition

The earliest translational traces of the Cylinder can be discerned in the biblical tradition which has yielded a favorable image of Cyrus as the liberator of the Jewish people who had been put into exile in Babylon since Nebuchadnezzar had demolished the land of Judah in 597/6[12] (Kuhrt 2007: 109). Although no straight reference to Jewish liberation exists in the Cylinder, lines 30-32 have been taken as testimony for the idea that Cyrus issued a decree for the return of Jewish exiles and the rebuilding of their god’s temple in Jerusalem and thus put an end to the so-called Babylonian captivity. Juxtaposing the Cylinder text with Old Testament’s texts mentioning the name of Cyrus (e.g., Ezra, Daniel, Deutro Isaiah) reveals significant phraseological and rhetorical similarities (For further discussion see, Razmjou 2020).

Cyrus Cylinder


‘While he [Cyrus] shepherded in righteousness the black-headed people…’ (line 13)

‘[The Lord] who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd.’ (Isaiah, 44: 28).

[Marduk] ‘took the hand of Cyrus, king of Anshan’ (line 12),

[Yahweh] whose right hand [Cyrus] I [Yahweh] I took hold of (Isaiah, 45:1),


[Marduk] ‘called him by his name’ (line 12),

[Yahweh] ‘summons you [Cyrus] by name’ (Isaiah, 45: 3)

[Marduk] assisted him ‘like a friend and companion’ and ‘walked at his side’ (line 15).

 ‘will go before you [Cyrus]…’ (Isaiah, 45: 2)

‘Marduk…ordered that he [Cyrus] should go to Babylon, he had him take the road to Tintir [Babylon] (line 15)

‘I [Yahweh] have called him [Cyrus]. I will bring him [to Babylon] and will succeed him in his mission’ (Isaiah, 45: 15)

Table 5: Textual similarities between the Cyrus Cylinder and Isaiah

These textual similarities can be taken as evidence that the biblical sources were translated from their preceding Neo-Babylonian source, given the fact the Jews lived in Babylon when the Cyrus Cylinder was composed. However, the figure of Cyrus, when represented in biblical historical narratives, was translated into Jewish cultural and theological terms. While Cyrus was ‘called’ by Marduk to rule over Babylon in the Cylinder, he was ‘summoned’ by Yahweh, he was hailed as Yahweh’s “anointed” and “Messiah” (Isaiah, 45: 1).

3.5.2 Modern Era Tradition (19th century onwards)

Within the western tradition, the Achaemenid kings were fairly well known through the translations of Greek and biblical literature. Within Iran, however, since the Sassanid era (224-651 AD), the factual history of the Achaemenids, including the figure of Cyrus, was replaced with the mythical Avestan dynasties of Pishdadians and Kayanians. This replacement of historical narrative with mythical narrative persisted until the late 19th century through Arabic and later Persian (re)translations of the Middle-Persian Khwaday-namag (i.e., book of kings) (for further information, see Daryaee 2014; Hameen-Anttila 2018). In other words, the Achaemenids were almost unknown to Iranians up until the late 19th century.

Thus matters stood in Iran until the mid-nineteenth century when nationalist sentiments began to emerge in Persian historical thought. Later known as “proto-nationalist historiography” (Amanat 2012: 293), this line of historical thought put great emphasis on the glories of Iran’s pre-Islamic past. More particularly, it was the deciphering and translation of ancient cuneiform inscriptions by Sir Henry Rawlinson (1810-1895) in the 1840s as well as the translations of European archaeological and historical works which caused a boom in nationalist historiography which aimed to “contrast Iran’s glorious past with the plight of its present” (Amanat 2012: 337).

It was within such nationalist milieu that the Cylinder was discovered in 1879 after being buried underground for over 2400 years. One year after its discovery, the Cylinder was transliterated and translated into English by Henry Rawlinson[13]. Its translation into other European languages (e.g., German Tr.: F. H. Weissbach 1911; Eilers 1971/4; Berger 1975) and retranslations into English (e.g., R. W. Rogers 1912: Budge 1922 (a partial trans.); Smith, S. 1924; Openheim in Pritchard, 1969: 315-6; Grayson 1975) emerged within decades.

Since the late 19th century, owing to the translations of Greek and biblical texts and European travelogues, the figure of Cyrus was an emergent national figure, praised as an ideal powerful king among the Iranian cultural and political elites. However, Cyrus and many other historical ancient figures were identified with the well-established Persian mythological characters. Evidently, it was only after the first Persian translation of the Cylinder by the renowned historian, Hasan Pirniya (1871-1935), in his ground-breaking book, History of Ancient Iran, published in 1933, that Cyrus’ true history was revealed to the Iranians. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, until 1979, eight other Persian full/ partial retranslations and summaries appeared in the Iranian historical books (Falsafi 1939; Bastani-Parizi 1951; Hedayati 1956; Moghaddam 1961; Khanbaba-Bayani 1968; Shahpour-Shahbazi 1969; Ashrafi 1971; Bayani 1971). A close reading of these Persian translations as well as the translators’ pre/post commentaries showed their emphasis on Cyrus as a champion of religious toleration towards the Jews and other cults and his respectful treatment of his subjects. Table 6 shows a summary of comparison between Roger’s (1912) English translation and Pirniya’s (1933) Persian translation.

Roger (1912)

Pirniya (1933)

……a weakling was established in rule over the land

نبونید پادشاهی بود ضعیف‌النفس

[Nabonidus was a weakling]


مردم استغاثه کرده گفتند نظری کن.

[People appealed and said, “Look upon us”]

He [Marduk] spared his city Babylon a calamity.

و شهر خود را از تعدّی خلاصی بخشید.

[And he saved his city from aggression]

When I [Cyrus] made my triumphal entrance into Babylon

وقتی که من بی جنگ و جدال وارد تین‌تیر شدم.

[When I entered Tintir[14] without a fight]

With joy and rejoicing I took up my lordly residence in the royal palace.

با مسرت و شادمانی مردم در قصر پادشاهان بر سریر سلطنت نشستم.

[With the joy and happiness of the people, I sat on the throne in the palace of the kings]

The needs of Babylon and of all its cities I gladly took heed to.

اوضاع داخلی بابل و امکنه مقدسه آن قلب مرا تکان داد...

[The internal situation of Babylon and its sacred places moved my heart]

Table 6: A comparison of Roger’s (1912) and Pirniya’s (1933) translations of the Cyrus Cylinder

Pirniya’s translation, and his book in general, provoked increased interest in the life of Cyrus, to the extent that, among the 94 identified books on the history of ancient Iran published between 1927 and 1979, 24 were exclusively about Cyrus, (half of which were translated). These books were mostly translations of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, which is a fictional eulogy of Cyrus as an ideal leader.

Being translated into European and Persian languages, the Cyrus Cylinder was gradually raised beyond a mere archaeological relic and was imbued with a multitude of meanings and narratives beyond its original function by different ethnic and national groups. First, it was appropriated by the Jewish community as a further archaeological and historical proof for invigorating the biblical story of Jewish liberation by Cyrus, Ko’resh, their “Messiah” (Van de Ven 2017: 73-75). This new historical narrative was invoked by the Jews to establish their own state in Palestine, to the extent that the American president Harry Truman declared himself “the soul creator of the state of Israel, proclaiming ‘I am Cyrus’ repeatedly at a Jewish Theological Seminary in November of 1953.” (Van de Ven 2017: 74).

Within Iran, being in want of political legitimation, the First Pahlavi monarch, Reza Shah (r. 1925-1941) (and more particularly the Second Pahlavi monarch, Mohammad Reza Shah (r. 1941-1979), went to great lengths to construct a pre-Islamic “national memory of the glorious past” (Vaziri 1993: 197) so as to provide “a nationalist, nonreligious identity onto which Western ways might be grafted.” (Gregg 2005: 309). Cyrus became a paragon for this “Aryan Neo-Achaemenid nationalism” (Bausani 1975: 46; cited in Van de Ven 2017: 79). Seeking to establish his own legitimacy by identifying himself as the successor to the great Achaemenid empire, the Second Pahlavi displayed a profound desire “to not only slot the Cyrus Cylinder into the narrative of his own nation, and the continuity of Persian monarchy, but also into the tale of international civilizational development” (Van de Ven 2017: 82). In order to perpetuate the cultural and national memory of Iranian’s past, the Second Pahlavi launched a widespread pro-Achaemenid campaign and carried out a number of things. First, the Cylinder was labeled as “First Declaration of Human Rights” in the 1960s (Curtis 2013: 86). Second, the 2,500-year anniversary celebrations were held in October 1971, for which the Cylinder was chosen as “the official symbol” (Curtis 2013: 88) and “as a symbol of Iranian military prowess and humanitarian achievements” (Van de Ven 2017: 80) so as “to represent the depth of Iranian history, and the achievements of its empires through time” (Van de Ven 2017: 144) and to show that “Persia had been the birthplace of human rights” (Bailey 2004; as cited in Curtis 2013: 88). Second, the United Nations Conference on Human Rights was held in Iran in 1968 and a truncated translation of Cylinder was delivered to United Nations in October 1971 so as to perpetuate the narrative of the Cylinder as “The First Bill of Human Rights”.[15] Finally, an attempt was made by the Second Pahlavi to “introduce a new ‘Imperial’ calendar dated from the accession of Cyrus the Great in 559 BC.” (Ansari 2012: 183)

4. Conclusions

The present study traced the translationality of the Cyrus Cylinder and its (re)translations into other languages. It showed that the Cylinder was not only composed through interlingual and intralingual translation in the ancient era, but it has also had a translational life in the modern era. Some parts of the text of Cylinder also were translated into Hebrew language. In modern era, the original text of the Cylinder is preserved in the British museum and is understood by Assyriologists alone. The translation of the Cylinder into modern languages, while securing its afterlife, becomes a “metalanguage” (Venuti 1993: 196) of cultural appropriation and embeds it in an ever-changing network of cultural meanings and legitimation narratives, including biblical veracity, Jewish nationalism, Iranian cultural supremacy and Iranian national identity.

The ancient past is a ‘lost original’ which can be read through its modern translations; it is either seen through its material remains or its translations. The bulk of cultural knowledge on, say, Cyrus the great, comes from translations (of both the cuneiform cylinder and Greek sources), which in turn have generated further historical interpretations. Translation, as a discursive practice, is one of the essential ways of generating and furthering historical knowledge, ultimately leading to the construction and dissemination of culture-bound historical narratives. Not only is history translation in the narrativist sense of translating events into historiographical narrative (e.g., White 1973), but history is also written through translation; historians use translation as an essential operative tool. Reading many historical works on the life of Cyrus, for example, shows that they are metatexts which rest on intertextual relations with many ‘local’ and/or ‘global’ prototexts (see Author2 2009). Once Lefebvre and Bassnett (1998: 6) held that “translation is in history, always.” Now, it might be added that history writing is also in translation.


Amanat, Abbas (2012) “Legend, Legitimacy and Making a National Narrative in the Historiography of Qajar Iran (1785–1925)” in Persian Historiography(vol. 10) Charles Melville (ed.), I.B. Tauris: 292-366.

Ansari, Ali M. (2012) The Politics of Nationalism in Modern Iran, Cambridge University Press.

Bausani, Alessandro (1975) The Persians from the Earliest Days to the Twentieth Century, London, Elek Books.

Briant, Pierre (2002) From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, trans. P. T. Daniels, Eisenbrauns.

Cogan, Morton (1974) Imperialism and Religion: Assyria, Judah, and Israel in the Eighth and Seventh Centuries B.C.E. Society of Biblical Literature and Scholarly Press.

Curtis, John (2013) “The Cyrus Cylinder: The Creation of an Icon and its Loan to Tehran” in The Cyrus Cylinder: The King of Persia's Proclamation from Ancient Babylon, Irving Finkel (ed.), I.B. Tauris: 85-103.

Curtis, John and Razmjou, Shahrokh (2005) “The Palace” in Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia, John Curtis and Nigel Tallis (eds.), The British Museum Press: 50-103.

D’hulst, Lieven (2010) “Translation history” in Handbook of translation studies (Vol. 1) Yves Gambier & Luc van Doorslaer (eds.), John Benjamins Publishing Company: 397-405.

Daryaee, Touraj (2014) “Historiography in Late Antique Iran” in Perceptions of Iran: History, Myths and Nationalism from Medieval Persia to the Islamic Republic, Ali M. Ansari (ed.), I. B. Tauris: 65-76.

De Blois, Lukas and Van der Spek, R. J. (1983/2019) An Introduction to the Ancient World, Routledge.

Farahzad, Farzaneh (2009) “Translation as an Intertextual Practice”, Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, 16, no. 3-4: 125-131.

Finkel, Irving (2013) The Cyrus Cylinder: The King of Persia's Proclamation from Ancient Babylon, I.B. Tauris.

Foz, Clara (2006) “Translation, History and the Translation Scholar” in Charting the Future of Translation History, Georges F. Bastin and Paul F. Bandia (eds.), University of Ottawa Press: 131-144.

George, Andrew (2007) “Babylonian and Assyrian: A History of Akkadian” in Languages of Iraq, ancient and modern, Nicholas Postgate (ed.), British School of Archaeology in Iraq: 31-71.

Grayson, Albert Kirk (1987/2002) Assyrian Rulers of the Third and Second Millennia BC (To 1115 BC), University of Toronto Press.

Gregg, Gary S. (2005) The Middle East: A Cultural Psychology, Oxford University Press.

Hämeen-Anttila, Jaakko (2018) Khwadāynāmag: The Middle Persian Book of Kings, Leiden, Brill.

Harmatta, J. (1974) Les modèles littéraires de l’édit babylonien de Cyrus, Acta Iranica, 1, 29-44.

Isbell, Ch. D. (2017). Persia and Yehud in “The Old Testament in archaeology and history J. Ebeling”, J. E. Wright, Elliot, M. Flesher, P. V. M. (Eds.), (pp. 529-556). Baylor University Press.

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_______ (2007) “Ancient Near Eastern History: The Case of Cyrus the Great of Persia” in Understanding the History of ancient Israel, H. G. M. Williamson (ed.), Oxford University Press: 107-127.

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Razmjou, Shahrokh (2020) “The Textual Bonnections between the Cyrus Cylinder and the Bible, with Particular Reference to Isaiah” in John Curtis (ed.), Studies in Ancient Persia and the Achaemenid Period, James Clarke & Co.: 158.-174.

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Vaziri, Mostafa (1993) Iran as Imagined Nation: The Construction of National Identity, New York, Paragon House.

Venuti, Lawrence (1993) “Translation as Cultural Politics: Regimes of Domestication in English”, Textual Practice 7, no. 2: 208–223.

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[1] The study used the English translations of these royal inscriptions which are accessible in Oracc: Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus ( For the full text of the Cyrus Cylinder, Finkel’s (2013) was consulted, which is the most recent and complete English translation.

[2] Among the many Assyrian and Babylonian kings whose cylinders have survived, we can mention: the Cylinder B of Esarhaddon, the clay Cylinder of Nabopolassar, the cuneiform Cylinder of Nebuchadnezzar II and the Cylinder of Nabonidus.

[3] However, before entering the city of Babylon, Cyrus’ army had defeated Nabonidus’ army in the city of Opis and had brought about a brutal massacre there, causing the forceful submission of the Babylonians (for more information, see Nabonidus Chronicle available at:

[4] All emphases added to highlight the similarities.

[5] The Chaldean king Marduk-apla-iddina II (reg. 722-710 BCE) (the biblical Merodach-baladan), who seized the Babylonian throne by force from Sargon II (reg. 722-705 BCE), the Neo-Assyrian king.

[6] In this cylinder, Esarhaddon attributes his father’s, Sennacherib, invasion of Babylonia to gods’ wrath at the Babylonians’ misdeeds:

[7] Only Nabonidus attributes Nabopolassar’s (626-605 BCE), the founder of Neo-Babylonian empire, the usurpation of Babylon to Marduk’s wrath at Sennacherib’s cultic violations.

[8] An ancient Mesopotamian city

[9] A religious title for Marduk

[10] Ancient Elamite city, modern Tal-e Malyan (Finkel 2013: 9).

[11] This part of the English translation of the Cyrus Cylinder has been taken from Oracc, RIBO (Royal Inscriptions of Babylonia Online).

[12] For a discussion of Babylon’s invasion of Judah, see: Isbell (2017).

[13] H. C. Rawlinson (1880). Art. II. Notes on a newly-discovered Clay Cylinder of Cyrus the Great. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, 12, pp.70-79.

[14] The old Sumerian name for the city of Babylon (Finkel 2013)

[15] This translation can be found in: UN Press Release HQ/264.

About the author(s)

Zeinab Amiri is PhD candidate of Translation Studies in Allameh Tabataba’i university, Tehran, Iran. She has published papers on translation and Iranian women journals. She is currently studying translation in ancient Iran for her doctoral dissertation.

Farzaneh Farahzad is a Professor of Translation Studies in Allameh Tabataba’i University, Tehran. She has published extensively on Translation Studies. Her recent works include a “A Comprehensive English-Persian Dictionary of Translation Studies” , “Translation Studies: From literary studies to linguistics” in Persian, and “Women Translators: Different Voices and New Horizons”, published by Routledge. She is one of the pioneering figures in introducing TS in Iran, and in curriculum development for TS programs. She is the author of several course books in Persian and English and of a great number of Persian and English articles. Her model of Translation Criticism, and her approach to Intertextuality have inspired a great number of local and international researches.

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

©inTRAlinea & Zeinab Amiri & Farzaneh Farahzad (2023).
"The Cyrus Cylinder: A Journey through Translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 25.

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Translating the cultural Other during Covid:

A comparative study of Italian and UK online news

By Denise Filmer & Ashley Riggs (Università di Pisa & Ca' Foscari Università di Venezia, Italy)


This article presents the results of a multimodal critical discourse analysis comparing UK and Italian online news texts published at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our theoretical framework and methodology draw upon framing theory, journalistic translation research, multimodal discourse analysis and discursive news values analysis (DNVA). Our analysis demonstrates how coverage of the pandemic in leading UK and Italian newsbrands perpetuated Italian and British national and cultural stereotypes through lexis, choice of images and transquotation. By exploring the nexus between multimodal discourse and cultural translation in the framing of international news, our study contributes to closing the gap in multimodal news translation research.

Keywords: news translation, cultural representation, COVID-19, multimodality, news values

©inTRAlinea & Denise Filmer & Ashley Riggs (2023).
"Translating the cultural Other during Covid: A comparative study of Italian and UK online news", inTRAlinea Vol. 25.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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1. Introduction[*]

National ideologies and cultural borders have not disappeared with the emergence of globalised societies: on the contrary, social practices such as stereotyping and Othering tend to re-surface in times of crisis. As Joep Leerssen (2007: 25) has suggested, ‘[t]he revival of national attitudes is not so much a re-appearance of something that had disappeared’ but rather ‘a new upsurge’.  Studies have shown that when Coronavirus struck in Wuhan towards the end of 2019 and the pandemic loomed, the news media tended to frame the evolving international health crisis using ‘hyperbolic and exclusionary language designed to generate distinct group boundaries between “us” and “them”’ (Martikainen and Sakki 2021: 390). The aim of this paper is to analyse the construction in online news of reciprocal representations across Italian/English linguacultures (Risager 2012) during the first wave of Coronavirus. Because we are both readers and scholars of online newspapers who witnessed the pandemic unfold from two linguacultural perspectives, our attention was drawn to the ways in which cultural representations emerged in a dialogic exchange across the respective national news media through framing practices intrinsic to forms of journalistic and cultural translation.

To explore this exchange, we constructed a comparable corpus of journalistic texts encompassing the UK’s reporting on Italy's handling of the Covid emergency during the first national lockdown outside China (Italy locked down on 9 March 2020), and Italian news reporting on the inexorable move towards Britain’s lockdown (23 March 2020).  Starting from the theoretical premise of media framing (Entman 1993) according to which aspects of a perceived reality are selected, foregrounded, or backgrounded to promote a particular interpretation, we analyse the verbal and visual features of the news texts using a multimodal critical discourse analysis approach (Machin & Mayr 2012; Ledin & Machin 2018). We focus on examples of cultural translation, transquotation, lexis, and the multimodal construction of meaning to address the following questions:

  1. How does the interplay of discourse and image contribute to constructing representations of the Other at the beginning of the pandemic?
  2. How do ‘transquotations’ (Filmer 2020; Haapanen and Perrin 2019) contribute to Other representations?

The study contributes to an emerging area of interdisciplinary critical discourse studies, which explores the nexus between multimodal discourse and cultural translation in the framing of international news (Altahmazi 2020; Aragrande 2016; Filmer 2021a, 2021b, 2016a, 2016b; Hernández Guerrero 2022; Riggs 2021, 2020). More specifically, the article contributes to the growing body of research on the role of translation in conveying information during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Italy was the first European state to be hit by COVID-19 and the first nation outside of China to impose lockdown. Therefore, the containment strategies and pandemic policies adopted by the Italian government proved a testing ground for the Western world (Cerqueti et al. 2022). Following the British government’s initial much criticised laissez faire approach, the UK eventually aligned with Italy’s restrictive measures (see section 4.2).

Although the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has ended, the far-ranging repercussions of that period are still being felt in autumn 2023. In this context, it is timely to investigate the responsibility of the media in communicating information on the disease across languages and cultural spaces.

The contribution is organised in six parts. Following the introduction, part two gives an overview of the theoretical approaches that underpin the research. Section three describes the corpus and methodology, while parts four and five present the findings from the English and Italian digital news texts. The contribution closes with preliminary conclusions and remarks.

2. Theoretical approaches

2.1. Theoretical framework - Framing

Our overarching premise is that news producers employ framing practices when reporting on the Other. Framing is viewed here from the perspective of translation studies (Baker 2006: 5) and in particular, the sub-discipline of journalistic translation (Valdeón 2015). The application of framing practices in the production of translation-mediated news has long been recognised (some examples are Filmer 2016b; Liu 2019; Qin and Zhang 2018; Song 2017, 2021; Spiessens and Van Poucke 2016; Valdeón 2014; Wu 2017). As Roberto Valdeón (2021: 6) points out, ‘journalists and translators have the power to shape and reshape the representation of events, and, consequently, to frame them in particular ways’.

Robert Entman (1993) affirms that frame analysis can shed light on the subtle ways that influence is exerted on the human perception of reality during the transfer of information, for example, from a speech, utterance, or news report, to that receptive consciousness. Yves Gambier (2006: 11) observes that ‘[n]ews frames make certain facts meaningful, provide a context in which to understand issues, shape the inferences made, reinforce stereotypes, determine judgments and decisions, draw attention to some aspects of reality while obscuring other elements’ (our emphasis). Translation can contribute to the framing process by combining selection and deselection of news events and through the ‘adaptation of other elements such as headlines and quotes’ (Valdeón 2014: 56). Frames in the news can be examined and identified through ‘[t]he presence or absence of certain keywords, stock phrases, stereotyped images, sources of information and sentences that provide thematically reinforcing clusters of facts or judgements’ (Entman 1993: 52). In the specific case of a health crisis, Seow Ting Lee and Iccha Basnyat (2013: 120) point out that ‘media frames play a critical role in shaping the public’s understanding of a highly contagious viral disease and attitudinal and behavioural reactions that impact prevention, containment, treatment, and recovery’. Frames are reflected in, or ‘carried’ by, not only verbal content, but also photographic and audio-visual elements. Photographs are central to the framing process by ‘narrowing down the possible interpretations and swaying the viewer/reader towards a particular view’ (Breeze 2014: 316). Mona Baker (2006) has also noted that (re)framing is a multi-semiotic process drawing on linguistic and non-linguistic resources such as typography, colour and image, elements that are particularly significant in the examination of digital news texts.

2.2 Translation in the news

In the context of international news, the interpretation of reality is filtered not only through framing strategies inherent in news discourse, but also through translation practices. The concept of translation we adopt aligns with Lucile Davier and Kyle Conway (2019: 1), who view translation in the news ‘in the broadest possible sense, from the re-expression of bits of speech or text in a different language to the explanation of how members of a foreign cultural community interpret an object or event’. Such a definition can accommodate multimodal content, intercultural mediation, and cultural representation in multiple modes within the remit of translation in the news.

In terms of cultural translation, that is, explaining one culture to another (see, for instance, Conway 2012; Katan and Taibi 2021; Maitland 2017; Ping 2022), journalists operate as intercultural mediators for their audiences when they mediate information about the cultural and linguistic Other (Beliveau, Hahn and Ibsen 2011; Brownlie 2010; Conway 2012). That said, research has indicated that reporting on other cultures is often characterised by ‘negative mediation’ (Valdeón 2007; c.f. Filmer 2021b; Riggs 2020). In addition, when ‘reformulating, shaping, and domesticating foreign discursive events for their target audience’, journalists may propose ‘representations of Otherness that potentially foster prejudice’ (Filmer 2021a: 2).

In the construction of news stories, quotations ‘enhance the reliability, credibility, and objectivity of an article and characterize the person quoted’ (Haapanen and Perrin 2019: 17). Research adopting approaches from Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) has brought to light the ideological implications of reformulating translated political discourse in news contexts (see, for instance, Schäffner 2004, 2008; Caimotto 2020). The journalistic practice of transquotation (Filmer 2020; Haapanen and Perrin 2019 refer to ‘translingual quoting’) plays a key role in shaping self- and other-representations and is therefore a key focus of our analysis.

2.2.1 Journalistic translation and COVID-19

A growing body of research employing different theoretical and methodological perspectives is emerging on the role of translation in relaying international news during the COVID-19 pandemic. A small but significant number of studies have focused on national identity and intergroup relations in cross-cultural news reportage. For example, Eleonora Fois (2022) employs imagology (Beller and Leerssen 2007) and framing analysis to explore how news translation contributes to the construction of national image in news texts produced for the Italian and English editions of ANSA, the Italian news agency website. Fois reports that the articles translated into English emphasised the ‘responsibility frame’ for China, thereby disassociating Italy from the virus. Adopting a multimodal discursive approach, Jari Martikainen and Inari Sakki (2021) examine how the Finnish press coverage of the evolution of COVID-19 in Sweden is presented through frames of nationalism and national stereotyping. They identify three multimodal rhetorical strategies: moralising, demonising, and nationalising, which construct discourses of arrogant, immoral, and dangerous Swedes. Narongdej Phanthaphoommee (2023) has looked at the phenomenon of fake news as a product of translation. The researcher examines Thai translations of online international news about the COVID-19 pandemic that have subsequently been proven to be untrue and observes that translation ‘is one of the most important factors contributing to the spread of misinformation’.

2.3 Multimodality in journalistic translation research

Visual communication conveys beliefs and values just as much as words and ‘plays a part in shaping and maintaining a society’s ideologies’ while serving ‘to create, maintain and legitimise certain kinds of social practices’ (Machin and Mayr 2012: 19). Thus, news values (what makes an event or topic newsworthy, see Section 3) are not inherently present in events but are discursively constructed through both word and image (Bednarek and Caple 2017; Caple, Huan and Bednarek 2020; Filmer 2021a; Martikainen and Sakki 2021; Riggs 2021).

If our discipline is to develop an understanding of digital news as a multimodal phenomenon, the interaction between the verbal and the visual needs further attention. Although journalistic translation research tends to focus predominantly on the written word, there are some notable exceptions. Where audio-visual translation is concerned, these include Claire Tsai’s work on Taiwanese news broadcasting (2005, 2012, 2015), Gaia Aragrande’s (2016) corpus-based study of Euronews online video-news, and Federico Federici’s (2017) methodological reflections on how to analyse the AVT of embedded videos in online news texts. Regarding the multimodal discourse constructed by the text-photograph combination, Denise Filmer (2021a, 2021b) examined ‘frames of “Italianness”’ in American and British coverage of political figures, and Ashley Riggs (2021), how British, Spanish and Swiss news headlines and images frame a violent event as newsworthy and as a terrorist act.

3. Corpus and methodology

The research discussed here is a corpus-based, qualitative study of multimodal news content. We built an ad hoc comparable corpus of English and Italian online newspaper articles published in a short timeframe during which interesting reciprocal news narratives unfolded: the period during which Britain drew nearer to lockdown and the crisis deepened in Italy, including a significant spike in deaths in Lombardy[1] which led to a renewed focus on Italy in the UK media. The selection of the timeframe, the corpus and the methods used to analyse it are explained below.

3.1. The Corpus

The corpus consists of articles from one middle-market and three quality UK news brands, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, the Mail Online and the Times, and four Italian online news brands, Corriere della Sera, Il Fatto Quotidiano, Il Giornale and La Repubblica. Their ideological stances represent different parts of the political spectrum. Table 1 provides information about the size of the two datasets and the news brands’ political positioning.


Political affiliation

Number of articles 16-23 March

Number of words in excerpts analysed

Number of images analysed

Daily Mail

Right, Conservative










Right, Conservative





Centre right










Political affiliation

Number of articles 16-23 March



Corriere della Sera

Centre right




Il Fatto Quotidiano

Liberal, supports Five-Star Movement




Il Giornale





La Repubblica















Table 1: Information on corpus size and political affiliation of articles by news brand

3.2. Methodology

3.2.1. Establishing the timeframe

The 16-23 March 2020 timeframe is a period during which the rise in deaths in Italy was reported on regularly in both countries. On 19 March, the Italian army was deployed to Bergamo (Lombardy) to help document and remove the deceased, and reporting on the many deaths intensified. On 21 March, then Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte announced a significant broadening of the national lockdown, while the final date of the timeframe, 23 March, is the date on which the United Kingdom went into lockdown. Thus, this period represents a progression or even crescendo in both reporting across the linguacultures and the introduction of preventive measures. Qualitative analysis of 142 articles from this timeframe was sufficient to answer our research questions. That said, our research design has limitations, which are addressed in the Conclusions.

3.2.2. Approaches to data collection and analysis

We selected articles for inclusion by conducting searches on each news website using the following keywords: Coronavirus + Italy, Coronavirus + Lombardy, Coronavirus + Bergamo (UK websites); Coronavirus + Johnson, Coronavirus + Londra (Italian websites).

Following a close reading of the corpus to identify salient or recurring themes and linguistic characteristics, we selected and colour-coded the following elements for analysis:

  • National/cultural representations (word and image);
  • Identifiably translated content, including transquotation;
  • Content cited from newspapers of the Other country.

To analyse the interplay of news language and image, we adopted approaches from Critical Discourse Studies (for instance, van Dijk 1988; Fairclough 1995, 2003) and Discursive News Values Analysis (DNVA). Given the current gap in multimodal news translation research, we engaged in multimodal news analysis (Bednarek and Caple 2017; Caple, Huan and Bednarek 2020) which included DNVA of both text and image (Bednarek and Caple 2017, 2020; see Caple, Huan and Bednarek 2020: 4–17 and in particular Table 1.1: 4–5 and Table 1.2: 9–17). DNVA makes it possible to ‘systematically examine how news values are constructed through such semiotic resources’ (Caple, Huan and Bednarek 2020: 1).

The following news values are relevant for our corpus: ‘Consonance is defined as the construction of an event’s news actors, social groups, organisations or countries/nations in a way that conforms to stereotypes that members of the target audience hold about them.’ (Caple, Huan and Bednarek 2020: 7) That of Eliteness may include, among others, ‘references to […] politicians, […] officials’ (8), and photographs conveying it are likely to use a ‘low camera angle indicating high status of participant in image’ (Caple and Bednarek 2016: 448). With Negativity, ‘the event is discursively constructed as negative (Caple, Huan and Bednarek 2020: 6), and visuals often involve a ‘high camera angle, putting viewer in dominant position’; there is also ‘running, ducking […] (suggesting unstable situation, that is, danger)’ (Caple and Bednarek 2016: 447). Closely linked is Impact, the way the event is discursively constructed as having significant effects or consequences’ (Caple, Huan and Bednarek 2020: 6), and ‘showing the after-effects (often negative) of events […]; showing emotions caused by an event; showing sequences of images that convey cause and effect relations’ (Caple and Bednarek 2016: 448). Aesthetic Appeal is also interesting for our corpus (see discussion of monuments; of coffins): ‘The aesthetically pleasing aspects of an event or issue’, with ‘lighting, colour contrast and shutter speed used for artistic effect’ (448). The news value Relevance is not included in Monika Bednarek and Helen Caple’s taxonomy but proves particularly useful for understanding how the Italian newsbrands constructed news on the UK’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other scholars of news discourse have defined Relevance as ‘the effect on the audience’s own lives or closeness to their experience’ (Bell 1991: 157), or ‘Interest for large groups of readers, thus, […] both a cognitive and a social constraint on news selection. […] [R]elevance criteria show how events and decisions may affect our lives.’ (van Dijk 1988: 122)

Our study responds to ‘the call to apply and test DNVA on news stories published in different languages and in different cultural contexts’ (Bednarek and Caple 2017: 237; Caple, Huan and Bednarek 2020: 1).

4. Findings and analysis

4.1. The UK’s portrayal of Italy

For lack of space, we focus here on specific lexical and visual themes: the very prevalent language of Italy’s struggle (this term and related lexis are used frequently throughout the corpus) and its interplay with a sampling of images of the army/police, monuments, emergency room/hospital settings, and coffins. We then address a few examples of transquotation (the UK news brands citing Italian ones).

4.1.1. Cultural translation through the interplay between word and image

Across the news brands, the combination of specific lexical choices and army/police and monument images contribute to portraying Italy as not up to the task of managing the pandemic. According to the Times, ‘Army lorries have been called in to remove corpses from an overwhelmed [used as an epithet] Italian crematorium as the country’s death toll from coronavirus overtook that of China.’ (Kington 20 March 2020). The epithet is part of the headline and therefore particularly salient for the reader. The opening image of the article features six army lorries and a few cars driving away from the camera at dusk, with the caption, ‘An army convoy rolls in to remove bodies that were threatening to overwhelm the crematorium in Bergamo.’ (Negativity; Impact)

Where monuments are concerned, the first image in another article whose headline, lede and first image caption emphasise the high numbers of deaths in Italy is a photograph of the Spanish Steps (Rome), taken from far below, with the building at the top lit up in the Italian colours of red, white and green. The caption reads, ‘Italy recorded a record 793 deaths today, taking the toll in the world’s hardest-hit country to 4,825.’ (Willan 22 March 2020) Thus, a symbolic image acts as a synecdoche for the country, the angle of the shot (usually conveying authority, Eliteness) actually spotlighting the country which the language of the text portrays as struggling. (Negativity; Impact; Consonance) In addition, the phrase ‘In the northern regions of Lombardy and Piedmont, where the health service has been overwhelmed’ is immediately followed by an image of the Colosseum in Rome, with the transquoted caption ‘Italian landmarks and cities are deserted as the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said the country faced “the most difficult time in our post-war period”.’ (Willan 22 March 2020) The Colosseum and Rome are not located in the northern region in question, but for the domestic readership, they are emblematic of Italy. The position and prestige of Conte also give credence to the qualification ‘most difficult […]’. (Negativity; Impact; Eliteness; Consonance)

The Daily Mail and the Guardian show similar tendencies. A Mail article observes, ‘Bergamo has been so overwhelmed that the army has stepped in to move bodies to other provinces as the cemetery was too full.’ (Aloisi, Pollina and Barbarglia 23 March 2020). In another Mail article describing Bergamo as ‘the heart of the hardest-hit province in Italy's hardest-hit region of Lombardy, Italy’[2] (Associated Press 20 March 2020), the accompanying image shows people walking behind a hearse in a cemetery; a masked, blurred, spectral police or military officer stands in the foreground. (Negativity; Impact; Eliteness)

The Guardian publishes similar statements. For instance, ‘The army was deployed last week to transport bodies from Bergamo city to neighbouring provinces after the crematorium became overwhelmed’ (Giuffrida, 23 March 2020); a lede describes how ‘Coffins pile up and corpses are sealed off in homes as Bergamo’s funeral firms are overwhelmed’ (Giuffrida 19 March 2020). The article’s headline (again, salient for the reader) also includes ‘struggle’. Both articles feature images of army lorries; in the first, they are in a cemetery, while in the second, they and their camouflage tarp coverings are aesthetically juxtaposed with the background element of an unidentifiable but architecturally impressive stone monument complete with classical pillars (Aesthetic Appeal). The contrast between foreground and background is stark, making it salient for the viewer. The country known for its impressive art, culture and architecture is having to take the drastic step of relying on the army – potentially also representative of the authoritarianism associated historically with Italy (Consonance) – to address the COVID crisis.

Finally, while the Telegraph’s use of army/police images is not so clearly tied to the lexis of Italy struggling, it does reinforce the Italy-authoritarianism link. In the headline, ‘Coronavirus: Italy's deadliest day as 627 are killed’ (Gulland et al. 20 March 2020), the final participle gives the disease agency and suggests a violent death which alternatives such as ‘die [from Covid]’ would not. Such lexical/grammatical choices convey Negativity and Impact. The headline and its final word ‘killed’ are immediately followed by an image in which a member of the military, in full uniform and holding a machine gun, fills the foreground. The photograph is taken from below, emphasising his power and authority (Eliteness). He is flanked by other soldiers, a small army lorry and a tent. The image potentially also conveys Consonance by tying in with a stereotype of Italian officialdom as authoritarian. It could be frightening for the British collective imagination, given that the domestic readership is unaccustomed to seeing armed police in the streets.

Together with the chosen language and the use of army/police and monument images, the news brands also often rely on images of emergency room/hospital settings and coffins. The ways in which they convey Negativity and Impact bring home to the British reader the magnitude of the pandemic, convey a sense of threat, but also contribute to depicting Italy as struggling in the face of Coronavirus, all the more so as the three different visual elements – army/police, monuments (thereby with the addition of Eliteness and Consonance) and coffins – are sometimes found in the same photograph.

Where images of emergency room/hospital settings are concerned, suffice it to say that the Daily Mail articles contain a multiplicity – significantly more than the other news brands – of such images, whose characteristics strongly convey a sense of chaos, panic, lack of control, and the risk and prevalence in Italy of extremely serious illness. The tenor and sheer quantity of the images also tend toward the sensationalism for which the news outlet is well-known and, again, frame Italy as not up to the task of managing the virus.

Across the news brands, the use of images of coffins reflects the news values of Negativity – in many, the camera angle puts the viewer in the dominant position – and Impact. It is important to keep in mind that every news outlet uses images of coffins; they are proposed and repeated to the detriment of other images.

The Mail combines coffins and an association with religion through a photograph used more than once, a line of coffins with a cross on the foremost one (May 18 March 2020); and through another visual that so perfectly aligns a statue of the virgin in a park with the scene below that it looks like she is presiding over, praying over, the person on the stretcher being rushed (note the running, a factor in Negativity) along the path by medical personnel; the article evokes ‘chaotic scenes’ (Jones 20 March 2020).

The Times also includes an image that combines coffins and panicked medical personnel running; and both the Telegraph and the Guardian choose images foregrounding not only the aforementioned news values, but also that of Aesthetic Appeal. One photograph they both use shows a masked official carrying elaborate and beautiful funerial flowers, which are right in the foreground with, logically, the coffin in the background (Giuffrida 19 March 2020).

In stark contrast to the other UK online news outlets examined, the Telegraph mainly discusses the news about COVID-19 in Italy from the perspective of travel. Three headlines are, ‘Is it safe to travel to Italy? (Dickinson 17 March 2020), ‘Italy travel ban […] should you cancel your trip?’ (Morris 17 March 2020), ‘Is it safe to go on my ski holiday?’ (Aspden-Kean 17 March 2020),[3] despite the fact that travel was risky and limited in March 2020. This reflects an effort to cater for the many well-heeled retirees who make up its readership (and pay for its content).

The travel focus is reinforced through images: four women in masks taking a selfie on St. Peter’s Square with the Vatican in the background (Dickinson 17 March 2020); other iconic monuments oft-visited by tourists (Consonance: stereotypical imagery, conformity to the readership’s expectations); maps indicating ‘[w]hich parts of Italy are off limits to travellers’ (Dickinson 17 March 2020), or travel advice by region (Morris 17 March 2020); the interior of an opera house (Hawlin 18 March 2020). Italy is above all the playground of those who have the wherewithal to visit, so Italy is in a sense inferior in a different way: the well-heeled readership is the central preoccupation (in this vein, note the possessive adjectives in ‘your trip’, ‘my ski holiday’).

In summary, with the exception of the Telegraph, whose focus is on travel, the UK news brands generally frame Italy as lacking the ability to contain the virus, and as being obliged to resort to tactics portrayed by the British online press as drastic, desperate, and insufficient in various ways. Negative representations of Italy and Italians are concomitantly constructed. The news values of Negativity, Impact, Eliteness and Consonance are foregrounded, with the exception of the Telegraph, which favours Consonance.

4.1.2. Transquotation in the UK news brands

A phrase in a Mail headline, ‘Italy’s medics at “end of our strength”’ (Aloisi, Pollina and Barbaglia 23 March 2020), provides a truncated version of a transquotation included in the article. It is an interesting example of a translated quote which may, by virtue of not sounding entirely idiomatic, contribute to constructing a negative image of Italian doctors, who are already being depicted, via various linguistic and photographic choices, as struggling (recall the ideological implications of transquoted news discourse mentioned above). Literal and therefore sometimes unidiomatic translations may occur because the journalists do not consider the activity of translation as a key part of their work (see, for instance, Davier 2017). (Alternatively, they may be machine translations.) Yet such translations may frame the speakers – doctors, usually considered Elite actors – as inferior.

The same is true of a Telegraph article that transquotes an Italian doctor involved in fighting coronavirus in northern Italy: ‘“There are no more surgeons, urologists, orthopaedists, we are only doctors who suddenly become part of a single team to face this tsunami that has overwhelmed us”’ (Bodkin and Nuki 22 March 2020). It relies on literal translation – this time with resulting subject and verb tense issues – and a water/natural disaster metaphor[4] which paints the pandemic as powerful and uncontrollable. The content emphasizes Negativity and Impact whereas the literality may undermine the Eliteness of the doctor.

Also in the Telegraph, a transquote from an interview with then prime minister Giuseppe Conte in Corriere della Sera may have a similar effect due to a combination of grammatical and syntactic choices and the resulting literality: ‘“People need to avoid in every way possible movement that is not absolutely necessary”, Mr Conte said in an interview with Corriere della Sera newspaper.’ (Squires 16 March 2020; Guerzoni 16 March 2020[5])

The Times transquotes a statement by the Pope – a figure used in the UK online press to link Italy with Catholicism, in line with the Daily Mail’s strong emphasis on religion both through word and image (Consonance) – in such a way as to discredit him: ‘The Pope appeared to have forgotten social distancing rules [our emphasis] when he advised people in an interview with La Repubblica to “give a caress to our grandparents and a kiss to our children”’ (Kington 19 March 2020).  Here we have a case of both criticism and manipulation through transquotation, as neither the full quote nor the context is provided[6] (Rodari 18 March 2020). In addition, the chosen image of coffins with figures in green scrubs and white protective garb running (characteristic of Negativity, an unstable situation) to put them into lorries, and the association encouraged, may add insult to injury (failure to respect social distancing leading to deaths, thus the cause-effect relation conveyed by Impact).

A Daily Mail article provides an interesting contrast. It reproduces a front page of the Italian Corriere dello Sport which features in small print a statement by then Brescia football club president and ex-Leeds chairman (the Mail flags this Italy-UK link; Relevance) Massimo Cellino, and in large, yellow letters (thus salient) the English phrase ‘game over’. As the topic of both the Mail and Corriere articles is the interruption of the football season due to the pandemic, this phrase is a play on words. In addition, in the article, Cellino’s words are transquoted and domesticated (Bielsa and Bassnett 2009): ‘Don’t be daft, how can we resume the season?’ (Davis 22 March 2020; Zazzaroni 22 March 2020[7]). The rest of his transquoted statements (for example, ‘be realistic, people’, or ‘the plague is on our doorstep’) are also idiomatic[8] (which may contribute to establishing Relevance).

In summary, transquoting via literal/machine translation may contribute to depicting even typically Elite actors (doctors; the Prime Minister) as inferior whereas opting for domestication (Bielsa and Bassnett 2009) is one way of ‘bringing the story home’ (Bassnett 2005),  is likely to lead the readership to feel connected to the content reported (Relevance), and may in turn help convince them of its validity (including that of stereotypes/prejudices represented).

The Italian news brands appear to rely more on transquotation than the UK ones, with interesting results. These are addressed in section 4.2.3 below.     

4.2. Italy’s portrayal of the UK

What follows is an overview of Italian news narratives on the UK’s experience of the early stages of the pandemic. The most frequently employed news values are Consonance through stereotyping; Relevance, through the narratives of Italians living in the UK; and Eliteness in the person of Boris Johnson. For this reason, the ways in which Johnson’s statements are transquoted are of particular interest. The linguistic choices across the newsbrands convey three main ideas: mounting fear and panic in the UK; ridicule and dismay at Johnson’s herd immunity approach; positive (Italian) self, contrasted with negative (UK) Other, given the British government’s apparent reluctance to go into lockdown. These three strands are intertwined in the discourse.

Johnson declared lockdown on 23 March 2020,[9] the last day of our timeframe. Perhaps for this reason (among others, like the propensity in Italian journalism towards words rather than image, even online), many of the articles in the corpus are accompanied by symbolic images of Johnson making declarations. Above all, what is prevalent in the Italian journalists’ style of reporting is their tendency to function as cultural mediators by elucidating the domestic audience with their interpretations of the British national character, habits and attitudes in relation to the pandemic.

4.2.1. Cultural translation through word: common themes

The corpus evidences a dialogic relationship between the two media and cultures and a reciprocal narrative: From the analysis in section 4.1 one might interpret the British press’s stance as, in part, ‘it won’t happen to us’; in observing the UK move towards lockdown, the retort from Italy seems to be ‘we told you so’. Furthermore, Italian news outlets tend to frame the UK situation as a crescendo of panic and mounting fear; Johnson’s constant changing of tactics is seen as adding to the anxiety, fuelling the impression that the situation was getting out of hand. 

1. On 18 March 2020 Corriere della Sera (De Carolis  2020) ran the headline: ‘Coronavirus, il panico di Londra […] e Boris cambia piano: scuole e college chiusi’ [Coronavirus: Panic in London […] and Boris changes plan: schools and colleges closed]. With ‘panic’ in theme position, the focus is on the psychological state of the British capital, as synecdoche for the government, the population, and the nation. The article personifies fear as ‘arriving in the UK’: ‘La paura del coronavirus arriva anche in Gran Bretagna, “un paese che crede nella libertà”, nelle parole del primo ministro Boris Johnson, ma dove le abitudini e il tran tran quotidiani ieri si sono bruscamente interrotti’. The journalist delegitimizes Johnson by juxtaposing his declaration that Britain is ‘a country that believes in personal freedoms’, which is transquoted literally [un paese che crede nella libertà, in the words of prime minister Boris Johnson], with the government’s sudden decision to close all schools and colleges. There is also the implicit comparison with Italy: ‘coronavirus arrives in the UK, too’. As the days pass, the comparisons with the Italian situation become more evident in Corriere della Sera’s narrative. Four days later, ‘Londra teme che i numeri di contagiati e vittime saranno superiori a quelli italiani’ (Ippolito, 20 March 2020) [London fears that the number of infections and victims [in the UK] will be higher than in Italy]. The following day: “Coronavirus, Londra ora teme una curva italiana: i contagi aumentano più che a Bergamo (Ippolito 23 March 2020) [Coronavirus, London now fears Italian curve: the infections increase more than in Bergamo]. The ultimate comparison is with Bergamo, which just a few days earlier had been under the spotlight of British newsbrands reporting on the Italian handling of the pandemic (see above). The lexicon of fear and panic appears with similar frequency in the other Italian news brands.

The following examples instead focus on Italy as model. When Johnson declares lockdown, regardless of political bias, the Italian newsbrands use positive self-frames contrasted with negative Other representations to bring the news home. Johnson has finally capitulated and accepted that Italy is the example to follow:

1. Boris Johnson si allinea alla via italiana nella battaglia contro il coronavirus e impone all'intero Regno Unito misure restrittive come quelle che la Penisola aveva adottato un paio di settimane fa. [Boris Johnson aligns with the Italian way in the battle against Coronavirus, imposing restrictive measures on the UK like those the Peninsula adopted a couple of weeks ago (La Repubblica 23 March 2020). 

2. Dall'immunità di gregge al lockdown modello Italia [From herd immunity to the Italian model] (Giuliani 23 March 2020).

3. […] il primo ministro Boris Johnson ha deciso di adottare una strategia all’italiana [the prime minister Boris Johnson has decided to adopt an Italian-style strategy] (Il Fatto Quotidiano 23 March 2020).

4.2.2. Cultural translation through the interplay between word and image

Images accompanying the news reports tend to function as synecdoche for Englishness rather than illustrating verbal content. The Union Jack, views of Westminster, Big Ben, a red London bus or scenes on the London Underground create Consonance in the Italian collective imagination as easily recognisable icons for London life, which conflates with British life as a whole.

In Il Fatto Quotidiano and Il Giornale in particular, the interplay between word and image also serves to contrapose British behaviour – which is implicitly or explicitly condemned – with the positive self-frame of caring and/or wise Italy’s compliance with the lockdown rules. For instance, the headline from Il Fatto Quotidiano, ‘Noi italiani a Londra siamo molto preoccupati. Qui i locali sono aperti, sappiamo cosa ci aspetta’ [We Italians in London are very worried. Here venues are open, we know what’s ahead of us] (Vasques 18 March 2020), is accompanied by a photograph of theatregoers outside the Prince Edward Theatre in London. The message: Italians living in the UK know what lies ahead and are rightly worried.

Quoting anonymous Italians living in the UK is a common strategy of bringing the news home. La Repubblica (17 March 2020) for example, runs the headline: ‘Coronavirus, la paura degli italiani nel Regno Unito: “Senza restrizioni, rischiamo il contagio”’, [Coronavirus, the fear of Italians in the UK] with a video of Italians being interviewed on the question of wearing masks in London before they became obligatory in public places. The news of the spreading virus is supported by an image of commuters waiting on a platform of the London underground, only one of whom wearing a mask. The function may be descriptive, illustrating the British public’s indifference to safety measures. It is also symbolic of London life, thus creating Consonance. 

An article in La Repubblica (Guerrera 17 March 2020) entitled “Coronavirus, Johnson avverte: 'Per il Regno Unito la peggiore sfida economica dal dopoguerra' [Coronavirus, Johnson warns: for the UK, the worst economic crisis since the war] quotes Johnson, who is in turn citing Mario Draghi’s famous maxim, ‘whatever it takes’ (Relevance for the Italian readership). The former British prime minister is described as a 'Brexiter', thereby highlighting his anti-European stance, while assuring the British public he will do ‘whatever it takes’ to overcome the crisis. The accompanying image reflects the negative news: customers sit in a gloomy pub drinking beer while looking up at a TV screen where Johnson is making a statement. The choice of photograph brings into sharp relief the contrasting approaches to COVID-19 in the two nations: Italians in lockdown and the British drinking in pubs.

4.2.3. Citing of UK news brands and transquotation

Images of Johnson dominate the Italian coverage of UK news, and his words are often transquoted. For example: ‘Boris Johnson ha elogiato la sanità italiana: ma se non reggono loro, non reggeremo neanche noi’ (Ippolito 23 March 2020) [Boris Johnson praises the Italian health service: if they can’t bear the strain, neither will we]. The transquotation in the headline is a loose interpretation or recontextualisation of Johnson’s words, quoted in the Sunday Telegraph (Bodkin and Malnick 21 March 2020): ‘The Italians have a superb health care system. And yet, their doctors and nurses have been completely overwhelmed by the demand’. Johnson’s positive evaluation of the Italian health system is newsworthy and boosts the positive self-image of Italy (Relevance). Its inclusion contrasts with Italy’s framing of the Johnson government and the UK’s attitude to the pandemic.

Other headlines and quotes from the same speech appear throughout the dataset. For example:

1. A la Repubblica (Scuderi 22 March 2020) headline reports ‘Johnson, sanità italiana superba ma sopraffatta’ [Johnson: Italian health service superb but overwhelmed]. The use of alliteration gives the summary Impact.

2. Il Corriere della Sera (Ippolito 23 March 2023): Gli italiani hanno un sistema sanitario eccezionale. E tuttavia i loro medici e infermieri sono stati completamente travolti: il loro conto dei morti ha raggiunto le migliaia e continua ad aumentare’. Here, the transquotation reads naturally in Italian; the journalist uses omission and fluent collocations: ‘eccezionale’ rather than the calque ‘superbo’, ‘Il loro conto dei morti’ to translate death toll, while the idiomatic ‘I numeri sono molto netti’ [the numbers are very clear] conveys the English ‘The numbers are very stark’. The translational decisions would indicate a considered approach on how to render the quotations in Italian as opposed to selecting the first options that pop up on Google translate. As the London correspondent for the Corriere della Sera the journalist is likely to have a high level of English language competence.

Transquotation contributes to portraying the British people’s behaviour and the UK government’s early anti-COVID-19 measures as indifferent. This reinforces the news value Consonance, that is, what the domestic audience expect from the British. For instance, in an editorial in il Fatto Quotidiano (Pellizzetti 17 March 2020), what the journalist describes as ‘il profondo disprezzo della solidarietà’ [a profound disdain of solidarity] is a ‘tratto della cultura anglosassone’ [a feature of the Anglo-Saxon culture], which from Thatcher to Johnson, according to the journalist, is the ideological justification for ‘indifferenza civile’ [civil indifference]. The implication is that anglophone cultures would callously and willingly let older and more vulnerable members of society die in the pursuit of herd immunity. The journalist goes on to transquote Margaret Thatcher to legitimise his thesis: ‘Margaret Thatcher dichiarava “la società non esiste” [There is no such thing as society].’ This is an instrumentalized and decontextualized use of partial citation which Thatcher herself denounced at the time as manipulation of what she had intended to say.[10]

In another editorial published in Il Fatto Quotidiano on the same day (Rosso 17 March 2020), Johnson’s announcement is portrayed as a ‘brutal’ way to introduce the herd immunity strategy:

[…] l’espressione un po’ brutale con cui Boris Johnson ha inaugurato la politica della immunità di gregge che il governo inglese, finora unico al mondo, ha intrapreso per far fronte alla pandemia di coronavirus. [the rather brutal way that Boris Johnson has introduced herd immunity that the British Government, until now the only one in the world, has adopted to cope with the Coronavirus pandemic]

The journalist quotes The Times’ description of Johnson’s words as ‘a solemn statement’, which is left in English, and notes that in the UK, Johnson’s assertion received a chorus of consent. The article ironically refers to the adoption of herd immunity as ‘not lift[ing] a finger’ against COVID-19. It ends with a transquotation of Winston Churchill in order to make a comparison with Johnson: ‘Se nel 1940 Winston Churchill disse agli inglesi “Non ci arrederemo mai”, il “Preparatevi a morire” di Boris Johnson non è esattamente la stessa cosa. Dio salvi la regina’. [If in 1940 Winston Churchill said to the British people ‘We will never surrender’, Johnson’s ‘Prepare to die’ is not exactly the same thing. God save the Queen.] There is a clear manipulation of transquotation to put Johnson in a bad light.

5. Conclusions

This study sheds light on how British and Italian producers of multimodal international news have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to (re)affirm national identities and stereotypes. The negative other-representations observed, whereby the UK press emphasises how much Italy ‘struggled’ to address the virus and whereby Britain’s ‘panic and fear’ is reported in the Italian press following the sharp escalation of COVID-19, confirm our hypothesis that in times of crisis, stereotyping and Othering as social practices tend to be reinforced, at least where this pair is concerned. Our research also contributes to filling the gap in research on multimodality in international news discourse by exploring how 'multimodal ensembles' (Kress 2011: 38) communicate national and cultural images.

Bearing in mind our research questions (see Introduction), the conclusions from our findings are as follows:

  1. Both corpora show evidence of cultural translation practices – explaining the Other culture to the domestic audience – but in ways that encourage or reinforce stereotypes and prejudices. The trends in framing devices where both language and image are concerned suggest convincingly that even as the UK news seeks to inform and warn the domestic readership, there is a shared representation of Italy as not up to the task of managing the pandemic, and undertones of an association of Italy with authoritarianism. The Italian online press is vitriolic against the British and emphasises Italy’s experience and wisdom; this may be a form of retaliation for the earlier British newsbrands’ criticism of Italy’s handling of the emergency.
  2. Visual content plays a more significant role in the UK corpus than in the Italian one. Italy’s online newsbrands tend to use images that are iconic, represent ‘typical’ UK life or portray Boris Johnson. In contrast, in addition to iconic images, the UK newsbrands also rely often on images of coffins, the army/police, guns, and emergency room/hospital settings. Thus the Italian articles mainly convey the news values of Consonance, Eliteness and Relevance whereas the UK ones also emphasise Negativity, Impact and, in a couple of unusual and interesting cases, Aesthetic Appeal.
  3. Our corpus suggests that Telegraph journalists consider their readership to be UK citizens who have the knowledge, desire and (financial) wherewithal to appreciate Italy’s cultural and other leisure offerings and to travel to Italy to take advantage of them. For the Telegraph, Italy is above all a vehicle for its British readership’s leisure activities and enjoyment, and for its readership, the pandemic in Italy is above all an inconvenience.
  4. Transquotation in the Italian and Daily Mail articles tends to be idiomatic and fluent, and sometimes manipulated for ideological purposes. Transquotation in the other UK news brands instead leans toward the literal (we hypothesise that most instances are in fact machine translation; to be verified with further research). The resulting unidiomatic utterances may also contribute to depicting the Italian actors as not very competent.

There are some limitations to our study. First, as with any qualitative study, one can ask how researchers define a finding as significant, especially when data is selected on a somewhat subjective basis. We consider that our careful, detailed and in-depth analysis, numerous examples and clear explanation of the methodology go some way to mitigating this potential criticism, especially as they would allow other researchers to replicate the analysis. Second, further analysis of this corpus could incorporate a qualitative data analysis tool that would allow more systematic and efficient treatment of the data, and in particular visual data, so that we could address more images.    

That said, our empirical work on multimodality and digital news is a significant strength. Our approach allows an overview of how text, paratext and image work together on a web page. Exploration of the word-image interplay not only contributes to filling a gap in journalistic translation research but shows how Other stereotypes and prejudices can be exacerbated in times of crisis.

Finally, in relation to our focus on journalistic translation and transquotation, various scholars have emphasised that journalists do not see themselves as translators (for instance, Bassnett 2005; Bielsa & Bassnett 2009; Davier 2017; Filmer 2014; Schäffner 2017; van Doorslaer 2013). Zanettin (2021: 75) neatly sums this up: ‘Professional journalists generally see translation as a linguistic operation involving replacement of linguistic material rather than as a practice concerned with the negotiation of cultures.’ Yet our study is a reminder that the negotiation of cultures is in fact at the heart of international news reporting.


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[*] The article was conceived, researched and written in collaboration. However, Denise Filmer was responsible for sections 1, 2 and 4.2, while Ashley Riggs was responsible for sections 3, 4.1 and 5. The authors would like to thank the reviewers for their very instructive comments, and Ilaria Patano for her help with formatting.

[1] According to the Italian Ministry of Health (, on 18 March 2020 at 6pm, Lombardy was the region with the highest number of deaths, 1,959. The total number for Italy was 2,978. For 20 March, these figures were 2,549 and 4,032, respectively. 

[2] The compound adjective in bold as well as similar variants are prevalent throughout the corpus.

[3] The image directly below the headline is from the upscale resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo, in northern Italy.

[4] It is important to remember that journalists select and deselect information, including direct quotes. Discussion of metaphor in our corpus is beyond the scope of this article but is addressed in a contribution by Riggs (forthcoming).

[5] Original statement: “Bisogna evitare in tutti i modi gli spostamenti non assolutamente necessari”.

[6] Gloss translation, from an intervention meant to encourage Italians to look after each other and to find solace in relationships and everyday gestures (the bold sections have been left out of the English): ‘“In these difficult days we can go back to the small, concrete gestures we have toward the people who are closest to us: a caress for our grandparents, a kiss for our children, for the people we love.”’

[7] Original: ‘Ma quale ripresa, ma quale stagione da concludere’

[8] Filmer (2020) has noted that expletives and insults generally need domesticating to achieve similar pragmatic meaning.

[10] A comment from a Woman’s Own interview in 1987 that is often repeated, but rarely correctly contextualised. Its relevance was made explicit with the publication of the second volume of Margaret Thatcher’s autobiography in 1993: ‘they never quoted the rest […] My meaning, clear at the time but subsequently distorted beyond recognition, was that society was not an abstraction, separate from the men and women who composed it, but a living structure of individuals, families, neighbours and voluntary associations’.

About the author(s)

Denise Filmer is assistant professor of English language and translation at the Department of Philology, Literature, and Linguistics, University of Pisa, where she also teaches ESP in the Department of Political Science. She holds a PhD in translation studies (Durham University UK). Her research focuses on ideology in translation, political discourse, journalistic translation, audiovisual translation, gender and sexuality in media discourse, intercultural mediation, and cross-cultural pragmatics. She has published widely on these themes in national and international journals and authored two monographs: Translating Racial Slurs: last linguistic taboo and translational dilemma (2012), and Italy’s Politicians in the News. Journalistic Translation and Cultural Representation (2021). She is on the editorial board of Perspectives: Studies in Translation Theory and Practice and serves as reviewer for several international journals.

Ashley Riggs is assistant professor of English language and translation at the Department of Linguistics and Comparative Cultural Studies, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. Her research focuses on journalistic translation, journalistic style, cultural translation and multimodal news discourse, including in constructive news; her monograph Stylistic Deceptions in Online News: Journalistic style and the translation of culture (2020) explores a number of these topics. Ashley is on the publications committee of IATIS and acts as reviewer for various international journals. She holds a PhD in translation studies from the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting of the University of Geneva.

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©inTRAlinea & Denise Filmer & Ashley Riggs (2023).
"Translating the cultural Other during Covid: A comparative study of Italian and UK online news", inTRAlinea Vol. 25.

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How Do I Say Realia in English?

On a Once ‘Cyrillic’ Translatological Problem

By Andrii Zornytskyi, Olena Mosiienko and Svitlana Vyskushenko (Zhytomyr Ivan Franko State University, Ukraine)


The present paper deals with both linguistic and extralinguistic provisos determining the successful rendition of so-termed ‘realia’ as featuring complexly and conspicuously not only in various translated texts, but also in modern translatological discourse. The emphasis is, therefore, placed on clarifying the nature and compass of this fundamental phenomenon as well as on highlighting how its current interpretations developed. The authors suggest an alternative (and highly practical) classification of realia, based on the dichotomy ‘realodesignatum : realonym’ and allowing for what they see as four basic realia-forming patterns, namely realodesignatum paralleled by realonym, realonym unparalleled by realodesignatum, realodesignatum unparalleled by realonym, and realodesignatum coincident with realonym. Consistent with this typology, rubrics such as ‘realia proper’, ‘quasi realia’, ‘latent realia’, and ‘performative realia’ are singled out, discussed and meticulously illustrated. It is maintained that, depending on the preference of either ‘domestication’ or ‘foreignization’ strategy, possible ways of their rendition may vary, resulting, among other things, in the omission or preservation of certain types of realia, but what seems indispensable to a high-quality piece of translation is observance and not distortion of the original meaning and its connotations as embodied, among other things, in the phenomenon on hand. The results obtained can serve the purpose of furthering the study of realia themselves as well as that of rendering them into other languages.

Keywords: realodesignatum, realia, realonym, realia proper, quasi realia, performative realia, latent realia

©inTRAlinea & Andrii Zornytskyi, Olena Mosiienko and Svitlana Vyskushenko (2023).
"How Do I Say Realia in English? On a Once ‘Cyrillic’ Translatological Problem", inTRAlinea Vol. 25.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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For historical reasons, the notion of realia[1], as is largely the case with the more nuts-and-bolts concepts of translation studies generally speaking, emerged and became common mostly in ex-Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War and, to a lesser degree, post-Cold War eras, a possible explanation being the specific ‘translational barrier’ separating realities and ideologies that lay behind words in, for example, English and Russian to a far greater extent than those in, say, English and French. However, despite occasional exaggerated but not altogether unfounded instances of the sort, which were traditionally singled out under the rubric of ‘Sovietisms’ and now mostly belong to the past, there remain good grounds for retaining the concept in the present-day allegedly globalized world. In order to explain why, it seems worthwhile to give a brief overview of its emergence and coverage.

Theoretical background

As has been stated above, the notion on hand originated and became established in what might, in a non-evaluative way, be called ‘Cyrillic scholarship’. It is believed that for the first time the term ‘realia’ (реалии) was employed by Andrey Fedorov in his work ‘On Literary Translation’ way back in 1941. However, both in the early paper and in all four editions of his gradually evolving magnum opus on translation theory, the last version published in 1983, the father of the terminological unit consistently stuck to the phrasing of ‘words denoting realia’ (Fedorov, 1953: 136–145; 1958: 154–169; 1968: 175–192; 1983: 145–157), thus obviously interpreting its content as extralinguistic in character, expounded de re and not de dicto. Despite its customary correctness and etymological accuracy, such usage of the term — unhandy for its bulkiness and seemingly non-philological in essence — almost immediately saw extension. And so, already in 1952, Lev Sobolev put forth the following definition: ‘The term “realia” designates specifically national words and locutions from everyday life which have no equivalents in the mode of life and, consequently, in languages of other peoples’ (Sobolev, 1952: 281) by means of which considerably weakening not only the etymological acceptability of the term (for the root real definitely has to do with something more tangible than a word or locution), but also its practical applicability in those cases when grave disparities in meaning weren’t followed by corresponding linguistic discrepancies[2]. And yet, needless to say, it is precisely in the latter interpretation that the term survives till today, having acquired prevalent currency.      

Another challenge to Fedorov’s understanding of what realia were about came from linguistics, at the time firmly structuralist, and, in particular, the then booming purview of linguistic geography (lingvostranovedenie). From the standpoint of the former, the notion lacked lingual clarity and so had to be rethought in terms of more convenient language phenomena such as loanwords and all sorts of ‘exotic vocabulary’, alienisms, barbarisms, and localisms included. As Lidiya Sapogova put it, ‘in the most general sense, realia can be defined as a type of borrowings which, preserving maximum similarity to foreign words, functions in the target language to denote specific notions and phenomena of alien reality[3]’ (Sapogova, 1978: 71–79). Whereas the latter, facing the highly practical task of teaching Russian to foreigners, readily grasped at the new notion, but rather disfigured it in the process. As viewed by linguistic geographers, realia, in fact, were any words or locutions charged with so-termed ‘background information’ (Vereshchagin and Kostomarov, 1976; 1980), which, on the one hand, caused unjustified expansion of the concept and, on the other hand, bred further confusion by finally rendering facultative the meaning of tangibility enshrined in the term’s etymology. Thus, what originated as a notion of translation theory and not linguistics in the proper sense became, as is often the case with borderline concepts, subject to so much accommodation that R. Zorivchak was forced to remind: ‘When viewing realia, certain researchers … ignore the factor of binary comparison. According to their assertions, all lexemes designating nationally specific objects are realia. And yet, in actual fact, the notion of ‘realia’ as employed in translation theory emerges only in the course of comparing languages and, correspondingly, cultures. Outside this comparison realia cannot exist[4]’ (Zorivchak, 1989: 56).

Despite suchlike rejoinders, the two approaches rather tended to blend. This was especially obvious in attempts to work up a classification of realia, by far the fullest of versions put forth by Sergey Vlakhov and Sider Florin. According to the Bulgarian researchers, realia fell under a number of rubrics, all of them singled out basing on the following criteria: I. Material division II. Local division (depending on national and lingual attribution) III. Chronological division (in both synchronic and diachronic perspectives, following the principle of “familiarity”) IV. Translational division (Vlakhov and Florin, 1980: 50). As is well obvious, the fourth criterion strikes the eye as non-congenerous with the others, thus suggesting that in translation theory a different approach is applied. That recital, however, was additionally equipped with a note making the point on hand still clearer: ‘Perchance, from the standpoint of linguistics, it would be worthwhile to specifically single out the division of realia on the principle of assimilation, or familiarity, or prevalence. But since such categorization will hardly matter much for a practicing translator and in view of the relativity of delimitative criteria (as, in particular, the appearance of a unit in dictionaries) we chose to address this issue within the confines of chronological division, all the more so that assimilation of foreign realia is, once again, closely connected with the duration of their usage’ (Vlakhov and Florin, 1980: 50–51). And so, while positioning themselves as theorists of translation, the authors not only accepted and widely used the dubious term ‘linguistic realia,’ but increased confusion rather than clarity by completely mixing up the ‘linguistic’ and ‘translational’ approaches to the matter and retaining the binary comparison of languages as, de facto, merely facultative. Just as Sapogova thought realia to be a type of borrowings, Vlakhov and Florin — a mirror reflection of such an attitude — insisted on the opposite: even well-assimilated loanwords might have their status of ‘realia’ preserved, provided that they meet the rest of the requirements, thus further lengthening the already long and rather equivocal list of all sorts of -isms among the ‘exotic vocabulary’.


Results and discussion

The present tedious if cursory account still seems necessary in order to show that, as the Bulgarian researchers put it, such categorization hardly mattered much to practicing translators and, consequently, all the theorizing was of little help when applied to particular translational tasks. To ascertain this, one only needs to consult three different translations into English of the two opening paragraphs in the famous novel ‘The Master and Margarita[5]’ by Mikhail Bulgakov.

The original reads:

В час жаркого весеннего заката на Патриарших прудах появилось двое граждан. Первый из них — приблизительно сорокалетний, одетый в серенькую летнюю пару, — был маленького роста, темноволос, упитан, лыс, свою приличную шляпу пирожком нес в руке, а аккуратно выбритое лицо его украшали сверхъестественных размеров очки в черной роговой оправе. Второй — плечистый, рыжеватый, вихрастый молодой человек в заломленной на затылок клетчатой кепке — был в ковбойке, жеваных белых брюках и черных тапочках.

Первый был не кто иной, как Михаил Александрович Берлиоз, редактор толстого художественного журнала и председатель правления одной из крупнейших московских литературных ассоциаций, сокращенно именуемой МАССОЛИТ, а молодой спутник его — поэт Иван Николаевич Понырев, пишущий под псевдонимом Бездомный» (Bulgakov, 1989: 334).

Apart from rather catchy realia such as Патриарши пруды, the two paragraphs feature at least three other units of the same kind which, as practice shows, do not as readily leap to the eye. The first of them concerns the editor’s headwear. Questionable as it may sound, we are, nonetheless, convinced that it has not been translated either accurately or adequately in any of the three editions under analysis as well as in any other translation that we are familiar with[6]. To a speaker of Russian, the queerest thing about it is already the phrasing, ‘шляпа пирожком’, for in modern times the latter word would only sound natural if used within the word-combination шапка пирожком or, a still more common way to put it, шапка-пирожок which usage is, consequently, registered in dictionaries (see, for instance, the ‘Explanatory Dictionary of the Russian Language’ by S. Ozhegov and N. Shvedova: ‘(colloquial) men’s brimless [fur] hat with a lengthways concave top’ (мужская шапка без полей с продольно вдавленным верхом), that is what in English would be called ambassador hat). It remains only to guess whether or not in Bulgakov’s days, at least in colloquial usage, the word was also applied to felt hats of a particular style, but, if yes, one has good grounds to surmise what the hats must have looked like — most probably, they had a curled-up narrow brim and a middle-height crown with the proverbial lengthwise concavity, thus resembling what is called so today.

Among the possible prototypes of Berlioz, most of them personal enemies of Bulgakov, researchers mention the Soviet Russian poet Demian Bedny, one of the reasons being the distinctive headwear and the strange way of naming it: ‘…the pirozhok hat, characteristic of Bedny, is, in keeping with the season, transformed from a winter headpiece into a summer one (though summer headpieces aren’t usually called in that way)’ (Sokolov, 2006: 142–143). Whether this assumption is correct or not, one can hardly deny that at the time there existed conceptual antagonism between the old-time hat and a more democratic, ‘proletarian’ cap (Belobrovtseva and Kulyus, 2007: 145–146). If viewed from this vantage, the emphatically ‘class-conscious’ editor carrying a hat in his hand even on a particularly hot day when he is already prudently dressed in a summer two-piece suit might be seen as a poseur or impostor (first and foremost, a usurper of the literary position rightfully belonging to the Master[7]) which smacks of the author’s tongue-in-cheek reference to himself, a confirmed hat-wearer in a country of nothing but caps (cf. from Chapter XXI of the novel: ‘а по тротуарам, как казалось сверху Маргарите, плыли реки кепок’) (Bulgakov, 1989: 561) and an owner of what looked very much like the headpiece in question (cf. Bulgakov’s photo taken at the funeral of Vladimir Mayakovsky).

Whereas in translation one comes across a ‘decorous pork-pie hat’ (Bulgakov, 1992: 1) and two cases of ‘fedora’, either ‘proper’ (Bulgakov, 1997: 3) or ‘respectable’ (Bulgakov, 1997), not one of the variants able to be regarded as convincing. Despite the outer semantic similarity, the former means an altogether different thing. Originally a women’s hat, the headpiece began to be worn by men in the early 20th century Britain and later flourished in the USA, remaining intermittently popular into the early 1970s. Its distinctive features include a stingy curled-up brim, thus making it seemingly suitable for the context, and a low flat crown with no lengthwise concavity, but with a characteristic crease running around the inside top edge. However, both at the time when the novel was written and throughout the decades when hats where in fashion, a pork-pie hat, for a Soviet citizen, remained a distinctively Anglo-Saxon item of headwear, definitely not ‘decorous’ for a man such as Berlioz. The fedora, instead, though typically creased lengthwise down the crown with two ‘pinches’ near the front on both sides, normally had rather broad brims, a comparatively high crown and, generally speaking, became truly fashionable only at the turn of the 1920–30s. Put on the fictional editor-in-chief living in Soviet Russia somewhere around 1929, the Year of the Great Turn, a fedora would have seemed newfangled rather than ‘respectable’ or ‘proper,’ to say nothing of the same ‘ideologically alien’ look about it which would, in a dozen years or so, be seen as ‘kowtowing to the West’ (compare with ‘bourgeois belch’ (буржуазная отрыжка) for ‘necktie’ as a more contemporaneous example of the same attitude). Besides, neither of the two hat styles corresponds to other attributes of Berlioz as mentioned in the scanty passages describing the character, a non-smoker and, very likely, tea-totaller speaking with occasional dated locutions («ну-с», «престранный») (Bulgakov, 1989: 342, 335) and taking an interest in – if not a liking to! (Bulgakov, 1989: 338) – the highly conventional foreigner. And yet it is only against this background that the words ‘proper’ and ‘respectable’ really begin to make sense! The editor strives to bear a degree of resemblance to the pre-revolutionary intelligentsia (an impostor indeed!) and so the hat that suggests itself rather naturally in this context is a variety of the more conservative homburg, ‘a man’s felt hat having a narrow curled brim and a tapered crown with a lengthwise indentation’ (Oxford dictionary).

The second translational difficulty is caused by the word ковбойка, a ‘tartan shirt’ in one case (Bulgakov, 1992: 1) and a ‘cowboy shirt’ in the two others (Bulgakov, 1997: 3; Bulgakov, 1997). It is worthwhile to admit it from the start that, despite the misleading borrowed root cowboy, we tend to perceive the lexeme as characteristically Russian and in doing so quite agree with Vlakhov and Florin (1980: 25) who, considering the same vocabulary unit, call it an example of ‘assimilated’ («освоенных») realia, thus ranking with, in their terminology, ‘[one’s] own’ and not ‘alien’ phenomena of the sort, which is the very reason why the latter variant of translation seems unacceptable. Whereas coming back to the binary opposition advocated by Zorivchak, it seems of interest to note that in this particular case it is not lingual, but solely cultural factors that are at work, realia being created ‘with a careful eye to’ foreign — in actual fact, non-existent or highly exaggerated — patterns (compare the existential shock caused by inevitable subsequent disillusionment which is so pointedly portrayed in the 2008 movie ‘Stilyagi’ when provoked by the phrase «В Америке нет стиляг!» — “There are no stilyagi in America!”). 

According to various dictionaries of Russian, ковбойка can be described as ‘a checkered shirt with a turn-down collar, patch pockets, and, typically, lacing instead of buttons.’ In dictionaries of English, however, the noun cowboy shirt (unlike, for instance, cowboy boot) is not registered. And yet, in actual usage, it does occur in the context of the so-termed Western wear as denoting a shirt elaborately decorated with piping and embroidery, typically having a contrasting yoke and, in some cases, edged with a fringe. Already googling the word in search for images may be enough to ascertain that the shirt in question doesn’t have to be (and seldom happens to be) checkered, let alone possess the characteristic lacing (rather the opposite is true, it often has a pronounced placket, not infrequently of a different colour, with catchy buttons or snap fasteners). In view of that, it is no longer so out-of-place that the variant ‘tartan shirt’ begins to appear, preserving at least the more important semanteme of pattern[8] (in Russian-speaking post-Soviet countries, such shirts were popular in the 1990s, but, except in possible individual cases, were not known under the name of ковбойка). And yet it still seems unacceptable for two major reasons. On the one hand, the ‘tartan’ introduces Scottish connotations, absent in the original and objectionable in translation, and, on the other hand, it doesn’t suit either the season or the weather.                    

The third case concerns the word combination «толстый художественный журнал», translated as ‘highbrow literary magazine’ (Bulgakov, 1992: 1), ‘literary magazine’ (Bulgakov, 1997: 3) (elsewhere also interchangeable with ‘journal’) (Bulgakov, 1997: 4), and ‘fat literary journal’ (Bulgakov, 1997) . While the rendition of «художественный» as ‘literary’ can cause no serious objections, the search for an equivalent of the component «толстый» presents considerable problems. When applied to the word журнал, the Russian adjective in question may mean not only its size (as in, for instance, a thick magazine), but also, figuratively and quite as frequently, a type of a periodical meant for the literati rather than a wide reading public (compare the slogan of the internet project «Журнальный зал» featuring the activities of Russian literary and humanitarian magazines: «русский толстый журнал как эстетический феномен»). In view of that, all the three versions of translation are fairly questionable. The closest to the original, correct in meaning if not in wording (for the periodical, no doubt, saw its policy as perfectly ‘democratic’ and ‘revolutionary’), seems to be Michael Glenny’s variant of ‘highbrow’ (to some extent compensated by ‘journal’ as employed by the rest of the translators), whereas the two others, despite the literal exactitude of the latter, fail to convey the connotations of the original.   

And thus, coming back to theory, the above-performed analysis, as we see it, allows one to arrive at a most far-reaching conclusion: what makes it so hard to distinguish and adequately translate realia is precisely the overwhelming belief that they are both notions and words, whereas in actual fact the two may or may not coincide. A nationally specific meaning can be conveyed by what seems a perfect lexical equivalent (as in ковбойка : cowboy shirt; шляпа пирожком : pork-pie hat) and, vice versa, a nationally specific expression (as in шляпа пирожком, толстый журнал) can correspond (though sometimes explanatory interpolations may be necessary) to what is available also in other cultures but known under different names (homburg, intellectual magazine). 

It should be noted that Fedorov’s original conviction in the strictly extralinguistic nature of realia, despite its general rejection, was not completely lost on other theorists. For instance, still in 2004, Mykola Zarytskyi advocated the introduction of the term realonym to designate what the former somewhat bulkily called ‘words denoting realia’ (Zarytskyi, 2004: 97). Though realizing it that the broad usage of the term ‘realia,’ as long and commonly accepted by the academic community, is hardly revertible, we, nevertheless, find it possible to clarify its span and meaning by rethinking the approach to the classification of such units and to this end introducing the technical notion of realodesignatum as a necessary counterpart to realonym, the correlation between the two following that between a referent and its exponent. Using both tools, it seems feasible to provide an exhaustive structural description of realia while observing the three most commonly advocated delimitating principles such as the binary comparison of languages / cultures, the national specificity of either the former or the latter (thus, to some extent, incorporating into our scope the understanding of the subject current in linguistic geography), and the etymologically conditioned meaning of tangibility.

In our opinion, the grouping of realia based on the dichotomy between realodesignatum and realonym can be executed following four basic patterns: realodesignatum paralleled by realonym, realonym unparalleled by realodesignatum, realodesignatum unparalleled by realonym, realodesignatum coincident with realonym. Consistent with this typology, it seems reasonable to single out rubrics such as, accordingly, realia proper, quasi realia, latent realia, and performative realia, some of them falling / blending into additional classes as shown in Table 1.


Table 1. Classification of Realia

By far the commonest among the above-listed types are realia proper, that is those possessing both a nationally specific meaning with a sufficient degree of tangibility and a particular lingual unit to convey it (for instance, glengarry, (Germ.) Dirndl, (Fr.) camembert[9]). In the course of time, as the national coloration of suchlike notions is weakened or lost and corresponding lexemes are borrowed into other languages, certain samples of the group may cease to meet the standards of realia thus becoming semantically assimilated loanwords (for instance, джинсы, хотдог, бейсболка and so on). It is also with this group that certain culture-specific names, artifacts, customs, historic figures, events and so on have to be classified (that is to say archetypes of so-termed precedent phenomena), but only as used in the individual sense (e.g. Jack the Ripper — ‘an unidentified murderer active in London in 1888’) and not antonomastically (e.g. Jack the Ripper — ‘serial killer’), for in the latter case their realodesignata cease to be nationally peculiar, thereby forcing such units out into the next class.     

In case with quasi realia and other sub-classes comprising the rubric through the connotative branch, the national specificity of their designata is alleged rather than veritable and so such units do have functional, but not connotative equivalents (e.g. croûtonгренок, сухарик). The generic term, however, is reserved for those cases, when a certain instance of wording, normally intended to subdue an unacceptable impression (of straightforward unpretentiousness, lack of originality and so on) caused by a subject, happens to emerge ad hoc, acquires limited currency and is not or not yet accepted by a language system on the whole (apart from шляпа пирожком, which word-usage in unknown outside Bulgakov’s text, a convincing if facetious illustration from among more recent items of the kind may be provided by the ‘politically correct’ attempt to rename caffè Americano as Russiano) (‘Russiano’ Coffee Joke Sparks Online Humour). However, in those instances when suchlike word-usage persists, gradually out-competing a corresponding established name, it may become adopted and acquire overwhelming currency, thus causing the emergence of pseudo realia. Examples of both the former and the latter may be found in the following extract from “Anna Karenina”: 

 — Мне все равно. Мне лучше всего щи и каша; но ведь здесь этого нет.

— Каша а ля рюсс, прикажете? — сказал татарин, как няня над ребенком, нагибаясь над Левиным. […]

— Ну, так дай ты нам, братец ты мой, устриц два, или мало — три десятка, суп с кореньями…

— Прентаньер, — подхватил татарин. Но Степан Аркадьич, видно, не хотел ему доставлять удовольствие называть по-французски кушанья.

— С кореньями, знаешь? Потом тюрбо под густым соусом, потом… ростбифу; да смотри, чтобы хорош был. Да каплунов, что ли, ну и консервов. 

Татарин, вспомнив манеру Степана Аркадьича не называть кушанья по французской карте, не повторял за ним, но доставил себе удовольствие повторить весь заказ по карте: «Суп прентаньер, тюрбо сос Бомарше, пулар а лестрагон, маседуан де фрюи[10] (Tolstoy, 1965: 39–40).  

Viewing the original fragment in the light of the above-stated criteria, one cannot but arrive at the conclusion that каша а ля рюсс (most probably, ‘buckwheat porridge’) must be classified with quasi realia since, for one thing, outside menu a la carte such word-usage is not found and, for another thing, the ordinary French equivalent for the Russian гречневая каша is la bouillie de sarrasin. Whereas in case with прентаньер the issue is rather more complex, for the French word (originally, just as porridge à la Russe, a fancy name for what was and remains known in Russian as майский суп) was finally, unlike the former, borrowed into the language’s lexis. A characteristic detail, however, is presented by the fact that the original formulation of «суп с кореньями» is rendered into English as ‘clear soup with vegetables.’ In view of climatic differences, certain ingredients of the French and Russian versions of the dish slightly differed, a characteristic feature of the latter recipe being various root crops, turnip among them, and that’s what the client means by коренья (compare from Kuznetsov’s dictionary: ‘the underground and green parts of certain plants (such as carrot, parsley, celery) as used for food’). In the French printanier/printanière, instead, similar products are possible, but rather less common (compare from Larousse: ‘un potage à base de légumes nouveaux [the emphasis is ours. — A. Z., O. M., S. V.] taillés menu’), hence conditioning the appearance of ‘vegetables’ in order to adapt the scene to the perception of the Western reader. But since the dinner takes place in winter when (in the XIX century Russia!) the soup, at best, could only imitate the French potage (which is, probably, the reason why the client calls it суп с кореньями rather than майский суп), the waiter’s wording is, in fact, less accurate — but, no doubt, far more ‘classy’ (mark the absence of any practical need in such a rendition and the Cyrillic spelling of the seemingly haute cuisine terminology).  

A still more pronounced example of pseudo realia can be provided by the word поридж as found in the text of Yu. Semyonov’s novel “Expansion-III”: «Работал он запойно, диктовал по тридцать, а  то  и  сорок  страниц  в день; после завтрака (поридж, ломтик сыра, грейпфрут, кофе) устраивался  в кабинете, ходил по старому хорезмскому ковру, обсыпая себя сизым сигарным дымом…») (Semenov, 1987). Despite the availability of a perfect equivalent (cf. the much famous line «Овсянка, сэр!» from Igor Maslennikov’s screen version of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’), the lexeme is introduced with the sole purpose of adding national specificity to the image, albeit no genuine realodesignatum stands behind it. And yet it is enough to google the word (now, normally, as порридж) in order to receive evidence that in modern Russian such usage becomes more and more common.   

Pseudo realia are potentially further divisible into pseudo domestic and pseudo alien, the touchstone being the binary comparison of languages and cultures. Strictly speaking, both the former and the latter belong to ‘[one’s] own’ realia in the sense that they only emerge in a source language (either from native or borrowed lingual material), but their connotations drastically differ.

Pseudo domestic realia are intended to minimize external cultural influences and, in this way, they are typologically not dissimilar to what Einar Haugen called ‘loan creations,’ that is coinages independent of a foreign word, but created out of the desire to replace it (Khaugen, 1972: 344–382). A vivid example here may be provided by the words cognac and brandy when viewed in the triple context of French, English, and Russian. As Oxford dictionary puts it, brandy is ‘a strong alcoholic spirit distilled from wine or fermented fruit juice,’ whereas cognac means ‘a high-quality brandy, strictly speaking that distilled in Cognac in western France,’ and so within the English-French language pair the former must be classified with pseudo domestic realia (for, as is obvious from both definitions, the only difference between the two notions, apart from the rather ambiguous semanteme of ‘high-quality,’ is solely geographical). While in the context of the French-Russian language pair (compare the elegantly outspoken definition of the loanword cognac > коньяк in Ushakov’s dictionary: ‘vodka from grape juice’) no similar phenomenon is necessarily supposed to appear and it is rather the English brandy that may, depending on whether or not a particular translator prefers the so-termed ‘foreignization strategy,’ appear in the target language alongside with the non-realonym коньяк,[11] in this case presenting an instance of pseudo realia. To give another example, the same concerns whisky and whiskey (as Collins Advanced Learner’s dictionary rather straightforwardly puts it, ‘whiskey is whisky that is made in Ireland or the United States’). In the strict sense, however, there might emerge a significant contextual difference between, for instance, ‘[молдавский]’ коньяк, ‘[армянский]’ коньяк, and ‘[французский]’ коньяк, in which case the corresponding units should be classified with latent realia (see below).

Whereas a characteristic feature of pseudo alien realia is, on the contrary, subservience to foreign patterns, though either the ‘borrowed plumes’ themselves or the loanwords denoting them are largely fictitious or distorted beyond recognition. Apart from ковбойка mentioned earlier as illustration of the former possibility, of interest here is the realonym блайзер, current in the colloquial Russian of 1990s in the sense ‘baseball cap’ (the misunderstanding, probably, resulted from the contiguity with blazer — ‘a coloured jacket worn by schoolchildren or sports players as part of a uniform’). In this case, however (cf. бейсболка above), its realodesignatum is indeed observed, and hence the potential linkage to realia proper (see Table I). Another example here can be provided by морковь по-корейски, a post-Soviet space dish, borrowed from Korean diaspora, but unknown in mainland Korea. 

As concerns latent realia, their nature is determined by either absence or non-specified usage of terms denoting nationally peculiar tangible objects, which state of things results in speakers’ referring to them by their generic rather than particular names. Depending on a context, such differences (in many cases, rather minor[12]) may or may not be crucial enough to cause misunderstanding, and yet in certain situations they indeed become relevant. A good example here can be provided by the lexeme borscht as used in Slavic languages of Eastern Europe, English, and Yiddish. In Slavic-English context, the ‘Russian or Polish soup made with beetroot and usually served with sour cream’ (Oxford dictionary), though so far remaining among realia proper, hardly preserves a strong charge of uniqueness and is probably doomed (just like pizza, pasta and so on) to become semantically assimilated. Whereas in either Slavic-Yiddish or Yiddish-English binary comparison, the word (esp. as a shorthand name for peysakhdiker borsht – ‘Passover borscht’) may reveal significant differences in its meaning. When adopted by East European Ashkenazi Jews from their Slavic neighbours, the dish, for one thing, modified its recipe so as to meet the dietary prescriptions of kashruth, whereby developing two strictly separate varieties: meat borscht and dairy borscht, to say nothing of the substitution of pork by beef brisket in the former. But also, for another thing, its vegetarian variety, a clear ruby-red broth, obtained by fermenting beetroot in brine (actually, a drink; cf. what is meant in Polish by barszcz czysty), became an essential meal during the Passover period. It is, probably, in view of this particular practice that the Yiddish word developed a figurative meaning of ‘wine of inferior quality, vino’ and became incorporated in the set expression velveler far borsht (lit. ‘cheaper than borscht’) — ‘very cheap, dirt cheap’. And so, in the process of its importation into the Yiddish language, the corresponding Slavic lexeme saw considerable specialization of meaning (compare how the Ukrainian language reacted to the word’s new and ‘puzzling’ semantic shades by the emergence of the colloquial phrase гарячий, як єврейський борщ (у суботу), lit. ‘as hot (‘hot-tempered’) as Jewish borscht (on Saturday),’ its humorous effect based on similar culturally-conditioned peculiarities) (Zornytskyi, 2014: 153–161).

In case with semi-realia, the character of the subclass is conditioned by the fact that the semantemes of their denotata are extralinguistically grouped in such a way as is not found in a language / culture employed for comparison, thereby generating national specificity. For instance, the French term bureau de tabac is simultaneously equivalent in Russian to both табачный киоск and газетный киоск; the coverage of the American English lexeme drugstore is the same as in the British English chemist’s [shop] and corner shop / convenience store (the latter one a borrowed Americanism) if taken in the aggregate. What makes semi-realia akin to both quasi and latent realia is, on the one hand, the fact that they do have a denotational realonym, but it is not, as a rule, preserved in translation (as would be in, for the sake of argument, *драгстор), and yet, on the other hand, their alleged equivalents not always convey the more important segments of their meaning[13].

And finally, by performative realia we mean words or, more commonly, expressions that have no direct equivalents within a pair of languages and either accompany or substitute (and thus realonym=realodesignatum) certain culture-specific gestures, thereby inseparably linked to the materiality of a corresponding extralinguistic act. For instance, Накось выкуси! Зуб даю! Up yours! I bite my thumb at you! Cross my heart [and hope to die]! (Fr.) Mon œil! Ça me rase! and so on.     


And so, to conclude, it seems worthwhile to recapitulate that some realia can hardly be detected, let alone properly translated, unless by recognizing it that these are double-facet units consisting of their designata, onomata, or both (in the latter case the two may also coincide). In certain contexts, rather than searching for dictionary equivalents, it not infrequently proves necessary to undertake a deeper study of, first and foremost, a unit’s realodesignatum, if any, thereby determining the former’s typological character and, consequently, arriving at an acceptable variant of translation. Depending on the preference of either ‘domestication’ or ‘foreignization’ strategy, possible ways of rendition may vary, resulting, among other things, in the omission or preservation of certain types of realia, but what seems indispensable to a high-quality piece of translation is observance and not distortion of the original meaning and its connotations, embodied also in the phenomenon on hand.


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Zornytskyi, Andrii (2014). “The semantic aspect of Slavic-Yiddish language interference in the light of cross-cultural differences” in Die Ukraine und der deutschsprachige Raum: Osijeker Studien zu slawisch-deutschen Kontakten in Geschichte, Sprache, Literatur und Kultur, Oleksandr Oguy und Željko Uvanović (eds). Band 1. Aachen, Shaker Verlag: 153–161.


[1] As current practice of word-usage has it, the English language lacks a universal equivalent for what might be meant by the Russian реалии both on a large scale and in the narrow sense that interests us here. However, in view of the cognation between the two words, we, following Roksolana Zorivchak (1989: 56), preserve for the nonce this derivative of the late Latin realis – ‘related to things’ and, by way of semantic loan, ascribe to it the same meaning which is peculiar to its Russian counterpart.           

[2] Even within one and the same language, as is the case with British and American English, examples of the sort are rather numerous. For instance, the word coffee as used by average speakers of the two presents a large set of peculiarities depending on which variant of the language is implied (compare, for one thing, how queer the perfectly natural American expression mug of coffee would sound, should the latter component be taken in the British sense, or the term caffè Americano — though considerably modified in meaning if compared to its prototypal denotatum — which was calqued into a number of European languages, Russian among them). The difference seems no less considerable than that between, say, kawa po polsku, Wienerkaffee, Türk kahvesi, though in each case a certain national variant of the central lexeme (‘coffee’) can, by default, serve as a shorthand name for the corresponding narrower notion.        

[3] As we see it, the translational practice of transcription / transliteration is indeed a way for foreign words to penetrate a language and, if under favourable conditions, to be assimilated by its lexis (compare hamburger, Coca-Cola). However, that can be applied to a much wider range of lexical units, not necessarily falling under the category of realia in the traditional sense (compare OK, oops, bye-bye as borrowed into quite a number of modern languages).    

[4] Despite its general validity, the statement seems to us rather too categorical for, strictly speaking, an act of translation doesn’t necessarily involve at least two languages. It seems conceivable that words, those denoting realia among them, can be ‘translated’ from one national/social dialect or variant of a language into another in which case the comparison of cultures turns out to be the sole determinant. Compare a more balanced view: ‘A perfect command of a language as would allow unhindered enjoyment of the treasures of a foreign culture can, on the whole, hardly be achieved, even in theory. For that one needs to grow up in the source culture. An interesting illustration of the point was [presented by the fact] that the British Harry Potter needed “translation”, that is adaptation, for American readers’ (Ilyin, 2009: 410).

[5] As our current aim is not to go into textological subtleties, the original is quoted in the widespread edition prepared by Lidiya Yanovskaya, whereas the three translations, apart from the same reason of accessibility and wide distribution, are chosen on purpose to represent a British version (by Michael Glenny), an American version (by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor) and, in the third case, a more contemporary translation done in part by a native speaker (by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky).       

[6] The only exception here is the Ukrainian translation by Mykola Bilorus, and yet its accuracy – «респектабельного капелюха пиріжком» (Bulgakov, 2006: 21) – can, among other things, be accounted for by the mere proximity of the two languages. Compare, however, ‘seinen gediegenen Hut, der wie ein Brötchen aussah’ in the German translation by Thomas Reschke (Bulgakov, 2005: 11) where, as will be shown later, despite the ostensible verbatim accuracy, all major connotations of the original are lost. A still greater distortion may be found in the French translation by Claude Ligny: ‘Quant à son chapeau, de qualité fort convenable, il le tenait froissé dans sa main comme un de ces beignets qu’on achète au coin des rues’ (Boulgakov, 2002: 5) in which the type of the headpiece is misinterpreted as the manner of holding it.

[7] Compare the same situation reversely mirrored in the latter’s account of their meeting: «…он спрашивал меня о том, кто я таков и откуда я взялся, давно ли пишу и почему обо мне ничего не было слышно раньше…» (Bulgakov, 1989: 471) as well as many more instances of imposture in the novel (such as the false foreigner from the Torgsin Store, a spitting image of Berlioz: «низенький, совершенно квадратный человек, бритый до синевы, в роговых очках, в новешенькой шляпе…») (Bulgakov, 1989: 674).    

[8] In view of the ‘leitmotif structure’ of the novel (Gasparov, 1978: 198–251), the character’s check cap and kovboyka might be intended to echo the checkered jacket worn in the same chapter by as yet unnamed Koroviev.  

[9] Unless specified otherwise, the language involved for the binary comparison is Russian.

[10] ‘It’s all the same to me. I should like cabbage soup and porridge better than anything; but, of course, there’s nothing like that here.’

Porridge à la Russe, your honor would like?’ said the Tatar, bending down to Levin, like a nurse speaking to a child. […]

‘Well, then, my friend, you give us two — or better say three — dozen oysters, clear soup with vegetables…’

Printanière,’ prompted the Tatar. But Stepan Arkadyevitch apparently did not care to allow him the satisfaction of giving the French names of the dishes.

‘With vegetables in it, you know. Then turbot with thick sauce, then … roast beef; and mind it’s good. Yes, and capons, perhaps, and then sweets.’

The Tatar, recollecting that it was Stepan Arkadyevitch’s way not to call the dishes by the names in the French bill of fare, did not repeat them after him, but could not resist rehearsing the whole menu to himself according to the bill: — 'Soupe printanière, turbot, sauce Beaumarchais, poulard à l’estragon, macédoine de fruits …’ (Tolstoy, 1920).

[11] As, for instance, in the two translations from A. Conan Doyle who strongly favoured the lexeme, both of them published under a common cover of a popular edition: ‘He was back in a moment, and I smelt a strong reek of brandy as he passed me’ (Doyle, 2007: 239) — «Вернулся он очень скоро, и когда проходил мимо меня, я почувствовал сильный запах бренди» (Doyle, 1984: 190) as opposed to ‘On the table lay two glasses, an empty brandy-bottle, and the remnants of a meal’ (Doyle, 2007: 797) — «На столе стояли два стакана, пустая бутылка из-под коньяка и остатки еды» (Doyle, 1984: 239).      

[12] Compare an episode from the 1988 movie ‘Red Heat’:

‘Tea, please’

‘In a glass with lemon. Right?’


‘I saw Dr. Zhivago’ (Kleiner, 1988)

[13] When in his early teens, one of the authors of the present paper faced insurmountable difficulties trying to figure out why the characters of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (which he was reading in Russian) bought their Coca-Cola ‘at a pharmacy’: ‘The more affluent chased their food with drugstore Coca-Cola in bulb-shaped soda glasses’ (Lee,  1960)  — «А кто побогаче, запивал еду купленной в аптеке кока-колой в стаканчиках из-под содовой» (Li, 1963). Since what makes a difference in the context is not where the drink was obtained but that is was purchased and not brought from home, the translators, for the sake of adequacy, could have rather used the variant ‘store-bought’ («магазинной / покупной»), thus utilizing the other part of the word’s denotatum.

About the author(s)

Andrii Zornytskyi is Candidate of Sc. in Philology, Associate Professor at Zhytomyr Ivan Franko State University, Ukraine. He lectures in Text Interpretation and is author of nine books of literary / non-fiction translations from English into Ukrainian. Besides, his scholarly interests include the Yiddish language.

Olena Mosiienko is Candidate of Sc. in Philology, Associate Professor at Zhytomyr Ivan Franko State University, Ukraine. She lectures in Translation History and her scholarly interests include discourse analysis, translation studies, cognitive linguistics, and pragmatics.

Svitlana Vyskushenko is Candidate of Sc. in Philology, Associate Professor at Zhytomyr Ivan Franko State University, Ukraine. She lectures in Comparative Lexicology of English and Ukrainian languages and is interested in terminology studies, translation studies, cognitive linguistics, and semantics.

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

©inTRAlinea & Andrii Zornytskyi, Olena Mosiienko and Svitlana Vyskushenko (2023).
"How Do I Say Realia in English? On a Once ‘Cyrillic’ Translatological Problem", inTRAlinea Vol. 25.

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A Sociological and Paratextual Analysis of Translators’ Agency:

Ömer Rıza Doğrul from Turkey

By Fazilet Akdoğan Özdemir (Boğaziçi University, Turkey)


This study introduces Ömer Rıza Doğrul (1893-1952), a translator and agent of translation from the history of Turkey, and offers an account of Doğrul’s habitus and framing strategies in his Turkish translations of bestselling self-help manuals published in English in the 1930s. Focusing on Doğrul’s Turkish renderings of Dale Carnegie’s Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business (1937) and Henry C. Link’s Return to Religion (1936), the study examines the translator’s agency and interventionist approaches embedded within the paratexts of these translations. By incorporating a sociological inquiry with paratextual exploration, the study also aims to illustrate that these two methodological approaches reinforce each other as complementary ways of analyzing translators’ agency.

Keywords: habitus, paratexts, Ömer Rıza Doğrul, translator's agency

©inTRAlinea & Fazilet Akdoğan Özdemir (2023).
"A Sociological and Paratextual Analysis of Translators’ Agency: Ömer Rıza Doğrul from Turkey", inTRAlinea Vol. 25.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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1. Introduction

Agency has gained importance and attracted a great deal of attention as a research subject in Translation Studies owing to more interest in the role of individuals, that is all influential actors in the creation of translations, including translators, editors and patrons of literature such as publishers and politicians.[1] As shown in several studies focusing on different temporal and spatial settings, all these figures bring about changes and innovations in their cultures by means of translation (Milton and Bandia 2009). Agency has denoted such an essential and intricate aspect of translation processes that novel theoretical frameworks have been proposed to explore its complexities and to examine translation from a sociological perspective.[2] As well as considering translations as products of a culture, central concepts from Pierre Bourdieu’s cultural theory, such as “habitus,” “field” and “capital,” have been employed to delve into the dynamics of fields of translation and positions and practices of translators and other agents.[3] Translators’ agency, in particular, has constituted a substantial part of agency-focused research, and different methodologies, including the analysis of paratextual materials, have been utilized in the frameworks of historical and sociological approaches to translation.

The aim of this study is to explore the agency of a translator, namely Ömer Rıza Doğrul (1893-1952) from the translation history of Turkey, by analyzing his habitus, trajectory and framing strategies in his Turkish translations of bestselling self-help manuals published in English in the 1930s. The agency of Doğrul will be depicted through a sociological perspective, particularly by employing the concept of “habitus,” to elucidate the underlying factors for Doğrul’s translation practices. The sociological exploration will be complemented with a paratextual examination of Doğrul’s renderings.

Besides being an author, journalist, and politician, Doğrul also played a leading role in the translation of the English self-help literature into Turkish. He was very influential in the transfer of this new genre and its discourse based on the 20th century interpretation of the Protestant ethics in light of capitalism, liberalism and individualism. However, the audience self-help literature addressed in the source culture, that is in the US during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the readership in the target culture, that is in the early decades of the Turkish Republic, were not surrounded by the same social environments. Not only were their social, political or economic conditions dissimilar, but also their ethical traditions were entirely different. It is clear in Doğrul’s translations that these discrepancies triggered interventions and were handled through some framing strategies. While translating the bestsellers written by Dale Carnegie and Henry C. Link, two pioneers of the self-help literature in the American culture, into Turkish, Doğrul reframes the source texts mostly through paratextual elements such as prefaces, footnotes, and additions. Focusing on Doğrul’s Turkish renditions of Carnegie’s Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business (1937), and Link’s Return to Religion (1936), this study will inquire Doğrul’s translation strategies in light of his habitus and through a paratextual critique, which will ultimately unveil his agency and extremely interventionist attitude.  

With this intention, first I start with a concise presentation of the theoretical framework and methodology employed in this study in part 2, by touching upon the notions: “habitus” based on Bourdieu’s theory of culture, “paratexts” through Gérard Genette’s introduction and its further elaboration for the context of translation, and “framing” by drawing on Mona Baker’s interpretation of Narrative Theory for the analysis of translation. Next, I will delve into Doğrul’s habitus, including a brief account of his journalism and political career as well as his activities as an author and as a translator in part 3. Then, in part 4, I will offer a case analysis of two of Doğrul’s translations, mainly focusing on paratexts, where the translator’s agency appears most explicitly and his interventions occur most expressly. The study will end with the main implications of this analysis in terms of research on translators’ agency.

2. Theoretical Framework and Methodology

2.1. Agency and Habitus

A key concept in the sociological analyses of agency is “habitus,” which has been frequently implemented to build a critical explanatory framework for the translators’ decisions and strategies in light of their experiences, trajectories and relations with(in) their environments. Habitus is the central notion in Bourdieu’s genetic sociology, encapsulating the understanding of human agency: “systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures” (Bourdieu 1990: 53). The habitus of an agent is “neither innate nor a haphazard construction” (Simeoni 1998: 21) but it is “structured” (Hanna 2016: 43). It “is acquired and shaped, explicitly and implicitly, through the range of social experiences made available by socialization and education” (Hanna 2016: 43). Furthermore, habitus is composed of a system of dispositions that has a structuring function, which guides the practices of the individual within the social space. Finally and most importantly, habitus causes “dispositions,” that is, “strategies for action rather than rules for implementation” (Hanna 2016: 43). It is significant to note that habitus is “an open system of dispositions” whose structure is open to change and revision through the personal experiences of the individual (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992: 133).

On the relation between the habitus of an individual agent and their social development, the cumulative nature of habitus is also emphasized in Bourdieu’s framework. The habitus attained at a specific time along the trajectory of an agent underlies, and is exposed to restructuring by the habitus attained at later stages (Bourdieu 1977: 86-7; cited in Hanna 2016: 45). The habitus starts to be acquired in the family and continues to be accumulated and transformed through educational life and professional career. As stated above, habitus is regarded as a “historical and open system” in this context, and it needs to be noted that the translator’s habitus is not only affected by the professional field of translation but is also “open to transformation and restructuring” by historical experience obtained outside the domain of the professional field (Hanna 2016: 45). For this reason, the decisions of a translator are not only influenced by the prevailing norms of practice within their specific professional field of translation, but are also modified by a variety of circumstances, ranging from changes in the political field and social structure to the personal circumstances of the translator under concern (Hanna 2016: 45).

As a last point, in Bourdieu’s cultural theory, a “field” of cultural production is a dynamic structure, where agents strive to get the dominant positions by means of different forms of capital (Bourdieu 1996: 231). Bourdieu mainly describes three forms of capital, that is, “economic,” “cultural,” and “social,” not only to reveal the complex networks of relations and different positions in a field, but also to expound the (trans)formation of habitus (Bourdieu 1986: 243).

2.2. Paratexts and Framing

Gérard Genette, who first elaborated the concept, defines “paratexts” as additional elements which “present and comment on the text” (1997: 345). Paratexts are divided into two categories as “epitexts” and ”peritexts;” the former comprises the materials about a work that are found outside of the work, such as interviews and reviews, and the latter refers to all the accompanying parts of a text including prefaces, illustrations, forewords, epigraphs, book covers, footnotes and similar additional materials (Genette 1997). Paratexts have the potential of offering essential information for translation analysis, and in addition to several studies examining their role and functions, Translation and Paratexts (Batchelor 2018), a single volume specifically focusing on the subject, has been published recently. In this study, a paratext is defined as “a consciously crafted threshold for a text which has the potential to influence the way(s) in which the text is received” (Batchelor 2018: 142). Since paratexts serve various purposes in translated works, to highlight their significance for the translation analysis, Batchelor justifiably describes them “as sites of translator intervention or adaptation of the text to its new environment” (2018: 25). Şehnaz Tahir-Gürçağlar, who has previously drawn attention to the role of paratexts in translations, argues that paratexts can offer indispensable information regarding the production and reception of translations and the underlying factors shaping them in a given culture (2002: 58-59). For Theo Hermans, translators can “signal their agenda” (2007: 33) or show their ideological closeness or distance towards the author or text through paratexts (Hermans 2007: 53ff.; qtd. in Batchelor 2018: 145). This is exactly how Doğrul makes use of paratexts, where he explicitly states the aim of his translations and speaks to his readers. Prefaces and translators’ notes are widely analyzed types of paratexts in translation research (Tahir-Gürçağlar 2013: 91; Batchelor 2018: 26), and they provide substantial and significant information for this study too.

As well as drawing attention to the significance of paratextual materials in historical translation research, translation studies scholars have also questioned the effectiveness and validity of the information presented in paratexts and the role of translators in their creation. Tahir-Gürçağlar, for example argues for a cautious approach to the findings of paratextual analyses, especially when they are not complemented with the analysis of the translated texts, and claims that despite their mediating aspects, paratexts can only “show how translations are presented but not how they are” and their analysis cannot replace textual examination (Tahir-Gürçağlar 2011: 115; cited in Batchelor 2018: 26). Though she admits that some paratexts such as prefaces and translator’s notes can be “strong indicators of the translator’s agency” (Tahir-Gürçağlar 2011: 115), she reminds that paratexts can be prepared by other agents, such as editors and publishers. In a similar vein, Alexandra Lopes describes paratexts as a “rather poor indicator of the strategies employed by translators” since preface-like materials are mostly prepared in accordance with the accepted publishing norms (Lopes 2012: 130; qtd. in Batchelor 2018: 26). Likewise, in her comprehensive study on paratexts and translation, Kathryn Batchelor states that paratextual analysis sheds light on the agency of various actors involved in the publishing sector and that “translators are often marginalized with regard to paratextual publishing decisions” (Batchelor 2018: 39). As most of the research about paratexts have focused on literary translations (Batchelor 2018: 39), these arguments are generally put forward for the case of literary translations. This study draws attention to a counter example in a non-literary genre, however, where the translator seems quite actively involved in the paratextual publishing processes and appears very visible in the prefaces and supplementary notes.

One of the most relevant conceptual tools for paratextual analysis of translations is “framing.” In Translation and Conflict: A Narrative Account (2006), Mona Baker elaborates and implements the concept of framing to analyze translation in conflict situations. Baker uses the concept of framing to describe the ways in which translators and interpreters – in collaboration with other agents, such as editors or publishers – emphasize, weaken or alter aspects of the narrative(s) set in the source text. What is meant by narrative is not the text itself but refers to the meta-narrative embedded in the text, which is similar to a story or discourse in this approach (Baker also discusses different types of narratives). Framing is “an active strategy that implies agency and by means of which we consciously participate in the construction of reality” (Baker 2006: 105). Baker exemplifies various strategies to demonstrate how narratives are reframed in translation and considers translation as “not simply an interpretive frame but a performance that encompasses any number of interpretive frames” (2006: 107). Different strategies of framing are explained with examples in Baker’s account, and I will draw on the category of “selective appropriation of textual material” (Baker 2006: 114) for the analysis of Doğrul’s translations. Selective appropriation is “realized in patterns of omission and addition designed to suppress, accentuate or elaborate particular aspects of a narrative encoded in the source text or utterance, or aspects of the larger narrative(s) in which it is embedded” (Baker 2006: 114). Paratexts constitute the spaces of additions in the process of framing, where translators explicitly interfere with the content of the text they are translating and create their way of presenting a work.

In this analysis, paratextual materials offer a fruitful ground for revealing the agency and framing strategies of Doğrul, which will be explained in light of his habitus. In what follows, I will focus on Doğrul’s habitus and agency as a translator, and then I will present a paratextual analysis of two of his translations in section 4.

3. Ömer Rıza Doğrul (1893-1952): Habitus and Trajectory

Ömer Rıza Doğrul is a Turkish author, journalist, politician and translator, who lived during the final stage of the Ottoman Empire and the early decades of the Turkish Republic. Doğrul was a very active cultural agent of his milieu and played an important role in the transfer of the modern self-help literature into Turkish. To shed light on Doğrul’s agency in this field and critically analyze his translation strategies and decisions, this section will focus on his habitus; that is, his family background, educational and professional life, and social environment, all of which were influential in forming his habitus.

Doğrul’s journalism, ideological affiliation and political career constitute the most important factors that seem to have influenced his agency and practices about translation. As regards his background, Doğrul’s family was originally from Burdur, a city in southwestern Turkey but he was born and grew up in Cairo, where he had his university education and also started working as a journalist. Until 1915, Doğrul’s literary articles appeared both in Cairo and İstanbul, where he settled and got married to the daughter of Mehmed Akif Ersoy (1873-1936), the well-known Turkish poet, author and politician. Doğrul continued journalism in İstanbul and wrote in major newspapers including Vakit, where his writings on Turkey-Egypt relations led to a short prison term. In addition to numerous articles on politics, Doğrul also published several indigenous works and translations on Islam, including a translation of the Qur’an (Tanrı Buyruğu 1943) (Uzun 1994: 489). It is worth noting that he translated from both some Eastern and Western languages, and there are over 550 records with Doğrul’s name in the National Library of Turkey today, including the reprints of his translations. In addition to his intensive writing and translating activities, Doğrul also served as a publisher and issued a weekly magazine, Selamet Mecmuası, composed of topics such as religion, intellectual movements in the world of Islam, Islamic classics and religious education. Doğrul is also believed to have exerted considerable influence on the realization of religious freedom in Turkey and religious education in Turkish primary schools (Uzun 1994: 489). He also became a member of parliament in 1950, continued to write about the relationship between Turkey and other Muslim countries, and argued for the necessity of cooperation among them by underlining Turkey’s role in such collaboration. He actively took part in foreign affairs, with Pakistan in particular, and specifically analyzed and wrote about the role of Indian Muslims in their national struggle (Uzun 1994: 489).

Doğrul is considered as an “Ottoman-Republic intellectual” (Akpınar 2007: 439), which reveals both the conservative and the innovative aspects in his habitus. For some scholars of the Islamic tradition, Doğrul was a unique thinker who objectively analyzed the views of different cultures and traditions, and a real intellectual with a rationalist and open-minded perspective about science and innovation (Akpınar 2007: 442). For others, however, Doğrul was a controversial figure whose thoughts and actions led to disputes and criticisms. It is stated that Doğrul was severely criticized by religious circles especially for two reasons, namely for his masonry and the claims that he was spreading Kadıyani views, which mostly stemmed from the views he presented in his translations from Qur’an (Uzun 1994: 490). His works were thought to reflect the extremely rationalist approach of Mevlana Muhammed Ali, who was affiliated with Kadıyanilik, a religious sect founded in the nineteenth century in India. It is emphasized that Doğrul made replies to these criticisms in his writings (Uzun 1994: 490). Despite the differences in the historical evaluations on Doğrul’s intellectual identity and contributions, it is clear that his translation practices were strongly affected by his experiences and affiliations, which also shaped his habitus.

All the information regarding Doğrul’s habitus and trajectory is of specific importance for this study but two points emphasized in this context are particularly worthy of attention. Firstly, it is stated that from the beginning of the early periods of the Turkish Republic to the 1950s, Doğrul opposed to the attacks against religion, religiousness, and Islam in particular, consistently at every opportunity, which has also been received with appreciation in some studies (Uzun 1994: 489). This point can explain his interventionist strategies as a translator, driven by religious ideology of an active political figure. Besides, that he was actively involved in the selection of the source texts for his translations is also clear in his works. Secondly, it is significant that he was famous for his translations that are “yarı telif” (“semi-originals”) as a result of his additions and extensions (Uzun 1994: 490). This description of “yarı telif” (semi-original) is interesting as it also indicates the interrelatedness of translation and writing in Doğrul’s works. So, in a way, Doğrul is famous for raising his translations to the status of original writing by means of additions and annotations, which again shows and confirms his agency and interferences in translation.

Doğrul has been mentioned in previous research on translation history in Turkey and described as an “extremely efficient and productive” translator of literary, historical and religious books (Tahir-Gürçağlar 2008: 178), who worked “systematically and industriously” from 1920s to 1940s (Tahir-Gürçağlar 2008: 173). Doğrul has also been considered as one of the first translators of realist works into Turkish (Bozkurt 2011: 258).[4] Müge Işıklar-Koçak extensively analyzes one of the translations of Doğrul, namely Evlilik Hayatında Daha Bahtiyar Olmanın Yolları (1942) with a special focus on Doğrul’s manipulations through his religious ideology (2007: 196). It is explained in this analysis that in the preface to this translation, Doğrul makes a reference to his translation of Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1938), and how the chapter on marriage in that translation attracted the readers’ attention and eventually paved the way for this translation. An example of Doğrul’s interventionist strategies examined by Işıklar-Koçak is his addition of a chapter with a list of advice for women as ideal wives at the end of the book (Işıklar-Koçak 2007: 215). It is interesting to see that this list in fact belongs to Dale Carnegie and is in fact given at the end of the chapter on marriage in How to Win Friends and Influence People. This point went unnoticed in Işıklar-Koçak’s study as the focus was not Carnegie’s works. Another remarkable detail Işıklar-Koçak offers is an anecdote by Sabiha Sertel, an editor who worked with Doğrul. In this anecdote, Doğrul translates a work on socialism but because of his textual interferences arising from his religious ideology, Sertel fires him (Işıklar-Koçak 2007: 206).

Doğrul was definitely a dominant agent in the formation of a self-help field in Turkish, who acted like a cultural entrepreneur and whose translations have still been published since the 1930s. Not only did Doğrul contribute to the emergence and development of the field of self-help in Turkey, but he also determined the main trends in this field of cultural production. What is more, his translation practices remarkably reveal the underlying cultural dynamics between the self-help literature and the religious tradition in the Turkish culture. Doğrul both translated the works of Carnegie, the famous pioneer of the success books based on the Protestant ethics in the source culture, and also some other self-help works with a more explicit religious content. It is clearly reflected in his works that Doğrul was supported by his main publisher Ahmet Halit Yaşaroğlu and was actively involved in the selection of the source texts for his translations. He had a certain amount of cultural capital as a result of his political and professional titles in addition to the social capital he provided through his relations with the publishers and some other authoritative figures.

An interesting case about Doğrul’s Carnegie translations is that he renders two different translations of the same text, that is How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1948) in the same year for two different publishing houses with different titles: Üzüntüyü Bırak Yaşamaya Bak (Ahmet Halit Kitabevi) and Üzüntüsüz Yaşamak Sanatı (Arif Bolat Kitabevi). Figure 1 is the cover of the latter, which clearly proves Doğrul’s visibility[5] as the translator:

Fig. 1 The Front cover of Ömer Rıza Doğrul’s translation of Dale Carnegie’s
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (in Carnegie 1948, Üzüntüsüz Yaşamak Sanatı)

In this book cover, Doğrul’s photo is given under the source author Dale Carnegie’s photo, representing an extreme case of visibility, which also highlights the translator’s agency.

Doğrul’s political endeavors and publishing activities clearly indicate that he was a strong figure of his milieu, possessing both cultural and social capital on account of his background, affiliations and relations. All his experiences, especially his political career and journalism played a role in forming his habitus, which is clearly manifested in his interventionist translation strategies and decisions. Doğrul is extremely visible as a translator, and overtly states the rationale behind his translations, which indicates his strong agency. Doğrul’s writings in the form of prefaces and footnotes reflect his habitus as a translator and the critical aspects of his agency, which will be depicted in the following section.

4. The Analysis of Paratextual Framing in Doğrul’s Translations

In this section, I will explore Doğrul’s agency through his translations, particularly by analyzing his framing strategies, that is, selective appropriations through additions and omissions. For the additions, I will offer a critical examination of the paratexts, namely prefaces and footnotes, and for the omissions I will give examples of the parts that are eliminated in the translations. To complement the paratextual analysis, I will briefly touch upon Doğrul’s general translation approach in the text, rather than providing a full-fledged textual analysis as that would extend the scope of this study. Two translations of Doğrul will be examined in this respect, which are Söz Söylemek ve İş Başarmak Sanatı (1939), the translation of Dale Carnegie’s Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business and Dine Dönüş (1949), the rendition of Henry C Link’s Return to Religion (1936). For both cases, I will first introduce the source author and the source text, and then offer an analysis of the paratextual framing in the target text.

4.1. Case Analysis 1

Source Text: Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business (1937)
Target Text: Söz Söylemek ve İş Başarmak Sanatı (1939)

The source author is Dale Carnegie (1888-1955), who was the pioneer of the mainstream and success oriented self-help literature in English in the twentieth century. As self-help has gradually become a key characteristic of the popular culture in the US[6], and its role has been consolidated in the capitalistic and consumerist world order, Carnegie has become an iconic figure and been addressed more often in different contexts. Carnegie started to teach public speaking at an uptown YMCA[7], and as his courses got popular, he started to travel around the country, offering trainings and collaborating with big corporations to instruct their employees (Vanderkam 2014). The Depression years helped him improve his career path as well, which led to the publication of his first book How to Win Friends and Influence People, a success manual composed of anecdotes and advice, in 1936. Then, Carnegie suddenly became popular and published Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business in 1937 (Lippy 2005: 148). His first blockbuster, How to Win., was chosen one of the All-Time 100 Best Nonfiction Books since 1923[8] by the Time Magazine in 2011 (Sun 2011). Indeed, his books have been edited, re-edited and repacked for a number of times in English and retranslated and republished on so many occasions in Turkish since the 1930s.

There is obviously a strong connection between capitalism and the ethos Carnegie promotes as a prerequisite for success. Although his books are identified as the first examples of a commercial literature and not attributed any value, Carnegie is considered as “a key figure in the intellectual history of capitalism in the US” today (Seal 2014). He is believed to have contributed to the development of a capitalistic business ethics by reforming the Protestant work ethic into a modern morality based on personality and self- fulfillment. A closer look illustrates that what Carnegie offers in his texts, in essence, is an ethos of self-improving supported with principles of religion and psychology. Although Carnegie very often refers to sincerity and empathy, winning friends in his discourse is not for the sake of friendship but it is to win people to your way of thinking. All his works endorse individualistic values with a manipulative attitude and pragmatic tone. They speak to a certain type of personality, that is the businessmen in the US after the Depression; and that’s why, applying such principles across cultures is far more difficult (Cummings 2016: 19).

In the Turkish context, Doğrul translated all three bestsellers of Carnegie in the 1930s. He first translated How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), where his approach seems moderate and his agency is not explicit. In his second translation however, that is in the rendition of Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business, Doğrul becomes more visible as the translator and appears more influential as an agent of translation. This source text targets businessmen who need to improve their speaking, communication and public relations skills. Some chapter titles are: “Developing Courage and Self-confidence,” “How to Be Impressive and Convincing,” and “How to Interest Your Audience.” Doğrul’s translation starts with an addition, a preface before the introduction, entitled “Eser Hakkında Birkaç Söz” (A Few Words about the Work). This preface is written by Doğrul and illustrates his agency in this translation project clearly. In this preface, Doğrul states in a nationalist tone that one of the most important outcomes of the Republican Period is the freedom of speech. However, he argues, Turkish people, in general, suffer from the lack of public speaking skills:

hepimiz de söz söylemek, söylediğimiz sözlerle muhataplarımızı ikna ederek iş başarmak, bir maksadı gerçekleştirmek ve bir hedefe varmak isteriz. Fakat çoğumuz da ele aldığımız mevzuu nasıl ileri süreceğimizi, mevzuumuzun en bellibaşlı noktalarını nasıl işliyeceğimizi bilmediğimiz için, bütün ciddiyet ve samimiyetimize rağmen, muvaffakiyetsizliğe uğrarız ve bu yüzden ızdırap çekeriz. Sebebi, söz söylemek ve söz söyliyerek iş başarmak sanatine vukufsuzluğumuzdur. Dilimizde, maalesef, bu yolda yazılmış eserler de pek yoktur. Onun için, memleketimizde çok büyük rağbet kazanan “Dost Kazanmak” adlı eserin müellifi Dale Carnegie’nin “Söz Söylemek ve İş Başarmak” üzerinde yazdığı eseri tercüme etmekle bir boşluğu doldurmak istedim. Okuyucularımızın “Dost Kazanmak”dan elde ettikleri istifadenin daha büyüğünü bu eserden temin etmelerini umarak, gösterdikleri teveccüh ve rağbeti şükranla karşılamayı bir vazife tanırım. (Doğrul’s preface in Carnegie’s Söz Söylemek ve İş Başarmak Sanatı 1948)

English translation:

we all want to speak, to accomplish a work by persuading our addressees through our words, to fulfill a goal and reach a target. However, since most of us do not know how to raise the point we are dealing with, how to process its major aspects, despite all our seriousness and sincerity, we fail, and therefore, suffer. The reason is our lack of knowledge about the art of speaking and accomplishing a work by speaking. Unfortunately there are not many works written on this subject in our language. For this reason, I wanted to fill this gap by translating the work he has written on “Public speaking and Succeeding a work,” of Dale Carnegie, the author of “How to Win Friends,” which has been sought after a lot in our country. Hoping that our readers would reap more benefit from this work than they did from “How to win friends,” I would regard it a duty to welcome the complaisance and demand they offered with gratitude. (translation by the author)

This excerpt shows that Doğrul is actively involved in the selection process of the source text and he gives his previous translation from Carnegie as an example to praise this work.

Doğrul generally has a domesticating strategy throughout the translation. He replaces the names of people and events with some Turkish equivalents or makes explanations through footnotes. Carnegie, the source author, frequently uses American presidents as his examples of superior speakers, and presents stories about figures like Abraham Lincoln by quoting from their memoirs. In the translation, Doğrul intervenes in some of these references. For example, the following is an excerpt from one of his interventions to the author’s frequent references to Lincoln, with a four-paragraph footnote in a quite nationalist tone:

Muharrir, Amerikalılara hitap ettiği için, onun Abraham Lincoln’nun hayatını ve muvaffakıyetlerini birer örnek olarak göstermesi, gayet tabiidir. Burada bize düşen bir vazife, kendi öz tarihimizde en güzel ve en yüksek nümuneyi göstermektir. Şüphe yok ki bu nümune, başka her nümuneden daha yüksektir ve daha çok değerlidir. Bu nümune, bizim Milli Rehberimiz, Ulu ve Ebedi Şefimiz, Atatürktür. Siz bu eserde Lincoln’dan Roosevelt’ten bahsolunduğunu gördükçe Atatürkün nutuklarını okuyunuz. Yalnız iki kat istifade etmekle kalmazsınız. Üstelik, hayatta muvaffak olmak için, muhtaç olduğunuz cesaret, itimat ve kudreti, kendi milli kaynağımızdan almış olur, ve bu mübarek kaynakta birçok yeni kuvvetler keşfetmek fırsatını da elde edersiniz. (Carnegie, Söz Söylemek., 1948: 136)

English translation:

As the author addresses the Americans, it is very natural that he shows the life and achievements of Abraham Lincoln as an example. One of our duties here is to show the best and highest ensample in our own history. There is no doubt that this ensample is higher than any other ensample, and much more precious. This ensample is our National Mentor, Our Supreme and Forever Chief, Atatürk. In this work, whenever you see that Lincoln or Roosevelt is mentioned, read the speeches of Atatürk. You will not only get double the benefit. What is more, you will also acquire the courage, confidence and strength that you need from your own national source, and get the opportunity to discover many new strengths in this blessed source. (translation by the author)

Furthermore, as Carnegie’s discourse on public speaking derives from the author’s experiences in YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), and public speaking is also a major skill for men of religion, the source text is heavily loaded with references and allusions to Christianity. The examples Carnegie presents to support his principles rely mostly on proofs from the experiences of ministers or scholars of religious institutions. All these references and allusions to Christianity, preaching, baptists, ministers and divinity schools are totally erased in Doğrul’s translation.[9] In order to validate his arguments and prove that what he teaches is universally accepted, Carnegie also draws on some other belief systems such as Buddhism or Islam. If the reference is to Islam, Doğrul’s voice becomes dominant again and makes use of every opportunity to instruct his readers about Islam and Islamic tradition through footnotes.

4.2. Case Analysis 2

Source Text: The Return to Religion: Developing Personality and Finding Happiness in Life (1936)
Target Text: Dine Dönüş (DD) (1949)

The source author, namely Henry C. Link (1889-1952), was a psychologist and his Return to Religion was one of the bestsellers of self-help in English in the 1930s. In this book, Link explains his own gradual return to religion in the course of his profession as a psychologist, and aims to illustrate the necessity of religion for happiness and success in life. Link’s main argument throughout the book is that psychological facts are verified by the principles of religion, and logic or reason can never replace religious virtues. The way Link uses psychology and religion in a constitutive way is very interesting. By constantly quoting from the Bible and making references to Psychology surveys, Link establishes a connection between the two domains, and encourages some religious practices by supporting them with scientific facts.

Regarding the target text, the most striking aspect is the translator’s additions in the form of paratexts. Doğrul appends a preface, an introductory passage about the author, footnotes and supplementary notes within the text, and some other additions at the end. The preface both foregrounds him as the translator and also explicitly reveals his agency. It exposes Doğrul’s religious ideology, an important aspect of his habitus, and the encounter of the two religious traditions, Christianity and Islam, as the underlying narratives in the text. Doğrul first expresses his heartfelt gratitude to Ahmet Hamdi Akseki in the preface, who was the Director of Religious Affairs (“Diyanet İşleri Reisi Ahmet Hamdi Akseki Hazretleri”), for helping him find this book. Doğrul’s framing starts just here because by emphasizing that the source text was provided by a dignitary, he legitimizes his translation. The following is Doğrul’s description of this work in the preface, where his agency is strongly implied:

Bu eserin esas konusu, dindir ve insanın ancak din sayesinde insan olabildiğini, yani karakter ve şahsiyet sahibi olabildiğini, psikoloji ilminin buluşlariyle anlatmaktır. (…) Fakat müellifin dinden anladığı şey, hıristiyanlıktır. Çünkü muhitinde hakim olan din odur. Ancak bu eser, hıristiyanlığı propaganda etmek için yazılmamıştır. Din hissini uyandırmak, din zevkini yaşatmak ve din terbiyesini açıklamak için yazılmıştır. Bu böyle olmakla beraber eserin istinad ettiği esaslar, hep hıristiyanlıktan alınma olduğu için bu esasları kendi esaslarımızla karşılaştırmak, icap ettikçe okurlarımızın dikkatine kendi esaslarımızın üstünlüğünü arzetmek vazifesi baş göstermiştir. Biz de elimizden geldiği kadar bu vazifeyi yapmağa çalıştık ve eserin metnini olduğu gibi muhafaza ederek ilave ettiğimiz notlarla kendi esaslarımızı izah ettik. (...) modern psikolojinin teyid ettiği hakikatler, halis muhlis İslami hakikatlerdir. Umarız ki modern psikoloji bizim yurdumuzda da kök saldıktan sonra bir Türk-İslam psikoloğu çıkar ve bize bu eserden kat kat alasını yazarak psikolojinin İslam hakikatlerini nasıl desteklediğini anlatır. Fakat muhitimizde henüz böyle eser yazılmadığı için, şimdiki halde bu eserle ve bu esere ilave ettiğimiz notlarla iktifa ediyoruz. (Doğrul’s preface in Link’s Dine Dönüş, 5-6)

English translation:

The main subject of this work is religion and to explain by the findings of psychology that a human can become a human, that is, can have a character and personality only through religion. (…) But religion means Christianity for the author because it is the dominant religion in his environment. However, this work has not been written to propagate Christianity. It has been written to evoke the feeling of religion, to make the readers experience the pleasure of religion and to explain the education of religion. On the other hand, as this work relies on principles of Christianity, there has arisen the mission of comparing these principles with those of our own, of presenting the superiority of our own principles to the attention of our readers. We have tried to fulfill this mission as much as we could and explained our principles through the notes we added, while preserving the text of the work as it is. (…) the truths confirmed by modern psychology are genuine Islamic truths. We hope that after modern psychology has also taken root in our country, there would appear a Turkish-Islam psychologist and write a much more superior work explaining how psychology supports the truths of Islam. But since such a work has not been written in our own environment yet, we feel satisfied with this work and the notes we added. (translation by the author)

As this excerpt illustrates, Doğrul openly proclaims that the focus of this work is religion in the general sense, and not in the sense of Christianity specifically (DD, p.6). He states his belief that it would appeal to the interests of intellectuals, and would especially benefit the ones involved with education such as parents and teachers. He also expresses his hope that the book will not only help correct the deviant thoughts about religion but also eliminate the invalid opinions causing the negligence of religion education (DD, p. 7). As shown in the excerpt above, Doğrul targets some public opinions about religion, which again brings to light his agency in this translation project.

After the preface, there is another paratextual addition entitled “Müellif Hakkında” (About the Author), where Link is introduced with some information about his academic degrees and professional success (DD, pp. 8-10). The writer of this piece is most probably Doğrul, though it is not specified in the text. It is also worth noting that this addition about the author does not have a neutral tone since some of the information such as Link’s scientific discoveries seem overstated, and it is underlined many times that Link has been read by millions of people.

There are two sections inserted at the end of the book entitled “Dale Carnegie’den Bir Bölüm” (A Chapter from Dale Carnegie) and “Pazar Okulları” (Sunday Schools). The first addition is a 21-page chapter from Doğrul’s own translation of Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. This is a long chapter about the necessity of belief and prayer in one’s life. By adding a chapter of Carnegie’s work to Link’s book, Doğrul both promotes his own translation of Carnegie’s work, and enhances the prestige of Link’s work, as Carnegie is a better-known author. The second additional section, “Pazar Okulları” (Sunday Schools), is a one-page explanation about the informal education offered to children at church on Sundays, and it also highlights the prevalence of church attendance among Americans. This addition reflects Doğrul’s political agency in the target culture in line with his habitus.

As in his other translation, Doğrul omits all the passages and references about Christianity in this work. His most remarkable intervention however, is his extensive additions of notes, through which he recontextualizes the source text with an Islamic frame, as in the following footnote:

Müellif eserin metninde Evamiri Aşere (on emirden) bahsettikçe siz İslamın bu on iki emrini göz önüne getirin. (DD, p. 24)… Müellif Hıristiyanlığın bu cephesini tebarüz ettirmekle Hıristiyanlığın değil, fakat İslamiyetin tesiri altında kalmıştır… İman ile beraber ameli ahlaka değer vermek İslamiyetin en bariz vasfıdır ve müellifin en fazla bu eser üzerinde durması, Dine Dönüşün daha fazla İslami bir hamlenin eseri olduğunu belirtmektedir. (DD, p. 27)… Görülüyor ki, müellif, dine, hakiki manasını vermek için daima İslamlaşmakta, fakat İslamiyeti bilmediği için bunun farkına varamamaktadır. (DD, p. 43)…

English translation:

As the author mentions the ten commandments, you envision the following twelve commandments of Islam…While making this aspect of Christianity clear, the author is under the influence of Islam not Christianity…Cherishing practical morality with faith is the most obvious feature of Islam and the fact that the author emphasizes this work most indicates that Return to Religion is more a result of an Islamic move… Obviously, the author constantly gets Islamic to give its real meaning to religion but is unaware of this fact as he does not know Islam… (translation by the author)

These additions in the form of supplementary notes reflect Doğrul’s framing strategies clearly, as shown in the example above. Through his explications offering information on the history of Islam and Islamic ethics, and quotations of some verses from the Qur’an, Doğrul regularly instructs his readers about the target culture religion and religious tradition. He rewrites the original by totally modifying its religious core and appropriating it according to Islamic ideology. In parallel with his paratextual framing, Doğrul has the same approach while translating the main text, where he consistently replaces the words and references to Christianity with their equivalents in Islam or omits those parts totally if it is impossible to substitute the reference. All throughout this translation, Doğrul is very visible and sounds more powerful than the author.

The back cover of the translation presents a list of Doğrul’s works in Turkish and his translations from Arabic and Persian. This list is a part of framing and reveals Doğrul’s habitus and how he was involved with the religious tradition, history of religion and religious education in the target culture. As it is shown through case analyses, Doğrul’s selections and interventions as a translator serve some ideological purposes. He plays a major role in the initiation of his translations and explicitly attempts to generate public opinions about the content of the source texts.

5. Conclusion

The analysis of agency reveals the complex relationships between agents, their environments and other driving forces underlying their strategies and decisions. It sheds light on various dynamics affecting agents, who take different positions and attain different types of capital through their actions and practices in a field of cultural production. The subject of this study is a complicated example of agency, where the agent is both a translator and a journalist-politician who overtly reflects his ideological stance in his translations. As a translator, Doğrul introduces a new genre and literature to the Turkish culture, that is the self-help manuals and the ethical guidelines they promote, and that he actively initiates his translations is explicitly stated in his works. Doğrul’s prefaces and notes offer abundant evidence of his agency, unveiling his discursive role as a translator, decision maker and initiator in the translation processes. Doğrul’s political identity is also powerfully implicated in his paratextual additions, and he seems to have promoted a certain nationalist and religious ideology. As the analysis of his habitus shows, Doğrul’s professional activities in different domains, that is, in journalism, politics and translation, mutually enhance each other, and foster his reputation as well as his social and cultural capital attained in these fields. That he was a very strong figure of his era is evident in his comments in the prefaces and notes, where he also mentions his relations with some dignitaries. Doğrul’s voice generally evokes a political authority in these paratexts, making frequent warnings and offering advice to his readers. Doğrul’s dominance as a translator and agent of translation is also proved by the fact that he rendered two different translations of the same source text for two different publishing houses. Another clear indication of Doğrul’s agency and visibility is his photo that appears under the photo of the author on the cover of one of his renditions.

Doğrul’s framing strategies clearly reflect his habitus. The most important stages in the formation of his habitus, that is, his writing experiences as a journalist and his diplomatic practices as a politician, manifest themselves in his translation decisions. Likewise, his statements and interferences imply that Doğrul’s translations aim to serve a social and political mission and to generate public opinions. Doğrul handles the differences between the source culture and target culture through selective appropriations, that is, additions and omissions in his translations, mainly under the influence of a nationalist and religious ideology. In some cases, Doğrul adopts such an interventionist approach that the religious narrative underlying the English self-help manuals is totally altered and reframed with an Islamic ideology. Doğrul not only endorses certain political viewpoints in his translations, but also frequently interferes with the information in the source materials. All in all, he uses each and every opportunity to instruct his readers about the target culture norms based on the religious tradition, which again underlines his agency in the process of translation.

Along with the critical explanatory framework provided through the exploration of the translator’s habitus, the analysis of paratexts constitutes an essential part of this study, and has further implications beyond the Turkish context, regarding the agency-oriented translation research. First of all, prefaces and translators’ notes have been the most commonly analyzed types of paratexts so far (Tahir-Gürçağlar 2013: 91; cited in Batchelor 2018: 26), which is also the case in this study, as they are the most revealing parts in terms of agency. Secondly, most research about paratexts has focused on literary translations (Batchelor 2018: 39), and by examining the translations of self-help books, this study provides the paratextual analysis of a non-literary genre in translation. Thirdly, as well as drawing attention to the importance of paratexts in translation research, some researchers have also questioned the legitimacy of paratextual information and the role of translators in their creation. It has also been argued “translators are often marginalized with regard to paratextual publishing decisions” (Batchelor 2018: 39). This study draws attention to a counter example in a non-literary genre, where the translator seems quite actively involved in the paratextual publishing processes and appears very visible in the paratexts. With a similar line of thought, some scholars have approached to the findings of paratextual analyses more cautiously, and claimed that despite their mediating aspects, paratexts can only “show how translations are presented but not how they are” and their analysis cannot replace textual examination (Tahir-Gürçağlar 2011: 115; cited in Batchelor 2018: 26). Paratexts are regarded as a “rather poor indicator of the strategies employed by translators” (Lopes 2012: 130; qtd. in Batchelor 2018: 26). By depicting a case of paratextual framing that indicates the translator’s strategies unequivocally, this study demonstrates that paratextual materials can offer essential information regarding translators’ agency. The case analyses show that paratexts can even reveal more about how the translations are than what the translated texts indicate themselves. This becomes especially clear when paratextual examination is verified with sociological exploration. As illustrated in the analyses of his translations, Doğrul’s paratextual interferences are more influential in shaping his works than his translation strategies and decisions within the texts.

In conclusion, this study does not only introduce an agent-translator, namely Ömer Rıza Doğrul, from translation history in Turkey but also exemplifies an extreme and explicit form of translators’ agency through sociological interrogation and case analysis. By combining a sociological inquiry employing the concept of “habitus” with paratextual exploration through the notion of “framing,” the study illustrates that these two methodological approaches reinforce each other as complementary ways of analyzing translators’ agency.


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[1] This study is partly derived from my unpublished doctoral dissertation (Akdoğan Özdemir 2017) and is a revised version of a presentation I delivered in the conference .“The Translator Unveiled: Cartography of a Voice” organized by University of Calabria, in Rende, Italy in 29-31 October 2019.

[2] Some of these are Pym 1998; Hermans 1999; Simeoni 1998; Gouanvic 2005; Heilbron and Sapiro 2007; Wolf 2007; Milton J. and P.Bandia 2008.

[3] See Wolf (2007) for an overview of other sociological approaches.

[4] Two of the prefaces written by him are quoted and evaluated in this regard (Bozkurt, 2011).

[5] I use the term “visibility” in the sense conceptualized by Lawrence Venuti (1995)

[6] Some authors even use the designation “a self-help nation” for the US (Vanderkam 2014).

[7] Young Men’s Christian Association.

[8] 1923 is the beginning date of the Time magazine.

[9] Several examples are presented in Akdoğan Özdemir 2017. See p.232 in the source text and p. 176 in the target text for an example.

About the author(s)

Fazilet Akdoğan Özdemir is Assistant Professor of Translation Studies at Boğaziçi University, İstanbul Turkey. Her doctoral study examined the translation history of the success-based self-help literature in Turkish from the 1930s to the 1990s, focusing on the habitus, trajectories and translating/writing practices of the leading translators/authors. Her research interests include translation sociology, history of translation in Turkey, philosophy translations and the Turkish translations of self-help narratives. Dr. Akdoğan Özdemir is also a freelance translator and translation editor.

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©inTRAlinea & Fazilet Akdoğan Özdemir (2023).
"A Sociological and Paratextual Analysis of Translators’ Agency: Ömer Rıza Doğrul from Turkey", inTRAlinea Vol. 25.

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The Role of Translation Officials in the Qing Dynasty

By Yuxia Gao(1), Riccardo Moratto(2) & Di-kai Chao(3) ([1]Ocean University of China, [2]Shanghai International Studies University, & [3]University of Canterbury NZ)


This article aims to investigate the role that translation officials played in the Qing dynasty (1636/1644-1912). Drawing from Han-language Qing historical records as well as secondary sources, the authors present the case of a non-Han dynasty embedding translation officials in almost all governmental agencies, and argue that such a strategic choice was a direct result of the non-Han dynasty’s reliance on translation officials in the process of State governance. This article also explains why the traditional system of translation officials implemented by previous Han Chinese dynasties underwent a dramatic change in the rule of non-Han dynasties and illustrates the impact this exerted on the status of translation officials.

Keywords: translation history, translation officials, government agencies, state governance, Qing dynasty

©inTRAlinea & Yuxia Gao(1), Riccardo Moratto(2) & Di-kai Chao(3) (2023).
"The Role of Translation Officials in the Qing Dynasty", inTRAlinea Vol. 25.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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1. Introduction

Koskinen claims that the first step of governing by translation, that is, “using translating as a technique for ‘directing the conduct of the governed’ in multilingual government” (2014: 481), is to decide the governing language as well as how and to what extent translation is going to be institutionalized, which in turn implies a decision on the language and translation policies. However, ad hoc government institutions must be established prior to implementing linguistic or translation policies. Translators, as the main agents undertaking translation tasks, ought to be included in these ad hoc institutions. Scholars have investigated the roles that translators have played in the evolution of human thought, including inventing alphabets, enriching languages, encouraging the emergence of national literatures, disseminating knowledge, propagating religions, transmitting cultural values, writing dictionaries, and making histories (Delisle and Woodsworth 2012). Yet, the role that translators have played in the broad realm of State governance throughout history, and especially in dynastic China, has not received enough scholarly attention.

According to “Royal Regulations” (Wang zhi王制), included in The Classic of Rites (Liji 禮記), also known as Book of Rites, government translation posts in China date back to approximately 1000 BCE. “Existing Chinese translation histories all quote the Liji [Book of Rites] as the earliest record for translation posts (Ji, Xiang, Diti, and Yi) in the Zhou dynasty” (Hung 2005: 77). Under the policy of shutongwen,[1] Chinese, intended as the Han dialect, was regarded as the sole national language and Han script – what we now refer to as Chinese characters – as the exclusive national script of the entire nation. The ease of internal communication, or “interlingual communication” (ibid.: 75), that is to say communication among different domestic ethnic groups, was not a priority for the successive governors in the Han Chinese dynasties; therefore, translation activities were mainly relegated to the service of foreign affairs (ibid.:77) and domestic translation was seldom perceived as necessary.

To understand the historical situation, we must first come to grips with the fact that there were two kinds of governments in historic China: 1) Han-Chinese dynasties; 2) dynasties founded by foreigners. In the former type (such as Han, Tang, Song and Ming), translation work was related exclusively to foreign affairs; in the latter type (such as Liao, Jin, Yuan and Qing), a very substantial amount of administrative work involved translation because these governments had bilingual or multi-lingual policies. This meant that the government structures reflected the difference in translation needs and translator deployment. (ibid.: 76-7).

In other words, in previous Han-dynasties, due to the impact of the tongwen policy, the ease of internal communication was beyond the consideration of the governors, and the posts of translation officials were mainly under the departments of protocol and foreign affairs. For instance, there were three kinds of translation officials in the Han dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE): Director of Interpreting Prefects for Envoys from Surrendered States (jiuyiling 九譯令),[2] a subordinate of the Supervisor of Dependent States (dianshuguo 典屬國);[3] Director of Interpreting Prefects for Envoys from Vassal States (yiguanling 譯官令),[4] a subordinate of the Court for Diplomatic Receptions of Chamberlain for Dependencies (dahonglu 大鴻臚);[5] and Chief of Interpreters (yizhang 譯長), a eunuch responsible for greeting and assisting foreign envoys in court audiences, whose departmental affiliation was “protocol at court audiences for foreign envoys” (ibid.: 77). The Tang dynasty (618-907) witnessed the establishment of two types of translation officials, namely the official translators (yiyu 譯語) belonging to the Court of Dependencies also known as Court of State Ceremonial or Court of Diplomatic Receptions (honglusi 鴻臚寺) and the translators of foreign letters/writings, also known as fanshu yiyu (蕃書譯語),[6] in the Secretariat (zhongshu sheng 中書省), which was a department for making and drafting ordinances. Fanshu yiyu were “unranked functionaries” (ibid.) within the department of “foreign affairs” (ibid.). In the Song dynasty (960-1279), the Song government was often at war with the Khitans, Jurchens, Mongols, and Tangut people in the northern region. Interpreters were essential for negotiating with these peoples. Therefore, the government set the translation post of Interpreter-clerk (yiyu tongshi 譯語通事) in the Office for Tribute Envoys (sifang gongfeng shi 四方貢奉使) to overview interpreting between Han Chinese and foreign languages (Hsiao 1997: 35). In the Ming dynasty (1636/1644-1912), interpreters (tongshi 通事) and apprentice translators (yizi sheng譯字生) were embedded in the Interpreters Institute (huitong guan 會同館), a department of foreign affairs, and in the Translators Institute (siyi guan 四譯館),[7] an institute dedicated to the training of translators in foreign affairs (Hung 2005: 78).

Hung (1999: 225) argues that “the Chinese dynastic histories show that translation officials were under departments of protocol, and were never important posts.” It is true that translation officials in the Chinese dynasties were always in less important posts due to the fact that Han culture was historically regarded as superior and that the “mainstream Chinese intellectuals never considered it their duty to learn about the languages and cultures of other peoples in the region” (ibid.: 224).

This phenomenon, however, was disrupted in the foreign dynasties, that is, dynasties established by non-Han ruling groups.[8] In the alien regimes, as they are defined by Franke and Twitchett (2008), the ruling group maintained its own cultural identity while ruling over a multiethnic state including a large number of Han Chinese subjects, and controlled large territories that had long been ruled by the Han people. As argued by Sinor (1982: 176),

a powerful people will often impose its language on others, either by sheer force or, more often and more efficiently, by the prestige of its culture and by the material advantages attached to its knowledge.

In a multilingual and multiethnic context, the emperors of the non-Han dynasties saw it necessary to adopt ad hoc measures to implement effective governance. Therefore, under the rule of ethnic minorities, the political importance of the ruling group’s language noticeably increased. Nevertheless, the majority of the population was still ethnically Han; therefore, the new governors had to adapt their governance to the multilingualism of their territories. As Franke and Twitchett (2008: 30) emphasize, “the problems of governing and administering a polyethnic society are inevitably linked with the linguistic situation.” In the circumstance of multilingualism, the foreigner officials in the bureaucracy admittedly had to rely on interpreters and translators if their Chinese language skills were not sufficient. Likewise, those Han officials who were not proficient in the language of the ruling group also had to rely on interpreters and translators to communicate with the emperor as well as their foreign colleagues.

In other words, the ruling group in the alien regimes was keen to maintain its own cultural identity. At the same time, it had to rule over a multiethnic State in which a large part of the population was ethnically Han Chinese. In this context, the rulers were inclined to learn from the governance experience of previous Han Chinese dynasties because, while wanting to preserve their cultural identity and political status, they lacked practical governance experience within territories mostly inhabited by the Hans. Translation thus became an essential way to govern and administer a polyethnic and polyphonic empire as well as to maintain the language and cultural identities of the ruling group. In such a multilingual scenario, officials in the bureaucracy relied largely on interpreters and translators. In addition, the communication between the ruling class and the governed also relied on translation. All non-Han Chinese dynasties had translation officials embedded in different levels of the governmental departments.

The methods of State governance in the non-Han dynasties were quite different from the traditional systems of the previous Han dynasties, and their translation practices were no exception. This was exemplified by the posts of translation officials in governmental agencies. For instance, in the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368),[9] in order to facilitate domestic communication among peoples belonging to a different ethnicity, different kinds of translation officials including bičikeči (clercs, scribes, and secretaries), yishi (translator-clerks), tongshi (interpreter-clerks), kelemurci (Mongolian word for translators and interpreters), and shuxie (scribes or secretariat drafters), were embedded in almost all governmental agencies. This system of translation officials was inherited and developed in the Qing dynasty, which was also governed by a non-Han ruling class, namely the Manchus.

Compared to the Yuan dynasty, the categories of translation officials in the Qing dynasty were more varied. There were dorgi bithesi (translators and scribes in the Grand Secretariat), bithesi (translators and scribes designed for the Eight Banners),[10] geren giltusi (a scholastic title during the Ming and Qing dynasty which means “all good men of virtue”), ubaliyambure hafan (officials responsible for translating), and tongshi (interpreters).

The translation officials in the Qing dynasty have drawn much scholarly attention. Numerous scholars focus on the basic historical facts of the translation officials in the Qing dynasty. For example, some scholars in the field of Qing historical studies have explored, among others, the figure of bithesi (e.g. Yang 1984; Li 1994; Shen 2006a; Zhao 2006; Shi and Wei 2015; Wang 2015a), geren giltusi (e.g. Zou 2010, 2013; Wang 2015b), and qixinlang (e.g. Shen 2006b). Some scholars (e.g. Yeh 2017; Shi 2018; Song 2019) have also examined the quota of different translation posts. Based on these studies, this article sets out to review the role that translation officials played in the Qing dynasty. There is an important scholarship, especially in Chinese, on Qing translation policies and/or Manchu-Mongolian translation. Here, in particular, we would like to mention Bagen 巴根 (2004) and Sun Zhongqiang 孫中強 (2017) . The former makes use of Manchu and Mongolian historical sources to examine in detail the institutional arrangements of translation institutions, staffing and talent cultivation, while the latter consciously evaluates the translation policies of the Qing Dynasty from the perspectives of language planning and ethnic integration. These two scholars particularly highlight translation as an important aspect of linguistic and ethnic policies. This paper sets out to review the positions responsible for translations in the Qing government and their attributes, as well as the content of their work. As will be argued, these translators were indispensable in facilitating communication within the empire, maintaining imperial government, ethnic policy, and even protecting the privileges of elite groups.

As far as historical materials are concerned, this paper focuses on Han Chinese documents, supplemented by observations on the Manchu language archives from secondary sources, including the Veritable Records (Shilu 實錄) of the rulers of the Qing dynasty or the Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty (Da-Qing huidian 大清會典), which is the largest jurisdictional corpus on administrative matters compiled during the Qing period.[11] The Qing dynasty entered Beijing in 1644 and ruled China proper from 1644 to 1912. This was the period when the Qing government ruled the vast Central Plains, mainly inhabited by the Hans, and Chinese was already the main target language for the Qing government to maintain imperial communication. Many of the translation positions and jobs can be analyzed and reviewed from Chinese language historical archives. In addition, the preservation of Chinese language translation activities and related archival records helped to consolidate the legitimacy of the empire. Therefore, by focusing on Chinese language historical materials, this paper can provide a preliminary clarification of the overall situation of translation activities in the Qing Empire.

On a final note, we attempted to identify and analyze written historical records of official history due to the fact that evidence about language policy in imperial China comes from more systematically collected records in standard histories across the dynasties. As Lung (2011, XIII) argues, “the limitation of these official histories has, nevertheless, been that they were largely commissioned by the ruling dynasties and therefore could be taken to be suspect in their descriptive honesty.” “Historical filtering undoubtedly darkens the glass we are looking through” (Pym 2014, 85). Even so, the Chinese voluminous written compilation of histories from various sources in the tradition of Chinese historiography provides relatively complete accounts of people and events throughout the five thousand years of Chinese history. However, such a historiographical method is to be adopted with the due caveats and cannot be said to be without pitfalls, yet it is a widely used methodology in Chinese historiography (e.g., Hung 1999; Lung 2009; Lotze 2016; Chi 2019).

2. Duties and distribution of translation officials in the Qing dynasty

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “the Qing dynasty was first established in 1636 by the Manchus to designate their regime in Manchuria (now the Northeast region of China). In 1644 the Chinese capital at Beijing was captured by the rebel leader Li Zicheng, and desperate Ming dynasty officials called on the Manchus for aid. The Manchus took advantage of the opportunity to seize the capital and establish their own dynasty in China. By adopting the Ming form of government and continuing to employ Ming officials, the Manchus pacified the Chinese population.”[12] In 1644, Manchu troops entered Beijing, and the Shunzhi Emperor[13] (r. 1644-1661), who was then six years old, ascended the throne. Prior to his enthronement, Nurhaci[14] (r. 1559-1626) had set out to establish an empire which allowed the co-participation of Han Chinese and Mongols. After Nurhaci’s death, Huang Taiji (1592-1643), formerly referred to as Abahai in Western literature and father of the Shunzhi Emperor (r. 1643-1661), built on the accomplishments of his father and consolidated the conceptual and institutional foundation for a Qing empire by drawing heavily on Ming traditions.[15] Therefore, numerous officials from the former Ming dynasty (1368-1644) were recruited in the governmental agencies of the Qing dynasty (Xu 2009: 17).

In this context, considering the linguistic differences between Han Chinese and Manchu, how did Manchus and Han officials communicate? How did the Manchus come to rule the vast territories of the former Ming dynasty? These became urgent issues for the Qing emperor to tackle. Embedding translation officials, such as dorgi bithesi, bithesi, geren giltusi, ubaliyambure hafan and tongshi (interpreters), at different levels of governmental institutions was thus perceived as one of the ways to solve this problem. Among the translation officials, tongshi was the only translational post in charge of interpreting. It was also known as tongguan, tongshiguan, or tongshi sheren (通事舍人 Secretarial Receptionist). Since there was no main difference between the duties of tongshi in the Qing dynasty and in the previous dynasties, we will only analyze the duties and distribution of other translation officials.

2.1 Duties and distribution of Dorgi bithesi

In Manchu, which was one of the official languages of the Qing dynasty, dorgi bithesi means “secretariat drafter.” Dorgi bithesi served as clerical workers in the Grand Secretariat, which was established in 1659, on the basis of the previous Ming system (Yeh 2017: 5). In the Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty, Era of Kangxi (Daqing huidian kangxi chao大清會典·康熙朝), it is recorded that,

Routine memorials submitted by all Yamen [the administrative office or residence of a local bureaucrat or mandarin in imperial China] and memorials submitted by all officials, if written in Manchu, should be endorsed by the Grand Academician together with Academicians prior to being presented to the emperor; if drafted solely in Chinese or Mongolian, they must be translated by dorgi bithesi [the translators and scribes in the Grand Secretariat]. They should be either translated completely or paraphrased by summarizing the main points. (The Grand Secretariat, in Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty, Era of Kangxi, Vol. 2; Isangga 2016: 8)[16]

Therefore, one main duty of dorgi bithesi was to translate official documents. The Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty, Era of Jiaqing (Qinding daqing huidian, jiaqing chao 欽定大清會典·嘉慶朝) records that the Chinese Documents Section was “responsible for receiving and sending the routine memorials submitted by the local officials and decide which one should be translated first according to the degree of urgency. The routine memorials written only in Chinese without a Manchu translation, should be translated into Manchu according to the summary of the Chinese version by the translation officials in this section” (Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty, Era of Jiaqing [Qinding daqing huidian, jiaqing chao 欽定大清會典·嘉慶朝], Vol.2; Tojin 1991: 70). After being translated, these documents would be transcribed by the Manchu Documents Section, and then handed over to the Registry, whence officials would send them out according to the degree of urgency. In addition, “the routine memorials submitted by the provinces, which were not drafted in Manchu, should be sent to the Grand Secretariat by the Office of Transmission (tongzheng shi 通政使). Then, the Grand Secretariat would hand such routine memorials over to the Chinese Documents Section to translate them into Manchu” (Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty [Qinding daqing huidian zeli 欽定大清會典則例], Vol. 2; Yūn too 1983: 4). The Mongolian Documents Section was in charge of translating from the other ethnic languages or languages of the tributary countries into Manchu.

According to Yeh (2017), there were three types of dorgi bithesi: Manchurian dorgi bithesi, Mongolian dorgi bithesi, and Han Chinese dorgi bithesi. These three types of dorgi bithesi were clerical workers in the Manchu Documents Section, the Mongolian Documents Section and the Chinese Documents Section (Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty [Qinding daqing huidian zeli 欽定大清會典則例], Vol. 2; Yūn too 1983: 3). Based on the records in the Daqing wuchao huidian (大清五朝會典),[17] Yeh (2017: 5-6) counted the quota of different types of dorgi bithesi under the reigns of different Qing emperors: there were 107 dorgi bithesi (75 Manchurian, 19 Mongolian and 13 Han Chinese) in the Kangxi Emperor’s reign (1661-1722); there were 88 dorgi bithesi (64 Manchurian, 16 Mongolian and 8 Han Chinese) in the Yongzheng Emperor’s reign (1723-1735). Since the Qianlong Emperor’s reign (1735-1795), there were 94 dorgi bithesi (64 Manchurian, 16 Mongolian and 8 Han Chinese) with 46 additional aisilambi dorgi bithesi (40 Manchurian and 6 Mongolian). From the Jiaqing Emperor’s reign (1796-1820) to the Guangxu Emperor’s reign (1875-1908), there were 106 dorgi bithesi (90 Manchurian, 18 Mongolian and 8 Han Chinese) with 54 extra aisilambi[18] dorgi bithesi (48 Manchurian and 6 Mongolian).

The number of dorgi bithesi during the Yongzheng Emperor’s reign decreased significantly from 107 to 88. This is due to the fact that in 1699 “Guo Jincheng (郭金城 1660-1700), a royal scribe (yushi 御史), submitted a memorial to suggest that the redundant staff of the administrative offices should be cut” (Kurene 2009, T07248). That is when the governmental agencies began to shed workers (Yeh 2017: 6). In addition, since the Council of State (junjichu 軍機處) was established in 1730, part of the translation tasks were undertaken by the Council of State (Zhao 1992: 26). From the beginning of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign (1736-1796), the number of dorgi bithesi began to increase due to the appointment of Manchurian aisilambi dorgi bithesi and Mongolian aisilambi dorgi bithesi (Yeh 2017: 6-7). According to the History Compiled on Imperial Command (Huangchao wenxian tongkao 皇朝文獻通考), an administrative history compiled on imperial command between 1747 and 1784, in 1738 at the request of Ortai[19] (1677-1745), a Manchurian aisilambi dorgi bithesi was appointed for the first time; the reason is explained in the following record:

[The third year of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign] The Grand Academicians including Ortai submitted a memorial to the emperor: there are 72 Manchurian dorgi bithesi in our Yamen [the administrative office or residence of a local bureaucrat or mandarin in imperial China], nine from each banner [Eight Banners]. Of them, 40 in the Manchu Documents Section are in charge of the transcription of the Manchu imperial edicts, patents by command conferring titles of honor of officials below rank 5, palace memorials and routine memories […]. The other 32 in the Chinese Documents Section are responsible for the translation of the imperial edicts, palace memorials, and routine memories. With so much translation work, the existing dorgi bithesi in the Manchu and Chinese documents sections do not suffice. At the request of the Grand Ministers, 24 Manchurian aisilambi dorgi bithesi are attached to the Manchu Documents Section. Conventionally, these posts should be selected through translation examination from tribute students and national university students, official students and unofficial students by our Yamen together with the senior officials. 16 Manchurian aisilambi dorgi bithesi are added to the Chinese Documents Section. Conventionally, these posts should also be selected through translation examination from registered translators by our Yamen together with the senior officials in the Ministry of Personnel. (Selection, Vol. 50, in Huangchao wenxian tongkao; Ji 1983a: 15-16)

In 1744, the ninth year of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign (1735-1795), six Mongolian aisilambi dorgi bithesi were also attached to the Grand Secretariat (Authorized Records of the Eight Banners [Qinding baqi tongzh i欽定八旗通志],Vol. 51; in Tiyeboo 1983: 18; Yeh 2017: 7). Therefore, during the Qianlong Emperor’s reign, the number of dorgi bithesi increased to 140. Later, during the reigns of Jiaqing and Guangxu, the number reached 170, almost doubling compared to the amount during the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor. The increase of Manchurian dorgi bithesi, as illustrated in the previous record, not only demonstrates that the governors in the Qing dynasty attached great importance to translation,[20] but also seems to prove that the implemented system of translation officials was an effective method to maintain the interests and status of the banners, because only eight banners could be appointed as dorgi bithesi. However, this preliminary conclusion warrants further investigation of both primary and secondary sources to reach a more rigorous and comprehensive understanding.

2.2 Duties and distribution of Bithesi

Bithesi was a translation post designed for the banners. Only the Eight Banners, the Manchus in particular, could serve as bithesi. According to the Provisional History of the Qing Dynasty, “the ways the Manchus began a career in government service included examination, inheritance, donation, or evaluation. There was no difference with the Han people, except for the recruitment of bithesi” (Provisional History of the Qing Dynasty [Qingshi Gao 清史稿], Vol. 110; Zhao 1977: 3213). That is to say, “bithesi was a shortcut for the Manchus to work in governmental agencies.” (Provisional History of the Qing Dynasty [Qingshi Gao 清史稿], Vol. 114; Zhao 1977: 3265) In the early days of the Qing dynasty, the Grand Academicians such as Dahai (1595-1632), Erdeni (1592-1634), Sonin (1601-1667) were all military officials in the beginning (ibid.: 3265). With the mastery of the national script, they were granted the role of baksi [teacher], which was later renamed bithesi” (ibid.:3265). Therefore, bithesi was also known as a “place where civil servants can be cultivated and many senior officials once worked in this post” (Miscellaneous Discussions Whilst Listening to The Rain [Ting yu cong tan 聽雨叢談], Vol.1; Fuge 1984: 22).

The post of bithesi, formerly called baksi, was established during the Tianming Emperor’s reign (1616-1626) (Zhao 2006:59).[21] The first time it was referred to as bithesi was in 1629 (ibid.), when the Wenguan[22] (Literary Institute) was established (Shen 2006a: 58). In Veritable Records of Emperor Taizong (Daqing taizong huangdi shilu 大清太宗文皇帝實錄), it is recorded that,

The emperor ordered the scholar-officials to be divided into two groups. Dahai, who was a baksi, together with four bithesi, Ganglin, Sukai, Gûlmahûn and Tuobuqi were in charge of translating Chinese books. Kūrcan, who was also a baksi, that is a teacher, together with four bithesi, Wubashi, Zhasuga, Huqiu, and Zhanba were in charge of recording state affairs. (Veritable Records of the Qing Dynasty, Veritable Records of Emperor Taizong, Vol. 5, Ortai 1985: 70)

In 1629, both bithesi and baksi were used. Even so, here baksi only refers to the title which was granted by the emperor rather than common clerks. In 1631, Six Ministries were established (Shen 2006a: 58; Zhao 2006: 59). The status of bithesi was determined in the official system, consisting of Prince of the Third Rank or Beile (貝勒), Executive (Chengzheng 承政), Assistant or Vice Minister (Shilang 侍郎), Qixinlang (啟心郎, literally clerks who clarify thoughts or interpreters), Bithesi (筆帖式, translators and scribes designed for the Eight Banners), Zhangjing (章京, secretary [civil] or adjutant [military]), and Chairen (差人, yamen runners) (Zhao 2006: 59). At the same time, “it was stipulated that the title baksi would be renamed bithesi, and it should no longer be used, except for the position granted directly by the emperor” (System of Functioning Officials, part 1, in History Compiled on Imperial Command [Huangchao wenxian tongkao 皇朝文獻通考], Vol. 77; Ji 1983a: 14-15).

Li (1994: 90-91) argues that bithesi had three main duties: translation, transcription, and management of archives. In the Imperial Comprehensive Treatises (Huangchao tongzhi 皇朝通志) it is recorded that,

In all the Si [police office for a small area distant from a district town] and Yamen [the administrative office or residence of a local bureaucrat or mandarin in imperial China], there are Manchurian bithesi, Mongolian bithesi, and Han Chinese bithesi in charge of translating Manchu and Chinese memorials and official documents. It corresponds to the post of lingshi [clerks] and yishi [translators] in the Jin dynasty established by Jurchens, as well as the Mongolian bičikeči in the Yuan dynasty. The system of bithesi has inherited the system of lingshi [clerks] from the previous dynasties. Unlike the Tang and Song dynasties, in which the post was trivial, the distribution of bithesi is wide and there are numerous promotion opportunities. Therefore, compared to the previous dynasties, the position has acquired an unprecedented dignity. (Imperial Comprehensive Treatises, Vol. 64; Ji 1983b: 14-15)

Therefore, one of the main duties of bithesi was the translation of official documents from Chinese to Manchu, or vice versa. The Provisional History of the Qing Dynasty records that there were translation bithesi, transcription bithesi, and aisilambi bithesi (Provisional History of the Qing Dynasty [Qingshi Gao 清史稿], Vol. 110; Zhao 1977: 3213).[23] According to the Imperial Comprehensive Treatises, we can see that in terms of family background and ethnic origin, bithesi could be divided into Manchus, Mongols, and Chinese Armies. In addition, there were also imperial clansmen serving as bithesi.

Bithesi were to be found in almost all governmental agencies. “The posts of bithesi were attached to all departments at the capital [Beijing], the five ministries in the old capital [Shenyang], as well as offices lead by the Generals, Commander-in-chief and Vice Commander-in-chief” (Provisional History of the Qing Dynasty [Qingshi Gao 清史稿], Vol. 110; Zhao 1977: 3213). As for the number of bithesi in different governmental agencies, scholars hold different opinions. On the basis of the Provisional History of the Qing Dynasty and History Compiled on Imperial Command, Zhao (2006:65-67) calculates that there were more than 1650 bithesi. Shi and Wei (2015:48-50) calculate that there were 1571 bithesi based on historical records such as the Provisional History of the Qing Dynasty, History Compiled on Imperial Command and Precedents and Regulations Supplementary to the Collected Statutes of the Great Qing Dynasty (Daqing huidian shili 大清會典事例), while Yeh (2017: 7-8) argues that the number of bithesi was 1919 during the Kangxi Emperor’s reign, 1802 during the Yongzheng Emperor’s reign, 1901 during the Qianlong Emperor’s reign, 2039 during the Jiaqing Emperor’s reign, and 2029 during the Guangxu Emperor’s reign. Scholars draw different conclusions because they adopt different statistical approaches. Regardless of the adopted method, the above statistics show that there were at least 1500 bithesi: a number which was larger than the total number of translation officials in the Yuan dynasty,[24] for example, another non-Han dynasty. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that as one indispensable element of the bureaucratic system, bithesi were embedded in all the central and local governments of the Qing dynasty. They had formed a large interconnected group, which was in charge of translation prior to decision-making, transcription after the decision-making, and the daily management of archives (Shi and Wei 2015: 47).

The status and recruitment of bithesi are documented in the Provisional History of the Qing Dynasty as follows: 

[Bithesi] rank from 7A to 9B.[25] Bithesi may begin their career in government service by inheritance, donation, evaluation, and examination. All persons including civil and military provincial graduates of translation, tribute and national university students, civil and military government students of translation, official students and unofficial students, courageous guards and unassigned bannermen, imperial armies and lingcui [also known as bošokū, the lowest ranking banner officers] and ulin i niyalma can take the examination. The candidate provincial graduates and tribute students may be granted rank 7A and 7B; government students and national university students may be granted rank 8A and 8B; official and unofficial students, courageous guards and unassigned bannermen may be granted rank 9A and 9B. The established vacancies of administrative aide in the Six Ministries are 140, among which, 85 are for the Manchus and the Mongols. Therefore, these vacancies are easily filled. It only takes a few years for bithesi to be promoted to administrative aides. (Selection Officials, Vol. 110, in the Provisional History of the Qing Dynasty; Zhao 1977: 3213-14)

As for the duties of bithesi, different scholars hold different views. Yang (1984: 87) notes that bithesi played a significant role in the decision-making system of the Qing dynasty. Yang argues that bithesi helped supervise the words and deeds of local officials, investigated their loyalty to the central government, and then promptly reported to the emperor. On the other hand, they were directly stationed in the prefectures and yamen [the administrative office or residence of a local bureaucrat or mandarin in imperial China] of all provinces and the main armies in the war zones to follow the army, inspect and supervise the implementation of the central decision-making; then they transmitted the military information to the top decision-makers through the communication system (ibid.).

2.3 Duties and distribution of Geren giltusi

In Manchu the noun phrase Geren giltusi, also known in Chinese as shujishi (庶吉士), means “all good men of virtue” or “a host of fortunate scholars”. This post was installed in 1385 by Emperor Taizu (1559-1626) in the Ming dynasty (Wu 1997: 33). The title shujishi was granted solely to the metropolitan graduates (jinshi 進士), that is those intellectuals who passed the imperial exams (選舉二,志46,Vol. 70, History of Ming Dynasty; Wu 1997: 33). The system of shujishi was followed by the Qing dynasty. In the Ming dynasty, shujishi had nothing to do with translation work. This post was regarded as a rigorous training program to prepare future high-ranking civil officials for political office so that persons who took these posts would be capable of serving as prime ministers (Wu 1997: 35). Thus, to some extent, the shujishi system, as a pre-service training program for senior officials in the bureaucracy, reflected the pinnacle of the imperial examination system in late imperial China (Wu 1997: 33). In the Qing dynasty, since the selection of candidates for the shujishi was dominated by Han metropolitan graduates, and the Manchu emperors expected these Han metropolitan graduates to be fluent in Manchu, the shujishi system in that period was not only the inheritance of the Ming ruling system, but also served as a tool by the Manchu rulers to popularize the Manchu language among Han officials, bring together Han intellectuals, and promote Manchu-Chinese communication (Wang 2015: 37). It was only in this way that shujishi had the function of translation.

In the early period of the Qing dynasty, both Hanlin[26] scholars and shujishi were subordinate to Three Palace Academies (nei san yuan 內三院) (Wu 1984: 76): the Palace Historiographic Academy (nei guoshi yuan 內國史院), the Palace Secretariat Academy (nei mishu yuan 內秘書院), and the Palace Academy for the Advancement of Literature (nei hongwen yuan 內弘文院). In 1658, the Three Palace Academies were reorganized into the Grand Secretariat (nei ge 內閣) and the Hanlin Academy was set up separately (Wu 1984: 76).[27] Wu (1984; 1997), Wang (2015), and Zou (2010) show that the proportion of shujishi learning Manchu started to decrease from the Yongzheng reign, corresponding to the rapid Sinicization of the Manchus, which made it less necessary for Han officials to learn Manchu.

Since the establishment of the Qing dynasty, the Qing government adhered to the national policy of “Manchuria First.”[28] Under this policy, the status and interests of the Eight Banners was considered a top priority. However, with the sharp decline in the proportion of Shujishi who learned Manchu, the deepening of the Manchu-Han fusion, and the relative weakness of the Eight Banners Hanlin under the strength of the Han Chinese Hanlin, the promotion path of the translation shujishi was too narrow (Zou 2010: 16-17). In order to remedy the inferior position of the Eight Banners in the Hanlin Academy, the Daoguang Emperor decided to select “translation shujishi” from those who had passed the translation subject of imperial exams (Zhongguo di yi lishi dang’an guan [First Historical Archives of China] 2000: 171; Zou 2010: 14). In 1847 the Grand Academician, the Grand Minister of State, and the Ministry of Personnel presented nine article amendments to attempt to solve the problem of the inferior position of the Eight Banners in the Hanlin Academy, the first of which was: “the Metropolitan graduate who passes the translation examination can be selected to be shujishi” (Wenqing 1986: 3). In addition, the examination, promotion, appointment and other aspects of translation shujishi are stipulated in detail in the amendments (Wenqing 1986: 549-50; Zou 2010: 14-15).

Since then, the selection of translation shujishi gradually became institutionalized. According to Zou (2010: 16), there were 43 translation shujishi from the 27th year of the Daoguang Emperor’s reign (1847) to the 30th year of the Guangxu Emperor’s reign (1904), among which seven were selected during the Daoguang Emperor’s reign, 11 during the Xianfeng Emperor’s reign, two during the Tongzhi Emperor’s reign, and 23 during the Guangxu Emperor’s reign. Table 1 shows that among them, 29 (26 junior compliers and 3 examining editors) were appointed as Hanlin Scholars, accounting for 69.7%; those who came out of the Hanlin Academy were mainly accepted by the Six Ministries: 10 were appointed as Administrative Aide, accounting for 23.2%; one was appointed as Secretary in the Grand Secretariat and one was appointed in the District Magistrate, while the other two were not appointed probably due to the fact that there was no task of compilation and translation (Zou 2010: 16).

Hence, it can be seen that translation shujishi performed a variety of translation tasks in different executive and administrative institutions; they played an important role at all levels and were essential to the smooth operation of governmental agencies.


Year of reign



Junior Complier

Examining Editor

Administrative Aide


The Daoguang Emperor’s reign (1821-1850)













The Xianfeng Emperor’s reign (1851-1861)






1 (secretary)





































The Guangxu Emperor’s reign (1875-1908)




































1 (unappointed)






1 (district magistrate)


















1 (unappointed)













Table 1. The quota of translation shujishi[29]. Adapted from Zou (2010, 16)

The status and salaries of translation shujishi did not differ from other kinds of shujishi. However, their only duty was to study translation from Manchu into Mongolian and vice versa (Song 2019: 183). Therefore, it is reasonable to say that the establishment of translation shujishi provided a new way for the scholars of the Eight Banners to be appointed as senior civil servants in higher ranks. To a certain extent, it also increased the attraction of the imperial translation examination. However, in order to take the imperial translation examination, the examinees had to take the horsemanship and archery test first. In this way, the national policy of Guoyu-Qishe 國語騎射 (the Manchu Language and Horsemanship-Archery Program) was carried out;[30] at the same time, the Eight Banners had more chances to become scholars of the Hanlin Academy (Zou 2010: 17). Therefore, it seems fair to say that translation shujishi played a specific role in preserving Manchu national characteristics and improving the abilities of the Eight Banners. In short, from the perspective of the history of the Chinese political system, the post of shujishi was not originally related to translation, but was a conduit for the pre-service training of high-ranking civil officials. They were distributed among the central government’s most central departments to acquire the skills of civil officials in the bureaucracy, thus highlighting the emperor’s further control over the promotion of talents (Wu 1984: 75). Since the Qing dynasty was founded by the Manchus, when they followed the Ming dynasty’s system of the Three Palace Academies in order to strengthen the monarchy, the establishment of shujishi was inherited as well. However, due to the practical need to communicate with the Manchu rulers under the minority regimes, shujishi needed to learn Manchu and thus took the responsibility of translation. From this perspective, shujishi had the effect of bridging the Manchu and Chinese at the beginning of the Qing dynasty, helping to stabilize the empire founded by an ethnic minority. However, the shujishi’s translation function became increasingly weak, and after the Daoguang reign, it was reduced to a tool to protect the weak Eight Banners Hanlin. We can say that shujishi gradually lost the translation function as early as Yongzheng with the degree of Manchu Sinicization. Nonetheless, we still believe that at least during the Shunzhi and Kangxi reigns shujishi were still useful for the function of imperial translation. This is just a preliminary hypothesis which is also embraced by some Chinese scholars such as Zou (2010) and, hopefully, will be corroborated by further evidence in our future research.

2.4 Duties and distribution of Ubaliyambure hafan

According to the Imperial Revised Textual Mirror (Yuzhi zengding qingwen jian御製增訂清文鑒), Ubaliyambure hafan in Han Chinese is fanyiguan (翻譯官), which literally means translation clerks (“設官部.臣宰類.翻譯官” Imperial Revised Textual Mirror [Yuzhi zengding qingwen jian御製增訂清文鑒], Vol. 4; Fuheng 1983: 26; Yeh 2017: 12).[31] The post of Ubaliyambure hafan was established to support the compiling officials to translate the historical records of the successive emperors in the Qing dynasty. According to Deng (2021: 65-66), Ubaliyambure in Manchu language only refers to internal language exchange between Manchu, Han Chinese and Mongolian and it cannot be used to describe language activities concerning external diplomatic relations. The translation texts include books, imperial edicts, and routine memorials related to administration and education. Deng (2021: 65) thus argues that the establishment of Ubaliyambure hafan was not intended for foreign translation and communication, but mainly for the Manchu-Chinese or Manchu-Mongolian translation of archival documents. The position was therefore of a more ethnic policy nature.

According to the thirteenth article in the Archives of Palace Memorials in the Veritable Records of Emperor Renzong in the Qing Dynasty (Qing renzong shilu guan zouzhe dang shisan 清仁宗實錄館奏摺檔·十三):

There are three versions of each of the Qing Veritable Records, drafted in the three languages, Han Chinese, Manchu, and Mongolian, each in five copies (while the Mongolian version comprises only four), one version embroidered in gold satin, and four in damask. Of the versions with the damask lining, one is stored in the Qianqing Palace, one in the Capital Archive, and one in the library of the Grand Secretariat. These three copies are drafted in Han Chinese, Manchu, and Mongolian. The last copy with the damask lining is written solely in Han Chinese and Manchu, rather than Mongolian, and is stored in the Chongmo Hall in the imperial palace in Mukden [also known as Shengjing 盛京, now Shenyang]. (Gugong buwuyuan wenxianguan [Palace Museum Library and Literature Museum] 1936, 8)

Therefore, the histories known as veritable records of the successive emperors in the Qing dynasty were conventionally written in three versions, namely in Manchu, in Mongolian, and in Han Chinese. Translation clerks were indispensable to accomplish such an arduous task.

Veritable Records

Emperor Taizu

Emperor Taizong

Emperor Shizu

Emperor Shengzhu

Emperor Shizong

Emperor Gaozong

Emperor Renzong

Emperor Xuanzong

Emperor Wenzong

Emperor Muzong

Emperor Dezong

Emperor Xuantong

Number of ubaliyambure hafan













Number of compilation clerks













Proportion of ubaliyambure hafan













Table 2. The numbers of translation clerks in charge of the compilation of veritable records
of the successive Qing emperors (according to the Veritable Records of the Qing Emperors;
translated and adapted from Yeh 2017: 13-14)

Based on the Veritable Records of the Qing Emperors, Yeh (2017) counted the number of translation clerks in charge of the compilation of historical records of the successive Qing emperors. Table 2 shows that the number of translation clerks accounts for 7.9% minimum to 19.8% maximum. In the Collected Statutes of the Great Qing, Era of Kangxi (Daqing huidian kangxi chao 大清會典·康熙朝), it is recorded that,

For the compilation of Veritable Records and Imperial Edicts and Instructions, the grand academicians serve as the chief compiler, director-general and director-general official […] The appointment of shouzhang [archivist, or unranked clerical functionaries], sarkiyame arara hafan [examination copyist] and ubaliyambure hafan [officials responsible for translating, also known as translation clerks] is decided by the chief compiler and director-general. (Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Version [Daqing huidian Kangxi chao 大清會典·康熙朝], Vol.2; Isangga 2016, 6-7)

In other words, the post of officials in charge of translating documents was established with the explicit aim to compile historical records. According to Yeh (2017: 14), only in the Sino-Manchu translation office or dorgi bithe ubaliyambure boo (nei fanshu fang 内翻書房),[32] there were translation clerks working full-time. However, the number of Ubaliyambure hafan in the dorgi bithe ubaliyambure boo was not fixed. By the fifteenth year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1750), 20 posts were provided. Later, in 1762, 10 posts were abolished (Qinggui 1985: 437). According to the Collected Statutes of the Great Qing, Era of Jiaqing, during the reign of the Jiaqing Emperor, the number of Ubaliyambure hafan in the dorgi bithe ubaliyambure boo reached up to 40 (Collected Statutes of the Great Qing, Era of Jiaqing, Vol.2; Tojin 1991: 14; Yeh 2017: 15). It can be seen that the number of translation clerks was not fixed and they were recruited based on the contingent necessity to compile the historical records of the successive emperors in the Qing dynasty.

3. Conclusion, limitations of the study and future research

In this article we investigated how the governors in the Qing dynasty embedded translation officials in the governmental agencies to implement the principle of governing by translation, that is, “using translating as a technique for ‘directing the conduct of the governed’ in multilingual government” (Koskinen 2014: 481). Our review shows that establishing translation posts was a conventional way to govern by translation in the imperial Chinese dynasties. However, due to the impact of the tongwen policy, the ease of internal communication was not the main concern of the governors and the posts of translation officials were mainly under the departments of protocol and foreign affairs. There was not a conspicuous number of translation officials and their status was low.

This phenomenon was disrupted during the foreign dynasties, especially in the two unified foreign dynasties, the Yuan (Mongols) and Qing (Manchus) dynasties. In a multilingual and multiethnic context, the Emperors of the non-Han dynasties were somehow more inclined to adopt ad hoc measures to implement effective governance. On the one hand, the ruling group in the non-Han regimes had to maintain their own cultural identity. On the other hand, they had to rule over a multiethnic state in which a large part of the population was ethnically Han Chinese. In this context, the rulers were inclined to learn from the governance experience of previous Han Chinese dynasties because, while wanting to preserve their cultural identity and political status, they lacked practical governance experience within territories mainly populated by Han people. A typical way was the establishment of a governmental system similar to that of the previous Han Chinese dynasties. However, different political, cultural, and ethnic structures posed considerable challenges to the emperors in the non-Han Chinese dynasties. Translation thus became an inevitable way to govern and administer a multiethnic and multilinguistic state as well as to maintain the language and cultural identities of the ruling group. In a multilingual scenario, officials in the bureaucracy relied largely on interpreters and translators, if they were not proficient in the languages required. In addition, the communication between the ruling class and the governed also relied on translation. All non-Han Chinese dynasties had translation officials embedded in all different levels of the governmental departments.

Nonetheless, this phenomenon was more typical of the Qing dynasty. As our study has shown, a larger number of translation officials was attached to the governmental agencies during the Qing dynasty. Translation officials had become an essential part of the operation of administrative agencies. More importantly, the results of our study show that the establishment of bithesi and geren giltusi became effective ways to maintain the identities and interests of the Manchus, although this warrants further research. In other words, the division and diffusion of translation officials in the Qing dynasty was a manifestation of the principle of “Manchuria First,” also known as “Manchuria Centrism.”

This article introduced the translation positions of dorgi bithesi, bithesi, geren giltusi, ubaliyambure hafan. These translators were embedded in the official establishment of the government, and they had different ranks in the Qing government system, so their corresponding duties and responsibilities were also different. We argue that these different levels of translation positions not only reflected the different needs for translation in imperial affairs, vis-à-vis different groups and internal communication among the Manchus, but also contributed to reinforce the bureaucratic order. Under the principle of facilitating smooth communication within the imperial government while taking into account the nature of the documents and the rank of the officials, different levels of translators had different remits, and the documents they translated were naturally different. Moreover, as translators in the official establishment, they were not only directly examined for the quality of their translations, but also had sufficient manpower to consult and discuss whenever they encountered difficulties in translation, and they were also bound by ideological constraints. This is one of the main differences between state-funded translation activities and non-government translation activities.

Since this paper focused on translation officials, it does not address translation activities at the organizational level of the state, especially the importance of the Sino-Manchu Translation Office (nei fan shu fang 內翻書房). In fact, the Sino-Manchu Translation Office was not only a translation agency for the emperor, but even coordinated the comprehensive language translations of various departments during the Qianlong reign. In other words, besides assisting the emperor in making final language decisions and accepting the emperor’s language requests, the way it coordinated the translation activities of various departments and provided authoritative language services warrants further research.

With the Sinicization of the Manchus, an increasing number of bureaucrats within the empire were capable of directly using Han Chinese to handle government affairs, and the number of translation jobs was adjusted accordingly. However, despite the fact that some translation positions lost their practical value, they were still used to secure the entry of Manchu young adults into government service (e.g. geren giltusi or shujishi). This practice was not necessary for communication within the empire, but was simply a self-privileged way for the aristocratic élite to avoid fair competition. We have already discussed this in terms of the number of posts, yet more historical data are warranted to support and further corroborate this argument.

Besides, further research is also warranted to analyze how the work of bithesi shaped Qing’s governing other than the self-evident fact that they translated documents between Han Chinese and Manchu, Han Chinese and Mongolian. And more evidence would need to support the claim that the establishment of bithesi and geren giltusi became effective ways to maintain the identities and interests of the Manchus. Finally, the scope of this paper is limited to the relationship between translation and national governance, and does not (yet) involve external translation activities such as foreign diplomacy or external relations.

Chinese-English Glossary

貝勒 (beile)

Prince of the Third Rank

筆帖式 (bitieshi )

Translators and scribes designed for the Eight Banners


Clerks, scribes, and secretaries


差人 (chairen)

Yamen runners

承政 (chengzheng)


大鴻臚 (dahong lu)

Court for Diplomatic Receptions of Chamberlain for Dependencies


大清會典·康熙朝 (daqing huidian Kangxi chao)

Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty, Era of Kangxi


大清會典事例 (daqing huidian shili)

History Compiled on Imperial Command and Precedents and Regulations Supplementary to the Collected Statutes of the Great Qing Dynasty

大清五朝會典 (daqing wuchao huidian)

Five Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty


典屬國 (dianshuguo)

Supervisor of Dependent States

蕃書譯語 (fanshu yiyu)

Translators of foreign letters/writings

故宮博物院文獻館 (gugong bowuyuan wenxianguan)

Palace Museum Library and Literature Museum

國語騎射 (guoyu-qishe)

The Manchu Language and Horsemanship-Archery Program

鴻臚寺 (honglusi)

Court of State Ceremonial or Court of Diplomatic Receptions

皇朝通志 (huangchao tongzhi)

Imperial Comprehensive Treatises


皇朝文獻通考 (huangchao wenxian tongkao)

History Compiled on Imperial Command


會同館 (huitong guan)

Interpreters Institute


會同四譯館 (huitong siyi guan)

Institute of Translation and Interpreting

嘉慶道光兩朝上諭檔 (Jiaqing daoguang liang chao shang yu dang)

Archives of Imperial Edicts during the Reign of the Jiaqing Emperor and the Daoguang Emperor

進士 (jinshi)

Metropolitan graduates

九譯令 (jiuyiling)

Director of Interpreting Prefects for Envoys from Surrendered States

禮記集解 (liji jijie)

Annotation of the Book of Rites

令史 (lingshi)


內閣 (nei ge )

Grand Secretariat

內國史院 (nei guo shi yuan)

Palace Historiographic Academy

內弘文院 (nei hong wen yuan)

Palace Academy for the Advancement of Literature

內秘書院 (nei mi shu yuan)

Palace Secretariat Academy

內三院 (nei san yuan)

Three Palace Academies

内翻書房 (nei fanshu fang)

Sino-Manchu Translation Office

啟心郎 (qixinlang)

Clerks who clarify thoughts or interpreters


Translators and interpreters

清代起居注·康熙朝 (qingdai qiju zhu Kangxi chao)

The Imperial Diaries of the Kangxi Emperor in the Qing Dynasty

清仁宗實錄館奏摺檔 (qing renzong shilu guan zouzhe dang)

Archives of Palace Memorials in the Veritable Records of Emperor Renzong in the Qing Dynasty

清史稿 (qingshi gao)

Provisional History of the Qing Dynasty and History Compiled on Imperial Command

盛京 (shengjing)


侍郎 (shilang)

Assistant or Vice Minister

收掌 (shouzhang)


書寫 (shuxie)


庶吉士 (shujishi)

A host of fortunate scholars or all good men of virtue

四方貢奉使 (sifang gongfeng shi)

Office for Tribute Envoys

四譯館 (siyi guan)

Translators Institute

聽雨叢談 (ting yu cong tan)

Miscellaneous Discussions whilst Listening to The Rain

通事 (tongshi)


通事舍人 (tongshi sheren)

Secretarial Receptionist

王制 (wang zhi)

Royal Regulations

譯長 (yizhang)

Chief of Interpreters

譯官令 (yiguanling )

Director of Interpreting Prefects for Envoys from Vassal States

譯語 (yiyu )

Official translators

譯語通事 (yiyu tongshi)


譯字生 (yizi sheng)

Apprentice translators

欽定八旗通志 (qinding baqi tongzhi)

Authorized Records of the Eight Banners

欽定大清會典·嘉慶朝 (qinding daqing huidian, Jiaqing chao)

Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty, Era of Jiaqing

欽定大清會典則例(qinding daqing huidian zeli)

Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty

御史 (yushi)


御製增訂清文鑒 (yuzhi zengding qingwen jian)

Imperial Revised Textual Mirror

章京 (zhangjing)

Secretary (civil) or Adjutant (military)

中國第一歷史檔案館 (Zhongguo diyi lishi dang’an guan)

First Historical Archives of China

中書省 (zhongshu sheng )


Mongolian-English Glossary


Clercs, scribes, and secretaries


Mongolian word for translators and interpreters

Manchu-English Glossary


Translators and scribes designed for the Eight Banners

Dorgi bithe ubaliyambure boo

Sino-Manchu Translation Office

Dorgi bithesi

Translators and scribes in the Grand Secretariat

Geren giltusi

A host of fortunate scholars or all good men of virtue; a scholastic title during the Ming and Qing

Sarkiyame arara hafan

Examination copyist

Ubaliyambure hafan

Officials responsible for translating

Chinese Historical Records

Fuge福格 (1984) Ting yu cong tan 聽雨叢談 [Miscellaneous Discussions Whilst Listening to The Rain], Beijing, Zhonghua Book Company (Reprint).

Fuheng傅恒 (1983) Yuzhi zengding qingwen jian 御製增訂清文鑒 [Imperial Revised Textual Mirror], Taipei, Taiwan Commercial Press (Photomechanical reproduction).

Gugong bowuyuan wenxianguan故宮博物院文獻館 [(Palace Museum Library and Literature Museum], ed. (1936) Wenxian congbian, Vol. 36文獻叢編 36, Beiping, Xinxin Yinshuju (Reprint).

Isangga 伊桑阿 (2016) Daqing huidian kangxi chao 大清會典·康熙朝 [Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Version]. Nanjing: Phoenix Publishing & Media Group (Reprint).

Ji Huang嵇璜 (1983a) Huangchao wenxian tongkao 皇朝文獻通考 [History Compiled on Imperial Command], Taipei, Taiwan Commercial Press (Photomechanical reproduction).

Ji Huang 嵇璜 (1983b) Huangchao tongzhi 皇朝通志 [Imperial Comprehensive Treatises], Taipei, Taiwan Commercial Press (Photomechanical reproduction).

Kurene 庫勒納 (2009) Qingdai qiju zhu kangxi chao di 13 ce 清代起居注·康熙朝,第13册 [The Imperial Diaries of the Kangxi Emperor in the Qing Dynasty, Vol. 13], Taipei, Linking Publishing Company (Reprint).

Ortai 鄂爾泰 (1985) Qing shilu taizong wen huangdi shilu 清實錄·太宗文皇帝實錄 [Veritable Records of the Qing Dynasty, Veritable Records of Emperor Taizong], Beijing, Zhonghua Book Company (Reprint).

Qinggui 慶桂 (1985) Qing shilu gaozong chun huangdi shilu (yi) 清實錄·高宗純皇帝實錄(一)[Veritable Records of the Qing Dynasty, Veritable Records of Emperor Gaozong, Part 1], Beijing, Zhonghua Book Company (Reprint).

Sun Xidan 孫希旦 (1989) Liji jijie 禮記集解 [Annotation of the Book of Rites], Beijing, Zhonghua Book Company (Reprint).

Song Lian 宋濂 (2000) Yuanshi (er shi si shi jian ti zi ben) 元史 (“二十四史”簡體字本) [History of the Yuan Dynasty, Twenty-Four Histories in Simplified Chinese], Beijing, Zhonghua Book Company (Reprint).

Tiyeboo 鐵保 (1983) Qinding baqi tongzhi欽定八旗通志 [Authorized Records of the Eight Banners], Taipei, Taiwan Commercial Press (Photomechanical reproduction).

Tojin托津 (1991) Qinding daqing huidian, jiaqing chao 欽定大清會典(嘉慶朝) [Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty, Era of Jiaqing], Taipei, Wenhai Press (Photomechanical reproduction).

Wenqing文慶 (1986) Qing shilu xuanzong cheng huangdi shilu (qi)清實錄·宣宗成皇帝實錄(七)[Veritable Records of the Qing Dynasty, Veritable Records of Emperor Xuanzong, Part 7], Beijing, Zhonghua Book Company (Reprint).

Yūn too允裪 (1983) “Qinding daqing huidian zeli” 欽定大清會典則例 [Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty], Taipei, Taiwan Commercial Press (Photomechanical reproduction).

Zhang Tingyu 張廷玉 (1974) Mingshi 明史 [History of Ming Dynasty], Beijing, Zhonghua Book Company (Reprint).

Zhao Erxun 趙爾巽 (1977) Qingshi gao (di shi er ce) 清史稿·第十二冊) [Provisional History of the Qing Dynasty, Part 12], Beijing, Zhonghua Book Company (Reprint).

Zhongguo di yi lishi dang’an guan中國第一歷史檔案館 [First Historical Archives of China], ed. (2000) Jiaqing daoguang liang chao shang yu dang 嘉慶道光兩朝上諭檔52 [Archives of Imperial Edicts during the Reign of the Jiaqing Emperor and the Daoguang Emperor, Vol. 52], Guilin, Guangxi Normal University Press (Reprint).

References for Table 1

Baoyun寶鋆 (1987) Qing shilu muzong yi huangdi shilu 清實錄·穆宗毅皇帝實錄 [Veritable Records of the Qing Dynasty, Veritable Records of Emperor Muzong], Beijing, Zhonghua Book Company (Reprint).

Jia Zhen賈楨 (1986) Qing shilu wenzong xian huangdi shilu 清實錄·文宗顯皇帝實錄[Veritable Records of the Qing Dynasty, Veritable Records of Emperor Wenzong], Beijing, Zhonghua Book Company (Reprint).

Shixu世續 (1987). Qing shilu dezong jing huangdi shilu清實錄·德宗景皇帝實錄[Veritable Records of the Qing Dynasty, Veritable Records of Emperor Dezong], Beijing, Zhonghua Book Company (Reprint).

Wenqing文慶 (1986) Qing shilu xuanzong cheng huangdi shilu (qi)清實錄·宣宗成皇帝實錄 [Veritable Records of the Qing Dynasty, Veritable Records of Emperor Xuanzong], Beijing, Zhonghua Book Company (Reprint).

Zhongguo di yi lishi dang’an guan 中國第一歷史檔案館 [First Historical Archives of China], ed. (1996) Guangxu xuantong liangchao shang yu dang 31光緒宣統兩朝上諭檔31 [Archives of Imperial Edicts during the Reign of the Guangxu Emperor and the Xuantong Emperor, Vol. 31], Guilin, Guangxi Normal University Press (Reprint).


Bagen (2004) “A Brief Examination of Manchu-Mongolian Translation in the Qing Dynasty”, Manchu Studies no.1, 41-47.

Chi, Limin (2019) Modern Selfhood in Translation: A Study of Progressive Translation Practices in China (1890s–1920s), Singapore, Springer.

Delisle, Jean, and Judith Woodsworth (eds) (2012) Translators through History, Revised edition, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Deng, Ke (2021) Governance by Translation: A Study on the Translation Policy under Multilingualism in the Early Qing Dynasty, Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Hongkong: Lingnan University.  以譯而治:清前期多語文政治下的翻譯政策研究 (博士論文,香港嶺南大學)。檢自 [url=][/url]

Elliott, Mark C. (2001) “The Manchu-language Archives of the Qing Dynasty and the Origins of the Palace Memorial System”, Late Imperial China 22, no. 1, 1:70.

Franke, Herbert, and Denis Twitchett (2008) “Introduction” in The Cambridge History of China: Volume 6, Alien Regimes and Border States, 907-1368, Herbert Franke and Denis Twitchett (eds), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 1-42.

Harding, Alan. 1994. “The Origins of the Concept of The State.” History of Political Thought 15, no. 1: 57–72. [url=][/url]

Hsiao Chi-ching (1997) “The Official Interpreters in the Yuan Dynasty” in Essays of Yuan History, Vol. 6, Meibiao Cai (ed.), Beijing, China Social Sciences Press: 35-37.

Hucker, Charles (1988) A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China, Taipei, Southern Materials Centre, Inc.

Hung, Eva (1999) “The Role of the Foreign Translator in the Chinese Translation Tradition, 2nd to 19th Century”, Target 11, no. 2: 223-243.

Hung, Eva (2005) “Translation in China——An Analytical Survey. First Century B.C.E. to Early Twentieth Century.” In Asian Translation Traditions, edited by Eva Hung and Judy Wakabayashi, 67-107. Manchester: St. Jerome.

Isangga (2016) Collected Statutes of the Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Version, Nanjing, Phoenix press.

Koskinen, Kaisa (2014) “Institutional Translation: The Art of Government by Translation, Perspectives 22, no. 4: 479-492.

Li Hong (1994) “Bithesi in the Qing Dynasty”, Historical Archives, no. 2: 89-92.

Lotze, Johanne S. (2016) “Translation of Empire: Mongol Legacy, Language Policy, and the Early Ming World Order, 1368-1453”, PhD diss, University of Manchester.

Lung, Rachel (2011) Interpreters in Early Imperial China, Amsterdam, John Benjamins.

Pym, Anthony (2014) Method in Translation History, London, Routledge.

Shen Yimin (2006a) “Bithesi in the Early Period of Qing Dynasty”, Historical Archives, no. 1: 58-61.

Shen Yimin (2006b) “Qixinlang and Politics in the Early Period of Qing Dynasty”, Journal of Historical Science, no. 6: 31-36.

Shi Tao, and Wei Yu (2015) “A New Discussion about Bithesi in the Qing Dynasty”, Academic Journal of Jinyang, no. 3: 45-53.

Shi Yangang. (2018) “Notes on the Establishment of the Position of Tibetan Translators in Sichuan and Tibet by the Qing Dynasty”, Journal of Tibetology, no.1 :106-114.

Sinor, Denis (1982) “Pray to God on my Behalf that He Give Me Such Intelligence that I Can Learn Fast and Well Your Languages. Medieval Interpreters and Inner Asia”, The Journal of Popular Culture xvi, no. 1: 176-184.

Skocpol, Theda, Peter Evans, and Dietrich Rueschemeyer (1985) Bringing the state back in, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Song Yifeng (2019) A Study on the Translation Policies in the Early and Middle Qing Dynasty Under the Ideology of Manchuria Centrism”, Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Changsha: Hunan Normal University.

Sun Zhongqiang (2017). “A Discussion of Translation Policy in the Qing Dynasty”, Qinghai Journal of Ethnology 28, no. 2: 145-47

Wang Jingya (2015a) “Study on Bi-Tieshi in the Early Years of Yongzheng Period”, Historical Archives, no. 2: 104-11.

Wang Jingya (2015b) “Hanlin Bachelor for Manchu Language in the Qing Dynasty”, Journal of Historical Science, no. 4: 37-43.

Wu Ren’an (1984). “A Collection of the System of Shujishi in the Ming and Qing Dynasties,” Historical Research in Auhui, no. 1: 40, 75-78.

Wu Ren’an (1997). “A Discussion of the System of Shujishi in the Ming and Qing Dynasties,” Historical Review, no. 4: 33-39.

Xu Xuemei (2009) A Study of Manchu-Chinese Differences in the Qing Dynasty Official System, Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Tianjin: Nankai University.

Yang Jinlin (1984) “Bithesi and the Decision-making System of Qing Dynasty from 1673 to 1683”, Journal of Xiamen University (Arts & Social Sciences), no. 2: 85-90.

Yeh Kao-shu (2017) “Imperial Translation Exams of the Government Office in the Qing Dynasty” in Studies in Translation History 2016, Wong Wang-chi Lawrence (ed), Shanghai, Fudan University Press: 1-39.

Zhao Yunan (2006) “Features of Bithesi in the Qing Dynasty”, Manchu Minority Research, no. 4: 59-68.

Zou Changqing (2010) “The System of the Shujishi of Translation in the Qing Dynasty”, History Teaching, no. 10: 14-17.

Zou Changqing (2013) “The Total Number of the Hanlin Bachelor of the Qing Dynasty”, The Qing History Journal, no. 3:141-150.


[1] Shutongwen, in Chinese 書同文, also known as “Writing the Same Script”, was a language policy implemented by the first Chinese emperor to achieve the ambition of Great Unity.

[2] Also known as “the Director of Translation from Afar,” who is responsible for the relations between the Court and the distant people across Inner Asia. Or as observed by Hung (2005: 77) the job nature of the jiuyiling was being a functionary and its departmental affiliation was “protocol in relation to the Western Region.”

[3] The Supervisor of Dependent Countries (dianshuguo 典屬國) was considered a department of protocol in relation to the Western Region.

[4] Also known as Prefect of the Office of Interpreters or the Director of Interpreters. Or as observed by Hung (2005: 77) the job nature of the yiguanling was being the “director of interpreters” and its departmental affiliation was “protocol in relation to tributary states.”

[5] Also known as the Chamberlain for Dependencies (dahonglu大鴻臚), which was considered a department of protocol in relation to tributary states.

[6] For more information on yiyu and fanshu yiyu, readers may also refer to Lung (2011: 60).

[7] As recorded in the Provisional History of the Qing Dynasty [Qingshi Gao 清史稿], Vol. 114 (Zhao 1977: 3284), from 1748, the Interpreter Institute and the Translator Institute were combined into the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (huitong siyi guan會同四譯館).

[8] Foreign dynasties indicate those dynasties which were founded by non-Han ethnic groups, such as the Yuan dynasty founded by the Mongols and the Qing dynasty founded by the Manchus.

[9] In its five-thousand-year history, China has witnessed two distinct types of dynasties: those led by the Han ethnic majority and those led by ethnic minorities, also known as “foreign dynasties.” The Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) established in 1271 by Kublai Khan (r. 1260-1294), was the first unified regime established by a northern nomadic people. With the continuous increase of the territories, ethnic groups, languages and cultures, it became increasingly diversified. Due to the complex ethnic composition of government officials, the language policy shifted from monolingualism to multilingualism, which, in turn, increased the demand for translation. Just like the Yuan dynasty, the Qing dynasty (1636/1644-1912) was also a unified regime established by an ethnic minority (the Manchus). As the last unified dynasty in Chinese dynastic history, the Qing dynasty’s governance of the vast areas laid an important foundation for the formation of China’s multiethnic scenario, as it is today. The State governance in a multilingual environment also increased the demand for translation.

[10] The Eight Banners, created in the early 17th century by Emperor Nurhaci, were administrative and military divisions during the Later Jin (1616-1636) and the Qing dynasty (1636/1644-1912). The Eight Banners were composed of plain yellow banner, plain white banner, plain red banner, plain blue banner, bordered yellow banner, bordered white banner, bordered red banner, and plain blue banner.

[11] As previously mentioned, the Qing Dynasty was founded by the Manchus. Therefore, Qing-period Manchu language archives are an extremely important source of investigation for Qing historians and researchers. There are over 25 years of research into Manchu language translation in English and Japanese, that are not covered in the present study. However, we will still base our work on Chinese historical data. Readers who are interested in an exhaustive overview of Manchu-language archives may refer to Elliott (2001) and may also look at the work of Marten Söderblom Saarela for more in-depth bibliographies.

[12] For more information, please refer to [url=][/url]

[13] There seems to be some confusion in the literature when it comes to the name of Chinese emperors. For example, some scholars invariably write Emperor Kangxi and the Kangxi Emperor. In this article, only the latter will be used for the following reasons. The era name or reign name (nianhao 年號) of an emperor was selected at the beginning of his reign to reflect the political concerns of the court at that time. The emperors of the Qing dynasty, for example, used only one reign name and are most commonly known by that name, as when we speak of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735–1795) or the Guangxu Emperor (r. 1875–1908). The confusion arises because some scholars refer to the Qianlong Emperor simply as Qianlong, whereas Qianlong was not his personal name. Likewise, the appellation Emperor Qianlong should be avoided because Qianlong was the era or reign name and not the emperor’s personal name. However, the first two Qing emperors are known by their first names: Nurhaci (r. 1616–1626) and his son and successor Hong Taiji (r. 1626–1643). In this article, whenever the reign or era name is used, it will be put in the first place, e.g. the Qianlong Emperor or the Guangxu Emperor. Whenever the personal name of the emperor is used, it will be put after the noun “Emperor”. Moreover, the word “emperor” will be capitalized when it is used as part of the name, while it will not be capitalized when used on its own.

[14] Nurhaci was a Jurchen chieftain who rose to prominence in the late 16th century in Manchuria.

[15] Emperor Huang Taiji was the founding emperor of the Qing dynasty (reigned from 1636 to 1643).

[16] All Chinese sources were translated by the authors unless otherwise specified.

[17] The largest jurisdictional corpus on administrative matters compiled during the Qing period (1644-1911). “It describes the structure of each administrative institution of the central and the local governments, and provides rules for the administration of each kind of issue regulated by the government”. For more information, readers may refer to: (accessed Sept. 23, 2021)

[18] In Manchu Aisilambi means “assistant”.

[19] Ortai was a confidant and advisor to the Yongzheng Emperor, and under the Yongzheng Emperor, he was the second most powerful Manchu in the empire.

[20] In the Qing dynasty, translation became an inevitable way to govern and administer a polyethnic and polyphonic state as well as to maintain the language and cultural identities of the ruling group.

[21] According to Shen (2006a), although it was recorded in the Qing Taizong shilu (清太宗實錄) that the term “bithesi” appeared in 1615 in the Ming dynasty, the record was obviously a transcription error, because the Old Manchu Archive (Manwen laodang 滿文老檔) does mention the appearance of tasks that correspond to the duties of “bithesi” only in 1621 without explicitly mentioning the term “bithesi”. Therefore, Shen deduces that the earliest appearance of “bithesi” could not be earlier than 1621. For more details, please see Shen (2006a: 58). By referring to Shen’s research, we adopt a more lenient statement, that is, although we cannot exactly point out the earliest establishment of “bithesi”, we can see that at least in the reign of Nurhaci the tasks of “bithesi” had been conducted by some subofficials.

[22] It was the predynastic antecedent of the Hanlin Academy, staffed with Academicians; in 1635, it was transformed into the Three Palace Academies. (See Hucker 1988: 567)

[23] This further proves that translation was just one of the duties of bithesi.

[24] According to Hsiao Chi-ching (1997, 50), the number of translation officials in the central and local governments was 1147.

[25] The Northern Wei dynasty introduced in 493 the system of 9 ranks with 18 half-ranks, each full rank being divided into “principal” (in translations indicated by the letter A) and “lower” (from B: 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B...). Each half-rank was again divided into three grades, resulting in a fine gradation of 54 steps for the whole system. For more information readers may refer to (accessed June 25, 2021)

[26] The Hanlin Academy was an academic and administrative institution of higher learning.

[27] After the Kangxi Emperor ascended the throne, the Grand Secretariat was transformed into Three Palace Academies again and the Hanlin Academy was abolished. However, in the ninth year of the Kangxi Emperor’s reign (1670), the system previously implemented by the Shunzhi Emperor was restored. From then on, shujishi became scholars of the Hanlin academy.

[28] Also known as Manchuria Centrism.

[29] Sources: Veritable Records of the Qing Dynasty, Veritable Records of Emperor Xuanzong; Veritable Records of the Qing Dynasty, Veritable Records of Emperor Wenzong; Veritable Records of the Qing Dynasty, Veritable Records of Emperor Muzong; Veritable Records of the Qing Dynasty, Veritable Records of Emperor Dezong; Archives of Imperial Edicts during the Reign of the Guangxu Emperor and the Xuantong Emperor, Vol. 31; Archives of Imperial Edicts during the Reign of the Xianfeng Emperor and the Tongzhi Emperor, Vol. 24.

[30] Guoyu-Qishe is also known as riding-shoot program.

[31] acabume arara hafan i sirame bithe ubaliyambure hafan be, ubaliyambure hafan sembi (位於纂修官之後,翻譯文書之官,謂之翻譯官)

[32] In Chinese it is also written with the following characters 内繙書房 (neifan shufang). It was a “Sino-Manchu translation office attached to the Grand Secretariat to translate State documents from Chinese into Manchu” (Hucker 1988: 345)

About the author(s)

Yuxia Gao is a Lecturer of Translation Studies in the College of Foreign Languages, Ocean University of China. She is the author of numerous articles and book reviews in The Translator, Target, Translation Quarterly, Chinese Translators Journal, Journal of Foreign Languages, Foreign Languages in China, Foreign Language Education, Foreign Languages Research, and other top-tier academic journals. Her research interests include institutionalized translation, state translation program, and translation of maritime political discourse.

Riccardo Moratto (FCIL) is Professor of Chinese Interpreting and Translation Studies at the Graduate Institute of Interpretation and Translation, Shanghai International Studies University, Chartered Linguist and Fellow Member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL), editor-in-chief of Interpreting Studies for Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press (外教社), General Editor of Routledge Studies in East Asian Interpreting and General Editor of Routledge Interdisciplinary and Transcultural Approaches to Chinese Literature. Professor Moratto is a conference interpreter and renowned literary translator. He has published extensively in the field of translation and interpreting studies and Chinese literature in translation.

Di-kai Chao is a PhD candidate at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. He obtained his BA in Chinese literature from National Chengchi University (NCCU) in Taiwan, his first MA in Diplomacy studies from NCCU and his second MA in teaching Chinese as a second language from National Taiwan Normal University. He is also a certified professional Chinese language teacher. His research interests mainly focus on Sinophone literature and its relationship with world literature, ghost narrative in contemporary Sinophone fiction and the literary work of Yan Lianke.

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

©inTRAlinea & Yuxia Gao(1), Riccardo Moratto(2) & Di-kai Chao(3) (2023).
"The Role of Translation Officials in the Qing Dynasty", inTRAlinea Vol. 25.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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La terminologie du désarmement :

une étude traductive français-italien

By Federica Vezzani & Sara Silecchia (Università degli Studi di Padova, Italia)

Abstract & Keywords


Given the highly binding nature of disarmament treaties, the language used to convey the provisions in international matters must in no case generate any form of semantic ambiguity. This study examines the terminology of disarmament and aims to achieve a triple objective. First, we present a general translation methodology based on the integration of tools from corpus linguistics and translation-oriented terminography to correctly decode and transcode the specialized information contained in this textual typology. Second, we illustrate a new bilingual terminological resource, named DITTO, specific to the field of international disarmament and freely accessible online. The resource is designed according to the FAIR principles promoted within the framework of open science. Finally, we present a case study to validate the methodology and the data obtained by proposing a French-Italian contrastive analysis of treaties translation.


Compte tenu du caractère hautement contraignant des traités de désarmement, la langue utilisée pour véhiculer les dispositions en matière internationale ne doit en aucun cas générer une quelconque forme d'ambiguïté sémantique. Cette étude se consacre à l'analyse de la terminologie du désarmement et vise à atteindre un triple objectif. Dans un premier temps, nous présentons une méthodologie générale de traduction basée sur l'intégration d'outils issus de la linguistique de corpus et de la terminographie orientée traduction afin de décoder et transcoder correctement l'information spécialisée contenue dans cette typologie textuelle. Deuxièmement, nous illustrons une nouvelle ressource terminologique bilingue, appelée DITTO, spécifique au domaine du désarmement international et librement accessible en ligne. La ressource a été conçue selon les principes FAIR promus dans le cadre de la science ouverte. Enfin, nous présentons une étude de cas afin de valider la méthodologie et les données obtenues en proposant une analyse contrastive français-italien de la traduction des traités.

Keywords: international humanitarian law, terminology, bilingual corpus, disarmament, specialised translations, comparative analysis, terminologie, terminological records, droit international humanitaire, désarmement, corpus spécialisé, traduction spécialisée, fiches terminologiques, analyse comparative

©inTRAlinea & Federica Vezzani & Sara Silecchia (2023).
"La terminologie du désarmement : une étude traductive français-italien", inTRAlinea Vol. 25.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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1. Introduction

Le défi du désarmement international, général et complet, est régi essentiellement par les traités internationaux, qui nécessitent du consentement des États pour en assurer la contrainte juridique. Par conséquent, l’efficacité juridique des efforts internationaux sur la voie du désarmement est subordonnée, entre autres, à la clarté des énoncés des dispositions internationales y contenues.

À ce titre, la présente étude est centrée sur une analyse linguistique de cas comparative français-italien consacrée à la terminologie du désarmement, dans le contexte du droit international. Le choix d’approfondir une analyse linguistique des traités internationaux de désarmement découle de la spécificité de la typologie textuelle des traités internationaux : les effets normatifs produits de ces textes affectent directement les destinataires auxquels ils s’adressent (article 4 du Traité sur l'Union européenne et article 4.4 du Traité sur le fonctionnement de l'Union européenne), contrairement aux sources de droit relevant de la jurisprudence nationale. En effet, la traduction des constitutions nationales ne produit pas d’effets contraignants pour les citoyens-lecteurs des États de la communauté internationale, alors que la traduction d’un acte législatif international entraîne des obligations pour tous les États signataires. Une telle analyse linguistique s’avère ainsi nécessaire, au nom du caractère normatif des traités de désarmement qui exige une précision terminologique rigoureuse.

De nombreuses études concernant la langue de spécialité du droit (Lemmens 2011) et la traduction juridique (Bocquet 2008), l’extraction de la terminologie du nucléaire (Calberg-Challot et al. 2008) ainsi que les ressources terminologiques pour la traduction juridique (Van Laer et al. 2007) ont été approfondies. Néanmoins, notre étude vise à appliquer la réflexion terminologique sur le sous-domaine de savoir du désarmement à la combinaison linguistique français-italien. Cette combinaison linguistique s’avère être sous-explorée[1] à notre connaissance, pourtant nécessaire si l’on considère que l’italien n’est pas une des langues officielles de rédaction des traités internationaux au sein des Nations Unies, et qu’une tentative d’uniformisation de la terminologie officielle devient avantageuse pour des traductions futures.

Les traités de désarmement pris en examen sont en l’occurrence 1) la Convention sur l'interdiction de la mise au point, de la fabrication, du stockage et de l'emploi des armes chimiques et sur leur destruction ; 2) la Convention sur l'interdiction de la mise au point, de la fabrication et du stockage des armes bactériologiques (biologiques) ou à toxines et sur leur destruction ; 3) la Convention sur l'interdiction de l'emploi, du stockage, de la production et du transfert des mines antipersonnel et sur leur destruction ; 4) le Traité sur la non-prolifération des armes nucléaires de 1967 ; et 5) la Convention sur les armes à sous-munitions.

Ainsi, la présente étude vise à :

  1. proposer une méthodologie générale de traduction, basée sur l'intégration d'outils issus de la linguistique de corpus et de la terminographie orientée à la traduction, afin de soutenir les processus de décodage et de transcodage corrects de la terminologie du désarmement dans les langues source et cible (respectivement le français et l'italien pour cette étude de cas) ;
  2. illustrer une nouvelle ressource terminologique bilingue pour le domaine du désarmement afin de rendre disponibles, à grande échelle, les données terminologiques produites au sein de cette étude qui se veulent librement accessibles, consultables et réutilisables afin que tous les professionnels des langues puissent en disposer ;
  3. valider la méthodologie proposée et les données terminologiques collectées au sein de la ressource au moyen d'une analyse contrastive entre nos traductions en italien et les traductions officielles desdits traités.

L’organisation de l’article est la suivante : la section 2 est consacrée à l’état de la question sur les études concernant la traduction juridique ; la section 3 s’intéresse à la description de la méthodologie proposée et les outils impliqués ; la section 4 est consacrée à la présentation de la nouvelle ressource implémentée et à l’analyse de la terminologie du désarmement collectée et consultable en ligne ; finalement, la section 5 porte sur l’analyse traductive comparative. En conclusion, des considérations finales et des perspectives de recherche seront présentées.

2. Droit et traduction du droit

L’étroite interconnexion entre langue et droit se réalise à différents niveaux : la langue interagit avec le droit autant en véhicule de communication normative, qu’en objet de discipline juridique elle-même. À ce sujet, Gémar (2011) souligne leur nature intrinsèque de manifestation culturelle la plus haute d’un peuple, puisque le système de valeurs culturelles inhérentes et partagées de chaque communauté se reflète dans l’ordonnancement juridique des États. C’est ainsi que langue et droit, en tant que produits sociaux, sont « tous deux consubstantiels à la culture », comme le souligne d’ailleurs Cornu (2005).

Ainsi, la relation entre droit et traduction du droit en résulte inévitablement affectée, d’autant plus qu’en vertu des réalités juridiques différentes, il n’est pas possible d’extraire un terme d’une langue/culture de départ, véhiculant une notion juridique évoluée à l’intérieur d’un contexte sociohistorique défini, pour le transposer dans une langue/culture d’arrivée.

Telle position a été également soutenue par Legrand (1999), qui souligne l’impossibilité de transférer les normes de droit en tant que « culturellement fondées », ainsi que par Cornu, lequel distingue les « jurisignes culturés », soit d’appartenance juridique exclusive, des « jurisignes acculturés », c’est-à-dire emprunts ou calques issus de l’acculturation juridique (Gémar 2011).

Cependant, précisément en raison des connotations culturelles des termes juridiques, parfois une non-conformité des concepts entre systèmes judiciaires nationaux peut survenir. Ainsi, pour éviter de tomber dans le « juricentrisme », soit l’obstination à traduire péremptoirement les notions qui n’ont pas d’équivalents dans la culture juridique cible, au détriment de la culture juridique source (Monjean-Decaudin 2012), il conviendrait d’examiner le rapport et la proximité entre langue-culture de départ et langue-culture d’arrivée aux fins de traduction.

Comme le souligne Gémar (2011), la théorie de la traduction juridique a été significativement enrichie par la jurilinguistique, discipline développée par Cornu qui mêle langue et droit et insiste sur l’application du traitement linguistique aux textes de droit. D’ailleurs, suivant les réflexions de Ladmiral (2014), Gémar (2019) indique trois stratégies traductives également applicables à la traduction juridique : une approche littéraliste ou « sourcière », focalisée sur le sens strict du texte, une approche « cibliste », privilégiant son sens général, ainsi qu’une approche qui vise à une « équivalence fonctionnelle », soit une correspondance optimale entre concepts originaux et concepts traduits, de sorte que les deux textes fassent également foi.

D’ailleurs, à l’intérieur d’un même État plusieurs systèmes de droit peuvent coexister, comme dans le cas du Canada ou de l’Inde : on parlera donc de bijuridisme (Gémar 2011). Ainsi, selon que la réalité est unilingue ou bilingue (ou multilingue), voire « unijuridique » ou « bijuridique », une connaissance approfondie et consciente de la culture d’arrivée et, par conséquent, des approches traductologiques les plus convenables, permettra au traducteur d’accomplir efficacement la transmission des contenus, conformément aux stratégies traductives proposées dans les contextes plurilinguistiques (Dullion 2014).

En outre, lors de la traduction du droit, la coexistence de systèmes juridiques structurellement différents, tels que le Common Law et le Civil Law agit également sur la sélection des termes spécialisés. Très instructif à ce sujet est l’exemple cité par Sauron (2009) concernant la dénomination française de l’« International Criminal Court ». Comme le témoignent les travaux préparatoires du Statut de la Cour, originairement le choix se penchait sur « Cour criminelle internationale », peut-être en fonction de l’équivalence entre l’anglais « criminal » et le français « criminelle », faisant d’ailleurs écho au terme utilisé au Canada. Finalement, la dénomination officielle choisie étant « Cour pénale internationale », l’adjectif français « pénal » a remplacé l’adjectif « criminelle », en raison de son usage désormais désuet. Cette hypothèse semble être confirmée par Sirois (2000), qui insiste sur la distinction entre les termes « pénal » et « criminel », affirmant que le droit criminel est inclus dans le droit pénal, sans que l’inverse soit possible.

Il en découle ainsi que la terminologie du droit international n’est pas liée seulement à la spécificité lexicale de ce domaine de savoir, comme elle dépend également des stratégies traductives adoptées dans le respect des exigences intrinsèques aux normes elles-mêmes. À ce sujet, Terral (2004) souligne que le droit est avant tout une science sociale, d’où les correspondances terminologiques répertoriées varient au gré des objectifs poursuivis par la traduction.

En conclusion, la langue est l’instrument à travers lequel la volonté législative se manifeste : ainsi, le droit devient « affaire de mots, de (re)formulation, mais surtout de terminologie et de traduction » comme l’affirment Gréciano et al. (2011). C’est dans ce cadre que, à côté des approches méthodologiques déjà présentes en littérature (Álvarez 2007 ; Martínez et al. 2009 ; Després et al. 2005), notre étude se propose d’offrir une méthodologie qui peut se révéler efficace en termes de précision terminologique, à fortiori qu'elle inclut l’usage des technologies de traduction, dont les avantages ont été largement analysés (Rothwell et Svoboda 2019).

3. Méthodologie d'analyse terminologique et traductive

La méthodologie de traduction que nous proposons au fil des pages suivantes vise à répondre aux besoins de « décodage » correct et de « transcodage » précis (Jammal 1999) de la terminologie d'un secteur de spécialité donné, en l'occurrence le désarmement international. Les deux notions renvoient respectivement à 1) la nécessité de bien comprendre l'information spécialisée contenue dans le texte source, et 2) l’exigence de reformuler et de transposer l'information interlinguistiquement de manière claire et cohérente dans le texte cible.

Comme nous l’avons mentionné dans l'introduction, l'approche est basée sur l'intégration d'outils issus de la linguistique de corpus et de la terminographie orientée à la traduction. En particulier, la méthodologie prévoit :

  1. La constitution d'un corpus spécialisé dans le domaine du désarmement - à travers l'outil de gestion de corpus Sketch Engine - afin de faciliter la compréhension et la familiarisation des informations spécialisées ;
  2. L'extraction de termes pertinents - grâce à la fonctionnalité Keywords and term extraction de Sketch Engine - afin d'isoler les unités lexicales propres au domaine et qui feront l'objet de l'étude ;
  3. La compilation de fiches terminologiques bilingues - via l'application Web FAIRterm - afin d'encadrer le comportement morphosyntaxique, phraséologique et sémantique des deux désignations du concept dans les deux langues d'étude.

La méthodologie, qui d’après sa nature générale pourrait être applicable à toute langue de travail et à tout domaine de spécialisation, s'adresse en particulier aux apprenants et/ou traducteurs professionnels non-experts du secteur qui interviennent dans le processus de traduction de ces textes nécessitant une grande rigueur terminologique.

3.1 Mise en forme du corpus et extraction terminologique

Le point de départ de notre méthodologie prévoit la mise en forme d'un corpus spécialisé en français en tant que 1) l'une des langues officielles de rédaction des traités internationaux de désarmement au sein des Nations Unies, et 2) la langue source choisie pour cette étude de cas à partir de laquelle il est nécessaire de décoder les informations spécialisées véhiculées afin d’entamer avantageusement l’étude terminologique.

Le logiciel de gestion de corpus Sketch Engine a été choisi, en raison du large éventail de fonctionnalités dont il dispose, permettant une analyse de textes hautement détaillée et complète dans la quasi-totalité des combinaisons linguistiques (Kilgarriff et al. 2014).

Concernant les documents de constitution de notre corpus monolingue, nommé « Traités internationaux de désarmement », afin de représenter exhaustivement la spécificité du domaine d’étude ainsi que de son expression linguistique, nous n’avons collecté que de textes authentiques en langue française de majeurs traités internationaux et des accords bilatéraux conclus sur la voie du désarmement, repérés des archives consultables en ligne des Nations Unies, telles que l’archive « Collections des Traités des Nations Unies ».

Notamment, les traités constituant le corpus ont été choisis en fonction de leur pertinence et de l'implication des Nations Unies dans la phase de stipulation des traités, afin de conférer une plus grande solidité à l'analyse linguistique à mener, en fonction du statut du français de langue officielle de rédaction. Les traités de désarmement sélectionnés traitent principalement de certains types d'armements, tels que les armes de destruction massive et les armes produisant des effets excessifs et indiscriminés, ainsi que les traités d'interdiction des essais nucléaires. Le choix de les considérer en tant qu’objet d’analyse découle des risques causés de ces armes pour la population et de l'efficacité que les interdictions internationales sur la voie du désarmement assurent pour le maintien de la paix et de la sécurité internationale.

Ensuite, à travers la fonction New corpus de Sketch Engine, après avoir indiqué le nom et la langue du corpus, il a été possible d’alimenter automatiquement le corpus avec les documents d’intérêt à travers la fonction Find texts on web qui, à travers l'option « Input type : URLs », permet d’insérer le lien de référence pour le téléchargement direct des documents repérés en ligne. Le corpus se constitue finalement de 29 traités internationaux de différentes dimensions contenant un total de 236 449 tokens.

Après avoir compilé le corpus, nous avons procédé à l'extraction d'une liste de candidats termes potentiellement pertinents pour le domaine à l’étude. L'opération a été possible grâce à la fonction de Sketch Engine appelée Keywords and terms extraction. Cette fonctionnalité permet d’extraire automatiquement autant les termes simples, constitués d’une seule mot-forme, que les termes complexes, composés de plusieurs mots-formes. Notamment, le logiciel propose les candidats termes sur la base de leur fréquence d’apparition dans le corpus de travail, en les rapportant à un corpus de référence que nous avons spécifiquement choisi pour cette tâche, à savoir le « United Nations Parallel Corpus – French » fourni par Sketch Engine. L'opération automatique consiste donc à identifier les séquences qui apparaissent plus fréquemment dans le corpus de travail que dans le corpus de référence.

Une fois la fiche des candidats termes extraits téléchargée, nous avons effectué un dépouillement manuel afin d’éliminer le bruit, à savoir de termes non pertinents en rapport avec l’objet d’étude. D’ailleurs, plusieurs termes extraits étaient redondants puisque composés des mêmes unités lexicales (c’est le cas, par exemple, d’« accord international » et « autre accord international ». Encore, d’autres termes apparaissaient immédiatement comme non pertinents ou très généraux, tels que des substantifs (« circonstance »), des locutions prépositives (« jusqu’à »), des adverbes (« convenablement »), des verbes (« convaincre ») ou des adjectifs (« temporaire »).

Ainsi, après avoir procédé à la suppression des termes non pertinents, la fonctionnalité Concordance de Sketch Engine nous a permis d’élégir les termes spécialisés relevant du sous-domaine du désarmement, pour un total de 467 termes. Les termes spécialisés ont été sélectionnés en fonction de leur termicité (ou termitude, de « termhood »[2]) par rapport au domaine du désarmement, mesurée à partir du contexte d’occurrence, ainsi qu’en fonction de la fréquence d’occurrence détectée à l’intérieur des traités de désarmement faisant l’objet de l’exercice de traduction prévu.

Finalement, aux fins de validation méthodologique, une fois la sélection des termes pertinents accomplie, nous avons procédé à la compilation des fiches terminologiques bilingues à l’aide du logiciel FAIRterm (section 3.2), pour les 149 termes les plus récurrents, en vue de lancer les travaux de peuplement de la nouvelle base de données terminologiques spécialisée en matière de désarmement qui sera décrite dans la section 4.

3.2 Analyse et encodage des données terminologiques

Les données obtenues grâce à l'outil de gestion de corpus Sketch Engine permettent de passer à la phase d'analyse linguistique et conceptuelle de la terminologie à la base du processus de transcodage de textes spécialisés. L'outil de terminographie orientée à la traduction utilisé à cette étape du travail est l'application web FAIRterm conçue pour la compilation de fiches terminologiques multilingues (Vezzani 2021).

Cet outil d'analyse a été choisi pour les raisons suivantes :

  1. Le modèle de fiche terminologique proposé permet d'analyser un éventail suffisamment exhaustif du comportement morphosyntaxique, sémantique et phraséologique du terme source et de son équivalent. En particulier, 42 sont les champs de la fiche à remplir. Pour des raisons d'espace, nous ne pouvons pas détailler ici les champs individuels, mais nous renvoyons le lecteur pour plus d'informations à Vezzani (2021).
  2. La structuration des données terminologiques respecte le paradigme de la « terminologie FAIR » (Vezzani 2022 ; Vezzani 2021 ; Vezzani et Di Nunzio 2022) afin d'assurer la trouvabilité, l'accessibilité, l'interopérabilité et la réutilisabilité des données conformément aux principes de la Science Ouverte. La mise en œuvre du paradigme est possible grâce à l'adoption de trois normes ISO CT 37/SC 3 pour la gestion des ressources terminologiques.

Figure 1 - FAIRterm: environnement de travail

L'image 1 montre l'environnement de travail de l'application ainsi que toutes les fonctionnalités offertes à l'utilisateur terminologue-traducteur. Les 42 champs de la fiche sont regroupés en 4 panneaux relatifs aux caractéristiques formelles (partie du discours, genre et nombre, etc.), à la sémantique (définition, relations sémantiques, etc.), à la variation (variantes orthographiques, acronymes, abréviations, etc.) et à l’usage (contextes d'utilisation, collocations et colligations, etc.) du terme et son équivalent.

À côté des fonctionnalités nécessaires à la compilation des fiches, l’application dispose également des fonctionnalités Download TBX et Download TSV, permettant respectivement de télécharger et de réutiliser les fiches aussi bien en format standard TermBase eXchange (TBX) (ISO 30042: 2019) qu’en format tabulaire TSV. Encore, la fonctionnalité Download Concordancier permet de télécharger le concordancier, soit un « répertoire terminologique », tel que défini par Gouadec (1996), contenant les désignations univoques qu’une unité linguistique acquière dans les langues de travail lorsqu’elle est spécifiquement associée à un domaine de spécialité donné. Les unités linguistiques recueillies dans l’application sont ici affichées dans la combinaison français-italien, accompagnées d’une synthèse des données terminologiques obtenues à partir de la compilation du modèle de fiche.

Les 149 termes les plus récurrents obtenus lors de la phase précédente ont donc été analysés à l'aide de cette application Web pour la compilation de données, puis transférés dans la nouvelle base de données DITTO illustrée dans la section suivante avec la description de quelques cas terminologiques pertinents aux fins de notre étude.

4. La ressource terminologique multilingue DITTO

Dans le but de rendre librement disponibles et accessibles les données terminologiques issues de cette étude, nous avons développé et implémenté une nouvelle ressource terminologique multilingue dénommée DITTO (Disarmament International Treaty TerminOlogy) accessible en ligne. Cette ressource fait partie des résultats produits dans le cadre de l'initiative « terminologie FAIR » susmentionnée et rassemble la terminologie du désarmement analysée à ce jour afin qu'elle puisse être réutilisée par les professionnels de la langue.

La base de données contient actuellement un total de 149 termes (100 termes simples et 49 termes complexes) auxquels s'ajouteront, au fur et à mesure, les nouvelles fiches terminologiques des termes précédemment collectés.

Nous présentons à ce stade l’analyse qualitative de la terminologie collectée, avec une mention spéciale, sans prétention d'exhaustivité, à quelques-uns des phénomènes linguistiques constatés lors de la compilation des fiches bilingues.

Premièrement, il a été possible d’observer que la langue de spécialité absorbe et reproduit les phénomènes naturels de la langue générale ; notamment, le premier phénomène constaté intéresse la synonymie. Force est de souligner pourtant que, si dans la langue juridique la polysémie est fortement répandue (Ferrari 2002), la synonymie est moins fréquente, raison pour laquelle Cornu (2005) distingue les synonymes authentiques, très rares, des « à peu près ».

En effet, le repérage des synonymes dans la langue juridique ne se réduit pas à une opération qui vise à déceler les équivalents linguistiques, puisqu’il faut que le sens des candidats synonymes soit analysé attentivement avant de les définir éligibles, afin de comprendre les effets juridiques qu’ils produisent et en assurer l’équivalence sémantique.

Dans ce contexte, l’un des phénomènes linguistiques remarqués dans le domaine des armes de destruction massive concerne la quasi-synonymie, la première distinction s’appliquant aux concernant les armes atomiques et les armes nucléaires. Apparemment interchangeables, l’analyse sémantique de ces termes aux fins de l’étude terminologique a pourtant révélé qu’il s’agit de deux concepts légèrement différents. Tout en désignant des armes utilisant l’énergie nucléaire, elles divergent en fait dans les systèmes d’activation et le fonctionnement de l’explosion. Telles considérations s’appliquent également à la langue italienne, pour les désignations « arma atomica » et « arma nucleare ». En l’espèce, l’arme atomique, aussi appelée « bombe A », explose grâce à la fission ou l'éclatement d'atomes lourds provenant d’une matière instable. En revanche, l'arme nucléaire, aussi connue sous le nom de « bombe H » ou « bombe à hydrogène » se base sur la fusion d'atomes plus légers et l’énergie dégagée provoque deux explosions distinctes.

D’ailleurs, la quasi-synonymie intéresse également les termes « déminage » et « dragage », ainsi que leurs équivalents italiens « sminamento » et « dragaggio ». En effet, ces termes pourraient être des synonymes dans la mesure où ils partagent le sens d’enlèvement des mines d'une zone, mais ils relèvent de contextes d’occurrence distingués. Alors que le déminage et le « sminamento » s’effectuent lors de la guerre terrestre, le dragage ou « dragaggio » indiquent l’enlèvement des mines sous-marines, dans le cadre de la guerre maritime.

Concernant la Convention sur l’interdiction des armes à sous-munitions, pour identifier l’équivalent convenable de la locution nominale « artifice éclairant », comme autant « bengala » que « proiettili illuminanti » se présentaient comme éligibles, le choix a été fait d’analyser le sens du terme « artifice ».

Ainsi, nous avons comparé les définitions de ces équivalents en italien, anglais et français, afin d’en saisir le sens le plus proche au contexte de départ. De la recherche des informations à partir de « proiettile incendiario », l’entrée encyclopédique « munizione » de l’encyclopédie Treccani a été affichée, contenant des informations détaillées sur les différentes typologies et l’utilisation des munitions. Une définition mentionnant les « proiettili illuminanti » s’est avérée importante, soit : “i proiettili illuminanti contengono un artifizio illuminante (bengala) con un paracadute, che, messo in libertà allo scoppio in aria per effetto di una piccola carica, rimane sospeso per qualche minuto”[3]. Ainsi, des recherches supplémentaires ont permis de repérer le glossaire bilingue italien-anglais du Ministero della Difesa concernant les termes d'artillerie et de munitions navales. Dans ce glossaire, l’expression « proiettili illuminanti » est accompagnée par sa définition en soulignant l’emploi à des fins d’éclairage, correspondante à celle de l’encyclopédie Treccani, et par son équivalent en langue anglaise, soit « star shell ». Ainsi, afin de confirmer la pertinence dudit terme et dans une perspective comparative bilingue, nous avons vérifié si cet équivalent anglais figure dans le texte anglais de la Convention. La recherche a pourtant donné un résultat négatif, étant « flare » l’équivalent anglais mentionné dans le texte anglais de la Convention. Par conséquent, nous avons décidé d’approfondir des recherches dans le glossaire du Ministère de la Défense à partir du terme « flare » : l’équivalent italien ainsi repéré est « bengala », dont le sens correspond mieux à la définition des « artifices éclairants » indiqués dans la Convention. Bien que « bengala » et « proiettili illuminanti » relèvent les deux du même champ sémantique et qu’ils soient des synonymes, les recherches menées ont montré que « bengala » est l’équivalent le plus approprié, compte tenu du contexte d’occurrence de départ. Le choix a été fait ainsi de se conformer à la terminologie officielle adoptée en italien.

Aux fins de l’analyse linguistique, les renvois à d’autres instruments juridiques se sont avérés également instructifs, car ils ont permis de clarifier les incertitudes pouvant surgir de l’interprétation des textes juridiques, autant au niveau notionnel qu’au niveau linguistique. C’est le cas, par exemple, de la traduction de « zone minée », dans la Convention des armes à sous-munitions. En langue italienne deux équivalents peuvent être appropriés, tels que « zona minata », son équivalent littéral, et « campo minato » ou « campo di mine », largement employés. D’une approche étroitement linguistique, le dictionnaire d’italien Il Nuovo De Mauro, définit un « campo minato » en tant que zone où des mines antipersonnel ou antivéhicule ont été enterrées. Néanmoins, dans certains cas, une approche exclusivement linguistique pourrait ne pas réfléchir sur le véritable usage des termes dans les domaines de spécialité, voire négliger leur effectif emploi dans ces contextes. L’exigence s’est imposée, ainsi, de vérifier ces termes dans d’autres instruments internationaux, tels que le Protocole sur l’interdiction ou la limitation de l’emploi des mines, pièges et autres dispositifs. Effectivement, suivant les définitions dudit Protocole au paragraphe 8 de l’article 2, les deux locutions revêtent des sens différents : par « champ de mines » on entend une zone définie dans laquelle des mines ont été mises en place, et par « zone minée », une zone dangereuse du fait de la présence de mines. La différence entre les deux équivalents porterait ainsi sur la notion de « certitude » de la présence des mines : lorsqu’il est déclaré que des mines ont été placées sur une certaine zone, telle zone est alors définie « champ de mines ». En revanche, si des mines ne sont pas directement placées à l’intérieur d’une zone, mais que leurs effets peuvent affecter les zones limitrophes, alors cette dernière devient une « zone minée ». Également, la consultation des autres textes juridiques internationaux nous a permis de récupérer l’équivalent italien de l’expression « restes explosifs de guerre » le plus adéquat à ce contexte de spécialité. En l’occurrence, il s’agit d’un document consulté lors de la recherche des sources, à savoir la Relazione sullo stato di attuazione della legge concernente l'istituzione del fondo per lo sminamento umanitario, intéressant le rapport d’exécution de la loi pour l’institution du Fond d'affectation spéciale des Nations Unies pour l'assistance au déminage. Dans le rapport d’exécution, l’expression « residuati bellici esplosivi » apparaît. Des recherches supplémentaires au sujet du terme « residuato » ont affiché la définition offerte par l’encyclopédie Treccani: “Residuati di guerra (o r. bellici), tutto il materiale bellico recuperabile, sia sotto forma di rottami, sia sotto forma di macchine, attrezzi, ecc., ancora utilizzabili”[4]. Force est d’admettre que telle définition correspond parfaitement à celles spécifiées dans les clauses de la Convention sur les armes à sous-munitions, au-delà de donner épreuve de la précision lexicale de « residuato » dans ce domaine.

Dans cette perspective, il apparaît clairement que l’étude de la langue spécialisée passe obligatoirement par l’analyse des phénomènes linguistiques touchant les termes. La terminologie ne doit pas être interprétée en tant que collection d’unités de sens spécifiques d’un domaine donné déconnectées entre elles, mais qu’il est nécessaire de considérer aux fins d’étude les phénomènes linguistiques qui unifient ou, contrairement, diversifient les termes qui la composent. D’ailleurs, telle approche aboutit inévitablement à une maîtrise terminologique et notionnelle particulièrement solide.

Ainsi, la recherche terminologique s'élargit et s'enrichit conjointement à l’analyse linguistique, au moyen de la langue de spécialité qui devient aussi bien objet d'analyse qu'instrument de connaissance.

5. Analyse comparative des traductions

L'étude inter-linguistique jusqu’à présent exposée est fonctionnelle à l'exercice de traduction qui vise à la validation de la méthodologie proposée et des données obtenues. Cette section a donc pour but d'examiner si la démarche adoptée est valide en termes d'exactitude de la traduction et de précision terminologique. En particulier, les données obtenues ont été utilisées pour compléter le processus de traduction des traités suivants du français vers l'italien : 1) la Convention sur l'interdiction de la mise au point, de la fabrication, du stockage et de l'emploi des armes chimiques et sur leur destruction, 2) la Convention sur l'interdiction de la mise au point, de la fabrication et du stockage des armes bactériologiques (biologiques) ou à toxines et sur leur destruction, 3) la Convention sur l'interdiction de l'emploi, du stockage, de la production et du transfert des mines antipersonnel et sur leur destruction, 4) le Traité sur la non-prolifération des armes nucléaires de 1967 et 5) la Convention sur les armes à sous-munitions.

Dans le but de valider la méthodologie proposée, nous comparons notre tentative de traduction des textes avec leurs traductions officielles publiées par le Ministère de la Défense d’Italie.

Il faut aussi préciser ici que la phase de traduction proprement dite a été réalisée sans consultation préalable des traductions officielles qui auraient pu influencer nos choix terminologiques. De plus, afin de bénéficier de la réutilisation des données terminologiques précédemment produites, nous avons utilisé un système de traduction assistée par ordinateur, notamment SDL Trados Studio, qui nous a permis d'importer la collection terminologique précédemment constituée sur FAIRterm au moyen de SDL MultiTerm.

En règle générale, en ce qui concerne l’analyse comparative, de faibles différences d’ordre terminologique ou stylistique peuvent être observées, vraisemblablement en raison des exigences de fidélité textuelle exposées jusqu’à présent. Il s’agit notamment de subtilités stylistiques qui n’ont pas un caractère déterminant dans la spécificité du discours juridique et dont la nature n’affecte pas le contenu des dispositions internationales.

Certaines des solutions traductives rencontrées dans les textes ratifiés des traités témoignent une majeure maîtrise de la langue de spécialité du droit, alors qu’en d’autres cas, les choix terminologiques opérés à la suite de l’étude terminologique dénotent un haut degré de représentativité de l'expression linguistique du droit.

Sans prétention d'exhaustivité, les exemples suivants visent à illustrer les différences stylistiques relevées.

Texte original français

Traduction proposée en italien

Traduction officielle en italien

Convention sur les armes à sous-munitions

Art. 4

Dépollution et destruction des restes d’armes à sous-munitions et éducation à la réduction des risques.


sulle munizioni a grappolo

Art. 4

Bonifica e distruzione dei residuati di munizioni a grappolo ed educazione alla riduzione dei rischi.


sulle munizioni a grappolo

Art. 4

Rimozione e distruzione dei residuati di munizioni a grappolo ed educazione alla riduzione del rischio.

Tableau 1 – Exemples - Convention sur les armes à sous-munitions

D’abord, une différence remarquable identifiée dans la Convention sur l’interdiction des armes à sous-munition concerne la traduction du terme « dépollution ».

Dans la traduction officielle ratifiée, l’équivalent « rimozione » a été choisi ; tandis que nous avons privilégié l’équivalent « bonifica » en raison de l’étude terminologique. En effet, aussi correct qu’il soit, « rimozione » ne détient pas le même degré de spécificité de « bonifica », dont la pertinence au domaine du désarmement a été largement vérifiée lors de la compilation des fiches (comme d’ailleurs témoigné par certains documents spécialisés, tels que l’article publié dans la revue spécialisée du Ministero della Difesa « Il problema dello sminamento, la rivelazione e la localizzazione degli ordigni esplosivi »).

D’ailleurs, il est intéressant de noter que les différences rencontrées se réalisent principalement au niveau du préambule : en raison de sa nature, la communication du préambule accorde une majeure liberté des choix traductifs par rapport à la rigueur requise du contenu du dispositif. Sa traduction devient ainsi légèrement plus flexible et détachée du texte de départ – tout en sauvegardant l’efficacité communicative. Le tableau suivant en illustre quelques exemples.

Texte original français

Traduction proposée en italien

Traduction officielle en italien

Traité sur la non-prolifération des armes nucléaires

Considérant les dévastations qu'une guerre nucléaire ferait subir à l'humanité entière et la nécessité qui en résulte de ne ménager aucun effort pour écarter le risque d'une telle guerre […]

Trattato di non proliferazione delle armi nucleari

Considerando le conseguenze nefaste che una guerra nucleare causerebbe per tutta l’umanità e la conseguente necessità di compiere ogni sforzo per scongiurare tale rischio […]

Trattato di non proliferazione delle armi nucleari

Considerando la catastrofe che investirebbe tutta l’umanità nel caso di un conflitto nucleare e la conseguente necessità di compiere ogni sforzo per stornarne il pericolo […]

Convention sur l’interdiction de l’emploi du stockage, de la production et du transfert des mines antipersonnel et sur leur destruction

Soulignant l’opportunité de susciter l’adhésion de tous les États à la présente Convention, et déterminés à s’employer énergiquement à promouvoir son universalisation dans toutes les enceintes appropriées […]

Convenzione sulla proibizione dello sviluppo, produzione, immagazzinaggio ed uso di armi chimiche e sulla loro distruzione

Ribadendo la necessità di incoraggiare l'adesione di tutti gli Stati alla presente Convenzione, e determinati ad adoperarsi energicamente al fine di promuovere la sua universalizzazione in tutte le sedi opportune […]

Convenzione sulla proibizione dello sviluppo, produzione, immagazzinaggio ed uso di armi chimiche e sulla loro distruzione

Enfatizzando l'auspicio di poter convincere tutti gli Stati ad aderire a questa Convenzione, e determinati ad attivarsi senza sosta nel senso della promozione della sua universalità in tutti i fori competenti […]

Tableau 2 - Exemples - Traité sur la non-prolifération des armes nucléaires et Convention sur l’interdiction de l’emploi du stockage, de la production et du transfert des mines antipersonnel et sur leur destruction

Ces différents choix stylistiques sont sans incidence sur le résultat final de la traduction, d’où nous estimons que l’évaluation terminologique et la validation de l’approche méthodologique proposée ont produit des résultats optimaux en termes de décodage et de transcodage des informations spécialisées véhiculées.

6. Conclusion et perspectives

Cette étude s’est consacrée à proposer une méthodologie de traduction basée sur l'intégration d'outils issus de la linguistique de corpus et de la terminographie orientée à la traduction. Sur la base de l'approche proposée, nous avons collecté des données terminologiques bilingues relatives au domaine de spécialité du désarmement qui ont été mises à la libre disposition, consultation et réutilisation au profit des professionnels de la langue. En outre, nous avons proposé une validation de la méthodologie illustrée et des données obtenues en comparant notre tentative de traduction en italien des traités initialement rédigés en français avec les traductions italiennes officielles ratifiées en matière de désarmement. Les résultats obtenus en termes de précision terminologique permettent en ce sens d'affirmer que cette méthodologie est valable pour soutenir le processus de traduction, notamment en ce qui concerne les phases de décodage et de transcodage des informations spécialisées à véhiculer. Cependant, il convient de préciser que, afin de valider davantage le contenu théorique des données fournies, nous envisageons une nouvelle phase de révision par des experts du domaine juridique international.

En conclusion, cette étude se voulait principalement linguistique, mais elle s’est révélée transdisciplinaire, en investissant des champs tels que la langue, le droit et l'informatique, dont la synergie a rendu possible d’approfondir une analyse avantageuse à des fins linguistiques mais aussi théoriques.

Ce travail est bien loin d’être achevé, la discipline juridique étant vaste et articulée ; cependant, il a posé les bases pour définir la démarche analytique la plus convenable à explorer cette discipline. Sur la base de résultats recueillis, nous prévoyons ainsi d’appliquer cette approche terminologique à d’autres traités internationaux de désarmement, en vue d’approfondir davantage l’étude de la langue de spécialité du désarmement et d’enrichir la nouvelle base de données DITTO.


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[1] Bien que l'analyse spécifique de la terminologie du désarmement pour cette combinaison linguistique reste encore inexplorée, les études menées par Chiara Preite dans le cadre du droit communautaire et du droit international en général sont néanmoins d'une grande importance pour le couple linguistique italien-français :

[2] On entend par termicité le degré de détail auquel une unité linguistique est liée aux concepts spécifiques d’un domaine (Kageura et Umino 1996).

[3] « Les projectiles éclairants contiennent un dispositif (artifice éclairant) avec un parachute, qui, lorsqu'il est libéré dans l'air par une petite charge, reste suspendu pendant quelques minutes ». La traduction est la nôtre.

[4] « On entend par « restes de guerre » tout le matériel de guerre récupérable, que ce soit sous forme de ferraille, de machines, d’équipement, etc. encore utilisables. » la traduction est la nôtre.

About the author(s)

Federica Vezzani is assistant professor – RTDa – at the Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies of the University of Padua. Her main research interests are: Terminology, Terminography and Specialized Translation. In particular, she focuses on the management of multilingual terminology according to ISO standard for terminology, and she has developed the FAIR terminology paradigm for the optimal organization of findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable terminological data. She has been the recipient of a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Individual Fellowships (IF) grant and author of the book “Terminologie numérique : conception, représentation et gestion” published by Peter Lang in 2022.

Sara Silecchia is a freelance Italian translator with a keen interest in terminology and interpreting. Her working and study languages are English and French, she also studied Spanish though. She holds a Master’s Degree in Modern languages for communication and international cooperation from University of Padua and a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation and interpreting. Passionate about legal subjects, she decided to cultivate her strong interest by specializing in legal translation.

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©inTRAlinea & Federica Vezzani & Sara Silecchia (2023).
"La terminologie du désarmement : une étude traductive français-italien", inTRAlinea Vol. 25.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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The Fall and Rise of the Iranian Translator Communities at the Birth and Growth of the Arab Empire

By Parvaneh Ma‘azallahi (Vali-e-Asr University of Rafsanjan, Iran)


The Arab invasions of Iran between 633 AD and 654 AD eventually led to the fall of the Sāssānid Empire. While a new empire developed through the subsequent Arab conquests, both the Iranians and their Arab conquerors underwent cultural transformations. Concerning this, the present study focuses on the agency of translators in the translator communities influenced by rise of the Arab Empire and examines the dissolution of Nassibin and Gundishāpūr translator communities as well as constitution of a resistant translator community adhering to Shuʿūbiyya during the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750 CE). Additionally, the restoration and constitution of such translator communities as Nassibin, Gundishāpūr and Bayt al-Hikma during the ‘Abbāsid Caliphate (750-1258 CE) are considered. Against this background, it becomes apparent that these translator communities underwent different transformations and served different purposes depending on their relationship to the caliphate. For example, the Shuʿūbi community of translators primarily constituted for countering the Arab-centric Umayyad Caliphate succeeded in combating the Arabization policies through representing the Iranian pre-Islamic cultural splendor in Arabic. Later, benefiting the political leniency offered by the ‘Abbāsid caliphate, it laid the foundation for the Bayt al-Hikma, which culminated in a translation movement. This community and those already mentioned ultimately contributed to the renewal of Arab culture, the development of Islamic civilization and the preservation of Iranian identity.

Keywords: Arab-Iranian conflict, translator communities, Nassibin, Gundishāpūr, Bayt al-Hikma, Shuʻūbiyya movement

©inTRAlinea & Parvaneh Ma‘azallahi (2022).
"The Fall and Rise of the Iranian Translator Communities at the Birth and Growth of the Arab Empire", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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1. Introduction

During certain historical periods, nations such as Greeks, Arabs and Mongols emerged as conquerors whose conquests had far-reaching effects on the history of mankind. Iran was also afflicted by such conquerors, but Iranian identity has not disappeared but always resurrected, like the Simurgh (literally, phoenix) in Iranian mythology, according to Farokh (2011, p.7). Although this statement seems to underestimate the catastrophic aspects of such wars, it points to one fact, namely the changes in Iran’s socio-cultural milieu brought about by initiatives of both the invaders and Iranian cultural producers. Against this background, translators seem to play a crucial role in (re)forming both Iranian identity and that of the invaders, and such a role deserves special attention after the Arab and Mongol invasions of Iran[1]. In this context, translation was invoked as a means of cultural contestation and struggle, and went far beyond linguistic transposition or literary endeavor. This can be viewed from the perspective of translators’ engagement as outlined by Tymoczko (2000) and Tymoczko and Gentzler (2002). According to this, translators are engaged social agents who are involved in conflicts or struggles and participate in the formation of cultural constructions when they bridge gaps caused by linguistic change or a multilinguistic polity (Tymoczko, 2000, pp. 24-26). Against this background, translation performs multiple functions in the sense that translators do not merely perform as subservient subjects, rather, they can also act as resistant and activist social agents who assume reactive or proactive roles in relation to the power structure. In this respect, the relationship between translators and power structures is rethought, as the exercise of power is not simply realized as a matter of relentless oppression and coercion. Instead, translation, like other cultural activities, is mobilized for counter-discourse and subversion, or any number of mediating positions in between, and translation is a site of enunciation and a context of affiliation for the translator (Tymoczko, 2010). Taking this as a starting point, this paper examines the cultural policies of the power structure on the one hand, and the agency of translators in the historical context of Iran after Muslim Arab conquests in 654 AD, on the other. For this purpose, the dissolution, restoration and constitution of translator communities after the Arab invasion of Iran will be taken into account. Here, the concept of translator community has been conceived to refer to a group of translators who came together because of a common interest in translation as a cultural expression and also a commitment to certain values. Against this background, this paper will deal with subservience, resistance, and activism of translators whose initiatives were institutionalized or stifled through constitution or dissolution of translator communities, or whose partisanship to certain resistant social movements fostered oppositions to the principal power in the situation, or whose proactive initiatives culminated in the creation of counter-discourses and cultural changes within the framework of particular translator communities.

In the case of Iran after failure to the Arabs, cultural institutions such as Gundishāpūr, and Nassibin can be conceptualized as intellectual institutions which hosted translator communities that endorsed the power structure, while groups of dissident translators who joined the Shuʿūbiyya movement as an anti-Arab campaign can be considered as a resistant translator community that participated in the dialectic of power by challenging the discriminatory policies of the Arab governors and helped topple the power structure of Umayyad dynasty. Still engaged in Shuʿūbiyya but involved in the power structure, Shuʿūbi activist translators took a proactive role in the constitution of Bayt al-Hikma (literally, The House of Wisdom) and contributed in development of a translation movement during the ‘Abbāsid Caliphate.

As a context-oriented study, this paper draws on historical secondary sources concerning Iran’s cultural and socio-political environment as well as institutionalized and non-institutionalized translator communities after the Arab invasion. Based on this, a brief overview of the Iranians and Arabs war is first provided. Then, the impact of this war on the institutionalized translator communities active during the Sāssānid dynasty will be elaborated. Moreover, the establishment of a non-institutionalized translator community associated with the Shuʿūbiyya resistance movement as well as the restoration of Nassibin and Gundishāpūr and the constitution of Bayt al-Hikma will be brought to the fore. In this line, light is shed on the agency of Iranian translators during the process of formation of the Arab Empire, as both the policy exercised by the power in the situation and the reaction of the translators to adhere to this policy, to counteract it or to actively take the initiatives for cultural enhancement are taken into account. The concluding section shows how the engagement of translators within communities of translators that were dissolved, restored, or constituted after the Arab invasion contributed to the formation of Islamic civilization and the preservation of Iranian identity in the face of the early caliphs’ Arabization policies in the long run. To this end, the following questions are posed: a) how did the failure of the Sāssānid Empire affect translator communities? b) How did translators respond to the cultural policies of the Arab caliphs? c) What was the legacy of the translator communities concerned after the settlement of Arab rule in Iran?

2. Translation Zone in the Context of Sāssānid Empire

The encounters of the Iranians and Arabs are attributed to the decline of the Sāssānid power after Khosrow II when the political chaos and the inadequacy of the Iranian borderers led to Bedouin Arabs’ frequent incursions into Iranian territories (Zarrīnkūb, 2004, p. 259). However, the Arabs and the Iranians did not meet until the reign of the first Rashidun caliph Abu Bakr (632-4AD), and this confrontation was followed by Arab victories in Qādisiyyah, Iraq, and Nihāvand after frequent losses and victories. After the conquest of Nihāvand in 642 AD, which was called the “Victory of Victories” by the Arabs, the collapse of the Sāssānid power as a four centuries old power that had defied Rome and Byzantium was final and the Iranian Sāssānid Empire succumbed to the Arabs with their religion, Islam (Zarrīnkūb in Fry, 2007, p.16). This failure had far-reaching and disastrous effects on the cultural milieu of Iran, for the Arabs had a negative attitude towards the Persian languages and the works written in these languages, which is why libraries were burned in Madain (Zarrīnkūb, 1957, p. 94) and books were thrown to water after the permission of the second Rashidun caliph, i.e. ‘Umar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb (r. 634-664 AD), who believed that if what is written in these books is the correct guidance, God has given the Arabs a better guidance, and if it is an error, God has protected them from these books (Ibn Khaldūn in Bsoul, 2019, p. 67). Such initiatives led to “a two hundred year silence of Iranians while they used to compose the finest Pahlavi poetry and also Mānavi liturgies” (Zarrīnkūb, 1957, p. 94), and no traces of Iranian culture and literature remained in the first and half centuries of the Arab conquest (Mohammadi-Mallayeri, 2000, pp. 46-48).

Concerning translation in Iran after the Arab invasion, what Zarrīnkūb (1957, p. 94) calls a “two hundred years of silence” is evident in the one hundred and fifty-years dissolution of translator communities institutionalized in the intellectual centers of Nassibin and Gundishāpūr by the Sāssānid Kings in Iran. More specifically, in Sāssānid Empire (224 -651 AD) as a multilingual and multinational empire, different languages such as Sogdian, Parthian, Bactrian, Syriac, Greek, Latin, and Pahlavi were spoken by people in different areas and for different purposes. For example, Latin was spoken as the language of science and philosophy in a region that stretched from the Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent (Āzarang, 2015, p.57), therefore, the territory under Sāssānid rule was a “translation zone” where interaction between languages took place (Simon in Gambier& Van Doorslaer, 2014, p.181). The bilingual and trilingual inscriptions of the early Sāssānids in languages such as Middle Persian, Parthian and Greek are evidence of this. In this context, translation was patronized by Sāssānid kings, for example Khosrow I (531-579 AD) was famous for his love of literature and philosophy and under his reign works from Greek, Syriac and Sanskrit were translated into Pahlavi (Morony, 1977, p. 78). Under the patronage of Khosrow I, two translator communities, namely Nassibin and Gundishāpūr, were institutionalized which fell prey to the Arab invaders and were approximately disbanded for about one hundred and fifty years as follows.

2.1 Flourish and Fall of Nassibin and Gundishāpūr Translator Communities

Nassibin, now in modern Turkey, can be traced as an ancient city to the time of the Assyrians (2500 -609 BC). This city was in Persian hands after 363 AD and became the center of the eponymous theological school founded by the monk Jacob of Nisibis until the Arab conquest under the command of Ilyad ibn Ghanm in 639 AD (Honigmann, 1993, p. 984). Before being surrounded by the Arab invaders, Nassibin functioned as a center for the spread of Hellenistic philosophical culture, especially after 489 AD when many Christians were deported from Byzantium because of their Nestorian beliefs and were welcomed by Khosrow I, who established a special school of Christological teachings for them in Nassibin (Bsoul, 2019, p.57). By way of explanation, Nestorianism and the Dyophysite doctrines were two rival schools of Christianity. The Nestorians emphasized the distinctness of the two natures in the person of Jesus Christ and stressed the completeness of his human nature. This reading was not tolerated by the Roman Church and the Nestorian school in Edessa was closed in 471 AD. However, it was reopened and continued to flourish under Persian authority in Nisibis (Sahbāzi, 2005), where the translation found a resistant edge due to the translators’ adherence to Nestorian doctrine and opposition to the Byzantine Empire within a community of translators engaged in translating Greek philosophy and Aristotelian texts.This resistant community of translators not only succeeded in transmitting Greek philosophy to the Iranian intelligentsia, but also participated in the dialectic of power. In other words, under the patronage of Khosrow I, the Nassibin translator community succeeded in propagating its religious doctrine and contributed to the breakdown of relations between the Iranian Christians and Byzantine Church as the official church of the Byzantine Empire as a long-time political rival of the Sāssānid Empire.

Unlike the Nassibin translator community, which was endowed with a resistant edge, the translator community constituted in the hospital and medical university of Gundishāpūr was concerned with medicine as a secular science and showed no affiliations or oppositions to any religious or political doctrines. Although both suffered the same fate after the Iranian defeat by the Arab invaders. Similar to Nassibin, the translator community of Gundishāpūr was also established under the patronage of Khosrow I, who first founded the city of Gundishāpūr in Khuzestan and then settled the Greek prisoners there. However, this city became a place of refuge where many intellectuals from different backgrounds migrated. As Nagamia (2003) explains, many Syrians sought refuge in Gundishāpūr when Antioch was conquered by Shāpūr I (240-270 AD) and Nestorians also found refuge under the patronage of Shāpūr II when the school of Edessa was purged by the Byzantines in 457 AD and later closed by Emperor Zeno in 489 AD and as reported by historians such as Abu Mansour Tha’alibi (in Āzarang, 2015, p. 57) more than one hundred and twenty Iranian, Indian and Greek physicians worked in Gundishāpūr. Moreover, during the reign of Khosrow I as the golden age of this university, some Iranian scholars were sent abroad to search for scientific sources which were later translated into Persian. In the meantime, many Syriac philosophical sources as well as Indian medical sources were translated in Gundishāpūr, where a community of subservient translators was involved in the dissemination and creation of knowledge, and although “medical teaching in Gundishāpūr was modeled after Alexandria and Antioch, it became more specialized and efficient in its new Persian home” (Sayili in Lewis et al., 1991, p.1121).

Although the cities of Nassibin and Gundishāpūr survived the Iran-Arab war, the translator communities and other communities of cultural production were largely, if not completely, dissolved as Sāssānid patronage was no longer available and a large number of the “Sāssānid elites and the Zoroastrian Mowbeds, who had exclusive access to literacy, were slaughtered”, (Zarrīnkūb, 1975, p. 95), and only a limited number of Nestorian scholars were sporadically engaged in compiling and translating books into Syriac, which was falling into disrepair along with languages such as Sogdian, Pahlavi, and Khwarezmian, which were rapidly being replaced by Arabic. Against this background, and due to the oppressive conditions that dominated the socio-political environment after the rule of the second Arab caliphate, i.e. the Umayyads, a resistant translator community arose as explained below.

2.2 The Shuʿūbi Resistant Community of Translators: A Countermove to the Arabization policy of the Umayyads

Although Persian was widely used as a lingua franca throughout the Islamic era (Mohammadi-Malayeri, 2000, p. 93), it was used as an official and administrative language of the Arab Empire only for eighty years and then replaced by Arabic. More specifically, during the Rashidun Caliphate (632-661 AD), as the founder of the Arab Empire, the Pahlavi language was used to administer Iran, and tolerance was exercised towards non-Arab Muslims. However, after the rise of the Umayyad caliphate (661-750 AD), tolerance towards the Mawalis or non-Arab Muslims declined sharply and attempts were made to keep them out of the ruling circle. In this line, during the reign of ‘Abd al-Mālik (r. 685-705 AD), the Arabization policy was pursued and Arabic was enforced as the state language throughout Arab Empire. In the case of Iran, the first step in this process was taken by Al-Hajjāj ibn Yūsuf (661-714 AD), who changed the administrative language of the Iraqi[2] court from Pahlavi to Arabic. This met with resistance from the Iranian bureaucrats, especially the secretaries and viziers who were granted high-ranking posts to follow the Sāssānid model of administration after the conquest of Iran. These Iranian bureaucrats, who came from the upper class of society and old Iranian families, had an excellent command of Arabic and used it to administer the government, but spoke Persian in their daily communications and in non-official contexts (Iqbāl-Ashtiāni, 2007, p.71) in order to resist the Arabization policy. This resistance reached its peak in the Persianizing movement known as Shuʿūbiyya which from the second half of the eight century into the tenth century was directed against “the racial dominance and hegemony of the Arab despots who misused Islam as an instrument for the disappearance of Iranian identity and the dissolution of the Iranian nation in Arab Empire” (Nath& Goldziher, 1992, pp. 62-7). Gibb (1982, p. 66) views this movement as a cultural resistance that coincided with anti-Arab and also anti-Islamic uprisings in the northern provinces of Iran and was supported by Iranian secretaries, if not viziers, in the courts of the caliphs “not to destroy the Islamic empire, but to remold its political and social institutions and the inner spirit of Islamic culture on the model of the Sāssānid institutions and values, which represented in their eyes the highest political wisdom”. These efforts reached their peak towards the end of the seventh century, when Iranians turned strongly against the Umayyad, “who had become not only oppressive but also blatantly profane” (Canfield, 2002, p. 5). In this line, a community of translators showing engagement in the nationalist movement of the Shuʿūbiyya was constituted “to represent the cultural excellence of the Iranian nation in literature, history, and science or to swagger about the political excellence and splendour of the Iranian kings” (Sediqi, 1993, pp. 92-6). The most prominent members of this community were al-Balādhurī, Ishāb ibn Yazid, Mohammad ibn al-Jahm al-Barmaki, Hosham ibn al-Qāsem al-Isfahāni, Mohammad ibn Bahrām ibn Matyār al-Isfahāni, Bahrām ibn Mardānshāh, Bahrām Haravi Majousi, and Ibn al-Muqaffaʻ. This community can be seen as a resistant community that strove to create an image of pre-Islamic splendour to fight against the Arab-centric policies of the Umayyads. From Tymoczko’s (2000) perspective, the Umayyad dynasty sought to create an image of Arab Muslims as superior people, elevated above non-Arab Muslims, and granted special sociopolitical rights to Arab Muslims. To combat this discriminatory policy, the Shuʿūbi translators sought to create a counter-image of their past in order to resist the cultural hegemony of the Umayyads. In this vein, Ibn al-Muqaffaʻ produced translations from Pahlavi into Arabic with the titles Khwadāy-Nāmag[3] , Āʻīn-nāma[4] , Kitāb al-tāj, and Kitāb Mazdak to paint a picture of Persian pre-Islamic glory by highlighting the culture, nature, and behaviour of Iranian nobles and kings as well as their religion, customs, skills, arts, and sciences. Such translations acted as double-edged swords in the sense that they “not only benefited the Shuʿūbiyya movement, but also spread Iranian thought, Persian figures of speech and style among Muslim Arabs, who later adhered to the literary style of Iranian writers and poets in their literary works” (Sediqi, 1993, pp. 93-95). Despite the large number of translations and also original works written by Shuʻūbi translators and writers, only a few are available. This is because many Muslims considered them anti-Islamic and did not copy them (Amin in Momtahen, 1990). However, their influence was enormous. For example, regarding the influence of Ibn al-Muqaffa’s translations and original works, Gabrieli (in Latham, 2012) believes that “his works soon became classics of the great ʻAbbāsid civilization, and by their form as well as their content exerted an influence on the cultural interests and ideals of succeeding generations that cannot be exaggerated,” and regarding the role of the Shuʿūbi translators in preserving pre-Islamic Iranian culture, Rypka (1968, p. 150) believes that it is to be regretted that traditional Iranian literature in Islam and in Arabic translation has been preserved only in random fragments. And not even that much would have been handed down to us had not the Shuʿūbiyya emerged, a movement in which the hitherto subjugated Persian nation could raise its head, this time entirely under the guise of Islam, and point with pride to the glorious past of Iran.

Against the Persianizing movement of the Shuʿūbiyya, including its community of translators, the Arabs showed their first literary reactions towards the end of the eighth century and “two schools of Arabic letters” came into existence in Iraq, (Gibb, 1982, p. 65). These schools were entirely distinct from each other, came from different sources, were animated by a different spirit, served different purposes, and gradually turned completely antagonistic to each other. By way of explanation, Arabic adab (literally, literature) arose from the close connection between Koranic studies and Arabic philology in the seventh century. While, the old Perso-Aramaic culture of Iraq, the centre of Manichaeism, carried a kind of free thought that formed the basis for the literary school propagated by the Shuʿūbi movement (ibid).Though at first there was no rivalry between them, either literary or national, the antagonism between these two schools reached its highest point in the ninth century, when advocates of Shuʿūbiyya, called Shuʿūbis, proclaimed the superiority of Persians over Arabs and defended their claim by social and cultural, not religious, arguments (ibid.). Against this background, according to Enderwitz (in Bosworth et al., 1993, p.515), Shu‘ubis spread the concept of free thinking and Manichean tendencies that were seeded in pre-Islamic culture, provoking skepticism among the educated. Herein lay the danger of the Shuʿūbiyya. The reaction was both Arabian and Islamic and eventually led to the final victory of the Arabian humanities and the decline of the Shuʿūbiyya in the tenth century when the Bayt al-Hikma was founded in Baghdad (Enderwitz in Bosworth et al., 1993, p.515). As will be shown in the coming sections, this intellectual center included a community of translators engaged in translation of Greek logic and philosophy. In Enderwitz’s view, these translations were so effective in fighting against the dualistic tendencies such as Manichaeism that in the long run they led to the death of the Shuʿūbiyya movement in Iran. Accordingly, the Shuʻūbi community of translators was dissolved, although “it saved the Iranian identity from the dire fate that befell other nations conquered by the Arab invaders, that is to say, it prevented the complete transformation of Iranian culture, identity, language, and rituals” (Nath& Goldziher, 1992, pp. 62-7). Moreover, in spite of Shu‘ubis Anti-Arab motivations especially during the eighth and ninth century AD, Shu‘ubi community of translators left a considerable cultural legacy for the Arabs through translating Indian, Greek, and Pahlavi books, as well as the ancient fairy tales and pre-Islamic stories, into Arabic. Some examples in this point are translations such as The History of al-Tabari, The History of Masoudi, The Lives of Kings, etc. Apart from such translations which were produced for translators’ affiliation with the Shuʿūbiyya movement, according to Mohammadi Malayeri (2000, p.29), Iranian elites who served as viziers or secretaries in the Arab administrative apparatus promoted or produced translations in subjects such as geography, history, literature, and writing techniques an example being the translations of ʻAbd-al-Ḥamīd Kāteb (d. 132), secretary to the last Umayyad caliph, namely Marwān II (744-50 AD), whose elegant style and phraseology in his translations served as a model for Arabic writings and laid the foundation for the tarassol style in Arabic. Though such translations were individualistic and no community of translators was constituted in this regard, these translational endeavors reached their peak in the Islamic Golden era during the ‘Abbāsid caliphate from the 8th to the 13th century AD and paved the way for the constitution of a momentous community of translators in the intellectual center of Bayt al-Hikma. In this condition, the Arabization policy of the Umayyad caliphs bore fruit and Arabic transformed into the language of science and culture from the eighth century onwards. Contributing to this process were Arabic translations produced by the community of translators, as well as those produced through the patronage of Iranian bureaucrats in the Umayyad court in a submissive manner. In Lazard words

That Arabic should have fared thus in Iran was due not simply to its being the language of the Qur’an, […], but also resulted from its having become the repository of most of the treasures of the Iranian tradition. The ancient books of history, wisdom and science, the romances, stories and fables had all been translated into Arabic and they were known to educated Iranians much more from these translations than from the original works in Pahlavi. Even some Arabic poetry was, as it seems, permeated with the influence of Sāssānid poetry. In the 9th century, […], there was probably nothing of importance to be found in Pahlavi texts which was not available, more conveniently, in Arabic. Arabic literature was therefore not foreign to the Iranians: they contributed to it themselves as translators and as original writers and it is known that many of the greatest “Arabic” writers and scholars were Iranians. In the Golden Age of ‘Abbāsid civilization, Arabic literature no longer belonged to the Arabs alone, but was the common property of the peoples of the caliphate, among whom Iranians played a leading part. (Lazard in Frye, 1975, p. 603)

The transformation of Arabic into the language of science in an empire that stretched from Central Asia to the Middle East and Southwest Europe, as well as the further adaptation of the ‘Abbāsid caliphs to the culture of the conquered peoples, such as the Iranians, coupled with further influence of Shuʿūbi members of the court culminated with a golden age of translation as will be shown in the next section.

3. The ʻAbbāsid Caliphate: Heyday of the Translator Communities and Birthday of a Translation Movement

In the eighth century, a general uprising led to the collapse of the Umayyads and brought another Arab family to power, namely the ‘Abbāsids. Under the ʻAbbāsids, the Shuʿūbiyya movement, which had been occult during the Umayyad caliphate, became evident and its representatives penetrated the structure of power, (Bahrami-Ahmadi, 2003, p.147), and the Persian customs became the style of the ruling elite. Affecting the demeanor of the Sāssānid Persian emperors, the ‘Abbāsids wore Persian clothing, instituted Persian offices, and established their new capital Baghdad near the Sāssānid capital, supporting artists and scholars who celebrated their rule (Canfield, 2002, p. 5). In this process, the Shuʿūbiyya movement is considered to have played a crucial role by some scholars such as Ja‘farian (1996), who believes that the Shuʿūbiyya efforts helped the collapse of the Umayyad. In this context, the contribution of Iranian translators to Arab civilization was encouraged by the restoration and establishment of translator communities such as those of Nassibin, Gundishāpūr, and Bayt al-Hikma. This was achieved through the efforts of Iranian bureaucrats and scholars who came from distinguished Iranian families such as the Barmakis, Tahirid, Sahl, and Nowbakht, and eventually culminated in the Arab cultural renaissance and the Islamic Golden Age. The translation related work of these bureaucrats differed from that of their compatriots during the Umayyad dynasty in the sense that some ‘Abbāsid caliphs became personally enthusiastic about translation and this served as an impetus for the work of Iranian bureaucrats, viziers or translators. A case in point is Al-Mansūr (754-755 A.D.), the second ‘Abbāsid Caliph, who is “considered the first ‘Abbāsid caliph to promote translation” (Bsoul, 2019, p.77). Under the reign of Al-Mansūr, the Arab aristocratic monopoly of high offices was destructed. In this line, the Iranian family of Barmakis were firmly established in the power and the Persian influences became stronger and stronger, hence, Sāssānid models were followed in the court and the government, and Persians began to play an increasingly important part in both political and cultural life (Lewis in Gibb 1986, p. 17). Similar to the Sāssānid kings, this caliph tried to promote translation financially and, due to his personal interest in astronomy, summoned a Zoroastrian and Iranian astronomer named Nowbakht and Abū Sahl to Baghdad to translate astronomical sources from Persian into Arabic (Mohammadi Malayeri, 1995, p. 138). Ibn Bakhtishū as the chief physician of Gundishāpūr was another Iranian scholar summoned to the court of Al-Mansur. This marked the first contact between Baghdad as the capital of the ‘Abbāsids and the school of Gundishāpūr, whose community of translators “benefited Islamic civilization by translating medical sources as well as Greek heritage into Arabic” (Bsoul, 2019, p.63). The most important translators of this community who showed engagement to the ‘Abbāsid cultural policies were Georgios ibn Bukhtishū and his son Jibrail ibn Bukhtishū ibn Georgios, and Yūḥannā ibn Māsawayh. In addition to Gundishāpūr, the intellectual center of Nassibin was also revitalized by the patronage of ‘Abbāsid Caliphs, especially Al-Mansūr and Hārūn al-Rashid (786-809 AD), and the Nassibin translator community became “another source of Greek transfer to Islamic civilization” (Bsoul, 2019, p. 57). In other words, prior to the ‘Abbāsid dynasty, translation patronage was not exercised on the basis of a specific translation policy by the Arab caliphs and the Sāssānid cultural and scientific heritage was translated into Arabic either by the adherents of the Shuʿūbiyya movement as a resistance to the racial and cultural hegemony of the Arabs or by the Iranian bureaucrats who personally initiated or commissioned translations. To name a few, Zādāan ibn Farokh, Sālem ibn Farokh, Jabaleh ibn Farokh, and ‘Abdol Hamid, who belonged to the same family, served as secretaries to Ziyād ibn Abihi (665-670 AD), Hishām ibn ʻAbd al-Malik (724-6 AD), and Marvān II (744-750 AD) during the Umayyad caliphate and translated various Sāssānid sources into Arabic. After the fall of Umayyad caliphate, however, translation transformed from an individualized endeavor that would soon wither away with the disappearance of certain individuals to a cornerstone of state policy. A prominent example of such a policy is the establishment of the Bayt al-Hikma, which was supposedly founded by Hārūn al-Rashid “to serve as an academy where scholars and learners would meet” (Bsoul, 2019, p.71). The growing influence of Iranian bureaucrats and the increasing enthusiasm of ʻAbbāsid caliphs in commissioning translations of various sources into Arabic culminated in a translation movement that had an enormous impact on the history of scholarship. This translation movement relied heavily on the patronage of caliphs such as Al-Mansūr, Al-Maʻmūn, and Harūn al-Rashid, whose cultural initiatives such as the establishment of various schools and libraries and the veneration of cultural figures such as writers and translators created a golden age of Arab civilization and even human civilization. As a result of this movement, a large number of books in the fields of astronomy, medicine, philosophy, literature, and mathematics were translated into Arabic (see Zaydan, 1993, pp. 570-575) by communities of translators established mainly in centers such as Nassibin, Gundishāpūr, and Bayt al-Hikma who were showing engagement to the cultural policies of the power structure.

3.1 The Founding of Bayt al-Hikma: From the Resistance to the Supremacy of the Shu’ubis

After the advent of Islam and the Arab conquests, many libraries were burned by the Arab conquerors, but the acculturation of the Arab Muslims in contact with different civilizations led to the establishment of many libraries by them (Zadayn, 1993, p. 630). An example of this is Bayt al-Hikma. Apart from the idiosyncratic functioning of this library including its community of translators in transmitting knowledge and wisdom to the Arab culture, the central role of the Shuʻūbi translators is noteworthy in this context. As Zaydan (1993, p. 632) points out, Bayt al-Hikma was founded and administered by Iranians, and most of those who went to this library and its translation bureau were Iranians who advocated Shuʿūbiyya and were enemies of the Arabs. These included Sahl ibn Hārūn (78-830 CE) as one of the administrators of Bayt al-Hikma and ʻAlan ibn Maghsūd Varāgh (n.d.). Against this background, the followers of the Shuʿūbiyya, who operated in secrecy during Umayyad rule, took advantage of the opportunity of the free sociopolitical environment afforded them after the ʻAbbāsid revolution to such an extent that they were able to freely disseminate their anti-Arab thoughts in their literary productions and functioned more as activist than as resistant translators. Abān ibn ʻAbd al-Hamid ibn Lāheqi, a poet of the late second Islamic century, is among these cultural figures whose anti-Arab tendencies are reflected in his poetry (Bahrami-Ahmadi, 2003, p.149). This poet, who enjoyed the patronage of the Barmakis, also translated and versified some Pahlavi books such as Kalīla wa Demna, Belawhar wa Būdāsf, the Book of Sindbad, the Book of Mazdak (Abbās, 1982).

Freedom and also dominance of the Shuʿūbiyya followers in the cultural milieu, especially in the Bayt al-Hikma, can be seen in the context of the administrative policies of the ʻAbbāsid caliphs, according to which tolerance was shown towards various ideologies in Islamic society under the rule of the ʻAbbāsid rulers, especially the first one. As Gutas (1998, p. 29) puts it, the ʻAbbāsid caliphate was brought to power through a civil war involving various factions. Therefore, al-Mansūr and his successors tried to keep their ideological appeasement in mind and legitimize their rule by satisfying factions such as the Persian-origin Arabs and the Arameans by expanding their imperial ideology to include the concerns of the “Persian” portion. In this sense, they promulgated the view that the ʻAbbāsid caliphate was not only the descendants of the Prophet, but at the same time the successor of the ancient imperial dynasties in Iraq and Iran, from the Babylonians to the Sasanians, and therefore adopted the Sasanian culture (ibid.). In this process, “Iranian bureaucrats and viziers who were mostly, if not completely, advocates of Shuʿūbiyya at heart and financially supported this movement” is attention-worthy (Homaee, 2004, p. 106). Among these viziers was Abu Salameh Khalāl (d. 750 AD), who played a significant role in the collapse of the Ummayad dynasty and served the first ʻAbbāsid caliph named al-Saffāh (721-754 AD), Abū Ayūb Mūriani (d. 771 AD), Yaʻqūb ibn Dāvūd (802 AD), Yahyā ibn Khālid Barmaki (d. 805 A.D.), Fadl ibn Sahl (770-818 AD), and Hassan ibn Sahl (782-851 AD), who served al-Mansūr, al-Mahdi (744-785 AD), Hārūn al-Rashid, and al-Maʻmūn (786-833 AD), respectively (Momtahen, 1990, pp. 181-2). In this context, the caliphate was reshaped along the lines of the Sāssānids, activism of Shuʿūbi translators bore fruit and Bayt al-Hikma was constituted through financial support of Hārūn al-Rashid, who was characterized by a passion for science and literature as well as religious and intellectual tolerance, similar to Khosrow I (Bsoul, 2019, p.46). Against this background, Bayt al-Hikma was used to collect, preserve, and translate the classical philosophical and scientific works, as well as to promote the study of medicine and related fields, which provided a model for many later Muslim universities (Newby, 2002, p. 43). The school of Gundishāpūr served as a model in this process and foreign manuscripts were provided by this school where an enormous wealth of Latin manuscripts in addition to an equal number of other documents of Indian and Chinese origin were available for scholars to translate into Arabic (El-Tom in Martin, 2004, p.295). In addition to the manuscripts from Gundishāpūr, al-Ma’mūn (813-833 AD), the successor of Hārūn al-Rashid, sent emissaries throughout the Mediterranean world to seek and acquire books on “ancient scholarship”, which were then brought back to Baghdad and translated into Arabic by a body of scholars (Hughes in Martin, 2003 , p.612).

Unlike the translations presented by the Shuʻūbi translators during the Umayyad caliphate, translation was no longer practiced in the Bayt al-Hikma or other translator communities as an instrument of resistance, but as a means of activism and cultural promotion at the time when, according to Zaydan (1993, p. 594) kings, viziers, rulers, Arabs, Iranians, Romans, Indians, Turks, Jews, Egyptians, Christians, etc. supported or produced cultural productions in different areas such as Egypt, Iraq, Fars, Khorasan, etc. Against this background, Iranian translators such as ‘Umar ibn Farrukhān Tabari, and Ibn Mūsā al-Nawbakhti joined the community of translators constituted in Bayt al-Hikma, working with a group of translators of other nationalities, for instance, Ibn Mūsā al-Nawbakhti worked with a group of translators that included Abū ʻUthmān al-Dimashqi, Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-Ibadi, and Thābit ibn Qurra to translate books of philosophy and classical Greek and Persian texts into Arabic and Syriac in Bayt al-Hikma (Ibn Nadim in Dodge, 1970, pp. 440, 589). This suggests an intercultural exchange between the Iranians as the conquered and the Arabs as the conqueror after the fall of the Sāssānid Empire from which both sides benefited. Because

“The Islamic conquest of Persia enabled the Persians to become members of an international society and to participate in a world-wide civilization in whose creation they themselves played a basic role. A homogeneous civilization which spread from the heart of Asia to Europe, possessing a common religion and a common religious and also scientific language, facilitated the exchange of ideas and prepared the ground for one of the golden ages in the history of science, in which the Persians had a major share”. (Nasr in Frye, 1975, p. 396)

Within such an international society, Bayt al-Hikma under the patronage of the ʻAbbāsid caliphs, and also under the auspices of Shuʻūbi translators and bureaucrats served as a meeting place of “scholars, physicians, philosophers, astronomers, and scholars of mechanics and crafts who translated various books of science and the arts” (Bsoul, 2019, pp. 64-6) and paved the way “for the foundation of medieval sciences in both the Islamic and Christian worlds” (Hughes in Martin, 2003, p.612).  However, after a century it fell into disrepair as the power of the ʻAbbāsids began to wane and eventually it met the fate of other intellectual centers and it was sacked by the Mongols after the siege of Baghdad in 1258. In this sense, it seems that with the appearance, flourishing and decline of Arab Empire, the translator communities in Iran experienced stagnation, restoration and decline.

4. Conclusion

 From our perspective on the activity of translation after the fall of Sāssānid Empire by the Arab invaders, it follows that translation has been instrumental in the cultural renaissance of the Arab invaders and also in the preservation of the cultural identity of Iranians as the conquered nation. Such functioning was not feasible except through the collective efforts of translators who came together in specific communities and took a stand on the cultural policies exercised by the ruling caliphate structure, and this did not happen abruptly, for after the failure of the Iranians to the Arab conquerors, the translator communities functioning in the Nassibin and Gundishāpūr schools experienced one hundred fifty years of stagnation due to the fall of their Sāssānid patrons on the one hand and the neglect of the Arab Caliphs such as Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphs, who were preoccupied with the military expansion of the Arab Empire and the Arabization policy that granted the Arab Muslims supremacy over the non-Arabs, on the other hand. This testifies to the repressive function of power in relation to translation, while the constitution of the Shuʿūbi resistant community of translators who mobilized against the cultural hegemony of the Arabs at this time points to the reactive role of translators who participated in ideological and political struggles in their own time and place. Interestingly, this resistant community served a different purpose as the power structure of the Arab empire was reshaped along Sāssānid lines and leniency was shown to Shuʿūbi agents on a sociopolitical level. In this context, translators who were committed to the Shuʿūbiyya no longer viewed translation as a means of resistance but as a tool to realize their activism and participate in the renaissance of Arab culture and the cultural identity of the Arab Empire. It can be seen, then, that not only were translator communities subject to different vicissitudes during the emergence and growth of the Arab Empire, but also that translators’ agency varied according to what they felt committed. As the Arab Empire leaned towards leniency and tolerance, translators’ engagement in resistance died away and translators took the initiative to express their activism in the emerging civilization. As the Arab Empire continued to grow, translation changed from an instrument of identity preservation to an instrument of identity formation, not to mention those subservient translations which were produced in accordance with the ideas of the ruling caliphs. Eventually, each resistance, activist, and even submissive translator community functioned in its own way, ensuring the preservation of Iranian pre-Islamic culture, albeit in the Arabic language, and enriching Arab cultural heritage or Islamic civilization.


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[1] On the transformation of the Mongol identity see Sonat-e-Tarjome dar Asr-e Ilkhanan va Teimurian [literally, Translation Tradition during the Ilkhanate and Teimurid Dynasties in Iran]

[2] During the late Sāssānid era, Iraq provided one-third of the land tax for the entire Sāssānid state and Sāssānid property owned by members of the Sāssānid royal family were located in Iraq. After Iran conquest, especially, from the time of Moʻāwia there was an increasing trend to consolidate the responsibility for Persia in the hands of a single governor in Iraq. See [url=][/url]

[3] The Book of Lords

[4] The Book of Manners

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"The Fall and Rise of the Iranian Translator Communities at the Birth and Growth of the Arab Empire", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

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Taxis and logico-semantic relations in English-Arabic translation

By Waleed Othman & Dima Al Qutob (University of Petra, Jordan)


This is a quantitative SFL-based study that is aimed at evaluating an Arabic translation of an English comparative religion text with respect to the realisation of tactic and logico-semantic relations. The evaluation is conducted against the source text and a reference corpus of Arabic non-translations, or original texts, from the same genre. Based on the proposed criteria for determining types of taxis and logico-semantic relations in Arabic discourse, relative frequencies of the tokens of those relations are calculated in isolation and as intersections. The main findings show interesting similarities and differences between the TT, ST, and non-translations concerning distributions of tactic and logico-semantic relations. Specifically, the TT was found to follow a division of labour between hypotaxis and parataxis that is closer to the English ST than to the Arabic non-translations. The results also suggest that the construal of expansion relationships in the TT is incongruent with the TL or TL genre conventions. This incongruency was attributed to the translator’s literal approach to translation at the clause nexus/complex level.

Keywords: systemic functional linguistics, logico-semantic relations, taxis, translation, ArabicEnglish translation

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"Taxis and logico-semantic relations in English-Arabic translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

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1. Introduction

Arabic has often been described as a language that favours coordination over subordination. A number of studies contrast Arabic and English with respect to coordination and subordination, including Aziz (1989), Reid (1992), Hamdan and Fareh (1999), Othman (2004), and Fareh (2006). The tendency of Arabic to make more use of coordination is a main conclusion in these studies. Other studies with the main focus on Arabic conjunctions or connectives also conclude that coordination is favoured over subordination (e.g. Fareh 1998, Al-Batal 1985). A recent study by Dickens (2017) analyses aspects of the pervasiveness of coordination over subordination in Modern Standard Arabic. Dickens argues that Arabic favours coordination linguistically, textually and rhetorically. Linguistically, Arabic makes abundant use of such conjunctions as و [/wa-/ and] and ف [/fa-/ so, and, then], and there is a high possibility of backgrounding coordinated clauses.[1] Textually, Arabic makes extensive use of (near-) synonym repetition and chained coordination, favouring coordination over subordination. Finally, Arabic is also known to make rhetorical use of coordination, as in hypernym-hyponym repetition and associative repetition (as in السفينة وطاقمها [/ʾal-safīnatu wa- ṭāqamuhā/ the ship and its crew].[2]

Relevant translation research based on systemic functional linguistics (SFL) is scarce. Fattah (2010) investigates clause complexing and conjunctive explicitation in a specially compiled corpus of Arabic translations and comparable non-translations. Focusing on causative and concessive conjunctive markers, Fattah finds lexicogrammatical evidence of explicitational shifts in selected target texts, confirming findings of earlier studies on explicitation. In a similar study, Othman (2019) compares cause construal in a translation from Arabic into English, both with the source text (ST) and respective non-translations. The analysis shows shifts in the realisation of cause-effect relationships across different metafunctional spaces.

In this study, we adopt an SFL perspective to evaluate an Arabic translation of an English text from the genre of comparative religion, first against a sample of non-translations from five Arabic books from the same genre and then against the ST. The aim is not to prove or refute the pervasiveness of coordination in Arabic writing, as this has been shown to be true in the literature (see above, but see also Farghal 2017, who challenges this claim). Nor does this research aim to draw up relations between comparative religion on the one hand and tactic and lexico-grammatical relations on the other hand; this specific genre is used here for the following reason. One of the authors of the current research was commissioned to evaluate the target text (TT) in terms of naturalness of expression, mainly at the textual level. To provide a research-based evaluation, this author decided to compare the TT not only with the ST, but also with a reference corpus of similar texts originally written in the target language (TL). This line of research (e.g. Hansen-Schirra 2003, Matthiessen 2015) is basically quantitative in nature, whereby original texts, or non-translations, are analysed to identify patterns based on frequencies and distributions. The patterns that may emerge from the analysis are seen as the product of conventions or style appropriate to the genre of Arabic comparative religion writings and can thus be regarded as a benchmark for evaluating genre-relevant translations. In fact, the current research can be a first step in an ambitious project aimed at identifying norms and conventions in different genres and text types, which can be used in translation assessment and teaching.

The investigation concerns the two logical systems of taxis (parataxis and hypotaxis, which roughly relate to the traditional notions of coordination and subordination) and logico-semantic relations of expansion (elaboration, extension and enhancement; see Section 2).[3] The current study is thus different from previous ones not only in its theoretical framework (i.e. SFL), methodology (i.e. corpus-based), and approach (i.e. genre-based translation studies), but also in method, which considers two lexicogrammatical systems (i.e. taxis and logico-semantic relations) both in isolation and in combination (i.e. the two taxis modes are investigated in combination with types of logico-semantic relations), as well as other aspects relevant to the realisation of taxis and expansion relations. In short, the research aims at answering the following questions:

  1. To what extent is the TT different from respective non-translations, and the ST with respect to realisation of taxis and logico-semantic relations?
  2. If the TT is significantly different from the ST with respect to realisation of taxis and logico-semantic relations, what factor(s) may have caused this difference?

The paper proceeds as follows: Section 2 is a brief introduction of taxis and logico-semantic relations from the perspective of SFL. In Section 3, criteria are proposed for the identification and classification of taxis modes and logico-semantic types in Arabic. After the data and methods (Section 4), Sections 5 and 6 provide the analysis and discussion and Section 7 the study conclusions.

2. Taxis and logico-semantic relations

In SFL, the clause conflates several strands of meaning, or metafunctions: ideational, interpersonal, and textual. The experiential mode is related to the content or ideas and is realised by the system of transitivity (i.e. the configuration of the clause comprising Participants, Process, and Circumstances). The interpersonal metafunction is concerned with the relations between the addresser and addressee. Interpersonal meanings are enacted in grammar by the systems of mood (i.e. indicative or imperative) and modality (e.g. probability, usuality, temporality). The textual metafunction is concerned with the distribution of information in the clause and is realised by the Theme and Information systems (Halliday & Matthiessen 2014). In addition to these metafunctions, there is also the logical mode of the ideational metafunction. This mode is related to relations between ideas and is realised by taxis (i.e. hypotaxis and parataxis) and logico-semantic relations (or the meanings that join clauses together, i.e. elaborating, extending, enhancing). Although the metafunctions are all simultaneously instantiated whenever language is used, the primary interest in this paper, given space limitations, is in the systems of taxis and logico-semantic relations. These systems determine the relationships between clauses and belong to the logical mode of the ideational metafunction.

According to SFL, units of every rank may form complexes by means of expansion. For example, a clause simplex may be linked to another clause simplex through some logico-semantic relation to form a clause complex.[4] When a clause complex consists of more than two simple clauses, each single linkage is referred to as a clause nexus.

Taxis refers to the degree of interdependency between one clause and another. In a paratactic nexus, the two clauses are treated as being of equal status, each constitutes a proposition in its own right and could thus be tagged; e.g. Kukul pulled out the arrow, didn’t he? and headed for the river, didn’t he? (Halliday and Matthiessen 2014: 438). For such constructions with the status of equal, there is a closely agnate version where the two clauses are not brought together structurally in a clause complex but rather form a cohesive sequence; i.e. with a full stop between clauses (Ibid: 458). For example, the paratactic construction in Kukul crouched low to the ground and moved slowly can be readily rephrased as Kukul crouched low to the ground. He moved slowly. Alternatively, the two clauses forming a nexus could be treated as being of unequal status, where only the main clause constitutes a proposition in its own right and can thus be tagged, or queried (Ibid: 440); e.g. Kukul headed for the river, didn’t he; did Kukul head for the river? Clause complexes may also be formed by a mixture of parataxis and hypotaxis.

The clause simplexes making up a clause complex are referred to as ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’. In a paratactic clause complex, the primary clause is the one that comes first (initiating). In hypotaxis, on the other hand, the primary clause is the independent (dominant) one, and the secondary clause is the dependent, regardless of the order in the clause complex. Figure 1 below illustrates this and shows the SFL notations used for each. In this paper, we will be using the terms ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’.





Initiating (1)

Kukul pulled out the arrow

Continuing (2)

and headed for the river


Dominant (α)

You can never tell

Dependent (β)

till you try

Figure 1: Primary and Secondary clauses in a clause nexus

Within clauses complexes, we can find sub-complexes that are sequenced (as in Figure 2) or nested (as in Figure 3)


I went to school in New York City


and then we lived up on the Hudson for a while,


then moved to Connecticut.

Figure 2: Clause complex with a linear sequence


In pain, Kukul pulled out the arrow



and headed for the river


to wash his wound.

Figure 3: Clause complex with nesting

Logico-semantic relations comprise two main types: projection and expansion; only the latter is investigated here.[5] Within the general category of expansion, there are three subtypes: elaborating, extending, and enhancing. These are introduced here and illustrated with relevance to Arabic in the next section. SFL notation is also shown.

Elaboration (=) is a logico-semantic relation of expansion, where a clause or group restates, specifies, comments on, or exemplifies the meaning of another. In the clause complex John didn’t wait; he ran away, the simplex he ran way elaborates on he didn’t wait by restating its meaning; 1^ =2.

In the extension (+) type of expansion, the extending clause or group provides an addition, a replacement, or an alternative. In the clause complex John ran away, whereas Fred stayed behind, the first clause is extended by the adversative information in the second; α^ +β.

Enhancing (x) is a relationship of expansion through which a clause qualifies another with some circumstantial feature of time, place, manner, cause, or condition; for example, Because he was scared, John ran away; β^ xα.

SFL looks at taxis and logico-semantic relations in full-ranking and embedded complexes, the latter are not included in the current analysis. According to Halliday and Matthiessen (2014: 493), within embedded clauses, the distinction among the three categories of elaborating, extending and enhancing, as found in parataxis and hypotaxis, is less foregrounded.

3. Taxis and logico-semantic relations in Arabic

3.1. Methodological problems and proposed criteria

Research analysing Arabic text is typically faced with the problem of defining the notion of sentence in Arabic (see, for example, El-Shiyab 1990, Khafaji 2001). Determining sentence boundaries in Arabic is not as straightforward as in English because punctuation marks are not strictly rule-governed as they are in English. This means that the clause simplex, clause complex, and cohesive sequence are not so clearly marked in Arabic writings. To make things even more difficult, Arabic sentences are often introduced by connectives, particularly /wa-/. This Arabic particle could serve as a logical conjunction (i.e. between clauses) or as a cohesive conjunctive (i.e. between sentences or sentence-/paragraph-initially). According to Fattah (2010), this makes it difficult to determine with certainty whether a potentially freestanding simple clause or clause complex is a member of a coordinate structure or an independent sentence.

Another problem with relevant research is indeterminacy regarding the classification of Arabic conjunctions as paratactic or hypotactic markers. Waltisberg (2006: 468) claims this indeterminacy renders it “at least hazardous to analyse Arabic conjunctions prima facie as coordinating or subordinating”. In fact, this has always been a problem for research because traditional grammars of Arabic, even those written in English, do not deal with conjunctions, particularly subordinating ones, in a separate section; they are mainly discussed in connection with different types of sentences, such as conditional sentences and circumstantial clauses (Kammensjö 2011). Worse still, classifying conjunctions as coordinating or subordinating sometimes tended to be based on their English counterparts (Ibid).

Given the aforementioned problems, investigating taxis and logico-semantic relations in Arabic is more challenging than in English. In this research, we use the syntactic and semantic criteria proposed by Al Kohlani (2010) for determining sentence boundaries and an informal operational means adopted by a number of scholars working on Arabic. Those scholars have found it practically useful to determine sentence boundaries based on intonational features of sentences when read out aloud (see Dickens 2010 and several others cited therein). On the other hand, because the focus here is on investigating clause linkage, the analysis within sentences will be based on a count of clause nexuses or combinations within clause complexes. After all, the aim is to decide whether the translation follows the respective genre’s conventions of clause linkage.

Al Kohlani (2010) defines a sentence as “an independent unit whose components are bonded syntactically and semantically in order to perform a communicative meaning that contributes to the overall rhetorical purpose of the text” (Ibid: 201). A sentence candidate, she argues, “must be omissible leaving behind no non-sentences” and must express a complete thought, as well as serve a specific rhetorical function, such as clarifying a foregoing sentence or piece of discourse (Ibid: 194-9). Together with the read-out-aloud strategy (used in Dickens 2010), this criteria seems to be adequate for our purpose; because we are mainly interested in clause linkage, the statistics will be of clause nexuses within clause complexes.

However, even at the level of clause complex, or clause nexuses within complexes, it will still be difficult to determine the taxis mode, at least because some Arabic markers have several semantic functions (see examples below). This is why an attempt is made to provide clear criteria for singling out paratactic and hypotactic constructions.

To identify paratactic constructions, we propose the following parameter:

Paratactic constructions, but not hypotactic ones, can be broken down into structurally correct, fully propositional juxtaposed clauses separated by a full stop or a semicolon, either with or without a conjunction. The conjunction can be the one used in the original construction or one of a closed set of clearly paratactic conjunctions that construes the same logico-semantic relationship between the conjoined clauses, and either conjunction can take place sentence-initially or even paragraph-initially.

Examples (1) and (2) are illustrative.


وكثيرا ما كان المصري يختار بعض الحيوانات المفزعة مثل التمساح والثعبان، كما اختار أحيانا بعض الحيوانات النافعة مثل التيس، والثور، والبقر.(Ajeebah 2004: 87) [6]

‘The Egyptian often chose some scary animals such as the crocodile and the snake, /kamā/ [and also] he sometimes chose some useful animals such as the goat, ox, and cow.’ [7]

In (1), the conjunction كما [/kamā/ and also] marks a relationship of extension: additive, and can thus be replaced with /wa-/. Note also that breaking down this nexus into two disjoined clauses separated by a full stop will result in a cohesive sequence comprising two structurally correct, fully propositional juxtaposed clauses. In such juxtaposition, the conjunction can be retained (in which case it becomes more textually than logically operative), or dropped (which could impact the text cohesiveness).


وتتميز الهندوسية أيضا بأنها ربطت الدين بالمجتمع من خلال نظام للطبقات اتخذ شكلا دينيا أعطاه ثباتا وجعله غير قابل للتغيير إذ أن التغير في النظام الطبقي يعد تغيرا في الدين نفسه وفي النظام الديني.(Hasan 2002: 60)

‘Hinduism is also characterized by the fact that it linked religion to society through a class system that took a religious form that gave it stability and made it immutable /ʾidh/ [as] the change in the caste system is a change in the religion itself and in the religious system’.

Here again the conditions stated in the proposed parameter are satisfied: (1) Breaking down the construction would result into structurally correct, fully propositional juxtaposed clauses. (2) The conjunction can be (i) retained after the full stop, becoming more textual than logical, (ii) dropped altogether, or (iii) replaced with /fa-/, one of the main paratactic conjunctions in Arabic.

In addition to this parameter, particularly in the case of indeterminacy, we propose using SFL’s trinocularity perspective. SFL adopts a system perspective on language in which any type of phenomenon or descriptive category can be viewed and interpreted from a trinocular perspective. In Halliday’s words (2008: 141),

When we are observing and investigating language, or any other semiotic system, our vision is essentially trinocular. We observe the phenomenon we want to explore – say, the lexicogrammar of language – from three points of vantage. We observe it from above, in terms of its function in various contexts. We observe it from below, in terms of its various modes of expression. And thirdly, we observe it from its own level: from within, or from roundabout, according to whether we are focussing on the whole or some of its parts.

These three perspectives correspond to different strata. In our case, since we are looking at the lexicogrammatical realization of taxis and logico-semantic relations, the perspective from below corresponds to the stratum of expression (morphological and phonological realization of meaning). The perspective from roundabout corresponds to the stratum of lexicogrammar (what other options the option at hand contrasts with and the paradigmatic choices associated with those options). The vision from above corresponds to the stratum of semantics and looks at what each category realizes or how it relates to meaning. This latter perspective is given priority in functional grammar, according to which form follows function and the meaning of an expression decides its realization. From above we also consider context, which is often helpful in determining the type of categories being investigated. In describing the grammar, we can work from above downwards: how contextual choices activate semantic choices, which activate the lexicogrammatical ones, which activate morphological and phonological ones. We can also start from below: how morphological and phonological realizations construe lexicogrammatical choices, which construe semantic choices, which construe contextual ones (Hasan 2009).

In this research, the trinocularity perspective is adopted to determine the taxis mode or the logico-semantic type in clause nexuses/complexes that prove difficult to analyse on the basis of the proposed parameter. This is particularly useful in cases of indeterminacy that result from, for example, the use of a multifunctional conjunction, such as /wa-/.


ولذلك يمكن القول إن المصريين القدماء قبلوا الاعتقاد بأن الملك الجالس على العرش حلت فيه روح الإله ربما وهم راغبون لا مكرهون. (Ajeeba 2004: 93)

Therefore it can be said that ancient Egyptians accepted the belief that the king sitting on the throne had the spirit of God, perhaps /wa-/ [and] they were willing rather than coerced.

In (3), the logico-semantic relationship between the conjoined clauses is marked by the conjunction /wa-/. Based on the view from below, it could be argued that this construction is paratactic and the logico-semantic relationship is an additive one, since the /wa-/ is prototypically a paratactic marker of extension and there is no other covert indication of a different type of logico-semantic relationship. However, when we look at the instance from within, it becomes clear that this is an instance of hypotactic enhancement; the paradigmatic choices here pertain to the structure of the circumstantial clause in Arabic (الحال Haal). Finally, the view from above also suggests enhancement, particularly temporal, since the co-text/context involves a circumstantial relation of time. In short, the construction above is a hypotactically related clause complex denoting a relationship of enhancement: time.

3.2. Arabic paratactic and hypotactic markers

The main and most frequent Arabic conjunctions that fulfil the proposed parameter include a closed group of particles listed in all traditional grammars of Arabic as paratactic conjunctions: و [/wa-/ and], ف [/fa-/ so, then, and], ثم [/thumma/ then, later], أو [/ʾaw/ or], بل [/bal/ rather], أم [/ʾam/ or], and لكن [/lākin/ but]. Two of the closed-set conjunctions, namely /wa-/ and /fa-/ are clitic conjunctions that could serve as paratactic and hypotactic conjunctions, as well as cohesive/textual conjunctives, and both can mark several logico-semantic relations. Because of the multiple senses of the /wa-/ and /fa-/, they have received most attention in research on Arabic conjunctions; see for example: Saeed and Fareh (2006), Dendenne (2010). According to Saeed and Fareh (2006), Arabic /wa-/ can mark relationships of addition, contrast, concession, comment, simultaneity, sequence, and resumption, while the /fa-/ can encode concession, reason, result, sequence, and explanation.

The /wa-/ is the conjunction with the highest frequency of use. Its frequency of use and the wide range of functions it may serve cannot be reproduced in English (Cantarino 1975: 12). It is mainly a paratactic extension conjunction of the additive subtype, but it is not unusual to find instances of /wa-/, or /wa-/ prefixed to a pronoun, introducing elaborating clauses. The /wa-/ can also function as a hypotactic conjunction, where it introduces a circumstantial clause, or realizes the semantic meaning of accompaniment. In short, the /wa-/ results in paratactic constructions except when it introduces circumstantial clauses of Haal or accompaniment. When used sentence-initially or paragraph-initially, the /wa-/ is cohesively rather than logically operational.

The /fa-/ is another paratactic conjunction with a very high frequency of use. Dickens (2017) refers to the /fa-/ as another ‘and-type’ coordinator, which contrasts with the one English ‘and’ coordinator. Like the /wa-/, the /fa-/ can be used cohesively or logically; for example, it is cohesive when used at the start of a paragraph, or when it indicates a “slight shift in topic” (Ryding 2005: 410), in addition to other cohesive functions (see Cantarino 1975: 20–34). Logically, the /fa-/ serves as a paratactic conjunction.

There are other frequently used conjunctions that satisfy the proposed parameter and therefore result in paratactic constructions. These includeإذ [/idh/ since/as], كما [/kamā/ also], and أي [/ʾay/ that is]; see Fattah (2010) for a fuller list. To the list of paratactic conjunctions, we can also add cohesive conjunctions and conjunctive phrases that can function as paratactic conjunctions when used inter-clausally, also based on the parameter above, including the possibility of replacing such conjunctive phrases with those in the closed group. An example is the concessive conjunctionغير أن [/ghayra ʾanna/ however]. See Example (4).


ويعدد من هذه العوامل تسعة، غير أن بقية الكتاب يخصص كله للعامل الأول.

(Fattah 2010: 117)

‘He lists nine of these factors, /ghaira ʾanna/ [however], the rest of the book is entirely devoted to the first factor.’

In this clause complex, the first clause is potentially free-standing, which is conjoined to the second clause by means of the concessive conjunctionغير أن [/ghayra ʾanna/ however]. This conjunction, Fattah (2010) argues is paratactic as it could potentially replace the clearly paratactic conjunction لكن  [/lākinna/ but] in most situations where the latter is serving a concessive paratactic function, even where it is paragraph-initial. That is, both can take place sentence-initially, or even paragraph-initially and can link freestanding, independent clauses and longer stretches of discourse. This also applies to other synonymous conjunctions such as بيد أن [/bayda ʾanna/], على أن [/ʿalā ʾanna/], and إلا ان [/ʾillā ʾanna/]. All these conjunctive phrases could link paragraphs and potentially freestanding clauses. This contrasts with conjunctive phrases such as بالرغم من أن [/bi-rraghmi min ʾanna/ although], which could not be preceded by a full stop or be paragraph-initial, and are thus regarded as hypotactic conjunctions. See below.

Some textual conjunctives frequently occur in combination with /wa-/, as in ولذلك [/wa-li-dhālika/ and therefore], and وبالتالي [/wa-bi-ttāli/ and consequently]. Following Fattah (2010: 99), the /wa-/ in such combinations does not seem to make any unique logico-semantic contribution to the clause sequence, although it provides a stronger link between the conjoined clauses. In other words, the /wa-/ in such instances does not mark the logical relation between the conjoined clauses, but it marks a paratactic mode of taxis.

Although the proposed parameter, in addition to the trinocularity vision, could be sufficient for identifying taxis mode, we think it would add to the robustness of the research procedure if we elaborate on hypotactic conjunctions. In general, Arabic hypotactic constructions are easier to identify than paratactic ones, although the former make use of a much larger group of conjunctions. In this research, instead of providing a conclusive list, which is neither possible nor necessary, we will classify hypotactic conjunctions into five main types, in addition to the circumstantial /wa-/ in Haal clauses.

I – Non-defining relative clauses

II – Conditional clauses

III – Conjunctive phrases ending with the complementizer أنّ [/ʾanna/ that], provided such phrases are not prefixed with /wa-/ and cannot be used sentence or paragraph initially, such as بالرغم من أن [/bi-rraghmi min ʾanna/ In spite of the fact that.

IV – Adverbial clauses (as the term is used in traditional grammar)

Such clauses are mostly enhancing; they are introduced with words that mark time, place, manner, and cause, for instance: طالما [/ṭālamā/ as long as]; حالما [/ḥālamā/ as soon as], etc.

V – Clauses initiated with non-finites, prepositions, and prepositional phrases that explicitly mark the logico-semantic relations, e.g.بغية [/bughyata/ for the purpose of]; بهدف[/bihadafi/ for the goal of]; خشية أن [/khashyata ʾan/ for fear of]; لكي [/li-kay/ in order to]; من أهمها[/min ʾahammihā/ the most important of which].

4. Data and method

The data of this study comprise random samples from five Arabic books from the genre of comparative religion, in addition to a sample from a translated book from the same genre and its ST. Each sample consists of 200 clause nexuses. See Table 1.



Abu-Zahra (1965)

88 – 98; 112 – 116

Ajeebah (2004)

pp. 85 – 94; 100 – 107

Hasan (2002)

58 – 64; 204 – 207

Ahmad (1988)

pp. 23 – 38; 52 – 60

Shalabi (1984)

pp. 113 – 125; 161 – 168

Shah (2012) Source text

pp. 30 – 35; 48 - 53

Al-Jaziri (2020) Target text

pp. 73 – 85; 105 – 117

Table 1: Sources of investigated samples

As mentioned earlier, since a comma, rather than a full stop, is commonly used as an end punctuation mark, the unit of analysis used here is the clause complex and the clause nexuses within those complexes. To determine boundaries, whether of complexes or simplexes, we applied the syntactic and semantic criteria proposed by Al Kohlani (2010), as well as the read-out-aloud strategy (used in Dickens 2010). Following this procedure, we were able to make a distinction between simplexes, complexes and cohesive sequences. Instances of simplexes or complexes ending with a full stop did not constitute a problem. The process of identifying and classifying relevant instances in terms of taxis and logico-semantic relationships was based on the criteria explained above.

Because the sampled books are only available as hard copies, the analysis of the following distributions was conducted manually:

(1) Distributions of paratactic and hypotactic nexuses;

(2) Distributions of the three types of logico-semantic relations across hypotaxis and parataxis

Chi-square test, or Fisher Exact test for numbers below five, were used to determine statistical significance. The tests involved comparing the TT first with the non-translations and then with the ST.

5. Analysis

5.1. Paratactic and hypotactic nexuses




Abu-Zahra 1965

41 (20.5%)

159 (79.5%)

Ajeebah 2004

78 (39%)

122 (61%)

Hasan 2002

61 (30.5%)

139 (69.5%)

Ahmad 1988

66 (33%)

134 (67%)

Shalabi 1984

52 (26%)

148 (74%)

Non-translations Total

298 (30%)

702 (70%)

Table 2: Distribution of nexuses across taxis in the non-translations

Table 2 shows the numbers of nexuses in the Arabic non-translations. The data indicates roughly similar distributions between hypotactic and paratactic nexuses in the five Arabic samples, which clearly reflects a preference for parataxis, similar to conclusions in previous literature (see Section 1). This division of labour in construing tactic relationships can be seen as the typical distribution for non-translations in this genre and provides a benchmark for evaluation of translated texts. Thus, a translated text can be considered to follow typical genre conventions if it exhibits a fairly similar division of labour in its realisation of tactic relationships.




Non-translations Total

298 (30%)

702 (70%)

Al-Jaziri (2020) Target text

102 (51%)

98 (49%)

Shah (2012) Source text

124 (62%)

76 (28%)

Table 3: Distribution of nexuses across taxis in the non-translations, TT, and ST

Table 3 compares the distributions of paratactic and hypotactic nexuses in the Arabic non-translations with those of the ST and TT. It can be gleaned from the table that the TT, compared to the non-translations, features a completely different distribution, with parataxis and hypotaxis roughly equal. A chi-square test of independence (using the values for non-translations and TT as a 2 X 2 contingency table) returned a result of X2 = 33.708; p < 0.05. This statistically significant difference indicates that hypotaxis is over-represented and parataxis is under-represented in the TT compared to the non-translations. Another chi-square test involving the ST and TT gave a result of X2 = 4.923; p < 0.05, which is statistically less significant than that found for the TT and non-translations. This means that the TT follows a division of labour between hypotaxis and parataxis that is closer to the English ST than to the Arabic non-translations. It is more hypotactic and less paratactic than conventionally expected.

5.2. Logico-semantic types across taxis

Table 4 shows the distributions of the three types of logico-semantic relations of expansion across hypotaxis and parataxis in the non-translations, TT and ST. Starting with the non-translations, a total of 1000 nexuses cited are accounted for. It can be clearly seen that elaboration is more typically realised as paratactic than hypotactic constructions (81 percent and 19 percent, respectively). The clear skew in frequency here could be attributed to the high frequency of the Arabic paratactic conjunction /fa-/, which is commonly used to mark elaboration.

















47 (19%)

202 (81%)

7 (2%)

407 (98%)

244 (72%)

93 (28%)

298 (30%)

702 (70%)



12 (67%)

6 (33%)

6 (7%)

78 (93%)

84 (86%)

14 (14%)

102 (51%)

98 (49%)



20 (83%)

4 (17%)

8 (11%)

66 (89%)

96 (94%)

6 (6%)

124 (62%)

76 (28%)


Table 4: Distribution of logico-sematic types across taxis in the non-translations, TT, and ST

Extension was also found in favour of parataxis over hypotaxis, with a notable 98 percent for paratactic extension and two percent for hypotactic extension. The conspicuous skew here is in fact expected because extension relationships in Arabic are mainly signalled with the paratactic conjunction /wa-/, which was also cited prefixing other paratactic extension conjunctions, such as ولكن [/wa-lākin/ and but].

On the other hand, enhancement, as Table 4 shows, is more frequently realised in hypotactic than in paratactic constructions (72 percent and 28 percent, respectively). Enhancement citations included almost all types of hypotactic enhancement conjunction; e.g. لـ [/li/ to], لأنّ [/li-ʾanna/ because], حتى [/ḥattā/ so that, until], إذا [/ʾidhā/ if], etc. Frequently used hypotactic conjunctions also included non-finites, or reduced relative clauses (e.g. نتج عنها [/nataja ʿanhā/ leading to]), in addition to instances of the Arabic لأجله المفعول  [/ʾal-mafʿūl li-ʾajlihi/ benefactive object], such as أن خشية [/khashyata ʾan/ for fear of].

We now need to compare the frequencies for the non-translations with those found for the TT and ST (all listed in Table 4 above).

The most evident difference between the non-translations and the TT is manifested in the contrasting patterns and markedly different distributions of elaboration relationships, with the non-translations mainly paratactic (81 percent) and the TT mainly hypotactic (67 percent). The chi-square test result of these contrasting patterns was X2 = 22.272; p < 0.05. Another chi-square test, of the counts for the TT and ST, returned a non-significant difference (X2 = 1.575; p < 0.05). More precisely, the counts for elaboration in TT are similar to those in the ST but markedly different from those in the non-translations. With the TT being considerably more hypotactic and less paratactic than expected, it could be said that the construal of elaboration in the TT is incongruent with the conventions of TL genre.

The statistics also show a significant difference between the non-translations and the TT in construing extending relations across parataxis and hypotaxis. Although the non-translations and the TT are both more paratactic than hypotactic, the test result (X2 = 8.164; p < 0.05) suggests that the TT still differs from respective TL non-translations in that it makes notably more use of hypotaxis in construing extending relationships (seven percent in the TT but two percent in the non-translations). Another chi-square test involving extension in the TT and ST returned non-significance (X2 = 0.655; p < 0.05). The results of these two tests suggest that the construal of extension relationships in the TT is closer to the ST or SL conventions than to the TL or TL genre conventions, in that the TT is less paratactic in realizing extension than it should typically be.

In the case of enhancement, although the non-translations and the TT are both more paratactic than hypotactic, there is a statistically significant difference (X2 = 7.252; p < 0.05) in construing enhancing relations across parataxis and hypotaxis. The distributions in the TT and ST also reflect a different division of labour, evidenced by a significant difference (X2 = 3.921; p < 0.05). Since both results are significant, with the one involving the TT and ST less significant, we could say that TT is slightly more similar to the ST than to the non-translations.

6. Discussion

As mentioned above, the TT was found to follow a division of labour between hypotaxis and parataxis that is closer to the English ST than to the Arabic non-translations; it is more hypotactic and less paratactic than conventionally expected. This result carries implications of unnaturalness at the logical/ textual level, most likely due to interference from the ST/SL. In fact, a very strong factor affecting tactic distributions in the TT seems to be the translator’s inclination to a literal approach of translation at the clause nexus/complex level. Most of the ST hypotactic constructions are rendered literally into Arabic, as in example (5), which in both the ST and TT comprise a primary clause (i.e. Christianity has no choice) hypotactically expanded with secondary clauses (i.e. to prove …Judaism and but to be …Christ).


Christianity, to prove its intellectual worth and avert the cerebral attacks of paganism, Greek philosophy and Judaism, had no choice but to be a little more precise in its teachings with regards to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Christ (ST: 32)

ولكي تثبت الكنيسةُ جدارتها الفكرية وتجتنب الهجوم العقلي من الوثنية والفلسفة اليونانية واليهودية، لم يكن أمامها خيار سوى أن تكون أكثر دقة في تعاليمها فيما يتعلق بالعلاقة بين الله الآب ويسوع المسيح (TT: 76)

In a few cases, where a shift is obligatory or necessary for a more natural construction, the translator rendered a hypotactic construction into a paratactic one, as in example (6), where the non-finite clause (i.e. providing … leap) is rendered into an independent clause introduced with the paratactic conjunction إذ [/idh/ since/as].


The Pauline and Johannine corpus proved to be handy providing the context, terminology and conceptual framework for the later Christians to take the hazardous leap (ST: 30)

واتضح أن رسائل بولس وإنجيل يوحنا عمليان وسهلا الاستعمال إذ إنهما زوَّدا المسيحيين اللاحقين بالسياقات والمصطلحات والأطر المفاهيمية التي مكَّنتهم من أن يقفزوا قفزة غير محسوبة(TT: 73)

The following is an instance where the translator opted for a more natural rendering.


The otherwise mutually exclusive Christologies of Jesus as a prophet, angel, Messiah and Lord were metamorphosed to describe a human being with divine attributes and qualities and ultimately godhead (ST: 30)

أما مجالات الدراسة الأخرى المتعارضة لطبيعة المسيح، على أنه النبي والملاك والمسيح المنتظر والرب، فقد تم تغييرها لتصف إنساناً ذا سمات وصفات إلهية، وأخيراً تصفه على أنه ألوهية(TT: 73)

In this example, the English sentence is a clause complex, with the secondary purpose clause (to describe …godhead) enhancing the primary clause (The otherwise …metamorphosed). In Arabic, the same hypotactic construction is used, but the translator also made a shift at rank level, rendering the conjoined noun group (and ultimately godhead) as a clause by repeating the verb (describe). This is completely natural in Arabic and actually very common (Hassan 2015:145), given that repetition is a main device for linguistic cohesion and rhetorical force in Arabic writing (Johnstone 1991:131).

The percentage of paratactic constructions in the TT could have been lower had the translator not sometimes opted for conjoining juxtaposed simple clauses into paratactic constructions, as in Examples (8) and (9) below.


Origen also emphasized the derivative, intermediary and secondary role of Jesus. He equated the procession of the Logos from the Father with the procession of the will from the mind. (ST: 33)

وأكد أوريجن أيضاً على الدور الثانوي والاشتقاقي والوسيط للمسيح، فهو يساوي انبثاق كلمة الله من الآب بانبثاق الإرادة من الذهن(TT: 79)


In the West, Theodotus (c. 190), taught that Jesus was a man. Jesus was born of a virgin as a result of God’s special decree through the agency of the Holy Spirit (TT: 36)

في الغرب، أكد ثيودوتس )عام 190 للميلاد تقريباً( أن المسيح إنسان، ووُلِد من عذراء نتيجة لأمر خاص من الله من خلال الروح القدس(ST: 84)

Example (8) is a case of disjunction in English, but the two sentences are in a relation of elaboration, which is left implicit. The translator chose to link the two simplexes into a clause complex, using the Arabic /fa-/ as an explicit marker of elaboration. In Example (9), the simplexes are linked with the coordinator /wa-/, which brings out the implicit extension relationship in the ST.

In short, it can be concluded that the skewed division of labour between hypotaxis and parataxis in the TT is mainly attributed to the translator’s literal approach to translation at the clause complex rank. The limited cases of shifts from hypotaxis to parataxis were mostly obligatory or made to improve naturalness and avoid awkwardness.

7. Conclusions

This research investigated taxis and logico-semantic relations in an Arabic translation of an English text from the genre of comparative religion by comparing it with the ST and a sample of non-translations from the same genre. The aim was to evaluate the TT vis-à-vis congruency with registerial norms and conventions, which would result from analysing the non-translations. To this end, the study adopted an SFL perspective and a corpus-based methodology to study taxis and logico-semantic relations both in isolation and in combinations. An attempt was made to provide criteria that would help address problems relating to identifying sentence boundaries and inconsistency in the use of punctuation marks, as well as indeterminacy with respect to the classification of Arabic conjunctions as paratactic or hypotactic. The unit of analysis was the clause complex but the count was of clause linkage relations in clause nexuses. A parameter was proposed for classifying conjunctions in terms of taxis, which in short states that only paratactic constructions can be broken down into structurally correct, fully propositional juxtaposed clauses separated by a full stop or a semicolon, either with or without a conjunction. In cases of indeterminacy, SFL’s trinocularity perspective was also suggested as a means for determining the taxis mode and the logico-semantic relations in Arabic nexuses (See Section 3).

The analysis of the original Arabic texts from the genre of comparative religion confirmed results in previous research with respect to the pervasiveness of paratactic over hypotactic constructions in Arabic writing in general. See for example Al-Batal 1985; Aziz 1989; Reid 1992; Fareh 1998; Hamdan and Fareh 1999; Othman 2004; Dickens 2017. The TT, on the other hand, was found to include roughly even distributions of the two taxis modes, suggesting overuse of hypotactic relations relative to genre conventions and therefore possible interference from the SL. With respect to the construal of logico-semantic relations across taxis, comparing the TT to the ST and non-translations indicated incongruency in realisation of all logico-semantic types, with elaboration being the most incongruently realised. Further research could address shifts in taxis and logico-semantic relations in terms of structural complexity. According to Halliday (2009), “it is usually assumed that hypotaxis adds more to the structural complexity than does parataxis.”

According to Halliday and Matthiessen (2014), quantitative patterns can be related to qualitative properties of the system as a whole or of specific genres and registers within the system. In a sample comprising 6,832 clause nexuses in spoken and written texts from a fairly wide range of registers, Halliday and Matthiessen (446–7) found that parataxis and hypotaxis are roughly equally frequent, expansion is considerably more frequent than projection, and enhancing relations account for almost half of all instances while elaborating and extending relations have almost equal shares of the other half. In our genre-specific sample of non-translations, the patterns found conform with the preferences of Arabic writing in general. Similar preferences, could be hypothesised with relevance to specifc genres, but this can only be confirmed through quantitative examinations of large corpora from different genres or registers. This line of research is in agreement with the SFL understanding of a language as an assemblage of registers (Ibid: XV).

The skewed division of labour between hypotaxis and parataxis in the TT was attributed to the translator’s literal approach to translation at the clause complex rank, hence the marked prevalence of hypotaxis over parataxis. There are, however, instances of shifts that have contributed to the ratio of parataxis. These included literal renderings of English paratactic constructions, obligatory shifts, and optional shifts made to avoid awkward structures, in addition to instances of simplexes linked into paratactic nexuses.

Both types of renderings, whether literal (non-shifts) or adaptations (shifts), could affect not only the structural and textual organisation of the text, but also its overall rhetorical purpose. For instance, literally rendering two English semantically related simplexes as two simplexes in Arabic would be a deviation from normal usage unless the disjunction is rhetorically motivated. Similarly, rendering an English hypotactic nexus with a foregrounded secondary clause into a paratactic nexus in Arabic would impact the textual surface of the text and may eventually affect its rhetorical force. In this context, research, ideally text type-/genre-based, is direly needed to study rhetorical implications of structural and textual shifts and non-shifts in taxis and logico-semantic relations. After all, “rhetorical purposes impose their own constraints on how a sequence of sentences becomes a text” (Hatim 1997: 32). For an informative relevant discussion, see Hatim (1997: 102–3), where he illustrates “the need on the part of the translator to be extra vigilant when switching from a literal mode to a freer one or vice versa”. Using two instances of the subordinator whether drawn from different text types, Hatim shows how opting for the same form in Arabic reflects a flawed interpretation of the intended function. See also Bazzi (2009) on the analysis of news media and war reporting discourse. In the context of thematic structuring of information, Bazzi (161–2) cites an example where an instance of but in an expository text is thematically foregrounded to express judgment.

The research did not aim to draw up relations between comparative religion texts and tactic and lexico-grammatical relations, although such an investigation could yield interesting results on the relation between genre/text type and expansion types. For example, Smith and Frawley (1983) suggest that genres differ in how conjunctive they are as well as in the types of conjunctions they prefer. In religious texts, for example, we can expect heavy use of negative additive and causal conjunctions. Similar research into different genre conventions could be very helpful in translation assessment and teaching.Given scope and time limitations, as well as the dataset size, further research could make use of a larger corpus to produce more generalizable results. Also, given the difficulties encountered with respect to delimiting boundaries of sentences and clause complexes, due to extended lengths of sentences and inconsistencies in punctuation marks, and since the count was of clause nexuses, rather than complexes, the validity of the results might be arguable. The argument is plausible, and therefore, the authors still think there is dire need for a more systematic theory-based approach to the delimitation of boundaries of sentences or clause complexes in Arabic. However, the effect of this limitation may be alleviated when we look at the current investigation from the vantage point of statistical frequency of conjunctions; that is, through basing the classification on the counts of paratactic and hypotactic conjunctions between nexuses, rather than on the number of complexes or sentences.

Further research could also look at distributions of hypotactic nexuses vis-à-vis the sequence of primary (α) and secondary (β) clauses, in order to explore implications of shifts in clause sequencing on the overall text cohesiveness in terms of theme-rheme and given-new information. Such a study could compare source texts, target texts, and reference corpora for distributions of unmarked sequences vs. marked sequences; i.e. the primary clause preceding the secondary clause α^β or the other way round. Relevant to this, Dickens (2010: 1129) cites diachronic research comparing Classical Arabic with Modern Standard Arabic that has found that MSA makes far greater use of fronted (thematic) adverbial clauses, which could indicate a partial shift from coordination to subordination in sentence structuring. This shift, Holes (2004: 265-6) explains, could also be seen as an influence from foreign textual models, mainly English, particularly in media writing and some modern literature. Holes explains that “MSA has shown a tendency toward the use of complex sentences”, which he ascribes to the use of lexical phrases such as ‘in accordance with’, ‘regardless of the fact that’, etc. Comparing MSA with older styles of prose writing, Holes (Ibid) claims that logico-semantic relationships are more easily deducible with such lexical phrases than with a few general-purpose particles that allow a variety of interpretations, which refer to the closed group of paratactic conjunctions mentioned above. Relevant citations in the current research included على اعتبار أن [/ʿalā iʿtibāri ʾanna/ on the grounds that] and على أساس أن / [/ʿalā ʾasāsi ʾanna/ on the basis that], among others.

The results of this research can be seen as a contribution to the study of taxis and logico-semantic relationships in Arabic translations and non-translations, since the literature has so far mainly focused on the issue of parataxis vs. hypotaxis from the vantage point of contrastive linguistics. The research can also claim a methodological contribution, manifested in the operationalization procedure proposed for the classification of constructions with relevance to taxis mode and logico-semantic relationships. Further research could make use of the proposed criteria to study translations and non-translations from other genres and registers, which could potentially lead to the identification of genre/register-based quantitative profiles of patterns, providing benchmark data for research in translation studies and contrastive linguistics.


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Dataset references

Abu-Zahra, Mohammad (1965) Comparative religions: Ancient religions [In Arabic], Cairo, dar ʾal-fikr ʾalʿarabī.

Ahmad, Mohamad Khalifa (1988) Islam's relation with Judaism: An Islamic view in current Torah sources [In Arabic], Cairo, Dar ʾal-thaqāfa.

Ajeebah, Ahmad (2004) Studies in ancient pagan religions [In Arabic], Cairo, Dar ʾal-āfāq ʾalʿarabiyyah.

Hasan, Mohamad (2002) History of Religions: A comparative descriptive study [In Arabic], Cairo, Dar ʾal-āfāq ʾalʿarabiyyah.

Shah, Zulfiqar Ali (2012) Anthropomorphic depictions of God: The concept of God in Judaic, Christian and Islamic tradition, trans. Jamal Al-Jazirijaziri,Virginia, International Institute of Islamic Thought.

Shalabi, Ahmad (1984) Comparative religions: Major religions of India [in Arabic], Cairo, Maktabat ʾal-nahḍa al-maṣriyya.


[1] Hereafter, the two Arabic conjunctions above will be referred to as /wa-/ and /fa-/.

[2] For the transcription of Arabic, this study follows the style used by The International Journal of Middle East Studies (IJMES). See ]"">[/url].

[3] Traditionally, ‘subordination’ does not distinguish between hypotaxis and embedding, and ‘parataxis’ corresponds both to ‘coordination’ and ‘apposition’ (Halliday and Matthiessen 2014: 440).

[4] In SFL, the term ‘clause complex’ refers to the traditionally termed compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.

[5] “Projection in the environment of clause complexes sets up one clause as the representation of the linguistic content of another either as ideas in a mental clause of sensing or locutions in a verbal clause of saying” (Matthiessen, Teruya, & Lam 2010: 165).

[6] The examples provided in this study are original examples and as such might contain errors but the focus of the study is not those errors nor impeded by them.

[7] Fairly literal translations are provided for the Arabic.

About the author(s)

Waleed Othman received his PhD in Translation Studies from the University of Birmingham and is currently assistant professor at the University of Petra, Jordan. His research interests include register-/genre-based translation studies, corpus-based translation studies, discourse analysis, and systemic functional linguistics. His most recent publications are in the Journal of Functional Linguistics (2020) and Meta (2020).

Dima Al Qutob received her PhD in linguistics from the University of Exeter and is currently assistant professor at the University of Petra, Jordan. Her research interests include translation studies and sociolinguistics.

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

©inTRAlinea & Waleed Othman & Dima Al Qutob (2022).
"Taxis and logico-semantic relations in English-Arabic translation", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

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Tradurre i classici da poeta

Su Milo De Angelis e Lucrezio

By Elena Coppo (Università degli Studi di Padova, Italia)

Abstract & Keywords


The article analyses Milo De Angelis’ translations of some parts of Lucretius’ poem, in Sotto la scure silenziosa: frammenti dal De rerum natura (2005). The work is placed in the Italian context, in which poetic translation from classical authors has become in the last decades quite irrelevant, while philological translation shows an increasing standardization (the so-called traduttese). De Angelis’ translations’ analysis concerns their relation with the source text and their lexical, syntactic and rhetorical features, both in general and in single extracts, and includes a comparison with other contemporary translations, in order to identify what makes them poetic.


L’articolo analizza le traduzioni di alcuni brani del poema di Lucrezio da parte di Milo De Angelis, pubblicate nel volume Sotto la scure silenziosa: frammenti dal De rerum natura (2005). L’opera viene inserita nel contesto italiano, caratterizzato negli ultimi decenni dalla marginalità della traduzione poetica degli autori classici rispetto a quella filologica e dalla standardizzazione formale di quest’ultima, per la quale si parla anche di traduttese. Le traduzioni di De Angelis vengono esaminate nel rapporto con il testo di partenza e nelle loro caratteristiche lessicali, sintattiche e retoriche, combinando l’individuazione di tendenze stilistiche generali all’analisi ravvicinata di singoli brani, e vengono confrontate con altre traduzioni contemporanee, per coglierne i tratti che le caratterizzano come poetiche.

Keywords: De Angelis, Lucrezio, Lucretius, letteratura classica, classical literature, traduzione poetica, poetic translation

©inTRAlinea & Elena Coppo (2022).
"Tradurre i classici da poeta Su Milo De Angelis e Lucrezio", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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1. De Angelis e Lucrezio. Il problema della traduzione poetica

È notizia recente la pubblicazione, nella collana “Lo Specchio” di Mondadori, del De rerum natura tradotto da Milo De Angelis[1], punto di arrivo di un lunghissimo cammino percorso dal poeta a fianco di Lucrezio, fin dall’epoca della tesina di maturità, a lui dedicata[2], e delle prime versioni pubblicate sulla rivista Niebo (De Angelis e Pontiggia 1978). A precedere la nuova traduzione integrale, e forse a prepararle la strada, è stato inoltre il volume Sotto la scure silenziosa: frammenti dal De rerum natura (De Angelis 2005), che raccoglie le versioni di una cinquantina di passi del poema[3].

L’ispirazione di questi lavori è da ricercare in una profonda affinità spirituale e poetica con l’autore latino: in particolare, nella Nota iniziale alla raccolta del 2005, De Angelis presenta Lucrezio come un “poeta solitario”, “anima fuori tempo e fuori luogo”, la cui “pupilla tragica” “si intreccia al suo ragionare e lo riempie di pathos, conferisce a ogni idea la potenza di una visione” (De Angelis 2005: 9). E già in un’intervista dell’anno precedente aveva dichiarato di sentirsi “vicino a questa sfasatura di Lucrezio rispetto al suo tempo” e “vicino in un’idea del sublime, del caricare tutto di trasfigurazione”, attraverso “un realismo che diventa un’epopea, una cosmogonia, che parte dal dettaglio più concreto e lo porta nel vortice dell’esistenza e della vita” (Napoli 2005:105). Questa vicinanza sembra del resto confermata dalla critica, che ha descritto l’effetto prodotto dalla poesia deangelisiana proprio come un “sortilegio” determinato dalla “sfasatura tra la nitidezza del dettaglio e l’apertura visionaria” (Verdino 2017: 430), e ne ha definito l’opera nel suo complesso come “un campo di tensione tra i poli dell’orfico e dell’esperienziale” (Afribo 2015: 125), la cui potenza nasce proprio dalla compresenza e dall’interazione di due dimensioni contrastanti: quella visionaria ‒ dell’assoluto, del mitico, dell’onirico, dell’arcaico ‒ e quella realistica ‒ del contingente, del contemporaneo e del quotidiano ‒ ambientata nella sua periferia milanese.

È quindi da poeta che De Angelis si accosta alla traduzione del De rerum natura: ospite del Festival del Classico di Torino, nel novembre 2020, è lui stesso a presentare le versioni di Sotto la scure silenziosa definendole una traduzione poetica, e spiegando che poetica per lui non significa libera, ma volta, pur nel rispetto della lettera, a portare il testo in una nuova dimensione linguistica e stilistica che gli permetta di continuare a vivere nel nostro tempo[4].

La traduzione poetica degli autori classici, tuttavia, è un genere ormai da tempo praticamente scomparso dal nostro panorama letterario: fra gli anni Cinquanta e Settanta del Novecento, in parallelo alla deflagrazione e all’espansione dell’universo poetico italiano, e assecondando le esigenze di divulgazione di un mercato editoriale sempre più di massa, la traduzione della letteratura greca e latina è diventata una questione di pertinenza di studiosi e professori, anziché di scrittori e poeti. In questo periodo, come ha osservato Federico Condello, il “monopolio esercitato dai filologi […] sul dominio della traduzione poetica” si sostituisce a quello “storicamente esercitato dai poeti, o da filologi e studiosi che operavano e traducevano, se traducevano, en poètes”, al punto che la traduzione poetica “cessa di costituire una possibilità praticabile a livello di  versioni correnti” e “diviene, semmai, primizia d’autore, curiosità artistica, al limite stravaganza di studioso” (Condello 2009: 46).

La progressiva affermazione della traduzione filologica su quella poetica, o la progressiva perdita della distinzione fra le due, sembra essersi accompagnata a una standardizzazione delle modalità e degli stili traduttivi, dando origine a una lingua della traduzione dei classici ‒ una varietà di traduttese ‒ della quale sono stati individuati alcuni tratti caratteristici: fra questi, la tendenza a tradurre parola per parola, senza omettere (quasi) nulla e semmai integrando con elementi esplicativi; un lessico altamente standardizzato e tendenzialmente arcaizzante; costrutti sintattici convenzionali e spesso calcati su quelli greci o latini; una generale indifferenza verso gli scarti stilistici (cfr. Condello 2021). Si tratta di tendenze caratteristiche della prima pratica scolastica ‒ specificamente italiana ‒ di traduzione dal greco e dal latino, che però sopravvivono anche nelle traduzioni professionali.

In questo contesto, risulta ancor più significativa la volontà dichiarata, da parte di De Angelis, di proporre una traduzione poetica. Nei paragrafi seguenti, le traduzioni di Sotto la scure silenziosa (2005) verranno analizzate sia dal punto di vista del rapporto con i passi originali latini che da quello della lingua (lessico, sintassi) e dello stile (strategie retoriche), alternando l’individuazione di tendenze generali all’esame di alcuni singoli testi e proponendo, da ultimo, il confronto con le versioni di altri poeti-traduttori contemporanei, al fine di comprendere le modalità con le quali De Angelis realizza la sua traduzione poetica dell’opera di Lucrezio.

2. Frammenti e occasioni. Un itinerario personale

Nella scelta del formato, le traduzioni di Sotto la scure silenziosa si mostrano in continuità con quelle apparse su Niebo quasi trent’anni prima[5]. Il quarto numero della rivista, uscito nel gennaio 1978, aveva ospitato, sotto il titolo Lucrezio. Atomi, nubi, guerre, dieci passi lucreziani (25 versi il più ampio, 4 il più breve) affiancati dalle traduzioni in prosa. La selezione era il risultato di una scelta personale del traduttore, e comprendeva alcuni passi molto noti ‒ come quello che paragona gli atomi alle particelle visibili in un fascio di luce che illumina una stanza buia (II, 109-28), oppure quello che descrive la violenza e la frustrazione dell’atto sessuale (IV, 1107-20) ‒ e altri invece raramente considerati (come il brevissimo passo sulla schiusa delle uova e la muta delle cicale: V, 801-4). Inoltre, l’ordine nel quale erano disposti non rispecchiava quello del poema, ma tracciava un percorso personale inedito, difficile da interpretare (Pellacani 2017: 30).

Il volume del 2005 conferma la scelta di proporre una selezione di passi brevi (51 in totale: i più ampi contano una ventina di versi, i più brevi solo 3 o 4) affiancati dalle traduzioni in prosa, e di presentarli come frammenti isolati e riorganizzati in base a una logica differente, che però in questo caso viene esplicitata: la raccolta si compone di quattro capitoli, corrispondenti ad altrettanti temi fondamentali dell’opera di Lucrezio, ossia “La natura” (14 frammenti), “L’angoscia” (21), “L’amore” (11) e la malattia, o più precisamente “La peste di Atene” (5).

La presenza del testo a fronte è più problematica di quanto si potrebbe pensare. Innanzitutto, la corrispondenza non è sempre perfetta: ad esempio, a p. 44 è riportato un brano che affronta il tema della paura della morte (III, 79-86,), ma la sua traduzione comprende anche i due versi successivi, non riportati; viceversa, può accadere che il testo latino a fronte contenga più versi di quelli effettivamente tradotti, come nel caso del brano di p. 32 (I, 995-1001), sul movimento incessante degli atomi, la cui traduzione è basata solo sui primi tre versi. In generale comunque, come si avrà modo di constatare analizzando alcuni esempi, anche quando c’è corrispondenza fra il testo latino riportato e la sua traduzione, questa si realizza solo considerando il passo nel suo complesso: di certo non parola per parola, ma nemmeno verso per verso o frase per frase. La scelta di riportare i passi latini del poema lucreziano sembra essere stata dettata dalla volontà di indicare al lettore le occasioni dalle quali sono nate le traduzioni poetiche, e non per consentirgli o suggerirgli il confronto fra il testo latino e quello italiano, né, tantomeno, per permettergli di seguire il primo attraverso il secondo. È un segnale dell’autonomia poetica di queste traduzioni.

3. Echi e riflessi. Uno stile poetico

Consideriamo i vv. 1102-10 del I libro, con cui si apre la prima sezione del volume, dedicata alla natura:

Ne volucri ritu flammarum moenia mundi

diffugiant subito magnum per inane soluta

et ne cetera consimili ratione sequantur

neve ruant caeli tonitralia templa superne          1105

terraque se pedibus raptim subducat et omnis

inter permixtas rerum caelique ruinas

corpora solventis abeat per inane profundum,

temporis ut puncto nil exstet reliquiarum

desertum praeter spatium et primordia caeca.    1110

In un volo di fiamme le mura del mondo all'improvviso crolleranno, trascinate nell’immenso vuoto. Il cielo, regno dei tuoni, cadrà su di noi e tutta la terra sarà una voragine smisurata, una strage di corpi e rovine: non resterà nulla, in quel deserto buio di atomi, nulla (De Angelis 2005: 12-13).

La traduzione ha un tono particolarmente solenne, determinato anche dalla cadenza prosodica regolare: l’incipit ha un ritmo anapestico ‒ “In un volo di fiamme le mura del mondo” ‒ che poi subisce un rallentamento, con gli accenti non più ogni tre sillabe ma ogni quattro ‒ “all’improvviso crolleranno trascinate nell’immenso” ‒ in una serie interrotta dal “vuoto” finale. Un rapido confronto con il testo latino evidenzia immediatamente che non tutti gli elementi che lo compongono trovano corrispondenza nella traduzione: ad esempio, viene tralasciato il v. 1104, e del passaggio ai vv. 1106-8 (et omnis […] per inane profundum) si può rintracciare solo il riferimento a “corpi e rovine”. D’altro canto, non sarebbe facile individuare nel testo latino il corrispettivo della “strage”, così come della “voragine smisurata” (forse inane profundum del v. 1108), o di quel doppio “nulla” che conclude il testo italiano (a fronte dell’unico nil collocato al centro del v. 1109). Si tratta di un esempio rappresentativo del rapporto che queste traduzioni stabiliscono con i testi latini, rendendone il significato complessivo in maniera generalmente un po’ più sintetica, e cogliendone alcune suggestioni per svilupparle con modalità originali.

Vediamo ora la traduzione di un altro frammento (II, 34-46), che occupa anch’esso una posizione preminente nella raccolta, in apertura della sezione dedicata al tema dell’angoscia:

Nec calidae citius decedunt corpore febres,

textilibus si in picturis ostroque rubenti                      35

iacteris, quam si in plebeia veste cubandum est.

Quapropter quoniam nil nostro in corpore gazae

proficiunt neque nobilitas nec gloria regni,

quod superest, animo quoque nil prodesse putandum;

si non forte tuas legiones per loca campi                    40

fervere cum videas belli simulacra cientis,

subsidiis magnis et ecum vi constabilitas,

ornatas armis statuas pariterque animatas,

[fervere cum videas classem lateque vagari,]              43a

his tibi tum rebus timefactae religiones

effugiunt animo pavidae; mortisque timores               45

tum vacuum pectus linquunt curaque solutum.

Le febbri ardenti non risparmiano nessuno. Un corpo si agita su lussuosi tappeti, un altro su stoffe da due soldi. È lo stesso, lo stesso. Le ricchezze non possono salvarti. Men che meno il tuo zefiro di gloria. Prova a pensarci. Pensa di essere lì a contemplare orgoglioso le tue legioni: cavalli, armi, valore, l’immagine perfetta della guerra. Sei lì, osservi la tua flotta che si schiera e si estende nel mare. Ti basta questo? Ti basta questo spettacolo per guarire la tua anima folle di paura? Ti basta questo? (De Angelis 2005: 42-43)

Già una prima lettura è sufficiente per mettere in luce la diversa articolazione del testo latino, costruito su due soli periodi, di cui il secondo particolarmente ampio e complesso, e della traduzione, caratterizzata invece dall’incalzarsi di tante frasi brevi, spezzate dalla punteggiatura. Le ripetizioni, disseminate lungo tutto il testo (“È lo stesso, lo stesso”; “Prova a pensarci. Pensa di essere lì […]”, “Sei lì […]”), si intensificano ancora una volta nel finale, dove la combinazione di frammentazione sintattica e iterazione anaforica (“Ti basta questo? Ti basta questo spettacolo […]? Ti basta questo?”) produce un effetto di insistenza ossessiva e angosciosa che non trova riscontro nella lettera del poema lucreziano, ma di certo non è estraneo al suo spirito.

Già partendo da questi due brani, è possibile identificare alcuni stilemi caratteristici delle traduzioni lucreziane di De Angelis, che riflettono per lo più il suo stile poetico personale. Per esempio, sul piano lessicale, Andrea Afribo, nel suo studio del 2015 sulla poesia deangelisiana, ha notato la tendenza all’impiego di sostantivi e aggettivi che connotano lo spazio e il tempo in maniera iperbolica (Afribo 2015: 122-23). Ora, nel primo frammento, se in Lucrezio le mura del mondo si dissolvono magnum per inane (v. 1103), in De Angelis il vuoto non è semplicemente grande, ma “immenso” ‒ in linea con i verbi “crolleranno” e “trascinate”, anch’essi più intensi rispetto ad altre possibili soluzioni per diffugiant e soluta, come svaniranno e dissolte ‒ e la “voragine” che Lucrezio non dice, ma che si forma quando la terra se pedibus raptim subducat, è per De Angelis “smisurata”[6].

Ben più importante e diffuso è però un altro tratto ancor più tipico dello stile deangelisiano e osservato in entrambe le versioni: l’uso delle iterazioni, che pervadono questi testi e li segnano profondamente. Afribo ha individuato una delle costanti linguistico-formali della poesia di De Angelis nell’epanalessi, ossia la ripetizione di una o più parole, in posizione contigua (tipo xx), con rafforzamento del secondo elemento (tipo xx”), o con interposizione di una o più parole (tipo xyx) (Afribo 2015: 119-21). Queste modalità iterative si possono facilmente riconoscere anche nelle traduzioni del De rerum natura: al tipo xx, che qui è il più raro, si può ricondurre il già citato “È lo stesso, lo stesso” (De Angelis 2005: 43); esempi del tipo xx”, più frequente, sono “e non sa, certamente non sa” (63), “la nostra vita, tutta la nostra vita” (67), “se non immagini, labili immagini, miserabili immagini” (97). Al tipo xyx, invece, si possono riportare casi come “Nulla, ah, nulla” (53), ma soprattutto le numerosissime anafore ‒ “Non vedi che […]? Non vedi che […]?” (27); “Non troverete confini […]. Non troverete confini” (p. 37); “Guardali […]. Guardali bene” (59); “Bisogna fuggire […], bisogna volgere […], bisogna gettarlo […]” (93) ‒ e le altrettanto numerose riprese che isolano e rimarcano un elemento presente all’interno della frase precedente: “basterà un solo giorno a distruggerle. Sì, un solo giorno” (23); “Non c’è mai tregua per questi corpi. Mai” (33); “è falso il lamento dell’uomo […]. È falso” (51); “Non è mai intero il piacere, mai” (95); “spingono invano in direzioni opposte. Invano” (105).

Tutti gli esempi appena citati si collocano all’interno delle versioni deangelisiane, contribuendo a strutturarne la forma e a determinarne l’andamento ritmico. Ma un discorso a parte meritano le ripetizioni collocate in posizione finale, che sono estremamente frequenti e hanno un effetto di intensificazione patetica o tragica che è, anche questa, caratteristica di molti testi poetici di De Angelis (Afribo 2015: 121). Se ne sono già visti degli esempi nelle due versioni riportate, ma ce ne sono moltissimi altri: “il mondo non è stato creato per noi. […] No, non è stato creato per noi” (De Angelis 2005: 25); “un moto irregolare e senza pace. Nessuna pace, mai, per i corpi” (35); “nulla, nemmeno il mare sollevato fino al cielo, nulla potrà più toccarci, credimi, nulla” (49); “Bisogna squarciare questo velo. Dipende solo da noi. Bisogna squarciarlo” (53); “Non temere. Nessuno ti minaccerà più. Non temere” (56); “saremo esposti ogni giorno al dolore, ogni giorno!” (75).

Molti di questi passi potrebbero essere portati a esempio anche di altre due tendenze stilistiche che caratterizzano le traduzioni deangelisiane. La prima è la frammentazione sintattica: capita molto di frequente di imbattersi in frasi brevissime e icastiche, per le quali sarebbe inutile cercare una corrispondenza formale nei testi latini. Oltre agli esempi già citati, si possono ricordare altre serie di frasi brevi, come “Guarda i bambini. Sono fragili, indifesi. Sono labili, come il loro pensiero” (47), “Il male li colpiva. Corpi essiccati” (111), oppure singole frasi isolate di grande impatto, come “Immutabile è soltanto la guerra” (19), “È un ordine eterno” (57), fino ai singoli “Mai” (33), “No” (53, 65), “Invano” (101, 105) che impongono pause cariche di tragicità.

Particolarmente interessanti sono i casi, piuttosto frequenti, in cui il ritmo del discorso è determinato da uno stretto contatto fra periodi ampi, in genere costruiti su serie verbali o, più raramente, nominali, e frasi brevi:

Immutabile è soltanto la guerra. Le forze vitali trionfano, si bloccano, sono assediate, vincono ancora, si dileguano, risorgono. (19)

Gli atomi vanno liberi nel cosmo, volteggiano, si intrecciano, si staccano, si perpetuano in combinazioni inesauribili, animati dalla potenza del movimento. E non solo su questa terra. Non solo qui. Guardate: non ha sosta la materia creatrice. (37)

Preparano ogni giorno un banchetto, gareggiano in pranzi, raffinatezze, profumi, in coppe riempite senza sosta, vestiti lussuosi, ghirlande. Invano. (101)

Un’altra tendenza, che si intreccia facilmente a quella appena osservata, riguarda l’impiego frequente dei verbi all’imperativo con cui il poeta-traduttore si rivolge direttamente al lettore. Non che questi fossero estranei allo stile di Lucrezio, ma nelle traduzioni deangelisiane compaiono molto più spesso, e di solito sono molto evidenti perché collocati in posizione incipitaria o sintatticamente isolati: il più frequente è “Guarda” (17, 23, 25, 47), anche nelle varianti “Guardate” (37), “Guardali […]. Guardali bene” (59), “Guardane uno” (79), ma si possono citare anche “Prova a pensarci. Pensa” (43), “Pensa” (97), o “Ascoltate” (103).

Ma questi tratti stilistici caratterizzanti, punti di contatto fra la poesia di De Angelis e le sue traduzioni da Lucrezio, non sono gli unici elementi che contribuiscono a connotare queste ultime come poetiche. C’è soprattutto, da parte del poeta-traduttore, un’interpretazione personale del testo latino che dà luogo, come già si è avuto modo di osservare nei due testi esaminati, a una vera e propria ri-creazione poetica.

Ne sono una spia anche le soluzioni adottate per rendere singole parole o espressioni del testo lucreziano, nelle quali anche un minimo slittamento rispetto a una resa filologica “standard” fa emergere immediatamente la personalità del poeta-traduttore. Nei due brani già analizzati, esempi di questo tipo possono essere l’incipit “In un volo di fiamme” (De Angelis 2005: 13), che traduce con grande immediatezza espressiva il latino volucri ritu flammarum[7], oppure l’espressione “zefiro di gloria” (43) per il semplice gloria regni latino, al quale si può affiancare il “tappeto della gloria” (69) che compare nella traduzione di un altro passo (III, 76 claro qui incedit honore > “qualcuno che cammina sul tappeto della gloria”[8]): in entrambi i casi la gloria si fa oggetto, ma se noi la immaginiamo come un tappeto rosso, in realtà non è che una brezza leggera. Sulla stessa linea, l’astratta salutem che i moti distruttori non possono seppellire in eterno (II, 570) può tradursi in una forza corporea e dinamica, “la spinta della vita” (19). E proprio al tema della vita e della morte sono riconducibili alcune delle soluzioni più originali, che vanno sempre nella direzione della concretezza di immagini e sensazioni: da espressioni come “il portone della morte” (31) per leti ianua (V, 373), oppure “operai della morte” (71) per leti fabricator (III, 472) ‒ che si discostano appena dalle classiche “la porta della morte” e “artefici di morte”[9], ma abbastanza per calare questi elementi nella nostra realtà quotidiana ‒ fino ai passi nei quali la morte diviene una sostanza fisica, pesante e vischiosa, per cui gli uomini “sono capaci […] di compiere qualunque gesto, pur di togliersi di dosso un po’ di morte” (45) (III, 86 vitare Acherusia templa petentes[10]) e, durante l’epidemia di peste di Atene, qualcuno compie gesti estremi “vedendo la morte che gli strisciava addosso” (113) (VI, 1208 metuentes limina leti[11]). Fin troppo chiaramente deangelisiana, infine, la metafora che descrive il contagio facendo riferimento al mondo dell’atletica leggera, così presente nelle sue raccolte poetiche[12]: “Ciascuno raccoglieva la malattia dell’altro, in una staffetta mortale” (115) (VI, 1235-36 nullo cessabant tempore apisci / ex aliis alios avidi contagia morbi[13]).

Concludiamo dunque questa analisi esaminando la traduzione di De Angelis di un passo lucreziano dedicato a una morte celebre, quella di Ifigenia (I, 87-101):

Cui simul infula virgineos circumdata comptus

ex utraque pari malarum parte profusast,

et maestum simul ante aras adstare parentem

sensit et hunc propter ferrum celare ministros                       90

aspectuque suo lacrimas effundere civis,

muta metu terram genibus summissa petebat.

Nec miserae prodesse in tali tempore quibat

quod patrio princeps donarat nomine regem.

Nam sublata virum manibus tremibundaque ad aras                95

deductast, non ut sollemni more sacrorum

perfecto posset claro comitari Hymenaeo,

sed casta inceste nubendi tempore in ipso

hostia concideret mactatu maesta parentis,

exitus ut classi felix faustusque daretur.                               100

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.

Appena avvolsero nella benda i suoi capelli di ragazza, Ifigenia vide tutto. Vide Agamennone immobile vicino all’altare, vide i sacerdoti che nascondevano la spada, il popolo che la guardava in lacrime. Muta di terrore, si piegò sulle ginocchia, supplicando, si lasciò cadere a terra. Chiamò il re, per la prima volta, con il nome di padre. Per la prima volta. Nessuna risposta. La portarono di forza, tremante, all’altare. E non era l’altare delle nozze, non erano i riti solenni e così attesi, i cori splendenti. No. Fu distesa vicino ad Agamennone, che le immerse la spada nel petto: solo così la flotta greca poté prendere la via propizia del mare. Solo così, Ifigenia, solo così. (De Angelis 2005: 64-65)

Il primo, ampio periodo latino (vv. 87-92) si compone di due subordinate temporali, segnalate dal duplice simul (vv. 87 e 89), la seconda delle quali regge le tre oggettive che ricostruiscono le impressioni di Ifigenia, che percepisce dapprima l’atteggiamento del padre (maestum […] adstare parentem), poi il gesto dei sacerdoti (ferrum celare ministros) e la reazione del popolo (lacrimas effundere cives), mentre la principale ‒ muta metu terram genibus summissa petebat ‒ occupa la posizione finale. La traduzione di De Angelis, invece, si articola in tre periodi distinti: il primo si conclude sulle parole “Ifigenia vide tutto”, che concentrano in un istante la vista e la comprensione, da parte della ragazza, di quanto la attende; il secondo riprende anaforicamente il verbo “vide”, descrivendo i diversi personaggi coinvolti; il terzo torna su Ifigenia, scomponendo il suo crollo in due momenti, osservati come al rallentatore, attraverso un parallelismo sintattico: “Muta di terrore, si piegò sulle ginocchia, supplicando, si lasciò cadere a terra”. La seconda metà del brano coniuga una sintassi franta, talvolta nominale, con un sistema di iterazioni: “Chiamò il re, per la prima volta, con il nome di padre. Per la prima volta. Nessuna risposta” (che modifica, drammatizzandolo, il significato del testo latino[14]); “e non era l’altare delle nozze, non erano i riti solenni […]. No”; fino alla tragica conclusione, nella quale il poeta-traduttore arriva a rivolgersi direttamente alla protagonista: “solo così la flotta greca poté prendere la via del mare. Solo così, Ifigenia, solo così”.

È certamente significativa la scelta di De Angelis di non tradurre la celeberrima sententia lucreziana con la quale si conclude questo brano ‒ Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum[15] ‒ che pure viene riportata nel testo a fronte. L’episodio del sacrificio di Ifigenia, in questo modo, perde il suo valore esemplificativo delle atrocità a cui ha portato la religione tradizionale, e quello che rimane è solo il racconto di un orribile delitto. E non è questo l’unico caso in cui le traduzioni deangelisiane sembrano veicolare un’interpretazione personale, più cupa e angosciante, del testo di Lucrezio[16]. Un esempio è la traduzione dei vv. 1016-23 del III libro, che parlano di come le terribili punizioni che gli uomini immaginano nell’aldilà non siano altro che la proiezione delle paure che provano mentre sono in vita. Il passo si conclude con il verso Hic Acherusia fit stultorum denique vita[17], che De Angelis traduce “Qui, sulla terra, si avvera l’inferno” (81); una chiusa di grande effetto, che però tralascia il genitivo stultorum: per Lucrezio, questa è la vita degli stolti, che può essere evitata da coloro che abbracciano la verità epicurea; per De Angelis, invece, questa sembra essere la vita alla quale l’umanità intera è irrimediabilmente destinata. Un altro caso interessante è quello dei vv. 1161-67 del V libro, nei quali Lucrezio si propone di spiegare le origini della religione: una serie di domande retoriche su come i nomi degli dèi e i riti si siano diffusi tra i popoli si conclude con il verso non ita difficilest rationem reddere verbis, che introduce l’esposizione delle cause di tali fenomeni. La traduzione di De Angelis, però, non comprende quest’ultimo verso (che non viene nemmeno riportato in latino) e quindi si esaurisce nella serie angosciosa degli interrogativi anaforici ‒ “Come è nata? E come si è diffusa tra le grandi nazioni l’idea del divino? […] Come è nata la paura […]? Come è nata?” (83) ‒, trasformando quella che in Lucrezio è una questione importante, alla quale egli intende dare una risposta, in una domanda che il poeta-traduttore ripropone ossessivamente, senza che una risposta sembri possibile.

4. Traduzioni a confronto

Lo statuto poetico di queste versioni di De Angelis, che ne fa un prodotto raro nel panorama attuale delle traduzioni italiane dei classici, si può cogliere al meglio provando a confrontare uno dei suoi frammenti con una traduzione che è ormai classica anch’essa: quella di Luca Canali, pubblicata nel 1990 in un’edizione che ha sempre goduto di grande prestigio e autorevolezza, e tuttora frequentemente adottata nell’ambito dei corsi universitari, per la sua veste curata ed elegante e perché si dimostra particolarmente adatta come supporto allo studio del testo latino. Alle versioni di Canali e De Angelis si può aggiungere quella di Sanguineti, traduttore di numerosi passi del poema lucreziano[18], fra cui alcuni frammenti pubblicati da il verri nel 2005 ‒ dunque in contemporanea a quelli di De Angelis ‒ e analizzati da Federico Condello, che ha dimostrato come l’esperimento sanguinetiano presupponga, e al contempo neghi, la modalità standard di traduzione dei classici.

Consideriamo quindi i vv. 1037-60 del IV libro, che fanno parte della famosa trattazione lucreziana della fisiologia e psicologia amorosa, di cui riportiamo le versioni di Canali, Sanguineti (solo per i vv. 1052-57) e De Angelis:

Il seme di cui ho parlato è suscitato in noi

appena l’età pubere apporta vigore alle membra.

Poiché diverse cause stimolano e feriscono oggetti diversi,

dall’uomo soltanto il fascino dell’uomo fa sgorgare il seme umano.                  1040

E questo, appena esce emesso dalle sue sedi,

attraverso le membra e gli arti si ritrae da tutto il corpo,

raccogliendosi in certe parti ricche di plessi nervosi,

e subito eccita esattamente gli organi genitali.

Le parti stimolate si gonfiano di seme: nasce il desiderio                               1045

di eiacularlo dove s’appunta la brama mostruosa,

ed esso cerca quel corpo da cui l’animo è ferito d’amore.                               1048

Infatti per lo più tutti cadono sulla propria ferita

e il sangue sprizza nella direzione da cui è vibrato il colpo,                            1050

e se il nemico è vicino il getto vermiglio lo irrora.                                       

Così dunque chi riceve la ferita dai dardi di Venere,

siano essi scagliati dalle femminee membra d’un fanciullo,

o da donna che irradi amore da tutto il corpo,

si protende verso la creatura da cui è ferito e arde                                       1055

di congiungersi a lei, e di versare in quel corpo l’umore del proprio corpo.

Infatti la tacita brama presagisce il piacere.

Questa è Venere in noi; di qui il nome d’amore,

di qui prima stillarono dolcissime gocce

nel cuore, e a vicenda successe la gelida pena […] (Canali 1990: 405-7)            1060


così dunque, chi riceve, per le frecce di Venere, le sue piaghe,

quando lo colpisce, quello, un ragazzo che ha membra muliebri,

o una donna che, da tutto il suo corpo, emana l’amore,

si protende, da quella parte che è ferito, e ha la voglia di andarci insieme,        1055

e di gettarlo, il proprio sperma, fuori dal proprio corpo, in quel corpo: il

desiderio, muto, gli fa pregustare, infatti, il piacere: (Sanguineti 2005: 8)

Il seme cresce dentro di noi. Non appena l’adolescenza dà vigore alle membra e un altro essere umano lo attira a sé, esso ci attraversa e si concentra nei genitali, li mette in allarme, li gonfia, li accende, li guida verso il corpo da cui è giunta la terribile ferita d’amore. Come in una battaglia. Quando il nemico ci trafigge con la sua spada, cadiamo verso di lui, bagnandolo di sangue. Così, non appena ci penetra la freccia amorosa, scagliata dal corpo femmineo di un fanciullo o dal corpo di una donna impregnata d’amore, ci voltiamo verso chi ci ha ferito, desideriamo avvinghiarci, scagliare contro quel corpo il liquido che viene dal nostro, dare voce al silenzioso richiamo. Questa è per noi Venere, questa è la parola amore, queste le prime dolcissime gocce, a cui segue il gelo. (De Angelis 2005: 91)

Nella versione di Canali si possono riconoscere alcuni dei tratti che sono stati individuati come caratteristici del traduttese generalmente impiegato, negli ultimi decenni, nelle traduzioni italiane dei classici antichi. In primo luogo, la corrispondenza verso per verso e, tendenzialmente, parola per parola con il testo latino[19]: di qui la precisione con cui vengono riprodotti anche i più sottili passaggi del ragionamento lucreziano (si vedano ad esempio i vv. 1039-40, sui quali invece De Angelis non si sofferma, limitandosi a inglobarli nella formula “e un altro essere umano lo attira a sé”). Ma questo spiega anche la presenza, in Canali, di formule di passaggio e termini riempitivi che possono appesantire un po’ l’insieme, come l’avverbio “esattamente” (v. 1044) che corrisponde a un ipsas latino, o gli attacchi “Infatti per lo più tutti” (v. 1049 Namque omnes plerumque), “Così dunque” (v. 1052 Sic igitur), “Infatti” (v. 1057 Namque), e di alcune soluzioni a calco, come “emesso dalle sue sedi” (v. 1041 suis eiectum sedibus), “le membra e gli arti” (v. 1042 membra atque artus: i due termini sono sinonimi, infatti al v. 1038 era stato usato “membra” per artus).

In secondo luogo, la traduzione di Canali adotta un lessico che, mantenendosi su un registro sostenuto, include termini talvolta marcatamente letterari o poetici, o comunque arcaizzanti ‒ spiccano “brama”, “dardi”, “umore” ‒ e talvolta invece stranamente tecnici, propri del linguaggio della medicina e della fisiologia, come per i “plessi nervosi” (v. 1043 loca nervorum) o per il verbo “eiaculare”; per cui si possono creare veri e propri cortocircuiti lessicali, come in “nasce il desiderio / di eiacularlo dove s’appunta la brama mostruosa” (vv. 1045-46)[20].

Questi aspetti si ritrovano, particolarmente marcati, nel breve passo tradotto da Sanguineti, che è il risultato di una complessa operazione stilistica e critica con la quale, come ha messo in luce l’analisi di Condello, lo stile lucreziano viene ricondotto “esattamente al ‘grado normale’ o troppo normale del gergo traduttivo” (Condello 2008: 462). Ecco quindi la traduzione verso per verso e parola per parola, che scompone versi ed enunciati latini nei loro singoli elementi, minuziosamente riprodotti in italiano (v. 1052 Sic igitur > “così dunque”; v. 1053 hunc > “quello”; v. 1057 Namque > “infatti”) ed evidenziati da una punteggiatura sovrabbondante. Ed ecco anche l’adozione di soluzioni lessicali appartenenti a registri diversi e disomogenei: dal letterario “piaghe” (v. 1052) e dal latineggiante “membra muliebri” (v. 1053) fino all’abbassamento stilistico determinato, paradossalmente, da calchi etimologici come “andarci insieme” (per coire, v. 1055) e “gettarlo” (per iacere, v. 1056), e dal certamente impoetico “sperma” (v. 1056), oltre che da una sintassi colloquiale, caratterizzata dai pleonasmi pronominali e dall’uso irregolare del che (v. 1055 “da quella parte che è ferito”). Il risultato è una traduzione che, proprio rimarcando i tratti caratteristici dello standard traduttivo, ne vuole evidenziare l’impraticabilità (Condello 2008: 265-66).

E un’alternativa a questo standard è proposta da De Angelis: il confronto con la versione di Canali rende ancora più evidente la diversa modalità con cui egli si rapporta al testo lucreziano, sintetizzandolo e rielaborandolo; non c’è traccia in questo caso di parole o espressioni che segnalano la corrispondenza con il latino. I vv. 1041-48, per esempio, sono resi attraverso una serie di voci verbali separate dalla virgola in un crescendo di intensità (“esso ci attraversa […] la terribile ferita d’amore”), cui segue, secondo una modalità già osservata, l’inciso “Come in una battaglia”, che non ha riscontro in latino, ma anticipa e chiarisce il passaggio alla similitudine successiva. Per quanto riguarda poi le scelte lessicali, De Angelis sembra preferire in genere soluzioni più naturali e immediate rispetto a quelle di Canali[21], oltre che più omogenee dal punto di vista stilistico. Lo si vede già nei primi due versi: nella versione deangelisiana, il seme “cresce” (e non “è suscitato”) quando l’“adolescenza” (e non “l’età pubere”) “dà” (e non “apporta”) vigore alle membra. A fare la differenza, comunque, non è solo la preferenza per la “freccia” rispetto ai “dardi” (v. 1052), ma anche la ricerca di soluzioni lessicali, ancora una volta, dotate di maggiore concretezza e intensità espressiva: così il sangue non irrora il nemico, ma lo bagna, la donna non irradia amore, ma ne è impregnata, e l’uomo desidera non semplicemente congiungersi a lei, e versare in lei il suo umore, ma avvinghiarsi e scagliarlo contro quel corpo.

Ma proprio su questo piano dell’efficacia e della vivacità lessicale può essere interessante un ulteriore confronto, questa volta con una traduzione più affine a quella di De Angelis per il formato a frammenti e per lo statuto poetico. Ancora il verri, nel 2008, ha pubblicato le versioni di tre brani lucreziani a opera di Jolanda Insana: si tratta dell’incipit del poema (I, 1-39), del catalogo dei difetti femminili (IV, 1155-91) e di un passo sulle origini della vita sulla terra (V, 783-825). Fra questi, il secondo è il solo tradotto anche nel volume di De Angelis:

Gli uomini innamorati si prendono in giro a vicenda. Ciascuno consiglia all’altro di non farsi ingannare, ignorando di essere già in trappola. Donne orrende vengono adorate come regine, lodate con parole irreali. Ascoltate, è grottesco. Una dalla pelle bruciacchiata diventa “la mia creola”, un’altra sporca e trasandata è chiamata “bellezza spartana”. Se ha gli occhi verdi, è subito una Minerva, se è tutta nervi e ossa diventa una gazzella. Una nana si trasforma in un tipetto tutto pepe, una cicciona è un essere pieno di maestà. Se balbetta, è un delizioso cinguettio; se non sa dire una parola, è una creatura piena di pudore. Una strega esaltata è una ricca di temperamento. Se non sta in piedi è un giunco, se è tisica un passerotto; se ha un seno enorme diventa Cerere in persona, se ha un nasone una diva, se ha le labbra sporgenti un nido di baci. (De Angelis: 103)

E perciò vediamo femmine brutte e laide                                                1155

molto onorate e ardentemente amate.

E l’uno ride dell’altro, persuadendolo a placare                                  

la passione poiché è degradante l’amore che l’affligge

e non scorge, sventurato, la sua più amara sventura.

Melata è la bruna. Senza belletti la sozza puzzona.                                  1160

Occhiazzurri è il ritratto di Pallade. La segaligna è una gazzella.

La piccoletta, il tappo tutto pepe è sorella delle Grazie.

Una delle sette meraviglie è la stangona, piena di grazia e dignità.

Incapace di parlare la balba è blesa, la mutola riservata.

Sempiterna lampa è l’ardente petulante chiacchierona.                            1165

Un amore in miniatura l’emaciata che stringe l’anima                     

coi denti, delicata la tisica.

La pupporona, invece, è Cerere che allatta Bacco.

La rincagnata una Silena o una Satirella, la labbrona è baccello di baci. (Insana 2008: 86)

Rispetto a tutti gli altri brani fin qui analizzati, questo si distingue per il tono, che non è didascalico e nemmeno tragico o patetico, ma piuttosto satirico, o persino comico, per effetto di un’efficace strategia retorica basata sulla giustapposizione dei difetti femminili, presentati con impietoso realismo, e dei vezzosi nomignoli usati dagli innamorati. Il gioco di contrasti e l’adozione di termini latini molto realistici da un lato, e di numerosi grecismi dall’altro, rendono questo passo del poema, più di altri, una vera e propria sfida per un traduttore.

La versione di De Angelis si apre con un’introduzione che rielabora quella del testo latino, anticipando il commento sul comportamento degli uomini innamorati (vv. 1157-59), rispetto alla constatazione di come “donne orrende” siano oggetto di adorazione e di lode (vv. 1155-56); segue (senza riscontro in latino) un appello ai lettori, nel consueto stile essenziale (“Ascoltate, è grottesco”), e a questo punto si apre la galleria di ritratti femminili. Nella resa di questi ultimi, il poeta-traduttore mette in pratica diverse strategie: in alcuni casi si attiene alla lettera (v. 1161 Palladium > “una Minerva”; dorcas > “una gazzella”; v. 1168 Ceres ipsa > “Cerere in persona”), ma in altri preferisce un lessico più moderno (v. 1162 tota merum sal > “un tipetto tutto pepe”; v. 1163 magna atque immanis > “una cicciona”), oppure sceglie formule alternative, con un effetto modernizzante (v. 1165 flagrans odiosa loquacula > “una strega esaltata”; v. 1169 Silena ac saturast > “una diva”) che culmina nell’anacronismo, o nell’uso anacronistico del lessico antico (v. 1160 melichrus > “la mia creola”; acosmos > “bellezza spartana”). Molte volte, tuttavia, il vivacissimo lessico lucreziano viene tradotto in maniera perifrastica: v. 1160 nigra > “dalla pelle bruciacchiata”; v. 1164 muta pudens est > “se non sa dire una parola, è una creatura piena di pudore”; v. 1165 Lampadium > “una ricca di temperamento”; v. 1168 tumida et mammosa > “se ha un seno enorme”; v. 1169 simula > “se ha un nasone”; v. 1169 labeosa > “se ha le labbra sporgenti”. La diversità delle soluzioni adottate e l’ampliamento di molti passaggi allontanano questa traduzione dall’originale lucreziano nel ritmo, meno vivace, e nel tono, più grave.

Per quanto riguarda Insana che, come poetessa, è ben nota per il suo plurilinguismo (Broccio 2018), è stato notato che le sue traduzioni da Lucrezio non riflettono questa attitudine, anzi, perché l’attenzione alla corrispondenza con l’originale comporta “la rinuncia a quel lessico fortemente idiosincratico e ‘pirotecnico’” che la caratterizza, “come se la poetessa in un certo senso trattenesse la propria voce” (Pellacani 2017: 28). Fa un po’ eccezione, tuttavia, proprio questo passo: nel tradurre il catalogo dei difetti femminili, la vena poetica di Insana può andare incontro a quella di Lucrezio sul piano dell’inventiva verbale. Ecco quindi, ad esempio, l’irriverente “sozza puzzona” per il latino immunda et fetida (v. 1160, da confrontare con “sporca e trasandata” di De Angelis); il composto canzonatorio “occhiazzurri”; l’esageratamente arcaizzante “sempiterna lampa” (per il lucreziano Lampadium, v. 1165); l’espressivo regionalismo (toscano) “pupporona” e lo scherzoso “labbrona”. Incisiva è anche la resa di cum vivere non quit / pro macie (vv. 1166-67) con la metafora “che stringe l’anima / coi denti”[22]. Il piano lessicale, inoltre, è strettamente connesso con quello fonico: si vedano le numerose allitterazioni (“Senza belletti la sozza puzzona”, “la piccoletta, il tappo tutto pepe”, “sempiterna lampa”; a volte al limite della paronomasia, come in “la labbrona è baccello di baci”), le consonanze (“ardente petulante”, “amore in miniatura”), le rime interne e i richiami fonici (“gazzella” e “sorella”; la serie di “riservata”, “emaciata”, “delicata” e “rincagnata”, che si intreccia con quella di “stangona”, “chiacchierona”, “pupporona”, “labbrona”)[23]. L’aderenza alla lettera e allo spirito del testo lucreziano è conservata, e l’effetto è senz’altro godibile.

5. Conclusioni. Traduzione e “intensità”

Di fatto […] le versioni di testi poetici sono, nella loro maggioranza, parafrastiche (soprattutto quando dispongono il testo a fronte) tuttavia mantenendo indicazioni grafiche come l’“a capo” corrispondenti ai versi e le divisioni strofiche; mentre in quelle che si classificano “poetiche” si verranno evidenziando livelli ulteriori, la cui presenza può aumentare gradatamente. Al di sopra di una certa intensità (più o meno intenzionale) si può parlare di “ricreazione” e di autonomia poetica. (Fortini 1989: 97)

Fortini, che nelle sue Lezioni sulla traduzione (1989) si sofferma più volte a riflettere sullo statuto della traduzione poetica, constata il prevalere di modalità “parafrastiche” di traduzione della poesia, caratterizzate da un formato che rispecchia ‒ nel numero di versi e nelle divisioni strofiche ‒ quello del testo di partenza riportato a fronte, e sostiene che invece una traduzione poetica, per potersi definire tale, deve consentire “livelli ulteriori” di analisi, superando una certa soglia di “intensità”.

L’esame delle traduzioni di De Angelis dal De rerum natura ha messo in luce come avviene, in questo caso, il superamento della soglia. Innanzitutto, l’operazione traduttiva viene presentata, dallo stesso De Angelis, come il risultato di un incontro personale fra poeta tradotto e poeta-traduttore, nel nome di una vicinanza nel modo di intendere e di fare poesia; in secondo luogo, il poeta-traduttore prende chiaramente le distanze dalle modalità convenzionali (o “parafrastiche”) di traduzione della poesia classica: nella selezione e nella classificazione personale dei passi da tradurre, in contrapposizione a una traduzione integrale o dei soli brani più celebri; nella scelta della prosa, che paradossalmente, anziché negare la poeticità della traduzione, la garantisce, impedendo una convenzionale corrispondenza verso a verso con il testo a fronte; nella focalizzazione sulla resa di pensieri ed emozioni, piuttosto che di singole parole ed espressioni (e di certo non parola per parola); nell’adozione infine di uno stile poetico personale riconoscibile, non standardizzato. Di conseguenza, tale operazione trasforma profondamente il testo originale ‒ “mutandolo perché possa vivere altrove” (Napoli 2005: 105) ‒ e ha come esito un testo poetico nuovo, con caratteristiche lessicali, sintattiche, retoriche proprie. In questo Lucrezio c’è quindi molto, moltissimo di De Angelis. Resta un interrogativo, e cioè se questo stile traduttivo così personale e così ‘intenso’ possa essere conservato anche in una traduzione integrale dell’immensa opera lucreziana.


Afribo, Andrea (2015) “Deangelisiana”, in Poesia italiana postrema. Dal 1970 a oggi, Roma, Carocci, 2017: 107-126.

Arvigo, Tiziana (2011) “Piccola cosmogonia portatile: Sanguineti lettore e traduttore di Lucrezio”, Nuova corrente LVIII, 58: 81-104.

Bertoni, Alberto (2020) Lucrezio milanese. Interpretazioni, letture, riscritture di Milo De Angelis e Giancarlo Pontiggia, in Ragione e furore. Lucrezio nell’Italia contemporanea, Francesco Citti, Daniele Pellacani (eds), Bologna, Pendragon: 221-37.

Broccio, Emanuele (2018) “Jolanda Insana: una lingua per scuotere le menti”, Mantichora 8: 128-41.

Canali, Luca (1990) (trans) Tito Lucrezio Caro, La natura delle cose, Milano, Rizzoli.

Condello, Federico (2005) “‘Impuro specchio’. Sul Lucrezio di Sanguineti”, il verri XXIX, 29: 123-31.

--- (2007) “La Venus e l’Iphianassa di Lucrezio-Sanguineti, il verri XXXV, 35: 123-30.

--- (2008) “Lucrezio, Catullo, Orazio e Sanguineti: esercizi di ‘pseudotraslazione’”, Poetiche X, 3: 423-67.

--- (2009) Tradurre la lirica, in Hermeneuein. Tradurre il greco, Camillo Neri e Renzo Tosi (eds), Bologna, Pàtron: 31-65.

--- (2021) Forme della fedeltà. Ancora su traduzione, ‘traduttese’, scuola, in Paradigmi d’identità. Tradurre e interpretare i classici, Marzia Bambozzi (ed), Ancona, Edizioni Ae: 99-146.

Crocco, Claudia (2014) “Dialogo con Milo de Angelis”, Semicerchio LI: 61-75.

De Angelis, Milo (2005) Sotto la scure silenziosa: frammenti dal De rerum natura, Milano, SE.

--- (2013) Colloqui sulla poesia, Isabella Vicentini (ed), Milano, Book Time.

De Angelis, Milo e Pontiggia, Giancarlo (1978) “Lucrezio. Atomi, nubi, guerre”, Niebo 2, 4: 62-79.

Fellin, Armando (1963) (trans) Lucrezio, Della natura, Torino, Unione tipografico editrice torinese.

Festival del Classico (2020): De rerum natura, il poema dell’infinita tempesta. Su Lucrezio e i disastri della natura, (26/01/2020).

Fortini, Franco (1989) Lezioni sulla traduzione, Maria Vittoria Tirinato (ed), Macerata, Quolibet, 2011.

Insana, Jolanda (2008) “Traduzioni da Lucrezio”, il verri 36: 85-88.

Lorenzini, Niva (2021) Il Lucrezio di Edoardo Sanguineti nell’approdo a Varie ed eventuali, in Lucrezio, Seneca e noi. Studi per Ivano Dionigi, Centro Studi “La permanenza del classico”, Bologna, Patron: 131-38.

Napoli, Francesco (2005) Novecento prossimo venturo. Conversazioni critiche sulla poesia (Carifi, Conte, Cucchi, D’Elia, De Angelis, Magrelli, Mussapi, Viviani), Milano, Jaca book: 97-113.

Pellacani, Daniele (2017) Le traduzioni poetiche, in AA.VV., Vedere l’invisibile. Lucrezio e l’arte contemporanea, Bologna, Pendragon: 27-33.

Pellacani Daniele (2020) Deviazioni e incontri: il De rerum natura tra letteratura e arte, in Ragione e furore. Lucrezio nell’Italia contemporanea, Francesco Citti, Daniele Pellacani (eds), Bologna, Pendragon: IX-LXIX.

Rapisardi, Mario (1880) La Natura, libri VI di T. Lucrezio Caro, tradotti da Mario Rapisardi, Milano, Brigola.

Sanguineti, Edoardo (2005) “Lucrezio. Un oratorio materialistico”, il verri 29: 5-11.

Verdino, Stefano (2017) Postfazione a De Angelis, Milo, Tutte le poesie. 1969-2015, Milano, Mondadori: 429-442.

Zucco, Rodolfo (2007) “Aspetti della lingua poetica di Jolanda Insana”, Istmi 19-20: 201-218.


[1] Il volume è intitolato De rerum natura di Lucrezio ed è uscito nel 2022.

[2] Lo scritto è stato pubblicato nel 2008, con il titolo Lucrezio, la notte, l’incubo, in La scoperta della poesia, Carla Gubert e Massimo Rizzante (eds), Pesaro, Metauro: 45-49.

[3] Questa edizione del 2005, che comprende 51 frammenti, costituisce un ampliamento della raccolta pubblicata nel 2002 (dal titolo Sotto la scure silenziosa: trentasei frammenti dal De rerum natura).

[4] Cfr. Festival del Classico 2020 (l’intervento è disponibile online).

[5] Sulle traduzioni lucreziane comparse su Niebo, cfr. Bertoni 2020.

[6] È possibile che la scelta di quest’ultimo aggettivo sia stata anche influenzata da un’interpretazione etimologica del latino profundus come “senza fondo” (e dunque senza misura).

[7] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “al modo alato delle fiamme”; Canali 1990: “simili a fiamme volanti”.

[8] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “che incede tra splendidi onori”.

[9] Sono queste le soluzioni adottate da Fellin 1963 e da Canali 1990.

[10] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “cercando di sfuggire gli abissi d’Acheronte”.

[11] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “temendo la soglia di morte”.

[12] Il tema viene affrontato, in dialogo con De Angelis, in Crocco 2014: 69-70.

[13] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “in nessun momento cessava d’apprendersi dall’uno all’altro il contagio del morbo insaziabile”.

[14] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “Né alla misera poteva giovare in un tale momento l’aver dato per prima al re il nome di padre». L’amaro commento di Lucrezio si trasforma, nella traduzione deangelisiana, nell’ultimo disperato tentativo di Ifigenia di toccare il cuore del padre.

[15] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “Tanto grandi delitti ha potuto ispirare la religione”.

[16] In effetti De Angelis ha ricordato in più occasioni come il suo incontro con Lucrezio sia stato influenzato dal saggio di Luciano Perelli, Lucrezio poeta dell’angoscia (1969), che proponeva una lettura del De rerum natura in chiave esistenzialista: cfr. De Angelis 2013: 78-79 e Pellacani 2020: XXIX-XXX.

[17] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “Qui sulla terra s’avvera per gli stolti la vita d’Inferno”.

[18] Su Sanguineti traduttore di Lucrezio, cfr. Condello 2005, 2007, 2008; Arvigo 2011; Lorenzini 2021.

[19] Cfr. Condello 2021: 115 “Se si traduce un classico, tutto – almeno tendenzialmente ‒ va tradotto: ogni parola, ogni congiunzione, ogni particella. Almeno tendenzialmente, è vietato omettere; ed è vietato sintetizzare, cioè rinunciare alla corrispondenza aritmetica fra testo-fonte e testo d’arrivo. Semmai, si può aggiungere, e indulgere alla perifrasi. Per questo motivo i nostri classici tradotti straripano non solo di ‘da una parte […], dall’altra’, ma anche di ‘appunto’, di ‘invero’, di ‘effettivamente’, nonché – va da sé ‒ di ‘infatti’”.

[20] Cfr. Condello 2021: 111-13 (sulla predilezione dei traduttori per l’arcaismo lessicale) e 122-123 (sulla tendenza all’impiego di stilemi disomogenei).

[21] Rimangono comunque alcuni casi in cui le soluzioni adottate sono affini o coincidenti, come per le “femminee membra di un fanciullo” (Canali) e per il “corpo femmineo di un fanciullo” (De Angelis); cfr. Fellin 1963: “fanciullo di membra femminee”.

[22] Si tratta di un’espressione toscana che era già stata adottata, nella traduzione di questo verso lucreziano, da Mario Rapisardi (“una che tiene / l’alma co’ denti”: cfr. Rapisardi 1880).

[23] Sull’importanza della componente fonica nella poesia di Insana, cfr. anche Zucco 2007.

About the author(s)

Elena Coppo is a post-doc researcher at the Department of Linguistic and Literary Studies (DiSLL) of the University of Padua, where she earned her PhD in 2019. Her thesis was about the origins of free verse in French and Italian poetry, while her current research project (Tradurre i classici in Italia. Per una storia della lingua letteraria del Novecento attraverso le traduzioni dal latino) concerns the translation of Latin literature by Italian writers and poets. Her main scientific interests include Italian and French poetry of the 19th and 20th century, stylistic and metric analysis and literary translation.

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

©inTRAlinea & Elena Coppo (2022).
"Tradurre i classici da poeta Su Milo De Angelis e Lucrezio", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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On the Translation of Books under the Francoist Regime: Methodological Approaches

By Purificación Meseguer (University of Murcia, Spain)


The relationship between Francoist censorship and translation continues to attract the attention of researchers attempting to shed light on the role played by translation under Franco’s regime. The main purpose of this paper is to reflect on methodological aspects and review the different proposals of researchers studying the impact of censorship on the translation of books at that time. To this end, this study will explore three of the main models used: those based on the archives held at the General Administration Archive (AGA), those based on textual analysis and those advocating mixed models combining quantitative and qualitative studies.

Keywords: censorship, francoism, literature, methodology, history, translation

©inTRAlinea & Purificación Meseguer (2022).
"On the Translation of Books under the Francoist Regime: Methodological Approaches", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL:

1. Introduction

Censorship is a complex act which is difficult to trace and whose consequences are hard to evaluate. It is also a primitive act, which has evolved in terms of its practical application, albeit remaining subjective and irrational by its very nature. This may explain the difficulty encountered by those attempting to systematise, define and classify censorship and its implications in the field of literary translation. Despite the novelty of the contributions of those authors who have addressed the phenomenon (Dunnett 2002; Merkle 2007; Billiani 2007), the truth is that to develop a model of analysis that allows researchers to identify, characterise and quantify censorship in the translation of a given text has become a difficult challenge. In this work the focus of this inherent complexity is censorship during the Francoist regime. There are several factors that make the Francoist a particularly complex censorship system: from its establishment, on an intellectual and cultural wasteland; through its development, affected by the various political upheavals that shook the country for almost four decades; to its consolidation, in which all the participants in censorship -whether voluntarily or out of fear of reprisals- ended up internalising the censorship criteria set by the Administration. This gives Franco's censorship a heterogeneous dimension that renders any attempt at systematisation -in this case, the impact of censorship on the translation of books- ever harder. The aim of this study is to review the different proposals of researchers who have aspired to unravel this phenomenon and to reflect on the relevance and appropriateness of the methodologies used. Therefore, in the following sections we will explore, in the first place, the reaction mechanisms set in motion at a legal and institutional level to neutralise any dissident way of thinking that may have tried to filter through foreign literature; secondly, we will review the different methodological proposals to study the relationship between translation and Franco’s censorship. The purpose of outlining a methodological scenario is to reflect on the possibilities and limitations of the various analysis models proposed to date to best recreate, as Munday puts it (2014), ‘the micro-history of a translation process of a book’ and get then a little closer to the reality of that time.

2. Franco's censorship system

The peculiar circumstances surrounding the establishment, growth and consolidation of Franco's censorship system effectively bestow upon it a complex and unique character. The repression that followed the Spanish Civil War prompted many intellectuals to flee the country, leaving behind a void that would pave the way for building a new cultural reality on the foundations of the Franco regime. Andrés Sorel alluded to this harsh reality by stating that ‘And what death did not drag down, exile conquered’ (2009: 5, my translation). Through tight control aimed at filtering contaminating material from across the border, censorship sought to establish the values proclaimed by the regime by bringing about a coercive or prohibitive period (Savater 1966). With the 1938 Press Law and inspired by Italian and German propaganda models (Cisquella et al. 1977: 19), censorship became institutionalised.

Despite the difficulties in outlining any defined criteria that went beyond the subjectivity of the censors themselves, there was consensus on the issues to be censored. For example, in the early years of the dictatorship, censorship focused almost exclusively on direct attacks against Franco and his regime, as stated in article 18 of this law, which specified ‘writings that directly or indirectly tend to diminish the prestige of the nation or of the Regime, hinder the work of the Government or sow pernicious ideas among the intellectually weak’. According to Abellán (1980: 193), there was a ‘perfect osmosis between civil and ecclesiastical censorship’, which was reflected in the prohibition of works and authors considered subversive and in the appearance of conventional publishing houses that prioritised the publication of certain works that were more akin to Franco and the allied totalitarian regimes (Ruiz Bautista 2008).

In order to harmonise these criteria, a questionnaire was submitted to the censors to obtain yes or no answers to questions such as, Does [the work] attack Dogma? Morality? The regime and its institutions? The people who collaborate or have collaborated with the Regime? The questionnaire then came to a conclusion that could either be favourable (authorising the work or authorising it with deletions) or unfavourable (rejecting it with or without denunciation and/or inclusion of the author in the list of ‘cursed authors’). This first assessment by the censor was then submitted for ratification by other agents involved in the process, namely specialised readers and those responsible for the censorship (Abellán 1980: 8).

The pressure on the publishing sector was such that publishers went so far as to contribute to the cause by censoring the texts they wanted to include in their own catalogues. One of the measures brought about by this first Press Law, the so-called ‘prior censorship’, obliged publishers to submit a copy of the work they intended to publish, which then would become subject to any deletions that the assigned censor considered appropriate. Consequently, editorial censorship further reinforced official institutional censorship. The vicissitudes of the national and international situation, however, forced the Franco regime to render a more open-minded image abroad, resulting in the enactment of the 1966 Press and Printing Law. This law, however, was nothing more than an attempt to whitewash the image of the regime, since it merely shifted responsibility to the publisher, bringing about a period of indoctrination (Savater 1996: 9).

Among the measures approved by this new law was the introduction of ‘voluntary consultation’, whereby publishers were no longer obliged to submit their editorial projects to censorship. But the publishers were more suspicious than ever and were already presenting watered-down manuscripts in order to avoid heavy fines or the seizure of works, which could happen if the published work was considered by the Administration as out of line with the ideological standards of the time (Abellán 1982). Consequently, the publisher was forced to take part in this repression, in turn putting pressure on the translators to treat certain subjects with the utmost care. According to Cisquella et al. (1977: 73), ‘the application of the Press Law normalises in some way the diffusion of ‘cursed’ subjects for years, but does not consent even the slightest in others’, such as works dealing with the history of Spain and the political regime in force after the victory in the Civil War; issues relating to communism, anarchism, sexuality, religious texts; or references to morals and customs. This editorial and translator self-censorship led to a rise in internal censorship, which was reflected in a fall in the number of rejections and an increase in ‘administrative silences’, an inhibitory measure for which, once again, the publisher was ultimately responsible (Abellán 1980). Censorship included a number of agents who ended up becoming participants in this cultural and intellectual repression. By involving all such participants in the editorial process, the censorship apparatus thus provided a certain coherence to the treatment of the material for publication Therefore, beneath a seemingly secondary issue such as the characterisation of self-censorship in terms of authorship, lie all the difficulties to be faced by those of use attempting to explore this field of research. It might therefore be rash to suggest that the sole intervention of the translator acting on his or her own initiative should be seen as an agent of reproduction of the dominant discourse. Instead, it would appear that both the standards in use and the margins of what was socially acceptable were gradually passed on from the censorial institution to the different links along the publishing chain, illustrating the sociological dimension that came to condition translation as a product and process under Franco’s dictatorship. This dramatically blurs the tracking of the censorship carried out, in line with Bourdieu’s theory (1991), which argues that as the mechanisms of internalisation are reinforced, the need for explicit -and therefore trackable- control imposed and sanctioned by an institutionalised authority is diluted.

3. Measuring the impact of Franco's censorship on the translation of books

Francoism is a field of study as extensive as it is interesting for researchers, both within and beyond Spanish borders (Rundle and Sturge 2010; Seruya and Moniz 2008; Vandaele 2015), who seek to clarify the impact of censorship and the role of translation in repressive contexts. Attempting to measure this impact becomes an arduous task and poses a methodological dilemma. Once contextualisation work has been carried out, researchers face the challenge of selecting the approach that best suits their research objectives. In this section we present three of the main methodologies used in the investigation of the impact of Franco's censorship on the translation of books: those based on the files of the General Administration Archive (AGA), those based on textual analysis and those advocating mixed models combining quantitative and qualitative studies.

3.1 Documentary evidence: censorship files

Many of the studies that seek to measure the impact of censorship on the translation of books during the Franco regime take as their starting point the official censorship archives of the AGA, invaluable evidence for any researcher seeking, on the one hand, to learn about the administrative procedures surrounding the publication of a certain book and, on the other hand, to unravel the complex functioning of the censorship apparatus. The archives are also of significant evidentiary value when measuring the impact of censorship on translated texts. In fact, as a general rule, it is very likely that any censorial action will be reflected in these documents: firstly, in the questionnaire and report from the censor that included replies to specific questions in order to provide a general assessment on the possible dissident nature of the work; and, secondly, in the galley proofs - when available-, which would corroborate any potential deletions proposed by the censor. Using this methodology, certain authors have yielded interesting results: in her study on the translation of Camus, Cruces Colado (2006) travelled along the different stages underwent by the works of the French Nobel Prize winner, offering a glimpse of the disparity of opinions between the censors and the arbitrariness of the system; the work of Godayol (2016) revealed the different treatment of the Catalan translations of six works by Simone de Beauvoir before and after the 1966 Press and Printing Act; whereas Julio (2018) discovered in the translation by María Luz Morales of Mariana Alcorofado's Lettres portugaises, (the epistolary relationship between a nun and a military man), that the editorial project elicited disparate reactions among the censors.

Despite the valuable information contained in these files the information is, on occasion, as authors like Jané-Lligé (2016) point out, non-existent, brief, insufficient or contradictory. Many questions arising from research of this nature remain unresolved: for example, how does the researcher know that the work in question had not passed through a previous filter of internal censorship? Are the censor's guidelines always complied with? Did the work reach the public in the exact form recommended by the Administration? Or was it subjected to further remodelling, perhaps undertaken by the publishing house itself? Most of these questions can be solved with a textual analysis of both the original and the translated work, which is another of the methodologies employed by researchers interested in exploring this complex relationship between translation and censorship.

3.2 Manual analysis: the comparative study of ST and TT

Focused less on the publication process, this methodological aspect centres on the end product, that is, on the censored version of the work. As stated by Abellán (1987), a simple comparison of the original version and the translation is enough to discover the impact and degree of censorship. Pegenaute (1992) was one of the authors who, during the nineties, along with scholars such as Pajares Infante (1992), Toda Iglesia (1992) and Lanero Fernández and Villoria Andreu (1992), relied on these meticulous textual analyses to detect possible examples of censorship of foreign works published at different times in Spain. This methodology allows the researcher to gather important information about a work, such as how the possible censorship-sensitive content has been treated. This can be done by scrupulous reading of the original that includes the marking of potentially subversive passages and the subsequent contrasting with the version under study, or by simultaneous reading of the whole work and its translated version. Once the controversial passages have been identified, the researcher is able to check whether any type of censorship has been carried out and which strategy has been used by the censor (deletion, modification, rewriting). If the work being studied has been subsequently published in its full version, the researcher may also resort to this version to corroborate the data extracted in a first analysis. This is therefore a cost-effective, direct and prolific methodology that requires only source and target texts, and appeals to the skills of the translator, rather than those of the historian. Perhaps for this reason many authors adopt this methodology, such as Lefere (1994), who detected the deletions that Franco's censorship made in three novels by Claude Simon in compliance with the censorship criteria pointed out by Abellán (1980), namely, sex, religion, use of language and politics. Franco Aixelá and Abio Villarig (2009) focused their study on a body of eight North American novels that stood out for their strong sexual component and the presence of vulgarisms. Through a study of the three strategies found in the Francoist versions (attenuation, conservation and intensification) and detected after comparative reading, the authors were able to verify the treatment received by these novels and the redactions they suffered under censorship. Pascua Febles (2011) also opted for this methodology in her study of the Francoist versions of Guillermo (Just William) by Richmal Crompton, revealing not only the tight control to which children's and teenage literature was subjected, but also the arbitrariness of the system. One of the most recent studies is that of Rosa María Bautista-Cordero (2018) on the translation of Adventures of a Young Man, by John Dos Passos, a novel that underwent all manner of manipulation to conform to the interests of the regime, revealing yet another case of a more insidious and powerful strategy where translation becomes a propaganda tool.

But as is the case with the methodology based on the study of censorship files, these manual analyses leave important questions unanswered, such as the impossibility of pinpointing the authors of any identified censorship. Firstly, what kind of censorship is identified in the work? Was the book the target of institutional censorship? Or was it a version censored by the publisher? There are also certain drawbacks that render this methodology a somewhat limited resource. On the one hand, it is an arduous and complicated task, usually assumed when working with a very limited number of texts. This only allows the researcher to get a glimpse of a very specific dimension of Franco's reality: a specific work at a specific time, dissociated from its general context. Therefore, drawing general and long-term conclusions will require great effort and numerous studies. In the face of such limitations and as a workable alternative to this method, we have the corpus analysis methodology. This allows, on the one hand, for an extension of the scope of the study and, on the other hand, a combination of the qualitative and quantitative approach that allows for in-depth analysis of the effects of censorship while at the same time quantifying it in statistical terms (Rojo 2013).

3.3. Studies based on corpus analysis: the TRACE group

The research group TRACE (acronym for TRAducciones CEnsuradas – Censored Translations) has carried out invaluable work on the study of censorship during the Franco era. This group, coordinated by researchers from the universities of León, the Basque Country and Cantabria, has cleared up many of the unknowns surrounding this difficult relationship between translation and censorship at different times during the dictatorship and in different fields of study, such as narrative (with contributions from authors such as Fernández López 2000, 2005; Santoyo 2000; Santamaría 2000; Pérez Álvarez 2003; Gómez Castro 2003, 2008), theatre (Merino and Rabadán 2002; Pérez López de Heredia 2003; Bandín 2007), and cinema and television (Gutiérrez Lanza 2000). The objective pursued by these researchers is precisely to detect impact of censorship on texts from overseas and to identify the nature and degree of strategies employed by the censors. To this end, they work with a computerised corpus that allows them to carry out a segment-by-segment alignment and thus check whether any modification in the translation has taken place. The purpose of this methodology based on automatic corpus analysis is to allow researchers to empirically confirm or refute their research hypotheses and thus provide their study with a certain scientific rigour. Within the framework of Franco's Spain and the influence of censorship on translated texts, the methodology proposed by the TRACE group opened up new avenues of study for the researcher, now able to significantly expand his or her scope of study or, alternatively to carry out highly specific searches by narrowing the scope as much as possible.

Despite the valuable and enlightening nature of the method, however, not all researchers find TRACE to be the methodology that best adapts to the needs of their research. There are several reasons why the study of Franco's censorship is confined to other types of methodologies, such as those described above. Firstly, due to the use of alignment and analysis software and difficult statistical processing, this is a highly complex model that relies on technology and requires a great deal of effort and time on the part of the researcher. Let us imagine that the aim is to analyse specific textual marks that, for example, present pernicious content, whether sexual, political or religious; in this case this methodology may not be the best suited, insofar as it intrinsically involves a segment-by-segment, as opposed to contextual analysis. Analysing this type of incident in isolation can lead the researcher to misinterpret the results, something that happens for instance with the use of swear words when an omission that would initially appear to be ideological is justified by a stylistic question or a compensation that is found later in the text. Hence, translating ‘Maldita sea’ for ‘God Damn it!’, ‘Qué diablos’ for ‘What the hell’, or ‘Santo Dios’ for ‘Jesus’ may be interpreted as modification marks left by censors in their attempt to eliminate attacks against the Catholic faith, when they merely obey stylistic decisions faced by the translator. TRACE's methodological approach isolates all those segments in which a textual impact is detected, leaving its possible ideological motivation for subsequent verification. This method provides systematicity, but this does not rule out the possibility of considering the textual effect of an uprooted form of the text and therefore misinterpretation of the reason for the deletion, as some authors have already pointed out (for example, Cuníco and Munday 2007).

4. In search of a model for the study of censorship in translation

The different methodological proposals explored in previous sections have proved to be very useful for the study of the impact of censorship on the translation of imported texts during the Franco regime. However, as we have seen, each of these methodologies suffers from certain shortcomings or limitations that prevent the researcher from delving deeper in deciphering the ins and outs of this complex system.

This may be the reason why some researchers have chosen to combine some of these methodologies or even use other tools to complement them. Lázaro (2001, 2002, 2004) was a pioneer in this sense when, by combining the AGA files with textual analysis, he showed the way Franco's censorship approached the works of certain foreign authors, such as George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence and H.G. Wells. In addition to shedding light on the rules of the institution, Lázaro reflects on how censorship influenced the reception of these authors, as Laprade has shown in his study of Ernest Hemingway’s translations (1991). The reflections derived from Laprade and Lázaro’s research provide interesting data on the functioning of the censorship apparatus ‒sometimes inflexible, at other times arbitrary‒ a finding which at that time opened up new avenues of study for researchers.

Certain other authors have looked for complementary material such as addressing the work of those responsible for channelling the translation activity of the time (Jané-Lligé 2016; Godayol 2018; Santaemilia 2018). The aim here is to adopt the methodology proposed by Munday (2014) and to recreate, using all types of documentation (archives, manuscripts or correspondence), a micro-history of the translation process of a given book. For example, work by Meseguer (2015), explores the impact of censorship on texts translated from English and French during the dictatorship using a mixed analysis model that was complemented in turn by the study of AGA files and interviews with historians, editors and translators from the Franco era. The invaluable testimony of these individuals was key in interpreting the results of textual analyses and information gathered from the files of a corpus of nine novels. Among these results, those concerning the phenomenon of self-censorship stand out, something to which the translators interviewed - Manuel Serrat Crespo, Francisco Torres Oliver and Maria Teresa Gallego Urrutia - reacted with little surprise: they had difficulty imagining that the translator would act with such recklessness, but they recognised isolated instances in which the editor had pressured the translator to treat certain subjects with special care. In fact, the editor interviewed, Beatriz de Moura, admitted that publishers were subject to many pressures, such as bearing financial responsibility or seeing their editions destroyed before their very eyes if they dared to ignore the recommendations of the Administration. Historian Ian Gibson and researcher Edward Douglas Laprade -one of the first authors to address the impact of censorship on the reception of English authors- also provided interesting information on the functioning of censorship, such as the existence of established criteria, preferential treatment to certain publishers or privilege in the publication of authors sympathetic to the regime.

These are, in short, conciliatory approaches that can allow researchers to offset the limitations of other methodologies. From our point of view, the main interest is to start from the translation and compare it with the original, in order to track the censored words in the text. Comparative analysis here appears to be fundamental. Above all, it provides the best commencement, a firm anchoring point given the undeniable value that a Francoist version[1] can have when a certain discrepancy or any type of alteration is detected, in an objective and contrastable manner. In this regard, the study of the translated text constitutes an invitation to adopt an approach that seeks to delve into the history of Franco's Spain and offers, without a doubt, a fascinating perspective of the way the regime operated. In this way, the translations that were injected into the publishing market of Franco's Spain seem to be associated to some extent with the notion of the construction of a certain Francoist literature and should be considered as “regulated transformations (rather than accurate or inaccurate reproductions) of their source texts, with the criteria that define the nature of their relation to their originals deriving from the contexts in which the translations are produced” and as such are “’discourses’ of history, symptoms of the anxieties, influences and interactions being experienced by the culture in which the translations are produced” (St-Pierre 1993).

Hence the social need for such research: translations performed at that time are an echo of the historic memory. Besides, the state of amnesia in which Spain is still immersed with regard to its Francoist past is such that books bearing the stigmata of the dictatorship can still be found on the shelves of libraries and bookshops today, a debt to Spanish readers and universal literature that must be paid off once and for all. We also advocate manual analysis, because literature is substantially alive, a malleable and too volatile material to be partitioned and pre-conditioned into segments before being subjected to computer processing without losing any nuances. Another important reason is that our field of expertise is first and foremost that of translation; unravelling the work of translators thus offers the opportunity for total immersion in the translation process. But this would be rendered meaningless if it were not accompanied by the need to try to restore, with all the extra-textual sources available (administrative documents, direct interviews, editorial archives, literary critical articles in the press of the time, etc.) the historical context and socio-cultural conditions that influenced the translation process.

In other words, in this field of study, it is necessary to work on the construction of a hybrid method which, obviously, is not confined to the simple linguistic aspect of translation studies. It is therefore important to place ourselves in an interdisciplinary perspective that can be meaningful in terms of characterising the influence of ideology on translation. And if the research interest is therefore to study, first, literary translation, second, the historical period in which it is inscribed, and third, the autocratic context that conditions literary production, it becomes clear that the methodological approach to be set up must attempt to integrate, as far as possible, a historical depth with a sociological perspective. In this way, it will be possible to offer a more complete understanding of the context, conditions, mechanisms and challenges of the reception and adaptation of foreign literature to the prevailing norms promoted by Francoist orthodoxy. In line with Merkle’s notion of "sociology of censorship" (Merkle 2006), we can in particular examine these dynamics of translation and censorship in the context of the process of configuration and institutionalization of Franco's literary field, taking into account: “the dominance of the political field that may assert control over a weaker field, such as the literary field composed of publishers, literary figures and translators, when the latter field is not autonomous” (Merkle 2006: 245). In this way, getting as close as possible to the main agents involved in the creation, control and dissemination of translated literature in this period (translators, editors and censors) might be an element that can help us to understand these phenomena of cultural and ideological domestication. It can provide us with valuable information, in the way in which the habitus of these agents came to interrelate with the Francoist literary field, given that “concept of habitus can generally be counted upon to ensure the successful perpetuation of the social (and political) order, as Bourdieu as argued in his presentation of the mechanisms of structural censorship” (Merkle, 245).

Ultimately, with this interdisciplinary focus, the aim “is to reach not abstractions, but to elucidate translation as it appears on the ground” and to maybe produce ‘thick descriptions of events’ that might be refined under some synthesis at some point in a more global understanding of this historical period” (Hermans 2012: 245). We thus approach the subversive texts that constitute the subject of our study by conceiving translation (i) as an invaluable raw material that has much to say about an ideologically controlled era and society given that, during the Franco regime, translations used to represent “in the Spanish language, one of the main literary activities, if not the first” (Ruiz Casanova 2000: 493, my translation); (ii) as an activity that should not be analysed as an inert result but rather as a socially determined dynamic process that contributes per se to the understanding of the Francoist context; (iii) as a phenomenon that must also be tackled as a political issue in the Francoist agenda, thus reflecting political implications in the interests of the regime to carry out its project of national cultural construction or at the very least to ensure the maintenance of the status quo; (iv) and as an ideological tool to reproduce the dominant discourse and the official values by integrating the implementation of censorial mechanisms and strategies designed to defend the prevailing orthodoxy.

5. Conclusions

There are different methodologies for studying the impact of Franco's censorship on the translation of works that came to us from across the border. The methodological approaches discussed here can be described as "major" (and not the only valid ones) insofar as they are recurrently used in the study of the relationship between translation and Francoist censorship. However, in this field of study as in any other, the 'right' methodology is the one that is most effectively adapted to the needs and characteristics of a given object of study and to the research objectives pursued. It is thus legitimate to think that one cannot pretend to study with the same tools and according to the same approaches questions as heterogeneous as, for example, the way in which a blasphemous word is translated in a large parallel corpus; the identification of trends in terms of censorship strategies employed in the translation of a controversial novel; or else the study of censorship files drawn up by the same censor throughout his career.

This said, while it is true that the AGA dossiers and textual analyses have demonstrated their appropriateness in these studies, it is also clear that the researcher must go one step further if he or she wants to resolve the many unknowns that arise from their results. What is conceivable now is the possibility of going back a few decades to try to reconstruct that scenario as faithfully as possible. One option is to complete these analysis models with all the information we have at our disposal. Interviews with translators and editors of the time have proved to be a good source of documentation, but there is a plethora of possibilities for the researcher, who can get even closer to reality through the work, activity and trajectory of editors, as well as that of translators, bearing in mind the socio-political context that surrounds them and all the factors that could influence their work.

The multiplication of each of these specific studies should also be seen by the researcher as an invitation to move forward, with a view to adopting a broader and cross-cutting perspective on these issues. What is at stake is to seek for a “perspective […] that provides coherence and an overarching story line” (Hermans 2012: 244), an approach thatspecifically recognises the contextual nature of the criteria used to produce translations, and consequently of the translations themselves, relating these to other cultural and historical phenomena, and makes it possible to connect translations to the historical events and structures prevalent within the cultures producing them” (St-Pierre 2012: 241-42).

In this line of research, which attempts to examine the ways in which translation was instrumentalised and how the mechanisms activated by institutional censorship worked, each softened version, each infringement proceeding, each study case of a work whose subversive content was subjected to a process of adaptation and appropriation is considerably insightful. The aim here is to look for “the specific historical circumstances in which translation agents operated or explain their role within a wider understanding of that historical context” (Rundle 2012: 236). This helps us to better understand the many facets of a complex, heterogeneous, plural and elusive historical, social and cultural reality. This modus operandi has shown to shed some light on those entire pages of our history that remain hidden to date, almost forty years after the end of the dictatorship. Each case of conditioned translation thus constitutes one more micro-history that will help us in the long run to shift to a higher plane, towards a macro-perspective in this field of research. This will help provide a more precise and accurate outline of a certain Francoist literary system where translation acted as a tool of ideological appropriation and of propagandistic interest aimed ultimately at reproducing the dominant discourse in Franco's Spain.


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[1] We borrow the notion of “Francoist” from Vandaele's enlightening work on the reception and censorship of Billy Wilder's filmography in the same historical context we are dealing with here, that is, as qualifying “any practice of regime exaltation, whether it may be an intentional manipulation, passive or a possibilistic consent, or even the unconscious adoption of a conservative habitus in accordance with the regime” (Vandaele 2015, 16, my translation)

About the author(s)

Purificación Meseguer Cutillas is a Lecturer at the Department of Translation and Interpreting at the University of Murcia, Spain. Her main research interests are literary translation, the relationship between translation and censorship, and the impact of emotions and personality factors in translation. She has written a book (Sobre la traducción de libros al servicio del franquismo: sexo, política y religión. Berna, Peter Lang, 2015) and published many articles in academic journals (RESLA, Revue Française de Linguistique Appliquée, Hermes, Translation, Cognition & Behavior). As a professional translator she has translated a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books from English and French into Spanish for publishing houses such as Tusquets, RBA or Random House Mondadori.

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

©inTRAlinea & Purificación Meseguer (2022).
"On the Translation of Books under the Francoist Regime: Methodological Approaches", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

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La formazione in traduzione fra competenze, professione e civismo

Alcune riflessioni sul service-learning

By Paolo Scampa, Gaia Ballerini & Silvia Bernardini (Università di Bologna, Italia)

Abstract & Keywords


In the past two decades there has been a substantial increase in the number of translator education programmes, that has gone hand in hand with intense reflection on translation competences and on the pedagogic approaches needed to acquire them. An important role has been played by network initiatives such as the EMT (European Master's in Translation), which have strengthened collaboration among higher education institutions that educate future language professionals. Particular attention has been devoted, especially in the latest years, to professional competences. In this contribution we survey the main competence frameworks and pedagogic approaches proposed for the acquisition of such competences. Based on these premises, we argue for the introduction of a new pedagogic approach known as service-learning, which is being tested and used in higher education settings internationally, but that is still not widely employed in translation pedagogy. We conclude with some practical suggestions for the implementation of service-learning in an Italian university translation programme.


La formazione in traduzione ha avuto un rapido sviluppo negli ultimi venti anni ed è stata accompagnata da un'intensa riflessione sulle competenze e sugli approcci pedagogici necessari per acquisirle, anche sulla spinta di iniziative come la rete EMT (European Master's in Translation), che hanno favorito i contatti fra istituzioni di istruzione superiore che formano traduttori/rici professionisti/e. Particolare attenzione è stata posta, soprattutto nell'ultimo periodo, sulle competenze più strettamente legate alla professione. Questo contributo intende offrire una panoramica dei principali quadri delle competenze e dei principali approcci pedagogici proposti per lo sviluppo di tali competenze (informazioni non sistematicamente disponibili in lingua italiana). Su questa base propone poi l'introduzione di un approccio pedagogico noto come service-learning, attualmente sperimentato in diversi contesti universitari, in Italia e all'estero, il cui valore per la formazione in ambito traduttivo risulta ancora inesplorato. L'intervento si conclude con alcuni suggerimenti pratici per la sperimentazione di un'esperienza di service-learning in un contesto universitario italiano.

Keywords: competence models, competenze professionali, didattica della traduzione, modelli delle competenze, professional competences, service-learning, translation competence, translation pedagogy

©inTRAlinea & Paolo Scampa, Gaia Ballerini & Silvia Bernardini (2022).
"La formazione in traduzione fra competenze, professione e civismo Alcune riflessioni sul service-learning", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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1. Introduzione

Il fiorire di corsi di laurea magistrale nell'area della traduzione specialistica in Europa e nel mondo negli ultimi venti anni ha portato ad un'intensa riflessione sulle competenze, sugli approcci pedagogici più utili per favorirne lo sviluppo e sui metodi di valutazione più adeguati a testarne l'avvenuta acquisizione. Pur nella loro diversità, tutti i modelli di competenze, in particolare i più recenti, si soffermano sulle competenze interpersonali e di offerta dei servizi linguistici. Nello stesso modo, gli approcci pedagogici più influenti (come il socio-costruttivismo o l'apprendimento situato) e le sperimentazioni più interessanti (come quelle relative alla simulazione di progetti collaborativi), pongono l'enfasi sull'importanza di offrire alle future traduttrici e ai futuri traduttori[1] occasioni di apprendimento in situazioni reali(stiche), in cui possano confrontarsi con la complessità della realtà professionale, pur senza le pressioni di quest'ultima. Vista la direzione in cui si sono mosse le riflessioni didattiche nel mondo della traduzione, appare sorprendente che non abbia trovato spazio al loro interno una pratica di grande interesse e attualità in ambito socio-psico-pedagogico, quale quella del service-learning, che unisce il servizio di volontariato e l'apprendimento di quelle competenze strategiche, interpersonali e professionali tanto centrali per la didattica della traduzione.

In questo contributo intendiamo presentare le motivazioni per cui riteniamo che il service-learning possa contribuire ad innovare le pratiche didattiche in ambito traduttivo, innestandosi perfettamente sulle riflessioni e sulle sperimentazioni proprie di questo ambito. A questo scopo, nella sezione 2 riassumiamo brevemente i principali modelli di competenze sviluppati a partire dai primi anni 2000; successivamente, nella sezione 3, descriviamo le principali proposte pratiche per una pedagogia della traduzione ancorata alla  professione, per poi passare a considerare le caratteristiche del service-learning più rilevanti per la didattica della traduzione (sezione 4) e a riflettere infine sui modi in cui i due mondi possono incontrarsi tramite un'attività formativa universitaria che combini spirito volontario e apprendimento collaborativo situato (sezione 5). Raccogliendo in un unico contributo in lingua italiana la descrizione dei modelli di competenze, degli approcci pedagogici, dei metodi di valutazione e delle sperimentazioni di progetti collaborativi, e introducendo gli studi sul service-learning in ambito linguistico, questo contributo offre altresì una solida base di partenza teorico-pratica per ulteriori sperimentazioni didattiche.

2. La formazione alla professione e le competenze del traduttore

Le competenze[2] richieste al traduttore per svolgere in modo soddisfacente la gamma sempre più ampia di compiti previsti dal mercato dei servizi linguistici sono state oggetto negli ultimi anni di intensa riflessione. La convergenza fra ricerca accademica e impegno istituzionale (in particolare da parte della rete dello European Master’s in Translation (EMT), ma anche tramite progetti di innovazione dell'istruzione superiore come OPTIMALE)[3] ha portato ad un vero e proprio fiorire di modelli, il cui scopo è andare oltre definizioni ristrette (e restrittive) di competenza traduttiva. Tali sono, ad esempio la definizione di competenza traduttiva come l'insieme di competenza linguistica, testuale, contenutistica, culturale e di trasferimento (Neubert 2000: 6), o come la combinazione della competenza bilingue e della capacità semantica (intralinguistica) di parafrasare un testo (Englund Dimitrova 2005: 1). In questi nuovi modelli la competenza traduttiva in senso stretto si inserisce invece in un quadro ben più ampio e articolato che punta a definire le competenze del traduttore, quelle competenze indispensabili, cioè, non solo per tradurre, ma per operare professionalmente nel settore dei servizi linguistici.

Al fine di comprendere meglio i modi in cui le priorità formative di stampo professionale possono essere declinate nei corsi di laurea magistrale dedicati, è dunque innanzitutto necessario presentare brevemente i principali modelli che descrivono le competenze. Nell'impossibilità di affrontare l'argomento in modo esaustivo, ci soffermeremo sui 4 modelli maggiormente influenti e completi, rimandando per approfondimenti all'eccellente introduzione di Hurtado Albir (2017, capitolo 1)[4].

Kelly (2005:33–34), pur non proponendo un modello vero e proprio, elenca le seguenti competenze come desiderabili per un laureato magistrale in traduzione: 1. competenze comunicative e testuali in almeno due lingue; 2. competenze (inter)culturali; 3. competenze in specifiche aree di specialità; 4. competenze professionali e strumentali (deontologia, strumenti IT); 5. competenze attitudinali e psico-fisiologiche (concentrazione, memoria); 6. competenze interpersonali (lavoro di gruppo, leadership, negoziazione); 7. competenze strategiche (risoluzione di problemi, autovalutazione). Kelly stessa (2005:34) sottolinea come molte di queste competenze (4–7) ricadano sotto l'ombrello delle competenze generali o trasversali, anche note come soft skills, definendo questa caratteristica come 'a striking idiosyncrasy of our field’s' (una sorprendente idiosincrasia del nostro settore). Sebbene questa idiosincrasia possa giocare a vantaggio dei laureati e delle laureate in traduzione, vista la trasferibilità delle competenze per la traduzione ad altri ambiti, non vi è dubbio che l'acquisizione di tali competenze costituisca una sfida per una didattica universitaria di tipo tradizionale. Sfida che si riflette anche sulla valutazione delle competenze acquisite. A tale proposito Kelly propone un metodo di valutazione che esalta l’autonomia e la presa di coscienza del discente: il dossier di traduzione. Nel dossier il discente è libero di inserire, motivandole opportunamente, fino a quattro attività relazionate con la traduzione che, presentate e commentate, riflettano al meglio quanto appreso. In questa concezione della valutazione cambia anche la figura del valutatore, non più necessariamente il docente ma i compagni di corso, lo studente stesso o esperti esterni.

Nel secondo modello, risultato del lavoro del gruppo PACTE (PACTE 2003 in Hurtado Albir ed. 2017), la competenza traduttiva è strutturata in 5 sotto-competenze, ovvero: 1. sotto-competenza bilingue, 2. sotto-competenza extralinguistica; 3. conoscenza dichiarativa della traduzione (come processo e come professione); 4. sotto-competenza strumentale; 5. sotto-competenza strategica, a cui si aggiungono particolari componenti psico-fisiologiche e attitudinali (memoria, attenzione, creatività). In questo modello gioca un ruolo fondamentale la sotto-componente strategica, tramite la quale si pianifica e monitora l'intero processo traduttivo. È il possesso di questa sotto-competenza olistica e trasversale a distinguere il traduttore professionista da un soggetto bilingue dotato di un'eventuale innata capacità di tradurre.

Un terzo modello, fortemente influenzato dal modello PACTE, è stato proposto da Göpferich (2009). Le competenze a grandi linee sovrapponibili a quelle del modello PACTE proposte da Göpferich sono la competenza bilingue, tematica, strumentale, psico-motoria e strategica. A queste si aggiunge la competenza relativa all'attivazione di procedure di routine, mentre vengono meno le conoscenze dichiarative sulla traduzione. Il modello di Göpferich si distingue però soprattutto per l'inclusione di alcuni fattori situazionali che regolano l'applicazione del modello stesso, ovvero: lo scopo della traduzione e le norme applicabili; la consapevolezza del traduttore circa il suo ruolo professionale e sociale; le capacità individuali. Si nota quindi come nel modello di Göpferich la competenza traduttiva sia fortemente ancorata alla situazione comunicativa specifica, tanto che lo sviluppo di comportamenti competenti, tipici dell'esperto, non può che avvenire attraverso metodi di apprendimento/insegnamento situati (Vienne 1994, Risku 2002).

Infine, il modello più influente, per ovvie ragioni, è quello adottato dall'EMT, che costituisce di fatto uno standard a cui tendere per le lauree magistrali che intendono entrare a far parte di questa rete di eccellenza. Nella sua versione più recente, rilasciata nel 2017, il modello comprende 5 aree (EMT 2017). La prima, relativa alle conoscenze linguistiche e culturali, è sotto-specificata in quanto si presuppone costituisca un prerequisito già posseduto dagli studenti al momento dell'ammissione. Le altre quattro aree riguardano la competenza traduttiva in senso stretto (dall'analisi del testo di partenza al controllo di qualità finale), la competenza tecnologica (relativa a tutti gli strumenti del mestiere), la competenza personale e interpersonale (che comprende ad esempio il rispetto delle scadenze e le capacità di lavorare in gruppo e di apprendere nuove competenze) e la competenza relativa alla fornitura di servizi (che riguarda, fra l'altro, i rapporti con i clienti, la deontologia professionale e la gestione dei progetti). Di particolare interesse è l'importanza riconosciuta alle ultime due aree in questo nuovo quadro delle competenze. Rispetto alla versione precedente (EMT 2009), a fronte di un ridimensionamento di alcune aree (ad esempio quella tematica e di acquisizione delle informazioni, ora ricomprese sotto la competenza traduttiva), le aree maggiormente legate alla dimensione professionale hanno infatti acquisito un maggiore peso e una maggiore visibilità, meritando lo status di aree di competenza indipendenti.

Kelly (2005)

Göpferich (2009)

PACTE (2017)

EMT (2009)

EMT (2017)

Bilingual communicative and textual competence

Communicative competence in at least 2 languages

Bilingual sub-competence

Language competence

Language and culture

Cultural and intercultural competence

Extralinguistic sub-competence

Intercultural competence

Subject area competence

Domain competence


Thematic competence


Attitudinal or psycho-physiological competence

Psychomotor competence

Psycho-physiological components



Interpersonal competence




Personal and interpersonal

Strategic competence

Strategic competence

Strategic sub-competence

Translation service provision competence

Service provision

Professional and instrumental competence

Tools and research competence

Instrumental sub-competence

Technological competence




Translation routine activation competence

Knowledge of translation sub-competence






Information mining competence


Tabella 1. Le competenze (o sotto-competenze) che costituiscono
la competenza di traduzione/del traduttore in 5 modelli proposti nella letteratura,
allineate secondo corrispondenze necessariamente approssimative

3. Approcci didattici e proposte per l'acquisizione delle competenze legate alla professione

3.1 Introduzione: dalle competenze alla formazione

La chiara indicazione contenuta nei modelli delle competenze relativamente alla necessità di una formazione superiore più orientata alla professione ha portato a numerosi tentativi di integrare questa componente all'interno dei corsi universitari per traduttori. Studiosi e docenti di traduzione come González Davies (2004), Gouadec (2005), Kiraly (2000) e Zucchini (2012) hanno enfatizzato la necessità di armonizzare la pratica didattica e gli standard di un universo professionale in costante e radicale mutamento, caratterizzato da crescita esponenziale della conoscenza, accorciamento del ciclo di vita delle competenze e innovazioni tecnologiche dirompenti (Ballerini 2016; Buysschaert et al. 2018).

I modelli descritti nella sezione precedente sottolineano tutti, in modo più o meno esplicito, come le competenze che contraddistinguono il traduttore siano eminentemente trasversali e interconnesse ed evidenziano la difficoltà di conciliare le rigide strutture dei corsi accademici con obiettivi formativi difficilmente scomponibili in singole attività formative. Questo è tanto più vero per le competenze maggiormente rilevanti a livello professionale, ovvero quelle legate alla sfera della fornitura di servizi e delle relazioni interpersonali. Per rispondere alle richieste dell’industria della traduzione e consentire ai neolaureati di inserirsi con successo e a lungo termine nel mercato della traduzione (scopo principale del Processo di Bologna, recepito dall'EMT), è necessario sviluppare metodologie che vadano oltre il mero esercizio traduttivo guidato e corretto dal docente, quello che Kiraly (2005:11) definisce 'the "who’ll take the next sentence" (WTNS) approach' (o approccio chi legge la prossima frase?).  

A tale proposito, a partire dagli anni 1980 sono stati elaborati approcci teorici e teorico-metodologici (Nord 1991, Gile 2009, Vienne 1994, Risku 2002, Kiraly 2000) e proposte concrete di tipologie di attività (González Davies 2005, Gouadec 2005, Buysschaert, Fernandez-Parra and van Egdom 2017, Way 2008, Krüger and Serrano Piqueras 2015) il cui scopo è spiccatamente professionalizzante. Tali proposte hanno in comune il tentativo di simulare, all'interno di un contesto didattico di formazione universitaria, le attività, gli standard e l'interazione propri dell'ambito lavorativo. A queste si aggiungono metodologie che prevedono l’integrazione di progetti autentici di traduzione nei corsi di studio (Kiraly 2005) grazie ai quali gli studenti hanno la possibilità di confrontarsi con gli stessi standard richiesti dal mondo professionale.

3.2 Approcci teorico-metodologici per una pedagogia della traduzione ancorata alla professione

Fra i precursori di una pedagogia della traduzione ancorata alla professione non si può non citare Christiane Nord. Nord (1991) ritiene che la formazione del traduttore debba simulare la pratica professionale e per questo ogni traduzione proposta debba avere uno scopo realistico. Al fine di promuovere tale pratica Nord prende in prestito dalla New Rethoric una serie di domande in grado di guidare lo studente nel processo traduttivo[5]. La proposta, basata su un modello funzionalista, è un chiaro passo verso una formazione student-centred il cui focus è sia sul processo traduttivo che sul prodotto della traduzione. Sebbene non consideri altri aspetti rilevanti, quali ad esempio la fornitura di servizi traduttivi, può comunque essere definito come un approccio che porta 'professional realism in the classroom' (Kelly 2010: 391).

Al pari di Nord, Gile (1995/2009) considera fondamentale che il docente si focalizzi sul processo prima che sul prodotto. Piuttosto che commentare le traduzioni prodotte dagli studenti sottolineando se le proposte siano corrette o meno, dovrebbe identificare e analizzare i problemi che emergono nel processo e suggerire procedure per gestire le difficoltà che emergono nel processo traduttivo. La capacità di gestire le difficoltà in autonomia rappresenta d'altronde una delle competenze richieste al traduttore in ambito professionale. Un ulteriore elemento di armonizzazione di formazione e professione riguarda la valutazione della qualità secondo una prospettiva professionale, quindi più olistica, non basata esclusivamente sulla ricerca di equivalenze linguistiche e testuali.

Nel 1994 Vienne applica l’approccio dell’apprendimento situato alla didattica della traduzione prevedendo 'translation of texts in their real communicative situation' (1994: 51) e facendo così avanzare le riflessioni su formazione e professione. Il metodo proposto si basa su fondamenti teorici che descrivono l’operazione traduttiva come un’attività che richiede una varietà di competenze, dall’analisi della situazione traduttiva alla descrizione del prodotto della traduzione passando per le fasi di pianificazione delle risorse e ricerca di testi paralleli, uso delle fonti e cooperazione con il committente, in questo caso il docente stesso. La classe viene divisa in gruppi e ad ognuno viene fornito un testo precedentemente tradotto dal docente in una situazione traduttiva autentica. Il docente-committente fornisce le risposte alle domande rivolte dagli studenti nella fase di negoziazione, fornendo così un contesto di riferimento in base al quale svolgere la traduzione.

Proponente principale dell'approccio socio-costruttivista in ambito traduttivo, Kiraly pone al centro della propria proposta metodologica l’apprendimento collaborativo e lo svolgimento di progetti di traduzione autentici per clienti autentici (Kiraly 2000: 60). Lo scopo è aiutare gli studenti a raggiungere livelli di autonomia semiprofessionali attraverso esperienze reali, ossia confrontandosi con incarichi di traduzione che il docente riceve da contatti professionali personali. L’approccio socio-costruttivista di Kiraly comporta la divisione del lavoro per lo svolgimento di un compito specifico che deve essere completato congiuntamente, in modo che i membri del team possano costruire insieme i significati e sviluppare conoscenze culturali e professionali. Si verifica così un’evoluzione da una didattica incentrata sul docente, che è considerato fonte principale della conoscenza, a una in cui lo studente diviene l’agente centrale del processo di apprendimento, mentre il docente diviene informatore, consigliere e valutatore.  A proposito di valutazione, Kiraly (2005), come Kelly (2005), propone il dossier di traduzione come valida alternativa alle modalità di valutazione tradizionali.  Nella sua proposta gli studenti selezionano una serie di traduzioni svolte nel corso del semestre andando a unire la valutazione formativa e sommativa a quella ipsativa, ossia l’abilità degli studenti di saper valutare la progressione della propria competenza nel corso del semestre. Elemento che, una volta entrati a far parte del mondo della traduzione professionale, consentirà loro di stabilire se saranno in grado di completare l’incarico nei tempi stabiliti e rispettando gli standard qualitativi concordati.

3.3 Proposte pratiche per una pedagogia della traduzione ancorata alla professione

In seguito a un intenso lavoro di ricerca che ha unito trasversalmente riflessioni sulla didattica della traduzione e sui cambiamenti in seno alla professione in termini di competenze richieste e applicazioni tecnologiche, sono stati progettati e attuati approcci che mirano a ricreare in aula la realtà professionale del traduttore, mettendo in pratica i suggerimenti descritti in 2.2. Di seguito si analizzeranno le principali proposte fatte.

Sulla scia dell’Enfoque por tareas (Hurtado Albir 1999), González Davies propone in Multiple Voices in the Translation Classroom (2004) una metodologia basata sui principi dell’apprendimento cooperativo e sul socio-costruttivismo. Le modalità di lavoro prevedono attività (brevi esercizi volti a sviluppare aspetti specifici di natura linguistica, enciclopedica, traduttiva o professionale), tareas (catene di attività che si sviluppano per più sessioni e prevedono la consegna di un prodotto finale) e progetti, che implicano una partecipazione ancora più attiva dello studente nella fase decisionale e nella valutazione del prodotto finale, potenziando al massimo la cooperazione tra gli studenti. Per González Davies (in Galán Mañas 2009), il momento della valutazione è particolarmente rilevante: dovrebbero partecipare tutti gli attori (docenti, studenti, traduttori, esperti esterni); la valutazione pedagogica dovrebbe essere combinata con la valutazione professionale e mano a mano che il processo di apprendimento progredisce le due valutazioni dovrebbero arrivare a coincidere.

Krüger e Serrano Piqueras (2015) sono gli ideatori del Translation Project Using Translation Tools presso la University of Applied Sciences di Colonia. L’obiettivo del corso è di riprodurre in aula l'ambiente che gli studenti incontreranno nella loro futura carriera di traduttori. Il quadro teorico di riferimento è duplice: da una parte la 'traduzione in situazione' di Risku (1998, 2004), dall’altra il modello delle competenze traduttive di Göpferich (tabella 1). Il corso, della durata di un semestre, consente agli studenti di completare in autonomia progetti complessi avvalendosi di software di traduzione assistita e di gestione terminologica. Durante il corso viene dato spazio a applicazioni e metodi non strettamente traduttivi ma importanti nella routine professionale dei traduttori, quali opzioni di configurazione di email, uso di motori di ricerca e strumenti di costruzione e analisi di corpora, visti come 'performance-enhancing tool[s]' (Krüger and Serrano Piqueras, 2015: 20).

Daniel Gouadec, promotore della pedagogia della traduzione per progetto, fonda il proprio approccio, sviluppato presso l’Université de Rennes 2, su due idee chiave: avvicinare le situazioni pedagogiche a modelli professionali e introdurre tutte le modifiche necessarie all’organizzazione della formazione per permettere tale professionalizzazione (Gouadec 2005: 33). Il risultato è la messa a punto di una metodologia didattica che incorpora incarichi di traduzione autentici per clienti autentici nei programmi universitari. Il modello, nato nel 1984, prevede che a ogni nuovo incarico vengano nominati un capo progetto e un assistente che dovranno scegliere i traduttori, negoziare i termini di consegna e le condizioni della prestazione, stabilire le specifiche del progetto e il calendario di produzione. Si tratta di un meccanismo in cui tutti i partecipanti conoscono i propri ruoli e le proprie mansioni. I nuovi arrivati vengono integrati come traduttori e seguiti da capo progetto e assistente; una volta compreso il sistema, possono accedere progressivamente a nuove responsabilità passando dallo status di stagisti a quello di capo-progetto di ambito e, infine, diventando a loro volta capo-progetto generali. Una tappa fondamentale dal punto di vista pedagogico è quella del controllo qualità. Il responsabile della fase di post-traduzione unisce le traduzioni svolte individualmente per creare la versione finale: questo obbliga i traduttori a giustificare le proprie proposte, ad auto-valutarsi e a considerare i consigli dei colleghi. Inoltre, il fatto che la qualità del progetto venga controllata sistematicamente dal responsabile di post-traduzione e da quello della qualità riduce notevolmente l’intervento del tutor, senza nuocere alla qualità delle valutazioni. Fra i molti vantaggi di questo approccio vale la pena di sottolineare in primo luogo come la creazione di strutture di lavoro collettivo rafforzi la motivazione e il senso di solidarietà tra i partecipanti: gli studenti più avanzati condividono i loro saperi con i compagni e tutti sono responsabili in modo solidale della qualità del risultato finale.

La pedagogia per progetto ha assunto un ruolo centrale nella didattica della traduzione grazie a due importanti iniziative europee, i progetti OTCT e INSTB. Dal 2014 al 2016 sette università europee[6], con a capo l’Università di Rennes, hanno promosso e sviluppato il progetto OTCT (Optimising Translator Training through Collaborative Technical Translation), un partenariato strategico Erasmus+ il cui obiettivo era di agevolare l’integrazione delle pratiche professionali nella formazione del traduttore, migliorare l’occupabilità degli studenti e intensificare i rapporti tra le università europee. Le sessioni Tradutech promosse da OTCT erano simulazioni di progetti collaborativi di traduzione tecnica multilingue svolte in condizioni professionali, grazie alle tecnologie collaborative online. Prima della sessione vera e propria, gli studenti partecipavano ad un evento di formazione in traduzione tecnica, project management, controllo qualità e tecnologie di traduzione. Le sessioni, della durata di cinque giorni, prevedevano la creazione e gestione di una propria agenzia di traduzioni. Ogni team, composto di 8–12 studenti con responsabilità e ruoli specifici (titolare d’agenzia, project manager, capo terminologo, traduttore), si occupava di progetti di traduzione tecnica su ampia scala seguendo le specifiche e le deadline dei clienti, al fine di ricreare situazioni semi-professionali. Inoltre gli studenti provenienti da tutte le istituzioni venivano coinvolti in un progetto terminologico condiviso in modo da promuovere la cooperazione a distanza.

Sulla scia del progetto OTCT, nel 2015 è stato ufficialmente lanciato INSTB[7], l’International Network of Simulated Translation Bureaus. Si tratta di una partnership di università europee che integrano nei loro corsi di studio attività formative che prevedono la creazione di agenzie di traduzione simulate, i cosiddetti 'simulated translation bureaus' (STB) o 'skill labs'. INSTB è un progetto ambizioso che si pone numerosi obiettivi strategici, fra i quali aumentare il volume del lavoro pratico di traduzione nei programmi di formazione dei traduttori, in linea con l'invito del mondo professionale, delle organizzazioni di accreditamento e del Master europeo in traduzione (EMT); fornire agli studenti esperienza traduttiva prima che si laureino in modo da aumentarne le opportunità occupazionali; contribuire a migliorare la qualità delle traduzioni degli studenti con un’attenzione particolare ai requisiti di qualità professionale; contribuire alla standardizzazione delle competenze e ai criteri di valutazione delle traduzioni. Attualmente le università che hanno aderito al progetto sono 13[8]; le caratteristiche salienti di alcuni STB attivi presso le università della rete sono descritti in Buysschaert, Fernandez-Parra and van Egdom (2017) e in van Egdom et al. (2020).

4. Il service-learning

4.1 La via accademica all'impegno civile

Avendo presentato i principali contributi teorici e le principali esperienze nel campo della formazione del traduttore alla professione (modelli di competenze, approcci pedagogici, valutazione), è ora possibile comprendere il potenziale offerto da un approccio che risulta ancora non valorizzato nella letteratura e nella prassi didattica della traduzione, ovvero il cosiddetto service-learning.

Per service-learning si intende un corso metodologico di educazione civica alla cittadinanza partecipe i cui crediti accademici vengono conseguiti dagli studenti progettando, espletando e rendicontando un servizio “volontario” alla comunità e nella comunità. Sebbene possa essere erroneamente confuso con il volontariato, in quanto ne condivide l’elemento di gratuità, la valenza sociale, gli obiettivi civici e il legame con la comunità, il service-learning determina in realtà un’evoluzione e segna il passaggio da partnership transazionali (quali quella del volontariato) a trasformative, in cui l’attività si fonda sull’unione di due scopi mirati a beneficio reciproco delle due parti coinvolte, la comunità e i discenti. Ben diverso quindi da attività di volontariato nelle quali il focus è posto unicamente sul servizio e sul suo destinatario generando un processo unidirezionale in cui uno solo dei due attori coinvolti, in questo caso il discente, si avvicina all’altro, la comunità.

A differenziare service-learning e volontariato vi sono due ulteriori elementi, i principi di reciprocity (reciprocità) e reflexivity (riflessività), che insieme a respect (rispetto) e relevance (rilevanza) rappresentano le 4R fondanti e specifiche del service-learning. Reciprocity è una delle basi dell’impegno civico e consiste in ‘the recognition, respect, and valuing of the knowledge, perspective and resources that each partner contributes to the collaboration’ (Carnegie Foundation, 2011). Include uno scambio di vantaggi, risorse e azioni; un processo di influenza a livello sociale, personale e ambientale e la generativity, un processo trasformativo che fa sì che i partecipanti della relazione diventino e/o producano qualcosa di nuovo (Dostillo, 2012). La reflexivity, invece, è ‘a critical reflection on the community-university relationship and on [service-learning] activities’ (Guarino et al., 2019) ed è una componente fondamentale del percorso degli studenti attraverso il lavoro sul campo quando vengono incorporate attività di service-learning.

Da un punto di vista pedagogico, etico e ideologico il service-learning ha come ideale la diffusione di nutrimenti intellettuali e degli strumenti operativi per sensibilizzare le giovani generazioni al civismo attivo, sostenendone il coinvolgimento collegiale e cooperativo nel campo aperto dell'universo no-profit. Con il service-learning gli studenti escono dal campus universitario per farvi ritorno dopo essersi cimentati sul campo nel ruolo di attori sociali della loro comunità e aver sperimentato con spirito cooperativo e intento di risoluzione dei problemi la complessità del reale (Eyler and Giles 1999, Fiorin 2016).

Ispirato alla filosofia politica partecipativa di Dewey (1938), il service-learning è stato ampiamente adottato a partire degli anni Ottanta nei programmi curricolari dei college e degli atenei statunitensi (Furco and Root 2010) ed è attualmente in fase di espansione nelle università italiane ed europee (Guarino and Zani 2017). Configura un rinnovato approccio pedagogico nel quale il tradizionale insegnamento nozionale e frontale dell’educazione civica si coniuga attivamente ad un concreto impegno dei discenti a favore della società civile. Promuove lo spirito solidale, la responsabilità sociale e l’azione civica coordinata dei discenti, offrendo loro un’occasione di apprendimento dinamico sul campo. Prestando un servizio socialmente utile e in quanto tale gratificante, si ricava un nuovo senso di identità e di appartenenza, sia alla società civile che alla propria comunità professionale.

Nome composto di un edificio composito, il service-learning si propone da un lato di rispondere in modo concreto a certi bisogni sociali della comunità e dall'altro al bisogno didattico degli studenti di sapere sfruttare ed applicare diligentemente in un contesto sociale reale le conoscenze teoriche e tecniche acquisite in aula, nutrendole criticamente in un dialogo multidisciplinare con le osservazioni sul campo. Intelletti socialmente attivi, aperti e collaborativi, gli studenti rivestono così un ruolo decisamente centrale in questa formazione che apre in maniera curriculare l’accademia alla società civile e associativa. Questo comporta anche una rimodulazione dei criteri di valutazione dell'operato dei discenti.

4.2 Service-learning traduttivo e formazione del traduttore

Se l’area dell’impegno civico e della risposta alle esigenze della comunità costituiscono campi d’intervento centrali per il service-learning, la rimozione delle barriere linguistiche che frenano la circolazione delle informazioni e l’incontro delle diversità culturali ne costituisce un altro potenzialmente non meno importante. D'altro canto l'insegnamento e la formazione degli insegnanti di lingue straniere sono due ambiti ai quali il service-learning è stato proficuamente applicato (Ping 2014; Salgado-Robles (a cura di) 2018). Viceversa in ambito traduttivo è forte l'impegno di tipo volontario di traduttori professionisti e in formazione, che offrono gratuitamente il proprio lavoro in associazioni come Translators without borders, Traduttori per la pace o Translation Commons[9]. Ciò nonostante, le esperienze di service-learning universitario in ambito traduttivo rimangono limitate, perfino nel contesto accademico statunitense, nel quale il service-learning è particolarmente sviluppato (Tocaimaza-Hatch 2018).

Alcuni esempi recenti dimostrano però le potenzialità dell'approccio non solo per favorire lo sviluppo delle competenze di trasferimento linguistico e culturale, ma anche per aumentare la motivazione e favorire l'acquisizione delle capacità di negoziare con diversi interlocutori, di applicare conoscenze accademiche in situazioni reali e di utilizzare le risorse a disposizione in modo mirato, per un pubblico e uno scopo specifici (Thompson and Hague 2018). Ulteriori vantaggi non immediatamente evidenti riguardano lo sviluppo della cosiddetta auto-efficacia, ovvero la fiducia di una persona nelle proprie competenze. Il raggiungimento di questo obiettivo di apprendimento, ritenuto essenziale anche nella formazione dei traduttori (van Egdom et al. 2020) è uno dei risultati accertati del service-learning (Yorio and Ye 2012).

Date le premesse, è del tutto naturale che all'interno di un corso di studi dedicato alla traduzione si mettano le competenze in materia di mediazione linguistica e culturale al servizio della comunità, o meglio al servizio delle comunità (trattandosi di intermediazione linguistica). D'altra parte, destinare risorse umane motivate e preparate al service-learning traduttivo non è soltanto atto di nobiltà, artefice di proficui avvicinamenti tra le culture e le entità d’impegno civico o di utilità pubblica. Data l’ideale coincidenza tra il campo comunicativo d’azione civica e il campo curriculare specializzato della formazione superiore in traduzione, l'attività che stiamo descrivendo è anche per i cittadini-studenti un’occasione professionalizzante unica di perfezionamento e di arricchimento delle competenze traduttologiche personali, paragonabile ad una vera e propria esperienza lavorativa, riconoscibile in quanto tale con crediti formativi e indubbiamente gradita al mercato del lavoro.

In situazione, questi giovani traduttori senza frontiere dovranno infatti gioco forza confrontarsi con tutta la catena organizzativa che va dalle relazioni umane interne ed esterne alla revisione e all’edizione dei testi, passando per la gestione amministrativa e la programmazione delle scadenze. In breve si troveranno ad affrontare in modo olistico, multidisciplinare e pragmatico il processo traduttivo nella sua integralità produttiva. Nella realtà lavorativa la traduzione non si limita in effetti mai all’unica operazione di traslazione testuale da una lingua all’altra, per quanto centrale questa sia: comprende sempre a monte e a valle tutta una serie di processi da governare. D'altronde l'attenzione riservata alla competenza personale e interpersonale e alla competenza relativa alla fornitura di servizi nel più recente modello dell'EMT (2017), di cui ci siamo occupati nella sezione 2, conferma la necessità di momenti formativi che escono dalle logiche dell'esercizio traduttivo fine a se stesso, come accade nelle simulazioni proposte dalla rete INSTB e in generale nelle esperienze descritte in 3.3.

L’aula da sola, per mancanza più di tempo e condizioni che d’intento, non è infatti in grado di soddisfare queste esigenze, demandandone il soddisfacimento principalmente agli indispensabili tirocini esterni, ad iniziative singole (incontri con le aziende, workshop pratici) e nella migliore delle ipotesi ai translation bureaus. Il service-learning traduttivo costituisce una forma ulteriore di sviluppo delle competenze descritte in 2, che in più valorizza e nutre la dimensione dell'impegno civile degli studenti. L'integrazione di translation bureaus e translation as service potrebbe costituire una struttura parallela rispetto al sistema dei tirocini in azienda. Con più ambizione, potrebbe inoltre dar vita ad un auspicabile servizio consociato offerto dagli studenti delle lauree magistrali in traduzione d'Europa (parte dell'EMT o di altre realtà associative, come le alleanze universitarie europee in via di formazione), accogliendo le sollecitazioni dei progetti Europe Engage e UNICORN[10], sostenuti dall’Unione europea.

A beneficio di entrambi gli obiettivi formativi, civico e professionale, nonché di utilità alla società civile, il service-learning traduttivo è in definitiva un’educazione civica applicata alla comunicazione interlinguistica, in proficua armonia disciplinare con la specifica formazione curriculare degli studenti delle lauree magistrali in traduzione specializzata. Coerente con le priorità formative specifiche della disciplina, il service-learning traduttivo si propone quindi da un lato come ramo settoriale del service-learning generale e dall'altro come integrazione, più socialmente sostenibile, alle simulazioni e ai tirocini professionali.

5. Competenze professionali, apprendimento esperienziale e servizio attivo: 5 principi guida per il service-learning in ambito traduttivo

Sulla scorta delle riflessioni e teorizzazioni presentate nelle sezioni precedenti, non sfuggirà il grande potenziale formativo e sociale del service-learning applicato ai servizi linguistici, soprattutto se messo in relazione ai modelli delle competenze, agli approcci pedagogici e alle proposte didattiche concrete formulate nel mondo della formazione alla traduzione negli ultimi vent'anni. Per avviare un confronto e una collaborazione su questi temi, in questa sezione conclusiva vorremmo descrivere un progetto per implementare, all'interno dell'orizzonte teorico-metodologico del service-learning, una sorta di agenzia di traduzione studentesca senza fini di lucro e istituita con spirito di servizio alla comunità, che integri al suo interno occasioni di riflessione esplicita sull'apprendimento esperienziale legato alla responsabilità civile e all'impegno del singolo e dell'istituzione universitaria per il rafforzamento delle comunità.

Gestita in autonomia dagli studenti con la supervisione di docenti e tutor, questa agenzia si rivolge in particolare, ma non necessariamente in esclusiva, alle associazioni no-profit contribuendo a rinvigorire dal basso le relazioni internazionali informali a livello sociale e lo spirito di integrazione culturale transnazionale tra le cittadinanze dei vari paesi, d’Europa e non solo. Collocate al di fuori dei circuiti commerciali, produttivi o istituzionali, queste entità associative civiche tutelate dagli ordinamenti legislativi sono delle figure relazionali trasversali vitali nei loro territori e costituiscono dei nodi comunicativi influenti sul piano culturale e informativo, sia in loco che in rete. Le competenze chiave di cittadinanza che si sviluppano grazie alle interazioni generate da questa collaborazione vengono poi rafforzate attraverso le occasioni di auto-riflessione e riflessione guidata (diari, laboratori, incontri di restituzione) propri del service-learning.

i. Bilanciare professione e servizio

Le esperienze di service-learning non presuppongono necessariamente la prestazione di servizi negli ambiti formativi propri degli studenti che le svolgono, ma non le escludono a priori. Nel caso dei servizi linguistici, come abbiamo visto, l'aspetto di volontarietà è già ampiamente presente nella società: l'introduzione di un modulo specifico all'interno di un corso di laurea/laurea magistrale non fa che rafforzare e istituzionalizzare questa realtà, contribuendo allo stesso tempo allo sviluppo di competenze e capacità richieste dal mondo del lavoro. Nel momento in cui l'attività di servizio diventa parte integrante di un curriculum di studi, è però necessario formalizzarne le caratteristiche e i ruoli dei partecipanti. Dal punto di vista dei contenuti, il service-learning traduttivo si compone di quattro parti. Le prime due riguardano specificamente il service-learning: una prima componente di riflessione sulle competenze chiave di cittadinanza e sulla consapevolezza sociale e personale si svolge nella parte iniziale del modulo, per creare le condizioni di consapevolezza necessarie affinché il lavoro successivo si svolga nel rispetto dei principi di questo approccio socio-psico-pedagogico. La seconda componente, di fondamentale importanza per distinguere il service-learning da altri modi di apprendimento collaborativo, consiste nella rilevazione dei bisogni specifici della comunità individuata: una volta instaurato il dialogo e svolta la needs analysis, gli studenti discuteranno con la comunità quali, tra i bisogni indicati, saranno in grado di soddisfare tenendo conto delle competenze e delle conoscenze da loro possedute e di tempi e modalità. Questa prima consultazione darà il via alla co-costruzione del progetto che vedrà la comunità e gli studenti impegnati in incontri regolari al fine di definire gli obiettivi a breve, medio e lungo termine, discutere dell’andamento delle attività e attuare degli aggiustamenti, se necessario. La fase successiva, più propriamente professionalizzante, è dedicata alla strutturazione del gruppo di lavoro e successivamente alla fornitura dei servizi veri e propri. A metà tra service-learning e professione si pone, infine, l’approfondimento delle questioni legate alla deontologia professionale e al ruolo sociale del traduttore, che si svolge per l’intera durata del modulo.

ii. Tempi e modalità didattiche

L'attività di service-learning qui descritta dovrebbe avere la durata di almeno un semestre e occupare un minimo di cinque crediti formativi universitari (pari a 125 ore di impegno dello studente, fra lezioni frontali e lavoro autonomo, di cui almeno 25 dedicate al service-learning) se attività formativa autonoma, o un numero paragonabile di ore di impegno da parte dello studente, se si configura come laboratorio/esercitazioni. Per i requisiti di autonomia decisionale, di competenze e capacità (tecnologiche, linguistico-culturali, traduttive, personali e interpersonali e di prestazione di servizi), il suo naturale posizionamento all'interno di un corso di laurea magistrale sarebbe nel secondo anno di corso. L’attività si configurerebbe come esperienza obbligatoria per tutti gli studenti prossimi alla laurea e all’inserimento nel mondo professionale, costituendo il coronamento del percorso accademico.

iii. Contenuti e divisione dei compiti

Come in una vera comunità di pratica, e a differenza di quanto avvenga in classe, non tutti i partecipanti svolgono gli stessi compiti e ricoprono gli stessi ruoli. Fatta eccezione per l'approfondimento dei principi del service-learning, uguale per tutte le coorti, le attività professionali sono determinate dal gruppo stesso e cambiano nel tempo. Infatti il gruppo deve dapprima organizzarsi in un'entità in grado di offrire servizi linguistici di livello professionale a scopo benefico e poi erogare tali servizi nel rispetto degli standard professionali, dei principi deontologici e dell'impegno civico. Il gruppo di studentesse e studenti che porta avanti il progetto dovrà porsi e risolvere problemi che vanno dall'identificazione della committenza, alla definizione delle regole che delimitano le attività di cui il gruppo può legittimamente farsi carico, all'ideazione di strategie di comunicazione via web/social network, all'assegnazione dei ruoli (project management, traduzione, revisione, gestione della terminologia, comunicazione esterna), alla definizione delle modalità di collaborazione. Mentre queste decisioni coinvolgono tutti i partecipanti, ciascuno farà esperienze diverse all'interno del gruppo e idealmente avrà modo di capire quali ruoli gli sono più confacenti.

iv. Valutazione

La valutazione della performance delle studentesse e degli studenti tiene conto dei contenuti di cui al punto precedente. Il soddisfacimento degli obiettivi formativi è garantito da un lato dalla dimostrazione di aver acquisito competenze di impegno civico e sociale e capacità relazionali e dall'altro di aver acquisito tutte le competenze e capacità professionali definite dall'EMT come necessarie per un laureato magistrale in traduzione. Le attività di valutazione avverranno in due momenti distinti, assumendo forme diverse. In un’ottica formativa, al termine di ogni incontro, gli studenti saranno chiamati a riflettere criticamente sulle categorie di crescita personale, impegno civico e valorizzazione del rapporto università-comunità attraverso la redazione di diari personali e il confronto con gli altri membri del gruppo. In una prospettiva sommativa, invece, la comunità partner coinvolta fornirà una valutazione di tutto il gruppo di lavoro attraverso un questionario specifico, mentre gli studenti consegneranno un portfolio delle attività svolte e/o una relazione finale nella quale, specificando il ruolo svolto, valuteranno le competenze civiche e professionali acquisite.

v. Misurare l'impatto

Date le priorità non solo formative ma anche di impegno civico e sociale, l'esperienza di service-learning traduttivo si presta anche ad una valutazione dell'impatto sociale. Le evidenze in questo caso possono riguardare il numero di parole tradotte o gli incarichi svolti, l'eventuale copertura mediatica, le testimonianze/endorsement dei committenti. La visibilità dell'attività e del ruolo sociale del traduttore che ne conseguirebbe andrebbe a vantaggio dell'intera professione, contribuendo a mettere in evidenza il valore sociale insito nella riduzione delle barriere linguistiche.

6. Conclusione: criticità e potenziale del service-learning nella formazione in traduzione

Un’attività formativa che riposa sull'autonomia dello studente e sulla simulazione in ambito accademico di un contesto professionale (seppure non a scopo di lucro), porta con sé alcune inevitabili difficoltà, in particolar modo nella fase di avvio del progetto, in cui si renderà necessario porre le basi dell’agenzia. Per gli studenti si tratterà di intraprendere un percorso ex-novo di progettazione e sviluppo di una ‘impresa a scopo civico’ che andrà ripensato passo dopo passo con incontri che non saranno preparati ad hoc da tutor e docenti ma piuttosto co-costruiti in modalità cooperativa coerente con lo spirito solidale del service-learning. La necessità di redigere e poi rispettare un codice deontologico potrebbe sollevare conflitti interni e costringere i partecipanti a decisioni difficili o impopolari. Le costrizioni proprie dell'ambito universitario potrebbero dal canto loro causare intoppi di tipo amministrativo nei rapporti con l'esterno (ad. es. coperture assicurative nel caso di accesso degli esterni ai locali dell'università) da rimuovere. Il mondo del lavoro potrebbe infine non cogliere immediatamente il potenziale formativo di un'esperienza di service-learning traduttivo per l'acquisizione di competenze professionali, rendendo necessaria una ‘formazione’ dei suoi attori (associazioni di categoria, traduttori, agenzie) attraverso la disseminazione di scopi, obiettivi e traguardi del progetto.

Se l'introduzione di questa nuova pratica didattica non è senza asperità, riteniamo tuttavia che la coerenza di fondo tra service-learning e riflessione teorico-metodologica sulla didattica della traduzione, che risulta dalla panoramica offerta in questo lavoro, sia una motivazione forte per auspicarne una sperimentazione sul campo; a maggior ragione, dato lo stretto legame con l'impegno civico. Se l'esperienza degli Student Translation Bureaus punta sulla simulazione di un'esperienza lavorativa e imprenditoriale realistica, anche ponendo gli studenti in situazioni tali da stimolare la competizione per il successo, nel caso del service-learning gli studenti e le studentesse lavorano insieme verso un obiettivo socialmente utile di cui condividono l'importanza e si formano all'impegno civico come uno degli obiettivi del loro percorso di crescita intellettuale. Speriamo che queste motivazioni e le riflessioni che le accompagnano spingano le istituzioni superiori che formano traduttori ad accettare la sfida di sperimentare una formazione più umana e più solidale, oltre che più efficace.


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[1] Nel prosieguo del contributo usiamo il maschile generico per riferirci a traduttrici e traduttori e a studentesse e studenti. Consapevoli dell’inadeguatezza di questa soluzione, adottata al solo scopo di facilitare la lettura, vorremmo ricordare ai lettori e alle lettrici che le donne costituiscono in realtà la maggioranza delle popolazioni a cui ci riferiamo qui (impropriamente) al maschile.

[2] In questo contributo utilizziamo il termine competenza secondo la definizione del Quadro Europeo delle Qualifiche, ovvero a indicare 'comprovata capacità di utilizzare conoscenze, abilità e capacità personali, sociali e/o metodologiche, in situazioni di lavoro o di studio e nello sviluppo professionale e personale' (; si veda anche EMT 2017: 3); Per brevità ricomprendiamo inoltre nel termine competenza le relative conoscenze, abilità e capacità, fatti salvi i casi in cui la distinzione è significativa.

[4] Nel testo riportiamo la nostra proposta di traduzione in italiano per i nomi delle (sotto)competenze, rimandando alla tabella 1 per i nomi originali in inglese tratti dalle pubblicazioni citate (in qualche caso leggermente adattati per ragioni di spazio).

[5] Who is to transmit/ to whom/ what for/ by what medium/ where/ when/ why / a text with what function? / On what subject matter/ is he to say/ what/ what not/ in which order/ using which non-verbal elements/ in which words/ in what kind of sentences/ in which tone/ to what effect? (Nord, 1991: 144).

[6] Univerzita Karlova v Praze, Swansea University, Universitatea Babes-Bolyai, Universita Ta Malta, Universidad Pablo de Olavid, Université Catholique de Louvain.

[7] (visitato il 17 maggio 2021)

[8] Ghent University, UC Leuven Limburg, KU Leuven, Swansea University, Universiteit Antwerpen, Université Charles-de-Gaulle – Lille 3, Université de Mons, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Zuyd Hogeschool/Maastricht, Turku University, Technology Arts Sciences TH Köln, Utrecht Universiteit e Dublin City University.

About the author(s)

Paolo Scampa è ricercatore confermato in lingua e traduzione, Lingua francese presso il Dipartimento di Interpretazione e Traduzione dell'Università di Bologna. I suoi interessi di ricerca riguardano la linguistica contrastiva italiano-francese e la didattica della traduzione.

Gaia Ballerini è assegnista di ricerca e docente a contratto presso il Dipartimento di Interpretazione e Traduzione dell'Università di Bologna. Si occupa di didattica della traduzione nell’ambito del progetto TaS – Translation as Service per le lingue italiano e francese.

Silvia Bernardini (Laurea (Bologna), MPhil (Cantab), PhD (MDX)) è professoressa ordinaria di lingua e traduzione e di lingua inglese. Si occupa di didattica della traduzione e della lingua inglese per traduttori, in particolare con l'ausilio di corpora, da oltre 20 anni.

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©inTRAlinea & Paolo Scampa, Gaia Ballerini & Silvia Bernardini (2022).
"La formazione in traduzione fra competenze, professione e civismo Alcune riflessioni sul service-learning", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

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Translation as a Weapon

Literary Translation under the Slovak State (1939–1945)

By Martin Djovčoš & Matej Laš (Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia)


This article provides an analysis of the publishing policy of the fascist Slovak state (1939-1945), focussing on fiction translation and examining the rapid changes taking place in the period under consideration. The history of translation is a very complex phenomenon, and in order to reconstruct a comprehensive image of the period we make use of the concepts of patronage (Lefevere) and polysystem (Even-Zohar). We show that publishing policy and type of patronage (differentiated or undifferentiated) are closely related, and that both periphery and centre of the polysystem need to be studied.

Keywords: patronage, translation and politics, translation policy, ideology, fascism, Slovak State, history of translation

©inTRAlinea & Martin Djovčoš & Matej Laš (2022).
"Translation as a Weapon Literary Translation under the Slovak State (1939–1945)", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL:

1. Introduction

In 1939, Hitler divided the short-lived Second Czechoslovak Republic into two, and as a consequence the First Slovak Republic (referred to as “the Slovak State”until 21 July 1939) was born – a new nationalist client state of Nazi Germany, abruptly breaking loose from the democratic values of the First Czechoslovak Republic and its Masarykian roots (defined below).

The history of translation can tell us a great deal about social changes and values in a given socio-cultural system. In fact, translation is probably one of the most reliable indicators of social and political change, and it could probably even be said: tell me what you translate and I will tell you what kind of regime you live in. The goal of this paper is to illustrate – on the basis of a statistical analysis of fiction translation and domestic fiction during the Slovak State period – what happened to translation policy during the regime, and to provide numerical data on fiction publishing before, during and shortly after the establishment of the Slovak State with regard to the centre of the literary system. The paper by no means tries to offer a complete analysis of the period studied. Such research would require the study of both the centre and the periphery of the literary polysystem and their reciprocity, as well as a comprehensive analysis of the translation strategies used, a study of paratexts and oral history. It should also include study of other arts such as cinema and music.

The Slovak State is sometimes defined as a “leaky totalitarian” (Clementis 1947) or clerical fascist (Szabó 2019) regime; therefore we will try to determine whether it exhibited differentiated or undifferentiated patronage (Lefevere 1992). It needs to be noted that Slovak “leaky fascism” does not fall into the category of parafascist regimes (such as Portugal and Spain as described in Rundle and Sturge 2010), as it shares features of both fascist and parafascist, that is antisemitism on in line with the former but with strong (declared) Catholic values in line with the latter. Like Rundle and Sturge, who state that "[b]y importing ideas, genres and fragments of different cultural worlds, translations will affirm or attack domestic realities; they are never neutral in their impact or in their representation of the sending cultures” (2010: 4), we believe that translation in this case does not attack domestic realities, but affirms them, creates subconscious agreement with the new rule and strengthens the given regime, which itself has been imported and adopted.

2. Historical background

The First Czechoslovak Republic (the first autonomous state of Czechs and Slovaks) was founded on 28 October 1918 and led by Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk – an influential philosopher, journalist and politician nicknamed by many “the father of Czechoslovakia”. Although the country would become a stable democracy, there were many problems regarding economic disparities between the Slovak and Czech regions.[1]

Following Hitler’s rise to power and the subsequent Munich Agreement in 1938, Czechoslovakia was forced to cede its Sudetenland region to Germany, along with some of its other northern and southern regions – the result of an appeasement policy (Kárník 2003). Immediately after the annexation, a second, short-lived Czechoslovakia emerged; it lasted only 169 days.[2] It was dissolved when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939. The Czech region was transformed into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and president Edvard Beneš resigned and was replaced by the fascist Emil Hácha; while the Slovak region became a client state of Nazi Germany under the rule of the Catholic priest and politician Jozef Tiso.[3]

Tiso was the second chairman of Hlinka's Slovak People's Party (named after its first chairman, Andrej Hlinka, who was also a Catholic priest), and was part of the moderate wing. The party, founded in 1931, had a strong Christian and nationalistic ideology, and its members were known as the Ludaks, based on the noun ľud, meaning people.[4] Although the popularity of the party was relatively high (in the first elections it gained 17.6 per cent), it became part of the government only once, in 1927 – when Tiso even became the Minister for Public Health and Physical Education.[5]

The year 1938 saw the establishment of the Hlinka Guard and Hlinka Youth – an organization similar to the Hitler Youth – which organized and headed the Aryanization process and the deportation of Jews. Tiso’s state became officially recognized as an independent Slovak State and fully supported both the non-military economic programmes and the military operations of the Nazis (such as the invasion of Poland), becoming a fully fledged part of the Axis powers in WWII (Petranský 2015a).

Then a revolt broke out: the Slovak National Uprising of 1944. The opposition to the regime was formed and organized into small military units. These units were suppressed on 27 October and the uprising switched to guerrilla warfare. This lasted until the liberation of the Slovak State by the Red Army. Once again, opinions concerning this event vary. By way of reprisal against the uprising, German soldiers destroyed those villages whose inhabitants had helped the partisans and more than 5,000 lives were lost. At the same time, some partisan units, such as the First Czechoslovakian Partisan Brigade of J. V. Stalin, organised attacks on German civilians living in Slovakia. The Slovak National Uprising would become a symbol of the restoration of Czechoslovakia – making it extremely unpopular among Slovak nationalists. Last, but not least, the partisans included in their ranks several communists motivated by Marxist-Leninist ideology. Although the partisans were outnumbered and the uprising was militarily unsuccessful, it proved to be of importance in the geopolitical dispensation that followed WWII (Petranský 2015a).

In 1945, Slovakia was liberated by the Soviet army, and Czechoslovakia was reunited in its second incarnation. Tiso was judged in a political trial and sentenced to execution by hanging. This step proved to be controversial, as he became – and still is to this day – a martyr of the Slovak nation in the eyes of many ultra-right extremists.[6]

The shadow cabinet led by Edvard Beneš – organized in Great Britain during the WWII – took over, and in 1948 a communists’ coup d'état took place. As a result, Czechoslovakia became a satellite state of the Soviet Union (Applebaum 2012). Of course, the process itself was much more complicated, but this brief contextualization serves our purposes.

The Slovak general public has never managed to come to terms with the legacy of the first Slovak State, resulting in the success of a neo-fascist political party in the 2010s. The goal of this paper, however, is not to discuss Slovak society’s struggle with the legacy of the clerofascist state, but to look in more detail at how this regime used literature and particularly translation to subliminally manipulate public opinion. Indeed, this is often one of the main goals of translation: to manipulate (Bassnett and Lefevere 1992).

3. Methodology

Our statistical analysis of the book market was conducted using bibliographical catalogues complied at Matica Slovenská, a scientific and cultural institution which focuses on topics related to the Slovak nation,  during the 1950s, 60s and 70s (Dubay 1948, 1951, 1952; Ferienčíková and Spišková 1967, 1969, 1970a, 1970b). There is no online catalogue of the works published under the Slovak State. All data had to be calculated manually from the printed bibliographies. It is therefore possible that some minor errors occurred, but these errors shouldn’t affect the overall picture.

There is, however, another issue. Bibliographies are not necessarily completely accurate; in a few cases, the publication years of particular books were missing. Also, the archives on which the bibliographies were based are not necessarily complete.

Based on the data gathered and on relevant social changes, we have divided the period 1939–45 into three parts. Our analysis also includes a brief discussion of the pre-war years (1937–38), which were characterised by the rise of nationalism, and of the post war years (1946–47), when a cultural and political struggle between democratic and communist values took place. Indeed, we show that translation seems to have been a highly significant battleground. Each of the three parts is further comprised of descriptive statistical analysis regarding the number of domestic fiction works and fiction translations. In the end, we provide a brief genre analysis of domestic fiction as well as some interesting examples of fiction translations.[7]

4. Theoretical framework

Edwin Gentzler and Maria Tymoczko (2002) coined the often-challenged term power turn, stressing the role of power and ideology in the process of translation. In the USA, this concept was connected to postcolonial processes. In the Central European context it may instead be connected with an attempt to cope with the turbulent history of the region and the totalitarian regimes which troubled it for most of the 20th century.

Also stressing that translation is not only a language-based phenomenon, but involves factors such as power and ideology, Lefevere (1992) defines translation as rewriting and argues that manipulation is carried out in the service of power. However, he considers that positive aspects such as the introduction of new concepts, new genres, new devices, literary innovation etc. can help a particular society to flourish. The process of rewriting begins with the actual selection of a text to be translated. Another important concept introduced by Lefereve (1992) is that of patronage, which he defines as a collective, almost abstract, entity, which is not interested in literature or its poetics but in ideology, and which oversees and regulates relations between different literary systems, thus contributing to the shaping of society and culture. We try to demonstrate that the Slovak State actually had undifferentiated patronage, common in totalitarian regimes, as the three components that according to Lefevere (1992) are associated with patronage (i.e. the ideological, economic and status components) are all concentrated in one person or state-run institution.

As this article deals mainly with fascist ideology, we also draw on Rundle and Sturge (2010) to help us find some common and differentiating features between Slovakia and other fascist and parafascist regimes.

Toury's (1995) concept of preliminary norms, which concern “translation policy”[8] and “directness”, is also important for our purposes. According to Toury (1995: 58) “[t]ranslation policy refers to those factors that govern the choice of text types; or even of individual texts, to be imported through translation into a particular culture/language at a particular point in time”. He adds that “considerations concerning directness of translation involve the threshold of tolerance for translating from languages other than the ultimate source language” (ibid.).

Even-Zohar's (1990) polysystem theory may also be helpful to explain phenomena taking place in totalitarian regimes. It states that smaller literatures (such as Slovak literature) form themselves through translations, in which they try to find new literary models. Larger literatures do not need translations, or rather do not need them anymore, as they pose a threat to the canonized centre of the polysystem. Therefore these literatures translate a lot less: in the USA, for example, translations constitute about 1.8 per cent of the total production of fiction.[9]

As far as the Slovak literary polysystem and canon is concerned, Šmatlák (2001: 474) states that Slovaks wanted a new definition of their own national identity both in relation to the traditional values of Slovak literary history and to the wider aesthetic influences from other languages present in the interwar period. This desire to renew the nation is mentioned by Rundle and Sturge, too, and they consider it “to be one of the defining characteristics of a fascist political programme” (2010: 7-8). The phenomenon was definitely present in the Slovak State’s policy concerning translations of fiction. Bednárová (2015: 24) states that the nationalistic emphasis helped to emancipate Slovak translating from Czech influence[10], although censorship definitely affected the quantity of translations from other countries, particularly with regard to Romanian, Italian, Croatian and German literatures. Vajdová (2000: 55) analysed Romanian literature during WWII in literary magazines such as Elán and Slovenské pohľady and came to the conclusion that all contributions were politically motivated, characterized mainly by nationalist and pro-regime, pro-fascist inclinations. Regarding German literature, Bednárová (2015: 24) states that there also was a continuation of the established tradition – several classic German authors such as Goethe, Schiller, Rilke, Hesse were translated – but there were many politically motivated translations as well. Even an entire issue of Elán was dedicated to German literature and art (Schvarc and Hallon, 2010: 283).

5. Meta-pseudotranslations

A typical feature of the Slovak fascist regime is a significant amount of fictitious translations (Toury 2006) or pseudo-translations (Popovič 1975). Fictitious translations are original texts that present themselves as translations. There are many reasons why they might do so, such as importing a new literary model that is considered unacceptable by domestic readers or simply a deficit of translators of a particular language. According to Rundle and Sturge (2010: 6), for instance, “there was a boom in pseudotranslations [in Franco’s Spain]: non-translated works that claimed to be translations in order to enhance their prestige or market positions”. Sturge, in reference to Nazi Germany, also states that

the home of pseudotranslations and by far the biggest source of actual translations until the war, was popular fiction translated from English, especially detective novels and westerns but flanked by a whole range of successful light or middlebrow fiction. These translations really did offer an alternative reality to the blood and soil of home […]. Publishing them as translations makes it more acceptable or even more exotic. (Sturge 2010: 76)

The situation as far as Slovakia is concerned was rather complicated. Firstly, there were Slovak authors using English or French pseudonyms when writing adventure novels, particularly westerns. This phenomenon was very common between 1940 and 1945, as escapist literature was popular during wartime and adventure genres, though considered second-rate, were in great demand. Therefore, authors tended to use various foreign pseudonyms, as will be pointed out in the analysis.

There was also another group of  pseudo-translations, which we have called second-hand pseudo-translations or meta-pseudotranslations. A rather significant number of adventure novels – especially stories set in the Wild West – were published and labelled as translations of American authors when, in fact, they were translations of novels written mainly by Hungarian writers using pseudonyms. For instance, Hamvas H. Sándor, who wrote under many pseudonyms, one of them being Alex H. Ash.

In Hungary, these writers published their work in hugely popular paperback editions called Közművelődési, which functioned as pseudo-translations. These pseudo-translations were eventually translated into Slovak, creating a very interesting phenomenon. They will be labelled as Undetermined in the figures below, as it’s difficult to say whether the translators were aware that these novellas had in fact been written by Hungarian authors, since no further information could be found.

6. Statistical analysis              

Now let us proceed to the actual statistical analysis in line with the methods described in section 3. Corresponding bibliographies and sources of meta-analysis are cited in footnotes accompanying every figure. We shall also conduct a brief genre analysis of the years 1937–47, divided into logical parts according to the tendencies displayed in each period.

6.1 The pre-war years

In order to fully comprehend the shift of translation policy that occurred somewhere between 1939 and 1940, it is essential to look further back in time. After the birth of Czechoslovakia, the book market in Slovakia flourished. Between 1918 and 1938, 15,676 books were published, on average 750 books per year, and around 15 per cent of these books were fiction. Let us look in detail at the last two years leading up to the dissolution of the first Czechoslovakia.

Figure 1: Number of fiction books published in Slovakia
annually by original language, 1937–38 (Matica slovenská 1979)

Here we can see that translated fiction constituted about half of all fiction production in Slovakia – precisely 60 per cent in 1937 (86 volumes) and 46 per cent in 1938 (54 volumes). The distribution of languages is very varied (17 different languages).

The most translated source language was Czech, constituting 15 per cent (22 volumes) and 10 per cent (12 volumes) of all fiction, for each year respectively. From a contemporary point of view, this may seem rather unusual, since today Slovak publishers tend not to translate Czech-language fiction, as it is generally believed that almost every Slovak understands Czech (though not vice versa); however, in the period of the first Czechoslovakia it was quite normal to do so, as the Slovak part of the republic was mainly agrarian, and many Slovak writers and translators studied in Prague and were hugely influenced by Czech. There weren’t many translators, as there were no training institutions (the first one was established in 1969 at the Univerzita 17 Novembra in Bratislava), and bilingual dictionaries were scarce, so Slovak translators tended to use Czech as an intermediary language in the translation process.

After Czech, the most represented source languages are Russian, French, German, Polish, English and Hungarian. There is no particular pattern, no alpha-language of translation. The most frequently translated languages are the result of historical relations and common roots. Slovakia, as a former part of Austria-Hungary and Mitteleuropa, had naturally formed relations with Hungary, Germany and Poland. France, with its major impact on European literature as the cradle of the Enlightenment, was also well represented.

On the other hand, Russian literary relations are a result of the Slovak national revival in the 19th century led by Ľudovít Štúr, who even went so far as to encourage the Slavic nations to consolidate under the reign of Russia (Štúr 2015). These ideas were also elaborated by Ján Kollár, whose theory of Slavic mutuality articulated a need for cooperation among the Slavic nations in literature and culture (Kollár 2008).

The proportion of Slovak fiction is quite high – 40 per cent in 1937 and 54 per cent in 1938– considering that nowadays translated fiction constitutes around 70 per cent of all fiction production. It is obvious that the diversity of cultural representation is balanced. However, the total number of fiction books published in 1939 decreased by 19 per cent with respect to 1938. The increasing proportion of works written in the national language is itself a signal that a change was about to come.

6.2 Rapid increase of nationalism and rapid changes (1939–41)

The Slovak State was founded on 14 March 1939, and the measures taken in the fiction market were quite drastic. Of course, the state of war in which all of Europe found itself has to be taken into account and was possibly the main reason for the huge decrease in book production.

Figure 2: Number of fiction books published
annually in Slovakia by original language, 1939–41 (Dubay 1948)

In 1939, we can immediately see two obvious shifts: a rapid increase in the proportion of Slovak fiction – 81 per cent of the overall fiction production – and a huge decrease of language variety in translations. Of course, this may have been caused by the total breaking-off of former relationships and the international isolation of the Slovak State. Books were translated from only eight languages; the dominant ones were French and Hungarian, followed by Russian. There are no fiction translations from German.[11] It also needs to be taken into account that publishing plans take some time to be implemented.

The overwhelming dominance of Slovak fiction can be attributed to two factors: a general cultural decline during WWII and nationalistic tendencies – undoubtedly a major characteristic of the first Slovak State, which needed to demonstrate its independence and emphasize its roots. The total number of books published (342) is also extremely low in 1939 compared to the previous two years; however, proportionally speaking, fiction flourished during wartime, constituting about 38 per cent of all the books published as opposed to 15 per cent and 10 per cent in 1937-38.

The dominance of domestic fiction in these years presents a counterexample to the postulates of Even-Zohar’s (1990) polysystem theory stating that small literatures tend to translate more as they require new stimuli and need to implement new literary models. At least for a while this was not the case, as the new stimulus was nationalism. This can be viewed as the result of an attempt to cultivate a national myth. However, the “normal” state of things described by Even-Zohar would soon be realised.

The following two years more or less sustained the shift implemented in 1939. The translation market, however, once again became more diversified, and the phenomenon of pseudonyms and translations of pseudo-translations expanded.

In 1940 we can see the continuation of a strong prevalence of domestic fiction (73 per cent), as well as a general increase in the production of both fiction (281 books) and non-fiction (453 books). The variety of translations (14 source languages) increased, and the dominant source languages were Hungarian (13 books) followed by fiction written in Hungarian but published in Slovakia (13 books), Greek (eight  books – though these were mainly Latin textbooks), Russian (eight books) and German (three books). Despite the relatively small number of translations from German, all in all, the total number of translations from Axis powers constitutes about 62 per cent, which does not seem so high, relatively speaking, but when we add the 31 Undetermined translations the amount of translated fiction from the Axis countries increases to about 76 per cent.

The only translation from Czech was a second-hand translation of a French book written by a priest, Pierre L’Ermite. The translations from German were almost all of theological and educational books written by Catholic priests, pointing to the regime’s purportedly Catholic values.[12]

The year 1941 was once again characterized by an increase in book production (for a total of 978 books as opposed to 746 in 1940). The proportion of domestic fiction (79 per cent) was extremely high, and there were many Slovak authors using pseudonyms; they wrote mainly second-rate adventure novels. This can be compared to the Hungarian writers writing western stories under English pseudonyms – once again, there were 31 translations of Hungarian pseudo-translations – most of them published by the Matej Josko, František Jurák and M. Borovina publishing houses.

The most translated source language was German (9).[13] The most important shift in translation policy was the introduction of the German children’s literature in translation; in fact, three fairy tales and one adventure novel were translated from German, which shows, we would speculate, the first signs of indoctrination. Of course, Christian parables were also still popular.

In total, there were translations from 16 languages. Once again, the most translated language was Hungarian – if we take into account another 31 second-hand pseudo-translations. One of the translations from Czech was just a second-hand translation – another novel by Pierre L’Ermite. In total, 60 out of 73 translations (including the category Undetermined) were from the languages of countries of the Axis powers, or 83 per cent: proof of an ongoing politically motivated shift in translation policy.

6.3 From “autonomy” to a stable relationship with Germany (1942–44)

The years 1942–44 were characterized by the clear influence of German ideology in fiction translations. On the other hand, there was a moderate decrease in domestic fiction – compensated mainly by the translations from German. The translation market yet again underwent a gradual shift in focus from nationalism to Germanization. It was all very subtle, but traceable. Adventure novellas remained the most popular genre in fiction, reaching its peak in 1943; translations of pseudo-translations and English pseudonyms of Slovak authors were still a significant presence in this genre. This phenomenon also implies that the economic component of Lefevere’s (1992) patronage was in the hands of the state – the huge demand for this kind of literature was fulfilled by cooperation with another state of the Axis powers in the form of second-hand pseudo-translations.

In 1942 the Slovak Academy of Sciences and Arts was founded. The goal of the country’s highest cultural body was to improve the development of sciences and arts and to unite defensive authoritativeness with freedom of spirit, discipline with genuine progress, human universalism with Slovak nationalism (Bobák 2000). One of its three departments was the artistic department, and Jozef Tiso was named the “protector” of this institution. Catholic scientists founded their own scientific institution – the Slovak Catholic Academy – and its head was once again Jozef Tiso, replaced in 1943 by the bishop Andrej Škrábik (Petranský 2015a).

According to Schvarc and Hallon (2010: 265), Slovakia and Germany signed an agreement based on the German Kulturpolitik in May 1942, after three years of discussions among the two parties. This agreement strengthened the German influence in the area of culture and science and supported the establishment of German schools and German scientific institutes as well as the strengthening of German as a dominant foreign language – although as early as 1939 a Slovak-German Society had been established with the goal of strengthening relations between Slovakia and Germany, both politically and ideologically. The agreement defined three basic levels of cooperation: German language teaching, provision of grants and cooperation in cultural and scientific areas mainly among scientific institutes. In the same year, the German Scientific Academy was founded. Although such cooperation was presented as mutual it was, in fact, very much unidirectional. Later, after the Slovak National Uprising of 1944, the Slovak-German Society became a political instrument whose aim was to politically re-educate the Slovak nation. However, it was too late.

Despite the relative tolerance in the area of literature (leaky totalitarian regime seems an adequate description in this case), those authors who tried to openly criticize the regime were forbidden from publishing – Janko Jesenský most likely being the best-known such example – and Jewish writers were forbidden from publishing as well. On the other hand, many prominent writers were also given a political function: Tido Jozef Gašpar was the chief of the Propaganda Office; poets Ján Smrek, Ľudo Zúbek and Ján Kostra also worked at the Propaganda Office; Milo Urban was the chief editor of the radical fascist daily newspaper Gardista; and poet Emil Boleslav Lukáč was a member of the Slovak Assembly (Petranský 2015a). This shows that the state conferred prestige (one of Lefevere’s three components of patronage) to those authors who supported the values of the Slovak State, and therefore all three components were in the hands of the state. Ďurkovská (2010: 251) writes that this period gave birth to the controversial tradition of Slovak artists’ political activism. Many poets, writers and other artists entered politics. For example, poet Valentín Beniak became Secretary of the Ministry of Interior, while another poet, Andrej Žarnov, worked at the Slovak Council of State.

Figure 3: Number of fiction books published
annually in Slovakia by original language, 1942–44 (Dubay 1952)

By 1942 the book market was beginning to stabilize. The total number of books published was 998, which is on par with the pre-war period. The proportion of fiction was about 40 per cent, and there was a substantial decrease in the proportion of domestic fiction.

Putting aside the high number of books in the Undetermined category (once again mainly translations of Hungarian pseudo-translations), translations from German dominated the translated fiction market.[14] There were 44 translations from German in total – a sharp increase from the nine of the previous year – and this could be considered the final phase of the shifting process. The first three years of the Slovak State (1939, 1940 and 1941) were characterized by a large number of non-fiction translations from German, and in 1942 the fiction market was taken over, too.[15] This is proof that the German language had slowly but surely became the ultimate original (Toury 1995: 134), the one from which the country translated most frequently, and the heterogeneity of cultures (Venuti 1998) was suppressed by the state’s power and ideology.

We consider the translations from French, Russian, Polish and English to be in opposition to the mainstream. In the case of Russian it should be considered that the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact – an alliance between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union – ended in 1941. Eugene Onegin was translated by the aforementioned Janko Jesenský, demonstrating that certain translators continued to uphold their beliefs and tried their best to oppose the regime. As for Polish, Poland had been under German occupation since 1939 and Slovakia actually cooperated with Germany in the September invasion of Poland. The case of French, however, is less clear cut, since the nation was divided, and Vichy France, led by Pétain, cooperated with the Germans. Therefore we can’t be sure that the translations from French were supported by the government. However, translations from French were very popular in the pre-war period, particularly of surrealist texts (Bednárová 1994). These four languages, taken together, add up to 47 translations, that is 27 per cent of the translations of fiction published.

The category Written in foreign languages stands for the fiction published in foreign languages. It is interesting to note that in 1942 and the following two years, not only was fiction written in Hungarian common, but also fiction written in German,[16] and later, in 1944 and 1945, in Russian, too, as the future direction of the Slovak State was beginning to form.[17] Otherwise the tendencies are similar to the previous years, including 35 Slovak authors writing under English or French pseudonyms.

In 1943, the total number of books published reached its peak (1268 volumes). The proportion of domestic fiction stabilized at 54 per cent. Fiction also increased in numbers and variety, but not in proportion (38 per cent). A strong opposition to fiction translations from Axis-power languages began to emerge. English was the second most translated language, joined by French, Russian and Polish, constituting a strong opposition. However, the English translations consisted mainly of adventure stories[18] and the only classic authors translated were Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. Of course, the translations from English also included some works on Christianity.[19]

Twenty-six Slovak writers wrote under English or French pseudonyms, and there were at least 50 Slovak translations of adventure novellas by Hungarian writers which were listed as translations from English. The popularity of the adventure story was still going strong, above all in 1943.

There was an almost 20 per cent decrease in total production (1051 books), probably due to the intense fighting. It was in 1944 that the last and the most important battle of WWII take place, not only across Europe, but also in Slovakia. On 29 August 1944, the Slovak National Uprising began. Germany was losing the war, but continued to win on the literary battlefield, especially where translations of fiction are concerned. Taken together, translations from Axis-power languages made up about 60 per cent of the fiction translations that year.

The year 1944 continued the trends set in 1943, and the German ideological takeover of literature was more evident than ever. The Christian roots of the Slovak State were confirmed by the works of German theologians translated into Slovak. The Slovak National Uprising was defeated on 27 October 1944, but remaining forces resorted to guerrilla warfare right up to the end of the WWII, leaving indelible proof of an opposition to the regime.

And finally,  a “normal” state, as defined by Even-Zohar’s (1990) polysystem theory, started to form, and the disproportion between domestic fiction and translations began to stabilize.

6.4 Changes of translation policy (1945)

The first and the last year of WWII, based in part on the total number of books published, were the toughest. In 1945, Germany was defeated, its allies liberated by the West or by the Soviet Union, and there was a sense of rebuilding in Europe. However, this quickly devolved into a geopolitical struggle for influence.

Figure 4: Number of works of fiction published
in Slovakia by original language, 1945 (Dubay 1952)

Similarly to the beginning of the war in 1939, the book market suffered a sharp downturn. The total number of books published decreased (398 books), although fiction was still quite strong (124 books). Slovakia was liberated by the Soviet Army in the first half of 1945 and translation from Russian started to be massively represented: some translations of ideological works were published as early as 1944, a biography of Stalin and poems about Lenin being the most evident, so the breeding ground for the communist coup d’état in 1948 was being formed, with translation as one of its crucial instruments.

But the most significant shift can be seen in the case of translations from German. The decrease to only one fiction translation perfectly illustrates our point – and it is worth mentioning that the only fiction book translated from German was in fact the second part of Karl May’s Winnetou,which was probably planned the year before. There was also a massive decrease in the number of translations from Hungarian, and translations of pseudo-translations.

Translations from Russian dominated the translated fiction market which was characterized by translations of classics and children’s literature, with Pushkin’s fairy tales even being published in Russian, together with a collection of Russian and Arabic historical fairy tales by Yevseyev. The second most translated language was French, although we have to mention that four of the books published were just four parts of Alexandre Dumas's novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Translations from English were mainly adventure novels.

6.5 Brief genre analysis

Let us now look at the books published in 1939–45 from the standpoint of genre (Dubay 1948, 1952):

Figure 5: Genre analysis of translations in Slovakia 1939-45

With regard to fiction, children’s books – mainly popular fairy tales – were quite common, and of course adventure novels, mainly “horse operas”, dominated the market. The Aryanization process which took place in the Slovak State is also represented in the topics of the fiction published. This also illustrates that the ideological component (Lefevere 1992) was used to support the state’s values. Literary works in Slovak included novels with titles such as Jeho lordstvo Žid [His Lordship the Jew], a story about the large proportion of Jews in English high society; Za Andrejom Hlinkom [The legacy of Andrej Hlinka], Ziskožravci [Profiteers], written by one of the most prominent ideologists and supporters of the alliance with Nazi German, Tido J. Gašpar;[20] Vodca HM detektívom [The leader of Hlinka’s Youth in the role of Detective], an espionage story with the leader of the Hlinka Youth being the morally-correct detective. These works can be characterized as a way of excusing the dehumanizing banishing of Slovak Jews and their extermination in concentration camps.[21] The most popular translated genre under the Slovak State was the adventure novella. However, towards the end of WWII the popularity of children’s literature increased (judging by the publication figures), and while adventure novels rapidly declined in popularity, some humorous short stories were published in order to lighten up the gloomy reality. It was here that the first works dealing with the Slovak National Uprising emerged.[22] Peter Jilemnický, later one of Czechoslovakia’s most prominent socialist-realist writers, was the most published author, with three novels in total.

In terms of Slovak poetry, there were a lot of patriotic poetry – poems celebrating war and calling to arms. We identified at least 12 collections of poems that featured calls to arms.[23] This is probably connected to the need of a newly-emerged nation to justify its origin; moreover, the establishment of the Slovak State was contingent upon its engagement in the war. The most dominant topics in poetry were nationalistic themes and Christian values. Collections of military and patriotic poetry under the titles Duch a zbraň [Spirit and Rifle] and Hnev svätý [Holy Wrath] are probably the most representative titles, as they embody the ideology of the First Slovak Republic.[24] Towards the end of the war, the poets mourn the victims of the war and express the hope for a better future.[25] Although in 1939 poetry made up about 35 per cent of the total domestic book production, two years after it decreased to 14 per cent. Patriotic poems disappear, replaced by youth-oriented poems related to Christian values. Poems glorifying the love of nation are becoming popular as well.[26]

Christianity and Christian values played a huge role in Slovak publishing policies. This is related to the fact that its constitution defined the Slovak State as a Christian state. In fact, one Christian publishing house, Spolok svätého Vojtecha, was one of the biggest publishers in the country (Petranský 2015a).

As for the theatre, the most popular works were light comedies and short plays for children. One-act comedies become increasingly popular, as well as historical plays.[27] Educational plays with Christian and nationalistic values were the most published drama genre.

6.6 Post-war years

Finally, let us have a look at how the situation developed over the first two years after the war. Book production recovered quite quickly, reaching a total of 884 books in 1946, and 1016 books in 1947. Immediately after the war, a geopolitical struggle for Europe began between the Western and Soviet spheres of influence. Czechoslovakia, thanks to the coup d'état of 1948, ended up in the Soviet sphere, where it remained right up to the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Figure 6: Number of fiction books published
annually in Slovakia by original language, 1946–47
(Ferienčíková and Spišková 1967, 1967, 1970a, 1970b).

Translations from 18 languages were published. In 1946-47, Russian ceased to be the dominant source language and was overtaken by English; while French remained more stable compared to previous years. The power struggle is clearly evident also in translations of fiction. German fiction translations also increase, going from one book in 1945, to five in 1946 and finally to 18 in 1947.

We didn’t find any evidence of translations of pseudo-translations in these years, and Slovak authors seem to have abandoned their proclivity for pseudonyms. This phenomenon was very popular during WWII, and we believe that it should be studied in more detail. Once again Czech translations began to find their place in the literary canon in Slovak translation.

The Soviet alignment of Czechoslovakia became apparent in the wake of the Czechoslovak communist coup d’état of 1948, as illustrated by Djovčoš and Pliešovská (2011). The proportion of translations from Soviet literatures became stunning: altogether, between 1945 and 1968 the proportion of fiction translations from Soviet literatures constituted 48 per cent of the translation book market, whereas translations from American literature amounted only to 8 per cent (Djovčoš, Pliešovská 2011: 84).  We can conclude that at first sight the shift from German to Russian seems more resolute than the shift in translation policy during the Slovak State. Nevertheless, it would seem that the shifts in translation policy in Slovakia during WWII, first as a satellite state of Nazi Germany and then as a satellite state of Soviet Union, are quite different in nature.

While the takeover by Nazi Germany was mainly characterized by nationalistic tendencies and strong Christian roots, supported, of course, by translations of writings by many German Catholic and Lutheran priests, the translation policy in socialist Czechoslovakia was based on the strictest possible exclusion of opposing political opinions, and the nationalistic elements had to be suppressed, due to the nature of the political ideology.

7. Conclusion

We have attempted to provide an overview of book production under the Slovak State. The selection of works of fiction to translate was subordinated to the predominant ideology: nationalism with strong Christian roots. It could be said that the Slovak State exerted a form of undifferentiated patronage (Lefevere, 1992), as all three components – the ideological, economic and status components – were in the hands of one institution, represented mainly by President Jozef Tiso, the head of the Slovak Academy of Sciences and Arts.

We have tried to show how the ideological component was represented by the values of both translated and domestic fiction, while the economic component was represented by the huge proportion of adventure and western novellas, which often included pseudo-translations: Lastly, Jozef Tiso conferred prestige on authors that supported the state ideology by giving the authors high political functions.[28]

The argument that the Slovak State did not have any totalitarian features (Bobák 2000) in the cultural sphere seems unconvincing, and is not supported by the findings in this article; although the impact of ideology during the this period could be considered substantially lower than in post-1948 Soviet Czechoslovakia. Polices concerning both domestic fiction and translations were greatly influenced by the State’s ideology and were geared to support its values, consisting mainly of nationalism and Christianity; something which is confirmed by the fact that the three most prolific publishing houses were the nationalist Matica Slovenská, and Spolok svätého Vojtecha and Tranoscius which both had strong Christian roots. In fact, all three publishing houses still exist, but have a much lower share of the book market.

All in all, the Nazi control of the Slovak State does not seem to have been as strong and as immediate as that exercised during the Soviet occupation (see Djovčoš and Pliešovská 2011). There was some variety and some relative freedom. During the Slovak State, there wasn’t a single state-sanctioned literary style, in the way that socialist realism was imposed in Soviet Czechoslovakia, but rather a prioritized set of values, with rewards for those who abided by them. There was a certain degree of literary freedom, but it was very limited, and works with different values were in the minority and were suppressed.

Many features of the Slovak State’s translation policy (including for non-fiction publications) need to be studied in more detail in order to fully comprehend the influence of the predominant ideology on its publishing policies. Also, literary magazines have to be studied in order to determine the borders of the literary systems and how they interacted with the polysystem, which would offer a more comprehensive view of the literary situation. However, it is quite clear that translation could function as an ideological weapon, used to protect and empower the regime; and so it can be seen as a litmus test of social change. It can be a powerful tool in the hands of the powerful, but also in the hands of scholars, allowing them to document history and map social development based on translation policy.


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[1] For many historical and political reasons the legislation in each region differed. The Slovak region had higher unemployment, a much lower share in the industrial economy and a different fiscal policy (see Petranský 2015b).

[2] The republic was extremely unstable. It had three different governments, and the Slovak part became politically autonomous. In Slovakia, new nationalist parties emerged (see Petranský 2015a).

[3] Germany skilfully used the opportunity. They gave Slovaks a separate nation and were ready to provide for and defend it on the condition that Slovakia sign the Schutzvertrag – by which Slovakia pledged to pursue its foreign policy in compliance with German foreign policy.

[4] The far-right neo-Nazi political party Ľudová strana naše Slovensko currently represents the values the Ludaks were known to stand for, i.e. nationalist orientation with strong “Christian values”, whatever that might mean.

[5] It was common that parties with the highest number of votes were outnumbered by coalitions of other parties with less votes (Petranský 2015a).

[6] Generally, right-wing nationalists fondly remember and idealize the period of the first Slovak State and its head, president Tiso. Celebrations of Jozef Tiso are used as a way to “legally” express antisemitism and the values of Ludaks. Every year his supporters (as well as members of the party Ľudová strana naše Slovensko) celebrate the establishment of the Slovak State and visit Tiso’s grave (see Hruboň, 2019).

[7] Although we mention some interesting examples of non-fiction, the main goal of this article is to study publishing policy concering translations of fiction; therefore non-fiction will not be described in detail, to be further investigated in a different project. This article does not distinguish between British and American fiction, including both in the same category; however, American fiction constitutes about three quarters of English-language translations. It is not possible to be exact in this case, as not every bibliography distinguishes between American and British. However, generally speaking translations of US books are much more common. It would thus seem reasonable to suggest that Slovakia is culturally much more influenced by US literature and values than by British ones, particularly if we consider the impact of Hollywood.

[8] Popovič (1975) uses the term prekladateľský program [literary translation project].

[9] According to the Petra Recommendations (2012) – the European platform for literary translation – translations of fiction in Slovakia constitute about 70 per cent of the entire output.

[10] In fact, the Slovaks were the third-largest ethnic group in Czechoslovakia, after the Czechs and the Germans. In order to improve the cultural status of the Slovaks as well as the political integrity of Czechoslovakia, the Czechs began to translate Slovak literature. However, the Slovak translation market was largely influenced by Czech translations. In general, it was assumed that the Slovaks would understand the Czech language, sot that once a book was translated into Czech there was allegedly no need to translate it into Slovak (Smrek 1937).

[11] There were, however, some important non-literary translations. We should at least mention a new Slovak translation of the infamous propagandistic forged text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, translated from the 1929 Czech version by Jozef Bilík-Záhorský, famous antisemitic extremist and member of the Hlinka Guard.

[12] Of course, the number of non-fiction translations from German was increasing, but in the following years there would also be a massive increase in fiction.

[13] Among others, the famous Nazi poet laureate Hanns Johst and his drama Propheten [Prophets] was translated into Slovak. A further example is another pro-Nazi writer of Swiss origin: John Knittel and his novel Via Mala – the first of this novel’s many translations.

[14] There were also some German translations of Slovak fiction, although on a much smaller scale. Slovak records mention only a translation of Jozef Mak by Jozef Cíger Hronský which was even critically acclaimed (Schvarc and Hallon 2010: 283).

[15] Again, it has to be stressed that the publishing plans take time to be realized.

[16] Although non-fiction German-language works were very common as well.

[17] Yet again a very hypothetical but interesting question needs to be raised: can publishing activity predict the future ideological direction of the state, or is it the ideological direction that determines translation? This question certainly deserves further research.

[18] Such as the works of Jack London, a humorous short story collection by P. G. Wodehouse and historical novels like Ben Hur by Lew Wallace.

[19] E.g. Paterson Smyth’s “Životopis Ježiša Krista pre ľud” [A People’s Life of Christ], a protestant view of the life of Jesus Christ.

[20] In Ziskožravci, Gašpar criticises capitalism and the Jews for the so-called exploitation of Slovakia. Gašpar’s personal story from bohemian freethinker and writer in the first Czechoslovakia to the head of the Propaganda office is especially mesmerizing (see Hruboň 2019).

[21] Officially, the Slovak State concealed the real fate of the deported Jews. There were even some false stories being circulated about how the Jews were enjoying their new life abroad (see Hruboň 2019).

[22] E.g. in the novel Hrdinovia (Heroes) by Jozef Hutár.

[23] For example, Rudolf Dilong, a representative of Catholic Modern Art, and his collection of poems Gardisti, na stráž [Guardsmen, Stand Guard], in which he celebrates battles and the newly formed independent Slovak State. The movement of Catholic Modern Art is seen in a positive light and even celebrated by contemporary literary theorists. This is connected to the persecutions of its representatives after 1945 (Anoca 2006).

[24] Although the details of non-fiction publishing have yet to be studied in detail, it is important to note that out of 2079 non-fiction publications, as many as 430 – that is more than 20 per cent of non-fiction production – are connected to religion. These include catechism, moral theology, educational books, prayer books, religious songs, Christian art, asceticism, sermons, missions, Church history and religion textbooks. This phenomenon could be attributed to Tiso being a Catholic priest.

[25] Kvety na troskách [Flowers on Ruins] by Svetloslav Veigl and Svitá [It Is Dawning] by Anton Prídavok being the most representative examples of this movement.

[26] Editions of Slovak and world literature classics accompanied by short contextual analyses of the works and authors.

[27] E.g. Kráľ Svätopluk [King Svatopluk I of Moravia] by Ivan Stodola.

[28] E.g. Tido Jozef Gašpar, Ján Smrek, Milo Urban and Emil Boleslav Lukáč.

About the author(s)

Martin Djovčoš is a lecturer at the Department of English and American Studies at the Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia. His teaching and translation research focuses currently mainly on sociological aspects of translation, asymmetries in intercultural communication, translation criticism and interpreting training. He is also practicing translator, interpreter, and co-organiser of the conference series Translation, Interpreting, Culture.

Matej Laš is a lecturer at the Department of English and American Studies at the Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia. In research, he focuses mainly on literary translation criticism, ethics in translation, translation history and audio-visual translation.

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

©inTRAlinea & Martin Djovčoš & Matej Laš (2022).
"Translation as a Weapon Literary Translation under the Slovak State (1939–1945)", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

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The Present and Future of Accessibility Services in VR360 Players

By Marta Brescia-Zapata (Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain)


Technology moves fast and making it accessible turns it into an endless game of cat and mouse. Immersive content has become more popular over the years and VR360 videos open new research avenues for immersive audiovisual experiences. Much work has been carried out in the last three years to make 360º videos accessible (Agulló and Orero 2017; Fidyka and Matamala 2018; Agulló and Matamala 2019) and the chase continues. Unfortunately, VR360 videos cannot yet be classified as accessible because subtitles and/or audio description are not always available. This paper focuses on analysing to what extent the main accessibility services are integrated into the most popular and available commercial VR360 players. It also analyses the development of a fully customisable and accessible player which has been created following the EU standard EN17161 and a user centric approach. The first part deals with the relationship between technology and audiovisual translation (AVT) studies, followed by a brief overview of existing eXtended Reality (XR) content. Section 3 provides a list of the VR360 players available commercially and compares them in relation to the main accessibility services: subtitling for the deaf and the hard-of-hearing (SDH), audio description (AD) and sign language (SL). The last section presents a new player developed by the ImAc project, which has accessibility at its heart.

Keywords: accessibility, virtual environment, 360º video, subtitling, audio description, sign language interpreting, personalisation

©inTRAlinea & Marta Brescia-Zapata (2022).
"The Present and Future of Accessibility Services in VR360 Players", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL:


Immersive media such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AG) are technologies which have the potential to transform the way we work, communicate and experience the world. VR is capable of transforming and innovating traditional sectors such as manufacturing industries, construction, and healthcare. It can also revolutionise education, culture, travelling and entertainment. Immersive environments have enjoyed much popularity in video games and other commercial applications such as simulators for kitchen design or surgical training (Fida et al. 2018; Parham et al. 2019). While tools to generate these environments have been available for some time—the most popular being Unity— photographs and videos are growing in number. This is associated with the availability of cameras to record in 360º. In all cases, the aim is to provide an immersive and engaging audiovisual experience for viewers. The two major types of VR content are 360º videos (web-based) and 3D animations (synthetic or Unity-based). This article deals only with the former.

In this context, 360º video (aka VR360 video) has become a simple, cheap, and effective way to provide VR experiences (Montagud et al. 2020b). The potential of VR360 videos has led to the development of a wide variety of players for all platforms and devices (Papachristos et al. 2017); like computers, smartphones and Head Mounted Displays (HMDs). Traditionally, accessibility has been considered by the media as an afterthought, despite many voices asking for it to be included at the design stage of any process. Moreover, the lack of standardisation and guidelines in this novel medium has resulted in non-unified solutions, focusing only on specific requirements.

This situation has served as the motivation for exploring to what extent have accessibility services been integrated in the available most popular commercial VR360 players. This study is a necessary first step towards identifying the advantages and challenges in this novel field. The second contribution of this paper is the presentation of a fully accessible player, developed under the umbrella of the EU H2020 funded project ImAc[1].

The structure of this paper will now be presented. Section 1 deals with the relationship between new technologies and audiovisual translation (AVT) studies by giving a general overview, with a focus on the media accessibility (MA) field. To do so, this section is divided into two parts: the first outlines the state-of-the-art by summarising the main accessibility guidelines; the second focuses on new technologies as a catalyst, making the interaction between the final users and the main accessibility services (namely AD, SDH and SL) possible. Section 2 offers a general overview of XR content; focusing on VR, AR and 360º video. Section 3 analyses the degree of accessibility in the main commercial VR360 players that are available. After presenting the solutions offered by existing VR360 players, a fully accessible player (the ImAc player) is presented in Section 4. Finally, Section 5 offers a discussion on existing limitations, improvements and solutions provided by the ImAc player, as well as some ideas and avenues for future work.

1. Immersive media and AVT: an overview

The unceasing advances in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) open the door to new fascinating opportunities within MA studies, despite also posing a series of challenges that this discipline has never before faced. This section deals with how the development of new technologies has affected the field of AVT. Firstly, by revisiting the existing accessibility guidelines and recommendations; and secondly, by analysing the importance of researching the tools and technologies needed to generate accessible content.

1.1. Accessible guidelines and recommendations

It is not yet possible to talk about immersive content “for all” because audio description (AD), subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH) and sign language (SL) interpreting —among others— are not always available for 2D content, let alone 3D or XR.

Regarding legislation, in 2008 the United Nations (UN) issued the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), currently ratified by 181 countries. In Article 30 (section 1 b), the convention states that “State Parties […] shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities: […] (b) Enjoy access to television programmes, films, theatre and other cultural activities, in accessible formats.” This convention has helped to promote the proliferation of accessibility services in media content. AVT, and more specifically MA (Remael et al. (eds) 2014; Greco 2016), is the field in which research on access to audiovisual content has been carried out in the last few years, generally focusing on access services such as audio description (AD), subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH) or sign language (SL) interpreting, among others (Matamala and Orero 2010; Arnáiz-Uzquiza 2012; Romero-Fresco 2015; Fidyka and Matamala 2018).

The CRPD (UN 2006), together with the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (UNESCO 2005) created legal repercussions within the scope of the accessibility of cultural goods in the European Union (EU). These two conventions resulted in two Directives and one Act that demand accessibility services not only on websites, services and spaces; but also for content and information offered at all cultural venues and events (Montagud et al. 2020a). The three pieces of legislation are:

  1. The EU Directive on the Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications transposed into the law of each EU member state by September 2018. It is based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 guidelines, and references EN301549 as the standard which will enable websites and apps to comply with the law.
  2. The Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) approved in 2018 gave member states 21 months to transpose it into national legislation. It addresses key issues, for example: rules to shape technological developments that preserve cultural diversity and protect children and consumers whilst safeguarding media pluralism.
  3. The European Accessibility Act which takes the form of a legally binding Directive for all member states. It is a law that aims at making many EU products and services (smartphones, computers, TV programs, e-books, websites, mobile apps etc.) more accessible for persons with disabilities.

These three pieces of EU legislation demand accessibility services for information and content and at all cultural venues and events; as opposed to only websites, services and spaces. As is reviewed in the following sections, all audiovisual products need to be accessible, including those providing XR content for their audience.

1.2. The impact of new technologies in AVT and MA studies

Technical advances have not only modified media applications, but accessibility services and profiles also. Even end users have been affected by the advent of new ways to access media content. Traditionally, AVT and MA research has focused on the analysis of translated audiovisual texts and their many transformations or transadaptations (Gambier 2003). Some years ago, the translated audiovisual text was static in the sense that one format was distributed and consumed by all. Audiences are now allowed to make decisions about the media they consume, beyond the two traditional values: level of sound and image contrast. These days, technology allows for media personalisation (Orero forthcoming; Orero et al. forthcoming; Oncins and Orero 2020). When watching media content on TV or YouTube, subtitles can be read in different sizes, positions, and colours (Mas Manchón and Orero 2018). The speed of the content reproduction can also be altered, and the audiovisual text is increasingly changing according to individual needs. Media accessibility has shifted from a one-size-fits-all approach to customisation. Technology has allowed for this change. The Internet of Things lets customers decide the way in which each media object is set-up. Artificial Intelligence is now integrated and understands individual choices, needs and preferences.

On the one hand, technology is the basis of the tools used for creating or adapting content; on the other, it is the basis for consuming content (Matamala 2017). Regarding content creation and adaptation, there is a wide range of professional and amateur translation software for both subtitling (e.g., Aegisub, Subtitle Workshop, VisualSubSync, WinCaps, SOftwel, Swift Create, Spot, EZTitles, etc.) and AD (e.g., Softel Swift ADePT, Fingertext, MAGpie2, Livedescribe or YouDescribe). It is not that easy to find studies regarding preferences or comparative analysis of the previously mentioned tools. Concerning subtitling, Aulavuori (2008) analyses the effects of subtitling software on the process. Regarding AD, Vela Valido (2007) compares the existing software in Spain and the USA. Oncins et al. (2012) present an overview of existing subtitling software used in theatres and opera houses and propose a universal solution for live media access which would include subtitling, AD and audio subtitling, among other features.

The tool used by the users to consume audiovisual media is the media player. The choice of device (mobile phone, TV, PC, smart watch, tablet), type of content and the available accessibility services determine the level of personalisation (Gerber-Morón et al. 2020). Subtitles, for example, are displayed differently according to screen size, type of screen, and media format. The choice of the subtitle is made through the media player settings, making understanding its capabilities a basic departure point when analysing translated immersive media content.

The existence of such a wide range of technical solutions opens the door to many research questions. It remains to be seen how new developments will affect the integration of accessible services into existing tools to adapt to the needs of end users: everyone has the right to access the information provided by media services (including immersive experiences). This paper offers a valuable resource to content providers seeking to improve their products, users with accessibility needs in choosing the player that best suits their requirements, and to researchers setting out to identify the challenges and possibilities that this new field poses to AVT and MA.

2. The rise of VR and AR: VR360 video becomes mature

In this section, a general overview of VR, AR and VR360 videos will be given, highlighting the impact that these new technologies may have on our society at different levels.

Although immersive content production is still at an early stage and is generally used in professional environments such as hospitals and universities; in the future it might be used in the daily lives of ordinary users. As with all new technologies, VR will make our lives easier: from going to the supermarket to online shopping (Lee and Chung 2008). Immersive environments are the new entertainment experiences of the 21st century, from museums (Carrozzino and Bergamasco 2010) and theatres to music events such as opera (Gómez Suárez and Charron 2017). They allow users to feel as if they are being physically transported to a different location. Though the most popular applications are cultural representations, it is a great tool for larger audiences and functionalities such as leisure, sport (Mikami et al. 2018), tourism (Guttentag 2010) and health (Rizzo et al. 2008).

There are various solutions that can provide such an experience, such as stereoscopic 3D technology which has re-emerged in films during the last ten years (Mendiburu 2009). Nevertheless, this format is nothing new. It has been available since the 1950s, but the technology has not been ready to deliver quality 3D (González-Zúñiga et al. 2013). Both the quality of the immersive experience and the sense of depth depend on the display designs, which for 3D content are diverse and lacking in standards (Holliman et al. 2011). However, stereoscopy did not become the main display for AV products; perhaps due to the lack of standardisation, the intrusive nature of 3D, and uncomfortable side effects such as headaches or eyestrain (Belton 2012). According to Belén Agulló and Anna Matamala (2019), “the failure to adopt 3D imaging as mainstream display for AV products may have opened a door for VR and 360º content, as a new attempt to create engaging immersive experiences''. VR stands for ‘virtual reality’ and it takes on several different forms, 360º video being one of them. However, VR and 360º videos are two different mediums (see Table 1). In 360º video, multi-camera rigs (often static) are used to record live action in 360º, giving the consumer a contained perspective of a location and its subjects. VR renders a world in which, essentially, the consumer operates as a natural extension of the creator’s environment, moving beyond 360º video by enabling the viewer to explore and/or manipulate a malleable space. In 360º video, the consumer is a passenger in the storyteller’s world; in VR, the consumer takes the wheel. The storyteller directs the viewer’s gaze through this situational content by using elemental cues such as light, sound and stage movement. The traditional notion of the fourth wall has been eliminated.



360º VIDEO


Digital environment

Live action


Immersive world that you can walk around in.

360º view from camera’s perspective. Limited to filmmaker’s camera movements.

Video timeline

Video can progress through a series of events. Experiences can be held in an existing world to be explored by the user (6 degrees of freedom).

Video progresses on a timeline created by the filmmaker’s camera movements (3 degrees of freedom).


A full experience requires an HMD.

Available on 360º compatible players (desktop and mobile).


The filmmaker does not control the physical location of the viewer in the built environment and must capture attention and motivate the user to travel in the direction of the events of the story.

The filmmaker controls the physical location of the camera but must capture the attention of viewers to direct the story.

Table 1: Differences between VR video and 360º video (Based on Sarah Ullman)

Other less commercial immersive technologies are mixed and augmented reality. Paul Milgram and Fumio Kishino (1994: 1321) define those terms as:

Mixed Reality (MR) visual displays […] involve the merging of real and virtual worlds somewhere along the ‘virtuality continuum’ which connects completely real environments to completely virtual ones. Probably the best known of these is Augmented Reality (AR), which refers to all cases in which the display of an otherwise real environment is augmented by means of virtual (computer graphic) objects.

Julie Carmigniani and Borko Furht (2001: 3) define AR as “a real-time direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment that has been enhanced by adding virtual computer-generated information to it.” The properties of AR are that it “combines real and virtual objects in a real environment; runs interactively, and in real time; and registers (aligns) real and virtual objects with each other” (Azuma et al. 2001: 34).

It is not easy to outline a state-of-the-art when talking about immersive environments as the development in VR technology is happening at an unprecedented speed. Moreover, Covid-19 has helped to accelerate virtual experiences. While it is early to evaluate, with the writing of this paper taking place during lockdown, what is now considered “the new normal” will have strong non-presential and virtualization elements. Systems and applications in this domain are presented on a daily or weekly basis. AR/VR technology makes use of sensory devices to either virtually modify a user’s environment or completely immerse them in a simulated environment. Specially designed headsets and glasses can be used for visual immersion, while handhelds and wearables offer tactile immersion. Optical devices such as Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Sony’s PlayStation Virtual have shipped millions of units as consumers look to explore the possibilities offered by virtual environments. Nevertheless, the adoption rate for AR/VR devices is relatively low when compared to other consumer electronics, though many of the world’s biggest technological companies see the promise of AR/VR technology and have begun to allocate significant budgets to develop it.

Stable growth of the VR and AR markets is expected both in Europe and around the world, as can be seen in graphic 1. According to a report by Ecorys, the total production value of the European VR & AR industry was expected to increase to between €15 billion and €34 billion by 2020 and to directly or indirectly account for 225,000 to 480,000 jobs. Also, wider supply chain impacts are expected to indirectly increase the production value to between €5.5 billion and €12.5 billion and generate an additional 85,000-180,000 jobs. Due to the strong growth of content-related VR activities, the share of Europe in the global market is expected to increase.

Figure 1. AR and VR global market growth, 2016-2025 (World Economic Forum 2017)

The 360º video has been around for several years with differing levels of sophistication and polish. However, with the advancement of camera technology combined with the development of software for handling the images, 360º video is being used in an increasing number of ways.

2018 was considered the Year of 360º video. Indeed, the trend of watching 360º videos on web browsers, tablets or mobiles has increased. Even if PCs, tablets or mobiles are currently still the main devices for watching 360º video, the use of VR Headsets is starting to grow as well. There are three main factors that could explain why the 360º video market is considered to be already developed: 360º video capture devices are more sophisticated and affordable, the increasing number of web and mobile players (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and the use of mobile phones as HMDs), and the slightly decreasing price of VR headsets (HDM).

VR360 video is now being used by all kinds of people and organisations for sharing immersive stories and extreme experiences in stunning locations. Estate agents, airlines and the hospitality industry are embracing VR360 video to show off their goods; while broadcasters, educators and social media platforms are also experimenting with the format. Many videographers are now learning about VR360 video creation for various purposes and platforms, for example:

  • Immersive journalism. The New York Times has started publishing The Daily 360º, a short 360 news report – often in 4K resolution – with multiple cuts between static shots, and a reporter acting as the narrator. Done well, 360º adds a unique eyewitness feel to storytelling and reporting.
  • 360º time-lapses. Many 360º cameras allow the capture of time-lapses, which are sequences of 360º images recorded at set intervals to record changes that take place slowly over time. Speed up the frames and the effect can be exceptional for something as delicate as the Milky Way emerging at night.
  • Live 360º video cameras can now capture and live-stream spherical imagery and most popular online and social media platforms have recently been updated to support 360º content. Viewers can now tune-in to live 360º broadcasts and download the video afterwards.

3. VR360 players: web and mobile apps

In this section, a list of the main web VR360 players will be presented. Each player will be analysed based on how, and to what extent, they integrate the main accessibility services.

There is an increasing number of VR360 videos available over the internet and the majority of browsers support them, meaning we can enjoy watching VR content online with no need for a VR device. However, it is still necessary to download a 360º video player which can support them. Regular video players such as Windows Media Player do not support them, although they probably will in the future. Nevertheless, there are some players aside from regular video formats that also support VR videos. Most of them are available on the web, but the majority fail in terms of accessibility. The table in the Appendix shows a comparative analysis of accessibility services offered by the most popular executable players.

The selection has been made for two different approaches and from a descriptive perspective. Firstly, following a top-down approach, specialized media such as magazines and papers were taken as a reference to elaborate on the first draft of the list. Secondly, users’ opinions and comments in different online forums were taken into account to complete the final list.

GOM is a South Korean product from the Gretech Corporation, one of the best-known video players, mainly used for playing ‘regular’ videos but also supports 360º video. It is a multilingual player, as you can select the language of the player. It can play 360º videos downloaded to your computer and also directly from YouTube. It is possible to search and upload subtitles and to adjust several features, such as style and position. This player offers the ability to load two separate subtitle files: one displayed at the top of the screen and the other at the bottom.

Codeplex Vr Player is an experimental open-source VR Media Player for Head-Mounted Display devices like Oculus Rift. Not only does it provide the function of playing VR videos, but it also lets users watch 2D and even 3D videos. Its user interface is designed to be intuitive which makes it very easy to use. It provides a free version and a professional paid version.

Total Cinema 360 Oculus Player is a VR App for Oculus Rift developed by Total Cinema 360. It is specifically designed to capture fully interactive, live action spaces in high quality 360º video. It comes equipped with four demonstration videos that allow you to pause, zoom and adjust eye distance. You can also upload your own 360º video content for use with Total Cinema 360.

RiftMax was developed in Ireland by the VR software developer Mike Armstrong. It is not only a VR video player, as it allows you to interact with other people in scenarios such as parties or film screenings. It also enhances video with good effects that come out of the screen. It does not support subtitles and is only available in English.

SKYBOX was developed in the UK by Source Technology Inc and supports all stereo modes (2D and 3D, or 180º and 360º). You can choose multiple VR theatres when you are watching 2D or regular 3D videos; including Movie Theater, Space Station and Void. It supports all VR platforms: Oculus, Vive, Gear VR and Daydream. SKYBOX supports external text-based subtitles (.srt/.ssa/.ass/.smi/.txt) when you are watching a non-VR video. If a video has multiple audio tracks, you can click on the “Track” tab and select the corresponding audio track.

VR Player is a Canadian product developed by Vimersiv Inc. It is specially designed for playing virtual reality videos and is a popular program among Oculus Rift users. It plays not only VR, but also 2D and 3D videos. It opens media from multiple resources, such as YouTube URLs or cloud-based services like Dropbox. It allows “floating subtitles” for watching foreign immersive videos. So far, this player is only available in the English version.

Magix VR-X is a German product from MAGIX. The player supports Android, iOS and Windows with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Microsoft Mixed Reality. There are six languages available: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Dutch. Captions are only available in the Premium version (Photostory Premium VR).

Simple VR was developed in Los Angeles. It provides users with the simplest functions and can serve as a typical media player for users. You can play, stop and pause VR video through simple controls. In addition, it has a super enhancement mode which can improve the fidelity, contrast and detail of VR videos. It also allows something called “splitters” which take multi-track video files (such as .mkv) and feed the video decoder with specific video/audio tracks and subtitles that you can configure.

After a quick analysis of the players which allow subtitle files to be loaded, it can be observed that these files are rendered as a 2D overlay onto the video window. As there is still no specific subtitle file for VR360 videos, there is no information about where in the 360 scene the subtitle relates to. Regarding AD, some of the players provide support for selecting alternative audio tracks which can be used for playing the AD track. However, there is no mechanism for mixing the AD over the existing audio track in the player. Concerning SL, none of the players provide any mechanism for adding this access service. They also do not offer the possibility to overlay an additional video stream, which could be used for the SL service.

4. ImAc project and player

This section will present and analyse the VR360 video player created under the umbrella of the H2020 funded ImAc project following the Universal Design approach and the “Born Accessible” concept. The design departed from user specifications and took accessibility requirements into account in the development.

ImAc was a European project funded by the European Commission that aimed to research how access services (subtitling, AD, audio subtitles, SL) could be integrated in immersive media. The project aimed to move away from the constraints of existing technologies into an environment where consumers could fully customise their experience (Agulló, 2020). The key action in ImAc is to ensure that immersive experiences address the needs of different kinds of users. One of the main features of the ImAc project was the user-centred methodological approach (Matamala et al. 2018), meaning that the design and development of the system and tools were driven by real user needs, continuously involving users in every step. The player was developed after gathering user requirements from people with disabilities in three EU countries: Germany, Spain and UK. User input was gathered in two iterations through focus groups and pre-pilot actions.

The first step in the user centric methodology was to define the profile of the end users. Two different profiles were created: professional user and advanced home user. Professional users were considered to be those who would use the tools at work: IT engineers, graphic designers, subtitlers, audio describers and sign language interpreters (signers). On the other hand, the advanced home users were people with disabilities who consumed the media content:  the deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind, low vision users, and the elderly. To successfully profile home users, a number of considerations were taken into account beyond disability, such as level of technological knowledge and VR environments. This was decided in order to engage home users in an open conversation regarding their expectations and match them accordingly with the innovation. Only users with knowledge or experience in either functional diversity or technology were consulted. Other profiling features of the home users were oral/written languages (Catalan, German, Spanish and English) and three visual-gestural languages (Catalan Sign Language, German Sign Language and Spanish Sign Language). Other significant profiling factors were level of expertise in the service that the participant was testing (audio description, audio subtitling, sign language, subtitling), sensorial functionality (deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind, low vision) and age. As some degree of hearing or vision loss can often be linked to age, the elderly were included in the home users’ category.

Once the two groups of end users (advanced home and professionals) had been defined, they formulated two user requirements: home and professional requirements. The former described the functions exposed by the ImAc services towards consuming media, and the latter described the functions from a working perspective. Three versions or iterations of the requirements were carried out. The first version was based on focus groups in which the user scenarios created by the ImAc partners were evaluated by both professional and home users. User scenario refers to what the already identified user would be experiencing and how (e.g. how the interface deals with AD depending on angle of visualisation). The second was conducted after the pre-pilot tests, where prototypes of accessible immersive media content were presented to the target group of home users (i.e., for the visual access services, the tests focused on the preferred size of the area to display the services and the preferred ways of guiding the users to the speaker). In this way, more extensive feedback on specific issues could be gathered and the home user requirements were subsequently fine-tuned. The final iteration took place after the demonstration pilots which involved both professional and home users. The resulting list of final requirements provides the basis for the further development and quality assurance of the ImAc platform.

After compiling all the information regarding the end user profile and requirements, the user interface (UI) was designed. The aim was to have a concept that was flexible enough to extend the settings later, based on the results of the user testing. The main challenge was to integrate four services with a large number of settings, while avoiding a long and complex menu. The UI design to access accessibility services in the ImAc player was based on existing players (legacy players from catch up TV services, web players for video-on-demand and streaming services and VR players); taking these as a starting point, a design for a “traditional UI” was developed. An “enhanced accessibility UI” was developed in parallel, the two were combined, and the resulting ImAc player UI offers aspects of both. The implementation of the UI allows access to the accessibility services in the ImAc portal and the player reflects their status after feedback from the user tests.

The success of the ImAc player and the reason why it has been presented as the main example of an accessible player is because it follows both the “Universal design” and “Born accessible” concepts. The first term comes from the European Standard EN 17161 (2019) ‘Design for All - Accessibility following a Design for All approach in products, goods and services - Extending the range of users.’ It specifies the requirements in design, development and provision of products, goods and services that can be accessed, understood, and used by the widest range of users, including persons with disabilities. Along with the European Standard EN17161, there is an EU standard for accessible technologies: the EN301549 (version 3.1.1.: 2019). These two standards secure the concepts of Universal Design and Born Accessible. According to Pilar Orero (2020: 4): “the concept of Born Accessible closely follows EU legislation and has been proven to be successfully integrated in R&D activities and developments.”

5. Conclusions

More than ever, technology is enabling the empowerment of end users both as consumers and prosumers. However, technology is still designed with accessibility as an afterthought: away from user centric design. User interaction in today's Information Society plays a key role in the full social integration and democratic participation of all its citizens. Enabling easy access to content and guiding the user in controlling media services are two of the most recent UN and European media regulations. At the same time, UIs should also be accessible, as the demand for guidance is especially high for accessibility services. Some groups of users need to activate an accessibility service such as subtitles before they can consume the media content. In general, the default setting for a media service is to have all accessibility services switched off. Therefore, it is very important that activating and controlling the accessibility services is made as easy as possible. This article has focused on the accessibility of the media players which are currently available commercially to show the way towards full accessibility in VR, at a time when VR content production is beginning. The article would like to raise awareness of the real possibility of generating accessible VR content from the point of production.

As we have been able to verify by analyzing the most widespread players available commercially, none of them provide access to the full set of accessibility services. VR players do not focus on accessibility services at all and they have not been created departing from user needs. Following the Born Accessible principle to avoid this basic problem, accessibility (and multilingualism) must be considered at the design stage of any process. Most of the players that have been analysed are only available in English, leaving out the users with other linguistic realities. The documented media players that support access to accessibility services do not use aligned conventions for their icons/representation. Using a universal set to represent accessibility services is desirable, and for that reason ImAc uses a set of icons proposed by the Danish Radio for all users in all countries.

To finish, we are living a global change of the consumer landscape due to Covid-19. Confinement measures have changed user demands and moved them further towards the use of online services. The so-called “new normal” will bring a significant increase in remote online activities and virtual experiences will be essential in the near future. Marketing, simulation, leisure, training and communication will need to adapt to new needs, as well as to associate with them. The promotion of the Universal Design and Born Accessible concepts can have a significant role in achieving these goals and supporting the full democratic participation of all people, while protecting their social rights.

Appendix: VR360 players facing accessibility


(Deaf and hard-of-hearing)

(Blind and visually-impaired)



GOM Player[2]


No* (select audio track)



Codeplex VR Player[3]





Total Cinema 360 Oculus Player[4]





RiftMax VR Player[5]





SKYBox VR Video Player[6]

Yes (only in non-VR video)

No (select audio track)



VR Player[7]






No (only in the premium version)




Simple VR[9]






The author is member of TransMedia Catalonia, a research group funded by Secretaria d’Universitats i Recerca del Departament d’Empresa i Coneixement de la Generalitat de Catalunya, under the SGR funding scheme (ref. code 2017SGR113). This article reflects only the authors’ views and the funding institutions hold no responsibility for any use that may be made of the information it contains). This article is part of Marta Brescia’s PhD in Translation and Intercultural Studies at the Department of Translation, Interpreting and East Asian Studies (Departament de Traducció i d’Interpretació i d’Estudis de l’Àsia Oriental) of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.


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About the author(s)

Marta Brescia-Zapata is a PhD candidate in the Department of Translation, Interpreting and East Asian Studies at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. She holds a BA in Translation and Interpreting from Universidad de Granada and an MA in Audiovisual Translation from UAB. She is a member of the TransMedia Catalonia research group (2017SGR113), where she collaborates in the H2020 project TRACTION (Opera co-creation for a social transformation). She is currently working on subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing in immersive media, thanks to a PhD scholarship granted by the Catalan government. She collaborates regularly as subtitler and audiodescriber at the Festival INCLÚS.

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

©inTRAlinea & Marta Brescia-Zapata (2022).
"The Present and Future of Accessibility Services in VR360 Players", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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Working Memory and Consecutive Interpreting Performance in Proficient Bilinguals: A Gender Perspective

By Mojtaba Amini, Azizollah Dabaghi & Dariush Nejadansari (University of Isfahan, Iran)


Considering the importance of working memory (WM) in interpreting and the scarcity of studies devoted to consecutive interpreting (CI) compared to simultaneous mode, the present study examined the association of WM with English-Persian CI performance. Furthermore, gender differences on WM and CI performance, which has not received a proper attention, was investigated. Two working memory tests and one consecutive interpreting task were administered to 30 MA translation students. The results of a Pearson Correlation showed that there was a positive and significant relationship between both measures of WM and CI performance. Furthermore, according to the results of an independent samples t-test no gender differences were observed in terms of WM capacity and CI performance.

Keywords: working memory, consecutive interpreting, gender differences

©inTRAlinea & Mojtaba Amini, Azizollah Dabaghi & Dariush Nejadansari (2022).
"Working Memory and Consecutive Interpreting Performance in Proficient Bilinguals: A Gender Perspective", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL:

1. Introduction

In interpreter-mediated events, Consecutive Interpreting (CI) is regarded as an important interpreting modality, which enables people who speak different languages to communicate with each other in various settings (e.g., at the police station, court, press conference, etc.). As Dong and Cai (2015) put it, CI is a cognitively demanding activity compared to other human activities because it includes a comprehension of input from the source language, either storing this input via note taking, storing it mentally, or a combination of both, and then producing a coherent target text. One of the cognitive components underlying interpreting is Working Memory (WM), which is regarded as a key factor in interpretation (Bajo, Padilla and Padilla 2000; Darò 1989).

Baddeley and Hitch (1974), as a modification of the concept of short-term memory, proposed the concept of working memory. WM has been traditionally conceptualized as an active memory system that is responsible for the temporary maintenance and processing of information (Bayliss et al. 2005). Dehn (2008) points out that WM is one of the most important concepts introduced in cognitive psychology. Since its emergence in 1974, WM has been presented using various models (Baddeley 1986, 2000, 2007, 2010; Baddeley and Hitch 1974; Baddeley and Logie 1999; Cowan 1988, 1999, 2005; etc.). The multi-component model is among those applied in the studies of WM in interpreting. According to Baddeley and Hitch’s multi-component model of WM (1974) and its later version introduced by Baddeley (2000), there are four components: central executive, phonological loop, visuospatial sketchpad, and episodic buffer.

As Köpke and Nespoulous (2006) mention, many authors have investigated the importance of WM. Nevertheless, it is hard to arrive at any proper conclusions, especially in the context of CI, which has only rarely been addressed. According to Dong and Cai (2015), the studies in this domain have mainly been devoted to Simultaneous Interpreting (SI) and a few empirical investigations have been conducted on WM in the context of CI. Consequently, the effect of WM in CI is unclear. Dong and Cai (2015) further argue that considering the close match between CI process, which includes mental and material storage (i.e., notes on paper) and storage-plus-processing definition of WM, studying the role of WM in CI is more promising than studying its role in SI.

Two main problems motivated the authors to carry out the present study: a lack of proper attention given to CI, especially with a focus on Persian language, and the paucity of studies devoted to gender differences in interpreting. Therefore, this research intended to shed more light on these. The project reported in this article included 30 MA translation students as proficient bilinguals and early learners of CI, and had the further aim of probing the role of WM in short CI performance and gender differences in WM and CI performance in the English-Persian language pair. This language pair has rarely been explored in this domain (Amini, Dabaghi and Nejadansari 2020; Khatib 2003; Yenkimaleki and Van Heuven 2017). Amini et al. (2020) focused on WM and note quantity in CI, and as part of the findings, they reported that WM can be used as a reliable factor for predicting CI performance. Yenkimaleki and Van Heuven (2017) reported that memory training had a positive effect on the quality of CI. However, memory training is not focused in the present study. Khatib administered the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT) to measure WM capacity. However, PASAT is frequently used to evaluate attentional functioning and information processing (Tombaugh 2006). Furthermore, PASAT appears to involve the storage and processing tasks (memorizing the previous digit and add it to the next one and so on) of only minimal information chunks (i.e., the digit), while WM is a combination of storing and processing longer chunks (e.g., a sentence, several digits, etc.). Therefore, general WM cannot be measured using this test, in our opinion, and more studies are thus required to measure WM effectively and examine the association between WM and CI performance with a focus on Persian language. It should be noted that, in the current study, wherever the authors refer to CI in their empirical study, they mean a short type of CI (see §4.1).

In this project, the following three research questions were posed:

  1. Is there any significant relationship between WM and CI performance in the English-Persian language pair?
  2. Is there any significant difference between males and females in terms of WM capacity?
  3. Is there any significant difference between males and females in terms of CI performance?

2. Working Memory and Interpreting

As Timarova et al. (2014) put it, in general, studies on WM in the context of interpreting have mainly focused on two topics: a) the comparison between interpreters and non-interpreters on WM or comparison between the interpreters of different levels: professionals, students, etc., and b) the association between WM and interpreting performance.

As for the first category, mixed results have been reported, though slightly in favor of the superiority of interpreters over non-interpreters (Chincotta and Underwood 1998; Christoffels, De Groot and Kroll 2006; Hermans, Van Dijk and Christofels 2007; Köpke and Nespoulous 2006; Liu 2001; Liu, Schallert, Carroll 2004; Padilla et al. 1995). In the second category, a positive and significant relationship between a higher WM and better interpreting performance has been reported (Amini et al. 2020; Christoffels 2004; Christoffels, De Groot and Waldorp 2003; Hodakova 2009; Khatib 2003; Tzou et al. 2012; Timarova et al. 2014) Nevertheless, several studies (i.e. Wang 2016), have reported a lack of such significant association between the variables in signed language interpreting.

In this section, the studies on the second category, which are directly related to the present study, are reviewed. Khatib (2003) studied the relationship between WM and CI performance in the English-Persian language pair and administered PASAT as a measurement for WM. He reported a positive and significant relationship between the variables. Christoffels et al. (2003) examined the role of memory and lexical retrieval in English-Dutch SI for untrained bilinguals. They measured WM capacity through reading and digit spans and concluded that reading span was directly related to SI performance. Christoffels (2004) tested a group of untrained bilingual students based on the digit and reading span tests. Digit span was found to be positively correlated with both interpreting measures of selected sentences and overall quality and reading span had a positive correlation with the accuracy of the selected sentences. Hodáková (2009) focused on both simultaneous and consecutive modes when testing a large group of beginner and advanced interpreting students. She found a correlation between the listening span and CI and between the Arithmetic Addition Test and SI. Tzou et al. (2012) tested three groups of Chinese-English bilingual participants. They reported that both SI measures positively correlated with English and Chinese reading spans and English digit span. Timarova et al. (2014) investigated SI and the executive control of WM and administered a variety of WM measurements. As part of their findings, they reported complex patterns of association between WM and SI, through which the different WM functions could predict different sub-processes in SI. Amini et al. (2020) studied the association between WM and note taking in CI; they applied reading span and digit span as measures of WM. As part of their findings, they reported that WM could be used as an efficient factor for predicting CI performance. Unlike the dominant results provided on this topic, Wang (2016) reported a lack of significant association between WM and interpreting performance. He investigated the relationship between the signed language interpreters’ Working Memory Capacities (WMCs) and their SI performances. After implementing a listening span test and an Australian Sign Language (Auslan) WM span test, no significant correlations between the bilingual WMCs and overall SI performances were observed.

Based on the literature on the consecutive mode and on WM mentioned here, and on the general perception of the authors, the consecutive mode has not received proper attention in this domain. Moreover, the Persian language has rarely been the object of study in this context. Therefore, the research presented in this article aims to probe these variables in the English-Persian language pair in hope of paving the way towards further future research, the results of which, together with the previous studies, may help researchers and interpreters improve their work on this topic.

3. Gender Differences in Working Memory and Interpreting

Mixed results have been reported by studies on gender differences in cognitive abilities and memory. Investigations on some cognitive abilities have shown that males and females are not significantly different in this regard (Hyde 2005; Hyde and Linn 1988; Miller and Halpern 2014). In their reviews of gender differences in memory, Loftus et al. (1987) concluded that there are no gender differences in memory per se, but males and females differ in terms of what type of information they can best remember. However, some studies have reported females’ superiority in some tasks, including generating synonyms, faster processing speed, etc. (Hines 1990; Keith et al. 2008), while some others like that of Click (2005), who has reported superiority of males in spatial WM, maintained males’ superiority.

Guillem and Mograss (2005) examined gender differences in memory processing using Event-Related Potentials (ERPs). They administered a recognition memory task for faces, recorded the behavioral data and ERPs, and reported that females performed better than males. Similarly, Baer, Trumpeter and Weathington (2006) found that females could generally recall more items and thus perform better on recalling gender neutrals (e.g., a pen and a book) and female-stereotyped items (e.g., a dress and lipstick). They observed no differences between males and females in recalling male-stereotyped items (e.g., a gun and a tie). Harness et al. (2008) reported that males and females were not significantly different on the verbal working memory test in no distraction conditions, while males performed better in a distraction condition. They further noticed that females could perform better in the visual working memory.

Nevertheless, gender difference in interpreting has received limited attention. In addition, the majority of the studies have focused on gender differences in the various components of interpreting rather than in the interpreting performance as a whole with some exceptions like that of Hasanshahi and Shahrokhi (2016). Cecot (2001) found that, unlike males, females used more filled pauses, while male’s unfilled pauses lasted longer than female’s. Magnifico and Defrancq (2016) reported that female interpreters used more hedges and toned down fewer unmitigated face-threatening acts than males. Hasanshahi and Shahrokhi (2016) reported that there was no significant difference between male and female interpreters in terms of SI quality. Similarly, Collard and Defrancq (2019b) in their corpus-based research analyzed the Ear-Voice Spans (EVSs) of male and female interpreters in the European Parliament. They observed no gender differences. In another study, Collard and Defrancq (2019a) found that male interpreters produced more disfluencies than female interpreters did. In her gender-based analysis of SI, Russo (2018) observed that for read speeches from English into Spanish, the mean delivery speed was faster among females compared to males, while Target Speech (TS) length was shorter among males in comparison to females. Verdini (2019) studied CI and reported that females maintained a higher degree of fluency in interpreting figurative language, while males were more fluent in interpreting numerical expressions.

In conclusion, we could say that the issue of gender differences in interpreting has not been sufficiently researched. Furthermore, mixed results have been reported from empirical studies on gender differences based on the various components of interpreting performance, as well as some other related factors, such as cognitive abilities and memory variables. As far as CI is concerned, no studies were found to have focused on WM and gender differences, especially in the English-Persian language pair. Therefore, the present investigation tried to shed some light on this area.

4. Method

4.1. (Consecutive) Interpreting in the Iranian Context

Consecutive Interpreting (CI) has been defined and described by different scholars. According to Gile (2009), in CI, the interpreters listen to a speech segment of a few minutes; they can take notes, and finally deliver the whole segment. Pöchhacker (2004) defines CI as the rendition of a whole source text segment by segment, during which the interpreter can take notes. He distinguishes between two types of CI: CI with note taking and a short CI without taking notes. However, it is almost impossible to define CI based on duration or note taking. As we can observe in real interpreting settings, a short CI may vary from a short sentence to a short paragraph or more. Furthermore, interpreters may take notes even in a short CI. Similarly, in a long CI with note taking, the length of speech and interpreting may range from 3 to 7 minutes or more. Besides, the setting and speaker’s preferences may have their influences and determine the duration of CI largely, unless the speaker and the interpreter agree on the duration prior to the interpreting event.

In the Iranian context, both types of CI defined by Pöchhacker (2004) are common: a long CI with note taking, which is applied in e.g., diplomatic meetings, and a short CI with or without taking notes, which is used in sport/diplomatic press conferences or post-match interviews. However, in both types, there is no precise limit in terms of speech length. In the current study, a short CI was examined in the English-Persian language pair, which is very common in sport press conferences and post-match interviews.

‘Interpreting Studies’ are not offered at Iranian universities, but the University of Applied Science and Technology offers SI to BA students. In addition, some institutes offer interpreter training programs. The students who study ‘Translation Studies’ take a course on interpreting and get familiar with it. As Dastyar (2019) stated, the new BA curriculum of Translation Studies, which was approved in 2018, includes three courses on interpreting: SI, CI, and a course of Introduction to Interpreting Modes.

Proficient bilinguals with different language backgrounds, who have acquired proficiency levels in a foreign language, can attend interpreter-training institutes to become professional interpreters. These candidates receive a certification after successfully attending the program. Interpreter training institutes and language centers offer various programs and courses. For example, the language center of Shahid Beheshti University offers an interpreter training program, which includes such courses as Introduction to Interpreting, Language and Non-language Skills Required for Interpreting, Methods of Improving Short-term Memory and Application of Multiple Senses, Note-taking and Paraphrasing Skills, and CI Practice in Social and Academic Settings, besides holding international meetings and seminars, etc. In addition to the interpreter training institutes, which offer interpreting certificates, the Judiciary provides interpreters with a formal certification, which enables them to establish a certified interpreter office, though working as a certified interpreter is limited to the capital city, Tehran (Dastyar 2019). Clients who need a qualified interpreter can refer to these institutes or certified translator/interpreter offices.

4.2. Participants

30 Persian-speaking MA translation students (14 males and 16 females) aged 22-30 years participated in this study. They were selected from among 50 students, who had a) passed the Oxford Placement Test (OPT) and obtained at least a minimum score in the proficiency level (C2=55) and b) obtained a score of less than 2.5 (out of the total score of 5) in the self-report questionnaire. The combination of the OPT and questionnaire results allowed the researcher to have a homogeneous group. Therefore, the finally selected 30 participants as proficient bilinguals and early learners of CI were students of similar proficiency in English language and similar theoretical and practical familiarity with CI.

The participants of the present study were regarded as proficient bilinguals and early learners of CI, who had passed an interpreting course during the BA program of Translation Studies, and therefore they had already gained some theoretical familiarity with interpreting. They had also practiced note-taking skills and developed their WM and short consecutive skills. However, the content of the course might partially differ from one class to another. Because of this potential difference in teaching materials, participants were selected based on a self-report questionnaire, which proved their homogeneity in interpreting and qualification for the study. To qualify as professional CI interpreters, these students must have attended the program offered by interpreter training institutes.

4.3. Tasks

4.3.1. Working Memory Tests (Auditory and forward) Digit Span Test: This test is a simple span test, which measures verbal short-term memory; in the software version of the test that is administered via a computer, the test is verbally carried out and includes several trials. On each trial, a series of digits is presented at one time. At the end of each series, participants attempt to recall the digits in the order of their presentations and type them via key press. The test starts with two digits in the first series and ends with nine digits in the last one. After each successfully completed trial, the number of the digits presented increases by one digit in each next trial. After a failed trial (i.e., in case digits are missing and/or when they have a wrong order), the number of the presented digits remains the same for the next trial and the task ends when a participant makes errors at two sequential trials in a given digit span. A digit span includes the maximum number of digits correctly recalled. The Persian version of the test developed by Khodadadi and Amani (2014) was employed in the current study. Reading Span Test: This test, which was devised by Daneman and Carpenter (1980), is a complex span test capable of measuring a general WM. Through this measurement, individual differences in WM capacity can be examined. As Daneman and Carpenter (1980) pointed out, the reading span significantly correlates with both reading and listening comprehension. The Persian version of this test (Khodadadi et al. 2014), which has been developed and validated based on Persian language criteria, was applied in this research with an automatic scoring procedure. In this test, both storing and processing abilities were scored and summed up to obtain the final score.

In the Reading Span Test (RST), a series of short sentences are presented on the screen. The test starts with two sentences in the first series and ends with seven sentences in the last series. They increase by one sentence in each next series (e.g., in the second series, there are 3 sentences and in the third series there are 4 sentences). After each series of sentences, a table is presented on the screen. The participants are expected to select two types of answers via key press: a) whether the sentences they have seen on the screen are true or false and b) whether they can recall the last word of each sentence in the exact order.

4.3.2. Consecutive Interpreting Task

A recorded video lecture of 4.48 minutes in English was used as a short CI task, the topic of which was ‘Why should we learn a new language?’ The lecturer was a Native American English speaker. The text did not have any technical terms and thus, knowledge of everyday language could suffice for the material interpretation. The source text included 702 words with a delivery rate of 146.25 WPM. After each short paragraph, the researcher paused the video to allow the participant to finish interpreting and then continued the video. There were totally 10 such pauses (see Appendix C). Participants were supposed to interpret the text from English into Persian after each pause. All of them were provided with pen and paper for note taking; they all took notes during interpreting task.

4.4. Procedure

First, the researcher informed the participants about the administration of WM tests and a CI task. Then, the participants took part in the data collection phase one by one in a quiet classroom. Each participant first took the Digit Span and then the Reading Span tests and finally the CI task. Task order was the same for all participants. The WM tests were automatically administered and scored on a laptop in the pre-established order. For the CI task, the recorded video speech was played on the laptop. The researcher recorded the entire interpreting tasks with a voice recorder for later analysis.

All the recorded interpreting tasks were transcribed verbatim. Each transcribed interpreting task was scored by three raters according to the revised version of Carrol’s scale by Tiselius (2009) (see Appendices A and B). This rubric is holistic and has two components: intelligibility and informativeness. Scoring is easy because of the non-componential nature of this scale and consistency is promoted during the scoring procedure. In this study, all the three raters were PhD candidates in translation studies and were trained in detail on how to apply the scales for scoring. The final score of each participant was the average of three scores given by raters. The reliability of the scoring procedure was ascertained with the high inter-rater reliability (r=.897, p˂.001).

4.4.1. Data Analysis

First, a Pearson Correlation was conducted to assess the association between WM variables (Digit Span and Reading Span) and CI performance. Then, to compare male and female’s CI performances, Digit Span, and Reading Span, an independent samples t-test was conducted in three replications.

5. Results

Descriptive statistics for all variables of the study are shown in Table 1. These variables include CI performance, Digit Span, and Reading Span Tests.








CI Performance







Digit Span







Reading Span







Table 1. Descriptive Statistics

The Pearson correlation analysis indicated that, there was a positive and significant relationship between CI performance and both variables of WM (Digit Span and Reading Span) as shown in Table 2.


CI Performance

CI Performance



Digit Span




Reading Span



Table 2. Pearson Correlations between Consecutive Interpreting Performance,
Digit Span, and Reading Span (*Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level)

An independent-samples t-test was conducted to compare males and females on ‘CI Performance’. There was no significant difference on this variable for Males (M=9.61, SD=1.71) and females (M=9.93, SD=1.81) conditions; t(28)= -.49, p=.62. These results suggest that males and females performed similarly on CI (see Table 3).






















Table 3. T-test Results Comparing Males and Females on ‘CI Performance’

An independent-samples t-test was conducted to compare males and females on ‘Digit Span’. There was no significant difference on this variable for Males (M=7.86, SD=1.09) and females (M=8, SD=1.41) conditions; t(28)= -.30, p=.76. These results suggest that males and females performed similarly on Digit Span (see Table 4).






















Table 4. T-test Results Comparing Males and Females on ‘Digit Span’

An independent-samples t-test was conducted to compare males and females on ‘Reading Span’. There was no significant difference on this variable for Males (M=75.80, SD=10.01) and females (M=77.53, SD=10.48) conditions; t(28)= -.46, p=.64. These results suggest that males and females performed similarly on Reading Span (see Table 5).






















Table 5. T-test Results Comparing Males and Females on ‘Reading Span’

6. Discussion

The first research question concerned the relationship between WM and CI performance, a topic that has only attracted limited attention in the literature compared to SI. The study focused on the English-Persian language pair, which had rarely been addressed. According to the results of the statistical analysis, it was found that there was a positive and significant association between both measures of WM and CI performance. This result was in line with the findings of Khatib (2003), who reported a significant relationship between PASAT and (English-Persian) CI performance in professional interpreters, and those of Hodakova (2009), who found a significant correlation between the listening span and CI performance. However, the present study differed from both of these studies in terms of the types of WM measurements used: Digit Span and Reading Span. Furthermore, the result was in line with Amini et al. (2020) who reported WM as an efficient factor for predicting CI performance.

The results were also consistent with certain studies carried out in the simultaneous mode, such as those obtained by Christoffels (2004), who reported a significant relationship between a group of untrained bilingual students’ performance on Digit Span with selected sentences and the overall quality of their SI performance, as well as a positive correlation between their Reading Span and accuracies of the selected sentences. However, the results were inconsistent with those of Wang (2016), who reported a lack of significant relationship between the signed language interpreters’ WM capacities and their simultaneous Auslan interpreting performances.

Based on the results, it was concluded that consecutive interpreters with high performing WM perform better than those with low performing WM. The results also allowed us to conclude that WM capacity is one of the key prerequisites that underlie good CI. This factor together with some other factors can be considered for selecting candidates in interpreter training programs. Here, a word of caution should be added. Since CI was carried out in short chunks in this study, the results should be cautiously generalized to the other type of CI, i.e., a long CI with note taking. Although a short CI in the Iranian context is common in settings like sport press conferences or interviews after matches, e.g., football matches for foreign coaches, etc., it is different from a long CI with note taking (e.g., 5-7-min duration).

Studies on the association between WM and CI found in the literature have supported positive and significant relationships between the variables (Amini et al. 2020; Hodakova 2009; Khatib 2003). Our research was in line with the general literature in this area. Therefore, our results could extend the related literature and strengthen the body of knowledge in this domain. However, the number of studies can hardly considered sufficient and similar studies, which apply various WM measurements on other language pairs, are needed.

Some reported results on the association between WM and interpreting performance (whether in CI or SI) are partially different. For example, Christoffels (2004) reported a significant correlation between Digit Span and both interpreting measures (selected sentences and overall quality) and between Reading Span and only the accuracy of the selected sentences, whereas Tzou et al. (2012) reported that both SI measures (selected segments and overall quality) positively correlated with English and Chinese Reading Span and only with English Digit Span. Yet, we found a significant relationship between both WM measurements (Reading Span and Digit Span) and the overall quality of CI performance. The possible causes for such differences in the results might be attributed to the research designs adopted, such as participant selection and their L2 proficiencies, experiences, and ages, reporting criteria, differences in the scales for assessing interpreting performances, etc.

The second research question examined the gender differences in WM. The results of an independent samples t-test indicated that, there was no significant difference between males and females for this variable. This result is congruent with those of other studies in this domain, e.g., those obtained by Harness et al. (2008), who reported that males and females did not perform significantly different in the verbal WM task in no-distraction conditions. However, the results are inconsistent with studies that reported female superiority in memory tasks, e.g., with that of Guillem and Mograss (2005), who reported that females performed better on the recognition memory task, or that of Baer et al. (2006),  who found that females could recall more female-stereotyped objects (e.g., a dress, lipstick etc.), and neutral items (e.g., a pen, a clock, etc.) and total items compared to males. Furthermore, our findings differed from those of some other investigations, which have found that males perform better in memory tasks, e.g., those of Harness et al. (2008). Based on the above-mentioned results (mixed results in the contexts other than an interpreting context) and with regard to the lack of enough studies in this area, it was difficult to come to proper conclusions. Therefore, the issue of gender differences in WM in the context of interpreting needs to be further investigated in order to reach reliable conclusions and extend the relevant literature.

Studies on gender differences in memory are inconclusive. Some studies have observed no gender differences, e.g., Miller and Helpern (2014); others have reported that males perform better, e.g., Click (2005); and certain others have shown that females perform better, e.g., Keith et al. (2008). Our results are in line with those that report no gender differences in this regard (e.g., Miller and Helpern 2014). However, part of the differences in the results might be caused by the different methodologies adopted and in particular, the different memory tasks used to measure memory capacity. In addition to the mixed results reported by these studies, they do not come from the context of interpreting and thus cannot easily be compared to our own results.

The third research question was to probe gender differences in CI performance. Based on the results of an independent samples t-test, no significant difference was observed between males and females in terms of CI performance. This finding is in line with that of Hasanshahi and Shahrokhi (2016), who reported that there was no significant difference between male and female interpreters based on the quality of their SI. However, their focus was on the simultaneous mode. Our results are not in line with those of Collard and Defrancq (2019a), who found that male interpreters produced more disfluencies than female interpreters did. In addition, this result is inconsistent with that of Russo (2018) and Verdini (2019), who reported that males performed better in some respects, e.g., interpreting numerical expressions, and females in others, e.g., interpreting a figurative language. Although, there are not many prior studies on this issue, we can posit that male interpreters may perform better in terms of certain components of interpreting e.g., interpreting numerical expressions while female interpreters may perform better in terms of other factors e.g., producing less disfluency. However, there may be no significant gender differences in terms of overall interpreting performance.

7. Conclusions

The aim of this research was to probe the relationship between WM and CI performance. Furthermore, it sought to determine whether there was a significant difference between males and females in CI performance and WM capacity. The results of Pearson Correlation further proved that there was a significant relationship between WM and CI performance, which is generally congruent with the literature in this domain. Hence, it can be concluded that CI interpreters with higher WM capacities are more likely to have better performance compared to those with lower WM capacities. These findings further support the WM-based cognitive models of interpreting and corroborate the results of those investigations that have reported the positive and significant role of WM in either modes of interpreting, especially in CI. Therefore, the findings can extend the literature in this domain, especially in connection to Persian language.

In connection to the second objective of the study, the findings of this research suggested that there were no gender differences in CI performance and WM capacity. Both genders performed similarly on Reading Span, Digit Span tests, and CI task. Considering the paucity of the previous studies, mixed reported results on this topic and the small number of participants, it was difficult to come to a particular conclusion, but it seems that both genders perform similarly on CI and memory tests.

This investigation is one of only a few studies devoted to CI rather than SI, besides being one of the first on the English-Persian language pair focusing on the association between WM and CI performance. Therefore, we hope that our study can pave the way towards further research on this topic. Despite their limited size, the findings of this research, together with those of similar studies, can provide researchers and scholars in this field with information on how to design or modify process models or other cognitive models of interpreting, especially in the area of CI. The CI models are expected to promisingly take into a greater consideration the role of WM according to the results of various language pairs.


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About the author(s)

Mojtaba Amini is PhD in Translation and Interpreting Studies, the University of Isfahan, Iran. He spent his sabbatical period at Ghent University, Belgium (2018-2019). His main line of research is cognitive approaches to consecutive interpreting. He is also interested in certain other domains including translation and interpreting quality assessment, sociology of translation, translation teaching methodology as well as philosophical approaches to translation.

Azizollah Dabaghi is currently an associate professor of applied linguistics at the Faculty of Foreign Languages, the University of Isfahan. He completed his degrees in Sheffield, Isfahan and Auckland. He has had several years of teaching experience in translation studies and practice as well as in second language acquisition and psycholinguistics. His main line of research includes integration of translation ability with psycholinguistic and cognitive issues among translators.

Dariush Nejad Ansari is assistant professor at the University of Isfahan, Iran. He has been teaching at different levels in English Department of the Faculty of Foreign Languages. He graduated with an MA in applied linguistics from Tarbiat Modarres University and completed his PhD at Allame Tabatabaei University in TOEFL in 2008. His areas of interest are issues in second language acquisition, and translation.

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©inTRAlinea & Mojtaba Amini, Azizollah Dabaghi & Dariush Nejadansari (2022).
"Working Memory and Consecutive Interpreting Performance in Proficient Bilinguals: A Gender Perspective", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

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Ampelmännchen, Altbau und Nimmerland – Wegweiser auf dem Weg zur translatorischen Kompetenz

Erfahrungen aus einem studentischen Übersetzungsprojekt

By Katarzyna Tymoszuk (Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords


The article presents experiences and specific examples from a translation project of German Philology students from Maria Curie-Sklodowska University in Poland. Since the German musician Spaceman Spiff was performing at Lublin Night of Culture, the students translated the lyrics of his songs into Polish in order to present their message to a wider audience. Students did not have any previous translation experience or theoretical knowledge in the field of translation and consequently their work within the project was classified as inductive learning. The examples presented in the article reflect the way in which various translation problems allowed the students to discover specific translation strategies intuitively and encouraged reflection on issues of translation theory.


In dem Beitrag werden die Erfahrungen aus einem Übersetzungsprojekt der Germanistikstudenten der UMCS vorgestellt und mit Beispielen illustriert. Anlässlich eines Auftritts des deutschen Sängers Spaceman Spiff im Rahmen der Lubliner „Nacht der Kultur“ haben die Studenten seine Texte ins Polnische übersetzt, um dem weiteren Publikum die darin enthaltene Botschaft zugänglich zu machen. Angesichts der Tatsache, dass die Studenten vorher über keine translatorischen Erfahrungen und kein theoretisches Wissen verfügten, wurde die Arbeit im Rahmen des Projekts als induktives Lernen klassifiziert. An einzelnen Beispielen wird gezeigt, wie unterschiedliche translatorische Probleme zu konkreten translatorischen Strategien führten und gleichzeitig die Studenten zur Reflexion über theoretische translationswissenschaftliche Fragen veranlassten.

Keywords: translationsdidaktik, induktives lernen, kompetenz des translators, translatorische strategien, translation didactics, inductive learning, translation competence, translation strategies

©inTRAlinea & Katarzyna Tymoszuk (2022).
"Ampelmännchen, Altbau und Nimmerland – Wegweiser auf dem Weg zur translatorischen Kompetenz Erfahrungen aus einem studentischen Übersetzungsprojekt", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

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1. Einführung

Infolge einer - relativ unerwarteten und späten - Ankündigung eines Auftritts des jungen deutschen Musikers Spaceman Spiff im Rahmen der Lubliner Veranstaltung ‚Nacht der Kultur‘ haben die Germanistikstudenten der UMCS in Lublin eine spontane übersetzerische Initiative ergriffen. Gewählte Texte des jungen Musikers sollten für die geplante Musikveranstaltung ins Polnische übersetzt und in Form einer kleinen, zweisprachigen Broschüre für die Konzertteilnehmer gedruckt werden. Begründet war diese Aktivität durch den Wunsch, die in den Texten von Spaceman Spiff enthaltene Botschaft allen, nicht nur den Deutsch kundigen Zuhörern, näher zu bringen.

Zwar entspricht das realisierte Vorhaben nicht genau allen in der DIN 69901 Projekt-Definition enthaltenen Kriterien[1], doch sein Charakter ähnelt dem Begriff in dem Maße, dass die Wahl der Projekt-Nomenklatur meines Erachtens nach gerechtfertigt sein kann. So sollen im Weiteren die Initiative als das Projekt und die darin engagierten Studenten als die Projektteilnehmer bezeichnet werden.

2. Zielsetzung

Im vorliegenden Beitrag möchte ich die didaktischen Erfahrungen aus diesem Übersetzungsprojekt analytisch und reflektierend erläutern. Dabei soll die dargestellte Fallstudie als Beispiel für ähnliche didaktische Aktivitäten fungieren, in denen der Schwerpunkt vor allem auf das Erwerben von Elementen translatorischer Kompetenz[2] als Folge der Bottom-up-Prozesse (vgl. Kußmaul 1995, Kiraly 1995) gelegt wird. Bedingt ist eine solche Vorgehensweise hauptsächlich durch die Tatsache, dass der Erwerb translatorischer Kompetenz im Rahmen einer eigens dafür bestimmten Veranstaltung im Curriculum des Germanistikstudiums der Universität Lublin nicht vorgesehen wird und die Autorin den besonders daran interessierten Studenten - teils auf ihre Bitte, teils aus eigener Initiative - trotzdem mindestens Einblicke in die translatorische Bildung und Praxis zu geben bemüht war. Infolge intuitiver Lösung translatorischer Schwierigkeiten, zu denen in dem thematisierten Projekt vor allem das Problem der unterschiedlich bedingten Unübersetzbarkeit und Metaphorizität zählten, gelangten die Teilnehmer zu Ansätzen von theoretischem Wissen und praktischen Fähigkeiten, aus denen grundsätzlich die Kompetenz des Translators besteht und wurden dabei für die Komplexität des Translationsprozesses sensibilisiert, vor dessen Hintergrund der Translator als zentrales Element agiert (Grucza 1998: 10).

Wie schon angedeutet liegt die Besonderheit des Projektes vor allem in der Eigenart seiner Teilnehmer - einer Gruppe von Germanistikstudenten des ersten und zweiten Jahres des Magisterstudiums. Obwohl alle 15 Mitglieder dieser Gruppe bereits ihr Bachelorstudium im Fach Germanistik an derselben oder anderen Universitäten absolviert und die in den Studiencurricula vorgesehenen Prüfungen in Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft sowie Landes- und Kulturkunde abgelegt haben, hatten sie bis dahin keine Gelegenheit, ihr translatorisches Können zu entwickeln und verfügten vor Beginn der Arbeit auch über kein theoretisches Vorwissen aus dem Bereich der Translationswissenschaft. Zudem waren auch im Studienprogramm des von ihnen begonnenen Studiums weder theoretische noch praktische translatorische Veranstaltungen vorgesehen. Nach Freihoff (1998: 29f) bilden starke Erlebnisse „eine Basis für die ‚natürliche‘ Entfaltung der translatorischen Kompetenz“. Dabei stellten die aktive Teilnahme an dem betroffenen Projekt und die spätere Veröffentlichung ihrer ersten translatorischen Versuche zweifelsohne ein solches emotionsbeladenes Erlebnis für die Lubliner Studenten dar. Die Analyse einzelner Beispiele soll aufzeigen, wie die Bottom-Up-Prozesse im Rahmen der Translationsdidaktik verlaufen und zugleich beweisen, dass auch eine solche Vorgehensweise didaktisch erfolgreich sein kann.

2. Das Translationsgefüge

Bevor die gewählten Beispiele detailliert besprochen und analysiert werden, sollen die grundsätzlichen Bestandteile des untypischen Translationsgefüges, vor allem die Translatoren als indirekte Empfänger und indirekte Sender, der Ausgangstextautor sowie die Gruppe der Zieltextadressaten näher dargestellt werden.

2.1. Translatoren - Studenten

Als „Texter von Beruf“ (Holz-Mänttäri 1988) sollen sich professionelle Translatoren durch ihre spezifischen, translatorischen Eigenschaften auszeichnen, die im Vergleich zu Charakteristika anderer zweisprachiger Sprachbenutzer einen gewissen Überschuss darstellen und deren Umfang als gewisse Widerspiegelung der Entwicklung der Translationswissenschaft als Disziplin immer wieder erweitert und modifiziert wird (Nord 1988, Kautz 2000, Pöchhacker 2001, Pym 2003, Hejwowski 2004, Kelly 2005, Małgorzewicz 2012). Dabei stellt die durch sozio-kulturelle Einbettung des Ausgangstextes bedingte Rolle des Übersetzers als Kulturmittler schon für die Vertreter älterer funktionalistischer Ansätze (Reiß-Vermeer 1984, Nord 2001), umso stärker jedoch für die nach der „kulturellen Wende“ (Prunč 2007) im translationswissenschaftlichen Diskurs sehr stark präsenten Stimmen (Bachmann-Medick 2004, Hermans 2006) den zentralen Bestandteil dieses Überschusses dar. Der Translationskompetenz ist also „der Status eines spezifischen sowohl Wissens- als auch Könnensmehrwertes gegenüber der Kommunikationskompetenz einer bilingualen Person zuzubilligen“ (Grucza 2008: 41). Zwei Hauptbestandteile dieses Mehrwertes stellen dabei die praktische Translationskompetenz und die theoretische translatorische Kompetenz dar. Andererseits ist jedoch „nicht bloß jenen, die als Translatoren hervorgehoben werden, sondern im Grunde genommen allen Menschen eine bestimmte – natürliche – Translationskompetenz zuzugestehen“ (ibid.).

Wenn vor diesem Hintergrund die Projektteilnehmer und ihre Kompetenzart situiert werden sollen, so muss konstatiert werden, dass man zwar eine natürliche Kompetenz annehmen soll, doch auf dieser Ausbildungsstufe keine Rede von Bilingualismus sein kann. Alle am Projekt mitwirkenden Studenten des ersten und zweiten Studienjahres des Magisterstudiums in der Fachrichtung Germanistik haben das Studium Ersten Grades in der gleichen Fachrichtung absolviert. Im Studienprogramm beider Stufen sind keine translatorischen Fächer enthalten, doch – soweit der Autorin bekannt ist - wurden die translatorischen Inhalte, vor allem aus dem Bereich der praktischen Translationskompetenz, in einem begrenzten Umfang im Rahmen anderer Fächer realisiert, unter denen vor allem die praktische Grammatik, die rezeptiven, diskursiven oder Kompositionsübungen zu nennen sind. Es wird dementsprechend die Feststellung gewagt, dass die Translatoren im analysierten Translationsgefüge eine ‚elementare  Translationskompetenz‘ kennzeichnet, welche als Wissen, Fertigkeiten und Kompetenzen kultureller, kommunikativer, sprachlicher und psychophysischer Art verstanden werden, die nur bis zu dem Niveau entwickelt sind, das den Ausgangspunkt für die Ausbildung eigentlicher Translationskompetenz darstellt (Tymoszuk 2013: 167). Auf dieser Basis aufbauend wurde im Rahmen dieses Projektes die induktive Methode ausprobiert, in der die Bottom-Up-Prozesse aktiviert und die intuitiven translatorischen Lösungen zu Erfahrungen wurden, auf deren Grundlage an theoretische Inhalte der Translationswissenschaft gelangt werden sollte.

2.2. Der AT-Autor

Spaceman Spiff ist das Pseudonym des jungen deutschen Musikers, Sängers und Texters Hannes Wittmer. Nicht zuletzt für die erfahrenen Literaturübersetzer kann sein Schaffen eine große Herausforderung darstellen. Es zeichnet sich durch eine besondere Sensibilität aus, wodurch seine Liedtexte von manchen als die Stimme der Generation heutiger 30-jähriger betrachtet wird. Als bester Beweis dafür kann der kurze Rezensionsausschnitt des im Jahre 2014 erschienenen Albums unter dem Titel „Endlich Nichts“ dienen: „[…] und man ist sofort wieder gefangen. Von Melodie, Text und Gefühl. Und nahezu direkt werden die Augen feucht, denn da sind sie wieder, diese Sätze, diese Worte, die man so gerne selbst geschrieben hätte, andererseits auch wieder nicht, denn niemals wäre man in der Lage gewesen, diesen Texten noch diesen Unterbau zu geben, ohne den sie nicht so weit trügen.“ ([url=][/url]). Die Liedtexte von Spaceman Spiff sind eigentlich Gedichte, die die Denk- und Empfindungsweise der heutigen, vom Leben in großen Städten und ständiger Hast ermüdeten Dreißigjährigen widerspiegeln. Sie stellen eine Mischung aus Jugendslang, kulturellen Konnotationen, Metaphern und Sprachspielen dar. Alle genannten Faktoren tragen zur Tatsache bei, dass die Übersetzung seiner Texte eine große Herausforderung, nicht nur in sprachlicher, sondern auch in kultureller und emotionaler Hinsicht bildet und vom Übersetzer neben geschickter Anwendung konkreter Strategien auch eine gewisse Empfänglichkeit verlangt.

2.3. Die ZT-Adressaten

Wie oben erwähnt, wurden die Liedtexte ausschließlich für das einzige Lubliner Konzert und seine Zuschauer übersetzt und in Form einer kleinen Broschüre in hundert Exemplaren gedruckt. Vor dem Auftritt wurden die kleinen Hefte im Publikum verteilt. Während des Übersetzungsprozesses haben die Projektteilnehmer angenommen, dass nur ein Teil der Zuhörerschaft entweder Deutschlerner oder Germanistikstudenten oder in irgendeiner anderen – sei es haupt- oder nebenberuflichen – Weise mit der deutschen Sprache verbunden sein könnten. Nur den wenigen könnte das Schaffen des alternativen Künstlers bekannt sein. Nicht auszuschließen war dagegen, dass auch andere Teilnehmer der Lubliner „Nacht der Kultur“ bei dieser Gelegenheit zufällig zum Konzertpublikum gehören würden. Bei der Arbeit an den Übersetzungen setzten sich daher die Studenten zum Ziel, Translate zu schaffen, die folgende Kriterien erfüllen würden:

  • Sie sind für die Gruppe Zwanzig- und Dreißigjähriger, d.h. das potentielle Publikum von Spaceman Spiff in Polen ansprechend und zugänglich.
  • Sie ertragen die Prüfung schriftlicher Fixierung, doch
  • sind auch als Ergebnisse der Workshop-Arbeit unprofessioneller Translatoren in spe erkennbar? 

3. Probleme und Strategien

Bei der Übersetzung von acht Liedtexten wurde die Arbeit folgendermaßen organisiert: Ausgangspunkt stellte die individuelle oder paarweise Arbeit an einem gewählten Text dar, wobei jeder Projektteilnehmer sich auch mit allen übrigen Texten auseinandersetzen sollte. Anschließend wurde in einer Reihe von Sitzungen mit der gesamten Gruppe, über Probleme, gewählte Lösungen und vorgeschlagene Änderungen diskutiert. In besonderen Zweifelsfällen wurden auch erfahrene, professionelle Translatoren sowie die im Institut angestellten deutschen DAAD-Lektoren als Muttersprachler um ihre Unterstützung gebeten. Anzumerken ist, dass das letzte Wort immer dem Hauptübersetzer, d.h. dem für den jeweiligen Text von Anfang an verantwortlichen Studenten, gehörte.

Die zahlreichen im Rahmen des ganzen Projektes zu bewältigenden Übersetzungsprobleme waren recht unterschiedlicher Art. In dem vorliegenden Aufsatz sollen jedoch nur zwei Aspekte samt den zu ihrer Lösung gefundenen Strategien unter die Lupe genommen werden – die Unübersetzbarkeit und die Metaphorizität.

3.1. Unübersetzbarkeit

Die Unübersetzbarkeit – das erste in diesem Beitrag thematisierte Phänomen – gehört zu fundamentalen Fragen der Translationstheorie und –praxis. Nicht zu bestreiten ist, dass „unübersetzbar nicht die Wörter, sondern die behavioristische, sensorische Realität eines Menschen als Wiederspiegelung der Mentalität einer bestimmten Gemeinschaft sein mag“ [3] (Lebiedziński 1981:117). Dementsprechend kann man definitiv das gesamte Spektrum von Konnotationen einstufen, die im nachstehenden Fragment des Songtextes ‚Egal‘ mit dem Wort ‚Altbau‘ verbunden sind. Der ganze Vers soll das Zögern und den inneren Konflikt des Autors angesichts zweier Alternativen veranschaulichen, die durch eine Reihe von – in beiden Sprachgemeinschaften konventionalisierten - intertextuellen Bezügen ausgedrückt werden. ‚Peter Pan‘ und ‚Nimmerland‘ rufen beim Leser Assoziationen mit Leichtsinn und Sorglosigkeit hervor, die in der letzten Zeile semantisch um den Zustand des Wahnsinns oder Verlustes des klaren Denkens – ‚wahn‘ – erweitert werden. Gegensätzliche Gedankenverknüpfungen rufen dagegen in beiden Sprachen der Name Immanuel Kant und sein rationales, vernünftiges oder nüchternes Denken hervor.


ich weiß

dass ich immer die wahl hab.

zwischen kant und peter pan

zwischen altbau und nimmerland

zwischen nüchternheit und wahn[4]



że zawsze mam wybór

między kantem a piotrusiem panem

miedzy szeregowcem a nibylandią

miedzy trzeźwością a szałem

Als unübersetzbar hat sich jedoch in diesem Kontext das Wort ‚Altbau‘, oder eher die an dieser Stelle davon aktivierte Reihe an Konnotationen erwiesen. Für junge, vor allem in Großstädten wohnhafte Deutsche, stellen nämlich Wohnungen in restaurierten alten Mietshäusern Synonyme für einen bürgerlichen, geordneten, leichten und snobistischen Lebensstil dar. In der polnischen Realität wird so eine Denkweise noch relativ selten vertreten. Nach der Auffassung der Mehrheit polnischer dreißigjähriger Bürger bewohnen Repräsentanten der niedrigsten sozialen Schicht immer noch Wohnungen in alten Mietshäusern. In diesem Fall ist die Unübersetzbarkeit vor allem durch abweichende kulturelle, historisch und wirtschaftshistorisch bedingte Denkweisen verursacht (Krysztofiak 1996:79). Mit diesem Problem konfrontiert, haben sich die Studenten intuitiv für die Verwendung eines Begriffes entschieden, der bei Zieltextadressaten ähnliche Konnotationen wie das Wort Altbau im Original hervorruft und wählten ‚szeregowiec‘ (dt.: Reihenhaus) aus.  Auf diese Weise haben sie nicht nur die optimale Lösung für die Übersetzung eines scheinbar unübersetzbaren Fragmentes gefunden, sondern auch selbständig die translatorische Technik – Verwendung des funktionalen Äquivalentes im Sinne von Nida (1969) – erarbeitet, worüber sie erst anschließend informiert wurden.

Ein weiteres Beispiel für Unübersetzbarkeit, dem die Studenten die Stirn bieten mussten, ist zweifach kulturell bedingt. Erstens ergibt sich diese aus dem Nichtvorhandensein „in der Zielkultur eines Realitätsausschnitts, auf das uns der Begriff oder das Wort in der Quellensprache verweist“ (Pisarska, Tomaszkiewicz 1996: 127). Zweitens ist sie historisch bedingt. Gemeint sind hier ‚die roten Ampelmännchen‘ im Text des Liedes ‚Strassen‘. Der Begriff ‚Ampelmännchen‘ funktioniert im Deutschen hauptsächlich als Eigenname und steht für die an Verkehrsampeln befindliche Figur mit Hut, die in der DDR zur Zeit der Deutschen Teilung von Karl Peglau entworfen wurde. In den Nachwendejahren wurde das Ost-Ampelmännchen zur Kultfigur und einem der Symbole der sogenannten Ostalgie, vor allem aber zum Wahrzeichen Berlins. Zwar gibt es auch in anderen europäischen Städten zahlreiche bekannte Bilder, doch die Bezeichnung Ampelmännchen ruft bei allen Deutschen nur eine, in anderen Kulturen nicht existierende Assoziation hervor. Angesichts festgestellter Unübersetzbarkeit entschieden sich die Projektteilnehmer für die Strategie des anerkannten Äquivalents und wählten in der Zielsprache die Phrase ‚czerwone światło‘ (dt.: rote Ampel), wobei sie sich des ziemlich relevanten Verlustes in der konnotativen Schicht, einer Art Kompression, bewusst waren.


ich allein gegen all die roten ampelmännchen


ja sam przeciw wszystkim czerwonym światłom

Im Text eines weiteren Liedes mussten schon bei dem Titel Translationsprobleme festgestellt werden, die durch Unübersetzbarkeit bedingt sind. ‚Mind the gap‘ ist die englische Version der im Londoner Underground ständig wiederholten Durchsage, die für die meisten jungen Deutschen auf Anhieb erkennbar ist, aber von den polnischen Studenten nicht sofort korrekt identifiziert wurde. Die bei polnischen Sprachbenutzern festgestellte, historisch und geopolitisch bedingte Unerkennbarkeit der Durchsage war das Argument gegen die Beibehaltung der englischen Version des Titels. Um das Risiko zu vermeiden, dass die vom Autor angenommenen Konnotationen bei den polnischen Adressaten verlorengehen, haben sich die Projektteilnehmer für eine zusätzliche Erklärung in Klammern entschieden[6] und damit, wiederum intuitiv, die als Reproduktion mit Erklärung bezeichnete Strategie angewandt. Nach Hejwowski (2004:76) ist zwar die Reproduktion mit Erklärung eine sicherere Technik als die Reproduktion ohne Erklärung, da sie dem ZT-Adressaten die Rekonstruktion von entsprechenden Schemata, Scenarios oder Scripts ermöglicht. Doch – vor allem beim literarischen Übersetzen – bringt sie auch wesentliche Gefahren mit sich. Erstens stellt das Lesen einer Erklärung ein gewisses Minus gegenüber dem selbständigen Verstehen dar und verlangt von dem ZT-Empfänger keine intellektuelle Anstrengung, die doch das ganze Vergnügen beim Lesen literarischer Texte ausmacht. Zweitens soll der Translator immer darauf achten, dass die Erklärung nicht zu lang wird und als „Paratext“ den eigentlichen Text dominiert.


mind the gap


mind the gap

(proszę odsunąć się od krawędzi peronu)

Im gleichen Text führt Spaceman Spiff noch eine Botschaft an, diesmal charakteristisch für die deutsche Untergrundbahn: ‚ausstieg in fahrtrichtung links‘. Aufgrund schon erworbener translatorischer Erfahrungen waren sich die Projektteilnehmer in diesem Fall teilweise der Translationstechniken bewusst, die einem kompetenten Translator zur Verfügung stehen. Desweitern waren sie imstande, die Fehlerhaftigkeit einer wortwörtlichen Übersetzung solcher Aussagen vorauszuahnen. Deshalb entschieden sie sich gemeinsam für den originalen polnischen Satz aus der Metro Warschau, der als funktionales Äquivalent eingesetzt wird: ‚drzwi otwierają się z lewej strony‘ (dt. die Tür öffnet sich links).

Als teilweise unübersetzbar musste in dem gleichen Text auch der folgende Vers eingestuft werden:


und die u-bahn kommt

alle paar minuten         

und die u-bahn hält

was sie verspricht


a metro nadjeżdża

co kilka minut

a metro zawsze staje

i dotrzymuje słowa

Die Ursache der Unübersetzbarkeit stellt hier das auf der Mehrdeutigkeit des deutschen Verbs ‚halten‘ basierende Sprachspiel des Textautors dar. Anfänglich scheint dieses in seiner intransitiven Version mit der Bedeutung ‚anhalten‘, ‚Halt machen‘ verwendet zu werden, was übrigens die Anknüpfung an die im ganzen Text präsenten, mit öffentlichem Verkehr verbundenen Konnotationen darstellte. Erst der Akkusativsatz in der letzten Zeile lässt die zweite Bedeutung des Verbs ‚halten‘ erscheinen, die seine transitive, einwertige Version trägt, und zwar ‚einhalten‘. Eine derart schwierige translatorische Herausforderung erwies sich für die studentische Gruppe als nicht zu meistern. Die Projektteilnehmer mussten diesmal den Verlust des meisterhaften Sprachspiels in Kauf nehmen und entschieden sich für die quantitative Expansion des Zieltextes durch Verwendung zweier unterschiedlicher polnischer Verben für die beiden Bedeutungsvarianten des Verbs ‚halten‘: ‚stawać‘ (dt. einhalten) und ‚dotrzymywać słowa‘ (dt. das Wort halten).

3.2. Metaphern

Neben der Unübersetzbarkeit stellte die Metaphorizität der Texte von Spacemann Spiff nicht selten eine translatorische Herausforderung dar. In den meisten Fällen haben die Übersetzer in spe sie ohne größere Probleme gemeistert, was das folgende Beispiel der Übersetzung des Textes ‚Milchglas‘ zeigt:


und durch diesen kopf pocht

nur der rest einer idee


a w tej głowie kołacze

już tylko resztka jakiegoś pomysłu

Die Studenten haben in dem oben angeführten Fragment fehlerlos die durch das Verb ‚pochen‘ aktivierte Metapher des Herzens identifiziert und im Zieltext eine analogische Metapher durch die Verwendung des Verbs ‚kołatać‘ (dt. pochen/ klopfen) geschaffen. Damit gelang es, den zielsprachigen Textrezipienten die sowohl in diesem Fragment, als auch in vielen anderen Texten von Spaceman Spiff spürbare Gegenüberstellung von Vernunft (hier symbolisiert durch ‚Kopf‘) und Leichtsinn (Metapher des Herzens) zu übermitteln.

Im Lied ‚Egal‘ bedient sich der Autor einer typischen ontologischen Behältermetapher im Sinne von Lakoff und Johnson (1980), indem er in Bezug auf die Musik das Verb ‚verschwinden‘ benutzt. Auch hier haben die Studenten korrekt die bildhafte Auffassung der Musik als Raum, in den man sich zurückziehen kann, erkannt. Diesmal haben sie jedoch eine Art Überinterpretation gewagt und im Zieltext das Verb ‚skryć się‘ (dt. ‚sich verstecken‘) verwendet, wodurch die Metapher um eine zusätzliche Ursprungsdomäne, und zwar ‚Zuflucht‘ erweitert wurde:


nimm deine tanzschuhe mit                  

wir verschwinden in musik


weź swe buty do tańca

i skryjemy się w muzykę          

Grundsätzlich sollte so eine Lösung als fehlerhaft beurteilt werden, doch angesichts des Workshop-Charakters des Übersetzungsprojektes wurde die vorgeschlagene Zieltextversion als Beispiel einer Translationstechnik der semantischen Expansion behalten, die man nie isoliert, sondern immer in Bezug auf die Spezifik des jeweiligen Translationsgefüges und die kontextuellen Faktoren beurteilen sollte. Erst vor so einem Hintergrund kann man sie nämlich entweder als translatorische Strategie oder als Translationsfehler ansehen.

Zur semantischen Expansion und Entstehung einer im Original nicht existierenden Metapher führte eine andere riskante translatorische Lösung, die beim Übersetzen des Textes ‚Milchglas‘ gefunden wurde:


ich war immer bergsteiger

doch dieses land ist scheisse eben


zawsze byłem alpinistą

lecz ten kraj jest cholernie płytki

Die Phrase ‚scheisse eben' wurde als ‚cholernie płytki‘ übersetzt. Das Adjektiv ‚flach‘ im Ausgangstext wird in seiner Bedeutung als ‚flach‘ / ‚glatt‘ in Bezug auf die Landschaft gebraucht. Die an diesem Text arbeitenden Studenten interpretierten allerdings den ganzen Vers als Metapher, in der die Ursprungsdomäne Alpinismus auf die Vielschichtigkeit und Komplexität von menschlichen Emotionen und Werten projiziert wird. Deswegen entschieden sie sich für das Adjektiv ‚płytki‘, dessen zweifache Bedeutung als ‚nicht tief‘ und ‚oberflächlich‘ zwar zur semantischen Verschiebung im Zieltext führt, doch zugleich die im Ausgangstext nur leicht spürbare Metapher im Zieltext viel deutlicher zum Ausdruck kommen lässt. Trotz seiner Umstrittenheit bat das präsentierte Beispiel eine gute Gelegenheit zur didaktischen Diskussion über eine weitere, recht bedeutende translatorische Strategie, der sich ein Übersetzer in Zweifelsfällen bedienen kann[7] und zwar die Besprechung eigener Interpretation mit dem Textautor.

Über die zentrale Bedeutung des Translators vor dem Hintergrund eines jeden Translationsgefüges wurden die Projektteilnehmer unter anderem bei der Übersetzung des Textes ‚Wände‘ aufgeklärt. In seinem Modell des Translationsgefüges definiert F. Grucza den Translator als den indirekten Empfänger und zugleich den indirekten Sender. Für den Verlauf des Translationsprozesses sind dabei all seine Person konstituierenden Faktoren und Kompetenzen, auch nicht zuletzt sein Alter, ausschlaggebend. In dem unten präsentierten Fall war eben dieser Faktor für die Wahl der besten translatorischen Lösung beim Übersetzen metaphorischer und konventionalisierter Wendung ‚zu Brei schlagen‘ entscheidend.


ein gebrochener wille

schlägt dich zu brei


złamana wola

załatwi cię na fest

Die als Berater an dem Projekt beteiligten professionellen Übersetzer neigten bei der Wahl des besten Äquivalentes für die Phrase ‚zu Brei schlagen‘ zu ähnlich konventionalisierten und vergleichbare Konnotationen aktivierenden Wendungen: ‚zetrzeć na miazgę‘ (dt. aus jmdm. Hackfleisch machen) oder ‚zbić na kwaśne jabłko‘ (dt. jmdn. windelweich schlagen). In Anbetracht der angenommenen Zieltextadressatengruppe wählten die Studenten allerdings ein funktionales Äquivalent, und zwar ‚załatwić na fest‘ (dt. ‚völlig und endgültig erledigen‘). Es führte zwar zum Verl