User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all

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


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

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

©inTRAlinea & Irene Tor-Carroggio & Pilar Orero (2019).
"User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.

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1. Introduction

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

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

1.1. Models of disability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The Capabilities Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Applying the Capabilities Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Conclusions

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

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


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


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[2] See [url=][/url] [retrieved 08/04/2018]

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About the author(s)

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

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

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

©inTRAlinea & Irene Tor-Carroggio & Pilar Orero (2019).
"User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all", inTRAlinea Vol. 21.

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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.

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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

©inTRAlinea & Waleed Othman & Dima Al Qutob (2022).
"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.


Al-Batal, Mahmoud (1985) The Cohesive Role of Connectives in a Modern Expository Arabic Text, PhD diss., University of Michigan, USA.

Al Kohlani, Fatima (2010) The Function of Discourse Markers in Arabic Newspaper Opinion Articles, PhD diss., Georgetown University, UK.

Aziz, Khalil (1989) A contrastive grammar of English and Arabic, Mosul, University of Mosul Press.

Bazzi, Samia (2009). Arab news and conflict: A multidisciplinary discourse study (Vol. 34), Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins Publishing.

Cantarino, Vicente (1975) Syntax of Modern Arabic Prose: The Compound Sentence, London, Indiana University Press.

Dendenne, Boudjemaa (2010) The Translation of Arabic Conjunctions into English and the Contribution of the Punctuation Marks in the Target Language: The Case of Wa, Fa and Thumma in Modern Standard Arabic, PhD diss., Mentouri University, Algeria.

Dickens, James (2010) “Junction in English and Arabic: Syntactic, Discoursal and Denotative Features”, Journal of Pragmatics 42, no. 4: 1076–1136.

Dickens, James (2017) “The Pervasiveness of Coordination in Arabic, with reference to Arabic–English translation”, Languages in Contrast 17, no. 2: 229–54.

El-Shiyab, Said (1990) The structure of Argumentation in Arabic: Editorials as a Case Study, PhD diss., Heriot-Watt University, UK.

Fareh, Shehdeh (1998) “The Functions of ‘and’ and ‘wa’ in English and Arabic Written Discourse”, Papers and Studies in Contrastive Linguistics 34:303–12.

Fareh, Shehdeh (2006) “Some Textual Problems in Translating Arabic into English”, Turjaman 15, no. 2: 89–105.

Farghal, Mohammed (2017) “Textual issues relating to cohesion and coherence in Arabic/English translation“, Jordan Journal of Modern Languages and Literature, 9 no. 1: 29–50.

Fattah, Ashraf Abdul (2010) A corpus-based Study of Conjunctive Explicitation in Arabic Translated and Non-translated Texts Written by the Same Translators/Authors, PhD diss., University of Manchester, UK.

Halliday, Michael (2008) Complementarities in Language, Beijing, The Commercial Press.

Halliday, Michael (2009). “Methods-techniques-problems” in Continuum Companion to Systemic Functional Linguistics, Michael Halliday and Jonathan Webster (eds.), London, Continuum International Publishing: 59–86.

Halliday, Michael & Christian Matthiessen (2014) Halliday’s Introduction to Functional Grammar, London, Routledge.

Hamdan, Jihad & Shehdeh Fareh (1999) “The Translation of Arabic Wa into English: Some Problems and Implications”, Dirasat, Human and Social Sciences 26, no. 2:590–601.

Hansen-Schirra, Silvia (2003) The nature of translated text – An interdisciplinary methodology, PhD diss., Saarland University, Germany.

Hassan, Aboudi (2015) "Translating Arabic verb repetition into English", Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) 6, no. 2:144-53.

Hasan, Ruqaiya (2009) “The Place of Context in a Systemic Functional Model” in Continuum Companion to Systemic Functional Linguistics, Michael Halliday and Jonathan Webster (eds.), London, Continuum International Publishing: 166–89.

Hatim, Basil (1997) Communication Across Cultures: Translation Theory and Contrastive Text Linguistics, Exeter, University of Exeter Press.

Holes, Clive (2004) Modern Arabic: Structures, Functions and Varieties, 2nd edn., Washington DC, Georgetown University Press.

Johnstone, Barbara (1991) Repetition in Arabic discourse: Paradigms, Syntagms, and the Ecology of Language, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, J. Benjamins Pub.

Kammensjö, Helene (2011) “Connectives” in Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, Volume 1, Kees Versteegh, Mushira Eid, Alaa Elgibali, Manfred Woidich, and Andrzej Zaborski (eds.), Leiden, Koninklijke Brill NV: 470–77.

Khafaji, Rasoul (2001) “Punctuation Marks in Original Arabic Texts”, Zeitschrift für Arabische Linguitik 40:7–24.

Matthiessen, Christian (2015) “Halliday’s conception of language as a probabilistic system“ in The Bloomsbury companion to M.A.K. Halliday, Jonathan J. Webster (ed.), London, New Delhi, New York and Sydney, Bloomsbury: 137–202.

Othman, Waleed (2004) “Subordination and Coordination in English-Arabic Translation“,Al-Basaer, 8 no. 2: 12-33.

Othman, Waleed (2019) An SFL-based model for investigating explicitation-related phenomena in Translation: Two case studies of English-Arabic translation, PhD diss., University of Birmingham, UK.

Reid, Joy (1992) “A Computer Text Analysis of Four Cohesion Devices in English Discourse by Native and Nonnative Writers”, Journal of Second Language Writing 1, no. 2:79–107.

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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.


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[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.

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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.


Abellán, Manuel (1980) Censura y creación literaria en España (1939-1976), Madrid, Península.

---- (1982) “Censura y autocensura en la producción literaria española”, Nuevo Hispanismo 1: 169–80.

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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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Dewey, John (1938) Experience and Education, New York, The Macmillan Company.

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Englund Dimitrova, Birgitta (2005) Expertise and Explicitation in the Translation Process, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, John Benjamins.

Eyler Janet, Giles Dwight (1999) Where’s the Learning in Service-Learning, San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Fiorin, Italo (2016) Oltre l’aula. La proposta pedagogica del Service Learning, Milano, Mondadori Università.

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Galán Mañas, Anabel (2009) La enseñanza de la traducción en la modalidad semipresencial, Tesi di dottorato, direzione di A. Hurtado Albir, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Departament de Traducció i d'Interpretació, URL: [url=][/url] (visitato il 15 aprile 2021).

Gile, Daniel (2009) Basic Concepts and Models for Interpreter and Translator Training, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, John Benjamins.

González Davies, Maria (2005) "Minding the process, improving the product. Alternatives to traditional translator training", in Training for the New Millennium: Pedagogies for Translation and Interpreting, M. Tennent, (ed), Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 67–81.

González Davies, Maria (2004) Multiple Voices in the Translation Classroom: Activities, Tasks and Projects, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, John Benjamins.

Göpferich, Susanne (2009) "Towards a Model of Translation Competence and its Acquisition: the Longitudinal Study TransComp" in Behind the Mind: Methods. Models and Results in Translation Process Research, in Susanne Göpferich, Arnt L. Jakobsen and Inger M. Mees (eds), Copenhagen, Samfundslitteratur Press. 11–37.

Gouadec, Daniel (2005) “Pédagogie par projets - Le modèle rennais” in Actes du colloque international "Traduction et technologie(s) en pratique professionnelle en formation et en applications de formation à distance, Daniel Gouadec (ed), Paris, La Maison du Dictionnaire, 33-50.

Guarino, Antonella, Cinzia Albanesi, Bruna Zani and Christian Compare (2019) “Quality of Participation in Service-Learning Projects”, Psicologia di Comunità, 1, no. 8: 90-110.

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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.

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

©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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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.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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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.
Stable URL:

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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Wang, Jihong (2016) “The relationship between working memory capacity and simultaneous interpreting performance: a mixed methods study on professional Auslan/English interpreters”, International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting 18, no. 1: 1-33.

Yenkimaleki, Mahmood, and Vincent J. van Heuven (2017) “The effect of memory training on consecutive interpreting performance by interpreter trainees: An experimental study”, FORUM. Revue internationale d’interprétation et de traduction/International Journal of Interpretation and Translation 15, no. 1: 157-172.

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.

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

©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.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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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 Verlust gewisser, im Ausgangstext präsenter Bezüge, doch für das junge Publikum, dessen Sprache doch – wie schon erwähnt – Spaceman Spiff spricht und singt, klingt die gewählte Zieltextversion viel vertrauter.

Das letzte hier aufgeführte Beispiel betrifft die Strategie der Kompensation, die vor allem im Bereich der literarischen Übersetzung eine mit großer Regelmäßigkeit angewandte Methode darstellt und die nach Kloepfer (1976: 167) schlicht als ‚versetztes Äquivalent‘ oder nach Lukszyn (1993) präziser als die „dem Weglassen gegensätzliche Translationstechnik, bei der ein beim Übersetzen eines Textfragments entstandener Verlust an einer anderen Textstelle ausgeglichen wird“ zu verstehen ist. Die Gelegenheit für eine Besprechung und eine nähere Analyse dieser Strategie ergab sich beim Übersetzen des folgenden Fragments des Textes ‚Wände‘:


deine augen sprechen bände

deine narben ein bücherregal


twoje oczy mówią wszystko

twoje blizny piszą księgi

Beim Übersetzen der ersten Zeile wurde der Phraseologismus ‚Bände sprechen‘ verloren, für den im Zieltext eine nicht idiomatische Phrase ‚mówić wszystko‘ (dt. ‚alles sagen‘) gewählt wurde. Im Rahmen der didaktischen Diskussion sind die Projektteilnehmer zu dem Schluss gekommen, dass ein – vor allem literarischer – Text in seiner Ganzheit als Träger von bestimmten Bezügen oder Konnotationen zu betrachten ist und falls ihre Wiedergabe an einer konkreten Stelle des Zieltextes nicht möglich ist, soll ein dem AT-Autor loyaler Übersetzer (Nord 2004) die an dieser Stelle verlorene Botschaft in einem anderen Textabschnitt gewissermaßen auszugleichen versuchen. Auf diese Weisen haben sie ihr translatorisches Wissen und Können um eine neue Strategie bereichert und den Verlust schon in der zweiten Zeile mit der polnischen Metapher ‚pisać księgi‘ (dt. ‚Bände schreiben‘) kompensiert.

4. Schlussbemerkungen

Die charakterisierte Fallstudie und ihre Ergebnisse sollen exemplarisch Einblick in ähnliche am Lehrstuhl für Germanistik der UMCS in Lublin realisierte studentische Projekte gewähren, deren ausführliche Schilderung den Rahmen des vorliegenden Textes sprengen und seine Struktur wesentlich ändern würde. Sie erheben auch keinen Anspruch auf Innovation, doch die Tatsache, dass das Projekt an sehr frischem und an die jüngste Generation gerichtetem Sprachmaterial durchgeführt wurde, trägt zweifelsohne zur Bereicherung des aktuellen translatorischen Wissensstandes um neues empirisches Material bei, sowohl bezüglich der Denk- und Ausdrucksweisen der Generation Z als auch des tatsächlichen Standes von Translationsdidaktik weltweit.

Die kleine Studentengruppe hat dank des Engagements an dem Projekt zahlreiche Erfahrungen und Impulse für die weitere Bildung, sowohl im translatorischen als auch im kulturellen Ausmaß gesammelt. Für diese von ihnen, die weiter den Weg zum Erwerben einer translatorischen Kompetenz im Rahmen universitärer Bildung einschlagen möchten, können die aufgetretenen Probleme als erste Wegweiser und die gewählten Lösungen als erste Schritte auf diesem Weg betrachtet werden. Durch  die gemeinsame Lösung dieser Schwierigkeiten konnten sie das Bewusstsein über die enorme Komplexität translatorischer Kompetenz entwickeln, deren unabdingbares Element neben sprachlichen Fähigkeiten und translationswissenschaftlichen Metawissen auch oder vor allem die kulturelle Kompetenz, verstanden als Wahrnehmung, Schätzung und Zusammenbringen dieser Kulturen darstellt. Die übrigen Projektteilnehmer, die von angetroffenen Schwierigkeiten eher abgeschreckt als inspiriert wurden, mussten zugeben, dass die gemeinsame Arbeit eine wesentliche Erweiterung ihres Allgemein-, Kultur- und Fachwissens mit sich brachte. Alle Studenten haben ebenfalls einstimmig betont, dass sie die Erfahrungen, literarische Texte zu übersetzen, für literarische, vor allem dichterische Werke in großem Maße sensibilisierte und dass sich ihre Rezeption lyrischer Texte nie mehr nur auf die Oberfläche der Wörter beschränken wird. Nicht zu vergessen ist ferner die Übung in der Teamarbeit und ihre Bedeutung für das weitere studentische und insbesondere berufliche Leben.  Die Zusammenarbeit in einer Gruppe entwickelte bei den Projektteilnehmern erstens die Fähigkeit, die bevorstehenden Aufgaben sinnvoll zu verteilen, danach über die Resultate eigener Arbeit im Plenum zu diskutieren und anschließend eine gemeinsame Lösung zu finden, was jedoch die individuelle Verantwortung nicht ausschloss. Der für einen Text verantwortliche Student musste imstande sein, seine Vorschläge vor der Gruppe zu begründen und unter Berücksichtigung der Kommentare anderer Projektteilnehmer eine endgültige Entscheidung zu treffen. Unter der Übersetzung des abgegebenen Textes stand doch letztendlich sein Name.

Die Betreuung des Projektes erwies sich auch als sehr lehrreich im translationsdidaktischen Bereich. Die am Anfang dieses Beitrags gestellte Frage nach der Wirksamkeit, der einigermaßen aufgezwungenen, Bottom-Up-Methode kann positiv beantwortet werden. Selbstverständlich sind dabei Eingriffe des Lehrers auf dem Weg zu einer intuitiver Lösung aufgetretener translatorischer Probleme erforderlich gewesen, sei es auch nur für die Bestätigung der Korrektheit getroffener Entscheidungen, vor allem jedoch, um den praktischen Erfahrungen einen theoretischen Unterbau und Hintergrund zu verleihen und so zum weiteren Ergründen translationstheoretischer Fragen zu veranlassen.

Wenn es um die Ergebnisse des Vorhabens selbst geht, so muss an dieser Stelle auch den Beratern, den professionellen Übersetzern und den Muttersprachlern gedankt werden, deren wertvolle Unterstützung die Projektarbeit wesentlich erleichterte und beschleunigte. Wie schon erwähnt, haben allerdings die Studenten nicht alle vorgeschlagenen Änderungen berücksichtigt, doch offensichtliche Fehler konnten durch diese Hilfe vermieden werden. Außerdem wurden manche, nicht immer ganz gelungene, translatorische Lösungen beibehalten, so dass die veröffentlichte Broschüre als eine Art Beleg des Workshop-Charakters und zugleich Grundlage für weitere Diskussionen dienen kann.


Bachmann-Medick, Doris (2004) „Von der Poetik und Rhetorik des Fremden zur Kulturgeschichte und Kulturtheorie des Übersetzens“ in Die literarische Übersetzung in Deutschland. Studien zu ihrer Kulturgeschichte in der Neuzeit, Armin Paul Frank, Horst Turk (eds) Berlin, Erich Schmidt Verlag.

Freihoff, Roland (1998) „Curriculare Modelle“ in Handbuch Translation, Mary Snell-Hornby, Hans G. Hönig, Paul Kußmaul. Peter A. Schmitt (eds) Tübingen: Stauffenburg Verlag: 26-31.

Grucza, Franciszek (1993) „Interkulturelle Translationskompetenz: ihre Struktur und Natur“  in Übersetzen, verstehen, Brücken bauen. Geisteswissenschaftliches und literarisches Übersetzen im internationalen Kulturaustausch, Armin Paul Frank, Kurt-Jürgen Maaß,  Fritz Paul, Horst Turk (eds) Berlin, Erich Schmidt Verlag.

---- (1998) „Wyodrębnienie się, stan aktualny i perspektywy świata translacji oraz translatoryki”,  Lingua legis, no. 6: 2-12.

---- (2008) „Germanistische Translatorik – ihr Gegenstand und ihre Aufgaben“ in Translatorik in Forschung und Lehre der Germanistik, Franciszek Grucza (ed) Warszawa, Euro-Edukacja.

Hejwowski, Krzysztof (2004) Kognitywno-komunikacyjna teoria przekładu, Warszawa, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Hermans, Theo (2006) Translating Others. Vol.1, Manchester, UK & Kinderhooh, USA, St. Jerome.

Holz-Mänttäri, Justa (1988) „Texter von Beruf”, TEXTconTEXT, 3, 3/4: 153-173.

Kautz, Ulrich (2000) Handbuch Didaktik des Übersetzens und Dolmetschens, München, Iudicum/Goethe-Institut.

Kelly, Dorothy (2005) A Handbook for Translator Trainers, Manchester, Routledge.

Kiraly, Donald C. (1995) Pathways to Translation. Pedagogy and Process. Kent/London, The Kent.

Kloepfer, Rolf (1976) Die Theorie der literarischen Übersetzung, München, Wilhelm Fink.

Krysztofiak, Maria (1996) Przekład literacki we współczesnej translatoryce, Poznań, Wydawnictwo Naukowe UAM.

Kußmaul, Paul (1995) Training the translator. Amsterdam, Benjamins.

Lakoff, George, and Johnson, Mark (1980) Metaphors we live by, Chicago/London, The University of Chicago Press.

Lebiedziński, Henryk (1981) Elementy przekładoznawstwa ogólnego, Warszawa, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Lukszyn, Jurij (1993) Tezaurus terminologii translatorycznej, Warszawa, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Małgorzewicz, Anna (2012) Die Kompetenzen des Translators aus kognitiver und translationsdidaktischer Sicht. Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego.

Nord, Christiane (1988) Textanalyse und Übersetzen. Theoretische Grundlagen, Methode und didaktische Anwendung einer übersetzungsrelevanten Textanalyse, Heidelberg, Groos.

---- (2004) „Loyalität als ethisches Verhalten im Translationsprozess” in Und sie bewegt sich doch… Translationswissenschaft in Ost und West. Festschrift für Heidemarie Salevsky zum 60. Geburtstag, Ina Müller (ed) New York/Oxford/Wien, Peter Lang, 235-245.

Pisarska, Alicja, and Tomaszkiewicz, Teresa (1996) Współczesne tendencje przekładoznawcze, Poznań, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Pöchhacker, Franz (2001) ”Dolmetschen und translatorische Kompetenz“ in Dolmetschen: Beiträge aus Forschung, Lehre und Praxis, Andreas F. Kelletat (ed), Frankfurt, Peter Lang, 19-37.

Prunč, Erich (2007) Entwicklungslinien der Translationswissenschaft. Berlin, Frank & Timme.

Pym, Anthony (2003) “Redefining Translation Competence in an Electronic Age: In Defence of a Minimalist Approach”, in Meta: Translators’ Journal vol. 48, no. 4: 481-497. 

Reiß, Katharina, and Vermeer, Hans J. (1984) Grundlegung einer allgemeinen Translationstheorie. Tübingen, Niemeyer.

Tymoszuk, Katarzyna (2013) ”Dydaktyka translacji na studiach filologicznych pierwszego stopnia w obliczu Krajowych Ram Kwalifikacji” in Rozwijanie wiedzy, umiejętności i postaw w kształceniu neofilologicznym – nowe wyzwania, Halina Chodkiewicz and RomanLewicki, Roman (eds), Biała Podlaska, Wydawnictwo PSW JPII.

Waard, Jan de and Nida, Eugene A. (1986) From one Language to another. Functional Equivalence in Bible Translating. Nashville, Camden, New York, Thomas Nelson.

Internetquellen [31.08.2018] [31.08.2018]

Andere Quellen

DIN Deutsches Institut für Normung e.V.: DIN 69901:2009 Projektmanagement – Projektmanagementsysteme, Berlin.

DIN 69901-1: DIN 69901-1:2009-01 Projektmanagement – Projektmanagementsysteme – Teil 1: Grundlagen. DIN Deutsches Institut für Normung e. V. 2009.


[1] Nach der DIN 69901 sind Projekte Vorhaben, „die im Wesentlichen durch Einmaligkeit der Bedingungen in ihrer Gesamtheit gekennzeichnet sind, wie z. B. Zielvorgabe, zeitliche, personelle oder andere Begrenzungen, Abgrenzung gegenüber anderen Vorhaben und eine projektspezifische Organisation.“ (DIN 2009, S. 155).

[2] Die präzisere Definition und die tiefere Differenzierung der Kompetenz des Translators sind v.a. den Arbeiten von F. Grucza (Grucza, Inerkulturelle, 1993; Grucza, Germanistische, 2008) zu entnehmen.

[3] Alle Zitate wurden von der Autorin des vorliegenden Artikels übersetzt.

[4] In allen zitierten Textfragmenten wird die originelle Schreibweise (Verzicht auf Großschreibung und Interpunktionszeichen) beibehalten.

[5] Die im gesamten Beitrag verwendeten Abkürzungen AT und ZT beziehen sich entsprechend auf: Ausgangstext und Zieltext.

[6] Der Text in Klammern stellt die wortwörtliche Version der Ansage in der polnischen U-Bahn dar ([url=][/url]).

[7] Über die zeitlichen, räumlichen oder auch persönlichen Einschränkungen dieser Strategie wurden die Studenten selbstverständlich in Kenntnis gesetzt.

About the author(s)

Katarzyna Barbara Tymoszuk is Assistant Professor at the Department of German at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University (UMCS) in Lublin, Poland, where she conducts courses in the language of business, specialised languages and translation. She completed postgraduate studies for conference interpreters at the Chair for Translation Studies of Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Her PhD dissertation focused on the processes of source text expansion and compression in simultaneous interpreting. In addition, since 2005 she has worked as a certified translator in German and Polish. Her research interests include simultaneous interpreting, translator training and translation of comic books.

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

©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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La letteratura italiana attraverso i modelli di ricezione nella cultura slovacca prima e dopo il 1989

By Ivan Susa (University of Bologna, Italy)

Abstract & Keywords


The article considers the translation and reception of Italian literature in Slovak before and after the year 1989. The purpose is to introduce a new perspective on the evolution of Italian literature in Slovak, starting from the ideologically determined translations before 1989  to those after 1989 which were no longer influenced by ideology or an authoritarian state, but by editorial policies and market demand. The author draws attention to the influence of the ideological aspect on translations before 1989, such as the lack of translations of certain texts, themes or authors, or the use of censorship or partial censorship. The article also aims to emphasise how these and other phenomena contributed to a loss of linearity in the reception of world literature in the Slovak cultural context.


L’articolo riflette sulla ricezione della letteratura italiana nella lingua slovacca prima e dopo l’anno 1989. L’obiettivo è di presentare un nuovo punto di vista sull’evoluzione della letteratura italiana in slovacco, dalle traduzioni precedenti all’anno 1989 (stereotipizzazione ideologicamente determinata) a quelle successive, caratterizzato dalla creazione di un nuovo modello di traduzione, non più influenzato da un’ideologia o da uno stato autoritario, ma dalle politiche editoriali e dalle esigenze di mercato. L’autore pone l’attenzione sull’influenza che ebbe l’aspetto ideologico sulle traduzioni prima dell’89, come ad esempio la mancata traduzione di certi testi con determinati argomenti e autori, o l’applicazione della censura e della semicensura. L’articolo vuole evidenziare come questi ed altri fenomeni di pressione ideologica da parte di uno stato autoritario abbiano gradualmente portato a una perdita di linearità nella ricezione di alcune letterature del mondo nel contesto culturale slovacco.

Keywords: ricezione letteraria, letteratura italiana, contesto culturale slovacco, modelli di ricezione, literary reception, models of reception, Italian literature, Slovak cultural context

©inTRAlinea & Ivan Susa (2021).
"La letteratura italiana attraverso i modelli di ricezione nella cultura slovacca prima e dopo il 1989", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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Nella seconda metà degli anni Settanta (1978), gli esponenti della Scuola di Nitra František Miko e Anton Popovič, all’interno della loro opera Tvorba a recepcia [Creazione e ricezione], elaborarono un approccio teorico della ricezione nel contesto della traduttologia slovacca, come una delle fasi nella comunicazione letteraria. Dionýz Ďurišin, nelle sue numerose opere teoriche, tra cui riportiamo Teória literárnej komparatistiky  [Teoria della comparatistica letteraria, 1975] e Čo je svetová literatúra? [Che cosa è la letteratura mondiale?, 1992] concepiva la ricezione delle letterature straniere all’interno di un contesto interletterario e interculuturale, allo scopo di porre l’attenzione sui meccanismi di comunicazione e sui i rapporti reciproci tra le cosiddette “comunità interletterarie”, “centrismi interletterari” e “l’unità finale e maggiore“ (quindi la letteratura mondiale). Ďurišin era fortemente influenzato dai suoi studi degli esponenti russi (sovietici) della letteratura comparata, anche se nel periodo successivo all’89 cominciò a collaborare con i comparatisti italiani, soprattutto con Armando Gnisci, analizzando il fenomeno della ricezione dal punto di vista ermeneutico[1]. Un’altro esponente di questa scuola, František Koli (1985), si ispirava invece alla concezione di Lambert, analizzando il rapporto creazione-tradizione-import.[2]

Ján Vilikovský, nella sua opera Preklad ako tvorba [Traduzione come creazione, 1984] considerava la ricezione come parte integrante del processo della traduzione all’interno del contesto culturale di uno stato, equiparandola alla ricezione di una cultura straniera. Nel periodo postrivoluzionario e democratico Libuša Vajdová (1993) sottolineava i concetti di “tradizione della ricezione“ e “diversità“. Riguardo a quest’ultima, ne descrisse vari gradi e caratteristiche, mentre riguardo al concetto di tradizione della ricezione, lo interpretò come un sistema dinamico, legato all’ambiente della cultura di partenza come a quello della cultura d’arrivo, creando «un’immagine che la cultura d’arrivo percepisce sulla cultura di partenza» (Vajdová: 1999). [3]

1. La ricezione della letteratura italiana nella cultura slovacca

La ricezione della letteratura italiana all’interno del contesto culturale slovacco era stata fino ad oggi sistematizzata e analizzata solamente in modo parziale, mentre prima dell’89 era quasi inesistente. Nella maggioranza dei testi scientifici pubblicati prima dell’anno 1989 gli autori descrivevano la letteratura italiana solo dal punto di vista storico (la storia della letteratura italiana), senza analizzare l’aspetto della ricezione e soprattutto senza preoccuparsi di descrivere i contatti evidenti tra le due culture e letterature. Mancavano quindi le descrizioni e le analisi delle possibili ispirazioni reciproche tra gli autori slovacchi e italiani, delle analogie e delle diferenze sul piano tematico e formale. Questo è  il caso di Miroslava Mattušová (Italian Literature in Czechoslovacchia 1945-1964), Ján Molnár e Emília Holanová (La Letteratura Italiana in Slovacchia 1945-1976) e dell’italianista ceco Ivan Seidl La letteratura italiana del Novecento.

Nell’anno 1994 uscì la monografia di Pavol Koprda dal titolo La letteratura italiana nella cultura slovacca 1890-1980, che colmò alcune lacune ideologiche, nonostante la sua pubblicazione fosse arrivata con grande distacco rispetto ai cambiamenti dell’89. Questa monografia però non prendeva in considerazione la letteratura e la ricezione degli anni Ottanta e Novanta, che invece presentavano un grande significato dal punto di vista dei cambiamenti culturali e politici, come anche nei rapporti interletterari slovacco-italiani. In questo tipo di lavoro continuò la italianista slovacca Dagmar Sabolová, che nei suoi studi dal titolo Recepcia talianskej literatúry na Slovensku v 80. a 90. rokoch 20. storočia [La ricezione della letteratura italiana in Slovacchia negli anni Ottanta e Novanta del Novecento] e Čo nám chýba z talianskej literatúry v slovenskom preklade [Che cosa è assente dalla letteratura italiana nelle traduzioni in slovacco] individuò alcune tendenze nella ricezione dalla letteratura italiana in slovacco, confrontando alcuni periodi significativi, come gli anni prima e dopo il 1945, compreso il periodo contemporaneo. La monografia più attuale, scritta da Ivan Šuša, Talianska literatúra v slovenskom prekladovo-recepčnom kontexte po roku 1989 [La letteratura italiana nel contesto della traduzione e ricezione slovacca dopo l’anno 1989], uscita in due edizioni (la prima edizione nel 2017 e la seconda nel 2018), cerca di colmare alcune delle lacune dei lavori precedenti e di sistematizzare alcuni concetti traduttologici, soprattutto stabilizzando e spiegando il rapporto tra le due culture attraverso la traduzione (ispirandosi alla teoria di Dionýz Ďurišin, inclusi gli studi e la collaborazione con i comparatisti italiani Armando Gnisci e Franca Sinopoli), František Miko e Anton Popovič, descrivendo e analizzando le tappe della ricezione della letteratura italiana nel contesto culturale slovacco (prima e dopo l’anno 1989, inclusi gli anni Ottanta e Novanta del secolo scorso). Altre pubblicazioni scientifiche riguardano le analisi di determinati argomenti (p. es. Dagmar Sabolová, che si occupa dei classici della letteratura italiana, ponendo l’accento sull’aspetto della ricezione, Fabiano Gritti, che si occupa delle linee evolutive della letteratura italiana dal neorealismo alla neoavantgarda fino alla linea lombarda, Dušan Kováč Petrovský, che analizza le opere degli autori cattolici italiani e slovacchi, Ivan Šuša, che si focalizza sulla ricerca riguardante la memorialistica italiana in comparazione con quella slovacca, e altri).

2. L’anno 1989 come rottura ideologica e culturale. I modelli di ricezione

Nell’ambito della ricezione della letteratura italiana nella cultura d’arrivo, possiamo evidenziare alcuni modelli di ricezione nel contesto slovacco: il modello di ricezione politicamente schierata, il modello lineare e il modello pluralista.

Figura 1: Modelli di ricezione

Il periodo precedente all’89 è caratterizzato dallo scontro tra il metodo ufficiale nella cultura di arrivo – il metodo del cosiddetto realismo socialista (René Bílik a questo proposito usa il termine “dottrina canonica“) –  ed il libero metodo estetico e culturale nella cultura di partenza (non appartenente alle decisioni politiche), sia a livello  tematico che formale. Il regime che prese il potere in Cecoslovacchia nell’anno 1948[4] (Partito Comunista cecoslovacco), manifestò la volontà di occuparsi della cultura e della letteratura slovacca, comprese le traduzioni delle opere straniere. Possiamo considerare come modello di ricezione politicamente schierato quello applicato dal regime comunista cecoslovacco negli anni tra il 1948 e il 1989, con la pausa democratica negli anni Sessanta, denominati dagli storici anche come “anni d’oro“, in cui il partito comunista era sotto la guida di Alexander Dubček.

La questione della libertà di stampa era considerata come un problema politico e culturale già subito dopo la formazione del nuovo governo comunista (1948), dapprima attraverso il controllo dei quotidiani da parte dello stato (alcuni vennero proprio cancellati), passando poi al divieto di distribuzione e di vendita di stampa straniera. Anche se la Costituzione della Repubblica Cecoslovacca del 9 maggio 1948 dichiarava ancora la libertà di stampa come una delle libertà fondamentali per l'esistenza della libertà di parola e d’opinione, nel 1953 il regime totalitario aveva provveduto alla creazione dell’organo Amministrazione superiore del controllo di stampa con la figura del censore, che rese ufficialmente la censura una forma di protezione della cultura nazionale. Il censore aveva l’autoritá di decidere se un libro potesse essere pubblicato senza modifiche, se sarebbero state necessarie delle correzioni del contenuto o, in caso di conflitto ideologico, se dovesse esserne vietata la stampa. La censura venne gradualmente applicata anche in tutti gli altri settori della cultura e dei mezzi di comunicazione come la televisione, la radio, il teatro, come anche nei depliant delle mostre, nelle recensioni degli eventi culturali, ecc. Come scrive la storica slovacca Roguľová, «il partito aveva il diritto di occuparsi della stampa, che doveva servire ai bisogni del popolo e  sorvegliava se nei testi non venivano ridotti i meriti del Partito Comunista» (2017: 158).

Nel periodo del cosiddetto “socialismo dal volto umano“ del politico e riformatore slovacco Alexander Dubček registriamo invece un avvicinamento culturale ai paesi occidentali. Il tentativo di “democratizzare“ la politica attraverso una riforma del partito comunista aveva portato cambiamenti positivi nella politica culturale e nell’editoria – ad es. riscontriamo un numero elevato di traduzioni dalle letterature dei paesi al di fuori del blocco sovietico, la liberalizzazione del mercato editoriale o le più vaste possibilità di informazione per i lettori sulla letteratura occidentale, inclusi i brani dei testi in traduzione da diverse lingue straniere all’interno della rivista Revue svetovej literatúry [Revue della letteratura mondiale], soprattutto per quanto riguardava gli autori contemporanei.

Dopo l’intervento militare e politico da parte dei paesi del Patto di Varsavia nel 1968 il governo cecoslovacco tornò alle sue politiche repressive di ideologizzazione della cultura, soprattutto durante gli anni Settanta (nella storiografia questo periodo viene chiamato anche “normalizzazione“, che dal punto di vista della terminologia totalitaria cecoslovacca significava il ritorno alla normalità, prima della rivoluzione del 1968). Il 24 giugno 1971 il governo varò un emandamento sullo sviluppo, la gestione e la regolamentazione della politica editoriale, che definiva anche l’obbligo da parte delle case editrici di rispettare gli obiettivi politici e culturali stabiliti dal regime. Il critico letterario slovacco Karol Rosenbaum, nel suo Boj proti revizionizmu v literárnej vede a kritike [Lotta contro il revisionismo nella scienza e critica letteraria], a disposizione dagli archivi, parlava della necessità di reciproco avvicinamento delle letterature socialiste e soprattutto del bisogno di creare la cosiddetta “letteratura mondiale socialista“, sulla base dell’ideologia comune, oscurando quindi l’aspetto estetico. In pratica si trattava del ritorno della censura e del controllo della stampa da parte dello Stato.

 La censura in Cecoslovacchia nel periodo totalitario (1948-1989) si presentava in diverse forme: come selezione ideologicamente motivata di determinati autori, libri o argomenti, come cambiamenti all‘interno del testo o eliminazione di parti di testo per mano dei censori o come autocensura (i traduttori stessi modificavano frasi o concetti in fase di traduzione). Katarína Bednárová (2015) menziona anche cosidetta “censura repressiva”, che consisteva nell’eliminazione per motivi ideologici di certi libri dalle librerie da parte del regime. Un considerevole fattore di influenza del lettore era anche la prefazione o postfazione scritta dal traduttore o dall’editore, con la quale veniva proposto un tipo di comprensione ideologicamente adatto di un determinato testo – in forma di commento o analisi. [5]

Nel libro di Ján Vilikovský Preklad včera a dnes [La traduzione ieri e oggi] si definisce il bisogno di «cercare una via d’uscita positiva nella risoluzione dei rapporti tra la traduzione e la letteratura nazionale attraverso quegli strumenti e metodi creati dal nucleo della nostra scienza letteraria, metodologia marxista» (1985:6) Attraverso una precisa selezione di determinati autori e di opere, spesso all’interno della stessa corrente letteraria, la politica culturale ufficiale voleva creare un quadro della letteratura italiana non corrispondente alla realtà. Si trattava quindi di una ricezione ideologicamente motivata, ergo politicamente schierata.

Riguardo all´influenza dell´ideologia politica dominante sulla ricezione di determinati autori e delle loro opere, possiamo osservare le seguenti caratteristiche:

  • analogie con la letteratura nazionale alla base del metodo ufficiale;
  • situazione di conflitto tra l’ideologia dominante e un tipo di produzione libera;
  • minimalizzazione delle forme sperimentali (mancato pluralismo formale);
  • asincronia temporale tra la cultura di partenza e la cultura di arrivo dovuta all´intervento dell’ideologia dominante;
  • stereotipizzazione della letteratura italiana (autori, opere, correnti). 

In questo modello possiamo inserire ad esempio anche le traduzioni della letteratura dei grandi classici italiani (Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca, Giovanni Boccaccio), accettata come facente parte di un canone artistico e come rappresentante significativo della letteratura mondiale (dando importanza artistica alla letteratura italiana alla base dell’idea di Goethe sulla Weltliteratur)[6]. Tuttavia, anche in tali casi, si cercava di evitare alcune tematiche, come quella biblica (nonostante nel caso di Dante fosse praticamente impossibile), gli umori del pessimismo opposti alla falsa concezione ottimistica o l’inaccettabile origine aristocratica di alcuni autori (Leopardi). La maggior parte delle opere del poeta di Recanati è stata tradotta solo dopo l’89, soprattutto grazie alla traduttrice e docente universitaria Dagmar Sabolová e al traduttore Gustav Hupka. Le traduzioni delle opere classiche[7], oltre alla funzione di divulgare il patrimonio artistico e culturale, assunsero anche un ruolo sostitutivo, oscurando la produzione letteraria contemporanea di quegli autori considerati ideologicamente non adatti. Per non essere coinvolti nel processo di ideologizzazione nella cultura di arrivo, molti traduttori cercarono di offrire ai lettori i testi dei classici italiani più importanti, evitando così conflitti politico-ideologici. La qualità delle traduzioni dalle opere classiche italiane era di livello molto alto, sia dal punto di vista lingustico che culturale. Le traduzioni della Divina Commedia, ma anche delle poesie di Petrarca sono finora considerate tra le più valide dal punto di vista della storia della traduzione slovacca, dal punto di vista teorico (ergo traduttologico), come anche dell’arrichimento culturale. La Divina Commedia era stata tradotta da Jozef Felix e Viliam Turčány (Inferno e Purgatorio li tradussero insieme, mentre il Paradiso fu tradotto da Turčány dopo la morte di Felix). Questo capolavoro della letteratura italiana uscì in una nuova edizione con l’analisi scientifica da parte delle italianiste Adonella Ficarra a Caterina Lucarini solo nel 2019[8]. Per quanto riguarda Petrarca, ne registriamo la traduzione di una parte del Canzoniere (Vojtech Mihálik, Ľudmila Peterajová), come i Sonetti per Laura (e dopo l’89 come ristampa) ed anche le traduzioni delle opere di Giovanni Boccaccio da parte di Blahoslav Hečko (Príbehy z Dekameronu e Žiaľ pani Plamienky). Anche nel caso del Decameron, la nuova edizione uscì dopo il 1989.

3. L’ideologia come background per la formazione della stereotipizzazione della letteratura italiana nella ricezione slovacca

Per un lungo periodo prima dell’89 è stato dominante nella ricezione slovacca il neorealismo, perfino dopo la sua crisi all’interno della letteratura italiana. Per la politica culturale di allora (sotto stretto controllo del regime socialista) il neorealismo era considerato ideologicamente adatto, soprattutto per le analogie programmatiche con i contenuti del realismo socialista ceco-slovacco. Delle opere dei neorealisti venivano infatti scelte prevalentemente quelle in cui era presente l’aspetto filosofico materialistico, adattato alla condizione socio-politica ceco-slovacca, quindi un neorealismo deformato nella cultura di arrivo. Alcune opere dal forte messaggio sociale o politico, come ad esempio Il Quartiere di Vasco Pratolini, venivano stampate anche in più edizioni (ad es. ancora nel 1981). Nel modello della ricezione politicamente schierata possiamo inserire anche le opere geograficamente e culturalmente ambientate nel sud dell’Italia (la letteratura regionale) con la rappresentazione dei suoi problemi sociali, le classi povere, la disoccupazione, il mondo conservatore della vita quotidiana, il potere della Chiesa e soprattutto della mafia, il tutto descritto attraverso stereotipi. Perfino negli anni Ottanta del ventesimo secolo osserviamo come nella cultura di arrivo (non solo slovacca, ma fino all’anno 1993 ancora ceco-slovacca) fosse ancora utilizzato il modello di ricezione sopra citato. Solo a partire dalla metà del Novecento il canone della letteratura rurale e sociale territorialmente e culturalmente basato sul Meridione comincia a perdere popolarità e registriamo un’evoluzione dell’interesse verso la letteratura e la cultura del nord e centro Italia, l’ambiente cittadino e industriale.

In quest’ultimo caso è però necessario sottolineare come proprio la letteratura industriale fosse appositamente utilizzata dal regime socialista per presentare negativamente l’industrializzazione dei paesi capitalisti e le pratiche di sfruttamento dei lavoratori (selezione di opere adatte allo scopo – ad esempio Ottiero Ottieri – Donnarumma all’assalto, oppure mancata traduzione). Anche nella letteratura slovacca esisteva una letteratura di tipo industriale, in questo caso palesemente al servizio della propaganda politica (esaltazione delle costruzioni di grandi opere del socialismo con relativa acclamazione  popolare, espressa per mezzo della pubblicazione di numerosi romanzi a tema)[9].

Non è facile ricostruire la mappa della letteratura italiana o le abitudini dei lettori slovacchi, influenzati per più di quarant’anni dalla propaganda ideologica[10] nella cultura d’arrivo. Con tali premesse si è quindi creato nel corso degli anni uno stereotipo intorno alla letteratura italiana, sulla base della visione “riveduta e corretta” da parte del regime socialista. Spesso veniva sottolineata l’importanza dell’adesione di certi scrittori o poeti al Partito Socialista o al Partito Comunista Italiano, come in Vasco Pratolini, Cesare Pavese ed Elio Vittorini, oppure si cercava di creare un quadro generale su determinati autori alla base di aspetti accetabili per l’ideologia socialista, ignorando altre opere o altri concetti. A questo proposito portiamo l’esempio di Pier Paolo Pasolini, che secondo Seidl «appartiene al neorealismo per i suoi romanzi Ragazzi di vita, Una vita violenta, per la raccolta di liriche Le ceneri di Gramsci che rimangono il meglio della sua produzione» (1985: 72), e del quale non venne accennata nella cultura d’arrivo la sua importanza culturale ed intellettuale, i dibattiti letterari, la sua vita privata (che hanno invece influenzato le sue opere e opinioni), ed il fatto che rappresentasse un mito per quella generazione. Il lettore slovacco potè quindi scoprire altri aspetti del personaggio Pasolini solo nel 2010, quando uscì la traduzione del libro Atti impuri. Amado mio (traduzione di Diana Farmošová) o nel famoso libro di Emanuele Trevi Qualcosa di scritto, uscito in Slovacchia nel 2015[11].

All’interno del modello lineare, che funzionava contemporaneamente al modello di ricezione politicamente schierato, non riscontriamo una determinazione ideologica. Alcuni autori (ad esempio Dino Buzzati), e soprattutto certi generi come i romanzi polizieschi, gialli, d’avventura, la letteratura a tematica femminile, la letteratura per bambini e ragazzi hanno continuato ad arricchire la cultura d’arrivo praticamente senza alcuna interruzione – l’anno 1989 in questi casi non ha rappresentato alcun cambiamento rilevante. Per quanto riguarda il modello lineare, constatiamo comunque tracce del potere dominante nell’ambito della scelta degli autori da tradurre. Possiamo quindi parlare di linearità nella traduzione (non potendo ancora usare l’espressione “libertà” di traduzione), cercando sempre di contestualizzare con precisione le opere e gli autori all’interno dell’evoluzione della storia della traduzione come disciplina. Grazie alla maggiore apertura politica e culturale dei regimi di glasnost e perestrojka e ai cambiamenti nel contesto geopolitico europeo, cominciava a delinearsi un nuovo modello di ricezione parzialmente pluralista, anche se solo dopo l’anno 1989 possiamo parlare di modello pluralista, quindi con diverse tipologie di poetiche autoriali e diversi tipi di posizioni valoriali d’autore e approci all’arte – si è giunti (secondo Hučková 2011: 128) ad:

  • una selezione naturale (selezione degli autori e delle opere);
  • una consolidazione dell’ambiente letterario;
  •  un profilo generazionale e d un reciproco rispetto generazionale;
  •  una definizione di generi e tematiche

4. Il superamento della stereotipizzazione della letteratura italiana attraverso i cambiamenti nella politica editoriale dopo il 1989

L’anno 1989 come anno di cambiamenti politici, sociali e culturali in Slovacchia e negli altri paesi dell’Europa centro-orientale, ha fortemente influenzato la politica editoriale, soprattutto dal punto di vista delle scelte delle opere da tradurre nella cultura ricevente. Nel contesto delle opere pubblicate, anche dopo l’89, la letteratura italiana restava sempre un passo indietro rispetto all’egemone produzione in lingua inglese. Tuttavia, negli ultimi dieci anni stiamo registrando un crescente interesse degli editori verso la pubblicazione di opere di autori italiani, soprattutto contemporanei, come anche di autori più famosi nel contesto della cultura di partenza. Attualmente gli autori più tradotti della letteratura italiana dall’anno 1989 fino ad oggi sono Umberto Eco e Alessandro Baricco, gli autori dei numerosi bestseller e le esponenti della cosiddetta letteratura femminile (Sveva Casati Modigliani, Maria Venturi, ecc). Grazie alle traduzioni, anche i libri di autori famosi, come Paolo Giordano, Roberto Saviano, Donato Carrisi, Fausto Brizzi, Michela Murgia, Valerio Evangelisti, Emanuele Trevi e soprattutto Elena Ferrante (che consideriamo un fenomeno importante nella diffusione della cultura e letteratura italiana nel mondo, inclusa la Slovacchia) hanno avuto la possibilità di essere conosciuti dal pubblico slovacco. La media annuale dei libri tradotti e pubblicati  dall’italiano in slovacco è di circa dieci. Per esempio negli anni Novanta, precisamente nel 1994 e nel 1998, evidenziamo un vuoto di traduzioni della produzione letteraria italiana in lingua slovacca: secondo la nostra ricerca nel 1994 sono stati tradotti solo Donna d'onore di Sveva Casati Modigliani e Io speriamo che me la cavo, di Marcello D’Orta, mentre nel 1998 Agostino, di Alberto Moravia e L’isola del giorno prima, di Umberto Eco).

Il traduttore dalla lingua italiana in slovacco František Hruška definisce gli autori che riescono ad entrare nel mercato slovacco come “autori eletti” (2009: 84). Il problema del mercato editoriale slovacco è quello di essere considerato (dal punto di vista delle case editrici) troppo piccolo e quindi non abbastanza attraente. In più, il numero dei traduttori dall’italiano allo slovacco è abbastanza limitato, trattandosi di solito di esponenti del mondo accademico – italianisti, critici letterari, scrittori o diplomatici (Stanislav Vallo, František Hruška, Miroslava Vallová, Terézia Gašparíková, Dagmar Sabolová, Ivana Dobrakovová ecc.), ma anche professionalmente forte e capace di premere sulle case editrici per quanto riguarda la scelta degli autori e delle opere per una possibile traduzione.

Dal punto di vista della ricezione nella cultura di arrivo possiamo osservare significativi cambiamenti strutturali nella politica editoriale (commercializzazione del mercato, l’importanza della pubblicazione dei bestseller), il conseguente inserimento di autori, opere e tematiche nella cultura di arrivo prima evitati per motivi ideologici, il tentativo di sincronizzazione delle opere (autori contemporanei italiani usciti in Italia tradotti subito o con un accettabile distacco di tempo in lingua slovacca), soprattutto in base alle scelte delle case editrici. Rosanna Pelosi nel suo contributo alla conferenza scientifica internazionale sulla traduzione Preklad a tlmočenie a Banská Bystrica in Slovacchia nel 2006 Quale futuro per le traduzioni dall´ italiano? Riflessioni socio-culturali ha provato a delineare i criteri delle scelte degli autori per la traduzione dall’italiano in slovacco dopo 1989:

  • posizione dell’autore nella cultura di partenza;
  • collocazione dell’autore nella cultura di arrivo;
  • influenza del traduttore;
  • ruolo dell’editore;
  • contributi e incentivi alla traduzione e diffusione del libro all’estero.

Un grande ruolo gioca sul mercato soprattutto Centro d’informazione letterario (la sua ex direttrice Miroslava Vallová è anche nota traduttrice dall’italiano in slovacco), Istituto Italiano di Cultura a Bratislava, L’Ambasciata italiana in Slovacchia e L’Ambasciata slovacca a Roma.

5. Polarità dei modelli di ricezione

Lo schema che proponiamo mostra la polarità dei modelli di ricezione prima e dopo l’89 – il segno “meno” esprime la mancanza delle traduzioni per motivi ideologici, politici e metodologici all’interno del modello di ricezione politicamente schierata, mentre il segno “più” esprime l’inserimento di tali opere nella ricezione pluralista (il segno “meno” nella ricezione pluralista rappresenta il caso del mancato inserimento di certe opere per determinati motivi, come ad es. l’eccessivo distacco temporale). La doppia polarità negativa  (- -) rappresenta la letteratura industriale, come anche la neoavanguardia e le tendenze sperimentali (dal punto di vista del contenuto ed anche dal punto di vista formale e metodologico). Le altre due polarità (- +) rappresentano gli autori della memorialistica italiana o la produzione cattolica.

Figura 2: Polarità dei modelli di ricezione

Riguardo agli autori più significativi del Novecento italiano, la maggioranza delle loro opere era stata tradotta prima dell’89, ma solo dopo questa data potevano essere prese in considerazione anche altre opere degli stessi autori, che erano precedentemente inadatte secondo il regime socialista[12]. Come esempi eclatanti di quanto affermato osserviamo anche il libro di Giorgio Bassani Occhiali d’oro (soprattutto per l’argomento che riguardava la questione ebraica ed anche per il collegamento olocausto-omosessualità tramite il personaggio di Athos Fadigati), alcune opere di Alberto Moravia, ecc.

In conseguenza del fatto che testi riguardanti la tematica della Shoah non potessero essere tradotti e divulgati[13], anche gli autori ebrei slovacchi furono costretti a scrivere le loro opere all’estero in lingua straniera come emigrati, mentre in slovacco sarebbero state diffuse solo successivamente in forma di traduzione[14]. In questo modo entrarono nel contesto della ricezione slovacca le memorie di Levi Gil (Fero Goldner) e di sua moglie Chana Gil  (Viera Polačková) con l’opera Osudy jednej rodiny [Il destino di una famiglia]. Il libro uscì in ebraico in Israele. Stessa sorte anche per le memorie di Kathryn Winter dal titolo Katarína, pubblicate nel 1998 negli Stati Uniti. Destino analogo ebbe anche il libro autobiografico dell’ebrea slovacca Iboja Wandall-Holm Zbohom storočie [Addio secolo], uscito per la prima volta in danese. In questo contesto possiamo menzionare anche il libro di Max Stern Známka môjho života [Il francobollo della mia vita], uscito prima in inglese in Australia ed in slovacco come traduzione (le opere di Kathryn Winter e Max Stern sono state tradotte in slovacco dalla traduttrice Ľubica Chorváthová, altre opere sono state tradotte da loro stessi come autori-traduttori). Le memorie uscite all’estero e più tardi tradotte in slovacco hanno trasmesso e presentato la civiltà e la cultura slovacca in un altro sistema culturale, in questo caso israeliano, americano, australiano e danese.

Per quanto riguarda la memorialistica italiana e soprattutto le opere di Primo Levi, erano state ignorate durante tutto il periodo del socialismo.  Le prime traduzioni le troviamo solo dopo il 2000 (!) Nel contesto letterario slovacco sono state introdotte le traduzioni delle seguenti opere maggiori: Se questo è un uomo [Je to človek?, 2001], La tregua [Prímerie, 2002] e I sommersi e i salvati [Potopení a zachránení, 2003]. Le prime due sono state tradotte da Terézia Gašparíková e la terza da František Hruška. Entrambi sono rinomati traduttori di testi letterari italiani in lingua slovacca e sono membri della Società Slovacca dei traduttori di letteratura artistica. Le altre opere di Levi all’interno delle quali viene affrontato l’argomento Shoah restano purtroppo sconosciute al pubblico slovacco.

La mancata traduzione delle opere memorialistiche dall’italiano in slovacco ha rimproverito anche i rapporti e le interferenze storiche e letterarie. Alcune memorie di autori e autrici ebrei italiani in qualche modo interferiscono reciprocamente. In molte delle loro opere appare un fatto, una data o un protagonista, che riguarda l’ambiente slovacco.  Si tratta soprattutto di contatti personali tra gli ebrei, nati dalla coesistenza spesso forzata (come nel caso del ghetto o del lager) in uno stesso ambiente (soprattutto i rapporti internato-internato, internato-capo). Ad esempio l’autrice italiana ebrea Giuliana Tedeschi nelle sue memorie C’e un punto della terra riporta che «i primi convogli dalla Slovacchia comprendevano anche donne» (XII), ed informa che «tutte le italiane erano ora disperse a piccoli gruppi nei diversi blocchi del Lager B, sperdute nel numero infinitamente maggiore delle polacche, delle slovacche e delle greche» o il dialogo tra due ragazze, una slovacca e una jugoslava sulla loro fiducia nella prossima fine della guerra (Tedeschi 1989:45). L’autrice italiana Liana Millu ne Il fumo di Birkenau descrive la figura negativa di una assistente-collaboratrice slovacca nel contesto della rivalità femminile (la prigioniera e amica dell’autrice Lily è condannata a morte, perché l’assistente slovacca del dottore responsabile delle selezioni la segna nel suo taccuino su pressione della kapo, che vedeva in lei una rivale in bellezza e in amore). L’internata per motivi politici Lidia Beccaria Rolfi nel suo libro Le donne di Ravensbruck parla delle donne cecoslovacche (anche se nel periodo della Shoah la Cecoslovacchia non esisteva più). Purtroppo queste opere non sono state tradotte in slovacco e di conseguenza il lettore slovacco resta impoverito sotto questo aspetto (storico e culturale)[15].

La memorialistica italiana presenta una vasta produzione letteraria, riguardante non solo l’argomento della persecuzione ebraica, ma anche importanti testimonianze di elementi antifascisti, tra cui partigiani, socialisti, comunisti, sacerdoti, omosessuali ecc. Molte di queste opere-memorie potrebbero risultare interessanti per il lettore slovacco in un’eventuale traduzione. La minoranza ebraica e quelle categorie sociali considerate “diverse” a livello etnico, culturale, religioso o sessuale restano ancora al giorno d’oggi da “scoprire”, affinchè si possa giungere ad una conoscenza più approfondita delle diversità, comprenderne la sostanza e di conseguenza rispettarle come parte integrante della società.

Per quanto riguarda i contatti concreti (definiti anche come “contatti evidenti“ secondo la teoria della comparatistica slovacca di Ďurišin) tra la memorialistica slovacca ed italiana sulla tematica della Shoah, solo nel 1996 all’interno dell’opera di Juraj Špitzer Svitá, až keď je celkom tma  [Albeggia, solo quando è totalmente buio] troviamo una citazione da I sommersi e i salvati di Levi riguardo al ricordo dell’amico Jean Améry, anch’egli come Levi sopravvissuto ad Auschwitz. Da questo è evidente che Špitzer aveva letto l’ultima famosa opera di Primo Levi, probabilmente nella traduzione dall’italiano al ceco (proprio dell’anno 1996). É importante sottolineare che le traduzioni in lingua slovacca delle opere principali di Levi, compresa I sommersi e i salvati, sono state divulgate solo dopo la morte di Špitzer. Ponendo a confronto i due autori e le loro opere Svitá, až keď je celkom tma e I sommersi e i salvati, possiamo notare consistenti analogie sia dal punto di vista del genere (saggio) che del contenuto.[16] Per questo motivo supponiamo che il libro di Primo Levi abbia ispirato Juraj Špitzer, volendo evitare di utilizzare il termine “influenza“ che la teoria della comparatistica slovacca sotto la guida di Ďurišin preferisce sostituire con “ispirazione“. A questo proposito è interessante notare l’importanza del rapporto traduzione-ispirazione all’interno del quadro delle letterature nazionali che, in quanto principali ricettrici secondo lo schema – scelta dell’opera – ricezione – reazione – si trovano ad essere “ispirate” dalla traduzione proprio come reazione alla ricezione della traduzione stessa.

Nel contesto specifico della letteratura nazionale slovacca, alla traduzione di determinate opere è seguita la pubblicazione di nuove opere ad esse ispirate, ma dalle caratteristiche particolari ed originali. Come possiamo dunque notare, il contatto significativo tra le due letterature è rappresentato dalla traduzione, principale conduttore nel processo interletterario.

Inoltre è opportuno aggiungere che i contatti interletterari tra la Slovacchia e la Repubblica Ceca hanno giocato un ruolo fondamentale nella diffusione dell’interesse per la traduzione e l’eventuale lettura di queste opere, proprio per il fatto che i codici linguistici di questi due paesi, oggi realtà statali indipendenti, sono reciprocamente comprensibili per i loro cittadini (ciò significa che gli slovacchi sono in grado di leggere e comprendere testi in lingua ceca e viceversa). Nel caso della traduzione delle testimonianze di Levi, suscitò grande interesse nei lettori slovacchi proprio l’ultimo saggio I sommersi e i salvati nell’edizione ceca 1993 (la traduzione slovacca sarebbe uscita solo dieci anni più tardi)[17].

Altre opere che prima erano in contrasto con i metodi utilizzati per la politica culturale (neoavanguardia, neosperimentalismo o anche la già citata letteratura industriale in Italia) non sono state tradotte neanche dopo l’89 a causa della perdita di interesse e di significato, non essendo più di attualità e non trovando spazio nel contesto della cultura di arrivo.

Le opere degli autori cattolici, come anche le raffigurazioni di Dio nelle opere d’arte, erano spesso marginalizzate. Dato che il regime socialista aveva cancellato gli editori cattolici slovacca, in particolare Spolok svätého Vojtecha, non era più possibile pubblicare libri di stampo religioso in forma di traduzione di opere straniere. Il problema ideologico consisteva nella forte presenza letteraria e sociale di alcuni sacerdoti – immigrati slovacchi in Italia o in Vaticano – rappresentanti della cosiddetta “moderna cattolica“ e considerati come opposizione politica e culturale (Gorazd Zvonický, Eugen Vesnin, Jozef Vavrovič, Štefan Náhalka, Michal Lacko e altri)[18]. Dopo l’89, con la liberalizzazione del mercato, le case editrici cattoliche (già esistenti o nuove) ripresero la loro attività con un piano editoriale prettamente religioso e riguardante spesso temi controversi. Di conseguenza possiamo affermare che questo tipo di letteratura si sia automarginalizzato, formando così una rete letteraria parallela a quella di massa. Come eccezione possiamo considerare alcuni libri che per il loro forte messaggio morale e il successo all’estero si sono inserite nel mercato di massa, come ad es. il libro di Gianna Beretta e Pietro Molla (ed. Elio Guerriero) Le lettere, tradotto in slovacco da Alžbeta Šúplatová come Listy o i libri per i bambini, basati sulle storie della Bibbia. In generale possiamo definire la letteratura di stampo cattolico come letteratura di minoranza con traduzioni dall’italiano, oltre alle eccezioni sopracitate, piuttosto rare a livello di mercato (mancano ad es. le statistiche delle pubblicazioni e le recensioni nelle riviste letterarie specializzate). Si tratta quindi di pubblicazioni destinate ad un certo tipo di pubblico con il supporto finanziario della Chiesa (anche per questo motivo nel nostro schema registriamo la polarità “meno“ prima del 1989 e “più“ dopo il 1989)[19].     

Sfortunatamente dopo l’89 la poesia italiana contemporanea è rimasta quasi sconosciuta. Proprio nell’anno 1989 uscì una raccolta di poesie Dialogo con tempo [Rozhovor s časom] di vari poeti degli anni Settanta ed Ottanta, inclusi quelli della linea lombarda, i poeti del Sud (Cosimo Fornaro, Dante Maffa), ma anche le poesie di Vittorio Sereni, Mario Luzi, Giorgio Caproni, ecc.[20] La selezione dei testi, ed in particolare le caratteristiche degli autori e delle opere alla fine dell’antologia mostrava come la libertà dei critici nelle analisi fosse ancora limitata – la raccolta è stata pubblicata nell’89, mentre la traduzione e la preparazione dei materiali erano precedenti a questa data, quindi non possiamo ancora considerare questa pubblicazione come propriamente pluralista.

Dopo questa raccolta sono uscite alcune traduzioni, soprattutto alla base di scelte personali dei traduttori, come ad es. i testi di Giovanni Dotoli Appunti di neve, di Tiziana Colusso Il sanscrito del corpo e Poesie di Enzo Ricchi, ma questi autori – anche se la loro qualità letteraria è senza dubbio altissima, non possiamo considerare come i più significativi poeti italiani contemporanei.       

Gli italianisti, i traduttologi e gli esperti di scienza letteraria avrebbero quindi il compito di colmare tali lacune della storia letteraria italiana nella cultura di arrivo. Certamente, non sarà facile completare il percorso evolutivo della letteratura italiana in traduzione slovacca, proprio perchè alcune opere non sono più attraenti per il mercato.

6. Verso i nuovi obbiettivi

Il tentativo di stabilire un elenco di opere non tradotte della produzione letteraria italiana da parte di alcuni traduttologi, come ad esempio la sopracitata Sabolová, ancora negli anni Novanta del secolo scorso, non ha riscontrato la dovuta considerazione in ambito commerciale, il quale continua ad operare secondo le leggi del mercato. Il semplice post-inserimento di certe opere subito dopo i cambiamenti politici e culturali dell’89 non può essere considerato come una soluzione efficace nel colmare le lacune nella storia della traduzione, non trattandosi di un processo chiuso, ma in continua evoluzione. Serve invece una ricerca continua, sistematica e soprattutto obiettiva (anche rispettando i principi del mercato) di inserimento nella cultura di arrivo di almeno quelle opere o autori che possiamo definire pilastri della letteratura italiana, contestualizzandoli in modo adeguato nell’ambito delle traduzioni già presenti nella cultura di ricezione.

Il tentativo di eliminare la stereotipizzazione della letteratura italiana unicamente colmando le lacune della traduzione con l’inserimento di alcune opere e autori, può apparire, dal punto di vista della ricezione, un fatto positivo. Tuttavia riscontriamo alcuni fattori in tale processo, che costituiscono degli elementi di disturbo:   

  • possibile sopravvalutazione di certi autori – ad es. nel periodo tra il 2000 e il 2009, nei quali dominava Italo Calvino rispetto ad altri autori nelle traduzioni slovacche (in un solo anno, il 2002, sono uscite le traduzioni di ben tre dei suoi libri: Il Barone rampante, Il cavaliere inesistente e Sotto il sole giaguaro);
  • frammentazione dell’evoluzione della ricezione – pars pro toto – una o due opere, rappresentanti una certa corrente o stile sono spesso tradotte solo per le riviste letterarie e quindi non sono sufficienti per la comprensione del contesto e dei diversi fenomeni della letteratura italiana;
  • soggettività e mancanza di una vera concezione del processo di traduzione nell’ambito della scelta delle opere e degli autori da tradurre (spesso alla base delle decisioni o suggerimenti del traduttore) – per esempio caso Sabolová già sopra citato – l’ autrice parla «delle opere e degli autori che bisognerebbe inserire nella ricezione slovacca dalla letteratura italiana» (Sabolová, 1998, 150);
  • scontro tra la politica editoriale e il bisogno dell’inserimento di alcune opere per l’arricchimento della cultura d’arrivo (scontro tra l’approccio economico e culturale).

In ambito scientifico assumono un ruolo fondamentale anche le riviste letterarie, le antologie dei testi ed anche le critiche e le recensioni nei quotidiani. Innanzittutto i quotidiani che danno spazio alla letteratura straniera, inclusa quella italiana, possono contribuire a creare o cambiare certi stereotipi per mezzo della descrizione e recensione di determinate opere e sincronizzare (dal punto di vista temporale) le tematiche, forme o generi con la cultura di arrivo[21].

Le opere da tradurre per rendere efficace la sincronizzazione con la situazione attuale nella letteratura italiana e l’eliminazione delle divergenze temporali, formali e tematiche tra la cultura di partenza e quella di arrivo costituiscono gli elementi positivi, che contribuiscono a migliorare il processo di ricezione della letteratura italiana nel suo complesso e in maniera più coerente.


Questo articolo è il risultato del progetto scientifico VEGA 1/0214/20  I rapporti slovacco-italiani dopo il 1989 nel contesto del superamento della tradizione e della nascita dei nuovi modelli di ricezione.  


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[1] Cfr. gli studi di Armando Gnisci o Gnisci-Ďurišin (2000), Il Mediterraneo. Una rete interletteraria.

[2] Cfr. Brenkusová, Ľubica (2009) “Niekoľko poznámok k mysleniu o recepcii“ in: Preklad a tlmočenie 8. Preklad a tlmočenie v interdisciplinárnej reflexii. Mária Hardošová e Zdenko Dobrík (eds), Banská Bystrica, Fakulta humanitných vied, Univerzita Mateja Bela: 23-7.

[3] Cfr. gli studi di Libuša Vajdová sulla Polysystem Theory (Itamar Even-Zohar e Gideon Toury in relazione a Mikuláš Bakoš e Dionýz Ďurišin, 2007), su Pierre Bourdieu (2007) o gli studi di Braňo Hochel (1990) sugli aspetti sociologici nella ricezione (Anthony Pym, Pierre Bourdieu, Zuzana Jettmárová, Miriam Schlesingerová).

[4] Gli anni tra il 1945 e il 1948 nel contesto storico cecoslovacco non possono essere giudicati come non democratici. In questo periodo nel governo cecoslovacco erano presenti non solo gli esponenti del Partito Comunista, ma anche del Partito Democratico. Inoltre la cultura non era ancora stata influenzata in maniera massiccia dall’ideologia e dagli interventi repressivi sull’ambiente culturale generale. Si registrano cambiamenti significativi a livello istituzionale e legislativo a partire dal 1948.

[5] Sui termini “censura“ ed “autocensura“ nella letteratura contemporanea cfr. Pucherová, Dorota (2018).

[6] Sulla concezione della letteratura mondiale, cfr. i lavori scientifici di Dionýz Ďurišin, soprattutto Čo je svetová literatúra? che collaborava con il comparatista italiano Armando Gnisci. Ďurišin e Gnisci hanno trovato un punto comune nella categorizzazione delle letterature, l’aspetto interletterario e interculturale, ma soprattutto nella precisione terminologica. A questo proposito ricordiamo il libro della scienziata letteraria e traduttologa Anna Valcerová Svetová literatúra [Letteratura mondiale], che analizza le differenze strutturali e terminologiche tra la concezione della letteratura mondiale di Dionýz Ďurišin e di Harold Bloom. Valcerová alla base delle sue analisi giunse alla conclusione che si tratta di due concezioni assolutamente diverse e opposte. Bloom parla della formazione del canone universale/occidentale che secondo Bertazzoli «si basa sulla presunta supremazia di autori e opere che sono assurti ad auctoritates indiscusse nie giudizi, in quanto interpreti di valori universali» (2006: 111) Bertazzoli riporta anche la idea di Bernardelli e Cesarani sul canone letterario che costituisce le basi di una cultura condivisa e fornisce i modelli da seguire o imitare.

[7] Cfr. il libro di Umberto Eco Dire quasi la stessa cosa al paragrafo 7.1., in cui fa riferimento agli studi di Steiner, sottolineando i passaggi tra due lingue e soprattutto tra due culture e mostrando la comprensibilità o meno di alcuni testi per il lettore contemporaneo che non conosca il lessico dell’epoca, nè il background culturale degli autori (2013:162).

[8] La pubblicazione è stata nominata dai critici letterari slovacchi come Il libro dell’anno 2019.

[9] Cfr. Šuša, Ivan e Prando, Patrizia (2018) “Slovenská a talianska industriálna literatúra – medzi ideológiou a literatúrou“, Slavica Litteraria, no. 21/ 2: 71-82.

[10] Cfr. Laš, Matej (2019) e Bachledová, Marianna (2018). Entrambi gli autori analizzano l’aspetto ideologico nel contesto della ricezione slovacca di testi letterari concreti, ad es. Bachledová si basa sulle prefazioni o postfazioni che spesso accompagnavano il testo principale delle opere (tradotte dalle lingue straniere in slovacco) e che spesso erano influenzate dall’aspetto ideologico come l’intervento dell’editore.

[11] La traduzione del libro di Trevi da parte di František Hruška come Niečo napísané è stata nominata al Premio Ján Hollý per la miglior traduzione dalla lingua straniera in slovacco.   

[12] Per approfondire cfr. anche Šuša, Ivan (2011) Komparatistické a prekladové aspekty v slovensko-talianskych medziliterárnych vzťahoch, Banská Bystrica, Fakulta humanitných vied, Univerzita Mateja Bela.

[13] Cfr. anche Rundle Christopher (2019) Il vizio dell’esterofilia. Editoria e traduzioni nell’Italia fascista, Roma, Carroci e Prando, Patrizia (2011) “Riflessioni sull‘uso del pensiero letterario nella legittimazione intelettuale e culturale di teorie e pratiche discriminatorie: il caso italiano nella Difesa della razza“ in Lingue e letterature romanze : stato attuale e prospettive, Massimo Arcangeli (ed), Roma, Aracnè Editrice: 233-51.

[14] La comunità ebraica era vista dal regime totalitario come sinonimo di capitalismo e proprietà, mentre le autorità statali volevano divulgare nel paese una filosofia ben diversa, che prevedeva la statalizzazione dei beni e della produzione propria – il regime predicava la politica dell’ugualianza per tutti. Gli ebrei invece erano considerati diversi non solo all’interno dello Stato, ma anche nel contesto internazionale (soprattutto a causa della cooperazione geopolitica dello Stato di Israele con gli Stati Uniti, che rappresentavano il lato opposto del blocco dei paesi satelliti dell’Unione Sovietica. Gli ebrei come minoranza religiosa (inclusi anche altri esponenti di altre religioni e minoranze) non facevano più parte delle tabelle ufficiali e la Cecoslovacchia era vista solo come uno stato composto da esclusivamente da due popoli. Secondo Ivan Kamenec, la ricerca sull’argomento dal punto di vista storico, sociologico o letterario «aveva continuato in manieta semilegale « (2005: 13). Come aggiunge Viliam Marčok, la tematica ebraica, anche a livello di storia della letteratura slovacca e straniera, incluse le traduzioni, era diventata «non richiesta e marginalizzata fino all’obligo di tacere« (1998: 28).

[15] Cfr. Šuša, Ivan e Prando, Patrizia (2008) “Le traduzioni di Primo Levi nel contesto interletterario slovacco-italiano“ in La traduzione come strumento di interazione culturale e linguistica, Luca Busetto (ed), Milano, Qu. A. S. A. R.: 295-14.

[16] Per approfondire cfr. Šuša, Ivan e Prando, Patrizia (2008) “Le traduzioni di Primo Levi nel contesto interletterario slovacco-italiano“ in La traduzione come strumento di interazione culturale e linguistica, Luca Busetto (ed), Milano, Qu. A. S. A. R.: 295-14.

[17] Possiamo constatare che la memorialistica italiana sulla Shoah abbia raggiunto un certo successo da parte dei lettori slovacchi. A questo proposito osserviamo anche la crescita parallela delle pubblicazioni degli autori slovacchi sopravvissuti ai campi di sterminio, formando quindi un quadro abbastanza completo in tale ambito (ad esempio Leo Kohút, Juraj Špitzer, Hilda Hrabovecká e altri).

[18] Cfr. anche Cabadaj, Peter (2002). Slovenský literárny exil, Martin, Matica slovenská.

[19] Sui rapporti tra la letteratura slovacca e italiana con un accento particolare sulla letteratura religiosa, cfr. la monografia di Dušan Kováč-Petrovský (2014) Ponti interculturali slovacco-italiani: due fonti slovacche, Milano, Vita e Pensiero.

[20] L’italianista slovacco di Nitra Fabiano Gritti nella sua nuova monografia La poesia antilirica (2019) presenta ai lettori slovacchi le poesie di Edoardo Sanguinetti con particolare attenzione sulla poetica di Laborintus, si occupa anche delle opere e della poetica di Adriano Spatola nel contesto del surrealismo ed anche della neoavanguaradia e del neosperimentalismo in Italia.

[21] Anche Jeremy Munday e Meg Brown pongono l’accento sul ruolo e l’importanza delle recensioni, dato che «rappresentano un insieme di reazioni all’autore e al testo e formano una parte della sotto-area critica della traduzione presente nella mappa di Holmes» (2012: 210). Munday nel suo case study evidenzia le domande di ricerca, tra le quali ne emergono due fondamentali, riguardanti l´importante ruolo del traduttore nelle recensioni: quanto puó essere visibile il traduttore nelle recensioni e come viene giudicato da parte dei recensori? In nostri diversi studi sulla ricezione della letteratura italiana nella cultura slovacca, in particolare nella monografia dal titolo Talianska literatúra v slovenskom prekladovo-recepčnom kontexte po roku 1989 ci siamo occupati di analizzare decine di recensioni, dalle quali risulta che solo raramente venivano espressi giudizi sui testi attraverso determinati principi, a parte le recensioni presenti nelle riviste slovacche Revue svetovej literatúry, Romboid, Slovenské pohľady, Knižná revue, Pravda, Sme. Queste riviste o giornali hanno sempre prestato attenzione anche all’aspetto traduttologico, inclusa la presentazione del traduttore, del suo profilo scientifico-letterario e del suo eventuale contributo all´interno dei rapporti interletterari ed interculturali slovacco-italiani. Ďurišin considera le recensioni e le critiche come una parte fondamentale della “contattologia” [kontaktológia], che crea un rapporto (“il contatto”) tra due sistemi letterari e culturali. (1992: 75).

About the author(s)

Ivan Susa teaches Slovak Language and Culture in Department of Interpreting and Translation of University of Bologna. He is Associated Professor at Comenius University in Bratislava (Slovacchia) in Translation Studies. He holds a PhD. in Philology and Comparative Literature in Masaryk University of Brno (Czech Republic). His reaserch area includes Literary Translation, Comparative Literature and especially Slovak and Italian Interliterary Relations. Among his main publications belong Italian Literature in Slovak Translations and Reception after year 1989 (Banská Bystrica: 2018), Areal Intersections in Slovak and Italian Memoir Literature (Hradec Králové: 2015), Holocaust in Italian and Slovak Memoir Literature (Hradec Králové: 2011). He is a chief editor of magazine New Philologic Revue, member of scientific board of magazine Romanistica Comeniana, member of International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA) and Czech and Slovak Comparative Literature Association.

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©inTRAlinea & Ivan Susa (2021).
"La letteratura italiana attraverso i modelli di ricezione nella cultura slovacca prima e dopo il 1989", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

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La direction d’une formation en traduction comme acte politique

By Nicolas Froeliger (Université de Paris, France)

Abstract & Keywords


If translation, in some cases, amounts to a political act, then the training of translators has to be one also. But how can such topic be tackled in a scientific manner? The difficulty, here, lies in the ethical (personal and professional) nature of the question, and at this stage, the best one can do is to suggest pathways for research. In a world where points of view are highly dependent on the position one occupies, the author of this paper assumes the stance of a former pragmatic translator turned head of a translator program. He first outlines the major changes that have taken place in the profession over the past decades, and the various possible reactions (if any) to those changes, before reflecting on the value systems involved in those reactions. Finally, the author attempts to justify the choice, made by a number of translation programs in Europe and beyond, of professionalization. And in order to overcome the contradictions with the involved points of view, including between a necessary professionalization and the generous idea of translation as a common public good, he suggests a concentric approach, where professional ethics is surrounded by, and subject to, personal ethics.


Si la traduction, dans certains cas, est un acte politique, alors comment la formation des traductrices et traducteurs pourrait-elle ne pas l’être ? Et accessoirement, comment traiter avec les outils de la scientificité cette question, qui est de nature déontologique et éthique, et comporte donc une part importante de subjectivité ? Cet article entend esquisser des réponses à ces deux questions. Il est l’œuvre (subjective, donc) d’un ancien traducteur, devenu responsable de formation en France, ce qui constitue l’un des multiples points d’entrée dans ce sujet. Il s’agit, pour tenter de faire le tour de cette question, d’actualiser l’image de la profession de traducteur, en revenant sur les bouleversements qu’elle a connus depuis quelques décennies, avant de dessiner les positionnements envisageables face à ces évolutions, pour ensuite remonter aux systèmes de valeurs qui justifient ces positionnements, et enfin de justifier le choix, opéré par de nombreux masters en traduction en Europe et ailleurs, de la professionnalisation. Choix qui, néanmoins, ne résout pas à lui seul la question du rôle nouveau qui doit être dévolu à la traduction dans la société tout entière. Au-delà et au-dessus de la préoccupation déontologique, il faut donc mettre en œuvre une réflexion de nature éthique.

Keywords: translator training, political commitment, professionalisation, ethics, formation, ethics in translation, professionnalisation, déontologie, éthique

©inTRAlinea & Nicolas Froeliger (2021).
"La direction d’une formation en traduction comme acte politique", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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Les bouleversements que connaît depuis quelques années la traduction, à la fois comme profession et comme fonction sociale, posent de façon aigüe la question du rôle des formations qui y préparent.[1] À ce titre, beaucoup des interrogations que l’on observe en général dans le champ politique peuvent également être appliquées au positionnement de ces formations et de leurs responsables : à quoi servons-nous (sous-entendu, quel est le rôle d’un diplôme dans une profession qui s’en était fort bien passé auparavant) ? Qui servons-nous (la science, le marché, les entreprises, la profession, la société tout entière...) ? Dans quel univers (progrès de la traduction automatique, migrations, développement des linguae francae, éclatement de la profession en une multitude de métiers, rapprochement des fonctions traduction et interprétation...) ? Avec quels alliés (les associations, les pouvoirs publics, les entreprises) ? ; contre quels adversaires (les associations, les pouvoirs publics, les entreprises...) ? Avec quelles régulations ? L’ensemble de ces questions se posent à l’intérieur de chaque pays, mais aussi à l’échelle européenne, et dans une certaine mesure mondiale. Ainsi, la Chine s’est dotée de 253 nouveaux masters de traduction entre 2009 et 2019, ce qui aura forcément une incidence à terme... Avec des réponses et à partir de principes ou de cadres juridiques qui peuvent être sans commune mesure. Et bien sûr, la recherche n’est pas épargnée par une telle problématique : quel positionnement par rapport à la formation professionnelle ; la traductologie, discipline appliquée s’il en est, peut-elle mériter le nom de science ? ; est-ce se salir les mains que de se consacrer à de tels domaines (et donc, y-a-t-il une recherche noble et une recherche plébéienne ?), etc. Après que de nombreux travaux ont montré que la neutralité était un concept douteux en traduction, j’entends témoigner qu’il en va de même pour la neutralité des formateurs et des formations dans ce domaine – ce qui pose un délicat problème épistémologique. J'entends donc faire ressortir le caractère politique que revêt, à mon sens, la direction d’une formation en traduction en commençant par actualiser l’image que l’on peut se faire de cette profession, avant de m'interroger sur les positionnements constatés face à ces évolutions, puis sur les systèmes de valeurs sous-jacents, pour justifier enfin le choix, opéré par de nombreux masters en traduction en Europe et ailleurs, de la professionnalisation.

1. Des points d’entrée dans l’observation de la traduction

Avant de développer ces différents aspects, je me sens néanmoins retenu par une forme de gêne. En effet, je n'ai pas la totale certitude que les idées en question soient véritablement scientifiques. Je compte en outre traiter d'un sujet qui peut être tenu en suspicion (ou pire) par certains. Je serais plus à l'aise, pour en parler, dans un cadre associatif, dans des forums qui réunissent d'autres responsables de formation, ou avec des représentants de l’univers professionnel – ce qui est au demeurant une pratique courante chez les responsables de formation. Si je le suis moins dans cette publication, c'est qu’en guise de bases théoriques sur lesquelles fonder mon propos, je suis plutôt armé d’une conviction, forgée par l’expérience[2]. Donc subjective. Plus qu'une question scientifique, donc, je vois là un problème éthique et déontologique. D’où le choix, dans le présent article, de la première personne du singulier. Au demeurant, c'est peut-être précisément cela que l'on peut qualifier d'acte politique. Ce que ne contesterait pas non plus, j’espère, Mona Baker (2001 : 11-12), qui écrit que toute recherche peut légitimement être considérée comme une forme d’action politique. J’y reviendrai.

C’est qu’il y a différents points d’entrée pour parler de traduction : on peut y accéder par le prisme de la littérature, de la culture, de l’art, de l’économie, de la technique (au sens de technique de traduction, mais aussi de traduction technique). Mais aussi par celui du social et de la vie professionnelle, ce qui n’est pas la même chose, et peut même être délicat à articuler. Autant de positionnements, autant d’habitus, pour emprunter un terme familier aux sociologues. Peut-être, dans ces conditions, n'est-il pas inutile d’en dire un peu plus sur ce qui informe – et peut-être déforme – mon point de vue. Ce point de vue est celui d'un ancien traducteur professionnel (17 ans passés à la tête d'une petite société de traducteurs) devenu enseignant-chercheur en traduction, impliqué dans le monde des formations en France et en Europe (AFFUMT : Association française des formations universitaires aux métiers de la traduction ; EMT : master européen en traduction...) et coresponsable, en France, d'un master professionnel organisé, c'est important, selon le régime de l'alternance. En vertu de ce système, qui existe aussi, avec des variantes, au Canada et en Allemagne, les étudiants de master 2 sont rémunérés par l'entreprise qui les emploie, et qui juridiquement les délègue à l'université 21 semaines par an. Vingt-six autres semaines, soit une sur deux entre septembre et juin, plus la totalité des mois de juillet et d'août, sont passés au sein de l'entreprise (le master 1 est classiquement organisé en deux semestres de 12 semaines chacun). Ajoutons cinq semaines de congés payés et nous avons douze mois bien remplis. Diriger une telle formation fournit ainsi un bon point d'observation à la fois pour les évolutions du marché de la traduction et pour les différends que peut susciter le débat sur la relation entre université et monde du travail. Et comme il n'est pas de pensée libre qui ne s'interroge sur ses propres présupposés, c'est un lieu idéal pour se demander au service de qui, fondamentalement, j'exerce cette fonction. Cela fait donc partie des questions que je me pose à moi-même. Néanmoins, il va de soi que mon cas personnel a très peu d'importance, et c'est la raison pour laquelle je compte bien élargir le débat, en suggérant une position que je crois valable – ou en tout cas défendable – au-delà des particularités individuelles ou nationales. Disons que j'y vois l'occasion de proposer des éléments de doctrine et de discussion, sans certitude absolue sur le bien-fondé de mes positions : c’est une invitation au dialogue.

2. De l’obsolescence de nos représentations

Commençons par une image d’archive, hélas de trop mauvaise qualité pour être reproduite ici : une photographie du comité directeur de la Société française des traducteurs (SFT), la principale association française dans ce domaine (et d’ailleurs, à l’époque, la seule) dans les années 1950. Qu’y voit-on ? Des hommes, en costume, et qui fument. La seule femme (en chapeau) se trouve devant une machine à écrire : c’est une secrétaire. Voilà comment on s’est longtemps représenté la profession : masculine, solitaire, libérale. Une profession à laquelle on accédait par les hasards de l'existence, que l’on considérait comme un art ou un artisanat, avec des modes de fonctionnement séculaires, voire millénaires (en témoignent deux titres fameux : Sous l’invocation de Saint Jérôme, de Larbaud [1946], De Cicéron à Benjamin, de Ballard [1992]), fonctionnant à la confiance (rareté des contrats écrits) et alignée sur les principes de la traduction littéraire. Un univers peuplé, selon l’expression de Daniel Moskowitz (lui-même pendant trente ans directeur de la section traduction de l’ESIT/École supérieure d’interprètes et de traducteurs, à Paris, cité par Ladmiral, 1972 : 6-7), d’« esthètes » (les traducteurs littéraires) et de « mercenaires » (ceux que l’on n’appelait pas encore traducteurs pragmatiques). Et qui d’ailleurs n’attendaient pas grand-chose de l’institution universitaire, considérant globalement qu'apprendre la traduction dans un établissement supérieur, ou s'intéresser à une quelconque théorie de la traduction, était dans le meilleur des cas inutile, dans le pire, nuisible. Beaucoup a déjà été dit, à différentes époques, sur ce point (« Tout se passe comme si vivaient côte à côte une théorie toujours alléguée, mais à laquelle les théoriciens ne croient pas vraiment eux-mêmes, et une pratique à peu près sans influence contre cette théorie. » Mounin, 1955 : 7, ou « Il s'agit de tenter d'en finir, au moins sur le plan des principes, avec quelques idées reçues concernant la traduction. Particulièrement celle qui oppose la théorie à la pratique, les théoriciens et les praticiens. Et qui vient des praticiens. » Meschonnic, 1999 : 20), il est donc inutile de s’y appesantir.

Aujourd’hui, cette image sent le sépia et le sapin : elle n’a plus de pertinence, sauf peut-être dans certains esprits. Il faut l’actualiser. En effet, si l’on prend le cas français,

  • plus de 80 pour cent des traducteurs professionnels sont des traductrices ;
  • la majorité d'entre elles et d’entre eux, surtout chez les plus jeunes, possèdent un diplôme en traduction (60,44 pour cent en 2015, contre 52,07 pour cent en 2008, selon le sondage SFT sur les pratiques réalisé en 2015, question 7) ;
  • ils sont pour la plupart rompus à la pratique de la traduction assistée par ordinateur (TAO), de la traduction automatique et d’autres outils informatiques : à 78,42 pour cent, selon le sondage SFT 2015 (question 15), contre déjà presque 65 pour cent en 2008 ;
  • ils ont désormais pour pratique courante de travailler à partir de devis, voire d’appels d’offres, et sur la base de bons de commande ;
  • la traduction littéraire, ou plus largement la traduction d'édition, représente, selon les estimations les plus généreuses, entre 3 et 10 pour cent du poids économique du secteur, le reste de la profession se répartissant en une grande variété de métiers, qui évoluent rapidement et entre lesquels on constate une grande porosité : traducteurs, certes, mais aussi réviseurs, chefs de projet, terminologues, localisateurs, postéditeurs, rédacteurs/communicateurs techniques, transcréateurs, ingénieurs linguistes (voir par exemple Cronin, 2013). Ce qui n’est pas sans poser des problèmes d’ergonomie (voir par exemple Ehrensberger-Dow et Massey, 2019)... ;
  • à l’ère des mégadonnées (big data, en franglais), l’accès aux corpus y tient un rôle de plus en plus important, ne serait-ce que pour nourrir les mémoires de traduction et extraire les éléments terminologiques et phraséologiques (voir par exemple Loock, 2016, ou Gledhill et Kübler, 2015). De ce fait, on assiste à une redéfinition du service prêté, dans le sens d’une prise en charge de la communication multilingue des organisations, à des fins internes ou externes ;
  • ce monde s'est doté, diversement selon les pays, d'instances de régulation qui dialoguent et se concertent : le master européen en traduction (EMT), en place depuis 2009, et qui regroupe depuis 2019 81 membres, le projet PAMCIT (Pan African Master’s Consortium in Interpreting and Translation) en Afrique... ;
  • le paradigme dominant, porté par différentes théories, qui s'accordent au moins sur ce point, est celui de la communication.

Pour peu que l’on reste sous l’emprise du modèle d’il y a quelques décennies, on pourrait donc se sentir comme Saint Jérôme, qui écrivait après la défaite d’Andrinople contre les Goths, en l’an 378 de notre ère : « à présent les Barbares sévissent à travers notre pays, et tout n’est plus qu’incertitude. » (Von Campenhausen 1969 : 176) Ces évolutions posent accessoirement des problèmes de délimitation (où s'arrêtent les métiers de la traduction ?) et de définition (comment continuer de caractériser la traduction comme hyperonyme de ce vaste ensemble, et le faut-il même ?). Parmi les multiples définitions proposées pour le mot traduction, c’est peut-être finalement celle de Daniel Gouadec qui semble ici la plus pertinente : « toute forme de traitement d’un déséquilibre entre langues et cultures » (Gouadec 2005 : 16). Dès lors que l'on se voit confier la responsabilité d'un diplôme, il faut pourtant se positionner. Ce qui nous conduit à observer, schématiquement, trois approches :

  • on peut d’abord considérer que ces évolutions n'ont aucun rapport avec la fonction de l'université, et donc les ignorer, au nom d’une nécessaire séparation entre les deux univers. Cela revient à continuer d'enseigner la traduction à partir de la représentation séculaire que l'on se fait de cette fonction, sans se préoccuper des conditions pratiques d’exercice ;
  • on peut aussi transposer cette distinction entre ce qui est noble et ce qui ne l'est pas à l'intérieur des formations, qui seront alors alignées soit sur la traduction des « grands textes », pour se situer dans la filiation de Berman, soit sur les salariés des grandes organisations internationales – et en particulier les interprètes de conférence. Les premiers sont en effet porteurs d'un prestige symbolique (la haute littérature) hérité de la traduction des textes sacrés ; les seconds, d'une réussite financière enviable, que l'on trouve également sur le segment « haut de gamme » du marché (voir par exemple Mesa 2018) ;
  • on peut enfin estimer que ces changements survenus dans le monde professionnel sont déterminants pour la fonction qui est la nôtre, c'est-à-dire que nous n'avons pas à émettre de jugement à leur sujet, mais simplement à les considérer comme des faits auxquels il s'agit de s'adapter.

3. Des systèmes de valeurs à l’œuvre dans nos représentations

Chacune de ces approches est bien sûr justifiée à l’intérieur de son système de valeurs propre. La première voit l'université comme un lieu situé hors du monde et capable, à ce titre, d'analyser les mécanismes et les évolutions de ce monde, jusqu'à faire pièce aux tendances, aux effets de mode, aux idéologies du moment. Un point d’ancrage et de résistance, en somme. Cette posture s’inscrit dans une longue tradition : dès le Moyen Âge, c'est-à-dire dès les premières universités, celles-ci, au même titre que les églises, étaient des lieux où la puissance publique n'avait pas le droit de pénétrer de son propre chef (voir par exemple Caisse des dépôts et consignation et Conférence des présidents d’université, 2010, paragraphe 3.2.2)[3]. On en trouve une actualisation, en France, dans les deux principaux slogans entendus lors des mouvements d’opposition aux réformes survenues ces dix dernières années : « L’université n’est pas à vendre », « Le savoir n’est pas une marchandise ». La priorité sera ici à la formation de citoyens aptes à poser un regard critique. La traduction en tant qu’idéal platonicien et outil pour la conduite d’une pensée libre y trouve son compte ; la citoyenneté aussi. Les traducteurs... peut-être.

La deuxième approche, à partir des années 50, inverse les données du problème : elle conduit à repenser non seulement la formation, mais aussi la recherche à partir du monde professionnel, et plus précisément des composantes de ce monde qui apparaissent les plus légitimes et les plus visibles. En espérant, dans le meilleur des cas, un effet d'entraînement. C’est une démarche militante, qui vise la conquête d’une légitimité. Ce qui a supposé, en recherche, de rompre, parfois violemment, avec la linguistique ou la littérature comparée, et a engendré une traductologie souvent plus prescriptive que descriptive, avec un désir affiché de faire école. Dans la sphère francophone, cela a donné la théorie interprétative de la traduction (TIT) ; dans les pays de langue allemande, le courant fonctionnaliste. Cette fois-ci, c’est bien de traducteurs – et, en France, surtout d’interprètes – qu’il est question, plus que de traduction en général. Mais d’abord d’une certaine catégorie de traducteurs. Ce qui revient dans une large mesure à envisager et à structurer le monde de la traduction comme un système de castes.

La troisième approche est celle des formations professionnelles, ou plus exactement professionnalisantes plus récentes, c’est-à-dire créées pour beaucoup au début des années 1990. Celles-ci entendent former des individus à l'exercice rémunéré, si possible bien rémunéré, de leur profession, mais en s’adressant à l’ensemble de celle-ci. Cette fois, le jugement a priori sur ce qui est noble et sur ce qui est plébéien a disparu. Ce qui suppose, évidemment, de tenir compte de ce marché qui n'a pas, dans nos murs, que des amis.

Chacune de ces instances, et c’est normal, aspire à être celle qui va définir la norme pour l'ensemble du secteur. Si la question était de savoir s’il existe une neutralité axiologique des formateurs à travers leurs actes et leurs positionnements, la réponse serait donc clairement non – qu’on en soit conscient ou pas. C’est la différence entre l’idéologie et les postures assumées.

Au final, et au risque de schématiser, le problème serait celui du degré d'acceptation dont l'institution universitaire se sent capable par rapport au monde extérieur – et réciproquement. Je serais ainsi tenté de dire que la première option, celle de l’université comme lieu hors du monde, est de nature philosophique, au sens où elle entend se régler sur une forme de sagesse, au sens fort du terme. Avec en miroir celle des professionnels du passé pour lesquels la meilleure relation avec l’université était précisément une absence de relation, et qui pourrait être qualifiée de corporatiste (voir supra les citations de Mounin et Meschonnic). La deuxième approche procédera, selon les points de vue, d'une vision hiérarchisée de la profession, ou d'une posture d’avant-garde – au risque de se couper des évolutions majoritaires du monde professionnel. La dernière, celle que, modestement, je prône, aspire à avoir une action sur le réel à partir des données mêmes de ce réel. Ces deux dernières postures sont à proprement parler politiques, même si leurs positionnements respectifs sont différents.

4. Pourquoi la professionnalisation ?

Le problème, ici, est que, selon les options choisies, tel ou tel acteur du secteur apparaîtra tantôt comme un allié tantôt comme un adversaire, voire comme un épouvantail… Ces acteurs étant donc les professionnels, les agences de traduction, les utilisateurs de services de traduction ou les institutions, considérés les uns et les autres individuellement ou à travers leurs représentants, notamment associatifs. Sans oublier ces instances abstraites, mais à l'influence bien réelle que Cornelius Castoriadis (1975) appelait des « significations imaginaires sociales » : la science, la langue, la diversité, la citoyenneté, l'émancipation...

Mon opinion personnelle est que, formateur, je suis avant tout au service d'étudiants qu'il s'agit d'armer le mieux possible pour la confrontation avec des employeurs (pour les futurs salariés) et des donneurs d'ordre (pour les indépendants). Ce qui nécessite de les former en fonction des évolutions de ce marché ; et que les priver de ces moyens aboutirait à les placer en position d'infériorité dans ce rapport de force. Voire à les condamner au chômage ou à l’exploitation, faute de compétences suffisamment valorisables (voir à ce sujet le référentiel de compétences du réseau EMT, 2017). Cela suppose de considérer notamment les entreprises comme des interlocuteurs et comme des partenaires. D'où le choix, dans le cas du master professionnel que je codirige[4], de l'alternance. Choix qui a fait l'objet, à ses débuts (la formation en question existe depuis 1990), de vives polémiques : pour beaucoup, cela équivalait à donner les clés de l'université aux entreprises, alors qu’un siècle plus tôt, tout avait été fait (en France, en tout cas) pour leur retirer cette prérogative… Je crois que c’est exactement le contraire, et qu’il faut aller au contact, sans être naïf. Certes, certains acteurs économiques seront toujours tentés de peser sur ce qui se passe à l'intérieur de nos murs. Dans ce cas, les responsables de formation doivent se sentir suffisamment solides sur leurs bases universitaires pour les remettre — poliment — à leur place. Dialoguer, oui ; mais entre égaux. Ce qu'il s'agit de faire, finalement, c’est de négocier des interdépendances entre formations, professionnels, entreprises et pouvoirs publics, en faisant en sorte que chacun reste souverain dans le domaine qui est le sien, sans l'emporter sur les autres, mais en étant entendu. Ce qui pourrait être une définition opératoire d’un espace démocratique.

La question, finalement, est de savoir si nous sommes satisfaits du monde qui nous entoure. Et qui nous entoure en deux cercles concentriques. Il y a tout d'abord la situation des traducteurs aujourd'hui, en plein bouleversement, nous l'avons vu, avec à la fois des querelles de légitimité et des remises en cause profondes. Personnellement, et je sors ici une nouvelle fois d’une posture de recherche, je ne m'en contente pas et j'estime qu'il est de mon devoir de contribuer à l'améliorer. Mais cette préoccupation, que je qualifierai de déontologique, pourrait après tout être taxée de corporatiste si on n’allait pas au-delà. Car il y a un autre cercle, plus large : celui de la fonction que l'on peut assigner, non plus aux traducteurs mais à la traduction et à ses métiers, dans la société tout entière. Là aussi, la tâche est loin d'être achevée, et l’union de la pratique et de la recherche y a toute sa part. Mais cette fois, la dimension est éthique. Et c'est à partir de cette dimension éthique, qui procède d'une réflexion sur la traduction dans le monde en général, qu’il faut à mon sens œuvrer au développement et à la reconnaissance de la profession de traducteur, avec la maîtrise de toutes les compétences requises pour former des interlocuteurs aptes à défendre leur position. Dans cette logique, ensuite, il faut composer, c'est-à-dire trouver des alliés et des compromis pour avancer, ce qui est là encore l'essence même de la pratique politique. En somme, l'éthique enveloppe le déontologique, qui va à son tour conditionner les positionnements concrets et la négociation des interdépendances. C'est dans la conscience de tels enjeux que l'on peut, je pense, considérer la direction d'une formation comme un acte politique. En revanche la question des choix, à leur tour politiques, que mes étudiants peuvent être amenés à faire de leur côté, n'est pas et n’a pas à être de mon ressort : j’enseigne la traduction, pas la morale. S’il y a une neutralité axiologique à avoir dans ce vaste univers, c'est bien ici qu'elle se trouvera.

C’est en tout cas grâce à une telle vision concentrique que l’on peut éviter d’opposer deux tendances qui structurent les évolutions présentes du secteur. Car miser, comme je le propose, sur la formation de professionnels compétents sur la totalité du spectre de la traduction soulève une dernière question : qui sont les perdants potentiels d'une telle configuration ? Car ce point aussi est politique… Contre qui, contre quelles pratiques la professionnalisation risque-t-elle, en bien ou en mal, de jouer ? Contre l'amateurisme. Contre l'idée – encore répandue et à laquelle les outils gratuits disponibles en ligne donnent depuis peu une nouvelle jeunesse (voir par exemple Froeliger et Laplace, sous la direction de, 2012) – que tout le monde peut produire des traductions de qualité, c’est-à-dire directement utilisables par leurs destinataires. Contre l'idée, chère à la science-fiction et aux chauffeurs de taxi du vaste monde, que traduire serait facile, serait à la portée de tous (voir par exemple Kuzweil, 2011). C’est un leurre, certes, mais derrière ce leurre, il y a l’idée que la traduction peut devenir un bien commun de l'humanité. Or, cette idée, telle qu’on la trouve développée par exemple dans le cadre d’un projet tel que TraduXio, sous l’égide de Philippe Lacour[5], est généreuse et diablement séduisante. Il faut la défendre, et là aussi, trouver une articulation avec la nécessité d'une traduction vraiment professionnelle, c’est-à-dire de résister à la tentation de les opposer. Cette articulation, je pense, pourrait dépendre, là encore, de la reconnaissance de la place – centrale et visible, au lieu d'être centrale et occultée – qui devrait être celle de la fonction traduction dans la société. Et cette place pourrait être celle de ce que l’on appelle un « tiers de confiance », dans les échanges interlinguistiques et interculturels, c’est-à-dire d’un acteur qui garantisse la validité et la sincérité des opérations. Une dimension éthique qui enveloppe une dimension déontologique, décidément. Il faut donc ménager une voie entre des injonctions et des impératifs contradictoires, ce qui, une dernière fois, renvoie à une dimension politique.

5. En guise de codicille

Le lecteur ou la lectrice, même modérément attentifs, l’auront compris, l’article qu’ils viennent de lire est baigné par une hésitation sur le caractère scientifique des propos tenus. Cette hésitation ne m’est pas seulement personnelle : elle est révélatrice du statut même de la recherche en traduction. Le phénomène – massif, relativement récent et mondial – de professionnalisation, et bien sûr la réorganisation profonde de la profession de traducteur sous l’effet des nouvelles technologies ne peuvent que se répercuter sur l’organisation de la recherche dans ce domaine. Les évolutions que nous avons mentionnées font ainsi apparaître un besoin massif de prise de recul par rapport à ces évolutions, pour en discerner les enjeux, et, modestement mais résolument, peser sur ces tendances. Mais une prise de recul qui serve à mieux embrasser, pas à se couper des phénomènes. C’est dire la nécessité d’une recherche qui soit, là encore, non pas déconnectée du réel, mais au contraire en prise (et parfois aux prises) avec celui-ci : une recherche résolument appliquée.

A cet égard, il n’est pas anodin que se développe, depuis quelques années et à la suite des travaux d’Even-Zohar (1990) et Toury (1995) une véritable sociologie de la traduction (voir par exemple, et avec des points d’application assez différents, Wolf et Fukari 2007, ou Chesterman 2017). Il y a ici beaucoup à faire, ne serait-ce que pour envisager dans des termes plus scientifiques les postures des différents acteurs de ce système. A ce titre, on pourrait notamment s’aider, d’une part, des travaux de Boltanski et Thévenot (1991) sur le concept de « cités » et de « grandeurs », à savoir ce qui construit la légitimité de tel ou tel individu en tant que membre d’un groupe professionnel, et détermine de ce fait son positionnement par rapport à ses voisins et interlocuteurs, à l’intérieur d’une même profession, ou dans ses rapports avec les autres professions et, d’autre part, de ceux de Nathalie Heinisch (2017) sur le concept d’axiologie, c’est-à-dire sur une « sociologie des valeurs ». Il y a là un riche et utile programme de recherche, ainsi qu’une mine d’outils à mettre en œuvre en les appliquant aux relations concrètes entre les acteurs du secteur de la traduction – et non plus, comme c’est souvent le cas, en les restreignant à la sphère du littéraire (Gouanvic 2007) ou de l’édition (Sapiro 2009). On peut estimer (et c’est mon cas) qu’un tel programme sort du cadre défini pour le présent article et la présente publication, et c’est pourquoi je ne le cite ici qu’en guise de codicille. Dans le même temps, lorsqu’il aura été mené à bien, s’il l’est un jour, c’est peut-être par ce biais que l’on pourra surmonter l’obstacle épistémologique posé par le caractère subjectif des réponses que l’on peut actuellement apporter à l’interrogation – nécessaire – sur le caractère politique que revêt la direction d’une formation en traduction.

Références bibliographiques

Baker, Mona (2001) “The Pragmatics of Cross-Cultural Contact and Some False Dichotomies in Translation Studies”, in Maeve Olohan (sous la direction de) CTIS Occasional Papers, UMIST, Manchester, Centre for Translation & Intercultural Studies : 7-20.

Ballard, Michel (1992) De Cicéron à Benjamin – Traducteurs, traductions, réflexions, Presses universitaires de Lille/du Septentrion.

Berman, Antoine (1984) L’Épreuve de l’étranger – Culture et traduction dans l’Allemagne romantique, Paris, Gallimard.

Boltanski, Luc, et Laurent Thévenot (1991) De la justification – Les économies de la grandeur, Paris, Gallimard.

Caisse des dépôts et consignation et Conférence des présidents d’université (2010) Le Transfert du patrimoine universitaire, Paris, Presses universitaires de France.

Castoriadis, Cornélius (1975) L’Institution imaginaire de la société, Paris, Seuil, collection « Esprit ».

Chesterman, Andrew (2009) « The Name and Nature of Translator Studies », Hermes : tidsskrift for sprogforskning 42 : 13-22.

Cronin, Michael (2013) Translating in the Digital Age, New York, Routledge.

Ehrensberger-Dow, Maureen et Gary Massey (2019) « Le traducteur et la machine : mieux travailler ensemble », Des Mots aux actes, n°8 : Traduction et technologie, regards croisés sur de nouvelles pratiques : 47-62.

EMT (master européen en traduction/European master’s in translation) (2017). Référentiel de compétences. URL: : (consultée le 24 février 2021)

Even-Zohar, Itamar (1990) Polysystem Studies, Poetics Today 1(1). URL: : cent20studies.pdf (consultée le 17 mars 2020).

Froeliger, Nicolas et Colette Laplace, sous la direction de (2012) Désir de traduire et légitimité du traducteur, Forum, Séoul et Paris, volume 10, n°1.

Gledhill, Christopher et Natalie Kübler (2015) “How Trainee Translators Analyse Lexico-Grammatical Patterns”, Journal of Social Sciences 11(3): 162.

Gouadec, Daniel (2005) « Terminologie, traduction et rédaction spécialisées » Langages 157 : 14-24. URL:, (consultée le 19 avril 2019).

Gouanvic, Jean-Marc (2007) Pratique sociale de la traduction – Le roman réaliste américain dans le champ littéraire français (1920-1960), Arras, Artois Presses Université, collection « Traductologie ».

Heinich, Nathalie (2017) Des valeurs. Une approche sociologique, Paris, Gallimard, collection Bibliothèque des Sciences humaines.

Kruzweil, Ray (2011) « Ray Kurzweil on Translation Technology”, interview with Nataly Kelly. The Huffington Post, 13/06/2011. URL: (consultée le 24 février 2021).

Ladmiral, Jean-René (1972) « Introduction », Langages 7(28) : 3-7. URL :, (consultée e 15 avril 2019).

Larbaud, Valéry (1964) Sous l’invocation de Saint Jérôme, Paris, Gallimard.

Loock, Rudy (2016), La Traductologie de corpus, Lille, Presses universitaires du Septentrion.

Mesa, Anne-Marie (2018) « Décrocher des contrats et conserver le client : mode d’emploi », in Circuit, Le Magazine d’information des langagiers 137. URL: (consultée le 17 mars 2020).  

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

Mounin, Georges (1955) Les Belles infidèles, Paris, Les Cahiers du Sud.

Sapiro, Gisèle (2009) Translatio – Le marché de la traduction en France à l'heure de la mondialisation, Paris, Éditions du CNRS, collection « Culture et société ».

Société française des traducteurs/SFT (2015) Enquête 2015 sur les pratiques professionnelles des métiers de la traduction — Résultats préliminaires, URL: (consultée le 17 avril 2019).

Toury, Gideon (1995) Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond, Amsterdam et Philadelphie, John Benjamins.

Von Campenhausen, Hans (1969) Les Pères latins, traduit de l’allemand par C. A. Moreau, Paris, Éditions de l’Orante.

Wolf, Michaela et Alexandra Fukari, sous la direction de (2007) Constructing a Sociology of Translation, Amsterdam et Philadelphie, John Benjamins.


[1] Le présent article s’inspire notamment d’une discussion avec mes collègues liégeoises Valérie Bada et Céline Letawe : qu’elles en soient ici remerciées.

[2] Et il n’est pas certain que Berman (« C’est à partir de sa nature même d’expérience que devrait se faire la réflexion sur la traduction », 1984 : 300) me soit ici d’un grand secours, car sa définition du mot « expérience » est plus philosophique que pratique et car, lorsqu’il parle de la dimension éthique de la traduction, c’est avant tout, on peut le penser, pour nous faire la morale, c’est-à-dire pour préciser comment, selon lui, il faut traduire.

[3] Il en reste des traces, dans les esprits, mais aussi tout à fait concrètement, lorsque certains militants entendent transformer, cela a été le cas en France, par exemple, à l'université de Toulouse le Mirail, en 2018, les locaux de l'université en « zone à défendre » (ZAD), au même titre que le site qui fut longtemps promis à la construction de l'aéroport de Notre-Dame des Landes. Mais ce cas est évidemment extrême, et il ne faut pas juger, sauf peut-être en traductologie, les phénomènes par leurs manifestations extrêmes.

[4] Il s’agit du master ILTS (Industrie de la langue et traduction spécialisée), à l’Université Paris Diderot/Université de Paris : [url=][/url].

[5] Voir (consultée le 17 mars 2020).

About the author(s)

After his graduation at the ESIT translator school (Paris) in 1987, Nicolas Froeliger worked for 17 years as a translator and head of the Parisian Architexte translator company. He started teaching technical translation at Université Paris Diderot in 1992, where he went on to become a professor in translation studies in 2014. He has been head, and then co-head of the ILTS (Language industries and specialized translation: [webpage]( master’s degree, at Université Paris Diderot (now Université de Paris) since 2006. After a Ph-D in American literature (on Thomas Pynchon’s novels, 1995), he directed his research toward the concrete modalities of pragmatic translation, which led him to write about sixty papers plus a book, *Les Noces de l'analogique et du numérique – De la traduction pragmatique* (Belles lettres, 2013). In 2007, he also founded the *Field Grown Translation Studies* (Traductologie de plein champ) conferences, whose aim is to bring together professional translators, trainers, researchers and students, on translation-releated topics of common interest (the four last installments have been organized jointly with colleagues at ISTI/Brussels, and FTI/University of Geneva). He is also co-director of the Center for Translation Studies (CET, at Institut des humanités de Paris), vice-president (and former president) of AFFUMT (the French association for university training in translation). In 2019, he was elected as member of the EMT (European Master’s in Translation) board.

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©inTRAlinea & Nicolas Froeliger (2021).
"La direction d’une formation en traduction comme acte politique", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

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The Role of Translation in the Reception of Foucault in Post-revolutionary Iran

By Azam Ghamkhah & Ali Khazaeefar (Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran)


This study focuses on how the ideas of Michel Foucault were received and interpreted in the post-revolutionary Iran during two significant political periods stretching from 1979 to 2005, covering two eight-year administrations, the Reconstruction administration and the Reformist administration, presumed to very different publication policies and degrees of openness towards Western thought in general and Foucault’s ideas in particular. Foucault’s support of the Islamic Revolution is a long- debated topic among Iranian intellectuals as well as French journalists who were so critical of Foucault after his visit to Iran in September 1979. Significant as Foucault’s positive remarks concerning the Islamic revolution are, the study also investigates whether Foucault’s ideas were received by his left-wing translators independently of his supportive stance on the Islamic Revolution. The findings of this study indicate that the policies of the two administrations toward translations of Foucault’s ideas were essentially the same but that in the Reformist period there was a boom in the diffusion of Foucault’s discourse through translations. Moreover, we have established that Foucault’s idea of ‘power relations’ was the most frequent theme discussed in translations and journal articles written on Foucault in these two periods.

Keywords: translator studies, history of translation, Michel Foucault, Iran, post-revolutionary Iran

©inTRAlinea & Azam Ghamkhah & Ali Khazaeefar (2021).
"The Role of Translation in the Reception of Foucault in Post-revolutionary Iran", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

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

This research falls within the scope of Chesterman’s Translator Studies as a subfield of Translation Studies (Chesterman 2009), and which deal with three branches including cultural, cognitive and sociological studies. In the cultural branch which is the focus of the current research, values, ethics, ideologies, history, traditions and the role and influences of translators through history as agents of cultural evolution have been examined. The cognitive branch which deals with mental processes, decision-making, the impact of emotions, attitudes to norms, personality, and also the sociological branch which deals with translators’/interpreters’ observable behavior are not what we seek to depict in this article. The main focus of this study is to paint a clear picture of the role of translators who were intellectuals at the time of the reception of Foucault in Post-revolutionary Iran ’from a Translator studies perspective, particularly the cultural branch.

This study aims to investigate the early reception of Foucault by focusing on two important political periods in Iran’s history: The Reconstruction Period (1989-1997) [1], and the Reformist Period (1997-2005).[2] These two periods are significant because they seemed to follow two quite different policies on publishing, in line with their political agendas.

In order to achieve above aim, we first discuss the idea of Foucault and the Islamic Revolution of Iran, then we investigate Foucault’s reception in each period in a separate section.  Michel Foucault visited Iran in the early days of the Revolution and expressed a sympathetic view on the Islamic Revolution, much to the chagrin of the left-wing intellectuals, who were the only possible candidates to introduce him to the Iranian readership.[3] We will therefore consider whether Foucault’s stance on the Islamic Revolution, though modified later, had any impact on his translators as well as on his reception in Iran.  

2. Foucault and the Islamic Revolution of Iran

The first significant mention of Foucault in Iran was made in 1969, when Mohammad Ghazi, a prominent translator, translated into Persian an interview with Foucault conducted by Jean-Pierre Elkabbach in 1968. The next mention of Foucault is found in 1978, the same year that Foucault visited Iran and the Islamic Revolution took place. However, there was no translation of Foucault’s works until 1995. This raises the question of whether the translators had been unwilling to introduce Foucault’s ideas because of his stance on the Islamic Revolution.

The support that the Iranian people received from French intellectuals in their fight against the Shah dated back to 1975, when French intellectual circles, led by Jean Paul Sartre, started backing Iranian protesters. In the same year, some intellectuals expressed concern in a newspaper article on the unbearable pressure exerted on Iranian intellectuals including Ali Shariati[4] and Gholam Hossein Sa’edi[5], who had been convicted in the Shah’s courts. [6] As the tension between Iranians and the Shah grew in 1978, French intellectuals established an association called The French Association of Friendship and Solidarity with the Peoples of Iran (l’Association française d’amitié et de solidarité avec le peuples d’Iran), which later joined another association called ‘The French Association of Democratic Jurists’ to back Iranian Protestors in 1978 (Khoramshad 2000). Furthermore, Jean-Paul Sartre founded the Committee to Defend Iranian Political Prisoners (Le Comité de défense des prisonniers politiques iraniens) in order to assist Iranians in a more organized way. This committee’s first action was to publish an announcement on March 11, 1978 signed by some famous figures, including Vladimir Jankélévitch, Claude Mauriac, Laurent Schwartz and Simone de Beauvoir to back 150 prisoners who were on hunger strike. Moreover, after the mass killings on ‘Black Friday’,[7] French intellectual society sparked a furious backlash in France against the Shah regarding his repression of Iranian protestors.[8] The French associations that raised their voice on the subject included International Federation of Human Rights (Fédération internationale des droits de l’Homme) and Organization of French Community Assistance (Secours populaire français). The events that took place in Iran in 1979 thus became of great concern to French Intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Raymond Claude Ferdinand Aron,Maurice Duverger, and in particular, Michel Foucault, as he closely followed the regime’s violence toward Iranian protesters. (Ibid 2000)

In September 1978, Foucault visited Iran for the first time and expressed his thoughts on the Islamic Revolution in both interviews and articles. The first interview with Foucault in Iran was conducted in English by Baqir Parham, translator of Foucault’s article The Discourse on Language (L’ordre du discours ), on September 23, 1978 in Tehran. In this interview, Foucault elaborated on the concept of ‘the intellectual’, stressing that ‘there is no intellectual who is not at the same time, and in some way, involved with politics’ (Foucault 1979 cited in Afary et al. 2005). Referring to the case of Iran, Foucault said:

no Westerner, no Western intellectual with some integrity, can be indifferent to what she or he hears about Iran, a nation that has reached a number of social, political, and so forth, dead ends (Foucault, 1979 translated by Afary et al. 2005:75)

In reply to Bagher Parham’s question on his ideas on religion, Foucault expressed disagreement with Marx’s idea that ‘Religion is the opium of the people’, stating that this might be true about Christianity, but not about Islam, especially Shia Islam. Foucault also argued that ‘the role of Shi’ism in political awakening, in maintaining political consciousness, in inciting and fomenting political awareness, is historically undeniable’. He also maintained that ‘despite changes that occurred in the nature of religion due to the proximity between Shi’ism and state power in that period, religion has nevertheless played an oppositional role’ (1979: 186).

In an article entitled ‘What do the Iranians Dream about?’ (A quoi revent les Iraniens) (Foucault 1978a), originally published in French in 1978 and translated into Persian in 1998 by Hossein Masoomi Hamedani, Foucault perceived those who marched in the streets of Tehran as ‘subjects of history who had risen to make history the subject of their revolutionary acts’ (1978 a: 18). He associated the revolution with spirituality and said, ‘This movement has just thrown half a million men into the streets of Tehran, up against machine guns and tanks’ (Foucault 1978a: 19). Foucault reported that when he asked protesters in Iran what they wanted, they replied ‘an Islamic Government’ but when he asked for their explanation of the Islamic Government, their answers were very vague. Foucault continued: ‘I don’t want to name ‘an Islamic Government’ as a utopia but it impressed me as ‘a political will’. While he expressed his hesitation about this ‘political will’, he said ‘at the moment, we are rallying to Ayatollah Khomeini, but once the dictatorship (of the Shah) is abolished, all this mist may dissipate’ (Foucault 1978a: 41).

In 1979, Foucault wrote another article on the Islamic Revolution entitled ‘L’esprit d’un monde sans esprit’. The article was translated into English by Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson in the same year with the title ‘Spirit in a Spiritless World’ (Foucault and Kritzman 1988). This article, has been reprinted in Iran 13 times up to now. Init, Foucault pointed out that although Iranian people had different and even contradictory religious beliefs, they were united and wanted the Shah to leave the country. He said: ‘Nobody has ever seen the collective will, and personally I thought that the collective will was like God, like the soul, something one would never encounter. We met, in Tehran and throughout Iran, the collective will of a people’ (Foucault & Kritzman 1988: 215). Foucault noted that one thing that made the Islamic Revolution different from other revolutions was that the economic problems of Iran were not so harsh as to bring millions of people into the streets against tanks and guns (Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh 2000). He asserted that in some countries people preferred to die in front of tanks instead of starving to death, but in the case of Iran, it was a ‘collective will’ that led to the Islamic Revolution.

Foucault’s first visit to Iran on September 16, 1978 coincided with an earthquake in Tabas, a city in Northeast region of Iran. In reaction, Foucault wrote an article entitled ‘The Army, when the Earth Trembles’ (Taccuino persiano: L’esercito, quando la terra trema) in which he posed the question: ‘Who wants to construct Tabas again?’ and he referred to Ayatollah Khomeini’s order to people: ‘Help your brothers in Tabas but not through the Pahlavi regime’ (Foucault 1978b: 10). Foucault reported that he had talked to some generals who opposed the Shah claiming that ‘the day after Black Friday some soldiers committed suicide’(Foucault 1978b: 15). In this article, Foucault tried to portray the uniqueness of Iran’s revolutionary atmosphere at the time of the Shah’s fall. An important fact is that Foucault’s only source of information at the time of his visit to Iran was Islamist intellectuals and those who supported Ayatollah Khomeini (Ahmadi 2019 personal interview).

Foucault’s appreciation of the Islamic Revolution continued when in 1978 he interviewed Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari, an important Shi’te religious exponent of the Islamic Revolution. As we read in the article ‘Tehran: religion against the Shah’ (Teheran la foi contre le shah), Ayatollah Shariatmadari introduced the concept of ‘the Islamic Government’ to Foucault, which remained unclear to him. What made Foucault interested in the Islamic Revolution was the concept of ‘spirituality’. After the revolution took place, there were certain events that earned Foucault’s disapproval from the very beginning, not least among them the severe repression of the heads of the Pahlavi regime by the new government. It was believed that Foucault did not publish on Iranian matters in the French press where his comments elicited fiery responses from French readers who did not support the Islamic Revolution (Scullion 1995). Therefore, he published his articles in the Italian newspaper, Corriere Della Sera, between 28 September 1978 and 13 February 1979, under the running head Michel Foucault: Persian Notebook (Taccuino Persian).

Foucault condemned issuing harsh sentences for heads of the Shah’s regime and argued that this event did not devalue the Iranian movement which led to the revolution in 1979. Furthermore, he wrote an open letter to Mehdi Bazargan, the then Prime Minister, expressing his objection to post-revolutionary events in Iran. He wrote

Many Iranians are irritated that they are now the object of vociferous lectures. They have shown that they know how to go about asserting their rights. …You are called upon to make sure that this people never have to regret the unyielding force with which it has liberated itself (Foucault 2000:439-443)

Foucault also wrote an article entitled ‘Is it useless to revolt?’ (Inutile de se soulever?), translated into Persian by Mostafa Darvishi in 2014.  In this article, he emphasized the need to separate the Iranian movement from its initial results of the Islamic Revolution.

The first book to introduce Foucault’s ideas was Babak Ahmadi’s Text Structure and Textural Interpretation (Sakhtar va Ta’vil-e Matn), published in 1992. Only one chapter of the book was devoted to Foucault, briefly introducing certain concepts such as archeology of knowledge, genealogy and madness. The first translation of a complete book by Foucault was This is not a pipe (In yek chapaq nist) translated by Mani Haghighi and published in 1995. If this translation is taken as the earliest introduction of Foucault in Iran, then there is a two-decade time gap between Foucault’s first visit to Iran (September 1978), when he first became known to Iranian intellectuals, and the publication of his first complete book (1995). The question that arises here is how this gap can be accounted for. One possible reason is that the intellectual translators were not happy with Foucault’s praise of the Islamic Revolution, so they erected a conspiracy of silence against him. This theory is justified on the grounds that dissident intellectuals were the only ones who might have introduced Foucault’s work, as attested by Babak Ahmadi: ‘Translators and interpreters, including the intellectuals, whether secular, liberal, or even left-wing, were all dissidents. I do not know anyone who might have introduced Foucault due to his early attachment to the Religious Revolution.’ (Personal communication, September 21, 2019). Also, while Iranian intellectuals attempted to promote the narrative that Foucault ceased to support the Islamic Revolution after the harsh verdicts against the heads of the Shah’s regime, we have found no evidence that Foucault repudiated his early views on the Islamic revolution, even though the revolution distanced itself from its early ‘sprituality’. 

In this regard, two points should be considered. First, Foucault’s articles discussed above were translated into Persian two decades after they were first published in French. Second, as recorded in the National Library and Archives of Iran, the publications on the topic of Foucault and Islamic Revolution in the periodicals in two periods under investigation constitute only Fourteen percent of the all publications on/by Foucault, including translations and original writings (cf. Figure 4).  The key translators of Foucault expressed in personal communications that they did not take Foucault’s ‘mistaken opinions about the Islamic Revolution’ very seriously and that the delay could be explained by other factors including the 8-year war between Iran and Iraq. There is this idea that Foucault’s translators started translating Foucault’s philosophical beliefs regardless of his stance towards the Islamic Revolution. In this regard, Ahamadi stated,

Foucault’s remarks on Iran were not detailed or analytic and precise. It was obvious that Foucault did not have a comprehensive knowledge of Iran, and of its contemporary history and political factions and culture. His comments were journalistic remarks to the Iranian intellectuals of that time. We consider Foucault as a thoughtful philosopher and did not take his comments on the Revolution so seriously (Ahmadi 2019)

As we shall see, the left-wing intellectuals were particularly interested in Foucault’s ideas of power relations. It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that while Foucault’s supportive comments on the Islamic Revolution were disapproved of among Iranian intellectuals, the two-decade delay in translating his works cannot be explained by this disapproval. 

3. Foucault’s Reception in the Reconstruction Period (1989-1997) 

According to Pym (2017), paying attention to the social roles played by translators in mediating between cultures can move translation studies towards the wider questions of Intercultural Studies. This approach to Translation Studies is what Pym calls ‘humanizing’ Translation History. In this section, we display the social role played by Babak Ahmadi, Foucault’s most famous translator in Iran.

We now turn to the main question of this study; that is, the reception of Foucault in two different political climates, the Reconstruction Period and the Reformist Period. First, we provide a political background for each period, then we discuss translations and original writings by which Foucault’s ideas were introduced in Iran.

Following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there was a restless social and political climate which led to the formation of a multitude of political parties and organizations. The supreme leader of the revolution appointed the Supreme Council of the Revolution and the Interim Government led by Mehdi Bazargan. The role of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, was to coordinate these two bodies. Notwithstanding his attempts to make the bodies work together, the constant struggles between them led to the resignation of Mehdi Bazargan along with his cabinet on 4 November 1979, following the seizure of the American Embassy and hostage-taking (Parsa Bonab 2007). In 1980, the Iran-Iraq war started, lasting until 1988. In this period, because of the sanctions and the socio-political challenges facing the country, there was a decline in all kinds of publication. The following figure displays the main themes dominating the Reconstruction Period (Parvaneh 2015).

Figure 1: The main themes dominating President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s administration (Parvaneh, 2015)

As the Reconstruction Period was considered as the post-war era, President Hashemi Rafsanjani put economic development at the top of his agenda; he also tried to avoid political conflict and tension as much as possible. His approach in domestic policies involved a lack of media coverage of different issues, preserving silence on national, administrative and even family issues, a lack of explicitness and the non-mention of names, and most importantly a balanced cabinet composition and almost equal share of both left and right parties. (Safiri, 1999: 160-165). These strategies created the closed political atmosphere of this period. A kind of political authoritarianism which led to the creation of political stabilization instead of political development (Eftekhari, 2001: 63)

Although none of Foucault’s articles on the Islamic Revolution, were translated into Persian in this period, a few seminal works were written and translated on Foucault by Babak Ahmadi and Mani Haghighi, who introduced Foucault’s ideas in Iran for the first time (see Table 1).






Persian Title

Title in English

Babak Ahmadi





Sakhtar va Ta’vil-e Matn

Text Structure and Textural Interpretation

Babak Ahmadi





Modernite va Andishe-e Enteqadi

Modernity and Critical Thought

Babak Ahmadi





Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

Mani Haghighi




in yek chapaq nist

This is not a pipe 


Table 1: List of works written and translated on Foucault during 1989-1997

Babak Ahmadi is an Iranian writer, translator, and left-wing intellectual, as well as a dissident of the Islamic Republic who published an announcement - with Khashyar Deilami, a translator and editor of philosophical works - supporting the Reformist Movement in the 2010 election (Iranian Green Movement).[9] As is mentioned in the introduction, Ahmadi’s goal in his book Text Structure and Textual Interpretation, is to analyse three main literary theories: Structuralism, Deconstruction and Hermenutics. In order to clarify these three domains of thought, Ahmadi presents examples from primary sources and provides firsthand evidence from the related authors. It is important to note that Archeology of Knowledge was translated into Persian in 2013 by Afshin Jahandideh and Niko Sarkhosh, but here in Ahmadi’s book (1992) its main concepts were already explained and clarified.

It seems that the interest Ahmadi showed in Foucault was basically political, for each of Foucault’s books provided Ahmadi with an opportunity to critique systems of power, a trend that continued into the successive Reformist Period. This is confrmed by the fact that throughout the 1990s, Babak Ahmadi taught some courses at the Society for Wisdom and Philosophy in Tehran and his classes were attended by many intellectuals who were keen to know about Foucault and his ideas on power relations. Among the regular participants were Afshin Jahandideh, Niko Sarkhosh and Shapoor Etemad[10], who later became key figures in the translation and reception of Foucault’s ideas during the Reformist Period. According to Jahandideh and Sarkhosh,

[i]t was not a typical Philosophy course: it was an opportunity to speak, listen and think but in a quite different way; the circle inspired us with questions as well as doubts and confusions. Unlike other educational institutes, the Society for Wisdom and Philosophy didn’t ask for a tuition fee. There was no categorization of theories. One could pose a question and help find an asnswer to the question. It was like an open door into a foggy horizon. (Sarkhosh and Jahandideh 2018)

Jame Bozorg (2018) maintains that the social and cultual situation of Iran during the Reconstruction Period, the limitation of literary resources and Ahmadi’s mastery of several languages helped him become ‘the intellectual hero’ of a generation of Iranian intellectuals. Ahmadi’s influence, through his books and philosophy courses, reached its peak in this period when intellectuals did not have access to new theories of Human Sciences. It is worthwhile to note that, although Ahmadi only gives talks two or three times a year these days, his works and translations are still very present in the Iranian intellectual scene. Thus, Foucault’s ideas were first introduced in Iran through original critical writings in Persian rather than through translations. Babak Ahmadi introduced Foucault’s main works because, he said, ‘we wanted to establish a discourse on Foucault’s ideas’ (Ahmadi 2019). [11] According to Babak Ahmadi (1992), Foucault in all his works of philosophy considered himself an eye with a critical view on power relations. This instrumental and political motivation for introducing Foucault was motivated by the fact that, as Roger Deacon puts it, each of Foucault’s works is a ‘case study of how power relations have conditioned, invested and fabricated specific human experiences such as madness, sickness, punishment and sexuality’ (Deacon 2002 : 90). As table 2 displays, 17 works including periodicals and original writings in Persian have been studied and we tagged all 17 works based on their main theme.  Nearly 60 percent of works discussed power relations and only 5.9 percent of them dealt with Islamic Revolution.


Title of Topics

Number of Occurrence



Power Relations




Introducing Foucault




Islamic Revolution








Arbitrariness of signs








Death of Author




Review of Foucault’s Translations






Table 2: The main themes of Foucault’s discourse in Iran during the Reconstruction Period

Having established that 60 pecent of the books and journal articles investigated the concept of power relations in Foucault’s ideas, we had a closer look at these works. Figure 2 deals specifically with the concept of power relations in the Reconstruction Period.

Figure 2: The pattern of power relations in the Reconstruction Period

During the Reconstruction Period, when different ways of criticizing were blocked by the government, Foucault’s idea of power relations was welcomed and considered as a tool in the hands of intellectuals of the time, such as Babak Ahmadi, with which to challenge the status quo. Foucault (1981) emphasized the “necessity of radical criticism” in an interview with Didier Eribon after the election of François Mitterrand as President of France in 1981. Ezatullah Fooladvand translated the interview, entitled “Is thinking really important?”, in 1994. It should be noted this interview “”was also published under another title, “Is thinking important”, during the Reformist Period in 2003 in the newspaper named “Solidarity”.  This shows the attractiveness of the idea of “necessity of radical criticism” among intellectuals; thanks to the translators of Foucault’s thought, his ideas provided a platform for criticism in the closed political atmosphere of Iran in the Reconstruction Period.

4. Foucault’s Reception in the Reformist Period (1997-2005)

The Reformist Period (1997-2005) started when Mohammad Khatami was elected president of Iran. From an ideological point of view, this period was radically different from both the previous and the following periods in that President Khatami, having won almost 70% of the vote, advocated freedom of expression, civil society, tolerance, constructive diplomatic relations with other states, free market and foreign investment. Furthermore, President Khatami who had displayed genuine interest in cultural openness advanced “Dialogue among Civilizations” as an international political theory, somehow an antithesis to Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations,[12] and which was ultimately adopted by United Nations on 4 November 1998. What was culturally significant in this period was an intellectual vitality and artistic freedom as well as a relaxation of censorship on books and movies. This gave rise to an intellectual climate that was unprecedented in Iran, resulting in a veritable translation boom. This was the period in which original critical writings and articles on Foucault appeared in different periodcals, both left- and right-wing. The following picture displays the main themes dominating the Reformist Period.

Figure 3: The main themes dominating President Khatami’s administration (Soltani, 2005)

As can be seen in Figure 3, civil society, law, freedom of speech, and political development have been among the most important concepts of Reformist’s discourse. Khatami was elected President with the slogan of reform, religious democracy and improvement in international relations. After obtaining executive power, President Khatami tried to create a logical symmetry and balance by using the three principles of the constitution, namely freedom, independence and Islam, in order to achieve democracy and call for de-escalation and dialogue with other nations of the world.



Date of Publication

Persian Title

English Title of the ST

Original Title

Morteza Kalantarian




Barasi Parvande yek ghatl

I, Pierre Riviere, Having Slaughtered my Mother, my Sister and my Brother 

Moi, Pierre Rivière, ayant égorgé ma mère, ma soeur et mon frère 

Niko Sarkhosh & Afshin Jahandideh




Moraghebat va tanbih:Tavalod Zendan

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Surveiller et punir:

Naissance de la prison

Bagher Parham

University of Tehran



Nazm Goftar

The Discourse on Language

L’ordre du discours 

Afshin Jahandideh



Niche, Freud, Marx

Nietzsche, Freud, Marx

Nietzsche, Freud, Marx 

Niko Sarkhosh & Afshin Jahandideh




Erade Be Danestan

The Will to Knowledge

La Volonté de savoir 


Yahya Emami

Naghsh-o Negar



Peidayesh Klinik

The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception

Naissance de la clinique – une archéologie du regard médical 

Table 3: Foucault’s works translated in the Reformist Period

To show more specifically the topics which were discussed by the intellectuals writing on Foucault, we will refer to some reviews written on Foucault in this period.

The themes such as power and resistance were quite interesting for Foucault’s translators in Iran. Niko Sarkhosh said, there are always people who resist, and there are always people who do not accept things imposed on them; Foucault is a weapon of war to resist and to think differently’ (Jahandideh and Sarkhosh 2019).  Sarkhosh also said:

The reasons why we chose to translate Foucault twenty years ago were twofold: the first reason was pure chance; we were so lucky to have found Foucault. The second reason was that we had a problem, not with old paradigms, but with modern paradigms that were meant to help us analyze the present situation and to find solutions. And who better than Foucault to help us think alternatively, for he had tried his best to reduce the pressure of the paradigms that governed academia. His thought presented a way out of a thought cul de sac, a pair of glasses that enabled us to think and to live alternatively (Sarkhosh 2011:10-11).

The ideas of power and resistence were discussed and reviewed in the Reformist Period by several writers. In an article entitled ‘Power and security in the age of Postmodernism’ (Ghodrat va Amniat Dar Asr-e Postmodernist) written by Mohammad Reza Tajik, a reformist and political activist, drawing on Foucault’s ideas, discussed power and security and their relationship with ‘modernity’ and ‘civilization’ and argued that since the beginning of the 16th century there has been a metanarrative that substituted ‘Human’ for ‘God’ (Tajik 1998). In another article entitled ‘Power from Foucault’s point of view’ (Ghodrat Dar Negahe Michel Foucault) [13] refering to Foucault’s work Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, the author, Reza Rahimi argued that for Foucault modern punishment was not an act of supression but a means of organizing and shaping people’s future actions. In other words, it had a social function (Rahimi 2003).

In addition to power, the resistance which it provokes was explained and discussed in different articles. According to Foucault, resistance is integral to power. The existence of power relationships depends on a multiplicity of points of resistance which are present everywhere in the power network. They are the odd term in relations of power; they are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite (Foucault, 1978c cited in Nietzsche et al., 1968: 95–96) According to Babak Ahmadi (1992), Foucault in all his works of philosophy considered himself as an eye with a critical view on power relations. A critique of “power relations” thus seems to have attracted Foucault’s Persian translators who live in an authoritarin society and for whom translation is a safer and more powerful channel of protest.

Another article on Foucault’s ideas, entitled ‘Az Jonon Ta Jensiat’ (From Insanity to Sexuality), was written by Payam Yazdanjoo. Having represented Foucault as a French philosopher who dealt with the archeology and geneology of philosophical concepts, Yazdanjoo gave a brief description of translations of Foucault’s works in Persian. Moreover, he argued that knowledge, power and sexuality were the main themes that Foucault addressed in his works and tried to analyze them with his archeological and geneological methods.

Shirin Askari in her article ‘Roshanfekran dar barabar-e haghighat’ (Intellectuals Facing Reality), reviewed Foucault’s ideas, particularly his ideas on the role of intellectuals. In this article, Askari describes the two types of intellectuals Foucault theorized: the ‘universal’ and ‘specific’. The traditional role of universal intellectuals was to reveal reality for those who were unable to recognize it themselves and also to act as an informed conscience of people in society. Foucault argued that common people without any need of being an intellectual could be conscious of different hegemonic forms in social, economic and cultural framework of their daily life. As he did research on prisoners, he came to believe that political movements led by protestors with the help of universal intellectuals are usually supressed by power. As a result, Foucault argued that specific intellectuals, both right- and left-wing, should replace universal intellectuals. (Askari 1998)

Another article, ‘Andishe Varzan-e Hermenutic’ (Thinkers of Hermenutics), was written by Moharam Aghazadeh in 1999 and published in a left-wing Journal named Aftab Emrooz. In it Aghazadeh refers to Foucault’s work of 1994, The Order of Things, An Archaeology of the Human Sciences as a methedology of social sciences and introduces Foucault as a historian and Poststructuralist philosopher. With this article, Aghazadeh introduced Foucault’s works over a decade before they were translated in 2010 and 2013. He quotes Foucault as he emphasizes how ‘power encourages resistence’ and says:

Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power (Foucault, 1978c translated by Robert Hurley in 1978: 95-96).

Foucault’s idea of power relations was received as an ideological tool in Iran to criticize the power structures in Iranian society. Contrary to what might have been expected, despite the changes in the political climate during the two periods under examination, the two administrations appear to have adopted similar policies with respect to Foucault’s ideas as there was no ban on publication of Foucault and almost all of his works have been translated since the Reconstruction Period to the present. However, the Reformist Period was quite different with regard to the number of translations, original writings and also translations of Foucault’s articles on the Islamic Revolution. Almost all Foucault’s articles on the Islamic Revolution written in 1978 were translated in the Reformist Period (1997-2005), twenty years after their original publication in French.


Title of theme

Number of occurance



Power Relations




Islamic Revolution




















Death of Author




New historiography




Criticism of Foucault




Discontinuity of History
















Discourse Analysis




Self-referential language









Analytical philosophy








Security studies




Introducing Foucault












Review of Foucault’s Translation




The role of Translation






Table 4: The main themes of Foucault’s discourse in Iran during the Reformist Period

During the Reformist Period there was a lively debate on Foucault in newspapers and periodicals. As in the Reconstruction Period, we tagged all the works written or translated in the Reformist Period. As shown in Table 4, 53 percent of the articles written on Foucault generally dealt with the notion of power relations. Only 14.6 percent of these articles discussed Foucault’s ideas on the Islamic Revolution. Figure 4 maps the topics related to Foucault that were discussed in translations and also original writings during the Reconstruction and the Reformist Period.

Figure 4: Distribution of Topics in both periods under investigation

Figure 5: The pattern of power relations during the Reformist Period

Figure 5 depicts sub categories of power relations in different works whether translations or original writings. In other words, we categorized the works discussing power relations according to their main topic of discussion such as sexuality, criticizing modern society, criticizing Humanities, etc.. Foucault’s translators and intellectuals came up with the idea of power relations to make their own critical remarks that they could not previously make due to the closed political atmosphere. During the Reformist Period, which is considered to be the heyday of Foucault’s thought in Iran, they took this opportunity to present their critical ideas and reveal the power relations in the society.


Chesterman proposes Translator Studies as an approach that deals with translators rather than texts. To him, ‘in Translator Studies, texts are secondary, the translators themselves are primary; this priority leads to quite different kinds of research questions’ (2009: 15). Furthermore, emphasizing the role of translators, Chesterman proposes an agent model  which focuses explicitly on the agents involved in translation, for instance on their activities or attitudes, their interaction with their social and technical environment, or their history and influence. This study was an attempt to depict the significant role played by translators in the reception of Foucault’s ideas in Iran.

According to Alavi Tabar (2019), in Iran most philosophical books are translated either by university professors, who turn to translation with the aim of being promoted, or by unemployed university graduates who, by choosing an important author to translate, seek to make a name for themselves or earn a living. The results are translations with many deletions and wrong or vague sentences. The situation is worsened in the absence of copyright and conscientious publishers. Alavi Tabar refers to another unfortunate trend wherein some university professors consider it below their dignity to translate—compared to original writing, translation is of less academic value— rather, they publish philosophy books in their own names, taking their material from the faulty published translations. (Alavi Tabar, 2019)

Thus, Aghil Fooladi (2020) states, some Western philosophy books have been lucky as they were translated by good translators, and some have been unlucky, being rendered into useless translations in less capable hands. Fooladi, a professor of philosophy at University of Tehran, mentions some of the lucky ones, which include Aristotle, Kant and Nietzsche, but he equates good with exact. Specifically, Fooladi mentions Adib Soltani, a non-academic translator whose style of translation of philosophical texts has been controversial. A genius with several different university degrees, and well-versed in several languages, Adib Soltani translates with such scholarly precision that some consider his translations as masterpieces while others reject them as ‘faithful but incomprehensible’ (Fooladi, 2020).

Foucault has been lucky in Iran since his books have been translated by very capable translators. In fact, some of his most important books have been translated by a team of two translators, Afshin Jahandideh and Niko Sarkhosh, for whom these translation constitute a lifetime of devotion to Foucault (for a list of their translations of Foucault, see the Appendix). This devotion seems to be essential for translating such a prolific and difficult philosopher as Foucault, the translations of all his works requires a lifetime of commitment and thinking.

One of their translations, History of Madness (Tarikh-e Jonoon) , Foucault’s first major book translated into Persian, won the Award for the Book of the Islamic Republic of the Iran in 2002. They have also translated two important books about Foucault: Foucault by Gilles Deleuze (1986) and Domination and Power by Peter Miller(1987), a book which investigates the nature of power in Western societies by comparing the writings of the principal exponents of Critical Theory, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse and Jürgen Habermas, with those of Michel Foucault. The two translators translate from the original French because they believe that the English translations of Foucault are “disastrous” (Sarkhosh 2011). Their translations have also been approved by Babak Ahmadi, who believes their translations are not so extremely literal as those by Adib Soltani, but are rather mildly and appropriately literal (Ahmadi 2019 personal interview).

With regard to those works by Foucault which have not been translated in Iran yet, the authors found that three volumes of History of Sexuality (Histoire de la sexualité) have not been translated due to cultural and religious issues in an Islamic country like Iran. The first volume of The Will to Knowledge (La Volonté de savoir) was translated by Niko Sarkhosh and Afshin Jahandideh in 2004 and they started to translate the second volume, The Use of Pleasure (L’Usage des plaisirs) , but came to the conclusion that their translation would not be published and abandoned the project.

Another important aspect of Foucault’s reception in Iran is that while one would naturally expect Foucault to be translated or intrepreted within academia, he was actually introduced mainly by intellectual circles outside the university.  According to Jahandideh, Iranian academia does not take an interest in Foucault’s works because “generally, the aim of universities is to train knowledgeable professors not critical thinkers”. And as far as Foucault is concerned, the general trend is to pack and classify his thought into reductionist categories such as structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modern, etc, thus making his thought barren (Jahandideh 2019).This trend is also confirmed by Sarkhosh, who, citing the book Geneology is gray by Adel Mashayekhi (2016), illustrated the fate of  Foucault in the Iranian academia. She claims that the writer of this book introduced Foucault’s ideas in the light of phenomenology and as a post-Kantian philosophy; as a result, the reader needs to know a number of other theories to underestand Foucault’s ideas. (Jahandideh and Sarkhosh 2019 personal interview)

As far as the main question of the study is concerned, we found that, while on the one hand a similar policy was adopted with respect to Foucault’s work by the two administrations we have discussed; There on the other there was a boom in the publication of literature on Foucault in the Reformist Period as there was a greater vitality in the cultural atmosphere of Iran at that time. Furthermore, the theme of Foucault’s work that most interested Iranian intellectuals and translators was his concpet of power relations which was regarded as a tool with which to challege as well as criticize the existing situation in Iran.


We would like to express our gratitude to Prof. Christopher Rundle of the University of Bologna who provided insight and expertise that greatly assisted this research.

Appendix 1




Persian Title

Title in English

Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Iran: Rouh-e yek Jahan-e Bedon-e Rouh

Iran: The Spirit of Spiritless World

Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Moraghebat va tanbih:Tavalod Zendan

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison


Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Nietzsche, Freud, Marx


Nietzsche, Freud, Marx


Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Sooje, Estila va Ghodrat

Subject, Domination and Power in Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Jürgen Habermas and Michel Foucault’s Point of view


Afshin Jahandide & Niko Sarkhosh



Erade Be Danestan

The Will to Knowledge

Niko Sarkhosh






Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Dirine Shenashi Danesh

Archaeology of Knowledge


Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh



khastgah hermenutic Khod

The Hermeneutics of the Subject 


Afshin Jahadideh & Niko Sarkhosh



Naghd Chist va Parvaresh-e Khod

What is Criticism and Nurturing Self


List of works translated by Afshin Jahandideh and Niko Sarkhosh


Ahmadi, Babak (1992) Text Structure and Textual Interpretation. Tehran. Markaz.

Afary, Janet, Kevin Anderson (2005) Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Alavi tabar, Hedayat (2019) “A Criticism on Translation of Aristotle’s Ideas.” Motarjem 27, no 67: 101–18.

Askari, Shirin (1998) “Roshanfekran Dar Barabar-e Haghighat (Intellectuals against Reality).” Iranian, 26 August.

Eftekhari, Asghar (2001) An introduction to the red lines in political competition. Tehran, Farhang Gofteman.

Chesterman, Anthony (2009) “The name and nature of translator studies”, HERMES-Journal of Language and Communication in Business, no. 42:13-22.

Deacon, Roger (2002) “History of Human Sciences” Sage 15 ,no 1: 89–117.

Foucault, Michel (1978 a) “A Quoi Revent Les Iraniens?”(What Do the Iranians Dream About?).” Le Nouvel Observateur, no 726: 16-22.  trans. Hossein Masoomi Hamedani.Tehran, Hermes

Foucault, Michel (1978 b) “Taccuino Persiano: L’esercito, Quando La Terra Trema’(Persian Diary: The Army, when the Earth Trembles).” Corriere Della Sera, 28 September. trans. Hossein Masoomi Hamedani.Tehran, Hermes

Foucault, Michel (1978 c) The History of Sexuality. trans. Hurley, Robert. New York, Pantheon Books

Foucault, Michel (1979) Dialogue between Michel Foucault and Baqir Parham. Nameh-yi Kanun-i Nevisandegan, no 1: 9-17.

Foucault, Michel (1981) “An interview of Didier Eribon with Foucault: Is thinking really important?”, Liberation Newspaper, 30-31 May.

Foucault, Michel (2000) Ethics: essential works of Foucault 1954-1984. London, Penguin.

Foucault, Michel, and Lawrence D. Kritzman (1988) Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984. New York, Routledge.

Fooladi, Aghil (2020) A Critique of Hegel’s Translation and the Phenomenology of the 69:11-120.

Jahandideh, Afshin (2019) “Academic Systems Have Reduced Foucault to a Post structuralist Philosopher”, IBNA, 23 June

Jahandideh, Afshin, and Sarkhosh, Niko (2019) An Interview with Afshin Jahandide and Niko Sarkhosh.

Jahandideh, Afshin, and Sarkhosh, Niko (2000) Iran: Spirit in a spiritless world. Tehran, Ney

Jame Bozorg, Behzad (2018).”Burnt Generation Superhero” (Abar Ghahramane Nasle Sokhte). Fargange Emroz. 13 January

Khoramshad, Mohammad Bagher (2000) “French Intellectual and Islamic Revolution of Iran.” Pajoohesh-e Hoghogh va Siasat, no. 1: 315–24.

Mashayekhi, Adel (2016) Geneology Is Gray (Tabarshenasi Khakesteri Ast), Tehran, Nahid.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, Walter Arnold Kaufmann, aahmadond R. J. Hollingdale (1968) The Will to Power. New York, Vintage Books.

Parsa Bonab, Younes. (2007). A One Hundred year history of the Iranian political parties and organizations, Washington, Ravandi.

Parvaneh, Mahmood (2015) “Critique of the discourse of the Reconstruction Period based on the political discourse of Imam Khomeini” Velayat Institute,no.1:87-120.

Pym, Anthony (2017) “Humanizing Translation History” HERMES - Journal of Language and Communication in Business, no 42: 23-48.

Rahimi, Reza (2003) “Ghodrat Dar Negah-e Michel Foucault (Power in Michel Foucault’s Point of View).” Hambastegi, 15 September.

Safiri, Masood (1999) Truths and interests; Interview with Hashemi Rafsanjani. Tehran, Ney.

Sarkhosh, Niko (2011) “An Interview with Foucault’s translators”, Etemad, 10 Augest

Sarkhosh, Niko, and Jahandideh, Afshin (2018) “Babak Ahmadi; Taei Az Hafeze.”,  Farhang Emroz, no. 20:53.

Scullion, Rosemarie (1995) “Michel Foucault the Orientalist: On Revolutionary Iran and the ‘Spirit of Islam.’” The Johns Hopkins University Press 12, no. 2: 16–40.

Soltani, Ali (2005) Power, Discourse and Language. Tehran, Ney.

Tajik, Mohammad Reza (1998) “Ghodrat va Amniat Dar Asr Pasamodernism (Power and Security in the Age of Postmodrrnism).” Hamshahri, 11 May.


[1] This period is called the Reconstruction Period as Rafsanjani, then president of IRI, and his so-called Reconstruction Administration’s attempts boiled down to reconstructing and restoring economic infrastructure in Post-war Iran

[2] In the Reformist Period (1997-2005), President Mohammad Khatami‘s plans were to change the Iranian political system to include more freedom and democracy.

[3] The leftist intellectuals in Iran are those who seek equality in distribution of wealth and power among people.

[4] Ali Shariati was one of the most influential Iranian intellectuals of the 20th century.

[5] Gholam Hossein Sa’edi was a prolific Iranian writer.

[6] Le Monde, 20 Mars 1975.

[7] ‘Black Friday’ , 8 September 1978, is so called in Iran as there were mass shootings in Jaleh square in Tehran, many protesters were killed in the incident because they were unaware that the regime had declared curfew a day earlier. The soldiers ordered the protesters to disperse, but the order was ignored and the army opened fire on them.

[8] Le Monde, 10-11 September 1978

[9] Iranian Green Movement is also known as Mowj-e Sabz, a political movement that arose after the 2009 Iranian presidential election, in which protesters demanded the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office.

[10] Shapoor Etemad was translator and researcher in Research Institute of Wisdom and Philosophy in Iran

[11] It is important to note that Babak Ahmadi translated Foucault’s works from French and also, that he met Foucault in person and attended his lectures at the Collège de France in 1978.

[12] Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations was proposed in 1992. It argued that in the future there would not be war between countries, but between cultures.

[13] Ghodrat dar Negah-e Michel Foucault

About the author(s)

Azam Ghamkhah holds a PhD in Translation Studies from the Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran. Her thesis was on the reception of Michel Foucault in Iran. In 2020, she spent six months as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Bologna, Italy. Her main area of research is the historiography of Translation.

Ali Khazaee Farid recently retired as professor of Translation Studies at the Ferdowsi University of Mashhad. He was the founding editor of the quarterly Motarjem (The Translator) published since 1993. His major interests are the practice and theory of literary translation.

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

©inTRAlinea & Azam Ghamkhah & Ali Khazaeefar (2021).
"The Role of Translation in the Reception of Foucault in Post-revolutionary Iran", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

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Bridging the gap between the sworn translation classroom and freelance professional practice

A situated project-based approach

By Gemma Andújar Moreno (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain)


This paper presents a sworn translation project designed to enhance the development of professional skills associated with a prototypical freelance sworn translation job. However, unlike traditional translation classroom activities, which tend to centre around the translation itself, the focus here is on the ancillary but essential administrative tasks related to professional translation such as analysing a job’s viability, setting fees at market rates, drawing up quotations and invoices and, above all, communicating effectively with clients. Designed from a situated learning perspective, the project takes the form of a teaching-learning sequence in which pairs of students adopt the roles of client and translator and then exchange written communications in the form of queries, quotations and invoices connected to the sworn translation of an academic administrative document. To guide the students in their acquisition of the professional skills they need for these tasks, a broad vision of assessment is applied, which goes beyond its mere certifying function and promotes its formative component through self-assessment, peer-assessment, and teacher-assessment. Integrating labour market-oriented projects focused on skills relating to the implementation of translation in a professional context in the specialized translation classroom, as we have done here, is a valuable tool to facilitate the student’s transition from the translation classroom community to the professional community of translators.

Keywords: translation pedagogy, project-based learning, situated learning, sworn translation

©inTRAlinea & Gemma Andújar Moreno (2021).
"Bridging the gap between the sworn translation classroom and freelance professional practice A situated project-based approach", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

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

‘Sworn translation and interpreting’ is the term used in Spain[1] to refer to official certified translation, written or oral, of documents of any genre and subject, carried out by professionals duly certified by the Spanish Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (MAEUEC). Sworn translation has traditionally been regarded, at least in Spain, as a field of specialised translation characterised by a lack of systematisation, in terms of both methodology and the translation techniques applied. This situation has been favoured over time by the fact that the pertinent regulatory authority, the MAEUEC, has not published specific guidelines regarding the process or product of sworn translation, beyond some general considerations on the requirements that confer legal validity to a translated document. The opacity of the professional practices of sworn translators and the relative isolation of these professionals (Monzó 2002 and 2003; Way 2005a and 2005b) are other factors to be considered. However, sworn translation constitutes an attractive career option for undergraduate Translation and Interpreting students in Spain and enjoys greater social recognition than other translation modalities, since sworn translators act as public officers authorised to attest official documents (Mayoral 2003; Vigier 2010). Moreover, it is a profession with a long history and tradition (Peñarroja 2004) which is still fully valid today due to its ongoing importance in everyday life, as natural and legal persons often need to translate documents written in Spanish for them to have legal effects in other countries or foreign documents that must be recognized as legally valid in Spain.

This fully justifies the integration of sworn translation into Translation and Interpreting undergraduate university programmes, either as part of general legal translation subjects or in specific subjects devoted to the development of sworn translators’ professional skills. The aim of this paper is to show a possible way of integrating sworn translation into the legal translation classroom from a situated learning approach based on the simulation of professional roles (Kiraly 2000, 2005; Risku, 2002, 2016). It is thus a training proposal in accordance with Project-Based Learning methodology (Blumenfeld et al. 1991; González-Davies 2004; Markham 2003; Kiraly 2012; Li, Zhang and He 2015), which focuses on the administrative tasks associated with a prototypical sworn translation job.

2. Sworn translators in the Spanish professional translation market

Access to the sworn translation profession is regulated by specific Spanish legislation: Royal Decree 724/2020 (Real Decreto 724/2020) sets out the profession’s legal framework, whereas Ministerial Order AEC/2125/2014 (Orden AEC/2125/2014) regulates the structure of the certification examination that translators must pass to access the profession.[2] Nevertheless, sworn translators usually work on a freelance basis, without formal employment links with the MAEUEC. This institution delegates to them the production and certification of translations into Spanish of documents in other languages that both natural and legal persons need to submit to the relevant administrations to assert their legal or administrative effects. Sworn translations are used either to prove the facts alleged in a legal or administrative process, for the recognition of legal or administrative situations originating in the country of the foreign language, to apply for equivalence or validation of merits acquired abroad or for any other circumstance (Mayoral 2000).

The provisions of Royal Decree 724/2020 are focused on the form of the sworn translator’s seal and the data that must be included in it, as well as the certification formula attesting to the accuracy and fidelity of the translation. This legal text also requires the sworn translator to affix his or her seal to all pages of the translation and sign the last one. However, it does not set out rules regarding the translation’s format and layout nor does it offer any methodological guidelines to help professionals, especially those who are taking their first steps in this field. So it does little to codify the criteria applied in sworn translations, with the result that they are sometimes inconsistent from one document to the next.

Translation and Interpreting graduates who pass the certification examination and begin working as sworn translators access a restricted market delimited by official recognition from the competent authority (Gouadec 2007: 137-138). As they are ultimately liable for the validity of the sworn translation that bears their signature and seal, they will deal with sworn translation jobs on an individual basis. Thus, as freelance professionals, they can receive jobs directly from private clients, translation agencies, companies or institutions. That said, the professional profile required to meet the needs of today’s market is far from the traditional image of the translator as a lone wolf, since today’s translation market “can be described as global, decentralised, specialised, dynamic, virtual and demanding” (Olvera-Lobo and Gutiérrez-Artacho 2017: 200, our translation).

In such a context, while the sworn translator must possess excellent translating skills, he or she must also be able to carry out multiple ancillary tasks such as analysing the translation job’s viability within the set deadline, setting fees at market rates, drawing up a preliminary quotation, invoicing for the work carried out, knowing how to handle the tools needed to carry out these processes and, especially, being able to manage the client’s expectations regarding sworn translation and communicate with the client in professional terms. Skill at these tasks can make all the difference in a demanding business context (Andújar and Cunillera 2017: 188-193). This suggests that any programme of training in Translation and Interpreting should provide opportunities for student exposure to and mastery of these skills in the classroom before they enter the working world.

3. General teaching approach

Project-Based Learning (PBL), conceived as a comprehensive perspective focused on teaching by engaging students in investigation (Blumenfeld et al. 1991: 371),[3] is no longer an innovative methodology in the field of translation pedagogy, but has established itself as one of the privileged methodological options within the framework of situated learning (Risku 2002; González-Davies and Enríquez-Raído 2016) to cover the need to integrate professional education in the educational setting (González Davies 2004).[4]

According to PBL methodology, students carry out a project in a logical sequence of tasks which are either stipulated by the teacher or designed jointly by teacher and students. The project must fulfil two basic requirements: there must be a complex question or problem that drives and organizes the activities carried out in the different tasks of the project and the completion of the different activities must culminate in a final product that addresses the driving question or problem (Blumenfeld et al. 1991: 371). The principles underlying this approach privilege the co-construction of knowledge from authentic experiences in a dynamic context of action (Risku 2016: 15).

In translation pedagogy, as Li, Zhang and He (2015: 5-6) point out, there are at least two types of projects, differing somewhat in their orientation, that lend themselves to this sort of methodology. In translation-oriented projects, on the one hand, students work collaboratively on real or simulated translation jobs. During this process, they activate and develop their translation competence while becoming familiar with the work rhythms and dynamics of the real professional world (see examples in González-Davies 2004, Kiraly 2005 or Rey and Cunillera 2013, among others). In research-oriented projects, on the other hand, the aim is not so much to directly develop the students’ translation competence, but rather to enable them to investigate translation-related issues and thus to gain in-depth knowledge of translation in a broader sense. In such projects, students develop metacognitive translation skills that indirectly contribute to improving their translation competence (see examples in Li, Zhang and He 2015 or Risku 2016, among others).

Although the project we present falls into the translation-oriented category, as it involves a sworn translation job, the pedagogical focus lies not so much on the final product of the translation process (the sworn translation itself), but on the complementary skills and routines that revolve around that textual product, as we have noted above. All these professional skills could be included in the broader category of translator competence as defined by Kiraly (2000: 13). This author was the first to distinguish between translation competence and translator competence, a general dichotomy later adopted by other researchers within the framework of socio-constructivist pedagogical approaches (Biel 2011; González-Davies and Enríquez-Raído 2016; Risku 2002, 2016).

The aim of this paper is not to delimit the concept of translation competence, as it has already been analysed by different authors in Translation Studies (e.g. EMT Expert's group 2017, Hurtado 2017, Kelly 2005, Pacte 2001, Prieto 2011, Pym 2003, among many others). In general, translation competence, whether defined in terms of a multi-component model (as in Pacte 2001, Hurtado 2017 or Prieto 2011) or according to simpler parameters (as in Pym 2003), refers to a translator’s “ability to translate to the required quality standard”, whereas translator competence “covers the skills required to function as a professional in the market” (Biel 2011: 164). This translator competence as defined by Kiraly (2000) is therefore directly related to the professional sub-competence of the multi-competence models, as it encompasses all the skills necessary for professional management, such as interaction with clients and other professionals, knowledge of the legal framework for professional practice and fiscal obligations or knowledge of translation market conditions (Kelly, 2002: 15; Prieto, 2011: 12). Following these authors, we will retain in this paper the distinction between translation competence and translator competence for the sake of simplicity.

One fruitful way to enhance such translator competence is to simulate professional practices in teaching environments. The premise is that training must be labour-market-oriented and prepare students for real-life working conditions. According to this approach, the learning outcomes which are expected once the project we present here is finished should be not only relevant to the sworn translation market needs but also transversal, because they can be applied to other translation modalities in which the translator will work as a freelancer. In this way, the final aim of this project is to bridge the gap between legal translation classroom tasks and real-life practice, because “the essential lies not only in teaching students a subject but also in gradually integrating them into a professional community of translators” (Gonzalez Davies 2003: 10, our translation). In the next sections, we will describe the different tasks of the project we have designed with this aim.

4. Project design

4.1. Target student profile

Our sworn translation project involves direct English-Spanish translation and was initially designed for students in the final year of the Degree in Translation and Interpreting taught at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain.[5] Specifically, the project was intended to form part of “Legal and Economic Translation 2” (5 ECTS), an optional subject in a formative itinerary devoted to legal and economic translation. This formative itinerary is made up by two general and language-neutral subjects (“Translation of Specialized Legal and Economic Texts” and “Legal and Economic Texts and their Terminology”), as well as two electives dealing with legal translation from English to Spanish (“Legal and Economic Translation 1” and “Legal and Economic Translation 2”) and from French or German to Spanish (“Legal and Economic Translation 3”). At this stage of their training, students have already consolidated their general translation competence in two additional languages, as they are in the degree’s final year, and are also familiar with general aspects of the profession.

4.2. Material selection and participant roles

According to the situated learning orientation, the working materials in the PBL methodology must be authentic and prototypical: they must be representative of real professional practice and thus likely to be commissioned for an actual sworn translation, in line with current market demands (Biel 2011: 167; Kiraly 2005: 1102; Risku 2016: 16). These two characteristics, authenticity and prototypicality, favour the student’s socialization as translators belonging to a community of practice and set out a favourable context for them to learn to activate heuristically, by analogy, translating strategies acquired as students that they will need to solve translation problems in future jobs (Kiraly 2012: 87).

For this translation project, we chose academic administrative documents. Translations of this sort of document—such as academic transcripts or certificates—are often required in the real world due to the growing number of international students who wish to continue their academic training in Spain, with the result that authentic examples are readily available. Moreover, the students participating in this project are likely to be familiar with them from their own academic background.

Unlike translation projects designed for the teaching-learning of the different roles typically assumed in a translation agency, which are more focused on collaborative group work (see, for example, Olvera-Lobo et al. 2007; Rey and Cunillera 2013; Olvera-Lobo and Gutiérrez-Artacho 2017), the project we propose involves a high degree of individual work on the part of the student, in accordance with the working method of sworn translators. By being individually liable, with their signature and seal, for the accuracy and official validity of the sworn translation, the work which sworn translators carry out as professionals will be mainly individual. Thus, as Salmi and Kinnunen (2015) point out:

Students must demonstrate that they are able to take the responsibility alone and prove that they are accountable for their own work, since they will be liable for their translations if they later receive the authorisation. Seen from the legal perspective, authorised translators are responsible for their work as individuals (Salmi and Kinnunen 2015: 237).

This implies that although in sworn translation projects real praxis (as argued, for example, by Kiraly 2005: 1103) is not possible, a simulated teaching environment can be generated where the student can internalize the sorts of work routines and translator-client interactions that actually take place in the sworn translation profession. Thus, role-playing in our project is done in pairs, with one student taking on the role of a sworn translator and other acting as a client.

In the project’s different tasks, the central axis is the student’s activity and the development of his or her autonomy as a learner, conceived as “the ability to take on the management of his own learning” (Holec 1979: 31-32). This implies that students must take responsibility for their own learning by making decisions about the multiple aspects involved in the project: selecting materials, determining their sequence of goals, monitoring their progress through the process and evaluating the results.

4.3. Training sequence

Before the sworn translation project is initiated in the classroom, students must have acquired general knowledge of sworn translation in Spain and the basic methodological principles involved in exercising the discipline. This preliminary work must address issues such as the aspects covered by legal regulations (Real Decreto 724/2020), the structure and contents of the official certification examinations (Orden AEC/2125/2014) and the methodology of sworn translation (Andújar and Cunillera 2017; Cayron 2017; Lobato and Granados 2018).

As far as sworn translation methodology is concerned, students should be familiar with the more general paratextual aspects of sworn translations, such as the translation’s physical modality, the certification formula, the date and the translator’s seal and signature, and the fact that a photocopy of the original endorsed by the translator’s seal and date on all pages must be affixed to the sworn translation upon completion. Students should also be aware of the most frequent translation problems arising in the sorts of texts most often requested by the market and the different translation techniques that are likely to be most useful for solving them.

4.3.1. Competences, learning outcomes and assessment

The general definition of translator competence as we will apply it (see §4 above) can be divided into two sub-competences (see figure 1 below): firstly, a service provision sub-competence, which encompasses skills relating to the implementation of translation in a professional context, from project management to quality assurance; and secondly, a personal and interpersonal sub-competence, which covers generic skills that enhance adaptability and employability and come into play in specific contexts such as client negotiation. However, mastery of both sub-competences is essential when dealing with clients in professional contexts.[6]

Figure 1: Translator competence breakdown

In addition to explaining to the students the competences that will be worked on in the project, they should also know how their work will be assessed at each task, because knowing the evaluation criteria is essential to improve the learning process. A total of four documents will be assessed: preliminary e-mail communications between the client and the sworn translator (25 per cent of the final grade), the translator’s quotation (30 per cent of the final grade), the sworn translation (15 per cent of the final grade), and the translator’s invoice (30 per cent of the final grade). As the focus of the project is on the professional dimension of sworn translation, a higher weighting in the assessment has been given to documents related to translator competence, but these percentages can be weighted according to the dimensions of the project to be highlighted.

The current trend in translation pedagogy, as in many other academic disciplines, is to try to develop forms of assessment that go beyond assessment’s certifying function and promote its formative component. From this perspective, in addition to this summative assessment, we have included formative assessment to monitor the student's learning process with a view to self-regulation (Hortigüela, Pérez-Pueyo et al. 2019). This form of assessment is exercised mainly through the feedback generated by both the teacher and the students in peer-assessment tasks. Peer-assessment activities are of particular value in this regard, because they increase students’ involvement in their own learning and consolidate their ability to apply quality criteria to the documents generated in the translation process. Moreover, they help students develop a sense of objectivity that they can apply later to their own work (Cañada 2019: 115-116).[7] We have chosen an analytical and holistic type of peer assessment, where the student-evaluator must use rubrics to rate different aspects of their peer’s project and also make a general commentary that highlights strengths and weaknesses and issues that were not addressed but should be (see appendices). The project also includes face-to-face group feedback sessions at each stage. In such sessions, it is not only the teacher who provides guidance, but each student can improve what is being worked on through constructive comments on both his or her own work and that of others (Pietrzak 2014). Furthermore, the inclusion of self-assessment in the form of an initial and a final questionnaire provides opportunities for students to reflect on what and how they are learning, as well as for the teacher to reflect on the project’s design and implementation.


The teacher presents the project in the classroom and explains its final learning objective: to acquire, create and apply the professional knowledge necessary to competently execute a sworn translation before the given deadline (Kiraly 2005: 1107). The teacher shows students a corpus of administrative academic documents and makes it available for students. In our case, from the set of administrative genres in the academic field, we have chosen to work with academic transcripts, enrolment certificates and degree certificates in English together with their sworn translations into Spanish (see a sample in Appendix 1).

Students begin the project by negotiating and distributing among themselves the two simulated roles they will play, client or sworn translator.[8] To construct for themselves a fictitious background, the ‘clients’ review the various administrative contexts in which a sworn translation may be necessary and then choose an appropriate text from the sample documents provided by the teacher.

Preliminary questionnaire

Before the project tasks proper begin, students complete a questionnaire regarding their prior knowledge and expectations (see Appendix 2). This questionnaire of open-ended questions is designed to provide the teacher with information about the students’ background, the type and level of knowledge they have about the project area and their expectations for it. It also encourages the student to reflect on what they know and their expectations about the learning process (Orozco-Jutorán 2006; Hurtado 2015).

Task 1: client query

The first task in the project consists of an initial written exchange between the ‘client’ and ‘translator’. The client queries the translator about preparing a sworn translation by emailing him or her a credible job order in which the conditions necessary for the translator to analyse the viability of the project must be clearly detailed, including the type of text to be translated, the language of the original text and language of the translation, the purpose of the translation, the target administrative institution and administrative process in which the text will be used, the time frame and how the sworn translation must be delivered. The translator then asks the client for any clarifications that seem necessary. All exchanges between client and translator take place in a Moodle forum, simulating a professional context and respecting the discourse conventions of e-mail communication. This step of the project is assessed by the teacher and a third student chosen at random from among those acting as clients (see Appendix 3). The competences and learning outcomes, output to be assessed and method of assessment is summarised in Table 1 below.

Client query (task 1)

1) Competences and learning outcomes:

Translator competence

• Service provision

-Knowing how to negotiate with the client regarding deadlines, invoicing, working conditions, translation specifications, etc.

-Knowing how to clarify the requirements, objectives and purposes of the translation requested and offer the appropriate services to meet those requirements

• Personal and interpersonal

-Knowing how to plan one’s time and workload

-Knowing how to comply with instructions, deadlines, commitments, etc.

-Knowing how to interact professionally with clients by e-mail

2) Assessed textual production: communications between client and translator in a Moodle forum.

3) Assessment: peer-assessment (30%) and teacher assessment (70%). The client query counts for 25% of the final grade.

Table 1: Summary (task 1)

In this first task, it can be very useful to organize a face-to-face group feedback session where the students, once they have assessed the productions of their peers, reflect on the degree of learning achieved and on their ability to solve the problems that have arisen in this first contact with the client. Possible topics for discussion can be the importance of having all the relevant information about the translation requested (administrative context of use, target administration, deadline), the form of delivery of the translation (on paper or in electronic format with officially authorised digital signature), or the availability of the sworn translator to fulfil the job within the deadline.

Task 2: translator’s quotation

With the information received from the client in task 1, the sworn translator prepares a quotation. Firstly, the translator determines the range of fees that would actually be charged in the sworn translation community for the languages involved and the conditions stipulated. Once the fee has been decided, the sworn translator calculates the final price for the job and prepares the preliminary quotation in a professional manner. When the quotation is ready, the sworn translator e-mails it through the forum to the client, who may request clarifications if necessary. This task is also peer-assessed, but in this case it is the student taking the role of client that does the assessing (see Appendix 4). Desired outcomes and assessment for this task are summarised in Table 2 below.

Translator’s quotation (task 2)

1) Competences and learning outcomes:

Translator competence

• Service provision

-Knowing how to specify and budget the services offered and their added value

• Personal and interpersonal

-Knowing how to comply with instructions, deadlines, commitments, etc.

-Knowing how to interact professionally with clients by e-mail

2) Assessed textual production: sworn translation quotation sent to client

3) Assessment: peer-assessment (30%) and teacher assessment (70%). The quotation counts for 30% of the final grade.

Table 2: Summary (task 2)

As sworn translators work on a freelance basis, remuneration is one of the issues that most concerns students in their last year of training. It is therefore recommended that each student prepares a dossier with the sources of documentation on fees that he or she has found while working on the project and makes it available to the rest of the group for an optional monographic session on this issue. This is also a good moment to encourage students to start compiling a detailed table of general translation fees for direct clients as well as for intermediaries, both national and international. It should include the services offered and the fees depending on factors such as language pair involved, urgency, degree of specialisation of the original, format and particular features of the translation job to be carried out.

Task 3: sworn translation

Once the client has accepted the quotation, the sworn translator executes the translation in accordance with the terms previously agreed. The main aspects of this task are summarised in table 3 below.

Sworn translation (task 3)

1) Competences and learning outcomes:

Translation competence

• Sworn translation

- Knowing how to analyse a source document, identify potential textual and cognitive difficulties and assess the strategies and resources needed for appropriate reformulation in line with communicative needs.

-Knowing how to translate a domain-specific text (academic administrative documents) from English into Spanish, producing a ‘fit-for-purpose’ target text.

-Knowing how to apply the conventions established by legal regulations in a sworn translation so that the target text is officially valid.

• Personal and interpersonal

-Knowing how to comply with instructions, deadlines, commitments, etc.

2) Assessed textual production: sworn translation

3) Assessment: teacher assessment (100%). The sworn translation counts for 15% of the final grade.

Table 3: Summary (task 3)

This task is assessed by the teacher, using a rubric which covers aspects such as appropriateness in terms of compliance with the pertinent sworn translation conventions, the intended readership and function of the translation, the transfer of source text meaning and the quality of expression in the target language.[9]


Achievement indicators






-Sworn translation conventions

-Target reader

-Function of sworn translation in target culture


The sworn translation does not conform to any of the job’s requirements and is completely inappropriate for the target culture.

The sworn translation does not conform to some of the job’s requirements and shows serious problems that could limit its utility in the target culture.

The sworn translation is largely in line with the job’s requirements. It has some minor defects, but they would not prevent it from serving its function in the target culture.

The sworn translation conforms fully with the job’s requirements and will function perfectly in the target culture.


-Accuracy and clarity of information




Too many meaning errors and lack of semantic accuracy. Many unnecessary additions and significant omissions. The target text is incomprehensible and confusing.

Some meaning errors and lack of semantic accuracy. Repeated additions and omissions.

Comprehension of the target text will be notably affected in some specific excerpts.


Occasional meaning errors. Occasional minor additions and omissions. However, comprehension of the target text will not be seriously affected.

No meaning errors, no additions or omissions that impact negatively on comprehension of the target text. Clear and precise translation from the point of view of the information conveyed.



 -Use of spelling and grammar

-Lexicon (accuracy and richness)

-Morphosyntax (good use of time and verbal modes, prepositions, etc.)

-Cohesion (good use of discourse markers and reference elements)

-Coherence (organization and clarity in the presentation of ideas)

Expression is unnatural in the target language.

Too many reformulation errors (spelling, lexical, morphosyntactic). Lack of coherence and cohesion.


Expression is somewhat unnatural in the target language. Some important reformulation errors (spelling, lexical, morphosyntactic). Some important errors of coherence and cohesion.


The expression is natural in the target language. Occasional reformulation errors (spelling, lexical, morphosyntactic). Few errors of coherence and cohesion.


The expression is perfectly natural in the target language. Good discursive linking.

Coherent and cohesive text.



Table 4: Assessment rubric (task 3)

Task 4: translator’s invoice

When the sworn translation is finished, the translator then draws up an invoice for the work and sends this and all other documents to the client in the agreed form. The client responds with any comments he or she may have and pays the invoice. For this task, assessment is limited to the correct preparation of the invoice and is carried out by the teacher and a third student again randomly chosen from among the ‘clients’ (see Appendix 5). Table 5 below summarises the desired outcomes and assessment for this task.

Translator’s invoice (task 4)

1) Competences and learning outcomes:

Sworn translator competence

• Service provision

-Knowing how to specify and budget the services offered and their added value

-Knowing how to bill the client and apply tax appropriately

• Personal and interpersonal

-Knowing how to comply with instructions, deadlines, commitments, etc.

-Knowing how to interact professionally with clients

2) Assessed textual production: sworn translation invoice sent to client

3) Assessment: peer-assessment (30%) and teacher assessment (70%). The invoice counts for 35% of the final grade.

Table 5: Summary (task 4)

In order to prepare a proper invoice, the students acting as translators will need to find out information about tax compliance in sworn translation jobs, since this is an issue that students are often unaware of. To this end, it may be useful for students to explore the professional associations that exist in their countries and the resources such associations offer to novice translators in the form of model documents for professional use such as quotations or invoices. Again, students can be urged compile a dossier containing such materials, which can be shared with classmates in an optional monographic session on the subject.

Task 5: authentic sworn translation assessment (optional)

Once the four transactions  between clients and translators are completed (query, quotation, translation and invoice), the teacher can randomly select one of the sworn translations made by the students and anonymously compare this textual production with an authentic sworn translation which is now made available to the students.[10] One of the didactic possibilities to foster students’ reflection at this point is for the class as a whole to try to apply the assessment rubric to first the student translation and then the professional translation (see Table 5, supra). In this interactive evaluation process, the randomly selected student translation is taken as the starting point, but the students may offer other translation solutions from their own work, with the guidance of the teacher, who acts as a facilitator. This type of group feedback encourages dialogue between the teacher and the students, and among the students themselves. As comparing their textual production with that of a professional helps students become aware of their strengths and weaknesses, it is thus an empowering tool to gain confidence in their performance as sworn translators (Kiraly 2000).

Final self-assessment questionnaire

Once the full project has been completed, the initial questionnaire is taken up again in the form of a final self-assessment questionnaire in which students reflect on their own learning and self-evaluate the skills they have acquired (see Appendix 6). The aim is to help students compare their knowledge before and after the teaching-learning sequence to highlight the changes that have taken place and the progress they have made. In addition, the questionnaire shows the teacher how students perceive their learning and indicates whether adjustments need to be made in the project design due to teaching failures.

5. Conclusions

We have presented a proposal to integrate a sworn translation project into the legal translation classroom from a situated learning perspective. According to this teaching method, the project is framed in a real-world professional context, with authentic materials, and allows students to work on fundamental skills for professional success that are either not dealt with at all in general translation subjects or are dealt with in a decontextualised way. Table 6 below summarises the tasks and forms of assessment involved and the respective actions taken by teacher and students:




Project tasks

What does the ‘client’ do?

What does the ‘sworn translator’ do?

What does the teacher do?


Preliminary work


All students review the general principles of sworn translation in Spain (legal texts, content and structure of certification examination and translation methodology applied)

Organizes workshop sessions as required

Not assessed


Students divide into pairs and choose ‘client’ or ‘sworn translator’ roles. Client selects a document for translation.

Finds and selects sample authentic sworn translations and makes them available to students. Explains project and assessment method.

Not assessed

Preliminary questionnaire

All students complete questionnaire about previous knowledge and expectations related to the project.

Collects and analyses student questionnaires.

Not assessed

Task 1:

client query

Requests a sworn translation by e-mail including all necessary details.

Negotiates the conditions and analyses the job’s viability.

Moderates a group feedback session. Provides guidance on problem-solving.

Peer assessment and teacher assessment

Task 2: translator’s quotation

Assesses the translator’s quotation and requests clarifications if necessary.

With the job’s details, prepares a quotation for the sworn translation and sends it to the client.

Moderates a group feedback session. Provides guidance on problem-solving.

Peer assessment and teacher assessment

Task 3:

sworn translation

No intervention

Translates the text according to the sworn translation commission.

No intervention

Teacher assessment

Task 4:

sworn translation invoice

Assesses the sworn translation’s invoice, requests clarifications if necessary and pays the invoice.

Once the sworn translation has been completed, it issues an invoice and sends it to the client.

Moderates a group feedback session. Provides guidance on problem-solving.

Peer assessment and teacher assessment

Task 5:

Sworn translation (optional)

All students compare a student translation with a professionally written sworn translation of the same text to identify and describe strengths and weaknesses and discuss alternative solutions.

Moderates a group feedback session. Provides guidance on problem-solving.

Not assessed

Final task: self-assessment questionnaire

All students complete self-assessment questionnaire

Collects and analyses student questionnaires. Makes changes to the project design if necessary.

Not assessed

Table 6: Summary of project tasks, student and teacher actions and forms of assessment

It is hoped that this project design focused on the professional practice of sworn translation will constitute a contribution to bridging the gap between the academic world and professional practice. The project’s implementation requires working on diversified tasks that allow the development of translator competence. In this context, the student must learn to assess the feasibility of accepting a translation job, budget it, carry out the translation, prepare an invoice, organize all these tasks efficiently and know how to interact with a client in an effective and professional manner. This teaching and learning sequence involves an active in-depth process of inquiry over time, in which students generate questions about professional issues, find and use documentary resources, ask further questions and develop their own answers. This project methodology allows the student to face a sworn translation situation that closely approximates professional practice but whose focus—unlike in traditional translation simulation exercises—does not fall primarily on the translated text but instead cultivate professional skills that may seem ancillary but are just as critical for success in this profession.


Appendix 1: Sample source text in English (top) and authentic sworn translation into Spanish (bottom


Appendix 2: initial self-assessment questionnaire[11]


Name and surname:                                           Subject:                                 Academic year:


1. You are about to start a translation project entitled “The professional dimension of sworn translation”. What does this title suggest to you?


2. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding), what is your level of interest in this project? Briefly justify your answer.


3. In the project you will work with academic administrative texts. Are you familiar with these types of texts? If so, give an example of one such text.


4. Could you describe an administrative situation in an academic context where a sworn translation of the document you have cited is required?


5. Three items will be assessed in the project: preliminary contacts between the sworn translator and the client (30% of the project final grade), the quotation (35% of the project final grade) and the invoice for sworn the translation (35% of the project final grade). What do you think are the main problems you will face when communicating with the client?


6. Do you know how to prepare a quotation for a sworn translation? Do you know the information that must be included? Do you know where to find this information?


7. Do you know how to prepare the invoice for a sworn translation? Do you know the information that must be included? Do you know where to find this information?


8. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding), how important do you think the professional behaviour of the sworn translator will be in this project (in terms of, for example, punctuality, respectful treatment, fulfilment of the job’s conditions, etc.)? Briefly justify your answer.


9. What do you think you will have learned once the project is completed?


10. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding), please rate the usefulness you think this project will have in your training as a translator. Briefly justify your answer.


Appendix 3: Student peer-assessment form for evaluating translator’s preliminary interactions with the client (task 1)

Sworn translator: ________________________________

Client: _______________________________

Evaluator: _______________________________


• Read carefully the exchange of e-mails that has taken place between the client and the sworn translator. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (outstanding), please rate the following aspects of the sworn translator's performance when contacting and negotiating with the client:


Peer assessment [30%]

Teacher assessment












1. Overall impression [20%]

  • The forum content reflects all interactions between translator and client.
  • An image of professionalism is successfully conveyed.











2. Discursive aspects [20%]

  • Discursive conventions of e-mail communication are respected (subject, initial greeting, farewell, etc.).
  • The length of the messages is appropriate, without superfluous information.
  • The level of formality is that required by this type of written interaction.











3. Content related to the client query [50%]

  • The exchange of e-mails includes all relevant information to evaluate the viability of the sworn translation job:
  • source text
  • target text reader
  • administrative process where the translation is to be used
  • deadline and form of delivery
  • payment of fees
  • other aspects
  • The translator asks the client for information about features or conditions of the job that are not clear (if any).
  • The translator negotiates conditions of the job (if applicable).












4. Written expression [10%]

  • Messages are politely written.
  • No spelling mistakes.
  • No grammar mistakes.
  • Written expression is clear.












Score (out of 10)




General commentary on the sworn translator’s performance in his or her preliminary interactions with the client (strengths, weaknesses, issues not covered, etc.). Justify your assessment (minimum 200 words).


Appendix 4: Student peer-assessment form for evaluating translator’s quotation (task 2)


Sworn translator: ________________________________

Client (evaluator): _______________________________


• On a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (outstanding), please rate the following aspects of the sworn translator’s quotation:


Peer assessment


Teacher assessment [70%]











1. Overall impression [20%]

  • An image of professionalism is successfully conveyed.












2. Formal aspects [20%]

  • The layout is appropriate
  • information easy to identify
  • content properly ordered
  • attractive graphic design












3. Content related to the quotation [50%]

  • The quotation includes all the client’s contact details (name and surname, fiscal address, telephone number, e-mail address, etc.)
  • The quotation includes all the sworn translator’s contact details (name and surname, fiscal address telephone number, e-mail address , etc.).
  • The quotation includes all relevant information to budget the job:
  • identifier code, request date
  • detailed description of the sworn translation job (languages involved, number and types of documents, date and terms of delivery, terms of payment, etc.)
  • urgency/non-urgency
  • The quotation includes all applicable taxes, if any (VAT, personal income tax, etc.)
  • The quotation’s date of issue and period of validity are indicated.
  • The quotation includes the approval and signatures of both the client and the sworn translator.












4. Written expression [10%]

  • The level of formality is that required by this type of document.
  • No spelling mistakes.
  • No grammar mistakes.
  • Written expression is clear.












Score (out of 10)





General commentary on the sworn translator’s quotation (strengths, weaknesses, issues not covered, etc.). Justify your assessment (minimum 200 words):


Appendix 5: Student peer-assessment form for evaluating translator’s invoice (task 4)


Sworn translator: ________________________________

 Student (evaluator): _______________________________


• On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding), please rate the following aspects of the sworn translator's invoice:


Peer assessment


Teacher assessment












1. Overall impression [20%]

  • An image of professionalism is successfully conveyed.












2. Formal aspects [20%]

  • The layout is appropriate
  • information easy to identify
  • content properly ordered
  • attractive graphic design












3. Content related to the sworn translation invoice [50%]

  • The invoice contains all the client’s tax details.
  • The invoice contains all the sworn translator’s tax details.
  • The following items are indicated:
  • invoice number
  • date
  • payment period (e.g., 30 days)
  • job description, volume, fee, total amount
  • applicable taxes
  • subtotal and final price
  • Payment method and current account number for bank transfer (if applicable)












4. Written expression [10%]

  • No spelling mistakes.
  • No grammar mistakes.
  • Written expression is clear.












Score (out of 10)




General commentary on the sworn translator’s invoice (strengths, weaknesses, issues not covered, etc.). Justify your assessment (minimum 200 words):

Appendix 6: Self-assessment final questionnaire

Name and surname:                                 Subject:                                 Academic year:


1. You have just finished a translation project entitled “The professional dimension of sworn translation”. Did the project meet your initial expectations?


2. Now that you have completed the project, please rate your level of interest in it on a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding). Briefly justify your answer.


3. In the project you worked with academic administrative texts. Briefly describe the main textual characteristics of these documents.


4. Describe the communication situation where the sworn translation you made has been used.


5. Three items were assessed in the project: preliminary contacts between the translator and client (30%), the quotation (35%) and the invoice for the sworn translation. What were the main problems you encountered in communicating with the client? How did you solve them?


6. What were the main problems you encountered in preparing the quotation and how did you solve them?


7. What were the main problems you encountered in preparing the invoice and how did you solve them?


8. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding), how important do you think the issue of the translator’s professional behaviour was in this project (with regard to, for example, punctuality, respectful treatment, fulfilment of the job’s conditions, etc.)? Briefly justify your answer.


9. Now that the project is over, what do you think you have learned?


10. On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (outstanding), please rate the usefulness you think this project has had in your training as a translator. Briefly justify your answer.


Additional comments on the project (strengths, weaknesses, areas that need improvement, etc.)


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[1] It is the term most commonly used in Spain to refer to official, certified and written translation, the professional field where the project we are presenting is situated. See Mayoral (2003) for a summary of the different names used around the world to refer to written official translation; Pym et al. (2012) for a review of the status of the translation profession in EU countries and Hlavac (2013) for a cross-national review of translator certification procedures in 21 countries. It should be noted, however, that the regulations governing the status of sworn translators in Spain have undergone several changes since these reviews were published. At present, certification can only be acquired on the basis of an examination organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (see Ministerial Order AEC/2125/2014 and Royal Decree 724/2020).

[2] The certification examination has two parts with different eliminatory tests. In the first part, there is a multiple-choice test in Spanish on terminology and grammar. The second part includes three tests: a translation into Spanish without dictionaries of a non-specialised text, an inverse translation without dictionaries of the same type of text and, finally, a translation into Spanish with dictionaries of a legal or economic text (see [url=][/url], accessed 26 March 2021, for more information). 

[3] See Blumenfeld et al. (1991), Markham (2003) or Thomas (2000) for an overview of research on this field.

[4] Among the initiatives which aim to integrate the professional dimension of translation in higher education, translation education networks whose aim is to “increase graduate employability by offering students practical, market-oriented experience during their studies” should be highlighted. A good example would be the International Network of Simulated Translation Bureaus (INSTB), a partnership of several European universities with include simulated translation bureaus run by students in their translation training programmes (see [url=][/url], accessed 25 March 2021). It is also worth mentioning the European Master’s in Translation, a network of MA programmes in translation whose main goal is to “improve the quality of translator training in order to enhance the labour market integration of young language professionals” (see, accessed 25 March 2021).

[5] Although the project was designed for this specific student population, it can be adapted to students at other skill levels.

[6] The breakdown of competences and learning outcomes in the different tasks of the project is partly inspired by the European Master’s in Translation Competence Framework 2017 (URL: [url=][/url], accessed 20 May 2020). The learning outcomes presented here have been adapted to the students’ instructional level.

[7] The relative weight given to teacher and peer assessment in the task grades will depend on the teacher’s confidence in the students’ judgement. The teacher may choose to gradually increase the weight of the student’s assessment as the course proceeds, on the grounds that students’ evaluative criteria will become progressively more refined.

[8] Note that if additional projects are carried out during the course, these roles should be reversed.

[9] This proposal is an adaptation of the rubric for assessing translations by Rocío de Miguel and Susana Álvarez (2005), which is available at (accessed 3 July 2020), and a similar rubric in Hurtado (2015).

[10] If the teacher cannot get authentic translations produced by sworn translators, he or she can use the examples of authentic texts and their sworn translations provided by Cayron (2017), Lobato and Granados (2019) or Way (2005b), among other studies.

[11] All materials in appendices 2 to 6 were originally written in Spanish and translated into English by the author for the article.

About the author(s)

Gemma Andújar Moreno is a researcher and Serra Hunter Fellow in translation at the Department of Translation and Language Sciences at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra
(Barcelona). Currently, her research centres on translation pedagogy and legal and sworn translation. She is a member of the research groups GEDIT (2017 SGR-566,
Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain).

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

©inTRAlinea & Gemma Andújar Moreno (2021).
"Bridging the gap between the sworn translation classroom and freelance professional practice A situated project-based approach", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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Morisia: A Neural Machine Translation System to Translate between Kreol Morisien and English

By Sameerchand Pudaruth(1), Aneerav Sukhoo(2), Somveer Kishnah(1), Sheeba Armoogum(1), Vandanah Gooria(3), Nirmal Kumar Betchoo(4), Fadil Chady(1), Ashminee Ramoogra(1), Hiteishee Hanoomanjee(1) and Zafar Khodabocus(1) ([1] University of Mauritius; [2] Amity Institute of Higher Education, Mauritius; [3] Open University of Mauritius; [4] Université des Mascareignes, Mauritius)


The 2011 population census reveals that out of 1.2 million inhabitants, the Kreol Morisien language is spoken by at least 84 per cent of the population of the Republic of Mauritius. As a matter of fact, Kreol Morisien has been formalised into a dictionary in 2011. Such advancement has allowed the language to be introduced as a full-fledged subject in schools in 2012. In line with the above developments, we have been engaged in setting an online system dedicated for the automatic translation from Kreol Morisien into English and from English into Kreol Morisien. World-renowned online translation services such as Google Translate and Bing Translator do not currently cater for Kreol Morisien as it is very challenging to build neural models for under-resource languages. A deep learning approach based on the Transformer model was used to undertake machine translation. A dataset of 24,810 sentence pairs was fed into the system to build the translation models. The trained models were consequently tested with 1000 new and unseen sentences. The translations were evaluated using the standard BLEU score, that measures the overlap between the automated translation and the human translation. A score of 30.30 was obtained for the translation from Kreol Morisien into English and a score of 26.34 was obtained for the translation from English into Kreol Morisien. This innovative translation system is available as an online service at and also as an app on Google PlayStore. The app has been named as Morisia. This interdisciplinary research is the first automatic online translation system for Kreol Morisien. This user-friendly system will be very useful to any citizen of the Republic of Mauritius, as well as to foreign students, tourists and any other prospective individuals willing to learn the Kreol Morisien language.

Keywords: deep learning, Transformer model, Kreol Morisien, Mauritian Creole, attention, Machine Translation

©inTRAlinea & Sameerchand Pudaruth(1), Aneerav Sukhoo(2), Somveer Kishnah(1), Sheeba Armoogum(1), Vandanah Gooria(3), Nirmal Kumar Betchoo(4), Fadil Chady(1), Ashminee Ramoogra(1), Hiteishee Hanoomanjee(1) and Zafar Khodabocus(1) (2021).
"Morisia: A Neural Machine Translation System to Translate between Kreol Morisien and English", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL:

1. Introduction

Kreol Morisien or Mauritian Creole is spoken by at least 84 per cent of the Mauritian population (Statistics Mauritius, 2011). Kreol Morisien has gained much acceptance and popularity as a formal language in the last decade. While English and French predominate in terms of formal written languages, Kreol Morisien is widely used for oral communication. Early contributions from some Mauritian authors to establish a Kreol Morisien literature through the publication of books, articles, plays and songs has inevitably paved the way to standardise its written form. The Government of Mauritius decided to introduce the language in primary schools in 2012. In 2017, for the first time in Mauritian history, 4000 students sat for an examination in their maternal language in the Primary School Achievement Certificate (PSAC). In January 2018, Kreol Morisien was offered as an examinable subject to Grade 7 students in secondary schools.

Official statistics confirm that Grade 6 students are performing better in Kreol Morisien in PSAC (Primary School Achievement Certificate) compared to all the Oriental languages (MES 2020). Out of 2975 students who were examined for PSAC in 2019, 2346 passed their exams in Kreol Morisien. This represents a pass rate of 78.86 per cent which is the highest among oriental languages such as Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, Marathi, Telegu, Mandarin and Arabic. Grade 9 students would have been sitting for the Kreol Morisien national exams for the first time in November 2020. However, this examination has now been reported to March-April 2021 due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Slowly but surely, the Kreol Morisien language is gaining its rightful place in the Mauritian society. The broadcast of news in Kreol Morisien (Zournal an Kreol) and a TV channel (Senn Kreol) dedicated for programmes in Kreol Morisien by the MBC (Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation) have been important milestones in elevating the status of the language. Kreol Morisien will also be introduced in the National Assembly once the relevant staff and elected members are trained and the appropriate software for processing Kreol Morisien are available. With such momentum, it is hoped that that an O-Level paper in Kreol Morisien will be available from Cambridge Assessment International Education by 2022.

There are significant reasons why the Kreol Morisien could be useful for Mauritians as well as foreigners. According to Statistics Mauritius (2019), more than 1.3 million tourists visited the island in 2019 and the vision of the government is to bring 100,000 foreign students to Mauritius in the years to come. Equipped with basic reading and writing competences in Kreol Morisien, visitors, tourists and international students will feel more comfortable in this foreign environment. A sizable percentage of Mauritians are not fully conversant in English and hence cannot clearly grasp English texts on signposts, roads, posters, billboards, buildings, online services or articles in English-based newspapers. The language barrier is a handicap for our visitors with limited proficiency in Kreol Morisien and for Mauritians with limited English proficiency. Popular translation services such as Google Translate, Microsoft Bing Translator and DeepL Translator do not cater for Kreol Morisien. The aim of this paper is to develop an automated system to perform translation from English into Kreol Morisien and vice-versa using deep neural networks. To achieve this aim, a web portal translator supported by a mobile app has been developed.

The paper is structured as follows. Section 2 provides a brief on the historical and current developments of the Kreol Morisien language. Section 3 describes the different machine translation approaches. Section 4 explains the methodology that has been adopted in this work. The implementation and evaluation of the system are described in Section 5. The conclusive part of this research and lessons learned are presented in Section 6.

2. Kreol Morisien

It is important to understand the context of Kreol Morisien) as a language of communication in Mauritius. Kreol was developed locally by the slaves from the French language spoken by colonists. In such a difficult time of history, communication was in French and slaves learnt to decipher the language in their own terms. The Kreol dialect gained importance in the local context when it became a mode of communication among the different communities from India, China, Africa and Europe who settled in Mauritius.

From a global perspective, many spoken or local languages are often not recognised as official national languages although they are widely used in society. In the Mauritian context, this spoken language was formerly known as ‘Kreol patois’, which relegated it to a secondary and less formal status. There is a perception that Kreol Morisien is an inferior and informal language, although it is the mother tongue of the overwhelming majority of the population. Kreol Morisien is the main language spoken at home by 84 per cent of Mauritians (a rise of 14 per cent since the 2000 census), while only 3.6 per cent speak French and 5.3 per cent speak English (Statistics Mauritius 2011).

Recognition of Kreol Morisien in Mauritius has been a long and challenging battle for defenders of the language. Dev Virahsawmy (2020), a writer, poet and politician, favoured the use of Kreol Morisien as a national language. Virahsawmy (2020) wrote several texts and poems in Kreol Morisien. He also translated the Shakespearian drama ‘Macbeth’ from English to Kreol Morisien. Commendable efforts were also undertaken by Lalit (2020), for formal communications to be made in Kreol Morisien. In 1984, Ledikasyon pu Travayer (1984) published the first Mauritian Creole to English translation book. In 1987, another dictionary on Mauritian Creole was authored by Philipp Baker and Vinesh Hookoomsingh (1987).

Grafi-larmoni was developed to ensure the standardisation of Kreol Morisien. Grafi-larmoni was an attempt to develop a single and common form of writing the Kreol Morisien. Vinesh Hookoomsingh (2004) related Grafi-larmoni to a harmonised orthography allowing language and orthography to evolve in a flexible and dynamic way. A new dictionary on standard Kreol Morisien was authored by Arnaud Carpooran in 2009, with new versions added on over the years to incorporate new words and new meanings of existing words (Carpooran 2019).

The standard grammar of Kreol Morisien was published in 2011 (Police-Michel, Carpooran and Florigny 2011). The structure of sentences in Kreol Morisien is quite similar to English, however there are notable differences as well. For example, in Kreol Morisien, the adjective most often appears after the object: ‘The red car’ is translated to ‘Loto rouz-la’. Rouge for ‘red’ is moved after the object (Loto). ‘The’ is moved at the end (la). Words have no plural forms in Kreol Morisien unlike in English where the character ‘s’ is often added at the end of words to indicate their plural form. An example is: ‘There are many animals here’ is translated to ‘Ena boukou zanimo isi’. The word ‘boukou’ is used to indicate that there are many animals. When translating from English into Kreol Morisien, it is often necessary to drop extra verbs. An example is: ‘She is good at drawing’ is translated to ‘Li bon dan desine’. ‘She’ is translated to ‘Li’ and ‘good at drawing’ to ‘bon dan desine’. The verb ‘is’ is dropped.

The strategy behind developing machine translation for Kreol Morisien is a commendable effort to foster the development and recognition of a language that binds the Mauritian community emotionally and socially. Kreol Morisien also has a patriotic dimension as it creates a sense of national identity. Machine Translation (MT) has also inherited popularity in the field of education. Although many students are using MT as an aid to language learning, very little is known about its use as a pedagogical tool in formal education (Odacioglu and Kokturk 2015). MT helps to decrease lexico-grammatical errors and improve student performance (Lee 2020). MT positively affects student writing strategies and help them think of writing as a process (Lee 2020). Most of the students in Mauritius use their mother-tongue language, French and English languages in school. Therefore, this work would be of great help for students to harness their linguistic and communication skills.

3. Machine Translation

According to Adam Lopez (2008), machine translation is the translation of text or speech from a source language to a target language. Machine translation techniques have witnessed a rapid evolution paving the way to high-quality translation (Maucec and Donaj 2019). Various techniques have been developed like rule-based, statistical and deep learning. Free online translation tools such as Google Translate, Bing Translator and DeepL Translator have become major assets for those who require text to be translated from one language to many other languages. Language is expected to be no longer a barrier to communication, with so many mobile applications (mobile apps) available from Google Play. Mobile apps can even translate from speech to speech, showing how efficient translation systems have evolved. Progress is continuously being made with speech-to-speech translation and online website translation.  Nevertheless, many challenges such as lexical and syntactic ambiguities still remain (Moussallem, Wauera and Ngomo 2018). Dealing with word ordering issues is also challenging for all types of machine translation systems. Pronoun resolution is especially difficult when translating from Kreol Morisien into English, as Kreol Morisien can be considered as a genderless language.

3.1 Rule-based Approach

The simplest type of rule-based machine translation system works by the replacement of one word in the source language by an equivalent word in the target language. This requires the development of a huge bilingual dictionary which contains the mappings for each word. A word can also be mapped to several words as well in the target language. There is a set of rules that must be followed before the replacement is carried out. Simple re-ordering of words is allowed in rule-based systems, such as the placement of adjectives after nouns when translation from Kreol Morisien to English. Although simple in approach, rule-based systems suffer from a number of problems. It is very difficult to translate long sentences as re-organising the words become almost impossible. Moreover, words are often translated without regard to the context in which they are used. However, rule-based machine translation system has the strength of the incorporation of explicit linguistic knowledge and they can be useful in situations where only very (???) words or very short sentences have to be translated (Kirkedal 2012). This method is useful when there is no significant parallel corpus to be used, and therefore statistical and neural machine translation are not possible. Sameerchand Pudaruth, Lallesh Sookun and Arvind Kumar Ruchpaul (2013) developed the first rule-based translation system for Kreol Morisien.

3.2 Interlingua Approach

Since there are so many languages in the world, it would not be practical to convert each language to another directly. Many languages are also under-resourced and it would be very difficult to create datasets for them. The interlingual approach allows the use of one specific language as the pivot or central language (Supnithi, Sornlertlamvanich and Thatsanee 2002). Since English is the most widely spoken and understood language in the world, it is often used as a pivot language. For example, there is no automatic translator to translate from Kreol Morisien into Hindi. However, it is possible to firstly convert Kreol Morisien into English and then convert the resulting English text into Hindi. This is the basis of the interlingual approach where the translation is done in two phases (Lampert 2004). It is also possible to represent the source into a language-independent representation and then use it to translate to other languages, but such systems have not become popular (Alansary 2014).

3.3 Statistical Machine Translation (SMT)

In contrast to rule-based translation systems, statistical-based translation systems do not require grammatical and syntactic knowledge of the languages that are involved. Instead, a large amount of parallel texts is required in order for the mappings to be extracted automatically (Schwenk, Fouet and Senellart 2008). Naïve replacement of one word by another in isolation do not produce valid translations. Such systems usually require a dictionary to store the fixed mappings. The mappings are obtained through simple frequency statistics. On the other hand, statistical machine translation of a text from a source language to the target language is based on probabilities. The essence of this method is the alignment and mapping of n-grams in the parallel texts. An n-gram is a continuous sequence of words from a text segment. Bigrams are sequences of two words while trigrams are sequences of three words. Trigrams have shown to produce more accurate translations than unigrams or bigrams (Schwenk, Fouet and Senellart 2008). An example of word alignment from a sentence in English to Kreol Morisien as shown in Figure 1.

Fig. 1. Word alignment between English and Kreol Morisien

The above alignment is quite simple as there is no alteration in the order of words in the target language. This reduces the complexity of the translation process. Daniel Marcu and William Wong (2002) proposed that lexical correspondences can be formed both at the word and phrase levels. They estimated the probability that one phrase in the source language is the translation equivalent of the phrase in the target language. They also calculated the probabilities that a certain phrase must occur at a certain position in a sentence. Philipp Koehn, Franz Josef Och and Daniel Marcu (2003) further showed that phrase-based translations give better results than systems based on word-alignments only. Their experiments were conducted on several pairs of European languages. Moses is an open-source statistical machine translation software and it has enabled many researchers and natural language translation practitioners to put forward statistical machine translation systems with high-quality text translations (Koehn et al. 2007). An initial attempt towards SMT between English and Mauritian Creole was made by Aneerav Sukhoo, Pushpak Bhattacharyya and Mahen Soobron (2014).

3.4 Neural Machine Translation

The latest technique, which is showing even better results, is making use of neural networks. Improvement in hardware, like high RAM capacity, hard disk capacity and high processor speed have been the reasons behind this breakthrough. In addition, the use of Graphical Processing Units (GPUs) have improved the machine learning process. The creation of models for translation requires large volumes of parallel sentences and the use of Central Processing Units (CPUs) were found to be slow. With GPUs, neural networks and deep learning have become a promising area for machine translation. Deep learning architectures that join many multilayer perceptrons together to form hidden layers has become popular for the translation of texts. In general, the deeper the neural network, the more sophisticated patterns the network can learn (Alom et al. 2019).  The first layer is called the input layer while the last layer is known as the output layer. The network requires huge amounts of data. For neural machine translation, a very large amount of parallel sentences is required. The network is then able to learn increasingly complex features at each additional layer and finally it delivers the translated text in the target language. Deep learning architectures have replaced SMT-based systems for machine translation as the results obtained from them are much better and more robust (Forcada 2017).

Our core translation system is fully-based on the Tensor2Tensor (T2T) library and the Transformer model (Vaswani et al. 2017; Vaswani et al. 2018). The T2T library contains a number of datasets for different language pairs such as English-German, English-French and English-Vietnamese. There are also pre-built models for six language pairs. All translations in T2T are performed using the Transformer model which uses stacked self-attention layers (Vaswani et al. 2017). Attention is currently one of the most important ideas in machine translation. It is mainly used for sequence-to-sequence models in which there are an encoder and a decoder. The encoder is an LSTM (Long Short-Term Memory) unit which is a type of recurrent neural network (RNN). It converts the input sentence into several vectors. The decoder uses these vectors to make predictions. The attention mechanism allows encoders and decoders to handle longer sentences as only specific vectors are considered at one time. A sample translation system which is based on the Tensor2Tensor library and the Transformater model is available on Google Colab via Github (2020).

4. Methodology

Kreol Morisien is a relatively new language compared to languages such as English, French, German and Spanish. The formalization of the Kreol Morisien language started only one decade ago. This culminated in the production of the Lortograf Kreol Morisien (Orthography of Kreol Morisien) and Gramer Kreol Morisien (Grammar of Kreol Morisien) in 2011 by the Minister of Education & Human Resources and the Akademi Kreol Morisien. Literature in standard Kreol Morisien is still very scarce given that it was only recently formalised and also because the number of people who have formally studied this language is only in the thousands.

Thus, two full-time staff were recruited to create the dataset for this project and they were trained to do so by several members of the research team. The dataset consists of parallel sentences in English and Kreol Morisien. All the original sentences were in English as it is difficult to get good sentences in standard Kreol Morisien. Over a period of 1 year, together they have manually translated 25,810 sentences from English to Kreol Morisien. They also reviewed the work of each other. The sentences were also reviewed by other members of the research team and by several educators who teach Kreol Morisien in primary and secondary schools.

Out of these 25,810 sentences, the first 23,810 sentence pairs were used for training (building the English to Kreol Morisien translation model). The next 1,000 sentence pairs were used for validating the English to Kreol Morisien translation model. These 23,810 sentence pairs were then swapped to perform the training to build the Kreol Morisien to English model. The  1,000 sentence pairs used above were again used for validating the Kreol Morisien to English translation model. The last set of  1,000 sentence pairs were then used to test the trained models. This last set of 1000 sentence pairs was created in the same manner as described earlier. However, they were never used in the training phase. It was kept separate, so that a second level of unbiased testing could be performed. The BLEU (BiLingual Evaluation Understudy) score was used as a metric to evaluate the quality of the translated texts (Papineni et al. 2002). The BLEU score is a value which can range from 0 to 100. The higher the score, the better the result is likely to be. The models (English to Kreol Morisien and Kreol Morisien to English) were then served via a webserver and an Android app. Two different workshops were held with educators of the Kreol language in order to obtain their feedback and for pilot testing. The first one was conducted in the island of Mauritius at the beginning of the project in November 2018 in order to gather requirements from primary and secondary school teachers. This meeting was attended by more than 100 Kreol Morisien educators. One of the main aims of this meeting was to draw up a list of textual Kreol Morisien resources that could be used in this work. Since there are very few works currently in this language, creating a dataset of parallel sentences was a huge problem. The educators directed us to relevant resources which were based on standard Kreol Morisien. Many educators also expressed their willingness to support us in this work either through creating the dataset or providing constant feedback on our work, especially regarding translation quality. The second one was held in February 2019 in the island of Rodrigues, again to gather further requirements from primary school teachers and other relevant stakeholders. The aims were similar to the first one. However, in this second workshop, we found out that the Kreol that is being used in Rodrigues island is slightly different from the one used in the island of Mauritius. Both Rodrigues and Mauritius are islands that form part of the Republic of Mauritius. Two months before the end of the project, in October 2019, the completed website and app were shared with all the educators for pilot testing. The views and comments received were taken into consideration to further refine our work. An awareness programme about the website and the app was also conducted in Rodrigues in November 2019.



Kreol Morisien

Number of sentences



Total number of words



Number of unique words



Length of the shortest sentence



Length of the longest sentence



Average number of words in a sentence



Table 1. Comparison of the English and Kreol Morisien datasets used in training and validation

Table 1 shows a comparison of the English and Kreol Morisien datasets used in training and validation. We can see that the average number of words in an English sentence is slightly higher than in a Kreol Morisien sentence. This means that Kreol Morisienis slightly more compact than English, i.e., we are able to say slightly more things in Kreol Morisien than in English language when using the same number of words. The second edition of the Diksioner Morisien contains 17,000 unique words (Carpooran 2011). Thus, we have not yet been able to consider all Kreol Morisien words in our system as there are only 13,456 unique words in the dataset. 2,400 new words have also been added in the third edition of the Diksioner Morisien (Carpooran 2019). Moreover, the English language contains more than 100,000 words but only 13,644 are available in our system. Dataset creation is an on-going process and we intend to double our dataset in future works.

All our experiments were performed on a desktop computer with an Intel Core i7-6700 @3.40GHz processor running the Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64-bit operating system with a RAM (Random Access Memory) memory of 16GB, an SSD (Solid State Device) of 120 GB and a hard drive of 1 TB. The software was implemented using the Python programming language on the Anaconda platform. The training for the machine translation was performed using the Tensor2Tensor library and the Transformer model (Vaswani et al. 2017; Vaswani et al. 2018). This library is built on top of TensorFlow which was developed by Google.

5. Implementation and Evaluation of Results

As part of this translation work, a website has been implemented to perform the translation of text from Kreol Morisien into English and vice-versa, as shown in Figure 2. The portal is accessible via the domain. The default choice (highlighted in green) is from Kreol Morisien (source language) to English (target language). There are four options under the source language which are: Translate, Clear all texts, Check Spelling and Send suggestion.

Fig. 2. Main interface of the online translation system

The Translate button translates text from Kreol Morisien into English if the source is set to Kreol. The message ‘Tradiksion pe fer, enn ti moman ankor’ appears while the text is being translated. This basically tells the user that the translation is being done and to please wait for some time to see the results. Both single words and sentences can be translated. It takes about 10 seconds on average to process a query. The processing time is quite high because we are using a shared server. On a dedicated webserver, the processing time would be reduced. When the translation is completed, the result appears in the textbox on the right. From there, the Copy Translation button can be used to copy the translated text to another location, for example to Google Translate, if the user wishes to translate the English text into some other language. The Clear all texts button simply clears all the texts present in both textboxes. It is not a compulsory function to use as the text can also be edited directly from any of the textboxes.

Fig. 3. Autocorrect feature

As shown in Figure 3, an autocorrect feature for Kreol Morisien text is also available in the system. As soon as a user starts entering text in Kreol Morisien, a spell-check operation is automatically started in the background to check whether the word is a valid one. If the words are valid ones, no message appears. However, as soon as it detects words that are not found in the dictionary, a suggestion is made as shown in Figure 3. For example, in this case, the user has entered the text ‘Mo lotoo pa pe rooule’. The words ‘lotoo’ and ‘rooulee’ are not valid Kreol Morisien words. Thus, the message ‘Ou pe rod dir’ appears at the bottom screen together with a proposed corrected version of the input text. ‘Ou pe rod dir’ literally means ‘Are you trying to say’. The input text can be replaced automatically with the suggested text (in blue) by simply clicking on it.

Fig. 4. Spelling checker

Clicking the Check spelling button highlights the wrongly written words in yellow as shown in Figure 4. To obtain valid suggestions for these words, the user must right-click on them. For example, for the incorrect word ‘rooulee’, the system has provided seven suggestions. If the correct word is found in this list, it can be selected through a click. The incorrect word in the sentence will then be replaced by the correct one. Although the spelling-checker is very reliable, it is possible that none of the proposed words is the correct one. If a user is not satisfied with the translated text, it is possible to use the Send suggestion feature to edit the text and send it to the research team. A confirmation message is shown on the screen when the suggestion is properly submitted. This is a form of feedback which will help us understand the weak points of the system for subsequent improvements.

Fig. 5. Kreol Morisien to English translation  |  Fig. 6. English to Kreol Morisien  translation

An Android mobile app has also been implemented in this research work. The app can also perform the translation of Kreol Morisien to English and vice-versa. The translation model is the same as the one in the online platform. However, the app has been intentionally kept very simple so that it is very easy to use but also because of the limited screen space that is available in smartphones. Only the Translate button is available in the app as shown in Figure 5 and Figure 6. The default choice for the translation is from Mauritian Creole into English. To perform English to Mauritian Creole translation, the user must simply toggle the switch to the right.

Fig. 7. BLEU score for English to Kreol Morisien translation during training

Fig. 8. BLEU score for Kreol Morisien to English translation during training

The quality of the translation was evaluated using the BLEU metric. As mentioned earlier, a test set of 1000 unseen sentences were used to evaluate the two models. A BLEU score of 26.34 was obtained for the English to Kreol Morisien translation model while a score of 30.30 was obtained for the Kreol Morisien to English model. The training was performed for 100,000 steps for both models and the BLEU score was noted for every 10,000 steps. The highest BLEU score recorded during training for English to Kreol Morisien was 22.71 as shown in Figure 7. The highest BLEU score recorded during training for Kreol Morisien to English was 26.88 as shown in Figure 8. There is a difference of 3.63 units between the BLEU score of the English to Kreol Morisien model and a difference of 3.42 units between the BLEU score of the Kreol Morisien to English model in the validation and evaluation sets as the internal BLEU scores used for validating the model are not calculated in exactly the same way (Github 2020). During the training phase, a simpler version of the BLEU score is used so that it can be calculated fast while in the evaluation phase, the standard BLEU formula is applied. Sample translations from both models are available in the Appendix.

6. Conclusions

With each passing year, Kreol Morisien is gaining more and more momentum. After its introduction in 2012 in primary schools, it was introduced in secondary schools in 2018 and the Mauritian government is now planning to allow the use of Kreol Morisien in the National Assembly once the necessary infrastructures are set up. Thus, the number of formal users of Kreol Morisien is consistently growing. Since Kreol Morisien in its written form is a very recent phenomenon, most Mauritians do not know how to write it properly. The need for an anytime-anywhere platform to learn this language is being deeply felt. Thus, in this research, we have implemented an online platform ( for the translation from Kreol Morisien into English and vice-versa. The system can translate single words as well as sentences. An Android app, under the name of Morisia, is also available on Google Play Store. The quality of the translation is similar in both directions as measured using the BLEU score. Thus, to our knowledge, is the first online platform which translates sentences from Kreol Morisien into English and from English into Kreol Morisien. The same can be said for the Morisia app. In the future, we intend to double the dataset from 25,810 parallel sentences to 50,000 to train the system.

7. Acknowledgements

This paper is based on work supported by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) under award number INT-2018-10. However, any opinion, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of TEC. We are also indebted to the numerous educators of the Kreol Morisien language who have contributed to the dataset.


Sample Translations

a. Kreol Morisien to English

Source Text in Kreol Morisien

Translated Text in English

So move lasante inn anpes li vwayaze.

His bad health has prevented him from the travel.

Komie sa?

How much is this?

Tom pou de retour avan de-zer trant.

Tom will be in return before two thirty.

Tom inn kokin plin larzan depi ar Mary.

Tom has fooled money from Mary.

Tom pa le pran ankor travay.

Tom doesn't want to take any more work.

Mo bien kontan sa zip la.

I like this skirt.

To panse mo bizin dir Tom?

Do you think I must say Tom?

Ziz la inn anil desizion final la. 

The judge has cancel the final decision.

Mo papa pa pou les mwa sorti avek Bill.

My father won't let me go out with Bill.

To bizin evit fer bann erer koumsa.

You must avoid making such a mistake.


b. English to Kreol Morisien

Source Text in English Morisien

Translated Text in Kreol

He studied hard in order to pass the test.

Li finn etidie dirman pou pas so test.

He was as gentle a man as ever lived.

Li ti kouma enn misie ki zame viv.

Tom ran into the house.

Tom finn sove dan lakaz.

She made the same mistake again.

Li finn fer mem erer.

I understand it's going to get hot again.

Mo konpran sa pou gagn so.

I listened to the music of birds.

Mo ti ekout lamizik so bann zwazo.

She'll be up around by this afternoon.

Nou bizin fer pre pou sa lapremidi-la.

It is a wise father that knows his own child.

Se enn bon papa ki so prop zanfan.

She had to stand in the train.

Li finn bizin deboute dan trin.

Let's stop playing tennis.

Anou aret zwe tenis.


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About the author(s)

Sameerchand Pudaruth is a Senior Lecturer and Head of ICT Department at the University of Mauritius. He holds a PhD in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Mauritius. He is a senior member of IEEE, founding member of the IEEE Mauritius Subsection and the current Vice-Chair of the IEEE Mauritius Section. He is also a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). His research interests are Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Science, Machine Translation, Computer Vision, Robotics, Blockchain and Information Technology Law. He has written more than 50+ papers for national & international journals and conferences. He has also written a book entitled, 'Python in One Week'.

Somveer Kishnah is a lecturer in the Department of Software and Information Systems (SIS), Faculty of Information, Communication and Digital Technologies at the University of Mauritius. He joined the University of Mauritius in September 2010 and has a Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems and a Master’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering. His research currently revolves around the people factor in both the development and usage of software and combines Artificial Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence in view of promoting better user experiences. In the context of a future smart Mauritius, his study is focussing on intelligent systems equipped with emotions that can help in bridging the communication gap between the hearing impaired and hearing population.

Aneerav Sukhoo is the Deputy Director of the Central Information Systems Division of the Ministry of Information Technology, Communication and Innovation. He has held responsibilities as Systems Analyst, Project Manager, Technical Manager, Deputy Director and Director of institutions spearheading the computerisation programme in Government for the last 30 years. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from UNISA and conducted postdoctoral research at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. He was Professor and Dean of IT at the Amity Institute of Higher Education on a full time basis in 2019 & 2020. He has also provided lectures at various universities and supervised several doctoral students.

Sheeba Armoogum is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Mauritius and past Head of ICT Department of ICT. She has a BSc in Physics, Mathematics and Electronics at the Bangalore University, India and a MSc in Computer Applications at the Madurai Kamaraj University, India. She has more than 14 years of experience in teaching & learning at the tertiary level with more than 20 publications. Her fields of research are networking & security, Cyber Forensics, AI & Machine Learning. Sheeba has a strong industrial background. Before joining UoM, she worked in an American company in Bangalore as team leader and project manager. She was part of several international conferences including the IEEE AFRICON 2013, IEEE EmergiTech 2016 and IEEE NextComp 2019.

Vandanah Gooria is a programme manager and lecturer in Marketing, Management and Special Needs Management at the Open University of Mauritius. She has 13 years of experience in administration and has over 7 years of professional and academic experience encompassing market research and surveys, development and authoring of course materials. She has written one book chapter and published many research papers. She has a specific interest in serving vulnerable groups and she has been involved in social activities for more than 4 years. Her areas of interest are mainly special education needs, marketing, management, open distance learning and Open Educational Resources (OER).

Nirmal Kumar Betchoo is a tenured faculty and former Dean at the Université des Mascareignes. He holds a DBA (Switzerland), an MBA (Scotland) as well as being a Graduate of the professional examinations of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and the Institute of Administrative Management (UK). He is the author of 13 books published nationally and internationally. He has published over 60 peer-reviewed articles in international refereed journals. He is an editor for the Journal of Mass Communications (USA) and the European Scientific Journal (ESJ). As a scholar, he reviews papers for many international journals and conferences. Dr Betchoo writes extensively for the local press where he has published lead papers out of some 150 articles he has been publishing since 2012.

Fadil Chady has earned a bachelor’s degree in Applied Computing from the University of Mauritius. He has worked as Research Assistant for the project entitled, “Automatic Identification of Medicinal Plants in Mauritius via a Mobile Application using Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligence Techniques”, at the University of Mauritius in 2018 and 2019. The project was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). He has acquired skills in the following fields: computer vision, machine learning, artificial intelligence, deep learning, web programming, server administration on Linux, web services, managing cloud services and natural language processing. He is currently working as a Systems Engineer in the ICT industry.

Ashminee Devi Ramoogra studied Computer Science at the University of Mauritius. She has worked as Trainee Research Assistant for the project entitled, “Creole to English and English to Creole Machine Translation using Natural Language Processing Techniques and Deep Learning Neural Networks”, at the University of Mauritius from 2018 to 2020. The project was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). She has excellent knowledge of web technologies, MySQL and programming languages such as C++ and Java. As part of the project, she was also required to create a dataset of English sentences and their equivalent in Kreol Morisien. Thus, she has also acquired an in-depth knowledge of Kreol Morisien.

Hiteishee Hanoomanjee studied Computer Science at the University of Mauritius. She has worked as Trainee Research Assistant for the project entitled, “Creole to English and English to Creole Machine Translation using Natural Language Processing Techniques and Deep Learning Neural Networks”, at the University of Mauritius from 2018 to 2020. The project was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). She has excellent knowledge of web technologies, MySQL and programming languages such as C++ and Java. As part of the project, she was also required to create a dataset of English sentences and their equivalent in Kreol Morisien. Thus, she has also acquired an in-depth knowledge of Kreol Morisien.

Mohammad Zafar Khodabocus has earned a bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering from the University of Mauritius. He has worked as Research Assistant for the project entitled, “Creole to English and English to Creole Machine Translation using Natural Language Processing Techniques and Deep Learning Neural Networks”, at the University of Mauritius from 2018 to 2020. The project was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). He has acquired skills in the following fields: Internet of Things (IoT), Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Deep Learning (DL), Machine Translation (MT), Internet Technologies and Game development. He is currently working as a Software Engineer in the ICT industry.

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

©inTRAlinea & Sameerchand Pudaruth(1), Aneerav Sukhoo(2), Somveer Kishnah(1), Sheeba Armoogum(1), Vandanah Gooria(3), Nirmal Kumar Betchoo(4), Fadil Chady(1), Ashminee Ramoogra(1), Hiteishee Hanoomanjee(1) and Zafar Khodabocus(1) (2021).
"Morisia: A Neural Machine Translation System to Translate between Kreol Morisien and English", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

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The best interest of the child in interpreter-mediated interviews

Researching children’s point of view

By Amalia Amato & Gabriele Mack (University of Bologna, Italy)


Children’s rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) can be substantiated only if children can understand them and can communicate their point of view effectively. Whenever children do not speak the same language of the country where they live, and no action is taken to guarantee their right to communicate in their mother tongue, their rights are at risk. Yet, interpreting is still generally considered as a service activity for adults also in research and interpreter education, and the perception of interpreting by children and adolescents is understudied so far. This paper contributes to filling this gap by giving voice to a group of 18 Italian children and adolescents aged between 6 and 17 who communicated via an interpreter for the first time and expressed their preferences and concerns. The aim was to collect information about their perception of some aspects of an interpreter-mediated interview, in particular how they felt during the interview, what was their perception of role and rapport building and their preferred seating arrangements. We hope with this study to inspire further research in this area and also, possibly, specialised training for interpreters who work with children.

Keywords: interpreting for children, children's rights, language rights, children's view, interview

©inTRAlinea & Amalia Amato & Gabriele Mack (2021).
"The best interest of the child in interpreter-mediated interviews Researching children’s point of view", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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1. Children’s language rights in the EU and in Italy

Giving a definition of the terms ‘fragility’ and ‘vulnerability’ is difficult, as convincingly argued by Virág (2015: 77ff). Any person, regardless of age, can be frail for a variety of reasons and in many ways, and vulnerability is often a temporary condition induced by transient circumstances. Boys and girls under 18 are considered vulnerable per se by national and international legal provisions which recognise their need for special care, especially (but not only) if they are on the move and/or separated from their families.

The fundamental legal provisions concerning children are enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (1989), with 196 State Parties as of October 2015,[1] and 181 ratifications in 2019.[2] A number of articles define children’s language and communication rights, namely articles 12 and 13. Article 12 guarantees freedom of expression in matters affecting the child and gives due weight to the child’s views, and it establishes the obligation to hear the child in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting her/him. Article 13 grants every child the right to “express his or her views, obtain information, and make ideas or information known, regardless of frontiers”. Though it may sound obvious, all these rights can be substantiated only if children can understand them and can communicate their point of view effectively. But linguistic rights are not explicitly granted by international law, although there are initiatives like the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights signed in 1996 in Barcelona (UNESCO 1996a and 1996b).

In Italy, the child’s right to be heard when involved in legal proceedings was introduced by decree law no. 154 in 2013, which added article 336-bis to the Civil Code. For unaccompanied children, a major step forward was Act no. 47 of 7 April 2017 (‘Provisions on protective measures for unaccompanied foreign minors’) stating that no later than 30 days after having been reported to a public authority, unaccompanied children have the right to be heard by qualified staff who collect their story and all the necessary information to grant them protection, with the help of a cultural mediator if necessary.

1.2 Public service interpreting in Italy

In Italy, the shortage of qualified and trained interpreters in the languages of recent migratory flows in legal and other crucial settings - such as health care, education and psychiatry - raises concerns also in terms of children’s rights. So far there is no register or accreditation system for public service interpreters, and according to a comparative research in six European countries, their professional status in Italy is very low and their work is poorly paid, which inevitably affects the quality of their interpreting services negatively (Casadei and Franceschetti 2009: 18). Qualified conference or liaison interpreters only rarely accept assignments in public service settings where interpreting is generally performed by linguistic and/or cultural mediators. The first official definition of mediator dates back to 1997, and in the following years local authorities issued multiple and varied job descriptions.[3] Later on, regional and local authorities defined a common job description similar to that of a caseworker who also provides language assistance and interpreting, but it is still ambiguous and comprises so many tasks and roles that it seems impossible they can be all performed by the same person (see Conferenza Regioni e Province Autonome 2009: 8-9). Moreover, so far there are no common standards for training and qualifications of cultural mediators (Amato and Garwood 2011). The lack of standards and accreditation of mediators is even more worrying if we consider that in Italy among users of language services there are particularly vulnerable groups like migrant (and often unaccompanied) children.

In legal contexts (see ImPLI 2012; Falbo 2013) interpreting is mainly carried out by a) in-house police interpreters who work as full time staff for the Ministry of Interior; b) former migrants who may or may not be trained as cultural and language mediators and cover languages of lesser diffusion as well as vehicular languages but have no training in interpreting techniques such as consecutive with notes or whispering; and c) bilinguals acting as ad hoc interpreters without any training or experience neither in legal matters nor in interpreting. Also in health care, interpreting is rarely provided by trained interpreters, and schools have very small budgets to ensure communication with newly arrived foreign pupils.

2. Research on interpreting for children and adolescents: a literature review

The lack of explicit language rights for children and adolescents is reflected also in the limited number of interpreting studies in this area. This sharply contrasts with the abundant research on interpreting activities performed by children known as language brokering, which raises completely different problems and will not be dealt with in this paper. The following sections give a brief overview of the most salient empirical studies on interpreting for children and present facts and findings that will be referred to when discussing the results of our study. We shall first discuss the few publications about interpreting for very young children (section 2.1), then interpreting for migrant children and for minors in legal settings (section 2.2), and finally interpreting in paediatric and mental health care settings (section 2.3).

2.1 Interpreting for very young children

A Norwegian research project in public service interpreting for children conducted by researchers from Oslo University College includes a study on very young children’s behaviour in interpreter-mediated conversation (Hitching and Nilsen 2010) to which Nilsen (2013) added some more interviews. Analyses of video-recorded interactions led the authors to conclude that also very young children aged 3 or 4 are able to understand the peculiarity of interpreter-mediated communication and adapt to it, provided they understand and accept the basic rules of turn-taking in consecutive interpreting. Kanstad (2015) confirmed this finding in a study involving a 3-year-old boy who was assisted by an interpreter during his first weeks in a Norwegian kindergarten. Basically the same observation was made by Solem (2014) with chuchotage (whispering) and simultaneous interpreting for 5 children aged between 3 and 7 years. Kanstad's research was part of a multidisciplinary project aimed at both raising awareness and expertise about communication with children via an interpreter and showing how children's rights stated in the UN CRC can be granted (Kanstad and Gran 2016: 21).[4] In this study the need for and the right to interpreting for children were discussed from the perspective of three groups: hearing impaired children with sign language as their first language,[5] Sami speaking children and newly arrived migrant children. Interpreting was recognised as an important tool to safeguard these children's rights of expression and participation, and prevent marginalization (Kanstad and Gran 2016: 99). The authors conclude that in increasingly intercultural societies communication via an interpreter should be part of the training of kindergarten teachers, and foreign children should have the right to an interpreter, especially in their early days at kindergarten (ibid.: 95).

2.2 Interpreting for migrant children and in legal settings

The Oslo University College project mentioned above also involved the Norwegian school administration and the Directorates of Immigration and of Integration and Diversity, taking into account the viewpoints of users, recruiters, and staff working with interpreters as well as interpreters themselves about interacting with minors in public service encounters. One of their conclusions was that interpreting between adults and children does not differ significantly from interpreting between adults. However, while interpreters do not need a different toolbox to interpret for children, this must be extra-large (Hitching and Nilsen 2010: 37). Moreover, interpreters’ personal qualities and flexibility seem particularly relevant since some individuals are better at interacting with children than others (Nilsen 2015). Besides strongly recommending to resort only to trained and experienced interpreters, the Norwegian researchers also suggested that in the public sector interpreter-mediated communication should become a component of professional training in intercultural communication for all staff working with children.

Another research project about interpreting in childcare institutions and care centres for unaccompanied asylum seeking minors, which was carried out on behalf of the Norwegian Directorate of Children, Youth and Family, collected quantitative and qualitative data in different ways including also interviews with employees, managers, professionals and young migrants, but unfortunately the young respondents' answers were not discussed separately (Berg et al. 2018). The use of untrained bilinguals and breach of confidentiality proved to heavily undermine users’ trust in interpreting. Telephone interpreting seems rather common in Norway, mainly for logistic and cost reasons (Berg et al. 2018: ix), but very little is known about the preferences of young people in this respect. Only Øien, who interviewed 30 asylum seekers aged 15-18, incidentally mentions that some minors seem to prefer the greater distance and impersonality of telephone interpreting when they have to discuss sensitive issues (Øien 2010: 31).

A series of studies based on conversation analysis was carried out in Sweden on a corpus of 26 interviews with Russian children, with the aim “to explore how the participation of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is interactively constructed in interpreter-mediated asylum hearings” (Keselman 2009: 34-35). The analyses show “how interpreters can challenge asylum-seeking children’s participant statuses” (Keselman, Cederborg and Linell 2010: 83) and how the development of trust/mistrust can be traced in the interviews (Linell and Keselman 2010). Another conclusion was that “interpreters are powerful participants who can profoundly influence the fact-finding aspects of asylum investigations” (Keselman et al. 2010: 333), and that unprofessional interpreting increases power asymmetry. For this reason,

both caseworkers and interpreters need special training in the characteristics of desirable interview techniques. They also need to ensure that their collaboration is based on a joint understanding of how messages should be translated and of the ways in which meaning can be changed when the form and structure of utterances are changed. (Keselman et al. 2008: 113)

Probably the most investigated area of interpreting for minors is the legal one, but once again, although mentioned in a great deal of studies, the specific needs of children rarely become a major focus (e.g. Berg and Tronstad 2015; Kjelaas and Eide 2015; Kjelaas 2016). The voices of children directly involved in interpreter-mediated encounters have been listened to in even less cases, but not about their experience with interpreting as such (e.g. Kanstad and Gran 2016; Berg et al. 2018).[6] In their discussion about interviewing practice, Böser and La Rooy (2018) highlight the need to modify protocols like NICHD if encounters are interpreter-mediated.

2.3 Interpreting in paediatric and mental health care settings

Paediatric care is another setting where interpreting for children occurs frequently. Also the children's right to health is enshrined in the CRC, but again it can be granted only through language and communication, while in many countries physicians and therapists complain about scarce resources even for the most urgent needs (Landesärztekammer BW 2015; Mannhart and Freisleder 2017). Loosely defined qualification standards for interpreters and the ensuing variability in the quality of their services is frequently mentioned in this context, together with budget constraints.

With the exception of some studies on unaccompanied minors, the bulk of research in interpreting for children in medical settings deals with interactions between adults and neither distinguishes between interpreting for adults and for children nor enquires about the latter's perceptions and preferences. Some publications reflect personal experience (e.g. Phoenix Children’s Hospital 2008), while others stem from the analysis of recordings of interpreter-mediated encounters (Wadensjö 1998, 180-186 and 192-195; Leanza and Rocque 2015; Amato and Mangoni 2020) or are part of more extensive projects, like the Swedish survey on communication over language barriers in paediatric cancer care involving doctors, nurses and interpreters (see Granhagen Jungner et al. 2019).

An area of particular interest that was investigated rather early is interpreting in child mental health (Raval 1996; Loshak 2003; Leanza et al. 2015) and psychiatric care for traumatised children after humanitarian emergencies. Accounts in literature are partly based on professional experience (Rousseau, Measham and Moro 2011; Pfister and Kötter 2016) and partly on research. For children with preliminary diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the direct aftermath of mass disasters, interpreter-assisted psychotherapy using various forms of narrative proved to be extremely efficient (Catani et al. 2009), and the same was found for traumatised refugee children (Ruf et al. 2010). Interpreting for children who are victims of sexual abuse puts additional strain on all participants, and research suggests to offer interpreters extensive preliminary briefing and access to supervision (Fontes 2008: 161-162; Fontes and Tishelman 2016; Powell et al. 2017). For psychotherapeutic settings, Costa (2018) voices concerns about language choice, since using one’s mother tongue rather than an acquired language or a lingua franca has deep emotional implications.

Also in the health care context, researchers insist that

interpreters who work with children and families need additional training in order to be able to address the child in an age-appropriate way and accurately convey information about the language and nonverbal communication skills of the child. Mental health professionals also need specific training in how to work with interpreters. (Leanza et al. 2014: 94)

Studies also confirm previous

results on diversity of interpreters' roles, the crucial places of trust and time, need for recognition of interpreters' and the complexity of practitioners' work. (...) The key challenge seems to be the collaborative building of an integrative framework. (...) Interpreters need to acculturate, like immigrants to the society, to the clinical milieu in order to offer professional services. (...) Interpreters' integration within clinical teams is a metaphor for integration within society: differences and métissages may exist within a framework (laws) respected by all. (Leanza et al. 2015: 371-372)

Generally speaking, children tend to learn a new language rather quickly and often act as interpreters themselves for their family or peers, as the vast literature on child language brokering confirms, but the very first 'official' contacts with an alien society and a still unknown language are absolutely crucial. Talking about his first weeks in a reception centre near Turin, a 13 year old Moroccan boy said: “I didn't understand Italian, there is a mediator but she comes only every now and then. One day I wanted to jump out of the window, which was very high, but I was afraid. That was a prison, not a reception centre. There are windows with bars...” (Rozzi 2013: 63). Kanstad and Gran rightly voice the need for

reflections on a more basic level about what view we really have of a child as a person and as an own individual and subject. (...) There may be a danger that the children who share our language are seen as subjects and individuals while those who are more distant due to language and communication difficulties are at risk of being seen as objects. (Kanstad and Gran 2016: 93)

3. Our study on children's and adolescents' perception of interpreting: design and methodology

As the overview on literature in section 2 shows, a number of aspects concerning interpreting for children have been addressed by research so far, but the perception and preferences of children and adolescents who need the assistance of interpreters have been largely neglected. For this reason we undertook a study aimed at collecting first-hand information from children and adolescents about their feelings and preferences during the first interpreter-mediated interview in their life. The study is part of the Co-Minor-In/Quest project series[7] launched in 2012, to our knowledge the first transnational project about interpreting for children in legal settings. It first collected quantitative data via an on-line questionnaire aimed at professionals who work with children. The respondents were 848 from 16 countries (see Balogh and Salaets 2015: 183ff for the results). The follow-up project, Co-Minor-In/Quest II, collected qualitative data about interpreter-mediated interviews involving children via a focus group with professionals and semi-structured interviews with minors in order to design appropriate tools for joint training and awareness-raising among professionals which incorporated also children’s feelings and opinions about interpreting.

In this paper we report about 18 Italian children and adolescent's perception of roles and rapport building during an interpreter-mediated interview as well as some of their preferences, namely seating arrangement and age and gender of the interpreter. In the next paragraph we will describe the study design and highlight some limitations.

3.1 Study design

One part of Co-Minor-In/Quest II research project involved conducting semi-structured interviews (SSI) with children of three different age groups (6-9; 10-13; 14-17) after their first direct experience of an interpreter-mediated conversation.

Before providing a detailed description of the SSI and discussing the results, it is important to point out the child-centred approach of our study design. Instead of observing children as objects and then writing about them, in this work we consider children the main players and source of information and knowledge, to factor in when adults work with them. In other words, our approach was that of research with and for children rather than on children (Fargas-Malet et al. 2010; O'Reilly, Ronzoni and Dogra 2013; Clark et al. 2013).

3.1.1 Preliminary work

Before starting to organise the interviews, we obtained the approval of the research project from Bologna University Bioethical Committee and attended a webinar by Terre des Hommes about how to interview children with full respect of their rights and preferences.[8] The SSI script was prepared by the team of project partners which included six interpreting researchers, a representative of Terre des Hommes, an expert of child rights, a child lawyer, a lawyer, a criminologist and a development psychologist. The questions addressed reflect the main issues identified during the previous Co-Minor research project. The SSI script was drafted in English with the wording tailored to the different age groups mainly by the criminologist and the psychologist and then translated into Italian. It included 29 questions grouped into 7 thematic chapters covering 1) personal feelings; 2) understanding of roles and relations between the persons involved; 3) skills of the people involved; 4) space and time arrangements; 5) the technical implementation of the interview; 6) trust and rapport and 7) general feedback. Most questions were open, and during the SSI only in a few occasions small adjustments or additions were made to respond to the children’s moves, though with hindsight, it could also have been advisable to stick less to the SSI script with the younger children up to the age of 8 (see Einarsdottir 2007). Two questions were added during the interviews with the teenagers prompted by one of their answers (see section 3.3.2).

Children and teenagers were enrolled through the local education authority in Forlì applying the following inclusion criteria: Italian mother tongue, no prior experience with interpreters, and no knowledge of German - the language chosen for the interpreter-mediated interview because it is rarely taught in schools in Italy and it is the mother tongue of one of the researchers. Children with a migration background were excluded considering the probability of previous experience with interpreting and in order to avoid possible reactivation of negative recollections connected with migration. For logistic reasons only one pilot interview was conducted with a 6-year-old child (the age group we expected to be potentially the most difficult to handle). We realise that a couple of questions are not completely open, namely the ones asking children to mention what they liked or disliked about the interviewer and the interpreter. Although the wording was meant to help younger children understand these questions, with hindsight the result is a couple of questions that can be perceived as leading.

3.2 The interviews

The interviews were conducted in late winter 2017 and involved 18 participants (10 girls and 8 boys) during four afternoons. Eight children were aged 6-9, four 10-13 and six were teenagers aged 14-17. After watching a short video used as a prompt, each participant took part in two different conversations: during the first one (the interpreter-mediated interview) they talked about the video to an unknown foreigner with the help of an interpreter; during the second conversation (the SSI) they talked with one of the researchers about their experience of communication through an interpreter. The first conversation had no script and unfolded spontaneously according to the participants' answers and reactions since the person acting as interviewer (who actually had not seen the video) had the goal to obtain information about the events featured in the video but no other instructions, while the second conversation, in Italian, was based on the SSI script.

A room in our university building was used for the interviews while parents who accompanied children waited in another room, and a third one was used as a waiting room for the interviewer and the interpreter only, when they were idle. Recordings were made with a camcorder and two audio recorders.

In the interpreted interviews different seating arrangements were used for different age groups[9] (see section 3.3.3):

  • 6-9 years of age: three chairs in a circle, no table (as there was no furniture with suitable sizes available);
  • 10-13 and 14-17 years of age: five chairs at a rectangular table, with the child/teenager invited to choose where to sit and where to place the interviewer and the interpreter.

The role of interviewer was played in turn by a high school language teacher, a university professor and a junior lecturer, all German nationals, who had been briefed about the project and how to conduct an interview in a child-friendly way. All interviews were interpreted by the same young male Italian interpreter with German as a B language who had about four years of experience as a free-lance conference and public service interpreter. He had been instructed to use both consecutive with and without notes and chuchotage during the interviews. As suggested by the psychologist and the child rights expert in the research team, the children were put in the position of a witness, but the interviews took place in a neutral environment and were conducted in a very informal style.

Upon arrival, all children and adolescents were given the same preliminary information about the interview and namely: a) that they were going to watch a video; b) that a person who had not seen it would talk to them to get as much information as possible about what happened in the video; c) that since that person did not speak Italian, there would be an interpreter who would help them communicate; d) that they could simply say what they remembered about the video and there were no right or wrong answers; and e) that they could put an end to the conversation at any time.

After each child had watched on his/her own a 2’30” long video featuring a pickpocketing scene without any violence and with no talk,[10] the interpreter and interviewer came into the room and were introduced by their name and role. During the interpreter-mediated interviews, the researchers were sitting at the back of the room but did not participate or interact in any way. After the interpreted interview and a short pause, the children were asked if they agreed to have another conversation with one of the researchers (the SSI) about the interpreted interview that had just taken place. Again they were reassured that there were no right or wrong answers and that they could decide not to answer at all. The second researcher took notes and operated the recorders. Table 1 illustrates the 18 interviewees’ age and gender and the length of the SSI.

Table 1: Participants’ data and length of the 18 interviews

All SSI were fully transcribed, quotations were translated from Italian for the purpose of this paper. Thematic content analysis was performed coding the answers according to a first set of categories which was cross-checked and adjusted in a second round of analysis.

3.3 Main findings and discussion of semi-structured interviews

In this section we will discuss children’s views on four topics: personal feelings, role of the interpreter and rapport among participants, and choice of seating arrangement. We are neither trying to generalise these findings, nor claiming that they are specific to children only, since there is no adult control group with whom the same study was conducted to compare results. We simply listened to the voice of children and collected their opinions and feelings about their first experience of an interpreter-mediated interaction.

3.3.1 Feelings about the interpreter-mediated interactions

The first question asked to children and teenagers was «How did you feel?» during the interpreter-mediated conversation they had just had. About half of them, especially younger children, admitted they felt nervous before the conversation because of the unknown situation and/or because they could not communicate directly with the interviewer, and indeed, they were faced with a new experience involving persons they had never met before and communication through an interpreter. This feeling is related to trust and rapport which will be discussed in section 3.3.2.

To the following question - «What did you like in particular during the conversation?» - two of the younger children said they liked being asked questions about the video, one said he liked being carefully listened to by two adults, and one liked listening to an unknown language. These answers suggest that the initial feeling of anxiety and unease faded away as the interaction unfolded and was over at the end of it. Most of the older children liked the idea of being able to talk to a person they did not know in a foreign language.

The next two questions concerned positive feelings. To the first one - «What did you like most of the interviewer?» - most younger children could not answer, but one said “I understood the interviewer sometimes: when she pronounced my name and said ‘OK’”. This confirms, from the perception and viewpoint of a child, the importance of social support during interviews as highlighted in a study which examined the level of support interviewers provided to children:

Support was identified when interviewers personally addressed the child by his/her name (e.g., ‘now Daniel tell me everything that happened from the beginning to the end’ or ‘Tell me more about this person, Sharon’) and when neutral reinforcements, unrelated to the content of the child’s response, were included. (Hershkowitz 2011: 113)

Three children between 10 and 13 pointed out that they appreciated the interviewer showing interest for them: “She was curious”; “She watched my gestures and looked at me while I was speaking”; “She looked really interested”, again a form or non-verbal reinforcement. All teenagers focused on emotional and non-verbal aspects concerning the interviewer: attitude, spontaneity, naturalness, keeping eye contact, patience, willingness to listen were mentioned as the most positive aspects. This confirms, if need be, the well-known importance of non-verbal and kinetic aspects in communication (Poyatos 1987), and strongly suggests that interviewers should take them into careful consideration also when working with children who speak another language.

The second question was: «What did you like most of the interpreter?». Some of the younger children underlined that the interpreter was there to help them, and one of them said: “I liked best that he said what I said”. The older children and teenagers mainly appreciated the skills of the interpreter and rated him as very proficient. One of them said: “He tried not to translate literally but to communicate, to make his talk sound Italian and not a translation”. Since all teenagers came from a humanities high school, this observation could reflect his personal experience with translations from Latin and ancient Greek in class. In general, being asked questions made children connect this experience to school; in particular younger children made several references to their teachers and schoolmates during the SSI.

Negative feelings were investigated with the question: «Was there something you disliked in the interview?». The only aspect, mentioned by almost all interviewees, was overlapping talk produced by the interpreter when whispering. The reason for this dislike was mainly that it was perceived as overlapping talk and interrupting, and interrupting a person is culturally related to rudeness in Italy. Some also found it confusing since it prevents from listening everything that is being said, and two children aged 10 to 13 doubted that the interpreter could hear what they were saying since he was translating while they were speaking. These perceptions are in line with the literature on child interviews in legal settings which states that children should not be interrupted in order not to interfere with memory and with the flow of their narrative. This is an aspect which deserves further investigation. Three of the younger children could not answer the question because they said they did not notice that there had been a change of interpreting mode, but the video recordings clearly show them reacting to chuchotage by raising their tone of voice and/or by springing up from their chair in an attempt to draw the interviewer’s and interpreter’s attention to what they were saying.

3.3.2 Perception of roles and rapport building

The following section of the SSI concerned the role of the interpreter and the rapport between participants. To understand whom interviewees identified as their main conversation partner, they were asked whom they had told the story of the video to. Half of the children up to 13 identified the interpreter as their primary communication partner, and half identified the interviewer. All teenagers said they told the story to the interpreter but two of them specified that the interviewer put the questions and therefore what they said was addressed to the interviewer. Several comments made by children and teenagers show that this choice is also associated with eye contact. One child said: “I looked mainly at the interviewer; the interpreter looked at me and at the interviewer”.

The question «Who listened most carefully to you?» received different answers in all age groups, with interesting explanations. One young child said the interpreter listened with more attention because “He was the one who understood me”. One older child thought the interpreter listened more carefully because “He had to listen and translate”, and one teenager said the interpreter listened more carefully since he had to translate, while two others thought the interviewer listened more carefully because she showed attention, gave non-verbal feedback and tried to follow what was being said even if she did not understand Italian. Again, support and reinforcement by gestures or other non-verbal cues such as nodding and eye contact did not go unnoticed and were mentioned as significant by the older respondents.

Two additional questions asked only to teenagers concerned the interpreter’s gender and age. They came up in the interview with the first teenager, who stated that the relatively small age difference with the interpreter had made him feel more at ease, because he felt he would not be judged negatively if he made a “language mistake”. Another interviewee said he perceived a younger interpreter as less intimidating while two boys said that, generally speaking, they would prefer an older interpreter because s/he would be more reliable and reassuring. The interpreter’s gender, instead, was not considered significant by any of the teenagers.

3.3.3 Seating arrangements

When preparing the SSI, the group of researchers thought that investigating about the seating arrangement would be relevant with regard to access to non-verbal communication (see section 3.3.1). The above mentioned comments on this aspect seem to confirm that indeed the possibility to see all participants is perceived as important also by children. For the younger ones, three chairs had been arranged in a small triangle with no table (Fig. 2). When asked where the interpreter was sitting during the interview and where they would like him to sit next time, all children remembered the seating arrangement and said they had liked it and would not change it because it allowed them to watch both the interpreter and the interviewer.

Figure 2: Seating arrangement for children aged 6-9 and 10-13.

The groups aged 10 to 17 were offered to choose where to sit and where to place the interviewer and the interpreter at a rectangular table with five chairs, and during the SSI they were asked to explain the reasons for their choice. The four children aged 10 to 13 chose to sit in front of the interviewer at one of the long sides of the table and placed the interpreter at the short side (Fig. 2). Two of them specified that they asked the interpreter to sit in that place because: “It is not nice to say it, but the interpreter is a go-between”; “The interpreter is a sort of conduit”; the other two stressed they wanted eye contact with the interviewer and therefore had placed her in front of them, and one of them added that she chose that seating arrangement because she wanted to be sure she could hear the interpreter clearly. It could also be that the usual positions of teacher and pupils in a classroom influenced this choice.

The six teenagers instead made five different choices (Fig. 3) and gave different reasons. Arrangement (a) was chosen by one boy and one girl who decided to sit at the short side of the table and asked the interviewer and the interpreter to sit one in front of the other at the long sides of the table. One of them explained that with this arrangement she could turn her head towards the interviewer or the interpreter when she was talking or listening to one or the other; the second teenager said he wanted to have direct eye contact with both conversation partners. Another boy chose to sit at the short side of the table with the interviewer and the interpreter one in front of the other at the long sides of the table, but the interpreter further away (arrangement b). He explained that for him the primary communication axis was with the interviewer, for whom he showed a strong liking from the very beginning. Arrangement (c) was chosen by another boy who sat at the long side of the table opposite to the interviewer and with the interpreter at his side. He explained that this way he could have eye contact with the interviewer while talking to “his” interpreter. Arrangements (d) and (e) were chosen by two girls who sat at the long side of the table opposite the interviewer, but one of them placed the interpreter at the short side of the table and the other one beside the interviewer, again in order to have direct eye contact with the interviewer.

Figure 3: Seating arrangements chosen by teenagers (14-17).

Most teenagers said they would keep the same arrangement they had chosen if they had a chance to choose again. Trying to find a common denominator in the choices of the teenager group would be an unsuccessful exercise. The information they gave us is that they have individual preferences for seating arrangements and are able to motivate them and that offering them a choice can make them feel more at ease and possibly more empowered during an interview. This is particularly important when compared to a police psychologist’s opinion we collected during a focus group, who insisted that the interpreter should be sitting behind the child or teenager because the interviewer should be the sole conversation partner during the interview. Also Wiener and Rivera (2004) claim that in psychotherapeutic sessions, whenever possible, the interpreter should sit to the side and a little behind the patient in order not to interfere in the patient-provider relationship. The children and teenagers in our study wanted to establish eye contact with both the interviewer and the interpreter. Being briefed and placed in a friendly environment, children and teenagers who took part in this research project showed to be well aware of communication axes and components - both verbal and non-verbal - and of who was their main conversation partner (section 3.3.2), and they attached great attention and importance to non-verbal cues. Their choice and reasons for seating arrangements confirm that seeing both the interpreter and the interviewer made them feel at ease and ‘in control’ of the interaction. This idea is also supported by their negative perception of whispering: they generally expressed a dislike for it because they felt that not everything that was said could be heard (section 3.3.1).

4. The perspective of children and adolescents - caveats and conclusions

The aim of this study was to investigate children feelings and impressions after their first experience of communication through an interpreter during an interview. Obviously no general conclusions can be drawn from a small sample like this, nor do we know if our findings apply specifically to children since there was no adult control group. Some aspects, however, converge with what has been reported by other researchers. Results with our age group 6-9 confirmed for example that young children are able to communicate successfully via an interpreter (see Kanstad 2015, Nilsen 2013, Solem 2014). Hitching’s and Nilsen’s (2010) conclusion that interpreters’ personal qualities and flexibility are particularly relevant was indirectly confirmed by the large number of comments, made by all age groups, on the interpreter's collaborative attitude and ability to inspire trust. As far as their preferred interpreting mode was concerned, our respondents showed a dislike for whispering as observed also by Solem (2014).

Experiencing a new way of communication raised mixed emotions as the interaction unfolded, from (initial) nervousness to (final) satisfaction about the unprecedented opportunity of speaking to a foreigner.

During the interpreted interview, almost all respondents noticed and reacted to verbal and non-verbal signs of attention and interest by the interviewer and rated them positively together with her careful listening without interruptions. Non-verbal communication and kinetic aspects were fully captured also by younger children, which suggests that either letting the child choose the seating arrangement or carefully planning it is probably the best way to allow the child to have eye contact with all participants.

Before drawing conclusions one point should be stressed once again: although children were placed in the shoes of witnesses, the interviews did not take place in a legal setting nor in a police station, and there were neither a psychologist nor a social worker present, but the interviews were conducted in an institutional context, with unknown adults, in an unfamiliar environment, and the timeframe was rather limited - all aspects that must be taken into account (Spyrou 2011). It is not possible to say if in a different setting our participants would have reacted differently, nor is it possible to say to what extent they tried to please the researchers with their answers or to give a positive image of themselves by avoiding expressions of negative feelings which could be associated to rudeness or impoliteness. Nonetheless this research provides some useful hints to the preferences of our participants which can be summarised as follows:

  • being informed (i.e. know what to expect from the interview(er) and who does what and why);
  • feeling at ease and not being put under pressure;
  • being listened to carefully;
  • not being interrupted;
  • having eye contact with both interviewer and interpreter;
  • being allowed to choose the seating arrangement.

Although this list may not be exhaustive and is open to additions, it reflects what the children and teenagers in our study showed to appreciate and hopefully gives some hints about what children want and feel when having to communicate through an interpreter. We hope with this study to inspire further research in this area and also, possibly, specialised training for interpreters who work or intend to work with children, in particular (but not only) in legal settings in the best interest of the child, because children can only enjoy their rights if they can understand them and can give their point of view.


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