Translating from ‘unofficial’ to ‘official’:

On the intralingual untranslatability of a ‘fuchsia goat'

By Georgios Floros (University of Cyprus, Cyprus)

Abstract & Keywords

This paper examines a particular case of intralingual translation from the Cypriot context, one which tends to push the very notion of translatability to its limits. Specifically, it discusses an immensely popular Greek Cypriot sitcom, Aigia Fuxia [Fuchsia Goat], written in the Cypriot Greek dialect (CGD), and the (im)possibilities of its subtitling into Standard Modern Greek (SMG), which is the variety enjoying official status in Cyprus. The main premise of this paper is that when language itself becomes topical in a translation endeavour, the very text becomes untranslatable, despite the seemingly high degree of translatability implied by an intralingual translation situation.

Keywords: Intralingual translation, Cypriot Greek dialect CGD, Standard Modern Greek SMG, untranslatability, stylization

©inTRAlinea & Georgios Floros (2016).
"Translating from ‘unofficial’ to ‘official’:"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia III
Edited by: Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2186

In recent years, there is a growing interest in dialect translation (cf., for example, Federici (ed.) 2011), which is in line with the latest developments in translation studies, regarding, among others, the translation of and for linguistic minorities, postcolonial approaches to translation in terms of power and identity, and the resurgent interest in ethical issues governing and/or affecting translation. Within this context, multimedia translation in all its forms (from more traditional ones, such as subtitling and dubbing, to more recently developed and investigated ones, such as audio description) has become a particularly interesting site for examining dialect translation both in intralingual and interlingual situations (Jakobson 1959). The most important aspects under investigation in the context of translation studies include the use and function of a dialect within a speech community, which in turn affects the choice of strategies/techniques and the concrete linguistic choices for the translation of dialect into dialect (for example, Sánchez 1999), standard into dialect (for example, Findlay 1996; 2000), or dialect into standard (for example, Koletnik and Vahl Lopert 2012), particularly for the theatre (cf., for example, papers in Johnston 1996).

The numerous challenges posed by dialect translation in all its facets create an important research area of translation studies, one that highlights significant core aspects of the field, such as the question of translatability. There are many examples of felicitous translation, where a dialect has been successfully rendered (or, rather, substituted) by another dialect of a different language (cf. Anderman 2009), as well as intralingual examples, where the translation of standard into dialect or dialect into standard has created successful outcomes, supporting the idea that dialect is translatable under certain conditions and considerations. This paper examines a particular case of intralingual translation from the Cypriot context, one which, as will be argued, tends to push the very notion of translatability to its limits. Specifically, it discusses an immensely popular Greek Cypriot sitcom, Aigia Fuxia [Fuchsia Goat], written in the Cypriot Greek dialect (CGD), and the (im)possibilities of its subtitling into Standard Modern Greek (SMG), which is the variety enjoying official status in Cyprus. Before embarking on the examination of the particularities posed by the above example, an important differentiation needs to be made: CGD is a regional dialect of SMG in the geographical sense, not a social dialect in the sense of a sociolect. Furthermore, it is important to a) give the necessary background concerning the linguistic situation in Cyprus and b) elaborate on the particular genre of the sitcom, before arguing for the untranslatability of the example studied.

Ever since independence from Britain in 1960, the statutory languages of the Republic of Cyprus have been Standard Modern Greek and Turkish. After the island’s division and the ensuing exchange of populations in 1974, the official language for the public domain in the Republic of Cyprus has been SMG. English still enjoys a high status, as shown by relevant studies (cf., for example, Papapavlou 2001 and Tsiplakou 2009a). The Cypriot speech community is in a situation of both bilingualism and diglossia.[1] There are two official languages in the country, Greek and Turkish (the standard varieties of both), although the latter is in practice not spoken due to the continuing division of Cyprus. This means that, despite its statutory introduction, bilingualism is in a rather ‘dormant’ state in the country. But what is much more interesting from a sociolinguistic perspective is that SMG, the official variety used in national education, the courts, the media and for all other official purposes, coexists with CGD, the variety which, albeit unofficial and perceived as having a ‘lower’ status, is very widely used in everyday communication and on informal occasions (diglossia), without enjoying overt prestige among its speakers (cf., for example, Papapavou 1998; Tsiplakou 2004; Ioannidou 2007). However, this variety is gradually gaining ground in the media; especially, in Cypriot productions of sitcoms and series.

This gradual development might be the result of the dialect levelling and the emergence of an urban koiné (Tsiplakou 2009b)[2], which is much nearer to SMG, to the extent that there is a tendency towards diglossia resolution (cf. Tsiplakou and Ioannidou 2012). CGD has never been a ‘uniform’ variety, as local subvarieties exist in different areas of the island, often displaying significant differences among them. Therefore, one might say that today a ‘rural’ and a ‘metropolitan’ CGD coexist, the latter being the aforementioned koiné (cf. also Tsiplakou et al. 2006).

Dialect levelling and koineization might be thought to enhance the intelligibility of the Cypriot koiné by speakers of SMG in mainland Greece. Through the possibilities offered by YouTube and other dissemination forums and platforms, contemporary Cypriot media products have reached mainland Greece. Very often, some products deemed difficult to understand by SMG speakers are subtitled by volunteers (crowd-sourced captioning). It is through such channels that Aigia Fuxia has been disseminated in the Greek-speaking world, where the show could also be appreciated, albeit for reasons that seem to be rather different to those for which the show was appreciated within Cyprus. But media products where metropolitan Cypriot is spoken, for example shows and news on the satellite program of CyBC (the national TV stations of Cyprus), are understood without any major problems. From a translational perspective, this results in less—if any—need for intralingual translation (that is subtitling in our case, be it crowd-sourced or by a professional translator), as the Cypriot koiné seems to be heading towards its intralingual self-translatability by approaching SMG. Self-translatability is meant here as a situation where, due to the ‘normalization’ of ‘heavy’ dialectal forms, no mediation is needed. The most important repercussion thereof is the marketability of Cypriot productions, a possibility also endorsed by the ever-increasing number of actors from mainland Greece participating in Cypriot productions, where the standard variety spoken by them coexists in an unproblematic way with the dialectal variety used by the Cypriot actors. In any case, CGD speakers are mostly able to switch to SMG without a problem, while the reverse is not possible for SMG speakers of mainland Greece.

Nevertheless, koineization does not imply that the use of a ‘homogenized’ variety ceases to carry socio-cultural significance (cf. for example Hatim & Mason 1990). On the contrary, it might be seen as pointing to a confidence-enhancing effect, especially if seen in the context of mainly negative attitudes on the part of urban population towards the use of ‘heavy’ forms of dialect (see also the defeated languages, Nadiani 2011). As previously mentioned, the use of dialect by Greek Cypriots does not enjoy overt prestige and there is a remarkable controversy regarding the use of CGD; while it is fully accepted in spoken everyday discourse, Greek Cypriots are largely reluctant to accept it even as a possibility in education or in any written form, for example. The emergence of the metropolitan koiné has probably created the illusion that what is spoken is not really dialect, but simply a phonetically slightly ‘coloured’ version of SMG, which can confidently be treated by the population as almost standard Greek—in any case without the ‘burdens’ or ‘rural connotations’ of an obvious dialectal variety. This also implies a change in power relations. The status of metropolitan Cypriot, albeit the unofficial variety in the country, starts changing from ‘lower’ to acceptable vis-à-vis the statutory, dominant variety within the diglossic setting. If one of the core features of diglossia is the differentiation between a variety of lower status and a variety of higher status within the same linguistic community (cf. Ferguson 1959), such distinctions cease to apply in the case of Cyprus, if the metropolitan variety is taken into account.

In this complex context of diglossia and koineization, it is interesting to look at the use of language that the show Aigia Fuxia opts for. Aigia Fuxia in fact attempts to break, among other things, the prevailing (negative) linguistic attitudes towards the ‘rural’ part of the speech community by using extreme dialect stylization, to the extent that even native speakers of CGD are unable to fully understand the register and some of the vocabulary used. This is not stylization in its typical form, which is often used to perpetuate or enhance negative linguistic attitudes rather than breaking them. Here, stylization acquires this particular function of breaking the prevailing attitudes because it forms part of a particular medley of deconstructive devices which, besides their comedic potential, generate clashes between assumptions about sociocultural constructs. Thus, stylization in Aigia Fuxia creates “contrasts between different metapragmatic/inferential states”, as Jaworski and Coupland (2004: 247) remark. But before further elaborating on linguistic aspects of the show and its translatability into the official variety, it is necessary to first examine the particularities of its genre, through which this particular medley will be clarified.

The show Aigia Fuxia is a Cypriot sitcom in the Cypriot Greek dialect by Christiana Artemiou and Loris Loizidis for ANT1 Cyprus, which is a private TV station. It was broadcast between 2008 and 2010 and both seasons enjoyed enormous popularity. Its name is an allusion to the traditional Cypriot folk song Aigia Kotzini [Red Goat] and the whole show is reminiscent of previous ones from the 1980s and 1990s, which depicted ‘rural life’ in Cyprus and may be categorized under ‘comic ethography’. There are many intertextual references to those older sitcoms, which foregrounded predominant stereotypes about life in the village and, implicitly, about the language of ‘older times’. In those sitcoms “stylization of the language and the lifestyle of a part of the speech community is performed in predictable ways (‘peasanty’ attire and language and comic situations relating to ‘life in the village’)” (Tsiplakou and Ioannidou 2012: 279).

The show is mainly slapstick comedy, but it also involves more serious, tragic stories. So, for example, one of the main characters is queer, a hairdresser and the owner of the fuchsia goat, while another character is the village’s madwoman, who invents Viagra and performs a number of magic tricks alluding to contemporary reality, but at the same time keeps looking for her lost son (cf. Figure 1)[3]. Using a witty, rich and artful filmic and linguistic apparatus, Aigia Fuxia presents a rural, traditionally Cypriot setting with hyperdialectal (see below) speakers who, although set in the remote past, make use of code-switching (CGD and English, CGD and SMG), modern devices and artefacts, allusions to contemporary reality and, crucially, to mainland Greece, and ultimately manage to produce an unprecedented comical effect, lending itself to multiple interpretations. There are plenty of intertextual references to other genres (that is advertisements, American soap operas, popular morning shows, popular musical themes from advertisements and other series), and the show also acquires a meta-commentary character which is shown through sometimes artful, sometimes deconstructive (and thus subversive) filmic techniques, such as engagement of camera crew, black and white shots etc. (cf. Figure 2)[4].

Figure 1: Examples of stylized comedic characters

Figure 2: Example of allusion to contemporary reality

The varied linguistic and filmic apparatus used in the show has been treated as multi-layered bricolage by Tsiplakou and Ioannidou (2012: 279)[5], since the show displays bricolage with regard to (a) subject-matter and situations, which may range from ‘peasanty’ to urban/modern, or varying mixes of the two; (b) filmic bricolage involving overt metacommentary on the mise-en-scène, the use of the camera etc., and, crucially, (c) linguistic bricolage involving the use of extremely stylized basilectal/obsolete or even constructed Cypriot Greek forms in alternation with archaic Greek, Standard Greek and English.[6]

By the use of such bricolage on all levels of the genre construction, the show Aigia Fuxia at the same time observes and subverts the genre of comic ethography, to which it alludes. The show is subversive because both the ‘traditional’ perceptions of CGD and the latest trend towards ‘normalization’ are subverted: As concerns more ‘traditional’ forms of CGD, Aigia Fuxia deploys stylization and hyperdialectism[7], while, as concerns the latest trends in the use of CGD, Aigia Fuxia uses heavy code-switching. This code-switching happens not only between CGD and English, but also between CGD and SMG in both its archaic (katharévousa) and its contemporary forms.[8]

Stylization as out-of-context performance/hyperbolic enactment (cf. Rampton 2006) has comic potential due to script clashes (Attardo 2001) and subversive potential, as it hinges on reframings of the current context, which may lead to its ideological re-evaluation (cf. Tsiplakou and Ioannidou 2012: 290). The comedic potential of stylization as inaccuracies in dialect imitation is long-acknowledged in the relevant literature (cf., for example, Georgakopoulou 2000). The subversive character of the show, through this multi-layered bricolage and its comedic potential, turns the show into a critical reflection on the very Greek Cypriot social ‘imaginary’ and construction of identity. The linguistic bricolage of the show makes it an instance of self-stylization and thus manages to subvert the linguistic imaginary Cypriots have of themselves, since it makes a statement against dominant perceptions of the local and current linguistic practices and linguistic situation. Through the normalization of CGD, which translates into abandoning heavy, and by consequence ‘peasanty’ forms, modern Greek Cypriots maintain a distance not only to their linguistic past, but also to their social past. Therefore, by subverting this normalization, the show makes both a linguistic and a social statement. On the other hand, through strong instances of intertextuality and references to past and present situations, crucially to mainland Greece, the show goes beyond the comical to also comment on the very issue of identity. Modern Greek Cypriots strongly adhere to their ‘Greekness’ and to a sense of continuity with the ancient Greek world, while at the same time they maintain a distance to contemporary mainland Greeks. This creates a continuing debate on and around identity issues in Cyprus. Through its performance, the show unpacks “the underlying ideological premises of such practices precisely by demonstrating the fact that they are cultural constructs” (Tsiplakou and Ioannidou 2012: 292).

This multi-faceted functioning and the interpretive possibilities of the show shift the attention from purely linguistic and language-functional considerations to considerations about the communicative effect of the genre, when it comes to the question of presenting or ‘marketing’ the show to an audience other than that primarily intended for. This issue will be discussed in the next section of this paper.

As was noted above, the extreme popularity of Aigia Fuxia and the vast possibilities offered by YouTube and other social media soon brought the show to the attention of the SMG speaking audience in mainland Greece. Through crowd-sourced captioning, intralingual translations to video excerpts of the show were provided through various media, broadcasting some of the most hilarious and emblematic moments of Aigia Fuxia with the aim to disseminate the show to a wider public and share some of its success with an audience speaking the standard variety.[9] There is no official evidence to support whether the show has indeed had a comparable success in Greece as it enjoyed in Cyprus, but the widely known reaction of the SMG speaking audience of mainland Greece to the show is that the sitcom was yet another humorous instance of dialect stylization, among many other instances which attempt to create a humorous effect by stylizing Greek dialects spoken in the wider geographical area of modern Greece. The mainland audience, which does not share the same experience of a diglossic situation with the Greek Cypriot audience[10], is most probably not able to sense the fine irony of presenting a show in extremely stylized dialect (towards which rather negative attitudes prevail), nor is it prompted to reflect critically on its linguistic situation and the perceptions it has of itself and of its own social condition. When other dialects are stylized in comedy shows broadcast in mainland Greece, there is a clear humorous effect due to the fact that the audience can keep a clear social distance to the stylized dialect, since SMG has long been adopted there (1976), a developed which also signalled the levelling of most regional Greek dialect according to Mackridge (2009), (cited by Hadjioannou et al. 2011: 507). Likewise, mainland Greeks are able to keep a ‘social distance’ to CGD, since it is spoken in a geographical area not belonging to Greece as a state entity.

The many omissions, mistakes, or less successful renditions of the Cypriot dialect notwithstanding, the subtitled excerpts of Aigia Fuxia manage to offer a ‘semantic’ understanding of the show’s dialogues and jokes in SMG, which, combined with the allusions and the meta-commentary images of the show, create the humorous effect of a rural community in dissonance with its time, place and (supposed) cultural context. But even if the semantics are covered by the translation and some of the pragmatic effects of the script could possibly be rendered through suitable translation techniques, it is the meta-pragmatic subversive commentary pointing to issues of social imaginary and identity that still remain untranslatable. Therefore, the salient communicative effect of the show remains incommunicable, despite the possible marketability of the show on the grounds of the apparent linguistic and cultural kinship of mainland Greece and Cyprus. In other words, the aberrant use of dialect shifts the attention to the dialect itself, instead of to any other effect of the use of dialect, and language becomes central to the interpretation of the show. By consequence, the socio-cultural significance of such aberrant use of dialect is a call to reflect critically on the very issue of language and (social) identity. In a way, besides having a general meta-commentary character, the show also acquires a meta-linguistic function. Through ‘thematizing’ the use of dialect, this function is not transferrable in the same ways other communicative functions and effects of a text (in the wider sense of the term) can be rendered into another, or even the ‘same’ language.

When translating a dialect into the official or dominant variety, there are mainly practical or cultural reasons for undertaking this task. There is either the motive of translating what a community says (practical reasons), or the motive of making explicit how a community says something (cultural reasons). Aigia Fuxia goes beyond this set of reasons. In this show, the ultimate subject-matter is not only what the community says or how it says it. More than that, it is the very fact that the community speaks that makes its discourse untranslatable. In this light, Aigia Fuxia does not simply subvert the genres it makes intertextual references to (the Cypriot ethography, the sitcom etc.). It establishes a genre in its own right by attributing to itself a function that goes beyond the apparent function of creating a comedic effect: It enriches itself with an overall textual force (Tsiplakou and Floros 2013) that remains ‘hidden’. The apparent linguistic and textual features do not allow it to surface, but it can be inferred through a deeper consideration of contextual parameters such as the linguistic situation of the community and the historical and social factors affecting the use and critical evaluation of the articulated discourse. This textual force can be summarized as a call to a critical reflection on the ‘self’ versus the imagined ‘other’ (for example, something that the members of the community believe they are), a process that can only take place and become meaningful in the strict context of the linguistic community itself, rendering the discursive occurrence purely untranslatable. 

In this context, untranslatability here is not understood as linguistic untranslatability in Catford’s terms (1965: 98). Nor is it understood as cultural untranslatability (ibid: 99), i.e. as the absence in mainland Greece of a functionally relevant situational feature found in Cyprus. To a large extent, both these kinds of untranslatability may be seen in relative terms, since a number of techniques are available to overcome the impasses and approach the source lexical or pragmatic item. The kind of untranslatability inherent in the above example refers to the incommunicability of the interpretive potential the source text possesses of, in roughly the same sense as literary texts, especially poetry, are untranslatable due to the inability to interpret the target text in exactly the same way(s) as the source text. The techniques available (explicitation, paraphrase, equivalence, adaptation and the like) are not sufficient to help the target audience reconstitute (or quasi-reconstitute) the context and the original experience, unless, of course, an extensive commentary is given as a supplement. This, nevertheless, is less possible in audio-visual (and multimedia) translation. 

Therefore, despite the relative translatability one would assume to exist between varieties of the same language, on the grounds that structural differences may be overcome and cultural differences may not be impossible to bridge, the case examined presents an example of untranslatability. This happens because the ‘messages’ to be translated are a) the very fact that there exist official and unofficial varieties within a language, and b) that the unofficial varieties not only articulate discourse, but they can do it in a way that may challenge the traditional perceptions regarding power and identity. This could prompt us to consider that the socio-cultural significance of the use of dialects is not confined to indexing and affirming the historical and/or social status of the linguistic communities using them. Beyond that, the use of dialect may be seen as a way of coming to terms with issues of (linguistic) power relations and, crucially, with issues of linguistic hegemony and language attitudes to the particular dialect.

The extreme stylization and the overall meta-commentary character of the show Aigia Fuxia which is written in CGD prove to be important constraints—if not impasses—to its intralingual translatability into SMG, not because of semantic or pragmatic differences between the varieties, but because the whole communicative effect lies precisely in the aberrant use of dialect. In this case, ‘translatability’ does not refer to the impossibility of overcoming structural differences between linguistic varieties, but to the impossibility of rendering the overall communicative function in terms of textual force. In this light, the socio-cultural significance of the use of dialect may also be understood in terms of its meta-commentary potential.

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Notes

[1] For an extensive account on language policy and language planning in Cyprus see Hadjioannou et al. (2011).

[2] From Greek koinos = common.

[3] Left image source: http://cncminustv.blogspot.com/2009/11/agb-e-02112009-08112009.html (accessed 25 February 2013). Right image source: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pello-Mallou-Aigia-Fuxia-official-fan-page/224141712492 (accessed 25 February 2013).

[4] Image source: http://knagrou.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/untitled.png (accessed 25 February 2013).

[5] Tsiplakou and Ioannidou (2012: 278) capitalize on this theoretical concept of cul-tural studies. They base their analysis on Levi-Strauss (1966), who saw bricolage as construction of new arrangements of signifiers on the basis of existing signifieds, as well as on contemporary theorists within cultural studies; for example, Barker (2011), who according to Tsiplakou and Ioannidou (ibid.) maintains that “bricolage may serve to manipulate and distort values, norms and discourses for deconstructive, subversive purposes”.

[6] Italics and quotation marks in the original.

[7] Hyperdialectism emerges when basilectal/obsolete forms of language (at the pho-netic, morphological and lexical levels) are extended to environments where they would normally not occur (cf. Tsiplakou 2004).

[8] Code-switching between CGD and SMG or CGD and English in Aigia Fuxia creates a comical effect, because the CGD variety used is stylized and obsolete.

[9] Some examples of subtitled excerpts of Aigia Fuxia episodes can be found in: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_-dxhcIvw8 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qX1gbGBiOtE (accessed 25 February 2013). Both examples include felicitous choices for the translation of some dialectal lexical items and difficult dialectal structures, but at the same time they also omit a lot of instances where unique expressive possibilities of the dialect are best expressed, such as curse words, humor, puns etc., and where, ultimately, the dialect is ‘at its best’. The most frequent cases are lexical items and expressions for which there is no direct equivalent (correspondence) in SMG, and where the ‘translator’ obviously avoids the use of more elaborate techniques. Fewer are the cases where omissions are due to the condensation made necessary by time and space constraints (cf. Karamitroglou 2000 and Spanakaki 2007).

[10] Regarding the untranslatability of experience, see also Martinet (1960).

About the author(s)

Georgios Floros currently holds a position as Associate Professor of Translation Studies at the University of Cyprus, Department of English Studies. He received a BA in German Studies with a major in Translation from the University of Athens in 1996, and a PhD in Translation Theory from Saarland University, Germany, in 2001. He teaches translation theory and translation methodology, text linguistics and theory of interpreting. His research areas also include translation ethics, pragmatics, translation didactics and terminology. He is the author of the monograph Kulturelle Konstellationen in Texten (Narr, 2002), and of several journal articles, a. o. “Legal Translation in a Postcolonial Setting: The Political Implications of Translating Cypriot Legislation into Greek” (The Translator 20(2), 2014), and “‘Ethics-less’ Theories and ‘Ethical’ Practices: On Ethical Relativity in Translation” (ITT 5(1), 2011), as well as co-editor of a volume on Translation in Language Teaching and Assessment (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013).

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©inTRAlinea & Georgios Floros (2016).
"Translating from ‘unofficial’ to ‘official’:"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia III
Edited by: Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2186

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