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User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all

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


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

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

©inTRAlinea & Irene Tor-Carroggio & Pilar Orero (2019).
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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=https://easytvproject.eu/]https://easytvproject.eu/[/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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Ellis, Gerry (2016) "Impairment and Disability: Challenging Concepts of “Normality”, in Researching Audio Description, Anna Matamala and Pilar Orero (eds.), London, Palgrave Macmillan: 35-45.

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[1] See [url=http://www.psp-dtv4all.org/]http://www.psp-dtv4all.org/[/url] [retrieved 08/04/2018]

[2] See [url=http://www.adlabproject.eu/Docs/WP3%20Report%20on%20Testing]http://www.adlabproject.eu/Docs/WP3%20Report%20on%20Testing[/url] [retrieved 08/04/2018]

[3]See [url=http://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/knowledge-and-research-hub/research-reports]http://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/knowledge-and-research-hub/research-reports[/url] [retrieved 08/04/2018]

[4] See [url=https://digiday.com/media/silent-world-facebook-video/]https://digiday.com/media/silent-world-facebook-video/[/url] [retrieved 12/04/2018]

About the author(s)

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

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

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

Translating Echoes

Challenges in the Translation of the Correspondence of a British Expatriate in Beresford’s Lisbon 1815-17

By António Lopes (University of the Algarve)


In 1812 the Farrer family established their wool trading business in Lisbon. Samuel Farrer and, a couple of years later, James Hutchinson remained in regular correspondence with Thomas Farrer, who owned a textile mill in the vicinity of Leeds, then centre of the wool trade in England. Their correspondence, spanning the period 1812-18, offers a vivid account of life in Lisbon and its hardships and troubles in the aftermath of the Peninsular War. Those letters mirror the turbulent politics of the time and articulate an attempt to narrate otherness and the way it kept challenging their gaze. The translation of the letters has posed some challenges, especially on a stylistic level. In order to confer a sense of historical authenticity on the target-language text and to attend to the stylistic features of the source-language text, the translator has been forced to revisit the Portuguese language of the period as it was spoken and written by the urban middle class in Lisbon. In this article I discuss some of the issues, both theoretical and practical, that have arisen in the course of the translation process.

Keywords: travel writing translation, commercial correspondence, private sphere, estrangement, displacement, double disjuncture, Peninsular Wars

©inTRAlinea & António Lopes (2013).
"Translating Echoes Challenges in the Translation of the Correspondence of a British Expatriate in Beresford’s Lisbon 1815-17"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Translating 18th and 19th Century European Travel Writing
Edited by: Susan Pickford & Alison E. Martin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/1967

1. Introduction

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
Saint Augustine

During my research for the British Travellers in Portugal project – an ambitious initiative that has been carried out for almost three decades by the Anglo-Portuguese Studies group at the Centre for English, Translation and Anglo-Portuguese Studies (Lisbon and Oporto) –, I chanced upon a rather curious collection of letters housed at the National Archives in Kew.[1] Written by James Hutchinson Jr. (1796 - ?), a young Yorkshire merchant working in Lisbon, and addressed to his brother-in-law, Thomas Farrer, who headed the family’s wool business back in Farnley, Leeds, these letters span a period of approximately two and a half years (from 22 July, 1815 to 29 November, 1817), at a time when Portugal was struggling hard to stand on its feet after the scale of destruction caused by the Peninsular War.

Originally, the primary purpose of my undertaking was to contribute to an anthology of translated accounts of the city of Lisbon by British travellers. This meant that a considerable portion of the original text, most of it dwelling on private affairs or matters of commerce, would have to be excised in order to leave only those passages where explicit references were made to the Portuguese capital. However, it soon became evident that the scope of the content of these letters called for a differentiated approach and so the editor commissioned me to translate the complete set. The investment in an unabridged translation would give readers the opportunity not just to satisfy their curiosity about Lisbon, but above all to gain a sense of the complexity of the historical, social and economic issues with which the letters engaged, all the more so because translation is not about impoverishing the original, but about giving it a new lease of life: translation is not just a question of making a text accessible to another community of readers by acquiring a new linguistic and cultural dimension, but above all of allowing the letters to transcend their immediacy and the original purpose for which they were written, and inscribing them in new discursive practices.

So, instead of publishing excerpts of the letters in the anthology, both the editor and I decided to publish the complete set in two issues of the Revista de Estudos Anglo-Portugueses (CETAPS, Lisbon) (see Lopes 2010). This would allow us to preserve the integrity of the letters and, given the fact that the Revista is aimed at a scholarly readership (historians, philologists, cultural anthropologists, sociologists, and so on), to invest in a more detailed and in-depth approach, marked by philological accuracy and by a consciousness of the challenges posed by the hermeneutical inquiry. This would also give me the opportunity to set my own translation agenda, not just in terms of style and method, but also in terms of the future of this project. As a matter of fact, the files contain dozens of other letters and papers written by other members or friends of the family which, in view of their historical value, are also worth translating. I decided to amass all of them with the aim of publishing the whole collection in one single volume. That work is now underway.

Since translation is necessarily always a reflexive process (in more than one sense: on the one hand, the translator has to speculate about the meanings that the source text does not immediately disclose and about the readers’ responses to his/her choices; on the other, the target text always presents itself as a mirror image of the source text), the task of rendering this piece of nineteenth-century English prose into contemporary Portuguese prompted a series of theoretical and empirical questions which I set out to explore in the present article. The next section seeks to set the letters in their political, social and economic context. The meanings they contain are rooted in a specific historical setting, which has to be revisited so as to enable the text to function simultaneously as a piece of documentary evidence and as an instance of resistance: in the case of the former, substantiating that which historiography has already validated; in the case of the latter, defying or even rebutting historical theories. The third section (‘An Englishman in Lisbon’) touches on issues of estrangement, displacement and the quest for a sense of belonging, all of which are central to travel writing. The fourth section (‘Prying into a Gentleman’s Private Correspondence’) discusses the ethics and the challenges of translating the intimacy and confidentiality of private correspondence, and how the author’s objectivity gives the translator a foothold in the factual validation of his translation. The last full section (‘Translation as a Double Disjuncture’) focuses on issues of spatiality, temporality, representation and re-representation, as well as on some of the solutions to the problems posed by the historical dimension of the texts (modes of address; anachronisms; outdated terminology; formulaic language; and the need for historical research).

2. The Letters in Context: Portugal and her British Ally 1809-20

The Farrers were one among many of the local families whose lives revolved around the woollen and worsted manufacture and trade in Yorkshire. The success of their business went hand in hand with the economic growth and technological development of the period, a process which would leave an indelible mark on the landscape of the Midlands and the North of England. These developments led to major changes in the social structure, with a generalised phenomenon of rural-urban migration meeting the industry’s need for labour (Fletcher 1919: 77-84). The Yorkshire region soon became the chief export centre for manufactured woollen goods. In a world of cut-throat competition, those who succeeded in business were of an unrelenting entrepreneurial and ambitious spirit that often looked beyond the confines of Britain.

Industrial expansion forced traders to look further afield and open up new markets; Portugal swiftly became a key destination. Since Napoleon’s Continental Blockade, decreed in 1806, was firmly in place, the first industrial nation found itself in a worrying predicament. Portugal, where Britain’s commercial stakes ran high, was also left particularly exposed. It was only through Lisbon that it was possible to gain access to the Brazilian market, which had long become the mainstay of the intensive southern Atlantic economy, responsible for the capitalisation of the European market in the Early Modern period. Besides, the Portuguese could not afford to lose the support of the old ally, whose navy provided protection for the trade routes between the metropolis and its colonies. The French invasions of Portugal pushed it to the periphery of the very empire it had founded. If the demise of both commerce and industry had a terrible impact on the economy, the destruction the war wrought in the provinces proved no less damaging. Looting, extortion and massacres left a trail of blood, hatred and revulsion across the whole nation that was to remain unabated for generations. Wellington’s scorched earth policy – aiming to deprive the French troops of victuals and other supplies – aggravated the situation even further. Agriculture and husbandry practically ground to a halt and farmers were unable to produce the foodstuffs required to feed the urban centres. Famine set in and with it a period of demographic stagnation.

Freeing Portugal from the chains of Napoleonic imperialism was not without its costs. Unable to overcome such complete vulnerability, the nation was at the mercy of British interests. Certainly a significant part of the Portuguese economy had for a long time depended on Britain. Whether Portugal benefited from this trade relationship or not is a matter of controversy (Borges de Macedo 1963; Bethell 1984; Maxwell 2004; Pijning 1997; Pardo 1992). However, at least since the Methuen Treaty (1703) Britain had been undermining the Portuguese industry with a substantial influx of cheap manufactured goods undercutting all competition. In January 1808 the opening of the Brazilian ports to Britain represented a fatal blow. Two years later, the protective mechanism of customs duties was removed precisely when the Portuguese economy was most in need of it. The prospects for the manufacturing sector grew dimmer as British cotton and wool cloths flooded the Portuguese market.

The political power that William Carr Beresford, commander-in-chief of the Portuguese troops during the invasions, held during this crucial period in the country’s history played a decisive role in protracting this position of economic subordination. He ended up gaining considerable ascendancy over the representatives of the Prince Regent. In the post-war years he headed the military government, a position which rapidly eroded his earlier prestige as a war hero. People started protesting against the way public funds were being squandered to pay for the presence of British troops on national territory. Portuguese officers likewise harboured deep-seated resentment towards the British officers, who were now apparently being granted all sorts of privileges and promotions (see Glover 1976). Beresford’s radical intransigence in politics led to the repression of those who advocated a more liberal agenda, namely those who were suspected either of sympathising with the ideals of the French Jacobins, or of defending a constitutional monarchy. As a stern defender of Tory absolutism, his views were in line with the ones shared by two other Anglo-Irish potentates, namely Wellington and Castlereagh (Newitt 2004: 107). His absolutist values, along with his thirst for power, left him isolated in a world riven by deep-rooted hatreds. The revolutionary clamour heard in Oporto on 24 August 1820 was to put paid to Beresford’s ambitions. Paradoxically, partly thanks to the influence of the British officers, the British tradition of liberalism ended up taking root in a country lacking in ideological coordinates to define its political future.

When James Hutchinson first set foot in Lisbon, the country was going through a period of economic depression. His letters mirror the upheavals and the social unrest of the period and therefore help to shed light on historical processes, since they testify to the way in which individuals perceived reality and (re)acted accordingly. Popular reactions to the new king, news of the uprising in Pernambuco (Brazil), political persecutions, and hangings are well documented elsewhere,[2] but here we are given a view from the inside. Moreover, rather than just affirming the picture that the extensive historiographical literature on the subject has already established, the letters also disclose new facets. They prove that, despite the impressive growth of Britain’s exports in this period, British trade did not run smoothly in Portugal. Hutchinson could hardly be said to be the definitive model of the successful businessman. His efforts, nonetheless, were mostly undermined by factors that lay beyond his reach. General poverty, scarcity of money, shortages of food and other essentials, and rationing, for example, became recurrent, if not obsessive, subjects in his letters, betraying his sense of frustration and underachievement. Moreover, Hutchinson was forced to deal with fierce competition within the Portuguese market and the incompetence of the Customs officials, not to mention liabilities and bad debts, marketing obstacles and, curiously enough, an increasingly demanding clientele, all of which imposed psychological costs he found ever more difficult to cope with. And although he was not so forthcoming in discussing political issues, such as Beresford’s repression, his fears and silences about the persecutions are no less telling.

Each letter contains, as it were, the very essence of history and, through the picturesque and sometimes disconcerting episodes they feature, they help us recreate a reality long buried by time. Precisely because this is a genuine voice that has remained hidden amidst other archival material for almost two centuries, unscathed by later misappropriations or misinterpretations, we are able to salvage pristine fragments of the historical experience and to retrieve for our collective memory some of the particularities and singularities that are usually overlooked in the construction of the historical grand narratives of the nation. In a letter dated 18 October 1816, for instance, Hutchinson speaks of the funeral ceremonies of Queen Maria I and clearly enjoys recounting the peculiar causes of the accidental fire that burned down the church where those ceremonies were being held. In a later letter (22 October 1817), he provides a first-hand testimony of the horrendous hanging of the men who followed Gomes Freire de Andrade in his revolt against Lord Beresford’s roughshod rule. Elsewhere he laments the shortage of foodstuffs and the rise in prices which mercilessly strike the poor (letter dated 25 January 1817), but he cannot help relishing the story of a woman arrested for stealing bodies from the cemetery to produce black pudding to be sold to the local shops (9 August 1816). In another letter he speaks of an earthquake that threw the city ‘into the most dreadful alarm’ and the scenes of panic that ensued, while rejoicing at the fact that he remained ‘during the whole of the night in a sound slumber’ (3 February 1816).

3. An Englishman in Lisbon: Estrangement, Displacement and the Quest for Belonging

Notwithstanding the rapid decline of the Portuguese economy during and after the Peninsular War, British traders rapidly resumed their investments in the country. Samuel Farrer & Sons were amongst them. Samuel Farrer Jr. established the family’s business in Lisbon in 1812. The family’s entrepreneurial effort must have paid off somehow, for upon his death, in February 1815, they decided to keep on investing in their Portuguese venture. It would be up to young James Hutchinson Jr. to take up the business. His inexperience notwithstanding, James was not entirely at a loss. The need to account for every transaction and to keep his brother-in-law posted about how business was being conducted resulted in a correspondence of considerable length, which lasted until his departure from Lisbon at the end of 1817. The letters were permeated by the young man’s comments, remarks and anecdotes about life in the Portuguese capital. Being an outsider in customs, language and feelings, Hutchinson tried hard to accommodate himself to his new setting.

In his letters, however, the affectionate attachment he exhibits towards his sister and the other members of his family indicates that his stay in Lisbon was, emotionally speaking, hard to bear. He often complained about her silence and the fact that she now seemed to have forsaken him altogether. But then, it was not just the separation from his loved ones that threw him into a state of melancholy. His life in the Portuguese capital was infused with a sense of estrangement he was unable to overcome. He felt uprooted and disengaged.

It becomes all too apparent that his gaze is that of an outsider, of someone struggling to succeed in a strange, disturbing world, whose social and political environment contrasts in many respects with that of his native land. He soon realised it would not be easy to fit in. Despite the support that other British expatriates residing in Lisbon gave him, he complained to his family about living conditions there. Blatantly ironic, he confessed that he ‘suffer[ed] very much from the Muschetos [sic], Bugs & other filth with which this sweet City so much abounds’ (11 August 1815).

His difficulty in understanding the Portuguese is particularly visible when he is faced with the lack of patriotic fervour of the man in the street, a fervour one should expect from a nation that had been recently freed from the Napoleonic terror:

On Saturday last the King was proclaimed throughout the City and Sunday was appropriated for the acclamation.—The Troops were reviewed by Marshal Beresford, yet never did I witness their going through their manoevres [sic] in such an inanimate manner:—never was such a Viva given by the Portuguese to their Sovereign; scarcely did one Soul open his mouth, excepting the Marshal and his Staff Officers:—it was a complete ‘Buonapartean Viva’ a forced shout of applause dying away in a groan. (11 April 1817)

Since most of the time he was consumed by work, it becomes difficult for the contemporary reader to detect such feelings of estrangement in the midst of commercial jargon and ledger accounts. He sought to be meticulous in his book-keeping and reports and sensitive to changes in market conditions, especially as far as fashion, trends, tastes and purchasing power went. He struggled to prove himself worthy of the trust and respect not just of his brother-in-law, but also of other foreign merchants who had already established their names in the Portuguese market. He even got carried away by the idea of opening his own establishment in order to fend off competition and to tackle the problem of low bids, which often forced him to keep the bales in store for unusually long periods of time.

In order to perceive how displaced he felt, one has to read between the lines. When his enthusiasm waned or his health gave way, an undeclared anxiety and irritation would surface. His less than flattering comments on Portuguese customs officials and the tone of his replies to his brother-in-law whenever suspicion of laxness or mismanagement hung in the air prove the point. He became impatient when ships from Brazil, New York or Falmouth were unduly delayed. He was unnerved by the negligence of long-standing debtors, who often turned a deaf ear to his entreaties. Besides, in spite of the considerable sums of money that passed through his hands, James was far from leading an easy and comfortable life. In a sense, it was through his own body that he first measured the degree of his maladjustment. He was constantly ill, poorly dressed, and found his lodgings uncomfortable. The weather did not suit him and he feared death might creep up on him. For some time he had to resign himself to ‘a Bed Room fitted up for me in the Warehouse, without any other convenience or sitting room’ (11 April 1817). He would wear the same clothes for months on end, winter and summer alike. Disease would take hold of him and he would be confined to bed for several weeks. His neat copperplate handwriting would then degenerate to illegible scribbling. In the spring of 1817 he would confess that ‘I have suffered very materially in my health since I came here’. Convinced that he was no longer fit for the job, he would then ask Thomas to let Ambrose Pollett, a friend of the family, replace him in the firm. His physical condition would not let him endure another winter in Lisbon. In his last letter, dated 29 November, he once more complained about his health, saying that the cold weather caused him to ‘spit blood in considerable quantities from the lungs’ and that he was afraid he would never be able to return to his homeland again ‘since I fell [sic] persuaded I shall never get better of the severe illness I had in the Spring of the year 1816’. To him Lisbon, thus, ended up representing the proximity of death, that ultimate moment of displacement. His fears, however, were unfounded and he went back to England where he remained in convalescence, before returning to Portugal. But once more the climate did not agree with him. His health worsened, especially after hearing the news of his nephew’s death in December 1818, and he was compelled to leave Lisbon one last time.[3]

In the course of his stay, James was badly in need of a focal point to keep things in perspective and letter writing served such a purpose. More than anything else, it allowed him to keep his sense of belonging alive. These letters ended up being the only bridge not just to his origins, but above all to his own identity. He felt so helpless when his sister failed to reply to his letters that ‘it even grieves me to the heart when I reflect upon it’ (17 February 1816). This sentimentality towards his family is in marked contrast with his attitude as an observer. Although Hutchinson cannot entirely detach himself emotionally from what he witnesses, there is a kind of Verfremdungseffekt in his writing, a journalistic objectification of the topics he covers, whereby the distance between himself and the other is never to be entirely spanned.

4. Prying into a Gentleman’s Private Correspondence: Issues of Intimacy, Confidentiality and Objectivity in Translation

Translating something as intimate and confidential as private letters has the potential to border on voyeurism. It raises issues that concern the ethics of translation, since the translator, unlike the casual reader, is supposed to leave no stone unturned in his struggle to reach communicative effectiveness. His labour consists in unveiling all meanings, in ransacking the secrets of the author’s mind, and, if necessary, in exposing the frailties of his body. The innermost thoughts are not fenced off from the translator’s dissecting tools. In this sense, translation is to be viewed as an act of intrusion and, simultaneously, of extrusion (in other words a disclosure and a close examination of that which pertains to the private sphere). The former constitutes a form of violation, of disrupting that which belongs to the realm of the confessional and becoming, to borrow the words of St. Augustine, ‘privy to the secrets of conscience’; whereas the latter manifests itself in the form of violence, destroying the integrity of the textual body, vivisecting it and exhibiting it to the public gaze. Nevertheless, such violence is mitigated by the transmutational properties of time. Over time, these texts have acquired the status of archaeological evidence, which does not necessarily mean that in this respect the position of the translator is less delicate. After all, he was not the addressee of the letters and that fact alone poses some problems. An outsider may find it difficult to penetrate the referential fabric of the letters. Unlike travel accounts or autobiographies written for publication, these texts were not intended for a wide readership. They were personal in tone and content, and the writer knew what responses to expect from his only reader living across the English Channel. The writer did not project an ideal or fictional reader to whom he might grant full right of access to the world recreated in his prose. As a consequence, his world remains sealed off from a larger audience and the translator is forced to break into the textual space like a trespasser. Implicatures lie hidden within this corpus of letters but they can never be entirely unravelled: whatever inferences the translator may draw, he or she will always lack the necessary background knowledge to establish their validity. Such implicatures, one must not forget, are a symptom of the close relationship existing between the two correspondents. Implicit meanings result from a common experience, excluding other readers. Fortunately, the text in question is generally far more objective and factual than one would suppose, and this alone gives the translator significant leverage over the hidden aspects of the correspondence. It is in the terrain of factuality and narrativity that the translator moves free from major constraints, although it is certain that the faithfulness of the representation can never be taken for granted (see Polezzi 2004: 124).

Of course one cannot expect to find in such letters a precise and exhaustive portrait of Beresford’s Lisbon, systematically organised in such a way as to cover all possible angles. What we get instead is a myriad of disparate images that can hardly be coalesced into one single picture. The reason is obvious: the stories he tells do not follow any thematic pattern, other than the fact that all of them revolve around the city itself. Apart from the town of Sintra, a popular tourist resort in the nineteenth century, where he spent some time ‘for the benefit of my Health which, thank God I have recovered beyond my expectation’ (14 June 1816), he never set foot outside of the capital (or at least there is no archival evidence of him doing so) and therefore he apparently did not know what was going on in the rest of the country. His letters lack the ‘horror and pity’ William Warre experienced as he crossed the country chasing after the fleeing French army and encountering ‘many people and children absolutely starving and living upon nettles and herbs they gathered in the fields’ (Warre and Warre 1909: 222). Not even Sintra, that ‘glorious Eden’ with its ‘views more dazzling unto mortal ken than those whereof such things the Bard relates’, as Byron wrote in his celebrated Childe Harolds Pilgrimage (1812), succeeded in enrapturing our author, who preferred to remain faithful to whatever notable occurrences Lisbon had to offer the outsider’s gaze.

Hutchinson’s short narratives appear scattered throughout the letters in a rather random way, and it is their reading as anecdotal collages, rather than as a set of tightly-woven, interrelated stories, that allows the reader to gain a taste of the spontaneity of the narration and the ingenuousness of the narrator. Although the anecdotal episodes themselves are self-contained and refer only to fragments of both individual and collective experiences in early nineteenth-century Lisbon, they play an important part in the process of historiographical reconstruction of the past. The historiographical value of the letters lies in the fact that they contain accounts that were neither censored nor doctored: no one ever scrutinised or edited the stories, which were simply committed to paper without any concern for accuracy, trustworthiness or factuality. The ensemble of letters forms a sort of scrapbook containing clippings or mementos that were never meant to be published. Such moments, however, were bound together by a common genetic code: they all emerged out of the drive for novelty, a drive partly explained by the way the processes of cultural displacement affected the author.

However, when it comes to Hutchinson’s values and ideological assumptions, they are not readily easy to detect. He preferred to position himself as an observer rather than as a commentator, and avoided getting entangled in elaborate considerations. If the translator wants to gain a glimpse of his ideas and opinions, then he/she must proceed by engaging in a symptomatic reading of the letters, observing, for example, the way he framed and skewed the subject matter, or how he got himself more or less emotionally involved with the events he narrated, or simply how he refrained from passing judgement on what he saw. Far from highly opinionated, the letters nonetheless give us the chance of peering into his personality, albeit obliquely.

Sometimes, however, he felt compelled to take sides, such as when he dared to air his own opinion on Beresford:

...being the weaker power & finding himself defeated in all his projects, it is reported that he is about leaving [sic] the Country, which in my opinion is the wisest step he can take, else a worse fate may attend him. (11 April 1817)

Such explicitness was rare. Shortly after the rebellion in Pernambuco, Brazil, Hutchinson censured himself for letting slip his views on the political turmoil that had gripped the country and decided to not to return to the issue for fear of reprisals:

You are well aware that it is necessary to be very cautious how we treat upon political subjects in this Country, for which reason I avoid any thing of this nature, only sofar [sic] as I suppose it may be connected with the interests of Mercantile Affairs. (4 July 1817)

His fears over the consequences of political dissent were not wholly misplaced. The horrific hanging of the Conspirators he watched on 22 October 1817, shortly before his departure, left a lasting impression on him:

[C]uriosity led me to be one of the spectators of this awful scene & however disgraceful hanging may be in England I can assure you it is not less so here. The Executioner is obliged to ride astride the shoulders of every man he hangs.—It was about four O’Clock in the Afternoon when the Prisoners arrived at the foot of the Gallows & was about midnight when this melancholy scene closed.—After the Execution of all 7 out of the 11 were burnt on a Funeral Pile on the spot.

Here, his voyeurism matched his horror as he came to the full presence of death—that dark character that kept resurfacing in his writing.

5. Translation as a Double Disjuncture

As we have seen, what was once private acquires, over time, an archaeological value: the status of artefact is conferred on language as privacy metamorphoses into historical evidence. In translation, chronological distance is of the essence: one might even argue that every translation has embedded in its genes an indelible anachronism. In sharp contrast with our contemporary world, where synchronous forms of communication and instantaneous access to information seem to have taken hold of the way we communicate with each other, the art and craft of translation necessitates the slow transit of time. It is a painstaking process of problem-solving, reflection and maturation. It takes time and perseverance. And when it involves the representation of past historical phenomena, as in the present case, the temporal dimension acquires critical significance. On the one hand, the translator cannot help excogitating his own condition as a historical subject: he becomes conscious of the relativity of values, of the differentials separating lifestyles, habitus (in the Bourdieusian sense) and Weltanschauungen. On the other, the target text ends up constituting the representation of a representation and, as such, it is, as Althusser once stated of ideology, a representation of an ‘imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence’ (Althusser 1971: 162). And here, in the translation process, the time gap separating source and target texts functions not so much as a thread linking both acts of writing along a historical continuum but rather as a lens, generating several simultaneous optical effects, where light shifts in unsuspected ways and where appearance must be understood in its composite and elusive nature. The world of the (author’s) ‘present’ can never be reconstructed as such in the target text. The translator necessarily operates in the time gap between two ‘presents’ (his/her own and the author’s). That is why the translator’s labour must be that of a conscious re-representation of history. This, of course, entails much scrupulous work of detailed historical research, as well as the ability to articulate it within the translational process.

The crux of the matter lies in being able to dwell in the interstices between two languages, two cultures and two historical periods. This is the translator’s privilege and the source of many of his tribulations. To be able to lay claim to the ability to contemplate the insurmountable differences that separate not only languages but also cultures, one is required to perceive how far one’s own consciousness depends not only on λόγος and on the chains of meanings that help one make sense of the world, but also on the points of rupture of discourse, those points where signifiers and signifieds (regardless of the language) can no longer encompass those phenomena that keep resisting appropriation, including the culture of the other. In other words, one must learn to come to terms with the undecidability which undermines the certainties offered by our ingrained logocentrism.

As the translator shifts, in the course of the translation process, from one logosphere (in the Barthesian sense) to another, he realises that the movement itself does not (actually, cannot) entail the loss or gain, subtraction or addition of meanings. Meaning does not constitute some sort of universal currency (that is, manifestations of a universal language common to all human beings) that can be subjected to a process of direct exchange or transaction. Meanings cannot migrate freely from one language to another. I can only subtract meanings within the system they belong to. Languages weave their own networks of meanings and the exact value of each meaning, if it can ever be assessed, is to be determined only symptomatically by the effects generated by its presence or absence in one particular social and cultural context. To believe in the transferability of the meaning and its capacity to survive as a whole in two distinct linguistic and cultural environments (as in a process of ecesis) is not to realise something that Derrida pointed out: that even within the same language meanings not only differ (a problem of spacing), but are forever deferred (which is the condition of their temporality). One of the main problems of translation, therefore, is not just spatiality but also temporality, particularly the historical condition of the texts.

And this, I think, poses an obstacle far more difficult to overcome, since it has to do with the impossibility for the translator to render two externalities compatible in one single (target) text. Just as Hutchinson was compelled, as an expatriate, to come to terms with the social and cultural reality of his host country[4] (which is, for all purposes, a question of spatiality), so the translator, like a migrant travelling through time, is forced to come to grips with an ancient world governed by laws long forsaken and now irretrievable (the question of temporality). And since both writer and translator are forever barred from a fully unmediated contact with the unconsciously lived culture of the Other, both seeing it as something external to themselves, though not necessarily negative, their attempts to assimilate cultural elements and national idiosyncrasies can only take place on the terrain of the imaginary, which enables them to crop, select, filter and reshape elements and idiosyncrasies in order to discursively tame the otherness. It is when the translator is trying to tackle texts of this nature that he feels – to allude to one of Derrida’s most quoted metaphors, borrowed from Shakespeare – that ‘time is out of joint’, namely that he is supposed to take up the writer’s voice, but without being able to adjust either to the discursive and ideological framework within which the texts once gained their coherence, or to the past ‘structure of feeling’ (to use one of Raymond Williams’s concepts of cultural analysis) that informed the emotions, thoughts and actions of the original writer (Williams 1965: 64-6).

Translators of travel writing therefore have to operate on a double disjuncture. On the one hand, they have to deal with the cultural gap that exists between the author and the people he visits (Hutchinson and the Portuguese), a gap which over-determines the perceptions, constructs, responses and projections of otherness of the British expat, but which -- since it is barely made explicit in the text -- can only be detected by means of a symptomatic reading. On the other hand, translators have to negotiate the disjunction that will always separate them from the time and the concrete conditions under which the texts saw the light of day -- a disjunction that is further amplified by the impossibility of mapping the exact location of the intersection of cultures which gives the letters their characteristic intercultural tension (see Cronin 2000: 6). Therefore, the translator is left with no choice but to try to overcome these two disjunctions, both of which constitute distinct moments of resistance to interpretation.

The translator’s path is strewn with obstacles, for the minute he or she starts translating the text that distinction is no longer clear: the two moments overlap and the barriers between them become blurred, since his or her gaze is constructed in and through the gaze of the expatriate. How can we then circumvent the limitations to translation that such a double disjuncture imposes? Of course a careful, detailed investigation into the empirical elements offered by the letters and the issues broached therein must always be conducted, but this is not enough: it can only be through a critical awareness of these tensions and resistances that translators may decentre themselves and avoid the pitfalls of identification and idealisation. It is this decentring at the core of translation that ends up being in itself a form of travelling. After all, ‘translatio’ in Latin means ‘carrying across’, ‘transporting’, ‘transferring’, and, in contrast to what we may think, it is not the source text that is ‘carried across’ to a target culture. It is rather the translator and his reader who are invited to venture across a frontier -- the frontier that sets the limits to their identities, values and representations, and that is both spatial and temporal.

In fact, the main challenges to the translation of these letters were posed by the problem of temporality, that is, by the difficulties of bridging the time gap. The first issue to be tackled was the stylistics of the Portuguese target text. It was not just a matter of finding the best equivalents and transferring contents from the source text into the target language without major semantic losses. It was also a matter of finding a style and a register that could somehow match the original ones. In order to do that, I compared the letters to similar archival and bibliographical sources in Portuguese. Two manuals of commercial correspondence proved invaluable: Arte da correspondência commercial ou modelos de cartas para toda a qualidade de operações mercantis [The Art of Commercial Letter Writing or Letter Templates for all Sorts of Trade Operations] (Anon.; 1824) and Monlon’s Arte da correspondência commercial ou escolha de cartas sobre o commercio [The Art of Commercial Letter Writing or a Selection of Business Letters] (1857), the only key style manuals of the day in this area still available for consultation in the Portuguese National Library. The analysis of the examples of letters allowed me to determine the way in which the target text was to be drafted.

One of the most complicated aspects I had to deal with was choosing the mode of address: the original letters invariably start with ‘Dear Brother’, and then the addressee is always referred to with the second person personal pronoun ‘you’. In Portuguese, this is not so linear. In the early nineteenth century, modes of address would have varied according not only to social class, age or degree of familiarity, but also to written language conventions. ‘You’ could be translated either as ‘Tu’ (too informal; the verb is conjugated in the second person singular), ‘Você’ (slightly more formal; the verb is conjugated in the third person singular), ‘Vossa Mercê’ (idem), or ‘Vós’ (more formal; verb conjugated in the second person plural), among several other possibilities. Back then, a relationship with a brother-in-law, close as it might have been, did not necessarily imply the use of the informal ‘tu’, since informality and closeness are not synonyms. The way Hutchinson closed the letters (‘Your ever Affectionate Brother’) bears witness to such emotional proximity, but it is far from being indicative of a relaxed, informal manner. The solution to the difficulty in ascertaining whether we were dealing with informality or politeness was partly given by the 1824 manual. The plural ‘Vós’ is used when addressing both singular and plural persons, but in some cases all we have is the initial ‘V—’, which could stand either for ‘Vós’, ‘Você’ or ‘Vossa Mercê’. When the ‘V—’; form occurs, the verb is conjugated in the third person singular, midway between formality and affable politeness. This was the form I resorted to throughout.

Another difficulty had to do with wording. The manuals proved useful in guiding my lexical choices. I wanted to give the translation a distinctive period flavour to represent the historical dimension of the original letters. For example, ‘company’ could be translated either as ‘sociedade’ or ‘empresa’, but these words barely appear in the 1824 manual, especially when referring to one’s own company. Instead, the commonest word is ‘caza’ [House] sometimes ‘caza de commercio’ (dated spelling), which I decided to adopt. Many more old-fashioned or outdated Portuguese words that appear in the manual were likewise retrieved: ‘embolço’ [imbursement]; ‘estimar’ [to believe; to guess];  ‘fazer-se de vella’ [to set sail]; ‘governo’ [management]; ‘sortimento’ [assortment]; ‘sortir’ [to sort; to provide]; ‘praça’ [exchange or financial centre; market]; ‘rogar’ [to beseech]. The manual was equally useful in providing formulaic language that was pretty close to some passages in Hutchinson’s letters: ‘Sacámos hoje sobre vós pelo importe da factura (…) L... a 60 dias á ordem de…’ [Today we drew on you for the sum of £… at sixty days]; ‘Vosso reverente servidor’ [Your very Obedient Servant]; ‘Por esta confirmamos a nossa circular de (…) desde a qual ainda não tivemos a satisfação de receber alguma vossa…’ [Without any of your Favors since mine of the … I have now to inform you…].

Another challenge was related to the commercial jargon both in English and in Portuguese. Nowadays commercial terminology in both languages is much more complex, but most of the neologisms that currently exist in Portuguese are English words. Back then, that influence was more tenuous. In any case, the search for the right equivalent would have always been time-consuming. ‘Bill’ alone, for instance, could be equivalent to as many things as ‘letra’, ‘letra de câmbio’, ‘saque’, ‘promissória’, ‘papel comercial’, ‘título de comércio’, ‘factura’, or ‘facturação’. If we multiply this by the wide spectrum of nomenclatures related to those areas of economic activity Hutchinson was directly or indirectly involved in, we have an idea of the complexity of the task.

To start with, there were the inner workings of the wool trade business. I had to unwind the ball of yarn of the English wool and worsted industry, including all the details concerning the different stages of the manufacturing process: recognising the provenance and differences in quality of the raw wool available in both the Portuguese and Spanish markets, the various patterns of the warp and weft, the way the cloth should be cut or dressed, specific types of woollen cloths, their designs and colours, and so on. One particular stumbling block was the enigmatic ‘37 R., 6 F., 4 S., 1 T. & 11 A.’ (letter dated 9 August 1816). It took me a while before I learnt from a magazine published in London in 1804 (Tilloch 1807: 239-42) that the initials did not stand for any English or Portuguese words, but for Spanish ones. They referred to the way Spanish wool (which also included Portuguese wool) was classified: Primera or Refina (R.), Fina (F.), Segunda (S.), Tercera (T.) and Añinos (A.).

Moreover, since conducting business ventures overseas back then was not without its risks, I had to acquaint myself with the idiom used in cargo and shipping insurance, learn about risk-assessment, shipping deadlines, storage conditions, bills of lading, types of merchant ships crossing the Atlantic, and so on. But then there are also taxes and duties, customs procedures and the requirements of port authorities, the valuation of the bales in the Cocket,[5] goods lodged at the Custom House not yet dispatched -- all of this wrapped up in a language of its own, which has to be patiently disassembled, explored, digested, and then reassembled and fine-tuned in the translation process. In order to penetrate that language I had to resort to historical research once more. I visited the ‘Torre do Tombo’ (the Portuguese National Archives) and consulted the records from the customs houses that existed in Lisbon at that time: the ‘Alfândega Grande do Açúcar’, the ‘Alfândega das Sete Casas’, the ‘Alfândega da Casa dos Cinco’ and the ‘Casa da Índia’, the first of which provided invaluable information about the duties on wools and worsted, the classification of wools and of all sorts of cloths, their quantities and provenance, and so on. In the records of the ‘Casa da Índia’, the inventory of the cargo of the French ship Le Commerciant [sic], seized in the summer of 1809, reminds us of the risks faced by merchants like Hutchinson.

I adopted a domesticating approach to a certain extent, adding explanatory footnotes whenever words, phrases or referents might challenge the modern reader’s understanding of the target text. However, since the Revista de Estudos Anglo-Portugueses is aimed at a scholarly readership, it proved unnecessary to insist on the explanation of cultural or linguistic aspects that they are supposed to be already acquainted with. Differences in style between early nineteenth-century and early twenty-first-century Portuguese are noticeable, but they do not make the text less intelligible. In any case, stylistic conventions should not pose a problem for all the scholars who are used to working with documents of that period. So I kept the footnotes to a minimum. The future publication of a book containing the complete correspondence of the Farrer family, this time aiming at a more general readership, will entail a different explanatory methodology, but not a different stylistic treatment.

6. Conclusions

Writing narratives of displacement and travel is in itself a translational act, where the author is always seeking to translate into his mother tongue the manifestations of the culture of the other.[6] The translator of travel writing, in turn, operates on a double disjuncture – the gap between the author and the visited culture, on the one hand, and the gap between the translator and the author, on the other – threefold if you include the inevitable temporal disjuncture. In the process, the translator is forced to question his identity, values and the representations of his own nation and people, especially if the original text is non-fictional and therefore stakes a claim to the immediacy and truthfulness of the experience. The translator thus has to achieve a tour-de-force in bridging all three gaps and rendering the text accessible to the contemporary reader. However, the meanings in the target text will always have but a spectral relation with the ones in the source text: they are constructed at the same time as a re-apparition of a former presence (that does not present itself as full presence) and as the apparition of a new presence –a new text in its own right. This distance between the source and target texts becomes more difficult to span when historical time – fissured as it has been, in this particular case, over these past two centuries by sudden ruptures and discontinuities – keeps eroding the paths that could render the source text recognisable to the reader: hence the importance of the translator’s historical consciousness and the necessity of articulating historical research with the translation process, since any translation of historical material that disregards the intelligibility of historical processes lacks the authority to stake claims to accuracy and credibility.


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Bethell, Leslie (1984) Colonial Brazil, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Borges de Macedo, Jorge (1963) Problemas da História da Indústria Portuguesa no Século XVIII, PhD diss, University of Lisbon, Portugal.

Casas Pardo, José (ed.) (1992) Economic effects of the European expansion, 1492-1824, Stuttgart, Steiner Verlag.

Cronin, Michael (2000) Across the Lines: Travel, Language, Translation, Cork, Cork University Press.

Fletcher, J. S. (1919) The Story of the English Town of Leeds, New York, Macmillan.

Gentzler, Edwin (1993) Contemporary Translation Theories, Clarendon, Multilingual Matters.

Glover, Michael (1976) “Beresford and His Fighting Cocks”, History Today 26, no. 4: 262-8.

Lopes, António (2009) “Cartas inéditas de um jovem burguês 1815-1817” (1.ª parte) [“Unpublished letters of a young bourgeois 1815-1817” (1st part)], Revista de Estudos Anglo Portugueses, no. 18: 93-133.

--- (2010) “Cartas inéditas de um jovem burguês 1815-1817” (2.ª parte) [‘Unpublished letters of a young bourgeois 1815-1817’ (2nd part)], Revista de Estudos Anglo Portugueses no. 19: 175-204.

Maxwell, Kenneth (2004) Conflicts and Conspiracies: Brazil and Portugal, 1750-1808, London, Routledge.

Newitt, Malyn (2004) Lord Beresford and British Intervention in Portugal, 1807-1820, Lisbon, Imprensa de Ciências Sociais.

Pijning, Ernst (1997) “Passive resistance: Portuguese diplomacy of contraband trade during King John V’s reign (1706-1750)”, Arquipélago – História 2, no. 2, 171-191.

Polezzi, Loredana (2004) “Between Gender and Genre: The Travels of Estella Canziani” in Perspectives on Travel Writing, Glenn Hooper and Tim Youngs (eds), Aldershot, Ashgate: 121-37.

Tilloch, Alexander (1807) The Philosophical Magazine: Comprehending the Various Branches of Science, the Liberal and Fine Arts, Agriculture, Manufactures and Commerce. vol. 27. London, R. Taylor.

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[1] Ref. No. E 140/34/1. Records of the Exchequer: King's Remembrancer: Exhibits: Farrer (and another) v Hutchinson (and others). Scope and content: Letters to Thomas Farrer from his brother-in-law, James Hutchinson (Jnr.), in Lisbon. Covering dates: 1815-1817.

[2] Manuel J. G. de Abreu Vidal. Análise da sentença proferida no juízo da inconfidencia em 15 de Outubro de 1817 contra o Tenente General Gomes Freire de Andrade, o Coronel Manoel Monteiro de Carvalho e outros... pelo crime de alta traição. Lisboa, Morandiana, 1820; José Dionísio da Serra. Epicedio feito, e recitado em 1822 no anniversario da sempre lamentável morte do General Gomes Freire de Andrade. Paris, 1832; Joaquim Ferreira de Freitas. Memoria sobre a conspiraçaõ [sic] de 1817: vulgarmente chamada a conspiração de Gomes Freire. London, Richard and Arthur Taylor, 1822.

[3] He outlived Thomas (who died circa 1820) and was appointed executor of his brother-in-law’s estate.

[4] A process E. Gentzler (1993: 37) calls ‘domestication’.

[5] A customs office in Britain where detailed records of exports were kept.

[6] On the relation between travel and translation see Lesa Scholl (2009) “Translating Culture: Harriet Martineau’s Eastern Travels” in Travel Writing, Form, and Empire: The Poetics and Politics of Mobility, Julia Kuehn and Paul Smethurst (eds), London, Routledge; Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere (1998) Constructing Cultures: Essays on Literary Translation, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters; and Susan Bassnett (2002) Translation Studies, London, Methuen.


About the author(s)

Antonio Manuel Bernardo Lopes, PhD in English Culture, MA in Anglo-Portuguese Studies (specialty in English Literature) and BA in Modern Languages and Literatures
(English and German), is Senior Lecturer (Professor-Adjunto) in English Studies with the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the School of Education
and Communication, University of Algarve, where he teaches English language, literature and culture, literary analysis and supervises ELT postgraduate projects. He is
also the director of studies of postgraduate programmes in ELT and translation. He is a researcher at the Centre for English, Translation and Anglo-Portuguese Studies
(FCHS/UNL and FLUP), working with the following research groups: Anglo-Portuguese Studies; Literature, Media and Discourse Analysis; British Culture and History. He
has also participated in several European-funded projects related to teacher training and computer-assisted language learning. He is currently the EUROCALL
representative in Portugal. His doctoral dissertation is entitled The Last Fight Let Us Face: Communist Discourse in Great Britain and the Spanish Civil War.

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

©inTRAlinea & António Lopes (2013).
"Translating Echoes Challenges in the Translation of the Correspondence of a British Expatriate in Beresford’s Lisbon 1815-17"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Translating 18th and 19th Century European Travel Writing
Edited by: Susan Pickford & Alison E. Martin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/1967

Embodiment in Translation Studies: Different Perspectives

By Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter (University of Bologna, Italy and University of Cologne, Germany)

©inTRAlinea & Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter (2022).
"Embodiment in Translation Studies: Different Perspectives"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2607

Adesso è forse il tempo della cura
(Mariangela Gualtieri, “Adesso”)

Over the past few decades, the human body has been much more present in sciences and humanities, sometimes there is even talk of a corporeal (or body) turn (see Alloa et al. 2019). The body’s relevance is summed up fundamentally (but not exclusively) in the concept of Embodiment or Embodied Cognition. The core idea underlying these concepts is that the cognitive processes are deeply rooted in the body and in its interaction with the environment. As summed up by Farina (2021: 74): “[E]mbodied cognition theorists […] aim to explain the full range of perceptual, cognitive and motor capacities we possess as capacities that are constitutively dependent upon aspects of an agent’s body.”

Research on Embodied Cognition has been thriving in recent years. In this regard, Goldinger et al. (2016: 960) report quantitative data derived from a keyword search on Google Scholar using “Embodied Cognition”: For the period 2000-2015, the search engine registered over 15.000 books and articles. Out of curiosity, we have extended the period until 2021, and the number of publications focussed on the key concept “Embodied Cognition” has risen to over 22.000 publications. The boom is still going on, evidently.

While Goldinger et al. (2016) start from this fact to give a rather critical reading of the Embodiment concept, we consider it a necessary and potentially insightful perspective not only for cognitive sciences but for several disciplines in the humanities, including in particular translation studies and translation didactics. On principle, we refer to Farina (2021) for a convincing response to Goldinger et al. as well as “to all those, an increasing minority in the sciences, that still belittle or trivialise the contribution of embodied cognition to our understanding of human cognitive behaviour” (Farina 2021: 73). As Tschacher and Bergomi note (2011: Vii), Embodiment can be seen as “a theory, a paradigm, a perspective, a methodology, or a scientific field”, depending on the angle from which it is studied. Going beyond a neurobiological interpretation of cognition, “it rests in the much broader idea that the body – including behaviors and properties such as facial expression, movement, prosody, gesture, and posture – influence, and at the same time are influenced, by the mind” (Tschacher and Bergomi 2011: Vii). By emphasising the deep intertwinement of body and mind, this “growing research programm” (Farina 2021: 74) encompasses a wide range of approaches that try to move away from the computational model of the mind (the “computer metaphor”) and the notion of cognition as solely information-processing.

It should also be emphazised that the issue of Embodiment is far from being new. It brings us back to the mind-body problem that runs through Western philosophical thought, starting (at least) with Plato and his distinction “between an immaterial entity (the soul) and a material entity (the body and, by extension, reality as such)” (Buongiorno 2019: 310). In this context, it was notably Descartes’ reflections that contributed to the notion of separation and to the entrenchment of a dualism in Western philosophical thought.[1]

With this special issue, we aim to contribute to the discussion of the potentials and implications of Embodiment theories for translation studies and translation didactics. We focus on perspectives concerning the factual relevance of bodily dimensions for translators’ literary translation processes. In the following, we introduce the theoretical background that motivated the compilation of the contributions as a whole and we define and explain our theoretical location in the field of Embodiment and translation studies.

1. Basic aspects in different perspectives on Embodiment and the relevance for language theory

Theories on Embodiment and/or Embodied Cognition differ fundamentally in the degree to which they move away from computationalism, and can therefore be categorized either as fully embodied or as radical embodied (for a detailed discussion of the different accounts, see Gallagher 2019; for a helpful review, see also Farina 2021). The proliferation of theoretical approaches led, as Gallagher (2019: 355) recalls, to a further conceptual distinction within Embodied Cognition, resulting in the 4E-model (see Tschacher in this special issue). Without diving deeper into the distinction between fully and radical approaches, we want to recall some findings of Embodiment research within the cognitive science that we consider important also for the subject of translation.

When it comes to language processing and understanding language, the embodied perspective suggests that even in the mental processing of linguistic meaning and in the understanding of concepts there are multiple domains involved – domains that concern perception, senses, social-interactive actions and/or inner feelings. The claim is that the body not only constitutes a medium for language use and communication, but language itself is grounded in bodily processes of perception and action. That is, by incorporating the philosophical premises of Embodiment and the findings of cognitive psychology into the study of language, the idea got supported that understanding of concepts and language processing is firmly rooted in bodily states and experiences (see among others, Barsalou 1999, 2008, 2009; Johnson 2007; Gallese and Lakoff 2005; Glenberg 2008, 2010; Glenberg and Kaschak 2002; Lakoff and Johnson 1999; MacWhinney 1999; Pecher and Zwaan 2005; for an extensive review see Zepter 2013: 201-221, Bryant and Zepter 2022: chapter 2).

A classic and much-cited example in this context is that of the construction of metaphers. As argued by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1999), many cognitive processes, such as, for instance, those related to time and space, are expressed and influenced by metaphors – where the metaphors depend on the way we conceptualize the body, drawing on embodied experiences. “Metaphors, hence”, to put it with Foglia and Wilson (2013), “are not merely useful for embellishing communication, but reflect the embodied experience that we have as creatures that move through the world in particular ways.” Following this assumption, metaphorical simulation hypothesis provides evidence for the sensory-motor grounding of abstract language.

In general, simulation is a key concept within this research framework, as a great number of studies have shown that mental representations underlying cognitive processes are “mental simulations of the initial state the body had when learning about those objects or situations, and they are also related to the actions they afford” (Ionescu and Vasc 2014: 277). Barsalou (2008; 2009), for instance, claims that the concepts are fundamentally grounded in the perceptual system and that they are gained from perception through simulation, i.e. “the re-enactment of perceptual, motor and introspective states acquired during experience with the world, body and mind” (Barsalou 2009: 1281). Among others, Glenberg and Kaschak (2002) have shown how linking language describing actions with congruent physical responses produces a facilitation effect for sentence comprehension.

Furthermore, MacWhinney (1999) shows that in order to understand (in reading or listening) a specific sentence or a specific expression comprehensively, the recipient has to take an appropriate perspective – a perspective from which she/he can interpret the sentence/the expression. MacWhinney distinguishes several possible perspectives, but all are related to (human) perceptual and accordingly bodily experiences. For example, our mental definition and our mental understanding of a concept like banana results from the perspective of affordances, that is, the perspectives of our body in contact with individual objects that fall under this concept:

When we hear the word banana, each of these affordances [in vision, smell, taste, touch, skeletal postures, haptic actions, and even locomotion] becomes potentially activated. The visual affordances or images may be the quickest to receive activation. If the sentence requires nothing more, this may be all that we experience. However, just activating the raw visual image is enough to enable embodied processing of the word banana. (MacWhinney 1999: 218)

MacWhinney’s also points to another aspect: given our past experiences and their processing, our actual language reception is always dependent on the context and on ‘us’ as recipients. All these factors influence our specific processing of a concept, a sentence or a text:

In order to understand sentences, we must become actively involved with a starting point or initial perspective. We use this perspective as the foundation for building an embodied understanding of the sentence. For example, when we listen to a sentence such as The skateboarder vaulted over the railing, we take the perspective of the skateboarder and imagine the process of crouching down onto the skateboard, snapping up the tail, and jumping into the air, as both rider and skateboard fly through the air over a railing and land together on the other side. Identifying with the skateboarder as the agent, we can evaluate the specific bodily actions involved in crouching, balancing, and jumping. The more we know about skateboarding, the more deeply we understand this utterance. (MacWhinney 1999: 214ff.)

Thus, in short, understanding language implies simulation of the contents of words/sentences, and this “trying to imagine a body in active engagement with the world” (Shapiro and Stolz 2019: 24) involves the activation of those cognitive domains and brain regions that would be involved when taking similar actions.

Then, if language understanding depends on an individual’s history of bodily interactions with the world, we can understand the body not only as a necessary condition, but also as an expansible resource for the understanding of concepts and their linguistic expressions – and obviously, this should not only be true for the reception/production and the learning of a first language, but for language learning in general (on L2-learning, see also Bryant and Zepter 2022: chapter 2). And accepting this interrelation for monolingual reception and production, we argue that the body represents a potential resource for the process of translating from one language to another too.

In claiming this perspective, we refer to the living body, i.e. to the phenomenological idea of the body as center of experience (Leib in the German philosophical tradition, which distinguishes terminologically between Leib and Körper): “[W]hat makes a body a living body is the fact that it inhabits and experiences itself (and others) within a certain environment, and this experience is inseparable from the kinesthetic processes performed by the body” (Buongiorno 2019: 314).

Overall, phenomenological philosophy represents a fundamental point of reference for embodied thinking, starting with the distinction between Leib und Körper. The phenomenological orientation is particularly evident in Embodied Linguistics, but it is worth noting that several other fields of Embodiment research also draw on this philosophical thinking; see e.g. Farina (2019: 81) on an embodied approach to vision; or Gallagher (2019: 370) on the fact that the concept of affordances is rooted in phenomenological tradition. Likewise, Gallagher (2019: 376) points out that more recently, Husserl’s concept of Leiblichkeit as well as that of corps vivant theorized by Merleau-Ponty have regained importance within the framework of the enactive approaches, which emphasize the constitutive role of affects and intersubjectivity for cognition (cf. Husserl 1982 [1913] and Merleau-Ponty 2012 [1945]).

2. The phenomenological ground of embodied language and embodied translating

According to Breitinger (2017: 28-29), language becomes a phenomenological issue when it is not seen as a mere means of transforming experiences into words, but, on the contrary, as fundamental for the constitution of experience itself. An account to this approach to language was provided by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whose thinking on language is focused on the speaking subject (sujet parlant), as well as on the intersubjective dimension of linguistic communication (for an extensive discussion of Merleau-Ponty’s thinking on language, see Breitinger 2017):

[Language] presents, or rather it is, the subject’s taking up of a position in the world of his significations. The term ‘world’ is here not just a manner of speaking: it means that ‘mental’ or cultural life borrows its structures from natural life and that the thinking subject must be grounded upon the embodied subject. For the speaking subject and for those who listen to him, the phonetic gesture produces a certain structuring of experience, a certain modulation of existence, just as a behavoir of my body invests – for me and for others – the objects that surround me with a certain signification. (Merlau-Ponty 2012 [1945]: 199)

Applying this approach to translation, Scott (2012a) argues that the translational act should not so much be conceived as an interpretative act, but rather as a readerly experience which come into existence through translating and which implies “an existential and bodily encounter with text” (Scott ibid: Xi). Scott illustrates the claim by engaging with Merleau-Ponty’s thought, thus building his “phenomenological ‘way-to-translation’” (Scott ibid: 2; see also Scott 2012b as well as his paper for this issue). Following Scott (2012a: Xi) “we translate psycho-physiological perceptions which we derive from a source text into a target text which embodies those perception”.

In this respect, Scott’s view of translation can be seen as an emblematic example of the embodied perpective we are discussing in this special issue, though it is notworthy that Scott himself does not explicitely refer to the concept of Embodiment. If he mentions it, it is only to distance himself from Embodiment, assuming that it does not support the phenomenological ground of translation:

[B]y “embodiment”, the cognitive analyst means the body-in-the-world from which cognitive processes derive and by which it is superseded, rather than the activation, by reading, of the body of the reader, or the elicitation of kinaesthetic response by text. […] An underlying danger of its approach is that it attributes to the consciousness of the reading mind what it describes as happening linguistically within the text; that is, it projects poetic effects from the text on to the reader, rather than trying to capture those effects in the reading experience itself. And even though cognitive poetics believes that it is psychological and individual, it is ideological and social (even though it worries that is not). (Scott 2012a: 21; footnote 1).[2]

We agree with Scott in parts, but not in whole. That is, on the one hand, we can observe the following tendency:

The notion of Embodiment has had a particular impact in the field of the Cognitive Translation Studies focussing on the mental aspects of translating and interpreting. For example, the papers collected in Muñoz (2016) give an insight into the various possible empirical research directions resulting from a new paradigm within Cognitive Translation Studies, “a paradigm inspired by the 4E cognition, i.e. an embodied, embedded, extended, enactive, affective approach to the mind” (Muñoz ibid: 9).[3]  These directions include, for instance, empirical studies on “the neural systems in which translation and interpreting are embedded” (García, Mikulan and Ibáňez 2016: 21), as well as on the situatedness and social embeddedness of translating, whether by investigating the processes of writing and translation “within their real-life contexts in the workplace of a freelance translator/copywriter” (Risku, Milosevic and Pein-Weber 2016) or by “[i]nvestigating the ergonomics of a technologized translation workplace” (Ehrensberger-Dow and Hunziker Heeb 2016: 69); or by rethinking the concept of translation quality in terms of social, process and product quality (cf. Jääskeläinen 2016). Reembedding translation process research can also mean to investigate “the impact of positive and negative emotions on translation performance” (Rojo López and Ramos Caro 2016) – by considering feelings and emotions as part of cognition (for a more bodily/leib-oriented and differentiated perspective on emotions in literary text, see Frickel in this issue). Furthermore, the research in question can focus on cognitive efficiency in translation, by questioning “what characterises translation efficienty and whether and how expertise and efficienty in translation are related” (Hvelplund 2016: 150), as well as on the ways how professional translators behave when dealing with translations proposed by translation memory systems (cf. Mellinger and Shreve 2016).

The range of research directions is clearly wide and continue to be further explored (see, among others, also Risku, Rogl and Milosevic 2019; Kappus and Ehrensberger-Dow 2020). But as summed up by Muñoz (2016: 16), reembedding translation process research in these ways basically implies “rooting the cognitive aspects of translating and interpreting in the brain” (our italicization). Then, coming back to Scott’s concerns, although we recognize the role of the embodied cognition perspective in moving away from the notion of cognition as mere information processing (i.e. from the computational theory of mind), we likewise see some risks in the abstract conceptual norms underlying the objectifying view of this perspective and in the declared focus on anchoring translation processes in the brain. But despite these concerns and unlike Scott, we still use the terms embodiment and embodied – suggesting to conceive them in a broader sense which is not only compatible with the corporeity of language and translation from a phenomenological perspective but rather presupposes it. That is, we propose to reflect the concepts in their phenomenological foundation also in the context of translational research. To be highlighted: Following, among others, Gallagher or Tschacher (see Tschacher’s contribution in this issue), Embodiment in other disciplines is explicitly defined by refering wider to the perspective of the mind being grownded in the body as a whole – hence, not solely in the brain. From this perspective, phenomenologically understood corporeality (in the sense of Leiblichkeit) takes on crucial significance.

Therefore it is noteworthy for us that the phenomenological grounding of translation seems to be drawing more attention in recent times. Rabourdin (2020) explores, for example, the relationship between linguistic and spatial translation, by bringing translation studies into dialogue with phenomenologists, in particular with Merleau-Ponty. We also refer to Breitling (2017) who, in discussion with the phenomenological perspective on language, develops the claim of “translation as a paradigm of interlingual communication as well as of linguistic sense-making in general” [4]  (Breitling ibid: 273: “Übersetzung als Paradigma der zwischensprachlichen Verständigung wir auch der sprachlichen Sinnbildung im Allgemeinen”): Based on a phenomenological analysis of deictic expressions, Breitling shows how language is rooted in the speaking body and how its creative potential is understood as the possibility of expressing what has already been said, as well as what is to be said for the first time, in always different ways (cf. ibid: 321). Following Breitling, from here to interlingual translation is a short step, because the possibility and at the same time the necessity of translation is based on linguistic creativity which makes possible an equating of the non-equal (ibid: 321: “die ein Gleichsetzen des Nichtgleichen ermöglicht”). Such an idea of translation also implies an ehtical dimension, which Breitling (ibid: 325) describes as the willingness to engage in a confrontation with the other and the foreign, in which one’s own language and ones own world view are called into question.

As we know, this dimension has been described by various philosophers (see, especially, Benjamin 1972; Berman 1984; Derrida 1996; Lévinas 2007; Ricœur 2004). With reference to Ricœur, Breitling terms the attitude to open oneself to the new and thereby also to transform oneself as “linguistic hospitality” (hospitalité langagière): “where the pleasure of dwelling in the other’s language is balanced by the pleasure of receiving the foreign word at home, in one’s own welcoming house” (Ricœur 2006: 10). At the same time, Breitling (2017: 327f.) emphasizes that the term is not unproblematic, because the reference to one’s home at least potentially evokes a controversial distinction between mother tongue and foreign language.

Here, we consider useful to take up again with Scott, who deals with Derrida’s notion of linguistic multiplicity and frees translation from the constraints of the notion of national language and thus also from the dichotomy of mother tongue and foreign language:

 […] the languages of communication in texts are not just the national languages but also the languages of the text (the multilingualism of, say, punctuation, or spacing, or lineation, or typeface), that multiplicity denies us nothing, but affords us constantly changing experiences of our singularity, makes our singularity polymorphous, the place of modulations into alterity or shared experience. (Scott 2012a: 10)

In other words, “multilingualism refers not only to national languages, but to textual languages”, which invites us to see translation as “a multilingual and multi-sensory” practice, rather than a bilingual and linguistic one” (Scott ibid: 20), thus confirming the creative potential of language and of the speaker’s body such as stated above.

Altogther, Scott’s perspective seems to us stimulating for any theoretical (as well as didactical) consideration on translation. The perspective indeed challenges both levels, questioning concepts and criteria they often refer to, such as equivalence, choice, translatability and intraducibility, source vs. target, mother tongue vs. foreign language, and so on.

Going further, we suggest to likewise take a closer look at those scholars who, although not explicitly talking about the body, are theorising an embodied perspective on translation, in the sense we give to this term here. Among them is in particular Nasi (2015; 2021), whose work has long been focused on the idea of translation as an exercise in creativity. Nasi supports his claim by describing concrete experiences of translations of texts such as puns, acrostics, sonnets, picture books and others, i.e. of texts whose characteristics often deviate from the so-called norm. It could be easily argued that this kind of translation experiences – which Nasi himself describes as extreme (cf. Nasi 2015) – provide a particularly fertile ground for creative solutions, but the crucial point for us is that in the concrete translation experiences that the author describes, the linguistic, graphic, performative and musical aspects of the text involve the reader’s and translator’s body, including his/her senses, voice, gestures, emotions. On this base, Nasi suggests to conceive translation teaching as “a critical and creative thinking workshop” (Nasi 2021), claiming that the development of critical thinking, which is both rigorous and creative at the same time, is inherent in translation itself. For Nasi, translation is

an act that has to do with life, which is an encounter, which is complexity and questioning of oneself and of the other as well as of oneself in the other, which is made up of constraints and freedom, of constraints and evasions, of respect and awareness (Nasi 2021: 12 – “un atto che ha a che fare con la vita, che è incontro, che è complessità e interrograzione di sé e dell’altro, di sé nell’altro, fatta di costrizioni e di libertà, di vincoli ed evasioni, di rispetto e consapevolezza”).

Once again, we see the ethical dimension emerging as a constitutive part of the embodied perspective of translation.

It is worth noting that Nasi gives voice to a perspective that has a long tradition in Italian translatology and which can ideally be traced back to Mattioli (1983; 2001; 2009), who well before the emergence of Embodiment suggested a phenomenological approach to translation. We could therefore perhaps even speak of an Italian approach to the phenomenology of translation (see also Arduini 2020; Magrelli 2018; Nasi and Silver 2009).

Similarly to Nasi, Malmkjær (2020: 3; 49) states that “the translating enterprise as such is creative in its essence” and that, beyond the moments of spontaneity which creative acts presupposes, “the ability to exercise creativity can be enhanced through teaching and practice”. Malmkjær provides, in our view, an important contribution to the embodied perspective on translation, framing translation as an “aesthetically insipered translating” (Malmkjær ibid: 70). More specifically, Malmkjær argues that “[t]he aesthetic attitude to an object is enjoyment of or interest in the object for its own sake” and that creativity in translation process can be fostered by developing an aesthetic attitude towards the source text (ibid: 29; 4: see the contribution of Ivancic and Zepter in this issue in which this dimension is explored in its didactic implications).

3. Our perspective on Embodied Translating

Overall, in proposing the idea of Embodied Translating we suggest to turn the phenomenological understanding of the body – and thus the concept of Leiblichkeit – back at the centre. In this scope, we share the view of Alloa et al. (2019):

With the concept of the body, a dimension of bodily existence is named that is not absorbed in an objectivist or materialist understanding of the body, but is most closely connected with the category of experience. [...] The body as an organ of perception, as a zero point of orientation, as a way of accessing the world: these are keywords that are connected with the phenomenological tradition of a thinking of corporeality, which is particularly in focus here. (Alloa et al. 2019: 1-2: „Mit dem Leibbegriff wird eine Dimension körperlichen Daseins benannt, die nicht in einem objektivistischen oder materialistischen Körperverständnis aufgeht, sondern aufs engste mit der Kategorie der Erfahrung verbunden ist. […] Der Leib als Wahrnehmungsorgan, als Nullpunkt der Orientierung als Weise des Weltzugangs: Das sind Stichworte, die sich mit der phänomenologischen Tradition eines Denkens der Leiblichkeit verbinden, das hier hier besonders im Blickpunkt steht.“)

It is this perspective on the concept of Embodiment we focus on – by particularly reflecting upon literary translation. The main anchor point in this context represents the Embodiment research concerning language comprehension and cognition being grounded in perceptual/sensory-motor experiences (recall section 1 above). To highlight again, it is only a small step from the recognition of the relevance of bodily experiences for processes of language comprehension and language processing to the recognition of such a relevance for translation processes and the desideratum to research the corresponding field.

Notably, the reference to experience also always invokes the dimension of the person who experiences. In the translation process, this is the translator. Therefore, a further, practice-related background of such an approach can be found by examining the voices of the literary translators themselves, more precisely the ways they describe themselves and their work (see also the contribution of Schindler in this issue). In terms of a current terminological distinction within the concept of voice in translation studies[5], we thus refer to the extratextual translators’ voices (cf. Taivalkoski-Shilov 2013), as conveyed by their own. Especially significant in this context are translators’ self-representations, a textual genre that has been quite widespread in the last two decades among Italian literary translators and, to a lesser extent, also among the German ones (see, for example, Basso 2010; Bocchiola 2015; Bocci 2007; Geier 2008).[6]

Due to its diffusion, there have been several terminological proposals in Italian translatology to name this type of texts. Lavieri (2007: 18) proposed, for example, the term racconti di traduzione (‘stories of translation’), focussing on the narrative and fictional character of the translators’ self-representations. From that point of view, the text type falls within the broader category of fictional representations of translation and/or of translators. The term autobiografia del traduttore (‘translator’s autobiography’) proposed by Giulia Baselica (2015), on the other hand, points to the autobiographical dimension of the text in question.

Certainly, we recognize both dimensions, the fictional and the autobiographical one, as characteristic features of this textual typology. But crucially, we do not consider either of them to be the essential feature – which rather lies in what we suggest to call “the living experience of translation”, in analogy to Busch’s (2015) term Spracherleben (the living experience of language). Referring explicitly to “the phenomenological foundation of the concept of Erlebnis or Erleben [lived experience] as developed by Husserl […]”, (Busch ibid: 356, note 1), the term Spracherleben foregrounds the bodily and emotional dimension of language. Something very similar can be identified in the texts of the translators we examined, in which there is a constant reference to the corporeal dimension of the translation act. What dominates in these texts is thus the living experience of the translation process which assumes an existential role in life stories. Therefore, translation biography seems to us the appropriate term, recalling the concept of language biography used in sociolinguistics to designate biographical narrations in which language – the living experience of language – likewise takes on an existential role in the narrator’s life.

But now, going beyond questions of terminology, the crucial issue to be analyzed is the frequent reference to the body made by translators – implying that “translators endorse (more or less implicitly) the idea of the bodily origins of meaning, thought and language − thus, the idea which has been developed in various sciences under the term ‘embodiment’ or ‘embodied cognition’” (Ivancic and Zepter 2021: 124).

The references to the body are of various kinds. In some cases they are realized comparing the act of translating to physical activities that imply a great physical effort such as climbing a mountain, swimming or walking on a rope like a tightrope walker (cf. Basso 2020: 97, 25, 142). For Bocci, the translator is a gymnast as well as, taking up a concept dear to the German Romantics, a Wanderer (cf. Bocci 2004: 27-29). Whereas the first metaphor stresses the physical effort (just as the body references by Basso), that of the Wanderer can be seen, on the one hand, as grounded in the bodily experience of moving/walking, and thus mapping onto the abstract idea of moving through the space of the text. On the other hand, it can be understood as grounded in a cultural artefact, namely that of Romanticism. From that point of view, the metaphor describes literary translation in terms of the romantic experiencing the nature’s vasteness and of the longing for a union with it.

Furthermore, the idea of physical effort/fatigue is often associated with the process of breathing: that is, translating means searching for the appropriate rhythm of breathing (Basso 2010: 25) and this search is intimately connected with slowness (ibid: 142). Slowness belongs to one of the key words in Basso’s text: it refers to the capacity of listening to the text as well as waiting for the (right) words to emerge (ibid: 7). From her point of view, even consulting a dictionary can be compared to a ‘physical gesture’, which offers the translator “a kind of break, like lighting a cigarette, to distract herself for a moment and then go back to work more focused” (ibid: 6; our translation). In a similar way, Bocci (2004: 36) grasps translation as “an experience that offers and at the same time requires the slowest reading possible”. Also in a recent publication that collects the reflections on translation of a dozen of the most prominent Italian translators, slowness seems to be one of the most relevant characteristics of the literary translator’s work (cf. Arduini and Carmignani 2019) ─ or at least a necessity, which, of course, inevitably collides with the times required and imposed by the publishing market.

Turning to German literary translators, Swetlana Geier, who is famous as ‘the woman with the five elephants’ (an image created by herself referring to the five major Dostoyevsky’s novels she translated into German), describes her own approach to literary translation as follows:

I had a wonderful teacher: And when I was translating something, she would say to me in German: ‘Nase hoch beim Übersetzen’ – Stick your nose up in the air when you are translating. That means: Lift your head while translating, instead of translating from left to right. A translation is not a caterpillar crawling from left to right, a translation always emerges from the whole. That is all … One has to make the text entirely one’s own. The Germans say internalize, ‘verinnerlichen’. (Geier 2008: 62)

Once again, we find a body based image: The nose-motto can be understood both as a metaphor used to structure the abstract idea of internalizing the literary text, as well as the description of a concrete physical posture towards the text that itself appears indispensable in order to support the process of its internalizing.

Moreover, the body also appears as a necessary device for translating: when Basso (2010) describes her experience as the translator of Alice Munro, she underlines that in the specific case of this author, she prefers to write her translations by hand instead of using the computer, since this habit would allow her to perceive the text physically.

Altogether, the body in terms of body parts, bodily experiences or physical activities seems to be a kind of leitmotif in the translators’ descriptions. Can this leitmotif be seen as a sign of the translators’ (implicit) awareness of Embodiment or even as an argument for Embodiment itself? There is no easy approach to reject this question, to negate or to affirm it because at least two problematic aspects should not be ignored.

Firstly, for some body-related metaphors it can be shown on an empirical basis that the corresponding cognitive representations are grounded in original bodily experiences (recall section 1 above and see for an overview Bryant and Zepter 2022: chapter 2). However, this does not necessarily allow a generalization and a transfer to the incidents at stake. Crucially, there is a difference between metaphors/bodily experiences that are necessary to understand a text that has to be translated and metaphorical descriptions in the reflection of the translation process/act as such. Investigating the connection between metaphors using the body or body parts as domains in metaphoric mappings and the notion of Embodiment, Goschler (2005) convincingly claims that “occurrences of metaphors where body parts are mapped onto other domains cannot be directly used as a proof of the embodiment hypothesis”. She therefore argues “for a careful use of the term ‘body’ and for the search of more empirical evidence for the grounding of metaphors and ‘basic experiences’” (Goschler ibid: 33). We definitely share Goschler’s perspective, but this also does not justify to ignore the prominent and repeated presence of images connected with body and bodily experiences in reflecting upon the process of literary translation and to rashly consider the issue irrelevant.

Secondly, taking up a teminological categorisation proposed by Toury (1995: 65), the text type of self-representations by literary translators falls into the category of the “extratextual sources” that include “statements made by translators, editors, publishers, and other persons involved in or connected with the activity”. While Toury (1995: 65) discredited the category as  “partial and biased”, in more recent times Munday (2013: 125) argued, bringing into play research methodologies from history and literary studies, that the analysis of such texts “give potentially unrivalled insights into translator decision-making”. For Munday, mediation is a crucial criteria in dealing with such material, thus he proposes to distinguish between more and less “overtly mediated testimonies” (Munday 2014: 68), a distinction that might be useful also in our context.

The texts we are considering imply a degree of fictional construction and would thus be an example of strongly overtly mediated testimonies. This makes them suspect for the purposes of a scientific study, in line with the abovesaid view of Toury (1995). But again, awareness of the critical issues does not justify “outright dismissal” (Munday 2013: 125). Rather we argue that the most relevant aspect here is the conscious description of individual translation routines and processes, including also episodes from everyday life as well as “fascinating incidental details” (Munday, 2014: 77) of the lives of translators.

Remarkably, some of the aspects that emerge in the overtly mediated extratextual material produced by the translators are confirmed by empirical research in cognitive translatology focused on literary translators’ workplace dynamics. Kolb (2019), for instance, shows how the translators’ professional and personal spheres of life are closely tied together and how this “blurring of boundaries […] significantly impact the emergence of the translator’s voice and the translation product” (ibid: 25). This intimate connection between private and professional life likewise emerges in all the texts we analyzed, to the point where it is no longer possible to draw a clear boundary between them, as is particularly true for Geier’s testimony (2008).

Kolb’s research emphasizes how “seemingly irrelevant outside interruptions or physical activities, such as leaving one’s desk for a few moments may in fact turn out to be highly significant by directly impacting the emergence of the target text” (Kolb 2019: 39). The same holds for the role of the “largely invisible actors from a translator’s immediate and/or personal environment, such as spouses or friends” (ibid: 38). The first aspect falls under what Kolb calls “the fragmentation of the translation process”, while the second one proves the claim of “the hybrid nature of the translator’s voice” (ibid: 26), shading some light on the role of agents that the translation process research has so far overlooked (cf. ibid: 37). The impact of these figures arises fully in the texts we analyzed, just like the role of physical activities as well as that of embodied experiences. The difference is that in our case the data are derived from overtly mediated testimonies, whereas Kolb’s data were collected using the keylogger Translog and the open-source software Audacity for recording concurrent and retrospective verbalizations, which implies a much lower degree of mediation.

We do not in any way want to equate the two methodologies, but at the same time the similarity of the results are at least surprising and render further research on the translators’ self-representations (and, more generally, of extratextual sources) desirable. Considering the self-representations as a proper source for investigating “the situatedness and social embeddedness of translatorial action and cognition” (Kolb 2019: 27), as pointed out by Wilson (1998: 14), “[o]ne begins to understand the origins – and learns to appreciate the interdependence – of human skill, intelligence, and vitality by looking at the details, one piece and one persona at a time.”

Last but not least, we share what Wakabayashasi (2011: 87) states with regard to the fictional representations of author-translator relations (where the mediation grade is obviously even higher than in the above mentioned texts): these texts “can identify certain aspects that have not been fully explored in the theoretical literature, such as the affective impact of translators’ work”.

Putting the pieces together, this special issue which builds on the above and elaborates on it can be situated in the field of the so-called Literary Translator Studies. As pointed out by Kaindl, Kolb and Schlager (2021) in a recent volume dedicated to this emerging field within the Translation Studies, the term relates to those studies which bring the translating persons into the centre of attention and suggest various approaches to analyze them “not as functioning units but as human beings in their uniquenes” (cf. Kaindl, Kolb and Schlager 2021: cover text). In the volume’s introductory pages, Kaindl (2021) recalls how a greater focus on the person of the translator has been present in Translation Studies for a few decades already, but how a decisive impulse towards this direction came especially thanks to the contributions of Chesterman (2009) and Pym (2009), published within the special issue “Translation Studies: Focus on the Translator” of the journal Hermes – Journal of Language and Communication in Business.[7] In the light of the “call for humanization” (Pym 2009) launched on that occasion, the interest in the biographical, social, cognitive, pyschological and individual aspects of translatioral subjects has increasingly grown, especially with regard to literary translators.

The concept of Embodiment provides, we claim, a very useful and rich framework to this emerging research field – if it is brought back to its philosophical origins ─ that is to the idea of Leib. This is the perspective we propose with the papers collected in this special issue.

4. On the special issue’s various contributions

The volume opens with the contribution of Wolfgang Tschacher, which offers a general introduction to the concept of Embodiment. The author describes several empirical case studies in the fields of psychology and neuroscience which provide scientific evidence for bidirectional relationships between mind, environment and body. By presenting and discussing the encompassing theory of “4E Cognition” (embodied, enactive, embedded, extended), the paper highlights the still controversial aspects of the Embodiment perpective and its potential large scope, also for translational studies. As empirical evidence shows, Embodiment has already radically changed the way we comprehend cognition.

The contribution of Clive Scott proposes a deeply Leib-oriented approach to literary translation. Drawing inspiration mainly from Merleau-Ponty, he conceives the translational act as an encounter between the body of the text and the body of the reader, which leads him to argue the thought-provoking thesis that the translational act is much more a psycho-physiological response to the text in its materiality rather than a question of meaning interpretation and choice. This thesis is supported through the translation of stanzas from Hugo’s “Booz endormi”, which highlights the multidimensional facets of rhythm and the way they influence the act of translation.

Just as Clive Scott, also Franco Nasi emphasizes the kinaesthetic experience that language and thus also literary translation implies. The phenomenon relates in his case particularly to rhythm, as he shows by the example of the “psychic rhymes and rhythms“ of Walt Whitman and Mark Strand. Analyzing a couple of tentative Italian translations of their poems, Nasi invites to pursue a theory of translation capable of listening to the pulsing of the body and mind, going beyond predictiveness, regularity and norms.

Daniela A. Frickel focuses on the topic of emotions in literary texts. In recent years, translation scholars have become increasingly interested in the role of emotions in the translation process. The main question is how emotions and emotionality can influence the translators’ cognitive processes and thus the translation peformance. Frickel’s contribution, on the other hand, focuses on the text as a source of emotionalization, with the aim of showing what contribution literary studies concepts can make to sounding out the potential of emotions in literary texts and making them useful for literary translation.

Kirsten Schindler conceives literary translation as a special form of writing and explores the contribution of empirical writing research for this perspective. The theoretical framework she adopts is that of the Schreibwissenschaft (writing science), which has recently been established in Germany as a branch of writing research that expands the stronly cognitively determined empirical writing research developed in the 1980s.

Susanna Basso offers a very special view of the translation process that feeds on her long personal experience as a literary translator. In her essay, she dwells above all on her experience of translating Alice Munro, with whom she spent more than ten years, and on her current experience of translating the entire works of Jane Austen. Basso describes the existential involvment with the texts she is translating, i.e. her personal reactions to the translator’s task which include enthusiasm, doubts, physical and mental fatigue, sense of inadequacy as well as joy. In her reflections, the temporality and spatiality of languages and texts meet that of the translator’s body. Due to the specificity of this paper, which is not intended as an academic article but as a personal statement, it was not subjected to a double blind peer review, but only reviewed by the guest editors.

In the final contribution of Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter, the didactic perspective is brought into play: After discussing the educational/didactic implications of an embodied perspective to cognition, the authors focus on the question how a bodily approach can be implemented in teaching literary translation and describe a concrete didactic esperience they proposed in the context of German-Italian literary translation courses held at the University of Bologna. In this way, the article promotes a broader reflection on the didactic implications of a phenomenological view on language and on translating.


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[1] For a brief reconstruction of the philosophical origins of the Embodiment problem, see Buongiorno (2019: 310-316); for German-language readers, we recommend Fingerhut, Huffendiek and Wild 2013.

[2] Although Scott’s critique addresses cognitive poetics in particular, it can easily be extended to the cognitive framework in general.

[3] Muñoz calls the paradigm “cognitive translatology” (Muñoz 2016: 9; see also Muñoz 2010), though not all the authors share this terminology, as he underlines.

[4] Unless otherwise specified, all translations of quotations not originally written in English are ours.

[5] The terminological issue is summed up by Kolb (2019: 38), who refers to the most recent publications on the subject.

[6] Due to our own affiliation in Italian and German translations studies and linguistics we started our research by focusing on these contexts and met with a prospering discourse.

About the author(s)

Barbara Ivancic is Associate Professor of German Language and Translation at the University of Bologna. Her current main research interests concern the idea of embodiment related to language and translation as well as the field of Literary Translator Studies. She translates literary texts and essays from German and Croatian into Italian. In 2018, she was awarded the Mittner Prize in Translation Studies.

Alexandra L. Zepter (Ph.D.), Professor of German Language and its didactics at the Institute for German Language and Literature at the University of Cologne. Main research interests: Language and body, linguistic learning and aesthetic experience, didactics of multilingualism (DaZ, DaF) and didactics of inclusion.

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

©inTRAlinea & Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter (2022).
"Embodiment in Translation Studies: Different Perspectives"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2607

Embodiment und Enaktion: Ein neuer Ansatz in den empirischen Humanwissenschaften

By Wolfgang Tschacher (Universität Bern, Schweiz)

Abstract & Keywords


In empirical research in psychology and the humanities, the approach of embodiment and enactivism has become increasingly influential. The embodiment perspective focuses on the fact that mind and language are embedded in the bodily context, and cognitive processes are enacted by continuous feedback loops between action and the sensory environment. This paradigmatic reorientation is currently supplanting the 'cognitivist' computer metaphor of the mind, emphasizing the reciprocal, bidirectional relationships between mind, environment and body. The embodiment approach has generated considerable empirical evidence in psychology, neuroscience and social sciences. For example, findings of nonverbal synchrony in social interaction as well as emotional contagion support the proposed entanglement of body and mind in social exchanges, whereas the facial-feedback hypothesis concerns the embodiment of the individual person. Cognitive neuroscience has contributed to the embodiment approach, especially by the enactivist predictive-coding theory and research on the mirror neuron system. The encompassing theory of “4E Cognition” (embodied, enactive, embedded, extended) is presented and discussed.


In den empirischen Humanwissenschaften erhält zunehmend der Ansatz des Embodiment und des Enaktivismus Gewicht. Diese Perspektive betont die Tatsache, dass Psyche und Sprache stets in einen Körperbezug eingebettet sind, und kognitive Prozesse in ständiger sensomotorischer Wechselwirkung mit der Reizumwelt stehen. Diese paradigmatische Neuorientierung löst derzeit die kognitivistische “Computermetapher” des Geistes ab, wobei die wechselseitigen (reziproken, bidirektionalen) Wirkungen zwischen Kognition, Umwelt und Körper in den Fokus des Interesses rücken. Der Embodiment-Ansatz erbrachte bereits eine grosse Zahl von empirischen Befunden in der Psychologie, Neurowissenschaft und den Sozialwissenschaften. Ergebnisse zur interpersonalen Synchronie und zu emotionalen Ansteckungsphänomenen belegen die Verschränkung von Körper und Psyche im sozialen Austausch, das Embodiment des Individuums drückt sich in der facial-feedback Hypothese aus. Die kognitive Neurowissenschaft hat ebenfalls zum Embodiment-Ansatz beigetragen, etwa in Gestalt der enaktivistischen predictive coding-Theorie und durch die Erforschung des Spiegelneuronensystems. Die zusammenfassende Theorie der “4E Kognition” (Embodied, Enactive, Embedded, Extended) wird eingeführt und diskutiert.

Keywords: 4E Cognition, bidirectionality, embodiment, enactivism, facial-feedback hypothesis, predictive coding, synchrony, 4E Kognition, Bidirektionalität, Enaktivismus, Verkörperung

©inTRAlinea & Wolfgang Tschacher (2022).
"Embodiment und Enaktion: Ein neuer Ansatz in den empirischen Humanwissenschaften"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2606


In den vergangenen Jahren hat sich in den Humanwissenschaften nach und nach eine neue Perspektive etabliert, die als "Embodiment" oder "Verkörperung" bezeichnet wird. In verschiedenen Wissenschaften ist dies zu beobachten, die Entwicklung betrifft Disziplinen, die sich mit menschlichem Verhalten und Psyche befassen, sowie auch die Kultur- und Geisteswissenschaften. Die Embodiment-Perspektive fordert allgemein, psychische und soziale Zusammenhänge mit ausdrücklichem Bezug auf die Motorik und die physiologischen Aktivierungen der Körper von Beteiligten neu zu betrachten. Ihr gemäss ist zu berücksichtigen, dass psychische und soziale Prozesse immer im Körper eingebettet sind (Storch et al. 2010). Die Wirkzusammenhänge werden dabei insofern als "bidirektional" angesehen, als sowohl die Psyche den Körper beeinflusse wie auch körperliches Verhalten sich in der Psyche niederschlage. Solche Reziprozität zwischen Geist und Körper wird durch die Embodiment-Perspektive in den Vordergrund gestellt.

Zentral betrifft Embodiment Kernfragen der zeitgenössischen Philosophie des Geistes (Beckermann 2001), da das Leib-Seele-Problem der Philosophie angesprochen ist: Wie kann man sich das Zusammenwirken von "Leib" (also Körper, Gehirn, Materie) und "Seele" (also Kognition, Psyche, Denken) denken? Der Embodiment-Ansatz postuliert mit seiner Annahme, dass die Seele verkörpert sei, einen wechselseitigen, quasi dualistischen Wirkzusammenhang, der über die traditionellen reduktionistischen Positionen des Idealismus (zeitgenössisch: radikaler Konstruktivismus) und des Physikalismus (zeitgenössisch oft vertreten in der Neurobiologie) hinausgeht.

Handelt es sich damit einfach um einen neuen, cartesianischen Dualismus? Nicht unbedingt: Eine moderne dualistische Position stimmt mit der Phänomenologie überein, die den Menschen unter einem Doppelaspekt von Leib und Körper sieht (Fuchs 2016), und im Grunde die heutige Diskussion der Verkörperung des Geistes als philosophische Lehre um Jahrzehnte vorweggenommen hat. Mit "Leib" ist in der Phänomenologie (anders als im philosophischen Leib-Seele-Problem) der von mir selbst erlebte und gelebte (eigene) Körper gemeint, in Unterscheidung zum physischen "Körper", der das Objekt naturwissenschaftlicher Untersuchung sein kann. Die phänomenologische Methode gemäss Edmund Husserls Arbeiten zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts betonte die Möglichkeit eines direkten Zugangs zur Lebenswelt durch das bewusste reine Erleben (als "Wesensschau") unter Ausklammerung aller naiv-realistischen Vorurteile über die Welt. Eine Weiterentwicklung dieses Zugangs wurde von Francisco Varela als Neurophänomenologie bezeichnet, wodurch die Verbindung des Erlebens mit neurologischen Prozessen erforscht werden kann (Varela 1996). Der Doppelaspekt von Leib und Körper bedeutet nicht einen Substanzdualismus wie bei Descartes, denn es handelt sich nur um zwei komplementäre Aspekte desselben Gegenstands. Dualismus kann daher auch einen epistemologischen Dualismus zweier unterschiedlicher Zugangs- und Erkenntnisweisen meinen.

Moderne Philosophien mit einem solchen Ansatz wurden beispielsweise von Bertrand Russell, von C.G. Jung mit Wolfgang Pauli und von David Chalmers vorgestellt (Atmanspacher 2014). Auch das Denken des Systemtheoretikers Hermann Haken basiert auf dieser Grundlage (Tschacher & Bergomi 2013). Eine solche duale-Aspekte-Philosophie wäre bestens vereinbar mit dem Ansatz des Embodiment. Geist und Körper, als zueinander komplementäre Aspekte der Wirklichkeit aufgefasst, unterstützen unsere Auffassung, wonach der Körper mental und der Geist körperlich eingebettet ist. In den Worten der Synergetik (Haken 1990): zwischen Körper und Geist findet sich eine zirkuläre Kausalität.

Die Embodiment-Perspektive stellt eine aktuelle Grundsatzfrage der akademischen Psychologie dar, in der die "Reichweite der Computer-Metapher für das Verständnis der menschlichen Psyche" zunehmend in Frage stehe (Margraf 2015: 26). Die kognitivistische Computer-Metapher der Kognition, die Kognition als digitale Informationsverarbeitung definierte, wird abgelöst. Ausserhalb der Psychologie kann man in den Geistes-, Kultur- und Sozialwissenschaften ebenfalls einen "corporeal turn" beobachten, der den Einbezug des Körpers fordert (Alloa et al. 2012). In der Forschung zur empirischen Ästhetik etwa wird die verkörperte Reaktion auf ästhetische Reize erforscht, sei es in der bildenden Kunst (Tröndle et al. 2014) oder der Musikwissenschaft (Wald-Fuhrmann et al. 2021). Kunstbetrachtung ist nicht mehr (allein) die bildungsbürgerliche kognitive Auseinandersetzung mit Werken, sondern die gesamte Körperlichkeit des Betrachters spielt eine wesentliche Rolle beim ästhetischen Erleben (Zickfeld et al. 2020), sowie auch beim Musikerleben im Konzert (Tschacher 2021).

In der Gegenwartskultur sind zudem Achtsamkeitspraktiken (Meditation, Feldenkrais, Yoga, Tai-Chi), die sich auf das bewusste leibliche Erleben im Hier-und-Jetzt fokussieren, zunehmend verbreitet. Der Bezug auf Körperlichkeit spielt auch in Zusammenhang mit kulturell-ethischen Entwicklungen der westlichen Welt eine Rolle und strahlt als ökologisches Denken aus in Richtlinien der Ernährung (biologischer Anbau, Vegetarismus) und als Nachhaltigkeitsideal allgemein in die Politik. Wir erkennen hier einen umfassenden Trend, der sich von den Wissenschaften, nunmehr mit ethischen Begründungen versehen, bis in die Alltagswelt und die gesellschaftlichen Entwicklungen hindurchzieht.

Ich möchte im Folgenden zunächst Felder der empirischen Forschung exemplarisch darstellen, die vom Embodiment-Ansatz ausgehen. Abschliessend soll in dem theoretischen Modell der "4E Kognition" zusammengeführt werden, auf welche Grundlagen sich der Embodiment-Ansatz stützen kann.

Empirische Embodimentforschung: Synchronie

Die Linguistik und Sprachwissenschaft gehört zu den Disziplinen der Geisteswissenschaften, die sich durch den Einbezug der Körperlichkeit zu verändern begonnen haben. Di Paolo, Cuffari & De Jaegher (2018) entwickelten eine Theorie der Sprache, die den Embodiment-Ansatz mit linguistischer Aktivität verknüpft ("linguistic bodies"). In der empirischen linguistischen Forschung wird, unter dem Begriff der Multimodalität, Sprache nunmehr verstärkt in ihrer Einbettung in realen face-to-face-Kommunikationen untersucht. In der verbalen Kommunikation finden verbale Mitteilungen stets in einem nonverbalen "körpersprachlichen" Kontext statt, in dem Blicke, Gesten, Körperhaltungen und die räumliche Positionierung der Interagierenden bedeutungstragende Elemente sind. Diese verschiedenen Ebenen von Kommunikationshandlungen ergänzen, verstärken oder relativieren einander, und gemäss der Embodiment-Perspektive befindet sich Sprache als linguistisches abstraktes Zeichensystem unvermeidlich im bidirektionalen Zusammenhang mit körperlichen Handlungen. Die Intentionalität der Sprache (Sprache dient der Repräsentation von Sachverhalten, ist also intentional im Sinne von v. Brentano 1874) kommt besonders in der Funktion der Deixis, also des auf etwas Hinweisens zum Tragen (Stukenbrock 2015). In realen Konversationen sind deiktische Kommunikation in der Regel von körperlichen Zeigegesten und insbesondere Augenbewegungen begleitet: Wenn wir uns über etwas, das sich in der gemeinsamen Umwelt befindet, unterhalten, so richten wir den Blick auf diesen Gegenstand, und unser Kommunikationspartner sieht, worauf wir sehen. Die Anatomie des menschlichen Auges mit weisser Sklera und dunklerer Iris unterstützt diese Art der Metakommunikation (der andere sieht, was ich sehe; und ich sehe, dass er das sieht: vgl. Merleau-Ponty 1964). Diese deiktische Intentionalität der Augenbewegungen sind ein Diskriminationsmerkmal menschlicher Interaktion in Vergleich zu Menschenaffen (Tomasello et al. 2007).

Augenbewegungen haben damit deiktische Funktionen und enthalten zudem Information über die wechselseitige Beziehung in der sozialen Interaktion; Augenbewegungen sind daher in allen direkten Konversationen von Bedeutung (die Beeinträchtigung dieser Funktionen bei virtuellen Video-Interaktionen ist einer der wichtigsten Mängel der neuen virtuellen Kommunikationsweisen). Von Bedeutung ist insbesondere auch die Koordination der Augenbewegungen interagierender Personen, die eine eigene Ebene von Synchronie eröffnet, nämlich Augenbewegungssynchronie (Tschacher, Tschacher & Stukenbrock 2021). In einer Pilotstudie dokumentierten wir die Augenbewegungen zweier Personen während einer Konversation; jede Versuchsperson trug ein brillenähnliches Gerät, das alle Augenbewegungen erfasst und in ein gleichzeitig erstelltes Video einblendet (Abbildung 1). Die beiden Videos enthalten einerseits qualitative Daten wie etwa, welche Objekte im Blickfeld betrachtet werden oder wie sich die Augenbewegungen beim Sprechen und beim Zuhören verändern. Vor allem aber können die Daten quantitativ ausgewertet werden: hierfür lassen sich die Kopfbewegungen von den reinen Augenbewegungen trennen und beide Bewegungsformen als Zeitreihen darstellen. Insbesondere interessierte uns die soziale Koordination der beiden Versuchspersonen, also die Synchronie ihrer Kopfbewegungen, Augenbewegungen und des Blickkontaktes.

Abbildung 1. Ausschnitte aus Videos zur Augenbewegungssynchronie.
Links jeweils das Blickfeld von Person W, rechts das zeitgleiche von Person A.
In die Videos ist jeweils eingeblendet, wohin W (grüner Kreis) und A (roter Kreis) blicken

Um Zeitreihen auf Synchronie zu testen, entwickelten wir ein statistisches Verfahren, das auf den Kreuzkorrelationen zweier Zeitreihen basiert (für Details s. Tschacher & Haken 2019). Alle Korrelationen einschliesslich der Korrelationen mit zeitlich gegeneinander versetzten Daten (hier ein lag von -3 bis +3 Sekunden) werden durch Mittelung aggregiert und ergeben ein Mass für die wechselseitige Koppelung der interagierenden Personen. Ein wichtiger weiterer Schritt ist es, die Bedeutsamkeit dieses Masses einzuschätzen, also eine Kontrollbedingung zu generieren. Hierzu verwenden wir ein Surrogatverfahren, bei dem Segmente (hier von 30 Sekunden Dauer) der Zeitreihen zufällig in ihrer Sequenz vertauscht werden. Diese Surrogatzeitreihen werden dann in gleicher Weise auf ihre (Pseudo-) Synchronie ausgewertet. Der abschliessende Schritt der Methode Surrogat-Synchronie (SUSY[1]) ist die Berechnung einer Effektstärke (Vergleich der realen Korrelation mit allen Pseudokorrelationen), die angibt, ob und wie stark die beiden Zeitreihen synchronisiert sind. In der Pilotstudie fanden wir signifikante Synchronien der Kopfbewegung und der Blickbewegungen sowie Hinweise auf synchronisierte Augenkontakte. Alle Synchronien waren in einer Art Schaukelbewegung antiphasisch, also negativ korreliert: wenn eine Person sich mehr bewegte, war ihr Gegenüber weniger bewegt; der Augenkontakt einer Person war verkoppelt mit dem Wegschauen der anderen Person.

Man kann insgesamt sagen, dass soziale Interaktion in der Synchronisation von Körperbewegung verkörpert ist. Die Erforschung synchronen Verhaltens ist eine Form der Embodimentforschung, die seit mehreren Jahren an Bedeutung stark gewonnen hat. Unsere Forschungsgruppe etwa untersuchte die Synchronie der Handbewegungen im Kontext psychotherapeutischer Interaktion (Ramseyer & Tschacher 2016) oder die Synchronie der Bewegung des ganzen Körpers bei Diskussionen zwischen Fremden (Tschacher, Rees & Ramseyer 2014). SUSY kann unabhängig von der Art der Zeitreihen verwendet werden; wir fanden etwa Synchronien von Atmung und Herzfrequenz in Psychotherapien (Tschacher & Meier 2020), sowie in Paargesprächen (Coutinho et al. 2019; 2021). Im Einklang mit der Grundaussage des Embodiment-Ansatzes waren diese unterschiedlichen körperlichen Synchronien jeweils mit psychologischen Variablen der beteiligten Personen verknüpft. In Psychotherapien fanden sich Zusammenhänge zwischen Synchronie und der Qualität der therapeutischen Beziehung und der von Patienten erlebten Selbstwirksamkeit. Bei den Diskussionen war Synchronie ein Prädiktor von positivem Affekt, in romantischen Paaren zeigten sich Zusammenhänge zwischen physiologischer Synchronie und Selbsteinschätzungen der Empathie. Bei der Augenbewegungssynchronie ist die Forschung noch in einem frühen Stadium, insofern zwar die Methodik für den Einsatz in naturalistischen Umgebungen, also ausserhalb des Labors, entwickelt und getestet werden konnte, aber Studien im grösseren Massstab noch ausstehen. Die Alltagserfahrung lässt jedoch annehmen, dass die Koordination von Augenbewegung mit einer Reihe von psychischen und sozialen Faktoren verbunden ist.

Empirische Embodimentforschung im Individuum

Neben diesen Beispielen zur sozialen Bedeutung von Embodiment, die sich als körperliche Synchronisation niederschlägt, wurden viele Studien auch mit Bezug ausschliesslich auf das Individuum durchgeführt. Bekannt wurde etwa ein Experiment (Strack, Martin & Stepper 1988) zur "facial feedback-Hypothese", die besagt, dass einerseits eine bestimmte Emotion einen spezifischen Gesichtsausdruck hervorruft (etwa Lächeln als Ausdruck empfundener Freude), aber umgekehrt der Gesichtsausdruck als Eindruck die Emotion beeinflussen kann (also Freude als Ausdruck des Lächelns, vgl. Abbildung 2). In der Studie manipulierten die Autoren den Gesichtsausdruck, indem sie die Versuchsteilnehmer unter einem Vorwand dazu brachten, einen Schreibstift entweder mit den Zähnen (erzeugt den Gesichtsausdruck von "Lächeln": Gruppe 1) oder mit den Lippen (Gruppe 2: "Schmollmund") zu halten. Ein nachfolgender Test ergab, dass Gruppe 1 nach der verdeckten Manipulation gezeigte Comics systematisch positiver und lustiger bewertete.

Die ursprüngliche Studie von Strack et al. hat sich als schwer replizierbar erwiesen (Wagenmakers et al. 2016). Es wurden aber weitere Hinweise auf einen möglichen Effekt des facial feedback gefunden. Psychiatrische Studien überprüften etwa den Effekt von Botox, bekannt als Faltenglätter in der Schönheitsmedizin, zur Behandlung von Depression (Wollmer et al. 2012). Der angenommene Wirkmechanismus ist, dass das injizierte Medikament die Gesichtsmuskeln, die für Stirnrunzeln als Ausdruck negativer Gedanken und Gefühle verantwortlich sind, vorübergehend lähme, und damit in Sinne der Bidirektionalität negative Gefühle weniger wahrscheinlich machen würde. Tatsächlich konnte gezeigt werden, dass die botoxbehandelte Gruppe gegenüber einer Placebokontrollgruppe nach sechs Wochen deutlich weniger depressive Symptome aufwies. Auch wenn man die medikamentöse Depressionsbehandlung als Intervention insgesamt skeptisch betrachten mag, scheint es sich hier um einen Beleg für die facial feedback Hypothese des Embodiment zu handeln.

Abbildung 2. Facial feedback: Ein Grund, warum wir beim Arbeiten auf dem Bleistift kauen?

Die hier beispielhaft genannten Embodimentbefunde im Individuum haben interessanterweise durchwegs auch einen Anteil am sozialen Embodiment: die soziale Version der facial feedback-Hypothese zeigt sich etwa an Phänomenen der Ansteckung durch Synchronie: wenn man frohe Gesichter sieht, steigt die Wahrscheinlichkeit, selbst fröhlich zu werden. Auch etwa Gähnen und Lachen ist in diesem Sinne ansteckend. Der laugh track, in Sitcoms wie der "Big Bang Theory" das aus dem off künstlich eingespielte Gelächter nach jeder Pointe, dient eben dieser Erhöhung des Lustigkeitsempfindens der Zuschauer mit dem Mittel der Ansteckung.

Eine Reihe von Studien wurde zur Beziehung zwischen Bewegungsmustern und Emotion durchgeführt. Das Bio Motion Lab ist eine Forschungsgruppe um Prof. Troje, in der eine Computer-Simulation von Gehern entwickelt wurde[2]. Die "Geher" sind stark schematisiert dargestellte Strichmännchen am Bildschirm. Die Simulation erlaubt es, Stimmung und Nervosität des Gehers zu variieren und zeigt plausibel, wie psychische Variablen die Form des Gehens augenfällig verändern. Zu diesen Zusammenhängen zwischen der Bewegungskoordination beim Gehen und der Stimmung wurden auch Studien mit Versuchspersonen durchgeführt. In einer der Studien (Michalak, Rohde & Troje 2015) zeigten die Autoren, wie eine unbemerkte experimentelle Manipulation der Art des Gehens auf einem Fließband psychische Prozesse gezielt verändern kann: Gesunde Versuchspersonen wurden durch Biofeedback instruiert, eine von zwei unterschiedlichen Gangarten zu übernehmen: trauriges Gehen oder fröhliches Gehen. Versuchspersonen mit traurigem Gang erinnerten sich nach dem Experiment systematisch anders an eine vorher gelernte Liste mit Wörtern positiver oder negativer Valenz als Probanden der fröhlichen Gangart: Sie erinnerten sich besser an negative Inhalte als an positive Wörter. Diese Art der Verzerrung des Gedächtnisses ist eines der Symptome von klinischen Depressionen. Die Studie suggeriert damit, dass das Übernehmen von bestimmten Gangmustern zugeordnete Gefühlsmuster erzeugen kann. Es scheint also, wieder in Übereinstimmung mit der Bidirektionalität zwischen Psyche und Körper, dass sich die Stimmung nicht nur in der Bewegungsweise ausdrückt, sondern auch die Bewegungsweise die Stimmung beeinflusst.

Aus Laborstudien kann abgeleitet werden, welche Aspekte des Gehens mit der Stimmung zusammenhängen. Man fand so, dass depressive Stimmung korreliert war mit langsameren Bewegungen, weniger vertikaler Dynamik des Körpers, stärkerem lateralen Schwanken und einer gebeugten Haltung des Oberkörpers (Michalak et al. 2009). In einer kürzlich durchgeführten Studie (mit einem sogenannten Experience Sampling Design) wurde untersucht, ob diese Befunde sich auch in der alltäglichen Umgebung nachweisen lassen (Adolph et al. 2021). Hierzu wurde eine Gruppe von depressiven Patienten und eine parallelisierte Kontrollgruppe gesunder Versuchspersonen gebeten, im Alltag während zwei Tagen in stündlichen Abständen Kurzfragebögen zur Befindlichkeit auszufüllen. Ausserdem trugen die Versuchspersonen kleine Bewegungssensoren am Körper, die ihre Körperbewegungen aufzeichneten. Es wurden nur die Zeiten berücksichtigt, zu den die Versuchsteilnehmer tatsächlich mit Gehen beschäftigt waren. Die Daten bestätigten, dass depressive Versuchsteilnehmer weniger schnell gingen, eine mehr gebeugte Haltung beim Gehen einnahmen und weniger federnde, vertikale Bewegungen aufwiesen. Das verstärkte seitliche Schwanken konnte nicht repliziert werden, was vielleicht daran lag, dass im Labor die Aufgabe war, entlang einer geraden Linie zu gehen, während exakt geradliniges Gehen im Alltag weniger vorkommt.

Auch im Kontext mit Bewegungsmustern wie dem Gehen findet man eine soziale Erweiterung des Embodiments. Synchronie der Gangmuster entsteht oft spontan, wenn ein Paar oder eine Gruppe von Personen gemeinsam geht. Beim gemeinsamen Gehen ist die Gehgeschwindigkeit identisch; jedoch gleichen sich die Personen auch hinsichtlich der Schrittlänge und -frequenz aneinander an. Solches "Im-Takt-Gehen" ist bekanntlich ein Ziel militärischen Drills und wird bei Paraden zur Schau gestellt. Aus Embodiment-Perspektive mag der Sinn solcher Synchronisationen darin liegen, dass Synchronie, wie bereits mehrfach erwähnt, die Verbundenheit und Beziehungen der synchronisierten Personen widerspiegelt und auch fördert, was sicher ein Interesse der militärischen Kommandoebene ist. Abgesehen von militärischen Extremen finden sich Synchronien des Gehens in allen Bereichen. Ein interessantes Phänomen zeigte sich bei der Eröffnung der "Millenium Bridge" in London. Kurz nach ihrer Eröffnung im Jahr 2000 musste diese Fussgängerbrücke, berühmt für filigrane Architektur, wieder geschlossen werden, weil sie in bedrohliche Schwingungen geraten war (Strogatz et al. 2005). Der Grund war, dass sich Gruppen von Fussgängern auf der Brücke miteinander unwillkürlich synchronisierten, auch wenn sie einander gar nicht kannten, und dadurch das Bauwerk unwillentlich in Resonanz versetzten. Erst hinzugefügte bauliche Verstärkungen behoben das Problem.

Soziale Synchronie der Körperbewegungen ist ein Kernelement zahlreicher öffentlicher Rituale (religiöse Zeremonien, Gottesdienste, politische Gipfeltreffen) bis hin zu privaten Festen und Tanzveranstaltungen. Tanz etwa kann als Ritual verstanden werden, da er stets Regeln unterliegt, die die Koordination der Tanzenden herbeiführt. Warum tanzen Menschen überhaupt, wenn die Tanzbewegung keinem offensichtlichen Ziel dient? Die Psychologie nennt eine Reihe positiver Effekte, die beim Tanzen entstehen. Tanz ist etwa eine Tätigkeit, die individuell "flow" erzeugt (Csikszentmihalyi 1975), einen befriedigenden Zustand des Einsseins mit einer Tätigkeit. Tanzen impliziert zudem soziale Synchronie mit der Bewegung des Tanzpartners und/oder mit der Musik; wie erwähnt hat Bewegungssynchronie (Chartrand & Lakin 2013) und Tanztherapie (Koch, Morlinghaus & Fuchs 2007) positiv-affektive und prosoziale Wirkungen.

"4E Kognition" als allgemeine Theorie des Embodiment

Wir haben in diesem Artikel dargestellt, worauf nach unserer Ansicht die Embodimentperspektive in den Humanwissenschaften gegründet ist. Es handelt sich um eine umfassende Neuorientierung, die in Abkehr vom computationalen Modell (der "Computermetapher") des Geistes und der Vorstellung von Kognition als ausschliesslich formale Informationsverarbeitung die wechselseitigen Bezüge zwischen Geist und Körper betont. Embodiment ist eine Position, die mit reduktionistischen Auffassungen zum Leib-Seele-Problem nicht vereinbar ist. Den Embodiment-Ansatz stützen eine wachsende Zahl von empirischen Befunden der Psychologie und der Interaktionsforschung. Embodiment als umfassende Theorie wird gemäss einem Oxford Handbook auch als 4E Kognition bezeichnet (Newen, De Bruin & Gallagher 2018): Kognition sei zunächst verkörpert (Embodied). Kognition basiere zudem auf sensorisch-motorischen Schleifen (Enactive), also nicht auf der passiven Aufnahme von Informationen, sondern der dynamischen Wechselwirkung eines Lebewesens mit seiner Umwelt. Kognition sei weiterhin situiert und eingebettet (Embedded), also eingefügt in Umweltkontext, Kultur und die aktuelle Situation. Schließlich sei Kognition erweitert (Extended), wir denken demnach unter Zuhilfenahme unserer Umwelt und benutzen etwa Schreibstifte, Werkzeuge und Computer als Extensionen des Geistes; Kognition sei also nicht auf den menschlichen Körper oder auf das Gehirn beschränkt und erweitere sich über die Grenzen des Körpers hinaus (Clark & Chalmers 1998). Alle vom Embodiment-Ansatz beschriebenen Zusammenhänge sind als bidirektional gedacht, sie werden in Abbildung 3 als Kreise dargestellt.

Abbildung 3. Schematische Darstellung der 4E Kognition

(1) Der als "Embodied" bezeichnete bidirektionale Zusammenhang wurde bereits in den angeführten Beispielen dargelegt. Die facial feedback-Hypothese, die vielgestaltigen Formen von nonverbaler Synchronisation zwischen Individuen weisen auf die enge Koppelung zwischen Kognition und Körper hin. Es gibt zahlreiche empirische Belege dafür, dass diese Kopplungen wechselseitig sind, also Kognition den Körper beeinflusst und umgekehrt.

(2) Die Bezeichnung von Kognition als "Enactive" beschreibt einen komplexeren Zusammenhang. Die Spiegelneuronenforschung hat gezeigt, dass Netzwerke von Neuronen im Gehirn oft mehrere Funktionen haben. Man fand, dass Neuronen, die aktiv an einer motorischen Handlung beteiligt sind, zugleich auch dann aktiviert sein können, wenn eine solche Handlung bei einem Gegenüber lediglich beobachtet wird (Rizzolatti & Craighero 2004). Diese Neuronen sind also doppelt aktivierbar, sie sind multifunktional, da sowohl motorisch wie auch sensorisch ansprechbar. Man erkennt darin ein mögliches (Hickok 2009) neuronales Korrelat von sozialem Embodiment und Empathie: der Körper des anderen wird vom Gehirn analog zum eigenen Körper behandelt, was gut zu den psychologischen Befunden der interpersonalen Synchronie und zum facial feedback passen würde. Eine solche enaktive Multifunktionalität des neuronalen Systems bezieht sich nicht nur auf soziale Wahrnehmung, sondern auch auf jede individuelle Handlung (Friston 2011). Eine willentliche Handlung wird zunächst neuronal geplant durch die Generierung eines Modells, das den motorischen Plan als Funktion des Handlungsziels und der Umgebungsbeschaffenheit erstellt (also: welche Aktivierung ist nötig, um das Ziel zu realisieren?). Sobald dieser Plan festgelegt ist, wird im Gehirn ein zweites Modell berechnet: die Efferenzkopie des motorischen Plans wird als forward model benutzt, das dem Handelnden Vorhersagen erlaubt, welche Sinneseindrücke zu erwarten sind, sobald die motorische Handlung des Modells tatsächlich ausgeführt wird. Diese Vorhersagen werden dann während der Handlung mit den einlaufenden tatsächlichen Sinneseindrücken verglichen, wobei jegliche Diskrepanz (prediction error) bedeutsam wird. Enaktive Handlung bedeutet, dass Diskrepanzen korrigiert werden, noch während die Handlung ausgeführt wird. Motorik heisst neuronal also nicht einfach, dass ein motorischer Plan absolviert wird, sondern dass ein andauernder Abgleich zwischen Vorhersage, Erwartung und Sinneswahrnehmung stattfindet. Diese sensomotorischen Abgleiche bezeichnet man als predictive coding (Friston 2008; Tschacher, Giersch & Friston 2017). Dieses sensomotorische Kodieren (O'Regan & Noë 2002) stellt eine moderne Ausformulierung des Reafferenzprinzips dar (von Holst & Mittelstaedt 1950) und umfasst Kognition, Körper und Umwelt. Varelas Konzept des Enaktivismus vereint die realistische, umweltbezogene mit der idealistischen, kognitionsbezogenen Perspektive (Varela, Thompson & Rosch 1992): nur im fortlaufenden Zusammenwirken von "Realismus" und "Idealismus" sind Wahrnehmung und Kognition möglich.

(3) Kognition als "Embedded" betont die Verortung und Situiertheit der Kognition in der Umwelt, wie es bereits in der enaktiven Wechselwirkung beschrieben ist. Kognition und Wahrnehmung erzeugen nicht einfach ein Abbild oder eine Repräsentation von Umwelt, sondern sie entstehen in der Einbettung in die Umwelt. Hier spielt der Begriff der Affordanz der Umwelt eine zentrale Rolle; eine Affordanz ist ein Angebot der Umwelt an einen Handelnden (Bruineberg & Rietveld 2014), in der Gestaltpsychologie ursprünglich formuliert als Aufforderungscharakter einer Umweltkonstellation (Lewin 1936). In Tschacher & Haken (2007) wurde eine Formulierung im Rahmen der Selbstorganisationstheorie gegeben: Affordanzen sind damit diejenigen Umwelteigenschaften (in der Synergetik: Kontrollparameter), die eine selbstorganisierte Musterbildung der Kognition bewirken, um dabei im Zuge dieser Musterbildung reduziert zu werden. Mit dem entstehenden kognitiven Muster und den daraus sich ergebenden Handlungsmöglichkeiten wird das "Angebot" realisiert und damit abgebaut. Man erkennt hier die Übereinstimmung mit den unter (2) als enaktiv bezeichneten Prozessen, bei denen es darum geht, Diskrepanzen durch predictive coding zu reduzieren.

(4) "Extended" schliesslich bezeichnet die Fähigkeit des kognitiven Systems, kognitive Prozesse in die Umwelt auszulagern. Nach Clark & Chalmers (1998) findet Kognition nicht allein im Kopf statt, sondern ereignet sich in verschiedener Weise in der Umwelt. Ein offensichtliches Beispiel ist die Nutzung von Maschinen: ein Mensch-Computer-System denkt anders und effizienter als ein Mensch allein ohne Hilfsmittel. Eine Wochenplanung gelingt besser, wenn ich mit einem Terminkalender arbeite und die Optionen optisch vor mir sehe. Die Funktionsweise des Gedächtnisses und der Kognition allgemein profitiert also von Umgebungsreizen, weswegen die meisten Menschen im Büro effektiver arbeiten als zuhause im Wohnzimmer. Allerdings wird wieder deutlich, dass man diese Auslagerung kognitiver Prozesse in die Umwelt auch mit dem Affordanzbegriff wie unter (3) fassen kann.


Die Embodiment-Perspektive wurde in den vergangenen Jahren wichtig in der Psychologie und zunehmend auch in den Geisteswissenschaften, was eine Neuorientierung bewirkte und zu einer grossen Zahl von empirischen Studien und neuen Konzepten geführt hat. Dasselbe gilt auch für die kognitive Neurowissenschaft, denn die reziproke Beziehung zwischen Körper und Geist bildet sich auch in der Konnektivität des Gehirns ab. Gemäss der Integrativen Neurowissenschaft (Kotchoubey et al. 2016) ist das Gehirn keine Maschine, die nach den Prinzipien der computationalen Informationsverarbeitung eines digitalen Computers funktioniert. Wahrnehmung ist nach dieser modernen neurowissenschaftlichen Theorie des Enaktivismus keine passive Repräsentation sensorischer Reize. Stattdessen werden in jeder Wahrnehmung fortlaufend Hypothesen (was müsste jetzt wahrzunehmen sein?) mit einlaufenden Informationen vom eigenen Körper (was nehme ich wahr?) verglichen. Wahrnehmung ist damit Informationsverarbeitung basierend auf den Prinzipien der verkörperten Kognition.

Die Embodiment-Perspektive erweitert bestehende Paradigmen der Psychologie und der Geisteswissenschaften. In der Psychologie betrifft dies das auch hier noch vorherrschende kognitivistische Paradigma, psychische Vorgänge seien nichts prinzipiell anderes als computationale Informationsverarbeitungen. In den Geisteswissenschaften tritt zutage, dass es sinnvoll ist, den gesamten multimodalen Kontext von Sprache mit zu bedenken (in Fall der Linguistik) und das ästhetische Erleben unter Einbezug körperlicher Reaktionen zu betrachten (in den Kunstwissenschaften).

Der Ansatz der 4E Kognition (Newen, De Bruin & Gallagher 2018) verspricht eine umfassende Theorie für die Befunde und Ideen der Embodiment-Perspektive bereitzustellen. Es wurde sogar vorgeschlagen, noch ein weiteres E hinzuzufügen für "Ecological" (Rietveld, Denys & van Westen 2018). Es scheint mir aber berechtigt, hier skeptisch zu sein, da sich bereits in den vier ursprünglich propagierten E's Redundanzen zeigten. Eine kritische Würdigung der 4E Kognition weist meiner Meinung nach auf, dass "Extended" und "Embedded" eher nicht als unabhängige Dimensionen der Kognition gelten können, und diese Aspekte darüber hinaus auch Parallelen mit der Dimension "Enactive" zeigen (vgl. Adams & Aizawa 2009). Man kann daher auch heute noch nicht von einer klar ausformulierten Theorie der embodied cognition, des verkörperten Geistes, sprechen. Die Embodiment-Perspektive ist nach wie vor ein Paradigma im Werden. Jedoch zeichnen sich bereits die wesentlichen Umrisse dieser Perspektive ab.

Dies sind zum einen die wechselseitigen Beeinflussungen zwischen verschiedenen Ebenen (Kognition, Körper, Umwelt), wie dies im Konzept der Bidirektionalität und der zirkulären Kausalität ausgedrückt ist. Klassische reduktionistische Ansätze blieben hierbei unbefriedigend, weil sie die empirisch auffindbaren Wechselwirkungen willkürlich und aus lediglich formalen Gründen zerschneiden (Gallagher 2011). Die Erkenntnis der Wechselwirkungen und Reziprozität zwischen verschiedenen Ebenen sind zentral für das Embodiment. Sie können als Grundlage der empirischen facial feedback-Hypothese wie auch der Synchronieforschung dienen. Auch die Zusammenhänge zwischen Affekten und Gangarten sind hierin abgebildet. Im Ansatz der 4E Kognition betrifft dies die Punkte (1) und (2), Embodied und Enactive (Abbildung 3).

Zum anderen ist die Prozesshaftigkeit des komplexen Systems von Kognition, Körper, und Umwelt wesentlich für die Embodiment-Perspektive. Sie kann am besten mit einer strukturwissenschaftlichen dynamischen Systemtheorie erfasst werden (Tschacher & Haken 2019). Eine solche Systemtheorie oder Komplexitätstheorie kann die mathematischen Konstrukte bereitstellen, um Embodimentprozesse zu modellieren. Hierbei handelt es sich um Prozesse der emergenten Musterbildung (also Selbstorganisationsprozesse wie bei der Herausbildung von Synchronie), um stabile Dynamiken (Attraktoren, free-energy principle nach Friston) und um metastabile Dynamiken (Quasiattraktoren, das Offenhalten verschiedener Attraktoren). Systemtheoretische Konstrukte sind in der Lage, die Konzepte des Enaktivismus (2) theoretisch zu fundieren (Tschacher & Haken 2007; Haken & Tschacher 2010).

In Zukunft wird die Zahl der Anwendungen und Techniken aus der Embodiment-Perspektive in Psychotherapie, Psychiatrie und verschiedenen Bereichen des Coachings wachsen (Tschacher & Bannwart 2021). Die Forschung deutet beispielsweise darauf hin, dass in der Schizophrenie, einem der massivsten psychiatrischen Probleme, für das seit Jahrzehnten keine neuen medizinisch-pharmakologischen Behandlungen gefunden wurden, eine spezifische Störung des Embodiment vorliegen könnte (Tschacher, Giersch & Friston 2017). Diese Störung kann als eine Dysfunktion des predictive coding der Betroffenen identifiziert werden, aus dem psychotische Symptome wie Wahn und Halluzinationen hervorgehen können. Es erscheint daher lohnend, mit Embodiment-basierten psychologischen Therapien zu arbeiten (Martin et al. 2016).

Eine grosse Zahl von Belegen existiert inzwischen für das Auftreten von körperlichen Synchronien in Psychotherapie. Synchronie scheint die körperliche Basis des zentralen Wirkfaktors der therapeutischen Allianz zu bilden, dies auch in Therapieformen, die sich als "Redekur" oder "kognitive Therapie" eher körperfern verstehen. Das Feld der Psychotherapieforschung befindet sich derzeit in der Diskussionsphase, welche konkreten Folgerungen aus den empirischen Studien zu ziehen sind.

Schliesslich haben wir im Zusammenhang mit dem Embodiment-Ansatz darauf hingewiesen, dass es an der Zeit sei, nicht nur das untaugliche computationale Modell der Psyche, sondern auch die Sender-Empfänger-Metapher der Kommunikation zu hinterfragen (Storch & Tschacher 2016). Kommunikation ist nicht allein das Austauschen von Botschaften, sondern findet auf der Ebene wechselseitiger Synchronisierung statt, die erst die Grundlage für das Austauschen von verbalen Botschaften schafft. Dies gilt es zu bedenken gerade auch in nicht-therapeutischen Interaktionen, etwa bei der Arbeit von Simultanübersetzern. Die Arbeitsumgebung beim Übersetzen sollte so beschaffen sein, dass die gut untersuchten körperlichen Synchronien bis hin zur emotionalen Ansteckung zur Wirkung kommen können, um Translationsprozesse zu optimieren.


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[1] Als Webapplikation: [url=https://www.embodiment.ch]https://www.embodiment.ch[/url] (Link: Synchrony Computation)

[2] [url=https://www.biomotionlab.ca/html5-bml-walker/]https://www.biomotionlab.ca/html5-bml-walker/[/url]

About the author(s)

Prof. Wolfgang Tschacher received his Ph.D. in psychology 1990. Psychotherapy training in systemic therapy at the Institute of Family Therapy, Munich. Habilitation in psychology and Venia legendi 1996 at University of Bern, Switzerland, professorship in 2002, now professor emeritus at the University Hospital of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy. His main interests are in psychotherapy process research and empirical aesthetics, with an emphasis on complexity science, embodied cognition, and self-organization.

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©inTRAlinea & Wolfgang Tschacher (2022).
"Embodiment und Enaktion: Ein neuer Ansatz in den empirischen Humanwissenschaften"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2606

The metamorphoses of the body in the space/time of literary translation

By Clive Scott (University of East Anglia, UK)



©inTRAlinea & Clive Scott (2022).
"The metamorphoses of the body in the space/time of literary translation"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2605

About the author(s)

CLIVE SCOTT is Professor Emeritus of European Literature at the University of East Anglia and a Fellow of the British Academy. His principal research interests lie in French and comparative poetics (The Poetics of French Verse: Studies in Reading, 1998; Channel Crossings: French and English Poetry in Dialogue 1550-2000, 2002); in literary translation, and in particular the experimental translation of poetry (Translating Baudelaire, 2000; Translating Rimbaud’s ‘Illuminations’, 2006; Literary Translation and the Rediscovery of Reading, 2012; Translating the Perception of Text: Literary Translation and Phenomenology, 2012); and in photography’s relationship with writing (The Spoken Image: Photography and Language, 1999; Street Photography: From Atget to Cartier-Bresson, 2007). Translation and photography combine in his Translating Apollinaire (2014). His most recent book is The Work of Literary Translation (2018) and he is at present working on three projects: co-editing a catalogue of W.G. Sebald’s photographic materials held at the University of East Anglia; co-editing a collection of ‘translations’ by contemporary artists of the work of the Norwich painter John Crome; and a book entitled ‘The Philosophy of Literary Translation: Dialogue, Movement, Ecology’. He was promoted Officier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (French Ministry of Education) in 2008, delivered the Clark Lectures in 2010, and was President of the MHRA in 2014-2015.

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©inTRAlinea & Clive Scott (2022).
"The metamorphoses of the body in the space/time of literary translation"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2605

Psychic rhymes and rhythms in translation:  Walt Whitman and Mark Strand

By Franco Nasi (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy)


Building on recent works in translation studies, this essay considers what happens in a couple of tentative Italian translations of poems by Walt Whitman and Mark Strand; in particular, what happens to a specific feature of their poetic style, i.e. the rhetorical figure of repetition and its relation to the overall rhythmic and semantic pattern of their work. The essay will consider the challenge of rendering rhythm, a vital feature of a literary text, but one which is nonetheless often considered a marginal element by those who believe that translation is above all an act concerned with a mere passage of information. It will also try to show that apparently "irrational" elements such as friendship, relationship, listening, the other, the feeling of language, opacity, embodiment, silence, and the pulsing of the body and mind in the poetic rhythm, should be seriously considered in every theoretical approach to literary translation.

Keywords: literary translation, poetry, rhythm, Whitman, Strand, Carducci

©inTRAlinea & Franco Nasi (2022).
"Psychic rhymes and rhythms in translation:  Walt Whitman and Mark Strand"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2604

I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,
The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a new tongue (Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, 21)

In what language do I live? I live in none. I live in you. It is your voice I begin to hear and it has no language. I hear the motions of a spirit and the sound of what is secret becomes, for me, a voice that is your voice speaking to my ear. (Mark Strand, The Monument, 6)

Cathedral, one of Raymond Carver’s best-known short stories, deals with the birth of a friendship. Before facing the problem of the translation of poetic rhythm, I will begin this essay with a brief description of Carver’s short story to emphasize that translating has a lot in common with friendship, and the open, willing commitment established between the Subject and the Other, as Stefano Arduini recently stated in his volume Con gli occhi dell’altro. Tradurre. In this particular kind of relationship, the Other “non viene rifiutato perché incommensurabilmente lontano, non viene annullato annettendolo al proprio universo culturale e concettuale e, infine, non conduce a rinunciare al sé e alla tradizione […], ma viene accolto in un patto di reciprocità[1](Arduini 2020: 44). Similarly Rada Iveković claims that translation “c’est la démarche même de l’asile et signifie réciprocité; c’est dans le meilleur des cas un désir de se relier, de se mêler, de se connaître et de se rapprocher” [2](Iveković 2019: 173). Since translation is first of all a “mediation en acte”, it “fait et défait les istitutions et la sociabilité. […] Elle est donc politiques et méthodes, au pluriel” and “dans un sens élargi, contextuel plutôt que textuel, indiscipliné”[3] (Iveković 2019: 174).

Such an approach to the topic of translation might still alarm and perhaps upset a few colleagues, who look with suspicion at what they consider the undisciplined and unsettled field of Translation Studies. They will be annoyed at having to read another one of those tautological detours or sallies of the mind about translation, child of the useless and self-referential interdisciplinary gossip they see as one of the main causes of the decadence of the Humanities in today’s Academy. After all, what is the real meaning of expressions like “reciprocity agreement”, “friendship”, “other”, “otherness”, “hospitality”, not to mention “indiscipline”? How can such terms be scientifically defined? And what do they have to do with the practice of translation? Such activity, they insist, should instead be rigorous, supervised, validated by a systematic set of choices consciously made and verified, and based on a “model” responding “to the four qualities required in any formal/experimental science: parsimony, generality, predictiveness, and consilience”, as Laura Salmon states in her resolute essay Teoria della traduzione: una “lotta infinita per il rigore interdisciplinare” (Salmon 2020). Of course there is nothing wrong with a theoretical approach to translation as long as the theory is open, non-dogmatic and willing to take into account what the translation experience continuously offers. As is well known, even the French term Traductologie (Traduttologia in Italian), can have quite different meanings, as in Berman, where it is defined as “la reflection sur l’experience a partire da sa nature d’esperience” or in Salmon, who sees traduttologia as the most rigorous and scientific side of the more general Theory of Translation (TT, as she abbreviates it); opposed, if not complementary, to the merely descriptive Translation Studies. But Salmon herself, who is well aware of the complexity of the process of translating and the variety of its products (Salmon 2017: 28), states that

TT non è una fede a cui “credere”, non è ‘esatta’, ‘vera’, ‘immutabile’, è un Sistema di riferimento valido hic et nunc che va regolarmente testato e aggiornato. La teoria è sempre una riflessione sull’esperienza che cerca di formalizzare le procedure generali che rispecchiano postulati chiari ed espliciti e che prevedono situazioni particolari (subroutine delle procedure generali); in altre parole, è una sintesi economica di criteri mirati a ottenere procedure professionali nel minor tempo possibile, riducendo al minimo i rischi di fallimento rispetto al progetto.[4] (Salmon 2020: 57)

Furthermore, she is also well aware that no human message has only one single meaning or, as she writes “contenga esclusivamente un’informazione invariante”[5], since the What, i.e. the invariant of a message, is always connected to the variant of the message, the How it is formulated: “La combinazione del COSA con il COME corrisponde alla specificità linguo-stilistica di un enunciato nel CONTESTO”[6] (Salmon 2020: 58). Such specificity, as she defines it, can be called functional markedness.

If a good theory is not top down but bottom up, in our essay we will try to see what happens in a couple of tentative Italian translations of poems by Walt Whitman and Mark Strand. In particular, what happens to a specific feature of their poetic style, or functional markedness, in terms of the rhetorical figure of repetition in its bound relation to the overall rhythmic and semantic pattern of their work. We will consider the challenge of rendering rhythm, a vital feature of a literary text but one which is nonetheless often considered a marginal element by those who believe that translation is above all an act concerned with mere transfer of information. When the few translators still faithful to the chauvinist motto “meaning first” try to say the same thing or almost the same thing in another language (Eco 2003), they tend to overshadow the rhythm, or to find in the target literary tradition a supposed equivalent or analogous metric pattern that can make that rhythm agreeable to the ears of the new reader. The thesis of this paper is that if we do not also consider such "irrational" elements as friendship, listening, the other, the feeling of language, relationship, opacity, but also embodiment, silence, the pulsing of the body and mind in the poetic rhythm— that is, if we pursue a closed theory of translation solely concerned with predictiveness and regularity; if such theory will remain oblivious to the variant notions of translation over time and space, and therefore to life itself, in its complexity and temporariness (Mattioli 2001: 39), the result will be nothing but another abstract construction destined to last the span of an academic career, or little more.


There are three main characters in Carver’s Cathedral: a couple, husband and wife, and Robert, the wife’s friend and former co-worker. Robert has been blind since birth. Ten years after the wife and Robert last worked together, the blind man pays a visit to the woman and meets her husband for the first time. The husband is detached and embarrassed, doesn't know how to talk to Robert and how to deal with a blind person, to the point that he tends to avoid interaction. The two get to know each other a little at a time. After dinner they drink whiskey in front of the television. There is a program about a cathedral in Lisbon. The husband asks Robert if he has any idea of what cathedrals are like. Robert replies that he only knows a few things about them, and asks his guest to describe what is shown in the TV program. Through the voice of his interlocutor, Robert is thus able to imagine the cathedral. But words are not sufficiently precise. So Robert — this is an unexpected turn in Carver's story — asks the man to take a sheet of heavy paper and a pen and draw the cathedral together with him:

“He found my hand, the hand with the pen. He closed his hand over my hand.  ‘Go ahead, bub, draw'. He said” (Carver 1983: 226).

They go on in this way until the cathedral is outlined on the paper. At this point Robert asks the husband to close his eyes and continue drawing, but now with the blind man guiding the movement.

“His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now. […] My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything” (Carver 1983: 228).

This is where the story ends and a friendship is born – an adjustment towards the Other that is not annexation, but a relationship, in this case also tactile; a relationship that leads to the creation of something new. The husband who saw the cathedral on television translates it onto paper for Robert, then Robert in turn leads the husband into a world where things are seen and told not through the eyes, but by a movement of the hand, of the body. This friendship allows the husband to leave his home while remaining at home, to leave his own border and meet the other in a third space (Bhabha 1994).

Translating is in itself an act of domestication and cannot be otherwise (Venuti 2019). And yet the translator should try to leave home while remaining at home, to experience the otherness fully, to see the world through the other’s eyes or senses. Unfortunately, literary institutions or strong aesthetic principles that determine the re-elaboration of the text in another culture can turn into blinders, limiting the gaze and the translation choices. They can become a kind of cage or prison constraining a text that instead is pulsing with life, a text that originally was a discourse (Meschonnic 1982: 217), an inseparable continuity of meanings and signifiers.

To write well implies the courage to look where others do not usually look, to overcome or challenge the cliché. When engaged in the translation of a well-written text, a translator should have the same courage. Ortega Y Gasset clearly states this in a famous passage of his 1937 essay Miseria y esplendor de la traducción:

Escribir bien consiste en hacer continuamente pequeñas erosiones a la gramática, al uso establecido, a la norma vigente de la lengua. Es un acto de rebeldía permanente contra el contorno social, una subvención. Escribir bien implica cierto radical denuedo. Ahora bien; el traductor suele ser un personaje apocado. Por timidez ha escogido tal ocupación, la mínima. Se encuentra ante el enorme aparato policíaco que son la gramática y el uso mostrenco. […] Vencerá en él la pusilanimidad y en vez de contravenir los bandos gramaticales hará todo lo contrario: meterá al escritor traducido en la prisión del lenguaje normal, es decir, que le traicionará.[7] (Ortega Y Gassett 1947: 430)

The translator should act like the husband in Carver’s story, trusting the Other and relying on the new relation, so as to experience and live a new linguistic and rhetorical space.


I thought about Ortega’s prison and our fear to venture into unfamiliar poetics and stylistic territories when I happened to read Giosue Carducci’s letter of August 26, 1881, written to his lifelong friend Enrico Nencioni, an influential literary critic and translator, who first introduced Walt Whitman’s poetry to Italy between 1879 and 1881 (Nasi 2019: 32–38). 

Carducci was very impressed by the novelty of Whitman’s poetry, and by its ability to depict America, its nature and daily life, to the point that he referred to Whitman as the “Courbet of poetry”. He was so inspired that he tried to translate into Italian Our Old Feuillage, a poem mentioned by Nencioni in one of his articles. This is a passage from Carducci’s letter:

Sai che il ‘Fogliame’ americano io l’ho letto e tradotto a lettera tre volte con il mio maestro di inglese, un italiano che scappò in America a 17 anni e ci è stato 23 anni, e ha fatto il capitano al servizio della Repubblica nella guerra di secessione contro gli Stati del Sud? È una bestia, sempre ubriaco; ma sente e respira l’America; e non sa quasi più nulla d’italiano; e me lo commentava facendo gesti e urli feroci.

E mi venne subito la voglia di tradurlo in esametri omerici. Tutti quei nomi a catalogo! quelle enumerazioni, successioni, quella serie di paesaggi, di sentimenti, di figure straordinarie e vere! Io ne rimasi e ne sono rapito! Dopo i grandissimi poeti colossali, Omero, Shakespeare, Dante ecc., ci sarà del più pensato, del più profondo, del più perfetto, ma nulla così immediato e originale. Peccato e dannazione che io d’inglese capisco poco, e la prosa; ma la poesia mi è molto difficile. [8](Carducci 1951: 172–73)

The description of Hannibal Ferrari, the language teacher, a former Union Army captain during the American Civil War (Barbieri 1977), completely lost in a passionate reading of the poem, is hilarious in itself. We can easily imagine the performance staged by the teacher, who enthusiastically “feels and breathes America”, if we read just a few lines from the beginning of the long poem, published for the first time in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. Used as we are to the “fixed poetic forms”, the spatial regularity of 19th century poetic texts, we might be caught by surprise by the irregular shape of the poem and the impetuous length of most of the lines. But if we pay more attention to repetitions within the text, which might be taken to establish a rhythmical beat, we can give Whitman’s poem a different graphic form highlighting the cadence suggested by the repetitions, which distinctly denote the rhythm of the poem. It is easier to imagine the performance of Carducci’s teacher with the following rewriting of the form of the poem as a sort of musical-theatrical score:

ALWAYS our old feuillage!

Always Florida's green peninsula—
always the priceless delta of Louisiana—
always the cotton-fields of Alabama and Texas,
Always California's golden hills and hollows, and the silver mountains of New Mexico—
always soft-breath'd Cuba,
Always the vast slope drain'd by the Southern sea,
inseparable with the slopes drain'd by the Eastern and Western seas,

The area
the eighty-third year of these States,
the three and a half millions of square miles,
The eighteen thousand miles of sea-coast and bay-coast on the main,
the thirty thousand miles of river navigation,
The seven millions of distinct families and the same number of dwellings—

always these, and more, branching forth into numberless branches,
Always the free range and diversity—
always the continent of Democracy;
Always the prairies, pastures, forests, vast cities, travelers, Kanada, the snows;
Always these compact lands tied at the hips
with the belt stringing the huge oval lakes;
Always the West
with strong native persons, the increasing density there, the habitans, friendly, threatening, ironical, scorning invaders;

All sights, South, North, East—
all deeds, promiscuously done at all times,
All characters, movements, growths, a few noticed, myriads unnoticed,

Through Mannahatta's streets I walking, these things gathering […] (Whitman 2017: 394–6)

We are overwhelmed by this endless list of places and objects, by the cadence stressed by symmetrical and balanced anaphoras and repetitions, but we are also waiting for something to happen, suspended by the syntax until the closing line, when the “I”, the maker of this waterfall of dreamed images, finally appears. He is walking the streets of Manhattan, gathering and ordering all “these things”, these figments of imagination as he walks, as if the rhythms of his thought and the words transmuting mental images into sounds were guided by his physical movement.


The image of Whitman walking and versifying is wonderfully depicted by Wallace Stevens in one of his poems:

In the far South the sun of autumn is passing
Like Walt Whitman walking along a ruddy shore.
He is singing and chanting the things that are part of him,
The worlds that were and will be, death and day. (Stevens 2015: 252–3)

Reading and composing poetry outdoors, lost in nature, is a recurrent image in American Transcendentalism and Romanticism in general (from Thoreau to Wordsworth), but also in many contemporary poets (Gary Snyder among many others), as if the rhythm and pace of a walk could move the poet’s poetic imagination. As American poet Edward Hirsch writes:

Poetry is written from the body as well as the mind […]. A walk is a way of entering the body, and also of leaving it: I am both here and there, betwixt and between, strolling along, observing things, thinking of something else. I recognize that walking often quickens my thoughts, inducing a flow of ideas, and that, as Paul Valéry puts it in Poetry and Abstract Thought, “there is a certain reciprocity between my pace and my thoughts – my thoughts modify my pace: my pace provokes my thoughts”. (Hirsch 2011: 5)

In a passage of his 1888 biographical essay A Backward Glance o’er Travel’d Roads, Whitman describes with passion his long poetic journey and literary education, which did not take place in an Ivy League university classroom but in the open air, reading Shakespeare and Dante, Homer and the old German Nibelungen, “in the full presence of Nature, under the sun, with the far-spreading landscape and vistas, or the sea rolling in” (Whitman 2017: 1285). The rhythm of the pace of a pleasant, loose-limbed hike and the rhythm of the waves rolling in are apparently predictable but never really the same, never precise and cold as the regular recurring ticks of a metronome.  A similar rhythm, reassuring but not mechanical, guides the 83 long cadenced and mesmerizing free verses of Our old feulliage, and is the dominant feature of this wonderful musical texture: the waves crash at the hammering, unmetered rhythm of the recurring anaphoras, following the poet’s breathing, that can stretch or shrink the musical phrasing as it pleases or as the syntax requires.


What is astounding and a little shocking is the idea that Carducci was thinking of caging or boxing the flow of the list of images into a Homeric hexameter, as if a free-jazz improvisation were to be performed in an obsessive and unrelated waltz rhythm. No doubt Carducci wished to pay tribute to Whitman by rewriting his poem in Homeric lines, elevating that American “barbaric” cadence to the more conventional meter of our celebrated epic tradition; nonetheless, the whole project looks more like an aseptic transport of something valuable into a new cage-verse. But as Emerson wrote:

The difference between poetry and stock poetry is this, that in the latter the rhythm is given and the sense adapted to it; while in the former the sense dictates the rhythm. I might even say that the rhyme is there in the theme, thought, and image themselves. Ask the fact for the form. For a verse is not a vehicle to carry a sentence as a jewel is carried in a case: the verse must be alive, and inseparable from its contents, as the soul of man inspires and directs the body, and we measure the inspiration by the music. (Emerson 2010: 29)

Nencioni himself remarked in his articles on the “penetrante efficacia” of Whitman’s stanzas, made of “grandiose e musicali”[9] (1883: 1) syntactical structures, with neither regular rhymes nor regular meter, “veri canti orfici senza tradizione” [10](1879: 1), as he wonderfully defines Whitman’s poetic work.  

Many other critics of the era valued Whitman’s poetry without fully comprehending the formal novelty of his work. It is bizarre that the most well-known poem by Whitman in the 19th century (and probably even today), O Captain! My Captain!, is one of only three poems in the entire Leaves composed in an almost regular verse form. Jannaccone, who at the end of the 19th century wrote, with an empirical positivistic approach, a meticulous analysis of the rhythmic forms of Leaves, stated that O Captain was definitively the most celebrated poem in the book, whereas the other compositions were considered more like weird experiments:

Il breve poema “O Captain! my Captain!” (…) è citato da molti critici come l’unica gemma dell’opera Whitmaniana, gemma lucida e polita tra un’informe, impura e rozza massa di minerale. Molti credettero di poter intuire da esso la grande altezza alla quale, con la maestria della forma, il poeta avrebbe potuto levarsi, e gli posposero ogni altra cosa, financo la rapsodia in morte di Lincoln When lilacs last.[11] (Jannaccone 1897: 24)

That poem was the only one to be included in an anthology of poetry published before Whitman’s death (Kaplan 1979: 309). The poet read it several times at the end of his lectures on Lincoln, probably only because O Captain!, with its rhymes and regular beat, met  the horizon of expectation of the audience, and not because Whitman was particularly fond of a poem so conventional, respectful of poetic diction, and eccentric in comparison with the rest of his production. A passage in With Walt Whitman in Camden, by his close friend and literary critic Horace Traubel, testifies to how the poet regarded that particular text:

W. was both jolly and serious about a squib he saw in a newspaper saying: "If Walt Whitman had written a volume of My Captains instead of filling a scrapbasket with waste and calling it a book the world would be better off today and Walt Whitman would have some excuse for living." W. commented in this way: "I'm honest when I say, damn My Captain and all the My Captains in my book! This is not the first time I have been irritated into saying I'm almost sorry I ever wrote the poem. It has reasons for being — it is a ballad — it sings, sings, in a certain strain with a certain motive — but as for being the best, the very best — God help me! what can the worst be like? A whole volume of My Captains instead of a scrap-basket! Well, that's funny, very funny: it don't leave me much room for escape. I say that if I'd written a whole volume of My Captains I'd deserve to be spanked and sent to bed with the world's compliments—which would be generous treatment, considering what a lame duck book such a book would have been! Horace, that fellow deserves a medal: he's given me a mad dig between the ribs." (Traubel 1915: 304)

It is funny to imagine Whitman reading a translation into Italian of his book, the work of a lifetime, with his free verse constricted into the grid of a Homeric Hexameter, as Carducci had in mind to do for the Feuillage. “God help me!” he probably would have said, seeing his Leaves transformed into a whole volume of My Captains.


Luigi Gamberale, who providentially spent many years of his life translating the entire Leaves of Grass into Italian – a first selection of 48 poems came out in 1887, and twenty years later the complete translation of the book – understood the specificity of Whitman’s innovation, and was fond of the vitality and power of his poetry, even if he expressed quite a few reservations about the American’s poetic technique. Gamberale believed that Whitman lacked the preparatory studies necessary to apprehend the art of poetry, did not punctuate properly, and too easily used words indiscriminately adopted from a number of different foreign languages. Furthermore, his ideas overlapped and intermingled without order or selection, to the point that “quell’esuberanza è spesso fastidiosa ed ingombra ed adombra la lucidezza dello stile”[12] (Gamberale 1887: 12). Gamberale was nonetheless able to feel Whitman’s style and declared that it was unique and varying: it could span from the solidity and stubbornness of sculpture to the fluid indeterminacy of a musical composition; anyone accustomed to his poetry could perceive its powerful and primordial harmony and realize that “è uno sviluppo musicale grandioso, una superba fuga di un gran musicista” [13](1887: 14). Gamberale translated several poems without caging the lines in poetic fixed forms. He adopted a strategy now known as traduzione alineare – after Gianfranco Contini’s influential essay (1942: 133-36) – which had been innovatively utilized in 1841 by Niccolò Tommaseo in his Italian translations of a number of Greek, Corsican, and Illyrian folk poems. Consistent with Tommaseo’s approach, Gamberale’s version was not in prose, as was usual in the 19th century, nor did it follow a regular poetic form (the solution adopted by many Italian poet-translators), but simply translated each line using a corresponding line, regardless of any metrical form. Yet, as many critics claim, Gamberale’s rendition missed the intense and primordial rhythm that made the original lines so much more than mere lists of places and people (Massia 2021: 41).

Starting from the specific problems evoked in James Holmes’ notorious essay Translation of Form Verse, we might better comprehend some of the specific features of markedness and rhythm in Whitman’s poetic voice.


As is well known, Holmes identifies four different approaches to the problem:

  1. The mimetic approach tries to retain the form of the source text in the target text. An example is the translation of a verse written in a specific metric pattern, with a similar verse in the target language, even though the target culture is not familiar with the rules adopted by the metrical system of the source text.
  2. The analogical approach does not intend to recreate a similar form, but tries to find in the poetic tradition of the target culture an equivalent poetic form to the one of the source text. In English, for example, an epic poem is usually written in blank verse, but in Italian in ottonari, i.e. stanzas of 8 hendecasyllables with an ABABABCC rhyming scheme.

Both strategies, as Holmes writes, can be seen as form-derivative forms, since they are determined “by the principle of seeking some kind of equivalence in the target language for the outward form of the original poem” (Holmes 1988: 26).

  1. Those two derivative forms are not often employed today, when the most common strategy is content-derivative form. With this approach the translator leaves aside the problem of the original form, and “starts from the semantic material, allowing it to take on its own unique poetic shape as the translation develops” (Holmes 1988: 27). This is also known as the “organic form”.
  2. Holmes adds a fourth strategy, the extraneous or deviant form. “This form does not derive from the original poem at all […]. The translator making use of this approach casts the metapoem into a form that is in no way implicit in either the form or the content of the original” (Holmes 1988: 27).

Holmes’ systematization is very useful. Carducci’s project of translating Whitman’s free verse into Homeric Hexameter would be the extraneous or deviant form (4); a cage superimposed on a more fluid movement, a classic regularity that, like a metronome, intends to “keep the time” in a composition where the succession of different beats is irregular. The first two categories can be usefully applied to the analysis of translations of the few poems written by Whitman in a fixed form, such as O Captain! (Nasi 2019).


But the most interesting category for our argument is the third one, the one defined by Holmes as Organic, where the form is directly connected to the content. What we have here is probably, at least for the largest part of Whitman’s poems, what Jannaccone, and with him other scholars of the 19th century, called Psychic Rhythm and Rhyming, a form of versification that goes back to early and popular poetry. Whitman’s poetic form follows the syntactic breath of a composition that is intended not so much for a silent reader or a refined reader educated in a music conservatory, but for an audience of listeners at an oral performance of the poem. A metronomic sequence is not the main object of the poetic composition. Music is organic to the content, making the discourse, the singular and unique discourse, as Henry Meschonnic (1982: 216-17) would have said. It is not surprising therefore that Whitman felt distant from Edgar Allen Poe as a poet. Whitman’s judgment of Poe’s poetics is crystal clear:

Toward the last I had among much else look'd over Edgar Poe's poems — of which I was not an admirer, tho' I always saw that beyond their limited range of melody (like perpetual chimes of music bells, ringing from lower b flat up to g) they were melodious expressions, and perhaps never excell'd ones, of certain pronounc'd phases of human morbidity. (The Poetic area is very spacious — has room for all — has so many mansions!). (Whitman 2017: 1284, 1286)

Whitman’s ironic description of Poe’s limited melodic variations (“like perpetual chimes of music bells, ringing from lower b flat up to g”) is striking.

But Whitman’s rhythm was also different from the aesthetic vers libre of French origin that so powerfully influenced American and European Modernism. Cesare Pavese, who wrote his dissertation on Whitman (Pavese 2020) and was a fond admirer of the Old Grey Poet, perfectly identifies the specificity of Whitman’s poetic innovation in his essay Interpretazione di Walt Whitman poeta, first published in 1933:

Whitman non (aveva) mai inteso di guadagnare in musicalità, in effetti fonici, in “rintocchi di campane” sostituendo agli schemi tradizionali il suo verso. E nemmeno, possiamo aggiungere noi, […] Walt Whitman ha mai pensato di scrivere nel nostro – europeo – verso libero della decadenza, esasperazione, se mai, proprio dei prodighi francesi e inglesi di tecnica tradizionale, compiuti nella metà del secolo. Altra è la natura e la portata del verso whitmaniano (…) Whitman non ce l’aveva affatto col metro e con la rima per se stanti. Ne fece anche lui di poesie col metro e con la rima. Ce l’aveva con la musicalità scopo a se stessa e ciò, se fosse vissuto a conoscerli, gli avrebbe fatto condannare i versoliberisti. La sua unità metrica, evidentemente ricalcata sulle versioni della Bibbia, non insegue leggi foniche. (Pavese 1973: 136)[14]

The music of the composition, as Whitman himself states in the first preface to Leaves of Grass, should “bud” naturally like “lilacs or roses on a bush”, not be superimposed from the outside. Coleridge’s influential definition of organic form as opposite to the mechanical comes to mind:

The form is mechanic when on any given material we impress a pre-determined form, not necessarily arising out of the properties of the material—as when to a mass of wet clay we give whatever shape we wish it to retain when hardened. —The organic form on the other hand is innate, it shapes as it develops itself from within, and the fullness of its development is one and the same with the perfection of its outward Form. Such is the Life, such is the form. Nature, the prime genial artist, inexhaustible in diverse powers, is equally inexhaustible in forms. (Coleridge 1978: 495)

The fact that Whitman’s poems only very rarely have a specific recognizable and conventional form and meter does not mean that they do not have their own rhythm. The difference between meter and rhythm has been clearly stated and studied by Meschonnic (1982), Mattioli (2001, 2017), Buffoni (2002) and other translation studies scholars, and it is useless to spend time here on that distinction. As for Whitman’s poetry, we might talk about free over imposed poetic form, but not about free rhythm, which is organic to the singular logic of his unique discourse. Many critics, even at the end of the 19th century, compared his poetic rhythm to the vast and elementary sounds and movement of nature, like the wind or the lapping of the waves, or to Wagner’s Dionysian musical architecture. In his study which is still valuable today, Jannaccone tries to identify the recurring poetic strategies that Whitman applied.

For Jannaccone “L’elemento logico”—that is, the semantic consistency of the sentence—“tende a disintegrare gli elementi fonici” (such as the rhyme or isometric lines) and “riunir le parole in gruppi… misurati … dal ritmo del pensiero” [15](Jannaccone 1897: 49). Phrases can have a constant cadence, with a regular alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables, following iambic or dactylic etc. patterns, but in almost all the poems in Leaves the stanza form is not regular. No canonical poetic form (sonnet, ode, ballad, blank verse, epic poem etc.) is followed. One of the main stylistic features of Whitman’s poetry according to Jannaccone is the psychic rhyme, which can consist in the repetition, at the beginning or end of several stanzas or lines, of the same repeated word (as anaphora or epiphora), or the reiteration of the same grammatical construction at the beginning of a sequence of lines (“Enclosing… Believing… Waiting… Making…”), or even the repetition of a whole syntactical segment as a sort of refrain. These are not mere rhetorical figures, but have a rhythmic function, as they had in ancient Hebrew poetry. Like the frequent catalogues and the parallel constructions, these particular rhymes become rhythmical elements much more sensitive and precise than more conventional poetic forms, and they connect Whitman’s poetry with the earliest forms of poetry and the popular poetry of modern countries (Jannaccone 1897: 76).

Perhaps someone might consider this discussion as an argument against Whitman’s “barbaric yawp”. Be that as it may. The problem of the definition of poetry has long been “bracketed” (I refer here to Husserl’s phenomenological epoché, or reduction) and I prefer to assume that position, willingly suspending my judgment regarding the possibility of defining what poetry is once and for all. Aware of the multiple variations of the poetic institutions that legitimize the concept of poetry that a certain culture establishes and assumes as canonical in a specific time of its life, I think it is more interesting to view the relations among different cultures through the hermeneutic and creative process of translation. Relying on the “Productive criticism” elaborated by Berman (1998), it would be extremely interesting to verify how the translation of poetic forms intervenes in a conservative or innovative way in the dialogue among different poetic traditions and institutions. Let us return to Holmes’ categories and examine more closely what he wrote about the “organic form of metapoem” or “content-derivative”, the “approach that does not take the form of the original as its starting point”, as happens with form-derivative forms, which have a “mechanical and dualistic approach to the basic nature of poetry”, but start “from the semantic material” (Holmes 1988: 27–28).

The organic form of the metapoem… is a corollary of an organic and monistic approach to poetry as a whole: since form and content are inseparable (are, in fact, one and the same thing within the reality of the poem), it is impossible to find any predetermined extrinsic form into which a poem can be poured in translation, and the only solution is to allow a new intrinsic form to develop from the inward workings of the text itself. As fundamentally pessimistic regarding the possibilities of cross-cultural transference as the mimetic approach is fundamentally optimistic, the organic approach has naturally come to the fore in the twentieth century. (Holmes 1988: 28)


There is an idiomatic expression in Italian that says: “l’abito non fa il monaco”, which could be roughly translated with “do not judge a book by its cover”. But the Italian expression fits our argument better, and I’d like to use the image of a suit/dress/form that is intended to bestow identity on a content (the significance or substance of a written composition, or, in our expression, of a man). In Holmes’ useful systematization, the number of suits or forms appears to be limited, and form and content can be seen as separated or separable. What if, as in the case of Whitman, we have a new poetic form that is not strictly canonical, but nonetheless has its own psychic rhythm and rhymes? In this case, the better solution would probably be to apply a mimetic organic strategy, the only one that can properly present a new, unprecedented form in the process of its cross-cultural transference. It is not only a matter of transferring a poetic and metrical form, but of rewriting a wholeness, a discourse with its own (in our case psychic/logical) rhythm and that can find, in a translation free from prejudice, another innovative poetic rhythm.

Just a brief example. Mark Strand’s last book of poetry, Almost Invisible, is a collection of short prose compositions. It seems an oxymoron: a book of poetry made of prose pieces. Harmony in the Boudoir is an example:

After years of marriage, he stands at the foot of the bed and tells his wife that she will never know him, that for everything he says there is more that he does not say, that behind each word he utters there is another word, and hundreds more behind that one. All those unsaid words, he says, contain his true self, which has been betrayed by the superficial self before her. “So you see,” he says, kicking off his slippers, “I am more than what I have led you to believe I am.” “Oh, you silly man,” says his wife, “of course you are. I find that just thinking of you having so many selves receding into nothingness is very exciting. That you barely exist as you are couldn’t please me more.” (Strand 2012: 14)

The recurring “say” (here highlighted in italics) is not far different from what Jannaccone called “psychic rhyme” in Whitman. The translation would appear to be easy and unproblematic. But here is the passage as translated by Damiano Abeni, unquestionably one of the best Italian translators of contemporary American poetry:

Dopo anni di matrimonio, lui sta in piedi in fondo al letto e dice alla moglie che lei non lo conoscerà mai, che per ogni cosa che dice c’è dell’altro che non dice, che dietro a ogni parola che pronuncia c’è un’altra parola, e centinaia d’altre dietro a quella. Tutte le parole non dette, spiega, contengono il suo vero sé, che è stato tradito dal sé superficiale che le sta davanti. “Così, vedi” continua scalciando le pantofole dai piedi, “io sono più di quello che ti ho indotto a credere che sono.” “Oh, che sciocco” replica la moglie, “ma è ovvio che lo sei. Io trovo che il solo pensarti con così tanti sé che recedono verso il nulla sia molto eccitante. Che tu a malapena esista così come sei non potrebbe darmi più piacere.

The rhythm of the composition, and therefore its uniqueness, emerges in the hammering repetition of the verb, but a literary convention (or institution) deeply ingrained in Italian style forces the translator to avoid repetitions in favor of the Latin rhetorical Variatio. Strand could have used several synonyms for the verb to say, as the Italian translator did (“spiegaer to the oral and farther from the genteel tradition (C”, “continua”, “replica”). If Strand did not, it was due to an intentional and precise stylistic and philosophical choice (Nasi 2015: 66), perhaps not dissimilar from the ones made by writers such as Carver, Naipaul or Hemingway, who worked on different ways of writing, probably closavagnoli 2021: 24, but on the importance of lexical and phonetic repetition in translation see also Hatin and Mason 1990: 124, and Boase-Beier 2006).

The Everyday Enchantment of Music (Strand 2012: 26) is a second example. It has the same prose form as Harmony in the Boudoir, but we can reshape it as we did with Whitman’s Our Old Feuillage, following Jannaccone’s “logical or psychic rhythm”:

A rough sound was polished

until it became a smoother sound,

which was polished

until it became music.

Then the music was polished

until it became the memory of a night in Venice

when tears of the sea fell from the Bridge of Sighs,

which in turn was polished

until it ceased to be

and in its place stood the empty home of a heart in trouble.

Then suddenly there was sun

and the music came back

and traffic was moving off in the distance,

at the edge of the city, a long line of clouds appeared,

and there was thunder,

which, however menacing, would become music,

and the memory of what happened after Venice would begin,

and what happened after the home of the troubled heart broke in two would also begin.

Let’s take a look at the translation, paying attention to the repetitions that are so decisive in the cadence and rhythm of Strand’s poem:

Un suono scabro venne levigato

fino a divenire un suono più soave,

che venne levigato

fino a divenire musica. 

Poi la musica venne levigata

finché non divenne il ricordo di una notte a Venezia,

quando le lacrime del mare caddero dal Ponte dei Sospiri,

che a sua volta venne levigato

finché non cessò di esistere

e al suo posto si erse la casa vuota di un cuore turbato.

Poi d’improvviso apparve il sole

e la musica tornò

mentre il traffico si muoveva e in lontananza,

al limitare della città, apparve una lunga teoria di nuvole,

e venne il tuono

che, per quanto minaccioso, sarebbe diventato poi musica,

e il ricordo di ciò che era accaduto dopo Venezia sarebbe ricominciato,

e ciò che era successo dopo che la casa del cuore turbato si era spezzata in due pure sarebbe ricominciato.

Abeni does not throw Strand’s poetry into the stocks, as Carducci might have done with his Homeric hexameter. Yet he does impose the rules of good writing in the Italian style on a specific poetic form, in this way throwing into shadow a specific feature or markedness of Strand’s poetics: “Until it”, repeated 4 times by Strand, becomes “finché” twice, and twice “fino a”; “there was sun… and there was thunder” is rendered with “apparve il sole” and “venne il tuono”; “what happened”, repeated twice in Strand, is varied in “era accaduto”, “era successo”…). An unprejudiced ear, ready to capture the organic wholeness of the poem, willing to follow the guidance of the blind character’s hand in Carver’s short story, together with a modest act of rebellion against the norms of proper style imposed by the schools, as Ortega Y Gasset might have said, could help the translator experience new rhythms and recreate them within a new vital and dynamic relationship.


As we have seen, Wallace Stevens depicts Whitman walking along the shore as he sings about himself and the world. The verbs used by Stevens are “sing” and “chant”. This last term is related to cantillation, the rhythmic recitation with melodic modulation of lines from the Bible. Whitman’s success in his effort to chant life, to translate its splendid complexity in an original and diversified rhythm, has been captured by Borges in the final lines of his Camden, 1892, with the meaningful and unexpected rhyme ritman-Whitman. Envisioned on a Sunday morning, with its Stevensonian spleen, the smell of coffee in the air, in a humble but decorous abode, Whitman skims through the newspaper, then looks at himself at the mirror and discovers his face worn out by time:

Piensa, ya sin asombro, que esa cara
Es él. La distraída mano toca
La turbia barba y la saqueada boca.
No está lejos el fin. Su voz declara:
Casi no soy, pero mis versos ritman
La vida y su esplendor. Yo fui Walt Whitman.[16] (Borges 1985: II, 124)

He might soon be gone, but his verses, rhythmically chanting “la vida y su esplendor” for thousands of readers and listeners, will sing again and again, thanks also to translations that keep those rhythms alive in different languages and different decades. Every translator will face this task with his or her skills and creativity, and with the awareness that, as Stevens writes in his poem about Whitman, no translation will ever be the final one:

Nothing is final, he chants. No man shall see the end.
His beard is of fire, and his staff is a leaping flame.


[1] Is not rejected because it is immeasurably distant, it is not annihilated by incorporating it into one's own cultural and conceptual universe and, last of all, it does not lead to the renunciation of one's own self and tradition [...], but is welcomed in a pact of reciprocity.

[2] Is the very act of asylum and means reciprocity; it is at best a desire to relate, to mingle, to know each other and to come closer.

[3] Mediation in act, it makes and unmakes institutions and sociability. [...] It is therefore politics and methods, both plural and in an expanded sense, contextual rather than textual, undisciplined.

[4] TT is not a faith to be 'believed', it is not 'exact', 'true', 'immutable', it is a Reference System valid hic et nunc, and it must be regularly tested and updated. Theory is always a reflection on experience; it tries to formalize general procedures that reflect clear and explicit postulates and provide for particular situations sub-routines of general procedures; in other words, it is an economic synthesis of criteria aimed at obtaining professional procedures in the shortest possible time, minimizing the risks of failure with respect to the project.

[5] Contains only invariant information

[6] The combination of WHAT and HOW corresponds to the linguo-stylistic specificity of an utterance in the CONTEXT.

[7] To write well is to make continual incursion into grammar, into established usage, and into accepted linguistic norms. It is an act of permanent rebellion against the social environs, a subversion. To write well is to employ a certain radical courage. Fine, but the translator is usually a shy character. Because of humility, he has chosen such an insignificant occupation. He finds himself facing an enormous controlling apparatus, composed of grammar and common usage. […] He will be ruled by cowardice, so instead of resisting grammatical restraints he will do just the opposite: he will place the translated author in the prison of normal expression; that is, he will betray him. Translated by Elisabeth Gamble Miller, in Venuti 2000: 50

[8] Did you know that I have read and translated the American 'Foliage' three times with my teacher of English, an Italian who escaped to America when he was 17 and stayed there for 23 years, and was a captain in the service of the Republic during the civil war against the Southern States? He's a beast, always drunk; but he feels and breathes America; he has forgotten almost completely his Italian; and he commented the poem with fierce gestures and shouts.

And I immediately felt like translating it into Homeric hexameters. All those names in a catalogue! Those enumerations, successions, the series of landscapes, of feelings, of extraordinary and true figures! I remained and still am captivated! After the great colossal poets, Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, etc., there might have been something more thoughtful, most profound, most perfect, but nothing so immediate and original. It is a pity and damnation that I understand little English, and only prose; but poetry is very difficult for me.

[9] Penetrating effectiveness… grandiose and musical 

[10] True orphic songs without tradition

[11] The short poem "O Captain! my Captain! [...] is cited by many critics as the only gem in Whitman's work, a polished and polite gem among a formless, impure, and crude mass of mineral. Many believed they could sense from it the great height to which, with the mastery of form, the poet could have risen, and they place behind it everything else Whitman wrote, even the rhapsody in Lincoln's death When lilacs last

[12] That exuberance is often annoying and clutters and overshadows the lucidity of the style

[13] It is a grand musical development, a superb fugue by a great musician.

[14]  Whitman never intended to gain in musicality, in phonic effects, in "tolling bells" by substituting his verse to the traditional schemes. And not even, we can add […]Walt Whitman ever thought of writing in our - European - free verse of decadence, which was indeed an exasperation of traditional techniques done by the prodigal French and English, in the middle of the century. The nature and scope of Whitman's verse is different [...] Whitman was not at all annoyed with meter and rhyme per se. He also wrote poems with meter and rhyme. He was annoyed by musicality as an end in itself, and this would have made him condemn the vers libre writers, if he had lived to know them. His metric unity, evidently based on the versions of the Bible, does not pursue phonic laws.

[15] The logic element tends to disintegrate the phonic elements” and “to gather the words in groups...measured...by the rhythm of thought.

[16] He thinks, now without wonder, that that face / Is him. His inattentive hand touches both / The frowzy beard and devastated mouth. / The end is not far. His voice declares: / I am almost not, but my verses give rhythm / To life and its splendor. I was Walt Whitman.

About the author(s)

Franco Nasi is Associate Professor of Anglo-American Literature in the Department of Studies on Language and Culture at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, where he teaches Anglo American Literature and Theories of Translation. His research interests include Anglo-American Literature, English Romanticism and English Contemporary Poetry, Contemporary Italian Literature, Comparative Literature, Theory and History of Translation, History of Criticism and Poetics, Children Literature and its Translation.

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

©inTRAlinea & Franco Nasi (2022).
"Psychic rhymes and rhythms in translation:  Walt Whitman and Mark Strand"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2604

Mit | Gefühl bei der Übersetzung

Literaturwissenschaftliche und lesepsychologische Perspektiven zur literarischen Übersetzung

By Daniela A. Frickel (University of Cologne, Germany)


The article presents concepts from literary studies and reading psychology from the German research context to capture the relation of literature and emotion, which show reflection dimensions for translation studies. With reference to Thomas Anz’s model of literary communication, aspects of the production and reception of literature are perspectivized, as well as the emotional potential of the texts themselves. Emotionalization strategies and intentions can thus be reconstructed through authorial poetics and other contemporary documents. Their reflections in the work can then be examined with regard to elements that may be responsible for fictional emotions or artifact emotions during reception. This reconstruction and analysis thus provides starting points for systematically including the emotion factor in translation.

Keywords: literary translation, literary theory, literary communication, emotion potential, fiction emotions, artifact emotions

©inTRAlinea & Daniela A. Frickel (2022).
"Mit | Gefühl bei der Übersetzung Literaturwissenschaftliche und lesepsychologische Perspektiven zur literarischen Übersetzung"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2603

Die Emotionsforschung in der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts und der damit evozierte emotional turn in den Wissenschaften hat in den 1990er Jahre neue Perspektiven für kultur- und literaturwissenschaftliche Forschungen eröffnet. Diese weisen einen Konnex mit der Historischen Anthropologie auf, insofern hier „der menschliche Körper und seine Sinne als Schnittstellen zwischen Natur und Kultur“ (Anz 2007: 208) erachtet wird. Emotionen werden seitdem als besonderer Faktor im Prozess literarischer Kommunikation theoretisch modelliert und empirisch untersucht. Der Fokus wird dabei auf Emotionen bei der Produktion und Rezeption von Literatur gelegt und – meist im Zusammenhang damit – die Literatur selbst hinsichtlich ihres Emotionspotentials untersucht. Dabei bildet die Literatur nicht nur Reize für Emotionalisierung, sondern scheint zugleich prädestiniert dafür, „emotionale Zustände alltagssprachlich zu fassen“ (Koppenfels/Zumbusch 2016: 7) sowie „Gefühlsbegriffe und Konventionen“ zu artikulieren und zu prägen (ebd.: 12), was ebenfalls perspektiviert wird.

Die Emotionsforschung hat sich in den letzten Jahren auch in den Translationswissenschaften – insbesondere im Rahmen der so genannten Cognitive Translation Studies – einen bedeutenden Platz verschafft. Ausgehend von Erkenntnissen der Neurowissenschaften wird hier der Frage nachgegangen, welche Rolle die Emotionen im Übersetzungsprozess spielen (können) und wie sie sich auf die Interaktion zwischen den am Übersetzungsprozess Beteiligten und deren physischem Umfeld auswirken (s. z.B. Rojo López 2016; 2018; Hubscher-Davidson 2018).[1] Der in den 1980er Jahren entwickelte soziopsychologische Begriff der emotionalen Intelligenz spielt eine zentrale Rolle in diesem Forschungsfeld. Verstanden wird darunter die individuelle Fähigkeit, eigene und fremde Gefühle wahrzunehmen, zu verstehen und daraus Informationen für das eigene Denken und Agieren abzuleiten (für eine Diskussion über die Begriffsdefinition, s. Hubscher-Davidson 2013: 325-328) ─ wodurch sich die interessante Frage ergibt, inwieweit sich Übersetzen und emotionale Intelligenz gegenseitig beeinflussen und ggf. unterstützen können. Die kognitiv orientierte Translatologie untersucht die Frage aus der Perspektive der im Übersetzungsprozess erforderten und erbrachten kognitiven Leistungen (vgl. Hubscher-Davidson & Lehr 2021).

Der vorliegende Beitrag fokussiert dagegen auf den Text als Emotionalisierungsquelle und -potential und versucht zu zeigen, welchen Beitrag literaturwissenschaftliche Begrifflichkeiten leisten können, um dieses Potential auszuloten und für die literarische Übersetzung brauchbar zu machen. Dazu werden ausgewählte Theorien und Modelle der literaturwissenschaftlichen Emotionsforschung und lesepsychologische Konzeptualisierungen und Befunde skizziert, um daraus Ansätze für die Literaturübersetzung abzuleiten. Es wird davon ausgegangen, dass der*die Übersetzende in der Rolle als Co-Autor*in zugleich als Emotionalisierte*r wie als Emotionalisierende*r (re)agiert, wenn er*sie die Aufgabe verfolgt, mehr oder weniger bekannte bzw. fremde Emotionen und ggf. Emotionalisierungsabsichten, zumindest aber dahingehendes Wirkungspotential in eine andere Sprache zu übersetzen.

Emotionen als Faktor im Modell literarischer Kommunikation

Um systematisch untersuchen zu können, wo und wie Emotionen im Prozess literarischer Kommunikation Einfluss nehmen (können), bietet sich die Modellierung von Thomas Anz an, der literarische Texte „als besonders komplexe Kulturtechnik der Emotionalisierung“ (Anz 2012: 157) auffasst. In seinem Kommunikationsmodell bezeichnet er den Urheber eines literarischen Textes als Reiz-Aktor, der eine Reiz-Konfiguration, sprich einen literarischen Gegenstand, hervorbringt, auf den die Rezipierenden als Reiz-Reaktoren reagieren und in ihrer Reaktion – wenn sie diese preisgeben, z.B. durch Lachen – ggf. selbst als Reiz-Konfigurationen wirken können.

Abb. 1: Emotionen als Faktor im Modell literarischer Kommunikation (Anz 2012: 166)

(1) Zu den Reiz-Aktoren

Es sind vor allem die Rhetorik und Autorpoetiken, die verdeutlichen, dass die Emotionalisierung eines Publikums Ziel literarischer Produktion sein kann. So erklärt bspw. Edgar Allan Poe in seinem Essay The Philosophy of Composition / Die Methode der Komposition (1846) sein Vorgehen in Abgrenzung von anderen Produktionsweisen:

Ich beginne lieber mit der Erwägung eines Effekts. Stets auf Originalität bedacht – denn man betrügt sich selbst, wenn man riskiert, auf eine so einleuchtende und leicht zugängliche Quelle des Interesses zu verzichten –, frage ich mich zunächst einmal: „Welches der unzähligen Effekte oder Eindrücke, für die das Herz, der Verstand oder (allgemeiner) die Seele empfänglich sind, soll ich im gegenwärtigen Falle auswählen?“ Habe ich mich für einen erstens neuartigen und zweitens überzeugenden Effekt entschieden, überleg ich, ob er am ehesten durch die Handlung oder durch die Tonart hervorzubringen ist – durch gewöhnliche Vorgänge und eine eigentümliche Tonart, oder umgekehrt, durch Eigentümlichkeit sowohl in Handlung wie in Tonart – und halte dann um mich herum (oder eigentlich in mir) Ausschau nach solchen Kombinationen von Begebenheiten oder Tonarten, wie sie mir zur Erzeugung des Effektes am dienlichsten sind. (Poe 1994: 197)

Nicht nur als Effekt, sondern konkret als „Regeln der Sympathielenkung“ liest und re-formuliert Anz Die Poetik (um 335 v. Chr.) des Aristoteles, die er als eine Poetik der Emotionalisierung auffasst (Anz 2014) und die in dieser Weise u.a. auch von Lessing in seiner Dramentheorie mit dem Fokus auf Mitleid als gewünschter Effekt revidiert wurde. Allerdings kann entgegen solchen rhetorischen Modellen im Sinne einer erlebnisästhetischen Konzeption der Produktion (Anz 2007, 220ff.) auch und vor allem der dahingehend absichtslose Text selbst als „Ausdruck affektiver Bewegung“ (Campe 1990, 472, zit. nach von Koppfenfels/Zumbusch 2016, 16) gelesen werden. Dafür steht auch die Methode einer Écriture automatique, wie sie vor allem von den Surrealisten Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts projektiert wurde und die darauf abzielte, u.a. Gefühle quasi unzensiert in Sprache zu übersetzen. Der literarische Gegenstand kann demnach – ob dahingehend bewusst oder unbewusst verfasst – einen Emotionsausdruck sowie einen Reiz bilden, um Emotionen bei den Rezipierenden auszulösen. Ist Letzteres der Fall, spielen bei der Produktion Hypothesen über potentielle Rezipierende, deren Dispositionen und – wie Anz es im Modell nennt – „Annahmen über Wirksamkeit von Emotionalisierungstechniken“ eine Rolle, was für die Übersetzung rekonstruiert und mitreflektiert werden kann.

(2) Zum Reiz-Reaktor

Die*Der Übersetzende ist zunächst immer auch Lesende*r und damit Reiz-Reaktor. Nach Anz entwickelt dieser Annahmen über Emotionalisierungsabsichten, erkennt ausgedrückte und/oder dargestellte Emotionen, übernimmt diese ggf. und/oder reagiert darauf. Welche textseitig präsentierten Emotionen und Emotionalisierungsabsichten aber tatsächlich erlebt oder wahrgenommen werden, ist situations- und kontextabhängig und wird von der individuellen Disposition des Rezipierenden bestimmt, d.h. einem Komplex aus Vorwissen, persönlichen Erfahrungen und Einstellungen etc. Umso weniger die Rezipierenden dem impliziten Adressaten gleichen, so lässt sich vermuten, umso weniger gelingt die Emotionalisierung bzw. kann ggf. sogar den gegenteiligen Effekt erzielen, was Anz in Bezug auf Witze, die mit geschlechtlichen Stereotypen arbeiten, verdeutlicht (vgl. Anz 2012: 161).

Für das Ge- bzw. Misslingen literarischer Kommunikation muss aber nicht nur die Adressierung verantwortlich sein, sondern kann (im Zusammenhang damit) auch das Gefühlswissen bzw. Beherrschen des kulturellen Codes seitens des Rezipierenden sein. So verdeutlichen die kulturhistorischen Forschungen von  Ute Frevert, dass es sich bei Gefühlen nicht um eine „kulturunabhängige Universalie“ handelt: „Gefühle, steht zu vermuten, sind mehr als „spontane Wallungen“ und evolutionär geformte Triebe“, Gefühle „sind immer auch sprachlich verfasst und somit an Kultur und Gesellschaft gebunden.“ (Frevert 2013: 11-15) Ebenso wie die philosophischen Ausführungen von Eva-Maria Engelen (2007: 7–34) machen die historischen Analysen von Frevert deutlich, dass Emotionen zeit- und kontextgebunden sind und dass ein Wissen darüber produktions- wie rezeptionsseitige Prozesse beeinflusst. Frevert verdeutlicht das u.a. am Beispiel der Ehrverletzung in Theodor Fontanes Roman Effi Briest:

Die Zeiten, heißt es, ändern sich. Die Gefühle ändern sich mit ihnen. Als Theodor Fontane Effi Briest sterben ließ, waren die ‚Moralitäten‘ von Scham und Ehre streng und sanktionsbewehrt. Menschen mochten sich daran wundreiben und dagegen aufbegehren, aber ihre Geltungskraft blieb intakt und tödlich. Ginge heute jemand dafür in den Tod, bliebe nichts als Katzenjammer. (Frevert 2013: 81)

Wie vor allem auch die Arbeiten von Simone Winko zeigen, referieren literarische Texte insofern auch auf das „Kode-Wissen“ der Rezipierenden in Bezug auf Emotionen im Zusammenhang mit Normen ihrer jeweiligen Gesellschaft:

Emotionen sind kulturell kodiert. Diese Kodes repräsentieren das gemeinsame kulturelle Wissen über Emotionen, formen und kontrollieren die Wahrnehmung und den Ausdruck von Emotionen und prägen das Wissen über emotionsauslösende Situationen. Sprache ist ein Medium der Kodierung von Emotionen und zweifelsohne das für Literatur wichtigste. Kulturell geprägte, typisierte Emotionen sind in literarischen Texten sprachlich sowie in den Themen, Motiven und Situationen präsent, die in den Texten dargestellt werden. (Winko 2003a: 338; vgl. auch Winko 2003b, 141)

Winko zeigt dabei auch auf, wie sich „Emotionales“ in literarischen Texten „manifestiert“ (Winko 2003a: 337ff.) und unterscheidet als „Typen von Bezugnahme auf Emotionen“ die Thematisierung und die Präsentation. (Ebd.: 338) Um diese zu gestalten, „werden alle bekannten inhaltsbezogenen, sprachlichen und formalen Mittel herangezogen“ (ebd.: 339), wobei auf eine „Palette konventionalisierter Möglichkeiten“ bzw. „konventionalisiertem Sprachmaterial“ (ebd.: 341) zurückgegriffen werde. Damit sind wir bei der Reiz-Konfiguration, die sich dadurch kennzeichnet und dementsprechend differenziert hinsichtlich der Thematisierung und Präsentation von Emotion im Zusammenhang mit der ggf. beabsichtigten Wirkung literaturwissenschaftlich analysiert werden kann, wobei auch Erkenntnisse lesepsychologischer Forschungen einbezogen werden können.

(3) Zur Reiz-Konfiguration

Die Analyse der Reiz-Konfiguration hinsichtlich ihres Emotionspotentials verdient besondere Beachtung, da das Ge- oder Misslingen literarischer Kommunikation in der Konzeption begründet sein kann, in jedem Fall ist sie maßgeblich für Emotionalisierung im Akt literarischer Kommunikation. Anz konzentriert sich in seinem Ansatz einer literaturwissenschaftlichen Text- und Emotionsanalyse (LTE) (vgl. Anz 2007) auf Figuren und Handlung, die einen zentralen Reiz bilde. Die lesepsychologische Forschung unterscheidet allerdings dadurch evozierbare (1) Fiktionsemotionen von (2) Artefakt-Emotionen, die sich weniger auf inhaltliche als auf sprachliche oder formale Elemente im Zusammenhang mit dem Inhalt oder Thema der literarischen Darstellung beziehen. (Vgl. u.a. van Holt/Groeben 2006, Mellmann 2016) – Beide Ebenen sollen hier im Folgenden differenziert betrachtet werden:


Als „Basistechnik literarischer Emotionalisierung“ nennt Anz die

Inszenierung von emotionstypischen Szenarien (Situationen etwas der

Bedrohung, des Verlustes oder der Wunscherfüllung) und der Darstellung von Figuren, die in diesen Szenarien involviert sind und denen dabei oft auch noch bestimmte Emotionen ausdrücklich zugeschrieben werden. (Anz 2012: 165)

Auf diese Weise evozierbare Fiktionsemotionen basieren, so Anz,

maßgeblich auf Mechanismen der Empathie, also auf der Fähigkeit und Bereitschaft, Emotionen anderer […] zu erkennen und auf sie mehr oder weniger distanziert oder identifikatorisch emotional zu reagieren. Die Empathie des Lesers kann sich dabei auf Figuren im Text (inklusive der des Erzählers oder des lyrischen Ichs) konzentrieren, aber auch die reale Person des Autors einbeziehen, wenn der Text als Ausdruck ihrer Emotionen wahrgenommen wird. (ebd.: 165. Vgl. auch van Holt/Groeben 2006: S. 122; s. allerdings auch kritisch dazu Mellmann 2016: 160–166.)

Insofern fokussiert Anz auf die im Modell sogenannte „Emotionale Figurenkommunikation“ (s.o.), deren Wirkung auf das emotionale Erleben beim Lesen sich mit Nadine van Holt und Norbert Groben in figuren- und personenbezogenen Emotionen differenzieren lässt, d.h. in Emotionen, die sich rezeptionsseitig auf die Figuren oder auf die Lesenden in ihrer Realität selbst beziehen. (van Holt/Groben 2006: 115ff.) In diesen beiden Gruppen, also fremd- sowie selbstbezogenen Emotionen, lassen sich überdies verschiedene Modi der Empathie differenzieren. So ist Perspektivenübernahme prinzipiell in einem eher rationalen Prozess möglich, jedoch auch durch Einfühlen in eine andere Figur oder Person oder durch Übernahme einer beobachteten Emotion.

Auch Kaspar H. Spinner (2013) konzentriert sich in einem literaturtheoretischen Beitrag auf Empathiestrategien und zeigt in einem diachronen Gang durch Beispiele der Literaturgeschichte weitergehend literarische Techniken auf, die ein „Empathieangebot“ leisten, insofern sie auf eine „Aktivierung des Emotionszentrums“ hinzielen. (Ebd.: 70) Aufschluss, wie Literatur „Empathie vermittelt“, gibt demnach eine Analyse folgender Aspekte, die Sympathie bzw. Antipathie lenken, was man sich z.B. an der Odyssee vergegenwärtigen mag:

(1) die Konstellation von Held- und Gegenspieler ─ in der Odyssee Odysseus und die Freier seiner Frau Penelope;

(2) die ggf. präsentierten Lebensgeschichten der Figuren ─ im Beispiel die Umstände von Odysseus‘ Lebens durch den Trojanischen Krieg und die Widrigkeiten seiner Heimreise;

(3) die Komplikation und Dilemma-Situationen ─ in der Odyssee die herausfordernden Abenteuer, die Odysseus bewältigt;

(4) narrative Mittel der Innensicht ─ etwa Odysseus, der neben dem auktorialen Erzähler als Erzähler seiner eigenen Geschichten fungiert;

(5) die räumliche Atmosphäre sowie die Leiblichkeit, die für die Darstellung von Gefühlszuständen von Figuren bedeutsam sein kann und damit Angriffsfläche für emotionale Empathie bildet ─ im Beispiel, wenn man u.a. an Odysseus‘ Begegnung mit den Sirenen denkt. (Spinner 2016: 189)


Für die Gestaltung der Reiz-Konfiguration können die Reiz-Aktoren zusätzlich auf bereits etablierte Formate zurückgreifen, die in dieser Perspektive als Kommunikate fungieren, wie gattungstheoretische Forschungen zeigen:

Stets sind einzelne Formen privilegierte Beziehungen mit einzelnen emotionalen Komplexen eingegangen: das Epos mit dem Zorn, die Psalmendichtung mit Triumph- und Schuldgefühlen, die Komödie mit Liebe und Eifersucht, die Tragödie mit Furcht und Mitgefühl, bestimmte lyrische Formen der Trauer, die Satire mit der Empörung, das Märchen mit der Angst etc. (von Koppenfels/Zumbusch 2016: 4)

Dabei ist zu berücksichtigen, dass solche ästhetischen Formen in unterschiedlicher Weise Einfluss auf die Rezeption nehmen können, d.h. zum Beispiel eine Erwartungshaltung etablieren, den Rezeptionsprozess dadurch ggf. auch vereinfachen oder aber erschweren, wenn die Erwartung irritiert oder gebrochen wird.

Emotionen, die durch solche besonderen Kompositionsweisen ausgelöst werden und die Aufmerksamkeit auf die Konzeption und den Stil legen, sind solche, die sich aus Sicht lesepsychologischer Forschungen als Artefakt-Emotionen bezeichnen lassen und hier im Zusammenhang mit dem sogenannten foregrounding (im Zusammenhang mit den Fiktionsemotionen bzw. dem backgrounding) untersucht werden können. (Vgl. van Holt/Groeben 2005) Hier sind – häufig im Zusammenhang mit dem Gattungsprofil – stilistische Auffälligkeiten zu entdecken, die die Aufmerksamkeit im Akt der Rezeption auf sich ziehen.

Dieser sogenannte Vordergrund bildet sich aus Stilmitteln, Tropen oder anderen Gestaltungsweisen, die Wiedererkennen sowie Verfremdung hervorrufen können (vgl. ebd. sowie Schrott/Jacobs 2011: 505). Seitens der Leseforschung wird inzwischen außerdem  die „emotionale Bedeutung“ von sogenannten „nichtrepräsentationalen Strukturen, wie etwa von Fokalisierungsverläufen […], Metrik, Wiederholungs- und anderen Formstrukturen“ hervorgehoben (Mellmann 2016:159, vgl. auch Mellmann 2017: 246). Während handlungsbezogene und figurale Elemente Emotionen thematisieren bzw. darstellen und damit bei der Rezeption z.B. in Form eines Mitfühlens oder Mitfieberns auffordern können, kann dieser im Hintergrund laufende, quasi automatische Prozess von Artefakt-Emotionen begleitet oder vielmehr konfrontiert und irritiert werden. Eine flüssige Rezeption wird dadurch ggf. unterbrochen und neue bzw. andere Emotionen können freigesetzt werden, die wiederum auch kognitive Prozesse aktivieren und damit Distanz schaffen (vgl. Schrott/Jacobs 2011: 505).

Um dahingehende Potentiale zu analysieren, können neben etablierten literaturwissenschaftlichen (insb. strukturalistischen) Analysemodellen auch sprachwissenschaftliche Ansätze hilfreich sein. Ein einzelnes Wort kann demnach bereits Emotionen auslösen, was verdeutlicht, dass „Texte schon im ersten Wahrnehmungsakt nicht neutral, sondern basal emotional semantisiert“ sind; „so lassen sich […] bereits aufgrund der Lexik mehr und weniger emotional besetzte, aufmerksamkeitsbindende Texte unterscheiden“ (Mellmann 2016: 162; vgl. auch Schwarz-Friesel 2013: 131f.). Laut Monika Schwarz-Friesel wird aber „das ,Emotionsprofilʻ (bzw. das Emotionspotenzial) eines Textes nie nur durch bestimmte Wörter determiniert […], sondern konstituiert sich maßgeblich durch textuelle Mittel und Strategien, die die Informationsstrukturierung und das gesamte Inferenzpotenzial betreffen“ (ebd.: 132). Neben „lexikalischen und syntaktischen Phänomenen der Emotionskodierung (bezogen auf die Kohärenzstruktur)“ (ebd.: 213) können für die dahingehende Analyse literarischer Texte auch satzübergreifende Phänomene von Bedeutung sein. Schwarz-Friesel weist dabei auf implizite oder explizite Bewertungen in Aussagen hin, die hinsichtlich der Emotionslenkung – narratologisch betrachtet – insbesondere durch Erzählstimmen (Modus und Stimme) virulent werden können.

Eine dahingehende Analyse der discours-Ebene, die unter Einbezug literatur- und sprachwissenschaftlicher Analysen Darstellungsweisen identifiziert, ermöglicht es, den Einfluss dieser Strukturen auf den Rezeptionsprozess zu antizipieren, insb. in Bezug auf mögliche Widerstände oder Irritationen. Aus der Analyse des Zusammenspiels von Dargestelltem und Darstellungsweise lassen sich so gesehen Prognosen bezüglich der ästhetischen Distanz ableiten, die sich bei der Rezeption zwischen den Polen Identifikation und Beobachtung bewegt. (Vgl. van Holt/Groeben 2006: 215)


Was können also literaturwissenschaftliche und lesepsychologische Perspektiven für die Übersetzung von Literatur und Emotion leisten? Durch die Modellierung von Anz werden zunächst drei Reflexionsdimensionen entworfen: auf den Produktions- und Rezeptionskontext sowie auf das Emotionspotential des Textes selbst. So kann der Produktionskontext, die Autorpoetik und die autorseitige Antizipation des Rezeptionskontextes perspektiviert bzw. rekonstruiert werden. Dabei können Annahmen über zeitgenössische „intendierte und erwartete emotionale Reaktionen“ (Anz 2012: 159) ausgewertet und korrigiert werden. Historisch-politischen Kontexte, das Vorwissen bzw. Erfahrungen des speziellen Publikums mit Literatur und vor allem das Gefühlswissen bzw. diesbezügliche Konventionen müssen in diesem Zusammenhang mitbedacht werden.

In Bezug auf intendierte Emotionen spielt die Etymologie der Worte bei der Übersetzung eine besondere Rolle, vor allem Konnotationen im jeweiligen zeitlichen Kontext müssen sensibel reflektiert werden, um durch die Begriffswahl intendierten Reizen auch in der Übersetzung eine Wirkung zu ermöglichen. Eine in dieser Weise auf Emotionen fokussierte produktionsästhetische Analyse ermöglicht es den Übersetzenden, zugleich die aktuelle Wirkung auf sich selbst von der zu rekonstruierten Emotionalisierungsabsicht zu relativieren, um eine werkgetreue Übersetzung vorzubereiten.

Dafür muss natürlich auch der Text selbst hinsichtlich seines potentiell intendierten sowie bei den Übersetzenden realisierten Emotionspotentials differenziert und genau analysiert werden. Zunächst kann der Text hierfür grundsätzlich hinsichtlich der Gattung und den damit verbundenen Emotionalisierungsabsichten perspektiviert werden. Untertitel, die die Gattung ausweisen, können z.B. eine Erwartungshaltung auf Seiten der Rezipierenden evozieren, die bei der Lektüre vom tatsächlichen Inhalt des Textes bestätigt oder düpiert wird und damit Emotionen beim Lesen evozieren. Die Aspekte von Spinner machen es möglich, bei der Übersetzungtextseitige Strategien der Emotionalisierung zu vergegenwärtigen, um dem Wirkungspotential dieser Strategien auch in der Übersetzung Geltung zu verschaffen. Dabei sollten auch die seitens der lesepsychologischen Forschungen hervorgehobenen textseitigen Merkmale für sogenannte Artefakt-Emotionen aufgefasst und bestmöglich ,übersetztʻ werden.


Anz, Thomas (2007) „Kulturtechniken der Emotionalisierung. Beobachtungen, Reflexionen und Vorschläge zur literaturwissenschaftlichen Gefühlsforschung“ in Im Rücken der Kulturen, Karl Eibl, Katja Mellmann, and Rüdiger Zymner (eds), Paderborn, Mentis: 207–240

Anz, Thomas (2012) „Gefühle ausdrücken, hervorrufen, verstehen und empfinden. Vorschläge zu einem Modell emotionaler Kommunikation mit literarischen Texten“ in Emotionen in Literatur und Film, Sandra Poppe (ed), Würzburg, Königshausen & Neumann: 155–170

Anz, Thomas (2014) „Regeln der Sympathielenkung. Normative und deskriptive Poetiken emotionalisierender Figurendarstellung“ in Sympathie und Literatur. Zur Relevanz des Sympathiekonzeptes für die Literaturwissenschaft, Claudia Hillebrandt, and Elisabeth Kampmann (eds), Berlin, Erich Schmidt: 153–167

Engelen, Eva-Maria (2007) Gefühle, Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun. Grundwissen Philosophie

van Holt, Nadine/Groeben, Norbert (2005) „Das Konzept des Foregrounding in der modernen Textverarbeitungspsychologie“ in Journal für Psychologie, 13 (4): 311–332 (https://nbn-resolving.org/urn:nbn🇩🇪0168-ssoar-17132)

--- (2006) „Emotionales Erleben beim Lesen und die Rolle text- sowie leserseitiger Faktoren“ in Heuristiken der Literaturwissenschaft. Disziplinexterne Perspektiven auf Literatur, Uta Klein, Katja Mellmann, and Stefanie Metzger (eds), Paderborn, mentis: 111–131

Frevert, Ute (2013) Vergängliche Gefühle, Göttingen, Wallstein

Hubscher-Davidson, Séverine (2013) „Emotional Intelligence and Translation Studies. A New Bridge“, in Meta: journal des traducteurs/ Meta: Translators' Journal, vol. 58, n 2: 324-346.

Hubscher-Davidson, Séverine (2018) Translation and Emotion: A psychological perspective, New York and London, Routledge.

Hubscher-Davidson, Séverine, and Caroline Lehr (2021) Improving the emotional intelligence of translators : a roadmap for an experimental training intervention, London, Palgrave Macmillan.

Koppenfels, Martin von, and Cornelia Zumbusch (2016) „Einleitung“ in Handbuch Literatur & Emotionen, Martin von Koppenfels, and Cornelia Zumbusch (eds.), Berlin, Bosten, de Gruyter: 1–38

Mellmann, Katja (2016) „Empirische Emotionsforschung“ in Handbuch Literatur & Emotionen, Martin von Koppenfels, and Cornelia Zumbusch (eds.), Berlin, Bosten, de Gruyter: 158–176

---Mellmann, Katja (2017) „Emotionalisieren“ in Erzählen. Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch, Matías Martínez (ed.), Stuttgart, Metzler: 243–249

Poe, Edgar Allan (1994) „Die Methode der Komposition“ in Der Rabe. Gedichte und Essays, Edgar Allan Poe [aus dem Amerikanischen von Arno Schmidt, Hans Wollschläger, Friederich Polakovics, and Ursula Wernicke], Zürich, Haffmanns: 196–211

Rojo López, Ana, and Marina Ramos Caro (2016) “Can emotion stir translation skill? Defining the impact of positive and negative emotions on translation performace”, in Reembedding Translation Process Research, Ricardo Muñoz Martín (ed.), Amsterdam, Philadelphia, John Benjamins: 107-131

Rojo López, Ana (2018) “Why do Emotions matter in translation?”, in Translation, Cognition and Behaviour, Vol. 1-2: 291-297

Schrott, Raoul, and Arthur Jacobs (2011), Gehirn und Gedicht, München, Hanser

Spinner, Kaspar H. (2013) „Literatur und Empathie“ in Theorien der Literatur Günter Butzer, and Hubert Zapf (eds.), Tübingen, Basel, A. Francke: 63–76

Spinner, Kaspar H. (2016) „Empathie beim literarischen Lesen und ihre Bedeutung für einen bildungsorientierten Literaturunterricht“ in Literarizität: Herausforderungen für Literaturdidaktik und Literaturwissenschaft, Jörn Brüggemann, Mark-Georg Dehrmann, and Jan Standke (eds.), Baltmannsweiler, Schneider Verlag Hohengehren: 187–200

Schwarz-Friesel, Monika (2013) Sprache und Emotion, 2., aktual. und erw. Aufl. Tübingen, Basel, A. Francke

Winko, Simone (2003a): „Über Regeln emotionaler Bedeutung in und von literarischen Texten“ in Regeln der Bedeutung, Fotis Jannidis, Gerhard Lauer, Matίas Martίnez, and Simone Winko (eds), Berlin, New York, de Gruyter: 329–348

--- (2003b) Kodierte Gefühle. Zu einer Poetik der Emotionen in lyrischen und poetolgoischen Texten um 1900, Berlin, Erich Schmidt Verlag


[1] Es handelt sich dabei um ein weites Forschungsfeld, wie die vielen Themen zeigen, die bei der letzten 2021 stattgefundenen Konferenz der International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies (IATIS) unter dem Panel-Titel „Emotional Translation Ecology“ vorgestellt und diskutiert wurden. (Siehe: https://www.iatis.org/index.php/7th-conference-barcelona-2021/item/2242-panels#P3)

About the author(s)

Dr. Daniela A. Frickel is a senior lecturer at the Institute for German Language and Literature II at the University of Cologne. Her research focuses on questions of literature didactics and inclusion, especially emotions in the process of linguistic-literary learning, text complexity as well as children's and youth literature and its didactics.

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

©inTRAlinea & Daniela A. Frickel (2022).
"Mit | Gefühl bei der Übersetzung Literaturwissenschaftliche und lesepsychologische Perspektiven zur literarischen Übersetzung"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2603

Die Person sichtbar machen – Übersetzer:innen in Selbstauskünften

By Kirsten Schindler (University of Wuppertal, Germany)

Abstract & Keywords


How do translators perceive their translation process? What resources do they use beyond cognitive abilities? And how are they themselves perceived? The article focuses on the translator and makes him or her visible. The conditions and characteristics of the translation process are worked out from self-reports by translators. At the same time, the material is used to show which characteristics are attributed to the now visible person and which consequences are derived from this attribution.


Wie nehmen Übersetzer ihren Übersetzungsprozess wahr? Welche Ressourcen nutzen sie jenseits kognitiver Fähigkeiten? Und wie werden sie selbst wahrgenommen? Der Beitrag setzt die übersetzende Person in den Mittelpunkt und macht sie sichtbar. Aus Selbstauskünften von Übersetzern werden Bedingungen und Merkmale des Übersetzungsprozesses herausgearbeitet. Zugleich wird am Material gezeigt, welche Merkmale der nun sichtbaren Person zugeschrieben werden und welche Folgen aus dieser Zuschreibung abgeleitet werden. 

Keywords: visibility, translation process, identity, self-disclosure, Sichtbarkeit, Übersetzungsprozess, Identität, Selbstauskünfte

©inTRAlinea & Kirsten Schindler (2022).
"Die Person sichtbar machen – Übersetzer:innen in Selbstauskünften"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2602

1. Ausgangspunkt

In der taz erscheint am 15. Januar 2019 folgendes Gedicht der freien Literaturübersetzerin Christel Hildebrandt[1], mit dem sie auf zwei vorangegangene Beiträge reagiert (Rezensionen zu Michel Houellebecqs Roman „Serotonin“[2] und der Neuübersetzung von Virginie Despentes‘ „King Kong Theorie“[3]) und das mit „Vergesst doch bitte nicht die ÜbersetzerInnen!“ überschrieben ist (ZK-15)[4].

Es ist ein altes Leiden

und ist doch immer neu,

den Namen zu vermeiden,

bleibt sich der Schreiber treu.

In höchsten Tönen

Lobt er/sie das Buch,

wie wunderbar, und wer es hat geschrieben,

ist allen sonnenklar.

Autor/Autorin fanden so manch geschliffen‘ Wort,

doch fanden sie es leider nur am fremden Ort.

Ob Houellebecq oder Despentes,

ihr Französisch ist brillant,

doch hier leider unverständlich,

ist das nicht allbekannt?

Warum also verschweigen,

wer die deutschen Floskeln fand?

Es sind die Übersetzer!

Und denen wird nur schlecht gedankt.

Gerade unsere taz, ja,

sie enttäuschte uns gar sehr.

Hier muss nicht nur Berichtigung, nein,

hier muss in Zukunft Besserung her!

Christel Hildebrandt prangert hier ein Fehlverhalten an, das gerade nicht im Lassen, sondern im Unterlassen besteht. Die Übersetzer:innen der literarischen Texte werden nicht genannt, sie tauchen im Zeitungstext, wenn überhaupt, dann nur bei den bibliographischen Angaben auf, ansonsten sind sie personen- und körperlos. An anderer Stelle findet sich die Kritik in ähnlicher Weise, wenngleich weniger kämpferisch und eher verwundert vorgetragen: Im Interview mit dem literaturcafé vergleicht die Übersetzerin Gabriele Haefs bereits zwanzig Jahre zuvor das Fehlen des Namens der Übersetzer:innen mit dem Fehlen der Pianist:innen bei einer Tonaufnahme:

„Ich weiß nicht. Warum so wenig auf die Leute geachtet wird, die übersetzen; ich verstehe es auch nicht. Ein Buch zu kaufen und zu lesen, ohne auf den Namen des Übersetzers oder der Übersetzerin zu achten, kommt mir so vor, als kaufte jemand eine Aufnahme eines Klavierkonzertes, und interessierte sich zwar für den Komponisten, aber nicht für den Pianisten. Der Komponist ist natürlich wichtiger, aber ein schlechter Pianist kann schließlich die gesamte Hörfreude ruinieren.“ (BK-06)

Und auch in Nicklaus‘ aktuellem Beitrag (2020) wird die Dichotomie zwischen Sichtbarkeit versus Unsichtbarkeit von Übersetzer:innen zum Ausgangspunkt genommen und dazu auf die bekannte Metaphorik von Venuti verwiesen.[5]

Im vorliegenden Beitrag wird diese Kritik derart an den Anfang gestellt, dass daraus der Gegenstand selbst abgeleitet wird: Im Fokus soll die Person (literarische:r Übersetzer:in) stehen und zwar in einer ganzheitlichen Perspektive, die den Körper ebenso umfasst wie die Identität als Zusammenspiel von Geist und Psyche. Dieser zunächst sehr breit angelegte Ansatz wird gleichsam verkürzt und auf einen Fluchtpunkt bezogen: die Person des:der Übersetzer:in. Historische, sozial- und übersetzungswissenschaftliche Perspektiven werden damit ausgeblendet, wenngleich sich die Autorin des engen Geflechts von Text und Kontext einerseits, Person und Gesellschaft andererseits durchaus bewusst ist.[6] In einem ersten Kapitel wird diese Fokussierung grundlegender begründet. Übersetzer:innen werden anschließend als Akteur:innen im Übersetzungsprozess verortet. Theoretisch knüpft der Beitrag an Überlegungen an, wie sie im Kontext des Embodiment (Zepter 2013) diskutiert werden, zusätzlich wird auf Modellierungen und Befunde der Schreibforschung rekurriert.[7]

2. Daten und Methode

Linguistische oder im weitesten Sinne sprachliche Fragen und Herausforderungen beim Übersetzen sind anschaulich beschrieben und bilden die Grundlage entsprechender Lehrbücher und Curricula (exemplarisch Stolze 2015; 2018; Blümer 2016; Kußmaul 2015). Übersetzungsprozesse – insbesondere kognitive Entscheidungen beim Übersetzen – sind seit einigen Jahren systematischer empirisch erforscht worden und geben Einblicke in Strategien und Routinen von Übersetzer:innen (House 2017). Fragen, die in einem erweiterten Sinne die Person des:der Übersetzenden betreffen – und das schließt körperliche, sinnliche und emotionale Prozesse ein, werden erst seit wenigen Jahren diskutiert (siehe auch Ivančić und Zepter 2020), wenngleich die Übersetzungswissenschaftlerin House dies bereits als (nicht ungefährlichen) Trend ausmacht:

Here I am referring to the currently popular trend of elevating the person of the translator, his socio-cultural embeddedness, his creativity, his visibility, his statue and influence above all concerns in translation studies (…) I believe that in view of such widespread exaggerated emphasis on the subjective personal, it is necessary to renew a focus on both language and text – the linguistic focus, and on what happens in translators‘ minds when they engage in translating texts – the cognitive focus. (House 2019: 3)

House geht es um eine stärker textuell-linguistische Sicht auf die Übersetzung; also die Frage, ob und inwieweit ein Text von sich aus konkrete Übersetzungsstrategien bzw. -lösungen für seine mögliche Übertragung vorschlägt. Das kurze Zitat verweist aber auf eine unnötige Zuspitzung bzw. Dichotomie hin, kognitive Prozesse sollen durchaus nicht ausgeklammert werden, wenn Fragen der Körperlichkeit und Identität von Übersetzer:innen diskutiert werden. Vielmehr geht es – auch in diesem Beitrag – um eine Kontextualisierung, um ein Eingebettetsein dieser Prozesse, so wie es auch Tschacher für das Konzept des Embodiments zeigt (Tschacher 2017: 15; Tschacher und Bannwart 2021).

Dass Übersetzer:innen als Personen sichtbar(er) werden, ist darin begründet, dass sie selbst dies mit einem erstarkenden Selbstbewusstsein einfordern, es liegt aber auch daran, dass sie vermehrt über ihre eigenen Prozesse und Probleme Auskunft geben; also eigenes Forschungsmaterial generieren. Ivančić und Zepter (2020) beobachten – gerade für den italienischsprachigen Raum – die Entstehung einer neuen Gattung, die sie als „translation biographies“ (125) beschreiben. Dies sind längere Texte, in denen Übersetzer:innen einen persönlichen Einblick in ihre Übersetzungspraxis geben.

Ortner (2000) hat in einer groß angelegten Studie nachhaltig herausgearbeitet, dass diejenigen Personen, die beruflich und professionell schreiben (nämlich Autor:innen literarischer Texte), für die das kreative-sprachliche Moment in besonderer Weise konstitutiv ist, auch in besonderer Weise geeignet sind, um über ihr Tun Auskunft zu geben. Er rechtfertigt dies folgendermaßen:

Es ist doch einmal der Mühe wert, dort nachzufragen, wo das Wunder der sprachlichen Produktivkraft wirksam wird, bei denen also, die von Berufs wegen auf das Wunder angewiesen sind. (…) Dafür will ich die Metakognitionen der Schreibenden nutzen – so wie sie in (Selbst-) Aussagen von Schreibenden sichtbar werden. (113)

Ähnlich ließe sich bei Übersetzer:innen literarischer Texte argumentieren. Auch diese können in besonderer Weise Auskunft geben, insbesondere, wenn es um selbst erlebte Eindrücke und Erfahrungen, aber auch dann, wenn es um Fragen ihrer körperlichen Empfindungen und ihrer eigenen Identität geht. Denn auch sie sind – ähnlich wie Schriftsteller:innen – auf das Gelingen des sprachlich-kreativen Prozesses angewiesen und müssen diesen so gut es geht moderieren und steuern.

Neben den von Ivančić und Zepter titulierten translation biographies, die im deutschsprachigen Raum eher selten sind, soll in dem Beitrag daher auf solche Selbstauskünfte rekurriert werden, wie sie in Interviews mit Übersetzer:innen aufscheinen. Die Methode des Interviews ist als Befragungsinstrument in der empirischen Sozialforschung gut etabliert und wird seit einigen Jahren systematisch im Kontext deutschdidaktischer Fragestellungen (Schmidt 2018a; 2018b; Maus 2018; Lindow 2018) wie auch der Untersuchung von Schreibprozessen (Dengscherz 2017; Dreyfürst 2017) verwendet. Interviews ermöglichen die Erhebung von Einstellungen und Haltungen, aber auch die Beschreibung von (wiederkehrenden) Praktiken und Erfahrungen. Solche Interviews werden kontinuierlich in Tages- und Wochenzeitungen, aber auch auf eigenen Plattformen und in Blogs publiziert. Für den folgenden Beitrag wurden dazu diese Interviews beziehungsweise Interviewreihen genutzt, die nun als ein Korpus zusammengefasst werden[8]:

  • in Zeitungen veröffentlichte Interviews mit Übersetzer:innen (Zeitungskorpus, ZK)
  • in Blogs veröffentlichte Interviews (Blogkorpus, BK)
  • Interviews, die als wissenschaftliche Publikationen veröffentlicht sind (Wissenschaftskorpus, WK)
  • Umso fokussierter die Fragestellung, umso eher gilt auch, dass derart gewonnene Daten über einzelne Themen keine Auskunft geben, da sie nicht entsprechend erfragt wurden. Ergänzend wurden daher zwei eigene Interviews mit Übersetzer:innen geführt, um einzelne Themen und Aspekte zu vertiefen (Eigenes Korpus, EK).


Autor:in und Titel

Erscheinungsort und Datum des Erscheinens


Frank Heibert: Alliteration sticht Rhythmus

Die ZEIT, 31. März 2021


Christian Bos: Wenn Lyrik zum Medienereignis wird. Amanda Gormans „The Hill We Climb” erscheint auf Deutsch – Der Aufwand beim Übersetzen hat sich gelohnt

Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 30. März 2021


dpa: „The Hill we climb“ Übersetzungsdebatte um Amanda Gormans Gedichte

Die ZEIT, 26. März 2021


Rasha Kayat: Diversität im Literaturbetrieb. Ich bin nicht euer Migrationsmaskottchen!

Die ZEIT, 17. März 2021


Christian Bos: „Identität allein garantiert für nichts“ Übersetzer Frank Heibert über die Streitfrage, wer die Dichterin Amanda Gorman übersetzen darf.

Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 12. März 2021


o. A.: Katalanischer Übersetzer soll Gorman-Gedicht nicht übertragen

Süddeutsche Zeitung, 11. März 2021


Ronald Düker: Gedicht von Amanda Gorman. Hineinschlüpfen ins Andere

Die ZEIT, 10. März 2021


Tobias Rüther: Amanda Gorman. Ist das Entmündigung?

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 05. März 2021


Aureloe von Blazekovic: Amanda Gorman. Eine Frage der Hautfarbe

Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2. März 2021


Ulrich Blumenbach: Erbarme dich, Heer der Haarscheren! Vom Abenteuer, Joshua Cohens Roman „Witz“ zu übersetzen

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 18. Juli 2020


Daniel Amann: Wie lispelt man auf Deutsch? Über die (kleinen und größeren) Tücken des Übersetzens

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 9. Dezember 2019


Jannik Schäfer: Übersetzer Frank Heibert „Ich lasse im Ausland schreiben“

Frankfurter Rundschau, 18. Oktober 2019


Christoph Amend/ Jasmin Müller-Stoy: Als Vater war er gleichermaßen großartig und furchtbar

ZEIT Magazin 43, 17. Oktober 2019


Anne Burgmer: „Jedes Buch hat einen Klang“ Der Kölner Übersetzer Paul Berf überträgt die Romane von Karl Ove Knausgård ins Deutsche

Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. Bücher Magazin, 11. Oktober 2019


Christel Hildebrandt: Vergesst doch bitte nicht die ÜbersetzerInnen!

taz, 15. Januar 2019


Kaspar Heinrich: Adam Thirlwell „Übersetzer sollten Neues schaffen“

DIE ZEIT, 29. November 2013


Richard Schneider: „und leben kann man davon auch nicht“ Literaturübersetzer Harry Rowohlt im Interview

Der Standard, 27. Februar 2007


Tab. 1: Übersicht Zeitungskorpus


Autor:in und Titel

Erscheinungsort und Datum des Erscheinens


Ulrike Fink: Darf ich das jetzt? – Herausforderung Übersetzen

www.borromaeusverein.de, 21. Februar 2021


Viktor Funk: Hauptperson Havanna – Ein Interview mit dem Übersetzer Hans-Joachim Hartstein

https://www.54books.de, 21. Januar 2021


Katharina Mahrenholtz/Daniel Kaiser: Dosenpfirsiche und Kondensmilch mit Nicole Seifert


7. August 2020


Miriam Neidhardt: Überleben als Übersetzer. Interviewreihe

Blog zum Handbuch für freiberufliche Übersetzerinnen: https://www.xn--berleben.als-bersetzer-rlen.de, Januar 2020 fortlaufend


Jörn Radtke: Über schlechte Übersetzer und ihre Opfer. Kürzer. Schneller. Besser. Harry!

Bücher Magazin https://www.buecher-magazin.de, Juli 2012


Wie der Pianist eines Klavierkonzerts. Ein Interview mit der Übersetzerin Gabriele Haefs („Sofies Welt“)

https.//www.literaturcafe.de, 11. Januar 1999


o. A.: Interview mit einem Japanisch-Übersetzer

Übersetzer in München

(http://uebersetzerinmuenchen.de (o. J.)


Tab. 2: Übersicht Blogkorpus


Autor:in und Titel

Erscheinungsort und Datum des Erscheinens


Swetlana Geier: Ein Leben zwischen den Sprachen

Fischer Taschenbuch 2008; 5. Auflage 2019


Die Frau mit den fünf Elefanten.

Dokumentarfilm: Schweiz/Deutschland (97 Minuten), 2007.


Elfriede Jelinek und Claudia Augustin (2008): „Die Übersetzung schmiegt sich an das Original wie das Lamm an den Wolf“.

In: Internationales Archiv für Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur 29 (2) https://doi.org/10.1515/IASL.2004.2.94


Ilma Rakusa im Gespräch mit Nadja Grbic (2008): „Auf dem Tisch liegt die Sprache und knistert“ Schreiben und Übersetzen als poetische Herausforderung.


Internationales Archiv für Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur 29 (2) https://doi.org/10.1515/IASL.2004.2.118


Umberto Eco (2003): Quasi dasselbe mit anderen Worten. Über das Übersetzen.

München/Wien 2006


Tab. 3: Übersicht Wissenschaftskorpus

Eigenes Korpus

Interview mit den Übersetzerinnen Sandra Knuffinke und Jessika Komina

3. November 2019


Interview mit dem Schriftsteller und Übersetzer Michael Ebmeyer

28. September 2020


Tab. 4: Übersicht Eigenes Korpus

Ähnlich wie in Ortners (2000) groß angelegter Studie zu Schreibprozessen bei Schriftsteller:innen nutzt auch dieser Text vornehmlich bereits veröffentlichte Materialien. Dies hat methodische Vor- wie Nachteile, die auch schon Ortner für seine Studie ausführlich beschrieben hat (116-119): Als günstig erweise es sich, dass das Material vorhanden und zugänglich sei, dass die Befragten über Verbalisierungs- und Beobachtungskompetenz verfügen, sie also in besonderer Weise geeignet seien, Selbstauskünfte zu formulieren, dass über einen solchen Zugang zugleich eine Vielzahl von Beobachtungsanlässen und Befragten repräsentiert und eine zu stark hypothesengerichtete Erhebung (durch entsprechende bereits einengende Fragen) vermieden werde. Als nachteilig stelle sich da, dass es durchaus zu semantischen Verschiebungen kommen könne, die Befragten ähnliche/gleiche Benennungen für Unterschiedliches nutzen beziehungsweise andersherum unterschiedliche Benennungen für Ähnliches verwenden. Durch die verschiedenen Befragungsinteressen komme es zu thematischen Veränderungen und wechselnden Befragungsperspektiven. Schließlich können durch die Interviewer:innen Annahmen zum Ausgangspunkt gemacht werden (Präsuppositionen), die im Gespräch nicht mehr überprüft werden. Bezogen auf die Befragten können Erinnerungen lückenhaft, unvollständig und einseitig sein. Trotz der skizzierten Nachteile überwiegen für das hier verfolgte Ziel die Vorteile, denn die Vielfalt und Breite der Interviews geben ein weitaus größeres (und möglicherweise vollständigeres) Bild, als wenn dies ausschließlich als eigene (und dann sicher weniger umfangreiche) Studie umgesetzt worden wäre.

3. Übersetzer:innen im Übersetzungsprozess

Was braucht es, um literarische Texte zu übersetzen? Sind jenseits kognitiver Kompetenzen kulturelle, körperliche oder persönliche Erfahrungen konstitutiv für den Prozess beziehungsweise die Qualität des Ergebnisses? Anders formuliert: Können solche Erfahrungen auch zur (persönlichen) Ressource für Prozess und Produkt werden? Können Merkmale der Person auch der Übersetzung entgegenstehen? Ausgehend von den Beobachtungen der Übersetzer:innen sollen erste Annäherungen an diese Fragen formuliert werden. Zur Systematisierung der Befunde werden theoretische Ankerpunkte gesetzt.

3.1 Übersetzer:innen als Akteur:innen

In welcher Weise Schreibbedingungen auf das (berufliche) Schreiben einwirken, hat Jakobs mit ihrem Schalenmodell dargestellt (zuletzt 2014), das verschiedene Schichten unterscheidet.

Abb. 1: Das Schalenmodell von Jakobs (in Jakobs und Perrin 2014, 19)

In der Mitte, und damit als Ausgangspunkt, steht die schreibende Person, die über bestimmte Eigenschaften charakterisiert wird. Gleichwohl ist ihr Schreiben eingebettet in einen gestalteten Arbeitsplatz, eine (berufliche) Organisation (zum Beispiel einen Verlag mit seinen unternehmerischen Abläufen), eine Domäne (hier der Literaturbetrieb) und einen kulturellen Kontext (der sich beim Übersetzen in doppelter Weise auswirkt, der Kultur des Originaltextes und der Zielkultur). Schreibprozesse sind in der Modellierung Jakobs von diesen vielfältigen Schalen bestimmt. Inwieweit Schreiber:innen diese Schalen mitgestalten oder ob sie ausschließlich fremdbestimmt auf ihr eigenes Schreiben einwirken, hängt auch davon ab, wie frei beziehungsweise autonom sie agieren können (beispielsweise als Noviz:innen oder Expert:innen, als freischaffende Übersetzer:in oder anderes; siehe auch die vielfältigen Stimmen dazu in BK-04).

Überträgt man dieses Modell auf das Übersetzen, dann können beispielsweise Alter und Erfahrung zu Ressourcen werden, die den Übersetzer:innen bewusst sind und die sie gezielt und strategisch für ihre Übersetzung einsetzen können. Dies kann sich darauf beziehen, dass das Selbstbewusstsein ein anderes ist oder auch, dass auf eigene Erfahrungen rekurriert wird und diese ein besseres Verständnis für den Ausgangstext ermöglichen.

Swetlana Geier, die in mehreren längeren Interviews Auskunft über ihr Übersetzen gibt und auch in dem Film „Die Frau mit den fünf Elefanten“ dokumentiert wurde, antwortet auf die Frage, was beziehungsweise wie sie sich bei der Neuübersetzung von „Verbrechen und Strafe“ (30 Jahre später) verändert hat.

„Ich war damals nicht so mutig und deshalb kulanter. Ich hätte mich sicherlich damals auch mit dem neuen Titel [gemeint ist der Titel „Verbrechen und Strafe“ anstelle von „Schuld und Sühne“, K.S.] nicht durchgesetzt. Seither habe ich mich fast unentwegt mit Dostojewskij beschäftigt. (…) Manches sehe ich jetzt einfach deutlicher.“ (WK-01: 155)

Auf eine Erfahrung in der frühen Kindheit verweist Geier bei einer zentralen Übersetzungsentscheidung, dem Finden des Titels:

„Es [gemeint ist die große Hungersnot in der Sowjetunion, K.S.] hat für später insofern eine große Bedeutung gehabt, weil Dostojewskijs Aufzeichnungen aus dem Kellerloch bei mir eben „Aufzeichnungen aus dem Kellerloch“ heißen – und nicht „aus dem Untergrund“ oder wie man es sonst übersetzt hat. Denn seit der Zeit als kleines Mädchen weiß ich, dass in Russland auf dem Land und zum Teil auch in der Stadt, zum Beispiel bei unserem dreistöckigen Haus, nicht unterkellert wurde. Und der Raum zwischen dem Mutterboden und dem Estrich, der wurde oft von Bauern gebraucht, um Saatgut aufzuheben oder um überhaupt etwas zu verstecken – eine tote Großmutter oder so. Und als bewaffnete Trupps durchs Land zogen und den Bauern das Saatgut fürs nächste Jahr wegnahmen, da haben die Bauern eben die Bretter gehoben und diese Kellerlöcher mit Saatgut oder Saatkartoffeln gefüllt. Das sind also weder Keller noch Untergründe, das sind eben diese Kellerlöcher.“ (WK-01: 16)

Aber auch die Gestaltung (und gegebenenfalls freie Wahl) des Arbeitsplatzes und der Arbeitsumgebung spielt für die Übersetzer:innen eine wichtige Rolle; hier die Übersetzerinnen Sandra Knuffinke und Jessika Komina. Sie profitieren davon, dass sie weitgehend selbstständig darüber entscheiden können, wo (und wie) sie arbeiten.

JK und SK: „Wir vagabundieren beim Schreiben gern ein bisschen herum. Wir haben beide ein Arbeitszimmer, in dem auch die Wörterbücher stehen, dort sitzen wir am Schreibtisch. Manchmal haben wir aber auch Phasen, in denen wir uns dort zu sehr weggesperrt fühlen, dann sitzen wir z.B. im Wohnzimmer am Esstisch oder auf dem Sofa.

JK: Sobald es das Wetter zulässt, bin ich, wie gesagt, am liebsten im „Freiluftbüro“ im Garten, da kann man den Blick schweifen lassen, und, wenn man gerade nicht weiterkommt, eine Runde durch die Botanik schlendern (oder jäten).“ (EK-01)

Der Arbeitsplatz ist damit nicht nur Arbeitsumgebung, sondern zugleich auch Ort, an dem körperliche Erfahrungen gesammelt werden („schlendern“, „Blick schweifen lassen“, „jäten“), die den Übersetzungsprozess wieder anstoßen können. Gerade auch der bewusste Wechsel des Arbeitsplatzes kann Übersetzungsblockaden lösen. Noch einmal Swetlana Geier:

„Doch das Gefühl bleibt: Ich kann’s nicht – und dann räum‘ ich den Keller auf. Oder ich nähe die Knöpfe an den Bettbezügen an. Ich tu also etwas ganz Widernatürliches. Küchenschrank aufräumen ist auch sehr gut. – Aber dann muss ich es [gemeint ist der Beginn der Übersetzungstätigkeit im engeren Sinne, K.S.] doch tun.“ (WK-01: 139)

Auch hier zeigen sich Parallelen zu den Beobachtungen von Schreiber:innen und der Dokumentation ihrer Schreibtische (zusammengefasst unter anderem in Lehnen und Schindler 2019). Dabei werden erkennbare Präferenzen für die Gestaltung deutlich, wenngleich der Arbeitsort nicht immer frei wähl- bzw. veränderbar ist (je nach räumlichen und finanziellen Ressourcen, der Notwendigkeit, in einem (öffentlichen) Büro zu arbeiten und so weiter).

3.2 Die Sinne schärfen – hören, sehen und riechen im Übersetzungsprozess

In der Theorie des Embodiments werden die Wechselwirkungen zwischen Umwelt, Körper und psychischen Prozessen beschrieben (Zepter 2013). Zentral ist dabei, dass es gerade nicht darum geht, dass ein Reiz-Reaktionsschema greift, bei dem Erfahrungen hintereinandergeschaltet werden, sondern, dass Gehirn/Geist/Psyche in doppelter Weise eingebettet sind: eingebettet in einen Körper (mit seinen Wahrnehmungen und Reaktionen) und eingebettet in eine Umwelt, die unmittelbar auf den Körper und ebenso – vermittelt über den Körper – auf Gehirn/Geist/Psyche wirkt. Tschacher (2017) schematisiert den komplexen Zusammenhang so:

Abb. 2: Tschacher (2017, 15)

Wie eng körperliche Empfindungen und sprachliche Prozesse für Übersetzer:innen miteinander verknüpft sind, zeigen Beispiele aus den Interviews. Danach gefragt, wie sich der Übersetzer Paul Berf einem Text nähert, den er übersetzt, antwortet er:

„Im Grunde mache ich, was jeder macht. Ich lese das Buch. Und während des Lesens nehme ich einen Ton, eine Melodie wahr. Jedes Buch hat einen eigenen Klang. Die Voraussetzung, ein Buch übersetzen zu können, ist, dass ich diesen Ton finde. (…) Man übersetzt ja pro Tag eine bestimmte Anzahl von Seiten. Das bereite ich dann einen Tag vorher vor: Vokabeln, Recherche. Denn das eigentliche Übersetzen muss in einem Flow passieren. Da kann man nicht ständig aufhören. Diesen Ton im Kopf findet man am besten, wenn man in einem gewissen Rhythmus übersetzt.“ (ZK-14)

Der Klang entsteht im Kopf, wird aber auch selbst wieder sinnlich wahrnehmbar, wenn Übersetzer:innen den Text laut lesen, sich vorlesen lassen oder diktieren, wie Jessika Komina iluustriert:

JK: „Vor kurzem habe ich bei Word die „Laut vorlesen“-Funktion für mich entdeckt, die gar nicht so übel ist. Ich lese mir sowieso immer wieder Passagen vor, weil man dadurch leichter merkt, wo es im Text noch hakt, und das funktioniert tatsächlich noch besser, wenn man es sich von jemand anderem vorlesen lässt, auch wenn es nur ein Roboter ist.“ (EK-01)

Das Sehen findet konkret beim Lesen Anwendung, es ist nach Auskunft der Übersetzer:innen aber auch ein imaginiertes Sehen, das den Zieltext sichtbar macht, bevor er konkrete Formen annimmt. Swetlana Gaier beobachtet dabei – fast auf eine naturwissenschaftliche Weise – ihren Text von außen.

„Es stellt sich immer wieder heraus und das ist ein Zeichen für einen hochwertigen Text, dass der Text sich bewegt. Und plötzlich – man hat das vorbereitet und das/man sieht alles und man weiß alles, aber/ und plötzlich ist da etwas, was man noch nie gesehen hat. (…) Beim Waschen verlieren die Fäden ihre Orientierung. Man muss eigentlich dem Faden helfen seine exakte Orientierung wieder zu bekommen. Ich meine, das ist ein Gewebe. Und das ist doch auch der Text und das Textil. Und wenn man das dann vor sich hat, dann ist das so wie frischer Schnee.“ (WK-02)

Sinnliche Erfahrungen sind Bestandteil der Umwelt. Diese Umwelt ist aber nicht ausschließlich die gegenwärtige Situation, in der sich die Übersetzer:innen befinden, sie geht über diese hinaus. Der Übersetzer Frank Heibert hat für sich folgendes herausgefunden.

„Ich kann keine Literatur aus einem Land übersetzen, wo ich nicht weiß, wie dort die Hausflure riechen. Man muss sinnliche Erfahrungen haben mit der Welt, in der wir uns bewegen“ (ZK-12).

Eine gelungene Übersetzung erzeugt nach Ansicht des Schriftstellers und Übersetzers Michael Ebmeyer das gleiche Gefühl wie der Ausgangstext.

„Das entscheidende Kriterium für eine gute literarische Übersetzung entzieht sich einer rationalen Erklärung: Der Text soll sich in der Zielsprache möglichst genauso »anfühlen« wie in der Ausgangssprache. Und eben das ist die große Herausforderung, wenn die kulturellen Kontexte sehr unterschiedlich sind.“ (EK-02)

Sinnliche Wahrnehmungen werden von Übersetzer:innen im Übersetzungsprozess gezielt eingesetzt, sie dienen der Prozesssteuerung und der Qualitätskontrolle („genauso anfühlen“, „Ton finden“, „frischer Schnee“) des übersetzten Textes. Sie sind zugleich Ausdruck der Kreativität der Übersetzer:innen, indem sie „realistische Phantasie“ und „geordnete Faszination“ (Groeben 2013: 150) zeigen:

Realistische Phantasie. Kreative Problemlösungen sind nur möglich, wenn man sich mit vitaler Phantasie aus den bisherigen (Realitäts-)Strukturen zu lösen vermag. Zugleich aber darf die Verbindung zur Realität nicht verloren gehen (…) Diese Verbindung ist z.B. dadurch aufrecht zu erhalten, dass man in der Lage ist, Problemstellungen wie -lösungen in Metaphern, Analogien etc. vor dem inneren, geistigen Auge zu visualisieren. (…)

Geordnete Faszination. Die immer wieder festgestellte Ambiguitätstoleranz von Kreativen hängt mit ihrer Bevorzugung von uneindeutigen oder mehrdeutigen Reizen im Vergleich zu eindeutig strukturierten Mustern zusammen. Diese Präferenz von Komplexität bedeutet, dass Kreative von vielschichtigen, ungeordneten Gegenständen, Situationen, Problemen etc. fasziniert sind. Zugleich arbeiten sie mit ihrer Problemlösekompetenz aber an der Reduktion von Komplexität, d.h. an der ordnenden Strukturierung der vielschichtigen Objekte. (Groeben 2013: 150)

3.3 Die Identität der Übersetzer:innen – (un)gewollte Sichtbarkeit

3.3.1 Der Fall Harry Rowohlt

Der fehlenden Sichtbarkeit einer Vielzahl von Übersetzer:innen stehen wenige andere gegenüber, die eine hohe Popularität genießen und als Star-Übersetzer:innen wahrgenommen werden. Ein solches Beispiel ist der 2015 verstorbene Autor, Sprecher, Schauspieler und Übersetzer Harry Rowohlt.

Abb. 3: Dominik Bauer und Elias Hauck (2013): Man tut, was man kann, nix

Ähnlich eines Schauspielers ist der Übersetzer Harry Rowohlt wiedererkennbar, da er seinen eigenen sprachlichen Stil in die Übersetzungen einschreibt. Entsprechend ist es dann weniger die Stimme der Autor:innen, die zählt, sondern vielmehr die des Übersetzers. Harry Rowohlt selbst formuliert seine Bedeutung für den Text selbstbewusst und antwortet auf die Frage, ob ein Übersetzer auch die Qualität des Originals verbessern kann:

„Dürfte er eigentlich nicht. Ich habe drei Bücher von David Sedaris übersetzt, und ich hasse es, Leute zu übersetzen, deren Englisch schlechter ist, als mein Deutsch, aber Sedaris’ Englisch ist sogar schlechter als mein Englisch, was man der Übersetzung natürlich leider nicht mehr anmerkt, insofern ist sie nicht werktreu.“ (ZK-17)

Gerade dieses Wiedererkennen des Übersetzers Rowohlt und das damit verbundene Verdrängen der Autor:innen kritisiert Michael Ebmeyer hingegen scharf.

„Ich vermute schon, dass ich eine eigene Stimme habe, als Übersetzer wie als Autor. Wichtig finde ich aber, dass die Stimme des Übersetzers sich nicht in den Vordergrund drängt. Deshalb wundere ich mich zum Beispiel über den legendären Ruf, den Harry Rowohlt als Übersetzer genießt – dabei kloppte er jeden Text gnadenlos so zurecht, dass ein rauschebärtiger Leseonkel ihn schön »mit Betonung« vortragen konnte. Selbst Flann O’Brien klang bei ihm wie Harry R., und das ist wirklich eine Zumutung.“ (EK-02)

Der Erfolg der Übersetzungen von Harry Rowohlt mag aber gerade in dieser Sichtbarkeit und der Wiedererkennbarkeit begründet sein. Wenngleich die Rolle, die Übersetzer:innen – auch für die Qualität des Textes – spielen, sicher bedeutsam ist, scheint mir Harry Rowohlts Rolle weniger seiner fachlichen Kompetenz und mehr seinem großen Ego zu verdanken. Und ob es den Autor:innen so recht ist, dass ihre Texte beim Übersetzen direkt lektoriert werden?

3.3.2 Wer darf übersetzen? 

Ein gänzlich anderes Beispiel ist das Folgende. Auch hier stellt sich die Frage der Sichtbarkeit und Identität der Übersetzer:innen, zugleich wird damit eine andere, durchaus sensible Dimension tangiert, darauf bezogen, wer (mit welchen persönlichen Merkmalen ausgestattet) überhaupt bestimmte Texte übersetzen darf?

Im März 2021 ist eine breite Debatte entbrannt, die die Person der Übersetzer:innen fast ungewollt deutlich ins Zentrum rückt. Ausgelöst durch die Frage, welche Personen die Texte (insbesondere das Inaugurationsgesicht: „The Hill we climb“) der jungen Aktivistin und Schwarzen Lyrikerin Amanda Gorman übersetzen können und dürfen, wurden Übersetzer:innen für diese Aufgabe aus- bzw. abgewählt. Die Diskussion entzündete sich an der Person der niederländischen Autorin Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, der abgesprochen wurde, dieser Übersetzungsaufgabe als Weiße (und nicht-binäre) Person gerecht werden zu können.[9] Dabei wird nicht ihre fachliche Kompetenz kritisiert (und das obwohl sie keine Übersetzerin, sondern Schriftstellerin ist) – die Entscheidung wird auf „eine Frage der Hautfarbe“ (ZK-09) zugespitzt. Hautfarbe als soziale Kategorie und daraus erwachsene Erfahrungen können durchaus für das Übersetzen bedeutsam sein. Dann nämlich, wenn es beispielsweise darum geht, bestehende soziale Praktiken und Symbole zu verstehen und einzuordnen, vielleicht auch, um Gefühle und Verletzungen nachzufühlen. Ein zweiter Aspekt, der mit der Diskussion um Rijneveld angesprochen wurde, bezog sich auf die Sichtbarkeit Schwarzer Menschen in den Niederlanden. Mit der Beauftragung einer Weißen Übersetzer:in würden – gerade bei einem vergleichsweise wichtigen Text einer Schwarzen Autorin – Schwarze Übersetzer:innen marginalisiert werden. Janice Deul, die die Debatte initiiert hat, schlägt daher auch Schwarze Spoken Word Künstler:innen wie Munganyende Hélène Christelle oder Baby Gons als angemessene Übersetzer*innen vor – beide stammen aber ebenfalls nicht aus dem Bereich der Übersetzung (ZK-08). Autor:innen wie Rasha Kayat (ZK-04) und Übersetzer:innen wie Frank Heibert (ZK-05) sehen das wiederum kritisch. Sie unterscheiden hier einerseits das legitime Anliegen, Diskriminierung zu vermeiden und Sichtbarkeit für nicht-weiße Menschen zu erhöhen – und auch den Literaturbetrieb entsprechend diverser auszurichten. Zugleich warnen sie davor, dass Identität zum Bewertungsmaßstab von Übersetzer:innen und ihrer Übersetzungsleistung wird. Frank Heibert erläutert das folgendermaßen:

„Zunächst ist das richtig: Kein Weißer soll sich hinstellen und sagen, ich weiß Bescheid, was es bedeutet, als Schwarzer diskriminiert zu werden. Wer genau das Erlebnis haben will, wie Amanda Gorman poetisch und politisch für sich spricht, der kann sowieso nur das Original lesen oder hören. Aber hier geht es um Übersetzung. Übersetzen bedeutet immer, an der Stelle von jemand anderem zu sprechen. Übersetzung ist immer Übersetzung und nicht das Original. Und wie soll sich die Kompetenz einer Person ermessen lassen, die übersetzen soll? An ihrem übersetzten Text! Die Identität dieser Person allein garantiert für nichts.“ (ZK-05)

Ob und wie es Übersetzer:innen gelingt, Erfahrungen der Autor:innen nachzuvollziehen und in ihrer eigenen Sprache einzufangen, stellt sich immer wieder und als fortwährende Herausforderung dar. Das bezieht sich auf ganz unterschiedliche Aspekte, durchaus auch auf die Frage, inwieweit historische Texte (noch) zugänglich sind u.a. Geier, mit der diese Überlegungen schließen sollen, hat bereits früh auf diese Übersetzungsherausforderung hingewiesen, die für sie in den „Grenzen der Persönlichkeit“ der Übersetzer:innen liegen. Für sie bleibt das Übersetzen „möglich“, zeigt aber auch seine Grenzen auf.

„Die Tatsache, dass die Sprachen nicht kompatibel sind, ist jedoch nicht die einzige Hürde beim Übersetzen. Es gibt auch noch persönliche Hürden. Die Grenzen einer Persönlichkeit: Ich bin eine Frau, ich bin eine Russin, ich esse gern Butter, was weiß ich, ich bin unsportlich, ich arbeite gern im Garten. Es ist falsch, wenn man sagt, übersetzen ist unmöglich. Das Übersetzen ist möglich, aber nur in bestimmten Grenzen.“ (WK-01: 117).

4 Einige Überlegungen für die Ausbildung von Übersetzer:innen

Ortner (2000) formuliert für seine Arbeit das Ziel, durch und über die Interviews Ethnogramme von Schriftsteller:innen zu erstellen. Für die Ausbildung von Übersetzer:innen ließe sich etwas Ähnliches denken. Bereits veröffentlichte Interviews könnten im Hinblick auf kognitive und individuelle Strategien und Prozesse, aber auch im Hinblick auf Fragen der Erfahrungen, der eigenen Eindrücke und Erlebnisse ausgewertet werden. Denkbar ist aber auch, dass Studierende selbst forschend tätig werden und beispielsweise Interviews mit Expert:innen führen: Dazu gehört für sie selbst relevante Fragen zu formulieren, die Interviews als Erhebungsmethode zu nutzen, die Interviews zu transkribieren und auszuwerten (Ähnliches beschreiben Lehnen und Schindler 2010, allerdings für Interviews mit Lehrkräften).

Ein gänzlich anderes, aber nicht weniger interessantes Material bilden literarische Texte, in denen Übersetzer:innen oder der Übersetzungsprozess narrativ verarbeitet werden. Anders als die Figur der Dolmetscher:innen, die in zahlreichen (auch neueren) literarischen Texten eingeführt und inzwischen auch literaturwissenschaftlich analysiert wird (exemplarisch Andres 2008; Wilhelm 2010; Šediková Čuhová 2016), scheinen sich Übersetzer:innen der literarischen Bearbeitung allerdings stärker zu entziehen. Wenn Übersetzer:innen eine wichtige Rolle im Text einnehmen, zum Beispiel in Olga Grjasnowa „Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt“, Mario Vargas Llosa „Das böse Mädchen“ oder Pascal Mercier „Das Gewicht der Worte“, dann sind die Protagonist:innen meist zugleich Dolmetscher:innen und Übersetzer:innen. Wenngleich also das literarische Material ebenso vielfältig wie reichhaltig Fragen der Sprachlichkeit von Übersetzung beziehungsweise die Mehrsprachigkeit der Protagonist:innen thematisiert (zum Beispiel Ingeborg Bachmann „Simultan“, T.C. Boyle „Schwieriger Kunde“, Italo Calvino „Wenn ein Reisender in einer Winternacht“), dann sind diese Materialien weniger für Forschungszwecke geeignet, sie stellen aber einen interessanten Redeanlass in entsprechenden Seminarveranstaltungen dar.

Zitierte Literatur

Andres, Dörte (2008) Dolmetscher als literarische Figuren. Von Identitätsverlust, Dilettantismus und Verrat, München, Martin Meidenbauer.

Bauer, Dominik, Elias Hauck (2013) Man tut, was man kann, nix, München, Antje Kunstmann Verlag.

Blümer, Agnes (2016) Mehrdeutigkeit übersetzen. Englische und französische Kinderbuchklassiker der Nachkriegszeit in deutscher Übertragung, Frankfurt a. Main, Peter Lang.

Dam-Jensen, Halle, Carmen Heine, and Iris Schrijver (2019) “The Nature of Text Production – Similarities and Differences between Writing and Translation”, Across Languages and Cultures 2, no. 20: 155–172.

Dengscherz, Sabine (2017) “Retrospektive Interviews in der Schreibforschung” in Qualitative Methoden in der Schreibforschung, Melanie Brinkschulte, und David Kreitz (Hrsg), Bielefeld, WBV: 139–158.

Dreyfürst, Stephanie (2017) “Expert*inneninterviews. Eine qualitative-empirische Methode für die Schreibforschung” in Qualitative Methoden in der Schreibforschung, Melanie Brinkschulte, und David Kreitz (Hrsg), Bielefeld, WBV: 159–185.

Even-Zohar, Itamar (1990) „The Position of Translated Literature within the Literary Polysystem”, Polysystem Studies, Vol. 11: 45-51.  

Groeben, Norbert (2013) Kreativität. Originalität diesseits des Genialen. Darmstadt: WBG. 

Heine, Carmen (2020) “Schreiben und Übersetzen: zwei Perspektiven für eine fächerübergreifende Zusammenarbeit”, Journal für Schreibwissenschaft (JoSch) 20, Nr. 2: 51–57.

House, Juliane (2019) “Suggestions for a New Interdisciplinary Linguo-cognitive Theory in Translation Studies” in Researching Cognitive Processes of Translation, Defeng Li, Victoria Lau Cheng Lei, and Yuanjian He (eds), Singapur, Springer: 3–14.

House, Juliane (2017) Translation – the basics, New York, Routledge.

Ivančić, Barbara, and Alexandra L. Zepter (2020) “On the bodily dimension of translators and translating” in Genetic Translation Studies. Conflict and Collaboration in Liminal Spaces, Ariadne Nunes, Joana Moura and Marta Pacheco Pinto (eds), London, Bloomsbury Publishing: 123–134.

Jakobs, Eva-Maria, and Daniel Perrin (2014) “Introduction and Research Roadmap: Writing and text production” in Handbook of Writing and Text Production, Eva-Maria Jakobs, and Daniel Perrin (eds), Berlin, de Gruyter: 1–24.

Kußmaul, Paul (2015) Verstehen und Übersetzen. Ein Lehr- und Arbeitsbuch, Tübingen, Narr.

Lehnen, Katrin, und Kirsten Schindler (2019): “Orte, Räume, Rituale. Erkundungen von Schreibtischen und Arbeitsplätzen als Teil der Schreibforschung” in Von (Erst- und Zweit-)Spracherwerb bis zu (ein- und mehrsprachigen) Textkompetenzen, Lena Decker, und Kirsten Schindler (Hrsg), Duisburg, Gilles & Francke: 225–247.

Lehnen, Katrin, und Kirsten Schindler (2010) “Berufliches Schreiben als Lernmedium und -gegenstand. Überlegungen zu einer berufsbezogenen Schreibdidaktik in der Hochschullehre” in Textformen als Lernformen, Thorsten Pohl, und Torsten Steinhoff (Hrsg), Duisburg, Gilles & Francke: 233–256.

Lindow, Ina (2018) “Narrative Interviews” in Empirische Forschung in der Deutschdidaktik, Band 2: Erhebungs- und Auswertungsverfahren, Jan Boelmann (Hrsg), Baltmannsweiler, Schneider Hohengehren: 67–80.

Maus, Eva (2018) “Problemzentrierte Interviews” in Empirische Forschung in der Deutschdidaktik, Band 2: Erhebungs- und Auswertungsverfahren, Jan Boelmann (Hrsg), Baltmannsweiler, Schneider Hohengehren: 35–49.

Nicklaus, Martina (2020) “Wann klingt (übersetzte) Sprache fremd?”, trans-kom 13, Nr. 2: 125–144.

Ortner, Hanspeter (2000) Schreiben und Denken, Tübingen, Niemeyer.

Schindler, Kirsten (2021, im Erscheinen) “Literarisches Übersetzen – eine besondere Form des Schreibens”, trans-kom 14, Nr. 1.

Schmidt, Frederike (2018a) “Interviewverfahren. Ein Überblick” in Empirische Forschung in der Deutschdidaktik, Band 2: Erhebungs- und Auswertungsverfahren, Jan Boelmann (Hrsg), Baltmannsweiler, Schneider Hohengehren: 23–34.

Schmidt, Frederike (2018b) “Leitfadeninterviews” in Empirische Forschung in der Deutschdidaktik, Band 2: Erhebungs- und Auswertungsverfahren, Jan Boelmann (Hrsg), Baltmannsweiler, Schneider Hohengehren: 51–65.

Šediková Čuhova, Paulína (2016) “Einsamkeit bei DolmetscherInnen/ÜbersetzerInnen. Figuren bei AutorInnen mit Migrationserfahrung am Beispiel des Romans Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt von Olga Grjasnova”, Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik 46: 37–53.

Stolze, Radegundis (2018) Übersetzungstheorien. Eine Einführung, Frankfurt a. Main, Narr.

Stolze, Radegundis (2015) Hermeneutische Übersetzungskompetenz: Grundlagen und Didaktik, Berlin, Frank & Timme.

Tschacher, Wolfgang (2017) “Wie Embodiment zum Thema wurde” in Embodiment. Die Wechselwirkung von Körper und Psyche verstehen und nutzen. 3. Aufl., Maja Storch, Benita Catieni, Gerald Hüther, und Wolfgang Tschacher (Hrsg), Bern, Hogrefe: 11–34.

Tschacher, Wolfgang, und Bettina Bannwart (2021) “Embodiment und Wirkfaktoren in Therapie, Beratung und Coaching”, Organisationsberat Superv. Coach 28, Nr. 1: 73–84.

Toury, Gideon (1995) „The Nature and Role of Norms in Translation”, Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond 1995, 53-69.

Wilhelm, Christine (2010) “Traduttore traditore – Vermittler durch Verrat: Eine Analyse literarischer Translatorfiguren in Texten von Jorge Lis Borges, Italo Calvino und Leonardo Sciascia.“ Trier, VWT Wiss. Verlag.

Zepter, Alexandra Lavinia (2013) Sprache und Körper. Vom Gewinn der Sinnlichkeit für Sprachdidaktik und Sprachtheorie, Frankfurt a. Main, Lang.


[1] Ungeachtet der Vorgabe der Zeitschrift, Autor:innennamen nur mit dem Nachnamen anzugeben, werden alle Übersetzer:innen mit Vor- und Nachname genannt. Auch das dient dazu, dass sie als Person sichtbar werden.

[4] Die angegebene Signatur verweist auf das Material/Korpus, das für diesen Beitrag verwendet wurde, die Übersicht findet sich in Kapitel 2.

[5] Allerdings hier mit einer anderen Stoßrichtung: Nicklaus geht es um die Frage, ob die Fremdheit des literarischen Textes nicht auch in der Übersetzung aufscheinen sollte und zwar gezielt über sperrige und ungewöhnliche Sprachformen. In meinem Beitrag soll aber weniger der übersetzte Text, sondern vielmehr die Person des:der Übersetzer:in im Mittelpunkt stehen.

[6] An dieser Stelle sei den Gutachter:innen für ihre vielfältigen und konstruktiven Hinweise gedankt, z.B. auf den Beitrag von Toury (1995), der den Zusammenhang zu Normen in der Übersetzung (translation norms) aufspannt, wie auch die Überlegungen von Even-Zohar (1990). Even-Zohar arbeitet die Rolle von Übersetzungen (als Texte) in einem kulturellen System heraus und argumentiert für die Bedeutung, die Übersetzungen auch für die nationale Kultur (respektive Literatur) spielen können.

[7] Begründet wird dies ausführlicher in Schindler (2021), siehe aber auch die Beiträge von Heine (2020), Dam-Jensen, Heine und Schrijver (2019).

[8] Eine Vielzahl der Texte ist online zugänglich, kann also auch für eigene Untersuchungen genutzt werden.

[9] Ähnlich erging es auch dem katalanischen Übersetzer Victor Obiols (ZK-06). Die deutsche Übersetzung („Den Hügel hinauf“) ist von einem Übersetzungsteam umgesetzt worden: mit der Übersetzerin Uda Strätling, der Politikwissenschaftlerin Hadija Haruna-Oelker und der Schriftstellerin Kübra Gümüşay (ZK-05). Die Gelungenheit der Übersetzung wird unterschiedlich eingeschätzt (ZK-01 und ZK-02).

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©inTRAlinea & Kirsten Schindler (2022).
"Die Person sichtbar machen – Übersetzer:innen in Selbstauskünften"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2602

The gravitational law of levity

By inTRAlinea Webmaster

©inTRAlinea & inTRAlinea Webmaster (2022).
"The gravitational law of levity"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2601

I never know where to start. From myself at seventeen, perhaps, and from Silver Bay, Minnesota. From that extremely small America I had not expected, the imperial snow of that winter, the nine different churches of a community of one thousand eight hundred and thirty two inhabitants plus me, the heavy and ridiculous fame of each member of the community. The capital boredom, the beauty, the power of nature; an unaware provincialism. I have known Munro’s landscape, textscape, inscape long before I found myself translating it, but I recognized it right away. My body had been there, I knew the light of the sky, the many colors of the snow, the church choirs, the rich cakes, the town open secrets, the scandals.

Alice Munro writes about the unperishable quality of things, she is a master of it. After more than three thousand five hundred pages of her writing, filtered through the fine sieve of translation, I know something about her way of building stories and I know I have been most privileged. With every story Alice Munro builds a house and leads the reader through its rooms, she says. But every time she subtracts the scaffolding employed to build the very house, the structure leaves a trace only in the difficulty for me to chase her through the rooms. I have met her words, her narrating grammar, the quiet revolution of her stories: “I entrust everything to the next story; the next story is always the perfect one”, says Munro.

She writes of things which become the “subjective” correlative of an indelible world. So, when all her Maries, Connies, Frances, Maggies, Sallies, Vernas, Charlenes, Lauras, Vikis, when all the secular nymphs of her imaginary Ontario will have faded in our memory and gone back to the state of more or less significant names, we shall still remember the smell of a soap (which has a frightening quality); the list of novels on a bookshelf; the white and pink cheap cotton dress that keeps coming up between the thighs, a scarf, a linoleum floor.

We shall go back time after time to Munro’s stories and unexpectedly discover ourselves in the description of an embarrassment, of a shame, a selfish gesture, a violence, a joy, an arrogance.

Translation starts in someone else’s beginning and therefore speaks a language of deceptive reassurance. Here I am, says the beginning, I am the beginning. But it is in the genitive that the apprehension is born. Translation is never an innocent practice, it is a combination of compromise and surrender. There is in Italian one word RESA to mean simultaneously rendition, rendering and surrender, therefore the rendering and the surrendering of the text in Italian coincide.

While speaking of Alice Munro’s collection Open Secrets the American writer Michael Cunningham has recently said: “If you are in a room full of American writers and you mention Alice Munro’s name a hush always descends. Alice Munro is the writer most American writers most love. She writes with a simplicity and directness about impossibly complicated lives, our lives,. I was reading Alice Munro when my mother died. It didn’t seem at all ludicrous to be reading Open Secrets when my mother passed away”.

She writes with a simplicity and directness about impossibly complicated lives.  I could rephrase Michael Cunningham’s statement from my translator’s perspective and say: “She writes in an impossibly complicated way about the simplicity and directness of lives, our lives. A simplicity inhabited by layers of meaning that I cannot reveal nor select without betraying her.”

It has been hard and exhilarating, tiring and inspiring to spend so much time, so many days, so many hours in the company of an author like Alice Munro. She is now 87 (90) years old and does not write any more. I have finished writing her writings a couple of years ago. Our bodies have met once, a memorable experience for mine, quite likely a forgettable one for hers I remember every single detail of that day: the heat, the food, her words, her fragile insolence in refusing aa guided solitary visit to the Sistine  Chapel, her request to be accompanied instead to the Protestant Cemetery in Rome on the grave of John Keats. But my real, long conversations with her had taken place in her stories that I had translated.

“I write from where I am in life,” says Alice Munro. This is what has allowed her to rewrite the same stories over a period of thirty years, because if the stories do not change, cannot change, if they are just declensions of the same predicaments, coincidences, secrets, loves, sorrows and disappointments, what definitely changes is the author’s body, her brain and her mind, therefore the way of seeing and looking at the raw material of her narratives. So Alice Munro declares that she writes from where she is in life and I wonder; can a translator say the same thing? Can I confess or reveal (and is it a revelation, after all?) that  I, too, translate from where I am in life?

I cannot deny, at least not to myself that the degree of awareness and the amount of energy that I relied upon during these past thirty years have changed with my body and my brain. If I ask myself what translators need to complete their task my answer is: non only competence, and the deepest possible knowledge of one’s own language, but also resilience, patience, memory, love, devotion. Besides, mis-quoting Grace Paley and her decalogue for the poet: “ It is the responsibility of the translator to breathe, to exist, to be there”. My translations have changed through time: they used to be a lot less aware but certainly more energetic (just like my life); the expectations I had on my language used to be more self-confident and more self-centered.

After twelve years spent in the company of Alice Munro’s stories, I found myself committed to the project of translating the entire corpus of Jane Austen’s works. Two great writers, two extraordinary writers in a row. Alice Munro, an artist who made the best of her existential and artistic longevity producing, collection after collection, The Lives of Girls and Women - to employ the title of one of her works – of the small towns of the Ontario she invented. Jane Austen, the young writer who never made it to old age and who left us six unattainable novels.

When I received the proposal of translating  Jane Austen’s novels my reaction was fear, a need to escape. I felt trapped by the paralyzing force of the privilege; I felt in trouble; I procrastinated my answer to the proposal knowing full well that an inescapable YES had already pronounced itself inside my mind. And finally I surrendered to the difficult joy of accepting the task.

My project would start with the translation of Northanger Abbey the wonderfully imperfect novel that Jane Austen wrote at the age of twenty and that was published only after her death and her success. Here came my first question. Who is the Jane Austen who wrote Northanger Abbey? A very young girl, endowed with a brilliant mind and a very good sense of humor. But a girl who lived two and a half centuries ago. So, how old is Jane Austen? What is her age, the age of her life, of her novels? What does her inner landscape look like? Who am I that start translating her juvenile work at the age of sixty, almost twenty years more than Austen’s age when she died and forty more than her age when she wrote Northanger Abbey? Did she, like Alice Munro, write from where she was in life? And if this is the case, will our verbal exchange be possible? Would I feel up to the linguistic task of translating a contemporary twenty-year-old author? I do not think so. What entitles me to translate a twenty-year-old author of the eighteenth century? What does the young Jane Austen find so funny about  the uneventfulness of life in general? What does she write about? Well, all in all what she writes about is money and women. And here I have finally found something that might help me through the difficulty of my task; because money and women is what Alice Munro wrote about, too. Social classes and women, cultural irrelevance and women, marriage and women, love and women, financial independence and women, writing and women, lack of sentimentality and women. I think Jane Austen and Alice Munro have achieved the goal of revealing the two remotest ways of expressing a deliberate lack of sentimentality.

They write of course from two extremely distant perspectives in time, space, beliefs, ideas and  style. But maybe this is what I have to offer Miss Austen, and her consecutives and the scarsity of her transitive verbs, and her language that, according to Tony Tanner, “tends to record movements governed by considerations of decorum and etiquette”, and her deferral of gratification, her absence of vulgarity.

I have more than three thousand five hundred pages of Alice Munro, the old woman who lives and works two centuries after Northanger Abbey was conceived. I have my twelve years spent on her Canadian English to offer to the lightness, and brightness and sparkling English of Jane Austen. Perhaps.

©inTRAlinea & inTRAlinea Webmaster (2022).
"The gravitational law of levity"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2601

A bodily and co-creative approach to teaching literary translation

By Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter (University of Bologna, Italy and University of Cologne, Germany)


The contribution addresses the didactic implications of the embodied understanding of translating discussed in this issue. The authors describe a series of activities and tasks they proposed in the context of German-Italian literary translation courses held at the University of Bologna. They focus on the question how a bodily approach can be implemented in teaching literary translation – that is, how a corporeal dimension is to be integrated in the academic education of translators to such an extent that students can learn to use the body as a resource for their translating. In this way, they aim to promote a broader reflection on the educational/didactic implications of embodied cognition as well as of a phenomenological view on language.

Keywords: embodied learning, literary translation, translation teaching, phenomenology, bodily thinking

©inTRAlinea & Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter (2022).
"A bodily and co-creative approach to teaching literary translation"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2600

Instead of ‘How relevant is what I’m teaching to the profession?’ we might better ask ‘How effectively am I teaching students to think about translation?’ (Baer and Koby 2003: X)

With this contribution we want to address the didactic implications of the embodied understanding of translating that we are discussing in this issue.[1] Very concretely, we will describe a series of activities and tasks that we proposed in the context of German-Italian literary translation courses held at the University of Bologna. The aim was to stimulate and support a “more bodily thinking” (Gendlin 1992: 203) among the students during the translation process. Since our students translate from a language that is second or foreign for most of them, the body-sensitive engagement with the source text is always embedded in language acquisition processes. Therefore, the boundary between language learning and literary translation learning is fluid and difficult to draw. We claim, however, this also applies in principle to literary translation processes, because even professional translators always develop linguistically in the course of their translation work.

By describing our didactics, we focus on the question how a bodily approach can be implemented in teaching literary translation – that is, how a corporeal dimension is to be integrated in the academic education of translators to such an extent that students can learn to use the body as a resource for their translating. In this way, we also aim to promote a broader reflection on the educational/didactic implications of embodied cognition as well as of a phenomenological view on language. In recent years, research has become more and more interested in this topic, as evidenced by the emergence of teaching paradigms such as Embodied Learning (cf. Kosmas and Zaphiris 2018) and Embodied Education (cf. Shapiro and Stolz 2019).

The article is structured as follows: In section 1, we discuss on a general level the educational/ didactic implications of an embodied perspective to cognition. Section 2 offers a detailed description of our didactic approach based on selected examples. Overall, we refer to workshops proposed within translation seminars from German into Italian in the 2nd cycle degree programme in Language, Society and Communication in March 2017 and March 2019. Due to the pandemic, we had to cancel further workshops in the last two years, but we will resume and further develop the work as soon as possible. We close with a short conclusion on the current status in Section 3.[2]

1. Pedagogical/didactical implications of an embodied perspective on translating

Given the empirically supported theories on the mutual interactions of mind and body (see the contribution of Tschacher in this volume as well as the introduction), it seems appropriate to discuss the potential reach of the embodied perspective for teaching and learning (translation).

In this regard, we agree with the claim that embodiment poses great challenges to education, though precisely for this reason it “has much to offer educational practitioners, researchers, and/or policy-makers” (Shapiro and Stolz 2019: 33). As obvious as this may seem to us, reflection on the educational implications of an embodied perspective is still at a very early stage. Only a few years ago, Ionescu and Vasc (2014: 277) pointed out that “there are few educational interventions designed after the principles of embodied cognition so far”; so did Zepter (2013: 48-49) with regards to language teaching in standard classrooms, which she describes as often primarily incorporeal, especially in higher grades. For Zepter, such ‘body-scepticism’ can be partly explained by the fact that language didactics, due to its close attachment to certain paradigms in linguistic theory, still tends to operate with a mainly purely cognitive concept of language. Likewise Foglia and Wilson (2013: 320) highlight that in these kinds of (more traditional) frameworks, “central cognitive processing has been typically conceptualized in abstraction from bodily mechanisms of sensory processing and motor control”. On the other hand, an already longer development in foreign language and second language teaching shows that viable, theoretically grounded performative (bodily oriented) concepts have emerged and are attracting more and more widespread interest (see, among others, Bryant and Zepter 2022) .

Overall, however, it seems that the traditional cognitive paradigm still dominates and shapes (language) didactics to date; against this background, we consider it significant that a number of recent studies show that embodied cognition theory has been stimulating innovative approaches among educational researchers. Several ‘new’ terms designate this research field, among them embodied learning, embodied education, embodied pedagogy, gesture-based learning, and embodied interaction (where the latter explores the role of the body in the learners’ interaction with learning technologies). As pointed out by Kosmas and Zaphiris (2018: 371), some studies and papers also refer to kinaesthetic learning, clearly supported by the writing of Merleau-Ponty. From this point of view,

[t]he combination of different senses in order to gain new experiences and ideas of interaction and learning offered by the human body and senses, and kinesthetic perception and sensorimotor experiences, are tools to facilitate learning and teaching. (Kosmas and Zaphiris 2018: 971; for a discussion of the role of kinesthesia within the phenomenology of learning, see also Sheets Johnstone 2019)

Kosmas and Zaphiris (2018) furthermore provide an overview on recent empirical research exploring the integration of body in various learning contexts (43 papers published between 2013 and 2017). Remarkably, most of the studies were carried out in the domain of math education, followed by higher education topics, including language learning and second language acquisition (for a detailed description of the case studies and the research methods used, see ibid.). Similarly, Shapiro and Stolz (2019: 19) point out that most of the theoretical and empirical oriented literature on embodied cognition in “educational settings” refer to the fields of mathematics, technology, science and engineering.

In summary, Kosmas and Zaphiris’ as well as Shapiro and Stolz’s overview highlights that physical experience can enhance and positively influence student’s learning. Among the embodied cognition findings that stand out very clearly is the one concerning the role gestures play in conceptual understanding (see, for instance, Beilock and Goldin Meadow 2010; for a discussion of the educational implications, see Shapiro and Stolz 2019). Also worth mentioning is the work of Oppici, Frith and Rudd (2020), which emphasizes the close relationship between movement and cognition in the development of creativity. Relevant to didactics, the authors see in the embodied approach to creativity “new opportunities for designing learning environments that promote creativity” (ibid: 5) and provide impulses for such a promotion. In the case of the various empirical studies related to language learning (see Kosmas and Zaphiris 2019; Kosmas 2021), the educational interventions primarily rest on the core findings concerning language comprehension and cognition being grounded in perceptual/sensory-motor experiences (among others Barsalou 1999, 2008, 2009; see also introduction of this volume).

Following these findings of embodied cognition as well, in our literary translation courses at the University of Bologna, we built on and adapted the approach of TextBewegung (TextMovement) (see Schindler and Zepter 2009; 2011; 2017). TextBewegung represents a concrete bodily-based teaching proposal designed for the education of language teachers, but also implemented in various educational settings in German language classes (ibid). In the course of a TextBewegung-project, the participating students develop a wide range of activities which combine writing, speaking, movement and performance within an aesthetic-creative and playful setting. Thus, the approach enables the participants to be addressed in their cognitive and physical resources in a balanced way. Concepts of Creative Writing and literacy are thereby linked with dance-theatrical procedures from Pina Bausch’s dance theatre (cf. Schindler and Zepter 2017: 33-50). Once again, findings on embodiment in cognitive psychology underpin such a didactic model, which at the same time is strongly inspired by the phenomenological body concept. Thus, the body’s kinaesthetic experience plays a central role in this conception (cf. Schindler und Zepter 2017: 30), in a way which also can be related to the phenomenology of dance. As highlighted by Dávila (2012: 109), “[D]ancing involves being aware of one’s own action while sensing oneself in all one’s movements, which have a rhythm and a form”. From this point of view, “[T]he double reality of the body as a physical thing and as a subjective sensuous experience rises to the surface in dance” (Dávila 2012: 107). Following up on this perspective, we claim that kinaesthetic experience and consciously designed movement offer fertile ground for self-awareness processes that might have also educational implications.

Before we go into more detail about our specific adaption of TextBewegung in the teaching of literary translation in the next section, one additional point is to be noted: All the abovementioned studies show that teaching based on embodied learning stimulates the motivation of the students, who predominantly participate with pleasure and curiosity in the lessons. Our practical experiences at the University of Bologna suggest this as well.

In this regard, searching for the reasons why the embodied learning approach is still not very popular in higher education contexts and university teaching – despite the scientific and philosophical evidence that speaks in its favour – one could somewhat provocatively develop the claim that it is precisely because of its joyful and playful nature. We see an argument for this assumption in the fact that most research studies relate to education in schools (cf. Sapiro and Stolz 2019), and among them mainly at the primary school level. Teaching approaches in which adult students are asked to bring their whole bodies into play still seem to be an exception, or even a taboo. The aspect of learning through play – a concept that superficially seems to contradict ‘serious’, cognitively demanding learning processes – may reinforce this barrier.

Quite the opposite, we consider it not only as a positive side effect, but rather as a constitutive part of corresponding approaches to embodied learning that they foster the joyful and often playful atmosphere that arises in the classroom. Especially such atmospheres, we claim, can also provide fertile ground for promoting creative thinking processes – and in this way for serious, cognitive ‘advanced’ learning.

Here again, we rely theoretically on the phenomenological foundation, by recalling the German concept of Spielraum, which plays an important role in Merleau-Ponty’s work. Literally translated, Spielraum means ‘play space’, but it is usually translated as ‘leeway’. Merleau-Ponty places the body – the living and perceiving body – in a space that he defines as Spielraum, referring to a space that is real and potential at the same time (cf. Merleau-Ponty 1962: 286). From our perspective, the body-based teaching concept creates exactly such a space, which opens up differences and invites students to play with possibility. In this Spiel-Raum, there is, we propose, a lot of space for creative thinking. Moreover, when we pick up and further develop the work of Amoroso and De Fazio (2015: 251), the concept of Spielraum suggests overcoming the apparent dichotomy between play/joy and seriousness in the learning process and in the (higher education) classroom. On the contrary, one can be recognized as a requirement and result of the other. So even adults are allowed to play, and they might do it with their entire body.

Last but not least, the bodily-based didactic approach forces us to rethink and reshape the concrete physical spaces in which teaching takes place. If we want the whole body to be active in the classroom and involved in the learning process, this takes up space. That is, it requires spaces to move without obstacles (see Kosmas 2021: 142). In line with other studies, our explorations confirm that this kind of classroom setting is by no means obvious, especially in the academic environment.

Taking all the above into consideration, the positive impact of the embodied perspective on educational practices seems to us worth exploring. Thus, we share the opinion of Shapiro and Stolz (2019: 26) that “[g]iven the tremendous variety of issues to which an embodied perspective might be usefully applied, the natural question seems not to be whether embodied cognition might help to inform educational practices, but how.” In the next section, we present how we explored the embodied perspective in literary translation courses at the University of Bologna.

2. Exploring embodied teaching of literary translation at the University of Bologna

In this section, we introduce our approach of bodily-based teaching applied to the context of teaching literary translation at the University. We describe selected examples of the activities and tasks we proposed to the students, looking at the way they were carried out, the reactions they provoked and the results they led to. Let us start with a short description of the overall setting.

2.1 The setting

For the current exploration, we worked with academic students participating in a translation course focused on the translation of literary and essayistic texts from German into Italian. The course is part of the Master’s degree programme Language, Society and Communication of the University of Bologna. The students, about 30 in number, have a good proficiency in German (in terms of the Common European Framework of Reference, the level ranges from B2 to C1). Some, but not all, of them have already taken translation courses as part of their Bachelor’s degree, and some have moderate translation experience without reference to their studies. Previous translation experience almost always concerns specialized texts; any previous university translation courses are mainly of a theoretical nature. Many students know translation as an exercise functional to language learning and therefore tend to focus on the confrontation of linguistic structures. Our workshop, which we proposed for two consecutive years (March 2017, March 2019) in this teaching course, lasted eight academic hours, divided into two meetings. The data presented below stem from the March 2021 workshop, which we videotaped in its entirety for later qualitative analysis.[3]

The starting point of the translation exercise was a passage from the book Deutschsein. Eine Aufklärungsschrift, written by Zafer Şenocak (cf. Şenocak 2011), a Berlin-based author, who lives and writes both in German and Turkish and who addresses multilingual, multicultural and multinational issues in his literary and critical works (see the text in the Appendix).

As already pointed out in section 1, the activities and tasks we implemented are mainly designed based on the language teaching approach “TextBewegung” (TextMovement) developed by Schindler and Zepter (2009; 2011; 2017). It offered us a theoretical and methodological framework for multiple embodied and creative accesses to language and text, which we propose to adapt also for the field of teaching literary translation. The overall goal of such an adaptation is to enable students to gain new perspectives on literary texts and more generally on language, because translation processes – this is our claim – are fundamentally always also linguistic and intercultural learning processes. The activities and tasks, which we call “körpersensitive Übungen” (body sensitive exercises; cf. Zepter 2013; Schindler and Zepter 2017), focus on the psycho-sensory response to language, involving the whole body. By body we refer to the human being's own living body perceiving the environment (the “Leib” as understood by Merleau-Ponty) including the dimensions of sensory perception, movement and emotions.

Most of the activities described below follow a “three-step” structure (see Schindler and Zepter 2017: 10f.): First, text and movement products are created in creative phases using improvisation and creative play with language and movement as essential tools. Second, the text and movement products are then revised in individual and cooperative review phases based on mutual feedback of all participants. Third, the final products are performed and thereby appreciated by final feedback. In the adaption of the translation courses, the third (performative) phase takes the form of short staging sequences within the process of learning translation.

Obviously, the three-step structure implies different social forms in the classroom. Thus, moments of individual work alternate with pair and group work. In this regard, once more, the contributions describing concrete teaching situations based on embodied learning (cf. section 1) highlight how integrating the physical body and movement into the learning process allows learners to be more active and engaged in collaborative learning activities. Moreover, although the collaborative moment may not seem essential in teaching literary translation, we share Malmkjær’s (2020) view:  

The moment of translating [italics in the original] is an individual act, but it is, as any individual act is, influenced by numerous encounters between the individual and the other, and by the individual’s previous experience generally. In this, translating mirrors the exercise of creativity, because even if a group is working creatively together, each individual so-called creative spark is generated in the mind of an individual person, even though this may happen on the basis of collaborative work and discussion by the group. (Malmkjær 2020: 36-37)

Beyond the social form promoted through the various activities, we principally try to integrate movement and reflection, experience and description of experience – generally aiming for an integration of corporeal text/language experiences and cognitive reflection on those experiences. Thus, within the given setting, we systematically included moments of reflection in which the students could share their impressions and views with each other and with the lecturers. The latter also included a final observation and evaluation sheet to be answered at the end of the workshop.

Altogether, in terms of translator education, we are adopting a process-oriented, learner-centred approach to translation training (see Kiraly 2003; 2014). Our attempt is to provide within this framework an approach that explicitly includes corporeality in literary translation didactics. Thus, we combine translation work with body, language and intercultural work in order to promote sensitivity for the source and target language. That sensory awareness is likewise decisive for professional translation work is also shown in the contributions by Basso and Scott in this issue.

2.2 Description of activities

Exercise unit 1 ─ Warm-up: Awareness of the others/of the group

Generally, it makes sense to start with a warm-up phase, which also serves to make all participants lose their shyness. After all, working with the body in academic translation seminars is unfamiliar at first.

  1. Exploring different ways of walking in space with music

While the music is playing, all students walk around the room trying to use the entire space but not bumping into each other. The teacher demonstrates and gives different instructions to vary the walk, e.g. short steps, long steps, a fast walk (with short or long steps), a slow-motion walk, a tiptoe walk, a squat walk, walking forwards or backwards, etc.

Students are encouraged to walk first on their own (picture 1a), then in pairs or in threes. In the first rounds, everybody is following the teacher’s instructions. When walking in pairs or threes, the challenge is to stay side by side, even if you do not touch each other and, moreover, change direction and/or the walking pace. The idea is that one partner leads, the other follows, but both are mindful and continually strive to feel the other (picture 1b).  In a later round, it is a matter of the couples or trios improvising themselves and varying their walking according to their own ideas (picture 1c).

Picture 1.a-c: Warm up ─ walking

It is normal that the warm-up exercises initially cause some embarrassment among the students, mainly due to the fact that in academic contexts they are not used to leaving their desks and therefore appearing and being seen with their whole bodies. Even the internal structure of the classrooms is not exactly conducive to this kind of activity. We therefore left the students completely free to choose whether or not to participate, and we noticed that even the most reluctant ones quickly overcame their embarrassment. Talking to them, it was emphasized by many that music helps a lot in this case.

  1. Group exercise: body line, i.e. moving together as a group, listening to where the others are

A second task rounds off the warm-up phase, in which the entire group works together. The students form two rows; they stand parallel and relaxed facing each other, with eyes closed. In the single rows, the students stand very close, but without touching each other. At the start signal (‘go’), both rows walk toward each other (with eyes closed), with students trying to keep a straight row. When the stop signal is given, students open their eyes and check if they are still standing next to each other in a straight line, parallel to the row facing (pictures 2a and 2b)

Picture 2.a, b: Warm up ─ walking in a straight row while eyes are closed

The basic task here is to feel one’s own and the neighbouring bodies and to find a rhythm together with them. In the beginning, most students tended to walk at different speeds and were not sufficiently aware of neighbouring bodies (picture 3a). But after several attempts, the awareness increased and they came much closer to the goal of straight lines and parallel rows (picture 3b).

Picture 3.a, b: Warm up ─ growing awareness towards walking together

Exercise unit 2: Exploring one own’s experiences of a word and its meaning

This exercise unit plays with the theory of embodied cognition and its basic assumption that concepts associated with words are grounded in perceptions and physical experiences (among others Barsalou 1999, 2008, 2009). It seems to us particularly well suited as an introduction and preliminary exercise for text and translation work.

Students are asked to think of a word and describe it in the form of a short written text. Inviting them to describe it, we ask them to go beyond the denotative meaning(s) and to investigate what the word means to them personally (individually) and for the living experience of language throughout their own lives. The proposal is therefore to dive into one’s own linguistic body memory and furthermore give voice to what Kristeva (1974) calls the semiotic dimension of language, in contrast to its symbolic function. The former is connected with the preconscious or unconscious and has to do with sound, senses, emotions, desiring, ambiguity; the latter concerns the relationship between referent and object. In each meeting, we start with one or a couple of the word descriptions, which are shared with the group by reading them aloud.[4]

What immediately stands out in this exercise is the high number of dialectal words chosen by the students, including several dialects of the Italian language, as they come from different regions of Italy. Not only the meaning, but also the dialectal sound of a word seemed to be relevant to many and associated with basal feelings/experiences of ‘homeland’ – which for us provided a compelling transition to the examination of the book Deutschsein (cf. Şenocak 2011) and the associated translation work.

Exercise unit 3: Awareness in relation to one’s own external perception, self-perception (proprioception) and creating words or word meanings as freeze images

In the passage we worked on, the German term “Nachtruhe”, referring to a culture-specific concept, plays a prominent role:

Zu Hause, in einer möblierten Dachwohnung am Ortsrand, war es warm und gemütlich. [...] Nachts war es ganz still. Ruhe war wichtig in diesem Land. Nachtruhe. Der Lärm Istanbuls war nicht mehr zu hören. Ich vermisste vor allem die Schiffssirenen. (Şenocak 2011: 9)

Our home, a furnished attic apartment on the edge of town, was warm and cosy. [...] At night silence reigned. Silence was important in Germany. Especially at night: Nachtruhe. The noise of Istanbul was gone. I missed ships' sirens most of all. (Translation by Ivancic)

In order to deepen the understanding of this culture-specificity, the intention was to combine (i) the more common approach of verbally discussing the term in the group with (ii) a bodily exploration of the idea “to have silence in the night/to be still at night” by working with freeze images.

  1. Preparation – introducing body statues and practicing awareness

In groups of four, the first task is to practice body awareness by creating a body statue and copying it as accurately as possible, using the perspectives of doing and of observing (pictures 4a and 4b): In a group of four, the first person assumes a certain posture and 'freezes' in this position like a statue. A second person stands next to them and tries to assume exactly the same posture (inner perception). A third person looks at and compares the two statues and corrects the posture of the second person where their posture differs from that of the first (external perception). Subsequently, the third person also assumes the same posture and the fourth person compares the three statues. The exercise can be repeated, changing roles.[5]

Picture 4.a, b: body statues ─ exploring and comparing inner and external perception

  1. Creating group statues: ‘city by night’

Building on this experience, the next step is to work in groups (of seven) and create a group statue on a specific topic. That is, the task goal is to move and think together in order to find a freeze image – an arrangement of different body statues – which represents Bologna by night (picture 5a) and another one for Murnau by night (picture 5b). Going a step further, the groups could also enhance their pictures with self-made sounds (body percussion).

Picture 5.a, b: group statues ─ physical exploration of the possible differences between urban atmospheres at night

The exercise created a protected space to playfully experience the concept of “Nachtruhe” and related concepts. Thus, it gave the opportunity to build an embodied understanding by taking different perspectives, by actively comparing culture specific aspects and getting actively involved with possible sensuous, motoric and emotional dimensions.

Exercise unit 4: Observational awareness ─ exploring the specificity of attentional focus

The following group exercises are inspired by the child’s game “Stille Post” (literary translated ‘silent mail’)[6] and aim to sensibilize to how much the simple copying (imitation) of movement and of linguistic utterance is controlled by our attentional focus.

All students stand in a circle. The first person in line improvises a gesture and shows it to their neighbour, who observes, while all others have their eyes closed. This second person then copies the gesture and shows it to their next neighbour (third person in line), while all other students again have their eyes closed; and so on. At the end, the first and the last gesture are compared.

In the second pass, the same principle is used to pass on a short linguistic utterance. Here, the focus shifts to attention and concentration in the listening process. The first student whispers a short sentence into the ear of their neighbour. This neighbour whispers what they heard to their next neighbour and so on. At the end, the original sentence and the last sentence heard are compared.

In both tasks, initial movement or utterance and final copy were usually very different. Generally, this kind of observational awareness seemed rather difficult to transfer for the students, which shows, among other things, that our attention is very selective and individual. In this exercise, the students not only participated with a lot of fun; many of them also seriously wondered about the strong differences between initial movement/utterance and final copy. These observations directly triggered further reflections on our attention in the translation process.

Exercise unit 5: Feeling concepts through senses

Exercise unit 5 builds on exercise units 2 and 3 and approaches the issues once again from other body-oriented perspectives.

  1. Individual work on the concept of ‘Nachruhe’

In the first step, students are asked to paint/draw a picture to the concept of Nachtruhe.

Picture 6: Visualization of a concept  ̶  individual perspectives

In the next step, the pictures form the starting point for a linguistic-aesthetic (poetic) examination of the concept. Therefore, students are asked to write a haiku[7] in Italian on the concept of Nachtruhe.

Picture 7.a, b: Students write individual haikus on a concept

  1. Group work  ̶  performative approach to a concept

The individual aesthetic confrontation provides the starting point for a further embodied approach to the concept of Nachtruhe, whereby work is now cooperative and performative. For this purpose, once again, groups (of four or five students) are formed. Each group chooses a haiku and translates it into German, keeping the haiku structure.

Furthermore, each group has the task of presenting the haiku to the others, thus not only reading it out, but also shaping it physically, i.e. through language and movement (pictures 8a and 8b).

Picture 8.a, b: Students develop a performance for the haiku that incorporates voice and movement

The most significant aspect of this exercise unit is related to the particular structure of the poetic text that students were asked to produce. Consisting of a total of 17 syllables arranged in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables respectively, this text type clearly sets very precise limits already at the stage of composition in the source language, which in this case was Italian. Recalling the expression “extreme translations”, proposed by Nasi (2015) with regards to texts whose linguistic-textual characteristics require particular creativity and a great deal of courage in the translation process, the exercise unit introduces such a form of text encounter. The aim is to stimulate “the development of critical thinking, which is both rigorous and creative at the same time” (Nasi 2021: 8).

The students’ text products, some of which are presented below, suggest that corresponding exercises do indeed promote close attention to the text and encourage creativity in translating.

Haikus in Italian

Haikus in German

Freddo e buio

Ricoperto di bianco

Ed ecco, Nachtruhe.


Dunkel, Silberstrahlen

Irgendwas schneebedeckt, scheint

Willkommen Nachtruhe.


Luci accese

Di fuori il silenzio

Nera la note.


Glühende Lichte

Außerhalb nur die Stille

Schwarz ist die Nacht.

Giocan i bimbi,

I grandi tornano al

Caldo camino.


Spielen die Kinder,

Kommen die Eltern zurück

Zum heißen Kamin.

Legna ardente,

Istanbul è lontana,

Dormi amore.

Brennendes Holzstück,

Istanbul ist schon weit weg,

Schlaf meine Liebe.


Neve e silenzio

Sento freddo intorno a me

Caldo nel cuore.


Langsam fällt der Schnee

Kalt und still in diesem Land

Warm in meinem Herz.


Lenta la neve

Tutto diventa bianco

Via la mente.


Langsam fällt der Schnee

Mir wird das Gedächtnis weiß

Alles verschwindet.


Fuori la neve

Mi stringo nel tepore

Guardando fuori.

Nur ein stilles Dorf

in der Ruhe eingetaucht

in der Nachtruhe.


Figure 1: Poem translations as final products of an embodied approach to text

Exercise unit 6: Sensing words and expressions phonetically and tonally

The previous tasks have focused on one concept. This unit expands the sense-based approach in the creative play with a larger set of expressions. Students work again in groups of three or four. In the group work, they have to:

  1. Choose several words, phrases from the text to be translated (a text passage of Deutschsein) which they perceive as particularly beautiful or ugly when they vocalize them aloud;
  2. Think together about what makes the expressions beautiful or ugly (sound, sound material, combination of sounds...);
  3. Select one expression and based on the preliminary considerations write an acrostic for it;
  4. Translate the selected expression into Italian and carry out again the tasks (b) and (c), comparing beauty and/or ugliness perceived in both languages and cultures.

The acrostic is a poetic verse form in which the initial sounds or initial letters of each line together form a separate word. The writing of the acrostic in combination with the emotional and tonal approach to an expression aims again at stimulating creativity in the translation process comparable to the work on the haiku in exercise unit 5.  Figure 2 shows some examples of the students’ products:

Acrostic in German

Acrostic in Italian
























































































Definizioni (non)














Figure 2: Acrostics on phonetically, tonally sensing an expression

Exercise unit 7: Approaching the ‘sound’ of German/Italian ─ building a feeling for language, linking language, voice and emotion

The last exercise unit we exemplarily present deepens the examination of the oral composition of dialogues (to be translated) through a scenic play with the text. The unit starts again with a preparation phase to open up for the embodied approach to follow.

  1. Preparation  ̶  exploring different vocal/emotional interpretations of a sentence

The entire group works with the sample sentence: “Der Zug ist pünktlich.”, ‘The train is on time.’ The first goal is to explore within the scope of the concrete oral realization which variation possibilities our voice basically offers and classify them along different binary parameters. For example, we can speak loudly or softly, slowly or quickly, rising or falling, halting or flowing, light (high) or dark (low). The parameters can be combined with each other or implemented in detail (compared to our standard voice). That is, we can orally realize an utterance comparatively loudly, slowly, falling, halting and darkly. The group reflects together on the effects of the different versions and discusses possible connotations of meaning associated with a version through language/cultural/social convention.

The second step turns to partner work and the comparison of different emotional interpretations. That is, here it is a matter of linking an expression with a particular emotion. One partner presents a sentence (or alternatively a word, a part of a sentence or a text) in different emotions, the other is supposed to identify the respective emotion. Sentences that are in their literal lexical meaning rather ‘neutral’ and in standard language, but not too complex, are particularly suitable. Positively tested is e.g.: “Der Zug ist pünktlich.”/“The train is on time”. It also makes it easier to start with relatively strong emotions, e.g.: funny, angry, sad.

The partners alternate and test the emotional interpretations of expressions in German and in Italian. Finally, the whole group comes together again and reflects on the exercise.  

  1. Orally enact a dialogue that is to be translated, first in different vocal interpretations

Building on the preparation phase, students work once more in groups of two and focus on a short dialogue from the text to be translated (a conversation between father and son in Deutschsein, p. 10). Task goal is to perform the dialogue in different vocal and emotional versions.

Vater:  „Es gibt ein freies und ein unfreies, gefangenes Deutschland. Diese Grenze ist eine Mauer, die man nicht passieren darf.“

Sohn:  „In welches Deutschland fahren wir? In das freie oder in das unfreie?“

Vater:  „In das freie natürlich. Da fahren jetzt viele Menschen aus der Türkei hin. Deshalb ist der Zug so überfüllt.“

Sohn:  „Wenn so viele Menschen von der Türkei nach Deutschland fahren, dann muss Deutschland ja viel schöner sein als die Türkei?

Vater:  „Vielleicht nicht schöner, aber anders. Deutschland wird dir gefallen. Es gibt dort keine armen Kinder.“

Father:  “There is a free Germany and an unfree, imprisoned Germany. This border is a wall that you are not allowed to cross.”

Son:  “Which Germany are we going to? To the free one or the unfree one?”

Father:  “To the free one, of course. Many people from Turkey are going there now. That’s why the train is so crowded.”

Son:  “If so many people are going from Turkey to Germany, then Germany must be much nicer than Turkey?”

Father:  “Maybe not nicer, but different. You will like Germany. There are no poor children there.”

Afterwards, one version is selected and performed in plenary. The entire group reflects on the comparison of the different versions presented in terms of impact and fit in relation to the meaning of the dialogue.

In the next step, the partners come together again and develop an Italian translation of the dialogue. Again, different vocal and emotional versions are tried out and included in the process of finding solutions for the translation work. In the last phase, the translation drafts are presented to another group of two and further revised based on their respective feedback. Subsequently, each pair develops a final version and presents it in plenary.

In the final reflection, the whole group reflects on the different versions and discusses their respective fit (or also the differences) with regard to the original German dialogue(s).

To be highlighted: We did not set up this study as a pre/post-design, yet the students' translation drafts that were created during the workshops can be compared on a qualitative level with drafts that were made in advance. Initial analyses show that the preliminary drafts were revised both on the syntactic and on the conceptual level. For example, the term Geborgenheit, which is a key concept in the text, was mostly translated as sicurezza in the preliminary drafts, according to common dictionary translations. However, this does not correspond to the culturally specific meaning, the scope of which was better recognised with regard to the source text in the course of the workshop. More detailed qualitative analyses are in any case desirable for the future.

3. Conclusions

With this contribution, we presented a bodily-based proposal for teaching literary translation in higher education. Overall, we argue to include exercises in the academic practice that explore the ways in which our body shapes the mental and creates conditions for embodied agents to act in the translating process. To summarize, we claim:

  • We relate to “empirical work showing how embodied activities constitutively shape many aspects of cognitive life” (Farina 2021: 84) and to a phenomenological view on language and translation.
  • Embodiment cognition findings highlight the significance of the practical manipulative experience grounding abstract symbols in the internalization of embodied mental models.
  • In relation to the 4E cognition model (see Tschacher in this volume), our exercise units specifically address the embodied and the enactive dimensions. The starting point is the consideration that cognition and body influence and condition each other reciprocally.
  • The first experiences with the presented units have shown that corresponding practices are not very costly and it is fairly simple to integrate them in a “normal” course of seminar.
  • The impact of this approach can be rather far-reaching: The corporeal experience can provide the base for the recognizing, the cognitive grasping and for the development of what Kirsten Malmkjær (2020: 70) calls “aesthetic attention” to the text.
  • Not to be underestimated in its relevance, the proposed activities can also create fertile ground for the experience of the aesthetic pleasure that the translation process can imply. That is, recalling the ethic dimension of translation, we claim that an embodied learning environment allows learners to feel what Paul Ricœur (2006: 10) referred to as “linguistic hospitality” (hospitalité langagière), i.e. the “pleasure of dwelling in the other’s language” as well as the “the pleasure of receiving the foreign word at home”.
  • Moreover, our experience suggests that through an embodied approach to language and translation, this kind of pleasure goes beyond the distinction between first and foreign language and it becomes pleasure of dwelling in language itself. Thus, we likewise share Scott’s view:
    Being at home in a language is certainly one way of being at home in a relation within the world. One’s mouth serves that language and is at its ease in that language. But I want it the other way round: language, rather languages, serve the mouth. In order to feel at home in our mouths we must be more comprehensively familiar with, and make fuller use of, our vocal resources. These vocal resources are as much elicited by written signs, designs and dispositions, as they are by ‘natural’ languages. And so the multilingualism I argue for, as the proper vehicle of translation, includes the languages of textual presentation as much as the national languages. This liberation of the mouth across its full vocal range therefore entails a corresponding liberation of the ear (hearing the possibility of sound in signs hitherto treated as silent) and of the eye (seeing acoustic signals in the array of graphic and typographic material put in front of it). Dwelling in one’s linguistic faculties, and in the audio-sensory faculties projected by, or embodied in, written/printed signs, is thus more important in the translator’s venture than dwelling in a mother tongue and a second language. (Scott 2012: 8)
  • We are well aware that at first sight, the described approach to teaching literary translation may seem difficult to reconcile with an increasingly digitalized approach to language and translation. However, we are convinced that the two perspectives are in no way in conflict, quite the contrary: The bodily-based approach to translation helps to develop the ‘feeling for language’ – Sprachgefühl in German – which is also crucial in dealing with machine-translated texts and in the process of text editing (on the rediscovering and discussion of the notion of Sprachgefühl in the German linguistics and translatology, see also Langlotz et al. 2014).

Altogether, it must be highlighted once again: literary translation always also means linguistic and cultural learning. This is true for professional translators and even more so for students in training. Therefore –we claim – academic translation seminars should always create space to engage with the literary language and create awareness of linguistic divergences as well as stimulate reflection on the different perspectives on linguistic expressions in different cultures.  Our approach is to stimulate this reflection holistically, i.e. integrating cognition and body.

In our examples, we focus on the didactic implications of an embodied understanding of literary translation. Obviously, overall, more empirical research has to be done in order to get robust insights. We expect that qualitative research in particular, which empirically reconstructs the translation processes in a body-sensitive classroom and also reveals developmental trajectories, will prove to be insightful.

We close with the following exploratory remark: The presented kind of work can be difficult at first, mainly due to the lack of familiarity of both students and teachers with the involvement of the body, understood as well as Leib, in academic lessons. Our experience shows that it takes some time to get involved in working with the body, i.e. to get into the body. But at the same time, we have seen that as soon as this first barrier is overcome, students participate with great enthusiasm and curiosity. The latter seems mainly due to the desire to experiment with other ways of approaching the text and the language in general, as the students repeatedly stressed in our final discussions. The crucial point, though, seems to be to tightly link up the bodywork with reflection. Hence, between and after the various tasks, it is important to come together, to talk about the individual experiences made during the practice and to reflect on the insights in respect of the translation and the process of translating.


Zafer Şenocak: Deutschsein. Eine Aufklärungsschrift, Hamburg: edition Körber-Stiftung, 2011, p. 9-14.

Die Sprache öffnen

Wann bietet eine Fremdsprache Geborgenheit?

»Ins Offene, dorthin, wo Sprache auch zur Begegnung führen kann.«
Paul Celan, Brief an Brigitte und Gottfried
Bermann Fischer, 22. November 1958

Wenn ich an meine Kindheit in Deutschland denke, überkommt mich ein Gefühl der Geborgenheit. In meinem achten Lebensjahr zogen wir von Istanbul in einen kleinen oberbayrischen Ort. Als wir dort ankamen, lag der Schnee knietief, und der Ort erschien mir wie ausgestorben. Die Luft roch ganz anders als in Istanbul. Sie war frisch, brannte in der Nase, so als hätte man ihr ein Gewürz beigemischt. Der Schnee blieb noch lange liegen in diesem Jahr. Zu Hause, in einer möblierten Dachwohnung am Ortsrand, war es warm und gemütlich. Vom Fenster aus sah man die Berge mit ihren bewaldeten Hängen. Vor dem Haus erstreckten sich schneebedeckte Felder. Nachts war es ganz still. Ruhe war wichtig in diesem Land. Nachtruhe. Der Lärm Istanbuls war nicht mehr zu hören. Ich vermisste vor allem die Schiffssirenen. Aus Istanbul hatte ich wenig mitgebracht. Ich erinnere mich an den Schulatlas, auf dem ich auf der dreitägigen Reise im Zug mit dem Finger jene Strecke nachfuhr, die uns dem Ziel München nahe brachte. Auf dem Atlas war eine Grenze eingezeichnet, die mitten durch Deutschland führte und deren Zweck ich nicht verstand.

»Es gibt ein freies und ein unfreies, gefangenes Deutschland«, erklärte mir mein Vater. »Diese Grenze ist eine Mauer, die man nicht passieren darf.«

In welches Deutschland fuhren wir? In das freie oder in das unfreie?

»In das freie natürlich«, beruhigte mich mein Vater. »Da fahren jetzt viele Menschen aus der Türkei hin. Deshalb ist der Zug so überfüllt.«

»Wenn so viele Menschen von der Türkei nach Deutschland fahren, dann muss Deutschland ja viel schöner sein als die Türkei?«

»Vielleicht nicht schöner, aber anders. Deutschland wird dir gefallen. Es gibt dort keine armen Kinder.«

Ein Land, in dem es keine armen Kinder gab, das war gut. Das war sicher ein Grund dafür, warum so viele Menschen nach Deutschland fuhren.


Unsere Wirtin, eine hochbetagte, aber rüstige Dame, die allein lebte, weil ihr Mann verstorben war, hatte dieses Wort ausgesprochen. Ich legte mir ein Heft an, in dem ich die fremden Wörter auflistete, die ich zu hören begann. Ich nannte das Heft: mein deutsches Heft. Ein kleines Heft, etwas mehr als handtellergroß. In der Mitte der Seiten war ein roter Strich von oben nach unten gezogen. So konnte ich jedes Wort, das ich ins Heft eintrug, auch ins Türkische übersetzen. Aber manche Wörter ließen sich nicht übersetzen. Nachtruhe zum Beispiel. Meine Mutter erklärte mir, bei der Nachtruhe gehe es nicht darum, dass die Nacht ruhig sei, sondern dass man in der Nacht nicht laut sein dürfe. »Geceye benzemek, gece gürültü yapmamak«, notierte ich auf der türkischen Hälfte meines Heftes. Der Nacht ähnlich werden. So ruhig wie die Nacht sein. Ein deutsches Wort brauchte mehrere türkische, um verstanden zu werden. Ich hatte schon nach wenigen Tagen einige Dutzend Wörter in mein Heft geschrieben. Aber ich sprach noch kein Wort Deutsch. Es können in Büchern und Heften viele Wörter stehen, aber gesprochen werden sie schließlich auf der Zunge. Sprechen geht nicht, ohne Wörter zu schmecken.

Dieses Deutschland war für mich zunächst einmal kein Land, sondern eine fremde Sprache, die sich lustig anhörte. Wenn die Wörter noch nicht schmecken, kann man sich von Blicken ernähren. Ich fand schnell Zugang zu den Blicken der Menschen. Ich konnte tief in sie hineintauchen, ohne aufzufallen. In der Türkei hätte ich mich nicht getraut, fremde Menschen so genau zu beobachten. Aber hier gab es eine andere Art von Distanz. Die Menschen waren nicht nur fremd, sie waren Fremde. Anders als die Menschen in Istanbul. Hier waren sie viel größer, und die Männer trugen Hüte mit Federn. Sie sahen in etwa so aus, wie ich mir Jäger vorstellte. Ihre Blicke waren nicht abweisend. Sie waren gleichgültig. Sie wandten sich nicht ab, schützten sich nicht, blickten nicht zurück, so dass ich mich nicht bedroht fühlte.

Ich beschloss, keine Angst zu haben in diesem neuen Land. Im Gegenteil: Ich spürte eine Nähe zu etwas, das mir fremd, fern, aber nicht verschlossen zu sein schien.

Diese Kindheit in Deutschland war behütet, voller Entdeckungen, Herausforderungen und überraschender Momente.

Es war das Jahr 1970. Nach fünfmonatigem Aufenthalt im bayerischen Voralpenland, genauer gesagt, in Murnau am Staffelsee, zogen meine Eltern nach München weiter. Doch Murnau, dieser Ort, der auf meinem Atlas nicht verzeichnet war, hatte sich mir eingeprägt: die Nachtruhe, die sich später in eine Idylle verwandelte, in das besondere Licht, das an Föhntagen über dem Staffelsee liegt, das schon Maler wie Gabriele Münter und Wassily Kandinsky inspiriert hatte, und eine Landschaft, die sich mir einprägte.

Selbstverständlich wollten mich meine Eltern schon in Murnau in die Schule schicken. Wir waren ja mitten im Schuljahr dort angekommen. In der Türkei besuchte ich gerade die vierte Klasse. Doch ich weigerte mich, die Schule in Murnau zu besuchen. Der Grund war die Begegnung mit einigen Jungen, die im kniehohen Schnee auf den Feldern vor unserem Haus herumtollten, in kurzen Lederhosen. Ihre Beine waren rot, die Haut schimmerte sonderbar. Das schien ihnen aber nichts auszumachen. Diese Jungs flößten mir Respekt ein. Ich fühlte mich nicht so weit, ihnen entgegentreten zu können.

Meine Eltern waren nachsichtig. Als Ersatz für den Schulbesuch bekam ich eine deutsche Fibel geschenkt. Meine Mutter übte mit mir jetzt die Aussprache der Wörter. Ich kann mich nicht daran erinnern, dass meine Eltern später jemals wieder Deutsch mit mir gesprochen haben. In München angekommen, wurde ich in die Schule gebracht und ein halbes Jahr lang an jedem Schultag nachmittags für anderthalb Stunden zu Frau Saal, einer pensionierten Volksschullehrerin mit strengen Gesichtszügen, die sich jedoch lockerten, wenn sie mit mir die deutsche Sprache übte. Bei Frau Saal schmeckten die Wörter nach Kaffee und Kuchen, genauer gesagt, nach Apfelkuchen, der fast immer auf dem Tisch stand und von dem ich kosten durfte, wenn ich fleißig gewesen war.

Ihre Wohnung war auffallend dunkel. Es war wieder Winter geworden, und ich besuchte sie meistens spätnachmittags. Ich erinnere mich nicht, dass sie jemals das Licht eingeschaltet hätte, wenn wir uns über die Bücher beugten.

Als ich sie Jahre später einmal besuchte, um nach ihr zu sehen und mich für die Lehrstunden zu bedanken, konnte ich es nicht lassen und fragte sie danach, warum wir beim Lernen immer so im Halbdunkel gesessen hatten. Vielleicht täuschte mich ja auch meine Erinnerung. Sie lachte laut auf und antwortete ohne zu zögern: »Wenn man eine neue Sprache lernt, muss man die Wörter möglichst lange und genau beobachten. Du aber bist mir zu schnell von einem Wort zum andern gesprungen. Die Dunkelheit hat dich langsamer und aufmerksamer gemacht, und wir sind ja auch gut vorangekommen, wie man sieht.«

Sie deutete auf meinen ersten Gedichtband, den ich ihr gerade überreicht hatte.

Ich verdanke also mein Gefühl für die deutsche Sprache dem Halbdunkel und dem Geschmack von Kaffee und Kuchen, vorzugsweise Apfelkuchen. Wahrscheinlich verdanke ich dem Halbdunkel auch die Brille, die ich schon sehr früh tragen musste. Für die Sprache, die mir so gut schmeckte, hätte ich damals alles hergegeben. Sogar das Büffeln der komplizierten Grammatik, die mir wie ein Labyrinth vorkam, nahm ich widerstandslos hin. Mit Fleiß lässt sich jede Fremdsprache bis zu einem gewissen Grad erlernen. Wer aber in den Genuss einer fremden Sprache kommen möchte, braucht Hingabe. Ich bin Frau Saal heute dankbar, dass sie mir nicht nur die Sprache beigebracht hat, sondern auch die Hingabe abforderte, ja sie in mir auslöste, ohne die ich heute kein deutschsprachiger Schriftsteller sein könnte. [...]


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[1] This study has been carried out as part of the MIUR Excellence Project DIVE-IN Diversity & Inclusion, conducted by the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures - Alma Mater Studiorum - Università di Bologna (iniziativa Dipartimenti di Eccellenza MIUR [L. 232 del 01/12/2016]).

[2] We thank the anonymous reviewer whose comments were very helpful for us in further developing the article.

[3] The cameras were positioned in two different places in the classroom and captured most of the students’ movements.

[4] For a more detailed description of the activity see Ivancic 2016: 82-101.

[5] In the context of anonymization, we generally refer to students as ‘they/them’, which of course can be both male and female students.

[6] In British English, this game is referred to as “Chinese whispers”, while in American English, it is called “Telephone”.

[7] A poem form that is complex in conception but very short in form is the haiku (originally from Japan). The pattern contains exactly three lines, the first line consists of a total of five syllables (in the original Japanese pattern not syllables, but moras), the second of seven syllables (moras), and the third again of five syllables (moras).

About the author(s)

Barbara Ivancic is Associate Professor of German Language and Translation at the University of Bologna. Her current main research interests concern the idea of embodiment related to language and translation as well as the field of Literary Translator Studies. She translates literary texts and essays from German and Croatian into Italian. In 2018, she was awarded the Mittner Prize in Translation Studies.

Alexandra L. Zepter (Ph.D.), Professor of German Language and its didactics at the Institute for German Language and Literature at the University of Cologne. Main research interests: Language and body, linguistic learning and aesthetic experience, didactics of multilingualism (DaZ, DaF) and didactics of inclusion.

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

©inTRAlinea & Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter (2022).
"A bodily and co-creative approach to teaching literary translation"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Embodied Translating – Mit dem Körper übersetzen
Edited by: Barbara Ivancic and Alexandra L. Zepter
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2600

3rd International Conference on Community Translation

By The Editors



©inTRAlinea & The Editors (2022).
"3rd International Conference on Community Translation"
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©inTRAlinea & The Editors (2022).
"3rd International Conference on Community Translation"
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Edited by: {specials_editors_news}
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2598

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"
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This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2592

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 et.al. 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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Gibb, H. A. Russkeen. (1982). The Social Significance of the Shuʿūbiyya. In Stanford J. Shaw and William R. Polk (eds.). Studies on the Civilization of Islam. pp. 62-73. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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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=https://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/iraq-i-late-sasanid-early-islamic]https://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/iraq-i-late-sasanid-early-islamic[/url]

[3] The Book of Lords

[4] The Book of Manners

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Taxis and logico-semantic relations in English-Arabic translation

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


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

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

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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.

Ryding, Karin C. (2005) A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic, New York, Cambridge University Press.

Saeed, Aziz Thabit & Shehdeh Fareh (2006) “Difficulties Encountered by Bilingual Arab Learners in Translating Arabic ‘fa’ into English”, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 9, no. 1: 19–32.

Smith, Raoul. N. and William J. Frawley (1983) “Conjunctive cohesion in four English genres”, Text, 3 no. 4: 347–74.

Waltisberg, Michael (2006) “Conjunctions” 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: 467–70.

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 ]http://www.cambridge.org="">[/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]

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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"
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1. De Angelis e Lucrezio. Il problema della traduzione poetica

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Frammenti e occasioni. Un itinerario personale

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

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

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

3. Echi e riflessi. Uno stile poetico

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

Ne volucri ritu flammarum moenia mundi

diffugiant subito magnum per inane soluta

et ne cetera consimili ratione sequantur

neve ruant caeli tonitralia templa superne          1105

terraque se pedibus raptim subducat et omnis

inter permixtas rerum caelique ruinas

corpora solventis abeat per inane profundum,

temporis ut puncto nil exstet reliquiarum

desertum praeter spatium et primordia caeca.    1110

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

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

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

Nec calidae citius decedunt corpore febres,

textilibus si in picturis ostroque rubenti                      35

iacteris, quam si in plebeia veste cubandum est.

Quapropter quoniam nil nostro in corpore gazae

proficiunt neque nobilitas nec gloria regni,

quod superest, animo quoque nil prodesse putandum;

si non forte tuas legiones per loca campi                    40

fervere cum videas belli simulacra cientis,

subsidiis magnis et ecum vi constabilitas,

ornatas armis statuas pariterque animatas,

[fervere cum videas classem lateque vagari,]              43a

his tibi tum rebus timefactae religiones

effugiunt animo pavidae; mortisque timores               45

tum vacuum pectus linquunt curaque solutum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cui simul infula virgineos circumdata comptus

ex utraque pari malarum parte profusast,

et maestum simul ante aras adstare parentem

sensit et hunc propter ferrum celare ministros                       90

aspectuque suo lacrimas effundere civis,

muta metu terram genibus summissa petebat.

Nec miserae prodesse in tali tempore quibat

quod patrio princeps donarat nomine regem.

Nam sublata virum manibus tremibundaque ad aras                95

deductast, non ut sollemni more sacrorum

perfecto posset claro comitari Hymenaeo,

sed casta inceste nubendi tempore in ipso

hostia concideret mactatu maesta parentis,

exitus ut classi felix faustusque daretur.                               100

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.

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

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

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

4. Traduzioni a confronto

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

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

Il seme di cui ho parlato è suscitato in noi

appena l’età pubere apporta vigore alle membra.

Poiché diverse cause stimolano e feriscono oggetti diversi,

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

E questo, appena esce emesso dalle sue sedi,

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

raccogliendosi in certe parti ricche di plessi nervosi,

e subito eccita esattamente gli organi genitali.

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

di eiacularlo dove s’appunta la brama mostruosa,

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

Infatti per lo più tutti cadono sulla propria ferita

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

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

Così dunque chi riceve la ferita dai dardi di Venere,

siano essi scagliati dalle femminee membra d’un fanciullo,

o da donna che irradi amore da tutto il corpo,

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

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

Infatti la tacita brama presagisce il piacere.

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

di qui prima stillarono dolcissime gocce

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


così dunque, chi riceve, per le frecce di Venere, le sue piaghe,

quando lo colpisce, quello, un ragazzo che ha membra muliebri,

o una donna che, da tutto il suo corpo, emana l’amore,

si protende, da quella parte che è ferito, e ha la voglia di andarci insieme,        1055

e di gettarlo, il proprio sperma, fuori dal proprio corpo, in quel corpo: il

desiderio, muto, gli fa pregustare, infatti, il piacere: (Sanguineti 2005: 8)

Il seme cresce dentro di noi. Non appena l’adolescenza dà vigore alle membra e un altro essere umano lo attira a sé, esso ci attraversa e si concentra nei genitali, li mette in allarme, li gonfia, li accende, li guida verso il corpo da cui è giunta la terribile ferita d’amore. Come in una battaglia. Quando il nemico ci trafigge con la sua spada, cadiamo verso di lui, bagnandolo di sangue. Così, non appena ci penetra la freccia amorosa, scagliata dal corpo femmineo di un fanciullo o dal corpo di una donna impregnata d’amore, ci voltiamo verso chi ci ha ferito, desideriamo avvinghiarci, scagliare contro quel corpo il liquido che viene dal nostro, dare voce al silenzioso richiamo. Questa è per noi Venere, questa è la parola amore, queste le prime dolcissime gocce, a cui segue il gelo. (De Angelis 2005: 91)

Nella versione di Canali si possono riconoscere alcuni dei tratti che sono stati individuati come caratteristici del traduttese generalmente impiegato, negli ultimi decenni, nelle traduzioni italiane dei classici antichi. In primo luogo, la corrispondenza verso per verso e, tendenzialmente, parola per parola con il testo latino[19]: di qui la precisione con cui vengono riprodotti anche i più sottili passaggi del ragionamento lucreziano (si vedano ad esempio i vv. 1039-40, sui quali invece De Angelis non si sofferma, limitandosi a inglobarli nella formula “e un altro essere umano lo attira a sé”). Ma questo spiega anche la presenza, in Canali, di formule di passaggio e termini riempitivi che possono appesantire un po’ l’insieme, come l’avverbio “esattamente” (v. 1044) che corrisponde a un ipsas latino, o gli attacchi “Infatti per lo più tutti” (v. 1049 Namque omnes plerumque), “Così dunque” (v. 1052 Sic igitur), “Infatti” (v. 1057 Namque), e di alcune soluzioni a calco, come “emesso dalle sue sedi” (v. 1041 suis eiectum sedibus), “le membra e gli arti” (v. 1042 membra atque artus: i due termini sono sinonimi, infatti al v. 1038 era stato usato “membra” per artus).

In secondo luogo, la traduzione di Canali adotta un lessico che, mantenendosi su un registro sostenuto, include termini talvolta marcatamente letterari o poetici, o comunque arcaizzanti ‒ spiccano “brama”, “dardi”, “umore” ‒ e talvolta invece stranamente tecnici, propri del linguaggio della medicina e della fisiologia, come per i “plessi nervosi” (v. 1043 loca nervorum) o per il verbo “eiaculare”; per cui si possono creare veri e propri cortocircuiti lessicali, come in “nasce il desiderio / di eiacularlo dove s’appunta la brama mostruosa” (vv. 1045-46)[20].

Questi aspetti si ritrovano, particolarmente marcati, nel breve passo tradotto da Sanguineti, che è il risultato di una complessa operazione stilistica e critica con la quale, come ha messo in luce l’analisi di Condello, lo stile lucreziano viene ricondotto “esattamente al ‘grado normale’ o troppo normale del gergo traduttivo” (Condello 2008: 462). Ecco quindi la traduzione verso per verso e parola per parola, che scompone versi ed enunciati latini nei loro singoli elementi, minuziosamente riprodotti in italiano (v. 1052 Sic igitur > “così dunque”; v. 1053 hunc > “quello”; v. 1057 Namque > “infatti”) ed evidenziati da una punteggiatura sovrabbondante. Ed ecco anche l’adozione di soluzioni lessicali appartenenti a registri diversi e disomogenei: dal letterario “piaghe” (v. 1052) e dal latineggiante “membra muliebri” (v. 1053) fino all’abbassamento stilistico determinato, paradossalmente, da calchi etimologici come “andarci insieme” (per coire, v. 1055) e “gettarlo” (per iacere, v. 1056), e dal certamente impoetico “sperma” (v. 1056), oltre che da una sintassi colloquiale, caratterizzata dai pleonasmi pronominali e dall’uso irregolare del che (v. 1055 “da quella parte che è ferito”). Il risultato è una traduzione che, proprio rimarcando i tratti caratteristici dello standard traduttivo, ne vuole evidenziare l’impraticabilità (Condello 2008: 265-66).

E un’alternativa a questo standard è proposta da De Angelis: il confronto con la versione di Canali rende ancora più evidente la diversa modalità con cui egli si rapporta al testo lucreziano, sintetizzandolo e rielaborandolo; non c’è traccia in questo caso di parole o espressioni che segnalano la corrispondenza con il latino. I vv. 1041-48, per esempio, sono resi attraverso una serie di voci verbali separate dalla virgola in un crescendo di intensità (“esso ci attraversa […] la terribile ferita d’amore”), cui segue, secondo una modalità già osservata, l’inciso “Come in una battaglia”, che non ha riscontro in latino, ma anticipa e chiarisce il passaggio alla similitudine successiva. Per quanto riguarda poi le scelte lessicali, De Angelis sembra preferire in genere soluzioni più naturali e immediate rispetto a quelle di Canali[21], oltre che più omogenee dal punto di vista stilistico. Lo si vede già nei primi due versi: nella versione deangelisiana, il seme “cresce” (e non “è suscitato”) quando l’“adolescenza” (e non “l’età pubere”) “dà” (e non “apporta”) vigore alle membra. A fare la differenza, comunque, non è solo la preferenza per la “freccia” rispetto ai “dardi” (v. 1052), ma anche la ricerca di soluzioni lessicali, ancora una volta, dotate di maggiore concretezza e intensità espressiva: così il sangue non irrora il nemico, ma lo bagna, la donna non irradia amore, ma ne è impregnata, e l’uomo desidera non semplicemente congiungersi a lei, e versare in lei il suo umore, ma avvinghiarsi e scagliarlo contro quel corpo.

Ma proprio su questo piano dell’efficacia e della vivacità lessicale può essere interessante un ulteriore confronto, questa volta con una traduzione più affine a quella di De Angelis per il formato a frammenti e per lo statuto poetico. Ancora il verri, nel 2008, ha pubblicato le versioni di tre brani lucreziani a opera di Jolanda Insana: si tratta dell’incipit del poema (I, 1-39), del catalogo dei difetti femminili (IV, 1155-91) e di un passo sulle origini della vita sulla terra (V, 783-825). Fra questi, il secondo è il solo tradotto anche nel volume di De Angelis:

Gli uomini innamorati si prendono in giro a vicenda. Ciascuno consiglia all’altro di non farsi ingannare, ignorando di essere già in trappola. Donne orrende vengono adorate come regine, lodate con parole irreali. Ascoltate, è grottesco. Una dalla pelle bruciacchiata diventa “la mia creola”, un’altra sporca e trasandata è chiamata “bellezza spartana”. Se ha gli occhi verdi, è subito una Minerva, se è tutta nervi e ossa diventa una gazzella. Una nana si trasforma in un tipetto tutto pepe, una cicciona è un essere pieno di maestà. Se balbetta, è un delizioso cinguettio; se non sa dire una parola, è una creatura piena di pudore. Una strega esaltata è una ricca di temperamento. Se non sta in piedi è un giunco, se è tisica un passerotto; se ha un seno enorme diventa Cerere in persona, se ha un nasone una diva, se ha le labbra sporgenti un nido di baci. (De Angelis: 103)

E perciò vediamo femmine brutte e laide                                                1155

molto onorate e ardentemente amate.

E l’uno ride dell’altro, persuadendolo a placare                                  

la passione poiché è degradante l’amore che l’affligge

e non scorge, sventurato, la sua più amara sventura.

Melata è la bruna. Senza belletti la sozza puzzona.                                  1160

Occhiazzurri è il ritratto di Pallade. La segaligna è una gazzella.

La piccoletta, il tappo tutto pepe è sorella delle Grazie.

Una delle sette meraviglie è la stangona, piena di grazia e dignità.

Incapace di parlare la balba è blesa, la mutola riservata.

Sempiterna lampa è l’ardente petulante chiacchierona.                            1165

Un amore in miniatura l’emaciata che stringe l’anima                     

coi denti, delicata la tisica.

La pupporona, invece, è Cerere che allatta Bacco.

La rincagnata una Silena o una Satirella, la labbrona è baccello di baci. (Insana 2008: 86)

Rispetto a tutti gli altri brani fin qui analizzati, questo si distingue per il tono, che non è didascalico e nemmeno tragico o patetico, ma piuttosto satirico, o persino comico, per effetto di un’efficace strategia retorica basata sulla giustapposizione dei difetti femminili, presentati con impietoso realismo, e dei vezzosi nomignoli usati dagli innamorati. Il gioco di contrasti e l’adozione di termini latini molto realistici da un lato, e di numerosi grecismi dall’altro, rendono questo passo del poema, più di altri, una vera e propria sfida per un traduttore.

La versione di De Angelis si apre con un’introduzione che rielabora quella del testo latino, anticipando il commento sul comportamento degli uomini innamorati (vv. 1157-59), rispetto alla constatazione di come “donne orrende” siano oggetto di adorazione e di lode (vv. 1155-56); segue (senza riscontro in latino) un appello ai lettori, nel consueto stile essenziale (“Ascoltate, è grottesco”), e a questo punto si apre la galleria di ritratti femminili. Nella resa di questi ultimi, il poeta-traduttore mette in pratica diverse strategie: in alcuni casi si attiene alla lettera (v. 1161 Palladium > “una Minerva”; dorcas > “una gazzella”; v. 1168 Ceres ipsa > “Cerere in persona”), ma in altri preferisce un lessico più moderno (v. 1162 tota merum sal > “un tipetto tutto pepe”; v. 1163 magna atque immanis > “una cicciona”), oppure sceglie formule alternative, con un effetto modernizzante (v. 1165 flagrans odiosa loquacula > “una strega esaltata”; v. 1169 Silena ac saturast > “una diva”) che culmina nell’anacronismo, o nell’uso anacronistico del lessico antico (v. 1160 melichrus > “la mia creola”; acosmos > “bellezza spartana”). Molte volte, tuttavia, il vivacissimo lessico lucreziano viene tradotto in maniera perifrastica: v. 1160 nigra > “dalla pelle bruciacchiata”; v. 1164 muta pudens est > “se non sa dire una parola, è una creatura piena di pudore”; v. 1165 Lampadium > “una ricca di temperamento”; v. 1168 tumida et mammosa > “se ha un seno enorme”; v. 1169 simula > “se ha un nasone”; v. 1169 labeosa > “se ha le labbra sporgenti”. La diversità delle soluzioni adottate e l’ampliamento di molti passaggi allontanano questa traduzione dall’originale lucreziano nel ritmo, meno vivace, e nel tono, più grave.

Per quanto riguarda Insana che, come poetessa, è ben nota per il suo plurilinguismo (Broccio 2018), è stato notato che le sue traduzioni da Lucrezio non riflettono questa attitudine, anzi, perché l’attenzione alla corrispondenza con l’originale comporta “la rinuncia a quel lessico fortemente idiosincratico e ‘pirotecnico’” che la caratterizza, “come se la poetessa in un certo senso trattenesse la propria voce” (Pellacani 2017: 28). Fa un po’ eccezione, tuttavia, proprio questo passo: nel tradurre il catalogo dei difetti femminili, la vena poetica di Insana può andare incontro a quella di Lucrezio sul piano dell’inventiva verbale. Ecco quindi, ad esempio, l’irriverente “sozza puzzona” per il latino immunda et fetida (v. 1160, da confrontare con “sporca e trasandata” di De Angelis); il composto canzonatorio “occhiazzurri”; l’esageratamente arcaizzante “sempiterna lampa” (per il lucreziano Lampadium, v. 1165); l’espressivo regionalismo (toscano) “pupporona” e lo scherzoso “labbrona”. Incisiva è anche la resa di cum vivere non quit / pro macie (vv. 1166-67) con la metafora “che stringe l’anima / coi denti”[22]. Il piano lessicale, inoltre, è strettamente connesso con quello fonico: si vedano le numerose allitterazioni (“Senza belletti la sozza puzzona”, “la piccoletta, il tappo tutto pepe”, “sempiterna lampa”; a volte al limite della paronomasia, come in “la labbrona è baccello di baci”), le consonanze (“ardente petulante”, “amore in miniatura”), le rime interne e i richiami fonici (“gazzella” e “sorella”; la serie di “riservata”, “emaciata”, “delicata” e “rincagnata”, che si intreccia con quella di “stangona”, “chiacchierona”, “pupporona”, “labbrona”)[23]. L’aderenza alla lettera e allo spirito del testo lucreziano è conservata, e l’effetto è senz’altro godibile.

5. Conclusioni. Traduzione e “intensità”

Di fatto […] le versioni di testi poetici sono, nella loro maggioranza, parafrastiche (soprattutto quando dispongono il testo a fronte) tuttavia mantenendo indicazioni grafiche come l’“a capo” corrispondenti ai versi e le divisioni strofiche; mentre in quelle che si classificano “poetiche” si verranno evidenziando livelli ulteriori, la cui presenza può aumentare gradatamente. Al di sopra di una certa intensità (più o meno intenzionale) si può parlare di “ricreazione” e di autonomia poetica. (Fortini 1989: 97)

Fortini, che nelle sue Lezioni sulla traduzione (1989) si sofferma più volte a riflettere sullo statuto della traduzione poetica, constata il prevalere di modalità “parafrastiche” di traduzione della poesia, caratterizzate da un formato che rispecchia ‒ nel numero di versi e nelle divisioni strofiche ‒ quello del testo di partenza riportato a fronte, e sostiene che invece una traduzione poetica, per potersi definire tale, deve consentire “livelli ulteriori” di analisi, superando una certa soglia di “intensità”.

L’esame delle traduzioni di De Angelis dal De rerum natura ha messo in luce come avviene, in questo caso, il superamento della soglia. Innanzitutto, l’operazione traduttiva viene presentata, dallo stesso De Angelis, come il risultato di un incontro personale fra poeta tradotto e poeta-traduttore, nel nome di una vicinanza nel modo di intendere e di fare poesia; in secondo luogo, il poeta-traduttore prende chiaramente le distanze dalle modalità convenzionali (o “parafrastiche”) di traduzione della poesia classica: nella selezione e nella classificazione personale dei passi da tradurre, in contrapposizione a una traduzione integrale o dei soli brani più celebri; nella scelta della prosa, che paradossalmente, anziché negare la poeticità della traduzione, la garantisce, impedendo una convenzionale corrispondenza verso a verso con il testo a fronte; nella focalizzazione sulla resa di pensieri ed emozioni, piuttosto che di singole parole ed espressioni (e di certo non parola per parola); nell’adozione infine di uno stile poetico personale riconoscibile, non standardizzato. Di conseguenza, tale operazione trasforma profondamente il testo originale ‒ “mutandolo perché possa vivere altrove” (Napoli 2005: 105) ‒ e ha come esito un testo poetico nuovo, con caratteristiche lessicali, sintattiche, retoriche proprie. In questo Lucrezio c’è quindi molto, moltissimo di De Angelis. Resta un interrogativo, e cioè se questo stile traduttivo così personale e così ‘intenso’ possa essere conservato anche in una traduzione integrale dell’immensa opera lucreziana.


Afribo, Andrea (2015) “Deangelisiana”, in Poesia italiana postrema. Dal 1970 a oggi, Roma, Carocci, 2017: 107-126.

Arvigo, Tiziana (2011) “Piccola cosmogonia portatile: Sanguineti lettore e traduttore di Lucrezio”, Nuova corrente LVIII, 58: 81-104.

Bertoni, Alberto (2020) Lucrezio milanese. Interpretazioni, letture, riscritture di Milo De Angelis e Giancarlo Pontiggia, in Ragione e furore. Lucrezio nell’Italia contemporanea, Francesco Citti, Daniele Pellacani (eds), Bologna, Pendragon: 221-37.

Broccio, Emanuele (2018) “Jolanda Insana: una lingua per scuotere le menti”, Mantichora 8: 128-41.

Canali, Luca (1990) (trans) Tito Lucrezio Caro, La natura delle cose, Milano, Rizzoli.

Condello, Federico (2005) “‘Impuro specchio’. Sul Lucrezio di Sanguineti”, il verri XXIX, 29: 123-31.

--- (2007) “La Venus e l’Iphianassa di Lucrezio-Sanguineti, il verri XXXV, 35: 123-30.

--- (2008) “Lucrezio, Catullo, Orazio e Sanguineti: esercizi di ‘pseudotraslazione’”, Poetiche X, 3: 423-67.

--- (2009) Tradurre la lirica, in Hermeneuein. Tradurre il greco, Camillo Neri e Renzo Tosi (eds), Bologna, Pàtron: 31-65.

--- (2021) Forme della fedeltà. Ancora su traduzione, ‘traduttese’, scuola, in Paradigmi d’identità. Tradurre e interpretare i classici, Marzia Bambozzi (ed), Ancona, Edizioni Ae: 99-146.

Crocco, Claudia (2014) “Dialogo con Milo de Angelis”, Semicerchio LI: 61-75.

De Angelis, Milo (2005) Sotto la scure silenziosa: frammenti dal De rerum natura, Milano, SE.

--- (2013) Colloqui sulla poesia, Isabella Vicentini (ed), Milano, Book Time.

De Angelis, Milo e Pontiggia, Giancarlo (1978) “Lucrezio. Atomi, nubi, guerre”, Niebo 2, 4: 62-79.

Fellin, Armando (1963) (trans) Lucrezio, Della natura, Torino, Unione tipografico editrice torinese.

Festival del Classico (2020): De rerum natura, il poema dell’infinita tempesta. Su Lucrezio e i disastri della natura, https://festivaldelclassico.it/de-rerum-natura-il-poema-dellinfinita-tempesta/ (26/01/2020).

Fortini, Franco (1989) Lezioni sulla traduzione, Maria Vittoria Tirinato (ed), Macerata, Quolibet, 2011.

Insana, Jolanda (2008) “Traduzioni da Lucrezio”, il verri 36: 85-88.

Lorenzini, Niva (2021) Il Lucrezio di Edoardo Sanguineti nell’approdo a Varie ed eventuali, in Lucrezio, Seneca e noi. Studi per Ivano Dionigi, Centro Studi “La permanenza del classico”, Bologna, Patron: 131-38.

Napoli, Francesco (2005) Novecento prossimo venturo. Conversazioni critiche sulla poesia (Carifi, Conte, Cucchi, D’Elia, De Angelis, Magrelli, Mussapi, Viviani), Milano, Jaca book: 97-113.

Pellacani, Daniele (2017) Le traduzioni poetiche, in AA.VV., Vedere l’invisibile. Lucrezio e l’arte contemporanea, Bologna, Pendragon: 27-33.

Pellacani Daniele (2020) Deviazioni e incontri: il De rerum natura tra letteratura e arte, in Ragione e furore. Lucrezio nell’Italia contemporanea, Francesco Citti, Daniele Pellacani (eds), Bologna, Pendragon: IX-LXIX.

Rapisardi, Mario (1880) La Natura, libri VI di T. Lucrezio Caro, tradotti da Mario Rapisardi, Milano, Brigola.

Sanguineti, Edoardo (2005) “Lucrezio. Un oratorio materialistico”, il verri 29: 5-11.

Verdino, Stefano (2017) Postfazione a De Angelis, Milo, Tutte le poesie. 1969-2015, Milano, Mondadori: 429-442.

Zucco, Rodolfo (2007) “Aspetti della lingua poetica di Jolanda Insana”, Istmi 19-20: 201-218.


[1] Il volume è intitolato De rerum natura di Lucrezio ed è uscito nel 2022.

[2] Lo scritto è stato pubblicato nel 2008, con il titolo Lucrezio, la notte, l’incubo, in La scoperta della poesia, Carla Gubert e Massimo Rizzante (eds), Pesaro, Metauro: 45-49.

[3] Questa edizione del 2005, che comprende 51 frammenti, costituisce un ampliamento della raccolta pubblicata nel 2002 (dal titolo Sotto la scure silenziosa: trentasei frammenti dal De rerum natura).

[4] Cfr. Festival del Classico 2020 (l’intervento è disponibile online).

[5] Sulle traduzioni lucreziane comparse su Niebo, cfr. Bertoni 2020.

[6] È possibile che la scelta di quest’ultimo aggettivo sia stata anche influenzata da un’interpretazione etimologica del latino profundus come “senza fondo” (e dunque senza misura).

[7] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “al modo alato delle fiamme”; Canali 1990: “simili a fiamme volanti”.

[8] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “che incede tra splendidi onori”.

[9] Sono queste le soluzioni adottate da Fellin 1963 e da Canali 1990.

[10] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “cercando di sfuggire gli abissi d’Acheronte”.

[11] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “temendo la soglia di morte”.

[12] Il tema viene affrontato, in dialogo con De Angelis, in Crocco 2014: 69-70.

[13] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “in nessun momento cessava d’apprendersi dall’uno all’altro il contagio del morbo insaziabile”.

[14] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “Né alla misera poteva giovare in un tale momento l’aver dato per prima al re il nome di padre». L’amaro commento di Lucrezio si trasforma, nella traduzione deangelisiana, nell’ultimo disperato tentativo di Ifigenia di toccare il cuore del padre.

[15] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “Tanto grandi delitti ha potuto ispirare la religione”.

[16] In effetti De Angelis ha ricordato in più occasioni come il suo incontro con Lucrezio sia stato influenzato dal saggio di Luciano Perelli, Lucrezio poeta dell’angoscia (1969), che proponeva una lettura del De rerum natura in chiave esistenzialista: cfr. De Angelis 2013: 78-79 e Pellacani 2020: XXIX-XXX.

[17] Cfr. Fellin 1963: “Qui sulla terra s’avvera per gli stolti la vita d’Inferno”.

[18] Su Sanguineti traduttore di Lucrezio, cfr. Condello 2005, 2007, 2008; Arvigo 2011; Lorenzini 2021.

[19] Cfr. Condello 2021: 115 “Se si traduce un classico, tutto – almeno tendenzialmente ‒ va tradotto: ogni parola, ogni congiunzione, ogni particella. Almeno tendenzialmente, è vietato omettere; ed è vietato sintetizzare, cioè rinunciare alla corrispondenza aritmetica fra testo-fonte e testo d’arrivo. Semmai, si può aggiungere, e indulgere alla perifrasi. Per questo motivo i nostri classici tradotti straripano non solo di ‘da una parte […], dall’altra’, ma anche di ‘appunto’, di ‘invero’, di ‘effettivamente’, nonché – va da sé ‒ di ‘infatti’”.

[20] Cfr. Condello 2021: 111-13 (sulla predilezione dei traduttori per l’arcaismo lessicale) e 122-123 (sulla tendenza all’impiego di stilemi disomogenei).

[21] Rimangono comunque alcuni casi in cui le soluzioni adottate sono affini o coincidenti, come per le “femminee membra di un fanciullo” (Canali) e per il “corpo femmineo di un fanciullo” (De Angelis); cfr. Fellin 1963: “fanciullo di membra femminee”.

[22] Si tratta di un’espressione toscana che era già stata adottata, nella traduzione di questo verso lucreziano, da Mario Rapisardi (“una che tiene / l’alma co’ denti”: cfr. Rapisardi 1880).

[23] Sull’importanza della componente fonica nella poesia di Insana, cfr. anche Zucco 2007.

About the author(s)

Elena Coppo is a post-doc researcher at the Department of Linguistic and Literary Studies (DiSLL) of the University of Padua, where she earned her PhD in 2019. Her thesis was about the origins of free verse in French and Italian poetry, while her current research project (Tradurre i classici in Italia. Per una storia della lingua letteraria del Novecento attraverso le traduzioni dal latino) concerns the translation of Latin literature by Italian writers and poets. Her main scientific interests include Italian and French poetry of the 19th and 20th century, stylistic and metric analysis and literary translation.

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

Censorship is a complex act which is difficult to trace and whose consequences are hard to evaluate. It is also a primitive act, which has evolved in terms of its practical application, albeit remaining subjective and irrational by its very nature. This may explain the difficulty encountered by those attempting to systematise, define and classify censorship and its implications in the field of literary translation. Despite the novelty of the contributions of those authors who have addressed the phenomenon (Dunnett 2002; Merkle 2007; Billiani 2007), the truth is that to develop a model of analysis that allows researchers to identify, characterise and quantify censorship in the translation of a given text has become a difficult challenge. In this work the focus of this inherent complexity is censorship during the Francoist regime. There are several factors that make the Francoist a particularly complex censorship system: from its establishment, on an intellectual and cultural wasteland; through its development, affected by the various political upheavals that shook the country for almost four decades; to its consolidation, in which all the participants in censorship -whether voluntarily or out of fear of reprisals- ended up internalising the censorship criteria set by the Administration. This gives Franco's censorship a heterogeneous dimension that renders any attempt at systematisation -in this case, the impact of censorship on the translation of books- ever harder. The aim of this study is to review the different proposals of researchers who have aspired to unravel this phenomenon and to reflect on the relevance and appropriateness of the methodologies used. Therefore, in the following sections we will explore, in the first place, the reaction mechanisms set in motion at a legal and institutional level to neutralise any dissident way of thinking that may have tried to filter through foreign literature; secondly, we will review the different methodological proposals to study the relationship between translation and Franco’s censorship. The purpose of outlining a methodological scenario is to reflect on the possibilities and limitations of the various analysis models proposed to date to best recreate, as Munday puts it (2014), ‘the micro-history of a translation process of a book’ and get then a little closer to the reality of that time.

2. Franco's censorship system

The peculiar circumstances surrounding the establishment, growth and consolidation of Franco's censorship system effectively bestow upon it a complex and unique character. The repression that followed the Spanish Civil War prompted many intellectuals to flee the country, leaving behind a void that would pave the way for building a new cultural reality on the foundations of the Franco regime. Andrés Sorel alluded to this harsh reality by stating that ‘And what death did not drag down, exile conquered’ (2009: 5, my translation). Through tight control aimed at filtering contaminating material from across the border, censorship sought to establish the values proclaimed by the regime by bringing about a coercive or prohibitive period (Savater 1966). With the 1938 Press Law and inspired by Italian and German propaganda models (Cisquella et al. 1977: 19), censorship became institutionalised.

Despite the difficulties in outlining any defined criteria that went beyond the subjectivity of the censors themselves, there was consensus on the issues to be censored. For example, in the early years of the dictatorship, censorship focused almost exclusively on direct attacks against Franco and his regime, as stated in article 18 of this law, which specified ‘writings that directly or indirectly tend to diminish the prestige of the nation or of the Regime, hinder the work of the Government or sow pernicious ideas among the intellectually weak’. According to Abellán (1980: 193), there was a ‘perfect osmosis between civil and ecclesiastical censorship’, which was reflected in the prohibition of works and authors considered subversive and in the appearance of conventional publishing houses that prioritised the publication of certain works that were more akin to Franco and the allied totalitarian regimes (Ruiz Bautista 2008).

In order to harmonise these criteria, a questionnaire was submitted to the censors to obtain yes or no answers to questions such as, Does [the work] attack Dogma? Morality? The regime and its institutions? The people who collaborate or have collaborated with the Regime? The questionnaire then came to a conclusion that could either be favourable (authorising the work or authorising it with deletions) or unfavourable (rejecting it with or without denunciation and/or inclusion of the author in the list of ‘cursed authors’). This first assessment by the censor was then submitted for ratification by other agents involved in the process, namely specialised readers and those responsible for the censorship (Abellán 1980: 8).

The pressure on the publishing sector was such that publishers went so far as to contribute to the cause by censoring the texts they wanted to include in their own catalogues. One of the measures brought about by this first Press Law, the so-called ‘prior censorship’, obliged publishers to submit a copy of the work they intended to publish, which then would become subject to any deletions that the assigned censor considered appropriate. Consequently, editorial censorship further reinforced official institutional censorship. The vicissitudes of the national and international situation, however, forced the Franco regime to render a more open-minded image abroad, resulting in the enactment of the 1966 Press and Printing Law. This law, however, was nothing more than an attempt to whitewash the image of the regime, since it merely shifted responsibility to the publisher, bringing about a period of indoctrination (Savater 1996: 9).

Among the measures approved by this new law was the introduction of ‘voluntary consultation’, whereby publishers were no longer obliged to submit their editorial projects to censorship. But the publishers were more suspicious than ever and were already presenting watered-down manuscripts in order to avoid heavy fines or the seizure of works, which could happen if the published work was considered by the Administration as out of line with the ideological standards of the time (Abellán 1982). Consequently, the publisher was forced to take part in this repression, in turn putting pressure on the translators to treat certain subjects with the utmost care. According to Cisquella et al. (1977: 73), ‘the application of the Press Law normalises in some way the diffusion of ‘cursed’ subjects for years, but does not consent even the slightest in others’, such as works dealing with the history of Spain and the political regime in force after the victory in the Civil War; issues relating to communism, anarchism, sexuality, religious texts; or references to morals and customs. This editorial and translator self-censorship led to a rise in internal censorship, which was reflected in a fall in the number of rejections and an increase in ‘administrative silences’, an inhibitory measure for which, once again, the publisher was ultimately responsible (Abellán 1980). Censorship included a number of agents who ended up becoming participants in this cultural and intellectual repression. By involving all such participants in the editorial process, the censorship apparatus thus provided a certain coherence to the treatment of the material for publication Therefore, beneath a seemingly secondary issue such as the characterisation of self-censorship in terms of authorship, lie all the difficulties to be faced by those of use attempting to explore this field of research. It might therefore be rash to suggest that the sole intervention of the translator acting on his or her own initiative should be seen as an agent of reproduction of the dominant discourse. Instead, it would appear that both the standards in use and the margins of what was socially acceptable were gradually passed on from the censorial institution to the different links along the publishing chain, illustrating the sociological dimension that came to condition translation as a product and process under Franco’s dictatorship. This dramatically blurs the tracking of the censorship carried out, in line with Bourdieu’s theory (1991), which argues that as the mechanisms of internalisation are reinforced, the need for explicit -and therefore trackable- control imposed and sanctioned by an institutionalised authority is diluted.

3. Measuring the impact of Franco's censorship on the translation of books

Francoism is a field of study as extensive as it is interesting for researchers, both within and beyond Spanish borders (Rundle and Sturge 2010; Seruya and Moniz 2008; Vandaele 2015), who seek to clarify the impact of censorship and the role of translation in repressive contexts. Attempting to measure this impact becomes an arduous task and poses a methodological dilemma. Once contextualisation work has been carried out, researchers face the challenge of selecting the approach that best suits their research objectives. In this section we present three of the main methodologies used in the investigation of the impact of Franco's censorship on the translation of books: those based on the files of the General Administration Archive (AGA), those based on textual analysis and those advocating mixed models combining quantitative and qualitative studies.

3.1 Documentary evidence: censorship files

Many of the studies that seek to measure the impact of censorship on the translation of books during the Franco regime take as their starting point the official censorship archives of the AGA, invaluable evidence for any researcher seeking, on the one hand, to learn about the administrative procedures surrounding the publication of a certain book and, on the other hand, to unravel the complex functioning of the censorship apparatus. The archives are also of significant evidentiary value when measuring the impact of censorship on translated texts. In fact, as a general rule, it is very likely that any censorial action will be reflected in these documents: firstly, in the questionnaire and report from the censor that included replies to specific questions in order to provide a general assessment on the possible dissident nature of the work; and, secondly, in the galley proofs - when available-, which would corroborate any potential deletions proposed by the censor. Using this methodology, certain authors have yielded interesting results: in her study on the translation of Camus, Cruces Colado (2006) travelled along the different stages underwent by the works of the French Nobel Prize winner, offering a glimpse of the disparity of opinions between the censors and the arbitrariness of the system; the work of Godayol (2016) revealed the different treatment of the Catalan translations of six works by Simone de Beauvoir before and after the 1966 Press and Printing Act; whereas Julio (2018) discovered in the translation by María Luz Morales of Mariana Alcorofado's Lettres portugaises, (the epistolary relationship between a nun and a military man), that the editorial project elicited disparate reactions among the censors.

Despite the valuable information contained in these files the information is, on occasion, as authors like Jané-Lligé (2016) point out, non-existent, brief, insufficient or contradictory. Many questions arising from research of this nature remain unresolved: for example, how does the researcher know that the work in question had not passed through a previous filter of internal censorship? Are the censor's guidelines always complied with? Did the work reach the public in the exact form recommended by the Administration? Or was it subjected to further remodelling, perhaps undertaken by the publishing house itself? Most of these questions can be solved with a textual analysis of both the original and the translated work, which is another of the methodologies employed by researchers interested in exploring this complex relationship between translation and censorship.

3.2 Manual analysis: the comparative study of ST and TT

Focused less on the publication process, this methodological aspect centres on the end product, that is, on the censored version of the work. As stated by Abellán (1987), a simple comparison of the original version and the translation is enough to discover the impact and degree of censorship. Pegenaute (1992) was one of the authors who, during the nineties, along with scholars such as Pajares Infante (1992), Toda Iglesia (1992) and Lanero Fernández and Villoria Andreu (1992), relied on these meticulous textual analyses to detect possible examples of censorship of foreign works published at different times in Spain. This methodology allows the researcher to gather important information about a work, such as how the possible censorship-sensitive content has been treated. This can be done by scrupulous reading of the original that includes the marking of potentially subversive passages and the subsequent contrasting with the version under study, or by simultaneous reading of the whole work and its translated version. Once the controversial passages have been identified, the researcher is able to check whether any type of censorship has been carried out and which strategy has been used by the censor (deletion, modification, rewriting). If the work being studied has been subsequently published in its full version, the researcher may also resort to this version to corroborate the data extracted in a first analysis. This is therefore a cost-effective, direct and prolific methodology that requires only source and target texts, and appeals to the skills of the translator, rather than those of the historian. Perhaps for this reason many authors adopt this methodology, such as Lefere (1994), who detected the deletions that Franco's censorship made in three novels by Claude Simon in compliance with the censorship criteria pointed out by Abellán (1980), namely, sex, religion, use of language and politics. Franco Aixelá and Abio Villarig (2009) focused their study on a body of eight North American novels that stood out for their strong sexual component and the presence of vulgarisms. Through a study of the three strategies found in the Francoist versions (attenuation, conservation and intensification) and detected after comparative reading, the authors were able to verify the treatment received by these novels and the redactions they suffered under censorship. Pascua Febles (2011) also opted for this methodology in her study of the Francoist versions of Guillermo (Just William) by Richmal Crompton, revealing not only the tight control to which children's and teenage literature was subjected, but also the arbitrariness of the system. One of the most recent studies is that of Rosa María Bautista-Cordero (2018) on the translation of Adventures of a Young Man, by John Dos Passos, a novel that underwent all manner of manipulation to conform to the interests of the regime, revealing yet another case of a more insidious and powerful strategy where translation becomes a propaganda tool.

But as is the case with the methodology based on the study of censorship files, these manual analyses leave important questions unanswered, such as the impossibility of pinpointing the authors of any identified censorship. Firstly, what kind of censorship is identified in the work? Was the book the target of institutional censorship? Or was it a version censored by the publisher? There are also certain drawbacks that render this methodology a somewhat limited resource. On the one hand, it is an arduous and complicated task, usually assumed when working with a very limited number of texts. This only allows the researcher to get a glimpse of a very specific dimension of Franco's reality: a specific work at a specific time, dissociated from its general context. Therefore, drawing general and long-term conclusions will require great effort and numerous studies. In the face of such limitations and as a workable alternative to this method, we have the corpus analysis methodology. This allows, on the one hand, for an extension of the scope of the study and, on the other hand, a combination of the qualitative and quantitative approach that allows for in-depth analysis of the effects of censorship while at the same time quantifying it in statistical terms (Rojo 2013).

3.3. Studies based on corpus analysis: the TRACE group

The research group TRACE (acronym for TRAducciones CEnsuradas – Censored Translations) has carried out invaluable work on the study of censorship during the Franco era. This group, coordinated by researchers from the universities of León, the Basque Country and Cantabria, has cleared up many of the unknowns surrounding this difficult relationship between translation and censorship at different times during the dictatorship and in different fields of study, such as narrative (with contributions from authors such as Fernández López 2000, 2005; Santoyo 2000; Santamaría 2000; Pérez Álvarez 2003; Gómez Castro 2003, 2008), theatre (Merino and Rabadán 2002; Pérez López de Heredia 2003; Bandín 2007), and cinema and television (Gutiérrez Lanza 2000). The objective pursued by these researchers is precisely to detect impact of censorship on texts from overseas and to identify the nature and degree of strategies employed by the censors. To this end, they work with a computerised corpus that allows them to carry out a segment-by-segment alignment and thus check whether any modification in the translation has taken place. The purpose of this methodology based on automatic corpus analysis is to allow researchers to empirically confirm or refute their research hypotheses and thus provide their study with a certain scientific rigour. Within the framework of Franco's Spain and the influence of censorship on translated texts, the methodology proposed by the TRACE group opened up new avenues of study for the researcher, now able to significantly expand his or her scope of study or, alternatively to carry out highly specific searches by narrowing the scope as much as possible.

Despite the valuable and enlightening nature of the method, however, not all researchers find TRACE to be the methodology that best adapts to the needs of their research. There are several reasons why the study of Franco's censorship is confined to other types of methodologies, such as those described above. Firstly, due to the use of alignment and analysis software and difficult statistical processing, this is a highly complex model that relies on technology and requires a great deal of effort and time on the part of the researcher. Let us imagine that the aim is to analyse specific textual marks that, for example, present pernicious content, whether sexual, political or religious; in this case this methodology may not be the best suited, insofar as it intrinsically involves a segment-by-segment, as opposed to contextual analysis. Analysing this type of incident in isolation can lead the researcher to misinterpret the results, something that happens for instance with the use of swear words when an omission that would initially appear to be ideological is justified by a stylistic question or a compensation that is found later in the text. Hence, translating ‘Maldita sea’ for ‘God Damn it!’, ‘Qué diablos’ for ‘What the hell’, or ‘Santo Dios’ for ‘Jesus’ may be interpreted as modification marks left by censors in their attempt to eliminate attacks against the Catholic faith, when they merely obey stylistic decisions faced by the translator. TRACE's methodological approach isolates all those segments in which a textual impact is detected, leaving its possible ideological motivation for subsequent verification. This method provides systematicity, but this does not rule out the possibility of considering the textual effect of an uprooted form of the text and therefore misinterpretation of the reason for the deletion, as some authors have already pointed out (for example, Cuníco and Munday 2007).

4. In search of a model for the study of censorship in translation

The different methodological proposals explored in previous sections have proved to be very useful for the study of the impact of censorship on the translation of imported texts during the Franco regime. However, as we have seen, each of these methodologies suffers from certain shortcomings or limitations that prevent the researcher from delving deeper in deciphering the ins and outs of this complex system.

This may be the reason why some researchers have chosen to combine some of these methodologies or even use other tools to complement them. Lázaro (2001, 2002, 2004) was a pioneer in this sense when, by combining the AGA files with textual analysis, he showed the way Franco's censorship approached the works of certain foreign authors, such as George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence and H.G. Wells. In addition to shedding light on the rules of the institution, Lázaro reflects on how censorship influenced the reception of these authors, as Laprade has shown in his study of Ernest Hemingway’s translations (1991). The reflections derived from Laprade and Lázaro’s research provide interesting data on the functioning of the censorship apparatus ‒sometimes inflexible, at other times arbitrary‒ a finding which at that time opened up new avenues of study for researchers.

Certain other authors have looked for complementary material such as addressing the work of those responsible for channelling the translation activity of the time (Jané-Lligé 2016; Godayol 2018; Santaemilia 2018). The aim here is to adopt the methodology proposed by Munday (2014) and to recreate, using all types of documentation (archives, manuscripts or correspondence), a micro-history of the translation process of a given book. For example, work by Meseguer (2015), explores the impact of censorship on texts translated from English and French during the dictatorship using a mixed analysis model that was complemented in turn by the study of AGA files and interviews with historians, editors and translators from the Franco era. The invaluable testimony of these individuals was key in interpreting the results of textual analyses and information gathered from the files of a corpus of nine novels. Among these results, those concerning the phenomenon of self-censorship stand out, something to which the translators interviewed - Manuel Serrat Crespo, Francisco Torres Oliver and Maria Teresa Gallego Urrutia - reacted with little surprise: they had difficulty imagining that the translator would act with such recklessness, but they recognised isolated instances in which the editor had pressured the translator to treat certain subjects with special care. In fact, the editor interviewed, Beatriz de Moura, admitted that publishers were subject to many pressures, such as bearing financial responsibility or seeing their editions destroyed before their very eyes if they dared to ignore the recommendations of the Administration. Historian Ian Gibson and researcher Edward Douglas Laprade -one of the first authors to address the impact of censorship on the reception of English authors- also provided interesting information on the functioning of censorship, such as the existence of established criteria, preferential treatment to certain publishers or privilege in the publication of authors sympathetic to the regime.

These are, in short, conciliatory approaches that can allow researchers to offset the limitations of other methodologies. From our point of view, the main interest is to start from the translation and compare it with the original, in order to track the censored words in the text. Comparative analysis here appears to be fundamental. Above all, it provides the best commencement, a firm anchoring point given the undeniable value that a Francoist version[1] can have when a certain discrepancy or any type of alteration is detected, in an objective and contrastable manner. In this regard, the study of the translated text constitutes an invitation to adopt an approach that seeks to delve into the history of Franco's Spain and offers, without a doubt, a fascinating perspective of the way the regime operated. In this way, the translations that were injected into the publishing market of Franco's Spain seem to be associated to some extent with the notion of the construction of a certain Francoist literature and should be considered as “regulated transformations (rather than accurate or inaccurate reproductions) of their source texts, with the criteria that define the nature of their relation to their originals deriving from the contexts in which the translations are produced” and as such are “’discourses’ of history, symptoms of the anxieties, influences and interactions being experienced by the culture in which the translations are produced” (St-Pierre 1993).

Hence the social need for such research: translations performed at that time are an echo of the historic memory. Besides, the state of amnesia in which Spain is still immersed with regard to its Francoist past is such that books bearing the stigmata of the dictatorship can still be found on the shelves of libraries and bookshops today, a debt to Spanish readers and universal literature that must be paid off once and for all. We also advocate manual analysis, because literature is substantially alive, a malleable and too volatile material to be partitioned and pre-conditioned into segments before being subjected to computer processing without losing any nuances. Another important reason is that our field of expertise is first and foremost that of translation; unravelling the work of translators thus offers the opportunity for total immersion in the translation process. But this would be rendered meaningless if it were not accompanied by the need to try to restore, with all the extra-textual sources available (administrative documents, direct interviews, editorial archives, literary critical articles in the press of the time, etc.) the historical context and socio-cultural conditions that influenced the translation process.

In other words, in this field of study, it is necessary to work on the construction of a hybrid method which, obviously, is not confined to the simple linguistic aspect of translation studies. It is therefore important to place ourselves in an interdisciplinary perspective that can be meaningful in terms of characterising the influence of ideology on translation. And if the research interest is therefore to study, first, literary translation, second, the historical period in which it is inscribed, and third, the autocratic context that conditions literary production, it becomes clear that the methodological approach to be set up must attempt to integrate, as far as possible, a historical depth with a sociological perspective. In this way, it will be possible to offer a more complete understanding of the context, conditions, mechanisms and challenges of the reception and adaptation of foreign literature to the prevailing norms promoted by Francoist orthodoxy. In line with Merkle’s notion of "sociology of censorship" (Merkle 2006), we can in particular examine these dynamics of translation and censorship in the context of the process of configuration and institutionalization of Franco's literary field, taking into account: “the dominance of the political field that may assert control over a weaker field, such as the literary field composed of publishers, literary figures and translators, when the latter field is not autonomous” (Merkle 2006: 245). In this way, getting as close as possible to the main agents involved in the creation, control and dissemination of translated literature in this period (translators, editors and censors) might be an element that can help us to understand these phenomena of cultural and ideological domestication. It can provide us with valuable information, in the way in which the habitus of these agents came to interrelate with the Francoist literary field, given that “concept of habitus can generally be counted upon to ensure the successful perpetuation of the social (and political) order, as Bourdieu as argued in his presentation of the mechanisms of structural censorship” (Merkle, 245).

Ultimately, with this interdisciplinary focus, the aim “is to reach not abstractions, but to elucidate translation as it appears on the ground” and to maybe produce ‘thick descriptions of events’ that might be refined under some synthesis at some point in a more global understanding of this historical period” (Hermans 2012: 245). We thus approach the subversive texts that constitute the subject of our study by conceiving translation (i) as an invaluable raw material that has much to say about an ideologically controlled era and society given that, during the Franco regime, translations used to represent “in the Spanish language, one of the main literary activities, if not the first” (Ruiz Casanova 2000: 493, my translation); (ii) as an activity that should not be analysed as an inert result but rather as a socially determined dynamic process that contributes per se to the understanding of the Francoist context; (iii) as a phenomenon that must also be tackled as a political issue in the Francoist agenda, thus reflecting political implications in the interests of the regime to carry out its project of national cultural construction or at the very least to ensure the maintenance of the status quo; (iv) and as an ideological tool to reproduce the dominant discourse and the official values by integrating the implementation of censorial mechanisms and strategies designed to defend the prevailing orthodoxy.

5. Conclusions

There are different methodologies for studying the impact of Franco's censorship on the translation of works that came to us from across the border. The methodological approaches discussed here can be described as "major" (and not the only valid ones) insofar as they are recurrently used in the study of the relationship between translation and Francoist censorship. However, in this field of study as in any other, the 'right' methodology is the one that is most effectively adapted to the needs and characteristics of a given object of study and to the research objectives pursued. It is thus legitimate to think that one cannot pretend to study with the same tools and according to the same approaches questions as heterogeneous as, for example, the way in which a blasphemous word is translated in a large parallel corpus; the identification of trends in terms of censorship strategies employed in the translation of a controversial novel; or else the study of censorship files drawn up by the same censor throughout his career.

This said, while it is true that the AGA dossiers and textual analyses have demonstrated their appropriateness in these studies, it is also clear that the researcher must go one step further if he or she wants to resolve the many unknowns that arise from their results. What is conceivable now is the possibility of going back a few decades to try to reconstruct that scenario as faithfully as possible. One option is to complete these analysis models with all the information we have at our disposal. Interviews with translators and editors of the time have proved to be a good source of documentation, but there is a plethora of possibilities for the researcher, who can get even closer to reality through the work, activity and trajectory of editors, as well as that of translators, bearing in mind the socio-political context that surrounds them and all the factors that could influence their work.

The multiplication of each of these specific studies should also be seen by the researcher as an invitation to move forward, with a view to adopting a broader and cross-cutting perspective on these issues. What is at stake is to seek for a “perspective […] that provides coherence and an overarching story line” (Hermans 2012: 244), an approach thatspecifically recognises the contextual nature of the criteria used to produce translations, and consequently of the translations themselves, relating these to other cultural and historical phenomena, and makes it possible to connect translations to the historical events and structures prevalent within the cultures producing them” (St-Pierre 2012: 241-42).

In this line of research, which attempts to examine the ways in which translation was instrumentalised and how the mechanisms activated by institutional censorship worked, each softened version, each infringement proceeding, each study case of a work whose subversive content was subjected to a process of adaptation and appropriation is considerably insightful. The aim here is to look for “the specific historical circumstances in which translation agents operated or explain their role within a wider understanding of that historical context” (Rundle 2012: 236). This helps us to better understand the many facets of a complex, heterogeneous, plural and elusive historical, social and cultural reality. This modus operandi has shown to shed some light on those entire pages of our history that remain hidden to date, almost forty years after the end of the dictatorship. Each case of conditioned translation thus constitutes one more micro-history that will help us in the long run to shift to a higher plane, towards a macro-perspective in this field of research. This will help provide a more precise and accurate outline of a certain Francoist literary system where translation acted as a tool of ideological appropriation and of propagandistic interest aimed ultimately at reproducing the dominant discourse in Franco's Spain.


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Rundle, Christopher (2012) “Translation as an approach to history”, Translation Studies 5, no. 2: 232-40.

Rundle, Christopher and Kate Sturge (eds) (2010) Translation under fascism, London, Palgrave.

Santaemilia, José (2018) Carmen Criado, ¿traductora, autocensora, retraductora? A propósito de El guardián entre el centeno” in Traducción, género y censura en la literatura y en los medios de comunicación, Gora Zaragoza Ninet, Juan José Martínez Sierra, Beatriz Cerezo Merchán, and Mabel Richart Marset (eds), Granada, Comares: 135–48.

Santamaría López, José Miguel (2000) “La traducción de obras narrativas en la España franquista. Panorama preliminar” in Traducción y Censura Inglés-Español: 1939-1985: Estudio preliminar, Rosa Rabadán, León, Universidad de León: 206–25.

Santoyo, Julio César (2000) “Traducción y censura: mirada retrospectiva a una historia interminable”, in Traducción y Censura Inglés-Español: 1939-1985: Estudio preliminar, Rosa Rabadán, León, Universidad de León: 291–326.

Savater, Fernando (1996) “Ángeles decapitados. La desertización cultural bajo el franquismo”. Claves de la Razón Práctica, 59: 8–13.

Seruya, Teresa and Maria L. Moniz (eds) (2010) Translation and Censorship in Different Times and Landscapes, Newcastle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Sorel, Andrés (2009) “Setenta años del exilio cultural español”, República de las Letras, Revista de la Asociación Colegial de Escritores de España 113: 5–17.

St-Pierre, Paul (2012) “Response”, Translation Studies 5, no. 2: 240-42.

Toda Iglesia, Fernando (1992) “La primera traducción de Tristam Shandy en España: el traductor como censor”, Livius, 1: 123–132.

Vandaele, Jeroen (2015) Estados de Gracia: Billy Wilder y la censura franquista (1946-75), Leiden, Brill.


[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]

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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

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1. Introduzione

Il fiorire di corsi di laurea magistrale nell'area della traduzione specialistica in Europa e nel mondo negli ultimi venti anni ha portato ad un'intensa riflessione sulle competenze, sugli approcci pedagogici più utili per favorirne lo sviluppo e sui metodi di valutazione più adeguati a testarne l'avvenuta acquisizione. Pur nella loro diversità, tutti i modelli di competenze, in particolare i più recenti, si soffermano sulle competenze interpersonali e di offerta dei servizi linguistici. Nello stesso modo, gli approcci pedagogici più influenti (come il socio-costruttivismo o l'apprendimento situato) e le sperimentazioni più interessanti (come quelle relative alla simulazione di progetti collaborativi), pongono l'enfasi sull'importanza di offrire alle future traduttrici e ai futuri traduttori[1] occasioni di apprendimento in situazioni reali(stiche), in cui possano confrontarsi con la complessità della realtà professionale, pur senza le pressioni di quest'ultima. Vista la direzione in cui si sono mosse le riflessioni didattiche nel mondo della traduzione, appare sorprendente che non abbia trovato spazio al loro interno una pratica di grande interesse e attualità in ambito socio-psico-pedagogico, quale quella del service-learning, che unisce il servizio di volontariato e l'apprendimento di quelle competenze strategiche, interpersonali e professionali tanto centrali per la didattica della traduzione.

In questo contributo intendiamo presentare le motivazioni per cui riteniamo che il service-learning possa contribuire ad innovare le pratiche didattiche in ambito traduttivo, innestandosi perfettamente sulle riflessioni e sulle sperimentazioni proprie di questo ambito. A questo scopo, nella sezione 2 riassumiamo brevemente i principali modelli di competenze sviluppati a partire dai primi anni 2000; successivamente, nella sezione 3, descriviamo le principali proposte pratiche per una pedagogia della traduzione ancorata alla  professione, per poi passare a considerare le caratteristiche del service-learning più rilevanti per la didattica della traduzione (sezione 4) e a riflettere infine sui modi in cui i due mondi possono incontrarsi tramite un'attività formativa universitaria che combini spirito volontario e apprendimento collaborativo situato (sezione 5). Raccogliendo in un unico contributo in lingua italiana la descrizione dei modelli di competenze, degli approcci pedagogici, dei metodi di valutazione e delle sperimentazioni di progetti collaborativi, e introducendo gli studi sul service-learning in ambito linguistico, questo contributo offre altresì una solida base di partenza teorico-pratica per ulteriori sperimentazioni didattiche.

2. La formazione alla professione e le competenze del traduttore

Le competenze[2] richieste al traduttore per svolgere in modo soddisfacente la gamma sempre più ampia di compiti previsti dal mercato dei servizi linguistici sono state oggetto negli ultimi anni di intensa riflessione. La convergenza fra ricerca accademica e impegno istituzionale (in particolare da parte della rete dello European Master’s in Translation (EMT), ma anche tramite progetti di innovazione dell'istruzione superiore come OPTIMALE)[3] ha portato ad un vero e proprio fiorire di modelli, il cui scopo è andare oltre definizioni ristrette (e restrittive) di competenza traduttiva. Tali sono, ad esempio la definizione di competenza traduttiva come l'insieme di competenza linguistica, testuale, contenutistica, culturale e di trasferimento (Neubert 2000: 6), o come la combinazione della competenza bilingue e della capacità semantica (intralinguistica) di parafrasare un testo (Englund Dimitrova 2005: 1). In questi nuovi modelli la competenza traduttiva in senso stretto si inserisce invece in un quadro ben più ampio e articolato che punta a definire le competenze del traduttore, quelle competenze indispensabili, cioè, non solo per tradurre, ma per operare professionalmente nel settore dei servizi linguistici.

Al fine di comprendere meglio i modi in cui le priorità formative di stampo professionale possono essere declinate nei corsi di laurea magistrale dedicati, è dunque innanzitutto necessario presentare brevemente i principali modelli che descrivono le competenze. Nell'impossibilità di affrontare l'argomento in modo esaustivo, ci soffermeremo sui 4 modelli maggiormente influenti e completi, rimandando per approfondimenti all'eccellente introduzione di Hurtado Albir (2017, capitolo 1)[4].

Kelly (2005:33–34), pur non proponendo un modello vero e proprio, elenca le seguenti competenze come desiderabili per un laureato magistrale in traduzione: 1. competenze comunicative e testuali in almeno due lingue; 2. competenze (inter)culturali; 3. competenze in specifiche aree di specialità; 4. competenze professionali e strumentali (deontologia, strumenti IT); 5. competenze attitudinali e psico-fisiologiche (concentrazione, memoria); 6. competenze interpersonali (lavoro di gruppo, leadership, negoziazione); 7. competenze strategiche (risoluzione di problemi, autovalutazione). Kelly stessa (2005:34) sottolinea come molte di queste competenze (4–7) ricadano sotto l'ombrello delle competenze generali o trasversali, anche note come soft skills, definendo questa caratteristica come 'a striking idiosyncrasy of our field’s' (una sorprendente idiosincrasia del nostro settore). Sebbene questa idiosincrasia possa giocare a vantaggio dei laureati e delle laureate in traduzione, vista la trasferibilità delle competenze per la traduzione ad altri ambiti, non vi è dubbio che l'acquisizione di tali competenze costituisca una sfida per una didattica universitaria di tipo tradizionale. Sfida che si riflette anche sulla valutazione delle competenze acquisite. A tale proposito Kelly propone un metodo di valutazione che esalta l’autonomia e la presa di coscienza del discente: il dossier di traduzione. Nel dossier il discente è libero di inserire, motivandole opportunamente, fino a quattro attività relazionate con la traduzione che, presentate e commentate, riflettano al meglio quanto appreso. In questa concezione della valutazione cambia anche la figura del valutatore, non più necessariamente il docente ma i compagni di corso, lo studente stesso o esperti esterni.

Nel secondo modello, risultato del lavoro del gruppo PACTE (PACTE 2003 in Hurtado Albir ed. 2017), la competenza traduttiva è strutturata in 5 sotto-competenze, ovvero: 1. sotto-competenza bilingue, 2. sotto-competenza extralinguistica; 3. conoscenza dichiarativa della traduzione (come processo e come professione); 4. sotto-competenza strumentale; 5. sotto-competenza strategica, a cui si aggiungono particolari componenti psico-fisiologiche e attitudinali (memoria, attenzione, creatività). In questo modello gioca un ruolo fondamentale la sotto-componente strategica, tramite la quale si pianifica e monitora l'intero processo traduttivo. È il possesso di questa sotto-competenza olistica e trasversale a distinguere il traduttore professionista da un soggetto bilingue dotato di un'eventuale innata capacità di tradurre.

Un terzo modello, fortemente influenzato dal modello PACTE, è stato proposto da Göpferich (2009). Le competenze a grandi linee sovrapponibili a quelle del modello PACTE proposte da Göpferich sono la competenza bilingue, tematica, strumentale, psico-motoria e strategica. A queste si aggiunge la competenza relativa all'attivazione di procedure di routine, mentre vengono meno le conoscenze dichiarative sulla traduzione. Il modello di Göpferich si distingue però soprattutto per l'inclusione di alcuni fattori situazionali che regolano l'applicazione del modello stesso, ovvero: lo scopo della traduzione e le norme applicabili; la consapevolezza del traduttore circa il suo ruolo professionale e sociale; le capacità individuali. Si nota quindi come nel modello di Göpferich la competenza traduttiva sia fortemente ancorata alla situazione comunicativa specifica, tanto che lo sviluppo di comportamenti competenti, tipici dell'esperto, non può che avvenire attraverso metodi di apprendimento/insegnamento situati (Vienne 1994, Risku 2002).

Infine, il modello più influente, per ovvie ragioni, è quello adottato dall'EMT, che costituisce di fatto uno standard a cui tendere per le lauree magistrali che intendono entrare a far parte di questa rete di eccellenza. Nella sua versione più recente, rilasciata nel 2017, il modello comprende 5 aree (EMT 2017). La prima, relativa alle conoscenze linguistiche e culturali, è sotto-specificata in quanto si presuppone costituisca un prerequisito già posseduto dagli studenti al momento dell'ammissione. Le altre quattro aree riguardano la competenza traduttiva in senso stretto (dall'analisi del testo di partenza al controllo di qualità finale), la competenza tecnologica (relativa a tutti gli strumenti del mestiere), la competenza personale e interpersonale (che comprende ad esempio il rispetto delle scadenze e le capacità di lavorare in gruppo e di apprendere nuove competenze) e la competenza relativa alla fornitura di servizi (che riguarda, fra l'altro, i rapporti con i clienti, la deontologia professionale e la gestione dei progetti). Di particolare interesse è l'importanza riconosciuta alle ultime due aree in questo nuovo quadro delle competenze. Rispetto alla versione precedente (EMT 2009), a fronte di un ridimensionamento di alcune aree (ad esempio quella tematica e di acquisizione delle informazioni, ora ricomprese sotto la competenza traduttiva), le aree maggiormente legate alla dimensione professionale hanno infatti acquisito un maggiore peso e una maggiore visibilità, meritando lo status di aree di competenza indipendenti.

Kelly (2005)

Göpferich (2009)

PACTE (2017)

EMT (2009)

EMT (2017)

Bilingual communicative and textual competence

Communicative competence in at least 2 languages

Bilingual sub-competence

Language competence

Language and culture

Cultural and intercultural competence

Extralinguistic sub-competence

Intercultural competence

Subject area competence

Domain competence


Thematic competence


Attitudinal or psycho-physiological competence

Psychomotor competence

Psycho-physiological components



Interpersonal competence




Personal and interpersonal

Strategic competence

Strategic competence

Strategic sub-competence

Translation service provision competence

Service provision

Professional and instrumental competence

Tools and research competence

Instrumental sub-competence

Technological competence




Translation routine activation competence

Knowledge of translation sub-competence






Information mining competence


Tabella 1. Le competenze (o sotto-competenze) che costituiscono
la competenza di traduzione/del traduttore in 5 modelli proposti nella letteratura,
allineate secondo corrispondenze necessariamente approssimative

3. Approcci didattici e proposte per l'acquisizione delle competenze legate alla professione

3.1 Introduzione: dalle competenze alla formazione

La chiara indicazione contenuta nei modelli delle competenze relativamente alla necessità di una formazione superiore più orientata alla professione ha portato a numerosi tentativi di integrare questa componente all'interno dei corsi universitari per traduttori. Studiosi e docenti di traduzione come González Davies (2004), Gouadec (2005), Kiraly (2000) e Zucchini (2012) hanno enfatizzato la necessità di armonizzare la pratica didattica e gli standard di un universo professionale in costante e radicale mutamento, caratterizzato da crescita esponenziale della conoscenza, accorciamento del ciclo di vita delle competenze e innovazioni tecnologiche dirompenti (Ballerini 2016; Buysschaert et al. 2018).

I modelli descritti nella sezione precedente sottolineano tutti, in modo più o meno esplicito, come le competenze che contraddistinguono il traduttore siano eminentemente trasversali e interconnesse ed evidenziano la difficoltà di conciliare le rigide strutture dei corsi accademici con obiettivi formativi difficilmente scomponibili in singole attività formative. Questo è tanto più vero per le competenze maggiormente rilevanti a livello professionale, ovvero quelle legate alla sfera della fornitura di servizi e delle relazioni interpersonali. Per rispondere alle richieste dell’industria della traduzione e consentire ai neolaureati di inserirsi con successo e a lungo termine nel mercato della traduzione (scopo principale del Processo di Bologna, recepito dall'EMT), è necessario sviluppare metodologie che vadano oltre il mero esercizio traduttivo guidato e corretto dal docente, quello che Kiraly (2005:11) definisce 'the "who’ll take the next sentence" (WTNS) approach' (o approccio chi legge la prossima frase?).  

A tale proposito, a partire dagli anni 1980 sono stati elaborati approcci teorici e teorico-metodologici (Nord 1991, Gile 2009, Vienne 1994, Risku 2002, Kiraly 2000) e proposte concrete di tipologie di attività (González Davies 2005, Gouadec 2005, Buysschaert, Fernandez-Parra and van Egdom 2017, Way 2008, Krüger and Serrano Piqueras 2015) il cui scopo è spiccatamente professionalizzante. Tali proposte hanno in comune il tentativo di simulare, all'interno di un contesto didattico di formazione universitaria, le attività, gli standard e l'interazione propri dell'ambito lavorativo. A queste si aggiungono metodologie che prevedono l’integrazione di progetti autentici di traduzione nei corsi di studio (Kiraly 2005) grazie ai quali gli studenti hanno la possibilità di confrontarsi con gli stessi standard richiesti dal mondo professionale.

3.2 Approcci teorico-metodologici per una pedagogia della traduzione ancorata alla professione

Fra i precursori di una pedagogia della traduzione ancorata alla professione non si può non citare Christiane Nord. Nord (1991) ritiene che la formazione del traduttore debba simulare la pratica professionale e per questo ogni traduzione proposta debba avere uno scopo realistico. Al fine di promuovere tale pratica Nord prende in prestito dalla New Rethoric una serie di domande in grado di guidare lo studente nel processo traduttivo[5]. La proposta, basata su un modello funzionalista, è un chiaro passo verso una formazione student-centred il cui focus è sia sul processo traduttivo che sul prodotto della traduzione. Sebbene non consideri altri aspetti rilevanti, quali ad esempio la fornitura di servizi traduttivi, può comunque essere definito come un approccio che porta 'professional realism in the classroom' (Kelly 2010: 391).

Al pari di Nord, Gile (1995/2009) considera fondamentale che il docente si focalizzi sul processo prima che sul prodotto. Piuttosto che commentare le traduzioni prodotte dagli studenti sottolineando se le proposte siano corrette o meno, dovrebbe identificare e analizzare i problemi che emergono nel processo e suggerire procedure per gestire le difficoltà che emergono nel processo traduttivo. La capacità di gestire le difficoltà in autonomia rappresenta d'altronde una delle competenze richieste al traduttore in ambito professionale. Un ulteriore elemento di armonizzazione di formazione e professione riguarda la valutazione della qualità secondo una prospettiva professionale, quindi più olistica, non basata esclusivamente sulla ricerca di equivalenze linguistiche e testuali.

Nel 1994 Vienne applica l’approccio dell’apprendimento situato alla didattica della traduzione prevedendo 'translation of texts in their real communicative situation' (1994: 51) e facendo così avanzare le riflessioni su formazione e professione. Il metodo proposto si basa su fondamenti teorici che descrivono l’operazione traduttiva come un’attività che richiede una varietà di competenze, dall’analisi della situazione traduttiva alla descrizione del prodotto della traduzione passando per le fasi di pianificazione delle risorse e ricerca di testi paralleli, uso delle fonti e cooperazione con il committente, in questo caso il docente stesso. La classe viene divisa in gruppi e ad ognuno viene fornito un testo precedentemente tradotto dal docente in una situazione traduttiva autentica. Il docente-committente fornisce le risposte alle domande rivolte dagli studenti nella fase di negoziazione, fornendo così un contesto di riferimento in base al quale svolgere la traduzione.

Proponente principale dell'approccio socio-costruttivista in ambito traduttivo, Kiraly pone al centro della propria proposta metodologica l’apprendimento collaborativo e lo svolgimento di progetti di traduzione autentici per clienti autentici (Kiraly 2000: 60). Lo scopo è aiutare gli studenti a raggiungere livelli di autonomia semiprofessionali attraverso esperienze reali, ossia confrontandosi con incarichi di traduzione che il docente riceve da contatti professionali personali. L’approccio socio-costruttivista di Kiraly comporta la divisione del lavoro per lo svolgimento di un compito specifico che deve essere completato congiuntamente, in modo che i membri del team possano costruire insieme i significati e sviluppare conoscenze culturali e professionali. Si verifica così un’evoluzione da una didattica incentrata sul docente, che è considerato fonte principale della conoscenza, a una in cui lo studente diviene l’agente centrale del processo di apprendimento, mentre il docente diviene informatore, consigliere e valutatore.  A proposito di valutazione, Kiraly (2005), come Kelly (2005), propone il dossier di traduzione come valida alternativa alle modalità di valutazione tradizionali.  Nella sua proposta gli studenti selezionano una serie di traduzioni svolte nel corso del semestre andando a unire la valutazione formativa e sommativa a quella ipsativa, ossia l’abilità degli studenti di saper valutare la progressione della propria competenza nel corso del semestre. Elemento che, una volta entrati a far parte del mondo della traduzione professionale, consentirà loro di stabilire se saranno in grado di completare l’incarico nei tempi stabiliti e rispettando gli standard qualitativi concordati.

3.3 Proposte pratiche per una pedagogia della traduzione ancorata alla professione

In seguito a un intenso lavoro di ricerca che ha unito trasversalmente riflessioni sulla didattica della traduzione e sui cambiamenti in seno alla professione in termini di competenze richieste e applicazioni tecnologiche, sono stati progettati e attuati approcci che mirano a ricreare in aula la realtà professionale del traduttore, mettendo in pratica i suggerimenti descritti in 2.2. Di seguito si analizzeranno le principali proposte fatte.

Sulla scia dell’Enfoque por tareas (Hurtado Albir 1999), González Davies propone in Multiple Voices in the Translation Classroom (2004) una metodologia basata sui principi dell’apprendimento cooperativo e sul socio-costruttivismo. Le modalità di lavoro prevedono attività (brevi esercizi volti a sviluppare aspetti specifici di natura linguistica, enciclopedica, traduttiva o professionale), tareas (catene di attività che si sviluppano per più sessioni e prevedono la consegna di un prodotto finale) e progetti, che implicano una partecipazione ancora più attiva dello studente nella fase decisionale e nella valutazione del prodotto finale, potenziando al massimo la cooperazione tra gli studenti. Per González Davies (in Galán Mañas 2009), il momento della valutazione è particolarmente rilevante: dovrebbero partecipare tutti gli attori (docenti, studenti, traduttori, esperti esterni); la valutazione pedagogica dovrebbe essere combinata con la valutazione professionale e mano a mano che il processo di apprendimento progredisce le due valutazioni dovrebbero arrivare a coincidere.

Krüger e Serrano Piqueras (2015) sono gli ideatori del Translation Project Using Translation Tools presso la University of Applied Sciences di Colonia. L’obiettivo del corso è di riprodurre in aula l'ambiente che gli studenti incontreranno nella loro futura carriera di traduttori. Il quadro teorico di riferimento è duplice: da una parte la 'traduzione in situazione' di Risku (1998, 2004), dall’altra il modello delle competenze traduttive di Göpferich (tabella 1). Il corso, della durata di un semestre, consente agli studenti di completare in autonomia progetti complessi avvalendosi di software di traduzione assistita e di gestione terminologica. Durante il corso viene dato spazio a applicazioni e metodi non strettamente traduttivi ma importanti nella routine professionale dei traduttori, quali opzioni di configurazione di email, uso di motori di ricerca e strumenti di costruzione e analisi di corpora, visti come 'performance-enhancing tool[s]' (Krüger and Serrano Piqueras, 2015: 20).

Daniel Gouadec, promotore della pedagogia della traduzione per progetto, fonda il proprio approccio, sviluppato presso l’Université de Rennes 2, su due idee chiave: avvicinare le situazioni pedagogiche a modelli professionali e introdurre tutte le modifiche necessarie all’organizzazione della formazione per permettere tale professionalizzazione (Gouadec 2005: 33). Il risultato è la messa a punto di una metodologia didattica che incorpora incarichi di traduzione autentici per clienti autentici nei programmi universitari. Il modello, nato nel 1984, prevede che a ogni nuovo incarico vengano nominati un capo progetto e un assistente che dovranno scegliere i traduttori, negoziare i termini di consegna e le condizioni della prestazione, stabilire le specifiche del progetto e il calendario di produzione. Si tratta di un meccanismo in cui tutti i partecipanti conoscono i propri ruoli e le proprie mansioni. I nuovi arrivati vengono integrati come traduttori e seguiti da capo progetto e assistente; una volta compreso il sistema, possono accedere progressivamente a nuove responsabilità passando dallo status di stagisti a quello di capo-progetto di ambito e, infine, diventando a loro volta capo-progetto generali. Una tappa fondamentale dal punto di vista pedagogico è quella del controllo qualità. Il responsabile della fase di post-traduzione unisce le traduzioni svolte individualmente per creare la versione finale: questo obbliga i traduttori a giustificare le proprie proposte, ad auto-valutarsi e a considerare i consigli dei colleghi. Inoltre, il fatto che la qualità del progetto venga controllata sistematicamente dal responsabile di post-traduzione e da quello della qualità riduce notevolmente l’intervento del tutor, senza nuocere alla qualità delle valutazioni. Fra i molti vantaggi di questo approccio vale la pena di sottolineare in primo luogo come la creazione di strutture di lavoro collettivo rafforzi la motivazione e il senso di solidarietà tra i partecipanti: gli studenti più avanzati condividono i loro saperi con i compagni e tutti sono responsabili in modo solidale della qualità del risultato finale.

La pedagogia per progetto ha assunto un ruolo centrale nella didattica della traduzione grazie a due importanti iniziative europee, i progetti OTCT e INSTB. Dal 2014 al 2016 sette università europee[6], con a capo l’Università di Rennes, hanno promosso e sviluppato il progetto OTCT (Optimising Translator Training through Collaborative Technical Translation), un partenariato strategico Erasmus+ il cui obiettivo era di agevolare l’integrazione delle pratiche professionali nella formazione del traduttore, migliorare l’occupabilità degli studenti e intensificare i rapporti tra le università europee. Le sessioni Tradutech promosse da OTCT erano simulazioni di progetti collaborativi di traduzione tecnica multilingue svolte in condizioni professionali, grazie alle tecnologie collaborative online. Prima della sessione vera e propria, gli studenti partecipavano ad un evento di formazione in traduzione tecnica, project management, controllo qualità e tecnologie di traduzione. Le sessioni, della durata di cinque giorni, prevedevano la creazione e gestione di una propria agenzia di traduzioni. Ogni team, composto di 8–12 studenti con responsabilità e ruoli specifici (titolare d’agenzia, project manager, capo terminologo, traduttore), si occupava di progetti di traduzione tecnica su ampia scala seguendo le specifiche e le deadline dei clienti, al fine di ricreare situazioni semi-professionali. Inoltre gli studenti provenienti da tutte le istituzioni venivano coinvolti in un progetto terminologico condiviso in modo da promuovere la cooperazione a distanza.

Sulla scia del progetto OTCT, nel 2015 è stato ufficialmente lanciato INSTB[7], l’International Network of Simulated Translation Bureaus. Si tratta di una partnership di università europee che integrano nei loro corsi di studio attività formative che prevedono la creazione di agenzie di traduzione simulate, i cosiddetti 'simulated translation bureaus' (STB) o 'skill labs'. INSTB è un progetto ambizioso che si pone numerosi obiettivi strategici, fra i quali aumentare il volume del lavoro pratico di traduzione nei programmi di formazione dei traduttori, in linea con l'invito del mondo professionale, delle organizzazioni di accreditamento e del Master europeo in traduzione (EMT); fornire agli studenti esperienza traduttiva prima che si laureino in modo da aumentarne le opportunità occupazionali; contribuire a migliorare la qualità delle traduzioni degli studenti con un’attenzione particolare ai requisiti di qualità professionale; contribuire alla standardizzazione delle competenze e ai criteri di valutazione delle traduzioni. Attualmente le università che hanno aderito al progetto sono 13[8]; le caratteristiche salienti di alcuni STB attivi presso le università della rete sono descritti in Buysschaert, Fernandez-Parra and van Egdom (2017) e in van Egdom et al. (2020).

4. Il service-learning

4.1 La via accademica all'impegno civile

Avendo presentato i principali contributi teorici e le principali esperienze nel campo della formazione del traduttore alla professione (modelli di competenze, approcci pedagogici, valutazione), è ora possibile comprendere il potenziale offerto da un approccio che risulta ancora non valorizzato nella letteratura e nella prassi didattica della traduzione, ovvero il cosiddetto service-learning.

Per service-learning si intende un corso metodologico di educazione civica alla cittadinanza partecipe i cui crediti accademici vengono conseguiti dagli studenti progettando, espletando e rendicontando un servizio “volontario” alla comunità e nella comunità. Sebbene possa essere erroneamente confuso con il volontariato, in quanto ne condivide l’elemento di gratuità, la valenza sociale, gli obiettivi civici e il legame con la comunità, il service-learning determina in realtà un’evoluzione e segna il passaggio da partnership transazionali (quali quella del volontariato) a trasformative, in cui l’attività si fonda sull’unione di due scopi mirati a beneficio reciproco delle due parti coinvolte, la comunità e i discenti. Ben diverso quindi da attività di volontariato nelle quali il focus è posto unicamente sul servizio e sul suo destinatario generando un processo unidirezionale in cui uno solo dei due attori coinvolti, in questo caso il discente, si avvicina all’altro, la comunità.

A differenziare service-learning e volontariato vi sono due ulteriori elementi, i principi di reciprocity (reciprocità) e reflexivity (riflessività), che insieme a respect (rispetto) e relevance (rilevanza) rappresentano le 4R fondanti e specifiche del service-learning. Reciprocity è una delle basi dell’impegno civico e consiste in ‘the recognition, respect, and valuing of the knowledge, perspective and resources that each partner contributes to the collaboration’ (Carnegie Foundation, 2011). Include uno scambio di vantaggi, risorse e azioni; un processo di influenza a livello sociale, personale e ambientale e la generativity, un processo trasformativo che fa sì che i partecipanti della relazione diventino e/o producano qualcosa di nuovo (Dostillo, 2012). La reflexivity, invece, è ‘a critical reflection on the community-university relationship and on [service-learning] activities’ (Guarino et al., 2019) ed è una componente fondamentale del percorso degli studenti attraverso il lavoro sul campo quando vengono incorporate attività di service-learning.

Da un punto di vista pedagogico, etico e ideologico il service-learning ha come ideale la diffusione di nutrimenti intellettuali e degli strumenti operativi per sensibilizzare le giovani generazioni al civismo attivo, sostenendone il coinvolgimento collegiale e cooperativo nel campo aperto dell'universo no-profit. Con il service-learning gli studenti escono dal campus universitario per farvi ritorno dopo essersi cimentati sul campo nel ruolo di attori sociali della loro comunità e aver sperimentato con spirito cooperativo e intento di risoluzione dei problemi la complessità del reale (Eyler and Giles 1999, Fiorin 2016).

Ispirato alla filosofia politica partecipativa di Dewey (1938), il service-learning è stato ampiamente adottato a partire degli anni Ottanta nei programmi curricolari dei college e degli atenei statunitensi (Furco and Root 2010) ed è attualmente in fase di espansione nelle università italiane ed europee (Guarino and Zani 2017). Configura un rinnovato approccio pedagogico nel quale il tradizionale insegnamento nozionale e frontale dell’educazione civica si coniuga attivamente ad un concreto impegno dei discenti a favore della società civile. Promuove lo spirito solidale, la responsabilità sociale e l’azione civica coordinata dei discenti, offrendo loro un’occasione di apprendimento dinamico sul campo. Prestando un servizio socialmente utile e in quanto tale gratificante, si ricava un nuovo senso di identità e di appartenenza, sia alla società civile che alla propria comunità professionale.

Nome composto di un edificio composito, il service-learning si propone da un lato di rispondere in modo concreto a certi bisogni sociali della comunità e dall'altro al bisogno didattico degli studenti di sapere sfruttare ed applicare diligentemente in un contesto sociale reale le conoscenze teoriche e tecniche acquisite in aula, nutrendole criticamente in un dialogo multidisciplinare con le osservazioni sul campo. Intelletti socialmente attivi, aperti e collaborativi, gli studenti rivestono così un ruolo decisamente centrale in questa formazione che apre in maniera curriculare l’accademia alla società civile e associativa. Questo comporta anche una rimodulazione dei criteri di valutazione dell'operato dei discenti.

4.2 Service-learning traduttivo e formazione del traduttore

Se l’area dell’impegno civico e della risposta alle esigenze della comunità costituiscono campi d’intervento centrali per il service-learning, la rimozione delle barriere linguistiche che frenano la circolazione delle informazioni e l’incontro delle diversità culturali ne costituisce un altro potenzialmente non meno importante. D'altro canto l'insegnamento e la formazione degli insegnanti di lingue straniere sono due ambiti ai quali il service-learning è stato proficuamente applicato (Ping 2014; Salgado-Robles (a cura di) 2018). Viceversa in ambito traduttivo è forte l'impegno di tipo volontario di traduttori professionisti e in formazione, che offrono gratuitamente il proprio lavoro in associazioni come Translators without borders, Traduttori per la pace o Translation Commons[9]. Ciò nonostante, le esperienze di service-learning universitario in ambito traduttivo rimangono limitate, perfino nel contesto accademico statunitense, nel quale il service-learning è particolarmente sviluppato (Tocaimaza-Hatch 2018).

Alcuni esempi recenti dimostrano però le potenzialità dell'approccio non solo per favorire lo sviluppo delle competenze di trasferimento linguistico e culturale, ma anche per aumentare la motivazione e favorire l'acquisizione delle capacità di negoziare con diversi interlocutori, di applicare conoscenze accademiche in situazioni reali e di utilizzare le risorse a disposizione in modo mirato, per un pubblico e uno scopo specifici (Thompson and Hague 2018). Ulteriori vantaggi non immediatamente evidenti riguardano lo sviluppo della cosiddetta auto-efficacia, ovvero la fiducia di una persona nelle proprie competenze. Il raggiungimento di questo obiettivo di apprendimento, ritenuto essenziale anche nella formazione dei traduttori (van Egdom et al. 2020) è uno dei risultati accertati del service-learning (Yorio and Ye 2012).

Date le premesse, è del tutto naturale che all'interno di un corso di studi dedicato alla traduzione si mettano le competenze in materia di mediazione linguistica e culturale al servizio della comunità, o meglio al servizio delle comunità (trattandosi di intermediazione linguistica). D'altra parte, destinare risorse umane motivate e preparate al service-learning traduttivo non è soltanto atto di nobiltà, artefice di proficui avvicinamenti tra le culture e le entità d’impegno civico o di utilità pubblica. Data l’ideale coincidenza tra il campo comunicativo d’azione civica e il campo curriculare specializzato della formazione superiore in traduzione, l'attività che stiamo descrivendo è anche per i cittadini-studenti un’occasione professionalizzante unica di perfezionamento e di arricchimento delle competenze traduttologiche personali, paragonabile ad una vera e propria esperienza lavorativa, riconoscibile in quanto tale con crediti formativi e indubbiamente gradita al mercato del lavoro.

In situazione, questi giovani traduttori senza frontiere dovranno infatti gioco forza confrontarsi con tutta la catena organizzativa che va dalle relazioni umane interne ed esterne alla revisione e all’edizione dei testi, passando per la gestione amministrativa e la programmazione delle scadenze. In breve si troveranno ad affrontare in modo olistico, multidisciplinare e pragmatico il processo traduttivo nella sua integralità produttiva. Nella realtà lavorativa la traduzione non si limita in effetti mai all’unica operazione di traslazione testuale da una lingua all’altra, per quanto centrale questa sia: comprende sempre a monte e a valle tutta una serie di processi da governare. D'altronde l'attenzione riservata alla competenza personale e interpersonale e alla competenza relativa alla fornitura di servizi nel più recente modello dell'EMT (2017), di cui ci siamo occupati nella sezione 2, conferma la necessità di momenti formativi che escono dalle logiche dell'esercizio traduttivo fine a se stesso, come accade nelle simulazioni proposte dalla rete INSTB e in generale nelle esperienze descritte in 3.3.

L’aula da sola, per mancanza più di tempo e condizioni che d’intento, non è infatti in grado di soddisfare queste esigenze, demandandone il soddisfacimento principalmente agli indispensabili tirocini esterni, ad iniziative singole (incontri con le aziende, workshop pratici) e nella migliore delle ipotesi ai translation bureaus. Il service-learning traduttivo costituisce una forma ulteriore di sviluppo delle competenze descritte in 2, che in più valorizza e nutre la dimensione dell'impegno civile degli studenti. L'integrazione di translation bureaus e translation as service potrebbe costituire una struttura parallela rispetto al sistema dei tirocini in azienda. Con più ambizione, potrebbe inoltre dar vita ad un auspicabile servizio consociato offerto dagli studenti delle lauree magistrali in traduzione d'Europa (parte dell'EMT o di altre realtà associative, come le alleanze universitarie europee in via di formazione), accogliendo le sollecitazioni dei progetti Europe Engage e UNICORN[10], sostenuti dall’Unione europea.

A beneficio di entrambi gli obiettivi formativi, civico e professionale, nonché di utilità alla società civile, il service-learning traduttivo è in definitiva un’educazione civica applicata alla comunicazione interlinguistica, in proficua armonia disciplinare con la specifica formazione curriculare degli studenti delle lauree magistrali in traduzione specializzata. Coerente con le priorità formative specifiche della disciplina, il service-learning traduttivo si propone quindi da un lato come ramo settoriale del service-learning generale e dall'altro come integrazione, più socialmente sostenibile, alle simulazioni e ai tirocini professionali.

5. Competenze professionali, apprendimento esperienziale e servizio attivo: 5 principi guida per il service-learning in ambito traduttivo

Sulla scorta delle riflessioni e teorizzazioni presentate nelle sezioni precedenti, non sfuggirà il grande potenziale formativo e sociale del service-learning applicato ai servizi linguistici, soprattutto se messo in relazione ai modelli delle competenze, agli approcci pedagogici e alle proposte didattiche concrete formulate nel mondo della formazione alla traduzione negli ultimi vent'anni. Per avviare un confronto e una collaborazione su questi temi, in questa sezione conclusiva vorremmo descrivere un progetto per implementare, all'interno dell'orizzonte teorico-metodologico del service-learning, una sorta di agenzia di traduzione studentesca senza fini di lucro e istituita con spirito di servizio alla comunità, che integri al suo interno occasioni di riflessione esplicita sull'apprendimento esperienziale legato alla responsabilità civile e all'impegno del singolo e dell'istituzione universitaria per il rafforzamento delle comunità.

Gestita in autonomia dagli studenti con la supervisione di docenti e tutor, questa agenzia si rivolge in particolare, ma non necessariamente in esclusiva, alle associazioni no-profit contribuendo a rinvigorire dal basso le relazioni internazionali informali a livello sociale e lo spirito di integrazione culturale transnazionale tra le cittadinanze dei vari paesi, d’Europa e non solo. Collocate al di fuori dei circuiti commerciali, produttivi o istituzionali, queste entità associative civiche tutelate dagli ordinamenti legislativi sono delle figure relazionali trasversali vitali nei loro territori e costituiscono dei nodi comunicativi influenti sul piano culturale e informativo, sia in loco che in rete. Le competenze chiave di cittadinanza che si sviluppano grazie alle interazioni generate da questa collaborazione vengono poi rafforzate attraverso le occasioni di auto-riflessione e riflessione guidata (diari, laboratori, incontri di restituzione) propri del service-learning.

i. Bilanciare professione e servizio

Le esperienze di service-learning non presuppongono necessariamente la prestazione di servizi negli ambiti formativi propri degli studenti che le svolgono, ma non le escludono a priori. Nel caso dei servizi linguistici, come abbiamo visto, l'aspetto di volontarietà è già ampiamente presente nella società: l'introduzione di un modulo specifico all'interno di un corso di laurea/laurea magistrale non fa che rafforzare e istituzionalizzare questa realtà, contribuendo allo stesso tempo allo sviluppo di competenze e capacità richieste dal mondo del lavoro. Nel momento in cui l'attività di servizio diventa parte integrante di un curriculum di studi, è però necessario formalizzarne le caratteristiche e i ruoli dei partecipanti. Dal punto di vista dei contenuti, il service-learning traduttivo si compone di quattro parti. Le prime due riguardano specificamente il service-learning: una prima componente di riflessione sulle competenze chiave di cittadinanza e sulla consapevolezza sociale e personale si svolge nella parte iniziale del modulo, per creare le condizioni di consapevolezza necessarie affinché il lavoro successivo si svolga nel rispetto dei principi di questo approccio socio-psico-pedagogico. La seconda componente, di fondamentale importanza per distinguere il service-learning da altri modi di apprendimento collaborativo, consiste nella rilevazione dei bisogni specifici della comunità individuata: una volta instaurato il dialogo e svolta la needs analysis, gli studenti discuteranno con la comunità quali, tra i bisogni indicati, saranno in grado di soddisfare tenendo conto delle competenze e delle conoscenze da loro possedute e di tempi e modalità. Questa prima consultazione darà il via alla co-costruzione del progetto che vedrà la comunità e gli studenti impegnati in incontri regolari al fine di definire gli obiettivi a breve, medio e lungo termine, discutere dell’andamento delle attività e attuare degli aggiustamenti, se necessario. La fase successiva, più propriamente professionalizzante, è dedicata alla strutturazione del gruppo di lavoro e successivamente alla fornitura dei servizi veri e propri. A metà tra service-learning e professione si pone, infine, l’approfondimento delle questioni legate alla deontologia professionale e al ruolo sociale del traduttore, che si svolge per l’intera durata del modulo.

ii. Tempi e modalità didattiche

L'attività di service-learning qui descritta dovrebbe avere la durata di almeno un semestre e occupare un minimo di cinque crediti formativi universitari (pari a 125 ore di impegno dello studente, fra lezioni frontali e lavoro autonomo, di cui almeno 25 dedicate al service-learning) se attività formativa autonoma, o un numero paragonabile di ore di impegno da parte dello studente, se si configura come laboratorio/esercitazioni. Per i requisiti di autonomia decisionale, di competenze e capacità (tecnologiche, linguistico-culturali, traduttive, personali e interpersonali e di prestazione di servizi), il suo naturale posizionamento all'interno di un corso di laurea magistrale sarebbe nel secondo anno di corso. L’attività si configurerebbe come esperienza obbligatoria per tutti gli studenti prossimi alla laurea e all’inserimento nel mondo professionale, costituendo il coronamento del percorso accademico.

iii. Contenuti e divisione dei compiti

Come in una vera comunità di pratica, e a differenza di quanto avvenga in classe, non tutti i partecipanti svolgono gli stessi compiti e ricoprono gli stessi ruoli. Fatta eccezione per l'approfondimento dei principi del service-learning, uguale per tutte le coorti, le attività professionali sono determinate dal gruppo stesso e cambiano nel tempo. Infatti il gruppo deve dapprima organizzarsi in un'entità in grado di offrire servizi linguistici di livello professionale a scopo benefico e poi erogare tali servizi nel rispetto degli standard professionali, dei principi deontologici e dell'impegno civico. Il gruppo di studentesse e studenti che porta avanti il progetto dovrà porsi e risolvere problemi che vanno dall'identificazione della committenza, alla definizione delle regole che delimitano le attività di cui il gruppo può legittimamente farsi carico, all'ideazione di strategie di comunicazione via web/social network, all'assegnazione dei ruoli (project management, traduzione, revisione, gestione della terminologia, comunicazione esterna), alla definizione delle modalità di collaborazione. Mentre queste decisioni coinvolgono tutti i partecipanti, ciascuno farà esperienze diverse all'interno del gruppo e idealmente avrà modo di capire quali ruoli gli sono più confacenti.

iv. Valutazione

La valutazione della performance delle studentesse e degli studenti tiene conto dei contenuti di cui al punto precedente. Il soddisfacimento degli obiettivi formativi è garantito da un lato dalla dimostrazione di aver acquisito competenze di impegno civico e sociale e capacità relazionali e dall'altro di aver acquisito tutte le competenze e capacità professionali definite dall'EMT come necessarie per un laureato magistrale in traduzione. Le attività di valutazione avverranno in due momenti distinti, assumendo forme diverse. In un’ottica formativa, al termine di ogni incontro, gli studenti saranno chiamati a riflettere criticamente sulle categorie di crescita personale, impegno civico e valorizzazione del rapporto università-comunità attraverso la redazione di diari personali e il confronto con gli altri membri del gruppo. In una prospettiva sommativa, invece, la comunità partner coinvolta fornirà una valutazione di tutto il gruppo di lavoro attraverso un questionario specifico, mentre gli studenti consegneranno un portfolio delle attività svolte e/o una relazione finale nella quale, specificando il ruolo svolto, valuteranno le competenze civiche e professionali acquisite.

v. Misurare l'impatto

Date le priorità non solo formative ma anche di impegno civico e sociale, l'esperienza di service-learning traduttivo si presta anche ad una valutazione dell'impatto sociale. Le evidenze in questo caso possono riguardare il numero di parole tradotte o gli incarichi svolti, l'eventuale copertura mediatica, le testimonianze/endorsement dei committenti. La visibilità dell'attività e del ruolo sociale del traduttore che ne conseguirebbe andrebbe a vantaggio dell'intera professione, contribuendo a mettere in evidenza il valore sociale insito nella riduzione delle barriere linguistiche.

6. Conclusione: criticità e potenziale del service-learning nella formazione in traduzione

Un’attività formativa che riposa sull'autonomia dello studente e sulla simulazione in ambito accademico di un contesto professionale (seppure non a scopo di lucro), porta con sé alcune inevitabili difficoltà, in particolar modo nella fase di avvio del progetto, in cui si renderà necessario porre le basi dell’agenzia. Per gli studenti si tratterà di intraprendere un percorso ex-novo di progettazione e sviluppo di una ‘impresa a scopo civico’ che andrà ripensato passo dopo passo con incontri che non saranno preparati ad hoc da tutor e docenti ma piuttosto co-costruiti in modalità cooperativa coerente con lo spirito solidale del service-learning. La necessità di redigere e poi rispettare un codice deontologico potrebbe sollevare conflitti interni e costringere i partecipanti a decisioni difficili o impopolari. Le costrizioni proprie dell'ambito universitario potrebbero dal canto loro causare intoppi di tipo amministrativo nei rapporti con l'esterno (ad. es. coperture assicurative nel caso di accesso degli esterni ai locali dell'università) da rimuovere. Il mondo del lavoro potrebbe infine non cogliere immediatamente il potenziale formativo di un'esperienza di service-learning traduttivo per l'acquisizione di competenze professionali, rendendo necessaria una ‘formazione’ dei suoi attori (associazioni di categoria, traduttori, agenzie) attraverso la disseminazione di scopi, obiettivi e traguardi del progetto.

Se l'introduzione di questa nuova pratica didattica non è senza asperità, riteniamo tuttavia che la coerenza di fondo tra service-learning e riflessione teorico-metodologica sulla didattica della traduzione, che risulta dalla panoramica offerta in questo lavoro, sia una motivazione forte per auspicarne una sperimentazione sul campo; a maggior ragione, dato lo stretto legame con l'impegno civico. Se l'esperienza degli Student Translation Bureaus punta sulla simulazione di un'esperienza lavorativa e imprenditoriale realistica, anche ponendo gli studenti in situazioni tali da stimolare la competizione per il successo, nel caso del service-learning gli studenti e le studentesse lavorano insieme verso un obiettivo socialmente utile di cui condividono l'importanza e si formano all'impegno civico come uno degli obiettivi del loro percorso di crescita intellettuale. Speriamo che queste motivazioni e le riflessioni che le accompagnano spingano le istituzioni superiori che formano traduttori ad accettare la sfida di sperimentare una formazione più umana e più solidale, oltre che più efficace.


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[1] Nel prosieguo del contributo usiamo il maschile generico per riferirci a traduttrici e traduttori e a studentesse e studenti. Consapevoli dell’inadeguatezza di questa soluzione, adottata al solo scopo di facilitare la lettura, vorremmo ricordare ai lettori e alle lettrici che le donne costituiscono in realtà la maggioranza delle popolazioni a cui ci riferiamo qui (impropriamente) al maschile.

[2] In questo contributo utilizziamo il termine competenza secondo la definizione del Quadro Europeo delle Qualifiche, ovvero a indicare 'comprovata capacità di utilizzare conoscenze, abilità e capacità personali, sociali e/o metodologiche, in situazioni di lavoro o di studio e nello sviluppo professionale e personale' (https://ec.europa.eu/ploteus/sites/eac-eqf/files/broch_it.pdf; 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] http://www.instb.eu/ (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"
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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).
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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]

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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

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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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[1] See https://www.imac-project.org.uk/ [retrieved 11/02/2021]

[2] See https://www.gomlab.com/ [retrieved 05/08/2020]

[3] See https://archive.codeplex.com/?p=vrplayer [retrieved 05/08/2020]

[4] See http://www.totalcinema360.com/ [retrieved 05/08/2020]

[6] See https://skybox.xyz/en/ [retrieved 05/08/2020]

[7] See http://www.vrplayer.com/ [retrieved 05/08/2020]

[8] See https://www.magix.com/us/apps/vrx-player/ [retrieved 05/08/2020]

[9] See http://simplevr.pro/ [retrieved 05/08/2020]

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"
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Working Memory and Consecutive Interpreting Performance in Proficient Bilinguals: A Gender Perspective

By Mojtaba Amini, Azizollah Dabaghi & Dariush Nejadansari (University of Isfahan, Iran)


Considering the importance of working memory (WM) in interpreting and the scarcity of studies devoted to consecutive interpreting (CI) compared to simultaneous mode, the present study examined the association of WM with English-Persian CI performance. Furthermore, gender differences on WM and CI performance, which has not received a proper attention, was investigated. Two working memory tests and one consecutive interpreting task were administered to 30 MA translation students. The results of a Pearson Correlation showed that there was a positive and significant relationship between both measures of WM and CI performance. Furthermore, according to the results of an independent samples t-test no gender differences were observed in terms of WM capacity and CI performance.

Keywords: working memory, consecutive interpreting, gender differences

©inTRAlinea & Mojtaba Amini, Azizollah Dabaghi & Dariush Nejadansari (2022).
"Working Memory and Consecutive Interpreting Performance in Proficient Bilinguals: A Gender Perspective"
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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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