Ideological dimensions of linguistic hybridity in Ukrainian theatre translation

By Anna Halas (Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Ukraine)


Dialects and hybrid languages have been viewed as a primary translation challenge in cross-cultural writings. Although in-depth studies have yielded valuable insight into translation strategies applicable to both, they have largely overlooked the correlation between dialects and hybrid languages as possible translation tools in target polysystems. The primary objective of this paper is to research how dominant ideologies in a given receiving culture may modify theatre translation strategies and to monitor the prevailing attitude towards linguistic hybridity in the case study of Ukrainian theatre translation. To attain the major goal, I seek to provide background to how the concepts of dialects and hybrid languages have been interpreted in cross-disciplinary studies and to explore ongoing theoretical reflection on the notion of ideology with a view to defining its role in the translation process. Methodologically, the research is broadly informed by descriptive and target culture-oriented translation theories, postcolonial studies, and sociolinguistics. In addition, I address the potentialities of multimodal critical discourse analysis. The empirical part offers a comprehensive sociolinguistic profile of the postcolonial Ukrainian state, focuses on various manifestations of linguistic hybridity in theatre discourse in Ukraine, and follows the growing impact of nation-building ideology on dialects and hybrid languages in theatre translation.

Keywords: dialect, hybrid language, ideology, linguistic hybridity, multimodal discourse, theatre translation

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"Ideological dimensions of linguistic hybridity in Ukrainian theatre translation"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia IV
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 1. Introduction

While linguistic hybridity has been a widely circulating notion in postcolonial studies and has been viewed as a major challenge in cross-cultural writings (Klinger 2014) in parallel with regional and social dialects, few scholars have explicitly theorized the concept within theatre translation studies. The challenge is twofold: on the one hand, the elements of a hybrid language are fairly often present in the original theatre texts and therefore need to be adequately reproduced by means of a target language; on the other hand, a hybrid language may be an instrument of interpersonal communication within a particular community, in which case it has a perfect right to be regarded as a possible source of stereotyped linguistic patterns to be used in theatre translation.

Retrospective examination of translation studies papers concerned with hybrid languages shows that attention has been devoted to translating from hybrid languages (Consiglio 2008), in particular in the context of postcolonial translation (Collins 2010; Bandia 1996). In this case, translation strategies are remarkably similar to those which are typically used for translating dialects. Meanwhile, a comprehensive view of translating into hybrid languages cannot be formed due to the lack of critical attention paid to it. In an attempt to break the deadlock, the present paper signals a new orientation in theatre translation studies and seeks to reflect on the possibilities of using a hybrid language or its elements in translation. The interest to this question has been prompted by the role played by standard and non-standard languages in Ukrainian original and translated theatre, which has drawn attention to the necessity for new ways of thinking about the role of ideology in theatre practices. Thus, my primary objective is to research how dominant ideologies in a receiving culture modify strategies in theatre translation and to monitor the prevailing attitude towards linguistic hybridity in the case study of Ukrainian theatre translation. To attain the major goal, I seek to provide background to how the concepts of dialects and hybrid languages have been interpreted in cross-disciplinary studies. There is a direct connection between dialects and hybrid languages in that respect that both language varieties are traditionally opposed to a standard language and often have a lower social status. Therefore, it is no overstatement to assert that they tend to perform similar functions in theatre discourse.

The study also attempts to crystallize those ideological factors, which influence translators’ choices in the process of theatre translation by exploring ongoing theoretical reflection on the notion of ideology. This implies that the research is informed primarily by interdisciplinary scholarship related to descriptive and target culture-oriented translation theories, postcolonial studies, and sociolinguistics. In addition, the self-evident duality of theatre translation invites an integrated theoretical approach, which has respect to its multimodal nature. Therefore, I consistently address the potentialities of multimodal critical discourse analysis. The empirical part offers a comprehensive sociolinguistic profile of the postcolonial Ukrainian state, focuses on various manifestations of linguistic hybridity in theatre discourse, and follows the impact of ideology on dialects and hybrid languages in theatre translation in Ukraine. The initial hypothesis is that being socially sensitive linguistic phenomena, dialects and hybrid languages applied in translation may serve as reliable detecting elements in tracing the influence of ideology as a powerful instrument of framing and shaping theatre translation practices.

2. Corpus collection and research methods

This study is based on the analysis of the comprehensive database, which includes a wide range of translated theatre texts and recordings of the performances produced by Ukrainian theatres over the last two decades. These are English-Ukrainian or English-Russian-Ukrainian translations of postmodern plays written in English. As the concept of postmodernity is not considered as such, it is viewed as a chronological landmark to label the plays written after the Second World War in the English-speaking countries. Interestingly, the ideas of postmodernity started penetrating into post-Soviet states after the fall of the Iron Curtain, which triggered the interest to previously forbidden Western plays and urged the translators to cater for the need of Ukrainian theatres to stage the epoch-making masterpieces. The main criterion to have guided the selection of plays for the analysis was the availability of the Ukrainian translation. As the aim of the study is to test the hypothesis about the influence of ideology on theatre translation, there is a need to compile a sufficiently large corpus. In total, the database contains 34 original plays written in English, seven translations into Russian and their re-translations into Ukrainian, 31 translations into Ukrainian (four plays were translated twice by different translators), and 11 recordings of staged Ukrainian translations. Recorded performances posed a great value as they conferred a possibility to compare, where applicable, the initially written translation with its final stage version and to mark the transformations that have occurred. In this respect, it is vital to stress that in the process of research I was widely making use of the software for processing multimodal files. ANVIL, a video annotation tool, was used as an instrument for managing the corpora of annotation files.

Although the empirical study formed the cornerstone of this inquiry, in this paper I have only presented the conclusions, which followed the detailed analysis of previously collected data. It stems from the fact that the conclusions have been drawn on the basis of the thorough assessment of thirty-four original plays and their translations in two languages and two modes. The other reason is that I have already discussed some intermediate results of the research in my previous papers (Halas 2010; Halas 2015), in which I have provided a detailed analysis of dialect translation methods used in Ukrainian theatre translation. This article, for its part, seeks to put forward some resulting generalizations, which might be thought-provoking for international academia. I have included some key aspects of the relevant case studies to provide illustrations to my ideas.

Methodologically, the research is informed by descriptive and target culture-oriented translation theories, postcolonial studies, and sociolinguistics, for whose concepts I will hold a full-fledged debate in the following section. Additionally, I have applied some anthropological methods, namely the method of thick description (Geertz 1973), to offer a larger national context in which dialects and hybrid language invariants function; the methods of critical discourse analysis (Wodak and Meyer 2009; Fairclough 2010) in order to follow what impact dominant ideologies have on translation strategies; methods of multimodal critical discourse analysis (Kress 2010; van Leeuwen 2013), which facilitate the holistic study of multifarious semiotic modes operating in theatre translation.

3. Conceptual framework

Before embarking on the examination of ideological dimensions of linguistic hybridity in theatre translation, this section offers a conceptual canvas and defines the general stock of theoretical concepts underpinning the present study. More specifically, I will be tracking the correlation between such core concepts as dialects, hybrid languages (linguistic hybridity), and ideology and how they interact. In the face of theoretical diffusion in current interdisciplinary terminology, it is hardly possible to provide the unified conceptualization of these highly debatable terms. Therefore, it seems pertinent to prioritize those approaches which bring their sociolinguistic and postcolonial sides to the fore. Nevertheless, as such a narrowed perspective runs the grave risk of over-simplifying them, I will also speculate on other interpretations where applicable.

In-depth and extensive research into dialect has supposedly made it the least controversial of the concepts relevant for the present study. Although a myriad of interdisciplinary papers offers their vision of dialects, their attitudes are not fundamentally opposing or conflicting. From the standpoint of sociolinguistics, a dialect is conventionally viewed as describing ‘the speech habits (pronunciation, lexicon, grammar, pragmatics) characteristic of a geographical area or region, or of a specific social group.’ (Swann et al. 2004; 76). Thus, commonly distinguished regional and social dialects are contrasted with supra-regional standard language, which has emerged historically from one or several dialects. Standard variety is associated with higher prestige, whereas dialectal varieties are regarded as either geographically or socially peripheral. Speakers of the standard language variety tend to treat people from remote regions or the lowest stratum of society with utter disdain. The latter often become objects of mockery in public sphere, which is subsequently reflected in pieces written for the theatre.

In many instances, the organization of language can be defined as a graded continuum consisting of chains of mutually intelligible lects. The dividing line between a standard language and a dialect, as Romaine (2001: 311) rightly states, is often a matter of political power and the sovereignty of a nation-state.  It invites the assumption that the way standard languages and dialects are distinguished is predominantly socially and politically biased, most notably, in those states where the processes of linguistic standardization are far from being completed. In this respect, Mesthrie (2009: 65) notes that traditional dialectology has largely ignored processes like colonisation. It is true that it is by far more challenging to study dialects in postcolonial settings with erratic language contacts than to deal with ‘pure’ dialects of long-established language communities. In postcolonial context, difficulties arise when an attempt is made to draw a clear line between a dialect and a hybrid language. While genuine linguistic markers may not be hard to trace, the efforts are likely to prove futile in distinguishing the functions of these language varieties in a particular regional and social milieu.

How does a hybrid language relate to a dialect? The term linguistic hybridity is ambiguous and loose; thus, it resists any straightforward definition. It is nothing new to say that the concept of linguistic hybridity has become a rigorous analytical tool in discourse and genre analysis after being introduced by Bakhtin (1981) to delineate how language can be double-voiced. From a Bakhtinian perspective, a hybrid is ‘an utterance that belongs, by its grammatical (syntactic) and compositional marks, to a single speaker, but that actually contains mixed within it two utterances, two speech manners, two styles, two “languages”, two semantic and axiological belief systems’. (Bakhtin 1981: 304). Such interpretation of hybridity stems from the observation of social and linguistic patterns of behaviour practiced by the same person in the context of a literary work. It proves widely applicable to the analysis of theatre translation in case the linguistic identity of an individual character is the central focus of attention. My primary goal lies elsewhere, in particular in the realms of target system ideology that goes far beyond the literary analysis of a theatre text.

Being interpreted in a purely sociolinguistic context, a hybrid language is equal in meaning to a mixed language, which is ‘the result of two identifiable source languages, normally in situations of community bilingualism’ (Meakins 2013: 159). Other terms are contact language, intertwined language, and fusion language, while creole and pidgin are often viewed as would-be mixed languages. Auer (1999) suggested a typology of language interaction: code-switching, language mixing, and fused lects, which should be regarded as certain points of the continuum in which codeswitching and fused lects are two extremes. Thus, the code-switching of bilingual people, who are well aware of two different codes they use, is believed to be the first step towards linguistic hybridity.  As Myers-Scotton (2002, 2006) states, codeswitching is volitional and discourse-related, while in language mixing determining the language of communication is hardly possible. At the final stage of fused lect, the speaker uses a mixed language as a major code (Auer 1999). Viewed in this way, a hybrid language is a linguistic variety similar in its nature to other lects, such as regiolect, sociolect, ethnolect, genderlect, idiolect, and so on.

It should be highlighted that in its understanding of hybridity, this paper is also profoundly indebted to The third space: Interview with Homi Bhabha (1990) and Bhabha’s seminal work The Location of Culture (1994) which introduced the idea of hybridity into postcolonial studies defining this third space and in-between as a setting for a postcolonial society. Bhabha explains: ‘For me the importance of hybridity is not to be able to trace two original moments from which the third emerges; rather hybridity to me is the “third space” which enables other positions to emerge. This third space displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of authority, new political initiatives, which are inadequately understood through received wisdom’ (Bhabha 1994: 211). Thus, the ‘third space’ is a kernel idea of hybridity. As Huddart (2005: 126-127) stresses, for Bhabha this ‘third space’ is not a result of two ‘pure’ positions brought together and its structure is not merely logical. From this perspective, linguistic hybridity might be viewed as the ‘third space’ where the linguistic practices of the coloniser and the colonised collide, contact, and possibly merge. It is precisely this interpretation which foregrounds the analysis of the role of ideology in theatre translation in Ukraine as a postcolonial state. Further to the above, I would like to emphasize that being fully cognizant of underlying linguistic distinctions between hybrid languages and dialects, I suggest that a more nuanced understanding and interpretation of their correlation in a particular cultural setting may prove highly beneficial.

These considerations lead to the final concept to be defined in this section: what ideology is and how it contributes to target culture norms regulating the use of standard languages, dialects, and hybrid languages in theatre discourse and theatre translation in particular. Following the subsequent ‘cultural’, ‘social’, and ‘political’ turns in translation studies experienced in the 1990s, ideology has become increasingly central to research agenda (Calzada-Pérez 2014; Munday 2013; Tymoczko 2003; Venuti 1992).  Despite the fact that it has emerged as a pivotal issue in the current debate inside academia and far beyond, it still remains an ‘elusive concept that escapes an easy definition’ (Rojo López 2014: 249). As Geertz (1973: 5) argues: ‘Eclecticism is self-defeating not because there is only one direction in which it is useful to move, but because there are so many: it is necessary to choose.’ Thus, by offering a brief review of existing views on ideology, I strive towards finding such an interpretation of ideology that will be applicable to translation activity. 

According to van Dijk (1998: 2), laypersons often interpret the notion of 'ideology' as ‘a system of wrong, false, distorted or otherwise misguided beliefs, typically associated with our social or political opponents’. Further still, he emphasizes that few of ‘us’ describe our own belief systems as ‘ideologies’, by which we traditionally mean someone else’s convictions: ‘Ours is the Truth, Theirs is the Ideology’. When social analysts provide a definition for ideology, they tend to define it in broad terms, including values, beliefs, and attitudes (Jost 2006; Tedin 1987). Following on from these considerations, one might come to a reasonable conclusion that ideology has to do with knowledge about undisputed facts, past experiences, personal preferences, mundane facts of everyday life or fictional facts, which is not the case (van Dijk 1998: 28). Thus, van Dijk suggests that one should not discard the fact that ideologies traditionally ‘belong to the realm of social beliefs’ and are ‘located in social memory’ (idem: 29), which makes ideology a social belief system. He makes it clear that ideologies are to be defined as ideologies of groups that may be individually practiced by group members (idem: 30). Another point to consider is that ideology features evaluative beliefs (idem: 33), which brings some highly subjective overtones to the ideological interpretation of reality. Therefore, a broad-based approach to the concept of ideology that I espouse is the one by Luke (2001: 559): ‘systems of ideas, beliefs, practices, and representations which operate in the interests of an identifiable social class or cultural group.’ It does not preclude the resort to other, more specific meanings of ideology, which are relevant to the discussion. What follows is concerned with political ideology and linguistic ideology.

As Martin (2015: 11) observes, some theorists argue that all ideology is political by nature. Meanwhile, he favours a narrower conception of political ideology referring to ‘processes and institutions turning on the quest to control the state machinery’ (ibid: 11). Political ideologies can offer certain ideas on what they believe to be the best form of government (democracy, autocracy, totalitarianism, and so on) or the best system of economic relations (capitalism, socialism, and so on). In addition, they may develop fundamental doctrines and principles to regulate different types of social activities, including linguistic activities. Language ideology, in its broad sense, stands for shared beliefs about language in the context of sociocultural values which often serve for rationalisation of social structures and dominant linguistic habits (Swann et al. 2004: 171). In practical terms, language ideology implies that standard language variety used by groups with higher social status is conventionally associated with scholarship and refinement; meanwhile, non-standard varieties are believed to be vulgar and crude. In Bilaniuk’s (1997: 105) view, it reflects people’s overt and implicit beliefs about what language is and what forms may be used in different contexts. These beliefs may be either overtly expressed in statements about language or may be implicit in people’s reactions to speakers of particular language varieties. In certain social and political contexts, political ideology and language ideology appear to be deeply intertwined which is evidenced in language policy and language planning. According to Bernsand (2001: 39), the analysis of language ideology ‘makes it possible to understand the processes that give social meaning to language forms and shape notions on the relationship of language identities’.

4. Ukraine’s sociolinguistic profile through the lens of postcoloniality

In their majority, Ukrainian scholars evince considerable interest in the concepts of postcolonial studies, although some have been apparently reluctant to define the Ukrainian-Russian relationships in terms of postcoloniality. The assumption underlying their conviction is that Ukraine had never been Russia’s colony in a traditional sense of the word. While it is hardly possible to refute this claim on the whole, it may prove perfectly feasible to apply some relevant premises of the postcolonial theory to the analysis of the sociolinguistic situation in Ukraine. In this respect, this paper clearly supports Ryabchuk’s (2010) advocacy for regarding Russian-Ukrainian asymmetric relations as an inherent conflict of two discourses – ‘the discourse of imperial dominance and the discourse of national/nationalistic resistance and liberation’ (idem: 7). To support the suggested explanation, it would be helpful to discuss some key aspects of the common history of the two nations.

Ukraine is rooted in the powerful medieval state of Kyivan Rus which disintegrated in the thirteenth century. Since then, some parts of it were consecutively ruled by the Golden Horde, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Kingdom of Poland, and the Crimean Khanate. Following a rebellion against the Polish dominance in 1648 and the Treaty of Pereyaslav in 1654, a sizable portion of Ukraine’s lands came under Russian rule to be later divided between the Tsardom of Russia and Habsburg Austria. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Ukrainian Bolsheviks created the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as an integral part of Russia-dominated Soviet Union. Finally, after the end of the Second World War Ukraine’s territory was enlarged westward and included Ukrainian ethnic territories formerly controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Being a stateless nation torn apart between mighty empires, Ukrainians were united by common language spread throughout their ethnic, predominantly rural, territories. In this context, Bernsand (2001: 39) maintains that the Ukrainian nation ‘has been conceptualised mainly through its language’. As a result, the ‘romantic notions on the essentiality of nations and languages’ has been traditionally ‘accepted on a common-sense basis’.  

The Ukrainian language struggled to survive over the years of imperial dominance. It lived through the 1863 Valuyev Circular, a decree suspending the publication of religious and educational texts in Ukrainian, and no less than 134 other regulatory and suppressive decrees that forced it out of public use. The artificially induced dominance of the Russian language peaked during the Soviet rule, as the Soviet Union had meticulous language planning aimed at unifying the core set of vocabulary in all national languages of the Soviet Republics. Although it was officially declared that Ukrainian and Russian were two distinct closely-related languages, attempts were made to erase the boundaries between them. Universal grammatical constructions and word choice were imposed to conform to Soviet language ideology. In the processes of Ukrainian dictionary compiling, linguists were forced to choose those variants which were closer to Russian rather than Polish or any of Western Ukrainian dialects. In the established linguistic hierarchy, Russian was the language of economic and social mobility, while Ukrainian was considered a rural language. Nonetheless, it is often suggested that owing to the speakers of Ukrainian from the rural areas, the Ukrainian language was saved from imminent extinction. Ukrainian, as it is currently spoken, still bears scars from continuous linguistic repressions.

Since Ukraine’s independence proclaimed in 1991, Ukrainian has been the only official language of the state. It does not mean to say, though, that the Russian language has readily ceded ground to the Ukrainian language in public domain. Conversely, following a short massive upsurge of Ukrainisation, which immediately followed the declaration of independence, Russian gradually regained its dominant status, particularly in the Republic of Crimea and the urban areas of the Donbas Region. Subsequently, predominantly Russian-speaking Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation and Donbas became the battlefield in the war unleashed by it. Allegedly, language conflict played a key role in triggering the military actions. Following the loss of control over these territories, Ukraine’s officials pursued a new language policy, which was meant to attach high social standing to the Ukrainian language, whereas Russian was assigned the status of a minority language. Spolsky suggests that postcolonial states have three options for language policy: to reject the metropolitan language and to proclaim the national language as the only official language; to have both the metropolitan and the national languages as official ones; to recognize the hegemony of the colonial language (Spolsky 2004: 137). It seems fairly obvious that these processes last for an extended period. Even though Ukraine has now made its ultimate choice in favour of rejecting the metropolitan language, eventual language shift may take time.

In tracing the crucial connection between two standard language varieties (Ukrainian and Russian), it is necessary to consider their non-standard counterparts and their social and political status. Regional dialects and subdialects in Ukraine are traditionally divided into three major groups: Northern group (Eastern Polissian, Central Polissian, West Polissian), South-eastern group (Middle Dnieprian, Slobozhan, Steppe), and South-western group (Podillian, Volynian, Upper Dniestrian, Pokuttia, Hutsul, Boyko, Lemko, Rusyn). The complex linguistic nature of these dialects may provide insight into the way they have been developing throughout the turbulent years of Ukraine’s colonial history. Among other things, West Polissian dialects manifest elements of both Belarus and Polish grammar and vocabulary, while the distinguishing characteristics of Upper Dniestrian subdialect are the influence of Polish and German vocabulary, which is reminiscent of the Austro-Hungarian rule. Pokuttia subdialect has some distinct vocabulary borrowed from Romanian, whereas Rusyn is often considered to be a separate language (Comrie 1992). The South-eastern group (on which the national standard is based) ‘represents what is historically the most authentic variety of the language, that is to say, the one variety that does not form a transition to a neighbouring Slavonic language’ (Hull and Koscharsky 2006). 

It would be surprising if colonialism would not have left any tangible traces of imperialistic presence. As it might be expected, the pressure to speak Russian produced hybrid forms, known as Surzhyk. There is no agreed definition or clear consensus on ‘whether it is a single variety or a system of contact phenomena ranging from lexical borrowing to code-switching or to language mixing’. (Kent 2010: 38). Some researchers (Flier 1998; Stavytska and Trub 2007) believe that there is one linguistic variety that may be termed Surzhyk. Others (Bilaniuk 2004) insist on a more detailed classification: ‘urbanized peasant Surzhyk’, which blends Ukrainian and Russian on all levels and emerges as a result of industrialisation; ‘village dialect Surzhyk’, which results from Ukrainian peasants coming into contact with Russian-speaking administrators; ‘Sovietized Ukrainian Surzhyk’, which appeared as a result of forceful substitution of the Ukrainian words by corresponding Russian ones; ‘habitual language mixing’ by bilinguals; ‘post-independence Surzhyk’, which is a recent phenomenon related to the attempts of Russian-speaking adults to speak Ukrainian as an official language. Finally, the third group (Serbenska 1994; Masenko 2008) regards Surzhyk not as a separate language, but as an ad hoc combination of Ukrainian and Russian elements without any internally consistent structure (Kent 2010).

Any clear-cut division of this linguistic continuum into distinguishable varieties would be arbitrary as there is no particular point where one variety begins and the other finishes. In fact, Surzhyk is a mixture of two standard languages (Ukrainian and Russian) and, in addition, different regional dialects of the Ukrainian language. It is noteworthy that many speakers use different varieties of language continuum and shift between them depending on context or addressee. Surzhyk can be heard in different parts of Ukraine where Russian and Ukrainian interact, although it certainly has its distinctive nature in each region. Nonetheless, it cannot be directly equated with a regional dialect, as there is no particular Surzhyk-speaking region in Ukraine. Neither can be identified as a full-fledged social dialect; yet, some linguists do define Surzhyk as a social dialect (Flier 2000). Having said that, I would argue that Surzhyk shares a range of features with ‘low’ social dialects. As there is no other formally defined ‘low’ social dialect in Ukraine, the types of Surzhyk defined by Bilaniuk as ‘urbanized peasant Surzhyk’ and ‘village dialect Surzhyk’ often appear to function as such. First, users of Surzhyk are often liminalised and marginalised for being poorly educated. Their parochialism manifests itself in non-standard forms on the phonetic, phonological, lexical, syntactic, and semantic levels. In case Surzhyk-speaking individuals happen to join the so-called educated upper-class, they strive to adapt their language habits to the norms of the new linguistic environment. Second, these people traditionally represent a particular socioeconomic group engaged in manual or unskilled labour. Finally, the linguistic characteristics typical for Surzhyk come down from generation to generation, often modified in response to changes in language and political ideologies. Thus, social status, as well as regional background, tend to be instrumental when evaluating and judging other people based on their linguistic competence.

On the whole, the public use of Surzhyk faces belligerent criticism on the part of Ukrainian intellectual elite. It should not go unnoticed, though, that its positive function has also been emphasized. Some researchers believe that by being linked to national archetypes (Stavytska and Trub 2007), the available Ukrainian elements helped the Ukrainian language not to fall into oblivion (Fuderer 2011). On the other hand, the idea that ‘hybridity is celebrated and privileged as a kind of superior cultural intelligence owing to the advantage of ‘in-betweenness”, the straddling of two cultures and the subsequent ability to “negotiate the difference” (Hoogvelt 1997: 158) is neither shared nor welcomed in Ukrainian postcolonial discourse.

Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin (2006) maintain that once hybridity becomes rooted in particular postcolonial societies in the aftermath of economic and political expansion, it extends through its cultural, linguistic, and political manifestations even after the period of colonisation. Presently, incomplete standardization of the Ukrainian language still leads to striking language variation in some public spheres. Its hybrid linguistic repertoire may be normalized either through widely established social practices or institutionalised by state authorities. Whether or not it can develop into a full-fledged language is largely a matter of ideology. In Ukraine, it is assumed that current language ideology is the ideology of language purism aimed at increasing the number of Ukrainian-speaking citizens and to accomplish the standardisation.

5. Theatre translation and the ideology of language purism in Ukraine

Recent developments in theatre translation have undoubtedly generated significant new foci of analysis with linguistic challenges of postmodern theatre being among them. It could not be denied that postcolonial changes, successive waves of immigration, and continual breakdown of the barriers separating different social groups led to a new phenomenon in postmodern theatre, in which previously marginalized voices and identities became the most prominent. Language is believed to be a site of struggle for identity and social values. It adequately explains why various types of lects have become signature moves of postmodern playwrights in constructing identities of their characters. In a similar vein, it offers insight into why these lects have posed a truly vexing problem for theatre translators worldwide. Translation as a social practice forms one of the cornerstones of this inquiry: it can be viewed as one of the instruments of maintaining, shaping, resisting, and challenging dominant ideologies in target cultures. Thus, it is important to track the instances of translation which highlight the role of ideology in defining translator’s strategies. From this perspective, little attention has been devoted to the impact of current ideology on the translation of and into dialects and hybrid languages in Ukrainian theatres.  

By and large, the tradition of theatre translation in Ukraine is far from being long-established and deep-rooted. The centuries of colonial dependence and the bitter experience of Soviet totalitarianism over decades preceding its independence sent it back to point zero. One should not discard the fact that the Soviet Union had severe prescriptive paradigms of public conduct and strict censorship. Inasmuch as all social, linguistic, and cultural activities were carefully coordinated, translation norms were centrally imposed on theatre translation. In practice, it meant that foreign plays, which were to be translated, were thoroughly inspected with a view to tracing any elements of ‘bourgeois ideology’. In case such elements were detected, the play could not be translated. If the play included some minor deviations from the Soviet norms of public conduct, translators were strongly encouraged to normalize the unwanted linguistic units. As theatre was believed to be ‘the temple of arts’, the non-standard language on stage would desecrate it. Furthermore, the majority of permitted plays were translated into Russian, while Ukrainian was restricted to several classical Ukrainian plays depicting peasants’ lives. Such a misbalance gave rise to a persistent myth that the Ukrainian language does not have sufficient linguistic resources for translating sophisticated postmodern plays.

Following on from these considerations, it is becoming reasonably clear why theatre translation in Ukraine had not developed any consistent practices prior to its independence in 1991. By the same token, it might be naturally assumed that chaotic development of the theatre over subsequent years was not able to offer any coherent translation strategies. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, freedom of speech unleashed insatiable curiosity in foreign postmodern drama, which burst into Ukrainian theatres in a rather erratic manner, as a vehicle of liberation from the stifling totalitarian mind-set. Lack of established contacts with foreign literary agents and poorly developed copyright legislation led to unmanageable and unmonitored translation practices. Facing large financial challenges, theatre directors and actors assumed the role of translators, editors, and co-authors. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of new Ukrainian theatre, it became a hegemonic practice to translate foreign plays into Ukrainian from available Russian translations. The situation has gradually improved. Currently, translations from Russian are still being practised at small-scale provincial theatres. As the phenomenon of mediated translation has become an integral part of Ukrainian theatre system, it cannot be left unattended. Therefore, prior to taking a closer look at English-Ukrainian translations of theatre texts, I will offer some general insights regarding the practice of indirect translation. 

The analysis of mediated translations lends an additional perspective to Ukrainian-Russian language contacts in the context of translating into standard and hybrid languages. My first immediate observation is that the degree of distortion in translation is much higher when a play is re-translated from translation. In quantitative terms, in seven plays translated from English into Russian and then from Russian into Ukrainian, 100 per cent of all mistranslations, which were noticed in the Russian variant, were subsequently found in the Ukrainian text. In addition, the translators made 45 semantic mistakes in total (ranging from two to ten in each translation) while translating the Russian text into Ukrainian, which were caused either by the miscomprehension of ideas or by the choice of a wrong word in Ukrainian. Finally, as all the translations in question were made by amateur translators, the interference of the Russian language into the Ukrainian text, in particularly on a syntactic level, was pervasive. This way, linguistic hybridity was introduced to translations unwillingly and unconsciously. However, it should be emphasized that multimodal analysis of four recorded plays, which were available for the study, revealed that some elements of resulting Russian-Ukrainian hybrid structures were eliminated in the process of rehearsal, while some others were not included in the final stage version.

The following key finding relates to the fluency and coherence of speech, which is often viewed as major assessment criteria in the theatre translation quality analysis. As it might be expected, in their re-translations, the Ukrainian translators were firmly guided by the choices in the Russian translations. Hence, the resulting texts are often stylistically inconsistent, heterogeneous and even eclectic. When these texts are performed on stage, actors often struggle hard to enunciate non-natural wordings and artificial syntactic constructions, which makes their speech sound rather far-fetched. It may compel unwanted attention and interrupt the natural flow of events on stage.

In recent years, this tide has been gradually falling with more and more theatres suspending the practice of using re-translations for their performances. The reasons behind this shift are manifold. First, the theatrical system has accumulated a considerable number of translations into Ukrainian, which began to circulate freely amongst theatrical communities. Although translated plays are still rarely published, the Ukrainian Agency of Copyright and Related Rights holds the information about the works officially translated into Ukrainian and thus may be used in theatre productions. Second, translation quality has become a major concern: mediocre translations will no longer suffice increasingly demanding audiences. Finally, the continuing conflict with the Russian Federation has had the far-reaching implications for the status of the Russian language in Ukraine. It has triggered a new wave of language patriotism contributing to the expansion in the number of professional translations into Ukrainian.

I maintain that professional theatre translation is an accurate representation of current dominant language ideology in Ukraine. Ukrainian scholars, writers, and other cultural agents have been arguing for the necessity of reviving the pure and genuine language in order to revive the nation (Hojan 1991; Panko 1991), as the processes of standardization and legitimation of one language variety are crucial for nation-building projects. Shifting socio-cultural environment demands the establishment of a new standard variety of the Ukrainian language, which would functionally operate in all the spheres of life. Spolsky holds the view that pure and incorrupt language is ‘highly valued ideologically’ (Spolsky 2004: 22). He suggests that language purism becomes crucially important during a time of language cultivation when native sources are strongly favoured (Annamalai 1989). This way, the pervasive discourse of linguistic purism seems to have penetrated deep into all spheres of life. Since the purist attitude tends to reject any aspects of language that would relate it to low social status or postcolonial hybridity, it marginalises and stigmatises any manifestations of non-standard linguistic behaviour. Moreover, linguistic anomalies are often viewed as symptoms of a degrading identity. For apparent reasons, any implicit threat to the national identity of Ukrainians is mitigated by efforts to avoid linguistic deviations whenever possible. It explains why surzhyk, as a Russian-Ukrainian hybrid language, is rarely introduced into translated theatre texts. Prevailing purism should not be ascribed only to postcolonial identity threat. If such were the case, regional dialects would be welcomed in translations as a perfect vehicle for national identity, which is not in common practice. The key to this outright rejection lies elsewhere and must be approached in a context-dependent way.

Based on a comparative analysis of the data collected from a variety of sources, the study examines which methods of translating lects are prevalent.  The following classification has been viewed as a point of departure for a broader discussion: compilation, pseudo-dialect, parallel dialect, localization, standardization (Perteghella 2002), and reconstruction of the communicative situation (Halas 2010). Compilation presupposes mixing of several dialects or idioms of the target language; pseudo-dialect suggests creating an artificial dialect based on substandard elements and accents; parallel dialect involves a certain dialect in the target culture which performs similar function and has corresponding connotative loading; localization allows for total domestication of the work including its anthroponymic and toponymic systems; standardization calls for elimination of all dialectal elements; reconstruction of communicative situation is efficient for documentary and verbatim plays.

At a first glance, a method a theatre translator chooses may largely seem a matter of personal preference. Meanwhile, once certain discourse factors have been unveiled, a fuller picture is beginning to emerge. The findings suggest that standardization and pseudo-dialect are the methods of first resort in Ukrainian theatre translation, representing 33 and 39 per cent correspondingly. The resort to standardization method has well-reasoned grounds. As Erkazanci (2009: 241) contends, in the countries where standardization is circulating through discourses, translators tend to develop a linguistic habitus. They initiate self-censorship so that ‘an external governing force becomes an internal governing agent’ (Erkazanci 2009: 247). Gradually, linguistic habitus transforms a decision-making process into an automatic mode, in which ideologically accommodated linguistic choices spring to mind beyond volition. It gives a key to understanding why professional translators take a cautious mind while facing the challenges of dialect translation. The mainstream discourse of linguistic purity, of which translators are an organic part, imposes certain restrictions; thus, it requires considerable dexterity to go against the stream. On the other hand, when the dialect is nothing but a mode of natural communication in a play and the author did not mean to emphasize the linguistic identity, there is no need to exert every effort in order to show the otherness and to protrude substandard linguistic features. That being the case, it makes sense to consider standardization as a preferred method.

Pseudo-dialects in available theatre translations tend to combine different elements of substandard language varieties, such as colloquialisms and jargon, which are introduced with the intention to imitate the sociolects of marginalized characters and to maintain the opposition of characters’ social status within a play. While this strategy proves effective for translating sociolects, it fails to represent regional varieties to the full extent. When performed on stage, many translated texts came through remarkable phonetic transformations in an attempt to imitate the speech of low social classes. In view of the fact that there are no clearly defined social dialects of the Ukrainian language, the imitation of cacology typical for Surzhyk-speaking people produces the desired effect of marginalization. It may be reinforced by the pitch of a voice, facial expression, posture, proximity to the interlocutor, and other kinaesthetic potentialities, which the multimodal space of theatre has to offer. Thus, linguistic hybridity is occasionally used as a way to show the inferiority of a character; however, in most cases these phonetic distortions are initiated by either actors or directors without being introduced to the written texts. The degree to which such liberty is possible is largely dependent on the status of the theatre. Traditional theatres tend to adhere to the norms, which are implicitly prescribed by current language ideology of purism. Meanwhile, alternative and fringe theatres are prone to experimenting with the linguistic mode of the play similarly to how they do it with other modes. It is not infrequent that they dare to edit the official translation by introducing some vulgar linguistic elements. For instance, the production of the Ukrainian translation of Tennessee Williams’s play Suddenly Last Summer by Kateryna Mikhalitsyna in Les Kurbas Theatre in Lviv is a representative example of how staging can alter the overall tone of the play. In its written form, the translation has some occasional colloquialisms; otherwise, it is in the standard Ukrainian language. In contrast, the performance abounds in meaningless abusive words, which are the borrowings from the Russian language. These swear words are traditionally believed to be linguistic outcasts as their highest degree of vulgarity provokes an outright rejection of cultured persons. For whatever compelling reason these elements were introduced to the performance, it provides another example of how linguistic hybridity continues to make inroads in the theatrical domain with the lack of awareness on behalf of the agents involved in the process.

On the other occasion, the usage of these Russian swearwords in a text translation compelled a theatre to decide against the translation and to commission a new one. It happened when Voskresinnia Theatre in Lviv was going to stage Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, in which the East End London sociolect is extensively used. The translation by Markiyan Yakubiak was an attempt to compose a pseudo-dialect whose constituting elements included the standard Ukrainian language, colloquialisms, Russian swear words, Western Ukrainian dialectal words, and the elements of surzhyk. The latter included the Ukrainian words pronounced in the Russian manner, incorrect syntactic constructions, mixed Ukrainian-Russian collocations, and so on. Although from a linguistic point of view this mixture of the standard language, the dialect, and the hybrid language can be classified as a pseudo-dialect, de facto it appeared to be a vulgar cacophonous blending of incompatible lects. To the best of my knowledge, the final convincing argument advanced against the translation was that the abundance of swear words ruins the integrity of the performance and vulgarizes its underlying ideas.

As seen from above, mixing of several idioms is viewed as a possible method of translating dialects in theatre. There have been attempts to apply the method of compilation by introducing lexical or syntactic features of several Western Ukrainian dialects, which are easily recognized due to their considerable dissimilarity with other dialects. The records of performed translated plays show that sometimes the actors do not bother to reproduce the accent peculiar to these dialects. These attempts have been rather inconsistent and sporadic, as dialectal vocabulary has not been densely embedded into the texture. The introduction of dialectal words has been limited to solitary instances, in which they appear to show some extraneous interference rather than to represent speaker’s authenticity.

In the database, there are no plays translated into a Ukrainian parallel dialect. Similarly, localization has never been applied to translating postmodern dramatic texts. Presently, the domestication approach involved in these methods is not widely applicable in theatre translation. Nonetheless, it has not always been the case. In 2o1o, Olha Kobylianska Theatre in Chernivtsi presented a premiere of William Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew, which used the combination of two Ukrainian translations of the play. The modern version did not exhibit any arresting linguistic features, whereas Yuriy Fedkovych’s translation (1872) relocated the characters to a Ukrainian mountain village and made them speak the Hutsul dialect of the Ukrainian language. The revival of this translation was no more than an audacious experiment, which failed to evoke a wide public response. As things stand today, it does not appear possible to use localization on a wide-scale basis.

6. Concluding remarks

This paper has been written with the hope to encourage the future development of dialect and hybrid language research in theatre translation studies. As the analysis is often confined to cultural and linguistic anomalies in the source text and the methods of their reproduction in translations, I have strived to raise awareness about ideology as a matrix of social practices, which is playing a crucial role in shaping translators’ habitus and is becoming increasingly central in importance for current research in theatre translation studies. Drawing on a wide range of multimodal materials, the analysis has not been confined to the verbal mode of theatre texts. Instead, the availability of recorded performance has lent an additional perspective to the study of dialects and hybrid languages in translation. There is a subset of remarks that arises from the multimodal analysis, which would otherwise escape observation. The degree to which this may matter obviously depends on the strands of opinion underpinning a particular study. Meanwhile, I am inclined to believe that the unimodal analysis of theatre translations may place the research at a grave disadvantage in comparison with the multimodal analysis. 

In the process of research, some generalisations have pushed themselves into prominence. First and foremost, the existing state of affairs in theatre translation precisely synchronizes with the initial expectation that being an integral part of the sociocultural environment, it must be affected by the dominant ideology of linguistic purity. Prevailing textual characteristics of translated texts are ‘indicative of dominant ideology’, but at the same time, the deviations from major patterns are ‘indicative of conflicting and emerging new ideologies’ (Cunico and Munday 2007: 148). On the one hand, standardization in translation is aimed at perpetuating the high status of the Ukrainian language; on the other hand, there have been attempts to broaden the translation norms by alleviating the postcolonial anxiety in relation to language through the introduction of unwanted linguistic elements, such as hybrid language units, to the translations of postmodern drama. Seemingly, professional translators are more prone to follow the established norms and to sustain language purity, while amateur translators are more vigorous in violating the norms and reversing dominant ideological patterns.


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About the author(s)

Anna Halas is a lecturer at the Department of Translation Studies and Contrastive Linguistics, Faculty of Foreign Languages, at Ivan Franko National University in Lviv, where
she teaches a range of undergraduate and graduate courses. After receiving her degree in Translation at Lviv University, she continued her studies at the Faculty of English
Language and Literature, University of Oxford (UK). Anna focused on contemporary British drama, which later became the main research area in her doctoral program at Lviv
University. Her current research interests span a broad range of topics focusing largely on theatre translation, multimodality and translation, the role of ideology in
translation, translation criticism, sociolinguistics, and translation. Anna is a member of the organizing committee of an interdisciplinary conference Language and Society.
Anna is also a theatre translator, whose translations of modern drama into Ukrainian are performed in theatres across Ukraine.

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©inTRAlinea & Anna Halas (2019).
"Ideological dimensions of linguistic hybridity in Ukrainian theatre translation"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia IV
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