TRANSLATION AND RELEVANCE
(unit 8 A + pp. 177-180 B (Gutt) )
Equivalence is largely text-based.
Translation processes, however, imply
Cognitive analysis of the translation process
has shifted the focus from TEXT to
One of the main features of cognition is
Example from Newsweek, 2001:
Serge Cardin, a Canadian MP, had to apologize to the
House for humming the theme song from The
Godfather while Public Works Minister Alfonso
Gagliano, who is of Italian descent, addressed
Why did the MP have to apologize? Is it for ‘humming’,
which is a breach of parliamentary formality?
What is the relevance of the reference to the Godfather?
Is it just because this film is a classic?
Why did the author mention ‘Italian descent’?
Which are the relevant parts of this extract?
What do you infer?
INFERENCE INVOLVES CONTEXT
(by Sperber and Wilson)
Communication starts with a STIMULUS (verbal
or non verbal) = humming a song
This stimulus guides the hearer (or reader)
towards a precise meaning intended by the
speaker (INFORMATIVE INTENTION).
Communication and relevance would be
compromised if the interaction of stimulus
(humming a tune), contextual assumptions
(Godfather – Mafia – corrupt minister –
Italian descent…) and interpretation (ethnic
offence) were disturbed for any reason.
This is what (often) happens when we do not
see the point of a joke or the irony of
RELEVANCE AND TRANSLATION
What is the following? What is the source language? Try to
translate it in our ‘culture’.
Three friends - Aboriginal, Jew and Australian, spend each night together
drinking beer in an outback (entroterra) pub.
One night as they're leaving, a road-train (AusEng autotreno) comes
through the town and kills all three. The next day, the publican (oste)
is surprised to see the Australian - who assumed dead - walked
through the door.
The Australian tells him, "Well, we were all killed, but when we got to the
pearly gates (le porte del paradiso), St. Peter said we could come back
to earth if we pay him $20."
"Well, obviously, you paid up, but what happened to your friends?"
"The jew's trying to haggle him down to $10, and the aboriginal is
trying to convince him that the government will pay for it."
TRANSLATING JOKES IS ONE OF THE MOST CHALLENGING WORKS.
JOKE TRANSLATION IS NO JOKE!!!
• Jokes are intended to be funny
• The humorous effect depends on linguistic
• Jokes depend on allusiveness, word games
etc. rather than explicitness
As far as humour is concerned, no matter how
well the translator knows the target
language, cultural references and
polysemous items may involve them in long
and complicated explanations, after which
the recipient rarely reacts with a laugh.
Thus, a common linguistic code is definitely not
all that is needed in order to appreciate
Language and culture are intertwined and
without shared knowledge between sender
and recipient, a common linguistic code will
be almost of no help.
Julia Roberts, an Englishman and a Frenchman were all sitting in the
same train compartment. Nothing much happened until the train
went into a tunnel.
Through the darkness could be heard the sound of a loud slap and a cry
of pain. When the train emerged from the tunnel, Julia Roberts and
the Englishman were sitting perfectly normally, but the Frenchman
was rubbing his cheek and nursing a swollen eye.
Julia immediately thought: “The Frenchman must have tried to kiss me
when we went in the tunnel, but kissed the Englishman by mistake
and got a slap for his pains.”
The Frenchman thought: “The Englishman must have tried to kiss Julia
and she slapped me by mistake.”
And the Englishman thought: “That is great. Every time we go into a
tunnel, I can smack that French prat!”
What sociocultural implication is in this joke?
There is the sociocultural implication of the ever lasting rivalry between the English and
the French. To find the joke funny, you need to be aware of the never ending English-
French mental war within an English person. In fact, there is another joke that says
that “Sure sign that you’re English is that you’re still mentally at war with Germany,
France, Scotland, the American colonies, the Danes, the Celts, the Vikings, and the
There was an Irishman, and Englishman and Claudia Schiffer sitting
together in a carriage in a train going through Tasmania. Suddenly
the train went through a tunnel and as it was an old style train, there
were no lights in the carriage and it went completely dark.
Then there was this kissing noise and the sound of a really loud slap.
When the train came out of the tunnel, Claudia Schiffer and the Irishman
were sitting as if nothing had happened and the Englishman had his
hand against his face as he has been slapped there.
The Englishman was thinking: “The Irish fella must have kissed Claudia
Schiffer and she missed him and slapped me instead.”
Claudia Schiffer was thinking: “The English fella must have tried to kiss
me and actually kissed the Irishman and got slapped for it.”
And the Irishman was thinking: “This is great. The next time the train
goes through a tunnel I’ll make another kissing noise and slap that
English bastard again!”
Prince Charles was out early the other day
walking the dog. When a passerby said:
“Morning”, Charles said: “No, just walking the
What kind of plays are there in this joke?
Is it easy or difficult to translate?
This joke is particularly difficult to translate because
it plays on two levels: the linguistic and the
cultural one. In translating such a joke, one
needs, first of all, to understand the core of the
joke and then try and transfer it to the target
Yet, the cultural context has to be explained first: on
the one hand, Prince Charles is part of the
present British Royal family, more precisely, he is
the son of Queen Elizabeth; and on the other
hand, it must be said that the joke describes the
event as taking place somewhere immediately
after his wife, Lady Di’s death.
On a linguistic level, the phonemic resemblance
between the verb to mourn, in its continuous aspect
– mourning and the noun morning, which belongs to
the greeting “Good morning”, but which in familiar
English may be left as such.
The linguistic part will be very difficult to render into
Italian because of the obvious lack of phonemic
coincidence of the two words.
Try to translate the joke
Yet, as far as the cultural aspect is concerned, the particular
reference can be explained in a footnote.
Nonetheless, the footnote will merely isolate what is a part of a
broader cultural identity (Lady Di’s relation to his husband,
her life and her role played in the British Royal Family, her
accident, her death etc) and while explaining what the small
circle may signify they will still leave in the dark – take for
granted – the general background which gives energy and
relevance to the small details.
• e.g. Sapir-Whorf
The way we see the world is determined by the
language we speak
what about translatability?
Particular lexis referred to
• culture-bound phenomena (darts league, carol-singing°, A-
levels, passeggiata*, fuori corso)
• set expressions which are rooted in the folk history of the
culture (Boxing Day, in bocca al lupo),
• different ways of viewing the same reality (toccare ferro =
• * trad. lett. walk, but this does not express the cultural shade of meaning
(it is not an English habit, for meteorological as well as traditional reasons)
• ° carol as a Christmas song exists in Italian btu the act of going from door
to door singing them does not.
A few more examples
• il rosso dell’uovo • yellow
• infanzia (0-12) • infancy (0-2)/
Eskimos have six ways to refer to snow, corresponding
to different situations (falling, on the ground, soft,
LAMB OF GOD
In Bible translation for Eskimos it was translated as the
SEAL of God
SHAKESPEARE’S SONNET ‘Shall I compare thee to a
summer’s day’ cannot be semantically translated into a
language where summers are unpleasant.
Context of culture (unit 11)
CULTURE = the system of values, beliefs,
conventions, which maintain cohesiveness
within a particular group
Anyone communicating in their native language
express themselves in language that reflects
their cultural upbringing => their view of the
Awareness of cultural differences /similarities is
essential to the interpretation of meaning =>
is essential to translation
Newmark (1988) definition of ‘culture’ as
• "the way of life and its manifestations that are
peculiar to a community that uses a particular
language as its means of expression",
thus acknowledging that each language group
has its own culturally specific features.
Peter Newmark also categorized the cultural words as follows:
1) Ecology: flora, fauna, hills, winds, plains
2) Material Culture: food, clothes, houses and towns, transport
3) Social Culture: work and leisure
4) Organizations , Customs, Activities, Procedures, Concepts:
• Political and administrative
5) Gestures and Habits
Some strategies introduced by Newmark for dealing with cultural gap:
• 1) Naturalization:
A strategy when a SL word is transferred into TL text in its original form.
• 2) Couplet or triplet and quadruplet:
Is another technique the translator adopts at the time of transferring, naturalizing
or calques to avoid any misunderstanding: according to him it is a number of
strategies combine together to handle one problem.
• 3) Neutralization:
Neutralization is a kind of paraphrase at the level of word. If it is at higher level it
would be a paraphrase. When the SL item is generalized (neutralized) it is
paraphrased with some culture free words.
4) Descriptive and functional equivalent:
In explanation of source language cultural item there is two elements: one is
descriptive and another one would be functional. Descriptive equivalent talks
about size, color and composition. The functional equivalent talks about the
purpose of the SL cultural-specific word.
• 5) Explanation as footnote:
The translator may wish to give extra information to the TL reader. He would
explain this extra information in a footnote. It may come at the bottom of the
page, at the end of chapter or at the end of the book.
• 6) Cultural equivalent:
The SL cultural word is translated by TL cultural word
• 7) Compensation:
A technique which is used when confronting a loss of meaning, sound effect,
pragmatic effect or metaphor in one part of a text. The word or concept is
compensated in other part of the text.
• May differ to varying degrees in form or function from
country to country due to historical or political reasons
– simply transcribed (Foreign Office, Serie A)
– “translation couplet in apposition” (binomio traduttivo:
etichetta traduttiva + traduzione) (Newmark): cassa
integrazione (Italian redundancy fund), by-election (elezione
suppletiva in Gran Bretagna
– Transparent translation where possible (standardised
translations under the influence of EU): La Camera dei Comuni,
• Sometimes even when there is no real equivalent in the TL (Lega Nord
Risky practice in cases of conceptual gaps: certificato di
residenza and stato di famiglia have no equivalent in English
because the referent does not exist.
• The most difficult are individual lexical items and
expressions that contain a potentially
incomprehensible or misleading cultural aspect.
Consider the cultural implications of the following:
– Breakfast/colazione (what is eaten?)
– Barrister/avvocato (what are their duties?)
– Terraced house/villetta a schiera (who lives in it?)
• Once identified, strategies for dealing with such
– Transcription (baseball, cricket, pizza, lasagne)
– Literal/transparent translation (pallacanestro,
– Provided with a couple (porcini = edible mushrooms)
– Provided with a triplet (tiramisù= pick-me-up, Italian
cream and coffee dessert dish)
• Where such epedients are not possible, resort to:
2) annotated explanations
3) deletion, if the term’s omission does not detract from the
1. The boys were out playing conkers/I ragazzi erano fuori a
giocare con le castagne d’India
2. The boys were out playing conkers/I ragazzi erano fuori a
giocare a ‘conkers’ (un gioco inglese nel quale i bambini stanno
uno con una castagna d’India a penzoloni da un filo, mentre
l’altro cerca di rompere la castagna dell’avversario con la propria
facendola roteare nell’aria)
3. The boys were out playing conkers/I ragazzi erano fuori a
Culture bound elements
They can be referred to:
• Extralinguistic elements of reality (topografia, flora e fauna,
istituzioni sociali etc.),
– Extralinguistic Culture-bound Reference (ECR): reference that is
attempted by means of any culture-bound linguistic expression, which
refers to an extralinguistic entity or process, and which is assumed to
have a discourse referent that is identifiable to a relevant audience as
this referent is within the encyclopedic knowledge of this audience.
• Pragmatic and intralinguistic elements (such as idioms, proverbs,
slang and dialects)
E’ mancata all’affetto dei suoi cari On September 30°, XXXX
YYY, aged 89 years, beloved
XXXXX XXXXXX wife of ZZZZ, much loved
mother of KKKK.
La ricordano a quanti l’hanno Funeral service in (place) on
conosciuta e amata i figli X con Y,
Z con K, e i nipoti tutti. (date) at (time)
I funerali avranno luogo il giorno
… alle ore … presso la chiesa…
• A merenda mangiavano castagne, o pane con
olio e aceto, e poi se avevano finito i compiti
potevano scendere a giocare in piazzetta…
• At tea-time they ate chestnuts, or bread with
oil and vinegar, and then, if they had finished
their homework, they could go and play in the
small piazza (TRANSLATION)
• Translator has to be:
• Bilingual / bicultural
Allusion (cultural reference):
tacit reference to another literary work, to
another art, to history, to contemporary
figures, or the like .
• ricorso a una traduzione “standard”;
• ricorso a una traduzione letterale, senza curarsi del significato connotativo o
• nota aggiunta all’interno del testo, in cui il traduttore aggiunge in maniera non
intrusiva informazioni (sulle fonti etc.) che l’autore, dal suo punto di vista della LP,
non ha ritenuto necessarie;
• ricorso a note a piè di pagina, nota introduttiva o altre spiegazioni non inserite nel
testo, ma fornite a parte come informazioni aggiuntive;
• inserimento di marche interne al testo per segnalare attraverso strutture marcate
dal punto di vista sintattico la presenza di prestiti;
• sostituzione con un elemento della LA;
• spiegazione dell’allusione tramite parafrasi;
• ricreazione dell’allusione, tramite una fusione di più tecniche: costruzione creativa
di un passaggio che suggerisca le connotazioni dell’allusione o altri effetti da essa
• omissione dell’allusione.
• Sally Brown’s parting remark to the
playground bully is undoubtedly meant to
evoke Theodore Roosevelt’s timeless
“Speak softly and carry a big stick; (you will go
far)”. (not everybody knows this historical
reference but it has now the force of a
• The most creative strategy for the translator is
that of replacing allusion with an element of
• It is vital that this element is for the addressee
of the TL what the original was for the
addressee of the SL, so a reproduction of an
allusion of the same lexical field should be
attempted and the theme/topic and the
fundamental characteristics should be
How to translate this strip?
• Stick a sentence into Sally’s bubble to make
the cultural assumption explicit (“… as T.
Roosvelt once said…” ? It would ruin the joke
• Put an eplanatory note? The effect wouldn’t
be achieved (intellectual recognition but not
Robin Lakoff observes:
“The difference between telling a joke right and
ruining it by eplaining the punch line. The
hearer of a ruined joke can still see that it was
funny, but it is not funny to him”.
Prince takes arms against bad English
Can you see allusion here?
‘Prince’ here refers to the prince of Wales, but
what follows are references to Shakespeare’s
Hamlet (“to take arms against a sea of
• There have been a few studies of how cultural
elements are translated, from general
translation studies, such as Hatim (1997), to
studies dealing with culture in audio-visual
translation, such as Nedergaard Larsen (1993)
and Orrevall (2004).
• The best-known investigation of the
translation of cultural elements to date is
probably Leppihalme’s studies of allusions and
how they cause “culture bumps” (1994, 1997,
To sum up...
Translatability depends on the degree to which the
source text is embedded in its own culture. The
more culture-bound a text is, the more difficult it is
The less culture bound a text is, the less it needs to
be adapted to suit the TL readership.
We should speak of a sliding scale of translatability,
largely depending on the degree to which a text is
embedded in SL culture.