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Milano 2011


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ISBN: 978-88-8311-768-8

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Table of Contents

Introduction ..............................................................................7
Chapter 1
The Development of Language Studies .......................................11
1.1.The Beginning of the Twentieth Century..........................11
1.1.1. Saussure................................................................14
1.2.1. Jakobson ...............................................................23
1.2.2. Peirce....................................................................30
1.2.3. Chomsky...............................................................32
1.2.4. Barthes..................................................................36
1.2.5. Greimas ................................................................46
1.3.Poststructuralism .............................................................48
1.3.1. Derrida .................................................................49
1.4.Recent Developments in Language Studies.......................51
1.4.1. Newmarks Componential Analysis ........................52
1.5.Discourse Analysis and its Disciplines ..............................56
1.5.1. Ethnography of Speaking .......................................57
1.5.2. Pragmatics ............................................................59
1.5.3. Conversational Analysis .........................................69
1.5.4. Interactional Sociolinguistics..................................73
1.5.5. Critical Discourse Analysis.....................................74
Chapter 2
Discourse and its Defining Elements ...........................................81
2.1.The Context of Situation .................................................82
2.1.1. Registers ...............................................................86
2.1.2. Dialects.................................................................90

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

2.1.3. The Notion of Function.........................................99

2.2.The Co-Text .................................................................103
2.2.1. The Notion of Cohesion ......................................103
2.2.2. Textual Types and Genre Analysis .......................106
2.2.3. Information Packaging in Written Texts ...............112
2.2.4. Language and Ideology: Morphosyntactic and
Lexical Strategies.................................................116
2.3.The Context of Culture .................................................132
2.3.1. Culture-bound Expressions..................................132
2.3.2. The Notion of Intertextuality ...............................134
Chapter 3
An Introduction to Translation Studies .....................................155
3.1.Recent Developments in Translation Studies ..................155
3.1.1. Communicative Translation and
Translation Loss..................................................159
3.1.2. Malones Translation Strategies ...........................163
3.1.3. The Cultural Turn ..............................................170
3.2.Culture and the Notion of Cultural Translation..............179
3.2.1. The Development of Cultural Studies ..................184
3.2.2. The Language of Advertising ...............................196
3.3.Features of Spoken Language and Written Language ......224
3.3.1. The Notion of Spoken Grammar ...........................226
3.4.Postcolonial Translation ................................................247
3.4.1. The Development of Postcolonial Studies ............247
3.4.2. The Notion of Colonial Alienation and the Issue
of Intertextuality..................................................251
3.4.3. The Language of Decolonisation..........................258
3.4.4. Translating First Names ......................................306
Conclusions ...........................................................................313
Bibliography .........................................................................315

Table of Contents

S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)
Translation Problems in the Asterix Comics ............................... 353
Asterix Bibliography ........................................................... 435


The present book, which was devised as a general introduction

to language and translation studies, aims at helping readers
develop useful strategies with which to approach the analysis of
discourse in various contexts.
With this intent, it begins by introducing some of the
fundamental notions developed in linguistics, sociolinguistics,
semiotics, critical theory, literary and cultural studies, which
have influenced research work in the field of language and
translation studies.
In fact, in order to understand the aims of language and
translation studies and the place these disciplines have in
contemporary society, we cannot ignore the theoretical
background that has determined their development and still
supports them.
The initial sections of this book therefore introduce various
(linguistic, semiotic, literary and other) theories which, given the
importance they have had for the development of language and
translation studies, could not be taken for granted.
The first chapter thus provides the foundations on which the
remaining sections rest, and tries to emphasise common features,
influences, chronological developments and so on, in an attempt
to clarify the historical background from which these theories
stemmed and suggest, if only very concisely, the cultural
developments which rendered possible the incredible
advancement of the intellectual debate we have witnessed in the
second half of the twentieth century and the first decade of the
twenty-first century.
The second chapter introduces some of the fundamental
notions at the basis of discourse analysis, applying some of the

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

theories elaborated on within this field to the analysis of different

textual types. Even though translation issues are discussed more
systematically in the third chapter, for obvious reasons it was not
always possible to keep the two discussions distinct, as the
notion of culture which underlies the way human beings
belonging to particular communities use language, is
fundamental for translation as well.
The third chapter, however, deals more specifically with
translation studies, applying some of the fundamental notions
recently elaborated on in this field to specific textual types such
as advertisements, newspapers, literature and comics.
Rather than being a compendium of theoretical jargon, this
volume therefore aims at providing readers with some
background in various theories, in order to bring to light the
(thematic, chronological and geographical) relationship which
exists between them and the impact they have had on language
and translation studies. As a result, the links between the
developments occurring in different fields of research are
explained throughout the text, and these notions are then applied
to specific texts* . In addition, the analysis of the translation

Some parts of the present book are re-elaborations of material which first
appeared, either in English or in Italian, in previously published works. In
particular, occasional references are made to:
Canepari, M. 2005. Introducing Translation Studies, Parma, Azzali Editore.

_____ 2006. Translating Postcolonial Texts, Parma, Azzali Editore.

_____ 2008. Aggressivit simbolica e forme di deritualizzazione nel
discorso calcistico del ventesimo secolo, in E. Martines e G. De Rosa (eds).
2008. Angeli e demoni, Parma, Mup editore.
_____ 2008. Think Global, Act Local: traduzione e pubblicit nellera
della globalizzazione, Il traduttore visibile, vol. 3, Parma, Mup editore, 2008.
_____ 2008. Infedelt intersemiotiche alla ricerca di un lieto fine, La
Torre di Babele, vol. 5, Parma, Mup editore.
I would also like to acknowledge the fact that some of the examples
provided in this book are based on the corpora gathered by some of the
students Ive had the pleasure to work with throughout the years.


strategies adopted in the British, American and Italian versions

of Asterix developed in the Appendix by Enrico Martines offers
an in-depth application of the theories approached in the
remaining of the book.

Chapter 1
The Development of Language Studies

In this first chapter we shall follow, although very briefly, the

developments various scientific and human sciences have
undergone as from the beginning of the last century, in order to
understand where the theories scholars refer to today stemmed
1.1.The Beginning of the Twentieth Century
Whereas the early Victorian era was characterised by a strong
moralistic temper, the attempt to establish middle-class values,
the importance of religion, a conservatism based on money and
tradesman-like qualities, and a communal attempt to improve
the condition of England, by the end of the century many
thinkers and writers felt that the middle-class values they had
previously helped to establish, were intolerably Philistine. Hence
the reaction, in the literary production of the last decades of the
nineteen century, represented by the aesthetic and the decadent
movements, the work of Wilde and Swinburne, and a general
emphasis on the importance of the independence from, and
resistance to, the oppressive conformities of the Victorian age.
During these years dominated by personalities such as Marx,
Darwin, and Spencer the erosive process, as represented in
Butlers and Merediths works could actually be said to have
begun: Victorian synthesis started dissolving, the cultural climate
began fragmenting, the progressive, optimistic view characteristic
of the preceding era came to an end; religious certainty declined,
the old rural order and its values faded, and new technologies


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

developed. The belief that the various thinkers who had made
their appearance in the previous years were opening a new age
became widespread (I am thinking for example of Nietzsche,
who during these years published some of his most important
books, Zola and Edison), and several theorists in the different
realms of consciousness and psychology began to emerge. For
example, in 1890 William James introduced for the first time the
phrase stream of consciousness which would become famous
thanks to various modernist authors such as James Joyce,
Virginia Woolf and May Sinclair; Freud published his Studies on
Hysteria in 1895, and Bergsons Matter and Memory saw the
press in 1896.
This was therefore a time of change, distinguished by a strong
sense of transition, various scientific discoveries and the
development of new technologies as epitomised by Villiers de
lIsle Adamss The Future Eve (1886), where Edison builds a
female android. A new kind of sensibility developed, leading to
an increased curiosity in the darker recesses of the self and the
unconscious that Freud was beginning to explore, as testified by
Stevensons publication of The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr
Hyde (1886).
In the 1890s the interests and themes approached by the arts
constantly diversified, and if the decade could be described as an
age of scientific development and social analysis during which
also the ambiguity intrinsic in the Imperial mission began to be
addressed it could be equally referred to as an age of romance.
It was an age marked by a strong sense of contradiction, a
moment of transition whose typical uncertainty found an
expression in a growing sense of sexual ambiguity, as represented
not only in Freuds theory, but also in the radically changed
representation of the sexes we have in the new woman fiction
expression of the emergent feminist movement and the (halfveiled) gay writing produced since the last decade of the nineteen

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

By 1900, new dramas of social and sexual relationship were

therefore replacing the Victorian dramas of religion and morality,
and it was felt that it was time to break with the conventions
Victorianism had implemented on a social, political, economic,
philosophical and literary level. This was therefore a time of
dawns and twilights, during which the sense of fin de sicle soon
found a counterbalance in the feeling of aube de sicle and
regeneration. If in 1901 the Victorian era truly closed, the belle
poque inaugurated by the accession to the throne of Edward VII
simultaneously began, ushering Britain into the twentieth
century. A new era was opening, a time of fast change and
political uncertainty, in which new schools of thought were
developing, religion was often replaced with science and, in spite
of all the differences which obviously distinguish the various
disciplines, old social acceptances based on a priori assumptions
broke down and were rejected in all fields of human knowledge.
The old notions of the universe, man, even God, began to be
re-examined, and what Dostoyevsky would call a dialogical
reality, began to be discovered behind, and in opposition to, the
monological and stable world which Victorian society claimed
was the ultimate, true reality, and which realist fiction claimed
to transcribe. A certain element of randomness and uncertainty
entered science, for example, thanks to, amongst others,
Einsteins General Theory of Relativity, Plancks Quantum
Theory and Heisenbergs Uncertainty Principle, which all
contributed to the abolition of absolute notions and undermined
the claims made by science to be delivering the absolute truth,
suggesting that scientific discourse, like literary discourse, is a
construction we use to make sense of the world.
The discovery of the linguistic nature of all symbols (or the
symbolic nature of all language), made it possible to consider the
discourses of science and literature as equivalent codes in the
larger system of language which were seen as contributing to the
formation of the individual.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Since the elaboration of Freuds theory of the unconscious,

language had actually appeared fundamental in the constitution
of the individual, at least of the individuals unconscious, where
it played a central role in repressing those elements and desires
the individuals self could not accept, and then brought them
back to consciousness through neurotic symptoms, dreams and
the famous Freudian slips of the tongue.
The importance assumed by language is further demonstrated
by the development of the new discipline of linguistics. In fact, in
the same way that traditional science was shaken by the theories
proposed by Einstein, Planck and Heisenberg, during the first
decades of the twentieth century various fields of the humanities
were revolutionised by the linguistic theories proposed by the
Swiss linguist Saussure and their application to various
disciplines subsequently accomplished by structuralism.
1.1.1. Saussure
It was actually Saussure who elaborated some of the dichotomies
such as langue (language as a system) and parole (the linguistic
expression of individual speakers), which would subsequently
become fundamental in linguistics.
In particular, one of the key concepts of Saussures theory was
that language is a system in which meaning is the product of a
phonological and graphological difference which distinguishes
one linguistic sign from all other signs available in the system of
language. Thus, we understand the word cat as not bat, not
rat, not sat etc. Similarly, because language, as a cultural
phenomenon, produces meaning by creating a network of
differences (and similarities), we understand the sign girl as
not-boy, not-woman, not-man, not-animal, not-deity etc.
Moreover, it was Saussure who for the first time posited the
notion that any linguistic sign consists of two sides: the signifier
that is, the sound-pattern of the word, the hearers psychological
impression of a sound and the signified broadly speaking the

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

concept we want to express; and his idea that the relationship

between the two is not naturally determined, but is arbitrary and
conventional, would utterly revolutionise the way we think about
the world, our fellow human beings and, ultimately, our selves.
Obviously, I am not suggesting that science, psychoanalysis
and linguistics developed in the same way. What I am arguing,
however, is that at the beginning of the twentieth century there
occurred a general change of perspective in relation to many of
the notions on which society had previously relied, and although
these notions pertain to different domains and are therefore
distinguished by their unique concerns and their unique means
of investigation, the changes affecting various disciplines can be
said to have some features in common. In particular, they share
the acknowledgement that there are no universal truths such as
those which science, philosophy and religion, amongst others,
have proposed over the centuries.
By 1910 it seemed in fact clear that life was not as Western
metaphysics and realism had suggested, but was filled with
indeterminacies, which made it fragmentary and heterogeneous.
And this conclusion was reached not only thanks to the
discoveries of the new science, but also thanks to, amongst
others, Dostoevskys polyphonic or dialogic novels which, as
Michail Bakhtin would argue in his important The Dialogic
Imagination, make two voices interact in a sort of dialogue
thereby disrupting the monological and authoritarian discourse
of the epic, the historical and the scientific discourse and to
cubism (whose arbitrary disruption of the continuity that had
always united an image pointed to the irrelevance of the
traditional appeal of the subject and the credibility of its
Hence, just as the writing of the age was increasingly drawing
readers attention to the way the text was actually written, cubist
painters were not bound to copying form, texture, colour, and


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

space, showing instead that meaning resided in the pictures

stylistic structure.
The necessity to break with the past became increasingly felt
in many areas, and the spirit of modernism stimulated by new
ideas in anthropology, psychology, philosophy, political theory,
and psychoanalysis, all of which began to undermine the
absoluteness of all systems in favour of a more relativistic
perspective was in the air. The first decade of the new century
could actually be described as a period of discovery during which
various experimental tendencies and movements that would
continue to develop throughout the following years made their
first appearance.
The stimulating spirit of this modern age represented for
example by the music of Schoenberg and Stravinsky, the literary
experiments of vorticism and the narratives produced by authors
such as Joyce, Woolf, F.M. Ford and Forster underwent a
great change, however, when confronted with the First World
War: it had to deal with a shattered world where the progressive
view of history and the sense of stability characteristic of the
world opened up by the new century was lost, and where
everything was felt to be temporary and provisional. Modernism
then became marked by its more fragile, decadent tone, and if on
the one hand it coincided with the experimental freeing of forms
and with an increased attention to consciousness, on the other it
was experienced as a reaction to the fragmentation of both
culture and the psyche, the violence and the feeling of history as
catastrophe that war brought about. It was in this climate, during
the post-war 1920s, that most of the fundamental modernist
books were published by Lawrence, Conrad, Joyce, T. S. Eliot,
Forster and Woolf.
However, the mood and the atmosphere of literary London
would soon drastically change. By the end of the 1920s, the
sense of historical uncertainty, political disillusionment and
social and economical pessimism had grown, fomented by the

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

stock market crash in 1929 and, in the new decade, by the rise to
power of Stalin in Russia, the Nazi ideology of Hitler in
Germany, Mussolinis Fascism in Italy and the Spanish Civil
War in 1936. The proletarian fiction produced in this age of
political and historical instability was filled with a sense of
historical, political and psychological crisis, a feeling of anxiety,
precariousness and chaos (often expressed in gothic and
nightmarish visions) from which political commitment and
ideological confrontation seemed initially to offer a way out. In
this age, as totalitarianism arose and a new war of world
proportions appeared increasingly inevitable, the commitment of
literature initially took the form, for example in Orwell, of
historical realism, ending, after the collapse of the Marxist
argument for proletarian realism, in an experimental tendency
towards fantasy, parody and satire through which (as in Becketts
novels) the psychosis and absurdity of the world, and the
surreality and threat of history (which earlier writers had tried to
portray realistically) could be expressed. By the end of the
decade, a dark and shadowy mood, brought about by the
outbreak of war and the death of many writers who had shaped
the previous decade, engulfed the intellectual and literary world.
By the end of the war, writers had to face a world which was
ideologically shattered; they had to confront the Holocaust, the
dropping of the atomic bomb, the Cold War, and the military
potential of space travel.
It was then felt that the whole intellectual and political world
(crushed under the weight of the war) had to be re-constructed,
and in this now post-modern world, a world in which history was
perceived as dangerous, human nature as unreliable and life as
tragic, many writers felt as though mute, and those who tried to
speak had to confront the inadequacy of literary humanism in
front of the absurdity and the horrors of war.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Considering the general atmosphere of these years, the

predominance gained by existentialist philosophy comes as no
surprise. After the acknowledgement of the emptiness, the
absurdity and the meaninglessness of the world, existentialism
exhorted writers to re-construct the word which during the war
had been corrupted and robbed of its transparency, and to
revalorise the sign which had become a weapon. Indeed, as it
was said about German:
Use a language to conceive, organise and justify Belsen; use it to
make out specifications for gas ovens; use it to dehumanise man
during twelve years of calculated bestiality. Something will
happen to it [...] Something of the lies and sadism will settle in
the marrow of language. Imperceptibly at first, like the poisons
of radiation sifting silently into the bone. But the cancer will
begin (Steiner, 1967, 124).

With modernism and postmodernism, then, reality was

increasingly perceived as a construction of man and his language,
as the idea of a fundamental, ultimate truth (about man, the
world and the universe itself), was replaced with the notion of
truth as a working hypothesis (something which is able to explain
a phenomenon until some other element able to change the
previous theory is discovered). It is precisely the
acknowledgment of the strong complicity between language,
thought and reality, that led to two of the most important
movements of the twentieth century: structuralism and poststructuralism.
The structuralist and poststructuralist theories which developed
during the second half of the twentieth century pushed into
problematic status the very concepts of reality, culture and, as a
result, translation. In particular, the notion of the death of the
author elaborated by Roland Barthes namely the idea that the

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

author, as soon as s/he begins to write, loses his/her identity and

simply becomes a linguistic construct, a personal pronoun, the
I which only exists within the speech act that defines him/her
appeared particularly significant.
With structuralism and poststructuralism, the text is thus seen
as the destruction of all author-ity and origin. As a result, the
truth of writing is thought to reside not in the author but in the
For the structuralist the meaning of each unit which composes
any system (a key concept in structuralism, indicating a selfcontained entity which, while adapting some of its features
according to the different conditions that may arise, maintains its
structure) is not inherent in the unit itself, but is determined by
the relation that a particular unit has with the other units of the
same system. The structuralists insisted that, just like the
phoneme, a textual segment acquires a meaning only on the
basis of the place it holds in the system as a whole and, in their
re-working of Saussurean linguistics, they underlined how these
relations can be reduced to binary oppositions. At the basis of
their theory, there was indeed the concept of difference which
Saussure posited as central to his linguistics.
The structuralists actually attempted to apply the linguistic
model elaborated by Saussure to other areas of human
Lvi-Strauss, for instance, developed an analysis of totemism,
myth and kinship systems based on Saussures phonemic
oppositions. He was actually the first to apply Saussurean
linguistics to the social sciences in an attempt to discover the
deep mental structures which underlie and manifest themselves
in large social structures such as kinship systems, mythology,
magic, sacrifice and so on. As one of the major exponents of
structuralism, Lvi-Strauss held that the various symbolic
systems which compose culture can be treated as natural
languages by virtue of their being symbolic and their having

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

common origin in the mental mechanism of the unconscious.

This unconscious which, contrary to Freuds, is simply a
formal and structural unconscious that organises phenomena
without giving them a content is fundamental to Lvi-Strauss
theory in so far as, by being postulated as the origin of all the
various systems which constitute culture, it justifies his whole
enterprise of reformulating anthropology as a semiology by the
assumption that cultural phenomena are signs and can therefore
be treated as language.
In spite of refusing, since approximately 1969, to be labelled a
structuralist, in many of his works Foucault exploits methods
which are definitely determined by structuralisms approach to
the study of history. History has actually always been at the
centre of Foucaults analysis, and after his seminal LArchologie
du savoir, he began what he conceived as an attempt to write a
history of the present by approaching the subject of madness.
His study resulted in two of his more important texts Historie
de la folie lge classique (1961, translated as Madness and
Civilization) and Naissance de la clinique (1963, translated as The
Birth of the Clinic) which were both welcomed by the
structuralist Barthes as first applications of structuralism to
historiography. In these works Foucault, by a movement which
he calls reversal (similar to structuralists defamiliarisation),
overturns many of our assumptions on madness and shows how
madness was actually created by the practice of internment in so
far as, according to him, not only did internment actually enable
sane society to define what was to be regarded as insane and
sub-human, but it also created the conditions in which
madness could come into being, by relegating the alleged
madmen in conditions which could have driven anybody insane.
Finally, Lacan developed structuralisms idea that the I of
the person is not a given, but only begins to exist when the
individual is addressed by (and puts him/herself in relation to)
Others. In his crits (1966) and the various seminars he held at

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

Lcole Normale Suprieure over a period of ten years, Lacan

developed a general philosophy of the genesis of the individual as
a human being by applying the linguistic models developed by
structuralism to the data of psychoanalysis, in particular to
Freuds theory of the unconscious. For Lacan, then, it is
language that turns the biological being into a human being
provided with an identity; and as such, the concept of a true self
proper to Western philosophical tradition cannot be any longer
sustained, in so far as the pure signified (or Platonic idea) of a
human being is from its very beginning inscribed in language and
cannot be disjoined from its signifier. Consequently, the
supremacy of consciousness and the notion of fundamental
identity which Western humanist and Cartesian philosophy
postulated (already revealed as fallacious by Freud) are exposed
as arbitrary constructions. In Lacan, then, the constructed
identity of Western tradition is replaced with the idea of a deconstructed identity, one that is constituted by the sum of the
many fragments of identity determined by the structures proper
to the Symbolic Order of language, according to which the child
is fashioned in order to assume a definite place in the society s/he
is recognised as belonging to.
Furthermore, because the individual is subjected to the Other,
because s/he has to fashion him/herself with reference to and,
since the Oedipal drama, in rivalry with, the Other, and because
s/he has to wait for the Others recognition in order to posit
him/herself as a subjectivity, for Lacan every human discourse
fundamentally derives from a demand for recognition by the
Other, and therefore tends towards aggression and coercion.
Finally, just as the subject is unable to grasp the truth about
him/herself, so any other truth is unattainable, as it is always
mediated by a language which reduces its essence to symbols.
Structuralism was thus characterised by an interdisciplinary
approach aimed at, as Scholes put it, satisfying the need for a
coherent system that would unite the modern sciences and make

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

the world habitable for man again (Scholes, 1974, 2). Just like
Marxism, structuralism represented a reaction to the alienation
of modern societies in an attempt to overcome the division that
various sciences and technologies had imposed upon the world.
Structuralism expressed a striving towards the unification of the
incredible amount of new information provided by various new
disciplines, and presented itself as a possible method of
overcoming the compartmentalisation of particular systems in
order to grasp the general structure underlining them and the
general laws according to which the structure of any system
As appears clear from what has been said above, what various
structuralists have in common is the determination to expose the
strong complicity between language and power. This was
actually one of the aims of structuralism in general, which
initially was concerned with exposing the coercive use various
(political, scientific, philosophical and religious) systems have
made of language throughout history in order to have their
version of reality and truth recognised as natural and given. By
trying to bring to consciousness what had been taken as natural
and reveal it as a construction, structuralism fundamentally
aimed at denouncing the claims these systems made to convey
universal truths, warning readers not to take culture for nature,
and urging them to suspect all systems and all language.
As suggested above, the starting point of structuralism
(whether literary or not) was that language is a social system and
that, conversely, every social activity (whether systems of
kinship, the literature produced, the clothes worn or the myths
created), could be intended as different languages (or, as Barthes
would call them, codes). The meanings that cultural and social
phenomena bear, in fact, make them into signs, hence in the
terms Saussure used to define the system of language they have
a social dimension and are arbitrary and conventional. As will
appear clear below, the structuralists therefore treated systems

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

which may not, usually, be understood as systems of signs, as

though they were, trying to bring to consciousness the system of
conventions that they assumed must be operating on an
unconscious level to render meaning (whether that of a literary
text or any human/social action) possible.
It is for this reason that, together with Jonathan Culler (1975),
I would define structuralism as essentially a theory of reading (of
life as much as literature) which, starting from the effects that
certain acts have, tried to clarify the process which leads those
acts to have a particular effect/meaning.
Structuralism anticipated the central role the reader began to
attain in the theoretical discussion led by authors such as
Ingarden, Booth and Eco amongst others (followed more
recently by Iser, Fish and Riffaterre, for example), in which,
despite their differences in approach and degree of freedom left
to him/her in the interpretative process, the reader of the literary
work previously marginalised in favour either of the author
(before the New Criticism) or the text (in the New Criticism)
has been granted a primary position in the interpretative and
critical process.
We could therefore see the change that occurred in the
passage from the New Criticism to structuralism in terms of a
shift of focus from what Roman Jakobson called the sender or
addresser of the message, to the message itself, and finally,
beginning with structuralism and the various reader-oriented
theories I shall discuss below, to its receiver or addressee.
1.2.1. Jakobson
Jakobson provided the link between Russian formalism which
could certainly be seen as the predecessor of structuralism, but
not itself precisely structuralism (in so far as it did not conceive
meaning as relational or differential, hence reducible to binary
opposition) and structuralism proper. As one of the founders
of the Formalist Moscow Linguistic Circle and after having

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

emigrated to Czechoslovakia in 1920 one of the central figures

of the Prague Linguistic Circle established in 1926, Jakobsons
studies in linguistics are extremely diversified (ranging from
work in the fields of phonemics and grammar to the analysis of
the linguistic aspects of translation). However, I think that two of
the main concepts he elaborated are particularly relevant to our
discussion. First of all, Jakobson posited a fundamental
distinction between metaphor and metonymy, which for him
correspond to the two main types of aphasia he was able to
isolate and to the two figures on which various literary styles are
based1. Beginning from the basic notion that any linguistic act
implies the selection along the horizontal line of the
syntagmatic axis of language of certain linguistic entities
amongst many possible alternatives, and their combination
along the vertical line of the paradigmatic axis of language into
more complex linguistic entities, Jakobson recognised that the
two principal types of aphasia (emissive and receptive aphasia)
involved respectively selection and combination. Because the
first type of aphasia affects the ability to substitute one element
for another (resulting, for example, in the aphasics inability to
use synonyms or his/her inability to name an object when s/he is
shown a drawing of it), it was referred to by Jakobson as
similarity disorder, and was linked to metonymy, in so far as
this figure, based on contiguity, is largely used by the aphasics
whose selective activities are altered (hence fork is, for example,
replaced with knife, smoke with pipe and so on). In the
second type of aphasia, on the contrary, there is not a loss of
entire words, but an alteration of the ability to construct
propositions. This deficiency in the structuring of the context
through combination was called contiguity disorder. In this

The application of this distinction to literary history influenced, for

example, the work of David Lodge who, in 1977, sustained the metaphorical
nature of modernism and symbolism in opposition to the metonymic realism
which links signs mainly by their associations with each other.

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

type of disorder, the word is the only linguistic unit left intact
by the tendency towards hyper-simplification which brings the
patient to regress to the initial phases of the linguistic
development of the child or even to the pre-linguistic stage
(aphasia universalis). Whereas metaphor is impossible in the
similarity disorder, metonymy is impossible in the contiguity
disorder, in which the patient operates substitutions along the
vertical line of metaphor.
Further to this distinction, Jakobson also provided a
fundamental model of communication which would become
extremely influential. By analysing the fundamental factors of
linguistic communications, Jakobson recognised in fact that
every linguistic act involves a message (which must be
distinguished from the meaning) and five other elements: a
sender (or addresser) and a receiver (or addressee) between
whom the message can pass, a contact (that is a physical
medium which enables the communication), a code in which the
message can be expressed and a context (or referent) to which
the message refers. The relationship among these elements is
variable, and depending on which of these factors is given
emphasis in the act of communication, the act, as we shall see in
Chapter 2, is said to have a different function.
Jakobsons model therefore emphasises the importance of the
context and the idea that, in order to decode a message correctly
(and re-code it for example in a different language by translating
it), several different elements must be taken into account. This
explains why this notion is at the basis of many recent works in
translation studies, from the contextual models elaborated by
Firth (1950) and Hymes (1972), to the functional grammar
elaborated by Halliday which, as we shall see in the course of the
volume, has had a great influence on the way scholars approach
translation. Indeed, the relevance that Jakobsons theories
which for space reasons are here radically summarised have in
one of the most recent developments in the field of general

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

translation studies (namely the analysis of translation practices in

postcolonial contexts), is exemplified by the fact that they also
form the basis of the analysis developed by Maria Tymoczo in
the chapter Metametonymics of her influential Translation in a
Postcolonial Context (1999). Here, the scholar argues that,
historically, translation has been modelled essentially as a
process of selection and substitution, that is, a metaphoric
process. As such, for a long time the practice has been devalued
as a mechanical activity. However, Jakobsons distinction
between the metaphoric and the metonymic offers a new start
towards the valorisation of the metonymic processes involved in
translation, focussing on the creation of connections, contiguities
and contextures realised in and through translation.
It is not by chance, then, that Jakobson should directly
address the issue of translation. In his article Linguistic Aspects
of Translation (1959) he deals in fact with the strong link
between linguistics and translation, identifying three main types
of translation:
reformulation or intralingual translation, when the
translator is interpreting linguistic signs in one language
through different signs in that same language,
translation proper or interlingual translation, when the
translator is interpreting linguistic signs in one language
through another language, and
transmutation or intersemiotic translation, when the
translator is interpreting linguistic signs in one language
through non-linguistic signs.

This distinction proves valuable even in todays works of

criticism (whether literary or not).
For example, in J.M. Coetzees novel In the Heart of the
Country (1977), the protagonist Magda, apparently isolated in
the middle of the South African veld, towards the end of the
novels tries to communicate with the planes that regularly fly
over her farm. Although she initially relies on very basic and

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

primitive means such as her voice, her arms and her white dress
(namely her body, that is, the first non-symbolic sign of her
self, 1982, 131), she goes through various levels of
sophistication (for example using a fire to indicate her presence
and project herself, hinting then at the possibility of exploiting
songs and dances in order to attract the gods attention, ibid.), in
order to finally reach the stage of writing, building messages with
stones which she piles up and uses to form not only simple
messages but, achieving an even higher level of sophistication,
real poems (1982, 132-3)2.
However, realising that her ugliness could not possibly tempt
the gods to descend to earth and be with her, she tries to exploit
the propagandistic and semi-coercive quality of language, and in
order to persuade them to buy the product she is offering, she
publicises herself as Cinderella (and not as one of the ugly
sisters she previously identified with), trying to hide her physical
appearance and her age by wearing a large hat (1982, 133). In
the same attempt to present herself as more seductive and
alluring, Magda resorts to ideographs, exemplifying what Roman
Jakobson would define an intersemiotic translation or a
transmutation, through which linguistic signs (namely Magda
herself, understood here as a linguistic subject and as a creature
of the authors language), are interpreted through non-linguistic
signs. In this case, too, in an attempt to lure the sky gods and
make them take notice of her (1982, 134), Magda depicts herself
as a younger woman, her figure fuller and with her legs parted.
In addition, by claiming it is my commerce with the voices
that has kept me from becoming a beast (1982, 125), Magda

By spending weeks building messages with stones weeks filled with

rolling stones about, repainting scratches, climbing up and down the steps to
the loft to make sure my lines were straight etc. (1982, 133) Magda
exemplifies the notion of productive work elaborated by Eco, according to
which any communication implies a physical endeavour and a certain amount
of physical work (Eco, 1988, 203).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

actually makes clear that the creation of the sky gods

corresponds to her supreme effort at communication and at
establishing an adequate sociolinguistic environment for the
development of her communicative skills, an environment which
was denied to her throughout her life. By repeatedly lamenting
her incapacity to communicate with other people (1982, 101,
113), Magda strongly suggests her lack of what Eco would call a
competenza variamente circostanziale (1988, 53), that is, the
ability to form presuppositions, repress idiosyncrasies and so on,
all necessary competences for decoding a message.
We can therefore see how relevant linguistic and translation
theories might be for the analysis of postmodern novels. Indeed,
there is a close link between postmodernism as a mode of writing
and structuralism, in that just as according to postmodernist
theories the truth of writing was thought to reside not in the
author, but in the reader, who was asked to collaborate with the
author so as to write, if only in his/her mind, the text itself, so
structuralism, as suggested above, posited itself essentially as a
theory of reading.
By emphasising the role played by the receiver of the message,
Jakobson and the structuralists in general set out to uncover the
(often unconscious) structures which make meaning possible
and tried to expose in a consistent way the fact that the meanings
which human beings have been accustomed to take as natural
are in fact the product of specific historical, social, cultural and,
above all, linguistic conventions, in so far as the way individuals
interpret reality depends on, and varies according to, the
language/s they have at their disposal.
With structuralism, then, reality began to appear as a product
of language, and the claims made by previous philosophical and
scientific systems to have discovered the truth about it (which
implied that there existed an actual reality that could be
described in an objective and unmediated way by language,


Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

understood as a transparent window on the world), were shown

to be a fraud.
In addition, by developing the concept of intertextuality3, the
structuralists suggested not only that every text is basically an
assemblage of fragments of preceding texts (a concept that bears
significantly on the literature produced during the last fifty years
and on the translations we provide for all types of texts, from
postmodern novels to newspaper articles), but also that all
perception of reality is filtered through preceding versions of that
reality and that every new version of it is simply a reassembling
of old elements (a concept already implied by Oscar Wilde, who
maintained that the nineteenth century was a creation of Balzac).
The idea that the meanings we give to the world are
conventionally, historically and socially determined, and the
structuralist notion of an unconscious set of rules which enable
the subject to accomplish the different acts s/he performs in life
and enable these acts to have a meaning, basically corresponds to
a rejection of the notion of subject, and posits the relation
between subject and world as one which depends on
conventions. For the structuralists (and, in particular, for
Jacques Lacan), man was not the transcendental subject of
Cartesian philosophy. Rather, as in Heideggers thought, man
was identified as a further product of language a diminished
subject who can accomplish speech acts only because there exist
various systems of conventions which s/he does not control
This word was coined by Julia Kristeva in Smiotik (1969, 146) so as to
indicate an authors insertion of parts of other texts in his/hers, thus reelaborating the notion of bricolage Lvi-Strauss introduced in 1958 to
account for the fact that new mythical meanings are simply a reorganisation of
old myths. Also relevant here is the concept of prlvement, another word
Kristeva introduced in the same text (1969, 271) in order to refer to
borrowings made from other authors texts without indicating their origin or
authorship. This notion would become fundamental in Barthess theory, as it
is at the very basis of his notion of the death of the author discussed further
below, and is relevant in contemporary discussions about translation.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

(hence the accusation of anti-humanism with which

structuralism is often charged) and, as in Peirces infinite
process of signification, a sign.
1.2.2. Peirce
Further to his categorisation of signs as icon (a sign which
resembles its object), index (a sign which is somehow connected
to its object, i.e. smoke and fire) and symbol (an arbitrary
substitution of an object with another sign), the American
semiotician C.S. Peirce also described, in 1895, another series of
relations: the sign or representamen (which stands for
something and creates in the mind of the person to whom it is
addressed an equivalent sign), the interpretant (the equivalent
sign or the idea created in the persons mind by the first sign,
which is thus translated into a different sign) and the object
itself which, says Peirce in 1906, could be either dynamic (that
is, an object which determines the sign only in relation to its
representation), or immediate (that is, an object which is
precisely as the sign itself represents it). Because, according to
Peirce, an intepretant is bound to become a sign for another
object, which in turn creates another interpretant in a persons
mind, this process of signification is virtually infinite, and
eventually replaces man himself with a sign.
We can therefore see how this theory can be applied to the
same novel by J.M. Coetzee I briefly introduced above. Given
the premises outlined before, the fact that the section in this
novel which focuses on the sky gods should best demonstrate
Coetzees training in linguistics and semiotics does not come as a
surprise. Throughout this section, the author refers not only to
philosophers such as Hegel and Nietzsche whom he often
quotes anonymously in order to suggest that in South African
society nobody (not even those people who, like Magda, try to
escape strict hierarchies by strong acts of the will) can escape the
logic of masterslave relationships but also to various theories

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

elaborated by linguists and semioticians. In this context, the

evolution of Magdas communicative efforts, which entail
increasingly complex messages and referents, could therefore be
interpreted as an enlargement of what Pierce defined the ground
of representation, that is, the general idea which is referred to
by the representamen (i.e. a sign which stands for something or
someone else), the interpretant (that is, the sign which the
representamen creates in the mind of the receiver of the
message) and their object (namely the thing or person replaced
by the first two signs). Consequently, if the first message built by
Magda, which reads es mi, could be put in relation to an object
such as Magda isolated in the veld, the following vene refers
to Magda isolated and longing for company, while the
successive references to Cinderella clearly entail a further
enlargement of the ground, involving many references to
Magdas ill-treatment at the hands of her (step)-parent, her
relegation to the role of servant, and so on.
By declaring the death of the author, then, structuralism
clearly made the very concept of humanity problematic, in so
far as what was once regarded as an essential manhood (an
essence which, belonging only to human beings, differentiates
them from lower beings), was shown to be a pure construct, the
product of particular social, political and philosophical systems
which, as such, was not eternal and immanent, but historically
and culturally determined.
In a similar way to the new science (which finally abolished
the old notions of absolute concepts and fundamental scientific
truths) and Freudian psychology (which exposed the Cartesian
notion of a coherent and unified subject as a myth,
demonstrating how the human conscious always co-exists with,
and is undermined by, the unconscious), structuralism
demystified many of the truths on which Western societies were
based, exposing as culture what was once taken as nature and


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

denouncing that what was once assumed to be the truth about

reality and the human subject was in fact a text.
In spite of structuralisms emphasis on the relative nature of
all meaning, however, it must be remembered that for its
exponents the laws which regulate the various systems were
universal and, like in Chomskys theory of language, innate.
1.2.3. Chomsky
The American Noam Chomsky was one of the most prominent
structural linguists who, in Syntactic Structures (1957), developed
his transformational grammar which, from the superficial
structure of a sentence, works out the fundamental deep
structure which underlies it. It is precisely on this distinction that
translation theorist and practitioner A.K. Ramanujan relies in
order to develop his conceptions of outer and inner poetic
form. Basing his theory on the notion that in any language the
production of discourse (understood as Saussures parole) results
from the use (which is infinite) of certain means (which are
finite), and that the particular means provided by the langue are
characteristic of that language (langage), in his translations of
Indian poetry he tries to make explicit typographical
approximations to what [he] thought was the inner form of the
poem (1967, 11). In his work, he therefore tries to translate not
only the words, the sentences and the explicit themes of the
poem, but also the principles which shape the source text, in an
attempt to move from the level of literal significance to that of
structural significance.
In opposition to the behaviourist school (which suggested that
language is simply a form of behaviour acquired by rewarding
the production of correct sentences), Chomsky therefore argued
that language is what makes human beings human and that
which provides a basis for human thought itself. According to
Chomskys Reflections on Language (1976), language is in fact a
mirror of the mind, which means that by studying language we

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

can discover the abstract principles governing its structures and

its use, principles whose universality is a biological necessity
deriving from mental characteristics and neurological systems
(that is, innate faculties) of the species.
Just as Saussure mainly concentrated on the study of langue
(that is the language system as a whole), to the detriment of
parole (the actual utterances of particular individuals), Chomsky
mainly focused on competence to the detriment of execution,
in order to uncover the systems which underlie and determine
language. Central to Chomskys theory is the notion of
Universal Grammar, namely the system of principles,
conditions and rules which characterise all human languages and
which, by being potentially applicable to any language, are
available to any speaker, irrespective of the language s/he will
grow into. According to Chomsky, from birth any human being
possesses the basic principles of all languages, and it will only be
by exposure to a particular language that the child will determine
the parameters left open by the Universal Grammar and
therefore acquire one language instead of another. Because
neither imitation nor teaching cover a primary role in the
learning of the mother tongue (see for example Plann, 1977), for
Chomsky only the empirical data available to the child divided
into positive (the actual sequences heard by the child),
negative (provided by the corrections of mistakes made by the
child) and negative indirect (provided by the lack of
occurrence of certain forms in the sentences the child hears)
can actually determine the language the child will adopt as
his/her mother tongue.
Chomskys endeavour to uncover the deep and innate
structures of language was therefore part of structuralisms effort
to reveal universal laws and structures which, in a totalising
effort, its exponents set out to explore beneath the surface of
different particular cultural artefacts. In this sense then, we can
see how, to a certain extent, both Freudian psychology centred

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

on the unconscious structure which lies underneath the

individuals consciousness and Marxist economic analysis
focused on the distinction between base and superstructure
could be read as early forms of structuralism (indeed, it is
perhaps these affinities that can account for the traces that
Freuds and Marxs theories have left on the works of various
exponents of structuralism).
But precisely because of their interest in the universal
structures lying beneath the most varied artefacts, in parallel to
Saussure, the structuralists were not interested in the artefact
itself, in so far as any artefact simply became the pretext for the
investigation of the process of sense-making which they saw as
characteristic of human beings as such. Thus, the structuralists
never enquired into the material conditions in which the artefact
was produced. Following in Saussures footsteps, they took a
synchronic approach to their object of study: consequently, by
concentrating on its universal (hence timeless) structures, they
deprived it of its historical context, and by disregarding all notion
of historical change, they placed it outside the temporal
continuum. By so doing (in opposition to the more traditional
approach of science) they rejected the notion of causality in
favour of what we could refer to as laws of transformation,
that is the fact that one structure (analysed in synchronic terms)
may be seen to be transformed into another structure (equally
analysed in synchronic terms), even though the actual process of
transformation is not actually considered.
Structuralism was initially concerned with exposing the
coercive use which various systems (whether political, scientific,
philosophical or religious) have made of language throughout
history in order to have their version of reality and truth
recognised as natural and given. By trying to bring to
consciousness what had been taken as natural and reveal it as a
construction, structuralism fundamentally aimed at denouncing
the claims these systems made to convey universal truths,

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

warning readers not to take culture for nature, or text for truth.
In their attempt to make readers understand the conventions at
work in all institutions, the structuralists revealed that language
is never innocent. As Barthes would acknowledge in his
Mythologies (1957) and as we shall see in the following chapters
of this book language is always reduced to a sort of
propaganda, always used to sell something, whether an idea (as
in political discourse and, in a more insidious way, in the
supposedly objective language of science), a feeling (as in a
declaration of love), a product (as in advertisements), or a whole
person (as when we try to be accepted and recognised by
Because structuralism began to perceive all of reality as
language and text, it obviously had a profound effect on the way
actual readers came to view what perhaps can be considered the
text par excellence, that is literature. For this reason, it may be
appropriate to see structuralism in the context of a series of
theories which tried to clarify the role played by the reader in the
consumption of literature, and although not all the authors I will
briefly discuss in this section cannot be considered structuralists,
it is important to refer, if only superficially, to the fact that with
the end of the New Criticism, the position of the reader has
increasingly become the focus of various theorists.
Translators are, first of all, readers, and it is therefore
important to understand the way in which, as readers, we receive
literary (and other) texts. Not only this but, as translators, we
should attempt, in the words used by Ramanunjan, not only to
translate a text, but [...] (against all odds) to translate a nonnative reader into a native one (1989, viii). Theories oriented
toward the receivers of a message are therefore fundamental to
translation studies as well and in particular will form the basis of
the target-oriented theory of Gideon Toury, de Camposs
anthropophagic theory of translation and the various readeroriented theories elaborated on by the Polish theorist Roman

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Ingarden (Das Literarische Kunstwerk, 1930, translated as The

Literary Work of Art), the German scholar Wolfang Iser (The
Implied Reader, 1974; The Act of Reading, 1976), the French
structuralist Michel Riffaterre (Essai dapplication dune mthode
stylistique 1957; La Production du texte, 1979), the American
Wayne Booth (The Rhetoric of Fiction, 1961) or the Italian
Umberto Eco (LOpera Aperta, 1962; Lector in Fabula, 1979),
amongst others.
1.2.4. Barthes
The conception of the readers activity outlined above is quite
similar to the description of the interpretative process Roland
Barthes, one of the main figures in the reader-oriented criticism,
offers in S/Z (1970), where he defines the practice of reading as a
tireless process of approximation and revision in which the
reader first finds and names the meanings, then un-names them
in order to re-name them in the light of new elements found in
the text (1970, 562).
As will become clearer later, Barthes had an enormous
influence on many different disciplines, ranging from semiotics
to cultural studies and translation studies. It is therefore
important to assimilate some of his basic theories, which would
orientate intellectual productions of various kinds for years to
Barthes, like various authors mentioned in this chapter,
eventually abandoned his initially rigorous structuralism in order
to become a champion of what would later be called
poststructuralism, and this clearly makes it difficult to decide
under which heading his works should be presented.
This task appears even more arduous when we consider that
the definition of structuralism and poststructuralism as
movements or schools (understood as well-established
communities whose members were all characterised by similar
interests, methods and politics), is itself an artifice used by critics

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

for convenience. In reality, the various authors who are said to

belong to the structuralist community are in fact quite
autonomous from one another, and are characterised by their
differences, rather than their similarities. However, while
respecting and emphasising the individuality and originality of
the various theorists approached, we cannot forget that most of
the French representatives of structuralism intellectually
developed in the same historical and cultural environment: they
witnessed the same events and they attended the same academic
institutions (specifically the cole Normale Suprieure), which
meant that they had a similar training in the humanities, possibly
underwent the same influences and, more importantly, they
knew each other (or were at least familiar with each others
work). Because they began to publish and achieve popularity
more or less during the same years, it is at times difficult to
determine which theory influenced which, but it is certain that in
those years the cultural debate was very much alive, and the
continuous meetings and discussions amongst these intellectuals
stimulated the growth and the development of new ideas.
The categorisation of authors such as Barthes into
structuralist or poststructuralist is therefore always problematic4.
Some texts can in fact be defined as structuralist in spirit, as with
Le degr zro de lcriture (1953, translated as Writing Zero
Degree), Mythologies (1957), lments de Smiologie (1965,
translated as Elements of Semiology) and Critique et Vrit (1966,
translated as Criticism and Truth), together with some of his
critical essays such as De la science la littrature (1967,
translated as From Science to Literature) and Introduction
lanalyse structurale des rcits (1967), translated as
Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives, where he
directly address issues of translatability by stating:

For reasons of space I cannot discuss this question in detail. On this

subject, see for example Sturrock, J. (ed.). 1979. Structuralism and Since,
Oxford, Oxford UP, and Culler, J. 1983. Barthes, London, Fontana Press.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

narrative lends itself to summary (what used to be called the

argument). At first sight this is true of any discourse, but each
discourse has its own kind of summary. A lyric poem, for
example, is simply the vast metaphor of a single signified and to
summarise it is thus to give this signified, an operation so drastic
that it eliminates the poems identity (summarised, lyric poems
come down to the signifieds Love and Death) hence the
conviction that poems cannot be summarised. By contrast the
summary of a narrative (if conducted according to structural
criteria) preserves the individuality of the message; narrative, in
other words, is translatable without fundamental damage. What
is untranslatable is determined only at the last, narrational, level.
The signifiers of narrativity, for instance, are not readily
transferable from novel to film, the latter utilising the personal
mode of treatment only very exceptionally; while the last layer of
the narrational level, namely the writing, resist transference from
one language to another (or transfers very badly). The
translatability of narrative is a result of the structure of its
language, so that it would be possible, proceeding in reverse, to
determine this structure by identifying and classifying the
(varyingly) translatable and untranslatable elements of a
narrative (1977, 12021).

On the contrary, other works are much more ambiguous. S/Z in

particular presents a combination of what could be defined as
structuralist and poststructuralist features, and cannot therefore
be classified as either. Such a text may be seen as a work of
transition in which Barthes, while re-proposing some of the
structuralist ideas he had already approached in previous texts,
develops them into what should now be seen as the initial stage
of his poststructuralist theorisation of the relationship between
texts and readers.
Further to the attention the title brings to the graphological
and phonological distinction between S and Z (one of the
many binary oppositions present in the text), amongst various
aspects we could consider as leaning more towards structuralism

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

(although, as we shall see, it plays a very important role in

Barthes poststructuralist theory of texts), is for example the
idea that in the written text it is impossible to answer the
question who speaks? (1970, 582). As Barthes already
suggested in Introduction lanalyse structurale des rcits
(1967) and La mort de lauteur (1968, translated as The
Death of the Author), where he posed the same question (1967,
in Oeuvres compltes vol. II, 111; 1968, in Oeuvres compltes, 491),
in the text no one speaks, in so far as what happens in the
narrative, is language alone (1966, 103, in Oeuvres compltes vol.
II, my translation).
This concept is obviously closely connected to the general
rejection of the notion of subject the structuralists enacted by
postulating that the possibility of meaning is determined by
unconscious rules which, amongst other consequences, strongly
affect the role of the author. In fact, if the author is simply
reassembling pre-existing elements, if the speech acts human
beings accomplish are only possible because there exist a series
of systems that the subject does not control, and if the author
can create his/her work only because there exists a system of
conventions which makes the creation of that work/utterance
possible, delimiting and determining the possible varieties of
discourse, then the authors control over his/her material is very
much undermined.
It is this structuralist idea that Barthes would further elaborate
in his concept of the death of the author, that is, the notion that
as soon as the author begins to write s/he simply becomes, as in
Benveniste (one of the main European linguists who became
affiliated to the Prague Circle), the one who says I, the subject
who (in a similar way to what happens in Lacanian psychology)
only exists in the speech-act that defines him/her and who exists
as such only in so far as s/he speaks (Barthes, 1966, in 1984,
191; Benveniste, 1966, 260).


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

As a consequence of the fact that at the moment when s/he

begins to write the author becomes him/herself a product of
language, in the text and, because everything is assumed to be
text, in every utterance it is language which speaks (Heidegger,
1957, 161; Benveniste, 1966; Barthes, 1968, in Oeuvres compltes
vol. II, 492). Because writing is the destruction of every authorial
origin, then, the question who speaks? is doomed to be left
unanswered: the author, for Barthes, is dead; his/her role is
simply to mingle the various quotations from different works
belonging to various cultures which intertextually compose the
text; s/he is simply the subject of the linguistic act behind which
there is no real person but simply a construction of language, a
personal pronoun. As the true place of the writing cannot be
the origin represented by the author, for Barthes it finally
coincides with the reading. According to Barthes it is in fact the
reader who provides the unity of the text, not its author. As the
Italian writer and critic Italo Calvino states in Cibernetica e
fantasmi (Appunti sulla narrativa come processo combinatorio)
(1967), where he posits the death of the author proclaimed by
Barthes in 1968 and considers the possibility of creating
machines which by combining pre-existing elements would
supplant the author in all his/her capacities: at this stage, the
modes of reading become determinant; the reader is responsible
for literature to explicate its critical force (1967, in 1980, 180,
my translation).
By stating that the birth of the reader must be at the cost of
the death of the author (1968, in Oeuvres compltes vol. II, 495,
my translation), Barthes therefore shifts the attention from the
author (typical of the approach prior to the New Criticism) and
the text (characteristic of the New Criticism), to the reader, and
therefore makes his position clear vis vis the issue of the
relationship between texts and readers discussed internationally.
We can therefore see that the central role given to the reader
by structuralism and the literature produced during the post-war

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

period could be described, in terms of Jakobsons diagram, as a

change in the predominant function of language.
As we have seen, when the author loses total control over the
meaning of his/her work, the process of the production of
meaning passes to the reader, and the structuralists posited
themselves as the ideal readers who, through a rigorous
approach to social phenomena, would uncover their deep and
universal structures.
The initial aim of literary structuralism was therefore the
study of the relationship between the system of literature and the
culture to which it belongs. Literary structuralism was therefore
less concerned with the interpretation of a work, that is with the
study of literature, than with the investigation of literariness5 and
the definition of a poetics or a model of the literary system
which, by using the scientific methods of modern linguistics,
would give literary studies a scientific basis. By so doing,
structuralism would give birth to the new science de la littrature
(translated as science of literature) Barthes wrote of in Critique
et vrit (1966, in Oeuvres compltes vol. I, 40), where he opposed
classical criticism with a new, scientific kind of approach to the
literary work and first introduced the notion of the death of the
For this reason, structuralism sought the unification of the
new sciences, and this issue of the unification of science and
literature was discussed in different countries concurrently; in
1968, for example, Calvino gave two interviews on the subject in
which he made reference to Barthess Science vs. Littrature
and Queneaus Science et Littrature, both published in 1967.
This interest is reflected in Barthes elaboration of the notion
of a zero degree of writing (for him best represented by Camus
Ltranger, 1942, translated as The Outsider) which Barthes

As defined by Todorov in Introduction to Poetics, literariness is the

abstract property that constitutes the singularity of the literary phenomenon
(1981, 6).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

proposes in Le degr zro de lcriture (1953). In this Marxist text

(in the sense that Marxism is considered as providing the tools to
unmask bourgeois ideology), Barthes proposes what he calls an
criture blanche (literally, a white writing) as the zero degree of
language which, by not submitting to any social order,
anticipates a homogeneous state of society. In order to disrupt
bourgeois society Barthes proposes a writing stripped of all
accepted notions and prejudices, and he describes the
contemporary author as a tragic figure who must now fight
against the ancestral and powerful signs which, from an alien
past, impose on him Literature as a ritual (1953, in Oeuvres
compltes vol. I, 185, my translation).
Although Barthes would soon abandon the idea of a neutral
and objective language, in this work he nonetheless introduces
some of the notions which would remain constant in his work.
By contemplating the historical condition of literary language,
Barthes actually begins to elaborate a notion very close to that of
intertextuality, recognising not only that all language is a social
phenomenon which exists in a particular culture, but also that its
meanings are determined by the meanings that were previously
ascribed to it.
Barthes therefore sets out to expose the myths which he
recognises at the basis of bourgeois society, and by developing an
increasingly deep interest in Saussures linguistics, he begins to
be concerned with the unconscious (or conscious but unspoken)
structures in language.
In Mythologies (1957), a text still significantly influenced by
Marxism, he therefore embarks on an ideological criticism of the
mass medias language, and by applying the scientific
semiological method to the language of everyday mythology, he
accomplishes an analysis of the concealed messages which the
mass media use to promote and corroborate capitalist and
bourgeois ideologies. In this work, Barthes tries in fact to show


Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

the reader that even the most innocent and natural image
becomes the promoter of bourgeois myths.
Similarly, in Le systme de la mode (translated as The System of
Fashion), he applies the semiological method to what he
conceives as the language of fashion, which he equally sees as
promoting bourgeois myths and ideologies.
In spite of his attacks on bourgeois society, however, Barthes
soon realises that both capitalist and revolutionary languages
perpetuate their own myths. Indeed, he finally recognises that it
is impossible to escape bourgeois models, and in Le mythe,
aujourdhui (1957, translated as Myth Today), he concludes that
ideologically, all that is not bourgeois is obliged to borrow from
the bourgeoisie (in Oeuvres compltes vol. I, 127), which he
openly demonstrates by substituting, for the bourgeois myths he
wants to unmask, further bourgeois myths.
In a way, then, it is Barthes himself who demonstrates the
failure not only of his scientific approach to myth, but also of
his notion of a zero degree of writing (or criture blanche) and of
his science de la littrature. Barthes in fact demonstrates, willingly
or not, that the supposedly scientific metalanguage adopted by
structuralism and by himself in order to talk about myth and,
more generally, any aspect of language, is itself a myth: contrary
to what Robbe-Grillet thought, no language is ever completely
objective, in so far as any use of language and any act of
perception turn, from the very beginning, any objective
description of reality into an interpretation.
Indeed, thanks to the various theories elaborated in the field
of science and the efforts made by various experimental writers
(who began to insert scientific discourse into their narratives,
juxtaposing it with the discourse of fiction), scientific language
was demonstrated to be metaphorical and to be, just like the
poetic language of literature, a way of structuring reality.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

It therefore seems that whereas the members of OuLiPo

(Ouvroir de Littrature Potentielle)6 hared an imaginative
conception of science (expressed in their love for linguistic
games and ludic manipulation of linguistic forms), and
emphasised the metaphorical and symbolic nature of scientific
discourse, the structuralists emphasised the scientificity of the
discourse of literature, holding an almost dogmatic belief in the
possibility of what Barthes calls, in an essay symptomatically
entitled De la Science la littrature (1967), criture intgrale
(in Oeuvres compltes vol. II, 433, translated as integral writing),
in which literature would become scientific.
In the attempt to make the study of literature as scientific as
possible, various authors thus engaged in the elaboration of
models which, based on some of the fundamental notions
proposed by Saussure, would have enabled an objective
approach which would be extremely analytical, without being
This is the case with Barthes himself, who in Introduction to
the Structural Analysis of Narratives begins his systematic
identification of the various codes that in his opinion can be
found in every narrative. In spite of the fact that, beginning with
S/Z (1970), Barthes begins to systematically reject
structuralisms obsession with structures in favour of a multiple
and plural reading which would account for the various
meanings of the text, in his analysis of Balzacs Sarrasine in this
work, where he cuts up Balzacs text into lexes (that is irregular
and arbitrary segments of text), he further elaborates and
exploits the codes he first singled out in his Introduction
lanalyse structurale des rcits (1966).

The French group was founded by the writer Queneau and the
mathematician Franois le Lionnais in 1960 with the aim of applying the
principles of mathematics to literature so as to explore the possibilities of
language and narrative organisation.

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

Although, according to Barthes, all of these codes are

simultaneously present in the same work and, occasionally, in
the same sentence, anticipating the genre analysis which would
develop in later years (as briefly introduced in the last chapter of
this book), he claims that different genres or types of narratives
will exploit certain codes more than others.
Two of the codes Barthes identifies the proaieretic and the
hermeneutic are sequential and irreversible. The first, the
proaieretic code (similar to the functional aspect Barthes
described in 1966), is the code of actions which signals
sequences that start, develop and end. These sequences might
not be fully described in a single section, but could be scattered
through the text.
The following code, the hermeneutic, determines the way in
which the solution to a mystery presented in the text is either
given almost immediately, or is postponed by means of false
clues, partial or delayed answers and so on. The hermeneutic
delay thus created serves not only to create suspense (as in the
case of a detective story or recent advertisements constructed as
mini soap operas), but orchestrates the whole interpretative
process, obliging the reader to perform a movement of naming
un-naming re-naming the meanings of the text, thereby
refuting the idea that there is a fundamental meaning of the text
which the reader is supposed to uncover.
The following three codes the semic, the referential and the
symbolic are non-sequential and reversible. The semic code
(an elaboration of the indicial analysis Barthes described in his
Introduction lanalyse structurale des rcits) indicates the way
a character is constructed through particular semes (for example
beauty, wealth, cruelty) which may or may not be presented
in a single section (the characters portrait), and which converge
upon the characters name. Since in realist novels the name
functions as the anchoring point of all the semes which, by being
repeatedly attached to the same name, constitute the character,

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

and is used to give the impression that the anchoring point at

which all the semes converge constitutes a precise individuality, a
character defined by his/her peculiarity, we see how the different
approach to the name assumed by a more experimental kind of
literature (where, for instance, characters might be anonymous
or have many different names) has profound consequences, as it
points to the fragmentation of what was once perceived as a
single identity.
The referential is the code the author uses to give us
information about the world and in realist narrative is
abundantly used to create an air of vraisemblable and trick the
reader into taking culture (the text) for nature (the world). In a
similar way to the previous codes, this one can also be used to
challenge the traditional approach to narrative description.
Finally, the symbolic code, which remains somewhat obscure
as Barthes never really explains what he means by it, determines
the symbolic value of particular segments or words in the text.
1.2.5. Greimas
A similar approach to Barthess (and Todorovs, for that matter)
study of literature was taken by the structural semanticist A.J.
Greimas, who in Smantique structurale: recherche de mthode
(1966, translated as Structural Semantics: Search for a Method),
re-elaborates the morphology of the Russian folk tales
accomplished by the Formalist Propp in an attempt to develop,
in accordance with structuralisms totalising tendency, a
universal grammar of narrative.
Instead of Propps spheres of actions and functions,
Greimas proposes a more abstract notion, the actant, or basic
role, that is the element which performs a syntactic function in
the sentence at the basis of the narrative and to which the entire
narrative can be reduced: the narratives elementary structure of
signification. According to Greimas, a narrative is a signifying
ensemble that can be grasped in terms of the relations among

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

actants, and because each actant represents a syntactic function,

the actantial model becomes the extrapolation of a syntactic
structure organised around three pairs of opposed actants:
Subject Object, Helper Opponent, Sender Receiver.
The actants can obviously be abstract (for example desire or
vengeance) or collective (for example society); they can coincide
with particular characters, and they can be humans, animals or
even inanimate objects. The actants, which are characteristics of
the deep structure of the narrative, are actualised and
concretised, at the superficial level of the narrative, as actors.
Hence, at the surface level one actant can be represented by
several actors and, conversely, several actants can be represented
by the same actor. Generally speaking, the three pairs describe
three basic patterns of narratives: Search or Aim, Assistance or
Impediment, and Communication.
The first pair of actants focuses on the relationship between
the subject and the object. The subject, being the element
oriented towards an object, can therefore be considered as the
desiring subject who acts in an attempt to reach the desired
The second pair obviously relates to those elements who (or
which) either work towards or against the realisation of the
subjects desire. This pair is quite mobile and in a certain sense
ambiguous, in so far as the helper can become at a certain point
an opponent, or can cover both roles simultaneously.
Furthermore, this pair of actants is distinguished by the kind of
relationship it has with the pair subject object, as they can help
or oppose either the subject alone, or the object and the desire
the subject has for it.
Finally the third pair is the most ambiguous of all, as it very
rarely involves elements which are clearly lexicalised (such as
particular characters), and quite often consists of a series of
general motivations which determine the subjects actions. The
sender indicates the element which (or who) pushes the subject

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

to act and corresponds, in terms of a traditional grammatical

description, to a causal clause or agent (for example Society,
Love, Vengeance and so on), whereas the receiver coincides
with the element which (or who) benefits from the action
(obviously it may or may not coincide with the subject).
According to Greimas, every narrative which can be applied
to any kind of (mini) narrative, including those developed, for
example, by advertising7 can be fundamentally reduced to a
relationship between the actants, and the model is still relevant
today, as it can be used to analyse adverts, where of course a
particular product plays the role of the giver in relation to
consumers, who play the role of receivers.
It therefore appears clear that, in spite of the fact that
structuralism initially set out to expose the coercive nature of any
inflexible system, in open opposition to its own premises, it
became more and more exposed to the same criticisms it initially
made of other systems and institutions and, while undermining
others claims to unveil great truths, it contradictorily proposed
its own (partial) truth as the truth, thereby falling prey to the
same beast as other thought systems. Structuralisms oversystematisation and its obsession with structures finally turned it
into one of the dogmatic and scientistic systems it initially
wanted to expose, and by so doing it opened the way for
poststructuralism, whose aim was to investigate the way in which
the structuralist project to develop a grammar which would
account for the form and the meaning of literary works is
subverted by the works themselves.
This is why it becomes extremely difficult to define a
particular author as structuralist or poststructuralist, as Barthes,

For a discussion, see Chapter 2.


Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

Lacan and Foucault whom I have introduced as structuralists

in reality would soon be counter-influenced out of their
structuralism by the publication of some of Derridas major
books which, as you can see, were published in the same years as
some of structuralisms founding texts (1967).
1.3.1. Derrida
It was actually Derridas questioning of Western assumptions and
his own deconstruction of the notion of structure that led from
structuralism to poststructuralism. Derridas deconstruction, in
fact, posited itself against all dogmatism and aimed at questioning
the naturalness of our received conceptions of truth. In Derridas
opinion the deconstructive text should
show how a discourse undermines the philosophy it asserts, or
the hierarchical oppositions on which it relies, by identifying in
the text the rhetorical operations that produce the supposed
ground of argument, the key concept or premise (Culler, 1983,

The central aim of Derridas deconstruction was to disrupt the

metaphysics of presence which he saw at the root of all Western
philosophy. It is on this metaphysics of presence that various
oppositions such as meaning/form, soul/body, speech/writing,
conscious/unconscious, normal/pathological, serious/non-serious
language, and man/woman have relied, according a privileged
position to the presence intrinsic in the former term and
defining the latter as a lack, a void, an absence.
For Derrida, the aim of deconstruction is to expose the fact
that the presence which is considered inherent in the first
element is itself not a given, but a product which, in order to
function, must already possess the qualities which belong to its
opposite. So, Derrida argues, Saussures dichotomy between
signified and signifier is based on the metaphysics of presence
and the privileged status granted to speech (that is


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

logocentrism), but even though he considers writing simply as a

representation of speech, he uses examples drawn from writing
to explain the nature of the linguistic sign, thus unwittingly
admitting that speech is a form of a more generalised writing
called by Derrida arche-writing (1976, 109). By so doing,
Derrida basically reverses the hierarchical opposition which
made speech into the positive term and writing into the negative.
In his other discussions of the various Western philosophical
dichotomies, the same deconstructive movement leads him to
posit a generalised figurative, non-serious language of which
both literal, serious and figurative/metaphorical, non-serious
language would be particular cases (1977, 90), a discussion
which concluded with his assertion that a literal expression is a
metaphor whose figurality has been forgotten (Culler, 1983,
To the metaphysics of presence which tries to impose a
certain degree of coherence and logic on the text, Derrida thus
opposes a metaphysics of absence: by concentrating on the
inferior element, by using the same language and the same
principles it deconstructs, and by overturning the classical
opposition (1982, 329), deconstruction produces a general
displacement of the system, disrupting our traditional habits of
thought and creating new associations which had been concealed
by the traditional dismissal of the second term.
All this has obviously important repercussions on the role
assumed by scholars of language, an expression used here in its
most general meaning. Indeed, if the meanings which we assign
the world are historically, conventionally and socially
determined; if subconscious rules exist which enable the
individual to carry out various tasks and enable these acts to have
meaning, then the author as a privileged subject and the
reader, the sender and the receiver of a message, would now
lose, at least in part, their authority, because their productions
and their interpretations would be determined by elements

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

which are outside themselves and which they cannot control.

And this idea, obviously, could not but have huge repercussions
on the way we generally view users of language and their
1.4.Recent Developments in Language Studies
Indeed, after decades dominated by a view of language as an
abstract system purported for example by linguists such as
Chomsky (who focussed on the ideal competence of speakers)
and Bloomfield (who claimed that language should be analysed
isolation, irrespective of the context in which it originated)
language scholars began to emphasise the fundamental relation
between language and the context it stems from.
The formal approach to language held by linguists in the past
was at the basis of one of the main approaches to the study of
lexis, which is clearly of fundamental importance also in
translation studies. Generally speaking, the study of lexis has
been the domain of the discipline called semantics, which is
defined, by Cook (1992) amongst others, as the study of
equivalences between linguistic units and entities or events in the
world. Central to the discipline, is of course the study of
meaning (or, following Leech, of meanings, as he distinguishes
conceptual, connotative, social, affective, reflected, collocative,
associative, thematic meaning), and it is precisely in order to
deal with the meaning of single lexical items, that linguists Katz
and Fodor (1963) elaborated componential analysis, a model of
meaning according to which a word can be decomposed into its
semantic property and broken up into its various components,
whereby it is reduced to its ultimate contrastive elements. Thus,
a word like man could be defined as + male, + adult + human
+ animate, and this of course would contrast both with the
definition of boy, defined as adult, and a definition of
woman, defined as male. As this example suggests, it is

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

therefore fundamental to bear in mind that words may contrast

with other words on a number of dimensions at once. This is a
type of analysis which has been very prolific, and although has
been largely abandoned nowadays (in favour, as we shall see
below, of more context and discourse oriented approaches), it
is still held in high consideration by many scholars, even in the
field of Translation Studies, as Peter Newmarks approach well
1.4.1. Newmarks Componential Analysis
Indeed, any lexical choice raises questions as to the implications
of the semantic components of the term, and it is for this
reason that it might be useful to resort to componential analysis,
thanks to which the meaning and all the implications of a term
are precisely identified and so guide the search for a suitable
This is precisely what Newmark does in Approaches to
Translation (1981), where he shows how a term can be broken
down into its sense components and thus prepared for
translation much more convincingly than by weighing up
synonyms listed in bilingual dictionaries. He makes the example
of bawdy:

Essential/functional components:
i. Shocking (emotive)
ii. Related to the sex act (factual)
iii. Humorous (emotive/factual)

b. Secondary/descriptive components
i. Loud
ii. Vulgar (in relation to social class)

The item, having been stripped down, so to speak, to reveal all

its possible components, can be then measured against the
competing claims, in the target language, of near-synonyms,


Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

paraphrasal expressions, compensatory solutions or even

replacement by zero, depending on the particular context of
In the case of a headline such as Bush calls Iraq abuse
abhorrent (which was followed by an article on the tortures
perpetrated by American soldiers on Iraqi prisoners in 2004), we
could therefore break down the adjective abhorrent as:

Essential/functional components:
i. Shocking (emotive)
ii. Disgusting (emotive)
iii. Hateful (emotive)
iv. Related to a crime of some sort (factual)

b. Secondary/descriptive components
i. Morally bad (emotive/factual),

and thus translate it accordingly for example as abominevole.

As it will appear clear in the following pages, however, it is not
always possible to find a satisfactory translation. Further to this,
translators have to accept that there are cases where, without any
cushioning device such as commentary, notes, or glossary,
authors insert in their works terms and expressions which are
clearly untranslatable, precisely because they are untranslatable.
This is for example the case of the Urdu word sharam, which
approximately means shame, and in fact appears as the title of
one of Rushdies novels (1983), but for which no real equivalent
can be found. In this case, if we resort to componential analysis,
we can see that the English translation is much more restrictive
when compared to the original. Translators must therefore find
supplementary strategies that might enable them to convey the
meaning suggested by the Urdu word. In the case of shame, we
could in fact identify:
Essential/functional components
a. Embarrassing (emotive)

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

b. Humiliating (emotive)
c. Related to a disgrace or scandal (in war, in social life, in
sexual life etc.; factual)
Secondary/descriptive components


For sharam, however, we could also have:

Essential/functional components
f. Modest (emotive/factual)
g. Decent (emotive/factual)
h. Related to a moral or virtuous act
Secondary/descriptive components
i. Courteous
j. Shy
k. Quiet
l. Honest
m. Respectable

The notion of components has actually been extremely

productive in various approaches to the study of lexis. Yet, albeit
very useful, componential analysis has been recognised as
incapable of dealing both with grammatical function words such
as of or the, and with the connotational meaning or the
metaphorical uses of many content words. Componential
analysis assumes in fact that features of words are invariable and
does not take into account social and/or cultural factors.
This last observation does obviously raise the question, very
relevant to the study of translation, of the multi-layered aspect of
lexical items. A word has in fact an etymology, a diachronic
history which if the term is not completely lexicalised will be

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

activated by its use, connotations, collocations, translation

equivalents, personal associations, metonymic and metaphoric
uses, echoes of homonyms which might or might not be
exploited in puns, in written texts associated with images etc.
Semantics alone cannot, obviously, account for all this.
Indeed, although semantics has provided applied linguistics
with useful frameworks for systematising meaning and relations
among words8, and even though the somewhat abstract realm of

By (meaning) relations I clearly intend the relations which a word, once

it has been broken down into components, enters with other words according
to the components they do or do not have in common. For example, words
can be described in terms of synonymy when they are of the same meaning,
or antonym, when they are of opposite meaning (however, as Leech suggests,
because a word can contrast with another on different dimensions at once, it
would probably be better to talk about incompatibility or meaning
exclusion). Words can also be connected by a relation of entailment (the
earth goes round the sun entails the earth moves), presupposition (Marys
son is called Matthew, presupposes Mary has a son) or logical
inconsistency (the earth moves is inconsistent with the earth is
stationary). Another relationship of meaning is meaning inclusion or
hyponomy, which occurs when a componential formula contains all the
features present in another formula (as with man and grown up), which is
then referred to as superordinate term or supernym. In addition, we could
have a co-hyponym, whereby a term shares with another term some
components of a mutual supernym, but also has distinctive components
which are mutually exclusive with those of the other. As Leech points out
(1974, 99 100), we can therefore identify a binary taxonomy (whereby
some expressions will be defined as contradictions, as in the dead animal was
still alive), or a multiple taxonomy. It must be remembered, however, that
although for practical purposes semanticists talk of taxonomies, many binary
contrasts are best envisaged in terms of a scale running between two extremes.
Another important binary opposition is relation, which involves a contrast of
direction such as up/down, whereas lexical pairs such as parent and child
are called converses, while pairs such as still/already or all/some are called
inverse opposition. Finally, we can talk of cyclic opposition, as for
example the hierarchy to which the days of the week or the months of the year

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

componential analysis has prompted direct application in

vocabulary-teaching materials (Rudzka et al., 1981), as
McCarthy states, keeping the study of lexis penned within the
world of semantics makes any proposal to develop a lexical
model in harmony with a socially embedded view of language
difficult (1991, 61).
It was actually in the 1960s that the paradigm of lexical
studies began to shift in Western Europe, following the general
trend towards a more contextual and social approach to the
study of language in general. In 1968 Fillmore elaborated the
concept of a case grammar, which is more functionally oriented
but which still does not take into consideration the context in
which a text was placed. Even the recent philosophical influence
on language study, in particular the Speech Act Theory
elaborated on by Austin and Searle, while concentrating on
language in use still relies on the linguists intuition and in
actual fact ignored all aspect apart from the utterance and the
analyst himself.
1.5.Discourse Analysis and its Disciplines
During the last decades, however, the emphasis of language (and
translation) studies has changed considerably, and importance
began to be given to the analysis of real data, including spoken
data. Indeed, one of the main innovations introduced by
discourse analysis, which we could identify as the final product
of a whole series of developments in the field of language studies,
is the attention paid to the analysis of spoken language.
Thus, the emphasis of discourse analysis here understood as
a particular approach to the study of language which wants to
move away from the Chomskyan emphasis on competence in

belong, or simply hierarchic oppositions, which relate to different units of


Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

order to concentrate on performance and rather than consider

language in isolation, as in the Bloofmfieldian tradition, wants to
focus on language in context/use has actually been on the
analysis of naturally occurring language (both in its written and
spoken forms), and the linguistic patterns above sentence level.
This clearly represents a major shift in the study of language, in
so far as also the early attempts to analyse language in terms of
what could be done with words that is the speech act theory
developed for instance by Austin and Searle, and, at least in part,
the pragmatic principles postulated by Grice were mainly
based on invented linguistic data. The attention to real data
called for by ethnography of speaking (which focuses on the
importance of direct/field observation), conversational analysis
(which analyses in depth conversational exchanges, whether
face-to-face or over the telephone, in order to shed some light on
the patterns underlying for example turn-taking etc), and the
linguistic approach adopted for example by Sinclair and
Coulthard in their study of classroom interaction (and which
represents a fundamental characteristic of discourse analysis as a
whole), has had many repercussions on all aspects of language
study, from grammar, to vocabulary, and clearly is not devoid of
meaning also in the study of translation.
The emphasis which Widdowson (1979) posited on the
distinction between language usage (used to exemplify linguistic
categories) and language use (which, on the contrary, is language
used to communicate and indicates the use of sentences in the
performance of utterances which give these linguistic elements
connotative value), led to the concept of language as a social
phenomenon and to the importance of communication, and
what Hymes termed communicative competence.
1.5.1. Ethnography of Speaking
It was actually Hymes who, during the 1970s, inaugurated the
discipline referred to as ethnography of speaking which,

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

developing some of the fundamental notions of anthropology,

analyses language as used in real contexts by real speakers and,
by careful observation, tries to identify the various components
of a speech event. The fundamental methodology of this analysis
is participant observation, which implies ongoing regular contact
between the observer and the community s/he wants to study,
some degree of participation in the life of that particular
community and a natural setting9. The aim of an analysis carried
out according to the principles of the ethnography of speaking is
not just to collect data but to understand a particular way of life
and of language use as group members understand them
themselves. According to Levinson, then, ethnography of
speaking is the cross-cultural study of language usage or, as
Hymes suggests, is the study of how to use language in a
contextually appropriate way. In order to understand the
communicative competence of particular users of language, that
is the rules of speaking that are operative in particular languageusing communities, ethnographers of speaking identify three
relevant units: the speech situation (namely the social context);
the speech event (which is determined by the use of language
and involves activities which could not occur except in and
through language, such as argument or gossip) and the
speech act (for example greeting, apologising etc.), which in
its turn it determined by the following elements:
Setting (time and space)
Participants (who, role)

This kind of analysis and, broadly speaking, the collection of spoken data,
raised the issue of what is normally referred to as The Observers Paradox.
According to this, the very presence of an observer, possibly recording the
spoken language produced by the members of the community selected for
analysis, prevents per se the setting from being completely natural. In turn, this
issue is obviously closely connected to other ethical issues relating to the
possibility of collecting data without community members being aware of the
observers presence.

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

Ends (purpose)
Act sequence (what speech acts and what order)
Key (that is the tone i.e. serious, joking etc.)
Instrumentalities (channel or medium)
Norms of interaction (the rules for producing
interpreting speech acts)


This kind of analysis can be applied to more or less mundane

genres (from religious meetings to domestic chats, village gossip,
arguments in pubs etc.), and its primary purpose may not be to
produce a simple description of speech situations, speech events
and speech acts, but to produce a sophisticated analysis of what
people are doing and what they think they are doing, when they
speak. As Cameron claims, then, the ethnography of speaking
makes some important contributions to thinking about talk as a
culturally embedded activity, a notion which results fundamental
both in language and translation studies.
1.5.2. Pragmatics
Further to the ethnography of speaking, during the same decades
we see the development of pragmatics, which focuses on the way
language is used to do things and mean more than what is
actually said. The term was first introduced by the American
philosopher/linguist C.S. Peirce (1839 1914), but it was
actually Charles Morris (19011979) who, during the 1930s,
began to apply the term to linguistic behaviours. Although
Morriss use of the word was very broad, nowadays the term is
used to refer to the study of meanings derived from the contexts
of utterances rather than the meanings contained in the linguistic
forms, which are the focus of semantics. Pragmatics therefore
studies language in use and the use that speakers make of
particular words and expressions, which of course might well
differ from the dictionary meaning of that particular item. This
discipline stems from a philosophical approach to language, and

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

can be said to develop from the speech acts theories elaborated

on, for example, by Austin and Searle. The basic notion of
speech act theory is that when we express ourselves we do not
only produce utterances containing grammatical structures and
words, but we also perform actions via those utterances. This is
particularly obvious when we deal with performative verbs in
that the linguistic act (provided certain felicity conditions are
satisfied)10 actually performs the action it describes but it is also
true for those speech acts we call indirect. It is the nature of the
speech event itself that determines the interpretation of an
utterance as performing particular speech acts. For instance,
given two different contexts and two different intonation
patterns, the utterance this coffee is really cold can be
interpreted either as a complaint or a request (for a cup of fresh
coffee). When analysing a speech act, then, we always have to
identify the locutionary act (that is the basic act of utterance),
the illocutionary act (which refers to the function or
illocutionary force of the act itself) and the perlocutionary act
(which refers to the effect of the act itself). Because the
illocutionary force is what counts as (a prediction, a warning, a
promise etc.), when interpreting a speech act we must identify
the illocutionary force indicating devices, namely devices
which indicate the illocutionary force of an utterance. Amongst
these, the most obvious is a verb that explicitly names the
illocutionary act, that is to say a performative verb such as to
warn or to promise. However, other devices such as stress,
word order and intonation can help in the correct interpretation
of an utterance. For instance, the sentence What are you doing,
uttered by the same speaker within the same context, can have
different meanings according to whether the speaker genuinely

For instance, in order to marry or christen someone, the speaker must be

either a representative of the clergy or the captain of a ship. If the felicity
conditions required by a particular performative verb are not satisfied, the
speech act can only be void and null, namely infelicitous.

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

wants to enquire about his/her interlocutors engagements or

whether s/he is making an ironic comment on his/her
interlocutors activities or is asking the interlocutor to stop doing
It therefore appears clear that intonation, one of the features
of spoken language which can be reproduced in written language
only partially (for example by using punctuation), actually helps
disambiguate a message and convey meaning. In actual fact,
intonation represents a contextualisation cue about the way a
speaker intends hearers to treat his/her message. Intonation
actually expresses some aspect of the speech function, usually
having to do with certainty or doubt, and for this reason, the
contrasts it expresses are closely tied to other grammar systems
such as modality. Intonation is therefore said to make
meaningful distinctions, helping disambiguating utterances,
and because it can express grammatical functions and contrasts
in meaning11, it should be identified as part of the linguistic
system itself. Indeed, recent research has emphasised, precisely,
the multiple functions of intonation (both semantic and
pragmatic)12, showing how it can signal not only the mood of the

In tone languages, for example, intonation also has a lexical function, as

the choice of tone results in different words.
For example, among the different functions of intonation Tench (1990)
identifies the attitudinal function (used to express our attitudes towards
objects, people, ideas and so forth), the communicative function (falls and
rises in units of intonation are exploited to elicit information and maintain
various kinds of social interchange), the informational function (falls are
used for major information, rises for incomplete and minor information), the
textual function (which creates the structure of the whole discourse and
indicates for example a switch from one topic to another), a stylistic function
(which enables us to recognise and distinguish between different kinds of
languages such as sport commentary, radio report etc.). Similarly, Crystal
classifies the various functions of intonation as follows: emotional (which
expresses attitudinal meaning such as sarcasm or impatience), grammatical
(as such, intonation has a similar function to that of punctuation),

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

speaker, but also the information considered most important

(rheme), or the information the speaker considers shared
knowledge (theme) etc13.
In their approach to intonation, scholars identify two main
tones: rising and falling, and a combination of these. The tone
group that is a phonological unit consisting of a sequence of
rhythmic units (feet) that represents what we could call a
quantum of the message contains a tonic (tonicity) and a tone
(tone), and indicates the way the speaker is organising his/her
units. Broadly speaking, one tone group is the expression of one
unit of information (either given or new information), and tonic
prominence marks the culmination of what is new, enabling the
speaker to create meaning. For instance, in his discussion of the
interactive aspects of intonation, Brazil emphasises that what he
calls referring tone (rise, fall-rise) indicates shared knowledge,
whereas what he refers to as proclaiming tone (fall, rise-fall)
indicates new information. Finally, what he calls level tone
indicates the fact that the speaker is orienting more towards the
language of the utterance itself.
Similarly, the key (or pitch level), is an added meaningful
choice. As Coulthard states in his An Introduction to Discourse
Analysis (1985), in fact, high key is mainly contrastive, low key
is equative, meaning that it indicates equivalence, whereas mid
key is additive, in the sense that it adds information. Thus, the
same sentence he gambled and lost can mean different things
according to intonation and pitch level:

informational (prominence indicates what the speaker is treating as new

information), textual (as it indicates paragraphs of meaning), psychological
(in this sense intonation has to do with memorisation) and indexical (in this
case, intonation marks personal or social identity).
For a discussion of theme and rheme see Chapter 2.

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

//p he GAMbled //and LOST // CONTRASTIVE (contrary to

expectations; i.e. there is an interaction-bound opposition
between the two)
//p he GAMbled //and LOST // ADDITIVE (he did both)
//p he GAMbled //and LOST // EQUATIVE (as you would
expect, i.e. there is an interaction-bound equivalence between
(Coulthard, 1985, 111).

On the basis of what we have seen above, then, it appears clear

that in order to interpret a particular speech act accomplished
through speaking, participants in a communicative exchange
must decode correctly what Grice refers to as implicature, that
is the meaning which is inferred by listeners in an utterances in
which a lot more is communicated than what is actually said14.
This is for instance the case with tautologies, that is sentences
such as boys will be boys or a hamburger is a hamburger
which, from a logical perspective, do not have any
communicative value, since they express something completely
obvious. However, as with indirect speech acts in general, if hey

Grice also identifies different categories of implicatures: generalised

conversational implicature (when no special knowledge is required in the
context to calculate the additional conveyed meaning); scalar conversational
implicature (certain information is communicated by choosing a word which
expresses one value from a scale of values i.e. all, most, many, some, few;
always, often, sometimes) and particularised conversational implicature,
which refers to the very specific context in which our conversations take place.
Grice also makes a distinction between conversational implicatures and what
he refers to as conventional implicatures, which are not based on the
cooperative principle or the maxims discussed below, do not have to occur in
conversation and do not depend on special contexts for their interpretation.
Generally speaking, they are associated with specific words and result in
additional conveyed meanings when those words for example but
(indicating contrast), even (which indicates something that happens contrary
to expectation), next (suggesting that the present situation is expected to be
different at a later time) are used.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

are used in conversation, they clearly show the speakers

intention to communicate more than what is actually said.
Obviously, states Grice, for reference to be successful,
collaboration is fundamental, in that in accepting speakers
presuppositions, listeners normally have to assume that the
speaker is not trying to mislead them. This observation led him
to identify what he calls the cooperative principle, namely the
principle which enables speakers to interpret the additional
meaning conveyed by implicatures, and which the listener has to
work out on the basis of what s/he already knows. According to
Grice, then, participants in a conversation should make their
contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs,
by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in
which you are engaged. According to Grice, this general
principle of cooperation is articulated in four maxims:
The Maxim of Quantity
Make your contribution as informative as is required;
Do not make your contribution more informative than is
The Maxim of Quality

Do not say what you believe to be false

Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence

The Maxim of Relation

Be relevant

The Maxim of Manner

Avoid obscurity of expression

Avoid ambiguity
Be brief
Be orderly (avoid unnecessary prolixity)

In order to help their interlocutors with the decodification of the

message, speakers, according to Grice, often recur to hedges,


Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

that is cautious notes about the way the utterance is to be

interpreted. Thus, in accordance to the maxim of quality, we can
find hedges such as: as far as I know or I may be mistaken;
with reference to the maxim of quantity, well find expressions
such as as you probably know; as to relation, we could find I
dont know if this is important, and as far as the maxim of
manner is concerned, we could use hedges such as Im not sure
if this makes sense or this may be a bit confused.
Further to the cooperative principle, however, when decoding
a message users of language should also consider the bearing that
politeness has on communication. According to Levinson, in
fact, many of the inferences on which the communicative act
rests are based on notion of face and politeness. It is important
then to remember that the concept of face refers to a social
standing or esteem which every individual claims for him/her self
and wants other to respect. According to Levinson, we can
distinguish positive face, namely an individuals desire to be
liked and approved by others, and negative face, which refers to
the individuals wish to be allowed to go about his/her business
without others imposing unduly on him/her. In a similar way to
face, then, also politeness can be both positive and negative, as it
aims at preserving either the positive or the negative face of an
individual. In the first case, politeness is expressed by showing
interest, claiming common ground, seeking agreement and
giving sympathy. Negative politeness, on the contrary, is
expressed by being conventionally indirect, minimising the
imposition, begging forgiveness and giving deference. These
strategies, then, can be described as mitigating devices, namely
linguistic items which are exploited in order to avoid face
threatening acts, that is acts which could compromise the
positive or negative face of one or both the participants in the
These principles can obviously be applied not only to the
analysis of real conversations but, bearing in mind the fictionality

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

of a work of art, also novels, films or dramatic texts. For

example, the issue of politeness appears paramount in most of
Austens novels, as the society of the time dictated the attitude to
be maintained in all social settings15, and can perhaps be best
observed in Emma (1816), where the main character is
constantly trying to mitigate her face threatening acts except
once (namely the moment of the picnic when she answers back
to Miss Bates rather impolitely), which, because of its
unusualness and its important implicatures, can actually be
identified as the turning point of the novel16. Similarly, Mrs Elton
becomes an example of the way also compliments, from a
pragmatic perspective, can be perceived as face-threatening
interactional dilemmas. Specifically, Mrs Elton demonstrates how
speakers, in an attempt to save their face, adopts a series of
strategies and devices meant to prevent them from appearing
immodest, and, simultaneously, from appearing too self-critical.
Indeed, speakers, just as Mrs Elton does in Austens novel, can
thank for the compliments received, can draw attention to the
favourable circumstances or recall some other persons opinion on
the matter.


Amongst the many examples, we cite: Emma was sorry to have to pay
civilities to a person she did not like through three long months! (Austen,
1976, 693).
FRANK CHURCHILL: I [Frank] am ordered by Miss Woodhouse to say,
that she waives her right of knowing exactly wjat you may all be thinking of,
and only requires something vert entertaining from each of you, in a general
way [...] she only demands from each of you, either one thing very clever, be it
prose or verse, original or repeated; or two things moderately clever; or three
things very dull indeed; and she engages to laugh heartily at them all.
MISS BATES: Oh! Very well [...] then I need not be uneasy. Three things
very dull indeed. That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say
three dull thins as soon as ever I open my mouth, shant I? [...]
EMMA: Ah! Maam, but there nay be a difficulty. Pardon me, but you will
be limited as to numer only three at once. (Austen, 1976, 795).

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

Similarly, we could apply some of the basic notions of

Pragmatics to such diverse material as the novel mentioned
above, the film which works as its intersemiotic translation,
Shakespeares Othello (as Coulthard does in his An Introduction to
Discourse Analysis, 1985), or to other dramatic text such as, for
example, Harold Pinters Betrayal (1978)17. Indeed, in this work,
the whole issue of implicatures, retrieval of information and so
on appears paramount, as the various characters engage in a sort
of linguistic ballet meant to bring their unfaithfulness to the
surface. For instance, the awkwardness of communication
between the characters of the play is very often conveyed
through a violation of one of Grices maxims, in particular that
of relevance. For example, in the following dialogue,
Emma: I wish you wouldnt keep calling him Casey. His name is
Jerry: Yes Roger.


For reasons of space we cannot discuss the translation of dramatic texts

and its implications adequately. From a rapid survey of the works published
on the subject, however, the translation of dramatic texts appears to have
been rather neglected. In fact, as Bassnett states, There is very little material
on the special problems of translating dramatic texts and the statements of
individual theatre translators often imply that the methodology used in the
translation process is the same as that used to approach prose texts (1991,
120). In spite of this, the translation of dramatic texts clearly presupposes
different difficulties and, as a consequence, calls for different translation
strategies. To begin with, continues Bassnett, a theatre text is read
differently. It is read as something incomplete, rather than as a fully rounded
unit, since it is only in performance that the full potential of the text is
realized. And this presents the translator with a central problem: whether to
translate the text as a purely literary text, or to try to translate it in its function
as one element in another, more complex system (ibid.). Indeed, in theatre,
issues of playability and issues of register become paramount. As a
consequence, in order to be effective, translators of dramatic texts have to
take into consideration these aspects as well, and consider the relationship
between verbal and non-verbal language, stage and off-stage etc.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Emma: I phoned you. I dont know why.

Jerry: What a funny thing. We were such close friends, werent
we? Robert and me. (Pinter, 2000, 177),

Emmas reply does not seem pertinent with the previous part of
the conversation. In his turn, Jerry does not pick up what Emma
has just said but changes again the topic of conversation,
ignoring her last contribution to the conversation.
Similarly, at the end of the fourth scene, Emma asks whether
she can watch while the two male characters play squash
together. Robert replies by giving a long series of reasons against
this request, and by so doing, he violates the maxims of quantity
and relation, in order to lead Jerry to a similar response.
However, when Robert reaches his transition relevance place
(that is the moment when the floor should be taken by another
participant), and selects Jerry by asking him a question (What
do you think, Jerry?), Jerry actually replies by violating the
maxim of relation. The character, in fact, simply answers I
havent played squash for years (Pinter, 2000, 214), which
provides an answer to the first interlocutors question only
indirectly. By working out this implicature, then, the reader
realises that Jerry violates the maxim of relation so as to respect
the maxim of quality, thereby suggesting his disagreement
without however contrasting Robert directly.
The situations and fictional works to which the principles of
pragmatics could be applied are, obviously, innumerable, and for
reasons of space we can simply mention them en passant,
postponing their adequate discussion to a later stage. It is worth
remembering, however, that various types of analyses could also
exploit other methodologies, and in a similar way to the analysis
of Pinters work mentioned above, could perhaps refer to some
of the fundamental notions of conversational analysis.


Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

1.5.3. Conversational Analysis

Conversational analysis, which was for example applied to
Othello by Coulhtard, is actually another discipline which
originated in order to identify and systematise the basic
principles of spoken language, in particular, face-to-faceconversation.
On the basis of some of the fundamental notions of sociology
and ethnomethodology, conversational analysis focuses in fact on
the structures of talk in interaction, which means that it does not
focus just on conversation but also on talk in professional and
workplace settings such as service encounters, doctor-patient
consultations, courtroom and classroom talk etc., as well as
political speeches and media genres. Contrary to the
ethnography of speaking, this is a data centred approach which
does not require the analyst to gain knowledge of the
participants identity. The aim of conversational analysis is
actually to defamiliarise what we normally take for granted in
order to better understand the mechanisms that are at its basis.
Thus, because talking is prototypically a joint enterprise in which
people take turns, conversational analysis is mainly concerned
with the description of sequential patterns, investigating the
strategies adopted by participants in order to take their turn or
repair a problem in the negotiation of the floor (that is the right
to speak)18. Usually, in order to take a turn, participants have to
identify the turn-transition relevance place which, in the
conversation, is generally indicated by particular prosodic and
grammatical structures as well as non-verbal behaviour.
Generally speaking, there are two main mechanisms that
regulate the allocation of turns, in that either the current speaker
selects the following speaker (either by naming him/her or by

For instance, conversational analysts noticed that speakers often use

repair initiator devices such as pauses, return questions, mitigated
corrections etc.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

producing a first part of an adjacency pair)19 or the next speaker

self-selects him/herself. The person who is willing to take the
floor, however, should be aware of the fact that the current
speaker may decide to continue and might signal this intention
by using an utterance incompletor (i.e. but, and), by
beginning with an incompletition marker such as if or by
refusing to bring his/her turn to an end (in this instance, usually
the speaker carries on speaking more loudly, more quickly and at
a higher pitch). In natural contexts, it might actually happen that
more than one person speak at the same time. There is however
a big difference between overlaps which occur when more
than one speaker self-selects, thinking that the first speaker has
reached the end of his/her turn (in cases such as this, usually one
speaker apologises and stops speaking)20 and interruptions,
which occur when the overlap takes place at a point in the last
speakers utterance that cannot be identified as a turn transition
relevance place. Interruption, in fact, is a hostile act designed to
deny the current speaker his/her legitimate right to the floor.
According to Labov, however, the orderly and untroubled
allocations of turns is not sufficient to guarantee the existence of
meaningful interaction. In order to demonstrate this, the scholar
analyses extracts of conversations between a therapist and his
patient, emphasising how in an exchange such as the following:
Therapist: Whats your name?
Patient: well, lets say you might have thought you had
something from before, but you havent got it anymore
Therapist: Im going to call you Dean,

the two speakers take hold of the floor in a very orderly manner
without however being able to produce a meaningful exchange.
In the example above, the therapist uses his second turn to

For a definition of adjacency pair, see infra.

It should however be remembered that in cross-cultural communication
different systems of floor organisation might be operative.


Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

answer the question himself, and this suggests that he has some
reason to believe that the patient is not going to honour his
obligation and provide an answer to the question.
This, however, is not always the case, in so far as what might
seem an irrelevant answer, might in fact be an insertion
sequence. This is the case with the following exchange:

Customer: A pint of Guinness please

Bartender: How old are you?
Customer: Twenty two
Bartender: Ok, coming up.

Here, the question the bartender asks is relevant to the exchange,

in so far as he needs that question answered before being able to
answer the question the customer asked in the first place.
As a matter of fact, spoken interaction is often structured
around pairs of adjacent utterances in which the second
utterance is functionally dependent on the first. Generally
speaking, if the first utterance is a question, as in the previous
examples, the following utterance will usually be heard either as
an answer or as a move that has to be made in order to put the
speaker in a position to answer the question. Another example of
adjacency pair is the Greeting Greeting pair. As the
examples above make clear, if the second part of an adjacency
pair is missing, it is noticeable and noticed. Indeed, if the second
pair is missing, it is said to be noticeably absent, meaning that
the speaker has probably withheld it for some purpose, in order
to send an implicit message to the listener, and it will be up to
the hearer to decode this implicit message and infer what the
speaker wanted to express.
This aspect is again well exemplified by many of the dialogues
we can find in Pinters Betrayal, briefly analysed above. Within
this play, silence actually plays a fundamental role in the
characters communicative exchanges, and it is often used to
perform different functions. When Emma at last confesses her


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

unfaithfulness to Robert, we see that the dialogue is

characterised by a series of silences and pauses, which
demonstrate Emmas awkwardness in keeping up appearances,
an embarrassment which naturally leads to her confession:
Robert: Was there any message for me, in his [Jerrys, namely
Emmas lover] letter?
Emma: No message.
Robert. No message. Not even his love?
Emma: Were lovers (Pinter, 2000, 229).

The turn-taking system that regulates the exchange of adjacency

pairs, then, is said to be organised according to a preference
system, according to which when the first turn gives the
producer of the second turn a choice as to his/her answer (as
with invitations, offers, suggestions or proposals), the choice
between a preferred or a dispreferred response will have to be
made. For instance, the preferred response to a proposal is
acceptance, while a refusal is generally considered a dispreferred
response, and is typically performed by elaborating and using
mitigating devices. The preferred/dispreferred distinction, then,
is made purely on the basis of formal patterns, in that preferred
responses are prompt and short, while dispreferred ones are
hesitant and elaborate, and might be introduced by discourse
markers such as well. For example, in the following exchange
Mark: I was thinking we could have fish?
Sarah: fine
Zoila: well, actually...Ive stopped eating fish now because know the damage it does to the ocean,

Zoila uses what we call mitigation devices in order to avoid

posing a threat to the positive face of her interlocutors.
Conversational analysis, then, emphasises how inferences can be
drawn from the absence of a missing second part of an adjacency
pair, and studies the use of discourse markers which, while

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

thematically empty, contextually indicate a change of topic and

project and/or check the state of shared knowledge, soften a face
threatening act and so on21.
1.5.4. Interactional Sociolinguistics
In a similar way to Labovs sociolinguistic analysis, interactional
sociolinguistics takes into consideration the way people use
language and tries to explain these differences by correlating
them to non-linguistic differences such as class, race, gender etc.
However, contrary to sociolinguistics, which mainly focuses on
pronunciation and grammar22, interactional sociolinguistics takes
a similar approach also to other phenomena which play an
important role in the organisation of spoken interaction,
focussing for example on mechanisms such as turn-taking. The
assumption on which this kind of analysis is based, is that
crosstalk between people of different cultural backgrounds is not
just a matter of surface linguistic features but relates, more
fundamentally, to the assumptions language users make about
the kind of speech event they are participating in and what they
consider appropriate in a particular context.
In an attempt to analyse the variations these structures
undergo in different situations such as interracial or inter-gender
contexts23, the kind of cross-cultural observation interactional
sociolinguistics pursues, clearly brings to the fore the issue of
cross-cultural communication (including instances of cross-talk

For a discussion see Schriffrin, 1980.

For instance, Labov analysed the way New Yorkers use language,
focussing in particular on differences of pronunciation, and related the
variations to social differences.
For exemple, Maltz and Borker (1982) suggested that women use and
interpret minimal responses such as yes and no to mean something like
Im listening, go on, whereas men use and interpret them as I agree. It was
also suggested that while women are more likely to hear backchannel noises
such as mm... as a sign of listening, men are more likely to hear it as a sign of


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

and up-talk, emphasising how the same formal features,

including intonation patterns, may not serve the same purposes
for every group of speakers), and the different meanings which
non-verbal behaviour might have in cross-cultural contexts
(amongst the various aspects on which interactional
sociolinguists focused we can mention gaze behaviour, prosodic
features such as intonation, pitch and stress, and paralinguistic
features such as hesitation, pauses and contrasts of volume). All
these aspects are clearly not represented in written language and
are not explicitly taught, but are fundamental in any
communicative act, in so far as, if we fail to understand peoples
contextualization cues, we will miss part of the meaning they are
trying to communicate (for example irony).
1.5.5. Critical Discourse Analysis
Critical discourse analysis concentrates on the ideological
dimension of discourse and its hidden agenda. This discipline
which in van Dijks words primarily studies the way social
power abuse, dominance and inequality are enacted, reproduced
and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context
(2003, 352) counts, amongst its founders, scholars such as
Fairclough, Wodak, Fowler and, of course, van Dijk himself.
Faircloughs analysis, for example, concentrates on the implicit
conventions according to which people interact linguistically,
which he calls common-sense assumptions. It is precisely these
assumptions which, according to him, coincide with ideologies,
which are defined as propositions that generally figure as implicit
assumptions in texts. Because ideologies contribute to the
production and reproduction of unequal relations of power and
relations of domination, they are conceived by Fairclough as a
means of legitimising existing social relations and differences in
power. Obviously, Fairclough is well aware of the fact that power
is not simply a matter of language, in so far as, as the history and
the literature of, for example, postcolonial countries

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

demonstrate, physical coercion, torture, even death have been

used again and again in history to implement particular
ideologies. Yet, in the wake of Foucault et al., he also
acknowledges that because language is part of the exercise of
power, it is important to study and understand its workings. This
awareness, in fact, is the only way we can actually hope to
change language itself (as for example political correctness
movements demonstrate). As such, not only the language used
by marginalised subject, but also the linguistic approach adopted
by critics and scholars can become, at least in part, a form of
Indeed, the constitution of what Halliday would call an antilanguage that is an oppositional discourse which is used as a
conscious alternative to the dominant discourse type is the way
to a more equal distribution of power in our world. This antilanguage, in fact, which could be seen as corresponding to what
Roland Barthes calls an acratic language, that is the expression
of a relative representation of reality, as opposed to the encratic
language which dominant societies impose as universally true,
thus turning it into part of mass culture, thereby assuring
supremacy, legitimacy and unquestionability to the society it is
spoken by (Barthes, 1973, 1611)24. By destabilising this

This corresponds to Barthess notion of the division and the war of

languages. According to the scholar, in order to have its version recognised as
truthful and natural, one society tries to achieve hegemony over other possible
ways of structuring society by imposing models of intelligibility, and by so
doing, the society in question turns its own language once acratic into an
encratic language. According to him, then, each day, in a single person,
there accumulate several different languages, each of which tries to exclude
the others. It is precisely this explosion of the listening ability (1971, in
Oeuvres compltes, vol. II, 1189) that, according to Barthes, makes the
individual into an alienated being, and forces him/her to struggle in order not
to be completely submerged by the language of Others. We can therefore see
how, in Barthes, the notion of a division of languages is loaded with social and
political connotations, as for him it is the division of bourgeois society which
creates and perpetuates the division of languages in order to maintain its

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

language, then, there is some hope to redress the balance of

power in that, as Barthes claims, to change language is to change
society itself.
In his analysis, then, Fairclough focuses on the way language
is used to impose or destabilise power. First of all, Fairclough
distinguishes between power in discourse (which for example
can be observed in unequal encounters such as police
officer/witness or doctor/patient amongst others., and which
ought to be carefully analysed, especially in those encounters
where non-powerful people have a cultural and linguistic
background different from that of those in power), and power
behind discourse (which is for example at work in the
standardisation process of Received Pronunciation and British
English and the prescriptions it entails, with the consequent
stigmatisation of other forms which are perceived as deviant, an
aspect particularly important in the discussion of Black Britain).
According to Fairclough, when conventions (for example in
turn-taking) are routinely drawn upon in discourse, they come to
embody ideological assumptions which then come to be seen as
mere common-sense and which finally contribute to sustaining
existing power relations. It therefore appears clear that ideology
as colonial and colonialist literature, media discourse and the
discourse of history amongst others, have amply demonstrated
is most effective when its workings are less visible, that is when
ideologies are brought to discourse not as explicit elements of the
text but, as in texts such as Defoes Robinson Crusoe (1719) or
power. To the stability society thus achieves there corresponds, in fact, the
repression of all other representations of Reality (which are discredited,
proposed as deviant from the normal/natural and made, precisely, into an
acratic language), and it is for this reason that, according to Barthes, the
origin of the individuals alienation is to be found in our cultural institutions:
under this total culture which is proposed to the subject by the institutions, it
is his schizophrenic division which is imposed upon him every day; culture is
in this sense the pathological field par excellence, in which the alienation of
contemporary man is inscribed (1971, in Oeuvres compltes, vol. II, 1189).

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

Austens Mansfield Park (1814), as the background assumptions

which on the one hand lead the text producers to textualise the
world in a particular way, and on the other hand lead readers to
interpret the text in a particular way.
This is the reason why critical discourse analysts concentrate
on the linguistic features of discourse and closely analyse
vocabulary, grammar, punctuation (or, in spoken language,
intonation), turn-taking, types of speech act used (also in terms
of their directness or indirectness), as these elements can be
ideologically charged.
In particular, as van Dijk claims, critical discourse analysis
tries to bridge the gap between a micro-approach to the subject
(exemplified by specific linguistic analysis) and a macroapproach (focused on notions such as power, dominance and
inequality between social groups), bearing however in mind
that in everyday interaction and in many texts, the macro and
micro-level form a unified whole. For instance, a racist speech in
Parliament (such as those uttered by Enoch Powell or Margaret
Thatcher during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s), is a discourse at
the micro level of interaction but, at the same time, it may enact
the reproduction of racism at macro levels as well.
Thus, as Fairclough claims, in analysing texts the analysts
focus should constantly alternate between what is there in the
text and the discourse types the text is drawing upon, and which
to an extent can be identified with the micro and macro level
discussed above. In particular, Fairclough suggests that the
analyst should ask a series of questions in relation to the text
analysed, referring essentially to vocabulary, grammar and
textual structures25.
Despite their differences, all the disciplines briefly illustrated
above, mix and influence each other in the constitution of
discourse analysis, which could be considered an umbrella

For a detailed discussion, see Chapter 2.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

term/discipline which deals with socially situated language.

Thus, although some of the disciplines introduced supra
developed as a means of analysing spoken language, because
they partake in discourse analysis, they can be used in the
analysis of written discourse as well, and therefore have a bearing
in the study (and translation) of different textual types. What
mainly concerns us here, is that in all the disciplines introduced
above and, in general, in discourse analysis, the emphasis is on
the notion that meaning is not independent of context and that it
depends on the shared knowledge of the participants who
partake in the communicative act.
We can therefore see how the fundamental role ascribed to
context is one of the main and most fundamental changes which
have utterly revolutionised the filed of language studies in
general and, in particular, of translation. For example, to
Hymess insistence on the importance of communicative
competence for users of language in general, there corresponds
the notion of communicative translation and dynamic
equivalence, that is, according to Nida, the creation of a target
language expression which reflects the way we would say
something in the target language (Nida, 1964).
Not only this, but the study of pragmatics and speech act
theory posited a great emphasis on the notion of function and
skopos, which became fundamental in translation studies as well,
and made scholars aware of the fact that, just as in language
studies rules were abandoned in favour of pragmatic principles,
on the basis of the difficulty experienced when attempting to fix
sociocultural knowledge in rules, so in translation studies the
prescriptive approach was abandoned in favour of a more
descriptive approach aimed at the description of translation and
the identification of general principles translators should follow.
In addition, the study of adjacency pairs and the use of
discourse markers are clearly of fundamental importance for the
translator as well. Equally important are the issues of register,

Chapter 1 The Development of Language Studies

dialect etc. which the study of linguistic variation brought to the

fore. If in this instance, as in the case of interactional
sociolinguistics, the translator becomes so important, it is
because the emphasis is now placed on intercultural
communication which, as we shall see below, is what translation
is about. Finally, as the study of the language of advertising, the
language of politics and the language of postcolonial literature
certainly emphasises, the ideological issues tackled by critical
discourse analysis assume a fundamental role in translation as


Chapter 2
Discourse and its Defining Elements

As mentioned in the previous chapter, during the last half

century, the approach to the study of language underwent a
series of major changes, as scholars such as Malinowski (who
coined the expressions context of situation and context of
culture, Firth, Hymes and others began to stress the idea that in
order to decode a message correctly we have to take into
consideration both the particular situation in which the
communicative exchange takes place and the different cultural
background it stems from. This communicative act can also be
referred to as discourse, which we can define in two distinct but
interrelated ways. Discourse can in fact be understood both as
language in use and (perhaps implicitly), as language as
Clearly, these two definitions have important consequences
and rely on notions that neither linguists nor translators can
ignore. For instance, a definition of discourse as language in use,
namely the way language is used, both in the written and spoken
codes, clearly implies the notion of context (both cultural and
situational). Furthermore, by stating that discourse is language
as communication, that is the way we communicate in the
spoken and written codes, we implicitly refer to the purposes for
which we speak and write. As a consequence, this definition of
discourse clearly relies on the notion of function discussed


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

2.1.The Context of Situation

The context gives the receiver a framework within which s/he
can interpret what is said or written. Language, in fact, is clearly
influenced by various sociocultural aspects. As such, the general
meaning of a text must be understood in a pragmatic sense, that
is, taking into account not only the senders intentions, but also
important variables such as the people who take part in the
communicative act, the topic, the setting and so on.
For example, as Ulrych notes (1992), the sentence He
delivered the punch, is ambiguous, unless we know the
circumstances (both verbal and non-verbal) in which it was
uttered. The interpretation of the words delivered and punch
depends in fact on the context, and whether the speaker/writer is
for example referring to a man working in a supermarket who
has delivered some punch (understood as a type of drink) to
someones house, or whether s/he is referring for example to a
boxing match.
A text could therefore be understood as a web of relations
which assign each other meaning and which can therefore be
interpreted only if they are put in relation to one another. This
notion, then, might be seen as related to the notion of system
originally posited by the structuralists (in the wake of Saussure).
From this perspective, language might therefore be considered as
a system aimed at producing meanings: a semantic system in
which meanings are expressed both by grammar and vocabulary.
It would be up to Halliday to further elaborate the notion of
system. In actual fact, the scholar would define his whole theory
as systemic, that is to say,
a theory of meaning as choice, by which language, or any other
semiotic system, is interpreted as networks of interlocking
options [...] starting with the most general features and
proceeding step by step so as to become evermore specific: a
message is either about doing, or about thinking, or about being;


Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

if it is about doing, this is either plain action or action on

something [etc.] (Halliday, 1994, XXVI).

Systemic theory, then, is a theory of meaning as choice,

according to which language can be interpreted as a series of
networks of interlocking options (either this or that). According
to Halliday, each point in the systemic network always specifies
an environment (that is, the choices already made) and a set of
possibilities of which one is to be chosen (1994, xxvi-vii), and
these two elements together constitute a system. By using the
notion of system as a functional paradigm, Halliday developed it
into the formal construct of a systemic network. Language, says
Halliday, is a special kind of system in that it refers, as suggested
below, to the sociocultural environment speakers live in.
Language, then, might be said to be a social activity in two
senses: it is related to the social system which we often define as
a synonym of culture (understood here as a system of meanings),
and, simultaneously, it is also concerned with the relationship
with the social structure (understood here as one aspect of the
social system). It therefore appears clear that Halliday mainly
relates language to the social structure, and although he does not
dismiss other approaches (such as Chomskys psychological
interpretation of language as a process of the human mind), he
tries to explain linguistic phenomena mainly from the social
point of view.
Proceeding with a general outline of his theory, Halliday states
that discourse analysis usually aims at two achievements:
understanding the text and evaluating the text and its
effectiveness. As we shall see below, this last goal is achieved by
interpreting not only the text itself, but also the context of
culture it stems from, the context of situation it posits itself in,
and the systemic relationship between context and text.
As mentioned above, the distinction between context of
culture and context of situation was first made by the
anthropologist Malinowski who, having spent a long time

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

studying the culture of a group of South Pacific islanders, found

it difficult to illustrate his findings to an English-speaking
audience without referring both to the general cultural
background from which it stemmed (the context of culture) and
to the immediate situation in which a particular utterance
occurred (which he termed the context of situation).
The context of situation might be said to coincide with the
extratextual context of the text, and points to the fact that, in
order to interpret a message correctly, we must understand both
linguistic and situational clues, identifying with precision the
communicative environment of the text itself.
This, basically, is the implication of Jakobsons model of
communication (which could perhaps be considered the first
model of the context of situation), according to which, as we
have seen in the first chapter, the meaning of a message resides
not in a single factor of the speech act, but in the total act of
Knowing the context of situation thus implies interpreting
language appropriately in relation to the social context, thereby
acquiring what Hymes calls communicative competence, which
means that the speaker knows when to speak, when not and [...]
what to talk about with whom, when, where and in what
manner (1972, 277).
In order to identify correctly the context of situation, then, we
ought to bear in mind a set of variables which, to an extent,
might be compared to the various components which make up a
Already in 1950 J.R. Firth who developed many of the
notions on which Hallidays theory is based, referring to human
linguistic behaviour as a network of relations between people,
things and events focused on the context of situation and in an
attempt to further develop Malinowskis study of the relationship
between language use and the context of situation, identified the
following components:

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

The participants (including their role and status)

Their verbal and non-verbal actions
The relevant objects and events
The effects of the verbal actions

A couple of decades later, Hymes (1972) provided another

componential analysis of any situational context, identifying:

The participants
The message form
The message content
The setting
The medium of communication
The intent of communication
The effect of communication
The tone
The genre
The norms of interaction

Finally, House (1981) elaborated a contextual model of

translation and identified a series of dimensions which
appeared particularly useful to compare source text and target
text in translation:
Dimensions of language user:
Geographical origin
Social class
Dimensions of language use:
Medium (written, spoken, written to be spoken)
Participation (dialogue, letter, etc.)
Social role relationship (authority, friendliness, etc.)
Social attitude (from frozen to intimate)
Province (field of topic namely whether we are dealing
with a part of a film, or a play, poetry, quarrel...) 1.

In her analysis of the German translation of Sean O Caseys play The

End of the Beginning (1977), in which the geographical origin and the social

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

2.1.1. Registers
The relevance accorded by House to such variables as
geographical origin, social class, social role relationship and
social attitude amongst others, clearly raises the issue of dialects
and registers.

attitude appear particularly significant, she emphasises how the translation

fails to convey some of the essential features of the source text. These appear
evident from the very beginning of the text:
DARRY: I forgot. Ill have to get going.
BARRY: Get going at what?
DARRY: House-work. I dared her, an she left me to do the work of the
house while she was mowing the meadow. If it isnt done when she comes
back, then sweet good-bye to the status I had in the home. (getting into overall)
Dih, dih, dih, wheres the back n wheres the front, n which is which is the
bottom n which is the top?
BARRY: Take it quietly, take it quietly, Darry.
DARRY: Take it quietly? An the time galloping by? I cant stand up on a
chair n say to the sun, stand thou still there, over the meadow the missus is
moving, can I?
House begins by analysing the text syntactically, lexically and textually,
and proceeds by identifying the various dimensions she inserted in her model.
Thus, the geographical origin is described as Hiberno-English; because of
the presence of dialectical elements, the social class is recognised as Irish
lower class, and the time is defined as contemporary. As to the dimension of
the language use, she highlights that the text is written to be acted, that it
consists of a simple dialogue; that the two interlocutors are two friends
(which explains why the next dimension, that is, social attitude, might be
described as casual/intimate and mock-formal), and that, of course, the
province is to be identified with a part of an Irish comedy. In the German
translation of the play, however, no attempt is made to find a corresponding
geographical dialect, the mock formal level is not respected and the folk-play
element of the source text is not represented. As a consequence of the
omission of such features as dialect and deliberate affectedness, according to
House the humorous element of the play is lost, which means that the goal of
the play (i.e. entertaining the audience) has been, to some extent,

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

Indeed, as we assume that every speech act is addressed to

someone (in that even a monologue can be intended to be
addressed to the speaker him/herself), it is clear that the
definition of context is closely connected not only to the person
who produces the message, but also to the person who receives
Consequently, if, as Duff claims in Translation, context is the
what, where and to whom of our communication (1989, 20),
the register coincides with the how of our linguistic expression,
that is, the way in which speakers/writers express themselves in
particular contexts of situation. Although often registers and
dialects are analysed as independent entities in relation to the
context, here it seems coherent to include their discussion in the
chapter dedicated to the analysis of context, as they are, in fact,
determinant factors of the context of situation.
Indeed, according to Halliday, the way language is used in
particular social contexts can be looked at in terms of diatypes or
registers. Because speakers use registers to say different things
and to express different meanings according to the kind of social
activity they are engaging in, registers tend to reflect
conventionally-accepted types of discourse which differ from one
another mainly in terms of vocabulary and grammar. In
Language, Context and Text (1985), Halliday and Hasan
distinguish three main variables which determine register:
Field, which refers to the subject matter and the nature of the
activity. We can therefore speak of technical, scientific and
legal registers, the language of sports and so on, depending on
the activity the participants engage in. The field of discourse
therefore comprises the event which is taking place, the spatial
and temporal setting, the participants, what they know and
what they believe.
Tenor, which indicates the social relationships existing
between those involved in terms of power and status. The
tenor of discourse, then, can express the attitude of the author

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

of the message (detached, tentative, committed etc.), and it

might be expressed by a number of linguistic devices. For
instance, the authors hedging (that is, his/her cautious
attitude), can find expression in passive constructions such as
it has been reported that...; verbs such as allege, assume,
believe, expect, fear, suppose, presume, suggest etc.
and attitudinal adverbs such as admittedly, certainly,
doubtfully, evidently etc. In addition, we can speak of
formal, neutral or informal registers, according to the
relationship (social, psychological and intellectual) that exists
between the participants in the communicative event. Clearly,
when translating from English into Italian and vice-versa, we
ought to ensure that all the grammatical and lexical features of
the text belong to the same level of formality2.
Mode, which concerns how language is being used, the
organisation of the text etc. From this perspective, we can talk
about a particular genre (lecture, lyric, essay) and the channel
through which the communicative event takes place, both in
terms of medium (spoken language, written language, written
to be spoken) and of instrumentality (phone, tape, telex, fax,
It therefore appears clear that belonging to a culture, for
Halliday and Hasan, entails constructing in our minds a model
of the context of situation (1985, 28), assigning it to a field, a
tenor and a mode, thereby noting what is going on, recognising

For instance, the sentences below illustrate how differently the same idea
would be put across according to the different levels of formality:
Visitors should make their way at once to the upper floor by way of the
Visitors should go up the stairs at once
Would you mind going upstairs right way, please?
Time you went upstairs, now
Up you go, chaps (Scaglione, 2004).

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

the personal relationships involved and seeing what is being

achieved by language.
As Halliday and Hasan state in Cohesion in English,
If a passage hangs together as a text, it will display a consistency
of register. In other words the texture involves more than the
presence of semantic relations [...] it involves some degree of
coherence in the actual meaning expressed: not only or even
mainly in the content, but in the total section from the semantic
resources of the language, including the various socio-personal
and expressive components the moods, the modalities,
intensities, and other forms of the intrusion of the speaker into
the speech situation (1976, 23).

A misreading of the register might thus lead to incongruities in

spite of a general similarity in the semantic field, and if this
appears fundamental when we are acting within a monolingual
context, where only native speakers are involved, it becomes
even more important in situations where English is used as a
lingua franca or as a second language, or where translation is
When faced with particular contexts of situation in which the
difference of register results fundamental, the translator should,
for both Halliday and House, strive to maintain the situational
and cultural context by matching the variables found in the
source text in the target text. Hence, although the attempt to
respect the original context should not lead to a mere
transposition from one language into the other3, the translator
can make decisions as to the terminology to be adopted and how
information should be presented for example from a

In fact, the structures used in the target language (active/passive forms,

for example) will not always match the source language; the level of
formality/informality cannot always be maintained unaltered in source
language and target language, and the target language will not always follow
the same information structure displayed by the source language.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

grammatical point of view (corresponding to Hallidays field);

the level of formality or informality to be respected
(corresponding to Hallidays tenor); the way information is
organised and conveyed (Hallidays mode); whether to make an
effort to match the social distance existing between two
interlocutors (Houses social attitude); or try and maintain the
regional inflections present in the source language (Houses
geographical origin) etc.
Thus, a register could not only be defined as a sub-code of a
particular language identified on the basis of how often certain
lexico-grammatical features appear in a particular variety of text,
but also, as Halliday, McIntosh and Stevens postulated as early
as 1964, that language varies as its function varies and that it
differs in different situations. It is precisely this variety of
language that the scholars named, precisely, register.
2.1.2. Dialects
Register, then, which can be identified as a diaphasic variety of
language, is related to, but very different from, those sub-codes
we call dialects, which relate to both the diatopic varieties of
language (that is, geographical dialects, regional variations
and/or languages spoken by ethnolinguistic minorities) and the
diastratic varieties of language, which for example account for
various jargons such as the language of youth or the differences
between language as used by men and language as used by
women. Indeed, whereas registers refer to the way individuals
use language in particular contexts of situation, dialects relate to
characteristics which are inherent in users of language
themselves, and unlike registers they generally differ in
phonetics, phonology, vocabulary and occasionally grammar, but
not in semantics. Dialects can therefore be said to say the same
thing differently, as dialectical features can identify a user of
language in terms of his/her place of birth, class, education,
gender and age. For instance, in English we can identify various

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

kinds of sub-dialects according to which aspect is most clearly

expressed through a particular language variety:
the standard dialect, which is defined in terms of
intelligibility (but not necessarily prestige) and relies on the
standardisation process enacted by various institutions such as
education, the media etc. As I will clarify below, in Italian
there is no such thing as a standard dialect, as there are many
different regional variations. The rendering of English
dialectical features therefore can be a very challenging task for
Italian translators who, before making a decision regarding
which dialect to adopt, ought to analyse the context of culture
very carefully both in the source text and the target text,
taking into account the receivers of their work;
the idiolect, which expresses an individuals personality and
refers to the speech habits peculiar to a person. The idiolect
therefore accounts for favourite lexical items, pronunciation
and/or grammatical features characteristic of a speakers/writers
linguistic productions;
the temporal dialect, which enables readers/listeners to
assign a text to a particular period. This dialect therefore
identifies texts both on the basis of their place in history
(certain forms, for example, are now considered archaic, and
certainly some others have ceased to exist altogether), and in
the span of the speakers/writers life, in so far as, for example,
we do not speak at fifty as we did at fifteen. To an extent,
then, this dialect points to the developments of language from
Anglo-Saxon to contemporary standard English, via infinite
intermediate degrees such as Old English, Middle English and
Modern English. At the same time, it also refers to
phenomena such as the language of children (often
characterised by paratactic structures, short sentences,
particular lexical choices and so on), and the language of
youth. The latter has often attracted the attention of scholars
and linguists such as Berruto (1987) and Radtke (1993),

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

especially for its contribution to the creation of new terms and

expressions in the standard language. This area is of particular
relevance for translators, who should be aware of the defining
features of this jargon which is characterised by diatopic and
diaphasic (as well as diastratic) variables both in the source
language and in the target language. In particular, translators
should always bear in mind some of the characteristics of the
language of youth, such as the rapidity of change (essentially
determined by the constant change of the users)4; the
heterogeneity of the group, mainly determined by variables
such as the users age, the place where they socialise (school,
pub, club etc.), their cultural experience (students from high
school, from secondary-school, uneducated youth etc.); and
their attitude in relation to music, cinema, television, fashion,
sport and so on; the lexical innovations youth introduce into
the standard language, in particular the way they form
neologisms (using metaphors; abbreviations; acronyms; lexical
borrowings; ironic use of formal/Latin/learned expressions;
euphemisms; technical words; hyperbolic expressions and the
words and expressions they might borrow from other jargons
such as the army jargon, the criminal jargon, the sexual jargon
the (intranational) geographical dialect, which enables
readers/listeners to identify the speakers/writers place of origin.
Clearly, in rendering an English text into Italian, translators
ought to bear in mind that the diatopic varieties of Italian
(including geographical dialects and regional variations) are more
complex than English. For instance, besides cases such as
historical ethnolinguistic varieties such as Ladin (spoken in
some parts of Trentino Alto Adige and Friuli), we can identify
three broad types of dialects: Northern, Tuscan and Centre4

This holds true also in relation to cultural referents which can clearly
change over the years, thus rendering obsolete certain translations.

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

Southern dialects. Each of these dialects, however, articulates

itself in many other sub-varieties, which are characterised by
specific morphosyntactical, lexical, and phonological features5;
the (international) geographical dialect, which accounts
for the spread of English as an international language and the
various syntactical, morphological, lexical and phonological
characteristics which distinguish the various englishes of the
world. This dialect, then, obviously comprises American,
Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Indian, South African,
South Asian and Caribbean English, but also the many
pidgins and creoles which have developed in contact zones6.

The translator willing to use a dialect will therefore have to study the
context of situation of the source text in depth (for example, on the basis of
Houses model introduced above), and make a decision as to the most
effective dialect to be used in the target text. The importance of the
translators choice is for instance exemplified by D.H. Lawrences translation
of Giovanni Vergas stories and his attempt to convey the flavour of the
Sicilian dialect used by the Italian author by resorting to the Nottinghamshire
dialect. Indeed, Lawrence realised that there were many similarities between
Vergas Sicilian and Nottinghamshire communities, as in both life seemed for
example based on love, violence and the surrounding physical reality. Thus,
he thought that some peculiar features of the Nottinghamshire idiom might
adequately represent some of the features of the Sicilian language used by
Verga. And in fact, although sometimes Lawerences translations reveal the
inadequacy of his knowledge of the Sicilian language and society, he manages
to create, in the words George Hyde used, an idiom, that is rooted in dialect
as Vergas Italian was rooted in Sicilian peasant speech without actually
positing itself as a transcription of any particular dialect (1981, 36). In his
attempt to be as faithful as possible to the source text, then, Lawrence would
render the original Voi ne valete cento delle Lole, e conosco uno che non
guarderebbe la gn Lola, n il suo santo, quando ci siete voi (Verga, 1942,
181) with Youre worthy twenty Lolas. And I know somebody as wouldnt
look at Mrs. Lola, nor at the saint shes named after, if you was by (Verga,
1928, 34).
Whereas a pidgin remains a contact language to which speakers of
different languages resort in order to communicate, a creole is a pidgin

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Clearly, in this case as well, translators ought to take into

account the linguistic and sociological/cultural implications of
particular choices. For example, in the case of texts stemming
from the once-colonised world, it is important to consider that
the recourse to particular substandard forms of English is
often identified with an attempt, on the authors part, to assert
their identity and the identity of the country they stand for
against colonial and neo-colonial powers.
Thus, the emphasis Tonkin puts on the necessity of respecting
the original text, for example by making an effort to convey
phenomena such as code-mixing (when words from another
language or dialects are inserted in the text) and codeswitching (when more substantial elements such as whole
clauses or phrases are imported from another language,
leading to the incorporation within the text of grammatical
aspects of the language), therefore appears essential (Tonkin,
1993, 188). These strategies which we shall analyse in more
detail in the third chapter actually become fundamental
tools for the affirmation of the characters identity, usually
setting a third-person narrator (who generally expresses
him/herself in standard English), in opposition to the
characters, who stand for both the author him/herself and the
community s/he belongs to. Ignoring such peculiarities would
therefore mean to nullify the authors effort and halve the
impact of the texts themselves. Translators, then, should
always be aware of the fact that the difficulties presented by
texts such as these are never simply linguistic. As a
consequence, unless the translator can actually understand the
origin and the ideological bearing of certain lexical/syntactical
choices, the translation will suffer enormously.

language which has developed into the mother-tongue of a specific


Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

the social dialect, which enables readers/listeners to identify

speakers/writers social origin, on the basis of their affiliation
to a particular social class. Here again, translators ought to be
aware of a profound difference between English and Italian, in
that although there are of course differences in the level of
education, the diastratic component linked to education is
often assimilated to diaphasic varieties of the language,
according to which we can identify popular and educated
registers. What is referred to as italiano popolare was
recognised by Spitzer (1921) at the beginning of the twentieth
century as typical of the letters by soldiers fighting in the First
World War and became an object of study during the 1970s
thanks primarily to De Mauro (1970) and Cortelazzo (1972),
who defined it as the Italian which is learned at school by
people whose mother-tongue is a particular dialect. As
defined by these scholars, italiano popolare is thus a variety
of Italian heavily marked by substandard morphosyntactic
structures which render it rather unique, while sharing some
lexical and textual features with colloquial varieties of Italian.
In spite of the fact that, according to Coveri, Benucci et. al.,
characteristics such as invariable adjective used with an
adverbial function (gli voglio bene uguale, rather than
ugualmente); simplification of the paradigm of possessive
adjectives and pronouns (suo instead of loro) and
accumulation of prepositions (presso a delle famiglie instead
of presso delle famiglie), to cite but a few, generally speaking
in Italy it is impossible to identify a particular social class from
the way a person speaks. Thus, whereas in Great Britain the
proverb tell me how you speak and I will tell you who you
are (in terms of your provenance from a particular social
class) seems to hold true, in Italy it should be more likely
changed to tell me how you speak and I will tell you where
you come from. Indeed, in Italy, the social component (even
that linked to education) often intermingles with other (often

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

geographical) parameters. Thus, although a strong regional

accent usually identifies the lower social classes, it is also true
that, at the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the so-called
italiano regionale colto medio, that is, a regional and
educated variety of Italian typical of the middle classes as well
(see Berruto, 1987). When called to translate texts which, in
English, are clearly the product of members of a particular
social class, translators should therefore consider the many
and fundamental differences between source and target
language and adopt a suitable strategy in order to convey the
kind of implications intrinsic in the original choice of a social
the genderlect, which identifies the various features
1distinguishing womans language from mans language.
According to Tannen, for instance, women speak essentially
to maintain their independence, while men use language to
establish intimacy (1992, 26). Coates also investigates the
lexicogrammatical choices made by men and women,
suggesting that women tend to use more minimal responses,
are less prone to interrupt their interlocutors and generally use
modal adverbial and verb forms such as perhaps, I think
and probably, more often. In addition, whereas men usually
engage in floor-holding, while the other men remain generally
silent, women tend to join in and construct a cooperative
discourse. As a result, as Coates observes, in mixed-sex
conversations this fundamental difference can create the
impression that women keep interrupting mans discourse.
This, however, is not actually the case, and in fact
observations show that in reality it is men who do most of the
(real) interrupting.
Clearly, in the case of genderlect as well, translators ought to
find a way to convey the flavour which, in the source text,
might be created by the use of this specific variety. This is
particularly true in highly politicised texts such as feminist

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

works or the writings stemming from the postcolonial world.

For instance, there is a whole series of works which subscribe
to a theory of feminine writing, that is, the idea that feminine
writing drastically differs from masculine writing precisely
because it originates in womens different biology. This is for
example the case with Hlne Cixous, whose whole work is
centred on the notion of the female body as the site of
womans writing, and whose theorisation not only
fundamentally relies on the biological distinction between the
sexes, but also supports the patriarchal description of woman
proposing it as natural. Similarly, Luce Irigarays Spculum
de lautre femme and Ce sexe qui nest pas un also fail in their
aim to subvert patriarchal discourse precisely because they fall
back into essentialism and, in their attempt to define woman,
basically reinforce the patriarchal discourse they are trying to
Indeed, despite the contempt for the phallocratic Freud and
his theory of feminine inferiority deterministically based on
womans anatomy7, these theories offer the same explanations
he gave for the difficulties he had encountered in his research
on womans sexual development. In fact, Irigarays positing of
a language specific to woman what she calls le parler
femme (woman speak), which emerges when women speak
together seems a repetition of Freuds explanation of the
impossibility of answering the question What does a woman
want? (in Jones, 1955, 468). These theories therefore confirm
precisely the type of definition of woman which they
simultaneously deny, and it is exactly this essentialism and the
emphasis placed on the pre-Oedipal as opposed to the
Symbolic, and on what Nin called the music of the womb as

In Freuds theory, the determinant factor is that the leading sexual organ
in little girls is the clitoris which, being perceived as a small penis, obliges the
young female to define herself in relation to the larger male penis and to
perceive herself as inferior (1924, 320; 1925, 3357; 1931, 376).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

opposed to logic, that has often been contested, for example

by British author Christine Brooke-Rose (1991). In fact, the
very concept of a feminine specificity is questionable to say
the least, especially in consideration of the fact that
characteristics such as fluidity, open endings, circular
structures (often indicated as typical of feminine writing),
are also found in male writers such as James Joyce.
And yet, whether carefully constructed by the feminist authors
who champion this view or naturally occurring in the real life
of real speaking/writing subjects, the language resorted to by
many women (whether critics, artists, journalists or, simply,
women) tend to assume particular idiosyncrasies to which
the translator should be attentive and should obviously try to
convey. In particular, translators should bear in mind that
although certain features of genderlect might be international
and interlinguistic, others might not be considered so. For
instance, the Italian sociolinguists Attili and Benigni (1979)
emphasise the fact that feminine interaction is generally more
oriented towards the interpersonal aspects of the conversation
and the relationships between speakers, and Cortese and
Potest (1987) claim that feminine discourse is characterised
by the presence of many polite formulae and, in a similar vein
to Coates, by the presence of hesitation and attenuation
forms. However, the tendency of women to prefer
euphemisms and hyperboles, particular adverbs and
modifiers, diminutives and affectionate appellations, and to
use a smaller vocabulary, less taboo words and less technical
terms, is a primary concern of the Italian sociolinguists
Coveri, Benucci et al., but does not appear as central in the
description made by their British counterparts.
Clearly enough, the choice as to whether or not to use a dialect,
depends on the context of situation as exemplified for instance
by politicians using expressions from a particular dialect typical
of the region they are delivering their speeches in or, as we shall

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

see below, adverts where we can find more than one inter or
intra geographical dialect on the function of our act of
2.1.3. The Notion of Function
Actually, according to Halliday, the components of meaning in
language are, fundamentally, functional. Indeed, in the opening
page of his An Introduction to Functional Grammar, he explains
that the conceptual framework on which his grammar is based is
a functional one rather than a formal one. By this, he means
It is functional in the sense that it is designed to account for how
the language is used. Every text that is everything that is said
or written unfolds in some context of use; furthermore, it is
the uses of language that, over tens of thousands of generations,
have shaped the system. Language has evolved to satisfy human
needs; and the way it is organised is functional with respect to
these needs [...] Following from this, the fundamental
components of meaning in language are functional components
[...] Thirdly, each element in a language is explained by
reference to its function in the total linguistic system. In this
third sense, therefore, a functional grammar is one that
construes all units of language its clauses, phrases and so on
as organic configurations of functions. In other words, each part
is interpreted as functional with respect to the whole [...] In a
functional grammar [...] a language is interpreted as a system of
meanings, accompanied by forms through which the meanings
can be realised (1994).

By stating that the components of meaning are functional,

Halliday thus emphasises that language is as it is because it has
to perform certain tasks. Because speakers generally use
languages for various purposes, it is impossible to identify one
particular utterance with a specific function. Yet, it is possible to


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

identify what Halliday in 1994 called metafunctions8, that is

semantic macro-functions which correspond to the abstract

These can be seen as a re-elaboration of the functions identified by

Jakobson. Indeed, according to him, depending which of the factors he
posited in his Model of communication is given emphasis in the act of
communication, the act will be said to have a different function. The linguistic
act is therefore said to have: an emotive function when emphasis is given to
the sender of the message, which means that this function aims at expressing
the speakers/writers attitudes towards the topic s/he is talking/writing about;
a conative (or persuasive) function, if it focuses on the receiver in the attempt
to obtain certain results from him/her. Since the conative function is
concerned with interpersonal relationships, its most explicit expression
coincides with the use of the imperative and the vocative forms; a referential
(or informational/denotative) function, when the attention is focused on the
context (that it, the referent or topic of the message). This is clearly a primary
function, in that it is used to exchange information; a poetic function, when
attention is given to the message itself (the form in which it is realised, the
sign). Although the adjective poetic clearly brings to mind poetry and
poems, the poetic function can characterise prose texts as well, and can, for
instance, be adopted in particular advertisements or other discourses which
emphasise rhythm, musicality, and figurative expressions; a phatic function,
if the focus is on establishing, maintaining or interrupting a contact between
the sender and the receiver of the message. This function refers to all those
expressions the sender uses in order to make sure that the receiver of the
message is either physically able to receive the message (on the telephone or
during a lecture, for instance, we can ask can you hear me? or, if we have
sent a fax, we could wonder whether our interlocutor can actually read our
message), or conceptually apt to follow what is being said/written (do you
follow me?, can you understand? and similar expressions). In addition, it
refers to all those expressions with which the sender can open or protract the
communicative act (Hi, listen, look, are you ok?, cold, isnt it?, always
rushing around, eh? etc.); a metalinguistic function, when the focus is on
the code, that is, when we talk about language itself and the way it works.
This is for example the case with language classes and it is typical of verbal
codes, in so far as, in order to talk about themselves, even non-verbal codes
must resort to verbal ones (for example, when we explain a road sign using
verbal language).

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

representations of the purposes which language is required to

As we read in An Introduction to Functional Grammar,
according to Halliday,
All languages are organised around two main kinds of meaning,
the ideational or reflective, and the interpersonal or active.
These components, called metafunctions in the terminology of
the present theory, are the manifestations in the linguistic system
of the two very general purposes which underlie all uses of
language: (i) to understand the environment (ideational), and
(ii) to act on others in it (interpersonal). Combined with these is
a third metafunctional component, the textual, which breathes
relevance into the other two (1994).

The ideational function of language, then, is used to

understand the environment. In this instance, language performs
a referential function: through this function the speaker/writer
commits to language his/her knowledge of the world, naming
and describing things in the environment. We could therefore
say that this is language for information, as it is used to express
The interpersonal function, on the contrary, is used to act
on others in the environment. In this case, language is used to
express the speakers meaning potential, expressing his/her own
beliefs, attitudes and evaluations and seeking to influence others
attitudes and behaviours. This is language for interaction, as it is
used to define the relationship between the speaker/writer and
his/her addressee, focusing in particular on the role the users of
language involved in the speech act adopt according to whether
they are persuading, informing, questioning and so on.
Finally, Halliday identifies a third function, namely the
textual one, which is instrumental to the previous two and
ensures that what is said/written is relevant and relates to its
context. This function therefore represents the speakers/writers
potential for forming the text into a coherent and cohesive entity

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

and expresses the relation of the language to its immediate verbal

and situational environment9.
Further to the emphasis on the function and the situational
context a communicative act stems from, the neo-Firthian
approach to word meaning, of which the theroris introduced
supra are an example, also suggests that the meaning of a word is
as much a matter of how the word combines textually with other
words (that is to say its collocations)10, as any inherent
properties of meaning that words have on their on account.

In his discussion, Halliday relates the metafunctions he identified with other

aspects of the grammar of the language used. Thus, according to Halliday, the
ideational function is represented by transitivity (which relates to the way
various processes of the surrounding reality are interpreted and expressed)
and has a systemic relationship with field; the interpersonal function are
represented by mood (the speakers/writers selection of a particular role in
the communicative event and his/her determination of the choice of roles for
the addressee) and modality (the expression of the speakers/writers
evaluations and predictions), and is connected through a systemic relationship
to tenor; and the textual function is represented by theme structures
(which shall be discussed in detail below and which express the way the
message is organised) and is connected to mode.
The term collocation was coined by the British linguist J.R. Firth in
1957 to call attention to the fact that certain words usually go together and
indicates the occurrence of two or more words within a short space of each
other (Sinclair, 1991, 170). From a psychological point of view, then, a word
acquires certain associations on account of the meanings of words which tend
to occur in its environment (Leech, 1974, 20), and the interrelation of these
two kinds of collocation enables readers/speakers to consider a specific
collocation either usual or unusual, although this clearly depends also on
register, style and genre. In fact, according to Firth, we can distinguish
between general collocations (which are considered more usual) and more
technical or personal collocations (as a rule, more restricted) (Firth, 1957,
195). In addition, collocations might be fixed or allow for a certain degree of
variation. Proverbs, sayings, quotations and idioms are, generally speaking,
fixed collocations, although apart from irreversible binominals such as
bread and butter, ups and downs etc., there might be a certain level of
internal lexical variation (Sinclair, 1991, 111). At the other end of the
spectrum, on the contrary, we find what Carter calls unrestricted

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

2.2.The Co-Text
The notion of collocation and, as a consequence, the broader
notion of the linguistic surrounding of a particular linguistic item
in a given text, can also be defined as a different kind of context,
namely the co-text, that is to say the linguistic context of the
text, that which enables readers to identify all the elements of the
text from a morphosyntactic point of view and to appreciate the
relationship existing between one element of the text and all the
others. Given these premises, it appears therefore evident that
the notion of co-text heavily relies on the idea of cohesion.
2.2.1. The Notion of Cohesion
Cohesion occurs when the interpretation of some elements in the
discourse is dependent on that of others. Cohesion is thus a
relational concept, but in a similar way to all components of the
semantic system, it is realised through the lexicogrammatical
system of language.
Cohesion accounts for the relations in discourse one
element is interpreted by reference to another; this means that in
order to interpret something we have to refer elsewhere, to the
context of an utterance/sentence, understood here as the co-text
of our text. For instance, as Halliday and Hasan exemplify in

collocations, according to which a lexical item can attach itself to a wide

range of other items. The knowledge of whether a collocation is usual or
unusual is, according to Hymes (1971), part of a native speakers competence.
Thus, even though a person might decide to use an unusual collocation for
dramatic, poetic or humorous effect, this choice still relies on what would be
normally considered an usual collocation. As Partington notes, for instance,
Dylan Thomass poetic inventions all the sun long and all the moon long
depend for their effect on the more usual all day long and all night long. Yet, as
Carter observes, even native speakers will not always totally agree on whether
a collocation is acceptable or unacceptable (1987, 55), thereby leaving the
possibility open to speakers/writers to create personal collocations by adapting
what are considered fixed collocations.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

their Cohesion in English (1976), in order to interpret a sentence

such as he said so, we have to link it up with some other
passages in which there is an indication of who he is and what
he said (Halliday and Hasan, 1976, 11). Cohesion might
therefore be provided by what is left out of the text.
We could therefore say that cohesion (grammatical or lexical)
could be defined as the means whereby elements that are
structurally unrelated to one another are semantically linked
together. Because some forms of cohesion are realised through
the grammar and others through the vocabulary, as we read in
Cohesion in English, we can talk about:
1. Grammatical Cohesion
The simplest and most general forms of cohesive grammatical
relation are reference and conjoining.
a) Reference: the information to be retrieved is the referential
meaning. We can talk about anaphoric reference, when the
information to be retrieved appears beforehand within the text
(for example: That woman is called Jane. She is Peters
sister), and cataphoric reference, when we have a sort of
clue within the text, whose meaning that is to say the
element it refers to will become clear only afterwards (for
example: I gave it back to Celia, the bike I borrowed).
Within these two major categories, we can also identify three
different types of reference:
personal reference (that is, reference by means of the
category of person speaker, addressee, other person etc.:
I, you, me, mine, my, he...);
demonstrative reference (that is, reference by means of
location, on a scale of proximity this, these, that, those,
here, there);
comparative reference (that is, indirect reference by
means of identity or similarity same, identical, equal,
better, more..., so.., less...).


Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

b) Conjunctions/connectives
Addition connectives (and) Mary entered the room
and sat at her desk;
Opposition connectives (but, yet) That decision
brought about several problems, but it was worthwhile;
Cause connectives (therefore, hence, thus) John had
been missing for five weeks. As a result of his enquiries, the
Inspector was convinced he had left the country (Halliday
and Hasan, 1976, 231).
Time connectives (then) O Driscoll carried the ball
through the English defence and then scored a try.
c) Substitution
Noun substitutes If only I could remember where it
was that I saw someone putting away the box with those
candles in I could finish the decorations now. You mean
the little coloured ones? (Halliday and Hasan, 1976, 91).
Verb substitutes He never really succeeded in his
ambitions. He might have done, one felt, had it not been
for the restlessness of his nature (Halliday and Hasan,
1976, 113).
Clause substitutes Charlotte seems a very pleasant
young woman, said Bingley. Oh dear, yeas, but you must
own she is very plain. Lady Lucas herself has said so, and
envied me Janes beauty (Austen, Pride and Prejudice,
d) Ellipsis
Noun ellipsis Which last longer, the curved rods or the
straight rods? The straight are less likely to break (Halliday
and Hasan, 1976, 148).
Verb ellipsis Johns arrived, has he? Not yet; but
Mary has (Halliday and Hasan, 1976, 180).
Clause ellipsis ...being so many different sizes in a day
is very confusing. No, it isnt, said the Cartepillar
(Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, 1934).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

2. Lexical Cohesion
a) Repetition
Of words Henry presented her with his own portrait. As
it happened, she had always wanted a portrait of Henry
(Halliday and Hasan, 1976, 284).
Of patterns of words The people of this country know
when newspapers are lying to them. They know when the
government tries and conceal the facts.
b) Synonyms
Straightforward synonyms Yesterday I was fired. As
soon as I arrived at the office my boss gave me an envelope
and told me it was redundancy money 420.
Synonyms with word class change This travel agency
is famous for the breadth of its offers: you will be able to
choose from a very wide range of special vacations.
c) Semantically related words
Hyponyms Jane has bought herself a new skirt. She
really enjoys shopping for clothes.
Superordinates Mary has decided to change the
furniture in her flat. She has bought a new table for her
Antonyms Thats the top and bottom of it
Words relating to the same semantic field The
Forthright Building Society required, apparently, that a
borrower should sign, seal and deliver the mortgage deed in
the presence of a solicitor, so that the solicitor would sign it
as the witness (Halliday and Hasan, 1976, 284).
2.2.2. Textual Types and Genre Analysis
The notion of cohesion is, in turn, closely connected to the idea
of texture which Halliday identifies with an expression of the
textual function and which is fundamental to the identification of
a text as such.


Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

Once a text is identified as such, in fact, according to

Werlichs taxonomy, it can be categorised as descriptive (which
can then be further divided into subjective descriptions, such as
those found in narratives, newspaper articles and the like;
objective or technical descriptions such as those distinguishing
scientific texts, where impersonal constructions are often used);
as argumentative, when the text concerns the cognitive process
of evaluation and the attention is focused on the relationship
between concepts and evaluations, in particular through reelaborations, transpositions, comparisons, oppositions etc. (in
this case as well, we can talk about subjective as with
discussions, debates, interviews, commentaries, reviews and so
on and objective as with scientific arguments, demonstrations
and discussions); as narrative, which means that the text relates
to facts, events, people and their actions, and presents events in
sequential order, being therefore characterised by hierarchical
organisation and temporal differentiation (according to Mortara
Garavelli, 1988, such texts can be divided in chronological such
as biographies, diaries, chronicles, memories, historical works
and so on; coverages such as chronicles of journeys, reports of
meetings, witnesses declarations, radio or television reports etc.;
ludic as with fables, fairytales, legends, novels, jokes and so on);
as expositive, when the text relates to the cognitive processes of
the person (these texts can be further divided in analytic such
as treaties, definitions of various kinds as found in
conferences, lectures, essays, scientific reports and so on;
synthetic such as notes, diagrams, schedules, summaries,
indexes etc.; and mixed as with letters, reports and so on); as
instructive, when the text concerns the cognitive process
involved in the preparation of programs of various kinds. These
types of text are used to give orders, provide information, offer
advice and so on. They are said to have a certain amount of
pragmatic force in that they are exploited to influence the

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

addressees future behaviour. As such, they can be either public,

which are more formal and indirect, as for instance with legal
texts, users instructions, or good manners rules; or private,
more informal and direct, as in memorandums and orders.
If it is true that all these categories are rather generic, we must
take into consideration the fact that, as Coveri, Benucci et al.
emphasise (1998, 144), when these descriptions are related to
the descriptions of the channel through which communication
takes place that is, when diaphasic studies are linked to
diamesic studies the description thus obtained will be rather
precise. As Lavinio underlines, the channel of communication
determines great linguistic and textual differences even within
texts which belong to the same type or genre (1989, 57).
Clearly, translators ought to bear in mind that in various
languages these different types of texts might be characterised by
syntactical, morphological or semantic peculiarities missing in
another language.
For instance, in Italian, descriptive texts are characterised by
the use of the present or the imperfect (il cavallo correva lungo
la spiaggia mentre il sole tramontava); the use of stare to
indicate an action which has begun but has not yet finished
(stava sorridendo); the use of nominalisation processes (un
mucchio di sassi); the recourse to locatives, adjectives, special
markers, colours, numbers etc., all aspects which can clearly
relate to the target text but not necessarily to the source text.
As mentioned above, further to the type of text, we can also
identify the particular genre to which a text belongs. In order to
fully appreciate the implications of the concept of genre,
however, it would be appropriate to present an account of
Bhatias description of the parameters which distinguish
discourse analysis, because this naturally leads to an examination
of the different genres identified by various scholars.
Further to the parameters of theoretical orientation and
general-specific scale, of which my account of Werlichs

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

taxonomy is part, the other parameters identified by Bhatia focus

on the application, which defines for example the motivation of
specific genre analyses such as those mentioned above, which
have generally been applied to language teaching, in particular
the teaching of English for Special Purposes and what we refer to
a surface-deep analysis, which depends on whether, or at what
level, a thick or a thin description of the language in use is
provided (Geertz, 1973). It is precisely within the last category
identified by Bhatia that we can place:
The register analysis developed by Halliday, McIntosh and
Stevens in 1964, when named the variety of a language
distinguished on the basis of its use as register (1964, 87).
This notion, as anticipated above, therefore works as the link
between the analysis of language functions as described above
and the analysis of different genres as described below.
According to Halliday and others, registers can be identified
as different sub-codes of a particular language on the basis of
both the function performed by language in a particular
context (described, as we have seen above, in terms of field,
mode and tenor)11, and of the frequency of particular lexicogrammatical features. As Bhatia notes, however, although it is
extremely useful in its delineation of particular syntactic
properties of specific varieties of English, this kind of analysis
was seldom able to penetrate beyond surface features and
therefore failed to provide an adequate explanation of the
reason why, in specific varieties of texts, information is
structured in a particular way. This analysis could therefore
be said to produce a thin description of language which, as
Bhatia claims, falls some way short of offering an explanation
to why a particular variety takes the form it does.


This aspect would later be developed by other scholars such as Crystal

and Davy (1969) and Gustaffsson (1975).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

The functional language description which was proposed

by Selinker, Lackstrom and Trimble in 1973 and was further
elaborated on by them in 1974 and 1985, when they set out to
investigate the relationship between grammatical choices and
rhetorical functions in written English for Science and
Technology (1973, 1). Their research suggested that unlike
standard English (where the tense is chosen on the basis of
the notion of time), in English for Science and Technology
the choice depends on the notion of degree of generality, as
the present tense is often used to indicate generalisation.
Although their findings were sometimes misleading, they
nonetheless laid the basis for other work in the field12,
encouraging a shift of emphasis from a generic register of
science to specific scientific genres.
The language description as discourse developed by
Widdowson (1973), Candlin et al. (1974, 1980) and Bhatia
(1982) amongst others, which is generally referred to as
interactional analysis, and which could perhaps be described
as one of the reader-oriented analyses which began to develop
with structuralism and poststructuralism13. Finally,
the language description as explanation that is generally
referred to in terms of genre analysis proper as developed by
Swales (1981) and others. Unlike some other types of analysis
mentioned above, according to Bhatia, genre analysis (which
can be considered as one of the recent developments of

See for example Swales (1981) and Pettinari (1982).

Indeed, as Bhatia claims, discourse meaning [...] is not present in a
piece of text ready to be consumed by the reader but is negotiated by the
interactive endeavour on the part of the participants engaged in the
encounter, giving specifically appropriate values to utterances (1993,75). In
this case too, however, analysis, according to Bhatia, does not pay enough
attention to the sociocultural, institutional and organisational constraints and
expectations that shape the written genre in a particular setting, and therefore
do not provide an adequate description of particular varieties of language.


Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

discourse analysis), provides discourse analysis with

sociocultural, institutional and organisational explanations,
combining sociocultural and psycholinguistic aspects of textproduction and interpretation with linguistic insights. Because
of its aims and the means it resorts to, genre analysis (in a
similar way to translation and cultural studies) can be said to
be an interdisciplinary activity, taking advantage of findings in
linguistics, sociology, psychology and so on. By so doing,
genre analysis provides a thick description of language in use
(especially in academic and professional texts), suggesting
useful correlations between form and function.
It is actually the definition of genre given by Swales and others
that further emphasises the close link between the study of the
functions of language and the different text-types or genres. As
defined by Swales, genre corresponds in fact to
A recognisable communicative event characterised by a set of
communicative purpose(s) identified and mutually understood
by the members of the professional or academic community in
which it regularly occurs. Most often it is highly structured and
conventionalised with constraints on allowable contributions in
terms of their intent, positioning, form and functional value.
These constraints, however, are often exploited by the expert
members of the discourse community to achieve private
intentions within the framework of socially recognised
purpose(s) (Swales, 1981, quoted by Bhatia, 1993).

According to this definition, then, the communicative purposes

of the speech act determine the genre to which the text is said to
belong, and any major change in the communicative purposes is
bound to produce a different genre (as opposed to sub-genres,
which are produced by minor modifications in the purposes of
the speaker/writer). Not only this, but Swaless definition also
emphasises that although a writer enjoys a lot of freedom, s/he
nonetheless must comply to certain specifications and


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

constraints in order to produce texts which are readily

recognisable and recognised as belonging to a particular genre.
In this sense, texts must therefore satisfy certain requirements
of acceptability (as to the addressees expectations) and intertextuality that is, according to Dardano and Trifone, must share
some common traits with other texts belonging to the same
genre (1995, 53336). Hence, any violation of these constraints
will result in an oddity and in the inability to meet the receivers
expectations. As a result, as we shall see in some of the examples
provided in the following pages, the adoption or rejection of
certain conventions will be exploited in order to obtain special
effects and, as with certain journalists and reporters, impress
upon the message a particular (ideological) perspective, thereby
manipulating the readers perception of the news item reported.
It is therefore clear that the context, the function and the
register, will also determine the way we package information in
our text.
2.2.3. Information Packaging in Written Texts
The way information is structured in a text is actually a
fundamental aspect of written and spoken communication and
has been the object of study of the functional grammar
elaborated on by Halliday, whose aim is, precisely, to understand
how the linguistic system enables speakers and writers to
produce and process coherent meanings. By so doing, grammar
enables us to understand why some texts are more effective than
others at communicating information or persuading people to do
or buy something, and can help us understand the nature of
propaganda and the reasons for the success (or failure) of
political or advertising campaigns etc.
If it is true that instinctively we try to organise our message in
a way that will make it easier for our receivers to understand,
there are in fact various occasions in which we give priority to
different goals other than conveying information. A change in the

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

way we structure and package information in our text, then,

invariably entails a change in the way the information is
processed by the listener/reader14.
For example, we can say, with Halliday, that generally
thematic structure and information structure the two
interrelated systems of analysis involved in the text organisation
and the structure of a clause coincide. Thus, in an unmarked
clause, the given (that is the shared or mutual knowledge to
which the writer brings the readers attention in order to
communicate effectively), is placed at the beginning of the clause
and is followed by information which is considered new15.
This information structure of given new finds a parallel in
the unmarked thematic structure of the clause in which theme
(that is the idea represented by the constituent at the starting
point of the clause, that is the point of departure of the message)
is placed in initial position and followed by rheme, which
corresponds to the rest of the message. Thus, in an unmarked
clause, theme coincides generally with given, and rheme with
new. Usually, then, rheme has a higher communicative
dynamism than theme and keeps the interest aroused as to how
the discourse will continue.
Obviously, the requirements of syntax affect the presentation
of information. Hence, in languages with relatively free word

Although text, according to Halliday, refers to a chunk of language that

might be either spoken or written for the purpose of communication, from
now on the term text will be used to refer only to written texts, unless
otherwise stated.
As mentioned in the first chapter, as Halliday emphasises in his Spoken
and Written Language, in spoken language the distinction between Given and
New is indicated by intonation, as tonic prominence marks the culmination of
what is new in the particular information unit, thereby pointing to the
grammatical function of intonation. As also Brazil and Crystal suggest, the
speakers assumption of shared knowledge will be reflected in the choice of
tone and that the informational function of intonation is used to mark what
the speaker is treating as new).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

order such as Italian, there will be less tension between the

requirements of syntax and those of communicative functions
(Baker, 1992). Consequently, rheme might appear in very final
position, as in the sentence: Jack ha pagato il conto, e siccome
era molto caro, ha contribuito anche Mary. Thus, although the
distinction between theme and rheme can be defined as
functional, in English it generally coincides with the ordering of
subject and predicate. Usually, in fact, theme corresponds to the
first part of the clause and announces what the message is going
to be about, whereas the remainder of the clause can be
identified as the rheme. The term thematisation, then, refers to
a general tendency to arrange sentences in such a way as to draw
attention to what is communicatively important. The
organisation of theme and rheme therefore depends on the genre
of our text and its purpose, and any variation of the theme/rheme
sequence becomes, as we shall see in the following pages, a
strategic device the author exploits in order to focus the readers
attention on a particular element to the detriment of others.
Indeed, if in a news program or a newspaper article we find
rheme in thematic position, it is obvious that this is not without
(sometimes important) consequences. By being placed in
thematic position, in fact, what is in reality new information is
presented as a given, and it is assigned the status of common
knowledge, that is something that everybody is supposed to
know and, as such, to accept as common sense.
Thus, in a sentence like this:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in
possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However
little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his
first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the
minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the
rightful property of someone or other of their daughters. (Jane
Austen, 1983, 187),


Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

the obliteration of theme and the positioning of rheme in

thematic position, has vital repercussions. With these words, in
fact, Jane Austen opens one of her most renown novels, namely
Pride and Prejudice (1813), thus hinting at the basic plot which
will be developed within the text, and representing, although
very concisely, the society emblematically pictured in her novel.
The truth this quotation refers to, is actually posited as such
not only in relation to the events involving the Bennet girls, but
also in relation to the patriarchal system characteristic of the
authors society. If this is so, it is not only because of the lexical
choices made by Austen (which posit a universal truth at the very
basis of the following pages), but also because of the peculiar
structure of the opening sentence. Indeed, contrary to what
according to Halliday happens in written texts (Halliday, 1985,
73), here rheme appears in thematic position. The it we find at
the very beginning, is an empty it, which works as a dummy
subject, which means that the pronoun holds the subject position,
but simply as a sort of filler, until the real subject makes its
appearance in the sentence. The real subject of this sentence,
namely the clause that a single man in possession of a good
fortune must be in want of a wife, is therefore postponed and
can be defined as a rankshifted clause which originates an
extraposition structure, a sort of discontinuous subject which
begins with it and carries on with the rankshifted clause. Thus,
what Danes calls thematic progression namely the way in
which theme and rheme are chosen and ordered in relation to
superior text units such as paragraphs, chapters etc. (Danes,
1974, 118-20) appears extremely peculiar and does not seems
to comply with the standard structure of written English16. In
fact, given the fact that the pronoun appearing in thematic
position is an empty subject, the element that technically

See also Bloor, T. and Bloor, M. 2004 (2nd edition). The Functional
Analysis of English A Hallidayan Approach, Arnold ed., London et al., 67-68.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

represents new information is posited in reality as something that

everybody (at least within the society Austen depicts with great
irony), can take for granted.
2.2.4. Language and Ideology: Morphosyntactic and Lexical
The structure analysed just then, therefore exemplifies the fact
that information packaging is full of implications and, far from
being a simple device to convey straightforward information, has
an important bearing on the way the world is presented by the
writer and the way it is read by the reader17. Clearly enough, an
authors decision to foreground certain elements in the text
systematically is an important factor to consider also when we
are called to translate a text. Indeed, as Danes states, one of the
translators aims is to interpret the thematic progression of the
source text in relation to its overall meaning and function and
then reproduce it according to target language conventions in the
target text (1974, 11820).
There are, of course, other strategies which authors can use in
order to package information within their texts and convey
particular ideologies, which we could define as propositions that
generally figure as implicit assumptions in texts, which
contribute to producing or reproducing unequal relations of
power, relations of domination. For instance, the choice between
paratactic and hypotactic constructions18, determines the
emphasis given in the text to certain elements rather than others,

This is also extremely evident for example in commercial adverts, where

the persuasive section is written in an interactional, informal style which
heavily rely on personal pronouns (especially you and we) in theme
position, whereas the small print section displays a more formal style with a
different selection of themes as to discourage any attentive reading for this
section, with obvious advantage for the company.
Parataxis indicated that clauses are linked through coordination,
whereas hypotaxis indicates the use of subordinate constructions.

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

and can therefore be considered part of the ideological force of

the text itself. Through parataxis and hypotaxis, in fact, language
users can focus on those elements which are considered
informationally important by bringing them to the foreground,
while leaving in the background other elements which are not
only predictable or known, but are also presented as
informationally unimportant, with all the (ideological)
consequences this might have. The differences between one
sentence and another, then, are never only syntactic: in choosing
a particular structure and in deciding how to segment discourse,
writers make important decisions as to whether promote one
clause above the other and whether to place one clause before or
after another. In the former case, we talk about salience and, as
Ulrych notes in Parataxis and Hypotaxis: Formal and
Functional Features (1994), a difference in construction
indicates a difference in meaning, as syntactic inequality brought
about by hypotaxis is accompanied by semantic inequality. The
second aspect noted above is described as sequencing, and
refers to the vital importance assumed by the order in which
various features are presented in a text. Consequently, strategies
such as embedding will also have repercussions onto the way
readers/listeners perceive the reality represented within this
Further to this, authors can convey a particular ideological
stance by using passivisation, which accounts for instance for
the difference between a sentence such as USA attack Lybia
and Lybia attacked by USA, or again the sentence Lybia
attacked, where the responsibility of the action becomes less and
less explicit.
Similarly, authors can resort to nominalisation, which refers
to the fact that it is structurally possible for predicates (verbs and
adjectives) to be realised syntactically as nouns. These are called
derived nominals, as for instance with the noun allegation
(which is derived from the verb allege) or development (which

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

is derived from develop). In an analogous way to the use of the

passive form, the exploitation of nominal forms allows the
deletion of certain information, therefore obscuring the
responsibility for certain facts. If we compare the nominal form
allegations with the extended sentence The Left has alleged
against the Right that the Right corrupted the Government etc.,
we can for instance notice the deletion of the participants (who
did what to whom?), any indication of time (there is no verb to
be tensed) and any indication of modality (the writers views as
the truth or the desirability of the proposition).
In a similar way, the use of transitivity can also be identified
as a further strategy which authors have at their disposal in order
to convey, through the linguistic choices they make, ideology. As
Halliday emphasises, transitivity does not simply indicate that a
verb can or cannot take a direct object, but more fundamentally
refers to the fact that, in the case of an intransitive verb, the
action affects only the subject, whereas a transitive verb has
repercussions also on other entities and the reality surrounding
the subject. As a consequence, because transitivity offers users of
language different possibilities as to the way they talk about
reality, selecting certain modes of discourse and suppressing
others, according to Halliday it becomes an important feature in
the expression of the users point of view, thus acquiring
ideological significance.
Besides these morphosyntactic strategies, however, users of
language also have at their disposal various lexical strategies to
convey a particular ideology. For example, we could refer to
semantic prosody, a concept which relies on the fundamental
notion of collocation introduced above, and which was first
introduced by Sinclair, according to whom particular lexical
items are usually associated with either pleasant or unpleasant
events (1987, 155-6). The favourable or unfavourable evaluation
of the authors utterance, is therefore not contained in a single
word, but is expressed by a particular item in association with

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

other items which are often found in particular collocations. This

is the case of the verb cause, which has a strongly unfavourable
prosody, as it often collocates with other items such as
accident, concern, damage and so on, whereas provide
usually collocates with help, care, food etc., and is therefore
imbued with a favourable prosody. Because some items might
assume a particular prosody on certain occasions but not always
(as with the verb happen, which might be found in association
with unpleasant, neutral or pleasant items), sometimes the
speaker/writer might use semantic prosody to express his/her
feelings and attitudes or to influence ours, albeit subtly and
almost subliminally. Indeed, according to Louw, clashes between
the private use made of certain prosodies by propagandists,
politicians and advertisers, and what are considered normal
prosodies, might conceal secret aims and their attempts to
tamper with receivers judgments and attitudes.
Obviously, in any analysis of the relationship existing between
language and ideology, we cannot avoid discussing in a more
systematic way about what we refer to as connotation and
denotation. In the first instance, it is fundamental to remember
that it is the context which gives readers an idea as to whether
lexical items are used denotatively or connotatively.
The term denotation describes the way lexical items refer to
a referent in the real world, whether a concrete or an abstract
entity. The denotative meaning of a lexical item such as dog,
however, only covers what we call the prototype meaning, that is
a four-legged animal with a tail etc.
According to the context the lexical item finds itself in,
though, it can also assume different connotative values,
suggesting more or less pleasant characteristics to the
reader/listener. Connotation has been defined in different ways
such as the secondary implications of a lexical item (Lyons,
1977, 278), and, generally speaking, it is seen as lying outside
the core meaning of the item itself (Backhouse, 1992, 297). It

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

could therefore be described as an additional meaning of a

lexical item, which enables speakers/writers to transcend the
prototype meaning of a word and charge it with particular (if
implied) significance, according to the context they find
themselves in.
Hence, as Taylor observes, the term rat could be associated
with disease, evil, dirtiness etc. in some cases, and to scientific
advance in others (1998). As Hymes suggests, then, an
awareness of the connotative value of lexical items is a vital part
of the communicative competence of a speaker (1971). In fact,
as Partington claims in his Patterns and Meanings, through
connotation three different phenomena might find an expression:
class and regional origin, age, sex and relationships between
speakers (for instance the expression absolutely awful can be
easily identified with an upper-class variety)
the speakers favourable or unfavourable evaluation.
particular denotations assumed by lexical items within a
specific culture (for example, as Leech emphasises, in the
past the term woman was associated with words like frail,
irrational, gentle and compassionate; 1974, 15).

Indeed, because one of the ways ideology expresses itself in our

culture is, of course, the way we use language in order to
represent (or misrepresent) the world that surrounds us and our
position in it, according to Fowler, any aspect of linguistic
structure (whether phonological, syntactic, lexical, semantic,
pragmatic or textual, can carry ideological significance). Hence,
following the structuralist and poststructuralist stand, we can
claim that language can, in fact, construct the Other at different
levels, for example in terms of gender, relegating for instance
woman to the role of the feminine Other, or in terms of race,
relegating certain communities to the position of sub-human
This is what we refer to as the issue of sexism in language,
that is the construction of woman as the inferior side of the

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

dichotomy man/woman. For example in English, and even

more so in romance languages such as Italian, the masculine is
often taken as the general term in opposition to the feminine
particular. Thus, we talk about man in the general sense of
humanity, when referring to a somebody, we use a masculine
pronoun, and we generally talk about the postman, the
fireman, manholes etc., and because this kind of sexism is
intrinsic to the structure of our languages, it cannot be
eradicated very easily.
Yet, efforts are made to plan or engineer language in such a
way as to limit the sexist elements within language19. As a result,
we now tend to speak about letter carrier and firefighter, and
although it is not always possible to find adequate replacements
which might be less marked, the efforts made seem to render
some feminists understanding of language as a conspiratorial
male plot unjustified.
This is the reason why, for instance, the conclusion reached
by critic Lincoln Konkle, who in an article claims:
If, in the world according to poststructuralists, all we apprehend
is a linguistic construct, and we ourselves are nothing apart from
what our words say we are, then the gender issue or, more
real-worldly, the womens movement to liberate itself from
patriarchal oppression is doomed to fail, for from modern
languages back to classical in Western civilization, the words
that signify female and the feminine are inextricably linked to
the male and the masculine as the inferior side of a bipolar
system. The only hope would be to destroy all previous
patriarchal signifiers for the feminine, and for the masculine, and

The expressions language planning and language engineering refer

to the standardisation process to which languages are sometimes submitted.
When a particular language comes to be used as a national language of a
nation-state of new constitution (Bulgarian, for instance, or Czech), it clearly
needs a standard form and a certain amount of vocabulary, which have
therefore to be created along a long period of time.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

then to start over, to create new representations of gender not

based upon an etymology of inferiority and superiority (1995,

seems utterly extreme, and does not take into consideration the
fact that meaning is contextual, and that, as a consequence, it
cannot be considered intrinsic to language as such, depending,
on the contrary, mainly upon the context in which the language
is used.
As Toril Moi pertinently asks when discussing the problem of
sexism in language in her Sexual/Textual Politics,
If we hold with Voloinov and Kristeva that all meaning is
contextual, it follows that isolated words or general syntactical
structures have no meaning until we provide a context for them.
How then can they be defined as either sexist or non-sexist per
se? If it is the case, as Thorne and Henly argue, that similar
speech by men and by women tends to be interpreted quite
differently, then there is surely nothing inherent in any given
word or phrase that can always and forever be constructed as
sexist. The crudely conspiratorial theory of language as manmade, or as a male plot against women, posits an origin (mans
plotting) to language, a kind of non-linguistic transcendental
signifier for which it is impossible to find any kind of theoretical
support (1985, 157).

However, it must be remembered that to evident sexist forms

such as postman, there is a subtler and more insidious way in
which ideology, sexism in particular, is expressed in and through
language, but even in this case, we must take into consideration
both situational and cultural contexts.
This form of sexism actually relates not so much to the use of
such identifiable items as man, but more to the way in which
other words are used in the co-text of particular items. Indeed,
as David Crystal claims,


Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

there is more to sexist language than single lexical items and

isolated grammatical constructions. It involves such
considerations as order of mention (* I now pronounce you man
and wife), and worthiness of mention (* Five people were
involved in the incident, including two men) (1999, 368).

Thus, as we read in Introducing Linguistics,

We constantly read things like these: he attacked his next-door
neighbours wife (the woman wasnt his neighbour?); the
pioneers trekked across the prairies with their cattle, their seed
corn, and their wives (the wives were just there as what?) [or]
The new editor of the New Yorker is a striking and willowy
blonde (2000, 141).

This use of highly connotative lexical items is actually typical of

the language of the media, which often expresses an authors bias
precisely through the choice of lexis (as for example with the
headlines Cheat dumps his wife for blonde or Brute kills pet
terrier) or, as mentioned above, the way a particular person is
Language, claims British author Brooke-Rose, is never
innocent (1991, 8), but is always used to sell something
(whether a product, a feeling or an opinion), and as such it is
therefore always ideologically charged. Indeed, as Fowler states
in Language in the News,
Language is not neutral, but a highly constructive mediator [...]
News is a representation of the world in language; because
language is a semiotic code, it imposes a structure of values [...]
the values are in the language already, independent of the
journalist and of the reader. Ideology is already imprinted in the
available discourse (all discourse). (1991, 1-4).

Thus, translators ought to pay particular attention to both the

ideological implications of the source text, and those typical of
the target text.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

As a result, it appears clear that more attention should be paid

also to the translation of used (and often overused) formulae,
which might well take on different connotations in one
language/culture and the other, resulting in a discrepancy
between the ideological impact the text has in the source and in
the target language. It is therefore advisable to consider, in both
texts, issues of political correctness, according to which the
connotations of certain words and expressions offend certain
members of a particular minority or social group, and should
therefore be replaced by more unbiased terminology.
However, in the case of Italian, as well as other romance
languages, it might be rather difficult to avoid sexism in
language, in so far as in Italian the lexical rules are not based on
conventions (such as the English postman), but on grammatical
gender, according to which everything and everyone must
assume a gender.
It is therefore inappropriate for Taylor to compare English
and Italian strategies by stating that
The general use of masculine pronouns has been largely
replaced by the use of twinning (he or she, he/she, s/he, him/her,
etc.), by pluralising the referent in question, or by dispensing
altogether with pronouns. For example, instead of the translator
must be careful when he translates connotational meaning, the
plural version translators must be careful when they translate
connotational meaning or the pronounless the translator must
be careful when translating connotational meaning are preferred
[...] in terms of English/Italian, there are areas where this kind of
reasoning finds a direct equivalent, e.g. il traduttore to refer to
all traduttori (where the use of the plural would solve the
problem in the same way), but as Italian generally dispenses
with pronouns in anaphoric reference, the he/she question
hardly arises (1998, 87).

The use of i traduttori, in fact, does not elude the fact that a
masculine form is used (whether or not there are pronominal

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

anaphoric references) and it is therefore up to translators to find

adequate strategies to deal with the fact that the Italian text will
be marked, to some extent or other, by gender-biased issues. For
example, translators might want to avoid the twinning forms s/he
and the like, which, while quite convenient in English, would
produce extremely awkward results in Italian, and instead
introduce a note at the very beginning of the text, explaining the
reasons that determined the adoption of the generalised
masculine form.
More easily dealt with is, to a certain extent, the issue of
political correctness in other areas. As Taylor notes, this might
occur with a time-lag in different countries, and it is therefore
vital for translators to monitor this time-lag in order to avoid
anachronisms and positively offensive expressions. Thus,
nowadays, we talk about neither underdeveloped countries nor
paesi sottosviluppati, as this expression clearly reinforced the
view of certain countries as inferior to the all powerful superior
civilisations. Similarly, in the USA, negro was supplanted by
Afro-American first, and later by African-American, whereas, as
Crystal reports, the word black was felt to be so sensitive that
some banned its use in all possible contexts (including such
instances as blackboard and the black pieces in chess) (1999,
176), thereby fuelling the negative attitude towards political
correctness, which has been described as a lethal weapon for
silencing anyone whose ideas you dont like (New York Times,
July 1991) and the most pernicious form of intolerance (The
Economist, 1991). We equally avoid cripple and storpio, as the
terms were connotatively charged with an idea of disgust;
physically handicapped was initially replaced by disabled,
which was also replaced by differently abled and, in Italian,


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

disabile20, mongols and mongoloidi were replaced by

persons suffering from the Downs Syndrome etc21.
We can therefore see the importance ideology can have for all
users of language and, in particular, for translators. It is precisely
because of the strong impact ideology has on our lives, the
society we live in and its institutions, that it has become the
focus of many disciplines.
Indeed, as anticipated in the first chapter, the whole
enterprise of structuralism and poststructuralism, in particular
the work of Roland Barthes and Louis Althusser, could be seen
as an investigation of the ideological bearings of certain cultural
conventions in our society. It was actually Althusser who claimed
that the main ideological instruments of society (such as legal
system, religion, education system and family), determine the
culture of a particular society and the lives of the people living in
that particular society as much as economic conditions do. In
Althussers terms, ideology therefore provides a conceptual
framework through which people interpret and make sense of
their material conditions, and as such it determines and
produces not only who we are, but also our culture. As we have
seen supra, the issue of ideology was taken up especially by

Taylors observation: For the moment handicappato remains in Italian,

possibly because, being a calqued expression, it does not have the same
connotations as handicapped. But portatore di handicap is already current
(1998, 87), seems itself an anachronism, as even in Italian disabili represents
nowadays the norm.
This, however, has elicited different reactions. To those who felt that the
expression mental handicap is a term of insult and should therefore be
replaced by other expressions, the director of Mencap (a British charity
representing mentally-handicapped people) in 1992 answered by stating that
avoiding to talk about mental handicap is not going to make any difference
to the problems people face and might not do much for the charity itself, as
the general public the people whose attitudes we need to change do not
recognise learning difficulty as mental handicap, thereby halving the impact
the charity and its campaigns might have on the public.

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

critical linguistics and critical discourse analysis, disciplines

which study linguistic structures in the light of the social and
historical context from which the text stems, in an attempt to
clarify the values and the beliefs encoded in the language used in
particular texts.
It is precisely subtle forms of conveying ideology and the more
or less agendas of language users that critical discourse analysis
is determined to bring to the fore and expose, through a
painstaking analysis of linguistic and structural aspects of the
text. This is the reason why, according to Fairclough, the analyst
should ask for example what kind of experiential values words
have, whether, as often happens in the case of colonial literature
or the language of newspapers or of advertising, there are words
which are ideologically contested or contestable; whether
strategies of rewording (that is saying the same thing using
different words), overwording (namely identifying someone or
something by using a number of words which draw attention to
the subject it/him/herself, identifying it/him/her as different
and/or deviant as in the case of woman or black subjects) or
oppositional wording, are applied; what ideologically significant
meaning relations link the words present in the text (in the case
of hyponpmy, for example, the word totalitarianism might be
included in the meaning of communism or fascism according
to the political stance of the writer); whether there are words
which collocate with particular negative or positive items, or
whether there is a metaphorical transfer of a word/expression
from one domain to another (as for instance with the description
of blacks in animalistic terms we often find, as we shall see in the
following chapters, in colonial and colonialist literature, as well
as in the language of newspapers or the language of sports).
Afterwards, the analyst should identify what Fairclough calls
the relational values of words, for example searching the text
for euphemisms (which try to avoid negative values being


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

associated with particular notions)22, and formal/informal words

(there is in fact a link between the formality of the situation, the
formality of social relations and the formality of the language
Finally, Fairclough asks what expressive values words have
(for example in textual segments which implicitly or explicitly
express the writers evaluation) and what metaphors are used (as
when social problems are represented in terms of diseases or
when immigration is depicted in terms of natural disasters).
Moving onto grammar, Fairclough suggests the analyst should
ask similar questions regarding the experiential value of the
grammatical features present in the text, analysing for example
what types of processes and participants predominate, whether
actions, events or attributions are emphasised, whether agency is
foregrounded or backgrounded, whether nominalization is used,
whether active or passive tenses are used and whether sentences
are in the main positive or negative. In addition analysts should
study the relational values of grammatical features, asking for
example: which modes are used? (particularly relevant is,

As Geis (1982) emphasises in his study of political discourse,

euphemisms are largely used in nukespeak (a neologism forged on the model
of the newspeak George Orwell introduced in his 1984), in order to subvert
the negative associations generally activated by the discourse of nuclear
weapons. This might actually be best exemplified by Montgomerys study of
1986, where we find a list of expressions used by politicians and their
translations into explicit English e.g. strategic nuclear weapon: large
nuclear bomb of immense destructive power; tactical nuclear weapon: small
nuclear bomb of immense destructive power; demographic targeting: killing
the civilian population, etc.).
Let us consider, for example, the differences implied by the terms of
address that different newspapers use to refer to the same person, i.e.
Margaret Thatchers son:
The Times: Sir Marks awful day; The Sun: Marks at mercy of cannibal;
Daily Mail: The boy Mark; The Guardian: Mark Thatcher; The Sun:
Maggie torment over son.

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

obviously, the use of the imperative mode), are there important

features of relational modality?, which pronouns are used and
how? (for example the opposition we/you is, as we shall see,
fundamental). Finally, attention should be devoted to the
analysis of the expressive values of grammatical features. In this
case, we are dealing with a different kind of modality and
adverbs such as probably, allegedly etc., and we should
investigate the way sentences are linked together; analysts should
focus on what logical connectors are used and which, if any,
logical assumptions they cue, whether complex sentences are
characterised by parataxis or hypotaxis, how cohesion is achieved
As to textual structure, Fairclough suggests analysts should
focus on the organisational properties of the text as a whole,
distinguishing for example between dialogue (as in
conversations whether real or recreated in a literary work
interviews, etc.) and monologue (as in a newspaper articles or
official speeches). In the former case, analysts could concentrate
on the turn-taking system, in the attempt to see whether there is
an unbalance between the turns allocated to each participant,
whether one participant controls the contribution of others also
in terms of topic selection and topic change, whether overlaps
and silences are tolerated, whether formulations are used i.e.
rewording of what has been said or wording of what is implied
and can be inferred from what has been said, which can be used
both to check understanding but also as a means of control, in
order to lead participants into accepting ones version of what
has transpired, thus limiting their options of further
During the interpretation phase, critical discourse analysts
should therefore focus on surface utterance, on meaning
utterance, local coherence, text structure and point (thereby
matching the text with a repertoire of schemata, that is
representations of characteristic patterns of organisation

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

associated with different types of discourse), context of situation

(thereby identifying what, who, their relationship, the role of
language, that is to say whether language is being used in an
instrumental way or as a part of a wider institutional objective),
the intertextual context which will be analysed further below,
and the presuppositions readers of the text are bound to activate,
the kind of speech acts involved etc.
Afterwards, during the explanation phase, the analyst should
try and portray a discourse as part of the social process and thus
as a social practice, showing it is determined by social structures
and highlighting what reproductive effects discourses can have
on those structures, especially when they are cumulated one
upon the other. In fact, discourses can either sustain or change
those structures. By so doing, analysts can identify the social
determinants of discourse (i.e. what power relations at
situational, institutional and societal level help shape it), the
ideologies which lie behind it and the effects it entails.
Equipped with these linguistic tools, discourse analysts
therefore approach the analysis of various types of texts, both
written and spoken, in order to investigate issues such as gender
inequality, ethnocentrism and racism, discursive representation
of aging etc. As the analyses carried out in this book
demonstrate, it is obvious that, in the present case, here we are
mainly interested in is the way language is used to construct,
deconstruct and reconstruct cultural identities, and although for
reasons of space we cannot describe in detail the way critical
discourse analysts carry out their study and the guidelines they
recommend, I hope that even the brief introduction provided in
this book can suggest that the attention they grant to the analysis
of the language used and their focus on issues of racism and
sexism, demonstrate their proximity to other disciplines which
equally focus on the impact that culture and the language that
conveys it can have on the individual.


Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

Indeed, according to Fowler, any aspect of linguistic structure

can carry ideological significance, and the importance this aspect
has assumed throughout the years appears evident by the
publication of volumes such as Apropos of Ideology (2003) and
has noticeably influenced both linguistics and translation studies.
Indeed, the importance the issue has assumed in translation
studies is reflected in the publication of such volumes as The
Practices of Literary Translation (1999), edited by Jean BoaseBeier and Michael Holman, which emphasises the fact that the
translators task is constrained not only by the different ways in
which source and target languages encode reality, but also by the
target-culture ideological expectations and the functional nonequivalence of apparently identical patterns. Similarly, the
authors of Apropos of Ideology (2003), edited by Maria CalzadaPerez, focuses on the fact that, historically, translation has always
been a site for ideological clashes and that globalisation provides
the setting for translational mechanisms even within monolingual
artefacts. The aim of the volumes authors, then, is to examine
ideological phenomena as expressed in politics, religion,
sexuality etc., in an attempt to identify the way they intrude
upon the practice of translation.
In fact, whereas the connotations of the different expressions
I am firm, you are stubborn, he is pig-headed are evident, quite
often the value and the intensity of the connotation with which a
term is invested are much subtler. As such, this bears a
fundamental importance when we are working as translators in,
say, a business meeting, or if we are translating texts where for
example terms such as dog are used to refer to human beings,
as these terms, as well as other animals such as lamb, for
instance, which, as Nida observes in Towards a Science of


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Translation (1964), cannot be considered a universal symbol of

peace24, are intrinsically culture-bound.
2.3.The Context of Culture
We therefore come to the notion of cultural context, which
concludes our discussion of the general notion of Context. The
context of culture can be defined as the total cultural
background which lies behind a text and which determines its
significance and, from a sociolinguistic and an anthropological
perspective, corresponds to every aspect of human life which is
socially determined, namely the totality of the signifying systems
of particular groups, including the arts, the social activities and
patterns of behaviour typical of a community (manners and
rituals, for instance), legal systems, religions, history and so on.
2.3.1. Culture-bound Expressions
As suggested above, language is not an isolated phenomenon,
but is part of culture, and is therefore determined by it. Indeed,
according to Edward Sapir who in 1921 published the first
textbook of general linguistics in English, thereby establishing a
tradition of human language studies which took into
consideration the relationship between language and culture and
the actual use of language made by real speakers and his pupil
Benjamin Lee Whorf who focussed on the study of native
American and Canadian languages different language
communities perceive the same reality in different ways. As we
read in Introducing Linguistics, as a demonstration of what is
usually referred to as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, Whorf
pointed out that the Navaho speakers of Arizona who have at
their disposal an incredible number of words for talking about

As a consequence, Nida suggests that the lamb we find in the Bible as a

symbol of peace should for example be translated as seal, when translating
the text for a target culture such as the Inuit one.

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

lines of various shapes, colours and configurations perceive the

world in terms of its geometrical nature (as exemplified by the
fact that they might name a particular rock formation as Ts
hiih, meaning two rocks standing vertically parallel in a
vertical relationship to each other), whereas English speakers see
objects as resembling other objects (and for instance might call
the same rock formation Elephants feet). Although the SapirWhorf hypothesis (also known as the linguistic relativity
hypothesis) is still controversial, the more moderate view which
sees language as reflecting culturally important aspects of a
particular society, pointing to the particular behaviours, ideas or
material possessions on which members of a community might
place high value is generally accepted. When reading and
translating, then, we ought to be particularly attentive to all those
aspects which, by being particularly culture-bound, might be
hard to understand and translate, always bearing in mind that, as
we shall see in the next chapter, some elements of
communication might conceal subtle cultural and ideological
assumptions not immediately identifiable in the target culture.
As Taylor suggests, then, translation could actually be seen as
the matching of the connotative and culture-bound values lexical
items suggest. Hence, in a sentence such as I would stay clear of
that rat Jones!, the word rat which suggests the deceitful
nature of Jones could be translated in Italian not with ratto but
with verme.
Clearly, if the language used by participants is highly
connotative, translators are required to be very perceptive and
make pragmatic evaluations as well, in order to understand the
way a speaker is actually using a particular expression (speaker
meaning as opposed to dictionary meaning) and test what
meaning really lies behind utterances.
Translators therefore have to decipher Grices implicatures,
thereby identifying what speakers/writers actually mean by what
they say/write.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

In order to translate successfully, translators must establish

with certainty whether they inhabit the same universe of
discourse as the source writer namely whether they apply the
same set of parameters to the world they live in. Obviously, the
more diverse the cultures of two language communities the more
possible it is that the speakers from the two communities do not
share the same universe of discourse.
In the case of a headline such as Iraqi inmate: treated like
dogs, then, we must first of all consider the fact that each word
can have both a denotative and a connotative meaning. Having
accepted that target writers and source writers inhabit different
universes of discourse, translators must then realise that in
Islamic cultures dogs are more associated with dirtiness than
loyalty/trustworthiness/friendliness as in Western cultures. In
addition, Italian translators must consider that although in the
target language the term cane also brings to mind animale and
therefore a subhuman being, the coefficient of intensity
which Snelling defines as the measure of the semantic force of
words (Snelling, 1992, 121) is different.
Thus, although, in general, a translation of dog as cane
would be more than acceptable, the headline quoted above
might actually benefit more from the application of a different
strategy, thanks to which the term dog is not replaced by cane
but by something else. For example, we could opt for a superordinate term of cane, namely animali or bestie (of which the term
dog is a hyponym), as this term has the advantage of respecting
the semantic field and the zoological connection of the source
language, while suggesting more strongly the cruel treatment of
2.3.2. The Notion of Intertextuality
The quotation of the headline analysed above, is also a good
example of the importance of a further strategy used in order to
convey more than the literal meaning of words, namely

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

intertextuality, which refers to the fact that authors of any kind

constantly insert parts of other texts in their own. As mentioned
in the first chapter, the idea of intertextuality basically corresponds
to the structuralist notion that all perceptions/conceptions of
reality are shaped by various cultural codes and that every work or
version of reality is basically a recycling of another story. As
defined by Taylor, then, intertextuality indicates the fact that
the linguistic components of the communicative act will draw on
words, expressions and permutations of these that have been
said or heard, or read or written before in similar circumstances,
either by the people themselves or by others (1998, 75).

This notion is therefore important for the discussion of the

headline quoted above, which obviously resorts to the kind of
otherisation process inherited from colonisers of all times, and
exploited throughout history in order to relegate particular
sections of society to the position of subaltern.
Consequently, also articles such as
A Day of Terror: An Assessment (The New York Times 12th
September 2001)
During the Second World War, the Japanese pioneered the use
of kamikaze planes. The kamikazes sank 34 ships and damaged
hundreds of others. During the battle of Okinawa, they killed
almost 5,000 men. But the attacks yesterday, on a society at
peace in a time of peace, carried out by attackers who took over
civilian aircraft, appeared more sinister,

should be analysed bearing in mind all the intertextual references

activated by the journalists linguistic choices.
The headline reported above, followed by a brief extract from
the relative article, appeared in The New York Times the day
following the attack to the Twin Towers on 11th September
2001. When reading the text, we might immediately notice the
opposition between some of the terms which appear in the


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

headline and the brief extract reported. In fact, an emotional and

highly evocative term such as terror is used together with
assessment, which on the contrary brings to mind a rational
process. The headline of the article therefore seems to suggest
that the USA can react and face whatever comes their way with
great presence of spirit, thereby projecting the image of a strong,
determined nation which faces Islamic fanaticism with coolness
and rationality, even in the face of desperation.
It is therefore interesting to see how the idea of nation invoked
on the occasion of the terrorist attack, was also called upon on
the occasion of the scandal of Abu-Gharib. Then, headlines such
as New Iraq abuse photos published (The Washington Post 8th
May 2004) or Bush calls Iraq abuse abhorrent (Article on
Interview on al-Arabiya satellite channel 7th May 2004), were
followed respectively by articles beginning:
New photos showing alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees by US
soldiers have been published in a US newspaper

The president revealed that the first time he saw the
photographs of the abuse was when they appeared on US
television late last month.
Not American
In interviews for US-funded al-Hurra network and the alArabiya satellite channel, President Bush said: People in Iraq
must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent.
They must also understand that what took place in that prison
does not represent the America that I know.

In the case of the first extract, then, the term published (which
implicitly affirms the real existence of photos) is set in opposition
to alleged, which is associated with the abuses supposedly
performed by the Americans who appear in those pictures. This

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

opposition therefore insinuates to readers the doubt that the

pictures might be only a forgery, thereby undermining the real
existence and the truthfulness of the photos. Consequently, it is
suggested that American soldiers might be innocent. Not only
this, but the whole article is constructed so that Americans might
eventually see themselves as the wronged people, falsely accused
by Iraqis.
Somewhat similarly, in the second example, the adjective
abhorrent is set in opposition to the expression not American,
which is also given prominence in the text thanks to the bold
type used. As a result, having established the truthfulness and
the accuracy of the pictures, it is a matter of distancing America
(in the person of President G. Bush, who claims here the role of
national emblem which is implicitly denied to the soldiers
themselves) from those reprehensible acts. The only bad guys
are the individual soldiers, but their behaviour cannot change the
fact that America is a nation of good guys. There is therefore an
attempt to refurbish the myth of the nation, which must posit
itself as a compact entity, in spite of minor internal fractures and
deviant elements such as Lynndie England and her comrades.
The idea of nation Bush invokes in the last extract is,
fundamentally, similar to the one he called upon on occasion of
the terrorist attack on 11th September 2001. Not only this, but if
we read the first extract carefully, we cannot fail to note that it
resorts to a rhetoric similar to that which animated many war
speeches in the past. Thus, it is not by chance that the author of
the article on the attack against the Twin Towers should refer to
Japanese kamikazes and the Second World War.
Indeed, the opposition thinking subject vs. irrational/fanatic,
implicit in the first headline, cannot but bring to mind the
famous lines from George Orwells England your England
(1941), when British rationality was set in opposition to the
enemys irrational hatred and when the civilised world had to
fight an irrational phenomenon such as Nazism:

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead,

trying to kill me. They do not feel enmity against me as an
individual, not I against them [...] if one of them succeeds in
blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never
sleep any worse for it. He is serving his country.

This kind of rhetoric thus manages to effect the creation of two

separate entities: us and them. The language used in these
extracts, then, might be said to construct the identity of the
individuals involved not only by invoking the myth of an
homogeneous I/us, a collective national subject single
individuals might identify with and might merge in, but also
creating a different, often inferior, Other/them.
As hinted at just above, from the European perspective, it was
perhaps the Nazi experiment and the impact that language had
in the creation of the Jews as Others, that alerted people to the
devastating consequences language and the linguistic
construction of identity could have. The Jews were in fact
described by Hitler in the same terms of plant and animal
parasites, as a
maggot in a rotten corpse [...] a plague [...] a germ carrier [...]
the spider that slowly sucks the peoples blood out of his pores;
the pack of rats fighting bloodily among themselves [...] the
typical parasite; the peoples vampire (quoted by Rosenberg in
Alex Bein, 1964, 22),

and as such, to many German people they came into being as

others, the infecting and contaminating elements which had to
be eradicated before it could destroy.
It is however rather surprising that this description of the Jews
should dramatically recall the words that Totius (pseudonym for
J.D. du Toit, one of the first South African poets writing in
Afrikaans), used to describe the natives encountered by the
trekkers during the Great Trek of the 1830s, when the early
Afrikaners began to penetrate in the interior of South Africa


Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

searching for a place they could call really theirs in an attempt to

set themselves free from the British who had colonised the
coastal regions of the country.
Here the native populations of Africa are described as fierce
vermin [...] stark naked black hordes (quoted by Hexham,
1981, 37), and it was precisely this kind of description which set
the tone of many other works to follow (travelogues, pseudohistories etc.), relegating the natives to the role of the subhuman
others, thereby strengthening Afrikaners sense of identity.
Indeed, throughout history, other populations have been
defined as brutish, compared to animals of various kinds and,
as with the first colonisers in Africa, identified in terms of their
animal souls, while advice was given on how to catch, tame and
breed them as if they were cattle.
This is actually one of the main features of colonial discourse,
broadly speaking all the writings and texts on which various
Empires relied. As we shall see in the following chapter, the fact
that the otherness of the natives and their relegation to a
position of inferiority are identified with linguistic constructs,
partially turns the whole colonial (and neo-colonial) enterprise
into a textual practice, at least for the Europeans, who
throughout the centuries elaborated a whole series of rhetorical
devices which then turned into conventions of comprehending
other lands and other people, whose stereotypical
characterisation played at once the double role of screening out
their difference and alterity by assimilating them to known
entities such as dogs, foxes and animals in general, and
presenting their degradation and inferiority as natural.
Because of this, we can see how headlines such as:
Iraqi inmate: Treated like dogs
One of the Iraqi men who says he was photographed in
degrading poses by American prison guards in Abu Ghraib jail is
Haydar Sabbar Abed


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

refer back to descriptions of others in animalistic terms

(although in this case it is the other himself who, having
interiorised colonialist descriptions, exploits the illocutionary
force of the word dog). We can therefore see how the power of
intertextuality still determines the way people belonging to
different cultures are created as others.
It must however be remembered that, apart from such
exceptional cases as apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany,
the power of language to construct the identity of the individual
is still exercised in everyday discourses. This is the case, for
example, with the language of jokes or advertising, which heavily
rely on stereotyped forms of identity, or the language exploited
by certain exponents of, generally, extreme political parties. For
instance, when I asked a person from Yorkshire whether he
could give me some examples of stereotypical representations of
others, he admitted:
The English make fun of the Irish. The Irish make fun of the
Kerrymen (the inhabitants of County Kerry, in Ireland), while
within England, we make fun of everyone who is not from where
we are. So, in general, the Northerners are all poor, unhappy
and rude. The Southerners are rich, greedy, fake and unfriendly.
Londoners are generally annoying, talk too much, think they are
the best and are flash. People from Essex are rude, boastful
and rich, but with no taste [...] We British think, lets see...The
French are superior, rude, snobbish and take our women.
Spanish are all a bit lazy, and like blood sports and siestas.
Germans are all incredibly loud and rude, have no sense of
humour [...] are incapable of queuing and, for some reason,
always get up really early in hotels to put their towels on the
sunbeds to claim them, like Poland. The Americans are clearly
all rich and stupid or poor and stupid. With no taste and no
culture. Oh, and like guns. The Italians are all cowardly, and
Mafioso and oily haired lotharios. And take our women, etc.
(interview with Nicholas Currey).


Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

He also added the following jokes, which should provide some

good examples of the stereotypical representations of people
from different British regions:
There are four kinds of people in the UK. First, there were the
Scots who kept the Sabbath and everything else they could lay
their hands on. Then there were the Welsh, who prayed on their
knees and their neighbours. Thirdly there were the Irish who
never knew what they wanted, but were willing to fight for it
anyway. Lastly there were the English who considered
themselves self-made men... thus relieving the Almighty of a
terrible responsibility.
An Englishman, roused by a Scots scorn of his race, protested
that he was born an Englishman and hoped to die an
Englishman. Man, scoffed the Scot, hiv ye nae ambeetion?
A philosophical Scotland supporter on the train south to attend
the match with England was heard to comment: No matter if
we win or lose this game, we will still be winners in the game of
life, because when our opponents waken up tomorrow theyll
still be English and we wont.

Among the many adverts in which this kind of stereotypical

representation plays a fundamental role, one of the Peugeot
advert that appeared on our television screens some time ago
in which an Indian boy destroys his Indian-made car using
rudimentary instruments such as a hammer, a blow torch and, of
course, an elephant, until it looks like a French car, after which
he can finally parade with pride in front of girls is particularly
This is also typical of the language of sports, where we
generally find a strong emphasis on the inclusive/exclusive
we are trying to rebuild the team [...] for us, only victory is
important now. We do not care about style we just want
maximum points (The Independent, 11 October 2004).


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

In addition, it is telling that in most sports commentary the

semantic fields identified by the words used by the journalists
have to do both with sports and war. Thus, wordings such as
Argentina and Brazil eased to crushing victories in Saturdays
World Cup qualifiers, the former beating Uruguay (The
Independent, 11th October 2004, my emphasis);
Spain gained the first win of their World Cup qualifying
campaign after quick-fire goals from strikers Albert Luque and
Raul gave them a 2-0 victory at home to nine-man Belgium on
Saturday. Belgium were reduced to 10 men after just 28 minutes
when defender Eric Deflandre was sent off but Spain was unable
to take advantage until Luque rifled home (The Independent, 11th
October 2004, my emphasis),

Scotland succumbed to Norway [...] What happens if Scotland
does not prevail? [...] Scotland struggled to respond [...] its still
a fight between Belarus, Slovenia and us two, said the former
Manchester City and Norwich defender (The Times, 11th October
2004, my emphasis);

are quite typical.

It is therefore not by chance that in the above article from The
Times, readers are confronted not only with verbs such as
succumb, prevail, fight and the like but, as in many articles
related to the Scottish team, the author intertextually refers to
Mel Gibsons film Braveheart in order to set the scene and the
tone of the article, thereby contributing to what was termed the
Braveheart rhetoric. Through this intertextual reference, then,
the article immediately activates in readers minds images which
implicitly connect the violence of the battle sustained by the


Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

Scottish against the English and the violence experienced on the

football ground, thereby bringing the game back to its origins25.
Intertextuality might in fact be said to activate a scenario
which represents some stereotypical components of a definable
situation. Indeed, when speakers get involved in a
communicative act, they never face something completely new,
in so far as intertextuality enables them to create a sort of mental
picture of the situation they find themselves in. The scenarios
human beings activate, then, enable them to process texts and
events on the basis of an analysis of the situation (namely a topdown processing, that is to say from the general to the
particular, in the attempt to identify the structural features of a
text) and not simply on the basis of the sequence of sentences as
they appear in the text (that is to say adopting a bottom-up
processing, namely a reversed order of analysis which, from the
particular, moves to the general, focussing on lexical and
grammatical features), helping them to screen out irrelevant
information and create expectations as to what receivers might
be faced with26.

Actually, since its origins, when football matches were disputed between
teams of hundreds of men, who engaged in tribal aggressions (an aspect
which obviously posits the issue of identity at the very centre of violent
incidents amongst supporters), football has been associated with aggressive
and violent behaviours, which have often led to the authorities attempts to
limit the damages caused by this violence.
The same text can obviously be analysed according to these two
different approaches. For instance, when facing a Job Advert, we could focus
either on the general structure of the advert or the individual components of
the advert itself. In the first case, we could for instance emphasise that these
adverts which share with standard advertising texts a general conative
function, in that they try and sell (if only figuratively) something are
organised according to moves amongst which we mention: establishing
credentials; introducing the offer (a move which is developed through a series
of sub-moves such as offering the product and indicating the value of the
offer); indicating essential incentives; enclosing documents; soliciting a

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

The concept of scenario which was described amongst

others by Sanford and Garrod in Understanding Written Language
(1981) therefore becomes determinant for an understanding of
the headlines previously analysed and the sport article referred to
just above, which immediately establish a context conjuring up a
scenario for readers, thereby creating what Minsky calls frames
(1975), that is, mental structures that help readers recall the
knowledge they have of the Iraq phenomenon or the knowledge
they have of Scottish resistance against the English and of the
football game at large.
Similarly, Schank and Abelson (1977) talk of scripts which,
according to the definition given by Gran and Taylor in Aspects
of Applied and Experimental Research on Conference Interpretation,
correspond to a representation of a process rather than a static
set of data and accommodate the notion of expectancy [that is,
the expectation of how the text will develop] (1990, 24);
Johnson-Laird speaks of mental models in the homonymous
book published in 1980; whereas van Dijk and Kintsch (1983)
use schemata and situation model for a text in which the
speakers world knowledge is integrated with information derived
from the text (1983, 12). In the above-mentioned article, then,
the intertextual reference to Braveheart creates for readers the
context within which they are bound to place the remaining of
the article, namely a context where football is closely connected
to physical and verbal violence.
In actual fact, recent studies have emphasised that there is a
strong connection between the violence of football as a sport and
the violence of the language used, in particular by the media, to
describe and talk about that sport, with all the consequences this
implies and which we shall briefly discuss below.
response; using pressure tactics and ending politely. In the second case, we
could comment for example on the linguistic and structural choices of the
body-copy, emphasising for example the use of disjunctive language,
imperatives, interrogative sentences, exclamations etc.

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

This was actually the very attitude of the media during the
period when the problem of violence in and around football
reached its climax, namely during the seventies and the eighties
of the twentieth century, when the phenomenon of hooliganism
reached such proportions that British (and other) societies felt
affected by it at more than one level.
Obviously, any involvement in sports should be identified as a
complex social phenomenon, and over the years many
theoreticians have elaborated on the symbolic aggressiveness and
the physical violence which often have characterised the world of
football. However, in spite of the great number of essays, books,
conferences and articles which have tackled this topic, the
borderlines between symbolic aggressiveness and the deritualised forms which enable this aggressiveness to turn into
physical violence are still rather blurry and mainly depend on the
culture of the players and the communities of their supporters.
Similarly, the borderline between what is considered a legitimate
form of violence (which is considered intrinsic to the game itself
and which is therefore tolerated by the participants pragmatic
rules), and the violence which, on the contrary, is perceived as
totally illegitimate, cannot be neatly identified.
It is perhaps this problematic identification of neat borderlines
that led to the very different attitudes that writers (from
academic scholars to journalists) have maintained throughout
the years in relation to the issue of violence in football. Indeed,
during the first phase of this field, which posits itself at a
crossroad where different approaches converge, the general trend
was mainly one of tolerance of all forms of disturbance which did
not directly interfere with the game itself. It was precisely this
attitude that led for example to the creation of the myth of the


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

pre-war football fan, who was allegedly characterised by his

gentlemanly behaviour27.
Similarly, the general idea that the period between the two
world wars witnessed to a decrease of violence in football (which
was largely publicised amongst academic circles as well), can be
defined only as a further myth. Indeed, it was precisely at the
beginning of the thirties that the diffusion of Fascist and Nazi
ideals of virility and healthy bodies, led to an increased
politicisation of football and a dramatic increase of the
intimidation techniques it involved. Clearly, the violent fights
amongst supporters which would characterise the game mainly
from the sixties to the nineties of the twentieth century, were not
so frequent, but it is precisely during this period that the
aggressiveness of the regime conferred a particularly violent
character to the game, especially in Germany. As Kuper
maintains in his Ajax, the Dutch, the War (2003), during those
years, even the German language of football changed
Before Nazism, the Germans seem to have played a soft, slow
and skilful football. Then they were subjected to 12 years of
rhetoric about war, valour, strength and above all Kampf, a
word so central to the Nazi mind that Hitler used it in the title
of his autobiography. Kampf literally means struggle, but even
before Nazism the German word was used with far greater
frequency than the English one. A battle was a Kampf, any
attempt to do anything difficult was a Kampf, and the Nazis
often described life itself as a Kampf (often a Kampf for
existence). During the war the nations press was filled each day
with the manly sacrifices of the Kampfer at the front. The word
was also obsessively overused in German football during the

This aspect was however harshly criticised for example by Hutchinson,

who states that riots, unruly behaviour, violence, assault and vandalism,
appear to have been a well-established, but not necessarily dominant pattern
of crowds behaviour at football matches at least from the 1870s.

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

Nazi years. A match was a Kampf, a battling footballer a

Kampfer, and to play in a battling manner was kampferisch.
After Germany lost to Sweden in 1941, Herberger noted: The
forwards are too soft! No Kampfer!! Against Sweden one can
only win with strength and Kampf, speed and hardness!!

In spite of the fact that, as Kupers text emphasises, the language

of football has always exploited the semantic field of war, the
press of the time, as testified by the words used by several British
newspapers issued on 5th December 193529, just a couple of
years before an Austrian player died in mysterious circumstances
after refusing to play for the Germans in 1938 (Kuper, 2003, 467), celebrated the friendly spirit that characterised the matches at
the time. Yet, as mentioned before, violence was perpetrated,
even though there were no disorders on the ground or amongst
supporters. Indeed, even on the occasion of the match played in


Clearly, it is always during these years that racism in football increased

considerably. Indeed, as Andy Dougan recalls in his Dynamo: Triumph and
Tragedy in Nazi-Occupied Kiev, it was very dangerous to win over the
Germans: The defeat represented an affront to all that the German
occupation stood for [...] Some of the players even thought the Germans may
let them get away with victory, but that was never going to happen [...] And
so it was, that some time after the match [between the Germans and Kievs
team], the Start players were taken away from the Gestapo for three weeks.
After that they were deported to the death camp at Babi Yar and it was there
the Nazis finally ensured that these men would live on in the collective
consciousness and in folk tales, for at the camp three of the players were killed
[...] they were slaughtered one by one, standing in a line, with no great escape
to save them.
The game was played through the friendliest of spirit (The Times);
Greater than the game was the atmosphere of good fellowship in which it was
played (Sporting Life); There was not the slightest disorder. Of course there
was a lot of flag waving but no jarring note to mar a fine afternoons
entertainment (New Chronicle).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

1935, violence erupted at some stage, as the imprisonment of at

least seven people confirms.
It is perhaps because of the psychological consequences
provoked by the attempted collaboration with the Germans in
the creation of a friendly relationship (both in 1935 and 1938),
that during the second half of the twentieth century (namely
when racism and violence in football became an endless source
of media interest), the British press assumed opposite attitudes
in the way this violence was treated by journalists.
Furthermore, the birth of disciplines such as cultural studies
and critical discourse analysis, managed to bring to the fore the
fact that the style adopted by the press when the violence in
football reached its climax (namely the years of such disasters as
that of Birmingham in 1985 when a supporter was killed, 125
were arrested and 176 people were injured and obviously
Brussels when 39 supporters of the Juventus club from Italy
were killed during the finals of Champions League against
Liverpool in 1985), characterised by sensationalism and
hyperboles, contributed to what Stuart Hall defines an
amplification spiral of violence which led to the creation of what
Cohen called a moral panic in British society (1973, 30). It is
precisely this moral panic which was created by the
sensationalist and hyperbolic language we find in headlines such
as TERRIFIED (News of the World, 29th January 1977), and the
use of a sort of prophetic styles in headlines such as Footbals
savages Warming up for the new season (Daily Mirror, 20th
August 1973), or When is it going to end? (Liverpool Echo, 30th
May 1985) or again What comes next? (Toronto Star, 1985, 30)
that can be considered responsible for the creation of the
culture of violence at the basis of hooliganism.
The expectation, as British author Christine Brooke-Rose
sustains, creates the expected (1984, 19), and indeed already in
1967 a supporter of Chelsea, who was arrested because carrying
a razor, defended himself by saying that he had read in the

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

newspaper that the supporters of West Ham would have caused

troubles at the match. This phenomenon led then to the pressing
demand for intervention on the authorities part. Also in this
case, the press posited itself as the representative of British
society through headlines such as GET TOUGH WITH
SOCCER HOOLIGANS (Daily Express, 24th March 1969) or
SMASH THESE THUGS! (Sun, 4th October 1976), or again
birch em, drench them and so on, whose lexical choices, as
we shall see, did not always have positive effects.
It is therefore clear that hooligans, as well as other British
perpetrators of violence of the time30, found in British media an
important echo. Thus, by exploiting typographic strategies such
as capitals headlines, dramatic images, exclamation and question
marks and so on, the press turned the problem of violence in
football into the British disease par excellance.
Clearly I do not want to maintain, as for example Marsh did
(1977, 1989), that hooliganism was simply a construction of
journalists hysteria, and that what was stigmatised as violence in
reality simply corresponded to ritualistic and symbolic patterns
which were exploited by players and supporters to exhibit virile
virtues safely. Yet, it is indubitable that this transformation of a
symbolic form of aggressiveness into a de-ritualised form of
violence was influenced and stimulated by the attitude the media
adopted in their discussions of the phenomenon.
In particular, the language used to construct the category of
the hooligan, on the basis of which other events would be
elaborated later on and interpreted by readers, favoured the
process of amplification referred to above.
If we analyse some of the semantic fields we find in the
newspapers of the time, we can see that the press reacted to the
violent language of hooligans with an equally violent language.
These can be generally identified with counter-culture representatives
such as Mods, Rockers and Skinheads.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Indeed, hooligans were regularly described in terms of their

alleged primitivism, bestiality and lack of humanity (the
animal terrorising of ordinary people, Sunday Mirror, 23rd
March, 1967); their lack of rationality (One of the worst and
most senseless outbreaks of soccer supporter trouble this year,
Sunday Mirror, 7th May, 1967); their madness (United dont
need these lunatic louts to help them win, Sunday Mirror, 26th
October, 1975; The madness on the terraces, Times, 31th May,
1985); their dissociation from the team and irrelevant
numbers (99% of them are blokes who know their football,
who respect its dynamic chief... its the remaining 1% who make
us furious, Sunday Mirror, 10th October, 1965; we cannot
tolerate a situation in which a few louts can terrify thousands of
people (Daily Mirror, 13th August, 1970)31.
This attitude was also corroborated by the various reports
published by pseudo-governmental agencies such as
Harringtons report of 1968 (which emphasised the pathology of
single individuals, who were described in terms of immaturity
and inability to control themselves) or John Langs report, dated
1969 (which simply ignored the great social issues at the basis of
the phenomenon, emphasising on the contrary the psychological
and relational problems of these individuals)32. We therefore see
that the approach of the media and the government appear

In a way, the strategy adopted here recalls the presentation of the

American soldiers involved in the scandal of Iraqi prisoners commented on
supra as a minority group of deviant elements that had nothing to do with
America as a whole.
The reaction of Marxist scholar Ian Taylor was immediate: Simply to
employ a psychiatrist for a national government report is to legitimate the idea
in the popular mind that hooliganism is explicable in terms of the existence
of essentially unstable and abnormal temperament, individuals who happen,
for some inexplicable reason to have taken soccer as the arena in which to act
out their instabilities. The psychological label adds credibility to the idea that
the hooligans are not really true supporters [...] and that they can be dealt
with by the full force of the law and (on occasions) by psychiatrists.

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

rather contradictory to say the least. Indeed, if on the one hand

they presented the phenomenon as a problem of British society,
on the other they wanted to minimise the number of people
involved. This, obviously, because it was easier to blame a small
number of abnormal individuals, rather than analysing (as later
on others would do)33, the political and social forces involved,
thus keeping, once again, the problem away from football itself.
Similarly, the problem of racism in football was treated in a
rather superficial way by both the press and television34, despite
the acknowledgement of the close connection between football,
nation and Empire. On several occasions, both the press and
television dismissed racist verbal abuse as part of the electric
atmosphere surrounding important matches and justifying verbal
attacks against players as representative of the opponent team
and not as Africans or Caribbeans. In actual fact, it was
television that in a similar way to photos and capital headlines
exploited in newspapers by using slow-motion and standstills,
contributed to the problem, adding horror to horror and making
the perpetrators of violence more visible.
Indeed, British popular press has always encouraged
fundamentally racist attitudes and xenophobic tendencies in
society at large, which then could not but get mirrored in
football. Headlines such as We Beat Them in 45... Now the
Battle of 90 (Sun, 1990) or Achtung! Surrender. For you Fritz
ze Euro 96 Championship is over! (Mirror, 1996), or Mirror
Declares Football War on Germany (Mirror, 1996); or again

See for instance John Clarkes work (1973, 1978).

It is precisely these kinds of attitude, that television (whose development
acquired over the years a fundamental importance in sports, while
perpetuating stereotypes in terms of race and/or gender), ignore. Actually,
scholars such as Barnett (1990) and Whannel (1992) maintain that reporters
often refer to ethnic and racial stereotypes to describe foreign players, while
giving much less visibility to female performers in comparison to their male


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Lets Blitz Fritz (Sun, 1996), and Herr We Go (Daily Star,

1996), clearly refer back to the war period and can only lead to
intolerance, at least helping, as MP Kaufman claimed in 1990,
the disorders that broke out in London and Brighton at the time.
Not only this but, as Kevin Young (1992) well demonstrates,
the same paradigms which define newsworthiness emphasise this
tendency, privileging not only negative news, but also
geographically closer episodes. This led for instance to an
unbalanced treatment of a cyclone which, in the same period of
Brussels disaster, hit Bangladesh causing the death of thousands
of people, thereby creating the impression that the death of white
people was more newsworthy and significant when compared to
the death of non-whites. As Young describes:
In a remarkably unbalanced treatment of Brussels and
Bangladesh, the press went on to familiarize many of us with
caricatures of soccer hooligans, with complex diagrams and
illustrations of Heysel stadium and the route taken by the
Liverpool mob into the Z section, while many more
wondered where is Bangladesh anyway? No maps were
provided to answer that question [...] Ironically, none of the
British or North American press reacted to the Bangladesh
cyclone, surely a killing field of much more devastating
proportions, with such emotionally-charged headlines. (1992,
254, 260).

Yet, neither the media nor the government seemed aware of the
fact. Indeed, it is rather easy to support campaigns against
racism when they focus on pathologically aggressive criminal so
neo-Nazis, but it is much more difficult to identify and tackle in
an adequate way the racism and the violence expressed in the
changing-rooms, on the ground itself, in the administrative sites
etc. Furthermore, the fact that certain trainers and managers
expressed themselves in racist terms, even though in mild and
matter-of-fact tones, defining for example black players as black
antelopes, praising their speed while simultaneously

Chapter 2 Discourse and its Defining Elements

emphasising their lack of intellectual capacity (Merkel, 1996)

or the fact that, in their opinion, they have an innate lack of
discipline and consistency, are no good in mud, have no
stamina e lack bottle (Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football
Research, 1), obviously will convey a certain image of the team to
the audience, legitimising a certain community of supporters.
And yet, none of these statements was commented on by the
media. As a consequence, the fundamental racism surrounding
football was not exposed as such and these claims were simply
registered as the norm.
From our discussion above, we can therefore see how the
notions introduced and applied to particular texts in the previous
pages, are clearly closely linked to the notion of context, and as
such become fundamental for translators as well, in that they are
required to re-enact a particular scenario at a later time and in a
different language. This explains why it is important for
translators to fully understand the scenario of the original writer
and to respect the way the same scenario might be constructed
in the target culture. Furthermore, since all cultures build others
through various discourses, the study of stereotypes such as these
becomes an important aspect of cultural and intercultural
studies. This is not the right place to analyse the way these
stereotypes have evolved and how these images are maintained in
our societies. However, it is important to emphasise the close
link between the culture of a particular country, its identity and
the way that society uses language, as this clearly has important
repercussions on the way also translator scan exploit language in
order to render expressions which appear particularly related to
the concept of national identity.
As with idioms and other culture-bound expressions, in fact,
the value and the force entailed by particular words and
intertextual references might vary from source culture to target


Chapter 3

An Introduction to Translation Studies

3.1.Recent Developments in Translation Studies

As mentioned in the previous chapter, the notions of function,
context and intertextuality among others, have become
fundamental for the development of translation studies as well.
In fact, in a more fundamental way than the author of a message,
translators are limited in their actions by a whole set of
conventions (belonging to both the source and the target
context). The translator actually coincides with the linguistic
subject of the enunciation behind which it is impossible to
pinpoint an individual, but a double gap: the person represented
in the translators enunciation is not, obviously enough, the
translator him/herself, but coincides with the person who
corresponds to the name of author who, in his/her turn, has
already become the simple subject of the enunciation and has
disappeared from the text as a person. The origin which,
according to Barthess death of the author, is lost in the written
text because of the way intertextuality acts, is even more remote
when the text is filtered through a translator, since that the
translator loses its autonomy twice: both as the author of the
translation (as s/he is the result of a system of conventions, and
his/her translation depends on systems which s/he cannot
control), and as the author of the text itself, in whose original
production s/he did not take part. However, precisely because
the translator takes on a double role as both the sender and the
receiver of the message, his/her intervention is essential, and the
fact that author and translator somehow overlap clearly becomes

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Indeed, the fact that with structuralism and poststructuralism

language begins to be considered the creator of reality, has
important repercussions even on translators, who become the
holders of an enormous power. This is the reason why there has
recently been a marked revival in the discipline of translation
studies. In actual fact, translation is today considered a powerful
and necessary tool whereby language users can exchange
information and opinions referring to all disciplines.
This aspect has obviously become more important in our
postmodern world, a world in which exchanges between cultures
and their integration is becoming increasingly frequent. This is
why, as the proliferation of courses of studies dedicated to these
issues demonstrates, the notion of cultural mediation is
becoming more and more important.
As Snell-Hornby claims in Translation Studies (1988), we will
always need (and increasingly so) translators, without whom
most of the phenomena which characterise our global society
(such as films, Nobel Prize, scientific research, the Olympics
etc.) could not exist or take place. According to the scholar,
in a world that is rapidly growing smaller, international
communication across cultures and even between the remotest
corners of the earth is gradually being taken for granted, and that
includes overcoming language barriers and cultural differences.
Without translation the world of today with its rapid exchange of
information would be unthinkable.

For reasons of space and for the purpose of the present volume,
I will not be able to tackle every aspect in depth. However,
because An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation
Studies is mainly addressed to students of foreign languages and
translation studies, it concentrates on those theories which
approach issues related to language (the way language works, the
way it can produce meaning, the impact it has on the individual
mind and the surrounding reality and so on); issues related to


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

the notion of identity which Western philosophical tradition has

passed on over the centuries, and the repercussions that this
notion has had on the concept of what has come to be labelled as
national, racial and sexual identity, as expressed in particular
uses of language; and finally on issues related to the status of
knowledge in our society, in particular the demystification of the
notion of absolute knowledge and truth in the domain of
scientific, philosophical, literary and, as we shall see, translation
As many other disciplines, translation studies is relatively
young and dates back to the second half of the twentieth century,
when various information theorists, linguists and even engineers
and mathematicians developed an interest in this field. Basing
their research on the logic of calculators, scholars initially
focused on single words and their transposition, thus rarely
exceeding the level of the sentence, in an attempt to elaborate a
normative and prescriptive model with which to give a set of
rules to translators. Between the end of the 1960s and the
beginning of the 1980s, however, we find signs of reaction to this
aprioristic discipline.
In fact, the theory of translation develops as an independent
discipline during the 1980s, when we begin to talk about
translation studies. According to this discipline, the equivalence
between original text and translation is a relative concept, since
there can be various translations both on a formal and on a
functional level. It will be therefore up to translators to decide
from time to time, according to the text to be translated, the
historical and sociocultural context of both source and target
texts, which is the degree of equivalence they should aim at.
The publication of J.S. Holmess The Name and Nature of
Translation Studies (1972) was, oviously, very important, as this
text laid the basis of the discipline. Here the author expresses his
desire to elevate research in the field of translation to the level of
a complete discipline, claiming that practice should never be

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

separated from theory and that theory of translation should open

up to new developments occurring in other fields.
The objectives of translation studies can therefore be
summarised as follows: to describe translation as a process and
to establish the general principles through which translation can
be explained. Consequently, the discipline is interested in the
description of existing translations, or in the description of the
function performed by translation within particular sociocultural
situations, or even in the description of the mental processes at
work during the act of translating. Moreover, various partial
theories have developed, which are categorised according to the
means translators exploit in the realisation of their translations,
the language used, the culture implicated in the process, the level
of discourse on which the translation focuses (single words or
entire texts), the typology of texts on which the translator focuses
and so on. In addition, translation studies examines the use
made of translation in various fields. Clearly, one of the most
important applications in this sense relates to the teaching of a
second language, both in general terms and, more specifically, in
terms of translation. A second area coincides with an analysis of
the instruments translators have at their disposal (for example,
lexicography and grammar), while a third area relates more
specifically to translators themselves, who try and spread, within
their own field, new information regarding the role and the
position of translators and translations in our society.
The discipline of translation studies came into being as an
answer to the needs of the study of comparative literature, but it
also represented a reaction to what was considered a failure in
the literary and linguistic field. The linguistic approach, in fact,
while giving a less intuitive basis to the study of translation,
simultaneously tended to exclude not only every unscientific
approach, but also literary texts as objects of study. However, if
it is true that an antilinguistic reaction took place, it is also true
that linguistics heavily contributed to the study of translation,

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

because scholars of translation were unsatisfied not only with the

linguistic aspects of translation studies, but also with the
traditional literary approach, especially the rather low level to
which literary translation (and its translators) were relegated.
The first phase of translation studies was highly influenced by
Russian formalism (for example it made an effort to give more
importance to literalness as a discipline on its own, and each text
was considered in specificity and analysed both synchronically
and diachronically), but we can say that the importance ascribed
to context during the 1950s and 1960s brought to what is
normally referred to as the paradigm shift of the 1970s and
1980s, when scholars by moved away from the view of language
as an abstract system purported for example by linguists such
as Chomsky (who focussed on the ideal competence of speakers)
and Bloomfield (who claimed that language should be analysed
isolation, irrespective of the context in which it originated)
which dominated previous decades and began to emphasise the
fundamental relation between language and the context it stems
from. As we have seen in the previous chapters, the fundamental
role ascribed to the context is one of the main and most
fundamental changes which have utterly revolutionised the field
of the study of language in general and, in particular, of
translation. For example, to Hymess insistence on the
importance of communicative competence for users of language
in general, there corresponds the notion of communicative
translation and dynamic equivalence, that is, according to Nida,
the creation of a target language expression which reflects the
way we would say something in the target language (Nida,
3.1.1. Communicative Translation and Translation Loss
The translation of expressions which appear particularly culturebound and idiomatic clearly represents one of the greatest
challenges for translators, who in this instance really have to act

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

as cultural mediators in the attempt to convey in the target text

not only the language, but also the culture of the source text.
Firstly, an expression could be so deeply rooted in the culture
of origin that it might be first of all scarcely comprehensible to
target-language receivers and, secondly, difficult to translate. As
Katan acknowledges in his Translating Cultures (1999), it thus
becomes fundamental for translators to have a strong
background in the culture the texts stem from, in an attempt to
exorcise the filters we resort to, albeit unconsciously, whenever
we approach a text. These filters could actually be identified with
the conceptual and textual grids which, according to Lefevere,
underpin all forms of writing and which derive from the cultural
and literary conventions of a given time and space. According to
Lefevere, problems in translating are caused at least as much by
discrepancies in conceptual and textual grids as by discrepancies
in language (Lefevere, 1999, 76), and translators ought to bear
in mind the sets of grids in both source and target systems, in
order to avoid imposing, for example, Western grids onto nonWestern texts, thus translating non-Western cultures into
Western categories.
This practice could be seen as an example of cultural
transplantation, that is, one of the extremes of the ideal scale
representing the various degrees of cultural transposition the
translator can resort to in his/her work. In this instance, the text
gets almost rewritten from the target-culture perspective,
resulting in what might be more aptly considered an adaptation
rather than a translation proper. As suggested above, this is the
case with some of the texts originating from the postcolonial
world, but also with some American remakes of certain
European films or, as the last section of this chapter well
exemplifies, of British appropriations of French comics.
At the other end of the spectrum, though, opposite
transplantation, we have exoticism and calqued expressions,
thanks to which grammatical and cultural features of the source

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

text are constantly imported into the target text with minimal
adaptation. This practice might therefore result in a text in
which the exotic element is either used by target-language users
to construct source-language users as others (with all the
implications this entails), or which is exploited by sourcelanguage users to affirm their identity and the legitimacy of their
culture and their language.
Between these two extremes (namely exoticism and cultural
transplantation) however, we have two intermediate degrees:
cultural borrowing and communicative translation. The first
one is particularly insidious for translators, who often think they
can simply adopt the foreign word as a loan, without realising
that the same expression might have more meaning in the source
language than in the target language, or might refer to something
different. Indeed, even the fact that a word is pronounced
differently indicates that a lexical item which is apparently used
identically in one language and the other, in reality does not have
the same value. In addition, although the same words appear in
the two languages, they might take on different meaning, or they
might have more meanings in one language than in the other.
Thus, the Italian word ballerina, which has entered the English
language as a loan word, in Britain always indicates a classical
ballet dancer; conversely, the word drink in Italian indicates an
alcoholic drink, whereas in Britain it might well refer to any type
of drink, regardless of its alcoholic content. It is therefore
essential to take into consideration the fact that even loan words
might be culture-biased and determined by the target culture. As
a result, it might be necessary to translate the loan word into
something different. For instance, the literal translation of
spaghetti rings (canned pre-cooked pasta produced by Heinz)
that is, anelli di spaghetti could be identified by Italian
consumers only with difficulty, as spaghetti in Italy is long and


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Finally, we have communicative translation, a practice to

which translators most often refer when translating texts in
which the transmission of the content appears the main target of
translation, independent of stylistic or cultural peculiarities. This
is indeed the kind of translation adopted for clichs, idiomatic
expressions, proverbs and so on, that is, all those cases in which
a literal translation would result in a non-sense or a comic
expression. Communicative translation could thus be defined as
equivalent target-culture situation, and it might be
considered as an exemplification of the notion of dynamic
equivalence elaborated by Nida in 1964. According to Nida,
the relationship between receptor and message should be
substantially the same as that which existed between the original
receptors and the message (1964, 159). Communicative
translation, then, is defined by Nida as the creation of an
expression which reflects the way we would say something in the
target language (1964, 166), and becomes particularly relevant
in the translation of idiomatic expressions, when translators most
of the time are required to create a sort of canonic form, that is,
an expression which is generally accepted as standard by targetlanguage users. Thus, from the point of view of descriptive
equivalence, an expression such as he was born with a silver
spoon in his mouth can be considered equivalent to nato con
un cucchiaio dargento in bocca. Descriptive equivalence refers
in fact to the relationship between source-text features and
target-text features that are seen as directly corresponding to one
another, regardless of the quality of the target text and the fact
that particular target-text features might not be charged with the
same meaning as it was originally intended in the source text.
However, prescriptively, the equivalent of the expression would
be nato con la camicia. In order to produce a communicative
translation, then, translators have at their disposal various
strategies which might help them in their task.


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

3.1.2. Malones Translation Strategies

In his work The Science of Linguistics in the Art of Translation
(1988), Malone identifies nine main strategies:
1. Equation: according to Malones definition (1988, 15), this
strategy suggests some form of automatic equivalence. The
most obvious cases are loan words (as with spaghetti) and
calques, that is single words which are taken from the source
language and (phonetically, graphically and syntactically)
adapted to the target language, as in the Italian expressions
dribblare, crossare and so on. Generally speaking, this strategy
refers to the fact that if no other reason exists, a term should
be translated by its one-to-one equivalent, as in man,
generally translated as uomo, or dog, usually translated as
cane. When adopting this strategy, however, translators should
be particularly aware of false cognates (namely false friends,
that is items which seem to correspond in meaning to some
word in another language, but which in fact have a different
meaning or cannot be used in the same tenses)1, or partial
cognates (when the transparent translation is valid in some
situations but not in others). Thus, even though occasionally
the Italian word realt might be correctly translated as
reality, quite often it must be rendered differently. As
Browne and Natali suggest in Bugs and Bugbears (1989, 141),
expressions such as:
a. larte come imitazione della realt
b. la realt dura

Thus, blue eyes should generally be translated in Italian as occhi

azzurri, and not occhi blu; actual should be translated as effettivo, and
not attuale, which means current; accuracy should be rendered with
precisione, and not accuratezza, which means care; argument would be
argomentazione or litigio, and not argomento, translated as topic,
casual is informale, as casuale would be chance, used as an adjective,
and so on.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies


la sua malattia una realt

progetti che diventano realt
spesso la realt ci sfugge
ha il senso della realt
bisogna tenere in considerazione la realt locale
gli editori devono conoscere bene la realt sociale
la realt economica

shall thus be translated as:


art as imitation of nature

life is hard (its a hard life)
her illness is genuine
plans which are realised
often we dont see things as they really are
he is realistic
we must keep local needs in mind
publishers need to have a thorough knowledge of the
social scene
i. the economic situation

thereby exemplifying the predilection of English for more

specific terms in comparison to the Italian vaguer concept of
2. Divergence: this strategy means choosing a suitable term
from a range of potential alternatives. For example, the
English word cream could be translated in Italian as both
panna or crema, and it is up to the translator to choose the
correct alternative. It is therefore important not to stop at the
first meaning we find in a dictionary, if we want to avoid
inadequate translations. The strategy of divergence, however,
also relates to grammatical constructions, in that at times
more than one paradigm in the target language can be said to
translate appropriately a paradigm in the source text. This is
for instance the case of the Italian expression se dovesse
succedere, which might be translated into English as should
it happen, if it should happen, were it to happen and if it

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

were to happen. Similarly, an English possessive adjective or

pronoun might be translated in many different ways in Italian,
according to the number and the gender of the possession in
question. Thus, his, might become il suo, la sua, i suoi,
le sue.
3. Amplification: according to Malone, translators resort to
this strategy whenever they add some element to the source
text in order to make it more comprehensible to the target
readers, as with translators notes, bracketed additions or
simple additions. Thus, if in a text of contemporary history
the translator finds the sentence Callaghan still needs to find
two more votes before tonights division (Wheen, 2004, xii),
and correctly translates the sentence with Callaghan deve
trovare altri due voti prima della votazione per divisione di
questa sera, s/he might want to add a note in which s/he
explains that lespressione votazione per divisione si riferisce
alla votazione dei parlamentari alla camera dei comuni in due
gruppi, adding a [n.d.t.] at the end of the sentence to indicate
that this explanation was not present in the original text
(Wheen, 2005).
This strategy might also be required where the source
language takes for granted certain components which may be
cultural, semantic, linguistic or a mixture of these. Thus,
County, might be translated as Il County football or
something similar, in order to render explicit that we are
dealing with a football team. When adopting this strategy,
however, translators should carefully consider whether the
addition is necessary and whether it might result in a
redundant target text. Thus, a word like wilks which
Jamaica Kincaid uses instead of the standard whelks in A
Small Place (1998, 57) was translated as molluschi in the first
instance, and amplified immediately afterwards by the
translator who, after a dash, adds: i wilks, le chiocciole di
mare (2000, 61). As a result, the sentence as a whole well

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

exemplifies what Venuti, in his The Translators Invisibility,

calls a foreignising strategy (1995, 23). Foreignising,
basically means making readers see the (cultural and
linguistic) differences between their target culture, which they
perceive as domestic, and the source culture, which is
generally perceived as other. Domesticating, on the
contrary, means rendering the source text familiar and
recognisable for the target reader. As Venuti explains,
Because translation can contribute to the invention of
domestic literary discourses, it has inevitably been enlisted in
ambitious cultural projects, notably the development of a
domestic language and literature. And such projects have
always resulted in the formation of cultural identities aligned
with specific social groups, classes and nations (1995, 18).

In the translation provided above by Cavagnoli of Kincaids

text, then, the term is kept in the original and italicised, but
with a domesticating component, whereby the information it
carries is made explicit in order to render wilks familiar to
target language speakers. The sentence as a whole, however,
sounds rather redundant, and because amplification is still
incapable of indicating the fact that the author used a nonstandard form in the source text, this strategy appears here
unjustified and rather ineffective.
4. Diffusion: this strategy is concerned with the phenomenon of
linguistically slackening source-text expressions for the target
text version, that is, providing more elaboration in order to
render the source-text expression in terms that are recognised
as familiar by target-language receivers. Thus the Italian
magari! could be translated as if only I could/I wish that were
the case, thereby providing another example of
communicative translation. As Taylor notes, yet a further
category is represented by the Italian subjunctive and
conditional, which can express many different meanings and


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

often need diffusion in English, as in the example la banda

avrebbe rapinato tre banche, which in English would result in
a passive voice as in the gang is alleged/said/reported to have
robbed three other banks (1998, 57). Another example might
be the use of Italian plural words which in English, being
uncountable, need the addition of some extra element as with
informazioni, translated as some information or consigli,
translated as pieces of advice.
According to Malones classification, to these strategies there
correspond antithetical strategies:
5. Substitution (antithesis of equation): in this case, the
translation has no morphosyntactic or semantic resemblance
to the source text. From a grammatical perspective, for
example, the English genitive has no correspondence in
Italian, where it has to be replaced by the form di, as in
Gullivers Travels, which is regularly translated as I viaggi di
Gulliver. On a semantic level the examples are many, and refer
mainly to proverbs, idiomatic expressions, figurative uses of
language and so on, when translators replace an expression
with a completely different one which bears no resemblance
(from a phonetic, grammatical and semantic point of view) to
the source-language expression. Thus, an expression such as
its raining cats and dogs should be translated as piove a
catinelle; the straw that broke the camels back should result
in la goccia che ha fatto traboccare il vaso; and you cant
have your cake and eat it, would become the Italian non si
pu tenere il piede in due staffe.
6. Convergence (antithesis of divergence): Malone defines this
strategy as the process thanks to which translators identify the
most suitable term in the target language into which various
terms of the source language might converge (1988, 36). For
example, the Italian forms tu/Lei/loro/voi are translated as


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

you, and the various titles commercialista/ragioniere/

contabile all correspond to the English accountant.
7. Reduction (antithesis of amplification): this strategy consists
of omitting elements in the target language because they are
redundant or misleading. For instance, we do not translate
carta geographica with geographical map but simply with
map. Also in this case, however, translators ought to be
careful not to betray the source text by making decisions
which are clearly inconsonant with the authors aims. For
example, in Things Fall Apart (1958), Chinua Achebe makes it
clear within the text that the word harmattan refers to a wind
from the Sahara by stating (for example) that the cold and
dry harmattan wind was blowing down from the north (1988,
18). Yet, Silvana Antonioli Cameroni, who translated the text
into Italian, somewhat arbitrarily adopts a strategy of
reduction, omitting in her translation dal nord soffiava
asciutto e freddo lharmattan (1994, 7) the explicit
reference to wind, presumably because considered
redundant. If it is true that the concept of wind is already
implied by both the verb to blow and the term harmattan, it
is also true that Achebe himself thought the word might be
difficult for an English-speaking audience to identify.
Consequently, he decided to introduce an expression which in
the source text might seem redundant to those readers who do
know what harmattan is. However, this would be clearly
essential for all those readers who do not know how African
people call the wind from the Sahara, and one might therefore
wonder why the translator should think that term would be
known to every Italian reader who happens to approach the
8. Condensation (antithesis of diffusion): in this case the target
text is more economic from a linguistic point of view. This is
true of the Italian expression a buon prezzo which should be
rendered in English as cheap, and of the verb far vedere,

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

usually translated as show. We also talk about condensation

when we have strings of adjectives and nouns which form
concise, lexically-dense noun phrases (as in newspaper
headlines, where they can often cause ambiguity as to the
meaning of the textual segment).
The last strategy Malone takes into consideration, is
9. Reordering, that is, the way words are positioned in the one
language and the other. There are of course many examples of
reordering: perhaps the simplest form it takes corresponds to
the basic inversions of the adjective-noun sequence, which in
Italian becomes a noun-adjective sequence (black dog: cane
nero), and the verb-object positioning (I love you: (io) ti
Obviously, as Taylor emphasises, it is important for translators
to know when to adopt this strategy, whether for linguistic or
rhetorical reasons, as in the case of the English expression high
pressure, which in a medical context should be translated as
pressione alta, whereas in a meteorological context should be
rendered as alta pressione (1998, 61). In addition, translators
ought to be aware of the fact that although set collocations of
two or more items might exist in both languages, they do not
always match perfectly, as in the case of the expression life and
death which finds its counterpart in the Italian vita e morte.
More often than not, collocations differ one way or another. For
instance, they might match partly, while belonging to the same
semantic field, as with the English expression safe and sound,
which becomes sano e salvo; match perfectly but in inverted
form, as with black and white, which in Italian becomes bianco
e nero; maintain half the pairing, as with the devil and the
deep blue sea, which might be rendered as il diavolo e
lacquasanta; or have no equivalent binomial form, as with the
expressions spick and span, or the Italian pochi ma buoni.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

As far as the sentence is concerned, the frequent use of the

passive voice in English makes it necessary to reorder in Italian.
The English passive form, then, might be translated with:
an Italian passive voice (although less used than in English:
la porta viene chiusa);
the impersonal construction known in Italian as si
passivante (si sentono voci for voices can be heard);
an active form using verbs with impersonal agents whose
nominal or pronominal identity never appears (mi hanno
detto che for I have been told that);
a participial construction (sometimes used also in English:
il motivo del reato, rivelato dallavvocato dellimputato, for
the motive for the crime, (which was) revealed by the
defendants lawyer);
a continuos active form (lo stanno interrogando for he is
being interrogated).
We can therefore see how the fairly rigid English structure
theme rheme often needs to be changed.
3.1.3. The Cultural Turn
We have actually seen that, with the paradigm shift of the 1970s
and 1980s, scholars such as Lefevere began to encourage a more
flexible approach to translation (now understood as a rewrite).
According to Lefevere, re-writers tend to change the originals in
order to adapt them to contemporary ideologies and poetic
conceptions, an aspect of translation which is evident for
example in the German translation of Goldhangens Hitlers
Willing Executioners (1996)2, and, as we shall see, various

In this text, in fact, the translator tries to intervene directly onto those
expressions which point clearly to the responsibility the German population
has had in the Holocaust. As House notes, the constant juxtaposition of the
words German and Jewish (and their various derivations) is of course
destroyed if the word German is deleted (1997, 155). As Lorenza Rega
emphasises, scorrendo la versione italiana (D.J. Goldhagen, I volonterosi

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

translations of different kinds of texts. Lefevres concept of

rewriting comprises all forms of textual manipulation,
including, besides translation proper, different typologies of texts
such as theatre and cinema adaptations, childrens literature,
shortened editions, anthologies, etc.
Thus, rather than strictly focusing on linguistic aspects such
as syntax, the paradigm shift introduced above, encouraged a
more flexible approach to translation. It was Lefevere and
Bassnett who, in a famous article, referred to the notion of
cultural turn originally elaborated by Snell-Hornby (1990),
according to which a translation cannot simply coincide with a
linguistic transcoding, but has to posit itself as a cultural transfer
as well. As anticipated above, then, also in translation studies the
receiver viewpoint becomes paramount, and the emphasis is laid
not so much on micro- and macro-syntactical elements, but on
higher structures and on the relevance that the target text
assumes in the target culture.
In particular, Gideon Toury (an exponent of the targetoriented approach, according to which translators mainly operate
in the interest of the target culture and language), adopts the
concept of polisystem elaborated by Itamar Even-Zohar, and
delineates his definition of translation conventions, dividing
them into initial (to which translators resort in order to decide
whether to adhere to the source-text conventions, adopt the
conventions of the target text or embrace the conventions of
carnefici di Hitler, Mondadori, Milano 1997), si individuano le stesse
omissioni, anche se ovviamente il pubblico italiano non cos direttamente
sensibile sul problema rispetto a quello tedesco; cancellare dapprima ogni
influenza dei cittadini ebrei sulla societ, e poi la loro stessa presenza. Il
traduttore italiano Enrico Basaglia avverte per di aver mantenuto la
differenza fra executioner (carnefice), perpetrator (realizzatore), executor
(esecutore), actor o agent (agente o agente materiale), vista limportanza di
queste differenziazioni per il senso del testo. Tale differenziazione manca
invece nella traduzione tedesca, ed stata rilevata da House come fattore
negativo ai fini della valutazione del testo tradotto (Rega, 2001, 20).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

both systems); preliminary (which include factors such as those

regulating the selection of the work to be translated and the
general strategies of translation to be adopted within the
polistystem), and operative (which refer specifically to the
decisions taken during the translation process).
In addition, the notion of polisystem is to be understood as a
whole set of literary systems which include both high and low
forms. Thus, whereas translation studies scholars initially
believed in the subjective ability of the translator to create an
equivalent of the original text, which then would influence the
literary and cultural conventions of a given society, polisystemic
theoreticians started from opposite premises. They believed,
indeed, that the social and literary conventions of the target
culture fundamentally constituted the translators aesthetic
sense, and that, consequently, they were the ones to influence
the translators decisions and the strategies to be adopted.
Thanks to polisystemic theory, then, not only are translations
and interliterary relations amongst different cultures described
more precisely, but even the actual literary and linguistic
developments, together with the interliterary relationships within
the system, are analysed and brought to light through
From what suggested above, it appears clear that the notion of
an ideal equivalence between source text and target text has been
abandoned. The translation loss which necessarily marks any
translation is now acknowledged. Indeed, rather than holding
onto an absolutist ambition to maximise the sameness between
source text and target text which encourages the conviction
that there is a right translation it seems now more useful to
admit that translation always results in a different target text, and
that some elements of the source text are, inevitably, lost in the
process. Translation loss therefore corresponds to an incomplete
replication of the source text in the target text and suggests the
loss of textual and cultural features in the translated text. Indeed,

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

although some scholars refer to the differences between source

text and target text as translation gains, for example when the
target text is more explicit, precise, or economical than the
source text, the difference still corresponds to a loss, in that the
target text fails to replicate grammatical, phonic and prosodic
features of the source text.
Real homonymy very rarely occurs, and even from a phonic,
rhythmic and prosodic point of view, there can be no real
equivalence. For instance, cane and dog, while indicating the
same referent, sound completely different, and therefore
exemplify a phonic translation loss. Clearly, in a veterinary
textbook this loss does not matter, but if the source text word is
part of an alliterative pattern in a literary text, or appears in a
poem or a song where it rhymes with another word (as for
example log, as in the Beatles song Hard Days Night), the loss
evidently becomes crucial.
This aspect is well exemplified by the fact that even when
source-text words have entered the target language as loan
words, we still experience translation loss. The way speakers of
the target language pronounce words which come from another
language differs in fact from the way native speakers may
pronounce that same word in their own language. Furthermore,
as noted above, although the term might have acquired a place in
the dictionary of the target language, it still introduces a touch of
foreignness which is not present in the source language, and it
might acquire a slightly different meaning in the target language.
Translators, then, have to consider the consequences implied
by the fact that, for example, hostess is exotic in Italian and not
in English, and sounds different in each language, or the fact that
the expression nato con la camicia is phonically, rhythmically,
grammatically, lexically and metaphorically different form he
was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, etc.
As we have seen, this also depends on the kind of text we are
translating and on the function language has in that particular

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

text. Thus, in the case of literary texts, it is important to take

into account the literacy of the text. Philological translators, for
example, by taking a positivist attitude and holding that what can
be translated, can be translated clearly, and that what cannot be
translated clearly must be confined to silence, often replace
literary texts with non-literary texts. Against this view of
language and translation, it is better to adopt a more flexible
attitude, which might enable translators to render, in their
translations, at least some of the features of the source text.
Clearly even a category such as literary texts is rather vague,
but we shall refer here to the analysis Susan Bassnett makes of
the Specific Problems of Literary Translation (1991, 76), in
order to tackle, albeit very superficially, the various types of text
which could be considered literary. This is in no way an
adequate analysis of this extremely rich field. I hope nonetheless
it will give some idea of the complexity literary translation
involves. In particular, we shall refer here to the problems
inherent the translation of literary prose. Also in the translation
of prose, it is essential for translators to consider the text as a
whole, while bearing in mind the stylistic and syntactical
exigencies of the target language (Bassnett, 1991, 117).
In her work, Bassnett quotes the list of general rules
elaborated by Belloc (1931). Although the prescriptive attitude
implicit in the concept of rule has been supplanted, as we have
seen, by a more resilient approach which has taken the form of a
series of principles and general guidelines theoreticians have
attempted to identify as useful for translators, this list still
represents a good example of possible approaches to literary
The translator should consider the work as an integral unit
and translate in sections, rather than word by word.
The translator should render idiom by idiom, and idioms of
their nature demand translation into another form from that
of the original.

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

The translator must render intention by intention [even

though this is a very controversial notion, we can see the word
intention within the context of the skopos theorie briefly
introduced below].
The translator should pay particular attention to false friends
and partial false friends.
The translator should never embellish.
In order to emphasise the complex nature of literary translation,
there follows another list of guidelines for translators, which
Savory elaborated in order to summarise the seemingly
contradictory alternative demands made of translation:

A translation must give the words of the original.

A translation must give the ideas of the original.
A translation should read like an original work.
A translation should read like a translation.
A translation should reflect the style of the original.
A translation should possess the style of the translation.
A translation should read as a contemporary of the original.
A translation should read as a contemporary of the
A translation may add to or omit from the original.
A translation may never add to or omit from the original.
A translation of verse should be in prose.
A translation of verse should be in verse.
(Savory, 1968, 54).

We can therefore see how the translator, very often, must

answer to contrasting demands whenever s/he approaches a text,
questioning each strategy s/he decides to adopt at every step.
Bearing these general remarks in mind, I would like to
proceed to a brief analysis of an extract from the novel
Autobiography of my Mother by Jamaica Kincaid, and compare
this source text with the relative Italian translation which, clearly,
works in this context as our target text. Albeit very superficial,
this analysis might in fact be useful to highlight those aspects

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

which, while being of little or no importance in a mainly

informative text, can assume a fundamental importance in the
translation of a literary text:
The fisherman is coming in from sea; their catch is bountiful,
my mother has seen to that. As waves plop plop against each
other, the fishermen are happy that the sea is calm. My mother
points out the fisherman to me, their contentment is a source of
my contentment. Im sitting in my mothers enormous lap.
Sometimes I sit on a mat she has made for me from her hair.
The lime trees are weighed down with limes-I have already
perfumed myself with blossoms. A hummingbird has nested on
my stomach, a sign of my fertileness. My mother and I live in a
bower made from flowers whose petals are imperishable. There
is the silvery blue of the sea crisscrossed with short darts of light,
there is the warm rain falling on the clumps of castor bush, there
is the small lamb bounding across the pasture, there is the soft
ground welcoming the soles of my pink feet. It is in this way my
mother and I have lived for a long time (Kincaid, 1997, 60)

Even from a first reading of the extract, it appears immediately

obvious that the text relies on specific rhetorical aspects such as
syntactical repetitions (there is [...] theres [...] there is); lexical
repetitions (the fishermen, my mother, contentment);
onomatopoeia (plop plop) and alliteration (s in There is the
silvery blue of the sea crisscrossed with short darts of light).
Now, if we compare the source text with the target text, some of
the strategies the translator decided to adopt cannot but strike us
as questionable, to say the least:
I pescatori stanno tornando dal mare; la loro pesca
abbondante; mia madre vi ha provveduto. Mentre le onde si
infrangono, si infrangono le une contro le altre, i pescatori sono
felici che il mare sia calmo. Mia madre mi indica i pescatori, la
loro contentezza motivo della mia contentezza. Sono seduta
nellenorme grembo di mia madre. A volte sono seduta su una
stuoia che lei ha fatto con i suoi capelli per me. Gli alberi di lime


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

sono appesantiti dai frutti- mi sono gi profumata con i loro

Un colibr ha fatto il nido sul mio stomaco, un segno della
mia fertilit. Mia madre e io viviamo in una capanna fatta di
fiori i cui petali sono eterni. C il blu argenteo del mare,
attraversato da luminosi raggi di luce, cade una pioggia calda sui
rami di ricino, un agnellino saltella sul pascolo, i miei piedi rosei
poggiano su un soffice terreno. Cos mia madre e io viviamo da
molto tempo. (Kincaid, 1997, 38-40)

In the translation of this segment, which refers to obeah

mythology (an ancestral tradition which stems from the
encounter between the African culture of the diaspora and the
native Carib people), the only characteristic the translator could
not avoid respecting is in fact lexical repetition. On the contrary,
syntactical repetition, the use of the onomatopoeic expression
referring to the waves, and the alliteration of the letter s, which,
as suggested above, characterise this text, are ignored. We can
therefore see here the importance that, in a literary text as well as
other kinds of texts, the notion of function can assume and the
importance for the translator to maintain, in the target text, a
function equivalent to that of the source text. Yet, Skopostheorie
does not take into account the cultural complexity of the
translating process (both from the source text and the target text
point of view), and the fact that not only can the target text
maintain only some of the original functions, but that it can also
assume different functions within the target culture. Translation
studies, then, deemed translations to be, facts of target cultures,
emphasising that one particular target text will respect certain
features of the source text and not others, according to which
one is prevalent in the source text, thereby further stressing that
absolute equivalence is impossible. Indeed, in the same way that
in the last half century or so, poststructuralism and
postmodernism have acknowledged that there exists no universal
truth, that the epistemological innocence of the nineteenth

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

century, with its infallible grand-narratives, is finished and, as a

consequence, that at the core of a text there is no fundamental
truth to be unveiled, even so within the discipline of translation
studies it is now admitted that there is no absolute truth to be
conveyed in translation (Simon, 1999, 63). This concept is also
implied by de Camposs idea that translation as
transtextualisation demythicises the ideology of fidelity (Vieira,
1999, 110), in that it expresses a refusal to duplicate the original.
The many neologisms coined by the Brazilian translator Haroldo
de Campos to define translation (in this particular instance
translation of postcolonial texts), suggest very well the refusal of
the notion of an ideal equivalence in favour of a more creative
poetics of translation, which he defines as reinvention,
recreation, translumation, transparadisation, transtextualisation, transcreation, transluciferation, poetic reorchestration, reimagination etc.
In addition, by constructing a whole discourse around
Antropofagia in the 1960s, and by publishing Da Razo
Antropofgica: Dilogo e Diferena na Cultura Brasiliera in the
1980s, de Campos has re-evaluated the original notion of
Antropofagia, as expressed in the Brazilian avant-garde of the
1920s. By being applied to a poetics of translation, the metaphor
of anthropophagy unsettles the primacy of origin and emphasises
the role of the receiver in translation in so far as, as Vieira
Cannibalism is a metaphor actually drawn from the natives
ritual whereby feeding from someone or drinking someones
blood [...] was a means of absorbing the others strength, a
pointer to the very project of the Anthropophagy group: not to
deny foreign influences or nourishment, but to absorb and
transform them by the addition of autochthonous input (1999,

By so doing, then, Anthropophagy and de Camposs re-reading

of it establish themselves as non-Eurocentric theories of

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

translation which, as de Campos himself claims in Translation

as Creation and Criticism, enable the revitalisation of the past
precisely via translation (1992, 36). Thus, according to de
Campos, the target language and the culture it carries will
interweave and transform the source text, thereby making
translation into a two-way transcultural enterprise (Vieira,
1999, 106).
These notions clearly raised the issue of finding a precise
definition of culture and, as we shall see below, different schools
approached the problem from different perspectives. Clearly, a
detailed description of the debate on culture cannot be the focus
of this analysis, but in the following pages I will try and clarify
what we mean by culture in order to understand how this
notions determines the language used by speakers/writers and, of
course, translators.
3.2.Culture and the Notion of Cultural Translation
One of the oldest definitions of culture was formulated by the
English anthropologist Edward Barnett Tylor in 1871. According to
him, culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge,
belief, art, law, costumes. By 1952, American anthropologists
Kroeber and Kluckholn had compiled a list of 164 definitions
(1952, 181).
As Garzone points out in her The Cultural Turn (2002), we
can identify two main conceptions of culture, one which refers to
the visible, empirically observable aspects of a nations life which
tend to be considered, within that nation, shared knowledge (e.g.
literature, law, religion etc.) and a more anthropological definition,
which is situated at a higher level of generalisation and concerns
invisible aspects such as values, beliefs etc. We can therefore see
that Tylors quotation cited above comprises both distinct elements
and can thus be said to bring together, if only intuitively, different


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

theoretical stances which, because of the broadness of the subject,

would be subsequently dealt with separately.
This basic distinction, then, can be identified with what Hall
terms high culture (which is external to the individual and related
to a particular body of knowledge learned) and low culture (which
is internal, collective and, rather than learned, is acquired). This
definition, which recalls Halls distinction between formal and
informal culture (1959) and Robinsons division in external and
internal culture (1988), is to be understood in terms of a shared
mental model or map of the world, and cannot but bring to mind
Hofstedes famous title Software of the Mind (1991), which
indicates, precisely, the cultural programmes shared by an entire
As suggested above, we can identify different approaches to the
study of culture, from the behaviourist (which tends to be
ethnocentric and refuses any contextualisation of its subject matter),
to the functionalist (which looks at the reasons behind behaviour,
but is still very culture-bound in its evaluations) and the cognitive
approach (which attempts to account for the way the brain works,
as with Hofstede).
Similarly, we can refer to various models of culture elaborated
within each approach. As such, we can refer for example to:
Trompenaars layers (the external layer corresponding to
artefacts; the middle layer corresponding to norms and values
and the core corresponding to basic assumptions, 1993, 23);
Hofstedes onion model (the outer layer containing practices,
the following symbols, heroes and rituals, and the central
values, 1991, 7 9);
Brake et al.s Iceberg Theory (1995, 39), which they elaborated
on Halls cultural triad of 1952, according to which we could
technical culture (i.e. communication at the level of science,
which in Brake et al.s model corresponds to the tip of the
iceberg); formal culture (which is part of an accepted way of

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

doing things, as with traditions, rules etc. and thus related to

concepts such as appropriacy, and is just below the surface of
water) and informal culture (which accounts for the majority
of the speaker/writers orientation toward action,
communication, power, individualism etc. By relating to the
illocutionary force of our utterances and, as Ulrych
emphasises (1992, 254), to the connotative meaning of our
utterances, this type of culture remains invisible, well below
the water level).
From this list, and the reproduction of the Iceberg Model below
(see also Katan, 1999), which well encapsulates the various
distinctions made above, it appears clear that all these elements
scholars recognise (despite the different labels assigned to them),
determine the individuals verbal and non-verbal behaviour, his/her
choice of dress, music, food, the way s/he interacts with others etc.

Indeed, as Saville-Troike emphasises in her The Ethnography of

Communication, culture encompasses all of the shared rules for
appropriate behaviour that are learned by individuals as a

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

consequence of being members of the same group or

community (1986, 47- 48).
This notion, obviously, embraces language which, as
emphasised before, is no longer seen as an isolated phenomenon
but as part of culture and, as such, appears determined by it. It
was actually an anthropologist, Franz Boas, who began to
discuss the links between language, thought and culture, stating
that that the form of the language will be moulded by the state of
the culture. This led to the notion of cultural relativism which,
after Boas, would be developed by scholars such as Malinowski
according to whom language is essentially rooted in the reality of
the culture (1938, 305) and Sapir (1949, 207) according to
whom language does not exist apart from culture. It was actually
him who, by maintaining that language could only be interpreted
within a culture and that no two languages are ever sufficiently
similar to be considered as representing the same reality,
elaborated the famous, if controversial, Sapir-Whorf
Clearly, the strong version of the hypothesis that language
determines the way language users think has been contested,
not least by translation scholars Hatim and Mason, who in their
Discourse and the Translator, point out that if the theory were
true, it would mean that translators would be incapable of
conceptualising in categories other than those of their mothertongue (1990, 29). Yet, a weaker version of the hypothesis
namely that language influences thought is by now widely
As Montgomery emphasises, in fact, language takes on
meaning within a culture and tends to condition our thoughts
(1986, 178). This clearly implies that the same word can mean
different things to people from different cultures in terms of
connotative values and that, is a specific concept within a
particular culture is missing, there will be no word for that
concept. This is the reason why the process of translation is now

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

being understood as an exercise not only in understanding texts,

but in understanding cultural frames (Katan, 1999, 159). Hence
the replacement of linguistic translation with the notion of
cultural translation and the by now universally accepted
proposition that the translation of a language implies the
translation of the culture which finds expressions in that
Thus, the traditional notion of the translator as the one who
mechanically transposes words from one language to another has
now been replaced by the idea of the translator as a cultural
mediator, meaning a person who works as an intermediary
between the receiver and the author of a text, and who, through
his/her research work and textual production, enables the users
of a language to receive the cultural products originally intended
for speakers of another language. In a similar way to SnellHornby, who suggests that the translation process can no longer
be envisaged as being between two languages but between two
cultures involving cross cultural transfer (1988, 39 64), so
Fruttero and Lucentini advocate that the translator is asked to
master not one language but everything that is behind a
language, that is, an entire culture, an entire world, and entire
way of seeing the world (2003, 60).
As a consequence, understanding the culture of a country
becomes even more relevant when we are called to translate texts
which more specifically deal with the culture of one given
country, with the way this culture interacts with other cultures,
and the way in which this culture is read by others.
This is why translation studies should go hand in hand with
cultural studies, a discipline which developed in the 1950s and
which raised questions such as what does studying the culture of
a country mean?; why should we study it?; which tools do we
have to do this?, all questions which are often taken for granted.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

3.2.1. The Development of Cultural Studies

It was precisely the development of cultural studies that focused
the attention on texts other than literary, and on the importance
of assimilating not only the language, but also the culture of a
country/individual in order to achieve a real communication.
One of the fundamental, though often underestimated
principles of this discipline which is closely linked to the study
of the English language and often appears on a border line where
literary and cultural studies overlap is that it is possible to
obtain a true form of communication only when speakers are
aware of the cultural context in which the language is used. In
order to achieve real communication a felicitous
communication, as Austin would say (1972), that is, a
communication in which the addresser of the message manages
to perform, through his/her speech act, precisely what s/he
wanted to perform (give an order, celebrate a wedding,
apologise, make a promise, etc.) it is not enough to know a
language. One always needs to know about the culture as well,
the context in which the language is used and the implications
which certain linguistic attitudes can have in one culture and/or
society. Thus, cultural studies tries to uncover the mechanisms
which determine the communication between the sender and the
receiver of a message, be they individuals, institutions or society
as a whole.
One of the fundamental aims of cultural studies, then, and
one which is of fundamental importance for translators as well, is
the investigation of the power relationships which underlay
various forms of exchange, in an attempt to understand in which
way these relationships shape the cultural practices of a specific
society. Indeed, cultural studies claim to achieve a moral
evaluation of modern society and by their commitment to radical
lines of political action they aim to understand and change the
structures of dominance everywhere.


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

Because of this, cultural studies often relying on disciplines

such as critical discourse analysis favours the analysis of
various types of discourse, emphasising that there no longer
exists a single privileged discourse of culture of which a restricted
elite might have the monopoly (as might have been the case with
literary discourse). Culture is in fact composed by many different
discourses, high and low, standard and non-standard. Indeed,
even in the three fundamental texts of the discipline The Uses of
Literacy by Richard Hoggart (1957), Culture and Society by
Raymond Williams (1958) and The Making of the English
Working Class by E.P. Thompson (1963) the term culture
indicates a complex and pluridimensional entity which includes
the products of class, ethnic, age and gender groups very
different from one another.
This is the reason why the theoretical positions of the
founders of cultural studies were soon to find a counterpart in
the development of folk music, pop music (literally, popular
music), the media, various youth trends such as mods, rockers
and punks3, that is, a series of cultural and social phenomena
which seemed to confirm the fact that culture could no longer be
understood as univocal, but had to be looked at as an ensemble
of voices and different languages: the language of literature, of
course, but also the language of music, the language of fashion,
or the language of the Tour de France (analysed for example by
Barthes in Mythologies); in a word, all those texts which concur
in forming our life and which, because of this, can be considered
the intertexts of our life, that is, the various symbolic systems
which are thought of as composing culture.
Culture therefore appears to be a rather ambiguous concept,
and the elusiveness of the term clearly has important

During the 1970s, the study of the style and behaviour of young
working-class men became an obsession of British cultural studies. It was only
during the 1980s that this narrow perspective broadened as to include women
and blacks.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

repercussions on the methodologies adopted by cultural studies

in its analysis of the various discourses produced by a particular
society. For example, whereas most anthropologists adopt a
generic conception of culture characterised by generalisation,
defining it as a form of social behaviour related to the habits, the
values, the beliefs etc. of a community, for others it corresponds
to an abstraction from behaviour.
Furthermore, while for some the material products of a
certain group (such as fashion, pottery, music and so on) make
up the culture of that group, for others anything material is
extraneous to culture. To these restricted (and restricting)
notions of culture, however, there correspond others which seem
to be all-inclusive and encompass virtually everything. For
example, according to Raymond Williams who could be said to
hold what Garzone defines as a specifically culturological
perspective on culture (2002, 160) culture includes the
organisation of production, the structure of the family, the
structure of the institutions which express or govern social
relationships within a community, the characteristic forms
through which members of a society communicate. As such, it
encompasses literature, history, religion, the law and everything
that comprises the shared knowledge of a community in relation
to various aspects of contemporary life such as the press,
television, fashion and so on.
Many distinctions can therefore be made as to the definitions
of culture: anthropological vs. culturological, formal vs. informal,
and even culture proper (understood as the cultural programmes
of an entire nation) vs. sub-culture (associated by Hofstede with
profession, regional background, sex, age group and the
organisations to which the members of a community belong),
and each of them entails a shift of emphasis and has therefore
important consequences on the way we interpret (and translate)
the cultural products of a community.


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

Because of the difficulty in defining culture, the subject of

cultural studies as a discipline can appear equally ambiguous. In
addition, the methodological approach of the discipline also
appears rather unsystematic and heterogeneous. Cultural
studies, in fact, does not have a specific theory, but borrows from
social-science disciplines and all branches of humanities and the
arts, appropriating and using theories from anthropology,
ethnography, sociology, psychology, literary criticism, textual
analysis, musicology, political science, art theory and, of course,
linguistics and semiotics.
Indeed, in order to understand how cultural studies works we
need to refer to some of the notions introduced in the previous
chapters, since concepts such as sign, code, text, representation
and so on, are fundamental to the cultural-studies enterprise as
Saussures notion of language as a cultural phenomenon,
Jakobsons idea that the principles governing linguistic systems
also organise other types of communication systems such as film
and fashion, Barthess suggestion that the way we dress, what we
eat etc. can be equally studied as signs, and the general concern
of semiotics (that is, the study of signs and the way they work in
social life) appear at the very basis of cultural studies.
Initially sharing structuralist aims and goals4, cultural studies
therefore set itself in opposition to many of the academic

As we have seen above, the starting point of structuralism was that

language is a social system and that, conversely, any type of social activity may
be thought of as a different language (or, as Barthes would call it, a code).
The meaning taken on by social and cultural phenomena thus makes them
into signs which, on the basis of the definition given by Saussure, have a social
dimension and are arbitrary and conventional. The structuralists were
therefore the first who treated systems which normally would not be
considered as systems of signs as if they were, thereby attempting to shed
some light onto the unconscious conventions they believed determined any

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

institutions of the time, focusing on a series of projects which

went beyond the study of canonical texts carried out in
traditional literature departments, forcefully suggesting that the
idea of canon at the basis of literary studies was no longer
Thus, cultural studies has analysed cultures as disparate as
high culture, low culture, public culture, popular culture, rock
culture, gay culture, black culture, colonial culture, postmodern
culture, style culture etc., and has concentrated on various
cultural practices such as art, architecture, literature, music,
film, advertising, television, theatre, dance and so on.
The kind of analysis cultural studies practises, then, bears
many resemblances with the discourse analysis typical of literary
as well as other kinds of text, and assumes a fundamental
importance for translators as well who, as receivers of a message,
are first of all required to decode it correctly, in order to recode
it at a later stage.
In this instance, discourse comes to represent a culturally
produced group of ideas containing texts (which, in their turn,
contain signs and codes), and representations (which describe
power in relation to Others)5. Because, as we read in Introducing
Cultural Studies, a way of thinking a discourse often represents a
structure of knowledge and power (2003, 14) and, as we shall
see, often becomes a tool for propaganda, discursive analysis
exposes these structures of power, contextualising the discourse
historically, culturally and socially.
The aim of cultural studies can thus be said to be not only the
study of culture as a discreet and autonomous entity, but of

We can therefore see how Lacans concept of the Other is fundamental to

cultural studies as well. The Other is thus understood as the entity outside the
self, and while, generally speaking, non-Western cultures are seen as the
Other of, and by, the West, within Western societies, members such as
homosexuals, immigrants and even women are sometimes construed as the

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

culture as it manifests itself in the political and social contexts of

a particular society at a specific time.
Consequently, cultural studies analyses youth sub-cultures
and television news programmes, but also images of women, of
masculinity and femininity, the politics of sport, the status of
science and so on, in an attempt to empower people by making
them understand the relationship between culture and power. By
concentrating on these various discourses, then, cultural studies
comes close to other disciplines such as sociolinguistics and, one
hopes self-evidently, translation studies.
As a discipline, cultural studies can be said to have been born
in 1964, when the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary
Cultural Studies was established under the directorship of
Richard Hoggart. The Centre actually institutionalised the
discipline and brought attention to working-class culture
(distinguishing, with Thomspon, between the culture made for
the working class from the culture made by the working class)
and to oral culture, both of which had hitherto been
marginalised, if not completely excluded, from the canon.
According to Hoggart and Williams, the task of cultural studies
was to endorse the culture of common people against the
canonical high culture typical of the middle and upper classes.
By setting working-class culture (perceived in nostalgic and
personal terms) in opposition to the mass culture created by and
through American models, Hoggart thus tried to emphasise the
cultural neo-colonialism to which the working classes were
Hoggarts successor, Stuart Hall, focused on identity
claiming that issues of sex, race and religion drive society and
determine peoples sense of identity and the practical impact
that cultural studies can have on reality. After the initial phase of
the 1960s during which British cultural studies was influenced
by the New Left which had emerged as a response to the Russian
invasion of Hungary in 1956, and which was essentially formed

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

by intellectuals from the former British colonies who did not

manage to break into the establishment of the British Left
cultural studies underwent a structuralist phase in the 1970s, in
order to enter a poststructuralist phase during the 1980s, when
the subjectivity of any type of study was emphasised, any type of
positivistic idea of objectivity was rejected and everything was
declared to be a linguistic construct.
Thus, even though initially British cultural studies essentially
dealt with problems of class (often in terms which were later
recognised as white, middle-class, male and Eurocentric),
already in the 1980s and then more openly during the 1990s
issues related to the identity of women, homosexuals and the
immigrants arriving from the formerly colonised world (and the
place they occupy in contemporary British society) were brought
to the foreground. In particular, with Hall, cultural studies
became more international and more attentive to the theoretical
work carried out in the field by scholars all over the world6.
Besides the development of specific trends such as the cultural
studies of science7, or the technoculture theory (according to
which technological artefacts are charged with an intrinsic
cultural and social baggage), cultural studies increasingly focused
on issues of gender (including queer theory, which analyses the
opposition hetero/homosexual) and race (including the study of
the various diasporas of the world, that is, the minority
communities living in exile).

Indeed, with the election of Margaret Thatcher, British cultural studies

began to migrate to other countries, thus becoming highly diversified. In
America, Canada, Australia, France and South Asia, cultural studies took on
particular characteristics while losing others, and for example concentrated on
the analysis of popular culture while disregarding political issues.
This was essentially developed by scholars such as Jerome Revetz (1971)
and Thomas Kuhn (1962), who emphasised the relative and arbitrary nature
of science, suggesting that scientific knowledge is socially and culturally
constructed and not discovered.

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

According to cultural studies, cultural identity is essentially a

discursive entity which is achieved and constructed through
specific linguistic and rhetorical means. An example of this is
political rhetoric, which constantly shifts from the particular to
the universal, as when referring to the British in a general sense,
thus eliminating all differences of race, religion, age and gender.
From the discussion carried out above, then, it appears clear
that the major shift implied by the cultural turn, is one of
orientation. A mediator, contrary to a traditional translator, tries
to recreate culture-bound frames wherever necessary, accepts
that difference is the norm and that there is no single correct
translation. According to Toury, in fact, correct has to be
intended according to the constantly changing and conflicting
socio-cultural norms in the receiving culture. As Even-Zohar
underlines, there can be no equality between the various literary
systems and types (1978, 16), in so far as, as Bell confirms,
equivalence is a chimera (1991, 6).
Obviously, in order to solve the difficulties posed by
differences in culture, translators have at their disposal several
strategies and it is important for translators to act constantly in
the awareness of the different options open to them. In
particular, the meta model elaborated by Bandler and Grinder
in 1975 appears extremely useful. The model identifies
generalisation (defined by O Connor, as instances in which one
example is taken as representative of a number of possibilities),
deletion (which can be both syntactic and semantic and could be
used to reduce lexical density) and distortion (which
encompasses both generalisation and deletion and refers for
example to nominalisation which is itself a form of deletion
and presupposition which is also a hidden distortion of reality
playing with the thematic structure of an utterance etc.). Clearly,
the meta model is relevant to any discussion of language, but in
the specific, it can be successfully applied to translation.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Obviously, because categories are culture-bound, there will be

differences in generalisations, but in translation, resorting to a
superordinate rather than a hyponym can reveal itself very
useful. Similarly, either through an unobtrusive manipulation of
the text or a comment inserted outside the main body of the text,
we could add an expression in order to make the frames available
to the source culture reader equally accessible to the target
reader. As Newmark suggests, for example, we could re-create
cultural equivalence by substituting an institution from one
culture with an equivalent from the target culture, or through
intertextuality or creating a totally imaginary as if scene with
target culture institutions and persons (1988, 82-83).
Similarly, according to Baker, the translator could decide to
omit or replace whole stretches of text which violate the readers
expectations of how a taboo subject should be handled, an
opinion which is shared by Newmark, who is in favour of
deletion when the language may be taken as offensive. Indeed,
as Hatim and Mason note, it is already fairly standard practice to
add or delete according to the accessibility of the frame (1990,
Finally, distortion, which becomes a way of directing the
addressee to what the speaker/writer considers important, can
occur through a faithful, literal translation and by making explicit
what was originally implicit. These strategies, together with the
strategy of chunking (that is changing the size of a unit as, for
example, when we chunk up and, from the specific, we move to
the general by using a superordinate, or when we chunk down,
moving from the general to the specific), correspond to a certain
extent to Malones strategies identified above, and appear
fundamental to any form of translation willing to take into
consideration the cultural context from which a text stems.
These strategies are essential in any kind of intercultural
encounters, as for example in business encounters, and they
appear particularly important in all those texts where political

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

and ideological nuances are central, as for instance in the texts

stemming from the postcolonial world or texts focused on issues
of political correctness such as gender, disability etc.
As the following pages demonstrate, translators should be
attentive to all those aspects which appear culturally determined.
For instance, we ought to be aware of individuals different
relations to the physical environment (which, for example, in
Western culture determine, at least in part, a persons identity,
although, as Hall observes, in England it is mainly the social
system that determines who a person is 1982, 138); their
relation to the ideological environment (of which religious and
political beliefs are obviously part and determine for example the
way in which fanatic or totalitarian can be interpreted). It is
important also to consider the climate in which a person lives (as
hot clearly does not mean the same thing in the UK and
Africa), the kind of space people have to confront and which is
bound to determine the ideas of public and private space and
what can be considered distance and proximity. Space can
also be interpreted in psychological terms and, following
Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner we can speak of diffuse
orientation and specific orientation (1997, 73-76) according
to whether a person is more or less willing to let others into their
life (an essential notion to understand for example how the word
friend is used, a word which should not be translated but
mediated). This relation to space, also influences the linguistic
style adopted, in that, as Hall points out, distance between
people is maintained partly through appropriate loudness (1982,
142), and of course, what is considered appropriate varies from
culture to culture (according to him, soft speaking is another
important strategy for the English as a response to the lack of
space). It is also essential to consider the dress code of a person.
For instance, as Katan suggests (1999, 69) American dress style,
as reflected in their large use of sneakers, is far too informal for
most European standards and, as in French culture, might

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

indicate non professional behaviour (not only, then, ought we to

dress appropriately, but we should also be aware that clothes
change their symbolic meaning as they cross borders, as for
example with the Barbour jacket (which, while being worn in
England by people who live or spend their time in the country
i.e. members of the aristocracy in Italy is never worn by
country people but by those who wish to have a casual jacket).
Furthermore, it is important to consider olfaction as what can
be considered a perfume, a smell or an odour, clearly depends
on ones cultural upbringing and the ingredients one is
accustomed to consume.
It is also important to consider the different orientation people
from different countries have towards time. Indeed, as Hall
emphasises (1983), monochromic time cultures perceive time as
the frame, which means that the focus is on the task and that
schedules are important and adhered to. These are the fixed
time cultures which perceive time technically (hence the motto
time is money). By contrast, polychronic or multi-focus
cultures place great emphasis on the relationship between
interactants and multi-tasking. We could therefore talk about
fluid time cultures, in which punctuality is defined with more
flexibility and delays are expected and tolerated (as in Italian
culture, where subito technically means immediately, although it
is hardly ever uttered with this literal meaning, especially in a
busy coffee shop).
Cultural mediators, then, should not only be aware of these
differences, but also make the people involved in communication
partake in their knowledge, as to avoid a breakdown in
communication due for example to a persons lack of
(monochromatic) punctuality. Another issue related to time of
which mediators should be aware, is whether the interlocutors
(that in the case of literary translation could be understood as the
characters of a novel or the authors themselves of literary works)
come from a past-oriented culture (in which tradition is

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

paramount), a present-oriented culture (which emphasises the

here-and-now) or a future-oriented culture (whose members
can plan ahead to the next generation), in so far as words such as
enduring and infinite need to be interpreted against these
Another important aspect mediators should be keenly aware
of, is the orientation towards power. Brake et al., for instance,
talk of hierarchy and equality, and this basic concepts seem to
correspond to Hofstedes division between high power distance
and low power distance as well as to Trompenaarss ascription
and achievement, according to which different cultures tend to
accord status either on the basis of family background or title or
on the basis of results, regardless of background.
In an analogous fashion, we ought to be attentive as to
whether a culture privileges what Brake et al. term individualism
(as Northern Europe) or collectivism (as for instance Japan),
Trompenaarss universalism (as with American mass production,
which tends to generalise procedures and apply them
universally) or particularism (which, on the contrary, emphasises
difference, uniqueness and exceptions, from food or restaurants
to the application of parking fines, as in Central and South
America and Southern Europe).
Furthermore, cultural mediators should pay attention to
whether a culture is, according to Brake et definition,
competitive or cooperative, because, as Hofstede explains, this
interpretations affects the interpretation and evaluation of terms
such as average and best (1991, 90). Similarly, of
fundamental importance is the extent to which a culture feels
uncomfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty or change, and
whether the cultures are high or low context in that, as Hall
observes, and as we shall discuss in detail below, individuals,
groups and cultures have different priorities with regard to how
much information needs to be made explicit for communication
to take place (1983, 59 77).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

3.2.2. The Language of Advertising

All the aspects discussed supra, can easily be observed also in the
strategies translators resort to when they are called to translate
advertising texts. Indeed, advertising texts appear at a sort of
crossroad where literary, journalistic and commercial texts meet,
as they seem to borrow features from and assume some of the
functions of all these textual types.
The origins of advertising date a long way back, as already in
ancient Rome there were signboards and inscriptions which were
meant to illustrate the salient characteristics of particular goods.
However, although the art of advertising has had a place in every
historical period, it is only with the industrial revolution and the
mass production it implied, which it began to acquire the
importance it holds in contemporary society. As we read in
Consumer Society in American History (1999), where advertising is
approached from a historical perspective, with the development
of technology production (and the economic investment it
involves), markets became larger, and it became necessary to
place the goods produced: informing consumers of the
existence of a new product, convincing them of its superior
quality, persuading them to buy it, has therefore become
increasingly important.
As we shall see, the advertising process involves both linguistic
and non-linguistic features, in so far as through images and a
careful exploitation of the grammar of visual design (Kress
and von Leeuwen, 1998), publicity texts manage to create a
strong bond between particular products and ideals such as
beauty, youth, strength, success etc., thereby suggesting that by
purchasing a particular product consumers will also get hold of
the quality inherent in the product itself. This is particularly true
when the advertising campaign is based on the appearance of
famous people such as Muhammed Ali (who was used to
recommend a particularly strong anti-cockroaches product). As
O Donnel and Todd rightly observe, evidently the advertisers

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

hope that some of the prestige associated with the communicator

of the message will be transferred to their product (1991, 104).
In order to fully exploit the potentials of this aspect of
advertising, then, it is essential to know the target of a particular
product, so that the advertising campaign can be directed to
specific sectors of society, be it professionals, housewives,
children, teenagers etc.
According to the target audience, advertising will borrow
more or less extensively from TV, film and other media. Adverts
can in fact be presented as news, as mini-documentaries and
even as soap operas. Indeed, because most of the time
advertising campaigns are run on different medias, sometimes
they might take advantage of the possibilities offered by one
particular channel (for example television, as in the case of the
soap opera adverts), in order to appear later on in a sort of
standstill and reduced form which might appear in
newspapers, magazines and on billboards, once the consumers
have become familiar with the product and can readily recognise
the advert in its synoptic form.
With the usual time lag, these are formats which have only
recently reached Italy. This is for example the case of Infostrada
or Tim adverts. In all these instances, we can therefore talk
about an infomercial, a genre which, as we read in Introducing
Media Studies, refers to an extended advert that purports to be a
documentary or a chat show (2000, 108). It is a type of
advertising born entirely out of mainstream TV that blurs all
standards and genres, emphasising that all media are selling
something, whether ideas, lifestyle choices etc. Sometimes,
advertisements get so sophisticated that it appears very difficult,
if not virtually impossible, to understand which product is
actually advertised. This is even more so in our postmodern
times, when advertisements borrow many of the devices
exploited by postmodern literature such as intertextuality,
symbolism, iconicity etc. in order to create a miniaturised work

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

of art. Far from being a simple commercial experience,

advertising therefore becomes a clear exemplification of the
strong bond existing between language and culture.
Consequently, as Guidre states (2001), the translation of
adverts represents a privileged means of communication for a
company that intends to export its products to other countries.
Simultaneously, however, advertising posits itself as the
representative of the very country it stemmed from. On the one
hand, it does so by advertising specific products (for instance,
any advert which promotes pork meat would not have any
meaning in Muslim countries), but it does so also at a different
level, namely at the level of the associations it activates,
especially if it adopts a soft-sell approach8. In these instances, in

Within the field of advertising, we can identify two main categories of

adverts, namely product-ads and non-product ads. As O Donnell and
Todd state in their Variety in Contemporary English (1992, 101-102) can resort
either to a technique of hard-sell (a relatively straightforward technique
which urges the consumer to buy a particular product by giving one or more
reasons to do so, and which is generally used for utilitarian products such as
detergents etc.) or to a soft-sell technique, a much subtler and more emotive
technique which exploits the strong relationship existing between language
and ideology, in order to sell luxury items such as chocolates, perfumes, jewels
and so on. The exploitation of this technique enables the advertisement to act
at a more subliminal level, and accounts for the fact that sometimes an advert
is not even immediately recognisable as such. Through the years, hard-sell
techniques have been supplanted by a softer approach. Indeed, the soft-sell
approach has become so popular, that nowadays even utilitarian products
such as detergents and washing-powders are generally advertised through
soft-sell campaigns. Washing-powders, for instance, direct their advertising
campaigns to mothers and strongly suggest that if wives and mothers are
successful, it is, at least in part, because they use that particular washing
powder. This aspect has obviously become increasingly important as women
tend to work more. Thus, campaigns relating to cleaning products, electric
appliances and (frozen or other) foods, emphasise the fact that by using
particular products, working women will not cease to play their traditional
role and will be able to cook, clean and entertain their guests. This is also the

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

fact, the advert can be understood as a representation of those

elements we can broadly identify as culture. Thus, while not
promoting pork meat directly, even an advert such as the one
below, which aims at selling a particular brand of fridges,

would be considered unacceptable in certain countries, as you

can detect some ham inside the fridge itself, and would therefore
run the risk of having the advertised product rejected.
Advertising, then, makes explicit not only the visible aspects
of culture, but also the invisible ones, that is to say the value
orientations which, in the iceberg model introduced above, are
placed at the very bottom of the iceberg. Advertising, can thus
only be understood as an expression an intersemiotic
translation of a specific culture. As a consequence, any

general idea at the basis of many make-up accessories, which are directed
mainly to those women who do not have enough time to wait around for their
nail-varnish to dry. The different life-style which characterises women
nowadays, is also at the basis of the fact that for example man increasingly
appears in advertisements relating to family/home life. The advertisements for
washing-up liquids, for example suggest family harmony and a supportive
partner who does the washing and takes care of the baby while mum is either
working or simply taking a break; while washing-machines are sold by
emphasising the fact that they are so simple to use that even a man could use
it etc.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

translation project in this field should posit itself as a linguistic

and cultural project.
Already in 1972, Pierre Hurbin wonders whether it is actually
possible to translate the language of advertising. Twenty years
later, Claude Tattilon still considers whether the language of
advertising requires a process of translation proper or whether it
would be better to refer to a broader notion of adaptation. Since
then, however, the situation has evolved even more, as the
multicultural and multilinguistic societies we live in, have
drastically changed the idea of cultural context.
The general idea of globalisation, then, has necessarily
changed the way advertisements are produced and translated.
This, in spite of the fact that even the notion of what sociologists
call Mcdonaldization namely the process according to which
fast-food principles are controlling increasing sections of
American and other societies (Katan, 1993, 1) cannot be
defined as a successful, globalising policy tout court.
Indeed, because the same element might assume different
meanings in different contexts, even McDonalds was compelled
to pursue, rather than a real globalising policy, the philosophy of
what we could refer to as Think Global, Act Local. Thus, in
spite of the fact that they maintain the famous slogan Im lovin
it unchanged throughout the world, they tend to adapt to the
cultural peculiarities of the various countries that host their
This attention to the target culture and the issue of cultural
differences clearly has important consequences on the
advertising campaigns launched by various companies. An
example might be provided by an advert for red bull beer

For example, Talbott suggests that until 1995, what was born as the fastfood restaurant par excellance, namely McDonalds, turned into what could be
described as a slow-drink venue in Moscow, where customers could wait a
very long time before receiving their meal and were allowed to stay on the
premises for an equally long time, simply chatting in front of a cup of coffee.

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

released in Italy a few years back, where the original advert was
not only translated linguistically (red bull gives you wings was
thus rendered as red bull ti mette le ali), but it was also adapted
culturally to the target culture (as such, one of the adverts
represented a young Italian boy who flies away from a very
stereotyped Italian mother who invokes, with a very strong
accent from the South, San Gennaro).
Far from being a simple commercial experience, then,
advertising becomes an example of the strong connection
between language and reality. Clearly enough, the economic and
financial dimensions are fundamental but, as Bassnett (1991, 2829) and Sguinot (1995, 57-59) suggest, very few strategies of
international marketing were successful simply by resorting to a
linguistic translation of an advertising campaign. If this so, it is
because selling the same advert in different countries, does not
mean, simply, to sell the same reality with a different linguistic
label. Perhaps the campaign will have to be re-oriented, the
visual elements will have to be changed (a process which clearly
has an important bearing on the translation cost of the text) and
the selling points of the product might need to be changed, so as
to respect the value orientations that characterise the attitude of
the target culture towards notions such as tradition. For
example, as Sguinot suggests, a campaign that focuses on youth
such as this


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

would have no meaning in countries where old age (and the

marks it can leave on a persons face) is identified with wisdom,
as for example in China or India.
Similarly, as Mona Baker puts forward in her discussion of a
slimming product, such an advert would not appear particularly
convincing in countries where thinness is not considered
particularly attractive. In addition, in countries such as Saudi
Arabia, the code governing advertising prohibits the exposition
of a womans body in its entirity or part of the body different
from her face, thereby rendering outlaw even an advert such as


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

Obviously, these codes and laws depend on the historical moment,

on the political situation and other factors, and it is fundamental for
translators to know the legal system of the target country in depth,
as this is clearly part of culture. For instance, while in Quebec it is
compulsory for adverts to be bilingual, in France, Evin Act banned
any advertisement which used languages other than French. As
Mansfield well demonstrates in her Fra comunicazione
multilinguistica e funzione pragmatica nei cartelli stradali e nella
pubblicit cartacea (2007), in Italy not only do many adverts
introduce different languages in their body-copies and slogans, but
entire adverts are left in English and occasionally provided with
Italian subtitles, something which would have been considered
completely unacceptable during the linguistic prohibitionism
imposed by Fascism.
If these factors relate to the commercial aspect of advertising (in
that the translators over-sight of certain codes might compromise
the success of the campaign), they obviously bring to the fore the
strong connection existing between language and ideology. Indeed,
advertising always posits itself as an attempt to create consensus and
to influence, through its conative force, the receiver of the message.
Thus, as with other elements of the text, translators can be either
source or target oriented, either adhering to the ideology put
forward in the original message or taking their distance from it.
On the basis of Lefeveres notion of grids discussed above, we
can identify three types of company which adopt three different
strategies as to the translation of their advertising campaigns.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

First of all, a company might tend towards centralisation, and

by using in loco translators who reside in the country from which the
advert stemmed, produce translations which are particularly source
oriented (in fact, while being native speakers of the target language,
the translators employed by this kind of ethnocentric companies
are nonetheless distant from the target country both linguistically
and culturally and generally intervene on the source text only
moderately). On the contrary, the companies defined as
policentric assume a de-centralising position, and by resorting to
translators residing in the target country (who are therefore
constantly in touch with the target market from an economic,
linguistic and cultural perspective), try to adapt their campaigns to
their target context as much as possible. Finally, we could have
geocentric companies, which try and overcome geographical and
cultural barriers by creating global and a-cultural adverts,
characterised by a minimal use of verbal language.
This synergy between company politics and the linguistic policy
the company pursues (Eurocentric centralising; polycentric decentralising; geocentric minimal use of language), therefore leads
to the adoption of different translation strategies.
Indeed, as mentioned before, the multilingualism of certain
advertisements can be interpreted differently on the basis of the
company launching the campaign and the purpose it had when it
created plurilingual advert in the first place. In order to understand
this phenomenon, it is however necessary to refer to some
fundamental notions, such as diglossia, which we could define as
the situation that characterises particular communities, within
which two or more languages are used with differential functions
which hardly ever overlap. Obviously enough, this notion does not
coincide with the actual bilingualism that might characterise the
members of a particular community, and it is precisely in order to
clarify the correlation between bilingualism and diglossia that
Fishamn (1967) submitted an analysis of the way these two
elements might combine. According to him, we could therefore

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

have situations where diglossia and bilingualism are simultaneously

present; situations where diglossia is present without, however, an
actual bilingualism; communities which, on the contrary, are
characterised by bilingualism without however resorting to diglossia,
and situations which are characterised by neither bilingualism nor
Bearing this in mid, it appears clear that in advertising, a whole
series of endolinguistic and intralinguistic choices are at stake. This
is for example exemplified by the fact that, according to Cadorna
(1974), particular regional variants of the same language are
exploited in order to convey a sense of truth and authenticity.
Clearly, if this holds true in relation to the speeches of politicians
(who sometimes exploit the communicative force of dialects so as to
posit themselves as members of the community they are addressing,
thereby gaining their trust), it appears valid also in relation to other
forms of propaganda, such as, for instance, the adverts of food
products. Indeed, as Cadorna maintains, the information carried
by particular phonetic features, is exploited for particular products
such as food (197, 123). Not only this, but even in those adverts
we could define as geocentric, the absence of verbal elements that
could convey the sense of regionalism and authenticity is supplanted
by the features we find in the visual, which, as in the adverts below,
might evoke an undefined regional accent:


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

The actant of the advert, easily identifiable as a hard-working

farmer, therefore testifies to the freshness and the genuineness of
the products he offers his potential consumers, just as in the advert
below, the image of the farmer, together with the verbal elements of
the headline and the body-copy, point to the naturalness of the

Thus, even though linguistic varieties such as geographical dialects

whether intra or international as well as foreign words, might
actually result incomprehensible to the target receiver, thereby
rendering void the informative function of the advert itself, their
highly emotive function enables them to evoke (if only at a
subliminal level) precise (even though connotative), meanings. This
is for instance the case with the advert below, where the Italian
words mamma mia (which should moreover result easily
understandable by most people in more than one country), together
with the visual, suggest the long (Italian) tradition which lies behind
the product advertised:


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

If this is so, it is clearly because each language, as discussed

above, reflects the status and the culture associated with it. Each
language, then, as Cook maintains in his The Language of
Advertising (1992, 107), evokes particular values which, in a
similar way to the stereotypes on which they are based, can
change with time. Thus, Italian is the language of amore, but also
of good food, whereas French is more easily associated with
elegance and, as a consequence, seduction (which justifies the
exploitation of this language in the adverts promoting perfumes,
beauty products etc.), whereas English (both in its British and
American varieties), is generally associated with nobility, youth
and high-technology, which accounts for the fact that it is often
used in adverts promoting high-tech equipment, products related
to sports etc.
Generally speaking, adverts that use English as their main or only
language10, even when the advertisement is exported to other


It is however important to bear in mind that also when the use of verbal
language is minimal, the English language exploited is characterised by the
same features it displays in longer adverts originally produced in English.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

countries (such as the famous Heineken slogan sounds good or

more recently, are you still with us?), are clearly addressed to a
young target, who is more likely to know English enough to
understand the slogan itself. Similarly, as Bassnett emphasises, the
famous slogan No Martini? No party or, recently, the Nespresso,
what else?, exploited successfully in the campaigns interpreted by
George Clooney, rely on a minimal use of English, which results
immediately comprehensible to the Italian audience, identifying the
potential consumers as young and fashionable people, just like the
actants we see in the adverts themselves.
In other situations, as with the advert below,

Cosmopolitan (UK, marzo 2006)

an advert can mainly work on the iconicity and the symbolism of

the visual. In the advert above, for instance, the apple held by
Amongst these, the imitation of orality is paramount, which implies:
interpersonal involvement; more subjective less precise and more emotive
language; immediacy; reliance on shared background; reliance on
onomatopoeic expressions; reliance on sound symbolism; importance of
intonation; importance of prosody and paralinguistic clues; redundancy. From
a lexical point of view, we tend to note: more limited vocabulary; more
monosyllabic words; paralinguistic features used to establish cohesion; less
precise quantification. From a morphosyntactic point of view, we generally
have: greater grammatical complexity; lower lexical density; frequent syntactic
abnormalities; less careful sequencing; fragmentation; incomplete sentences;
disjunctive grammar (non-finite clauses where the subject is missing and
minor clauses where there is no predicator).

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

the young woman clearly refers to the city where the advertised
perfume is produced namely New York a.k.a. the big apple
and to the myth of Eve eating the apple, thereby evoking her
sensuality. It is clear that such an advert, at least in Western
societies, will not need any translation process in order to
communicate its message (if anything it might posit ideological
issues in terms of race and gender), in so far as the minimal use
of verbal elements renders it comprehensible for the target
receiver without posing any kind of linguistic problem.
Yet, even though this culture of youth which, Kaynak (1989,
132-3) and Kelly-Holmes (1995, 73) amongst others put
forward, should keep above national cultures, thereby positing
itself as an example of the multicultural society hinted at above,
where English could act as a lingua franca, it is obvious that even
in this instance the cultural context determines the value a
message can assume. Thus, an advert similar to the one above,
might perhaps be tolerated in Saudi Arabia, as it simply shows
the womans face, but the allusion to Eve could go lost in a
Muslim culture (as connotation is, as discussed above, totally
culture-bound) or, if it were understood, might very well lead to
the refusal of the advertisement itself, as it suggests the
relationship between the sexes.
The Nike advert, however, symbolised by the famous slogan
Just do it, which was exported all over the world, can pose
problems at more than one level. Besides ideological and
political concerns as to the allged neo-colonisation of American
products, we also have to consider both linguistic and cultural
issues. As an article which appeared in Business Week in 1992
well demonstrates, the Japanese manager in charge of the
translation of the Nike campaign could not find a suitable
semantic and syntactic alternative for the English slogan,
characterised by an extreme but very effective conciseness. As a
consequence, they decided to retain the source language slogan,


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

thereby initiating the global spread of the by now legendary Just

do it.
Further to the linguistic aspect, though, the issue of
translation also brought to the fore important (albeit invisible)
cultural issues. As Katan maintains, in fact, in the world of
business, Japan stands out for its long term orientation, which
accounts for the fact that usually agreements are considered valid
at least till the following generation and that sometimes
businessmen plan a hundred years ahead.
Finally, the adoption of a strategy of zero-translation might
find a justification also in relation to the product itself. Indeed,
scholars have repeatedly pointed out that for certain categories of
products translation has negative effects on the success of the
campaign as it seems to nullify the fundamental selling points at
international level. As Guidre sustains, this is the case with
sport articles, in so far as translation seems to render ordinary
the product, almost obliterating the extraordinariness (very often
testified by the level of excellence in sports characteristic of the
testimonials) that connotes the product in the source language
and culture, whose important achievements in sports are
generally renowned.
The fact that the choice as to whether maintaining an advert
in the source language is connected to the product itself, could
perhaps explain why the famous slogan of LOreal, while not
posing great linguistic problems and presenting exactly the same
visual and format in the various international campaigns, is
translated into different languages.


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

Cosmopolitan (UK, 2006)

Cosmopolitan (Italia, 2006)

However, on the basis of examples such as these, or even the Nike

campaigns for womens products, which contrary to those for men,
are generally translated, it might perhaps appear justified to wonder
whether the decision concerning the translation of a campaign has
to do not only with the product itself but also with the target
receiver in terms of gender, in so far as the corpus analysed (albeit
limited), seemed to point to the fact that woman might perhaps be
considered less educated in the English language when compared to
her male counterpart.
This sort of consideration obviously raises issues of political
correctness and ideological stands, and brings to the fore the ethic
sensitivity that translators working in this field, which can be defined
as technical only with some difficulty, should develop. Indeed,
although this aspect has been rarely approached, it is fundamental
for translators to base themselves not only on pragmatic
considerations but also on ethical ones. This is appears pivotal in a
field, such as that of advertising, where ideological issues are ever
present and heavily influence the way potential buyers learn to know
Other realities.
For instance, as scholars have repeatedly pointed out, adverts
representing women, as those from the Fifties below whose slogan
reads you couldnt chose a better way to be free and perhaps


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

even more so in recent times, have always put forth an image of

woman that could be defined, at best, politically incorrect:

Similarly, advertisements such as that for Peugeot briefly

referred to in Chapter 2, often offer a stereotyped image of Other
cultures, thus perpetuating the prejudices generally attached to
any country which, in the dialectics Us vs Them, is identified
as the Other.These are obviously very general and simple
examples, but make it clear that any advertisement and
consequenctly any translation addresses ethical issues.
Far from being simply a commercial experience, advertising
therefore becomes a clear exemplification of the strong bond
existing between language and ideology. As we have put forward
in the previous Chapter, language is never innocent, but is
always used to sell something, be it an opinion, a product, a
persons feeling, a view of life or a perspective of the world. In
his re-elaboration of Marxist theories, the structuralist French
scholar Louis Althusser used the expression ideological state
apparatus to describe, precisely, social institutions such as the
media, which represent capitalism as normal and inevitable. The
world of the media, thus, is seen as producing a commonsense


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

which, according to Althusser, really corresponds to an

ideological tenet.
As we have seen in the first chapter, it would be up to another
structuralist, Roland Barthes, to further elaborate on the issue of
ideology. Starting from the premise that ideologies work through
symbolic codes which explain and represent social, cultural and
political reality, Barthes classified these symbolic representations as
mythic, defining them not simply as false, but as deceiving, in that
they make readers (understood here in structuralist/poststructuralist
terms) take a particular representation as natural. Mythic symbols,
then, according to Barthes et al. become essential in shaping a
cultures self-identity, and finish to represent what are seen as
eternal and immutable truths.
Thus, culture, according to Barthes, is created through the
many codes man is faced with every day, including the language
of myth which we find, albeit re-elaborated, in everyday
language, including the language of advertising. It is not by
chance, then, that advertising should be seen as such a complex
Indeed, as O Donnel and Todd emphasise in their Variety in
Contemporary English, advertising [...] involves two interacting
processes, namely, communication and persuasion (1991, 101).
If advertising is such a complex phenomenon, however, it is
mainly because in order to achieve its goal (i.e. communicate
and persuade), it makes use not only of language but also many
other visual and/or audio elements, according to the channel
used. Thus, Language is only one strand in the communication
network and [...] under the guise of straightforward simplicity,
advertisements are usually subtle and carefully constructed
As we have seen above, in fact, each advert presents a close
interrelation of verbal and non-verbal elements, which are laidout according to different formats and techniques. Further to the
general techniques of hard sell and soft sell introduced supra,

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

advertising can exploit different formats. For instance, we can

talk about a product-information format, when the product is
the centre of the focus and its virtues are pointed out and
explained; a product-image format, when the product is
associated with certain images that we may not readily attribute
to it; a personalised format, thanks to which a direct
relationship is established between the product and human
personality, and the product itself is represented as an intimate
partner for the person who participates in the advert; and a
lifestyle format, thanks to which the product is associated with
a particular lifestyle (this type of advert is very popular with soft
drinks, cars, mobile phones and luxury items in general).
When analysing the language of advertising, we can also
identify different techniques which are exploited in order to
achieve the best result in the campaign of a product. As the
authors of Introducing Media Studies suggest (2000, 110-111), we
could thus talk about the weasel words technique, which
uses empty but colourful words in order to create adverts that
can be easily memorised (a typical example is the advert for
OMO, which apparently washes wither than withe or, in
Italian, pi bianco del bianco); the endorsement technique,
where a celebrity tells us how wonderful the product is; the
statistical technique, which claims to provide statistical proof
of the product qualities; the expert technique, which exploits
the appeal that a figure presented as an expert might exercise (a
typical example of this technique might be the Uomo del
Monte advertisements in Italy or many of the adverts promoting
baby products); the mystery ingredient technique, which
suggests some new discovery has been made (typical of this
technique are expressions such as new formula, pi efficace
perch arricchito con...); the compliment the user technique,
which flatters consumers making them feel they have every right
to use the product (an example of this is, of course, the famous
LOral advert Because youre worth it, translated in Italian

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

perch voi valete); the nostalgia technique, which emphasises

consumers I remember that feeling (exploited for instance in
the advertisements for Nutella or products which have been on
the market for a long time)11.
From what we have just seen, it appears clear that
advertisements often appeal to consumers basic instincts and
psychological universals such as envy, fear and greed and
therefore exploit what we call Emotional Selling Preposition, that
is to say a strategic decision according to which consumers are
not persuaded through an explanation of the advantages of the
product in practical terms, but by acting on their feelings and
their emotions. In order to do this, adverts exploits both verbal
and non-verbal elements, creating a strong connection between
the visual and the verbal parts of the advert itself, in an attempt
to offer the potential buyer a solution to what is identified as a
problem (real or imagined) 12.
Thus, according to Volli (1994, 251), in an advert we can
generally identify a series of non-verbal elements the visual (that

Clearly enough, adverts often combine not only different functions

(mainly informative/referential, conative and poetic), but also more than one
technique, using for example a famous person to flatter the consumer as in
the LOreal advertisements.
The problem-solution model is actually the main model on which
adverts rely, according to which a problem is identified and a solution offered
through the purchase of the product itself. Within this general model, we can
then identify the actantial model which, on the basis of Greimass theory
introduced in the first chapter of this book, analyses the different roles played
by the various elements in an advert. In this instance, the potential buyer
usually plays the role of the subject, the product itself that of the helper and
all those things the product is supposed to offer a solution for, that of the
opponent. We can also talk about a before-and-after model, which is often
created through the use of particular patterns of colour. As David Liu and
Lisa Westmoreland have noticed, in fact, the contrast between darker and
brighter tonalities can help consumers to identify the advantages of a
particular product almost instinctively.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

is the main image/picture, which consists of a setting, props and

persons)13; the packshot (namely the image of product itself); and
the format (understood here in general terms as the layout of the
advertisment, which could be, for example, simple, that is to say
that the advert essentially contains useful information, or
compound, which means that the advert contains useful

The setting can be either interior or exterior, and in both instances, it

can be familiar and real; nostalgic and/or imaginary; fantastic or exotic and
highly improbable. Within the setting, the props can be functional (when the
object is part of the scene); functional and metaphorical (when the object is
part of the scene but also has other meanings); or metaphorical (when the
object simply creates a particular association and suggests further meanings).
Further to various kinds of objects, in an advert we can also have human
beings that, in an analogous fashion to props, are carefully placed within a
particular setting. The distance (shot) at which human beings are depicted in
an advert appears particularly important (for example we can have a close
shot when we are shown the face, the head and occasionally the shoulders of
a person a medium close shot when we see the person from the waist up
a medium shot which means that we see the person from the head to the
knees a medium long shot, when we can see the entire figure a long shot
when we can see the entire body of the person and what surrounds him/her
and a very long shot, when three or four people are presented in the same
setting). In a similar way, the distance which characterises the product
appears particularly important and can be changed in order to put more or
less emphasis on specific elements. As to product distance, we can thus talk
about close distance (when the object is portrayed as if readers were directly
involved in the activities connected to a particular product. In this instance,
the image wants to create an intimate and interactive relationship between the
receiver and the object itself); middle distance (when the object is shown in its
entirety and with no space around it, which suggests a personal relationship);
long distance (in this case the object is shown at a distance and no interaction
is possible, which explains why this distance is usually exploited for luxury
items). In addition, in the depiction of objects, we could adopt different
techniques such as close-ups (if the object is shown in detail); blow-ups (when
a detail is enlarged); cropping (which corresponds to a technique of
fragmentation); focus and depth of vision (which means that some objects
appear clearly in the foreground, while others are placed in the background).

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

information but also relies on images14 and a series of verbal

elements such as the headline; the body-copy (namely the
main part of the advertising message, which is often divided into
various sections under subheads); the slogan/baseline/pay-off
(that is the conclusive sentence); standing details (for example
cut-out coupons and utilitarian information sections, often
presented in small print, which for example explain how the
potential buyer can obtain further information); the logo (that is
the name of the firm/manufacturer); and the trademark (that is
the symbol of the firm)15.

Clearly, one of the most important features of the visual is colour.

According to Sells and Gonzaleg, in fact, colours bear particular symbolic
meanings, and consequently are able to stimulate particular feelings and
suggest specific associations. For example, blue represents freshness (as in the
adverts of mineral waters and/or products intended to cleanse the skin etc.);
red is generally associated with dynamism, energy and, in some instances,
love; yellow (and to some extent orange and brown) is the colour of light and
vitality, and is therefore associated with Summer, a healthy life-style and suntanned skins; green is the colour of Spring and nature, and is therefore
associated with a sense of freshness, vitality, and a life close to nature; pink is
stereotypically associated with woman, and is therefore used in the adverts for
many products typically addressed to a female audience; whereas black is the
colour of sophistication and seduction. Generally speaking, lively colours can
help highlight a product and make it stand out from a darker background.
Clearly, each component has a different function. For example, the
visual and the headline which might relate to each other in terms of
repetition (both elements explain each other), completion (one element
develops and integrates what is said by the other), or opposition (in this
instance the headline and the visual clearly establish a relation of
contradiction) are meant to draw readers attention, giving them something
unexpected, interesting and pleasing. In addition, they summarise in some
way the content of the whole message and stimulate the process of
memorisation. The body-copy explains and develops what is presented in the
headline and the visual, in the attempt to be credible and convincing. The
packshot, the logo, the trademark and the payoff all put a signature to the
advert, whereas the standing details try and solicit a response on the part of
the potential buyer.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Amongst the general characteristics of the verbal elements of an

advertisement, as identified by Leech in English in Advertising
(1966) and O Donnel and Todd in Variety in Contemporary English
(1992, 101-114), we can identify a series of grammatical and
lexical features which are quite typical. For example, within the first
category, we can mention: disjunctive and abbreviated grammar,
namely non-finite clauses and minor clauses; short sentences
(Think once. Think twice, Think bike); paratactic structures (A
Mars a day helps you work, rest and play); no passive; use of
second person personal and possessive pronouns; no negative forms
(when they occur they usually emphasise the special merits of a
product, as with Nothing acts faster than Anadin); present tense
(mainly used to imply universal timelessness, as in Mr Kipling
makes exceedingly good cakes); no past tense. When it occurs, it is
generally to stress the long tradition associated with the product
(weve taken our whisky in many ways, but always seriously), to
emphasise the reliability of the product (Weve solved a longstanding problem) and to make an appeal to authority (Seven out
of ten children preferred these beans to the ones you probably give
them); imperative constructions (Go well. Go Shell); interrogative
constructions (Difficult morning?); when/if/because clauses
(When you feel low; because you are worth it).
As to the lexical features that characterise the language of
advertising, we can mention: simplicity and colloquial features;
comparatively few verbs (be, make, get, take, try, have, need,
use, buy); small set of evaluative adjectives (fresh, right, natural,
great, big, bright, soft, improved); occasional use of
comparatives and superlatives (because of the British Code of
Advertising Practice, however, these comparatives are not
generally referred to particular products produced by other
firms, but are occasionally used to refer to previous versions of
the same product); reliance on iconicity which, as Cook
underlines in his The Discourse of Advertising (1992, 78-88) might
be by letter shape, might rely on mixed icons and arbitrary signs;

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

might be expressed through verbal icons or might rely on

indexical graphology, as in the advert below:

From a lexical point of view, advertisements are in addition

characterised by: creative writing and unorthodox use of language,
as for instance: alteration of spellings (Beanz meanz Heinz);
neologisms (Cookability thats the wonder of gas); shift from one
class to another (Im Hemeling); blending of words (Theres no
Camparison; Schweppervescence; Be Cointrauversial); play on
polysemy (Ask for More; If you have the talent, we have a
theatre); puns (Better late than the late); alteration of a wellknown phrase (Say it with flour); orthographic modifications
(NE14ADD?); intertextual references (We take no pride in
Prejudice); figurative use of language; use of rhyme, alliteration,
syntactic parallelism; condensation of meaning achieved through
nominal groups16; large use of cohesive devices (repetition of
words or patterns of words; synonyms; semantically related words).


A nominal group can be defined as a group of words which functions as

though it were a noun. The actual noun of the group is called head, whereas
the items preceding the head are called pre-modifiers, and the items after it
post-modifiers. In these positions, we can find entire clauses and
compounds (embedded noun-groups, as with high fashion knitwear, the all
purpose garden fertiliser), embedded adjective groups (an easy-to-paint

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Clearly, these grammatical and lexical features of English in

advertising cannot be transposed word by word in Italian. Although
the language of advertising, in Italy, appears to be determined by
very similar linguistic features, the syntactical differences render the
job of translators specialised in this particular field very
picture); embedded adverb groups (their up-to-date styling); embedded
infinitive clauses (the new push-button weed killer).
Indeed, we could say that because of the prominence of what Jakobson
would call poetic function, rather often the translation of the language of
advertising resorts to the same strategies exploited in the translation of poetry.
As far as this specific literary genre is concerned, one of the fundamental texts
of reference is Translating Poetry: Seven Strategies and a Blueprint (1975), where
Lefevre describes seven types of translation based on different methodologies,
identifying: phonemic translation (according to which the translator tries to
reproduce the sounds of the source language in the target language. As a
consequence, this approach becomes particularly useful in the translation of
onomatopoeia); literal translation (which coincides with word-for-word
translation and, as a consequence, often distorts the meaning of the source
text); metrical translation (in this instance the translator tries to reproduce
the metre originally used in the source text. In a similar way to literal
translation, metrical translation can distort the overall sense of the source
text); poetry into prose (which implies a distortion of the sense, the
communicative value and the syntax of the source language); rhymed
translation (which, although might become useful in particular
circumstances, as for instance in the translation of puns, as Lefevere
emphasises it might also produce a caricature of the original poem); blank
verse translation (in this case as well, Lefevere underlines the restrictions
imposed on the translator by the choice of structure, while noticing the
greater accuracy which could be achieved by resorting to this strategy);
interpretation (Lefevere identifies here versions of a poem where the
form of the source text is changed in order to convey the same content and
what he calls imitations, an expression which refers to the translators
production of a poem of his/her own which has only title and point of
departure, if those, in common with the source text). Lefeveres study, then,
emphasises the fact that the deficiencies typical of the approaches to the
translation of poetry he describes, are determined by the fact that translators

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

Because of the similarities existing between the language of

advertising and the language of newspapers, especially the language
used in headlines, translators dealing with this particular textual
type18 ought to consider the strategies adopted very carefully.
have focused on one (or more) elements of the poem to the detriment of the
whole. We can therefore see how the structuralist notion of system is here
fundamental and accounts for Scholess emphasis on the notion of system (at
the basis of the polystystemic theory elaborated on more recently) also in the
study of literature, in that: Every literary unit from the individual sentence to
the whole order of words can be seen in relation to the concept of system. In
particular, we can look at individual works, literary genres, and the whole of
literature as related systems, and at literature as a system within the larger
system of human culture (1974, 10). In the words Bassnett uses, then, The
failure of many translators to understand that a literary text is made up of a
complex set of systems existing in a dialectical relationship with other sets
outside its boundaries has often led them to focus on particular aspects of a
text at the expense of others. Studying the average reader, Lotman determines
four essential positions of the addressee: 1) Where the reader focuses on the
content as matter, i.e. picks out the prose argument or poetic paraphrase; 2)
Where the reader grasps the complexity of the structure of a work and the way
in which the various levels interact; 3) Where the reader deliberately
extrapolates one level of the work for a specific purpose; 4) Where the reader
discovers elements not basic to the genesis of the text and uses the text for his
own purposes. Clearly, for the purposes of translation, position (1) would be
completely inadequate (although many translators of novels in particular have
focused on content at the expense of the formal structuring of the text),
position (2) would seem an ideal starting point, whilst positions (3) and (4)
might be tenable in certain circumstances. The translator is, after all, first a
reader and then a writer and in the process of reading he or she must take a
position. (1991, 77 78).
In a similar fashion to advertising texts, journalistic texts can be defined
as a particular textual type only if we broaden the definitions of genre and
specialised text discussed in the previous chapter. Indeed, what characterises
the language of newspapers (and, albeit differently, advertising), is the fact
that here is no specific field, as these texts move across different areas
according to the issue dealt with in specific articles or the product advertised
in a particular advertisement (from medical treatments and beauty products
to technological items etc.). Consequently, the language adopted can borrow

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

When confronted with a particular headline, then, the translator

of journalistic texts will have to face similar problems to those faced
by the translator of advertisements, in particular problems related to
the use of double meanings and polysemy, puns and idiomatic
expressions; problems of alliteration and rhyme; as well as
difficulties connected to a different word order and the use of very
dense noun groups.
In an analogous fashion, the language of politics which shares
with the textual types analysed supra the importance given to the
visual and which bears many resemblances with the language of
advertising in general (as they both belong to what we could broadly
refer to as the language of propaganda) also calls for an attentive
analysis of the implications of particular translation strategies.
Indeed, political speeches, slogans, posters and manifestos often
rely on the same strategies adopted by headlines and advertising. If
this is so, it is because, according to Beard,
Although political campaigns, with their speeches, their written
texts and their broadcasts, need to inform and instruct voters about
issues that are considered of great importance, ultimately all the
written and spoken texts that are produced during an election
campaign are designed to persuade people to do one thing: to vote
in a certain way19.

Thus, language is a vital part of this process of selling and it is not

by chance that political language exploits linguistic and rhetorical

heavily from different micro-languages, such as the language of economics,

legal language or the language of science.
This persuasive purpose can be carried out in many different ways.
Broadly speaking, we can identify two macro categories of political campaigns,
namely: negative campaigning (where candidates attack their opponents)
and positive campaigning (where candidates, usually not yet in power, sell
themselves as a brand new product and highlight the better qualities of this
product in comparison to the old product that is currently being used).

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

devices similar to those adopted by the language of advertising20.

Indeed, these features characterise political speeches, manifestos
and slogans, as they are devised to sell products and institutions,
making their appearance on posters, party broadcasts and wherever
the parties are advertising themselves.
For example, one of the most common means of eliciting
approval is the use of a list of three, which might express itself
either as a straightforward repetition, as with the following
chants against Margaret Thatcher (Maggie, Maggie, Maggie Out,
Out, Out) or Blairs speech (Education, Education, Education);
or a repetition with a difference, as with Lincolns words
Government of the people, by the people, for the people, or the
slogan adopted by the Labour Party, then the leading opposition
party, during the British election of 1997 (New Labour; New hope;
New Life for Britain). The list of three might also resort to
different words altogether, as with Mandelas Friends, comrades
and fellow South Africans. I greet you all in the name of peace,
democracy and freedom for all.
Another common feature of political speech is the contrastive
pair, which can be best observed in the speech delivered for
example by Thatcher, who quotes St Francis of Assisi, stating:
Where there is discord, may we bring harmony
Where there is error, may we bring truth
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith
Where there is despair, may we bring hope.

The language of politics, then, just like the language of newspaper

headlines, shares many features with the language of advertising,
both form a linguistic and an ideological point of view. From a
general linguistic perspective, in fact, all these languages, albeit

By rhetoric I mean here the art of persuasive discourse (Cockroft and

Cockcroft, 2005). Amongst the various devices exploited by politicians, it is
also worth mentioning the claptrap, namely a trick or a device of language
designed to catch applause.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

written, borrow many of the characteristics of spoken language in

order to create a sense of intimacy with the addressee, thereby
gaining the trust of the potential buyers.
3.3.Features of Spoken Language and Written Language
Indeed, as Lombardo underlines in her essay Advertising as
Motivated Discourse (1999), linguistic features of adverts such as
the use of non-finite and minor clauses, the use of the present tense
and the active voice, the use of generic words, often monosyllabic
words of German origin, and a large use of lexical cohesive devices
can be put in relation to characteristics such as extensive use of
generic terms, repetition, use of monosyllabic, generic verbs that
Halliday indicates, amongst others, as typical of spoken language.
When analysing any kind of discourse, in fact, it is fundamental to
bear in mind the differences between written and spoken language,
in so far as even though the vocabulary might be the same, the
grammar is very different and fundamentally leads to a different
representation of the world.
It appears rather evident that the function and the mode of the
language used in a particular linguistic exchange are closely related,
in so far as different texts (either written or spoken) generally
perform one particular function. For instance, we can say that
ideational (referential function) texts are more likely to be written,
that even though the textual function plays an important role in
spoken language, usually it characterises written texts, especially in
terms of cohesion and coherence, and that even though there are
obviously many exceptions (as for example with propagandistic
texts), interpersonal texts (that is to say emotive or conative), are
likely to be spoken.
Once again, it therefore appears evident that in modern language
studies, scholars identify a close connection between functions,
mode of language and texts. In order to better understand these
connections, it might actually be useful to refer to Hallidays

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

theorisation of the different reasons for writing and reading,

which he distinguishes from speaking. Halliday distinguishes in fact
three main purposes for writing and reading: primarily for action
and social contact, primarily for information and primarily for
entertainment. As to the first sub-category (that is writing used
primarily for action), we might mention public signs (on roads and
stations, for example), product labels on food, recipes, maps,
television and radio guides, bills, menus, telephone directories and
instruction manuals. Amongst the many examples of the second
sub-category (namely language used for social contact), we could
mention personal correspondence, letters etc. As far as the second
category identified by Halliday is concerned, that is writing
primarily for information, we can refer to newspapers, magazines,
non-fictional books, textbooks, public notices, scholastic and
medical reports, guidebooks, travel literature and, at least in part,
advertisements and political pamphlets. Finally, as to
writing/reading used primarily for entertainment, we could
obviously refer to light magazines, comic strips, fiction books, film
subtitles etc.
As it usually happens with any attempt at classification, however,
it is clearly fundamental to remember that these are not clear-cut
categories. Indeed, what characterises most studies carried out
recently is, as we mentioned in the first chapter, the refusal of strict
rules and categories. In fact, also in language studies, we are by now
confronted with general trends, namely principles which do not
prescribe, but describe the use of language.
In general terms, as Halliday notes, writing reduces language to
something that exists rather than happens, hence his definition of
writing as a product as opposed to speech, which is identified as a
process. This fundamental distinction clearly has important
consequences in terms of the type of representation of the world
which spoken language and written language can achieve, and the
lexico-grammatical features involved in this representation. For


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

instance, written language offers a synoptic and static representation

of the world, whereas spoken language offers a dynamic one.
This fundamental distinction clearly finds a counterpart in the
grammatical differences between written and spoken language, in
that if to refer to objects we use nouns (which explains the lexical
density of written language), in order to refer to happenings we use
whole clauses (which accounts for the grammatical intricacy of
spoken language). This clearly accounts for the fact that written
language favours nominal groups, whereas spoken language favours
clauses. Indeed, clause complexes show that (and how) items hang
together in meaningful ways. Thus, in spoken language,
grammatical intricacy takes the place of lexical density, which on the
contrary characterised written language which, as a consequence,
although difficult from the point of view of the argument, is
generally grammatically simple.
Although the differences outlined above can be considered the
most important distinctions between spoken and written language,
as highlighted, essentially, by Halliday, we can identify other
differences at what we could perhaps refer to as micro level of
3.3.1. The Notion of Spoken Grammar
As McCarthy points out in his Spoken Language and Applied
Linguistics, there are other differences between written and spoken
language from a grammatical point of view. One of these is related
to the fact that spoken language is likely to be more context-bound
than written language and, as a consequence, uses particular types
of ellipsis: subject pronouns, auxiliary verbs, articles, initial elements
of fixed expressions etc., tend to be omitted. Considering the
importance interpersonal factors assume in conversation, and the
fact that spoken language is produced, generally speaking, for a
here-and-now listener and, as Chafe (1982) observes, is therefore
context-bound and situation-dependent, we can say that in spoken
language it is discourse that drives grammar.

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

Another important difference is, for example, the way speech is

reported in spoken and written language, where it usually takes the
ing form. According to McCarthy, speech is often reported
indirectly in casual conversation either as a topic-opener or simply
in support of some point being discussed.
This, in part, can account for the fact that grammatical patterns
in the spoken mode can be created by more than one participant
and extend not only across clauses but also across turn-boundaries.
Indeed, a grammar-in-discourse approach sees structure as a
collaborative/negotiative process, rather than a deterministic
product, and it is therefore clear that within the relevant factors of a
description it includes features such as turn-taking, repetition and
joint constructions by more than one party. This is the reason why,
according to McCarthy, grammar becomes discourse and, in so
doing, it suggests an alternative descriptive model, other than the
conventional sentence-based description, which takes into account
units of information and interpersonal consideration generated
within real contexts. Discourse, obviously, involves speakers and
listeners, not just messages, and it is therefore essential to take them
into consideration in any analysis of spoken language.
All this clearly has a bearing on the way we can approach the
analysis of lexis and vocabulary in spoken language. Conversation,
in fact, contains a large amount of vocabulary whose function is
mainly relational or interactional and not simply transactional. In
addition, in conversation, roles between speakers can vary, and, as
Thomson (1984) emphasises, one speaker can therefore dominate
vocabulary selection; similarly, roles can shifts as the conversation
progresses, with subsequent adjustments in the selection of
vocabulary, and even the changes occurring in topic selection
determine changes in vocabulary choice.
If the way lexis is organised in written texts has been the focus of
various researches, most notably the work by Halliday and Hasan
on cohesion, less work seems to have been done with reference to
spoken language. Yet, as McCarthy and Carter (1994) emphasise,

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

lexical reiteration and relexicalisation according to which content

is recast in different but near-synonymous words are important
factors, especially when participants try to agree on a topic.
Similarly, lexical repetition which was studied for example by
Persson (1974), Tannen (1989) and Bublitz (1989) assumes a
fundamental importance, especially with reference to the
participants themselves and their attitudes, although it is not always
pragmatically appropriate in that it often suggests a non-increment
to the topical progression of the discourse.
Other lexical characteristics peculiar to spoken language seem to
point to the use of vague and rather general words (for example
thing, stuff etc.), the exploitation of fixed and ready-made
expressions (including phrasal verbs) and idioms. In particular,
idioms seem to have attracted a great deal of attention, and were for
example studied by Strassler (1982), who maintains they are used
mainly when a speaker is saying something about a third person or
another object/non-human entity, rather than the speaker
him/herself or his/her listeners, an aspect which he explains as
relating to the evaluative functions of idioms and the risks to face
they seems to pose. The same issue was also studied by Labov, who
equally underlines the evaluative function of idioms and maintains
that they occur at important junctures in everyday stories where
tellers and listeners evaluate the events of the narrative. As with
other lexical choices, however, idiom selection is shared among the
participants and, as such, adds to the interactive nature of the
communicative exchange. The fact that also the language of
advertising, the language of newspaper headlines and the language
of politics should often exploit the communicative force of idiomatic
expressions does not therefore come as a surprise.
Indeed, it is precisely this kind of considerations that led to the
notion that spoken language is not just a messier version of written


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

language but is used to do different things21. This, basically, is the

fundamental notion elaborated on by Halliday in his Spoken and
Written Language (1985), where the emphasis is on the fact that the
formlessness of spoken language is a myth, in that spoken language
is highly structured, even though in rather different ways from
written language. This is the reason why it is possible to talk about a
spoken grammar, something which does not come as a surprise if
we consider that, as Halliday notes, language is a tristratal system in
which the semantic level interacts with the lexico-grammatical and
the phonological/graphological level (in spoken and written
language respectively). Thus, the phonological part is of
fundamental importance. And so is, in terms of spoken language,
intonation, prosody, paralinguistic, indexical and kinesic features,
that become part of the meaning speakers want to convey. Actually,
as we have seen above, the development of various studies has
largely demonstrated that intonation further to the attitudinal role
identified by O Connor and Arnold (1961) and the affective
meaning described by Brazil can be said to have a grammatical
function. Thus, although in written language punctuation and
typographical devices exploited by authors seems at times able to
express some of the prosodic and paralinguistic features of the
language used, it is obvious that these features, as well as the kinesic
features (non-verbal behaviours which in a text can only be
described), cannot be included in written language, which therefore
posits itself as fundamentally different.


According to Halliday, the preponderant interest in written language,

when compared to spoken language, can be explained in terms of the
common conception of written language as a site of power (as it is used to
write laws etc.). Yet, already in the early Fifties, Firth emphasised the
necessity to study spoken language. More recently, especially with the
development of pragmatics and discourse analysis in general, researchers have
tried to redress the balance, with the result that a plethora of articles and
books have been published on the subject.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Thus, according to Crystal (1996), the main differences between

spoken and written language could be systematised as such:


SPEECH IS A PROCESS Speech is time-bound,

dynamic, transient. It is
A part of an interaction in
which both participants
are usually present.

spacebound, static, permanent. It is the result
of a situation in which
the writer is usually
distant from the reader
and often does not
know who the reader

There is an opportunity to re-think an

utterance while it is in
progress (starting again, adding a qualification).
errors, once spoken,
cannot be withdrawn.

inadequacies can be eliminated in later drafts
without the reader
ever knowing they
were there. Interruptions, if they have
occurred while writing, are also invisible
in the final product.


are typically in face-toVS
face interaction, they
WRITING IS NOT can rely on such cues
as facial expression and
gesture to aid meaning

Lack of visual contact

means that particiants
cannot rely on context
to make their meaning
clear; nor is there any
immediate feedback.

The lexicon of speech Because writing cannot

is often characte- be
ristically vague, using most writing avoids the


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

words which refer di- use of deictic expresrectly to the situation sions, which are likely
(deictic expressions). to be ambiguous.
The spontaneity and
speed of most speech
exchanges make it difficult to engage in

Writing allows repeated reading and close

analysis and promotes
the development of
careful organisation.

sentences often of
great complexity are
characteristic of (especially

Multiple instances of
subordination in the
same sentence and elaborately
are characteristic of

SPEECH MAINLY HAS Speech is good at

taining personal and
at expressing
HAS AN IDEATIONAL personal opinions and

Writing is very suited

to the recording of
facts and the communication of ideas
and to tasks of memory and learning.

Clearly enough, as Crystal himself emphasises, several of these

differences are trends rather than absolute distinctions, and many
borderline cases can be identified. This is for instance the case with
a spoken lecture, which does not share many of the features
indicated as characteristic of speech, or written texts such as
personal letters or, as we have seen, adverts. It is therefore obvious
that, when translating a written advert or a political speech, we
should be aware of the (linguistic and other) features that
characterise both source and target language in both its written and
spoken form.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Thus, as Guidre suggests, translators working for example in

the field of advertising and propaganda in general, are obviously
called to answer to the logics of economics, but cannot reduce all
their work to that sphere. Indeed, economics should not dictate
what is relevant from a linguistic and cultural perspective, and it is
precisely up to translators to take a precise stand on these
fundamental issues. The fact that translators are involved not simply
in a mechanical transposition of a text from one language to
another, but act as mediators between one culture and another, is
by now accepted in all fields, from literary to commercial
translation, where translators have to get involved on a linguistic
and a cultural level, in order to eliminate the problems that might
raise because of linguistic and cultural differences. In more
technical-scientific fields, however, translators intervention has
often been considered superfluous, and it is precisely for this reason
that the translation of advertisements, contrary to what many
scholars have maintained, cannot be pigeonholed into a general
category of technical translation.
As Lombardo well demonstrates (1999), the linguistic difficulties
typical of advertising texts, often turn them in almost literary and
poetic texts, which clearly call for specific translation strategies. For
instance, the informative function often requires a specific technicalscientific knowledge; the cultural difficulties discussed above often
force translators to work within the field of sociology and
sociolinguistics; if the campaign needs a change of the visual
components in order to be exported successfully, translators will
need to act also at the level of graphics and typographic layout. Very
often it is up to translators to make sure that the advertisement is
inserted within an adequate intertextual context (in order to avoid,
for example, that the advert for a restaurant might appear on a page
that also reproduces a social advertisement for Biafra children).
Similarly, it is the translator him/herself who has to check aspects
such as the length of the target text, so that a string of words does
not appear cut in half when it is printed on the label of the product.

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

All these aspects of which translators are now in charge, then,

turn them into the responsible parties not only for the
legality/illegality of a campaign, but also for its success/failure at
marketing level. Translators thus become, in advertising as well as
other fields, essential factors of the economic chain, and as such
they should be increasingly involved in the creative process of
international campaigns. Rather than considering, as for instance
Adab does, translators as the pivots of globalisation (on the account
of their creation of a sort of under-culture which aims at deleting
intercultural differences), I think it would be perhaps more accurate
to consider them promoters of that sort of local globalisation
mentioned above. Translators can actually become ethically
responsible for those local tendencies which, despite the attempted
globalisation of our world, keep existing, thereby assuming on
themselves responsibility not only for particular products and their
exportation, but, more fundamentally, for the very culture of a
particular country.
Cultural contexting, then (a term coined by Hall in 1976; Hall
1989, 85-128), becomes fundamental, and it is up to translators to
mediate and help interlocutors from a low context culture
(namely a culture where information is given in detail and where
people tend to pack as much information as possible in a small
space) to retrieve what the partner from a high context culture
(that is a culture where speakers are thought to share a certain
context, and therefore many details do not need to be stated
explicitly) might leave unexpressed, assuming the information
should be shared knowledge or retrievable from the context.
This might be the case, for example, with advertisements
produced in different countries, where the price can either be
indicated or omitted. For instance, until a few years ago, in
countries such as Egypt, it was unacceptable to express the price of
a product in an advertisement even though, as Said Faiq maintains,
even in such countries it is nowadays possible to express the price of
a product without any form of official or unofficial censorship.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

However, the expression of price remains a fundamental difference

even when we are considering countries from Europe. Indeed, until
a few years ago, a contrastive analysis between property adverts
produced in the United Kingdom and Italy would bring to the fore
the difference in the approach property agencies had as far as the
expression of price was concerned. Actually, whereas the price of a
property was regularly expressed in British property advertisements,
the same was not true for adverts produced in Italy, quite
independently from the advert model adopted22. Today, although
advertisements generally state the price of the property, it is still
quite common to be confronted with sentences such as prezzo
interessante, Informazioni presso ufficio or Info telefoniche, that
is pressure techniques that encourage potential buyers to contact
the agency.


Each model is characterised by peculiar features as to the language used and

the general layout of the advertisement itself. For example, the basic advert
which is generally used by private owners or agencies with tight budgets consists
of a brief description of the property, an indication of the area, a contact number
and, sometimes the name of the agency and the price (no picture of the property is
however provided). What is generally referred to as the traditional advert
generally used by agencies on the contrary provides an image (usually in the
superior part of the advert), a brief description of the property; an indication of the
location, the price, the name and number of the agency (usually in bold). The
descriptive advert, which corresponds to the property profile we find in
specialised magazines, is generally characterised by a larger picture (placed either
on top or on the side of the advert), and a longer text, which is divided in different
paragraphs and where no abbreviations and no disjunctive language are used.
Finally, we can have a standard advert, which is very similar to the commercial
adverts analysed above and whose main function is to attract readers attention.
This advert is generally bigger and presents more detailed pictures and
descriptions. A typical feature of this advertisement is the presence of a headline
(which usually summarises the advantages of the property on sale, as with Now
you really can have it all or La serenit di vivere in campagna) and the presence
of human beings in the pictures it presents, clearly exploited so as to suggest
harmony, family life etc.

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

These differences, that might appear rather banal and simply

marketig biased, are in fact closely connected to fundamental
cultural differences. In fact, it is typical of low context cultures, to
incorporate, in a small space, as much information as possible
(amongst which we have the price of the property and the size of the
various rooms), which can only lead to an extended use of


3 bedroom house
A 3 bedroom end of terrace property in
need of total renovation. accommodation
comprises kitchen, bathroom and lounge to
ground floor, cellar area to lower level and 3
bedrooms and bathroom to first floor. There
is double glazing, a large garden with garage
to rear and driveway parking to the front.
Conveniently situated for access to M4.
Cash offers invited
Room Dimensions
Entrance Hall
Lounge 235 X 115

If Italian abbreviations are fairly comprehensible (as with V.ze stazione;

Camera matrim.; al 1 piano composto da ingr., ampia cucina abit.),
English abbreviations can change greatly. Indeed, they can be fairly
comprehensible (as with 3 bdrm mid terr; 2 receps, dwnstrs bathrm, sep wc,
d/glazing, elec heating; extended semi-det hse, 3 beds, off st pkg, front and rr
gardens), or rather obscure (as with 3 bed mid terr hse. GCH, DG, 136 lnge,
1111 kit, bthrm; 2 bed p. built first flr flat. Eco 7 stg htg; 2 bed aptmt pos nr to
Beck June stn, newly fitted mod kit with integ apps, good size rms, gdns plus gge.
In addition, readers have to face the ambiguity due to the existence of different
abbreviation strategies, which account for the fact that the same abbreviation can
refer to more than one thing (for example, double glazing can be dble gaz;
d/glazing; DG; D/G. Similarly, semi detached can be abbreviated as semi det;
s/det; semi S/D; and central heating can be either c/heating or CH).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Kitchen 89 X 8
Bathroom 87 X 56
Bedroom One 1111 X 10
Bedroom Two 1110 X 9
Bedroom Three 810 X 87
Bathroom 1111 X 10
On the contrary, high context cultures rely more on the context
itself. Consequently, they take much information for granted, as
it can be retrived from the context and, as with the Italian
advertisement below, where customers are asked to contact the
agengy directly and fill in a long questionnaire (here shortened
for reasons of space), do not feel it necessary to specify all the
relevant details:


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

Scheda dettagliata dellimmobile

DESCRIZIONE: villa schiera di
ampia metratura, salone con
camino, cucina abitabile, 3
letto, doppi servizi, ampia
autorimessa doppia, balconi e giardino. ottimamente rifinita.
Per richiedere maggiori informazioni compili questo piccolo
If these differences appear fundamental in the translation of
advertisements, we shall see below that whenever approaching
other textual types, including literary texts, translators should
always evaluate very carefully whether to amplify the source text
by introducing explanations and annotations in order to render
explicit what the author left implicit. This distinction between
high/low context culture, in fact, has had important
repercussions on the development of translation studies, in so far
as, for example, the encoding-decoding model focussed on the
surface and deeper structures of the text whereas now the
emphasis is very much on heuristic processes. Contrary to the
first model, which is very low context oriented, with a great
emphasis on text, the latter and more recent approach is high
context in orientation, which means that the emphasis has

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

shifted to the context and the relationship between the words in

the text and other frames24.
In addition, it is important to consider which medium
(spoken, written or visual) each country prefers (higher context
communication in comparison to low context cultures, which
probably would opt for written, explicit information), in that this
preference is bound to be reflected in the ideas each participant
might have on the finality of the written or the spoken word.
Clearly, first encounters are probably going to be more
successful if conducted in a low context culture style, aiming at
clarity (which means, in any case, that translators ought to be
careful not to translate every word if that might result in
redundancy and obscurity)25. In addition, because each culture
will be sensitive to information load (namely, according to
Larson, the speed at which new information is introduced, 1984,
438), the goal of a cultural mediator will be to vary the
information load according to text function and target culture.
This also means that translators should consider the level of
formality/informality of a culture and, if necessary, intervene on
the length of sentences, on the personal pronouns used and, in
spoken communication, on the use of titles and terms of address.
Indeed, as Scollon and Scollon suggest, it should be for example


As defined by Gregory Bateson in 1972, the frame is an internal

psychological state and makes up part of our map of the world. As Goffman
(1974), and Tannen (1993), emphasise, frames are culturally determined and
in Wallats definition of 1993, refer to the participants sense of what s being
For business-letter writers in low context cultures writing in English to
readers in high context cultures, for example, Campbell (1998) suggests the
former should remember that their cultures may predispose readers to be
more interested in long-term relations with reliable people than in products
for their own sake. Hence, letters should begin with paragraphs that establish
common ground.

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

up to the cultural interpreter to inform people of the possible

misinterpretation of friendly overtones (2001, 57 58).
Similarly, it will be up to the mediator to advise the
participants that the other culture might have a different attitude
towards the expression of feelings. Contrary to expressive
cultures such as Japan, in fact, which tend to be more high
context culture and more sensitive to interpersonal
communication which affects face, instrumental low context
cultures such as German or British, generally consider displays
of emotion embarrassing and, judging them in terms of a loss of
control, perceive them negatively. It would therefore be very
important for mediators to bear in mind that although Western
societies are predominantly verbal cultures, there is a great deal
of difference regarding what is verbalised. For instance, if
verbalisation of emotions in instrumental societies takes place
after breaking point and is a sign of communication breakdown,
in expressive cultures there is a certain tolerance of expressivity,
and verbalisation of emotion does not signify any form of
breakdown. It is however important to remember that these
cultural differences are fundamental even when the participants
share the same language. Indeed, one of the major differences
between British English and American English is that American
culture allows for highly expressive language, which might result
utterly inappropriate for a British instrumental oriented
audience. Obviously, these differences will be even more marked
when the intercultural encounter or the text to be translated
involve two different national languages or, again, forms of
English which differ rather conspicuously from the standard
English spoken in Britain.
Clearly, whereas when translating written texts we can double
check, analyse our source text in detail in order to understand,
for example, whether a particular cumulative, rhetorical style is
chiefly performing a poetic function, and then decide for
example whether the reduplication of adjectives could be

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

rendered with a superlative form or whether it could be best

rendered through the use of synonyms26, in spoken encounters
(and the representation of those encounters we find for example
in novels), cultural mediators are faced with problems of
fundamental importance which have to be dealt with on the
spot. This is why it is fundamental to bear in mind some of the
recent finding of pragmatics, conversational analysis and
discourse analysis in general which, as suggested above, have had
an important bearing on the development of translation studies
as well.
For instance, as translators, we should always be aware of the
studies of register variation which, as Biber et al. observe, have
recently been used to make cross-linguistic comparisons,
bringing to the fore the fact that apparently similar linguistic
features can have quite different functional roles across
languages. Similarly, we should bear in mind the concept of
adjacency pair and turn taking, and consider the cross-cultural
differences in the handling of these conversational structures
for example, according to Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner,
Western society tends to leave little space for pauses or silences
(1997, 74), although for example Scandinavian cultures have a
much higher tolerance for silence than, say, the British.
In addition, we should be aware of the differences between what
Tannen terms high involvement or high considerateness
conversational patterns (1992, 196), typical not only of interlingual
but also intralingual varieties and which, as we shall see below,
could find a representation in the fictional works analysed.
According to this distinction, users of language adopting the former
pattern tend to talk more, interrupt more, expect to be interrupted,
talk more quickly and, at times, talk more loudly and use a wider
variety of tones etc. Obviously, the adoption of one or the other
style can be extremely important, especially when it comes to the

See for instance the contrastive analysis of Kincaids text above.


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

inflection of a participant (often made explicit in written works

through the graphological reproduction of spoken language). As
Mead observes, in fact, a voice feature which is stereotyped positive
in one culture might strike the outsider very differently (1990,
Clearly, differences in the interpretation of prosodic and
paralinguistic features become extremely important in any
intercultural encounter, as they could be understood as a sign of
anger or as a sign of sincerity. In addition, also non-verbal
language and kinesic features can become fundamental, in so far
as, as Hatim and Mason note in their Discourse and the
Translator, might determine the strive or the end of a career
(1990, 71). Another important aspect of conversation of which
mediators should have to be aware of, is the importance which a
particular culture might assign to the various maxims Grice
described in his cooperative principle (1975). Indeed, although
the principle seems universal, it is clear that the maxims do not
operate in the same way across cultures. For example, Hatim
and Mason relate how in English it is possible to flout the maxim
of quality (i.e. do not include what you know to be false) and
quantity (i.e. Give as much information as needed) and for
example begin our counter-argument by citing the opponents
thesis in order to rebut it (1997, 127). On the contrary, in Arabic
cultures this could be understood by the addressee as an
interlocutors loss of power, in that space in conceded to the
addressees point of view. Another case in point is irony, to
which mediators should be particularly attentive, as it might not
work in translation due to socio-cultural factors such as the
attitude to truth.
Obviously, mediators must be able to context their
interlocutors in order to put the right interpretative frame to the
statement in question, something which, as we shall see below,
translators of postcolonial literature are not always required to

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

For example, as Ferraro states (1994, 52), there is a profound

difference between the way Japanese use the word yes
(meaning, as often Italians do, that they understand what is
being said), and the way British people use it (essentially to
convey agreement). Similarly, whereas for the Japanese no is an
extremely strong statement (see Adler, 1991, 207), another
culture such as the Brazilian, for example, simply takes it as a
spontaneous expression of feelings. Whether to expect a thank
you or not is another issue at stake, in so far as, as Kramsch
emphasises (1993, 8), there is no pressure in French to produce
a reply to a compliment as, on the contrary, happens in America.
Another essential aspect of pragmatics which could become
extremely useful in translating cultures, is obviously Brown and
Levinsons theorisation of politeness and face and the notion of
indirect speech acts elaborated for instance by Austin and Searle.
For example, as Scollon and Scollon suggest (2001), whereas
English people generally tend towards indirectness as a way to
protect their positive face (that is their wish to be liked by others)
and their interlocutors negative face (namely their desire not to
have other people imposing on them), Italians tend to use
imperative more often, as part of their high involvement culture.
However, if a translator ought to render Italian imperatives with
English imperatives, probably the participants would experience
a breakdown in communication, due to the fact that the British
tend to hear the imperative as a coercive, face threatening act. It
is therefore essential for translators to realise that, as Hatim and
Mason state, the seriousness of the face threatening act is a
cultural variable. As a consequence, it cannot be assumed that
the same act would carry the same weight in different sociocultural settings, something essential also to translators of
postcolonial texts, who could be faced with the description of
verbal or non-verbal rituals which might have very different
meanings within the culture they stem from, being for instance a
form of insult or welcome (Hatim and Mason, 1997, 81).

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

In the case of requests, translators will thus have to resort to

cushioning strategies, according to the social roles of
interlocutors, the delicacy of their request, the social context and
the urgency, so that what Leech has termed the tact maxim
(i.e. Minimise cost to hearer and maximise benefit to hearer)
can be respected27. We can therefore see how this aspect is
essential towards a smooth management of the encounter28,
especially considering the fact that, for example, high context
cultures such as Asian cultures, faced with the possibility of
losing face, tend to avoid direct negative feedback by not stating
it. These are cultures in which criticism of behaviour is
automatically understood as a criticism at the level of identity,
whereas in low context cultures such as British or German
cultures, people rarely take criticism at the level of identity, and
rather than avoiding the verbalisation of criticisms, they adopt a
system of cushioning in order to criticise the action itself and not
the person.
We can therefore see how translators, in order to act as
cultural mediators, should really be able not only to mind-shift
and associate with both the source text and the virtual target
text, but should also be able to take a third perceptual position
which is dissociated from both cultures, in order to act abovecultures, thereby improving cross-cultural cooperation and build
trust and understanding.


As Hilkka Yli Jokipii underlines in relation to the business environment

(1998, 121), expert consultants tend to recommend conventional politeness
(achieved for example by fixed formulae), but she emphasises that it must be
very clear that the nature of distance and power affects the way requests are
issued in different languages. It will be therefore up to the mediator to opt for
mitigators such as the use of please, past modal auxiliaries etc.
Obviously, the very concept of smooth interaction is, as Prings points
out (1998, 217), culture-bound, and different assumptions on the notion of
harmony may lead to evaluations of the partners actions that impede efforts
to solve the problems may be reflected in the use of particular turn-taking
strategies, mitigators and/or conflict styles of conversation.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

If these notes on the role of cultural mediators can be applied,

as I have done most of the time, directly to the job of the
translator who has to work as a link between the various
participants in intercultural encounters, they can be used to
analyse different textual types. Thus, the same cultural and
translation strategies we have applied to mundane genres such as
advertising texts, can in an analogous manner be applied to the
analysis of literary texts such as those stemming from the former
colonies of the British Empire, where the cultural differences
between former colonisers and former colonised are generally
brought to the foreground by the authors themselves.
In fact, as we shall see below, one of the main characteristics
of postcolonial authors coming from different areas of the world,
is that in their works they try to translate their culture for their
English-speaking readers. Not only, then, can authors describe,
in their works, intercultural encounters (in particular between
the colonised and the colonisers), but the reading adventure
itself, which occurs, precisely, at the crossroad of two cultures,
could be understood in such terms. Contrary to the cultural
mediators partially described in previous pages, however,
postcolonial authors, and even more so translators who are
required to translate their works into other European languages
such as Italian, ought to be very careful to the strategies adopted.
As I have mentioned supra, in fact, this particular literature
contravenes sometimes the general indications future translators
are accustomed to receive, in that for instance strategies of
chunking, amplification or deletion might have repercussion on
the political and ideological impact of the works themselves.
Sometimes, not even communicative translation is the most
suitable option, in so far as sometimes even idiomatic
expressions are best translated literally, even though the result is
a text which is not easily accessible to the target reader.
As suggested above, there can be no fixed guidelines in so far
as every text is, literally, a world in its own terms. What remains

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

fundamental, however, are the strategies of flexibility,

adaptability and respect for the other cultures which translator as
mediators should be conversant with. As Garzone emphasises,
then, it becomes essential to recognise and evaluate the value
and the function of particular culturemes a term coined by
Vermeer (1983, 8), to indicate the semiotic unit of cultural
phenomena and then find a way to realise their transposition
within a different culture. As Niemieier noted when she said that
every negotiation (even that between writer and reader) starts
from different preconditions, depending on aspects such as
national culture, prior experience, political situation etc. (1998,
3), so Garzone stresses the fact that even the transposition of
every-day elements such as to have tea cannot follow fixed
rules, but requires a complex operation and a specific translation
project which, beginning with the evaluation of various aspects
(such as the type of text and its skopos, bearing however in mind
that a text will, in general, be polyfunctional), can produce an
adequate target text.
It is not therefore by chance that the distinctions between
different conceptions of culture mentioned above should find a
parallel in the field of translation studies, re-appearing for
instance in the categorisation proposed by Hans J. Vermeer, who
in Translation Theory and Linguistics distinguishes between
paraculture (that is, the culture of ethnic and national groups)
and diaculture (which corresponds to the sociological notion of
As Umberto Eco notes, the two aspects of culture mentioned
above are particularly significant (and problematical) for
translators. In fact, if the hermeneutic act translators perform
during the interpretation process of the source text always
represents a challenge, the recodification process translators aim
at coincides with the attempt to give a concrete expression to
that initial interpretation (Eco, 1995, 1389). Thus, it is not only
a problem of interpreting and evaluating a particular cultureme,

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

but it is also, and perhaps more fundamentally, a question of

finding adequate means to transpose that cultureme into a
different culture. As we have seen in the section dedicated to the
various degrees of cultural transposition, this is always a
challenging process, in so far as even when the cultureme seems
to be linguistically transposable (because, for example, it has
been adopted as a loan world in the target language, or because
it seems to have a straightforward equivalent in the other
culture), it might have an altogether different meaning in the
target culture. Thus, as Garzone emphasises, the practice of
translation cannot follow fixed patterns, but has to be specific
and different for each text. A project of translation, then, must
evaluate many different aspects of the text, including the nature
of the text itself, the value the text has in the source culture and
the value it should acquire in the target culture.
It is perhaps the kind of text on which the following pages are
going to focus (namely postcolonial literary texts) that best
exemplify the importance of translation in the construction of
culture and the strong political and ideological implications
translation can assume. In fact, if changing the language of a
society means, as Roland Barthes claims, changing society itself,
then translators can become stimulating and important
contributors in the creation of a new reality.
This is the reason why the practice of translation has become
so important in the field of postcolonial studies, to such an
extent that for example Maria Tymoczo considers translation as
an analogue for postcolonial literature, as the two types of textual
productions share many similarities29. As Inga-Stina Ewbank


For instance, both are concerned with the transmission of elements

from one culture to another across a cultural and/or linguistic gap (Tymoczo,
1999, 23), and both are affected by similar constraints on the process of
relocation (ibid.).

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

the idea of translation has come to be central in postcolonial

thinking about permeable or impermeable borders,
geographical, cultural and linguistic. In a discourse both critical
and creative, translation can figure as a key concept in exploring
otherness, exile, even belongingness (Ewbank, 2003, 14).

The fact that the disciplines of translation studies and

postcolonial studies should be seen as correlated as exemplified
by the publication of volumes such as Postcolonial Translation
(1999), Translation and Minority (1999), Translation and
Multilingualism: Postcolonial Contexts (2001), Changing the Terms:
Translating in the Postcolonial Era (2001), Translation in the Global
Village (2002) and Translation and Multiculturalism (2002)
therefore comes as no surprise.
Indeed, during the last fifty years of the twentieth century, we
witness the emergence of further disciplines, namely cultural and
postcolonial studies which, because of their areas of interests,
will soon develop into a further theory of translation.
3.4.Postcolonial Translation
3.4.1. The Development of Postcolonial Studies
Because of the importance acquired by what we can loosely refer
to as postcolonial theory, the discussion carried out in the
following pages, is necessarily very brief and should serve simply
as a general contextualisation.
We can say that the notion of postcoloniality forges itself as a
critical category during the second half of the 1970s and the
early 1980s. Clearly, as it will become apparent below, both
postcolonial literature and postcolonial theory actually began to
take shape long before then. It was however with the publication
of Edward Saids Orientalism in 1978, that the field gained
prominence in the Western academy. The fundamental notion
the scholar puts forward in this work, is that


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

the Orient is not an inert fact of nature. It is not merely there,

just as the Occident itself is not just there either [...] both
geographical and cultural entities to say nothing of historical
entities such as locales, regions, geographical sectors as
Orient and Occident are man-made. Therefore as much as
the West itself, the Orient is an idea that has a history and a
tradition of thought, imagery and vocabulary that have given it
reality and presence in and for the West (1978, 7).

The Orient, then, began to be studied in its discursive and

textual constructions, as it was considered more and more a
construction of the language of the colonisers and their modes of
representations. Indeed, with the development of postcolonial
studies and the work of authors such as Edward Said, Gayatri
Spivak, Homi Bhabha et. al., then, during the second half of the
twentieth century colonial literature has been subjected to critical
revision and what Said calls counterpoint, in order to show the
power it exercised in the propagation of the British Empire and
its canon. Indeed, considering that the Empire was a cultural
and textual as well as a military, economic and political
experience the phenomena of colonisation and decolonisation
appear closely connected to the problem of the canon30.

Various scholars, however, distinguish between colonial discourse

studies, which focuses on the analysis of texts produced during the period of
colonisation, and postcolonial studies proper, which analyses texts from the
former colonies either after they achieved independence or after the
dissolution of the European Empires. As I hope the present volume makes
clear, however, the two categories cannot be neatly separated, as one
presupposes, interacts with and permeates the other. In spite of this, for
convenience we could operate further categorisations, and divide for instance
the various postcolonial theoretical approaches into different models:
national/regional models, which focus on features of national/regional
history and culture. Examples of this approach could be identified with the
subaltern studies group of which Gayatri Spivak is an important member,
which focuses on Indian history, and different kinds of Caribbean studies,
which highlight the important role the common experiences of deportation

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

Postcolonial theory written in English, then, refers to a series

of philosophical, political, linguistic and literary theories which
and plantation slavery have had in the constitution of Caribbean culture;
racial/ethnic models, which emphasise how the notion of race has
determined many Euro-American practices. This is the case, for example, of
Pan-Africanism and Negritude movements; comparative models, which
focus on common thematic and/or linguistic concerns sometimes even
irrespective of a texts place of origin. This trend was inaugurated by the
publication of the volume The Empires Writes Back, and although extremely
useful, has sometimes led to the obliteration of national and individual
peculiarities and idiosyncrasies; coloniser/colonised models, which mainly
concentrate on the imperial-colonial dialectic, as exemplified for example by
the work of Franz Fanon, in particular Black Skins, White Masks (1952) and
The Wretched of the Earth (1961); hybridity/syncreticity models, most
importantly exemplified by the work of Homi Bhabha which, as we shall see
below, heavily relies on the category of the Other and is very much influenced
by poststructuralist theories of language and identity, in particular by the work
of French scholars Lacan and Derrida.
As suggested above, this kind of categorisation, while perhaps useful to
systematise some of the main concepts of the discipline, cannot be considered
real. Indeed, as I hope the work carried out in the following pages will make
clear, any analysis draws from, and relies on, more than one model at once.
This is true in the case of translation studies, and is even more so in the case
of postcolonial studies. Indeed, the complexity of the postcolonial world and
its (literary and otherwise) products is such that it undoubtedly calls for an
approach as eclectic as possible. In particular, in the study of the literature
produced in the postcolonial world, all models have to be applied
simultaneously, as the literature itself, highly syncretic, brings together several
thematics at once and could be categorised in different ways. Having said
that, it appears undeniable that a fundamental tenet of postcolonial theory
and, as we shall see, literature, is, precisely, the notion of identity highlighted
in the description of the last model. Indeed, with the systematisation of
cultural and postcolonial studies, the close bond between the culture of a
particular country, its identity and the way that society uses language, has
been acknowledged, and this clearly has had important repercussions on the
way translators have been able to exploit language in order to render
expressions which appear particularly related to the concept of national

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

try to come to terms with the legacy of British colonial rule.

Indeed, although pinning down the category of postcolonial to
fixed parameters has proved impossible, we can say, in very
general terms, that the discipline of postcolonial studies focuses
on the (political, economic, literary etc.) results of the interaction
between European nations (in our particular case, the British),
and the non-Western societies they colonised.
These can actually be divided into two broad categories:
settler colonies (such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada),
and non-settler colonies such as India, Africa etc. Because of the
profound differences in the administration and the subjugation
of these lands and their people, and the different struggles for
independence in terms of both duration and modality, the two
types of colonies appear rather dissimilar, to the extent that the
former are sometimes omitted form the category of postcolonial.
Although an analysis of the literature produced by authors from
the settler colonies would obviously be extremely interesting and
stimulating, and would result extremely enlightening in view of
an in-depth study of postcoloniality, in the present volume these
works are not actually taken into consideration. While not
implying any ideological/political stance, in fact, this study
focuses on the texts originating in non-settler colonies such as
Africa or India, partly for reasons of space, and partly because I
felt that this literature could serve the purposes of the present
study better.
Further to this main distinction, it is also essential to bear in
mind the fact that, as will become evident further on, even
though the term postcolonial literally indicates what comes after
colonisation, in reality the word is used more loosely and can be
applied to literary, political and theoretical phenomena which
occurred long before the achievement of independence.
Furthermore, the term might be applied to colonies which,
though independent, have now to contend with neo-colonial
powers and their attempts at subjugation; it could also be applied

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

to minorities in European countries themselves, or it could be

used in very generic terms so as to indicate a position against
As defined by the authors of The Empires Writes Back, a text
which consolidated the term postcolonial after its emergence
during the 1970s, the word postcolonial encompasses all the
culture affected by the imperial process from the moment of
colonisation to the present day (B. Ashcroft, G. Griffiths, H.
Tiffin, eds, 1989, 2).
This is the reason why postcolonial, migrant and diaspora
authors such as Hanif Kureishi, Zadie Smith or Salman Rushdie,
and native writers such as Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thingo
and Jamaica Kincaid amongst others, become emblematic of the
blacks effort to assert their identity by resorting to a substandard, postcolonial english.
3.4.2. The Notion of Colonial Alienation and the Issue of
The aim of this section is therefore to investigate, if only
superficially, some of the means adopted by the British Empire
in the constitution and propagation of the Western (Imperial)
canon, and the ways in which the colonised countries, at a
certain point of their colonial history of domination and
dispossession, managed to lead to its abrogation. As we shall see,
this process would be accomplished either by consciously
reacting against the imposition of the culture, the language, the
political and social orders of the dominant power (as with some
of the early nationalist or nativist movements) or with a sort
of deconstructive movement by mingling and mixing these
influences with their own cultures, bending the language of the
colonisers, irremediably contaminating it through the contact
with the local languages, thereby exploding the original and
leading to the creation of something new, the development of


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

which would finally transform the Imperial canon and its

language forever.
As Edward Said claims in Orientalism (1978), imperialism
consolidated on a global scale an extraordinary mingling of
cultures and identities. Consequently, although the aim of the
colonisers was to impose their own culture onto the colonised
countries and their people in an attempt to limit their
strangeness and threatening otherness, re-creating the Empire
constantly, their approach and conduct, which basically
originated from a fundamental fear of the Other and the sense of
instability it entails, could only lead to the disruption of the
imperial order.
As Annah Arendt suggests in her seminal study on
totalitarianism (1951), in fact, this fear of instability induces
destructiveness, that is, in the case of colonialism, the attempt to
destroy the history, the culture and the language of the natives in
order to create a replica of that perfectly known and familiar
homeland colonisers felt so comfortable in. As Thackeray
observed in Vanity Fair, the English liked to make a little Britain
wherever they settled down, and this attempt is also exemplified
by the new topography (which in reality referred back to the old
toponyms widespread in the home country) imposed onto these
lands by the colonisers. The British, made strong by what they
perceived as a sort of divine civilising mission, thus re-named
this universe, thereby appropriating and imposing an identity
onto the colonised. The fact that colonisers essentially tried to
accomplish their civilising mission by bringing the only true
religion Christianity to the pagan inhabitants of these
regions does not therefore come as a surprise. Furthermore,
colonisers tried to exploit the natives labour for their own
economic ends by invoking the pseudo-religious truism
according to which work improves the human soul, and this very
clich is at the basis of the image of the diligent colonial officer
often set in opposition to the indolent and idle native as

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

exemplified by Kiplings characters or, to refer to the very first

coloniser of the English novel, to Robinson Crusoe.
By positing themselves as the God of the Old Testament,
colonisers therefore brought this new world into existence for
the Western audience awaiting home. However, because
Western readers, although eager to learn about these places of
wonder, simultaneously wanted to restrain their strangeness and
the subtle menace it entailed, they felt compelled to adopt from
the very beginning familiar metaphors and every day names to
interpret them. By so doing, colonisers tried to appropriate the
native texts (a term understood here in its largest meaning), by
bringing them within what Foucault calls the episteme of the
Western world, a process which is similar to readers attempted
naturalisation of the experimental, literary texts produced in
Britain and on the continent during the second half of the
twentieth century. According to Culler readers, while being
attracted to experimental literature because it is something which
surpasses the ordinary, at the same time they feel the urge to
lessen its power, to recuperate and naturalise, if only partially, its
strangeness, in order to make sense of it.
To Western readers, the Other could actually signify anything,
from delight, riches and wonders (as in adventure tales such as
Ballantynes The Coral Island or Captain Marryats The Pirate) to
instability, corruption and contamination (as with Bertha
Masons madness which, in Jean Rhys re-writing of Bronts
novel Jane Eyre, stems from the sexuality of her Caribbean past,
or the image of the degenerate white we find in Stevensons later
tales or in Conrads Heart of Darkness).
It is precisely this practice of exploiting the familiarity of
known rhetorical figures to translate, decipher and represent
unfamiliar spaces, which turned the Empire, at least in part, into
a textual exercise. The textuality of Empire, in fact, stemmed on
the one hand from the fact that it physically relied on texts (the
written reports filed by colonial officers, for example, but also

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

some of the scripts of the colonised, which, far from being

regularly destroyed by colonisers, were often searched and
studied so as to legitimise colonial rule in an indigenous idiom).
On the other, this textuality originates from the fact that
colonialism was, from the European point of view, a metaphoric
undertaking, an exercise in symbolism, a whole mythical system
by which familiar figures of speech (derived for example from
Herodotus, Shakespeare, the Bible and travelogues of various
kinds), were applied to new contexts. With time, these rhetorical
devices developed into conventions of comprehending other
lands and other people, whose stereotypical characterisation
played at once the double role of screening out their difference
and alterity, while presenting their degradation and inferiority as
natural. Precisely because culture, as Said notes in Culture and
Imperialism (1993), may predispose one society to the
domination of another, supporting and preparing the imperialist
enterprise, many of the writings of the period (even those which
were not openly about the Empire, but simply took the British
global power for granted, as for example in J. Austens Mansfield
Park), were in fact part of the imperial mission.
In particular, the Victorian novels, infused as they were with
imperial ideas of race pride and superiority (clearly encouraged
by the spread of Social Darwinism), helped maintaining the
Empire. In the works by Kipling, Captain Marryat and Anthony
Trollope amongst others, the Empire found a justification in its
civilising activity, thus legitimising its essentially economic
All these writings and texts on which the Empire relied (to
which we could refer as colonial discourse) therefore represent
the whole set of textual practices which, according to Foucault
and Althusser, are necessarily involved in relations of power. It
appears thus clear how the imposition of the colonisers language
and culture on the natives social and education system (first


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

envisaged in the Minute on Indian Education, dated 1835),

assumed a fundamental importance for the imperial enterprise.
Through the literature produced in the home country, written
in a foreign language which natives were now asked to learn,
colonisers tried in fact to inculcate in the natives not only a sense
of loyalty towards the Empire, but also a sense of the inferiority,
inadequacy and irrelevance of their history and their culture. In
these texts, in fact, the native is always constructed as the Other
against which the I of the coloniser can define itself, the
different and deviant element set in opposition to the normal,
universal I of the coloniser. In its struggle for survival and its
attempt to perpetuate its power, the Empire therefore enacts the
same struggle for recognition which, according to Lacan, each
individual undertakes, trying to have its mastery and superiority
acknowledged by the Other.
The Other, then, clearly had to be constructed as the servant
and the inferior. This goal was achieved first of all through the
fixing and objectifying gaze of the colonisers and the idea that
the natives were there just for the benefit of the Europeans as
object of study and curiosity (as exemplified for example by the
attempt one traveller named Speke made to take the
measurements of the wife of the king of Buganda, and the
terrible fate endured by the woman known as the black Venus,
who was first imprisoned, abducted from her land and exhibited
in a cage around Britain as if she were a rare animal, only to be
cut up and have parts of her body on display after her death. The
same process, however, is often given a fictional, and muffled,
representation in the literary works of the period. For example,
both Kiplings and Conrads characters insistently observe and
survey their Others, in a similar way to the protagonist of the
first novella of J.M. Coetzees Dusklands, who projects himself as
a spherical, reflecting eye moving through the wilderness and
ingesting it, thereby hinting at colonisers appropriation of Other
land as much as Other people).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

In the second instance, this process of otherisation, which was

used as a way of confirming the validity of the imperial enterprise
and the superiority of the white man, was enacted through the
language colonisers used to describe natives who, as already
noted in the first chapter, were often defined as barbarians,
irrational etc. For example, in 1608 John Jordain wrote:
in my opinion yt is a great pittie that such creattures as they bee
should injoy so sweett a country [South Africa]. Ther persons
are preporcionable butt ther Facesz like an Appe or Babownne,
with flat noses and ther heads and faces both beastlie and fillthye
to behoulde. (quoted in R. Raven-Hart, 1967, 57-58).

As Bhabha observes in The Other Question, the objective of

colonial discourse was to construe the colonised as a population
of degenerate types on the basis of racial origin, in order to
justify conquest and to establish systems of administration and
instruction. The stereotypes colonisers resorted to in order to
construct the natives as the Others (which again Bhabha defines
as ambivalent texts of projection and introjection, metaphoric
and metonymic strategies, displacement, overdetermination,
guilt, aggressivity), finally justified the discriminatory and
authoritarian forms of political control adopted by the system,
making them appear appropriate.
Indeed, as Thomas and Sillen demonstrate, by quoting the
words uttered by the Secretary of State John C. Calhoun in
1844, scientific racism was used in arguing for the extension of
Here [scientific confirmation] is proof of the necessity of slavery.
The African is incapable of self-care and sinks into lunacy under
the burden of freedom. It is a mercy to give him the
guardianship and protection from mental death (quoted in A.
Thomas and S. Sillen, 1979, 17).

These characterisations then, become examples of the epistemic

violence Gayatri Spivak describes.

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

Throughout the Empire, these characterisations were helped

by Social Darwinist ideas and a whole set of racist testimonies of
science, which dominate the literature of the period, from
Haggards King Solomons Mines (where we find images of racial
superiority and inferiority based on the evolutionary ladder), to
Kipling and Conrad, who both subscribed to theories of racial
difference and supremacy (in Lord Jim, for example, it is stated
quite clearly that different races have different predispositions to
holding authority)31.
Hence, even when the history and the culture of the colonised
country was not declared non-existent by colonisers (as with
Afrikaners historiography in South Africa), the reporters of the
Empire tried in any case to convince natives that the invaders
had come to lighten their darkness and, on the basis of that
perverted logic by which, according to Fanon, colonialism tried
to distort and disfigures a peoples past, tried to bring them to
admit to the inferiority of their culture.
As Ngugi wa Thiongo writes, the Empire tried to control the
entire realm of the natives language of real life in an effort to
dominate their mental universe and control, through culture, the
way they perceived themselves and their relation to the world. By
imposing a foreign language and suppressing the native one (or
at least restricting its use to the household), colonisers provoked


This attitude, however, continued well into the twentieth century, as

Lewis Termans The Measurement of Intelligence (1916) demonstrates. Here we
read: [ethnic minority children] are uneducable beyond the nearest
rudiments of training. No amount of school instruction will ever make them
intelligent voters or capable citizens in the sense of the word [...] their dullness
seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stock from which they
come [...] They cannot maser abstractions, but they can bemade efficient
workers [...] There is no possibility at present of convincing society that they
should not be allowed to reproduce, although from a eugenic point of view
they constitute a grave problem because of their unusual prolific breeding
(quoted in W.W. Nobles, 1986).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

a dissociation of sensibility in the natives, and the association of

their language and culture with humiliation, low status,
punishment and barbarism, led to what Ngugi wa Thiongo
terms colonial alienation.
This is the same experience Bhabha refers to when he says
that colonialism created not only a divide between the Self and
the Other, but also the otherness of the Self, obliging the black
subject to perceive him/herself as Other.
3.4.3. The Language of Decolonisation
From what said above, the problem of language which since
structuralism and poststructuralism is closely connected to
problems of identity appears central to both colonialism and
postcolonialism. Indeed, if through the imposition of their
language, colonisers created the colonised natives as inferior
Others, who could therefore achieve an identity only in relation
(and submission) to the mother-country, it was always through
language that the ex-colonies, at a certain moment in their
history of domination and dispossession, began to subvert the
ideology and the myths projected by the Empire.
This is why, according to Ngugi wa Thiongo, political
independence must be necessarily followed by the decolonisation
of the mind, a process which clearly implies the rejection of the
colonisers language and the retrieval of their native mothertongues and cultures. If, in fact, as Fanon states, to use a
language is to assume a culture, then, claims Ngugi wa
Thiongo, who symptomatically has abandoned English in order
to publish in his Kikuyu mother-tongue, natives must reject the
language which appropriated their culture, a language which,
being identified as the language of the criminal, according to
Jamaica Kincaid, can only explain the deed from the criminals
point of view (A Small Place, 1988).
In reality, not many authors followed the example set by
Ngugi wa Thiongo, producing what Chinua Achebe (who

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

contrary to Ngugi wa Thiongo was a strong advocate of English

as the national language of Africa) would call ethnic literatures.
However, most of them in the attempt to re-appropriate
their identity pursued that process of transformation and
adaptation of the English language which authors such as
Solomon Plaatjie had already inaugurated during colonialism. In
fact, we cannot forget that although even after independence
many writers carried on writing in the language of the excolonisers, producing what Ngugi wa Thiongo calls an AfroEuropean literature, long before political decolonisation,
colonised elites began to organise cultural revivals and oppose
imperial power in an attempt to affirm their identity (this is for
example with the pan-African movement, which was born in
London in 1900, or the upsurge led by Mohandas Ghandi,
which began in India in 1919).
By the beginning of the twentieth century, Britain had in
actual fact begun to show signs of severe overstretch, as the Boer
War (1899 1902) pointed to the Empires vulnerability. In
addition, this period is marked by the end of the epistemological
innocence characteristic of previous centuries, while an unstable
and dialogic reality began to be discovered behind, and in
opposition to, the world which realist fictions claimed to
described. As mentioned in the first chapter, the element of
uncertainty that entered science thanks to, amongst others,
Einstein, Heisenberg, and Planck, together with Freuds
discovery of the unconscious and Saussures insistence on the
arbitrariness and conventionality of language, had repercussions
on the whole of society, and all contributed to the disintegration
of universal truths and the notion of absolute knowledge, all
aspects which would later become typical of postmodernism,
characterised precisely by what Lyotard, one of the major
postmodernist theoreticians, calls the end of the meta-narratives
and universal truths propounded throughout the centuries by
science, religion etc.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

This is the era of modernism, when in order to account for

this new reality, metropolitan writers began to look for new tools,
leading to the rejection of the realist type of narrative and to the
experimentalism which characterised their avant-garde. It was
precisely during these years that metropolitan writers, artists and
scholars while not actually questioning the basic principles of
Empire and still treating the natives as a sort of commodity,
representing them as somewhat obscure, primitive and divided
from Europeans began nonetheless to acknowledge in their
works the presence of Others, tentatively criticising imperial
wrongs and proclaiming their disillusion with the system. During
this period, the arrival of the stranger in the West was actually
testified in a number of ways: in the rise of cultural
anthropology, in primitivist styles of painting, in the works of
Picasso, Matisse or Gaugin, in the theories of the unconscious
There was a suspicion that the European self might actually
have something in common with the Other, and lands such as
India were increasingly perceived as sources of regeneration
which, through their spirituality, might save Europe from a
moral and spiritual breakdown.
During this period, Europe had actually to confront the first
world war and writers, in an attempt to come to terms with the
violence of war and the fragmentation of both culture and psyche
that followed, had to face a shattered world where the
progressive view of history was lost and where everything was felt
to be temporary and provisional. It was precisely the sense of
dislocation experienced by metropolitan writers that was
appropriated by writers like Tagore, S. Plaatje, V.S. Naipaul, C.
McKay and Rajo Rao. By resorting to Western genres in order to
articulate their perceptions of cultural experience, writers from
the colonies therefore began to, in Rushdies words, write


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

back32, suggesting, albeit very tentatively, that the subaltern

(contrary to Spivaks most pessimistic view) could speak 33.
Writers thus began to proclaim the cultural dignity and the
historical relevance of their countries, in an attempt to discover
beyond the misery of colonialism some very beautiful and
splendid era whose existence would rehabilitate them both in
regard to themselves and others (Fanon, 1959). For example, in
an attempt to turn the negative images of themselves and their
culture projected by the colonial system into positive images and
proclaim the value of what Empire had dismissed as primitive, a
novel like Banjo (1930), by the West Indian Claude McKay,
began to enact an inversion of European stereotypes of black
people34. Similarly, Mhudi, published in 1929 by the black South

Originally, this served as a leitmotif for US cultural imperialism as

represented in and by the blockbuster movie Star Wars and was later adopted
as the title of a synoptic book about theory and practice in postcolonial
Although Spivaks essay Can the Subaltern Speak? mainly concentrates
on the situation of Asian women, some of her observations could be read as
relating to the colonised subject in general.
The novel Banjo: A Story Without a Plot, published by Claude McKay in
1930, does not replace the colonisers negative image of black people with an
inverted stereotype of the black man as inherently good. Yet, the realistic
depiction of the black community does not coincide with a confirmation of
the stereotype. For instance, we find intertextual references to the Western
description of blacks as degenerate and idle: They stopped there, drinking
until twilight (p. 9); This was the great sport of the boys. They would steal a
march on the watchmen or police, bung out one of the big casks and suck up
all the wine through rubber tubes until they were sweetly soft (p. 19);
[Ginger] was lying on his back on one of the huge stone blocks of the
breakwater. The waves were lapping softly around it [] He yawned and,
pulling his cap over his eyes, went to sleep. The others also stretched
themselves and slept (p. 22). The text is also rich of intertextaul references to
the characters black culture: Rough rhythm of darkly-carnal life [] One
movement of the thousand movements of the eternal life-flow [] sweet
dancing thing of primitive joy, perverse pleasure [] many-colored variations

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

African Solomon Plaatjie, began to unsettle many of the

discriminations established by colonial discourse, and, by
drawing on different literary conventions (ranging from the Bible
to Shakespeare and African oral forms), and inserting into the
text many forms derived from African oral tradition, attempted
to articulate the authors perception of his identity.
Because of their bilingualism, these authors had access to two
different kinds of rhetoric, and were therefore able to develop
creolised, polysemic, dialogic modes of expression, creating
those very hybrid texts which, by intruding upon colonialist
discourse and mingling different genres, managed to convert
negative stereotypes in positive images, reversing the meaning of
the colonialist division, thereby disturbing and finally
dismantling the Western Canon of Empire.
Authors began to adapt indigenous myths to their new
postcolonial situation, adopting dominant symbols to express
their marginalised view of the world and speak as Others: for
example Tutuola and Soyinka, while carrying on writing in
English, drew increasingly from Yoruba culture, Raja Rao began
of the rhythm, savage, barbaric, refined eternal rhythm of the mysterious,
magical, magnificent the dance divine of life (p. 57) or Beguin, jellyroll, burru, bomb, no matter what the name may be, Negroes are never
so beautiful and magical as when they do that gorgeous sublimation of the
primitive African sex feeling. In its thousand varied patterns, depending so
much on individual rhythm, so little on formal movement, this dance is the
key to the African rhythm of life (p. 105); intertextual references to the creole
language spoken by this community: I is an artist (p. 9); thas all youse got
(p. 39); Jes arrive? asked Banjo. Youse sure looking hallelujah happy like a
men jest made a fortune(p. 83); I knows (p. 305); But Ise just finish
explaining to Goosey heah that Ise most gratiate to the consul (p. 305). This,
in Banjo, intertextuality cannot be understood in its canonical sense, even
though it becomes a fundamental strategy which enables the author to replace
the stereotypical image of the black man with a more realistic one and depict
each character as an individual (against the idea of an essential Black

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

to insert in his works references to the tale of Rama, while

Ghanaian author Ama Ata Aidoo began to draw on Akan legend.
Gradually, however, the strategy of subversion by imitation
entailed by the appropriation of Western genres, typical of what
authors such as Fanon have recognised as the first phase of
postcolonial literature35, would be increasingly associated with
collaboration and privilege, especially after the achievement of
Having being deprived of their culture by the colonisers, most
of the ex-colonies still tried to rely on European models for the
constitution of their new nations even after independence, it is
precisely against this alienation that Fanon called for more
violent strategies. Thus, the novels written during the 1930s,
where no direct resistance is really opposed to the coloniser,
differ tremendously from those written in the 1950s and the
1960s, which can be said to belong to the second phase of
postcolonial literature.
Between these decades, another war of global proportions
shattered the civilised world achieving unimaginable levels of
violence. In front of its horrors, many of the Western,
metropolitan intellectuals felt compelled to put under discussion
the very concepts of humanity, identity, nationality etc., in the
name of which the war had been fought. By the end of the
conflict, writers had to face a world which was geographically,
politically, socially, economically and ideologically shattered;
they had to confront the Holocaust, the dropping of the atomic
bomb, the Cold War and the military potentials of space travel.
The civilised barbarism of the Western world clearly blurred
the divide between primitive and advanced societies, showing
to what delirious pitches ideals such as identity, race and nation

Further to Fanon, other authors have attempted a classification of

postcolonial literature, dividing it in different phases. Most of the time the
categories of different authors correspond, but it is worth mentioning that
orature, that is oral literature, is not always included in the taxonomy.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

could bring. In addition, precisely because World War II was

fought against a racist ideology, it undermined the surviving
rationales of the Empire.
Not only this, but because the war was fought also with the
help of the colonial subjects (India, for example, sent 1.5 million
men to war), to whom Dominion status would be later denied, it
stimulated further nationalist demands. Under such pressures, in
1947 Britain therefore granted India political independence, and
this would be followed, in the years to come, by African and
Caribbean independence.
The post-1947 period, then, represents the high period of
decolonisation, and it is characterised by a more confrontational
approach. The writings of the time all concerned with Fanons
question What does the Black man want? thus showed signs
of an increasingly angry opposition to colonial rule, leading to
more combative political methods such as non-co-operation,
active resistance and armed struggle (as with the Mau Mau
revolt in Kenya in the early 1950s, the civil war in Algeria
between 1954 and 1962 and Anti-apartheid protests in South
Africa during the 1960s).
Literature and culture in general was mobilised as a
weapon of political liberation, thereby becoming a central arena
of transformation. Unlike earlier writing, which tried to reverse
racist stereotypes by adopting a mimetic strategy, now literature
had, in Fanons words, to insult and vomit up the white mans
values. Indeed, writers ability to infuse a people with a sense of
their own unique identity and help them in the process of
national self-making was acknowledged by various authors such
as Caryl Phillips. As a result, fictional narrative, with its potential
to compose alternative realities and use language in an
imaginative way, appeared to fit the purpose perfectly.
Indian, African and Caribbean writers focused mainly on
reconstituting the cultural identity which had been damaged by
the colonial experience, and concentrated on developing a

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

symbolic vocabulary that was recognisably indigenous. By so

doing, they emphasised the importance of what Ngugi wa
Thiongo would call a total de-colonisation of the mind of the
once-colonised in order to enable them to name the world for
themselves. This process, to which Cabral refers as reafricanisation (in Chabal, 1983), clearly implied the complete
rejection of the language of the ex-colonisers in order to retrieve
the natives mother tongues, the cultures they carry and their
To cancel colonial stereotypes, in fact, many authors, now
deprived of the filial/colonial bond with the mother-country,
which in a way provided an easy form of identity, tried to obtain
a validation of their identity by turning to history. On the one
hand, nationalist writers turned to cultural revivalism and tried
to retrieve their own history and culture, searching for evidence
of a rich pre-colonial existence which would then be expressed in
smaller-scale stories such as prison notebooks and diaries, texts
dramatising indigenous resistance, novels of remembering (as
Achebes Arrow of God or Lammings In the Castle of my Skin)36,
texts where the history of the white man was given a marginal
role (as in wa Thiongos A Grain of Wheat or Achebes Things
Fall Apart) and so on.
On the other hand, writers such as Rushdie who with
Midnight Children really marks a point of no-return in historical
narrative turned to the history written by colonisers and
denounced its fictionality, re-writing it from the point of view of
the Others, thereby making it unrealistic, demystifying and
By approaching history this way, writers demonstrated that
the history and the reality constructed by colonisers were simple
constructions of words (and this, in a place such as South Africa,

Due to the high number of texts mentioned in this section, publication

details shall be provided in the Bibliography only.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

where white colonisers claimed the land as theirs because they

maintained the land was not inhabited by other people, clearly
assumes a fundamental importance). It is not by chance, then,
that postcolonial and postmodernist literature should be
considered, by many, as sharing not only textual devices such as
the reliance on intertextuality but also specific ideological
perspectives, in so far as, in the definition given for example by
Linda Hutcheon, postmodernism coincides with historiographic
metafiction (1988), that is an imaginative re-writing of history
which demonstrated that history is only a text and a mediation of
Obviously, we cannot and we should not equate the two
movements entirely, as when we deal with postcoloniality, we are
not simply dealing with linguistic constructs and texts but with
an often dramatic reality. In spite of this, it is undeniable that the
two school of thoughts share many elements, which is why
authors such as Coetzee must be analysed in all their complexity
both as postcolonial and postmodernist writers. These authors,
then began to re-write the nation itself which, according to
Bhabha, is precisely written by marginal figures who, by
disturbing the image of a community, can impose the idea of an
ambivalent nation. The narratives produced on the borderline
can thus be identified with counter-narratives which, by virtue of
their ambiguity, can disrupt the ideological discourse at the basis
of canonic, hegemonic narratives and question notions such as
progress, tradition, national roots etc. on which those same
narratives rely.
This is actually what Rushdie does in his The Satanic Verses,
where the author questions the cultural borders of Britain by
proposing a narrative from the margins in which Western
subjects cannot identify completely their country of origin. By
developing, as Bhabha states in his DissemiNation, the
narrative of cultural difference, this novel thus becomes an
example of the way in which the migrant described by Rushdie

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

as one of the central figures of the twentieth century obliges the

Western citizen to re-draw the maps of culture.
By crossing indigenous elements with European structures
and images, writers therefore tried to represent the present in
symbols derived from their indigenous past. Because of this,
Tutuolas use of pidgin English, Ngugi wa Thiongos adoption
of Kikuyu oral formulae (which he used to insert in his texts
before abandoning English for good), Rushdies exploitation of
the hinglish spoken in Bombays bazaars and Zoila Elliss
graphic reproduction of hybrid linguistic forms such as the
Creole spoken in the Belizean communities depicted in her texts,
were all meant as effective anti-colonial strategies and should be
read as an attempt on these authors part to affirm their identity
and the identities of the countries they stand for.
We can therefore see how by rewriting history and making the
images and stories drawn from local myth, legend, film, history,
culture etc. correlate with national self-perceptions, postindependence narratives such as Rushdies Midnight Children
actually tried to establish new metaphors of nationhood.
Tellingly enough, this period is characterised for example by
narratives in the form of family sagas (as in Brinks Imaginings of
Sand, Vikram Seths A Suitable Boy or Rushdies The Moors Last
Sigh), narratives which stage return journeys home (as in Wilson
Harris Palace of the Peacock or Wole Soyinkas The Road). These
are tales of wandering, migration, exile and banishment (as in
Rushdies The Satanic Verses or Derek Walcotts epic Omeros);
tales in which indigenous myths are adapted to the new postcolonial situation (as in Soyinka and Tutuola); fundamentally,
tales which, by virtue of their crossing indigenous elements with
European structures and images, cannot but be hybrid and
This is actually further exemplified by the fact that during the
third phase of postcolonial literature, another favourite
decolonising strategy was the adaptation of colonial defining

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

tales, the Western, imperial canon described by Harold Bloom

which, through a careful process of adaptation, borrowing and
hybridisation, would get inevitably disrupted.
The powerful paradigms represented by European canonic
texts were now mobilised in defence of what had once been seen
as secondary. Consequently, as Lamming points out, the texts
that were regarded as the icons of European culture, especially
those that symbolised its claims to authority (such as, for
example, The Tempest and Robinson Crusoe), became the object of
repeated colonial appropriations.
George Lamming himself (who in The Pleasures of Exile
identifies Caliban with the colonised West Indian), Edward
Braithwaite (who offers a poetic version of Shakespeares play),
Jean Rhys (who in Wide Sargasso Sea imagines the story of
Bertha Mason, from Charlotte Bronts Jean Eyre), J.M. Coetzee
and Derek Walcott (who explicitly refer to Defoes Robinson
Crusoe), V.S. Naipaul and Harris (whose A Bend in the River and
Palace of the Peacock respectively bear traces of Condrads Heart
of Darkness), Ngugi wa Thiongo (in whose A Grain of Wheat we
can detect a shadow of Conrads Under Western Eyes) etc., all
created inverted writings which exemplify what Bachelard calls
the Prometheus complex, that is the appropriation of the master
narrative, in an attempt to read reality in a different way from

Just to give but one example amongst the many, Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean
Rhys, 1966) posits itself as an antecedent to Bronts Jane Eyre and analyses
the creole character of Bertha Mason and her relationship with Rochester.
Throughout Bronts novel Bertha is introduced as a sort of sub-human Other
in opposition to the Englishman Rochester: I was of a good race [] I had
marked neither modesty, nor benevolence, nor candour, nor refinement in her
mind or manners [] I found her nature wholly alien to mine; her tastes
obnoxious to me; her cast of mind common, low, narrow, and singularly
incapable of being led to anything higher [] what a pigmy intellect she had
(p. 321-3). However, through intertextuality, the alternation between

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

From the examples above, then, we can see how, despite

Ngugi wa Thiongos call for a total decolonisation of the mind
and the complete rejection of the language of the ex-colonisers,
many authors actually opted for the politics of in-betweenness
Bhabha called for in his The Location of Culture. By drawing on
local cultures, by inserting in their works references to native
legends and myths, by relying on words and rhythms typical of
their local traditions, and by intruding upon Western defining
tales, these authors therefore brought about the disintegration of
the imperial canon Chinua Achebe hoped for.
From what said above, it appears clear that the distinctions
between different conceptions of culture mentioned in the
previous pages finds a parallel in the field of translation studies.
Indeed, the problem of language, and consequently of
translation, is clearly fundamental to both colonial and
postcolonial history and literature. Indeed, in the words Eric
oppressor/victim is reversed and Bronts animalistic descriptions of Bertha
are applied by Rhys to Antoinettes oppressors:


Bertha: unnatural sound; something (p.

155); almost like a dog (p. 219); savage
face (p. 297); what it was, whether beast
or human being, one could not tell [] it
was covered with clothing; and a quantity of
dark, grizzled hair (p. 307)

Antoinette: I [Rochester] wondered why I

had never realized how beautiful she was.
Her hair was combed away from her face
and fell smoothly far below her waist (p. 49)

Rochester: victim of a well planned

scheme. Victim of Berthas sexual
degeneration (the true daughter of an
infamous mother dragged me through the
hideous and degrading agonies which must
attend a man bound to a wife at once
intemperate and unchaste (p. 323)

Rochester: lies to Antoinette (I kissed her

fervently, promising her peace, happiness,
safety (p. 48). He tries to make her mad by
(intertextually) calling her Bertha, to which
Antoinette replies Bertha is not my name.
You are trying to make me into someone
else (p. 94). He is sexually and morally
degenerate (Amlie)

Thus, via Antoinette, Rhyss novel urgently poses the question Who is the
traitor? (p. 74). The examples could obviously be several, but for reasons of
space we shall limit ourselves to the examples briefly discussed above.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Cheyfitz used, translation could be identified as the central act

of European colonisation (1991, 104), in so far as
at the heart of every imperial fiction (at the heart of darkness)
there is a fiction of translation. The colonial Other is translated
into terms of the imperial self, with the net result of alienation
for the colonised and a fiction of understanding for the coloniser
(Cheyfitz, quoted by Wynn, 2000, 114).

As we have seen from the outset, the Empire actually posited

itself not simply as an economic, military and political enterprise,
but also as a textual exercise, a mythical system by which
familiar figures of speech were applied to new contexts in order
to interpret and translate other lands and their people, thereby
bringing them within what Foucault calls the Western episteme.
In particular, by imposing a foreign language and suppressing
the local ones, the Empire tried to dominate the mental universe
of the indigenous populations and control, through culture, the
way they perceived themselves and their relation to the world.
The colony as a whole was therefore constructed as an
inferior, Other reality, and posited as a copy a translation of
the mother country, which was then recognised as the great
original. If this aspect was implicitly acknowledged by Ngugi wa
Thiongo, it was only in recent years that the relationship
between colonialism and translation has come under close
scrutiny for example in the work of Niranjana, who puts forward
the notion that translation shapes the relations of power that
operate under colonialism (Niranjana, 1992, 2).
It is therefore not by chance that Rushdie, in his Imaginary
Homelands, defines the postcolonial writer as a translated man
(Rushdie, 1991, 15). According to Rushdie, the translation
process writers from the former colonies experienced when
colonisers obliged them to abandon their language, can be seen
as the necessary first step towards their formation as postcolonial
writers. In their attempt to reject the appellative of copy and


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

translation, and assert their identity and their culture, the

colonies emerging from colonialism appropriated some of the
translation strategies initially exploited by colonisers. Linguistic
issues then, which structuralism and poststructuralism showed to
be closely connected to problems of identity, therefore appear
central to both colonial and postcolonial enterprises. In fact, if
through the imposition of their language, colonisers created the
colonised as inferior Others, who could therefore achieve an
identity only in relation (and submission) to the mother country,
it was always through language that the ex-colonies, at a certain
moment in their history of domination and dispossession, began
to subvert the ideology and the myths projected by the Empire.
Indeed, during the period of high decolonisation (after Indias
independence in 1947), literature, with its potential to compose
alternative realities and use language in an imaginative way, was
increasingly mobilised as a weapon of political liberation, thereby
becoming a central arena of transformation. In those years,
Asian, African and Caribbean writers focused mainly on
reconstituting the cultural identity which had been damaged by
the colonial experience, and concentrated on developing a
symbolic vocabulary that was recognisably indigenous. By doing
so, they emphasised the importance of what Ngugi wa Thingo
would call a total de-colonisation of the mind of the oncecolonised, a process which by implying the complete rejection
of the language of the ex-colonisers and the retrieval of the local
mother tongues and the culture they carry would have enabled
them to name the world for themselves.
As mentioned supra, in reality, many authors opted for the
politics of in-betweenness Bhabha called for in his The Location
of Culture, the in-between space Bhabha himself defines as the
cutting edge of translation and renegotiation, that inter or
Third Space which carries the burden of the meaning of
culture (Bhabha, 1994, 38). Thus, through their use of
language, writers such as Tutuola and Soyinka (who in their

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

works render Yoruba culture into English), Raja Rao (whose

narratives are rich of references to the tale of Rama), and Ama
Ata Aidoo (in whose work Akan legend clearly works as an
intertext), translated some of the constitutive elements of their
languages and cultures into what could be recognised as the
language of the ex-colonisers only with great difficulty.
By using in their works a hybridised, non-standard form of
English (which according to Achebe had to be adapted to its
new, African surrounding), these writers encouraged the
emergence of a situation in which a multiplicity of englishes are
able to co-exist, as opposed to a world in which one metropolitan
English dominates over other allegedly deviant forms. Thanks to
these authors, the language of Shakespeare got broken up and
thrown about, creating a number of splinter forms which could
be recognised as the language of the ex-colonisers only with great
difficulty. The development of multiple literary and spoken
englishes, therefore illustrates the fecundity of postcolonial
adaptation; its a sort of cultural boomeranging where the oncecolonised take the artefacts of the former masters and make
them their own. As Walcott notes, by parroting our masters
style and voice, we make his language our own, and by so doing
writers, as Rushdie suggests, completed the process of making
themselves free. In the hands of these writers, then, english
becomes an effective anti-colonial instrument, and it is precisely
to loosen it from its colonial past and make it national, that
writers must subject English to various processes of syntactic and
verbal dislocation, resorting to local idioms and adopting native
cultural referents. It goes without saying, then, that the work of
Rushdie himself, where he flamboyantly crosses, fragments and
parodies different narrative perspectives, derives his style from a
certain kind of Mughal paintings typical of the architecture of
Hindu temples, occasionally inserts untranslatable expressions in
his texts and adopts a structure of multiple mini-narratives which
reflects the digressive form of the Ramayana and the

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

Mahabharata, the two Indian sacred texts remains an

exemplary case.
By establishing new metaphors of nationhood and creating
new images as symbols to represent the nation, english thus
becomes crucial for the constitution of the new, postcolonial
nations. Hence, the introduction and the translation of elements
derived from dialects, Creoles and patois, very rarely depend on
innocent, purely stylistic reasons, in so far as most of the time
they are made to correlate with national self-perceptions. This is
also the reason why the practice of translation has come to be
perceived as fundamental to the postcolonial enterprise.
To a certain extent, it is actually possible, with all due
caution, to detect similar trends in both postcolonial and
translation studies, as theoretical elaboration in one discipline
seems to reflect and penetrate that of the other. For instance,
after the initial period during which postcolonial studies
concentrated on what was perceived as a homogeneous and
globalised idea of postcoloniality, now there is a tendency to
focus on the specificity and the diversity which distinguish the
ex-colonies in different parts of the world. In fact, despite the
emphasis placed by first-generation postcolonial scholars on
concepts such as hybridity, heterogeneity, and difference
categories which, of course, were celebrated on a discursive level
on a methodological level they simultaneously compressed and
deleted differences of history and geography, homogenising them
into a collective entity. On one hand, the postmodernist,
poststructuralist/deconstructionist approach of authors such as
Said (who was heavily influenced by Foucault), Spivak (who
openly acknowledges her debt to Derrida) and Bhabha (more
attentive to Lacan), was extremely useful in the elaboration of
some of the experiences of the ex-colonies, for example exposing
the relation between culture and imperialism, language and
power. On the other, however, it also led to a flattening of the
cultural idiosyncrasies of various societies, and while constituting

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

a necessary first step, it risked engulfing postcolonialism within

the Western, metropolitan theoretical debate.
Thus, even though Said is careful to stress that culture and
language create real oppression, and even though Bhabha claims
that the Otherness of the black man is inscribed on his body
through colonisers language, thus distancing themselves from
the postmodernist stance of relishing the free play of language as
a means of evading the consequences of ideological constructs,
their intellectual productions nonetheless create a disconnection
from the real vicissitudes of the formerly colonised nation-states.
As San Juan Jr notes in his Beyond Postcolonial Theory (1998), in
this kind of production, very rarely do we encounter any specific
scenario of unjust domination or actual resistance from which we
might gather information about the real ordeals the ex-colonies
and their inhabitants had to endure, and urgent life-or-death
issues are often ignored.
As a result, further to the general acknowledgment of the fact
that in a world of power and victimisation, colonialism and
persecution, ideologies impact on the body, and the Empires
exercise in textuality results in real segregation, exclusion from
public life, economic exploitation, infliction of physical pain and
even death, scholars such as Aijaz Ahmad have begun to
problematise romantic and idealistic homogenisations of the
third world, questioning the postcolonial denial of the histories
of peoples and their distinctive trajectories of survival and
achievement, and finally denouncing the fact that the systematic
decay of countries and continents cannot be easily squared with
notions of transnational cultural hybridity and politics of
contingency. As San Juan emphasises, criticising the reduction of
the social to the semiotic, in the discursive realm of floating
signifiers, the asymmetry of power and resources between
hegemonic blocs and subaltern groups disappears (San Juan,
1998, 7).


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

Postcolonial discourse generated in the first world is

increasingly seen as another product (and not an antithesis) of
post-Fordist capitalism; the much celebrated notion of versatility
is recognised as part of cultural imperialism, and concepts such
as hybridity and heterogeneity are seen as obfuscating the effects
and practices of consumerism. Consequently, scholars have
begun to express the need to re-address such trends as
mutliculturalism, globalisation and the decline of the nationstates in the vicissitudes of the culture wars which despite the
end of formal colonialism keep taking place (San Juan, 1998,
11). Furthermore, there is a call to redirect postcolonial studies
away from diasporic concerns and back to the multiple arenas
within the postcolonial states themselves (Werbner, 1997, 23),
and as Timothy Brennan suggests, recuperate the suppressed
history of entire countries (1997, 2).
The analytical simplifications in which postcolonialists have
indulged are now banned in favour of a political analysis
grounded in the history of the various countries (Chabal, 1997,
32, 51), and colonialism and postcolonialism, in particular as
expressed in third world literature, are no longer seen as
monolithic entities, as the attention is re-focussed on categories
such as race and nation (Ranger, 1997, 274). According to
Coopan, these two categories have actually become dangerously
peripheral to what many would see as the real work of the field
(Coopan, 2000, 7), but they are essential to an understanding of
postcolonial situations such as the end of apartheid in South
Africa, and provide new registers of expressions to the much
acclaimed notion of hybridity which, as Loomba suggests, does
not dilute the violence of the colonial encounter (Loomba, 1991,
172 3).
Contrary to easy forms of textualisation and the implication,
recalling Derridas, that any context is simply another text
scholars now acknowledge that power is always situational. Any
analysis is therefore increasingly spatio-temporally oriented,

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

locating considerations about the inequality of power and control

over resources, and focusing on their material consequences
such as brutalisation, exploitation and genocide.
This emphasis of postcolonial theory on specificity and
historical analysis, in reality, reflects a more general tendency
characterising recent developments in linguistics and translation
studies. In these disciplines as well, in fact, we can observe
increasing attention to the notion that each system is a system in
itself, and that there exist various sub-systems characterised by
specific aspects such as peculiar syntax and/or pronunciation. As
in postcolonial studies, in linguistics and translation studies too,
it is acknowledged that there no longer exists a single standard
English, in that what was once known as English has now
diversified into a series of micro-languages comparable to the
many englishes Ashcroft, Tiffin and Griffith describe (1985, 8)
specific to a particular section of society, identified for example
on the basis of class and origin. Hence, both on British soil and
in the ex-colonies, these micro-languages have become
determinant for the assertion of the specific identity of particular
This process, obviously becomes more relevant to the study of
linguistic practices in postcolonial contexts, where the
acknowledgments that a particular sub-system had the same
rights to authority as any other sub-systems, meant the passage
from a situation of colonisation (when the language of one
system dominated over all other languages, relegating the other
systems to the role of sub-cultures, the prefix sub indicating
here inferiority and oppression) to a situation of de-colonisation.
It is precisely on the micro-languages which have become
known as postcolonial englishes and the strategies translators
have at their disposal when they are called to translate these nonstandard forms of English, that the remaining pages of this
section focus. Because, as Barthes, Lacan et. al. have repeatedly
suggested, any use of language always corresponds to an act of

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

propaganda and an attempt to impose authority upon Others,

translation studies scholars such as Tymoczo and Calzada-Perez
have repeatedly pointed out the bearing ideology has on
translation, especially in a postcolonial, globalised context. As
Saids insightful analyses have clearly demonstrated, no
representation of culture especially the culture of a colonised
people is ever innocent, neither in the original, nor in
Lawrence Venuti was actually one of the first scholars within
the field of translation studies proper to emphasise the role of
translation for the formation of cultural identity. In his work, he
highlights the fact that translation has an enormous power in
constructing foreign cultures for target readers, as they can, as
often has been the case, create stereotypes which, rather than
represent the foreign culture, actually reflect domestic values.
Thus, as Schffner claims, Venuti complains that the fact of
translation is erased by suppressing the linguistic and cultural
differences of the foreign text (1995, 6). This is the reason why,
according to Venuti, translation can shape domestic attitude
towards foreign cultures. Indeed, as he sustains,
Not only do translation projects construct uniquely domestic
representations of foreign cultures, but since these projects
address specific cultural constituencies, they are simultaneously
engaged in the formation of domestic identities (1995, 17).

The notions referred to here, which were briefly introduced in

previous chapters, are actually pivotal in Venutis work, whose
distinction between domesticating and foreignising translation
strategies is by now famous and has assumed a fundamental
importance in the field of postcoloniality. According to the
scholar, in fact, translations position readers in domestic
intelligibilities that are also ideological positions (1995, 19). Yet,
if translations may maintain existing social relations by making
the foreign text utterly intelligible to the domestic reader, it can


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

also bring about social change. Clearly, in order to elude

ethnocentrism, a translation project must take into consideration
the interests of more than those of a cultural constituency that
occupies a dominant position in the domestic culture:
A translation project must consider the culture where the foreign
text originated and address various domestic constituencies [...]
a nonethnocentric translation project thus alters the
reproduction of dominant domestic ideologies and institutions
that misrepresent foreign cultures and marginalises other
domestic constituencies (1995, 23).

Not only this, but, as Venuti emphasises further down,

A translation practice that is rigorously nonethnocentric would
seem to be highly subversive of domestic ideologies and
institutions. It, too, would form a cultural identity, but one that
is simultaneously critical and contingent, constantly developing
translations projects solely on the basis of changing assessments

Obviously, such attitude to translation is not without risk, and

Venuti acknowledges the danger of unintelligibility and cultural
marginality. Yet he concludes, since nonethnocentric
translation promises a grater openness to cultural difference,
whether they are located abroad or at home, they may well be
worth the risk (ibid.).
This practice might therefore result in a text in which the
exotic element is either used by target-language users to
construct source-language users as Others (with all the
implications this entails), or which is exploited by sourcelanguage users to affirm their identity and the legitimacy of their
culture and their language. Thus, Gabriel Okara, in The Voice
(1964), uses English as an extension of his Ijaw native language.
The process through which Okara tries to render his mother
tongue as literally as possible in the attempt to translate into
English, almost word-for-word, distinctive idiomatic or

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

metaphorical expressions of Ijaw, could therefore be identified as

transliteration, a process in which calqued expressions play a
fundamental role. Indeed, this practice enables the author to
maintain many of the characteristics of the original language
(using expressions which consist of target-language words and
respect target-language syntax but are unidiomatic in the target
language because modelled on the structure of a source-language
expression), while adopting target-language conventions for the
phonic and graphic representation of a source expression.
In Okaras opinion, in fact, it is essential to translate African
folklore, imagination and philosophy almost literally into the
European language the author happens to use, because a single
African word, group of words or even a name, can express the
social customs, the attitudes and the values of an entire country.
In this case as well, then, translators should find a way to
indicate that another language should be used in a particular
segment of the text, adopting a suitable strategy in order not to
betray the original text. This is the reason why I think that by
translating literally some of the sentences with which Okara
rendered some Ijaw expressions in English, Valerio Fissore, who
translated Okaras text into Italian, managed to maintain the
flavour and the logic of the Ijaw language also in the Italian text.
Clearly, if the meaning of a sentence such as per il fatto che non
sono andato a scuola io non ho bile, io non ho testa? Io niente
so? (Okara, 1987, 27 8) is rendered comprehensible, if only
intuitively, by the immediate co-text in which the expression io
non ho bile appears, and the further reference to that persons
alleged ignorance, a sentence like dicevano: Okolo non ha
torace. Non aveva un forte torace e non aveva ombra (Okara,
1987, 25) which translates the original Okolo had no chest,
they said. His chest was not strong and he had no shadow
(Okara, 1970, 23) remains rather obscure both in Italian and
in English.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Obviously, writers themselves can resort to different strategies

in order to make their texts more comprehensible and provide
readers with a sort of reading key to their work. For instance,
Okara himself, in African Speech...English Words, which
appeared in Transition in 1963, comments on the example given
above, clarifying the mechanisms of his use of English:
The equivalent [of the expression he is timid] in Ijaw is he has
no chest or he has no shadow. Now a person without a chest
in the physical sense can only mean a human that does not exist.
The idea becomes clearer in the second translation. A person
who does not cast a shadow of course does not exist. All this
means that a timid person is not fit to live (Okara, 1963, 16).

Since the language used becomes a fundamental component of

these authors project as writers and, more fundamentally, as
postcolonial subjects, it is obvious that philological approaches to
translation according to which what cannot be translated must
be confined to silence are therefore rejected as forms of
cultural imperialism, in favour of a more creative approach, in
which forms which are not part of the receptor system are
developed to encode alternative experiences and the Otherness
inherent in the original text. Indeed, if translators really want to
posit themselves as cultural mediators, they ought to make an
effort to avoid the kind of standardisation of the language which
stifles (yet again) the very cultures, languages and identities to
which these works try to give a voice within Western discourse
after years of silencing. Sentences such as
You know teecha sometime we qurrel mongst weself ya da dis
village, but when important thing like death happen, everybody
pitch in because that could happen to all ah we (Ellis, 1988, 22),

are clearly understandable in spite of grammatical irregularities

such as weself instead of ourselves, and the alterations in the
spelling of words such as teecha, qurrel mongst, dis, ah,
which graphically reproduce the pronunciation of the people

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

living in the Belizean rural communities Zoila Ellis depicts in her

text. Yet, although the use of Creole does not make the text
incomprehensible, and could thus be easily translated in
standard forms, translators should nonetheless try and find a way
of conveying the flavour that the particular orthography and
grammatical constructions of the sentences convey.
As Tymoczo underlines, in obscuring or muting the cultural
disjunctions [between source and target text], the translator
ceases to be faithful to the source text (Tymoczo, 1999, 21).
Indeed, as Valerio Fissore states in his Nota del traduttore to
Gabriel Okaras The Voice:
una traduzione che non registrasse la diversit sistematica non
risulterebbe che in una parafrasi [...] che snaturerebbe, con
operazione colonialistica, la cultura dalla quale dicesse di
tradurre e, infine, fallirebbe fondamentalmente lobiettivo di
accostare le due culture (Fissore, 1987, 17).

Consequently, by translating an utterance such as

mummy, can you believe that everyone remembered me? And

Mammina, ci credi che tutti si ricordavano di me? E
continuavano a dirmi comero cresciuta e a chiedere come stava
mio pap e come stava mia madre (quoted in Adele
dArcangelo, 2003, 5),

Roberta Garbarini clearly prevents Italian readers from hearing

the true voice of the Jamaican people which the author was
determined to insert in her text. The translator thus perpetrates,
albeit unconsciously, the kind of epistemic violence Spivak
describes as part of the colonialist enterprise.
Not only this, but even when writers seem to use standard
English, translators should always question and further


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

investigate the use of what appear to be standard forms, as

authors might be using English as if it were another language.
This is for instance the case of Raja Rao who, while writing in
English, in Kanthapura tries to convey the rhythms of spoken
Kannada (see for example Jussawala and Dasenbrock 1992, 154)
and, in The Serpent and the Rope, tries to adapt his style to the
movement of a Sanskrit sentence (Nagarajan, in Mukherjee
1971, 38). Similarly, Anand claims that much of the English
dialogue of his novel Untouchable (1940) should actually be in
Punjabi or Hindustani, and also Achebe, as Riddy points out in
his Language as a Theme in No Longer at Ease, while writing in
English, indicates when conversational Igbo is supposed to be
used by resorting to a cadenced, proverb-laden style (Riddy,
1970, 39). Finally, as we have seen, Okara in The Voice (1964)
uses English as an extension of his Ijaw language. By so doing,
the author who is simultaneously a translator resorts to the
strategy Malone defines as equation (1988, 15), using calques of
the Ijaw language in English, that is expressions which consist of
target language words and respect target language syntax but
result unidiomatic in the target text.
Authors have also at their disposal different linguistic levels
which account for their comprehensibility, acceptability and, of
course, translatability. For example Achebe, in A Man of the
People (1966), resorts to standard pidgin:
At that point my house-boy, a fifteen-year-old-rogue called
Peter, came in to ask what he should cook for supper.
You no hear the news for three o clock? I asked, feigning great
Government done pass new law say na only two times a day
person go de chop now. For morning and for afternoon. Finish
He laughed (Achebe, 1988, 20-1)

As a result, the brief dialogue between the two characters is fairly

easily understandable despite the omission of the auxiliary verb

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

in the interrogative form (you no hear); both definite and

indefinite articles (government and person; new law); relative
pronouns (law say); the marker of third person singular (say).
The text results comprehensible also despite the use of the
preposition for, which replaces both at (for three o clock)
and in (for morning and for afternoon); the formation of the
past tense with a past participle followed by an infinitive without
to (done pass), instead of the standard auxiliary + past
participle; the anticipation of the temporal expression (only two
times a day); the spelling variation of de; and the use of the
expression go de chop.
The only real challenge is actually posited by the last
expression go de chop, which, however, the immediate co-text
makes comprehensible. Thus, although Marco Grampa might
have emphasised more some of the non-standard features of the
original and rendered news and the verb done pass more
precisely, the meaning is more or less conveyed in the Italian
In quel momento il mio cameriere, un ragazzaccio di quindici
anni di nome Peter, entr a chiedere che cosa doveva cucinare
per cena.
Non hai sentito la notizia alle tre? chiesi, fingendo la massima
Il governo ha fatto una legge che dice che dora in avanti
bisogna mangiare solo due volte al giorno. Mattino e
pomeriggio. E basta.
Scoppi a ridere (Achebe, 1994, 31).

In a similar way to Achebe, Sam Selvon, in his Lonely Londoners

(1956), uses not pure Creole, which would have certainly
resulted obscure and difficult to understand to most readers, but
a modified dialect which might be more easily understood
(Selvon, 1982, 60). Hence, the sentence it have people living in
London who dont know what happening in the room next to

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

them, far more the street, or how other people living (Selvon,
1972, 58) appears immediately comprehensible despite the use
of it and the verb to have (replacing there followed by the
verb to be, as in there are), and the omission of the auxiliary
to be with the progressive form38.
In these cases, however, the risk is that translators who do not
have a strong background in cultural studies and are not aware
of the tradition on which the author is drawing, cannot see the
problems and challenges posed by the text, being for example
unable to recognise let alone convey in their translations
rhythmic parallelism, the use of pastiche or parody etc.
This is the reason why the translation Adriana Motti
produced of Tutuolas My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (published
by Adelphi in 1983 as La mia vita nel bosco degli spiriti), is all the
more valuable, as in the hands of this experienced and gifted
translator, Italian words retain some of the expressive force
which Tutuola conveys by drawing on Yoruba culture. As Itala
Vivan notes in her Nota to the Italian translation of My Life in
the Bush of Ghosts, Tutuola actually draws on various features of
Yoruba literary repertoire, in particular the folktale, the dilemma
tale, the riddle, the proverb and the panegyric. Furthermore, the
repetition of the leitmotif, the various epithets, and the
dialogues, from which the interaction between the
performer/conteur and his audience originates, are all
characteristic of Yoruba oral tradition. The language Tutuola
uses in his works, then, is a sort of English-Yoruba, an extremely
innovative language rich of neologisms, calques and analogies,
which while replicating the sounds of standard English,
maintains the structures of the native language.
This is, fundamentally, the process Rushdie would describe in
his Imaginary Homelands, where he suggests that, by mastering


For a detailed discussion, see Talib (2002).


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

the language of the former masters, the ex-colonies completed

the process of making themselves free.
It is precisely by briefly referring to Rushdie as an example of
the migrant writer that I would like to bring this section to an
end. Literature from the diaspora is actually achieving increasing
relevance in our societies, and migrant writers are becoming
fundamental elements in the constitution of the fairly recent
socio-political and cultural reality we like to call black Britain.
As mentioned above, it is specifically on the identity of the
black sections of British society that cultural studies, under the
impulse of Stuart Hall, has focused, thereby giving birth to what
is now referred to as the discipline of Black Cultural Studies.
Indeed, it was Hall who defended the need for a sustained
attention to history, which also implied that when discussing
postcolonial texts we should also avoid slipping into generalising
and homogenising discourses about the Third World, another
legacy of colonial discourse which is proving very hard to die out.
All too often, in fact, postcolonial literature is addressed as a
coherent and monolithic field, works are discussed without
considering their local particularities and their mythical or
religious background, and black subjects are amalgamated on the
basis of their shared oppression and are thus once more brought
into being as the indistinct crowd characteristic of much colonial
As Stuart Hall emphasises in New Ethnicities where he
analyses the impact decolonisation has had on British society it
has now come the time to reject the notion of essential identity
and put, in the place of a black essential subject (that is a subject
identified on the basis of inescapable characteristics such as skin
colour), the variety of ethnicities which he sees as constituting
contemporary society.
Migrant writers were in fact just a handful of the many
immigrants who, just like those first West Indians who arrived in
Britain under the Nationality Act in 1948, left their home

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

country in order to reach the centre of the former Empire which,

on the basis of the ambiguous colonial representations it
projected, had become a sort of mythicised dream-land.
Indeed, between December 1947 and October of the
following year, more than 800 immigrant workers arrived in
England from Jamaica, and hundreds of others arrived from
Asia. As emerges from the literature and the cinema of the
period (and the following decades), most of them concentrated
in south London (Brixton) and in the north of England
(Bradford). After the decade rendered famous by swinging
London and pop-culture, towards the end of the 1960s British
society was already giving signs of economic and social crisis,
which would have worsened during the 1970s and the 1980s.
Despite the fact that in 1967 the Labour Government tried to
stop inflation, unemployment kept rising, and this of course
rendered immigrants integration more difficult, nurturing
feelings of racial intolerance and hatred. Indeed, 1966 is the year
of the formation of the National Front, and it is precisely a
personality from the extreme Right, Enoch Powell, who aroused
the masses with his racist rhetoric based on the patriotic ideology
founded on traditional values and which was directed against the
Blacks and against the Welfare politics of state intervention.
In the political elections of 1970, the Labour Party was
defeated, and in 1971 the Race Relations Act, which forbade the
immigration of other Black citizens, was approved. Throughout
the decade marked by a strong economic crisis (as exemplified
by the great Miners Strikes of 1974), and by many fights
between immigrants and police forces (most memorable are the
disorders which took place on occasion of the carnival of Notting
Hill Gate, London in 1976, 1977 and 1978) the conservative
government of Edward Heath (1970 74) was followed by the
Labour government of Harold Wilson (1974 1976) and James
Callaghan (1976 1979). It was in 1979 that, as a consequence
of the political crisis the Left had been going though during the

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

last few years and Callaghans inability to keep his promises of

reducing inflation and to keep under control the social disorders
which marked society, Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime
Fervently endorsing traditional moral values, promoting a
generalised racism and calling for a liberalisation of the market,
Thatcher firmly encouraged strong individualism, with the
consequence that Welfare provisions were drastically cut. The
racial issue, so important in those years, was thus treated rather
traumatically, and the result was the promulgation of the British
Nationality Act of 1981, with which the right to British
citizenship was denied to the children of immigrant couples (an
exception was made in case one of the parents was British by
birth). In his article The New Empire within Britain (1982),
Salman Rushdie harshly criticises this Act:
This already notorious piece of legislation, expressly designed to
deprive black and Asian Britons of their citizenship rights, went
through in spite of some, mainly non-white, protests. And
because it didnt really affect the position of the whites, you
probably didnt even realize that one of your most ancient rights,
a right you had possessed for nine hundred years, was being
stolen from you. This was the right to citizenship by virtue of
birh, the ius soli, or right of the soil. For nine centuries any child
born on British soil was British. Automatically. By right. Not by
permission of the State. The Nationality Act abolished the ius
soli. From now on citizenship is the gift of government (1991).

The disorders of Brixton (London), Moss Side (Manchester)

and Toxteth (Liverpool), constituted a reaction against this
discriminating position of the government. But in 1988, a second
Immigration Act intensified the controls on immigration.
Despite all this, in 1983 Margaret Thatcher was re-elected,
also thanks to the military victory in the Falklands war. Yet,
during the following years, the situation did not improve, and the
history of the country was marked by anti-police riots, the one

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

year Miners Strike (which lasted from 10th March 1984 to 5th
March 1985), and more pressing tensions with the IRA.
However, because of the decrease of unemployment and lower
taxes, in 1987 Thatcher was re-elected. During the following
years, the infamous poll tax (according to which every adult
citizen had to pay equal taxes for equal services, something
which in 1990 caused violent revolts in London), the economic
crisis caused by the reappearance of inflation and the crash of the
Stock Market in 1989, the initial refusal to enter the European
Union, the problems she experienced with teachers and
physicians (caused by the Education Reform Act of 1988, which
enacted a marked centralisation of education, now seen in purely
utilitarian terms, and an Act involving the National Health
Service in 1989), led Thatcher to resign.
By that time, however, British society had been deeply
marked by the experience, and both the conservative John Major
(Prime Minister from 1990 to 1995) and the Labour Prime
Minister Tony Blair, while not changing its fundamental
principles, would try to get Britain out the ideological and
cultural fragmentation brought about by the authoritarian
centralism of her government.
Writing in the 1990s, then, Hall encouraged his readers to
recognise the differences between cultures and accept the fact
that cultures are not always mutually intelligible.
After all, as Glissant stated in his Introduction to Potique du
divers (1996), it is not always necessary to understand Others,
certainly it is not even advisable to re-connect them to our
image, but it is sufficient to acknowledge their existence and
their differences.
The differences Hall talked about, were the differences that
had been deleted by the history of slavery and transportation
common to all Blacks which, this history being a translation,
could not constitute a common origin. As Hall underlines in his
Cultural Identity and the Diaspora, in fact, we cannot speak for

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

long about one experience and one identity (the true, essential
Caribbeanness), as the Caribbeans uniqueness is constituted,
precisely, by the raptures and the discontinuities which
characterise individual experiences.
It therefore appears obvious that the notion of cultural
identity as a construction which Hall introduces in this essay, is
shared by different groups which are now forced to face the same
loss of identity, displacement and alienation that has
characterised the Blacks experience under colonialism. It is not
by chance, then, that Hall should symptomatically begin his
Minimal Selves by welcoming his (postmodern) audience to
migranthood and the sense of dispersion he has since long
experienced, insisting that it is now necessary to recognise the
extraordinary diversity of the subject positions, the social
experiences, the cultural identities and the linguistic
distinctiveness which compose the category black.
In fact, whereas early post-independence writers tended to
identify with nationalist causes and to endorse the need for
communal solidarity, in the 1980s and the 1990s many writers
geographic and cultural affiliations have become more divided
and uncertain. The cosmopolitan rootlessness and the condition
of migranthood and dispersal which developed in urban pockets
at the time of modernism, has in a sense gone global. Novels link
streets of London to third world slums; narrative dialogues
criss-cross registers high and low, and mix in variegated pidgins
from around the world. What began as the creolisation of the
English language has become a process of mass literary
migration, transplantation and cross-fertilisation, a process that
is changing the nature of what was once called English literature,
language and, ultimately, society.
In the 1990s, the generic postcolonial writer is more likely to
be a cultural traveller, or an extra-territorial, than a national.
Consequently, often retracing the biographical paths of their
authors, literary works by, amongst others, Derek Walcott,

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Salman Rushdie, Jamaica Kincaid and Ben Okri, ramify across

separate geographical, historical and cultural spaces.
Relying on bricolage, pastiche and polyphonic techniques,
authors search for symbols and patterns with which to explain
the world on various levels of experience. In migrant writing,
then, the cultural metamorphoses which first began at the time
of colonisation, have impacted in the West. Indeed, the
transplantation of names, the mixing of languages, the
diversification of tastes which developed under Empire,
amplified in the new polyglot colonial and postcolonial
metropolis. As Naipaul notes in The Enigma of the Arrival, one of
the early migrant novels where the author describes how his
arrival in Wiltshire inexorably changed the landscape by his
being there, the great movement of people characteristic of the
last part of the twentieth century has changed the nature of cities
like London forever. It is precisely this melange resulting from
immigration which basically mirrors the diversity of the former
Empire that has put under pressure the lasting remnants of old
colonialist preconceptions.
To an extent, then, migrant literature seems to serve the
purposes of the postcolonial project. At the same time, however,
it risks producing definitions of postcolonial literature as
cosmopolitan, transplanted, multilingual and conversant with the
cultural codes of the West. Because it represents a retreat by
writers who, in front of what Fanon called the farce of national
independence, decided to leave their postcolonial countries and
seek refuge in less repressive places, migrant literature is marked
by disillusionment.
In this context, then, migrant literature may become part of a
system dominated by the powerful cultural interests centred in
the Western world, and is able to win readers because, though
exotic, magical and Other, it also participates reassuringly in the
aesthetic languages familiar to Anglo-American culture. As such,
it may offer another instance of the appropriation by Europe and

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

America of resources of the third world. The Western, neocolonial powers which retain economic and military control, are
in fact also the countries in which migrant literature is given wide
support, and this clearly keeps in place a cultural map of the
world as divided between the richly gifted metropolis and the
meagrely endowed margin, First and Third World.
Furthermore, also within the field of postcolonial theory, the
postmodernist, poststructuralist approach of many scholars such
as Said, Spivak and Bhabha, while extremely useful in the
elaboration of some of the experiences of the ex-colonies (for
example in bringing to the foreground the relation between
culture and imperialism, language and power, especially in the
construction of human beings into sub-human Others), has
simultaneously led to a flattening of the cultural idiosyncrasies of
various societies, and while constituting a necessary first step, it
risked engulfing postcolonialism within the Western,
metropolitan theoretical debate.
As San Juan Jr notes in his Beyond Postcolonial Theory (1998),
postcolonial discourse generated in the first world is
increasingly seen as another product of capitalism, while the
much celebrated notion of versatility is recognised as part of
cultural imperialism. It is therefore increasingly felt that if on the
one hand the poststructuralist notion of identity as a linguistic
construct elaborated by Lacan, Barthes and others, the
postmodernist end of the grand narratives described by
Lyotard, the notion of the perpetual deferral of meaning and of
the hermeneutic delay postulated by Derrida and Barthes
respectively, have been useful to elaborate in rather systematic
ways some of the experiences of the once-colonised countries
and their people, at the same time they have led many to ignore
postmodernism and poststructuralism.
And yet, the writing of decolonisation while sharing some of
the characteristics of postmodern texts such as their fragmentary

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

nature, the attention paid to the workings of power within

discourse, the refusal of universal truths and the reliance on
pastiche is much more than postmodern disintegration. And if
this is so, it is because literary works from the once-colonised
countries are fundamentally different from postmodern texts
from an ideological, political and thematic point of view.
This is why we should always remember that various aspects
such as heteroglossia or intertextuality, which characterise both
postmodern and postcolonial texts, assume different meanings in
the two productions, and become effective anti-colonial,
subversive strategies in postcolonial literatures.
For similar reasons, we should always remember that when
we deal with postcoloniality, we are not simply dealing with
linguistic constructs and texts. In the world of power and
victimisation, of colonisation and persecution, where ideologies
impact on the body, and bodies are tortured and minds
deformed, where the civilised ability to write imposes a cruel
colonial writing on the bodies of the colonised, language and
culture create in fact real oppression. Contrary to Lyotards
claims, then, postcolonial literature brings to the foreground the
notion that bodies are not simply names for the family of
idiolects, just linguistic realities, but concrete entities, and that,
as such, they are capable of suffering.
In spite of the efforts made by Derridas disciples, in the
hands of the most capable of these writers, postcolonial literature
exposes the fact that the total rhetoricity and linguistic nature of
man and his world are not reasonably defensible.
Unquestionably, after structuralism and poststructuralism all
meta-fictions have lost their epistemological innocence and were
demonstrated to be, always, partially text.
In spite of this, the postcolonial world as represented in
literature, reminds us that the concreteness of the extra-textual
reality cannot be eliminated simply by relegating everything to
the status of a pure linguistic construct. In fact, if it is true that

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

reality, in the very moment in which it is viewed, organised or

described by the subject, is irremediably mediated by language,
language itself is constantly, irreparably and necessarily
contaminated by the extra-textual world. Hence, if it is true that,
just as Saussure suggested, the meanings of language are
determined by the relationships existing amongst the various
elements within the linguistic system (that is by their difference),
we cannot forget that these relationships can be only partially
linguistic. Despite deconstructionists claims, words still refer to
things, concrete referents, extra-linguistic realities which
corrupt every aspect of language.
Language, as Saussure himself acknowledged, is actually
characterised by this inconvenient and persistent duality and the
fact that it could never exist independently from what is out
there, beyond mere linguistic and textual reality. The efforts
made to negate any kind of relationship between linguistic signs
and extra-textual reality, and to demonstrate that language (and,
consequently, texts), can exist completely independently from
things, should have therefore been regarded, from the very
beginning, as illegitimate.
And this is particularly true in relation to the discourse of
history and of colonialism, a world where the oppression created
by language is very real and where language, ideology and
theoretical structures have concrete effects on bodies which
cannot therefore be conceived simply as linguistic constructs.
Even though Hayden White himself, the pioneer of American
post-Saussurean historiography, tried from the very beginning to
demonstrate how in reality history simply corresponds to a
rewriting of history, he was not able to relegate the Holocaust
and Auschwitz to the role of simple rhetorical construct. This,
however, has been done on several occasions, and beginning
from the assumption that history coincides with hermeneutics,
that it is always and only interpretation, several revisionists have
re-contextualised the Auschwitz phenomenon. By observing it in

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

a larger context or, as Deriddean deconstructionists would say,

by displacing it they have deprived it of its exceptionality and
its importance, banalising it and turning it into an insignificant
event in the larger course of human history.
This, for example, is what Ernst Nolte does precisely with
Auschwitz and Nazism in his article Vergangenheit, die nicht
vergehen will, what Jean Baudrillard does with the Gulf War in
La guerre du Golfe na pas eu lieu, Hillis Miller with every war
and revolution in Open Letter to Jan Wiener. Fundamentally,
this is what Jean-Franois Lyotard does in Le Differend, and even
though in this particular case the author refers to a banal
experience such as a toothache, his line of thought obviously has
very worrying consequences.
It therefore seems that the incredible raging of
poststructuralist, postmodernist and meta/inter-textual issues,
has led to a puzzling disinterest in the physical person, assigning
a privileged status to the individual as the subject of enunciation
and ensemble of discourses. Too often critics have tried to sweep
history under the carpet, eliminating the non-textual aspect of
reality altogether from their criticism, hiding themselves behind
the by-now clichd expression only the text matters (one of the
unfortunate legacies of the New Criticism). However, we should
never forget that although the discourse of History is always,
precisely, discourse, this text necessarily refers to a concrete raw
material, to a corporeality which doesnt simply exist beyond,
but also within the text, where it inevitably leaves an undeletable
It is precisely for this reason that when we read postcolonial
texts, it becomes imperative to acknowledge the fact that we are
interacting not only with texts and interpretative problems, but
also with the real histories of real, physical people, and
emphasise that although ideology, rhetoric and theory are
language, when this language of authority is spoken by an entire
class, nation or race, it gives origin to the concrete horrors

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

witnessed by humanity throughout history. It was actually

language, turned into a political weapon, that allowed the
appearance of civilised barbarisms such as fascism, nazism and
apartheid. The language of propaganda thanks to which these
regimes were able to impose their myths and mobilise the
masses, was in fact a significant accomplice of the systems blind
power, not only because it taught elected people to perceive
other populations as sub-humans, but also because it helped to
hide the horrors perpetrated.
This is the reason why, in spite of the efforts made by various
authors and critics, postcolonial cannot and should not be
understood as an extension of poststructuralist or as a parallel to
postmodernist. As briefly discussed above, the Lacanian
concept of the Other, the deconstruction of the notion of
absolute identity and the investigation of the role that power
plays in any discourse, have obviously been very helpful to
postcolonial studies.
At the same time, however, by maintaining the absolute
rhetoricity of the process which leads to the construction of the
Other, poststructuralists seem to reduce every aspect of the
individual to a simple signifier. The language on which
European philosophy has constantly focused throughout the last
decades, cannot in fact turn everything into a linguistic
construct, in so far as, because of its duplicity, language always
has concrete (most of the time traumatic) effects on reality,
which implies that the imposition (or acquisition) of a linguistic
identity always results in precise corporeal effects, turning the
individual into either the oppressor or the oppressed. The
Other, just as the I, might certainly be a dialectical position,
but a dialectical position pregnant with material consequences
which have repercussions on the individual and his/her body. By
sustaining the absolute rhetoricity of reality and confining
everything to the role of linguistic construct, then, these theories
leave the purely linguistic/philosophical sphere and necessarily

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

become strong political positions, in an attempt to justify,

minimise or even delete altogether, historical aberrations
founded on discriminatory practices.
When discussing postcolonial literature, then, we should be
aware of the fact that even authors such as Rushdie or Coetzee,
who can clearly be defined as postmodernist, are first of all
postcolonialists, their works stemming from the history and the
cultural experiences of formerly colonised countries.
For example, the allegorical novel Waiting for the Barbarians,
by the South African J.M. Coetzee, which was harshly criticised
by critics because of its alleged revulsion from history, in reality
should be analysed within the South African context it originates
from. Indeed, on closer reading it appears obvious that the
novels denunciation of the Empires violence and the complicity
between the language used by the system and the discrimination,
the violence and the politics of injustice which it perpetrates, was
inspired by the situation South Africa was witnessing in the years
immediately previous to the publication of the novel, in
particular the increasing militarisation, the extra-judicial
executions of school children and routine forms of arbitrary
arrest and detention which resulted from the Soweto uprising of
This need for a sustained attention to history, also implies that
when discussing postcolonial texts we should also avoid slipping
into generalising and homogenising discourses about the Third
World, another legacy of colonial discourse which is proving very
hard to die out.
As we have seen before, it is precisely this attitude which,
according to Stuart Hall, should be fought against, and this is the
reason why, in his opinion, a film like My Beautiful Laundrette, in
which Hanif Kureishi refuses to represent the black experience in
Britain as monolithic, self-contained and sexually stabilised, that
is always and only positive, is one of the most important films
produced by a black writer in recent years.

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

If there is to be a serious attempt to understand what it means

to be British today and really understand Britain, with its mix of
races and colours, inherited from the former Empire, then
writing about it has to be complex. It can neither sentimentalise
nor represent only one group as having the monopoly on one
virtue (the good white subject and the bad black subject, as in
colonial writing, or vice-versa).
It is always Kureishi who, in The Buddha of Suburbia, gives
very clear examples of the subversive force this hybridising
tendency of black Britain can assume, and creates a very
accurate image of the contemporary British citizen: a new
breed, as Kureishis protagonist, Karim Amir, states.
We can therefore see how Kureishi and other black British
writers39 of second-generation such as Caryl Phillips, unlike
writers of first generation, who even after decades spent in
Britain still identified themselves on the basis of their place of
birth, problematise the concept of identity. Indeed, although
Kureishi and Caryl Phillips maintain that being identified as
British politically important, in reality they emphasise how,
nowadays, in a diasporic world such as the one they inhabit, the
term British lacks a real referent. The transnational reality they
live in, characterised by mass communication, migration and
decolonisation, can therefore be understood as an
exemplification of that hybrid Third Space described by
Bhabha, and coincides with an attempt to disrupt the narratives


As with most labels, black, a term which in the 1970s and 1980s was
used to encompass the experience of marginalisation of very heterogeneous
members of society, it was later criticised as homogenising. However, for
practical reason, we shall keep using the term, being nonetheless aware of the
importance of diversifying and individualising the various authors addressed
and their experiences. Indeed, black emphasises the heterogeneous and
unstable nature of the diaspora, leading to the displacement of the very
concept of nation entailed by the notion of Black Britishness.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

of the dominant culture and to reconfigure the concept of all

cultural identities as fluid and heterogeneous (Williams, 1999).
The diaspora in Britain, in addition, becomes also a reminder
and a remainder of its historical past (Mercer, 1994, 7), of the
fact that Blacks are in Britain because British were in their
countries of origin. But the diaspora in Britain does not simply
coincide with colonisation in reverse, but with true hybridisation.
It is precisely by writing about himself that Karim becomes an
emblem of the hybrid self of the migrant writer, of any migrant
who, by becoming the subject of his own discourse, by writing
himself, writes about England, thereby transforming England
into Britain. This is really Empire writing back, and during this
process, migrants take hold of the power of representation
originally held by imperial authorities the power which, just by
the colonisers gaze and their language could turn natives into
Others and by describing themselves, construct a new variety
of British citizen.
By crossing the water, migrants have been transported into a
new culture, while their native culture travelled with them, thus
becoming an essential part of the new brand of Britishness
characteristic of black Britain. During their journey, migrants
were somehow translated, and as such were able to re-elaborate
the world through new metaphors, in order to create a new
reality for themselves: the fictions or imaginary homelands
Rushdie describes.
Hence, in spite of the 1968 speech Rivers of Blood given by
the racist leader Enoch Powell, the 1971 Immigration Act, the
1979 victory of the Tories under Thatchers leadership etc.,
during the 1980s, the 1990s and even more so in the new
millennium, black Britain has acquired unquestionable visibility
and asserted its artistic vitality thanks to writers such as Rushdie,
Kureishi, Ben Okri and Caryl Phillips.
With the New Labour government, under Blairs leadership,
devolution was granted to Scotland and Wales, thereby giving

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

even more signs of a certain degree of fragmentation in the once

compact front of the master culture, the Englishness of tradition
as epitomised by Orwells speech England your England.
As Kureishi observes, its now the white British who have to
learn that being British isnt what it was, and, as Hall
underlines, this new Britishness, this new identity is always in
process, which implies that the search for new meanings
Kureishis character embarks on eventually revealing the
brutality of the experience that immigration implies and the rage
it creates can only lead to the recognition that the identity he is
searching for, does not exist.
This is why any attempt to posit postcolonial identity as an
essential identity is doomed to failure; the only form of identity
available to postcolonial subjects whether they stay in their
mother-countries or set off for the Western world is in fact a
hybrid identity, an expression of the fragmentation of culture
their communities endured throughout history.
Hybridity, then, which was once regarded as a source of
shame, as for example, for the Coloured races in South Africa,
now becomes a source of salvation, and rather than being
conceived as a burden to be concealed or a sin to be expiated, in
the new postcolonial world and the literature which tries to
account for that world, it becomes a beauty to be exhibited.
From what said in the previous pages, it appears clear that
unless translators possess a particular linguistic sensibility in
both source and target language, they will not necessarily find an
adequate way of conveying in translation the magic and hypnotic
qualities which in the original text might be expressed through
syntactical and lexical repetition, the use of onomatopoeia and
alliteration. As the example commented on supra implicitly
demonstrates, for instance, in the translation of Kincaids The
Autobiography of my Mother (1996), the only strategy the
translator actually cannot avoid respecting is lexical repetition
(the fishermen, my mother, contentment).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Occasionally, writers can actually provide readers with clues

as to the meaning of certain words, concepts or references to
local history or legends inserted in their texts. This is especially
typical of first generation writers who felt the need to explain
their history and culture to Western readers in the attempt to
rehabilitate themselves in their eyes.
For example, Mulk Raj Anand, while resorting to various
Indian metaphors, generally explains, especially in his first
novels, the meaning of the words and the cultural references he
inserts into his texts. Indeed, to his own admission, Anand used
to employ footnotes and/or glossaries to explain certain terms
(Prasaad, in Talib, 2007, 56). As their sense of identity grew
stronger, however, many of these authors abandoned this
practice, and in fact Anand himself adopts, in his later novels, a
sterner line and does not provide an explicit explanation of the
words and expressions he introduces in his text, an attitude
which is confirmed by the author himself, who states: while I
used glossaries of Indian words with their translations, at the end
of my novels, in the first few years, I have not offered these
appendices for some years now (Anand, 1979, 36).
Similar is the case of the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. In
fact, although in his later novels Achebe (while still resorting to
standard pidgin which, as previously highlighted, can be quite
easily understood by Western readers), does not provide readers
with explicit explanations of the words from his own language, in
his first works he adopts a different strategy altogether.
For example, in Things Fall Apart, Achebe explains the ritual
of the kola (Achebe, 1988, 19), and makes it clear within the text
that the word harmattan refers to a wind from the Sahara.
Similarly, he explains the meaning of the word agadi-nwayi and
how it came to indicate a particular medicine:
its most potent war-medicine was as old as the clan itself.
Nobody knew how old. But on one point there was general
agreement the active principle in that medicine had been an

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

old woman with one leg. In fact, the medicine itself was called
agadi-nwayi, or old woman (Achebe, 1988, 24).

In addition, he immediately gives the translation into English of

words such as ndichie (the elders, ibid.), and obi (hut, Achebe,
1988, 25), and explains that agbala, was not only another name
for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken no title
(ibid.). By so doing the author who, as Walder rightly observes
in his Post-Colonial Literatures in English clearly wanted to address
both a local and an overseas audience (Walder, 1998, 11)
simplifies the readers (and, the translator being fundamentally
identified with a reader, the translators) job, as the translator
can simply rely on the authors strategy and translate his/her
explanation word for word, while leaving (perhaps in italics), the
words and expressions in other languages as they appear in the
original. And in fact, the words which appear in italics in the
original text are left unaltered in translation, in so far as their
meaning is clarified by the rest of the sentence.
Thus, the translator, who on this occasion appears respectful
of the authors choices, renders the second extract as:
Il suo incantesimo di guerra pi potente era vecchio quanto il
clan stesso. Nessuno sapeva quanto. Ma su un punto tutti erano
daccordo: il principio attivo di quellincantesimo era stata una
vecchia donna con una sola gamba. Infatti lincantesimo stesso
veniva chiamato agadi-nwayi, cio vecchia donna (Achebe,
1994, 12).

The Italian text, equally proceeds by clarifying that the ndichie

are gli anziani (Achebe, 1994, 13), that obi is la capanna
(Achebe, 1994, 14), and that agbala non era soltanto un altro
modo di dire donna, ma poteva indicare anche un uomo che non
aveva preso titoli (Achebe, 1994, 13).
Hence, if the author him/herself adopts a strategy of either
overt or covert cushioning, the translators job is clearly
simplified. However, when no indication is supplied by the


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

author as to the meaning or the cultural/historical referent of

particular words or expressions, the translator him/herself has to
adopt a particular strategy.
For example, in her translation for Einaudi of J.M. Coetzees
Youth, Franca Cavagnoli renders the word burgher, as i grassi
borghesi di Citt del Capo (Coetzee, 2002, 6), thus subjecting it
to a process of amplification.
To a certain extent, the same kind of strategy is adopted by
Ettore Capriolo, who in 1998 translated Rushdies Midnights
Children (1980). In this instance, the term lime is kept in the
Italian version as a lexical borrowing (Rushdie, 1998, 21). The
term (which appears in a footnote in italics), thus gives an exotic
flavour to the Italian text, without however providing a
foreignising effect. By now, in fact, the term has acquired a place
in the Italian vocabulary. In addition, because the translator felt
it necessary to amplify the cultural borrowing he resorted to in
the first place and give the Italian translation as well limetto
(ibid.) the expression lime water is rendered totally familiar to
the target audience. Unlike the example from Kincaid briefly
commented on in the second section of this chapter, then, here
the repetition of the original term, while resulting slightly
redundant, does not fail to convey fundamental information, and
as such it can certainly be judged effective.
Sometimes, the translator, in order to act as a real cultural
mediator, tries to reach a compromise between the authors text
and the potential readers, by inserting his/her own glossary or
his/her notes. The first strategy is for example chosen by Fissore
in his translation of Okaras The Voice, where the terms whose
meaning is given in the Glossario including the name of the
protagonist Okolo, which is here related to the title of the book
itself are left within the text in their original form. Here are
some of the definitions given in the glossary:
Akara: focaccia di legumi
Benikurukuru: dio dellacqua degli Ijaw

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

Foo foo: alimento preparato con yam, la patata dolce, pestata

Okolo: la voce
Yam: patata dolce (Okara, 1987, 21-2).

Alternatively, the translator might add a footnote or an endnote.

This is for instance what Antonioli Cameroni does in her
translation of Achebes Things Fall Apart. Here, not only does
the translator renders the term yam with ignami (Achebe,
1994, 8), but she also adds a footnote in which she expands the
swift translation provided in Okaras La Voce40, and accurately
explains that
Gli ignami, sono piante erbacee volubili o lianose, a fiori
minuscoli, con fusto ingrossato alla base in un rizoma
tuberiforme. Originarie per lo pi dei paesi tropicali e
diffusamente coltivate a scopo alimentare, rappresentano un
cibo nutriente e gustoso, che pu essere considerato succedaneo
delle patate (Achebe, 1994, 8).

Both these strategies are clearly respectful of the authors

intentions, and as such constitute discreet domesticating
strategies, enabling readers to experience the texts as intended by
their authors, while providing them with the necessary help to
understand the meaning of particular words41.

Having included yam in his Glossary, throughout his translation of

Okaras text, Fissore however leaves the word in the original language,
without italianicising it. As a result, readers are not reminded that they might
find an explanation of the term in the initial Glossary. In this case, while still
effective, the impact of the strategy adopted by the translator is therefore
Translators should however carefully maintain throughout the text a
certain degree of consistency, identifying with precision their target audience.
For instance, it is not at all clear why in Coetzees Giovent, the translator felt
it necessary to insert in her text a footnote that reads Pac: Pan-Africanist
Congress, partito antirazzista sudafricano nato nel 1959 (Coetzee, 2002, 41),
when immediately afterwards she refers to the Anc without further elucidating
readers about its meaning (da una scissione dellAnc e messo al bando,

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

For obvious reasons, translators must understand every aspect

of the text, study it in depth and be aware of the context it
stemmed from. In particular, they should avoid stopping at the
first meaning found in a dictionary, in order to avoid translations
such as that produced by Maria Baiocchi, who in her translation
of J.M. Coetzees Dusklands translates crow as corvo (2003, 97)
even though it was obvious that it should have been rendered as
piede di porco or something similar:
Klawer climbed into the back of the wagon and emerged with
the six-pound box of rolled tobacco and a crow. He prised off
the lid and slowly began cutting two-inch joints and passing
them into the outstretched hands of the Hottentots (Coetzee,
1983, 69).

This translation would indeed be absurd even if we were not

dealing with a South African author, as such translation
contradicts all rules of coherence within the text and, if anything,
might perpetuate Western processes of otherisation of the
native people of Africa (in this specific case the Hottentots, who
apparently cannot think of a better tool to open a wooden box
than the beak of a bird).
This mistranslation therefore becomes a good example of the
ludicrous effects to which a misapplication of the convergence
strategy (Malone, 1988, 15) might lead, in so far as the term
chosen in the target language from a potential range of
alternatives, was the wrong one.
Furthermore, because of the graphic resemblance of the
English crow and the Italian corvo, this mistranslation might

assieme allAnc, nel 1960, ibid.)]. Another problematic issue is represented by

the way some of the book titles Coetzee originally inserted in his text are
rendered in translation. Occasionally, these titles are translated as in Sonetti
a Orfeo di Rilke (Coetzee, 2002, 55); Il buon soldato (Coetzee, 2002, 56), La
duchessa di Amalfi (Coetzee, 2002, 139) or Ulisse whereas at other times
they are left in the original, as with Jude the Obscure (Coetzee, 2002, 162).

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

also be understood as an example of the importance, for

translators, to be aware of false-cognates and, as in this case,
partial cognates.
Indeed, if this is generally speaking true in standard English, it
becomes even more relevant in the case of postcolonial texts,
where the same words or expressions we find in English, might
be used with a different meaning. For instance, whereas in
standard English mammy indicates either an affectionate
appellation for mother (translatable perhaps as mammina), or,
with an offensive connotation, a black woman who takes care of
white children, in postcolonial english it refers to una sirena che
affascina gli esseri umani, provocandone la morte per acqua (Okara,
1987, 20). Similarly, as Tymoczo observes, Ngugi wa Thiongo
uses the term ridge in a non-standard sense to refer to villages
and their territory, [and] his use of the English taste is also nonstandard: Did he himself taste other women, like Dr Lynd? (A
Grain of Wheat, p. 157) (Tymoczo, 1999, 26).
Very often, however, authors themselves, in a similar way to
the way of proceeding of Anand mentioned above, might resort
to footnotes like the South African Essop Patel, who stated that
he would not have a glossary, but explanatory notes relevant to
history (Patel, 1992, 171) or explain the non-English words in
a glossary. This is for example the case of Rushdie who, while
adopting a strategy similar to Achebes and using repeatedly the
expression Khattam-shud in association with other expressions
such as finito, thus making its meaning clear (Rushdie, 1990,
53), in Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990) also compiles a list of
names derived from Hindustani words:
Batcheat is from baat-cheet, that is, chit-chat.
Bolo comes from the verb bolna, to speak. Bolo is the
imperative: Speak!
Chup (pronounce the u like the oo in good) means quiet;
Chupwala means something like quiet fellow [...]


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Haroun and Rashid are both named after the legendary Caliph
of Baghdad, Haroun al-rashid, who features in many Arabian
Nights tales. Their surname, Khalifa, actually means
(Rushdie, 1990, 217-8).

3.4.4. Translating First Names

As readers and translators, however, we should always bear in
mind that the names of the various characters depicted in a text,
generally speaking are not simple names, but contribute to the
meaning of the text by saying something about their personality.
In order to understand this characterisation, then, the reader
(both in the source and the target text) must understand the
referents of the names themselves. I therefore agree with Taylor
when he claims, in his Language to Language, that only nave
translators think that proper names are the easiest lexical items
to be translated (Taylor, 1998, 53). As the example above
shows, names often become dense knots of the text, where
various linguistic, historical and cultural references cross, and
must therefore be translated accordingly. Generally speaking,
when dealing with names, translators can for example maintain
the name unchanged as it appears in the source text. This is
what Viezzi refers to as report (2004, 71), and it implies that the
translator opting for this strategy or zero-translation should be
aware of the difficulties readers might encounter in terms of
pronounceability and spelling. In addition, this strategy might
involve a great loss, in that the references activated by the
original term are bound to remain unidentified by readers of the
target text. Generally speaking, this is the strategy adopted when
names appear for example in the title of a novel or a film. In this
case, we talk about literal transfer42, namely the sort of non42

Amongst the other strategies translators have at their disposal when

translating titles, we mention: faithful transfer (that is a literal translation, as

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

translation we usually have when the title presents a persons

name or a toponym (Notting Hill or Oliver Twist)43.
Another option the translator has at his/her disposal when s/he
called to translate proper names, however, is to take over the
name as it appears in the source language, while adding some
explanation of the authors choice of that particular name. In this
case, the translator might resort to a strategy of amplification,
that is the addition of some element to the source text for
reasons of greater comprehensibility, either in the form of a note
or of a bracketed addition. Generally speaking, amplification is
required where the source language takes for granted certain
with Interview with the Vampire/Intervista col Vampiro; or Devil Wears
Prada/Il Diavolo veste Prada (when adopting this strategy, however, we
should be aware of false friends in order to avoid translating, for example,
Hidden Agenda with Lagenda nascosta. In addition, translators should
always be aware of the cultural context of the source text, which could give a
particular emotive charge to particular words, as with Born on the Fourth of
July, translated as Nato il 4 luglio). Translators could also opt for a partial
transfer, that is a partial translation which introduces some changes so as to
specify particular aspects of the film (Broken Arrow/Nome in codice:
Broken Arrow; Cold Mountain/Ritorno a Cold Mountain; The Virgin
Suicides/Il giardino delle vergini suicide); change the emphasis of the source
language title (The Talented Mr. Ripley/Il talento di Mr. Ripley; Difty
First Dates/Cinquanta volte il primo bacio) or omit irrelevant elements
(The Getaway/Getaway). Translators could also adopt a strategy of
recreation or adaptation, thus creating a new on the basis of the narrative
(Stepmom/Nemiche amiche; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind/Se
mi lasci ti cancello, where the reference to the quotation by Alexander Pope
(1717) is lost and the general atmosphere and style of the title/film is lost.
Sometimes, in order to render a title more comprehensible and/or
alluring for target receivers, a subtitle can be created as to give a sort of
explanation of the original title. For example, the title Nixon, is rendered in
Italian as Gli intrighi del potere Nixon, where we find first the Italian
subtitle and then a non-translation of the original title. On the contrary, in
such examples as Dantes Peak La Furia della montagna; Armageddon
Giudizio finale or Gli Incredibili una normale famiglia di supereroi, we
find the original title at the very beginning, followed by a subtitle in Italian.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

components, but this strategy is clearly rendered redundant in

those texts where, as in the example above, the author
him/herself gives an explanation of his/her choices.
Alternatively, the translator might decide to transliterate the
name, that is to adapt the name so as to make it conform to the
phonic and graphic conventions of the target language. In this
case, the translator resorts to a special case of equation, which
bears some resemblance to the calque, in that the source
language word is adapted to the target language conventions.
Translators could also decide to translate the name literally,
resorting when possible to standard target language equivalent.
In this case too, translators resort to a strategy of equation.
Finally, translators might replace a name altogether with a
different name which could however work in the target language.
In this case, the translator resorts to the antithetical strategy to
equation and uses substitution instead.
Obviously, because in postcolonial texts names often
correspond to English translations or transliterations of names
originally intended in another language, translators who are
called to render these names for example in Italian, are required
to investigate the references and the meanings implied by the
original names, before they were inserted in an English text.
This general indication, however, holds true whenever
translators are called to translate proper names. Indeed, the issue
of proper names can become fundamental also when
approaching products meant for children and/or teenagers, from
Winnie-the-Pooh to Harry Potter and a whole series of comics and
animation films.
It is obvious that in a text such as Winnie-the-Pooh the
difficulties in the translation of names are minimal, as the names
of the various characters simply indicate the animal they want to


Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

represent in the story44. On the contrary, in the novels by

Rowling, the names of the various characters confer particular
characteristics and therefore become tools the author exploits to
identify them and create the magic world of Harry Potter.
For example, the name of Hogwarts headmaster, Albus
Dumbledore, in Rowlings novels clearly suggests both the
whiteness of his hair and long beard and the purity of his spirit
(equated, in an archetypical division between good and evil, with
the former). In her translation of this Christian name, the Italian
translator adopts a zero-translation and, probably in
consideration of the Latin origin of the name, she leaves it
unaltered45. In her translation of the magicians surname,
however, the translator focuses on the word dumb and
translates the whole surname as Silente, without considering that
Dumbledore could, as Colbert maintains (2001, 182), also
refer to the word bumblebee. The magicians surname, then,
hints at the fact that the character likes to sing to himself softly,
thereby producing a constant noise similar to the buzzing noise
of the insect his name refers to. Thus, the linguistic translation
the translator opts for, that is the partial transference of the word
we find in the source text, albeit justified by the fact that Albus
is, in fact, rather quiet and does not like to make a show of


And yet, the translation is not completely satisfactory. For example

Piglet is translated as Pimpi, therefore obliterating the reference to the animal
itself, which is not even immediately retrievable from the illustrations within
the text. This is also what happens with Rabbit (substituted in the Italian
version with Tappo), and Owl, translated as Uffa, thereby adding a meaning
which was left implicit in the source text.
This strategy of non-translation is also adopted in the case of Draco
Malfoy, whose surname, of Latin origin, immediately suggests the French mal
foi and the Italian mala fede. Similarly, the first name Draco is immediately
associated with the noun drago and the adjective draconiano, thereby giving an
adequate indication of the characters personality.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

himself, communicates something different about his personality

to target receivers.
A similar strategy is adopted in the case of Professor Sprout,
whose name, in the source text, recalls her teaching field, namely
botany. In the Italian translation, however, Professoressa Sprite
does not hint at any particular field. To this translation loss,
however, there corresponds a translation gain for the target
reader, in that, as Viezzi emphasises, not only is the name very
familiar to the Italian audience, but also, thanks to its
relationship with a fizzy drink, suggests the effervescent
personality of this teacher.
A strategy of equation is on the contrary applied, with good
final results, in the translation of Boot Terry, a name which
becomes Steeval Terry thanks to an orthographic adaptation of
the Italian word so as to suggest the British context that works as
a setting for the events described in the novels. Finally, we
mention the two young men who act as Malfoys body-guards:
Gregory Goyle (whose name recalls the mythological figures of
the gargoyles and is left unaltered in the Italian text) and
Vincent Crabbe, translated in the Italian version adopting a
strategy of substitution as Vincent Tiger. Besides the issues
related to the translators choice to produce a translation which
is still inserted within a British context (and language), by
substituting the noun crab with tiger the translator has clearly
added a coefficient of brutality and violence absent in the source
It is precisely the same word, Crab, that makes its
appearance in the name of a character from another text, the
famous American comics The Simpsons. In this series, in fact, one
of Barts teachers is called Mrs Krabappel, a name which hints
at her nature and the fact that she likes to tease her students,
Bart in particular. The reference to the animal, then, is
significant and meaningful. In the Italian version of the series,
however, the very same teacher is called Caprapal, which not

Chapter 3 An Introduction to Translation Studies

only cannot add the secondary meaning implied by the

connotative use of crab we have in the source text, but by
substituting the animal with another, very different animal such
as capra, connotates Barts teacher as someone particularly
stubborn and uneducated. The target receiver of the Italian
product, then, meets a different teacher that s/he cannot
appreciate in full, as her ironic and sarcastic comments might be
considered an expression of her ignorance and inability to
understand, rather than a subtle and witty attitude towards the
people who surround her. Similarly, by substituting the name
Moe with Boe, the translator changes the emphasis of the
source text. In the source text, in fact, the name of this particular
character is meant to corroborate his personality and his
tendency to moan all the time. In the translated version, on the
contrary, Boe, recalling the Italian boh, implies the characters
disinterest in his surroundings and his ignorance46.
From the few examples introduced above, I hope it appears
clear that this sort of linguistic game is very often at the very
basis of the choice of a characters proper name. Paramount, in
this sense, is the case of Asterix, the French comic series written
by Ren Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo and

Clearly enough, sometimes the strategy of substitution is selected in

order to avoid cultural problems of reference. This is for example the case
with the sentence uttered by Lisa while she is talking to Barth and states: I
think you need Skinner [...] Sherlock Holmes had his Dr Moriatry, Mountain
Dew has its Mellow Yellow, even Meggie has that baby with the one
eyebrow, which where translated as Credo tu abbia bisogno di Skinner [...]
Sherlock Holmes aveva il suo Dottor Moriatry, Beep Beep ha il suo Willy il
Coyote, anche Maggie ha quel beb con un unico sopracciglio, where
Mountain Dew and Mellow Yellow (two soft drinks hardly known in Italy) are
substituted with a more famous couple of enemies from cartoons. Similarly,
the reference to Elliott Gould in Marges sentence I wouldnt go if you were
Elliott Gould is substituted with a reference to an actor who, while being
foreign, is well known in Italy as well, and the sentence is translated as Non
verrei al ballo con te neanche se fossi Sean Connery.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

translated into some of the main languages of the world. The

discussion of the strategies adopted by the authors of this comic
strip in the source language also rises many cultural issues which,
naturally, become fundamental whenever the product is
translated. For example, in the episode Asterix chex les Bretons we
can see how the author marks, both linguistically and culturally,
the British characters, an aspect which Enrico Martines analyses
in an exhaustive way in his S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are
Fool!) which appears in the Appendix.



All through this book, the emphasis has been laid on the
fundamental notions at the very basis of discourse analysis and
translation theory. However, as anticipated in the opening
section, because of the introductory nature of this volume many
discussions have not received adequate treatment. In spite of
this, I hope the path delineated by An Introduction to Discourse
Analysis and Translation Studies, the attempted systematisation of
all the information introduced in the three main chapters and the
many examples of analysis provided in particular the paper by
Enrico Martines on the translation strategies adopted in the
Italian and British versions of Asterix will prove useful.
As with the remaining of the book, the bibliography section is
divided into different categories, covering the main areas taken
into consideration within each chapter of this volume. This was
done in an attempt to make readers consultation easier, even
though it proved rather difficult. If this is so, it is because
categories very often overlap and texts which might be
categorised under one heading, in actual fact might make their
appearance also under a different category. In spite of this, I
hope the many references supplied in this section, might prove
useful, stimulate readers interest and suggest possible areas of
further analysis.



On Interlinguistic and Cultural Translation

Adler, N. J. 1991. International Dimensions of Organizational
Behavior, CA, Wadsworth Publishing.
Baker, M. 1992. In Other Words, London and New York,
Bassnet, S. 1991. Translation Studies, London, Routledge.
Bateson, G. 1972. Steps to an Ecology of Mind, New York,
Ballantine Books.
Bell, R. 1991. Translation and Translating, Harlow, Longman.
Benjamin, W. 1969. The Task of the Translator, in
Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, New York, Schocken
Biber, D. 1995. Dimensions of Register Variation: A CrossLinguistic Comparison, Cambridge, Cambridge UP.
Biber, D., Conrad, S., and Cortes, V. 2004. If you look at...:
Lexical Bundles in University Teaching and Textbooks,
Applied Linguistics, 25.
Boas, F. 1940. Race, Language and Culture, Chicago, University
of Chicago Press.
Boase-Beier, J. and Holman, M. (eds). 1999. The Practices of
Literary Translation, Manchester, St. Jerome Publishing.
Brake et al. 1995. The Guide to Cross-Cultural Success, IL, Burr
Brennan, T. 1997. At Home in the World: Cosmopolitanism Now,
Cambridge and London, Harvard UP.
Browne, V. and Natali, G. 1989. Bugs and Bugbears: dizionario
delle insidie e dei tranelli nelle traduzioni fra inglese e italiano,
Bologna, Zanichelli.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

____ 1995. More and More False Friends, Bugs & Bugbears:
dizionario di ambigue affinit e tranelli nella traduzione fra inglese
e italiano, Bologna, Zanichelli.
Campbell, C. 1998. Rhetorical Ethos: A Bridge between HighContext and Low-Context Cultures?, in Niemeier, S.,
Campell, C. and Driven, R. (eds.). 1998. The Cultural Context
in Business Communication, Philadelphia, John Benjamins.
Canepari, M. 2008. Think Global, Act Local: traduzione e
pubblicit nellera della globalizzazione, Il traduttore visibile,
vol. 3, Parma, Mup editore.
Davis, K. 2001. Deconstruction and Translation, Manchester, St.
Jerome Publishing.
Duff, A. 1992. Translation, Oxford, Oxford UP.
Eco, U. 1995. Riflessioni teorico-pratiche sulla traduzione, in
S. Nergaard (ed.). 1995, Teorie contemporanee della traduzione,
Milano, Bompiani.
____ 2003. Dire quasi la stessa cosa. Esperienze di traduzione,
Milano, Bompiani.
Even-Zohar, I. 1987. La posizione della letteratura tradotta
allinterno del polisistema letterario, in S. Nergaard (ed.).
1995. Teorie contemporanee della traduzione, Milano, Bompiani.
____ 1990. Polysystem Studies, Poetics Today, 11, 1, special
Ewbank, I.S. 2003. Open to Encounters: Some Thoughts on
Translation as Criticism and Creation, Kunapipi, 25, 1.
Fruttero and Lucentini. 2003. I ferri del mestiere, Torino,
Garzone, G. 2002. The cultural turn: traduttologia,
interculturalit e mediazione linguistica, Culture, 16.
Geertz, C. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures, New York, Basic
Giambagli, A. 1992. Un aspetto particolare della traduzione
tecnica: la traduzione presso la Comunit Europea. Studio di
un caso, Rivista internazionale di tecnica della traduzione.


Gran, L. and Taylor, C. (eds.). 1990. Aspects of Applied and

Experimental Research on Conference Interpretation, Udine,
Campanotto Editore.
Guidre, M. 2001. Translation Practices in International
Advertising, Translation Journal, 5,1.
Hall, E.T. 1959. The Silent Language, New York, Doubleday,
____ 1976. Beyond Culture, New York, Doubleday, 1989.
____ 1982. The Hidden Dimension, New York, Doubleday.
Hatim, B. and Mason, I. 1990. Discourse and the Translator,
Harlow, Longman.
____ 1997. The Translator as Communicator, London, Routledge.
Hermans, T. (ed.). 1985. The Manipulation of Literature, New
York, St. Martins Press.
____ 1995. Translation Studies and Beyond, Amsterdam and
Philadelphia, John Benjamins.
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Ngugi wa Thiongo. 1967. A Grain of Wheat, Nairobi,
Heinemann. 1994.
O Casey, S. 1949. Collected Plays (Juno and the Paycock, The
Shadow of a Gunman, The Plough and the Stars, The End of the
Beginning, A Pound on Demand), London, Macmillan, New
York, St. Martins Press.
Okara, G. 1963. African Speech...English Words, Transition.
____ 1964. The Voice, Oxford, Heinemann, 1970.
____ 1987. La Voce, Torino, SEI. Translated by Valerio Fissore.
Okri, B. 1980. Flowers and Shadows, London et al., Longman.
____ 1981 The Landscapes Within, London et al, Longman.
Orwell, G. England your England, in Inside the Whale and Other
Essays, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books.
____1949. Nineteen Eighty-Four, Oxford, Clarendon Press.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Phillips, C. 1993. Crossing the River, London, Bloomsbury, 1994.

Pinter, H. 1978, Plays: Four, Faber and Faber, London, 2000.
Plaatje.S. 1929. Mhudi, London, Penguin Books.
____ 2010. Mhudi, Milano, Baldini Castoldi Dalai. Translated
by Michela Canepari.
Queneau, R. 1967. Science and Literature, Times Literary
Supplement, 28th September.
Rao, R. 1938. Kanthapura, New Delhi, Orient.
____ 1960. The Serpent and the Rope, New Delhi, Orient.
Rhys, J. 1966. Wide Sargasso Sea, USA, Norton Paperbacks,
Robbe-Grillet, A. 1958. Nature, humanisme, tragdie, in Pour
un nouveau roman, Paris, Minuit, 1963.
Rowling, J.K. 1997. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone,
London, Bloomsbory.
____ 1998. Harry Potter e la pietra flosofale, Milano, Salani,
Translated by Marina Astrologo.
Ruiz Puga, D. 1995. Got Seif the Cuin!, Guatemala, Nueva
____ 2001. Panorama del texto literario en Belice, de tiempos
coloniales a tiempos post-coloniales, Istmo 1, available at
www.denison/istmo/proyectos, last accessed 20th June 2003.
Selvon, S. 1956. The Lonely Londoners, London et. al., Longman,
____ 1982. A Conversation with K. Ramchand, Canadian
Literature 95.
Senior, O. 1987. Summer Lightning and Other Stories, London et
al., Longman.
Rushdie, S. 1981. The Midnights Children, London, Jonathan
____ 1983. Shame, London, Picador.
____ 1988. The Satanic Verses, London, Viking Press.
____ 1990. Haroun and the Sea of Stories, London, Granta Books.
____ 1995 The Last Moors Sigh, London, Granta Books.


Sacks, H. 1995. Lectures on Conversation Vols I and II. Oxford,

Oxford UP.
Saglia, D. 2002. I discorsi dellesotico, Napoli, Liguori.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1985. Preface, in F. Fanon, 1961. Les damns
de la terre, France, La Dcouverte.
Scholes, R. 1974. Structuralism in Literature, New Haven and
London, Yale UP.
Shklovskij, V. 1929. Sur la thorie de la prose, Lausanne, LAge
dHomme, 1973.
Soyinka, W. 1965. The Road, London, Oxford UP.
Tagore, R. 1916. The Home and the World, London, Penguin,
Todorov, T. 1969. Grammaire du Dcamron, Paris, The Hague.
____1970. Potique de la prose, Paris, Du Seuil. Translated as
Introduction to Poetics, 1980.
Tutuola, A. 1954. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, London, Grove
Press, 1994.
____ 1983. La mia vita nel bosco degli spiriti, Milano, Adelphi.
Translated by Adriana Motti.
Verga, G. 1880. Cavalleria Rusticana, in Tutte le novelle, Milano,
Mondadori, 1942.
____ 1928. Cavalleria Rusticana and Other Stories, London,
Dedalus. Translated by D.H. Lawrence.
Vivan, I. 1983. Nota to the Italian translation of My Life in the
Bush of Ghosts by Tutuola, Milano, Adelphi.
Walcott, D. 1987. Collected Poems (includes: Map of the New
World, Crusoes Island Crusoes Journal), New York, Farrar,
Straus and Giroux.
_____ 1990. Omeros, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
_____ 1992. Mappa del nuovo mondo, Milano, Adelphi.
Translated by Barbara Bianchi, Gilberto Forti e Roberto


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Wheen, F. 2004. How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World,

London, Fourth Estate.
____ 2005. Come gli stregoni hanno conquistato il mondo, Milano,
Isbn. Traduzione di Michela Canepari.


S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)
Translation Problems in the Asterix Comics

The aim of this work is to point out some specific problems in

the translation of the French-Belgian comic series of Asterix.
After some preliminary remarks on the characteristics of comics
as a paraliterary kind of fiction, which integrates in one system of
communication both a visual and a verbal code, the attention
briefly focuses on puns, a linguistic feature that constitutes a
fundamental element of humour in comic books in general, and
particularly in Asterix, therefore being the main problem faced by
translators in their task of transferring the original message not
only into a new language, but also into a new cultural system.
The subject of this short study is a comic series of thirty-four
albums translated from the original French into over one
hundred languages. We will focus our attention on the work of
English translators of Asterix, initially drawing a brief history of
Asterixs introduction into the United Kingdom and the USA
and of its rendition into the language of Shakespeare, then
highlighting the major difficulties with which translators are
confronted in this specific case and the solutions they have
found. The direct testimony of Anthea Bell and Dereck
Hockridge will be helpful to make us understand the real nature
of their job.

Adapted from the Italian rendition of Obelixs famous catchphrase Ils

sont fous ces romains, which is obviously translated as Sono Pazzi Questi
Romani (see infra). In this case the initialism stands for: Sono Pazzi Questi
Traduttori!, meaning Those Translators are Fool!.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Translators and Asterix have something in common: if

translating means making the meeting of different languages and
cultures possible, our hero often comes across foreign people and
deals with foreign languages and habits. In fact, many of the
stories created by Goscinny and Uderzo are set outside Gallic
territory. The foreign characters met by Asterix and Obelix
during their frequent journeys, in 50 BC, are comically defined
by the reproduction of stereotypes normally attributed to their
modern descendants. Language is one of the cultural elements
explored by the authors so as to create comic effect. Foreign
characters speak, in the original French, with a foreign accent
and this has to be recreated in translation. Perhaps, the most
brilliant example of a comic use of language and cultural
stereotypes in the characterisation of foreign people is
represented by the Asterix in Britain album: the final part of this
work will thus be dedicated to the analysis of the additional
challenge faced by English translators (both British and
American) when they had to replicate a British foreign accent
into their particular target language. The solutions they opted for
will be compared to the French of the original and to the work of
the Italian translators.
Comics as a Paraliterary Genre: Distinctive Features
Paraliterature is a definition that includes a number of different
literary genres, such as science fiction, fantasy, mystery, pulp
fiction, detective stories, even photo stories and comic books2.

See Nardin, Giorgia, La traduction italienne dAstrix: la recherche dune

possible quivalence, Tesi di Laurea Specialistica in Lingue straniere per la
comunicazione internazionale, Universit degli Studi di Padova, pp. 17-18. In
this article we use a different system of bibliographic reference: since the
bibliography is mostly consisting of internet pages, many of them without
author and year of publication, the Author-Year system adopted in the rest of
the volume is not very helpful, so a footnote style of reference is preferred.

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

The term is used to label all those genres which are not generally
considered as literary fiction by mainstream literary standards
and conveyed by mass media. Therefore, paraliterature is
defined as something that is opposed to literature. Its
characteristics are not found in the set of values that allows to
identify a work of art as literary. Paraliterature is about the
expression of a different dimension of writing, one connected
with pure entertainment and leisure time; hence, it is strictly
linked with the system and the ideology of an advanced
industrial society.
Comics are a particular type of paraliterature, since the stories
are told in a progressive sequence of cartoons, in which the
authors add elements of phonetic writing. Consequently, in
comic books we find the combination of verbal and iconic
elements. This kind of joint expression is a popular and
widespread phenomenon, because any reader can understand
the story, thanks to the communicative effectiveness of the
Though newspapers and magazines first established and
popularised comics in the late 1890s, narrative illustration has
existed for many centuries, a clear and illustrious example of this
being the Trajan Column3. In spite of this, it was only in the
19th century that the modern model of comics began to take
form among European and American artists. Comics as a real
mass medium started to emerge in the United States in the early
20th century with the newspaper comic strip, where its form
began to be standardised (image-driven, speech balloons etc).
Comic strips were soon gathered into cheap booklets and
reprinted as comic books. Original comic books soon followed.
Today, comics are found in newspapers, magazines, comic
books, graphic novels and on the web.

See Comics, available at, last accessed

1 April 2010.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Comics are part of the cultural, intellectual and affective

system of many of us. There is a huge variety of comics, destined
to all types of public, from children to adults. Historically, the
form dealt with humorous subject matter, but its scope has
expanded to encompass the full range of literary genres. Comics
are drawn and written to entertain, to provide amusement, to tell
stories of any kind, to make people think, to satirize and so on.
Comic stories are very varied but all in all they share a similar
structure: they may differ in the set and in secondary elements
but they have the same framework; the impression of novelty
comes from the plot and from the diegetic organisation.
Some interesting reflections on the definition and the nature
of comics are available on Wikipedias specific web page4:
Scholars disagree on the definition of comics; some claim its
printed format is crucial, some emphasise the interdependence
of image and text, and others its sequential nature. The term as
a reference to the medium has also been disputed. In 1996, Will
Eisner published Graphic Storytelling, in which he defined comics
as the printed arrangement of art and balloons in sequence,
particularly in comic books.5 Eisners earlier, more influential
definition from 1985s Comics and Sequential Art described the
technique and structure of comics as sequential art, ...the
arrangement of pictures or images and words to narrate a story
or dramatize an idea.6 In Understanding Comics (1993) Scott
McCloud defined sequential art and comics as: juxtaposed
pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to
convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in
the viewer;7 this definition excludes single-panel illustrations
such as The Far Side, Zanzibear, The Family Circus, and most

Eisner, Will, Graphic Storytelling, Poorhouse Press, 1996.
Eisner, Will, Comics & Sequential Art, Poorhouse Press, 1990 (Expanded
Edition, reprinted 2001).
McCloud, Scott, Understanding Comics, Harper, 1994, p. 7-9.


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

political cartoons from the category, classifying those as

cartoons. By contrast, The Comics Journals 100 Best Comics of
the 20th Century,8 included the works of several single panel
cartoonists and a caricaturist, and academic study of comics has
included political cartoons. R. C. Harvey, in his essay Comedy at
the Juncture of Word and Image, offered a competing definition in
reference to McClouds: [...] comics consist of pictorial
narratives or expositions in which words (often lettered into the
picture area within speech balloons) usually contribute to the
meaning of the pictures and vice versa.9 This, however, ignores
the existence of wordless comics. []
As noted above, two distinct definitions have been used to
define comics as an art form: the combination of both word and
image; and the placement of images in sequential order. Both
definitions are lacking, in that the first excludes any sequence of
wordless images; and the second excludes single panel cartoons
such as editorial cartoons. The purpose of comics is certainly
that of narration, and so that must be an important factor in
defining the art form. Comics, as sequential art, emphasise the
pictorial representation of a narrative. This means comics are
not an illustrated version of standard literature, and while some
critics argue that they are a hybrid form of art and literature,
others contend comics are a new and separate art; an integrated
whole, of words and images both, where the pictures do not just
depict the story, but are part of the telling. In comics, creators
transmit expression through arrangement and juxtaposition of
either pictures alone, or word(s) and picture(s), to build a
narrative. The narration of a comic is set out through the layout
of the images, and while, as in films, there may be many people
who work on one work, one vision of the narrative guides the

Spurgeon, Tom et al., 1999, Top 100 (English Language) Comics of the
Century, The Comics Journal 210.
Varnum, Robin & Gibbons, Christina T. editors, The Language of Comics:
Word and Image. University Press Mississippi, 2001, p. 76.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

work. Artists can use the layout of images on a page to convey

passage of time, build suspense, or highlight action. 10

Comics are a communicative system composed by three

elements: the cartoon, the strip and the speech balloon.11 The
cartoon is the significant unit of comics; cartoons are
traditionally disposed in horizontal rows and are separated by
blank interstices called gutters. The horizontal rows are largely
referred to as strips. In Europe, though, comics are more often
published on specialised magazines rather than on newspapers,
so the page is considered as a standard unit, more than the strip,
even if this term has a great importance in the specific language
of comics. The speech balloon (or speech bubble), which seems
to get out of the characters mouth, is the place where the
dialogue is inserted. There is a natural hierarchy between the
cartoon and the balloon. Indeed, if it cannot exist a balloon
without a cartoon, the opposite is not true, since there are plenty
of cartoons with no speech bubble. The bubble symbolises a
phonetic emission that necessarily comes from a source
represented by the cartoon. Normally, the reading of the
dialogue demands more time than the vision of the images. The
length of the dialogues is very important to set the rhythm of the
story, because it determines a pause in the narration and
consequently slows down the action, adapting it to the rhythm of
the words.
In comics, the narration is conveyed by two different semiotic
systems: an iconic one and a textual one.12 So, the fruition of
comics demands an activity of both vision and reading.
Obviously, the verbal element is fundamental in producing the
global sense of comics, since it transmits an important amount of

Driest, Joris, Subjective Narration in Comics, Retrieved May 26, 2005,

See Nardin, Giorgia, op. cit, p. 7.
See Nardin, Giorgia, op. cit., p. 45-52.

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

information which is necessary to understand the story.

Therefore, the linguistic message serves at the same time as a
communication among the characters and as an information to
the reader. Comics are created by choosing images, assembling
them, setting their topographical and chronological relations and
adding to them the phonic and literary elements. Being inscribed
in a particular space (namely the speech balloon), words in
comics are part of the image, as they graphically come out of the
characters mouth, and still they are very different elements.
Characters utterances, following one after the other, form a
chain of information which is parallel to the sequence of images:
the global sense is given by the interaction of the two
communicative strings. Bubbles are placed inside the image
according to specific criteria that determine the turn-taking
system, as the language of the balloons mostly reproduces direct
The Language of Comics: Playing with Words
As we mentioned in the introduction of this work, one of the
basic elements of the language of comics is the wordplay, a
particular kind of verbal expression which is central to the global
understanding of comics texts and to their humorous effect, as
we will see in the Asterix case. According to Todorov, the term
wordplay (or pun) refers to a linguistic practice which is opposed
to the referential use of language, the one mostly employed in
everyday life.13 Marina Yaguello agreed with him, when she
wrote: Playing with words sounds or meaning any activity
which has language as both subject matter and as means of
expression, constitutes the survival of the pleasure principle,


See Nardin, Giorgia, op. cit., p. 9-10.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

preserving the gratuitous in the face of the utilitarian.14 Using

puns means producing a text whose aim is not only to provide
information, but mainly to produce a particular effect on the
reader; that is, puns are an example of a creative use of language,
based on intentional manipulation of its normal phonic or
semantic aspect. This refers to what Jakobson calls (in his model
of communicative functions) the poetic function of language,
which occurs when messages convey not only a signified but also
contain a creative touch of their own. Wordplays also point out
the metalinguistic function of language, one which deals with
the code itself. Puns are in fact a superintensive use of language:
they are created using the existing words of a language, but they
use them to go beyond their usual meaning, to break rules, to
extend their possibilities. As for the ludic function of language,
this appears almost tautological for puns, as playing with words
naturally implies a playful aspect.
When we translate a text as full of puns as comics generally
are (Asterix in particular), we deal with some very specific
problems. We can say that puns are the main stylistic feature of
this kind of texts, so failing to render this expressive elements
almost means being unsuccessful in the translation of a comic
text.15 It is therefore essential to find a strategy that allows the
translator to reproduce the general spirit of the original text. As
we shall see later on in this study, an approach also confirmed by
British translators of Asterix, this does not mean finding an
equivalent to every single wordplay, exactly at the same place.
On the contrary, the most important thing is to maintain the
fundamental character of the original text, and to recreate a
linguistic texture that may provoke a similar effect in the readers;
the distribution of puns in the text could be slightly different

Yaguello, Marina, Harris, Trevor A. Le V., Language through the Looking

Glass: Exploring Language and Linguistics, Oxford University Press, 1998, p.
See Nardin, Giorgia, op. cit., p. 11-12, 68-71.

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

from the original, some of them may be lost, some others may be
newly created by the translator, because the aim of her/his work
should not be restricted to the punctual rendition of one single
pun but to the recreation of a whole expressive system. In fact,
one can say that wordplays are untranslatable, and most of the
time this is no lie. But it would be a paradox not to try and
reproduce them in another language (and a different cultural
context), since every language can assume a metalinguistic
function and use its codes as objects to reflect upon and to create
different effects.
The first restriction that affects the translation of a wordplay is
language itself. Source language and target language may be
somehow similar, have lexical and syntactical correspondences,
but the main issues are related to their cultural systems, their
inclination to the ludic function of language, their written
tradition. These and other factors make reproducing a pun into
another language an easier or more difficult task. Translators
choices are obviously influenced by the resources of both the
source and the target language (generally her/his mother
tongue), and by the affinity of the two cultures.
Another important and double factor which must be taken
into account by translators of comics is the function of the
original text and the intended effect on readers. A good
translation of a pun should render its motivation, its purpose
within the text and the aimed reaction of readers to it. To
reproduce this means to respect the function of the text, its inner
coherence and its very nature. The need to aim at reproducing
the functional and pragmatic equivalence of both source and
target texts could also be a guide to find the best possible
translating solutions.
A third parameter to be considered by translators is the
context, one of the fundamental elements that could help them
to find a good equivalent to the original wordplay. Context must
be considered at different levels: it could be a verbal context (the

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

words and the figures used in the textual environment of the

pun) or it could deal with a cognitive context (the narrative plot
in which the pun is inserted and its relation with it). Both verbal
and cognitive contexts should be also considered at a local level
(the text portion near the wordplay) and at a global level (the
text considered as a whole).
Possible solutions to the problems posed by the translation of
puns could be very different and range between an extreme
fidelity to the source text and an absolutely free reinterpretation.
We can indicate four different types of translation:16 an
isomorphic translation, in which a wordplay is literally
reproduced; a homomorphic translation, in which a wordplay is
rendered using the same linguistic procedures of the original (an
anagram, for example) but with other words; a heteromorphic
translation, in which the original wordplay is substituted with
another kind of wordplay, more compatible with the target
language; a free translation, in which a wordplay can be
substituted with another linguistic solution that, even though it
lacks the verbal hilarity of the original, is more adequate to the
new context, or when a pun is added ex-nihilo by the translator.
As anticipated in the introduction, we shall now focus on the
selected corpus of this work, the comic series of Asterix, and to
analyse the actual problems of its translation.
Asterix, a Gaulish Hero that Conquered the World
The Astrix series originated in the pages of a French comics
magazine called Pilote, in 1959. The authors, Ren Goscinny and
Albert Uderzo, had already drawn and written their own strip
cartoons, but when their collaboration started, they found out
that it was better for Goscinny to write the scripts and for
Uderzo to draw the pictures. The new magazine Pilote was

See Nardin, Giorgia, op. cit., p. 72.


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

looking for a new comics series, so they came up with a new

character, based on the ancestors of French people, the Gauls.
Headed by the fierce Vercingetorix, the Gauls were brave and
noble, and they valiantly resisted the invasion of Julius Caesars
Roman army. Of course, they were defeated in the end, but
Goscinny and Uderzo decided to introduce a slight alteration to
history and partially revenge the Gauls pride. Their Gaulish
heroes live in a little village that would never surrender to
Romans, always beating off their assaults thanks to the prowess
of its leading warrior Asterix and the magic potion brewed by the
village druid which gives anyone who drinks it supernatural
strength, albeit for a limited period of time.
That is the story that has become widely popular, even
though, as it is well known, this series is not mainly about wars
and battles, being mostly a funny subject based on a typical kind
of humour. Still, probably not everybody knows that the original
idea was to make Asterix a genuinely heroic Gaul, a big and
strong warrior. But, on second thought, Goscinny opted for a
more amusing character, making him small and frail in
appearance, but in fact very shrewd and wise; secondarily,
Uderzo thought that a well-mixed pair of characters would be
more successful, and invented Asterixs inseparable friend,
Obelix, who is in turn big and enormously strong (indeed,
having fallen into the cauldron of magic potion when he was a
baby, he enjoys its permanent effects and he is consequently
forbidden to drink more), but at the same time and in contrast
with his appearance is nave, simple-minded and kind-hearted,
though extremely brave. Their penchant for food (which in
Obelix becomes an insatiable appetite, especially when it comes
to a roasted wild boar), their passion for a good brawl with the
Romans (who invariably end up beaten) and their fear that the
sky could fall upon their heads, are other recurring elements that
create the spirit and the humour of this series.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

The Asterix and Obelix duo, together with a list of other

funny characters, had their first story published in 1961 as a
book whose title read Asterix the Gaul (Asterix le Gaulois). From
that moment onwards books began to be generally released on a
yearly basis. Up to 2009, thirty-four comic books in the series
were printed.
Quite soon, the popularity of this new series crossed the
French boundaries and reached most European countries. This
happened despite the fact that the subject of Asterix comics,
beginning with the two leading heroes, was quite patriotic and
the characters represented the basic virtues and defects of
French people. Indeed, their stories have been translated in more
than one hundred languages and dialects, including Esperanto,
Latin and ancient Greek.
English Translations of Asterix
As for British English, all the stories have been officially
translated by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge. Their first
volume of the Asterix series was published in 1969, but prior to
this, there had been a very interesting episode, involving Great
Britain and our hero. In fact, before the first actual translation,
there was an attempt at British appropriation of Asterix or, as
we should call it, a case of cultural transplantation of this comic
series across the Channel.
A British magazine for boys published in 1965 and 1966,
called Ranger, included (starting from the edition of 18th
September 1965) a version of Asterix transferred to Britain,
which does not mean Asterix visiting Britain but Asterix being
turned into a pre-British character and inserted into a pre-British
context with the locals also struggling against the Romans. The
visual element of the comics remained the same of the original,
only the names and some referential elements of the story were
transformed, in order to make our heroes ancient Britons rather

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

than Gauls. Thus, at times the text looked pretty different. In

this case, Ranger magazine adapted the story of Asterix and the
Big Fight.17 The strip was called Britons Never Never Never Shall
Be Slaves,18 with Asterix renamed Beric the Bold19 and Obelix
being called Son of Boadicea.20 In 1966, Ranger was merged
into Look and Learn magazine, and for a time the series was
carried on in this publication in 1967, up to 22nd April,
publishing a version of Asterix and Cleopatra,21 whose title
changed into In the Days of Good Queen Cleo. In this case, even a
visual detail had to be changed: in fact, at the end of the book,
the original map of Gaul became a map of Britain.
This British adaptation is not so bizarre and unacceptable as it
may seem. Sometimes, when works are translated for other
countries, they undergo major changes. The usual reason is to
make them more accessible to the audience in terms of


Le Combat des chefs, first published in serial form in Pilote magazine,

issues 261-302 in 1964, then edited as the seventh volume of the book series
in 1966. It was finally and properly translated into English in 1971.
A verse from the famous patriotic song Rule Britannia!.
This name was taken from a patriotic equivalent of Asterixs character,
the protagonist of the book Beric the Briton, A Story of the Roman Invasion
(1893), written by British author G.A. Henty, which tells of the Roman
invasion of Britain through the eyes of a half Romanised Briton named
Boudica (also spelled Boudicca), formerly known as Boadicea and
known in Welsh as Buddug (d. AD 60 or 61) was a queen of the Brittonic Iceni
tribe of what is now known as East Anglia in England, who led an uprising of the
tribes against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. (From Wikipedia article
Boudica, available at Last accessed 15th April
First published in 1963 in serial form in Pilote magazine, issues 215-257,
then printed as the sixth volume of the series in 1965. Officially translated by
Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge in 1969.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

localisation, even though avoiding value dissonances is also a

common reason.22
A similar but more unfortunate case happened in Germany, a
nation which, in Astrix et les Goths (1963), was somewhat
unkindly caricatured as a warlike Prussian country with a taste
for torture and intrigue. The series was first translated into
German, in 1965, by Rolf Kauka, who changed the Gauls into
Germanics, naming the main characters Siggi und Barabbas
instead. The situation got embarrassing when Kauka inserted a
political bias in its adaptation: in fact, in Siggi und die Ostgoten,
which clearly referred to the situation of the then divided
Germany, the Gauls were transformed into the Westgoten
(Western Goths), while the original Goths, the villains of the
story, were the Ostgoten (Eastern Goths). The village of our
hero was called Bonnhalla (Bonn, former capital of Western
Germany). The druids name was Konradin (an allusion to
Konrad Adenauer, first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of
Germany), and the name of the chief of the Goths was
Hullberick, which reminded of Walter Ulbricht, who was in a
similar position in the former Democratic Republic of Germany.
The Ostgoten were made speak an East German dialect, whose
words were printed in red, so as to allude to the communist
regime. Other details were adapted with the same intention23.
The abuse came to its end when, in Siggi und die goldene Sichel
an adaptation of the La Serpe dOr (Asterix and the Golden Sickle)
album, also dated 1965 he made the chief villain of the story
(who sold overpriced golden sickles) speak with a Jewish accent.
Goscinny was enraged after reading the translated comic and
forbade Kauka further translations.

See Cut and Paste Translation, available at http: // / pmwiki /

pmwiki.php/Main/CutAndPasteTranslation, last accessed 11th March 2010.
See Asterix International! Asterix in Germany, available at (last accessed 15th
April 2010).

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

Coming back to Great Britain, Anthea Bell has explained the

history of how the Asterix series was finally and officially
translated for English-speaking readers (Asterix, Whats in a
several English-language publishers initially turned the series
down, on the grounds that it was too French to cross the
Channel successfully. Eventually Brockhampton Press, the name
at the time of the childrens department of Hodder &
Stoughton, decided to make the venture. To translate the books
they recruited a team consisting of Anthea Bell (i.e. me) and
Derek Hockridge, Derek as a lecturer in French and expert on
all the French topical references, Anthea as a professional
translator with, at the time, a special interest in translation for
children. The first English translations were published in 1969;
the latest was the story mentioned above, Asterix and Obelix All
At Sea, which came out in October 1996 in the original French
and also, simultaneously, in the major languages of translation. 24

Two attempts to introduce Asterix into the American market were

also made. The first one was a serialised publication of five stories in
a group of North American newspapers, between November 1977
and the beginning of 1979.25 Stories were divided in strips appearing
in the daily comics section of some different and concurrent
newspapers. The Sunday colour comics edition contained the end
of one story and the beginning of the next, each taking up half a
page.26 This particular type of edition required a significant
adaptation of both the artwork and the dialogues. Names, puns and
other textual elements were modified to get a more idiomatic and

Bell, Anthea, Asterix, Whats in a Name, available at http: //, last accessed 7th March 2010,
p. 2.
The stories are Asterix the Gladiator, Asterix and Cleopatra, Asterix and the
Great Crossing, Asterix and the Big Fight and Asterix in Spain.
See English translations of Asterix available at http: // / wiki /
English_translations_of_asterix (last accessed 7th March 2010).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

politically correct version, intended for the family-oriented audience

of the newspapers, producing a quite different result when
compared to the British translation.
The second episode which concerns the United States refers
to the publication of five Asterix books, translated into American
English by Robert Steven Caron, with the aim of having different
editions purposely realised for American readers. The volumes
published are Asterix and the Great Crossing in 1984, Asterix the
Legionary and Asterix at the Olympic Games in 1992, and Asterix
in Britain and Asterix and Cleopatra in 1995. Most of the
characters names were changed for copyright reasons, as we will
see in detail later on, when we will focus on this aspect of the
translation. But in the States, Asterix never achieved a great
success, and this retranslating enterprise was finally stopped.
The remaining volumes were released on the American market
in accordance to the British translation, thus generating a certain
confusion in the public, due to the differences existing in the five
albums translated by Robert Steve Caron.
Asterixs relative lack of success in the U.S. confirms what
Flinn Bjrklid wrote about the limits of this comic series:
It seems as if Asterix is firstly a French comic, and secondly a
European comic, at least it has never been accepted in the
homeland of comics USA, where its been introduced several
times. Maurice Horns The World Encyclopedia of Comics states
that There are a few good things in Asterix (the clever use of
balloons, drawing which is clean and uncluttered, and some
genuinely funny situations) but the basic plot is tiresome and
Goscinnys endless stream of bad puns and chauvinistic asides
make this quite unpleasant as a strip. 27


Bjrklid Finn, (translated in English by Nicolai Langfeldt), A Celtic Gaul

named Asterix available at
(last accessed 7th March 2010).

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

The latter seems quite a narrow interpretation of Asterix or one

should really believe that the Atlantic Ocean separates two different
worlds, at least as far as comics are concerned, or else that their
circulation is a one-way movement, travelling only from America
towards Europe.
Lost (and Gained) in Translation
The main difficulty for translators working on a text based on
humour, is that of transferring its spirit from one cultural system
to a different one. We have already pointed out that Asterix was
initially judged to be too French-specific, which was probably
true (or at least partially true) for the first albums, and that this
consideration delayed the translation of the books in Great
Britain and elsewhere. Maybe, after the success of the first
translations, the authors, bearing in mind that their audience
might be foreign, tried to make them more universal. Or perhaps
foreign publishers understood that the kind of humour readers
could find in Asterixs books, centred as it was on puns,
caricatures and ironic stereotypes of both French regions and
European nations, was not so French-specific after all. Making
fun of history and traditions is something that can be shared by a
wider public, especially in Europe, where history and cultural
traditions have deep roots. Anthea Bell, commenting on the
European nature of Asterixs humour, states:
[...] I would call the comedy not solely French, but European.
French childrens history books traditionally open with a tribute
to nos anctres les Gaulois. [] all of us in Europe enjoy making
anachronistic fun of the past. Well, Western Europe, anyway: as
an eminent Slavonic scholar said to me recently, it is


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

inconceivable to think of the Russians showing this kind of

affectionate disrespect for their history and culture 28.
[...] It is European humour rather than French. It doesnt cross
the Atlantic so well, the American sense of humour is different.
We and the French like the humour of historical anachronism.
We have a lot of history behind us and we like to laugh at it in
both nations29.

Indeed, Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge have certainly

succeeded in their English version of the Asterix series, for they
have proved capable of maintaining the spirit and humour of the
source text even when direct translation was impossible
especially when puns between languages were not closely related.
But, how does the process begin? Which tools do translators
use? Do they have a set of principles guiding them in their
difficult task? Peter Kessler explains all this in his Complete Guide
to Asterix, which directly quotes the detailed explanation offered
by Anthea Bell in relation of what she calls their translating kit:
When a new Asterix book is in production, the translators are
sent a copy of the text so that they can start work on their
version. Often, at this stage, they are working blind, without
the artwork.
In recent years, Uderzo has compiled detailed lists of the
wordplays and cultural jokes in his texts. These he circulates to
all foreign translators, so that they can be sure of not missing a
single trick when combing through the narrative.
Anthea Bell describes the process: Besides the French original,
we have what might be called our translating kit around us.


Bell, Anthea, Asterix, my love, in Electronic Telegraph, Thursday 25th

February 1999, available at / asterix /
mirror/asterix_my_love.htm, last accessed 7 th March 2010.
Pauli, Michelle, Asterix and the golden jubilee, in The Guardian, Thursday
29 October 2009, available at / books / 2009 /
oct/29/asterix-golden-jubilee, last accessed 7 th March 2010.

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

Theres a folder labelled Asterix Names, Jokes, Oddments,

Etc., full of things that might come in useful some day. There
are reference books. Its amazing how often people say, But
youre a translator; surely you dont need dictionaries?
Translators need the biggest, best dictionaries going. Translators
wear out their dictionaries. Among our old favourites are
Walkers Rhyming Dictionary, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations,
Rogets Thesaurus and the new Concise Oxford Dicitonary, easily
the best of the Oxford English Dictionary range for this purpose,
being the most up-to-date and colloq., as the entries put it.
Any of these may set the mind jumping from word or phrase (a)
in the original French, to a related subject, to word or phrase (b)
which will provide a comparable bit of wordplay in English.
Also, part of the Bell-Hockridge kit, is a set of six principles,
which they always employ when translating Asterix:
1. The idea is to render, as faithfully as possible, the feel of the
2. With humour of this intensely verbal nature, the translation
must follow the spirit rather than the letter of the original; we
must therefore often find jokes which are different, though we hope
along the same lines as the French jokes.
3. They must, of course, suit Albert Uderzos wittily detailed
drawings. In particular they must fit the expression on the speakers
4. From the purely technical point of view, they must be about the
same length as the original wording, or we shall create difficulties
for the letterer trying to get the English text into the speechbubbles.
5. Very important: we will try for the same kind of mixture of jokes as
in the French, where Asterix appeals on a number of different
levels. Theres the story-line itself with its ever-attractive theme
of the clever little fellow outwitting the hulking great brute; there
is simple knockabout humour, both verbal and visual, which
goes down well with quite young children; there are puns and
passages of wordplay for older children; and there is some


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

distinctly sophisticated humour, depending on literary or artistic

allusion, for the adult or near-adult mind.
6. We will also have the same number of jokes as in the French. If
we just cant get one in at the same point as in the original, well
make up for it somewhere else.30 If there is an obvious gift well
use it, even if there was no counterpart in the French. 31

So, the first important principle is that the translation must be

faithful to the feel of the original, rather than to its letter. As point
two properly emphasises, this is due to the intense verbal nature
of the humour, full of cultural and linguistic jokes, and to the
constraint represented by the drawings, as it is pointed out at
points three and four. Elsewhere, Anthea Bell speaks about the
challenges translators have to face:
As a task of translation, the Asterix stories present a fascinating
set of challenges all of their own. The pictorial element is
inseparable from the text. But, and paradoxically, translation of
the text, if it is to be faithful to the spirit of the original, has to
be very free, indeed unusually free, where the letter is
concerned. The reason for this is that the French text is
crammed with puns, wordplay and verbal jokes of all kinds,
which will not translate straight. Often the task is one of
adaptation rather than ordinary translation (and everything is
carefully read in France before it is approved for English

Puns are the main concern of Asterixs translators, for, as Bell

says: Puns abound in the French. Whether or not one agrees
with Freud that puns are the lowest form of humour, they are
certainly difficult to translate, and will not usually translate

Hockridge said about it: Id like to feel the level of punning is about the
same as the French, so if you groan that seems about right (Kessler, Peter,
The Complete Guide to Asterix, London, Hodder Childrens Books, 1997, p.
Idem, p. 59-60.
Bell, Anthea, Asterix, Whats in a Name, cit., p. 2.

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

straight at all.33 Still, Bell and Hockridge managed to find

suitable solutions by using their experience, which led them to
the conviction that their work was more about recreating rather
than just translating. Their target language (and culture) offered
reasonable resources in order to fill the inevitable gaps created in
the translation process:
For we Brits, again like the French, enjoy the dreadful puns in
which the Asterix stories abound. But if you translate a pun
straight, it is no longer a pun. You have the situation, you have
the facial expressions of the characters and the size of the speech
bubble, and you must devise a new pun to fit. 34

The target text must produce the same effects on readers, must
have the same balance of humour and adventure. In order to
achieve this result, sometimes the translators add humorous
remarks of their own, either when a direct translation of the
original French is not possible, or simply when they have the
chance to put in a joke that would get, in the target language, an
effect which is appropriate and coherent to the spirit of the text.
That is not only the case of the English translation. A wonderful
example of this is evident in the work of Italian translators as
well35, where the Roman legionnaires speak in 20th century
Roman dialect, which is a real additional benefit to the Italian
albums. Their colourful expressions in the modern Roman
vernacular seem to fit exceptionally well the drawings, giving to
those most unfortunate characters always on the losing side of
the story, always playing the fools and getting hammered by

Idem, p. 4.
Bell, Anthea, Asterix, my love, cit. Peter Kessler wrote about it (op. cit., p.
61): Fortunately English, with a lexicon twice the size of any other European
language, is arguably the language of puns. And sure enough, Hockridge and
Bell have always delivered.
Asterixs albums have been translated in Italian by Marcello Marchesi (3
albums), Luciana Marconcini (17), Alba Avesini (12), Carlo Manzoni (1),
Fedora Dei (1), Natalina Compiacente (1), Tito Faraci and Sergio Rossi (1).


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

everyone more liveliness and expressivity. Just as the Gauls

embody the qualities and the defects of the modern French (and
the same applies to any other foreign character depicted in the
series), Roman characters are more realistically linked to the wit
of their contemporary descendants, thanks to the Italian
translators genial idea, which perfectly matches the genuine
spirit of the source text. To mention but one example, we can
observe the way in which, in Asterix in Britain, the Roman
soldiers react when their British opponents repeatedly interrupt
the fight because of the week-end: the original French relies
more on the visual aspect of the drawings and on the size of the
characters in the speech-bubble to express the soldiers anger
and frustration, while Italian readers can also benefit from the
verbal strength of the dialect expressions, that clearly makes this
Roman soldier much more Roman than the original one.

Another famous addition to the Italian version, is the rendition

of Obelixs famous catchphrase Ils sont fous ces romains, which
is obviously translated as Sono Pazzi Questi Romani: the extrajoke is that the initials are printed in a way that clearly alludes to
the Roman abbreviation SPQR,36 a pun that is added to the
original, evidently serving the general purpose of the text.

An initialism from the Latin phrase Senatus Popolusque Romanus,

which means The Senate and the People of Rome. Both the graphic aspect
of this catchphrase and the dialect characterisation of the Roman soldiers

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

As we read at point five of the above mentioned list of principles,

Asterixs humour works at different levels. Sometimes the books
contain rather simple wordplays which aim at amusing fairly
young children. At other times, however, they are extended
cultural references. Some important literary works (such as
Cervantes Don Quijote) are ironically referred to and there are
visual allusions to Renaissances paintings and classical
After all, Asterix stories are full of cultural references, mainly,
as it is obvious, to French culture. Despite being full of
references to French history and modern French society (in fact,
many supporting characters turn out to be caricatures of famous
French people), Asterix has become widely popular and it is
understood and appreciated outside France as well. Even
without speaking French, or without a good knowledge of
French society, readers can decode symbols and characters, all
of which are not necessarily specific to France37, present both in
the pictures and the verbal text.

were introduced in the first album of the series, Asterix il Gallico, translated by
Marcello Marchesi in 1968.
See, Bjrklid Finn, art. cit.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Translating cultural references may also pose particular

problems. Bell and Hockridges technique when dealing with
cultural humour, is to focus on those aspects that English
readers will understand. But not all cultural references resist the
passage of time: if a hint to the above-mentioned Quijote can still
be understood in one hundred years, other allusions are so
closely connected to contemporary aspects and figures that they
seriously face the risk of obsolescence. How must translators act
in cases such as these? Lets see again Anthea Bells suggestion:
what is to be done when a reference becomes obsolete? Should
this play on words be rethought, and if so with what? [] But
obsolescence can be a real problem in translating this kind of
material for the series uses the humour of anachronism to
introduce twentieth-century themes into the time of Julius
Caesar. What if anything should be done when a series has
proved popular enough to remain in print for nearly forty years,
in France, thirty years in the UK, and around the same length of
time in other major European languages? Some visual themes
cannot be changed: cf. the faces of characters [for ex. the Beatles
in Asterix in Britain]. But should verbal topical references be
allowed to stand as witnesses to their period, or should some
attempt at revision be made? 38

In fact, as Anthea Bell suggests, transposing a modern idea

into the world of 50 BC is one of the most exploited jokes in
Asterix, a kind of cultural humour which both entertains readers,
and make them reflect on some aspects of their modern,
civilised lives.
Translating Names
Puns are not just an essential part of the comics dialogues, in
so far as, in actual fact, they begin with names. Names play an

Bell, Anthea, Asterix, Whats in a Name, cit., p. 5.


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

essential role in Asterixs humour and they are the very first
elements that contribute to the comic depiction of a character.39
Some names are funny because they are simply absurd and do
not even refer to a characters quality, but most of the time they
introduce a humorous comment on the central trait of its
personality. In any case, names are puns and they have to be
translated into an equivalent that could have the same effect on
target readers, so as to maintain the spirit and the flow of the
story. The names of the two leading characters have not posed
any problem for the English translators, as Asterix (from the
French astrisque, rendered in English as asterisk) and Obelix
(from the French oblisque, obelisk in English) can be easily
retained in the target language, because the two words upon
which the names are created have the same Greek etymology in
both French and English (as well as in Italian), so the wordplay
works in both cases and there is no need for a translation. Maybe
Goscinny and Uderzo purposely chose two names with a classic
origin, so that they could be maintained in most European
languages without any loss of meaning, thinking about the
international distribution of their series. Anyway, it is a very
fortunate circumstance that the implication of the name of the
hero that gives the title to the whole series can be understood by
most readers. Obviously, the same applies to the name of his big
fellow. Anthea Bell dedicates a comprehensive paragraph of her
article Asterix, Whats in a Name to the problems faced in this
delicate task:
Names: the books to date contain some four hundred proper
names of people (and some place names), nearly all of which
have had to be changed in translation, since they are not really
names, but comic spoofs on names made up out of French
words in the original. For instance the village bard

See English Translations of Asterix, available at /

wiki/English_translations_of_asterix, last accessed 7 th March 2010.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Assurancetourix = assurance tous risques, comprehensive

insurance. As with all the Gauls, his name ends in the suffix ix,
to echo the genuine Vercingetorix. But translated straight the
phrase sounds nothing like a name of any kind. In English he
becomes Cacofonix because he is tone-deaf and sings and plays
so badly out of tune that his music is mere cacophony. Then
there is the chieftain Abraracourcix whose name is from the
phrase bras raccourcis = literally with foreshortened arms, i.e.
doubled up ready for a fight; to attack someone violently is
tomber sur quelquun bras raccourcis. Again, this was impossible
to translate into a convincing name. The chieftain is rather
stouter than is good for him, and was therefore called, with
reference to his girth, Vitalstatistix in English. Asterix and
Obelix remain the same, as far as I know, in all languages, but
the druid Panoramix retains his French name in many other
languages, and we too have the adjective panoramic available
in English. However, the name of Getafix seemed a gift, having
more than one double meaning: not only does the druids magic
potion give the Gauls a temporary fix (of a perfectly innocuous
kind) to help them defeat the Roman aggressors, but there is
also the theory that the druids of ancient Britain may have used
circles of standing stones (like Stonehenge) as astronomical
observatories, to help them get a fix on the sun. There are
tentative proposals for revision of the Asterix translations. Does
political correctness require that the present name of the Druid
be scrapped? If so, what might replace it, or should one go back
to the French Panoramix? This is but one of the issues to be
raised. Roman names end in -us, to resemble the real Latin
names which they are not, with a very few exceptions in
historical figures like Julius Caesar and Brutus). Most Britons
end in -ax, possibly because the real Caesar, in his real historical
work De Bello Gallico, mentions a king of Kent called Segovax
e. g. Jolitorax in French becomes Anticlimax in English. (Astrix
chez les Bretons/Asterix in Britain). The Gaulish women end in ine in French, e.g. Bonemine the village chieftains wife, but in


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

the English versions, Gaulish and Roman alike, end in the usual
feminine -a (the chieftains wife becomes Impedimenta). 40

This testimony by Bell raises many interesting questions. She

refers to the names of some of the recurring characters of the
series. Most translators obviously chose to create new names
with new jokes that may produce a comic effect in the target
language. But, for example, Italian translators, made a
different choice. Their editions tend to maintain the original
names even if the wordplays are completely lost and the
characters monikers result quite difficult to read and
understand for an Italian reader. Think about an Italian boy
reading Assurancetourix or Abraracourcix: if the boy is not
studying French, the original pun is missing and so is the
correct pronunciation. Coming back to the English versions,
we have already referred to the fact that in the American
editions most of the characters names were changed, to adapt
them to an American audience or even for copyright reasons,
as with Robert Steven Carons translations. Here is an
interesting table41 that lists the names of the major characters,
comparing the French source text to the English and
American versions; a column with the Italian names has been
added here:


Descript Italian



(because he is
the star), also





Ameri- American
can name name
(Newspap (Album)

Bell, Anthea, Asterix, Whats in a Name, cit., p. 3. For the wife of the
fishmonger, the translators prefer to create a new name with the feminine
ending in a, Bacteria, rather than keeping the unmotivated homage to the
Beatles song Yellow Submarine, which is implicit in the original French,
Ilosubmarine (see table above).
From the Wikipedia article, English translations of Asterix, cit.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

the medical
term asterixis
refers to a
periodic loss of
muscle tone,
the opposite of
what Astrix
displays when
he drinks the
magic potion

obelisk (An
obelisk is
similar to a
menhir; and the
obelisk symbol
often follows
the asterisk.)




ide fixe (theme Obelixs

or obsession) dog


Dogmatix Dogmatix Dogmatix

Panoramix Panorama
(wide view)


Panoramix Getafix



Readymix Magigimmi

Abraracour bras
raccourcis: (hit, Chief

Abraracour Vitalstatisti Vitalstatis Macroecon



Beniamina Impedime n/a

o Mimina nta

Bonne mine
(healthy look)



Agecanonix ge canonique Village

(canonical age) elder

Matusalemi Geriatrix

Geriatrix Arthritix

Assuranceto Assurance tous Bard


Assuranceto Cacofonix Cacofonix Malacoustix


Blacksmit Automatix Fulliautom

Ctautomat cest
(its automatic)
Ordralfab- ordre

Fishmong Ordinalfabe Unhygieni Fishtix


Ilosubmari Yellow

Wife of Ielosubmari Bacteria

Fishmong ne



Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)


Piece of
clothing added recurring
to a dress,
usually seen as
a bad taste




As we can see, the only case in which the Italian translators

change a characters name in order to create a joke referring to
its main trait, is that of the village elder, Agecanonix, which in
Italian becomes Matusalemix (alluding to the patriarch
Methuselah Matusalemme in Italian who is the eldest man
cited in the Bible, having lived for 969 years), in British English
Geriatrix and in American albums Arthritix, all the names
relating to his age. As for the remaining names of the recurring
characters, Italian translators keep the original names, limiting
their interventions to a slight adaptation, when the similarity of
the Italian vocabulary to the original French allows to reproduce
the pun without a complete recreation. This, in spite of the fact
that, in the two cases mentioned above (Abraracourcix and
Assurancetourix) their conservative choice means the loss of any
kind of wordplay. In another case, Italian translators give to the
chiefs wife an existing name which is similar to the original
French (Beniamina for Bonnemine), but in doing so, they
completely loose the pun created by Goscinny and Uderzo
(Bonnemine stands for healthy look); so, they generally
privilege similarity to the original rather than the humorous
expressivity given to the names by the authors.
Bell and Hockridges attitude is entirely different, as we have
seen before. They try to replicate in the target language the same
sort of comic spoof on names. Naturally, the same applies to
minors or one-story characters. The translators accept the
challenge to play the authors game, a game with some rules, of
course. For example, as Bell says, Gauls names normally end in
-ix, while Britons end in -ax, Egyptians in -is (ex. Numerobis)
and Romans in -us. The latter happens to be, rather than a

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

constraint, quite a productive feature in the English version,

since it allows Bell and Hockridge to create new wordplays for
some Romans names:
Roman names end in us, to resemble the real Latin names
which they are not, with a very few exceptions in historical
figures like Julius Caesar and Brutus. They include, for instance,
a legionary called Plutoqueprvus = plus tt que prvu, sooner
than expected, who becomes in English Infirmofpurpus (from
Lady Macbeths speech to her husband: Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers.). [] And in the first book of all Astrix
en Hispanie/Asterix in Spain, p. 9, a centurion who is Claudius
Nonpossumus in the French (from Latin, non possumus, we
cannot) and becomes Spurius Brontosaurus in English. The
translators were pleased when they recollected that Spurius was
a genuine Roman name: cf. Spurius Lartius, one of the brave
allies who helped Horatius keep the bridge in the brave days of
old (Macaulay, Lays of Ancient Rome).42
We are pleased when, like Goscinny, we can make a whole
phrase into a Roman name [Sendervictorius and Appianglorius,
a couple of Roman soldiers],43 but owing to the difference
between the normal word order of noun and adjective in English
and French, it is generally much harder to make up such
compounds in English. We do however have quantities of
English adjectives ending ous, which can sometimes be used on
their own to make a name approximating to its bearers
character (Insalubrius in Gladiator) or combined with a noun
to give a Roman two names (Nervus Illnus in Banquet).44


Bell, Anthea, Asterix, Whats in a Name, cit., p. 4.

These are characters from Asterix the Gladiator, and their names form a
sentence from the British national anthem, God Save the Queen (Send her
victorious, happy and glorious). Note that the second name ingeniously
relates also to the Roman road known as the Appian Way. In the original
French, the couple is named Zigupus and Rictus.
Anthea Bell in Kessler, Peter, op. cit., p. 63.


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

Fictional toponyms are also created with the purpose of creating

a humorous effect. For example, the four camps (castra) which
surround Asterixs village are named: Compendium, Aquarium,
Laudanum and Totorum (Tot o rum, colloquial English for
shot of rum). In French, this camp is called Babaorum, a pun
on baba au rhum or rum baba, a popular French pastry. 45
In earlier translations, such as in Ranger/Look and Learn
(dating from 1965 to 1967), other versions of names have
appeared. Panoramix remains the name of the Druid, while the
village chieftain becomes Tunabrix (ton of bricks), rather than
Vitalstatistix. Some of these were used in early English-language
versions of cartoon movies.
We shall discuss later on some of the choices made by English
translators for the names of the characters in Asterix in Britain.
These choices have clearly been always discussed by the
translators and they had to be finally approved by the authors
Asterix Travels: Dealing with Foreign People and their
About fifty per cent of Asterixs adventures takes place in Gaul,
in various parts of the Roman-occupied region, around the
village or in more distant districts (like Lutetia, Corsica etc.). In
the rest of the stories, Asterix and Obelix visit countries such as
Spain (Astrix en Hispanie, 1969 / Asterix in Spain, 1971), Egypt
(Astrix et Clopatre, 1965 / Asterix and Cleopatra, 1969), Britain
(Astrix chez les Brtons, 1966 / Asterix in Britain, 1970), the area
of present-day Germany where the Goths live (Astrix et les
Goths, 1963 / Asterix and the Goths 1975), Switzerland (Astrix
chez les Helvtes, 1970 / Asterix in Switzerland, 1973), Greece

In the American translations, one of these camps is named


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

(Astrix aux Jeux Olympiques, a book written for the 1968 games
and translated into English Asterix at the Olympic Games on the
occasion of the Munich games four years later), Belgium (Astrix
chez les Belges, 1979 / Asterix in Belgium, 1980), even India
(Astrix chez Rahazade, 1987 / Asterix and the Magic Carpet,
1988), America (La Grande Traverse, 1975 / Asterix and the
Great Crossing, 1977, although they do not know it is a real New
World and believe they are in some Roman colony, maybe Crete
or Thrace), and in a more recent book (La Galre dOblix, 1996
/ Asterix and Obelix All At Sea, 1996) the fabled continent of
Atlantis. They also visit several times ancient Rome and their
historical enemy, Julius Caesar, whom they treat with cheerful
disrespect. In another story, Astrix et les Normands (1966,
translated as Asterix and the Normans in 1978) they do not travel
but they receive the visit of a foreign people, actually Vikings
from the North of Europe.
These contacts with their close neighbours represent an
important reason for Asterixs European success. Indeed, our
heroes sometimes have a direct influence on crucial historical
events or peculiar habits to these countries. For instance, in this
fictional re-writing of history, Asterix teaches Spaniards bull
fighting, the Swiss mountain climbing, he takes part in the
Olympic Games in Greece, causes a civil war in Germany, drops
by Rome a couple of times, follows the route of the Tour de
France, gifts the British with their first tea.46 Indeed, a very
particular level of humour in Asterix corresponds to the retelling
of historical facts, which is another way to create humour using
anachronism. The authors defy the authority of history and make
jokes on it. There is also a nationalistic perspective to this kind of
humour: Goscinny and Uderzo are describing the French as the
initiators of habits and ideas that would then become a strong
part of other countries traditions. But this is obviously a joke

See Bjrklid Finn, art. cit.


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

which only works in a comic context; furthermore, this is mostly

a way of laughing at the Frenchmans natural assumption of his
own national superiority47.
The authors made a parody of every population encountered
by Asterix and Obelix, exploiting the most popular stereotypes
generally attached to their European fellow citizens.48 The Goths
are depicted as martial and disciplined, warring and goosestepping, recalling the Germans of the Empire and to a certain
extent those of the Third Reich, which makes them the only
people represented as characterised by a certain degree of
hostility. The British, as we will see in detail later on, are shown
as polite and phlegmatic, with their weird habits (like driving the
chariots on the left side of the road) and their terrible cooking
(like boiled boar with mint sauce or warm beer). The Swiss are
methodical and keep discreet bank accounts for secret investors.
The Spanish are very hospitable but, at the same time, hot
tempered; Portuguese are tiny and chubby, and so on. These
modern stereotypes are humorously and affectionately satirized,
but all these European populations (apart from Germans who,
especially in early albums, represent the only exception), are
generally described in a positive way. The French themselves are
not let off the authors satire. All these people have one thing in
common with the Gauls: they all hate the Romans, because they
are the invaders. But even the Romans are portrayed with a
certain degree of sympathy.
After all, Goscinny and Uderzo were not making fun of
foreign people, they were more caricaturising the habit of
identifying other people through sticky labels, they were almost
celebrating European capability of laughing at their own tics and
at their own little rivalries. No-one could possibly feel offended

See Kessler, Peter, op. cit., p. 84.

See Humour in Asterix, available at
wiki/Humour_in_Asterix (last accessed 7 th March 2010).


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

by their jokes. In fact, despite some isolated accusations of

chauvinism,49 the series has been very well received outside
Dealing with foreign people clearly involves problems as to
their characterisation. A very productive solution found by the
authors is in some way to make characters speak with the
accent of their modern descendants. This means that, in the
source text, the authors try and reproduce the modern foreign
accent of those foreign characters who use French words to
express themselves, thereby making them speak, for example, as
a modern German person would speak French. Reproducing
these foreign accents is therefore a fundamental task for
translators. Anthea Bell states:
Accents are also a problem. The French are familiar with a
Belgian accent; we have no way of reproducing one in English,
although we can do a German accent. [] To date, policy has
been not to try substituting British regional accents for French
regional accents and for Belgian and African accents, for
instance but instead to substitute extra jokes for those accents
not readily imitated in English. 50
The thinking behind this procedure is that if one substitutes
regional English accents, the whole delicate illusion of
translation is endangered: Whats this man with the Yorkshire
or Somerset accent doing in the middle of Ancient Gaul? thinks
the reader. Surely its France now. Why arent they speaking
French anyway? This is only a translation! Why am I bothering
to read something in translation anyway? 51

For example, in 1983, the Council of the North London Borough of

Brent removed all Asterix books from the library shelves because Asterix was
seen as racist, but after a public controversy and some well-reasoned
newspaper articles the books were reinstated (see Kessler, Peter, op. cit., p.
Bell, Anthea, Asterix, Whats in a Name, cit., p. 5.
Kessler, Peter, op. cit., p. 73.

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

A general example of this, involves a recurring character in most

Asterix volumes, the black pirate from the unfortunate pirate ship
that ends up being inevitably drenched after any encounter with
either Asterix or the Romans. In the original French edition, the
black pirate speaks with the accent of an African French colony.
Most remarkably, the African lookout cannot pronounce the r.
This joke is carried over to many translations, mostly literally: in
the Italian edition, the black pirate pronounces v instead of r.
The first English editions had an adaptation of the accent to the
British context. Nowadays, however, the translators do not think
this to be funny, and they changed the text. Look at an example
from Asterix in Britain:

As we will discuss soon, much of the humour in the book Asterix

in Britain comes from Goscinnys faithful rendition of the
English language, while using French words. Co-author Uderzo
While I like all that we have made, I have a little preference for
Asterix et Les Bretons, for the way that Ren made the British
speak with the structure of the English language transformed
into French. I found it an extraordinary idea. For Ren, who
knew English perfectly, it was like a childs game. 52

It was pointed out that one important level of humour in Asterix

comes from the use of speech-bubbles. What was generally

Quoted in Pauli, Michelle, Asterix and the golden jubilee, in The Guardian,
Thursday 29th October 2009, available at / books /
2009/oct/29/asterix-golden-jubilee (last accessed 7th March 2010).

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

deemed as a necessary evil in comics, as it got in the way of the

artwork, becomes a point of strength in Goscinny and Uderzos
work: in fact, the latter often adds visual work in the speechbubbles so as to make them more expressive, as with the graphic
reproduction of foreign languages. Indeed, although the authors
always use French, to make any characters communication
comprehensible for readers, they nonetheless add graphic
elements to make a particular language appear foreign. In fact,
the speech of some foreign characters is written using different
lettering according to the language spoken. As a result, the Gauls
cannot automatically understand these languages even though
the reader does understand. Here are some examples: 53
Iberians: Sentences start with upside-down exclamation marks
() or question marks (), as in real Spanish;
Goths: Gothic script is used (which constitutes a language
barrier with Gauls);
Vikings: and characters are used for O and A (language
barrier with Gauls);
Native Americans: Pictograms are used (language barrier with
Egyptians: hieroglyphics, accompanied by footnotes, are used
(language barrier with Gauls);
Greeks: words are written as if carved, with no curves and a
minimum of strokes.
Asterix Visits his British Neighbours
Asterix in Britain (Astrix chez les Bretons) is the eighth in the
Asterix comic book series. It was published in serial form in
Pilote magazine, issues 307-334 in 1965, and in album form in
1966. It tells the story of Asterix and Obelixs journey to Romanoccupied Britain. At that time, the Gaulish village was pretty

See Humour in Asterix, cit.


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

quiet and the life of their inhabitants quite dull, because the
Romans were busy trying to conquer Britain, which they actually
managed to do. But, as for Gaul, there was a little village in
Cantium (Kent) still resisting the invaders. A cousin of Asterix
named, in the English version, Anticlimax, being aware of the
prodigies of the magic potion brewed by the druid Getafix,
decides to leave Cantium, his home-village, and go to Gaul to
ask for support in the struggle against the common enemy.
Anticlimaxs request is very well received by Asterix and Obelix,
always in search of a good scuffle with the Romans, who are then
sent to Britain by chief Vitalstatistix, taking a barrel of magic
potion with them.
In this story, most of the humour is based on making fun of
British culture and habits. People from across the Channel are
presented as being very close to the Gauls. In fact, as the
narrator states at the beginning of page two, Britain had often
helped Gaul fight the Romans and The Britons were rather like
the Gauls, many of them being descended from Gaulish tribes
who had settled in Britain. Goscinny and Uderzo fool around
the historical love-hate relationship between France and Britain54
and reproduce all the relatively unflattering stereotypes that
French people share about British culture.


For a comprehensive study on this subject, see Tombs, Robert, Tombs,

Isabelle, That Sweet Enemy: Britain and France, The History of a Love-Hate
Relationship, Vintage, 2008.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

For example, as mentioned above, Britons interrupt the battle

against the Romans at five o clock for their hot-water break
(since tea has not been introduced yet) and seemingly take two
days off at the weekend: as we have seen in the cartoon
reproduced above, this habit initially irritates the Romans, until
Julius Caesar decides to attack the Britons right during their
customary stops, taking them by surprise and provoking a rather
indignant but quite phlegmatic reaction in the Briton chief
Cassivellaunos (see the cartoon above). Another unfavourable
clich about British lifestyle deals with the alleged distastefulness
of their cuisine, repeatedly highlighted by Obelixs comments on
the boiled boar (with mint sauce), or on the drinking of warm
beer and chilled red wine. Such gastronomic practices are
naturally unbearable from the French point of view, especially in
consideration of the fact that the Gauls descendants consider
themselves as the trend-setters of universal gastronomy and
oenology. Of course, it is Obelix who assumes the role of the
critic, since he represents the average French man in his
chauvinistic approach to foreign cultures, while his fellow mate
Asterix is more open-minded. Let us have a look at the dialogue
between them, when they are served with the famous boiled boar
for the first time:
Obelix: This is a bit of a jolly old bore, what! 55.
Asterix: Eat up Obelix, and dont pass remarks. In Britain you
must do as the Britons do.
Obelix: But boiled with mint sauce, Asterix! Poor thing!.

It is also ironic that Anticlimax should be quite sure that the

foreigners are bound to like British gastronomic habits: when
Obelix, before leaving Gaul for Britain, suggests We should have
brought some food with us, Asterixs cousin replies Good
gracious me, old chap, what for? British foods delicious, youre

See infra for a comment on the wordplay created between boar and

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

sure to like it, what!. Indeed, if British cuisine is mocked, so is

the French sense of superiority and through Obelixs character
the French incapability (or unwillingness) to adapt to others
habits (nevertheless, in this adventure even the Romans are
disgusted with warm beer, which obviously again surprises
Speaking about food and drink, in this adventure the Gauls
are made responsible for bringing tea the national beverage
to the British: we already know that at the time Britons drink just
hot water, sometimes with a drop of milk; before leaving their
home village, Asterix is given some strange herbs by Getafix;
when the magic potion that is being carried to the British village
is destroyed by the Romans, Asterix, instead of telling the truth,
decides to pretend that those herbs could be used to brew the
magic potion, hoping that the Britons morale would be boosted
by this. When they return to Gaul, Getafix informs Asterix that
the herbs are called tea. So tea works as a sort of magic potion
for the Britons and the habit of drinking it finally substitutes that
of drinking hot water at five o clock.
In this story, set in 50 B.C. Britain, there are references to
modern sporting traditions, which in fact were all created by
British people: the text says that Anticlimax is from the tribe of
the Oxbridgenses, famed for their skill in rowing, an allusion to
the annual Boat Race held between the universities of Oxford
and Cambridge. An important episode of the story is a rugby
match (although the name of the game is never mentioned)
between the teams of Durovernum (ancient name for
Canterbury) and Camulodunum (now Colchester). We can see
here the British passion for the game, as well as some traditional
corollaries surrounding the match such as the selling of flags with
the teams colours, the entrance of the teams mascots and the
performance of a band of bards before the game. The game itself
is depicted as extremely violent, which provokes Obelixs
enthusiastic commentary: We must take this nice game back to

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Gaul!, clearly referring to the fact that France is now one of the
strongholds for rugby in Europe.
In the original French version of the story, Anticlimax says
that the match is part of a Five Tribes tournament (Une
rencontre comptant pour le Tournoi des Cinq Tribus),
obviously a hint to the Five Nations rugby tournament, held
between England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France from
1910 to 1931 and from 1940 to 199956.
Many other elements of British culture and society are
evoked, most of the time making fun of them: for instance,
Asterix and Anticlimax engage in a dispute in an attempt to
decide on which side of the road it is correct to drive (as people
in Britain drive on the left, whereas in other European countries,
they drive on the right). However, at Julius Caesars time, this
debate would be anachronistic, because in those days both
Britain and Gaul used to drive on the left side of the road57, as
the habit of driving on the right side of the road comes from
Napoleonic times. After this debate, on one of the panels seven
pages later on, we have a double-decker chariot driving on the
right side of the road, as in Continental Europe (obviously an
Uderzos mistake).
At some point, Asterixs cousin speaks about building an
underwater tunnel from Dover to France and says that its a
dream project which he hopes he will achieve some day. This is
an allusion to the modern channel tunnel (which hadnt been
built yet at the time the album was published).
There are also references to the measuring systems peculiar to
the British: the British pre-decimal currency system (in use in

From 2000, after the admittance of Italy, the tournament is known as

Six Nations. Before the inclusion of France, the tournament was played
among the four British Home Nations between 1883 and 1909 and afterward,
between 1932 and 1939.
See Asterix in Britain, available at / wiki /
Asterix_in_Britain (last accessed 7 th March 2010).

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

the UK when the book was published58), the British imperial

measurements (feet, acres, ounces, stones gallons and so on).
Obelixs invariable comment naturally is These Britons are
Crazy!. On these occasions, British poise is repeatedly
caricatured: we have seen for example Cassivellaunos reaction
to the Roman attack, and another humorous illustration of
Britons phlegm can be appreciated in the following dialogue
between Anticlimax and a pub keeper called Surtax:

At the end of the book, when the Romans are beaten in battle,
Anticlimax exclaims Victory, while making the V sign, a clear
reference to Winston Churchill, whose face we can recognise
caricatured in the character of the Britons chief (with a
moustache added).
The building where Obelix and Dipsomaniax are incarcerated
clearly reminds us of the Tower of London. Furthermore, when
our friends are in Londinium (Latin name for the British
capital), they see four bards that can easily be identified as
caricatures of the Beatles, the famous pop band who reached the

Anticlimax explains the currency system to Asterix as being really

awfully simple, old boy we have iron ingots weighing a pound which are
worth three and a half sestertii each, and five new bronze coins which are
worth twelve old bronze coins. Sestertii are each worth twelve bronze coins
and. Awfully simple indeed, for a British of course! Obelixs reaction is
illustrated next.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

top of their popularity in 1966, the publishing year of Asterixs

Other British icons that appear in this adventure are doubledecker buses and pubs, where customers drink warm beer and
play darts; umbrellas (which, according to Anticlimaxs
explanation, are used to avoid that the sky falls on their heads,
which also represents one of the Gauls biggest fear), obviously
related to the unpleasant, ever-changing and mostly humid
climate; the almost manic care of lawn gardens; the residential
neighbourhoods, with identical houses aligned etc.
The satire is mainly at the expense of the English; but also the
Scottish and the Irish are represented, particularly by the
characters of McAnix and Overoptimistix. The most famous
stereotype related to the highlanders is introduced at one point:
when Asterix, Obelix and Anticlimax seemingly buy only one
cup of wine for the three of them (simply to see whether it was
actually wine, and not the magic potion from their barrel, which
was confiscated by the Romans and then stolen by a thief), the
landlord assumes they must be Caledonians (Scots), because of
their alleged parsimony. Goscinny and Uderzo feared that
British readers might feel offended by such a satiric picture of
their country. So, when the book was first translated into
English, they decided to add the following message, in order to
prevent any possible complaint:
As usual, we caricature what we are fond of, and we are fond of
the British, in spite of their strange way of putting Nelson on top
of their columns instead of Napoleon. However, when it comes
to presenting this skit on the British to the British, we feel we
owe them a word or two of explanation. Our little cartoon
stories do not make fun of the real thing, but the ideas of the
real thing that people get into their heads, i.e., clichs. We Gauls
imagine the British talking in a very refined way, drinking tea at
five oclock and warm beer at the peculiar hours of opening
time. The British eat their food boiled, with mint sauce; they are


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

brave, phlegmatic, and always keep a stiff upper lip. Suppose we

were British, caricaturing the Gauls, we would say they all wore
berets, ate frogs and snails and drank red wine for breakfast. We
might add that they all have hopelessly relaxed upper lips, and
that phlegm is not their outstanding characteristic. And most of
all, we should hope that the Gauls would have as good a sense of
humour as the British.59

In fact, the authors testified that, in comparison to the reaction

of other people whose countries were visited by Asterix & co.,
they received no protest from the British as far as the book was
concerned, which in the United Kingdom is by far the most
popular album of the series. Indeed, comics seem generally
immune to the danger of hurting sensibilities, as Anthea Bell
rightly states:
And there are the national stereotypes, with their funny foreign
accents. I suppose the comic-strip cartoon is about the only
genre that can still make harmless use of politically incorrect,
xenophobic attitudes. On the whole, we in these islands share
the French view of such stock figures as the obsessively tidy
Swiss and the proud Spaniard but what about those
phlegmatic characters, our own ancestors, the ancient Britons? 60

Language and Translation in Asterix in Britain

As we said, characterization of Britons is based mainly on the
way they talk. In the presentation of this particular foreign
people, so close to the Gauls, to which we referred above (page 2
of the album), the narrator carried on and stated: They spoke
the same language, but with some peculiar expressions of their
own.... The fact that language peculiarities should be so central
therefore doesnt come as a surprise. Much of the humour in the

Kessler, Peter, op. cit., p. 34.

Bell, Anthea, Asterix, my love, cit.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

original French versions is based on the mistakes British people

usually make when they try to speak French.61 For example,
when Anticlimax talks to his cousin Asterix, he repeatedly uses
the more formal vous, instead of the familiar tu, which should
be appropriate since they are related (and in fact, Asterix uses it
when addressing Anticlimax); this obviously refers to the fact
that English has lost the second-person singular pronoun thou
and only has one word for you, which was originally the
second-person plural pronoun, like vous is in French.
We can also find jokes that reproduce the typical phrases
taught in elementary classes of English. For example, when
Obelix asks if the tweed worn by Anticlimax is expensive, the
Briton replies Mon tailleur est riche, which means My tailor is
rich: this was the very first phrase spoken in the first Anglais sans
Peine vinyl record English course, published by the Assimil
company in the sixties. Another example, is when Asterix
observes that his cousins boat is small, and Anticlimax replies
obscurely Il est plus petit que le jardin de mon oncle... mais il
est plus grand que le casque de mon neveu (Its smaller than
the garden of my uncle, but larger than the helmet of my
nephew), a French adaptation of a phrase from the same highschool English method in France. Similarly, when a Briton,
holding a spear, deters the Romans pursuing the Gauls because
they are ruining his well-groomed lawn, the Decurion furiously
asks the Briton if he is actually so brave as to oppose Rome, he
responds Mon jardin est plus petit que Rome mais mon pilum
est plus solide que votre sternum (My garden is smaller than
Rome, but my pilum is harder than your sternum), another
example taken from the English lessons on comparatives.


See Asterix in Britain, cit.


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

The French book is full of odd-sounding literal translations of

English syntagmas such as I say (Je dis), thats a bit of luck
(a cest un morceau de chance), all that sort of thing (Toute
cette sorte des choses), Goodness gracious! (Bont
gracieuse!), My goodness! (Ma bont!), I beg your pardon
(Je demande votre pardon), lets shake our hands (secouonsnous les mains), jolly good chap (joyeux bon garon), Sure
(Sr), Gentlemen (Gentils hommes ), I am grateful to you
(Je suis reconnaissant vous), How strange! (Combien
trange!), Very good (Trs bon, instead of the correct Trs
bien), Keep a stiff upper lip (Gardez votre lvre suprieure
rigide), hes gone completely nuts (Il est devenu absolument
noix instead of fou), to be out of ones mind with worry (tre
en dehors de ses esprits avec linquietude), Fair play (Franc
jeu), Its great! (Cest grand de vous avoir ici!). Britons
speech in the original French is thus full of anglicisms as for
instance with Plutt (Rather or Indeed), Assez (Quite),
Choquant (Shocking), Revoltant (Appalling), Ennuyeux
(Annoying) and we also note this kind of wordplay in the
typical home inscription Foyer doux foyer, which is a literal
translation of Home sweet home.
Sometimes, Goscinny purposely plays with the different
meanings of a word, as we have already seen with nut>noix,
often playing with and mis-applying the strategies identified by
Malone (1988) as divergence and/or convergence: first, he
looks at the English translation of the word he is going to use in
French; then, he reverses the process and chooses, from the

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

possible translations of that English word in French, one that

does not have a direct semantic relation with the original French
word, thus creating a comic effect.62 Other examples of this can
be rotie for toast, and joyeux for jolly.
In addition, the speech patterns of the British characters are
changed to resemble English grammar. For instance, dismissing
yet another translation strategy (Malones re-ordering), potion
magique becomes magique potion (magic potion), thereby
signalling the fact that in English, adjectives are posited before
the noun, rather than after, as in French. Other examples are the
use of the English tag-question structure in the French speech
uttered by Britons, as in Il est, nest-il pas? (It is, isnt it?), or
the repetition of the main verb of the question in the following
answer, as in Puis-je avoir de la marmelade pour les roties?,
Sr, vous pouvez (Can I have some marmalade for the toasts?,
Of course you can), or else the sporadic use of the Saxon
genitive, as in Anticlimaxs assertion Allons essayer de rcuprer
la magique potions tonneau.
We finally reached the main issue of this work: how did the
English translator reproduce the linguistic characterisation of
Britons in their target language? How do Britons speak in the
English version, in a way that could possibly maintain a similar
comic effect to that of the original version? How could a comic
characterization of English be rendered, in English? As usual, we
can make use of Anthea Bells answer to this question:
The French version of a British accent is extremely difficult to
translate into English, and has been done with a dated upperclass-twit style of English in Asterix in Britain and elsewhere.63


See Rivire, Stphane, Astrix chez les Bretons: dossier. My tailor is rich:
langlais selon Goscinny available at / asterix /
bretons/anglais.html (last accessed 29 th April 2010).
Bell, Anthea, Asterix, Whats in a Name, cit., p. 5.

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

In Astrix chez les Bretons, they speak French with a truly

dreadful English accent. This was a huge problem in translation.
We visited the genial Ren Goscinny, whose own English was
excellent, to discuss the proposed solution: a stilted English
style, the language of the upper-class twit as encountered in the
pages of P. G. Wodehouse. I say, jolly good, eh, what? What
ho, old bean! Hullo, old fruit. [] Since Goscinnys death, all
translations published are still rigorously scrutinised at the
French end of the operation, and the freedoms we translators
take must be approved. Luckily it is appreciated that, in this
case, it is far more important to observe the spirit than the letter
of the originals.64

In fact, the language of the Britons in the English version is full

of I say, old chap, old boy, jolly good, what ho!, Old fruit
and all this kind of dated style of vocabulary, which linguistically
defines the Briton characters, thus replacing the untranslatable
anglicisms of the French source text. In fact, the stereotypes
recreated by Goscinny and Uderzo undoubtedly refer more to
the traditional and conservative British people one can find in
P.G. Wodehouses novels, than to the swinging London of the
sixties, which in actual fact works as the extra-textual context
from which the album stems. So, the linguistic characterisation
chosen by Bell and Hockridge perfectly suits the original spirit of
the story.
However, when in 1995 Robert Steven Caron worked on his
translation of Asterix in Britain for American readers, he had to
face a different set of problems. Indeed, he had to render the
story in a different variety of the same language. So, he generally
characterises the Britons just by making them speak in modern
British English, which is obviously felt as linguistically different
by American readers. In a way, his task is therefore easier in
comparison to that of his British counterparts, because British


Bell, Anthea, Asterix, my love, cit.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

English is indeed a foreign accent, almost as it is for French

readers. In this sense, to American readers, what the narrator
says about the British when he compares them to the Gauls
looks very appropriate, in that They spoke the same language
[...] but had a peculiar way of expressing themselves. However,
in some circumstances, Robert Steven Caron exploits some
forms of the dated vocabulary inserted by his British
predecessors, like what! or old chap. Probably, he chooses to
do so when modern British expressions are not sufficient to mark
the Briton characters from a linguistic point of view.
The Italian publication of this story dates back to 1969. The
translator was Carlo Manzoni, who limited his contribution to
Asterixs success in Italy to this album.65 Carlo Manzoni was a
writer, a journalist, a painter and a humorist; he wrote novels,
short stories, plays and satiric cartoons. Not a professional
translator, he was nonetheless without doubt a person with a
great sensibility for humour and puns. The linguistic distance
between Italian and English is very similar to that between
French and English. Therefore, the Italian version can reproduce
a linguistic characterisation of the Britons which is similar to the
original one. Carlo Manzonis experience as a humorist leads
him to add some characterising traits, not to rival with
Goscinnys wit but rather to compensate some of the losses
which necessarily marked his translation and generally to serve
the original spirit of the story.
We will now see some examples of linguistic characterisation
in the French original, followed by their translation in British
English, American English and Italian. The marking traits will
be underlined. A short comment will be added, when needed.

Actually, this story which represents the very first Italian publication of
Asterix comics previously appeared, at the hands of a different translator, in
the 1967 Asterlinus supplement to Linus Magazine. This anonymous
translation is very faithful to the original French, but lacks the creativity that
characterises Manzonis version, which we shall discuss shortly.

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

Scene First appearance of Briton characters in the story. Two Briton soldiers watch,
from Dovers cliff, the Roman Fleet approaching the islands coast.
Narrator: Les Bretons ressemblaient aux Gaulois et beaucoup dentre
eux taient les descendants des tribus venues des Gaule pour sinstaller en
Bretagne. Ils parlaient la mme langue que les Gaulois, mais avaient une
faon un peu spciale de sexprimer.
Briton 1: Bont gracieuse! Ce spectacle est surprenant!. Briton 2: Il est,
nest-il pas?....
Narrator: The Britons were rather like the Gauls, many of them being
descended from Gaulish tribes who had settled in Britain. They spoke the
same language, but with some peculiar expression of their own....
Briton 1: Goodness gracious! This is a jolly rum thing. Eh, what?. Briton
2: I say, rather, old fruit!.
USA Narrator: The Britons resembled the Gauls. In fact, many of them were
the descendants of Gaulish tribes that had settled in Britain. They spoke
the same language as the Gauls, but had a peculiar way of expressing
Briton 1: Goodness gracious! This spectacle is ever so astonishing!.
Briton 2: It is indeed.
ITA Narrator: I Britanni somigliavano molto ai Galli perch molti di essi
erano oriundi. Trib galle si erano trasferite in Britannia poi non se ne
erano pi andate. Parlavano la stessa lingua dei Galli ma avevano un
modo un po particolare desprimersi....
Briton 1: Del cielo numi! Questo spettacolo sorprendente!. Briton 2:
Lo , esso nevvero?.

The marking traits in the original French correspond to the

anglicism used by the first soldier and the tag question in his
comrades reply. British translators, as noted above, replace this
with the upper-class-twit style, while their American colleague
prefers a formal register which is typically British. The Italian
translator Carlo Manzoni works on the exclamation of the first
character, making it sound old style and English-like, thanks to
the inversion of the syntagmatic order (Numi del cielo would
be the unmarked one). Then, he uses the effect of the tag
question structure, just like in the French original, making it
even more caricatured by introducing the nevvero adverb,
which emphasises the formal and obsequious tone of the Britons


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

speech. A printing mistake however turned the correct galliche

into galle.
Scene Britons and Romans are engaging in battle. At five o clock the Britons stop the
fight for the teatime break.
Aoh! Je pense quil va tre lheure, nest-il pas?. Je demande votre
pardon. Nous continuerons plus tard.
I say, old chap. I think its getting on for time. Awfully sorry! Well be
back later.
USA Oh dear! I believe its almost that time again, is it not?. I beg your
pardon. We shall resume shortly.
ITA Eouh! Io penso che sia venuta lora, che non sia?. Chiedo venia.
Continueremo pi tardi!.

It is interesting to observe that the American version, just like the

French, can use the tag question structure and a stereotyped
expression like I beg your pardon as a foreign trait. Robert
Steven Caron also substitutes the initial interjection with a
British expression like Oh dear! and marks the final sentence
using a typical British register in We shall resume shortly.
The Italian translator follows Goscinny in using a marking
interjection and the tag question structure. This time, contrary
to other examples of the same anglicism that occur further on in
the text, Carlo Manzoni does not translate I beg your pardon
literally as in the French source text but opts for the very
formal and old-style Chiedo venia.
Scene Teatime break. Tea is served to the Briton soldiers by Briton women.
Briton man 1: Je prendrai un nuage de lait, je vous prie. Briton woman
1: Sil vous plait, faites!. Briton man 2: Puis-je avoir de la marmelade
pour les roties?. Briton woman 2: Sr, vous pouvez!.
Briton man 1: Just a spot of milk, please!. Briton woman 1: Righty-ho
luv. Briton man 2: Please may I have some marmalade?. Briton woman
2: Marmalades off!.
USA Briton man 1: Ill take a drop of milk, please. Briton woman 1: In a jiff,
duckie!. Briton man 2: May I have some jelly for the toast?. Briton
woman 2: Jelly? Jolly!.
ITA Briton man 1: Io gradirei un velo di latte, per favore. Briton woman 1:
Prego, fate pure!. Briton man 2: Potrei io avere della marmellata sui
crostini?. Briton woman 2: Sicuro, voi potete!.


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

The French original characterises the womens answers by using

odd-sounding literal translations of English expressions such as
Please, do and Sure, you can.66 The English translation
(Righty-ho luv and Marmalades off) changes the register
considerably, making the formal English spoken by the Britons
in the source text, much more informal; but only the waitresses
and later the thief use this casual level of English. In the second
short dialogue, the English version not only loses the syntactical
structure that characterises the speakers in both the original
French and the Italian version, but decides to reverse the sense
of the answer. The American translator chooses for the first
answer the old colloquial expression In a jiff, duckie. The
register, once again, is old British slang. Furthermore, he prefers
jelly to marmalade in order to create the wordplay Jelly?
Jolly!. Carlo Manzoni renounces a proper linguistic
characterisation of the first womans answer, while for the
second, he reproduces the syntactical structure of both English
question and answer (Can I have...? Of course you can).
Scene The panel shows the reaction Cassivellaunos has when the Romans decide to
attack during the Britons breaks.67
Cassivellaunos: Aoh! Choquant. Ce ne sont pas des gentils hommes.
Cassivellaunos: Oh, I say, the cads!.
USA Battleax: Oh! How shocking! What cads!.
ITA Cassivellaunos: Eouh! Scioccante! Essi non sono affatto dei gentili

Robert Steven Caron uses shocking because, just as for French

and Italian readers, this word (just like its French and Italian
equivalents) represents a British trait. Carlo Manzoni expresses
the subject Essi as a defining trait of the English language
which, contrary to Italian, does not admit the implied subject.
Then, he chooses the syntagma gentili uomini, which
reproduces the English syntactical order, instead of opting for

As far as the use of the word roties is concerned, see supra.

This panel has been reproduced above.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

the customary adjective gentiluomini. Thus, on this occasion,

the Italian translator adds two characterising traits.
Scene The chief of the Briton village asks Anticlimax to go and visit Asterix in order
to ask him for help against the Romans.
Zebigbos:68 Jolitorax! Va en Gaule voir ton cousin et rapporte-nous de la
potion magique. Cest notre dernier espoir. Jolitorax: Aoh, cela me
permettra de revoir mon cher cousin Astrix: je ne lai pas vu depuis
longtemps, quoi?.
Mykingdomforanos: Anticlimax, youd better go to Gaul to see your
cousin and bring back some of this magic potion!. Anticlimax: Oh, I say,
jolly good show! This is my chance to see my dear cousin Asterix again.
Havent seen him for ages, what!.
USA Unionjax: Brasstax! Go and see your cousin in Gaul, and bring us back
some of that magic potion. Its our only hope. Brasstax: Oh! That will
give me the chance to visit my dear cousin Asterix whom I havent seen in
ages, eh, what?.
ITA Zebigbos: Beltorax! Va in Gallia a vedere tuo cugino e portaci quello
magico pozione. Esso la nostra ultima speranza. Beltorax: Eouh! Ci
mi permetter di rivedere il mio caro cugino Asterix. Non lo vedo da
quando avevo i calzoni corti; non lo vedo?.

In this instance, Bell and Hockridge add the typical exclamation

jolly good show to mark even more Anticlimaxs speech. The
American version follows the British one in the use of the what
trait and adds a British nuance by using the relative pronoun
whom. The Italian translator once again emphasises the
linguistic characterisation of the Briton characters: the syntagma
quello magico pozione not only repeats the inversion of the
order noun-adjective (which this time is absent in the French
source text), but adds a trait by using the wrong gender of the


The names of the two characters that star in this panel are different in
the four versions analysed here: the chief of the Britons village is Zebigbos in
the French source text and in the Italian target text, Mykingdomforanos in the
British version and Unionjax in the American version. Asterixs cousin is
Jolitorax in the French original, Anticlimax in the British version, Brasstax in
the American version and Beltorax in the Italian version. We will comment on
the translators choices of these names later on.

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

words, thus stressing the absence of the morphological

expression of this category in English, thereby alluding to one of
the common mistakes that British people make when speaking in
Italian. Furthermore, Carlo Manzoni uses the old-style subject
Esso (which again is wrong in gender, as it refers to the
feminine noun speranza), to hint at the English obligation to
utter the subject. When translating Beltoraxs response, he
chooses a figurative expression such as da quando avevo i
calzoni corti, instead of the plain Je ne lai pas vu depuis
longtemps; the correct question tag to the assertion Non lo
vedo da quando avevo i calzoni corti should be affirmative (lo
vedo?) rather than negative.

Asterixs cousin takes leave of the chief of the village.

Zebigbos: Bonne chance et toute cette sorte de choses
Mykingdomforanos: Jolly good luck, old boy, and all that sort of thing....
Unionjax: Good luck, and all that sort of thing, old chap....
Zebigbos: Buona fortuna e tutta questa specie di cose!.

The literal translation of and all that sort of things works as a

characterising trait in both French and Italian versions. On the
contrary, English editions must replace it with old-style
Scene The Briton arrives at Asterixs house and asks for him.
Jolitorax: Je dis messieurs : pourriez-vous mindiquer la rsidence de Mer
Anticlimax: I say, gentlemen, could you tell me where Mr. Asterix lives,
USA Brasstax: I say, my good men. Could you tell me where Mr. Asterix
ITA Beltorax: Dico, signori: potreste voi indicarmi la casa di Mr. Asterix?.

This is a standard situation in which we can observe the most

common strategies adopted in the four versions of the story: Bell
and Hockridge compensate the loss of the comic effect implicit
in the literal translation of the intended anglicism Je dis, by
adding the what trait. The American translator renounces this


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

feature and tries to add a British nuance by using the vocative

my good men. Carlo Manzonis Dico works exactly like the
original French Je dis; moreover, he can use the inversion of
verb and subject in the following question which is unmarked
in the other languages as a characterising literal translation of
the English structure.
Scene Anticlimax has just shaken hands with Obelix (see infra)


Anticlimax: What strength! I suppose you get it from the magic potion,
what?. Anticlimax: Actually, cousin Asterix, your magic potion is just
what we need to help us fight the Romans, what!. Obelix: What do you
keep on saying what for?. Anticlimax: I say, sir, dont you know whats
what, what?.
USA Brasstax: What strength! Do you get it from the magic potion?. Brasstax:


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)


Precisely, cousin Asterix, we need some of that magic potion to fight the
Roman armies. Obelix: How come you talk so funny?. Brasstax: I beg
your pardon?.
Beltorax: Che forza! Vi viene essa forse dallo magico pozione?. Beltorax:
A proposito, Asterix cugino, abbiamo bisogno dello magico pozione per
combattere le romane armate. Obelix: Ma si pu sapere perch avete
parlato a rovescio?. Beltorax: Io domando il vostro perdono?.

Bell and Hockridge characterise the Britons language by

repeatedly inserting what at the end of a sentence, thus
substituting the inversion of the French syntactical order nounadjective (highlighted in the panels above). Thus, when in the
source text Obelix asks Asterixs cousin Why do you talk in the
opposite way?, English translators opt for What do you keep on
saying what for?. The Britons answer in the source text is the
French literal translation of I beg your pardon?, which in this
context has a comic effect, as it is obviously replaced in the
English version with the more adequate and very funny I say,
Sir, dont you know whats what, what?.
As far as the American translation is concerned, it seems that,
actually, Brasstaxs utterances prior to Obelixs question are not
that funny, so his curiosity appears to be slightly out of context.
Of course, Robert Steven Caron does not use the what trait to
depict the Britons language, so Obelixs question and Brasstaxs
answer follow the French source text, the latter being typically
British for an American reader.
Carlo Manzoni, as usual, also adds the trait of the incorrect
gender in the adjectival syntagma dello magico, which is
masculine, even though it refers to the feminine noun pozione.
Then, he inserts another inversion of the syntactic order nounadjective, in Asterix cugino, to go with the analogue magico
pozione and romane armate, thus giving emphasis to this trait.
In the following dialogue between Obelix and Beltorax, the
Italian version can effectively follow the original French.
Scene After talking with the chief of the Gaul village, Asterix invites his cousin back to
his place. Obelix is with them.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies





Astrix: En attendant viens chez moi, Jolitorax. Jolitorax: Je serai ravi,

jen suis sr, daller dans la vtre maison!. Oblix: Vous avez vu mon
chien petit?.
Asterix: Come and see round my house and garden while were waiting,
Anticlimax. Anticlimax: A garden is a lovesome thing, god wot!. Obelix:
Whats wot, what?.
Asterix: In the meantime, do you want to see where I live, Brasstax?.
Brasstax: I should be delighted. Theres no place like home sweet
home!. Obelix: Want to see my little dog?.
Asterix: Intanto vieni con me, Beltorax. Beltorax: Sar incantato, ne
sono certo, di venire nella casa, la vostra!. Obelix: Voi avete visto il mio
cane piccolo?.

In the French source text, we have the pronoun form la vtre

instead of the correct adjective votre, which represents a
common mistake made by foreigners speaking French. Obelix
seems to get confused by Jolitoraxs way of speaking and inverts
the correct sequence mon petit chien.
English translators add jokes and other cultural references to
maintain the original spirit and compensate some translation
losses: for example, having renounced reproducing the pronoun
vs. adjective trait, they make Anticlimax say A Garden is a
lovesome thing, god wot!, quoting the first line of a famous 19th
century poem by Thomas Edward Brown called My Garden; to
make this utterance coherent, they also introduce the reference
to the garden in Asterixs invitation. In the English version, the
subsequent question posed by Obelix refers to Anticlimaxs line,
rather than to the dog, and it is a reprise of the what issue
between Obelix and Anticlimax, which opened a few strips above
and which becomes a characterising trait in Bell and Hockridges
version. Maybe, the T.E. Browns verse was purposely chosen to
replace the linguistic mistake of the French original, in that the
archaic verbal form wot namely the third person singular of
the present tense of wit allowed the wordplay with the much
repeated what.
The American version of Brasstaxs utterance is clearly
characterised by a typical English style of language. Obelixs turn

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

is faithful to the original French, since there is no other linguistic

connotation to emphasise.
The Italian version follows the source text, emphasising an
irregularity in the possessive construction, as the pronoun is
postponed to the name to which it refers. Maybe, it would have
be more effective to create a literal translation of the English
structure in this house of yours, something like in questa casa
delle vostre. The translation of Obelixs marked question also
follows the original French.
Scene The Druid gives Anticlimax a barrel of magic potion to take to Britain.
Asterixs cousin shows his gratefulness.
Jolitorax: Je suis trs reconnaissant vous, druide Panoramix.
Anticlimax: I say, Im most frightfully grateful, o druid Getafix.
USA Brasstax: Im terribly grateful to you, druid Magigimmix.
ITA Beltorax: Io vi sono molto riconoscente, druido Panoramix.

In the French source text, Jolitorax makes another typical

mistake for a foreigner, as the correct form should be Je vous
suis trs reconnaissant. Obviously, English translators replace
the incorrect form of the original with the usual old-style
language. The American version is in line with the general
characterisation of the Britons. In the Italian translation, no
particular linguistic trait can be found.
Scene The three travellers walk toward the Gaulish coast, when Obelix remembers
about food.
Oblix: Nous aurions du emporter quelques vivres. Jolitorax: Bont
gracieuse! Pourquoi faire? En Bretagne, la nourriture est dlicieuse. Elle
vous plaira jen suis sr. Quoi?.
Obelix: We should have brought some food with us. Anticlimax: Good
gracious me, old chap, what for? British foods delicious. Youre sure to
like it, what!.
USA Obelix: We should have taken along some food. Brasstax: Goodness
gracious! What for? The food in Britain is divine. Im quite sure youll
adore it.
ITA Obelix: Avremmo dovuto portarci da mangiare. Beltorax: Del cielo,
numi! Per che farne? In Britannia il cibo delizioso. Vi piacer ne son
sicuro! Ecch?.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Another example of the translators strategies observed so far:

the anglicism Bont gracieuse! is adapted in the different
renditions. The tag question structure is applied as a marking
trait in both French and Italian versions. American translator
makes use of a British style of language using expressions as
divine and Im quite sure.
Scene The three travellers reach the coast where Anticlimax has left his little rowing
Jolitorax: Ah! Voici mon bateau. Astrix Il nest pas gros!.
Anticlimax: Theres my little jolly-boat. Asterix: Its a jolly little boat!.
USA Brasstax: Ah! Heres my little rowboat. Asterix: What a dinky little
ITA Beltorax: Ecco la mia barca!. Asterix: Non poi tanto grossa!.

The British target text adds a wordplay referring to the little

jolly-boat meaning a small sailing boat which Asterix thinks
is a jolly little boat meaning an extremely small boat using
jolly (a very frequent word in the old-style English spoken by
the Britons) as an adverb.
Scene Asterix, Obelix and Anticlimax had to hide in the pubs cellar, while they were
eating, because of the Romans break-in, which led to the confiscation of all the
barrels. As they resurface, Anticlimax exchange a typical British comment on
the event.


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

Dipsomaniax69: Poor show, what!. Anticlimax: Rather trying.

Dipsomaniax: Bit of a bore!. Anticlimax: I say it is, a bit!.
USA Relax: Rather disturbing, what?. Brasstax: Rather. Relax: Quite.
Brasstax: I should say so.
ITA Relax: Questa una bella scocciatura!. Beltorax: Effettivamente lo !.
Relax: Vero!. Beltorax: Scocciaturissima, direi!.

In this quick and haughty exchange between the two Britons, the
Italian translator makes some changes: in the first utterance, he
chooses the rather colloquial scocciatura for ennuyeux
(annoying), when a more severe word like seccatura could
have been more appropriate to the Britons tone; then, he
replaces the quite sober Assez with a calqued expression from
the English form in fact it is; Plutt, so far duly translated
with Piuttosto, is replaced with Vero; the typical Je dis,
generally rendered as Dico, is put in the conditional mode
(direi) and accompanied by the irregular superlative form of the
noun chosen for the first utterance. Moreover, the exclamation
mark is always used, while in the original French it only
appeared in the first sentence: a punctuation which is not
perfectly adequate to the phlegmatic (and very British) tone of
this dialogue.
Scene At dawn, our heroes try and get back the barrel of potion, confiscated by the
Romans with all the others barrels of wine.
Jolitorax: Allons essayer de rcuprer la magique potions tonneau. Relax
nous prte sa charrette. Cest un joyeux bon garon.
Anticlimax : Now try and get back the barrel of potion, what!
Dipsomaniax will lend us his cart. Hes a jolly good chap, dont you
USA Brasstax: Lets try and find the cask of magic potion. Relax has lent us
his cart. Hes such a good chap, eh, what?.
ITA Beltorax: Cerchiamo di recuperare la magico poziones botte. Relax ci
presta il suo carro. Egli un gran caro ragazzo.


The name of the Briton publican is changed in the British version. In the
other three editions we take in exam it is Relax.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Both British and American versions do not reproduce the Saxon

genitive, which obviously can be a characterising trait only in a
non-English target text. The Italian translation repeats the
insertion of the Saxon genitive in a foreign language and adds
again the lack of concordance in gender between noun and
adjective. Furthermore, Carlo Manzoni uses the explicit
rendition of the subject Egli as a characterising trait.
Scene Our heroes arrive to the Governors palace in Londinium.
Astrix: Attends-nous l, Jolitorax. Si nous ne sortons pas, tu iras
chercher du renfort. Jolitorax: Trs bon.
Asterix: You wait here for us, Anticlimax. If we dont come out, go and
get reinforcements. Anticlimax: Right ho!.
USA Asterix: Wait for us here, Brasstax. If we dont come out, send for
reinforcements. Brasstax: Very well.
ITA Asterix: Aspettaci qui, Beltorax. Se non ci vedi uscire, vai a cercare
rinforzi. Beltorax: Molto buono!.

The French source text attributes to the Briton character the

literal translation of the English form very good, instead of the
correct Trs bien. The Italian translator follows the same path,
putting Molto buono in the mouth of Asterixs cousin, instead
of the usual collocation Molto bene. This cannot be rendered
in English, but while the British version connotes the sentence by
using the customary upper class register expressed by Right
ho!, the American version just looses any kind of linguistic
depiction and plainly translates Very well.
Scene Asterix and his cousin leave the cart to go and help Obelix, who is drunk and is
fighting with some Roman soldiers. A thief takes advantage of the situation. We
can read his thoughts:
Une abandonne charrette! Quel morceaux de chance pour un voleur de
An unattended cart! What a bit of luck for an unattended cart thief!.
USA An untended cart! What a bit of luck for a cart thief! Now I can make a
ITA Uno abbandonato carretta! Quale pezzo di fortuna per uno ladro di


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

In this example, the characterising trait represented by the

inversion of the syntactic order noun-adjective is not substituted
in the two English versions, where the syntagma an unattended
cart reproduces the unmarked structure for English readers.
The same occurs with the literal translation of the calqued
expression Quel morceaux de chance, with the inevitable loss of
the marking trait. On the contrary, Carlo Manzoni not only
reproduces the characterising features of the French source text,
but again adds the lack of concordance in gender between the
adjectival syntagma and the noun; furthermore, he uses an
inappropriate indefinite article, uno ladro instead of un ladro.
Robert Steven Caron creates a wordplay out of the different
meanings of the noun barrel: the thief is obviously stealing a
cart full of barrels, but the word, in an informal register, also
means a large quantity (thus, he is making a barrel of barrels)
or an act or instance of moving rapidly (as he has to act quickly
to sneak the cart).
Scene Asterix and his cousin discover that Relax/Dipsomaniaxs pub has been burnt
down by the Romans.
Astrix: Oh! Lauberge de Relax!!. Jolitorax: Ma bont!!!.
Asterix: Hey! Look at Dipsomaniaxs place!. Anticlimax: Oh, I say, my
USA Asterix: Look! That was Relaxs pub!!!. Brasstax: My goodness!.
ITA Asterix: Ma quello lalbergo di Relax!. Beltorax: My goodness!.

Both English and American versions My goodness! simply

translate the intended anglicism of the French original without
substituting its comic effect. The Italian translators choice of
putting it directly in English My goodness! is a novelty.
Scene Asterix and his cousin are informed that the Romans have taken Obelix while
he was sleeping.
Astrix: Mon Oblix prisonnier des Romains!. Jolitorax: Courage
Astrix! Gardez votre lvre suprieure rigide!.
Asterix: Poor old Obelix, taken prisoner by the Romans!. Anticlimax: I
say, cheer up, Asterix, old boy! Keep a stiff upper lip, what!.
USA Asterix: My Obelix, a Roman prisoner!. Brasstax: Dont despair,


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies


Asterix! Keep a stiff upper lip!.

Asterix: Obelix prigioniero dei Romani!. Beltorax: Coraggio Asterix
Self-control, vi prego!.

Both English and American versions Keep a stiff upper lip

simply translate the intended anglicism of the French source
text, thus losing the marking effect. The Italian translator again
chooses to replace the original calqued expression with an
English form Self-control, vi prego even if this one is
normally used by Italian speakers.
Scene Obelix is in prison, together with another Briton convict.
Oblix: Cest vrai, jai la bouche pteuse et je me sens un peu faible.
Sortons. Briton prisoner: Pauvre garon... Il est devenu absolument
Obelix: Ive got a mouth like sandpaper, and I feel quite weak. Lets get
out of here. Briton prisoner: Poor fellow Hes gone completely
USA Obelix: Im feeling faint and my mouths like sandpaper. Lets get out of
here. Briton prisoner: Poor chap Hes gone completely nuts!.
ITA Obelix: Ho la bocca impastata e mi sento un po debole. Briton prisoner:
Povero ragazzo! diventato completamente scemo!.

Rather than using the expression to which the original French

refers to by using this anglicism (he has gone completely nuts),
the English translators prefers to replace nuts with the adjective
bonkers, which is, if not slang, at least extremely informal. On
the contrary, Robert Steven Caron simply translates the calqued
expression. In this instance, the Italian translator renounces any
kind of wordplay and renders the expression as diventato
completamente scemo!.
Scene Relax/Dipsomaniax takes our three heroes to another publican in order to find
the stolen barrel of the magic potion.
Relax: Je vous conduis chez un de mes cousins aubergiste comme moi. Il
sappelle Surtax. Peut-tre pourra-t-il nous aider. Jolitorax: Joyeuse
bonne ide.
Dipsomaniax: Im taking you to see a cousin of mine. He keeps a pub
too. His names Surtax. He may be able to help us. Anticlimax: Jolly
good wheeze, what!.


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)


Relax: Im taking you to see my cousin Surtax. He runs a pub like me.
Perhaps he can help us. Brasstax: Jolly good idea.
Relax: Vi porto da un mio cugino che fa loste come me. Si chiama
Supertax. Forse ci potr aiutare. Beltorax: Felice buona idea: non

Even if on many occasions the odd-sounding literal translations

of English syntagmas such as Ma bont or Toute cette sorte
des choses are maintained in the English version (My goodness
or All this sort of things) thereby losing their comic effect
sometimes Bell and Hockridge substitute them and add an
upper-class trait to their English rendition. That is the case with
this example, where the plain translation Jolly good idea is put
aside and replaced with the use of the more refined Jolly good
wheeze, followed by the inevitable what! (wheeze is a
Briticism meaning a clever or amusing scheme or trick, or an
elaborate and systematic plan of action). In the American
version, Robert Steven Caron plainly translates Jolly good idea.
Carlo Manzoni not only follows the original French reproducing
an anglicism, but he also adds a tag question to make it even
more English-like: Felice buona idea; non buona?.
Scene Surtax receives his Briton cousin, our Gaulish heroes and their Briton friend in
his pub.
Relax, mon cousin! Je suis follement heureux de vous voir. Jai appris
votre arrestation par les Romains. Jtais en dehors de mes esprits avec
I say, cousin Dipsomaniax, Im fearfully pleased to see you! I heard about
the Romans arresting you. It gave me quite a turn.
USA Well, if it isnt cousin Relax. Im frightfully happy to see you. I heard the
Romans had arrested you. I was rather upset, old chap.
ITA Mio caro cugino Relax! Sono follemente felice di vederti. Ho saputo del
tuo arresto ed ero fuori dei miei sentimenti dalla preoccupazione.

The modified adjective follement heureux is another ironic

reproduction of an English expression (madly happy), which is
rendered in the English version with the quite pompous fearfully
pleased. The intended anglicism of the original expression


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Jtais en dehors de mes esprits avec linquietude (I was out of

my mind with worry) is replaced with the more refined, albeit
idiomatic, It gave me quite a turn.
Carlo Manzoni follows the source text but uses the second
person singular instead of the plural which characterises the
addressing form of the Briton characters.
Scene Surtax says that he had the thief followed and that he knows his address.
Asterixs cousin answers:
Jolitorax: Bon garon!.
Anticlimax: Stout feller!.
USA Brasstax: Nice going, old chap!.
ITA Beltorax: Sei un ragazzo in gamba.

Another example of the English translators strategy of not

plainly reproducing the expression referred to by the original
anglicism (Good boy), instead substituting it with an upperclass form. Again, the American translator makes use of an oldstyle briticism. No linguistic characterisation in the Italian
The British edition chooses to introduce an additional factor
of linguistic representation in relation to the characters of
McAnix and OVeroptimistix70. As mentioned above, the first is
Scottish while the second is Irish. As a consequence, Anthea Bell
and Derek Hockridge characterise their language by inserting
elements from their respective dialects, especially the Scottish
dialect. Quite obviously, both Robert Steven Caron and Carlo
Manzoni cannot be concerned about such a linguistic
connotation, that can be significant only within a British context.
As a consequence, the lines uttered by these two characters, are
generally translated by applying the same strategy chosen for the
rendition of the Britons language as a whole. Let us focus on

The names of this two characters change in the other editions: they are
originally Mac Anoterapix and OTorinolaringologix and become Mac
Alomaniax and OTorhinolaryngologix in the American version, Mac
Anoterapix (as in French) and OTorinolaringoiatrix in the Italian one.

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

some specific examples of the (rare) appearances of these

characters and their intra-national geographical dialects.
Scene The two characters meet Asterixs cousin outside the house of the village chief,
where they have been summoned.
Mac Anoterapix: OTorinolaringologix et moi mme avons t
convoqus par le chef, Jolitorax. Jolitorax: Oui, Mac Anoterapix, la
situation est assez srieuse, plutt.
McAnix: Och aye, Anticlimax! OVeroptimistix and myself were bidden
here by yon laird. Anticlimax: I say, McAnix, were in a bit of a fix, old
USA Mac Alomaniax: Both OTorhinolaryngologix and I have been
summoned by the chief, Brasstax. Brasstax: Yes, Mac Alomaniax, were
really in a stew, what.
ITA Mac Anoterapix: OTorinolaringoiatrix ed io siamo stati dal capo,
Beltorax. Beltorax: S, Mac Anoterapix, la situazione piuttosto seria.
Preoccupante, direi.

Och aye is the Scottish equivalent to Oh yes. Similarly, yon

laird is Scottish for that lord. As for the remaining trait
plutt, replaced by Bell and Hockridge with the typical old
boy the American translator decides to characterise the entire
utterance by choosing an old-fashioned style of language. The
Italian translation of this dialogue is quite neutral; as a matter of
fact, the first line seems to be misunderstood by the translator, as
he writes we have visited the chief, when in fact they havent
got to his house yet.
Scene The Britons are gathered inside the house of the chief who, while speaking, offers
his guests some tea.
Mac Anoterapix: Merci. Pas de sucre. Du lait. Un nuage.
McAnix: Nae sugar, mon. Just a wee drappie o milk.
USA Mac Alomaniax: Thanks. A spot of milk, please, no sugar.
ITA Grazie. Niente zucchero. Latte: un velo.

We therefore find here more Scottish traits in the words uttered

by McAnix: nae, for not; mon, for man; a wee, for a
little, and drappie o for drop of.
Scene We are again at the chiefs house, where the Britons, who know that the barrel
of the magic potion is lost, are getting ready to face the Romans with Asterix


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

and Obelixs help.

Zebigbos: Vous avez donc perdu la magique potion?... Alors, nous
sommes perdus. Apprenant la nouvelle, les romaines legions vont nous
envahir. Mac Anoterapix: Nous mourrons les armes la main, je dis!.
OTorinolaringologix: Joyeuse bonne ide!.
Mykingdomforanos: Youve lost the magic potion? Then were done for!
When the Romans hear about it theyll attack, what!. McAnix: Dinna
fash, well die wioor boots on!. OVeroptimistix: Sure and begorrah we
USA Unionjax: So you lost the magic potion?... Now were in for it. When
they find out, the Roman legions are going to attack!. Mac Alomaniax: I
say, we have nothing to fear but fear itself!. OTorhinolaryngologix: Give
me liberty or give me death!.
ITA Zebigbos: Se non avete con voi lo magico pozione, siamo perduti.
Apprendendo la notizia, le romane legioni ci invaderanno. Mac Anoterapix:
Moriremo con le armi alla mano, dico!. OTorinolaringoiatrix: Gioiosa
buona idea!.

In the British edition, we find Dinna fash (which is a Scottish

expression meaning Do not worry), and the idiomatic phrase to
die with ones boots on (which means to die from violent as
opposed to natural causes, indicated by the expression to die in
bed) which orthographically reproduces Scottish pronunciation.
OVeroptimistix is Irish, thus he says begorrah, which is an
emphatic exclamation (sometimes spelt as begorra), used as a mild
oath and regarded as typical of Irishmen.
The American translator, who clearly has Bell and Hockridges
version as a reference, feels the need to add a particular connotation
to both Scottish and Irish characters. Mac Alomaniaxs statement
quotes a famous phrase uttered in 1933 by American President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his first inaugural address to the
American people. OTorhinolaryngologixs exclamation is a famous
quotation attributed to Patrick Henry, Governor of Virginia, from a
speech he made to the Virginia Convention on March 23rd, 1775.
The Italian version translates the original French, with all its
elements of linguistic depiction generally applied to Briton
characters, thereby dismissing Scottish and Irish peculiarities. As
per usual, the translator adds the trait of the lack of concordance

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

in gender between the name and the adjective; moreover, the

preceding masculine article lo is grammatically incorrect, as it
should have been il.
As we have already pointed out in former paragraphs,
rendering the original puns and cultural references in the target
language is one of the main difficulties for translators. This
cannot be more evident than in Asterix en Bretagne, a story based
on linguistic humour and cultural stereotypes. We will now take
into consideration some particularly representative examples.
Scene Asterix meets his Briton cousin who came to Gaul to ask him for help. The guest
is introduced to Obelix.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies


Asterix: Im Asterix. Anticlimax: Oh, I say what a bit of luck! Im

Anticlimax. Lets shake hands, old boy. Asterix: Anticlimax! My first
cousin once removed!. And this is my best friend Obelix!. Anticlimax:
Any friend of Asterix is a friend of mine! Sir, I should be very proud if
you would shake me by the hand!. Obelix: Right!. Asterix: Obelix!.
Obelix: But hes been removed once anyway, and he asked me to....
Asterix: Hes my first cousin once removed from Britain, and they dont
talk quite the same as us!. Anticlimax: Jolly good show, what!
USA Asterix: Asterix? Why, thats me. Brasstax: I say. What a bit of luck! Im
Brasstax! Lets shake hands!. Asterix: Brasstax! My cousin!. Asterix:
And this is Obelix, my best friend!. Brasstax: Shake!. Obelix: All
right!. Asterix: Obelix!. Obelix: But he told me to shake.... Asterix:
Hes a Briton and they sometimes have a problem expressing
themselves!. Brasstax: Splendid! Splendid!.
ITA Asterix: Asterix sono io. Beltorax: Dico, questo un pezzo di fortuna!
Io sono Beltorax! Scuotiamoci le mani!. Asterix: Beltorax! Il mio cugino
germano!. Asterix: Questo Obelix, il mio migliore amico. Beltorax:


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

Scuotiamoci le mani!. Obelix: Bene!. Asterix: Obelix!. Obelix: Ma

stato questo germanico, a dire. Asterix: Non un germanico: non
parla proprio esattamente come noi. un britanno!. Beltorax:
Fantastico! Fantastico!.

In order to create the wordplay which appears in the preceding

and following panels, English translators change the degree of
relation between Asterix and Anticlimax. In fact, the original
French uses the word germain, which means first cousin, while
the expression first cousin once removed indicates the child of
ones first cousin. If we compare the following panel to the
original French, we see that Anticlimax is very formal to Obelix,
as he even calls him Sir. It is not by chance that Bell and
Hockridge choose the extended phrase I should be very proud if
you would shake me by the hand, instead of the more informal
Lets shake hands: in fact, Obelix literally shakes Anticlimax by
the hand. Having misunderstood the expression once removed,
Obelix tries to justify his behaviour by saying But hes been
removed once anyway. Translators play with the different
meanings of the word removed, while the original French plays
with the polysemy of the word germain, which of course also
means german.
Robert Steve Caron completely renounces the pun related to
the word that indicates relation and reduces the comic effect to
the misunderstanding of the expression Lets shake hands.
Contrary to the English version, Brasstaxs way of addressing
Obelix is very concise, and his reaction to Obelixs violence
repeats the adjective used in the French original.
Contrary to French where, as we mentioned above, the word
germain has a double meaning, in Italian the translator, in
order to convey the second meaning of the French word, must
use the almost identical adjective germanico: in this case, the
misunderstanding is therefore not direct and presupposes
Obelixs flawed reception of the word pronounced by Asterix,
which is due more to his ignorance than to a lack of hearing. To


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

explain the misunderstanding, Carlo Manzoni thus feels

compelled to add a footnote that reads gioco di parole tra
germano e germanico (wordplay between germano and
Scene Obelix asks Asterixs cousin about his clothes:
Oblix: Cest cher?. Jolitorax: Mon tailleur est riche.
Obelix: Does it cost a lot to make up?. Anticlimax: Rather! My tailor
makes a good thing out of it.
USA Obelix: But how do you know whats in style?. Brasstax: One must cut
ones coat according to ones cloth!.
ITA Obelix: caro?. Beltorax: Per te s. Dipende dalla quantit.

The English translation slightly differs from the source text, as

the reference to English classes is not significant to British
readers (see supra): so, instead of the rather inconsequent
response of the original French, Bell and Hockridge prefer a
more explicit answer.
The American version completely changes the subject of the
dialogue, losing the reference to the price of the cloth and
replacing it with a hint to the style of the outfit. Brasstaxs
response reproduces a British proverb meaning to plan ones
aims and activities in line with ones resources and
The Italian version respects the general sense of the source
text, but does not translate it literally, since the sentence Il mio
sarto ricco does not have any kind of effect in terms of
wordplay or cultural reference. Anyway, the use of the informal
tu seems incongruent, given that Beltorax always uses the
second person plural voi, which is chosen by Goscinny as a
characterising trait of the Britons language, being a calque of the
English you form, which is a second person plural.
Scene Asterix and Obelix are having their first dinner in Britain at a local pub called
Le rieur sanglier (translated as The Jolly Boar in the British version). They
are of course having boar, but Obelix does not seem to appreciate the way
Britons cook it.
Oblix: Cest a le rieur sanglier?... Il ny a pas de quoi rire!.


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)


Obelix: This is a bit of a jolly old bore, what!.

Obelix: Now I know why they call this place the laughing boar! These
portions are a joke!.
Obelix: E questo sarebbe il cinghiale che ride?... Non c proprio niente
da ridere!.

English translators create a pun with the almost homophonic

words boar and bore. Obelix alludes to the name of the pub
where they are having their first Briton meal. In the original
French, the name of the pub means The laughing boar, so
Obelixs complaint is, literally, Is this the laughing boar?...
There is nothing to laugh about!. Having opted for the much
repeated adjective jolly to laughing for the pubs name, Bell
and Hockridge have to create a different kind of pun, based on
the noun, rather than on the adjective. Again, Obelix seems to be
influenced by the Britons language, and ends his utterance with
the marking exclamation what!.
Robert Steven Caron follows the French source for the name
of the pub but changes Obelixs remark, whereas the Italian
version appears identical to the original French.
Scene Obelix, Asterix and his Briton cousin are travelling to Londinium on a cart.
Astrix: Ils ne nous suivent pas! Londinium est encore loin?. Jolitorax:
Nos, quelques pieds... Les Romains mesurent les distances en pas, nous
en pieds. Oblix: En pieds?. Jolitorax: Il faut six pieds pour faire un
pas. Oblix : Ils sont fous ces Bretons!.
Asterix: Theyre not following! Is it far to Londinium?. Anticlimax: No,
only a few hundred thousand feet... You measure distance in metres, we
do it in feet. Obelix: Feet?. Anticlimax: Yes, youll find it quite easy
once you get your hand in. Obelix: These Britons are crazy!.
USA Asterix: Theyre not following us! Is Londinium much farther?. Brasstax:
No, just a few hundred thousand feet. You measure your steps in meters,
we do it in feet. Obelix: In feet?. Brasstax: Yes, it might change but
were still dragging our feet. Obelix: These Britons are crazy!.
ITA Asterix: Non ci seguono pi! ancora lontana Londinium?. Beltorax:
No... ancora qualche piede e ci siamo. I Romani misurano le distanze coi
passi, noi coi piedi. Obelix: Coi piedi?. Beltorax: Ci vogliono sei piedi
per fare un passo. Obelix: Sono Pazzi Questi Britanni!.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

The English version does not refer to the pace (passus), namely
the ancient Roman unit of measurement, but to the modern
metre (one passus equals 1.48 metres). So, the subject of the
sentence is not the third person plural The Romans, but the
second person plural You, meaning you, who are not Briton.
Then, instead of translating the equivalence between feet and
metres, as the French source text does for feet and paces, Bell
and Hockridge attribute to Anticlimax a generic remark,
expressed from a point of view of a Briton (or a modern British,
we should say) who is convinced that, sooner or later, everybody
will adopt that system of measurement.
Also the American translator refers to metres (or meters, as
they spell it) rather than to paces. Still, the point of view of
Brasstaxs final utterance is reversed, and a new pun is added:
while in the British version the Briton character is sure that their
system of measurement is quite simple for a foreigner, in the
American version Brasstax assumes it might actually change and
implicitly recognises British difference as a symptom of
backwardness. In fact, to drag ones feet means to act or work
with intentional slowness; delay. Italian version is identical to
the original French.
Scene In order to discover where the magic potion is, Roman soldiers must have a taste
of all the confiscated barrels of wine. They inevitably end up getting drunk and
sing in general disorder.
Vive la Rome, vive la Rome, vive laroooome du bon vin! .
Roll out the barrel .
USA Barrel of wine, fruit of the vine!.
ITA Viva la Roma, viva la Roma, viva laroma del buon vin! .

Obviously, the pun introduced in the verses sung by the Roman

soldiers (identically reproduced in the Italian translation) does
not work in English. So, Bell and Hockridge refer to Beer Barrel
Polka, also known as Roll Out the Barrel, namely a song which
became popular worldwide during World War II. The American


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

version lacks the musical notes in the balloon, so the soldiers are
not presumably singing the rhyme created by the translator.
Scene Our heroes are passing by the streets of Londinium and notice some
characterising elements of its urban landscape.


Asterix: What a funny double-decker chariot. Anticlimax: Its a goadassisted two-ox-power numerous quartus run by Londinium transport.
Asterix: And what are those little portable roofs?. Anticlimax: Theyre
to stop the sky falling on our heads!. Greengrocer: Oh, so this melons
bad is it?. Customer: Rather old fruit.
USA Asterix: These double-decker carts sure look weird. Brasstax: Its our
rapid transit system. Its cheap and clean. No graffiti, lots of seats, safe,
rarely a breakdown. Asterix: And those little portable roofs?.
Anticlimax: Thats to prevent the sky from falling on our heads.
Greengrocer: My melons a lemon?. Customer: Indeed.
ITA Asterix: Guarda che strani carri... sono a due piani!. Beltorax: Sono


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

carribus. In omaggio allImpero Romano li chiamano Imperiali. Asterix:

E queste piccole tettoie portatili?. Beltorax: per impedire che il cielo ci
caschi addosso. Fruttivendolo: troppo caro il mio melone?. Cliente:
Lo !.

In the panel which portrays the double-decker bus, the

description given in the British version is more accurate than the
original one. As far as the following panel is concerned, it is an
example of the strategy of amplification / compensation which
the translator successfully adopts by adding a good pun to the
original: in the scene where a greengrocer argues with a buyer, in
the original French the shopkeeper enquires Il est trop cher mon
melon? (which means Is my melon too expensive (for you)?)
and the customer answers Il est (It is); the dialogue is not
comic in itself and it mostly serves to create a link with Obelixs
comment in the next panel (see infra). The English translation
makes a pun on the quaint English expression old fruit which,
on this occasion, works both as a form of address and as a
comment on the melon itself. Anthea Bell recalls Goscinnys
reaction when he saw their version: A gleam came into his eye.
Old fruit, he said. Ah, I wish Id thought of that. Vieux fruit. It
is one of our nicest memories of him.71
As far as the bus description is concerned, the American
translation is more modern-oriented and, as to the melon, it
creates another type of wordplay. The Italian version is closer to
the original French with a touch of Latin reminiscence in the
word carribus.
Scene Obelix looks back to the scene involving the greengrocer and the buyer and
makes a comment about it (on the scene represented in the French source text).
Oblix: Tu as vu, Astrix? Ce londinien est coiff dun melon!.
Obelix: I say, Asterix, I think this bridge is falling down.
USA Obelix: That sign says Piccadilly Circus! Can we go to the circus,
ITA Obelix: Hai sentito Asterix? Quel londinese innamorato dun melone!.


Bell, Anthea, Asterix, my love, cit.


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

We have to assume since it is not shown by the panels that

the quarrel between the greengrocer and the customer has
embittered and that the first has put the melon on the buyers
head, thus motivating Obelixs comment which creates a
wordplay: this relies on the fact that the French word for melon
is also the name for the traditional bowler hat which has become
an icon of British culture. With no way to convey this in the
English translation, in the British edition Obelix makes a
different remark referring to London bridge is falling down, a
well-known traditional nursery rhyme and singing game. The
American translator faces a similar problem and creates a
wordplay on the double meaning of circus. Just like the French
text (and unlike the two Anglophonic versions), the Italian
rendition of Obelixs utterance refers to the melon which is the
subject of the previous panel. Being unable to adapt to the
Italian language the pun which in the source text exploits the
double meaning of the French word melon, Carlo Manzoni
makes Obelix misunderstand the word caro, which he intends
as loved instead of expensive, therefore being surprised that
someone should feel this way about a melon.
Scene Obelix gets drunk and sings loudly, while Asterix and Anticlimax are carrying
on the cart all the barrels that the Romans had confiscated.
Oblix: Ils ont des tonneaux ronds, vive la Bretagne... . Ils ont
des tonneaux ronds, vivent les Bretons!
Obelix: Ha ha ha, hee hee hee . Little Brown cashk dont I love
thee .
USA Roll out the barrel... Well have a barrel of fun! .
Viva le panciute botti della Britannia... Viva le botti dei panciuti
Britanni! .

When Obelix gets drunk, in the British translation he sings a

verse from Little Brown Jug, a well known drinking song written
by Joseph A. Winner in 1869, while in the French original it was
the French song Ils ont des chapeaux ronds, vive la Bretagne!,
where tonneaux (barrels) purposely substitutes the original
chapeaux. Of course, the English version also replaces the

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

original jug with cask (written cashk to reproduce the accent

of a drunk person), so as to adapt it to the story. The American
version makes use here of the above mentioned song Roll out the
barrel, well have a barrel of fun, which Bell and Hockbridge have
put in Roman soldiers mouth some panels before. The Italian
translator creates two new verses sung by Obelix.
Scene Obelix, Asterix and his Briton cousin are visiting every pub in Londinium,
looking for the barrel filled with the magic potion. They have seen a lot of wine
and Obelix comments about it.
Oblix: Voir un petit coup cest agrable, mais la longue, cest
Obelix: Drinking only with mine eyes is all very well, but it does get a bit
USA Obelix: This is rough. Wine, wine, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.
ITA Obelix: Vederne un po piacevole, ma alla lunga stufa.

Obelixs utterance in the British version alludes to Drink to me

only with thine eyes, a popular English song, set to the lyrics of
Ben Jonsons 1616 poem Song To Celia. This cultural reference
substitutes the pun which, in the French text, is created using
the first line of the song Boire un petit coup (words and music by
Flix Boyer, 1915). Similarly, Robert Steven Caron modifies a
line from Samuel Taylor Coleridges classic poem The Rhyme of
the Ancient Mariner (1798), where the word water appeared in
the place of the wine we find here. The Italian translation
manages to convey the sense of Obelixs statement while losing
the cultural reference.
Scene Asterixs cousin explains the reference made to the Camulodunum team.
Jolitorax: Une rencontre comptant pour le Tournoi des Cinq Tribus doit
avoir lieu demain, prs de Londinium.
Anticlimax: Theres a match for the Tribal Crown near Londinium
USA Brasstax: Tomorrow, near Londinium, theres a match for the crown in
the Five Tribes Tournament.
ITA Beltorax: Lincontro valevole per il Torneo delle Cinque Trib e avr
luogo domani vicino a Londinium.


Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

English translators prefer to replace the original Five Tribes

with the more specifically British Tribal Crown, a designation
which is a pun alluding to the existing Triple Crown Trophy
attributed to the British team that defeats all three other British
contenders (coming from England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland)
in the same Five (now Six) Nations tournament. Robert Steve
Caron, who probably had on his desk the English version,
renders the original designation of the tournament, but also
mentions the crown. The Italian translation follows the French
source text.
Scene The Romans have sunk our heroes boat, hitting it with a big stone thrown by a
catapult. The magic potion is wasted in the Thames. The Roman captain
comments on his launch.
Roman captain: Jai fait musca*. Footnote: *Nom latin de mouche.
Roman captain: Oculus tauri!*. Footnote: *Bulls eye.
USA Roman captain: Bingo*. Footnote: *Now the name of a game of
ITA Roman captain: Ho fatto musca!*. Footnote: *Nome latino della

Bell and Hockridge perfectly adapt to Latin the expression to hit

the bulls eye which is the English equivalent to the French
Faire mouche, meaning to be right on target. Robert Steve
Caron prefers a more modern expression, while Carlo Manzoni
repeats the French version even though it has no meaning in
Scene After the sinking, our heroes swim to the shore. Asterixs cousin comments on
the Romans behaviour.
Jolitorax: Ils nont pas t franc jeu!.
Anticlimax: I say, thats not cricket!.
USA Brasstax: Rather unsporting of them, what?.
ITA Beltorax: stato un gioco sleale!

In the British version, the French original is not replaced with

the equivalent fair play but with thats not cricket, which is a
common phrase with the same meaning (an anachronism, given
that cricket wasnt developed until the 16th century). Both

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

American and Italian translations simply follow the original, but

the American version adds the characterising what? while the
Italian rendition lacks any kind of marking trait.
To bring this short analysis of the issues related to the
translation of the album Asterix en Bretagne to a conclusion, it is
worth spending a few words on the rendition of the names of
some specific characters in this story. We have already noticed in
the examples above that there are important differences among
the various editions. We know that the American edition
changed most of the names because of copyright problems. For
the main Briton character, we have four different names: the
French original, Jolitorax, has been adapted to Italian as
Beltorax, keeping the same kind of meaning (nice chest); British
translators, being unable to convey the same attribute
adequately, choose an existing word, Anticlimax, which has the
advantage of the -ax ending that characterises most Briton
Perhaps, the most interesting case concerns the name of the
rebel Briton chief, Zebigbos in the French original: this,
graphically reproduces the way most French people pronounce
the English syntagma The big boss, due to their difficulties in
articulating the th sound. This is therefore a way of making fun
of the problems French people have in pronouncing some
English words, but at the same time is a typical French
expression of mockery about the English way of speaking. All
this is hardly understandable by Italian readers, yet Carlo
Manzoni decides to maintain the same name in his version,
probably losing a great part of the original effect. Anthea Bell
and Derek Hockridge obviously decide to change this name,
finding a great solution in Mykingdomforanos: this is a reference
to the line A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse! from
Shakespeares play Richard III, which however reproduces the
cockney pronunciation, My Kingdom for an Os, leaving off the
h sound and thereby having to use an before a vowel instead

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

of a before an h. An alternative interpretation for this name is

my kingdom for a nose. Interestingly, the British chief is the
only character in the entire book with a small nose. In fact,
compared to the nose sizes of every other character (Gauls, Brits,
and Romans) his nose is so small that it almost looks like he does
not have a nose at all72. The choice of the way they should
translate this name was particularly hard, as we can see from a
letter Anthea Bell sent to the editor, where she wrote:
The situation is a bit complicated because Zebigbos, on the
analogy of Cassivellaunos [a historical Briton figure who fought
Julius Caesar in 54 BC], of course, is the only British -os ending
in the book. So having once decided to alter the name (I stick
out for this myself, because that Z is no longer amusing in itself
once the books all in English, and Thebigbos doesnt look right)
do we try for an -os name, or do we use an -ax name, as for all
the other Britons?. We tried various names like Attalos,
Neverattalos, Ratherattalos; and I have by me a beer-stained
piece of paper bearing the contributions Ridakokos and
Banberikros, and Mykingdomforanos. I rather feel that if its an
-os name it should be a -nos ending, just to make the isolated
analogy clear to all and sundry. And it would be possible to use
an English -nous ending, such as we use for Roman names, and
spell it -nos. (Fair enough, since Cassivellaunos often ends -us
himself). Which provides us with a few efforts such as
Simpliravenos, Indigenos, Verivoluminos. Or then we could
make the chief an -ax ending, like the other Britons; we have a
good many -ax names left over, none of them specially
applicable to the chiefs character. Sealingwax, Beeswax,
Nervusattax, Biliusattax, Vacuumpax, Unionjax, Hijax and
Halfbax are among the -ax compounds we have left. 73


See Chandrasekharan, Sudhakar Thaths, Dippold, Ron, Asterix

Annotations, English and American Translation, Version 4, available at (last accessed 7 th March 2010).
Kessler, Peter, op. cit., pp. 63-64.

An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Goscinny himself was involved in the decision. In a letter dated

15th July 1969 to Antony Kamm, then Chief Editor at
Brockhampton Press, he said: Concerning the name Zebigbos, I
dont think you should keep the -os ending, which I used to make
a pun (even if I like very much Verivoluminos). Any name ending
in -ax would be just as good.74 Eventually, that wasnt Bell and
Hockridges option.
Other characters that are given different names are the
Scottish and Irish representatives. The first one is changed in the
two English editions: the original Mac Anoterapix derives from
the French word mcanothrapie, mechanotherapy in English,
which is the treatment of disorders or injuries by means of
mechanical devices, a name which is maintained in the Italian
version as well. This is transformed by Bell and Hockridge into
McAnix (from mechanics) and by Robert Steven Caron into
Mac Alomaniax (from megalomaniac). The name of the Irish
character has the same meaning in French, Italian and American
(OTorinolaringologix, OTorinolaringoiatrix and OTorhinolaryngologix); however, the British translators are more coherent
than their American colleague, in the sense that, having
renounced the medical reference for the Scottish character (as
Robert Steven Caron did), they do the same with his Irish
partner, whose name becomes OVeroptimistix, meaning over
optimistic, too favourable in prediction.
The Roman Governor is named Caius Roideprus in the
French source text, the first being a typical Latin name and the
second deriving from Roi de Prusse, King of Prussia,
presumably referring to the French expression travailler pour le
roi de Prusse, meaning to work for free, without reward. The
Italian version simply adapts the original name to the target
language, resulting in Caius Rediprus, which loses the possible

Idem, p. 64.

Appendix S.P.Q.T.! (Those Translators Are Fool!)

hint to the motto. In the British translation, the Roman

Governor becomes Encyclopaedicus Britannicus, with an
obvious reference to the extremely comprehensive encyclopaedia.
The Britton landlord of the pub, who hides the barrel of
magic potion in his cellar, is called Relax in French, Italian and
American versions. Once again, however, Bell and Hockridge
change his name into Dipsomaniax, from the word dipsomaniac,
which designates someone who drinks too much.
The woman who lives in the house where inadvertently
Asterix, Obelix and Anticlimax irrupt during their search for the
barrels thief, is called Boadicea, instead of the original Petula,
which is maintained in both Italian and American translations75.
So many problems, so many challenges to face, in the
translation of one of the most successful comic series on the
European scenario, which focuses so much on linguistic and
cultural humour. During this work, we have tried to point out
some of these issues, having almost as much fun in the process
as when reading the stories created by the genius of Goscinny
and Uderzo. And, finally, lets join our Gaulish friends for the
usual banquet that ends all their adventures. Yes, Obelix, Ils
sont fous, ces traducteurs!...


See footnote 20.


Asterix Bibliography

Internet Articles with no indication of author

Asterix, available at (Last
accessed 7th March 2010).
Asterix, available at http: // / pmwiki / pmwiki.php /
Main/Asterix (Last accessed 11 th March 2010).
Asterix and his travels around the world, available at
accessed 7th March 2010).
Asterix around the world, Asterix speaks English (US), available at (Last accessed
7th March 2010).
Asterix around the world, Dossier: English & American, available at (Last accessed
7th March 2010).
Asterix, Articoli dalla stampa americana, available
accessed 7 March 2010).
Asterix il gallico, available at http: // / wiki /
Asterix_il_gallico (Last accessed 7th March 2010).
Asterix in Britain, available at http: // / wiki /
Asterix_in_Britain (Last accessed 7th March 2010).
Asterix in Britain (1966), in Alea Jacta Est. Gareth Thomas
Asterix site for grown-ups, available at http: // www. gthomas.
pwp. (Last accessed 28 th April
Asterix in Britain, the untold story (or How Asterix crossed the
channel and was published in English), available at


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies
(Last accessed 7th March 2010).
Asterix International! Asterix in Germany, available at
(Last accessed 15th April 2010).
Asterix International! English, available at (Last accessed
7th March 2010).
Beric the Briton, A Story of the Roman Invasion, available at,_A_Story_of_the
_Roman_Invasion (Last accessed 15th April 2010)
Boudica, available at (Last
accessed 15 th April 2010).
Comics, available at, Last
accessed 1st April 2010.
Comics vocabulary, available at http: // / wiki /
Comics_vocabulary, Last accessed 1st April 2010.
Cut and Paste Translation, available at http: // /
pmwiki / pmwiki.php / Main / CutAndPasteTranslation
(Last accessed 11 th March 2010).
English translations of Asterix available at http://
wiki/English_translations_of_asterix (Last accessed 7th March
Humour in Asterix, available at http:// / wiki /
Humour_in_Asterix (Last accessed 7th March 2010).
Mistakes: Asterix in Britain, available at http://
/mistakes/britain/index.html (Last accessed 7th March 2010).
Nationalities in the Asterix books, available at http:// (Last accessed 7th
March 2010).
Ranger (magazine), available at http:// / wiki /
Ranger_(magazine) (Last accessed 7 th March 2010).
Rule, Britannia!, available at
Rule,_Britannia! (Last accessed 15th April 2010).

Asterix Bibliography

Bell, Anthea 1999. Asterix, my love, in Electronic Telegraph,
Thursday 25 February 1999, available at / asterix / mirror /asterix_my_love.htm (Last
accessed 7th March 2010).
Bell, Anthea. Asterix, Whats in a Name, available at
accessed 7 March 2010).
Bjrklid, Finn (translated in English by Nicolai Langfeldt). A
Celtic Gaul named Asterix available at http://
/~janl/ts/asterix-article.html (Last accessed 7 th March 2010).
Chandrasekharan, Sudhakar Thaths and Dippold, Ron. Asterix
Annotations, English and American Translation, Version 4,
available at (Last accessed 7th
March 2010).
Corbetta, Giorgio 1976. La traduzione (from Asterix al Cinema,
Vallecchi Editore, 1976), available at http://
schede/asterix/Traduzioni.html (Last accessed 7th March
Driest, Joris 2005. Subjective Narration in Comics, available at (Last accessed
15th July 2010)
Eisner, Will 1990 (Expanded Edition, reprinted 2001). Comics
& Sequential Art, Tamarac, Poorhouse Press.
_____ 1996. Graphic Storytelling, Tamarac, Poorhouse Press.
Goscinny, Ren and Uderzo, Albert 1966. Astrix chez les
Bretons, Paris, Editions Hachette.
_____ 1969. Asterix e i Britanni, Milano, Arnoldo Mondadori
_____ 1970. Asterix in Britain, London, Hodder Dargaud,.
_____ 1995. Asterix in Britain, Greenwich, Dargaud Publishing
International Ltd.


An Introduction to Discourse Analysis and Translation Studies

Hooper, Terry. Who is Beric the Briton?, available at http:// (Last accessed
7th March 2010).
Kessler, Peter 1997. The Complete Guide to Asterix, London,
Hodder Children's Books.
McCloud , Scott 1993. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art,
New York, Harper Collins.
Nardin, Giorgia 2008. La traduction italienne d'Astrix: la
recherche d'une possible quivalence, Tesi di Laurea Specialistica
in Lingue straniere per la comunicazione internazionale,
Universit degli Studi di Padova (a.a. 2007-08, Relatore Prof.
Genevive Henrot).
Pauli, Michelle 2009. Asterix and the golden jubilee, in The
Guardian, Thursday 29 October 2009, available at (Last accessed 7th March 2010).
Rivire, Stphane. Astrix chez les Bretons. tude de lalbum,
available at http:// asterix/ bretons/
etude.html (Last accessed 29th April 2010).
Rivire, Stphane. Astrix chez les Bretons: dossier. My tailor is rich:
langlais selon Goscinny available at http://
/asterix/bretons/anglais.html (Last accessed 29 th April 2010).
Spurgeon, Tom et al. 1999. Top 100 (English Language)
Comics of the Century, in The Comics Journal, 210 (February
Varnum, Robin and Gibbons, Christina T. (eds.) 2001. The
Language of Comics: Word and Image, Jackson, University
Press Mississippi.
Yaguello, Marina and Harris, Trevor A. Le V. 1998. Language
through the Looking Glass: Exploring Language and Linguistics,
Oxford University Press.


finito di stampare
nel mese di marzo 2011
Peschiera Borromeo (MI)

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