What Connotation Means
In Italian translation, as well as in other forms of translation, the term connotation refers to the implied and subtextual meanings attached to a word, aside from the dictionary definition. This can also be expressed as additional overtones, the emotive sense of a word, the associations that a word calls forth, or the emotional suggestions related to a word. For example, the word mother, which, according to the dictionary, carries the relatively simple definition of a female parent, also has strong connotations off tenderness and unselfishness. This important property of words has significant implications for any Italian translation.
Connotation should not be confused with denotation, which refers to the literal and obvious definition, the dictionary meaning of a word. Connotation provides the reader with an angle, a perspective, a point of view. Connotations can express emotions, convey judgments, communicate intensity or simply be a component of style. Connotation is implicit referred to, but never directly mentioned. As such, it wields an enormous amount of power in Italian translation, which is difficult to take into account. The combination of connotation and denotation present the reader with the full picture that a word creates.
The basic task of a translator is to convert a text from the source language into the target language, making the meaning available to the reader in the target language while preserving as much as or as little as is needed of the cultural background of the text. An Italian translator may choose to translate verbatim, or word for word (exoticism); he may select to translate only the story and the spirit of the text while ignoring everything else (cultural transplantation); or he may choose a position that falls somewhere in between (cultural borrowing, communicative translation). The aspect of connotation in Italian translation is invalid in the case of cultural transplantation and cultural borrowing. But an Italian translator who chooses to employ exoticism, calque or communicative translation, where the focus is on the actual words in the source text, has to grapple with and come to terms with the peculiar problems posed by connotation.
As connotation is very complex, an Italian translator must exercise care and discretion in determining the connotative aspect of a word when performing an Italian translation. The complexity arises from several factors. For example, the connotations of a word may differ from one culture to another. This may be because what the word stands for is more important than what it simply means, or because connotations are often personal. Regardless, the culture limits the number of available connotations in a source text. Connotations can change with a change in style or tone, they can change with the choice of different synonyms, and they are severely modified by the inclusion of stylistic devices, such as similes and metaphors. Connotations, therefore, obtain their complexity from history (both personal and national), culture, context and literary style.
In order to identify a word that carries the correct connotation when performing an Italian translation, an Italian translator must gauge the word's correlation with other words, the context in which the word occurs, and even the way in which the word is delivered. The Italian translator must avoid relying merely on the dictionary meaning of the word. Connotation endows a word with power, and it is important to recognize correctly. Doing so can help a translator to achieve accuracy and avoid misunderstanding in Italian translation.
When dealing with words, an Italian translator comes to distinguish between denotation and connotation'the literal meaning of a word, and the additional overtones that it calls forth. In order to successfully communicate meaning, a translator must take into account both the denotation and connotation of a word. Combined, they present the reader with the full picture that the word creates. In Italian translation, connotations fall into several prominent groups: attitudinal, associative, allusive, reflected, collocative and affective.
Attitudinal meaning expresses an attitude or a frame of mind on the part of the speaker. When the speaker refers to an object, he reveals his position towards that object. This position is hardly ever neutral or unbiased. On the contrary, it expresses an emotional value: agreeable or disagreeable, positive or negative, attractive or repulsive. It is an assessment of the referent. Attitudinal meanings cannot be specifically spelled out in the dictionary because they are generally implied rather than explicitly stated. They are a part of the mental make-up of the speaker. Yet it is impossible to ignore or overlook them because it is usually deliberately displayed; the speaker wants to make his preferences known, often with the intention of influencing and manipulating the opinions of the listener/reader.
There are various ways in which the attitudinal meaning of an utterance makes itself available to the native translator: through the choice of individual words and phrases; more frequently through word combinations; or through intonation'that is, the tone in which the utterance is delivered. If a speaker is an assertive mood, he will employ statements and imperatives. If he is not, he will resort to questions. Attitudinal meanings are also conveyed in the speaker's preference for adverbs and modal verbs as opposed to adjectives. All of the above clues must be decoded with respect to the context in which they appear. Attitudinal connotation is also determined by the reader's own beliefs and views.
Associative meaning expresses the emotion with which the speaker refers to a certain object. The emotion displays itself spontaneously' that is, it makes itself evident even if the speaker attempts to conceal it. Associative meanings can take the form of expectations, prejudices or stereotypes. Expectations imply considering certain traits as probable or certain, prejudices are preconceived opinions or judgments, and stereotypes are standardized mental pictures. They combine with the referent to create an affecting picture. These associations may be right or wrong, formed on insufficient grounds, oversimplified or uncritical.
Whatever the case, associative meanings are usually formed without the speaker being aware of them; they are not deliberate or planned. While the personal element predominated in attitudinal meanings, the collective consciousness, or the historical element, governs associative meaning.
Though it is difficult to pin down attitudinal and associative connotations in Italian translation, it is important for the sake of precision and for the sake of providing a complete picture.