Cultural Transposition and Connotation in Italian Translation

Cultural Transposition

Cultural transposition in Italian translation is the name of a translation approach which suppresses the cultural elements of the source text to make space for the cultural elements of the target text.

Cultural transposition in Italian translation can achieve its means by adopting such extreme strategies as exoticism and cultural transplantation. Using the former, the foreign cultural elements are maintained with minimum alteration, while in the latter, only the plot-line is lifted from the source text, and everything else undergoes a cultural change.

These drastic methods of cultural transposition are generally shunned in Italian translation, unless there are some very specific effects to be achieved. The more common methods, which have gained popularity by virtue of being more restrained, are cultural borrowing and communicative translation.

Cultural Borrowing

At its simplest, cultural borrowing in Italian translation stands for a loan-word, a word that has been borrowed intact from the source language to express a concept that does not exist in the target language.

With the passage of time, this loan-word, taken from a foreign language, becomes naturalized, part of the regular usage in the target language. Common examples are words like mafia,pizza and terza rima.

When practicing cultural borrowing, translators need to be aware that words in the source language may often have more than one meaning, or very diverse meanings, in the target and source languages.

Cultural borrowing is different from exoticism in two ways:

firstly, cultural borrowing does not adapt source language expression to target language form;

secondly, exoticism lends itself to translation of epics and folk tales while cultural borrowing lends itself to socio-political and historical texts.

Communicative translation attempts to duplicate the effect that a source text would have on its readers within the target text. In other words, communicative translation does not replicate the semantic and the syntactic structure of the source language; it does not aim towards grammatical precision or verbal accuracy.

The key element of communicative translation is identifying the intended effect of the text in the source language and presenting the text in the target language in such a way that it re-creates the original effect in every respect.

Communicative translation is generally adopted for clich’s, idioms and proverbs because translating them word-for-word might charge the text with an unwanted comic intent. It is frequently used in Italian translations of advertisements, tourist brochures, product descriptions, instructions and manuals.

When using the tools of cultural transposition in the Italian language, a translator must exercise discretion. He must always be aware of the cultural traditions that form the background of the source text, and he must be capable of selecting the technique that will most appropriately transfer those elements to the target text.


Connotation in Italian

Allusive meaning

An allusion is an extra-textual reference that draws the reader’s attention to something’another literary text, a quotation, a myth or a mythological figure, or folklore’beyond the immediate words of the text.

Allusions always take the form of hints, suggestions and implications; they are never explicitly stated. They are used to evoke a memory, a mood or an image; to enrich the meaning of the text by placing it alongside the traditional and the established literary canon; or to provide an ironic commentary on the text by indulging in disparate comparisons.

Even while operating at a subliminal level, the allusion becomes an integral part of the immediate text, thereby creating the concept of allusive meaning. It modifies and contributes to the meaning of the immediate text, and can only be dissociated from it at the cost of minimizing its impact.

Allusive meanings derive their potency from the assumption that the Italian translator and the readers, in both the source and target languages, will be able to divine their existence. Allusive meanings, therefore, take the erudition of the Italian translator and the readers for granted. Rendering allusive meanings in Italian translation is beset with problems.

The translator has to be confident that the allusion was intended by the author, and it is not something he is reading into the text. He must also keep in mind that the readers of source and target texts might not share the same cultural history from which to draw allusions.

Humorous allusive meanings pose an especially tricky problem in Italian translation: the Italian translator has to convey both the content and the mood without descending into the ludicrous.

In extreme cases in Italian translation, the translator may have to disregard the allusion altogether in order to communicate the message effectively.

Affective meaning

Affective meaning expresses an emotion on the part of the speaker. The emotion is not only the directed at object being spoken about, but also the listener, or the person to whom the remarks are addressed. In this respect, affective meaning differs from associative meaning: in the latter case, the referent is the only subject of the emotion of the speaker.

Affective meaning, like associative meaning, is conveyed through intonation, through diction or selection of words as well as facial expressions. The same set of words will have identical literary meanings, but the tones in which the sets of words are delivered will create different affective meanings. By its nature, affective meaning is judgmental; it announces the attitude of the speaker towards the referents and the listeners.

The Italian translation of affective meanings must be attempted with caution: the translator must refrain from introducing emotional registers into the target text that are non-existent in the source text.

Affective meaning can also be expressed through interjections. Interjections convey attitudes and feelings, even in the absence of context. Italian translations of such interjections are comparatively easy.

The scope of connotative meanings is gradually expanding. It is not always possible to demarcate the boundaries between the various kinds of connotative meanings.

Ideas, Associations and Emotions

Connotation in Italian translation refers to the ideas, associations and emotions that a word calls forth in addition to its dictionary meaning.

There are several types of connotative meanings: attitudinal, associative, affective, allusive, reflected and collocative.

The last two types, reflected and collocative connotations, can be distinguished from the first three because they are less concerned with expressing the frame of mind of the speaker and more with the conceptual meaning of the word itself.

Reflected meaning

Reflected meaning echoes other words or phrases that sound or are spelled the same as the given word. If a word manifests a similarity to another word, or if it contains within itself the echoes of another word, then we have a case of reflected meaning.

There are two kinds of reflected meanings if a word calls to mind another word with the same lexical meaning; it is referred to as polysemy. Likewise, if a word calls to mind a similar sounding word with a different meaning, it is referred to as homonymy.

Reflected meanings derive meaning only from the context in which they appear. In isolation, they become meaningless. Since, in Italian translation, it is possible for various reflected meanings to exist simultaneously, a translator must pay particular attention to the context to prevent any unwanted reflected meaning from discoloring the target text.

Collocative meaning

Collocative meaning arises when two words are used side by side, a practice so commonplace that one cannot think of one word without thinking of the other. It refers to the way words are typically used together. But unlike reflected meaning, the two words are visibly present before the reader; it is not merely a matter of setting off an association.

Collocative meaning, unlike reflected meaning, operates regardless of context. The real importance of identifying collocative meaning in Italian translation lies in the fact that a translator must avoid collocative errors, or a clash in collocative meanings between source and target texts. Collocative meanings are superficial in nature and contribute little to the meaning of the text, yet they cannot be ignored in Italian translation because that might lead to stilted language in the target text.

The ability to perceive the existence of connotative meanings and the ability to distinguish between various types of connotative meanings in the source text are the hallmarks of a good translator. This ability is constantly challenged by the fact that connotative meanings are open-ended, variable and arbitrary. Their use cannot be governed by a fixed set of rules.

To complicate matters further, discrete boundaries do not exist amongst the various types of connotative meanings. Before embarking on Italian translation, a translator must, therefore, acquaint himself thoroughly with the source language.


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