Discursive Issues in Italian Translation

At its simplest, discourse in Italian translation can be defined as linked writing or speech that comprises more than one sentence. The operative word in the phrase is linked, which refers to the logical connection of words. As a linguistic unit in Italian translation, discourse is typically composed of sentences that combine to form paragraphs, conversations and stories. As a textual variable, discourse is concerned with relations between sentences, paragraphs, chapters, stanzas, and so on. For the purpose of Italian translation studies, discourse also concerns itself with relations between parts of sentences'that is, between phrases and clauses, even though the latter are incomplete fragments of sentences.

As a textual variable in Italian translation, discourse is responsible for converting a haphazard and arbitrary sequence of words into a meaningful utterance in which the words are bound together by an internal logic. Based on the degree to which it is visible in a text, the discourse in Italian translation can be differentiated into the cohesive discursive force and the coherent discursive force.

Cohesion is easily defined as linking words and phrases, or sentence connectors, such as "however","although","nevertheless","as a result,"in addition" to, etc. Cohesion controls the way in which information is disseminated through a text. Effective cohesion helps to join ideas, introduce new topics, change the direction of the conversation, indicate the attitudes of the characters, their degrees of involvement, conflict, agreement, and so on. Without appropriate cohesive markers, the narrative will not flow smoothly, and the text will appear to lack pattern and intelligibility. On the other hand, an excess of discursive markers will make a piece of writing cumbersome and impede the naturalness of speech and thought.

While cohesion introduces continuity in terms of words and sentences, coherence promotes continuity in meaning and context. Coherence does not consist of explicitly identifiable words or phrases, but it can be identified through the thematic and emotional development of the text. Chronology in the narrative structure is, however, the best and most obvious example of coherence. If the narrative describes an event, then coherence facilitates understanding of the event by examining the who, where, why, when, and what of the event.

It is important to remember that many words and phrases serve a dual purpose: they can be used as cohesive markers without having separate meanings of their own, and they can also be used as content words with literal meanings of their own. For example, the word like can act as a conjunction, an adverb, and a verb, and it can even substitute for say, said, and that. Intersentential and sentential functions are therefore inter-linked, and the translator must be able to distinguish between the two.

Discourse markers are a category of words that enable comprehension by establishing connections among various parts of the text, beginning with the sentence and ending with the chapters and the stanzas themselves. They include single words like “however,” “although,” “nevertheless,” and phrases like “as a result,” “in addition to,” and so on. In Italian they include words like “dunque,” “magari,” “appunto,” etc.

While translating discursive markers, the translator must orient himself by asking the following questions:

Are the discursive markers cohesive or coherent markers?
What functions do the discourse markers perform?

Should the source marker be replaced with a corresponding idiom from

the target language or should grammatical transposition be employed?

Particularly for the sake of translation studies, it is vital to remember that when a word functions as a discursive marker, it ceases to have a lexical meaning. The Italian translator must be able to distinguish between the two disparate uses of the word: its use as content and its use as a “linking word or “sentence connector.” He or she should be able to deduce the purpose and the impact of the discursive marker in the text, and then translate it accordingly, or else be guilty of misrepresentation.

In the course of the translation, an Italian translator might discover that a discursive marker consisting of a single word in English requires a plurality of words in the Italian translation to produce the same effect. A discursive marker that does not exist in English might appear in the Italian translation. On the other hand, an Italian discursive marker might disappear from the English translation. That is because coherence and cohesion in an English text is not as dependent on discursive markers as they are in an Italian text. If an English translation, in imitation of its Italian original, uses too many connectives, it will appear rigid and bulky.

Discursive markers reinforce the thematic and emotional message of the text. In Italian translation, the message or impact of a text would be compromised if the Italian translator takes too many liberties with its structure. He or she may do so by intentionally or inadvertently breaking up all the long sentences into shorter units, or combining the short sentences into longer units. Identifying and translating a discursive marker that connects two sentences is much more difficult than identifying and translating one that connects paragraphs and chapters.

It is not mandatory to use discursive markers in a text. The absence of discursive markers will not render the grammar incorrect or the meaning unintelligible. But it will challenge the reader’s powers of comprehension, it will open up the possibility of multiple interpretations, and it will jeopardize the emotional and interactive value of the text. These hazards imply that an Italian translator must be discerning in the choice of discourse markers; any incorrect choice will cause the Italian translation to diverge erroneously from the original.


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