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Genre in Italian Translation

When confronted with a text, the first task of the translator is comprehension, while the second is to devise an appropriate strategy that will enable him to communicate with as much accuracy as possible the features as well the message of the source text into the target language. The choice of the device or devices he uses will be dictated by the purposes of the source text and the target text. It will also be dictated by the nature of the source text itself. By nature, here, we mean the formal features of the text or the genre of the text. Genre (from French for "kind" or "class") has been defined by Hymes as "a category to which, in a given culture, a given text is seen to belong and within which the text is seen to share a type of communicative purpose with other texts." In other words, genre in Italian translation refers to a particular type, or kind, of text.

Each genre in Italian translation is marked by some characteristic features, all of which play a vital role in communicating the message of the text. In order to be successful in his task, the translator must be familiar with the various types of genre that exist in the source culture, their characteristic features, and their equivalents in the target culture. In his quest for corresponding genres in the target culture, the translator must be discerning enough to notice that even though the text type is the same, individual properties of a particular genre may vary from culture to culture. In other words, genres are, though to a limited extent, culture-specific. Taking care of such variations in his translation will enable the translator to correct unwanted bias towards reflecting the textual variables of the source text in the target text.

In order to determine the genre of a text in Italian translation, the translator must be able to answer two questions. The first question is easily answered because it consists of simply clarifying whether the text is a written or an oral one. The second question is more demanding, since it involves ascertaining the way in which the author has treated the subject matter of the text, and the function the subject matter is intended to perform. By itself, subject matter is not sufficient to distinguish among the various types of genres in existence in Italian translation because the same subject matter can be the theme of various text types.

What is important, therefore, is how the author's attitude, whether implicit or obvious, shapes the subject matter and gives it a specific perspective. Based on the author's attitude and the function the text is purported to perform, five text types or genres can be identified for purposes of Italian translation. They are the literary genre, the religious genre, the philosophical genre, the empirical genre and the persuasive genre. The next unit will elaborate on the characteristics of each type of genre.

Genre Types

Knowledge of the genre types in both the source and target cultures, accompanied by a summary of their salient characteristics, serves the translator in good stead not only for the particular text at hand, but for his entire professional career. As has already been mentioned, the main types of genre in Italian translation are literary texts, religious texts, philosophical texts, empirical texts and persuasive texts.

The literary genre in Italian translation is marked by its fictive nature and by its aesthetic purpose. The world that is created in the literary genre is a figment of the author's imagination; it is entirely fictional and is limited to the pages of the text. Even though it bears resemblance to the world in which we live, the world of the literary genre does not extend into or spill over into the real world. Literary texts achieve their aesthetic effect through the use of sensory language and rhetorical devices. Texts belonging to the literary genre are capable of generating multiple interpretations, and in this respect, too, the literary genre differs from others. Poetry, drama and the novel are the three most popular sub-divisions of the literary genre, and they, in turn, have been divided into various sub-genres.

The religious genre in Italian translation is marked by the existence of, not a fictive world, but a non-physical or spiritual world. The world of the religious genre is not a figment of the author's imagination; he is not the creator of that particular world. His functions alternate between providing either a systematic presentation of or a commentary on the realities and truths of that world. He can also assist in the task of interpreting the nature of the spiritual world.

The philosophical genre in Italian translation deals with the world of ideas. In some ways, it is also the product of the author's imagination, his thought processes, but it is neither fictive nor physical nor spiritual in nature. At the same time, it is quite difficult to discern the existence of this world. Pure mathematics is the best example of philosophical genre. Philosophical subject matter may be presented in the form of treatises that offer a holistic and systematic view of an idea, commentaries that analyze and criticize the views of other philosophers and articles devoted to specific problems.

The empirical genre in Italian translation deals with the actual and physical world. It is generally written to convey information, describe processes, explain definitions and deliver instructions. It is factual, and not imaginative, in nature. It demonstrates objectivity in point of view, and logic in structural development. In its language it aims for clarity and conciseness by avoiding rhetorical devices. Scientific texts, guidebooks and catalogues, manuals and pamphlets belong to the category of empirical genre.

Finally, the persuasive genre in Italian translation relies entirely on fact, with the specific purpose of converting the point of view or allegiance of the reader, and motivating him to adopt a certain course of action. Examples of this genre can be found in political speeches, editorials, advertisements, petitions, etc. When confronted with an actual text the translator may find that the generic divisions are too narrow or too broad, that features overlap among genres, giving rise to "mixed genres," and the text itself exhibiting the properties of more than one genre.

Asking Questions

A genre has been defined as a particular kind of text marked by certain formal and structural features. Genres can be differentiated from one another on the basis of whether the text is written or oral, and how the author’s attitude to the text shapes it subject matter. This has led texts to be classified into literary genre, religious genre, philosophical genre, empirical genre and persuasive genre.

The way the author handles the subject matter and whether he or she presents it verbally or on paper prompts the Italian translator to ask the following questions about genre in an Italian translation:

Firstly, what are the distinguishing properties of the source text?
Secondly, do the properties play any role in articulating the purpose of the text? If yes, then what are the specifics of the connection between the properties of the text and its purpose?
In the third place, which is the genre in the target culture that corresponds best with the genre of the source text? Are there any particular ways in which the target culture genre deviates from the source text genre? If there were deviations, then what would be the best ways of incorporating the deviations into the subject matter of the source text?
In the fourth place, which features of the source text genre should be incorporated into the target text, and what will be the basis for the selection?

Answers to these questions will enable an Italian translator to formulate an appropriate strategy to translate the genre as well as the subject matter of the source text into the target language. These answers can be obtained easily and quickly if the translator becomes familiar with the genre types in both the source and target cultures. This knowledge should then be supplemented by and consolidated with a perusal of sample texts from the culture of the chosen target language. In this way, an Italian translator would acquire a fair idea of how things are actually done in practice.


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