Intertextuality in Italian Translation

Intertextuality in Italian translation refers to a text’s relation to the genre in which it is written, with other cultural texts, with specific texts mentioned or quoted from in its body, and to other works by the same writer.

As a rhetorical device, intertextuality in Italian translation derives its value from its ability to enhance the quality of literature. The text which yields the intertextual reference is refreshed with fresh perspectives and also receives renewed attention, while the text which incorporates the intertextual reference is of a significantly higher greater value.

Intertextuality in Italian translation can assume any of the following shapes: genre membership, parody or imitation, quotations and allusions. A genre is a category that most compositions fit into, which may or may not have literary value, but which is characterized by a particular style, form, or content. For example, the literary genre called a sonnet must be composed of only fourteen lines, and must follow a specific rhyme scheme.

In the first place, the Italian translator must be familiar with the salient features of all genres. While translating in a specific genre, the Italian translator must pay special attention to the formal features of the text, such as, vocabulary, syntax, organization and cohesion. Depending on the kind of genre that needs to be translated, the Italian translator will pay more attention to some features than others. For example, if a quality assurance certificate needs to be translated from English into Italian, then the overall structure of the text will be more important than the way the theme is developed or cohesion is achieved. In the Italian translation of an instruction manual, it will be more important to preserve the tone. Since genre is more a matter of style than content, the Italian translator must first identify the nature of the text: in a literary text genre conventions have to be respected, while in factual texts they can be ignored if they impede the communication of the content. Genre conventions may differ between source and target culture, and the Italian translator must also be able to handle them.

All genres are characterized by certain features. The Italian translator’s task becomes easier when the source text exhibits most of the features typical to its genre. The Italian translator then has simply to replicate the features in the target text. But if a similar genre does not exist in the target language, then the Italian translator will have to rely upon his innovative powers to come up with a form that is both comprehensible and convincing.

Imitation is a subset of the intertextuality known as genre membership; when taken to its extreme imitation becomes parody. To effect successful Italian translation, the Italian translator must first be able to recognize the parody, then he must be able to trace the parody back to its origin for full comprehension, and then he must exhibit proficiency in the style of the parody.

Allusions and Quotations

As has already been mentioned, intertextuality in Italian translation can take the form of allusions and quotations. The quote is a form of intertextuality in Italian translation in which an author borrows and repeats the words of another text. A quote may consist of a few words, a single sentence or even an entire paragraph. Sometimes, a standardized and familiar version of the quote may exist in the target language. The Italian translator will risk the hostile reaction of the target reader if he willfully chooses to ignore the familiar Italian translation without assigning any special reasons for his deviance. If more than one translated version of the quotation exists, the Italian translator must exercise his or her powers of discernment to make a suidiv choice among the options.

Often, a quotation that is alive with connotations for the source reader will create no echoes in the target reader by virtue of his unfamiliarity with the source culture. In such cases, the Italian translator may come up with an equivalent in the target language, or he may simply paraphrase the quotation or he may even choose to leave it out entirely, depending on the extent to which meaning in the source text is reinforced by the quotation. Rendering a quote in the target language is a tricky problem for an Italian translator because of the risk of misrepresenting the meaning and depriving the target text of some part of its original meaning. Any decision will depend primarily on the intended function of the quotation.

An allusion, unlike a quote, is an implied or indirect reference. The problem with allusions is that they are culture-specific; they are the products of the history, literature, cinema and art of a particular group of people, and instances of allusions traversing national or even regional boundaries are few. In most cases, therefore, the connotations associated with an allusion may not even be triggered in the target reader. In such cases, the target reader may not miss the meaning of the passage in question, but he will definitely lose those features that endow a text with its literary value.

The Italian translator’s task, with respect to allusions, is complicated but clear-cut. The first task of the Italian translator is to recognize the allusion. The second task is to determine the function of the allusion. The third is to choose a strategy to translate the allusion into the target language. The Italian translator may use a standard Italian translation, he or she may opt for a literal translation, he or she may supply additional explanations in the form of foot-notes or endnotes, he or she may leave the allusion untranslated, or he may omit the translation. Omission, of course, is to be used only as a last resort because it will compromise the meaning and the effect of the target text. Italian translation of allusions and quotations pose more of a problem in literary than in factual texts.


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