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Translating: Signs, Texts, Practices

Jacques Fontanille, Marco Sonzogni et Rovena Troqe
p. 14-20
Cet article est une traduction de :
Traduire : signes, textes, pratiques

Notes de la rédaction

The Guest Editors would like to thank Michael McCann for his assistance with the English text of the introduction and of Diva Cardoso de Camargo’s essay.

Texte intégral

1The call for papers that has led to this special issue of Signata was broad enough to invite a wide range of responses in terms of topics, disciplines, languages, cultures, traditions, approaches, methodologies, practices. Indeed, the large number of stimulating submissions received not only testifies to the appeal of semiotics as a durable and reliable theoretical model for the study of translation, it also maps, geographically as well as intellectually, its expanding horizon in terms of influence, reception, and application. The essays included in Signata 7 reflect the multifaceted exchange between semiotics and translation studies.

2In fact, since the study of translation has found its place in the humanities, many disciplines have dealt with the diversity and the complexity of the questions which it poses through varied perspectives not only linguistic but also cultural, literary, sociological, technological, media ones. All these reflections—and the juxtaposition of these points of view—add substance, depth and density to a particularly elusive and composite type of practice, because they highlight the need for regarding translation not only as a multi-disciplinary object of study but, more properly, as an inter-semiotic activity. Addressed from multiple perspectives, translation is a meaning-making activity, but it is still necessary that this multiplicity of meanings be accommodated in an overall coherence, under conditions which have to be specified. In this regard, our hypothesis is that the semiotic approach, particularly the inter-semiotic viewpoint, is likely to contribute to the establishment of these conditions.

3When faced with contemporary approaches to translation studies which are quite heterogeneous, this special issue proposes to adopt several scientific perspectives which do not accept translation as mere linguistic practice, nor one which focuses only on certain local difficulties of translational practices, but which instead questions globally the meaning generated by translation, at different degrees of manifestation. In short, it is a question of seeking and of proposing one or more homogeneous and relevant plans of immanence for a finalised rebuilding and analysis of the sense, which could contribute especially to facilitating and establishing the translator’s strategic choices.

4This semiotic focus allows the observation and development of the purpose of the study, both at a distance and close up at the same time. From far off so as to appreciate the essential form—its abstract and virtual sense. What is translation? Is it possible to give it a general definition? Are there values and qualities which identify it? From a more situational point of view, how does the definition of translation vary with regard to specific socio-economic values, to editorial demand or with regard to idiosyncrasies which implicate and demand subjectivity and style? From the point of view of method, a semiotic epistemological posture demands of the researcher, be he/she a semiotician or specialist in translation studies, to state precisely on which level of immanence the analysis is based and to construct the translation’s meaning according to one for several levels of relevance which can then be articulated with all the other which may be envisaged.

5The Peircian approach to semiotics has been exceptionally productive in the context of the general theory of translation, determining real progress in the definition of translation, being seen as a particular form of semiosis or as forming the basis for a specific process in the generation of the sense, and especially specific in its recursion. While a semiosic process, in fact, translation is a significant set of meanings which refers to another set of meanings, through phases of enrichment and progressive development. Furthermore, this vision matches perfectly the generative perspective of translatability which appears as one of the fundamental properties of semiotic systems. Translation, as indicated by Greimas, fits between the existential judgement There is sense and the possibility of saying something else about it—in other words, to speak of the meaning. It is at the same time both translation and the production of meaning. Meta-semiotic discourse is also translation, and therefore the exact question becomes how one can give the meaning of a meaningful whole in another set of meanings, without indeed the latter not being strictly speaking a meta-semiotic discourse?

6In this productive movement of increasing and extending the articulations of meaning, more general concerns of a hermeneutics nature are included. When does translation become an appropriation, a ‘domestication’? Is it destined to be an unequal output?

7Reflection on these concerns go beyond traditional commonalities and the traditional binarism which accompanies translation theories—opposites of fidelity/inaccuracy, of source/target, of transparency/opacity, of the effacing/visibility of the translator, etc.—in order to position itself in a more complex point of view, which is gradual and nuanced, being interested in transposition questions (inter‑semiotic translations), formalisation (poetic contributions, rewriting, re‑creation, rhetorical aspects, linguistic, legal, social, and historical constraints) but also interested in the diversity of the cultural inflections, beyond of a too exclusively Western vision, while opening itself up to new translation forms.

8This special issue of Signata is structured into four sections which follow a systemic rationale. The first section entitled Semio-translational perspectives presents contributions dealing with the question of the definition of the concept of translation as a semiotic configuration, and of the problems which it induces, producing effects with specific meanings. The second section, Transpositions between verbal semiotics is devoted to verbal semioses, especially literary semioses, and deals with issues such as transfer, text, medium, context, negotiation, and passion in inter-lingual translation. The third section, Transpositions between verbal and non-verbal semiotics presents theoretical and applied studies to inter‑semiotic and addresses issues related to transpositions between language and ichnographic systems, as well as to the translational challenges of multi-modal, media and artistic texts. The fourth and final section farewells Umberto Eco, one of the most influential semiotician and translation scholars of our time. Richard Dixon, the English translator of his latest novel Numero Zero, gives a personal account which bridges brilliantly, in the tradition of Eco’s reasoning, both theoretical thinking and practical examples.

1. Semio-translational perspectives

9Susan Petrilli takes both an extensive and insightful look which embraces with generosity and acumen all translational forms and highlights their contribution at the very heart of meaning-generation. The author emphasises the close link between semiotics and translation, between meaning, life-identify and translation. Meaning being taken as the meaning of a sign in its becoming otherness, in the Other. In the process of transposition and of the translation of signs, non-exhaustiveness, and therefore non-equivalence, inevitably leaves a margin of evasion, of further and richer development. Translation is the fundamental condition to communication. It is the essence of the thought because we think and communicate in translation in between languages and through non-verbal system, and thus in an inter-semiotic manner. Thought and communication always imply translation. Petrilli proposes a supra-class of translation which completes Jakobson’s triadic typology, namely the ‘‘vital’’ translation of signs since the inherency of the very life of signs is translation. Without translation, transmutations, transformation, or transposition there will be no form of sign, meaning, or life. Most importantly, translation is a practice related to the ethics of hospitality, to a participative and reflexive understanding of the Other. As a practice of life, it shall welcome not only the specificities of the language and culture of the translator but also those of the translated sign, in a dialogical and dialectical process.

10Dinda Gorlée deals with a well-known issue in Translation Studies namely the problem of the duality and binarism—form/meaning, denotation/connotation, signans/signatum, source /target language—which quite often inconveniently in a normative perspective, reduces translation to a purely technical act. Based on a review of Saussure’s thought, as adopted by some translation scholars including Vinay and Darbelnet, the author presents a translation methodology based on Peircian semiosis and centred on the linguistic and cultural competence and on the translator’s intuition, memory and experience. This approach allows one to overcome a narrow and simplistic view of translation as a fixed equivalence or as the implementation of predetermined strategies and paving the way for a new concept of translation seen as a creative, dynamic and subjective semiosis.

2. Transpositions between verbal semiotics

11Mohammad Ahmad Thawabteh demonstrates the decisive role of cultural inter-textuality in politico-religious texts. The study is based on a corpus of speeches of Bin Laden and in the analysis shows a complex network of references—Qur’an, prophetic sayings, pre-Islamic terms—aimed at strengthening the communicative force and legitimising the speaker in the public eyes. By adopting an approach based on discourse analysis and semiotics, the author stresses the need for the translator to handle the intertextual relationship between signs in a text and as well as the importance of dealing with the text as a whole sign, seen in a global perspective which overcomes the mere one-to-one linguistic equivalence. Translation then identifies a real challenge: that of transposing in another cultural area of inter-texts strongly influenced by their own cultural environment.

12Roya Jabarouty addresses the issue of translating conceptual metaphors from Persian into English. Lakoff and Johnson’s work represents her starting point for an analysis which highlights the relevance of extra-linguistic skills, which allow sizing the uniqueness of allusions, idiomatic elements and cultural metaphors in a literary text. The author encourages the overcoming of linguistic difficulties by adopting a semiotic model which helps decoding the components of conceptual metaphors of original texts in the studied corpus and encoding of the target texts, through negotiation and prioritisation at a macro-propositional level. Another challenge arises as most conceptual metaphors are based on the sharing of sensitive and culturally schematically experiences. Their translation therefore should adjust to expressions of similar but slightly different experience in that other culture.

13Alessandra Chiappori inquires into the problems of translation into Italian of Raymond Queneau’s literary work, with the difficulties arising from the differences between the linguistic systems, but also from the poetic process at the foundation of the writing of the French author. The analysis of the translative solutions by renowned authors such as Franco Fortini, Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco allows light to be shed on the linguistic richness and on the mechanisms refining the procedures of Queneau’s work and shows that translation activity is fuelled by a creative will which engenders a new text and feeds a new literature, since they not only must translate each of the processes, but also and above all implement a system and an aesthetic network which together they constitute.

14Federica Massia examines the impact of translation on the development of a national language and of a literary work. Her study presents a careful and thorough analysis of translations of Charles Perrault’s Contes from French into Italian by Carlo Collodi and how the recreation strategies of the translated text ensure for the latter a full autonomy with respect to the original and which thus meet the linguistic, communicative and socio-cultural needs of Italy at the historical moment of reunification. We take a further step in linguistic and cultural transposition. It is no longer a question of adjusting to another language and another culture, but rather to establish and strengthen a culture being transformation and constituted.

15Diva Cardoso de Camargo showcases the possibilities of renewing and deepening the teaching of translation, based on an approach utilising parallel and comparable corpora of Brazilian and English literary texts. The task of research refers to the universals of translation, which are integrated in a thorough reflection on the cultural dimension of the translated texts. The principal aim is to develop pedagogical activities for students who strengthen their inter-linguistic and inter‑cultural skills for improving their translation performance.

16Yves Gambier reasons on the evolution of the concepts of text and practice of translation in the new globalised digital environment. While outlining the milestones of the history of translation supports and advocating for a further research in the field, the author emphasises the role of globalisation as well as of information and communication technologies given their profound impact on the definition of the object of study in translation, on translation methods, on the conceptualisation of textual genres and, on the modalities of action and interaction in the creation and reception of the translation products. The focus on multi-modal texts and the attention on the diversity of different sign systems involved in the generation of textual meaning emphasises the need for an openness to new forms, practices and manifestations of translation. The challenge is thus prospective because it must integrate with translational practice not only innovative diversification of media and forms, but also their sustainable and constitutive instability in the digital age.

3. Transpositions between verbal and non-verbal semiotics

17Kay L. O’Halloran, Sabine Tan and Peter Wignell offer an innovative modelling of the effects of re-semiotisation occurring in inter-semiotic translation practices In the inter-semiotic process, the choice of the most suitable tools to size and describe changes which occur when the meaning of a text is rebuilt with different modalities and in different media is a discriminating factor, thus having a significant effect on the results of translation. Basing their reasoning on Halliday’s systemic functional theory, the authors propose a socio-semiotic approach which identifies the modifications of the re-semiotised sense in a multi-modal corpus of language, images and symbols from World Health Organization texts.

18Miguel Á. Bernal-Merino highlights the economic and social importance of the localisation process of video games as well as the need to reflect on translation practices which recreate the entertainment and aesthetic experience of the original products. In the face of a growing awareness by the production companies toward issues related to the effective localisation of their software, the proposed analytic semiotic model allows better treatment of the meaning layers and of the modes of interaction in multi-modal texts and provides therefore an improved production of localised video games. He then invites us to consider, on balance, the backward effects of globalisation. Instead of assuming a trivialisation and neutralisation of socio-cultural differences, on the contrary, video games incite a specific topical anchor, whose translation will transpose, precisely, what intuitively seems an irreducibly singular dimension.

19Sabrina Baldo opposes to the conventional practice of subtitling, the new and modern practice of ‘special sub-titles’. Basing her reasoning on the analysis of a corpus of film extracts, the author illustrates methods which innovate over the rigidity of classical subtitling and better meet the lexical, syntactic and spatiotemporal constraints which render the translational practice particularly difficult in this field. These new techniques are not based on the traditional need aimed at erasement, but rather allow better-integrated sub-titles and their enhancement as of intensifying elements of the thymic and aesthetics load of the film medium. In a certain manner, the translation proceeds in this case with a semiotic reclassification of sub-titles. These are more than mere verbal statements to be translated, but are complex visual-cinematographic devices which must be transposed.

20Evangelos Kourdis presents a rich study on the semiotic modalities which manifest the Greek national ideology during the 1912-1913 Balkan wars. The analysed corpus consists of lithographs of the considered period which interwove images and language inscriptions in Greek and French. The semiotic approach allows here to unveil the thymic charge as well as the artistic and media dimension of the lithographs which serve the national cause of a new born Greek State. It is in a way another case where translation contributes to transform, establish and affirm a new cultural era.

21Richard Shiff addresses directly the initial question as to relations between translation and the meta-semiotic dimension. He engages, indeed, in a demonstration according to which “any interpretation is a translation” on the philosophy of art, an approach which shows how current visualisation technologies disrupt the usual conditions of the interpretive transposition between figure, perception and restitution of meaning. The author deals with fundamental issues in both semiotics and translation studies, such as the conceptual and operative hierarchy between translation and interpretation, the question of dynamic meaning and of the different levels of pertinence making in the translational transfer, and it also opens up on fecund inter-disciplinarity perspective, aimed at tackling the problems of being unable to decide, performance and experience, as well as the opposition between conceptual and thymic meaning.

22Loveday Kempthorne and Peter Donelan reflect on the innovative intersection of respective poetic and mathematical systems in the work of Dan Barbilian alias Ion Barbu. In this original study of the work of the Romanian scholar in areas which apparently are situated far apart from each other, the authors reveal the relations and algebraic and geometric symbolism underlying the poetic production and thus they reconstruct the inter-semiotic transfers between the mathematical ideal and the spiritual lyricism. This study brings to light, as such, one of the presuppositions of translation activity, namely that recognition or construction of patterns or underlying generative models and, as far as possible, the common pattern/models between the two sets which the translation connects.

23Emerald L. King presents a highly novel case of inter-semiotic translation between iconic and verbal texts and performance practices. By conceptualising cosplay as an artistic text which adopts and transforms a pre-existing history in line with the cultural values of the host community, the author analyses a corpus of costumes and highlights the changes and adaptations of the linguistic and trans‑media meaning which take place in the course of inter-cultural transfers.

4. In memoriam: Umberto Eco (1932-2016)

24The last section of this special issue presents the personal account of a renowned literary translator. The essay by Richard Dixon enriches the theoretical discourse with valuable personal reflections on translation solutions which allow him to overcome the main translation difficulties in Eco’s works and on the importance of the collaborative relationship and direct interpersonal exchanges between translator and author. This testimony is also a tribute to Umberto Eco, whose work has deepened our understanding of semiotics and translation studies. It was Eco himself who said that the language of Europe is “translation”.

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Jacques Fontanille, Marco Sonzogni et Rovena Troqe, « Translating: Signs, Texts, Practices », Signata, 7 | 2016, 14-20.

Référence électronique

Jacques Fontanille, Marco Sonzogni et Rovena Troqe, « Translating: Signs, Texts, Practices », Signata [En ligne], 7 | 2016, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2016, consulté le 18 février 2018. URL :

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Jacques Fontanille

Université de Limoges

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Marco Sonzogni

Université de Wellington

Rovena Troqe

Université de Genève

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