Applied Translation Studies Strategies English Language Essay

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As stated by Catford is almost impossible for a translator to produce a TT which is grammatically and lexically identical to the ST, and this is because languages differ in the way they use lexical and grammatical devices in order to express meaning.

Translation is not only a matter of transposing meaning: in order to do this we need to begin working from the core of the language, which is the 'grammatical level' (Dickins, 2010). As explained by Harvey and Higgins (2002) and Baker (1992: 85), this level refers to the morphological and syntactical aspects which rule within every existing language and, as described by Mona Baker (1992: 85-6), each language has different grammatical categories, therefore, most of the times source and the target languages might lack 'grammatical equivalence', for example Italian has the category of gender whereas English does not.

The presence of these different categories, it is often linked to the linguistic typology of the languages taken into consideration. One of the most useful typological classifications takes into account the morphological characteristics of the language and, in this respect, languages can be considered either analytic or synthetic (Halvor and Theil, 2005: 5). There are other widely accepted classifications which consider other characteristics, i.e. word order (Croft, 2007: 85-109), pro-drop vs. non-pro drop (Cook, 1988: 75-6), classifier+head vs. head+classifier (Taylor, 1992: 86-7 and Boas, 1938: 33), verb framing vs. satellite framing (Taylor, 1992: 92-3 and Croft,2010: 3).

As far as this essay is concerned, we will focus on the grammatical differences between the Italian and the English language. As the majority of Indo-European languages, Italian mainly belongs to a subgroup of the synthetic type, that is the inflectional (or flexional, fusional) one (Graffi and Scalise, 2003: 65). English, instead, mostly belongs to the isolating type (Shibatani and Bynon, 1995: 56) which is characterized by not having inflections and, therefore, less morphology.

We need to bear in mind that even if we are dealing with grammatical differences, as a translator, it is really easy to fall into the matter of semantics. As Taylor (1990: xv, 17, 71), Nida (1964: 236) and Comrie (1981: 60) confirmed, grammatical categories have an 'high semantic import', and the reason for this is not really difficult to understand, considering that the main aim of grammar devices is that of expressing meaning. The "phase of wording", in fact, is the product of the lexicogrammar and it is the intermediate phase where actual meaning is created (Basilio, 2005: 8).

This essay tries to investigate on some of the strategies to use when the English language makes use of grammatical devices which, due to typological differences, do not enjoy any equivalent in the Italian language and, therefore, the English language seems to be working with more easiness and more efficiently. I will try here to give examples to every of the above-mentioned typological characteristics and to highlight how Italian translators can actually find ways to compensate for the lack of grammatical devices and produce efficient translations.

First of all, we will be discussing about Italian and English word-formation. Let us look at the following examples of English into Italian translations taken from a teenagers' book I had the chance to translate for my UG thesis (Kinney, J. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, 2008):




The two of us would practically be ninjas if we stuck with this hole-jumping program I planned out. (p. 30)

Saremmo potuti diventare dei ninja grazie alla tecnica del salto della buca inventata da me.


When I got home, I asked mom about this two-fruit thing. (p. 62)

Arrivato a casa, ho chiesto a mamma il motivo di questa cosa


"Chimps" a four-page paper, Greg Heffley . (p. 50)

"Scimmiette", un tema di quattro pagine di Gregg Heffley

In the English sentences we can find, in bold, three examples of compounding words, a typical structure of analytic languages which tend to form new terms by combining two or more words (Plag, 2003: 133 and Aikhenvald, 2007: 9). These kinds of structures can create some problems when translating to languages, like French and Italian, which do not accept these syntactical patterns. As said by Hervey (2005: 64-5), in fact, the Italian language is, in this respect, more 'analytical', since it tends to mark the relations between the elements of a compound with prepositions (i.e. 'di', 'dei', 'delle') rather than simply list the terms one after the other. Most of the times, Italian translators have no choice rather than repeating for two or more times the 'di' preposition even if this can, sometimes, lead to repetitive sentences. If we look at the first sentence on the above table, 'hole-jumping program' has been translated into Italian as 'technique of the jump of the hole'. The same happened in the third example, where 'four-page paper' becomes in Italian 'a paper of four pages of Greg Heffley'). In the second example, Greg, the protagonist of the book, is complaining with her mom about the two pieces of fruit that she left to him for school. In this case the best solution was to omit the 'two-fruit' part and to translate it as 'I have asked mom the reason for this'. In this case it was better not to report the compounding into Italian because it would have sounded too strained (something like 'I asked mom the reason for the thing of the two fruit'). Compounding words definitely represent a handful resource of a language and help make it less heavy and redundant but at the same time, they represent a translators' problem when dealing with languages that do not own these kind of structure.

Talking about English useful grammatical structures it is worth mentioning the prepositional verbs issue: typologically, languages whose verbs tend to add meaning through the addition of a preposition are called 'satellite-framing languages' (Croft, 2010: 3), and English belongs in fact to this category. Languages like Italian or Spanish, instead, are defined as 'verb-framing' (Croft, 2010: 3) because their verbs express meaning without the help of any prepositions (cf. the English 'to go out' with the Italian 'uscire' or the Spanish 'salir').

Now let us see how these prepositional verbs can cause problems to Italian translators. Here there are some examples taken from the book Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Kinney, 2008) and my translation of the passages:




They sent him off to Military Academy (p. 15)

Lo hanno spedito direttamente all'Accademia militare


Now all I need to do is send this mail off (p.20)

Tutto quello che devi fare adesso e' spedire subito il pacco


To see if he could help us out (p. 57)

Per vedere se ci poteva dare una mano

In the examples 1 and 2 the phrasal verb 'to send off' has been translated in Italian as 'spedire' ('to send'). In order to convey the meaning of the particle 'off', which underlines the rapidity of the action I was forced to use an adverb in both cases: 'direttamente' (directly) in the first example and 'subito' (immediately) in the second example. In the third example, instead of using the verb 'aiutare' (to help) I chose to use an idiomatic expression in order to make the sentence more vivid and direct and, therefore, keep the emphasizing function of the particle 'out'. I have in fact translated the prepositional verb as 'dare una mano' ('to give so. a hand'). This confirms Taylor's assumption (1992 :92) that English verbs often include meaning that the Italian language can only explain through adverbs or any other grammatical item, so the Italian translator is often forced to add parts of the speech in order to try to recreate the English ST's meaning (usually adverbs, in the case of prepositional verbs).

As a translator, I have decided to specialize in translation of children's literature and one of the main problems I have encountered was the translation of onomatopoeic sounds in Italian comics, this mostly caused by the diverse morphological typology of the English and Italian languages. Most of the onomatopoeic sounds used in the Italian comics come, in fact, directly from the English language, this having two main reasons: first of all, the American monopoly of the comics' market in Europe. The second reason, which is of more interest to us, is a linguistic one: onomatopoeic sounds, due to their imitative purpose, often consist of just one morpheme and tend to end in consonant. If we consider the fact that Italian words often end in vowels (due to their need to express categories of gender and number through the addition of suffices) and the fact that they are often really long (mostly due to Latin influence), it can be easily understood why the creation of onomatopoeic sounds can be quite tricky for Italian speakers from a typological point of view.

Let us see some examples taken from the cartoons present in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Kinney, 2008):




clap clap (p. 3)

clap clap


pant pant (p. 14)

pant pant


gasp (p. 45)



chatter chatter (p. 6, 131)

brrrr brrrrr


snip (p. 178)



blink (p. 212)


As it can be seen, many examples (1, 2, 3) include an identical transposition of the English term into Italian.

The main problem, as expressed by Semprini (2006: 42), is that the English reader reads onomatopoeic sounds which come directly from everyday speech. This is due do the easiness with which the English grammar allows 'conversion of word classes' (Newmark, 1996): verbs can often be converted into nouns without any modifications so verbs like 'knock', 'bang' or 'slap' can easily be turned into nouns just by removing the particle 'to' and used for sound symbolism purposes. Due to the flectional disposition of the Italian language, it is impossible for Italian speakers to apply the above-mentioned 'conversion of word classes' because every word, in order to be converted, needs to be inflected too and, therefore, it would lose any onomatopoeic function. In the context of sound symbolism the English language seems to work extremely more efficiently, to the point that the Italian language is forced to take terms directly from the source text and use English terms for even more than one purposes (see 'gasp' used in both the examples 3 and 6, once to indicate 'astonishment' and once to indicate 'eye blinking').

When dealing with sound symbolism, my suggestion is to leave the English onomatopoeic sounds when possible or, at least, try to find the closest Italian alternative when available (see examples 4 and 5 above). In this respect, I do not agree with Taylor's assumption (1990: 71) that lower categories, as morphemes, phonemes or syllables, do not represent a translator's 'immediate concern'. In the case of onomatopoeic sounds in fact, it is essential for a translator to think about the phonetic and morphological aspects of the expressions since the aim of these 'visual sounds' is to use phonetic devices to express meaning (Crystal, 1997).

Finally, it is worth mentioning the word order issue. Both English and Italian are considered to be mainly SVO languages (Comrie, 1981: 32), even if exceptions exist considering that Italian is a flectional language and, so, more open to word movement (Haegeman, 1997: 275). The English language, instead, due to its isolating nature, has stricter word order, even if it allows subject-verb inversion in questions containing the verb to be or the auxiliary 'to have'. Talking about questions, there are a couple of issue for which the English language is more useful: first, the question tags, which are widely used in the spoken and informal written English and, second, the insertion of the auxiliary 'do' to form English questions (Agard and Di Pietro, 1965: 43). Both these devices are in fact absent in the Italian language and the only strategy available to translators is to omit those parts of language considering that they do not enjoy any counterpart versions in Italian.

To sum up, the English language seems to offer several useful grammatical devices not available to Italian born speakers (phrasal verbs, compounding words, onomatopoeic sounds, auxiliary 'do') and most of the times Italian translators are forced to omit these grammatical devices and, instead, add grammatical parts or change word order in order to convey the same meaning. The inflectional characteristics of the Italian language almost represent a constraint and they do not leave the language any possibility for expressiveness or freedom (if compared to English compounding words and phrasal verbs, for example). In this respect, Newmark (1996:61) states that translation into English is not difficult task since the English language offers lots of vocabulary, several devices and many 'degrees of formality to choose from'. It is curious to notice that Leopardi (1992: 144), one of the most famous Italian writers, stated the same about the Italian language, saying that it is more 'amenable to translate' since it tends to work with easiness. It would be interesting to investigate this issue, and maybe we would end up discovering that, after all, these two languages might not be as different as they look at first.

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