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Practically every communicative experience we have reminds us of a similar
experience we have either observed or been actively involved in. Different
scholars use different terms for this previous experience:
mental picture
situation model
mental film clip
On 9 October 2015 you switch on the TV and hear someone say:
NATO leaders have issued a warning to President Putin as the anti-terrorist
offensive continues.
What kind of communicative event is this? Who is speaking? How is he/she
dressed? Who is President Putin? Who are the “terrorists”? Where are they?
What has been going on to make NATO leaders want to issue a warning?
You can now predict the kind of language that will follow. Which of the
following (A to F) are probable utterances in the context of the
scenario/schema/mental film clip you now have in your head?
NATO leaders have issued a warning to President Putin as the anti-terrorist
offensive continues. Turkish President Recep Erdogan threatened…
A. to look for an alternative supplier of natural gas.
B. to give Mr Putin a punch on the nose.
C. to put laxatives in Turkish kebabs exported to Russia.
D. to cancel the construction of a Russian-built nuclear power station.
E. to commit Turkish troops to NATO’s presence in the Baltic states.
F. to sing “Vladimir, Vladimir, watch out for the jihad-ee, dear.”
Even if you have never been personally involved in certain communicative
events, your knowledge of the world means that you would know what to
expect (in terms of participants, behaviour and language) in these situations:
1. Going through passport control at the United states border.
2. You are driving on a very busy road. The man behind you keeps flashing his
headlamps but it is impossible for you to go any faster. At a red traffic light he
draws level with you and opens his window.
3. You applied for a job and along with about 200 other candidates took an
written test. Now you have been called to an interview.
4. Your best friend has been trying to have a baby for five years. Now she
gives you the good news: she’s pregnant.
Technical terms
Top-down and bottom-up processing
Remember Dell Hymes’ SPEAKING model:
Setting (situation, scene)
Participants (active and passive)
Ends (purposes, goals, intentions)
Acts (form and content of what is said)
Key (tone, spirit, manner)
Instrumentalities (type of spoken or written channel)
Norms (socially or culturally determined norms)
Genres (types of discourse)
Context and Translation
“[…] from the translator’s point of view, an understanding of the
context is necessary so that he or she can relate what is said to
the surrounding features and clarify any elements that may seem
‘out of place’ or even incomprehensible in other circumstances.”
(Taylor, p. 78)
M.A.K. Halliday’s Functional Grammar (FG)
Conventional grammar (whether prescriptive or descriptive) merely tells us
what is formally possible in the language. FG also considers the context of
situation, i.e. how the cultural and situational context influences our choice of
lexicogrammatical forms.
You need to know about Italian culture and specific situations in order to
“Due caffè macchiati, per favore, poi tre ristretti, due lunghi e anche un caffè
“Quel ragazzo rischia di prendere sette in condotta.”
And you need to know about UK society to understand:
“My daughter’s going to Latin America for her gap year.”
“When I retire I’m going to help the Samaritans for a few hours each week.”
Halliday’s context of situation has three components: field, tenor and mode.
FIELD involves the WH- questions. What is happening? Where and When?
Who are the participants? Why are they behaving and speaking in this way?
TENOR refers to the relationships between participants (boyfriend/girlfriend,
boss/employee, neighbours, colleagues, complete strangers etc.) and
questions of power, status and how well they know one another. It also refers
to role structure: questioner/answerer, host/guest etc.
MODE concerns the language used: written or spoken, spontaneous or
planned, formal or informal, general or specialized etc.
Context of situation and translation
The translator must first of all understand the field, tenor and mode of the
source text, then recreate them in the target text. Only then can s/he make the
most appropriate lexicogrammatical choices. This is top-down processing.
Sometimes in the translation it may be necessary to give an explicit
explanation of something that has no equivalent in the target language culture:
gap year, sette in condotta, Italy’s coffee culture etc. However, as we saw in
Lesson 1 and the passage from Tim Park’s novel Tongues of Flame, it may be
better not to explain things that do not really contribute to the reader’s
appreciation of the target text (cricket nets, sixth-form college and A levels are
not explained).
Try to describe the field, tenor and mode in the following very brief texts from
This is an example of intertextuality.
1. Let’s beat it. Here comes that skinny dame.
2. Men hate the sight of me, I’m so skinny. I’m going to try ironized yeast.
fermento con ferro aggiunto
3. You’re gorgeous since you’ve gained weight!
4.5-9 chili
Read Taylor’s summary (pp 80-83) of Juliane House’s Model of Translation
Quality Assessment. She proposes:
Three dimensions of language user: geographical origin, social class, time
Five dimensions of language use: medium, participation, social role relationship,
social attitude, province
The model is best applied to spoken language/dialogue. In fact Taylor quotes
House’s application of the it to a work of drama (Sean O’Casey’s play The End of
the Beginning) but it could also be applied to the ironized yeast advertisement.
Within a language perfect synonyms rarely exist. Apparent synonyms can have
subtle shades of meaning that differentiate them. Two words may have similar
denotations but one is used in a greater range of contexts than the other. Or
sometimes one word has connotations that the other does not. In English think of
small/little or complete/finished.
We have these shirts in four sizes: extra large, large, medium and _______.
I only speak a _____ German.
A man in love is not complete until he’s married. Then he’s finished.
In Italian think about intelligente/astuto, sufficiente/abbastanza, delicato/fragile,
rapido/veloce, galera/carcere/prigione.
Between languages “synonyms” are even less reliable:
guess = indovinare, supporre, credere, pensare
rat = ratto, topo
leaf = foglia, foglio, sfogliare
strike = colpo, sciopero, colpire, picchiare
Wimbledon = una zona di Londra, un torneo di tennis
canadese = a Canadian, a pizza, (in Sardinia) a tracksuit
cornetto = a brioche, an icecream, a musical instrument, (in Naples) a
lucky charm in the shape of a horn
Sanremo = a town in Liguria, a popular music festival
Today we talk about African Americans or Afro-Americans. It is still acceptable to call them
Blacks but we can no longer say Negroes, which was the preferred expression until about
the 1960s. The word Nigger is absolutely taboo but black rap and hiphop artists use the
form Nigga(h).
The noun cripple and the adjective crippled can no longer be applied to people, although
they can be used metaphorically to refer to an institution, an organization or an economy.
Handicapped is used less and less. Disabled is still OK but some people prefer differently
The word gay (denotation: allegro) was adopted by homosexuals because they wanted a
positive term to counter all the derogatory words used to describe them (faggot, queer etc.).
A word that traditionally has negative connotations can be reclaimed and given a positive
meaning. An example is spinster (zitella).
Il vostro docente di Traduzione Lingua Inglese 1 è diversamente giovane.
Beware of the “generic masculine”, i.e. the use of a masculine term to refer to both males
and females collectively. This occurs in Italian with plural nouns like figli and fratelli
(translated as children and brothers and/or sisters). A singular masculine noun may be
used in bureaucratic forms (e.g. “lo studente” in the traditional exam registers before we
had ESSE3).
In English the generic masculine concerns pronouns:
Written notice in a hotel: “If a guest requires an invoice he should inform reception on
In written English we can use (s)he or he/she or he or she.
In spoken English we often sacrifice grammatical correctness in order to preserve political
correctness: If someone requires an invoice they should inform reception on arrival.
When translating into Italian you can take advantage of the fact that Italian is a pro-drop
Feminine nouns such as actress and manageress are disappearing; actor and manager are
generally used for women as well as men.
Should we call Professor Del Zompo il rettore or la rettrice?
Lexical cohesion/Semantic fields – Taylor pp 88-91
Pragmatics – Taylor pp 91-93.
You can also find a file of the slides used in my Discourse
Analysis course for the 2nd year of Lingue e culture per la
mediazione linguistica in 2014-15.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (1958)
Colazione da Tiffany, traduzione di Bruno Tasso (2007)
When they reached her door she rummaged her purse in search of a key, and
took no notice of the fact that his thick lips were nuzzling the nape of her neck.
At last, though, finding the key and opening her door, she turned to him
cordially: ‘Bless you, darling – you were sweet to see me home.’
‘Hey, baby!’ he said, for the door was closing in his face.
‘Yes, Harry?’
‘Harry was the other guy. I’m Sid. Sid Arbuck. You like me.’
‘I worship you, Mr Arbuck. But good night, Mr Arbuck.’
Mr Arbuck stared with disbelief as the door shut firmly.
Quando raggiunsero la porta, lei cominciò a frugare nella borsa alla caccia
di una chiave; senza badare alle labbra di lui che le massaggiavano la nuca,
all’attaccatura del collo. Finalmente, trovata la chiave e aperta la porta, si
voltò verso di lui, cordialissima. «Che Dio ti benedica, caro… sei stato
davvero gentile ad accompagnarmi a casa.»
«Ehi, pupa!» fece lui, perché il battente gli si stava chiudendo in faccia.
«Sì, Harry?»
«Harry era quell’altro. Io sono Sid. Sid Arbuck. E ti piaccio.»
«Vi adoro, signor Arbuck. Buona notte, signor Arbuck.»
Arbuck rimase e guardare, incredulo, la porta che era stata chiusa con
gesto deciso.
Mr Arbuck stared with disbelief as the door shut firmly. ‘Hey, baby, let me
in, baby. You like me, baby. I’m a liked guy. Didn’t I pick up the check, five
people, your friends, I never seen them before? Don’t that give me the right
you should like me? You like me, baby.’
He tapped on the door gently, then louder; finally, he took several steps
back, his body hunched and lowering, as though he meant to charge it, crash it
down. Instead, he plunged down the stairs, slamming a fist against the wall.
Just as he reached the bottom, the door of the girl’s apartment opened and she
poked out her head.
‘Oh, Mr Arbuck…’
He turned back, a smile of relief oiling his face: she’d only been teasing.
‘The next time a girl wants a little powder-room change,’ she called, not
teasing at all, ‘take my advice, darling: don’t give her twenty-cents!’
Arbuck rimase e guardare, incredulo, la porta che era stata chiusa con gesto
deciso. «Ehi, pupa, lasciami entrare, pupa. Io ti piaccio, pupa. Sono un tipo che
piaccio, io. Non ho forse pagato il conto per cinque persone, amici tuoi che non
avevo mai visto? E questo non mi dà il diritto di esserti simpatico? Io ti piaccio,
Bussò alla porta, prima adagio, poi sempre più forte, e alla fine arretrò di
qualche passo, la schiena ingobbita, il corpo piegato in avanti, come se avesse
intenzione di partire alla carica e di buttar giù tutto. Invece, si precipitò per le
scale, picchiando il pugno contro la parete. Era appena arrivato in fondo quando
la porta dell’appartamento si aprì e la ragazza mise fuori la testa.
«Oh, signor Arbuck…»
Lui si voltò, con un sorriso che gli si allargava sul viso, come una macchia
d’olio: dunque era stato solo uno scherzo.
«La prossima volta che una ragazza vuole qualche spicciolo per la toletta,»
gli gridò lei, e non scherzava affatto, «ascoltate il mio consiglio, tesoro: non
datele venti cents!»
What do you remember about attic, bigot and callous?
Bimbo: a derogatory word for a young woman who is attractive and sexy but
also rather stupid. A common collocation is blonde bimbo. In the United States
the adjective blonde implies that a woman is not very intelligent.
Candid: franco, schietto. Give me your candid opinion.
Candido: 1. pure white, snow white 2. naïve, ingenuous
Canteen: mensa
Cantina: cellar, wine cellar
Diary of a brave translator verily in leg – Part 6
Did you know that you can eat very well in Britain? Of course, British kitchen
has a bad reputation but the traditional English plates have mostly disappeared.
Today chicken tikka masala is considered a typical English speciality even
though the recipe was invented by a Bangladeshi chef in Glasgow. You will
also find chile con carne, moussaka and couscous on the menu in many British
restaurants. It is not difficult to individuate the reasons for the
internationalization of the eating habits of the British. Today the United
Kingdom is a multiethnic society and each group of immigrants has introduced
food that native British people appreciate. The last development is that we are
all trying to pronounce Polish words like kielbasa and pierogi.