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Blog de Michel Politis, Professeur au Département de Langues Étrangères, de Traduction et d'Interprétation de l'Université ionienne (Corfou - Grèce)

Πέμπτη, 2 Φεβρουαρίου 2012

CALL FOR PAPERS: Translation Techniques in the Asiatic Cultures

Translation Techniques in the Asiatic Cultures 
Chair: Artemij Keidan (University of Rome "La Sapienza")

Panel description

General premise

Modern studies on language (both in linguistics and in philosophy) made clear that in the human communication the linguistic expressions proper are only a constituent part of a more complex and manyfold process. Not everything that the hearers of a message understand is actually uttered by the speakers. A very big amount of information is left unsaid. In order to understand the message, the hearer has to obtain the missing pieces of knowledge from his internal encyclopedia, or to infer the information from the circumstances of the discourse and some general assumptions shared by all the speakers.
A few authors may be mentioned, whose works are very revealing in this respect. Thus, Louis HJELMSLEV (1953) has shown the great importance of the meta-semiotic layers of the communication. Not only the semantic content (or denotation) of a message, i.e. what is said, is important and informative, but also the so-called connotation, i.e. how is said what is said, has often a big relevance in the discourse. This is what happens, for example, with poetical texts: they are bearers of additional semiotic burden represented by metrics, rhymes and the strophic structure. Indeed, the poetical features of the text are as much meaningful as the literal meaning of the words, but are located at a completely different semiotic level.
Also, the philosophy of language of Paul GRICE (1981) is worth of a mention, since this author revealed the importance for the communication of implicit knowledge that the speakers infer from the observation of the communicative process (discourse implicatures) and from some general assumptions about the human semiotic behavior (conversational maxims). With Grice's conceptual framework in mind we are able to explain how do the humans communicate so much with so few words.

Theory and practice of translation: a linguistic approach

All this is of a great relevance for the translation studies. Indeed, as is clear since long time, the most problematic issue for a translator is not to translate what is effectively said, but to transpose what is implicitly communicated though being unsaid.
Thus, when a translator deals with a text — especially if it is a poetic, religious or technical one — the content to transpose in another language is not limited to the literal meanings of the words that constitute the message. The translator is supposed to construct an expression in the target language that not only has the same literal meaning, but also the same unsaid implications and the same meta-semiotic connotations as the source text. The mastery of the translator consists in putting all these components together without weighing down the resulting message with excessive explanations and comments; indeed, the translation itself "remains perhaps the most direct form of commentary", according to D. G. Rossetti's well-known statement (see ROSSETTI 1861).
The translators of all the times have faced this problem, have often found some more or less felicitous solutions of it, and sometimes have even theorized about it. In most cases, the translators became aware of the "problem of the unsaid" in language far before the linguistic studies have reached a solution to this problem. A very known case, in such regard, is that of St. Jerome who claimed, in his treatise on the theory of translation (De optimo genere interpretandi), for the supremacy of the "sense-by-sense" translation over the "word-by-word" approach (see MARTI 1974). Not suprisingly, such an opposition is still valid also in contemporary translation studies. Thus, George Nida, one of the most known scholars of translation, speaks about formal-equivalence translations vs. functional-equivalence translations, but the opposition is basically the same as the one dealt with by Jerome (see NIDA & TABER 1982; VENUTI 2000).
Indeed, the senses to be translated are often not stated directly in the original wording and are only communicated implicitly or presupposed. Therefore, translating word-by-word would not be sufficient. Jerome simply stated the necessity of taking care of what we would call "meta-semiotic reference", "frame semantics" and "discourse implicatures" nowadays. For Jerome this is more a technique than a theory. But even in the case of G. Nida, his theoretical thinking strongly depends on his own translation practice.
The present panel is devoted to the analysis of this kind of "naïve" solutions of the "problem of unsaid", i.e. the translation techniques of ancient translators. A theoretic framework as the one explained above is supposed to be the best clue for understanding and interpreting such translation techinques.


  • GRICE, Paul. 1981. "Presupposition and Conversational Implicature". In: P. Cole (ed.), Radical Pragmatics. New York: Academic Press, 183–198.
  • HJELMSLEV, Louis. 1953. Prolegomena to a Theory of Language. Baltimore: Indiana University Publications in Anthropology and Linguistics.
  • MARTI, Heinrich. 1974. Übersetzer der Augustin-Zeit. Interpretation von Selbstzeugnissen. München: Fink.
  • NIDA, Eugene A. & Charles R. TABER. 1982. The Theory and Practice of Translation. Leiden: Brill.
  • ROSSETTI, Dante Gabriel. 1861. The early italian poets from Ciullo d'Alcamo to Dante Alighieri (1100–1200–1300) in the original metres together with Dante's Vita Nuova. London: Smith, Elder & co.
  • VENUTI, Lawrence (ed.). 2000. The Translation Studies Reader. London & New York: Routledge.

Call for papers

Papers are welcome dealing with translation techinques in Asiatic cultural context, possibly in ancient period, but even in modern times provided that the translator is unaware of the modern linguistic theories. A theoretical approach similar, or equivalent, to the one presented above should be used as a general framework.

Papers on, for instance, the following topics are welcome:

  • Religious texts: how to preserve in translation the original wording which is thought to be sacred; e.g. Bible translation from Aramaic and Hebrew to Greek, and from Greek to other languages.
  • Technical and scientific texts: how to translate a complicated terminology possibly lacking in the target language; e.g. Greek scientific and philosophical treatises translated into Syriac and Arabic.
  • Grammatical treatises: how to adapt the source grammatical device for the description of a typologically different language; e.g. Indian grammatical treatises translated into Tibetan.
  • Poetry: how to convey metrics and rhymes to a different language.

The proposed papers may treat the following historical-cultural areas, among others:

  • Ancient Mesopotamia (Sumerian, Accadian, Hittite, Hurrite).
  • Ancient India and neighbouring areas (Sanskrit, Middle Indo-Aryan languages, Tocharian, Tibetan, Dravidian languages, Indonesian languages, etc.).
  • Ancient Eastern Asia (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese).
  • Near Eastern area and Islamic cultures (Old and Middle Persian, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Turkish).
  • Classical world and Christianity (Greek, Latin, Coptic, Gothic, Armenian, Georgian, Old English, Slavic).
  • Any possible mixture of the above-mentioned cultural traditions.
  • Obviously, any other areal, cultural and cross-cultural case is also welcomed.

Important dates and further information


  • Potential participants should send the chairman a provisional title and a long abstract (2000 words ca.)
  • The deadline has been extended to February 14, 2012.
  • Please, include your name and affiliation and indicate "CBC2012" in the object field.
  • The admission will be communicated to the author no later than February 15, 2012.
  • The general assumptions about the Coffee Break project are to be found here.

Participation to the proceedings book

  • There is still the possibility, for those who cannot take part in the conference itself, to contribute to the conference proceedings book, which will be submitted for publication to a peer-reviewed journal or publisher.
  • A special Call for Papers will be released in such respect after the end of the conference.
  • However, we would be glad to receive paper proposals for the proceedings book since now.

Artemij KEIDAN
University of Rome "La Sapienza"
Institute of Oriental Studies
P.le Aldo Moro 5
00185 Roma

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